The Cherokee Street Beat
The acoustics of the room seemed perfect. Its sterile white walls looked to have a definite thickness to them. After the man who introduced himself as Doctor Alton Riley entered the room, the white door he shut behind him audibly vacuum-sealed itself shut. This room surely was one meant for divulging secrets.
“I’m not a law enforcement agent, Bryan,” Dr. Riley said as he sat with Bryan at the sole table in the small room. He wore a white dress shirt with a tie and a laminated identification badge hanging at his chest. “I’m a psychiatrist. I just want to hear your story and get you on your way.”
Bryan shuffled in his stiff metal chair but quickly righted himself, thinking sporadic movements may make him appear nervous – which he was.
“That’s all I want at this point,” said Bryan.
Dr. Riley arranged a small microphone on the desk so that it pointed in Bryan’s direction. “Good. Do you mind if we start recording then?”
Bryan bit his upper lip and looked the doctor in the eyes while nodding his approval.
“Let’s just start from the beginning how about?”
Bryan nodded again. He wondered where to start. The exertions of the previous night had him in a less-than-talkative mood. He thought about how he was missing work and what explanation the police had given his boss for why he wasn’t there. He longed for his cubicle and the silence of his computer screen – anything but this strange interrogation he felt was about to begin.
“So, I had been dating this woman for maybe three years about. Well, long story short, we broke up…”
“Bryan, let me stop you right there. I should have said this before you started. Please tell me all the details of the story. Even something minute to you may be of consequence to us understanding how this all happened – so basically, keep the long stories, long.”
Bryan scratched his forehead, thinking of where to start again.
“So, I guess we broke up, not really for good reasons. I guess the only thing wrong with her, my ex, was her familiarity. I say that because that’s mainly why I started hanging out in some circles that I wouldn’t normally have hung out in. They weren’t bad circles by any means. In fact, I would say the people were better than the ones I used to hang out with. I was in a frat in college and I guess I sorta took on that frat mentality, that “bro” mindset. After college into my professional life, I kept it. But it all got old after a few years – going to the same bars with the same people, eating the same crap food, being hung over several days a week, dating women who all looked and acted the same.”
“OK. Sorry, Bryan.” The doctor interrupted again. “I’m going to go back on what I said a bit. Can you skip ahead to how you met Mollie Shaffir?”
Bryan began again.
“So anyway, sorry I was probably giving to much backstory there. I first saw Mollie at this New Zealand-themed bar I had started going to in Benton Park. She stood out a little because of the way she was dressed – almost stereotypically what I would call “hipster.” Everything about her was kind, uh, I can’t really describe it but just kind of cool or retro, I guess. I remember she was wearing these red jeans, which looked like they were from the 80s and a top that was similarly red but looked like it had been washed maybe 1,000 times. Uh, and I guess the thing that did it for me, I mean besides her face and body, which both were amazing, were these really thick-rimmed black glasses. They made her look kind of nerdy and approachable, even though she was smoking hot. So anyway, needless to say, I was intrigued. It took me a bit of time and alcohol, but I finally got around to talking to her, which was easier than I thought it was going to be. I guess I kind of offended her at first because I commented on her clothes. I said something about how she looked different. She said something in response like, “what do you mean different?” I told her she looked like she had a style unto her own. I remember specifically what she said after that: “I just came from work.” I guess then I thought that was some sort of hot-girl-hipster-humor, so I laughed pretending like I got it. It makes perfect sense now.”
The doctor looked at Bryan through the tiny glasses he wore. He crossed his arms and glanced at the recording device on the table in front of him. Bryan continued with his story:
“So, ended up she was a cool, strong, independent woman. Plus she was really different from me – she was from New York. This all seems funny to say now. Anyway, she said she was an actor and she was nothing like any other woman I had met. So I got her number and we basically started dating after that night. I think it was maybe one-and-a-half, two days later when I called her for a date. She lived in the City, so I asked if she wanted to meet at this restaurant I had heard of in the Central West End. She said that was close to where she lived. I found out soon enough that wasn’t really true.”
The doctor interrupted: “At what point did the issue arise of where she lived, the…” He peeled back a paper from a file folder he had brought in and glanced at it, “the Cherokee Street neighborhood?”
Bryan paused, thinking about that exact moment – if there was one.
“It really was an issue for me from the get-go. I mean, it was a really shitty neighborhood. I’ve been in some bad ones myself, you know?”
Bryan glanced up from the table at the doctor to make sure he acknowledged this.
