Lorraine was still groggy at five as she stepped out of the shower and began her half-hour makeup ritual before work. She dressed in her uniform, tucked her small gold cross under her button-up blouse, put on her Leggs pantyhose, and her comfortable, white shoes. They needed a polish. She didn’t look forward to being on her feet all day. Lorraine opened the small planner her husband got her as a stocking stuffer. Under the date, February 15, 1984, she scribbled, “afterwork gym, groceries, and pick up Olive from daycare.” Her husband and her daughter were still asleep as she stole a few sips of instant coffee from her thermos. She shoved a day-old muffin and an orange in her overstuffed purse and was out the door by six.
It was Lorraine’s least favorite time of year when the sky was the deep color of night as she left the house. The short walk from Loraine’s apartment to her car was generally uneventful, an hour before anyone else on the block was up. Sometimes she saw an old man who lived up the street walk his dog. Other times she saw someone on their way home from being out all night, coming from god knows where, doing god knows what.
She saw two young men across the street either coming or going and didn’t think much of it. The darkness softened as the streetlamps went out. The sun was waking, but not soon enough for Lorraine. Feeling a chill in the air, she shivered under her knit sweater. At least it wasn’t snowing or icy like back east, where she was from. Soon she’d be at work. Soon the sun would rise and turn the frost to liquid and the liquid to steam and everything would be warm again.
Lorraine stood in front of her 1972 Dodge Dart, her fingers cold, as she fumbled with the keys. She dropped them, laughing and muttering “butter fingers,” under her breath. She picked up the key, and as she stuck it in the lock, she heard a voice behind her. A man’s voice.
“I have a gun.”
She felt something hard at her back. Her hands went up reflexively. The keys remained stuck in the lock. She caught the reflection of two men behind her in her car window.
“We need your car,” the other man said.
“Take it,” she said, shaking.
She saw the two men look at each other in the reflection of the glass. She shut her eyes and whispered, “I have a daughter. Please.”
The man with the gun opened the car door as the other man lifted her purse from her shoulders, placing it in the back seat. She felt her body go numb. Could this be the end?
“Get in,” said the man with the gun.
Lorraine’s body tensed. She glanced around hoping there was another way, that maybe someone else was on the street and saw what was happening. No one, nowhere.
“Get in,” the man repeated.
He forcefully shoved Lorraine inside the front of her Dodge. She slid all the way to the passenger side. She had a fleeting fantasy of pulling up the door lock and trying to escape, but the gun would go off before she even pulled the lock. In that moment she was alive.
The engine started and they were off.
The man in the driver seat was a young black man in his early twenties. He had dark wavy short cut hair, full lips and red-brown eyes, which rested behind glasses. The man in the backseat was white, about the same age with dirty blonde hair and steel blue eyes. He was the man with the gun and held it in one of his hands as he rummaged through Lorraine’s purse.
Lorraine grabbed the cross around her neck and whispered a prayer.
The two men exchanged glances.
“I hate religious people,” muttered the driver.
“You don’t believe in God?” asked the man in the back.
“Nope. I don’t believe the people who believe in God.”
“I thought all you Negroes were super religious and such.”
“That’s a misconception. Not all African-Americans swallow the white man’s colonial bullshit.”
Tears ran down Lorraine’s cheeks. She tasted them in her mouth as they pulled onto the freeway on-ramp. They passed a billboard of Ronald Reagan smiling and a quote about lowering taxes. Lorraine passed by that billboard every day and never thought much about it. She wondered if this would be the last time she’d see it.
“I need you to stop crying,” said the driver. “I can’t take crying while I’m driving.” He gestured to the man in the back. “Is there anything in her purse to make it stop?”
“I’ve got something that’ll make it stop.” The man in the back cocked the hammer of the gun.
Lorraine sucked in her breath, trying to stop the flow of her tears.
“No,” said the driver.
The man in the back un-cocked his gun, reluctantly setting it to the side. He dug around and found some tissues and handed her a bunch. She turned around grabbing a few tissues and saw the arms of the man, covered in prison tattoos. Her eyes flashed up to his large bicep and saw a swastika. She caught her breath and quickly turned forward. She dabbed at her eyes.
“Please, don’t hurt me,” she begged. “I won’t say anything. I swear. Please, let me go.”
