“Stop! You do not have a legal right to progress beyond this point!”
The stern officer’s face was indiscernible behind the gas mask as he stood before an intimidating phalanx of police officers clad in military riot gear. He spoke through a bullhorn.
“This is your final warning!”
When the front line stopped, the ranks marching behind began to swell and extend out at both sides. The setting sun glowed at the horizon as dusk settled on the apartment neighborhoods and the eclectic mixture of buildings in the progressive city. The chanting crowd continued to gather behind determined leaders.
No Justice, No Peace! No Justice, No Peace! No Justice, No Peace!
In the distance, an officer knelt, handcuffing a blonde with dreadlocks as two other officers threatened her black boyfriend. The air smelled of CS gas and smoke from an old Chevy Caprice, burning on Telegraph Avenue. Red and blue lights flashed from squad cars parked along 14th Street across from Ogawa Plaza in Oakland.
The protest began as a meeting in the public space at the center of the city, which many attendees had renamed Oscar Grant Plaza. That afternoon, the midday news reported the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager just outside the 19th Street Oakland Bart Station. Sandoval “Sand-Man” Sanders, a nationally-recruited high school football quarterback, had been shot nine times when officers mistook him for a felon who had recently robbed a small community grocery store.
Angry Bay Area residents began to gather shortly after five o’clock, determined to make certain the city and the media did not ignore the event. The police chief had chosen to withhold the names of the officers involved until the investigation got underway, but local community leaders were incensed that the city was more concerned with damage control than justice for a wrongful death at the hands of the police… again.
“Turn around now! This is your final warning!”
Civil rights attorney Natsumi Mitchell stepped forward, presenting her card and legal documents as she approached the officer.
No Justice, No Peace! No Justice, No Peace!
“This is a peaceful protest, and we have a permit, signed by a judge, to proceed to Jack London Square.”
“Why? So you people can burn and loot it? I’m sorry, but my captain has direct orders from the mayor to make sure this misunderstanding does not get out of hand. You’re just gonna have to tell your judge to take the matter up with the mayor.”
“We have the right to move forward. We have the right to march and protest. First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. I’m sure you know how it works.”
The officer sighed, disgusted.
“You might have the right, but do you see what’s behind me? Do you think any of us care about your rights tonight? Do yourself a favor and go home before you’re responsible for someone else getting hurt today. You’re their leader. They’ll listen to you. Take your troublemaking asses on home!”
Natsumi remained defiant.
“We ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around. We are moving forward. So if you’re going to arrest us for exercising our legal rights, you can start with me!”
The crowd cheered, following her as she stepped forward, but the police behind the officer had already reacted. Pandemonium ensued within seconds as the aggressive police force surged against the crowd, firing off tear gas canisters, pushing people to the ground and making arrests. Then without warning, a group of agitators at the left flank, separate from the protesters, converged on the scene, some intent on protecting people, while others attacked the officers, flailing with fists and trying to remove officers’ gas masks.
It wasn’t long before reinforcements arrived to help the officers under assault, which drew still more protesters into the fray. Television cameras rolled as police and news helicopters nearly collided overhead. Face-down on the asphalt, Natsumi heard cursing, screaming and gunshots fired.
It was never supposed to go like this! They’ll never learn!
When the officer stood her up, she saw her friend and fellow attorney, Padmi Ravi, being restrained by a brutal, heavy-handed officer. Padmi was Natsumi’s best friend through college and law school, and Padmi was seven months pregnant. It was supposed to be a peaceful protest!
Earlier in the afternoon, after the report of the Sandoval Sanders murder, Natsumi and Padmi sent out an email blast, encouraging friends and activists to meet at Oscar Grant Plaza to make a statement to the city, the nation and the world. They contacted a judge and managed to get a permit to march from the plaza to Jack London Square. If Natsumi had known the protests would turn violent, she would have insisted that Padmi stay home, but such admonition would have been unnecessary. Padmi would have never have knowingly exposed her unborn baby to such risk!
Natsumi recoiled at the sight of an officer striking Padmi on the back of her shoulders with a baton. At that point, it was obvious that Padmi wanted nothing more than to get out of harm’s way—for herself, but more desperately for her baby. Yet once she fell, the officer continued striking her, on her back and shoulders and once on the head.
Desperate to get away, Padmi struggled to her feet and tried to run, but the officer shot her with a taser gun dart and dialed up the voltage. She fell, convulsing on the sidewalk as he maintained pressure on the trigger.
“Stop! You idiot! She’s pregnant!” Natsumi screamed as she struggled against her restraints, only to be forced back to the ground. “You’re killing her baby! She’s pregnant! She’s seven months pregnant, goddammit!”
