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Focus - Chapter 1 "Ugly Beauty"
He disturbed my peaceful world, that man in black. His spiky hair that poked out from under a cap seemed to cut through wind as he spun around once again. The ugliness of flying red liquid and the strong beating the weak made me want to at least turn away, but his beauty and perfection drew me in. Eyes that saw through the most subtle movement in darkness, ears that heard even the slightest change of wind in silence, the mouth that couldn’t seem to stop smiling – all dazzled me. The slim, muscular figure that seemed to never lose its balance, that long, powerful leg that never missed its target, and those fast, elaborate hands that reached for the deadly weapon without any hesitation – all added to the ugly beauty he created. With his face hidden, he quickly finished what he came to do and disappeared into the night.
I stayed there, frozen, focusing only on that spot where the man had stood but a moment ago. I didn’t feel any fear or shock from the horrific incident; pure awe kept my eyes fixed and my mouth open. Before long, the headlights of police cars illuminated the streets. Caring to take note of the time and place, I headed for a crappy one-room apartment that I called “home.”
All night long and through the next morning, that man in black never strayed from my train of thought. I could only hold on to the yellow sticky note that read “11:43p.m., C Town Super market.”
Replaying the scene over and over in my head, my eyes swept over the morning crowd in the busy streets of New York City. Any tall, well-built man looked like him; only their too-flashy or formal clothes differentiated them.
Wait, what about that one?
Among the men I had been keeping an eye on, one man with a dark casual outfit stood out. His features resembled my memory of the man from last night. Of course, I chased after him, abandoning my morning coffee and leaving a quick, careless five dollar bill behind.
In that moment I truly despised the promotion my boss had given me but a week ago. The inflexibility of my formal suit and my high heels took away my running speed, which I needed desperately. I couldn’t even call out to him to stop walking either. What could I say? “Man in black, please wait for me?” That would have sounded stupid. I mentally thanked my late mother for committing me to four years of high school track team.
I ran after him, taking care to have only the balls of my feet touch the ground to prevent me from falling, but his long, fast legs moved much faster than my short, skinny ones. When I finally got him within touching distance, I grabbed his jacket and panted.
“Excuse me, sir, could you please walk a bit slower?”
He turned around and looked down at me. Wow. He could have been nearly seven feet tall and I could feel his displeased glare even from under his cap. He didn’t look like the cool and collected person I had imagined him as.
If that couldn’t scare me enough, a long, painful-looking scar traced his left cheek, all the way from his ear to his chin. As if his looks alone could bind me, I couldn’t move, struck by fear.
“What do you want, lady? I have lots of things to do this morning. State your business and disappear,” he roared. I jumped and kicked myself internally for thoughtlessly following a stranger and stopping him. Who could act nicely to a person like that? The option of backing down didn’t appeal to me, though.
“Sir, if you would allow the intrusion, where did you go last night? Near the C Town Supermarket, by any chance?” Words tumbled out as I struggled to unfold the yellow sticky note with one hand. I somehow couldn’t find myself to let go of his leather jacket. I knew I sounded very accusing, but the words had already spilled and I could only wait for the response.
“Where the gang assault occurred? Listen, just because I wear black and walk alone, it doesn’t mean I commit every crime you can think of,” he explained slowly as if I couldn’t understand him. His glare faded and he glanced at the corner of his jacket where I held on fast. I probably ruined his expensive leather. “Now, if you’ll be kind enough to let go of my jacket, I have some business I need to attend to.”
I immediately uncurled my fingers and watched him walk away. Feeling stupid, I walked back to the café, where my half-drunk morning coffee and my five dollars waited for my return. I carefully stuffed the crinkled dollar bill into my brown wallet and sipped my already-cold coffee.
Still wondering and daydreaming about that man in black, I strolled into my office ten minutes late, earning a death glare from my supervisor. Okay, I don’t really own the office. Lack of university education had gotten me a job as everyone’s servant. I used to just work as the only woman worker in the storage department, but after the promotion, I had to say “bye-bye” to comfortable overalls and sneakers. Wearing formal suits and high heels, I often filled in for employees on vacation and did tedious jobs that no one wanted to do. Even working 365 days a year, 366 days on leap years, my job differed from day to day.
Today, I needed to help the guys in the technology department by picking up the order I had placed for them a month ago for a black chip that greatly resembled a squished centipede. What did they call it? Pikachu?
I walked up to the technology department office. I had heard many rumors about this specific manager. Many employees called him Hot Potato Manager, or Manager Hot Potato, for his temper. Even though I had never taken part in any of their conversations, I could tell that no one truly respected this man as the boss. I took a deep breath and walked in.
When I eagerly handed the department manager the blue bag, his reaction exceeded my expectations. Long hours of searching the Internet at night, trying to understand a jumble of numbers and letters that stood for a million different things, and finally obtaining what I wanted – it all turned to dust.
“Why did you bring this?” he whispered, holding that dreadful-looking thing in his hands. His hands trembled, and his face turned as red as the sweet potato bathed in sunset.