“I didn’t really say anything about how bad the neighborhood was until, like the third time I was over – I think I slept over then and heard police sirens and all the noise on the street. I think I may have even heard some gunshots. That morning I asked her why she lived there and she kind of brushed it off, saying that a bunch of her friends lived in the neighborhood, which was true but none of them seemed like they really wanted to. A lot of them had businesses, shops and bars and stuff, and it seemed like that’s why they stayed there. I pretty much figured it was just one of those things where she wanted to be different or trendy or whatever and live in this semi-dangerous neighborhood.”
The doctor adjusted the recorder to point towards him for a moment, “at what point did you begin following Ms. Shaffir during the day, unbeknownst to her?”
Bryan’s pulsed noticeably ticked up with the culpability involved in this question. He tried not to pause before his response – something he thought a stalker may do. A drop of sweat slid down the groove of his spinal column.
“I didn’t follow her. I just went to this place where she said she had an audition. She was always kind of vague about how she made money. I knew she was an actor, but she didn’t seem to be landing any bank-busting roles, or any roles for that matter. Plus this is the Midwest – not exactly an actor’s Mecca. I liked her so much, I didn’t ask a lot of questions but I got curious about what the hell she did all day, ya know?”
“And what exactly do you do, Mr. Summers?”
“I work for Commerce Bank out in the County – I’m an analyst. So anyway, I actually wanted to check this place out, this theatre off of Cherokee Street. She said that’s where she went a lot during the day to read lines, practice and audition. So I went there. Well, just drove by really. The place was freaking abandoned. I mean, this was way east on Cherokee Street and there was nothing there. So, I guess that’s why I felt like I was justified in asking more questions, cause I knew she had lied about this. So I had something on her, ya know?”
Bryan stopped. He felt his emotions about to besiege him. “I used that against her and it drove us apart. I finished us.”
Dr. Riley pulled a white handkerchief from the pocket of his slacks. “Here, blow your nose.”
“Sorry.” Said Bryan as he wiped his nose. “This is all a little confusing still.”
“I get why the fight started, Bryan. It’s really none of my business and even more, it’s immaterial to my investigation. Why don’t you tell me why you called the police on Mollie the night of August 28th?”
“OK. I had gone to her place that night and I had a few drinks, which I did sometimes after work – sometimes Mollie and I would together.” Bryan caught another sniffle preemptively with the handkerchief.
“I wouldn’t have brought it up but I guess I had some liquid courage going, so I told her that I went by her work today. She just gave me this blank response – she had this kind of intimidating stare down she used sometimes – her glasses seemed to magnify and focus the intensity. So I went ahead and asked her what she really did during the day. I mean my mind was running freaking wild. I thought maybe she was one of those expensive niche prostitutes or something – for dudes who were into hipster chicks with tattoos or whatever. My mind was all over the place. I asked her all kinds of questions. It just really pissed me off that she did all this weird shit, had no job, but still somehow had the money to buy strictly local organic food, go out and wear clothing that I don’t think you could find anywhere but on the Internet – unless an Amazon.com supply warehouse happened to be on your block. Her wardrobe was really quite eclectic. I looked forward to seeing her outfit every morning.”
“OK. So how was it you called the police on your girlfriend?” The doctor put his right hand to his forehead and looked down at the table. “How does that happen exactly?”
“I didn’t call the police on her. I called them for her. Like I said, we had a fight that night so I ended up staying on her couch – I could have gone home but I don’t like walking to my car late at night in that neighborhood and I didn’t want to make the drive out to the County. So it’s early in the morning and I here some noises at the front door. At first I think it’s just a dream but then I realize – oh shit, I’m in a shit hole of a neighborhood, it’s three in the morning, and there’s someone at the front door that probably shouldn’t be there. I froze at first but once I heard the door lurch forward, I scrambled for my cellphone on the coffee table. From there it’s all kind of in still frames.”
“Describe them to me then.”
“The door opened and I saw a man wearing a ski mask. I think he didn’t see me at first cause it was so dark. I stopped moving, stopped searching for my phone. I was just still sitting up on the couch – trying to be a chameleon and blend in with the darkness. The man turned left from the door and entered Mollie’s office room – I don’t know why he went there first. I guess that was the room you could see from the street – who knows. Next thing I remember is someone touching my shoulder – I was too scared to turn around. That’s when I heard her voice. She was softly saying my name – “Bryan, Bryan, Bryan.” I turned my head and acknowledged her. She put her pointer finger to her mouth. She shushed me.”
Bryan tried not to look embarrassed while saying this.
