There was parking right in front of Erma Black’s brownstone on Macon Street. I perfectly parallel parked the Camry.
I rang the doorbell and Mrs. Black came to the door and opened it. “Thanks for coming,” she said, wiping her hands on a hand towel and extending her right hand, which I shook. She closed the door behind me. I heard banging. “Carlton, one of his numerous projects,” Mrs. Black said by way of explanation. She led me to a kitchen, where I sat on a high stool at an island.
Looking around.Definitely a cook’s kitchen. There was a pleasant aroma of baked goods cooking. Mrs. Black looked at a timer. She sat down across from me.
“Would you like anything?”
“What have we learned?” she asked.
Good question, I thought. School was definitely in session.
“Why didn’t you tell me your son found Capri after she ran away the first time?” The “bad” cop in me sometimes comes out.
She lowered her head. “I’m sorry.”
“And the girls were in kinship foster care with you?”
“And a case was opened against you. What happened?”
“There were allegations that one of my cousins molested Capri.”
“How old was she then?”
“You had the girls since they were babies.”
“Why didn’t you adopt them?”
“Because their father was still in the picture, when he wasn’t in jail.” She paused after this confession. “Capri might act like she doesn’t like her father, but both of the girls wanted to be with him, be part of a family.”
“Were the girls removed from your care?”
“No. The case was unfounded. But I had to get the girls in therapy.”
“Were there allegations that Caymani was also molested?”
“Who made the allegation?”
“She was checked?”
“No. She wouldn’t let anyone touch her.”
“What do you think?”
“I don’t know. She wouldn’t talk about it. She was different though after….”
“Is there anything else I need to know?”
“Not that I can think of.”
“How did the girls end up with their father?”
“Well, they were ultimately paroled to me. I let him have them. He seemed to have gotten his life together. My husband had gotten him a job in construction. He had a girlfriend. And the girls wanted to be part of a family.”
“Weren’t they part of a family?”
“Yes. But with a father and mother figure, not grandparents.”
“But Shaquanda is a teenager herself, barely older than the girls.”
“She takes her role as stepmother seriously.”
“That includes beating the girls?”
“She’s in parenting classes at Children Are Our Future.”
One of the timers sounded an alarm.
Mrs. Black put on heavy mitts and took a baking sheet linked with oatmeal raisin cookies out of the oven. She placed it on the far side of the island, sat back down.
“Have you talked to my son yet?”
“No.” I didn’t want to admit that he wasn’t high on my list of people to talk to. It was almost as if I was treating him like a suspect who had invoked his right to counsel. “I need to talk to your daughter and Caymani.”
She got up, got one of her business cards, wrote her daughter’s name and two phone numbers on the reverse side and handed it to me.
“I’ll let her know to expect a call from you.” She paused. “Anything else?”
“Whatever happened to this cousin?”
“After Carlton beat the crap out of him?” She paused again. “I don’t know. He was banned from my home. Never saw or spoke to him again.”
“You had your suspicions?”
“I don’t think a 9-year-old would lie about something like that.”
She scored a point with me for saying that.
“Mrs. Black,” I continued, “you can’t hold any information back from me, no matter how embarrassing.”
“Great. I’ll call your daughter.” I stood up to leave.
Mrs. Black walked me to the door. The banging had stopped. Mr. Black joined us at the front door before I exited. He shook my hand with his hard calloused one.
“Bye-bye,” Mrs. Black said.
I sat in my car for a moment, gathering my thoughts, composing a mental to do list. I had to talk to the aunt. I had to eventually talk to the father and girlfriend. I wanted to talk to Caymani. Better yet, I had someone I wanted her to talk to. I’d talk with Ernest about that.
I started the car and headed toward home.