By the time the officer who had pinned Natsumi to the ground made sense of her words, it was too late.
“Gates! Turn it off! She’s pregnant! Kill the juice, goddammit!”
Padmi still convulsed on the ground even after the current no longer flowed through her body, with her spasms growing increasingly intense as she panted between deep moans of intense pain.
“I’m dying! Call 9-1-1! Help my baby!”
When the nervous, panicked officer turned her over, the crotch area of her pants was drenched with clear liquid and she foamed at the mouth.
“Oh my God! I’m sorry! Ma’am, are you okay? We’ll get help!”
By that time, the officer who was restraining Natsumi softened his tone and posture.
“We didn’t know she was pregnant. How far along is she?”
“Far enough! By the way, we’re both civil rights lawyers. If you look to your left, this whole incident is being recorded by at least four people on cell phones! When will you guys ever learn? We’re persons with rights. You can’t do this to people! Our lives matter!”
As the police officer glanced over at the crowd toward the persons with phones poised, recording, a sick feeling flooded the pit of his gut. He knew the outcome would be bad, that he was helpless to halt the inevitable. Within hours, the recordings would go viral. There would be an investigation. He would be identified and condemned, labeled as violent and a racist.
And worse, Oakland’s police chief and the city mayor, on the verge of succumbing to pressure from protesters and activists across the country, seemed poised to offer up a sacrificial victim, provided the circumstances were sufficiently egregious. It wouldn’t matter to anyone that his favorite nephew was half-black.
“Is anyone a doctor?” one of the activists who crowded in screamed. “The ambulance won’t make it in time! The baby is coming now!”
The officer turned back toward Natsumi.
“You have to understand, Miss. We were just doing our jobs. We didn’t mean for any of this to happen.”
“Of course you didn’t!” Natsumi snapped. “You cops never do, but somehow we just keep on dying!”
On most days, Kendrick Vesey was a biological anthropologist, adjunct professor and lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley. He was the author of four renowned books relating to Animal Language Research, the Great Ape Language, Yerkish and case studies involving Washoe, Nim Chimski and Koko.
In recent weeks, he had appeared on 60 Minutes, 20/20, Nature, NPR Science and as a guest on nightly news programs across networks and cable television stations. Yet the upcoming Wednesday would signal his crowning achievement, as he had flight reservations for Stockholm, Sweden, where the Committee and the King would present him with the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Kendrick repeated his words in American Sign Language as he spoke, a playful Jamaican accent flavoring his inflection.
“There is no reason to fear traveling to the ceremony in an airplane across the water. Yes, sometimes jets do crash in the water, but Kendrick and Alberta will not crash. It’s no different than flying over land. Kendrick and Alberta will be safe. I promise.”
Alberta frowned, unconvinced by his answer, and responded in sign language, which he translated aloud.
“Mi not happy to go to Stockholm inside airplane over water. Terrorist is on plane. Isis blow up plane! Boat is better. Better we sail on boat to Stockholm.”
This time, Kendrick frowned.
“A boat would take too long. Besides, I’ve already booked our flight. We have to be there on Monday. Don’t worry. We got this! Breathe easy now.”
“What Tupac say? Mi no trust nobody. Maybe Kendrick get Mai Tai for Alberta, then mi fly.”
After a moment of hesitation and contemplation, he sighed, amused at her toothy smile.
“It’s a deal. Legally, you’re under age, but who’s gonna know? Maybe we’ll even let you have the window seat.”
Kendrick’s fiancée, Jennifer Alvarez, was passing through the room as he finished the remark, leaving in her wake the fragrance of her sweet parfum. Jennifer was 5’3” with an attractive face, mocha skin and a thick, shapely body. She was an impeccable dresser and her voice possessed a musical quality, flavored in Spanish.
“I think this whole thing is ridiculous. She doesn’t need to go to Stockholm. There are plenty of tapes and other documentation available. Besides, it’s embarrassing. This is supposed to be a big moment for you—for us, and you’re putting that silly monkey front and center in all this.”
Alberta’s reaction was instant and angry. She pounded the table, half-snarling at the woman, as she screamed something unintelligible.
“That’s right. Monkey! I said it,” Jennifer taunted as she snatched her designer purse off the black leather sofa in the luxurious Oakland Hills home.
“Come on, baby,” Kendrick sighed. “You know the difference. She’s an ape, not a monkey. You know she doesn’t like being called that.”
Alberta continued in the garbled tirade, and then she fixed her fingers in a sign that even Jennifer could understand.
“You see? She’s flippin me off. I told you. She’s always startin that shit with me. Monkeys belong in the zoo!”
