Hi, I’m Tonia Thompson, creator of NIGHTLIGHT: The Black Horror Podcast.
Today’s episode is a story previously published in Black Magic Women: Terrifying Tales by Scary Sisters, a collection of horror by Black women that is a recommended read for the Horror Writers of America Stoker Awards. “Sweet Justice” won my heart as soon as I read it. With elements of old school noir and the supernatural, it’s right up my alley, and I think you’ll like it too.
The author, Kenesha Williams, is also a screenwriter, speaker, and Founder/Editor-in-Chief of Black Girl Magic Lit Mag. She has been a panelist and speaker at Stokercon, Boskone, the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention, the 2017 African Americans Expo, and the Black Speculative Arts Movement Convention. Her short screenplay WILD is an Official Selection of the 2018 Women in Horror Film Festival and she is in the process of finalizing her first horror novel. You can follow her on Amazon to learn more about her writing.
This episode is brought to you by Ryan, who donated to the podcast via PayPal. Thanks, Ryan. We couldn’t do this without you.
Today’s episode is narrated by Cherrae Stuart. It contains mentions of sexual assault, so if you prefer to avoid that, skip this week’s episode. There will be another episode for you next week.
And now, Sweet Justice by Kenesha Williams.
By Kenesha Williams
How does that song go, by that skinny blonde girl that writes all of those bad boyfriend songs? Oh yeah. I knew you were trouble when you walked in. That’s the thought that entered my mind as soon as Detective Nelson walked into my office. Actually, it was a garage I turned into an office, but dammit you get the point.
I really wasn’t surprised when he walked into my office. I knew sooner or later the police department would get their heads out their ass and come inquiring about my assistance with their latest spate of murders. I should have known they wouldn’t come kowtowing until they absolutely had to, though. Especially since the last time we’d worked together I’d thoroughly showed them up after they’d made countless excuses as to why they couldn’t get results. But I knew they’d come knocking eventually, and I should have known that they’d use one of my biggest weaknesses against me, Detective Nelson.
Nelson had the swagger of Idris, the face of Morris, and the body of…well the body of Morris Chestnut, too. He was six foot three of delicious, dangerous, and dirty manhood. The last time I saw him was when I threw my mom’s favorite vase at his head as he was buck naked out of my shower. Luckily it wasn’t my favorite vase, because that bad boy cracked into at least a million tiny pieces. Unfortunately, it narrowly missed connecting to Detective Adam Nelson’s handsome block head. He knew how I felt about commitment, and his fool ass asked me for the key to my house. He was lucky I gave him time to get dressed before I threw him out.
Understandably, he hadn’t come by since then. But now, here he was looking just as fine as he did the morning he narrowly escaped a busted head.. He came in hat in hand inquiring about my help. The body count had been adding up for at least six months. The deaths had been swept under the rug until the Assistant D.A. became one of those bodies. First pimps started disappearing, and when they reappeared, it was as gnarled and dried corpses in back alleys that no one should have been down anyway.
No one knew what to make of the disappearances and subsequent reappearance of almost mummified bodies, and no one really cared. Good riddance was the attitude. Then the Johns started to disappear. There were a few frantic 911 calls from housewives looking for their husbands but still little fanfare. To be honest, some of the wives didn’t want the husbands found.
It seemed like once the detectives started looking hard at the victims, they found that those who were missing were abusive bastards and major assholes and therefore had many known enemies.
In fact, it turned out the lot of them had more enemies than friends. And if you asked anyone who knew the A.D.A. they’d count him in with the bastards and assholes. But he was the A.D.A. and therefore important people were looking for justice or at the very least a miscreant to pin the charges on.
When they couldn’t find a single shred of evidence, and someone on the force with sense looked at the clues they did have—shriveled body, no mortal wounds, unspecified cause of death—they called upon me and my unique gifts.