“Why, you asked for it a month ago, sir,” I replied, trying not to get intimidated by his anger. I deeply regretted not remembering the name of the object.
“A PICAXE-28X1 SMD?” Yes, I remembered it now; they called it picaxe, not Pikachu. “I never ordered such a thing!”
“I am terribly sorry, sir, if you would direct me once again to the object you needed, I will surely…”
“Again? Miss Brianna Brown, do you understand that we race against time in this company? I asked for PICAXE-18X SMD, not 28X1. This prototype can decide the future of this company! What do you intend to do about it?”
With the beet-red faced man yelling at me and drawing the other employees’ attention, I couldn’t help but want to cry. Biting my lips and fighting back tears, I spoke up once again.
“I deeply apologize. Please give me another chance; I will never let you down,” I requested, and immediately regretted it. Did I act too proud of my mistake? Should I have bowed my head? What should I have done? Getting fired at this state meant death for me.
“Fine. I will give you your last chance. Get the right chip, and I mean PICAXE-18X SMD, by next Friday and I will forgive you. Make everyone happy, alright?”
I couldn’t believe my luck. Really? He gave me another chance! The Hot Potato Manager!
“Yes, sir. Thank you very much, sir, I will never let you down again!” With that, I bowed to his not-so-red face and walked away.
After not making even a single mistake for the rest of the day, I went on the usual hour-long commute from work to home. It would have helped if I had a car, but given that I could barely make this month’s rent, I felt thankful for what I did have.
Bright red and blue light interrupted my walk in the poorly-lit, otherwise pitch-black road. Curiosity getting the better of me, I peeked around the corner toward the source of that light: multiple police cars.
The spinning light lit up the building behind it. The front of the building read “C Town Supermarket,” immediately sending me in a flashback. Memories of that man from last night flashed through my mind; I had forgotten it in the midst of trying to walk on the tightrope balancing my stupidity and my job on the pole. The supposed “gang assault” happened just yesterday, afterall. Of course the police lingered in the area. But why did that man from this morning say “gang assault”? As the eye witness, I saw that no group of people attacked one person. One person had attacked a group. And won.
My head began to throb softly as my curiosity fought against my reason. I did have the responsibility as a working member of society to report any findings I had. That way I could learn more while helping out as an honorable citizen at the same time. But reasonabily, walking away from this and never looking back could save me a lot of trouble. Besides, I had work tomorrow.
Of course, as always, curiosity won and I took the first step out of my normal, everyday, patterned life.
I slowly walked toward the light. Having adjusted my eyes to the dark on the walk, I couldn’t see anything at first. Then silhouettes began to appear and I finally made out the yellow line that prohibited any outsider from entering the scene.
Do not cross line. Crime Scene. Do not cross line. Crime Scene. Do not…
I walked right up to the line, pressing myself against it, and looked for anything that caught my interest. I completely understood that this outrageous behavior didn’t benefit anyone, but I didn’t care. I kept on peering into the darkness until a policewoman took notice of me and came over. She had a phone in her hand.
“Ma’am, the police closed this area off due to a crime. Please keep your distance for your own safety,” she warned me with the false, robot-like business tones all tired workers used. Her eyes half-disappeared under her eyelids and she started talking very fast into the phone again. Now I noticed that she held a walkie-talkie, not a phone.
“What happened here?” The police served citizens. I knew I stretched the rules as far as my own reason, but nothing, and absolutely nothing, could lessen my curiosity.
“We will release the details of the crime when we uncover more of it, ma’am. Now, if you don’t keep your distance, I will have you escorted away from here.”
As the policewoman kept on threatening to “escort” me away with her tired face, I looked around once more. This time, I found something, or rather someone, interesting.
A man in black.
“Do you know him?” I asked, pointing at the man like a little kid. At this time, the irritated policewoman put one gloved hand on my shoulder and firmly pushed me away.
“No, I just simply asked if you knew him. Can’t you even answer that?” I hated the way she kept on saying “ma’am” for no apparent reason. The policewoman annoyed me so much that I didn’t even see the man in black walk up to us.
“What seems to be the problem here, ladies?” he asked. When I shifted my attention from the policewoman to the man in black, I froze in place and couldn’t look away. I saw that familiar-looking scar, tracing the left side of his face. It almost followed his jaw line.
I had seen the same man this morning.
Wide eyed, I stared at him, and he stared back at me. He expected an answer to his question and I expected... what?
“Chief Rodriguez, this woman tried to enter the crime scene without permission,” the policewoman tattled. I wanted to say that I didn’t do such a thing and that my curiosity simply got the better of me, but that man in black sent the policewoman away. He said that he would take care of the problem and that she should go back to work. She did, and that left us alone.
The man in black stood there for a moment, and then he sighed and ducked under the yellow tape to come over to my side. He grabbed my wrist to pull me away and I followed, keeping my eyes fixed on his face and his scar.