“I need silence,” said the driver. “No talking and no crying.” He gripped the steering wheel tight in his hands.
The guy in the back found the day-old muffin in Lorraine’s purse and handed it to the driver. The driver broke the muffin in half and handed half to Lorraine, whose stomach was growling. She could only eat a few bites. The muffin tasted like glue in her mouth. The guy in the back peeled the orange, tearing off sections one at a time and popping them into his mouth.
“Do you think we’ll make it to the spot on time?” the guy in the back asked.
“I’ll do my best, but I can’t go any faster without drawing attention.”
“You know what happens if we don’t make it, right?”
“I can’t think of that right now.”
“Where are we going?” asked Lorraine. “Maybe you could just let me go?”
“Shut up,” said the man in the back. “We’ll let you go when we feel like it.” He leaned forward and whispered in the driver’s ear. “You know we gotta get rid of her. She’s dead weight. Pull over and I’ll do it quick.”
“Enough. You’re giving me a headache. Shut up for a while, both of you.”
The man in the back pressed the gun against the back of the driver’s neck. “Don’t tell me to shut up, nig…”
The driver slammed on the brakes causing Lorraine and the man in the backseat to lurch forward violently. The man in the back lost his grip on the gun. It fell on the floor and slid underneath the driver’s seat.
The car was stopped in the far-right lane. Fortunately, no cars were directly behind. Traffic moved around them.
“Don’t you ever call me that, you fucking Hitler-loving Nazi! Don’t even think it!”
“Isn’t that reverse racism?” asked the guy in the back. He contorted his body in an unnatural shape, rooting around for the gun under the seat.
“No such thing as reverse racism, dumbass.”
“Don’t call me a dumbass, you nig…”
The driver whipped around, pointing the gun at the man. “Say the word and it’ll be the last thing you say.”
“Okay, okay, sorry. Geez, Frederick. I just got a little angry is all.”
“I can’t believe you said my name, asshole!”
“We are not brothers.”
Lorraine’s heart hammered in her chest. She pressed her body against the passenger door, dreaming of being courageous enough to escape.
“If we weren’t pressed for time, I’d take you outta this car and kick the shit out of you.”
“I said I was sorry, man. Can I have my gun back?”
“I think I’ll hold onto it for a while.”
“I thought you didn’t like guns.”
“Your gun privileges have been revoked for the time being.” Frederick placed the gun in the inside panel next to the driver seat. “If you’re good and quiet for a bit, I’ll give it back to you.”
They drove in silence for a long time. The architecture around the freeway transformed from tall buildings to sprawling hills and farmland. The colors of the hills went from green to gold, the vegetation all scrub with an occasional palm tree. Along with the landscape the number of cars on the road thinned out. The farther they went, the fewer cars they passed.
The man in the back continued rummaging through Lorraine’s purse. He found a Tootsie Pop and stuck it in his mouth. Then he found Lorraine’s small notebook planner and looked at her plans for the day. He ripped the page out of the planner, crumpled it and threw it on the floor of the car. There was an extensive amount of makeup, four different kinds of lipsticks. He unrolled one of the lipsticks and spread it across his lips.
“Hey Freddy, look how pretty I am.” He chuckled while Frederick glared at him through the rearview mirror.
The man in back found more: a few feminine products, two different kinds of headache medicine, some birth control pills, more candy, and even more makeup supplies. Frederick tuned into some music on the radio to offset the silence. A Michael Jackson song came on and Lorraine started to cry.
“Stop it,” said Frederick.
“My daughter loves this song,” she whispered. “She makes dance routines to it.”
“She probably doesn’t even have a daughter,” said the man in the back.
He found Lorraine’s wallet and thumbed through a few small photos inside behind the plastic. “I stand corrected. She does have a daughter.” He handed the wallet to Frederick who glanced at a picture of a young girl with big bushy hair.
“Is this your daughter?”
“Yes,” said Lorraine.
“What’s her name?”
Frederick thumbed through the photos of Lorraine’s wallet as he continued to drive, glancing back and forth between the road and the photos. He came across a family photo of Lorraine, a young girl and a man.
“Is this your husband with the two of you?” asked Frederick.