In plain terms, I was a Supernatural Private Investigator. My business card, however, just had my name, Maisha Star, PI. I know it sounds like a porn star’s name, but it was the one my mother and father gave me. I kept the supernatural part to myself or to those who were on a need-to-know basis. Still even without spelling out the unique part of my talents, word of mouth always kept me with a steady supply of clients and my mortgage paid on time.
Speaking of mortgages, although I wasn’t happy that some weird magical killer was on the loose, it was getting close to bill time, and my last client flaked on my payment. Actually, I killed him and like they say, dead men tell no tales, but they also pay no invoices. If we’re being technical, I didn’t kill the client, because you can’t kill something that’s already dead. I guess if
we were being spot on, I re-killed the client who was trying to lure me to my death. I’m sure there was still a price on my head since he had failed miserably to carry out his orders, but such is the life of a Supernatural PI.
“Don’t just stand there looking stupid, sit down,” I said, and waved to the two guest chairs that sat in front of my mid-century modern wood desk. He did as he was told and continued to look everywhere but into my eyes.
He took in a big gulp of air as if he needed more wind in his sails to spit out whatever he had to say before we got down to business. I braced myself for the barrage of words, but was surprised when all he said was, “I’m sorry.”
I leaned forward on my desk, wondering if I was imagining the words. “Excuse me?”
“I’m sorry. You told me how you felt about rushing into a commitment and then my stupid behind goes and asks for just that. And for that I’m sorry.”
He said it all in one breath, like if he didn’t say it all at once he wouldn’t be able to say it at all. I sat back in my chair speechless, for once in my life. It took a lot of cojones to admit you made a mistake and I was honestly surprised by the apology.
“I’m sorry, too. I should have talked to you about it instead of trying to inflict bodily harm,” I smiled, and then laughed at the joke. Luckily, he laughed too and all the weird energy in the room dissipated.
“Alright, now that that’s out of the way, what took y’all so long to contact me? Shouldn’t take a big muckety-muck’s death for the law to be seeking justice, right? All Lives Matter, huh?”
I asked, disdain dripping from each word. Seems like as long as certain folks are victims, the police felt like maybe someone was doing their work for them, but now that the chickens had come home to roost, they wanted my help.
“You know I don’t feel that way, Maisha,” he said as he looked me in my eyes. I crossed my arms in front of me. Sure, I knew he didn’t feel that way, but his brothers in blue were a different story. I was going to help out, of course. I was afraid that whoever was doing this was going to start attacking the working girls next and I knew they’d get no kind of justice from the
“I know,” I said. “So, what do you think is going on?” I asked. Although Adam didn’t have the gift like I did, he had a pretty strong intuition that served him well on the force.
“It seems like someone’s getting revenge, if you ask me. All these creeps dying,” he leaned closer as if we weren’t the only two in the room. “Between you and me, I’d heard that ADA Johansson sometimes let crimes go unnoticed if a pro gave him a little loving on the side.
Also heard that he liked to play rough, too rough, and sometimes would push the boundaries of consent.”
“So, he was a rapist. Is that what you’re telling me?” I shook my head in anger. “That bastard! He deserved what he got.”
“I’m not arguing with you. I just need to get this person off the streets. Who knows who they’ll take next?”
I leaned as far back in my chair as I could without falling. I knew that Adam wasn’t like the ADA or those dirty cops in California who’d been passing a teenage prostitute back and forth for years. But seeing what he represented vexed my spirit in ways he just didn’t know. I was happy that I knew for myself that there was at least one good cop on the force. It still didn’t make
me feel any better knowing how many bad ones there were. I thought maybe I could beg off on this case and wait for whoever was doing the killings to knock off a few more assholes, but that wouldn’t be fair. Assholedom shouldn’t be an automatic death sentence.
“So, will you help me?” he asked giving me puppy dog eyes all the while.
“Of course,” I said, “but you owe me something.”
I woke up with a start, feeling like I couldn’t breathe. I was trapped under something large and immovable and began to panic. Then I heard a loud noise that could only be the sound of Adam’s insufferable snoring. Realizing that he’d thrown his tree branch-like arm across my chest in the middle of the night and that’s why I could barely move or breathe calmed me down. I threw off his arm and slid out of bed.