“Where are you going?” Kendrick asked. “I thought we were going to dinner?”
“Last minute shopping for the trip,” she announced over the sound of Alberta’s protests while slipping into a sleek jacket. “One hour, max.”
She kissed him, lingering, while eyeing Alberta.
“When we get married, we’re moving to Millennium Tower in downtown San Francisco. You need to tell her the bad news. They have a no pet policy.”
Alberta was still angry fifteen minutes after Jennifer left.
“Why do I let Jennifer come here?” Kendrick translated aloud. “Why do I not chase Jennifer away?”
“Well,” he answered, signing, “because Jennifer is my mate—you know that… because Kendrick love Jennifer.”
“Jennifer no love Kendrick,” Alberta signed. “Jennifer no love Alberta. Jennifer love Jennifer everything. Too much perfume always. Jennifer is stupid monkey!”
“Look,” Kendrick answered, becoming annoyed. “It not good for Alberta fight against Jennifer. After Stockholm, Jennifer will be my wife.”
“Why Kendrick need wife? Why him want wife?”
“A wife is a mate. For human, wife is mate. You know that. Jennifer will be mate for Kendrick until him old and die. For humans, ‘marriage’ is law. It’s human law.”
Frustrated, Alberta wagged her head.
“Mi no like human law. Human law no like mi, no like ape. Human law no like chimp” she signed, and then she frowned in confusion. “Human mate till die? This true or lie? Till die?”
“Yes. One human is a mate for one human… for life. That’s what marriage is.”
“Alberta not have mate. Mi not free.”
“No,” Kendrick protested. “Alberta will be free. Human law says Alberta will be free. We’re so close now. Alberta is not like other apes. Alberta will never go to zoo or lab. Alberta will be free, like humans. This month, I promise. Alberta will be the first legal nonhuman person, by human law! If anyone’s going to change the legal status of nonhuman persons, it will be you, Alberta.”
Fifteen years earlier, American billionaire philanthropist Davis Franklin read a scientific, scholarly manuscript for publication about a young female chimpanzee that some scientists were calling a freak of nature. She was born different. Her brain was different. CT scans and neuroimaging revealed a brain that was denser than normal chimpanzee brains, and it was fifteen percent larger.
Scientists used the Encephalization Quotient, the measure of relative brain size, defined as the ratio between actual brain mass and predicted brain mass for an animal of a given size, to get a rough estimate of the intelligence, or cognition, of an animal. While the EQ for average chimpanzees ranged from 2.2 to 2.5, Alberta’s EQ, at 7.26, was higher than that of the tucuxi, a freshwater Amazon River dolphin (smarter than a bottlenose), at 4.56, but slightly lower than that of humans, who ranged from 7.4 to 7.8.
Alberta’s brain was denser, due in part to the greater number of glial cells that fed her brain neurons. This meant the nerve cells in her brain needed more fueling cells because they consumed more nourishment, resulting from higher brain activity.
Secondly, portions of Alberta’s brain, such as the cerebral cortex, were thinner, yet more saturated with neurons, than corresponding areas inside mainstream brains. Imaging indicated that she had an enlarged prefrontal cortex, and deep furrows divided her wider brain in the right parietal lobe and the left parietal lobe, and the Sylvain fissure seemed truncated.
In short, she was a chimpanzee born with a brain like Albert Einstein’s, which neurologists had labeled an “Einstein brain,” and thus her name was changed from Kipekee, which meant “unique” in Swahili, to simply “Alberta.”
“It’s like someone cut open her head and literally dropped Einstein’s brain in it,” proclaimed Dr. David Jacobs, the researcher who discovered her, “an exact match, except for the slightly smaller size!”
She was originally owned by the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Primate Research Center in San Antonio, but Davis Franklin managed to buy her before the research paper and findings about her were published. By the time the scientific community realized how remarkable she was, Franklin and a fleet of his lawyers were well on their way to granting her relative emancipation, placing her in the moral category of a “person,” rather than private property, meaning she would never be caged or studied.
Instead, Franklin sought out a sensitive, activist biological anthropologist who specialized in great ape language and/or Yerkish. After nearly nine months of vetting candidates, his team settled on a handsome, dark-skinned primate language researcher and adjunct Berkeley professor Kendrick Vesey, who welcomed the challenge of working with such an extraordinary primate subject.
When he was working, Kendrick and Alberta stayed in rooms at the opposite ends of the home that Franklin provided in the Oakland Hills, allowing the scientist access to primate facilities at Hlusko Laboratory in Berkeley. Kendrick returned to his upscale Midvale Drive Daly City apartment on his days off and for private time with Jennifer.