“Yes,” said Lorraine. “That’s my husband and my little girl. Please don’t…”
Frederick shushed her studying the photo for a long time. He glanced a few times back and forth from the family photo to Lorraine. Lorraine had long, straight, sandy blonde hair. The man in the photo had brown, straight hair and the little girl had thick, kinky hair and a flat nose.
“Is she adopted?” he asked.
“What? That’s none of your business.”
There was a tense silence that followed. Lorraine was shaking. They’d been driving for hours going deeper and deeper into the desert with no end in sight.
“You and your husband are white, but your little girl is a sister,” said Frederick.
“No way,” said the guy in the back. “She looked white to me. Jewish or Italian or something?
“My name is Lorraine,” she said. “I’m just a waitress, a nobody. You can take my car, my money, but please don’t hurt me. You can drop me off here and I’ll find my way home. I won’t tell anyone. I love my daughter…”
“Enough,” said Frederick, sighing. “I don’t want to hear anymore.”
“I want to hear more,” said the man in the back. “I’m bored.”
“Drop it, Ruben!” yelled Frederick.
“Dude, you just said my name. Now she knows both our names!”
A heavy silence filled the car and was suddenly broken by Ruben. “So, if she’s not adopted, how come she don’t look like you? Is she from a previous marriage or old boyfriend or something?”
Lorraine sweat from nerves and the heat. The air conditioning in her car was broken so she cracked the window and took a breath.
Frederick glanced at Olive’s photo as he drove. “She looks a little like you but that’s definitely not her daddy.”
Lorraine silently clutched her gold cross wishing she could change the subject. If this was hell, she was now in it.
“What happened to her real daddy?” asked Ruben. “Is there a photo of him in there somewhere?”
Lorraine didn’t answer and stared straight ahead mumbling a few prayers under her breath.
“You fucking hypocrite,” whispered Frederick.
“Frederick is a beautiful name,” said Lorraine attempting to change the subject.
“I was named after Frederick Douglass.”
“Who’s that?” asked Ruben.
“He was a former slave, abolitionist, and poet.” Frederick glanced at Lorraine clutching her cross with tears in her eyes. “You don’t know who that is either, do you?”
Lorraine shook her head trembling all over.
“It’s so easy for you two white people to be happily ignorant. You can do whatever you want without consequence.”
“Hey, man, I grew up poor,” said Ruben. “I had it just as hard as you.”
“Don’t even compare our situations. I have to work ten times harder than you for everything. Your ancestors didn’t build this country and get lynched as a reward!” Frederick crushed the steering wheel in his hands.
“Slavery is over man, let’s just move on already,” said Ruben.
Frederick pulled over to the side of the road. “Get out!” he yelled at Ruben.
“We don’t have time for this, Frederick.”
Frederick pointed the gun at him and Ruben reluctantly obliged.
“I know I’m not gonna teach you or the lady in the car anything about racism but I’m gonna kick your ass anyway. Because maybe it’ll make me feel better for five minutes.”
“Look, brother, we’ve got to work together. Let’s get back in the car and finish this thing.”
Before Ruben could say anymore, Frederick landed a right hook. “That’s for your fucking swastika tattoo, asshole.”
Ruben’s nose burst as blood ran into his mouth. “I’m not in the KKK. Those are from prison. I had to get them, or I’d have been killed!”
Frederick punched him in the gut and another hook to the jaw. Ruben landed on the dirt ground with a thud. “This isn’t a fair fight, man. You got the gun.”
“Oh, it’s not fair, huh?” Frederick pulled out the gun from the waist of his jeans. “You wanna talk to me about fairness?” He cocked the gun and pointed it at Ruben’s head. “Open your mouth. Say one more stupid thing. Give me a reason.”
“If you kill me or her, it’ll be worse for you. I know you don’t want that?”
Frederick caught himself. The real reason he didn’t like guns was that he knew if he used them and got caught his punishment would be ten times more severe for him than Ruben.
Lorraine was not in the car. She found some courage from somewhere and ran while the two men fought, but she didn’t get far. Frederick saw her in the distance and fired the gun in the air. She froze. He caught up to her.
“Get back in the car,” he said.