It was still early, and the alarm clock on my dresser glowed the time of three am in fluorescent green. Seeing the clock’s lights reminded me of something I’d noticed in one of the pictures Adam had shown me last night at one of the crime scenes. There was a bright fluorescent orange hoop earring that reminded me of something that Lisa Turtle might have worn on Saved by the Bell near the body. It was far enough away that the police didn’t think anything of it, but something about it caught my attention. Had the idiots thought to bag it, I might have been able to use it to scry.
I walked to the bathroom and grabbed my fluffy white robe off the back of the door and looked in the mirror. My hair was flying all over the place because I hadn’t even had time to grab my hair turban before Adam grabbed me and placed soft kisses all over my throat after I agreed to work on the case. He went straight for my weak spot, so I went straight for his, and after that, there was nothing but the shouting left. I hadn’t had a romp like that since I kicked him out my house, so I wasn’t complaining about the hair.
I looked around the bathroom trying to remember where my turban would be, and remembered that I had placed it in the small shelf above the lavatory. I grabbed my turban, and something fell as if it were placed on top of it. I bent down to look to see what had fallen, grateful that both the seat and the lid were closed or it would have definitely been in the bowl. I reached behind the commode base and closed my hand around something small and circular.
When I brought the item to my face, I knew what it would be, but looked anyway; the bright fluorescent orange hoop earring lay in my palm.
I instinctively looked around the bathroom, as if someone might pop out at any moment, but no one did. I padded back to the bedroom and shook Adam awake. He lazily opened his eyes and grinned with a line of dried drool across his cheek, no doubt thinking I was waking him for round two. “No, it’s not that,” I said before he got any ideas. He frowned, but sat up in the bed awaiting my next words.
“Seems like the killer might have left us a clue.”
The air in the alley smelled like squalor and death, even the antiseptic properties of the sun couldn’t erase the putrescence. I thought coming back to the scene of the crime in the day would make the whole thing less grimy, but it had the opposite effect. Women who looked pretty under streetlights in the dark looked decidedly less so in the harsh rays of the sun’s light. They looked like what they were, downtrodden women who needed a chance to make it in this world, by hook or by crook. Not, that I could blame them one bit. And one of them was making her way through the men in blue on the beat one by one.
“Hey, Miss,” I shouted to the youngest looking girl out here. She had her hair dyed an unnatural shade of red and wore a skirt in the same color hitched up to her hoo-ha. She looked young enough to be my daughter, if I were able to have one. I could tell she wasn’t even nineteen under all the war paint she’d put on, but I understood the need to look fierce when facing an even fiercer opponent, life.
“Yeah,” she said swaying towards me on spindly high heels. In another life, she could have been a runway model. In this one, she was some unkind man’s cum receptacle. Life was funny like that.
She was now so close to me that I could see the color of her eyes. They were a light hazel that was striking against her ebony face. Her lips were full, and she turned them up in a way that said, I’ve seen it all before, but her eyes told another story. I don’t know how long she’d been out here, but whatever she’d seen had spooked her. Just not enough for her to give up the corner. She
didn’t look like a junkie, so I was thinking runaway.
“You see a girl who wears jewelry like this?” I asked holding up the orange hoop that I’d found this morning.
The girl held out her palm and I dropped the earring in her hand. My attempts at scrying with it back at the house had produced nothing. It was odd. Seemed like someone wanted me to find them, but they weren’t giving me enough clues.
She looked at the earring and then held it back out to me in between her thumb and pointer finger. I noticed her chipped manicure which told me she still tried to keep herself up.
“Nah, don’t know anyone who wears stuff like that. Looks old.”
“Yeah it does,” I said mostly to myself. “If you see something can you give me a call?” I held out my card to her, and she pinched it between those same two fingers. I saw her eyes squinch up to read it and could make out her lips moving as she read.
“Maisha Star, PI? What does that mean?”
“Means I investigate stuff that others can’t.”