Over time, the scientist and his subject developed their own unique complex language that served for efficient communication in the home, though translated verbatim, it sounded unrefined and simple. The language was a fusion of Jamaican patois, literal ASL translation and Yerkish.
At birth, researchers selected Alberta as part of an animal language acquisition study, and a pair of primatologists raised her in an environment similar to that of a human child, complete with furniture, a refrigerator, dresser drawers and a bed, with sheets and blankets. She had access to clothing, combs, toys, books and a toothbrush. She had responsibilities in the home and travelled with a human family on car trips. Davis Franklin insisted on continuing the study in the Oakland Hills home.
Alberta was ten years old when Kendrick came to live in the home, so they had been together for seven years. During that time, she mastered American Sign Language so that she was completely conversant, marking a breakthrough in chimpanzee and human communication. Beyond signing and fully understanding human speech, comprehension testing confirmed that she could read and understand literature at or above proficiency for 12th grade student standards. She was also able to grasp and apply advanced math concepts.
Kendrick realized early on that Alberta was thirsty for learning, a quality that sometimes made his colleagues nervous. A few suggested that she was a monstrosity, created in a lab by the government, who would eventually return to claim their experiment. Others predicted that she would one day show her repressed animal side, resulting in a horrific bloodbath where some poor human would die. Undeterred by warnings and discouraging comments, Kendrick was a patient and compassionate teacher and friend, and Alberta prospered under his tutelage.
“Alberta make Kendrick proud in Stockholm,” she signed.
“I’m already proud of you, Alberta. I just want the whole world to know how very special you are!”
As he reached over, rubbing one of her shoulders, she closed her eyes and tilted her head, relishing the feel of his fingers.
“One human mate one human? Till die?” she signed, repeating his words. “This human marriage law?”
“That’s pretty much how it works,” he nodded. “Why do you ask?”
“Mi ask to know,” she answered, which was a response she repeated often. “Human marriage law is lie.”
He laughed, scratching her scalp.
“Why does Alberta say that?”
“Mi watch movies and mi read news online. One human mate one human… till divorce—not die!”
“How is she, doctor?”
“Who are you?”
“Natsumi Mitchell, her best friend. I was there when it happened.”
“Then you should have advised her against doing something so dangerous.”
Natsumi took a deep breath, regretting the day’s events.
“Please, just tell me she’s going to be okay.”
“Well, she’ll be fine. She’ll pull through, but the baby didn’t make it.”
“No!” Natsumi cried. “What? What happened?”
“Apparently, she received at least 50,000 volts from the police taser. Normally, it shouldn’t have presented a problem. In fact, there have been numerous cases of pregnant women being tasered at the same voltage with no harm to the baby. But in medicine, every case and every set of circumstances is different. You just never know.”
“Is she conscious?”
“Yes. She’s with her husband now. He’s very upset. From everything we know, the trauma to the baby could have been the result of her falling to the ground, or she could have been struck in the abdomen by the officer. We just don’t know. I understand there were people filming the incident?”
“At least five people, five cameras.”
“So maybe we will find out what happened somewhere in the future. Unfortunately, that won’t bring her baby back. Right now, she’s not in good shape, mentally or emotionally—just not in a good place. She needs rest. You might want to consider visiting her tomorrow.”
Numb as she headed along the corridor, Natsumi had summoned the elevator from the lobby by the time she realized that someone was shadowing her. She hardly recognized him in civilian clothing, but his face, with the Roman nose and dimpled chin, was unmistakable.
“You come to finish the job? You pigs killed her baby! What? Did you come to the hospital to make sure she doesn’t talk?”
“Please!” Draco sighed. “It’s not like that. That thing—what happened today—was wrong. I was there like you were there. I don’t know what to say to you, or to her. I’m… I’m sorry.”
“Her baby is dead! Her unborn son—who will never be! Sorry doesn’t help.”
The Oakland police officer glanced down the hall each way, hoping no one was paying attention to her angry outburst.
“Please! Can I buy you a cup of coffee? I’d like to talk to you. I am not the horrible person you think I am. Give me just ten minutes. I know who you are and what you do, Ms. Mitchell. I’ve followed you on the Internet for the past year. Please. You’ll be glad you took the time to talk to me.”
“I don’t share my personal information on the Internet. You know nothing about me. No thanks on the coffee. Right now, I just want to stick around to be here for my friend when she needs me.”
He glanced over at the elevator door as it opened.
“You were leaving. I heard the doctor tell you to come back tomorrow. Come on, I just want to talk to you for a few minutes.”