“I didn’t notice the pistol in her hand until she started walking towards her office slowly, with bent knees and long thought-out strides. She had the gun kind of lowered at a 45-degree angle, like you see on COPS. I watched her walking in her bra and panties, holding that gun. Let me tell you, for being near having a panic attack, I was feeling something else too – I was turned on.”
The doctor smiled.
“So, I finally get my wits about me, get my phone and dial 9-1-1. I told the operator the address and that there was a break-in. By the time the police get there Mollie’s got this guy on his belly with his hands behind his back. Turned out the guy wasn’t armed – he was just drugged up and didn’t know what the hell he was doing. When the police came inside the apartment there was this whole thing with them screaming at Mollie to drop her gun and her trying to explain that it’s fine – that she was with the Urban Rejuvenation Program.
“So that’s when you found out,” said the doctor.
“Yeah,” said Bryan complacently. “Well, not really. I still don’t understand what it is she does or what she is.”
“Ms. Shaffir works for the City’s Urban Rejuvenation Division – she’s a field agent and is working the Cherokee Street beat.”
Dr. Riley noticed Bryan’s inquisitive look and expanded on this explanation:
“A few years ago City planners recognized the benefits that the people you called “hipsters” were having to inner city neighborhoods. Some government funding came into place and we started training agents to be hipsters, or in some cases hipsters to be agents, and go live in these rough neighborhoods so that others would follow.”
Bryan had known it was something like this when he saw Mollie with the gun, looking like James Bond – making him Pussy Galore.
“So is this like in the 80s? The CIA program – Crack In America?”
Dr. Riley smiled. “I don’t know anything about crack but what I do know is that this program isn’t about drugs or race – it’s about putting the right people in the right places in order to encourage growth and increase tax base. It’s good for the City in a lot of ways.”
Bryan thought about what he actually knew of Mollie. Had everything about her been an act? Was what they had ever real? The sex was so real – at least for him. He was more attracted to Mollie now than ever but how could he be the man in a relationship with a woman like that?
“So is Mollie really an actor who you guys, like trained or whatever?” Asked Bryan.
Dr. Riley was in the process of taking notes. He held up his pointer finger, indicating to Bryan that he would respond in one moment. He finished writing and removed a white form from his folder, handing it over to Bryan.
“This is for you to sign – it’s a nondisclosure agreement. We can’t have you talking about this program to anyone – some may consider it… unnatural.”
Bryan took the form and pretended to inspect it. He could not shake the image of Mollie in her underwear prowling her apartment, gun in hand. He didn’t want to shake it.
“So, am I sort of going to be part of the program now? Since, you know, I’m kind of in the know?”
Dr. Riley handed Bryan a pen. “Maybe, Bryan. This is actually the first in a series of interviews you’ll need to participate in. Make sure you provide your current address because we’ll need to send some people to your apartment to look it over – if we think you can fit the look and feel of the operation we’re running on Cherokee Street, we are not opposed to having you stay with Agent Shaffir. It could even add to the act. It’s a hard sell to believe any woman would live by herself in that neighborhood.”
Dr. Riley stood up from the table after Bryan handed the signed form back to him.
“You will have to fit the part though for that situation to work.”
Bryan was told not to contact Mollie and he didn’t try for several days after the incident. Two men came to his County apartment, as Dr. Riley had said they would. They asked no questions seeming to be mainly interested in Bryan’s wardrobe, as well as the contents of his refrigerator. Bryan’s mention of his several years of martial arts training was met with silence. The men who visited his apartment said they would be in touch. After hearing nothing for a week, Bryan began trying to call Mollie’s phone, which he found had been disconnected. That weekend he drove down to Cherokee discovering her apartment empty. Looking in the side window, all the furniture was gone, including the couch he had slept on that fateful night. Bryan felt a dual sickness that day – that of a potential love lost and that of schoolyard rejection. He walked towards the heart of Cherokee Street, where the new bars, restaurants and art shops were doing business on the Saturday afternoon. Bryan passed by a gallery and peered in the open front door. There were no patrons, only three employees all dressed in vintage tees and skintight dark jeans, sporting unappealing haircuts and exposed ironic tattoos. One sat on top of the counter reading a thick text, the other two were deep in hushed conversation. None of them looked up as Bryan, the financial analyst from St. Louis County looked in. Bryan knew he couldn’t fit in with these actors.
Christopher Krull is glad you’re reading his bio. Look for his writing in the Eunoia Review, Full of Crow, Larks Fiction Magazine and online at christopherkrull.wordpress.com.
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