“Yeah, like what, ghosts and stuff?”
“And stuff,” I answered back.
“My grandma could see stuff like that,” she tossed out, and then closed her mouth tight like she’d said too much.
“Your grandma still with us?” I asked as nonchalantly as I could.
The girl ducked her head down and looked at the toes of her shoes as if they held life’s mysteries.
“Nah, she been long gone. I was ten when she died.”
“And your parents?” I knew I was being nosy and was waiting for her to tell me to mind my own damn business, but I needed to know.
“I don’t know. Mama left me with her mama, and I never knew who my daddy was. Don’t think my mama knew either.” She looked around to see if anyone else had heard what she’d said.
The streets were pretty empty, it being so early. Just her, me, and some other working girls either leaving to go back home or on their way to set up shop.
“It’s pretty early, not too many…customers this early. You want to come with me and get some breakfast?” It was a hunch that I needed to follow up on. If her gran had the sight, maybe she did, too. And hell, if I was being honest, there was something about the girl that I liked, that I wanted to protect.
Before she could answer a black car pulled up to the curb behind her. “Babydoll,” a man’s voice called out from the car.
I watched as the girl’s face crumpled while she faced me. She then whipped her head around, and I could hear the smile in her voice as she said, “Hey Baby”. She had turned from school girl to coquette in a matter of seconds. But the look on her face before she turned told me the man in the car was nothing, but trouble. Trouble she knew, but trouble which she needed.
I walked over to the car where she was now leaning halfway into and cleared my throat.
She was so deep in her negotiations she jumped a little.
“So, about that breakfast,” I said throwing my arm over her shoulder, all the while peering into the car. There were two men in the car. The man at the wheel had a pockmarked face the color of left out mayonnaise and the man in the passenger seat next to him wasn’t winning any beauty contests either. The third man in the back scooted further into the seat as to remain hidden.
She gently shrugged my arm off of her and turned to face me with pleading eyes. I didn’t know whether she wanted me to save her or if she wanted me to let her go with the men. But until she told me to shove off I was going to be sticking right by her side.
“I’m good,” she said through teeth clamped down so tight the words sounded like the hissing of a snake. I took the hint and backed up a bit. Watching her get into the back seat with the man I couldn’t see made my body buzz like an electric current. I got nothing but bad vibes and couldn’t do a damn thing about it. I watched helplessly as the car drove off, but committed the license plate to memory. If Babydoll didn’t come back by tomorrow morning, I was having Adam look up the plates and find out who it was registered to.
It’s a shame. I didn’t have to wait until the next morning to find Babydoll because the eleven o’clock news had her face plastered on it.
Young woman, age 17 Found Dead in Same Alley as District Attorney.
Those were the words on the bottom of the television screen. I was in so much shock that I couldn’t even make out the words the reporter was saying. I watched the scene unfold on the television, they showed the alley I’d just been to earlier in the day and on the ground, was a white sheet covering what I could only assume was her body.
Hot tears slid down my face, and I used my balled-up fists to wipe my eyes. If the person who killed the cops killed Babydoll, they were going to have to personally deal with me. I know it was a cliché, but this time it was personal.
I walked like a zombie to my closet and pulled out a pair of shorts that I wore with tights last Halloween dressed as a Soul Train dancer. I carefully made up my face, spritzed on some rosewater perfume, and strapped a sheathed knife to my upper thigh. Mama was going hunting tonight.
The cops had now left the murder scene, and all that remained was the yellow police tape.
It still didn’t stop the johns and the ladies from doing their business. I craned my neck towards the alley, seeing if I could get a glimpse of Babydoll’s spirit, but I didn’t see a thing.
Seemed like maybe she wanted to move on. I was happy her soul was at rest, but I selfishly wanted to see her one last time. When I turned back towards the street, my eyes fell on a woman about a half a foot taller than me as well as a whole two feet wider. She looked me up and down and then sneered as if what she saw was lacking.