We sat in silence in an empty Starbucks Café, me sipping Strawberries & Crème Frappuccino and him drinking a simple dark coffee. I played with my whipped cream, pushing it little by little into the pink drink with my straw until none left on the top. Then I quitely took off the top of the cup and stirred the drink, caring to take a sip now and then as an act of kindness toward the officer. He did buy me these drinks afterall.
The waiter had called him “Kyle” for the drinks. I guessed he did look like a Kyle. But as far as my image of “Kyle” went, he didn’t glare at women on the streets, no matter how annoying. While trying to match his face to the image of a cute blond boy named Kyle in my head, he looked up and I quickly averted my eyes to the drink. The baby pink slowly turned into an ugly pink that resembled brown. I sipped more at it anyways. I thought this would go on forever until one of us finished our drinks and just walked out of the store, but then he spoke up.
“I do apologize about this morning,” he whispered, between his small gulps of the bitter drink.
“Why?” I hadn’t expected an apology – maybe some explanation might help.
“I acted very rudely toward you, even though I had no idea why you stopped me. I got absorbed with my character, you see.” He smiled and blushed, a totally different expression from what I saw this morning. Yes, he moved closer to the “Kyle” that I expected of him. The skin around his scar lightened up and combined with the yellow lights from the ceiling, they looked like an array of stars.
“Yes. Did you know that an actor and a policeman do very similar jobs? I often scout the area, acting like a delinquent. You would be surprised at how much information the police can obtain from the inside.”
I tried not to act rude toward his job, but the image of a grown man acting like a juvenile delinquent made me burst out laughing. I just couldn’t imagine him saying something like “yo, dawg” or something just as gangster as that. Even though his presence had frozen me in fear in character, his current personality brightened up the room. I couldn’t not smile.
“You act very well, indeed,” I complimented. I must have looked funny in my attempt not to laugh or smile and keep a serious face, since he laughed and threw his head back. The slightly-raised skin on his cheek reflected the dim Starbucks light. It shined like the Milky Way, making his cheek look like a strange, tan sky.
“Thank you. But you really shouldn’t chase after dangerous-looking people like how you chased after me today. What do you think could have happened if I had been an actual delinquent? You could have gotten hurt,” he scolded me, finally putting his cup down and folding his hands under his chin. His smile disappeared, even though he kept a friendly expression.
“I had a legitimate reason.” Well, not really legitimate, but still.
“Not legitimate enough to make a young woman like yourself chase after a man,” he countered, frowning now. I decided to ignore that and go ahead with the explanation.
“Last night, the same place where I met you for the second time today, I saw a man,” I started, waiting for his response.
“Yes, of course. Quite a few non-female creatures do happen to live around here,” he joked and I smiled once again, but I went right back to talking.
“A group of men attacked him. Or maybe he attacked a group of men. I saw a gun, too.”
“That gang assault…”
“Yes. People got injured there, right? What made you assume that nothing more than a gang assault happened?” I raised my eyebrows, challenging him now.
“Well, many gang assaults had happened before in that same place and the injuries seemed similar…” He pushed the top of the bridge of his nose, closed his eyes, and shook his head. He looked exhausted and my challenging him made it worse. I could feel the mood getting heavier by the minute.
“Police shouldn’t just assume things like that, no?” I smiled and raised the tone of my voice, hoping that my statement hadn’t effected his smile that I liked to see.
“No, we shouldn’t. But what has this got to do with why you stopped me this morning?”
“It has everything to do with it. I couldn’t forget about what I saw last night and kept on looking for him. You just simply reminded me of him, with that black outfit and a dangerous aura.”
“Some absurd reasoning you have.”
We sat in awkward silence for a few minutes.
“That same reasoning brought me here to talk to a stranger in black,” I countered lamely, with an effort to break the suffocating silence. I kind of already knew his name, though.
“Oh, I see that we haven’t introduced ourselves yet. Greetings,” he smiled as he held his hand out to take mine. “Chris Rodriguez, chief of police,” he told me his name, radiating with pride. After the handshake, he slid a business card across the table.
“Brianna Brown, office worker at Jukt Microsoft Corporation. I apologize for not having a business card ready,” I replied as I reached for the card. “Wait, Chris? I thought you said Kyle to that worker before.”
“Who gives their real name to the Starbucks coffee waiters these days?” I did. Thank you for shattering my image of a sweet boy “Kyle,” Chief Rodriguez.
“Anyways,” I directed the conversation away from my misunderstanding. “Should the chief of police idle his time away with someone like me when you have a case to solve?”
“Shouldn’t I ask for the facts from our primary eye-witness as a part of my job?” he smiled, slightly cocking his head. He couldn’t have known that I saw the crime scene when he dragged me to this nearly empty Starbucks, but I decided to drop that subject.
“Questions?” I prompted.
“Tell me more about this man. What did he look like? Any defining features? Anything you remember will help,” he bombarded me with the questions I asked for as he searched his jacket for a notebook and a pen. He seemed as eager as a journalist covering the biggest story that ever happened.
“No need to take notes,” I started, worried about how Chief Rodriguez would react when I told him the main defining feature. “As far as I remember and could see at the time, that man looked exactly like you.”