They drove in silence. Ruben sulked in the back seat wiping the red lipstick from his mouth. He looked at his face in one of Lorraine’s compact mirrors and swore under his breath when he saw the black eye Frederick had given him. The gas tank was almost empty, and Lorraine had to use the bathroom. Frederick pulled into a rundown desert gas station.
“Gas, snacks, water, and bathroom breaks,” said Frederick. He glanced at Lorraine. “Don’t try anything. I will use this if I have to.” He motioned to his gun.
All of Lorraine’s courage was gone as she walked to the bathroom, accompanied by Ruben. She spotted a public phone booth from the corner of her eye before opening the restroom door. But Ruben noticed and shook his head. “No way, no how,” he said.
Inside the convenient store Frederick went up and down the aisles getting a few things. All the while, the fat, old white man eyed him from behind the counter. Frederick was used to white people’s suspicions. His whole life he’d been looked at, followed, mistrusted, and feared. People made assumptions because he was black, assumed he was dumb or uneducated. But the one thing they got right is that he was a criminal. He put down the water, soda, and snacks and paid for the gas while the store owner leered. “You’re not from around here, are you boy?” said the man.
Frederick didn’t answer, grabbed his stuff and left.
Back on the road, Lorraine forced herself to eat and felt a little better, at least physically. Ruben ate his sandwich slowly, as his jaw was sore.
“So, tell me about Olive’s dad?” said Frederick.
Lorraine put her sandwich down and swallowed the chunk in her mouth. “He’s at home, he’s…”
“I mean her real dad. Her biological father. Like, why isn’t he in the picture?”
Ruben was reclining in the back seat but very much awake. “Yeah, I wanna hear. Tell us, Lorraine.”
Lorraine hoped that they’d forget about the topic of Olive’s father. “I don’t know. It didn’t work out I guess.” Lorraine drank her cheap gas station coffee like it was water. It calmed her down. She was one of those people who had a love of cheap coffee. She could drink it all day long. And she could drink it at night and have no trouble sleeping. It was her superpower.
“Why didn’t it work out?” asked Ruben.
“It didn’t work out because he’s black,” said Frederick.
Lorraine shut her eyes. “What more do you want from me?”
“What does your daughter think of him?”
“Can we talk about something else?”
“It happened before me and Ronald married, but I was dating him at the time. Dating both of them. Ronald and Charles.”
“Charles is the biological father?” asked Ruben.
“Yes,” said Lorraine. “But I was living with Ronald. And then I met Charles…” she trailed off.
“So, you chose the white guy,” said Frederick.
“They were both so different. I was so young, barely twenty.”
Ruben chuckled from the backseat. “That’s how old we are.”
“I went to a family gathering at Charles’s house about a year after Olive was born. I was the only white person there. I felt like a foreigner. I received strange looks from some of his family. Someone made a joke about passing the white meat, and it seemed like they were referring to me.”
Frederick glanced at her. “And then what?”
“I wasn’t strong enough,” Lorraine had tears in her eyes again. “On the drive home from the gathering, Charles asked me if Olive was his.”
“And?” said Frederick.
“I told him she wasn’t.” Lorraine couldn’t look at Frederick and felt his judgment like a heavy weight.
“So, Olive doesn’t know about her father?” asked Frederick.
“No,” she whispered.
“That’s so fucked up,” said Ruben.
“You should’ve told her,” said Frederick gravely. “She has a right to know who her real father is.”
“Her real father is at home,” Lorraine said.
“When we let you go, will you tell her the truth?” asked Frederick.
“I don’t know,” she said looking down at her empty paper coffee cup.
“We’re almost there,” said Ruben, eyeing Frederick in the rearview mirror.
“I know,” said Frederick.
The car turned onto a deserted road and finally stopped. Frederick and Ruben got out and argued as Lorraine sat in the car.
“We have to get rid of her,” whispered Ruben. “I’ve done it before. It sucks, but it must be done.”
“I’ll do it,” said Frederick.
“Are you sure? It’s a shame. She seems like such a nice Christian lady and all.”
Lorraine couldn’t hear what either of them were whispering, but she knew what was coming.
Ruben walked around to the passenger side door, opened it, and said, “It’s time to go, Lorraine.”
Lorraine had a hard time getting her body out of the car, but she managed it. “Where are we going?” she asked breathlessly.