“You new?” she spat at me. I didn’t know whether it was a question or a statement, so I just nodded. “Yeah, you look like it. You smell too clean, and you look too eager. Ain’t gonna be nobody but the desperate and the depraved out tonight. The cops and the reporters spooked all the regular guys away. Watch out for yourself.”
Before I could come up with a response, she swaggered away and melted into the scenery. I took my hands to my hair and pulled it in different directions giving myself a roughed-up look. I didn’t want to look like I was an easy mark. I sauntered up and down the street a bit, hoping I wouldn’t make any enemies by taking some of the regular girls’ customers.
It didn’t take long for what I wanted to show up. Criminals are dumb. They always return to the scene of the crime. I don’t know why they do, mainly for bragging rights, I guess, but it was a damn risky thing to do. The black car from this morning slowly circled the block. Just when I thought it had disappeared, I saw it round the corner again.
I stepped out from the shadows and made myself seen. I was hoping that pock face had a need for another girl. Hopefully, they didn’t just have a taste for young flesh. I was pushing forty, but on a good day could pass for twenty-nine. My legs were good, my ass was round, and my tits hadn’t succumbed to gravity. The car stopped in front of me, and the window rolled down.
“You looking for some fun,” I sang out to pock face. He looked me up and down like a slave on the auction block, and I held in a shudder as he appraised me from head to toe.
“Yeah, sure am,” he said. I leaned into the open window and saw that his partner that rode shotgun was missing, but the man in the back was there.
“Sure am,” I repeated.
I grabbed the door handle, but before I could open it a hand touched mine. The hand was cold, dead cold. I turned to see a woman behind me. She was about my height with a mahogany complexion, and her hair was in a roller set shag reminiscent of Claire on the Cosby show. In her ear, the other orange hoop.
“I’ll take it from here, sugar,” she said in a Southern drawl that I couldn’t place. She could have been from anywhere South of the Mason Dixon line.
“Can we talk?” I asked.
“Yeah, y’all fight over who gets to come with us,” the driver called out.
She blew him a kiss and then took my elbow in her hand and guided me closer to the alley. “You don’t want none of that, sugar. They’re into that kinky shit, and they don’t believe in safe words,” she said in a low voice.
“I think they killed my friend,” I said as I ran my hands up and down my bare arms that were now shivering in the frigid air.
“Which is why you need to let me go with them, and you stay here.” She kept the car in her eyesight, and I looked over at where it idled.
“Your earring?” I asked.
“You got the other one, right?” she countered.
She chuckled, and the breath she expelled was icier than the night air. “Something like that,” she said with a grin. “Let’s just say I’m a worker of justice. Much like you, Maisha. You gone on home. I’ll take care of everything.”
I wanted to protest but knew that she could give these bastards a better home going than I could with my knife. Plus, it’d be two on one. Not exactly a fair fight for me, but a spirit, well now that would even up the odds a bit.
“Make it hurt,” I said and then walked away.
“Oh, I will,” I heard her say in the distance.
Mayor found slain in Upper North-West Home. Body of Missing Woman, Justice Hawkins, Missing since 1987 Found in Basement.
This time I watched the chyron on the screen and smiled. The picture of the missing woman was the spitting image of the woman I’d met the night before with the icy breath and the Southern drawl. She wore a smile as big as the sun and as bright as the highlighter orange hoops in her ears.
“Hot damn!” I exclaimed waking up my cat at the foot of the bed as well as Adam who was sound asleep on my right side.
“What happened?” he asked as he sprang up from his pillow.
“Justice happened,” I said as I laid my head on his chest. I used the remote to turn off the news and then threw it off his side of the bed. “Sweet Justice.”
Today’s episode was produced by Jen Zink of the Skiffy and Fanty Podcast. Thanks to Jen, and to our newest imps–err, patrons–Christinia and Kevin. Because of you, this podcast won’t die, like poor Babydoll in our story today. Thanks for keeping us alive.
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Thanks again for listening. We’ll be back next week with another story.
“Sweet Justice” was previously published in Black Magic Women: Terrifying Tales by Scary Sisters.