“You’re going with him.” Ruben leaned against the car and pointed to Frederick.
Lorraine felt lightheaded and heavy at the same time as she walked towards Frederick. A few tumbleweeds were kicked up by a breeze as Frederick directed her to walk ahead. Frederick held a water bottle in one hand and a gun in the other. He took a few sips from the bottle as they walked. They walked for about ten minutes, but to Lorraine it was the longest most agonizing walk of her life. Then they stopped.
Ruben hung back by the car observing, appreciating the distance, grateful that it was Frederick doing it instead of him. He lit a cigarette as he watched the two of them talking. He wondered what they were talking about, but glad he didn’t have to hear it. He imagined Lorraine begging for her life, which most people did. After you take someone’s life, memories of their desperate pleas haunt your dreams forever. The price you pay for killing.
Ruben took another drag on his smoke. They seemed to be done talking. The air was dead around the car as Ruben blew out smoke. He watched as Frederick threw Lorraine to the ground firing three shots into her body. Ruben became ridgedrigid at the sound of the gun. He saw Frederick kneel to the body and then walk back towards the car.
Frederick slid inside the Dodge Dart. “It’s done. Let’s go. We’re slightly late, but I think it’ll be okay.”
Ruben had underestimated Frederick. He was more coldblooded than he realized.
Lorraine and Frederick stopped. She looked back toward her car. Ruben leaning against it, watching.
“Are you letting me go?” asked Lorraine.
“No,” said Frederick.
“I won’t tell anyone. Please, I’m a mother!” Tears streaked her eyes. She started praying.
“Shut up with that Jesus shit,” yelled Frederick pointing the gun at her.
“My daughter,” she whispered. “She’ll never know the truth if I’m dead.”
“You had your chance.” He cocked the gun.
“I know. I’m a terrible mother. I’m a hypocrite. I’m all the bad things, but if I had another chance…”
“If I let you go, would you tell your daughter about her father?”
“Yes, I would. I will.” Her voice was raised. She looked back at the Dodge. Ruben continued watching.
“I don’t believe you.”
“I don’t understand,” Lorraine choked back tears as she spoke. “Why is this important to you?”
“I never knew my father. I had to figure out who I am on my own.” He sighed. “Olive will never know who she really is unless she knows about her dad. Her real dad.”
There was a deep pain in Lorraine’s eyes and with it a realization. What was greater, her fear of dying or the shame she carried about a secret she wished she could smash?
“I don’t want to tell her, but I will. If you let me go, I promise to tell her about her father.”
He pointed the gun at her.
“But if you kill me, the secret dies with me. Please!”
“Enough!” Frederick shoved her to the ground and fired three rapid shots.
Then he leaned down next to Lorraine’s body. “You’d better keep your word,” he whispered. “You’d better tell her about her black daddy.”
Lorraine, full of adrenaline thought she had been shot, but Frederick fired a few feet from her body. Her ears rang, but she heard everything he said.
“Stay down and don’t move for at least twenty minutes,” he said before he stood and walked away. He left her the bottle of water.
Lorraine lay on the desert ground for a very long time. Weeping. She thanked Jesus for saving her and was glad for the water that Frederick had left her. Making her way to the highway she walked for hours until a car picked her up and took her to a payphone.
Months went by and Lorraine and Ronald agreed that it was best not to tell Olive about her biological father. It just seemed too complicated; Ronald had told her. Lorraine was relieved because she didn’t really want to tell Olive about Charles. She wanted to forget about the whole thing and maybe if she prayed hard enough, she could release some of the guilt she felt.
Six months after the kidnapping, Ruben and Frederick were caught and Lorraine had to testify. She pointed them out in court. They were so young, barely men. She had a hard time looking at Frederick in the courtroom. When the sentences were handed out Frederick was given much more time in jail than Ruben.
That same week Lorraine took Olive to a park after church. They walked together along a duck pond. Olive had turned eleven. She was big for her age, already developing with kinky hair that Lorraine didn’t know what to do with other than straighten. Lorraine bought Olive an ice cream and they sat on a bench. A couple holding hands walked past them, a white man and black woman. Olive watched them as she licked her cone. Lorraine watched too.
“There’s something I have to tell you.”