He reached over, holding the elevator door to keep it in place.
“Another twenty-four hours and it’ll be too late.”
“What will be too late?” she demanded.
“All your friends with their video phones—depending on how it all gets portrayed—I won’t have a job in twenty-four hours. That’s why I need your help.”
“If you lose your job, you’ll be getting what you deserve! My friend lost her baby because of you!”
Confused, she looked into his pleading eyes.
“Why would I want to help you?”
“Because I’m trying to help you.”
He lowered his voice to a whisper, leaning closer.
“Look, I know things. My old man taught me to be straight as an arrow, to call a spade a spade.”
“A spade?” she asked, incredulous. “What? Is that where you learned to be a racist?”
“He taught me to be outspoken, to call a thing for what it is. What happened out there today was wrong, for at least fifteen reasons… and now a baby is dead.”
“You were one of those reasons!” she scoffed.
“And so were you! It was a dangerous situation. You should have never had her out there.”
She backed, raising her hands and shaking her head, shocked at his nerve.
“So why am I standing here talking to you? I hope you do get fired!”
“I’m sorry,” he pleaded. “I told you I was blunt, and that’s why you owe it to yourself and your cause to take a few minutes to talk to me.”
She examined his face as she had studied the many faces of persons she interviewed in her career as an attorney. The most honest persons always sounded like they were lying, usually because they were trying too hard to be truthful, and it showed.
The professional liars, however, always seemed to be the most honest, the most truthful. They were the best storytellers, and the rest fell somewhere in between. This officer was blunt, and though the idea of going to coffee with him seemed absurd, she was curious about what he had to share.
“Okay, ten minutes, in the hospital cafeteria, but if after three minutes you haven’t done anything but try to save your job, you’ll be looking at the back of me!”
They chose a quiet corner of the cafeteria and sat opposed to each other, gourmet coffee steaming from fancy paper cups.
“My name’s Johnnie Draco. I’ve been a cop in Oakland since I was twenty-three, so half my life. My dad was a cop, and when I made sergeant, he told me that was as far as I wanted to go. At captain, he said, things got too political. You just have to go along.”
He bowed his head as he sipped his coffee.
“My dad was right. As a sergeant who’s not trying to make lieutenant or captain, I’m far enough away to not go along when I know somethin’s wrong. I need you to help me so I can stay on the force and make a difference. Believe me, I’m one of the few cops who understands what it’s like to be on the slight-side of justice scales.”
Natsumi turned as she saw several protesters from the event approach the register, hoping no one would recognize the man across from her.
“Okay, so what exactly are you asking me to do?”
“I need you to stand up for me. Tell everyone that what happened to your friend, Padmi Ravi, wasn’t my fault. The video’s already gone viral, so there’s going to be hell to pay. They’re gonna demand their pound of flesh. If you stand up for me, then the proper blame will fall on Trevor Gates, the cop who hit a pregnant woman and tasered her. I won’t defend what he did.”
“But you were on me.”
“Don’t exaggerate. I took you to the ground… with minimal force. But by the time I did that, I saw something.”
“What was that?” she asked.
“Maybe you saw it too. There was a group of young men who looked like gangbangers, on the fringe, on the left—sagging pants, grills, colors, playin loud rap music. They weren’t with you and they weren’t protesting, but in that crucial moment, they came on all of a sudden. I’ve seen em before, throwin bricks and burnin cars, but they show up whenever and wherever you guys protest.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen them,” Natsumi nodded. “Locals, troublemakers.”
“I don’t think it’s so innocent. They might be locals, but I believe there’s someone out there who doesn’t like your protests—someone big with government, legal and big business connections—he probably has politicians and cops like Trevor Gates on his payroll. That someone is paying thugs to sabotage your protests, to steal the national headlines and supply an alternate narrative. Someone’s paying traitors to discredit your cause and movement.”
“Now that I believe,” Natsumi sighed. “I’ve seen it… in Ferguson, in Sanford, in Staten Island, in Baltimore, in North Charleston, in LA and here. So, in exchange for me going out there and standing up for you, you’re going to tell us who’s behind all this? You would be willing to betray your own?”
“Like the traitors who betray your movement, people like Trevor Gates discredit our badge. I’m not a traitor. My first loyalty is to my police brethren. I’ll always bleed blue, but I’m frustrated. All it takes lately is one day, one incident and one ignorant, bigoted asshole to get a whole department labeled as corrupt and racist, facing a federal investigation. That hurts cops as a whole and subtracts from all the good we do. I don’t want to work with bigots, white or black.”
“So what can you accomplish? Do you have any proof that someone is paying agitators to discredit our movement? Who’s behind it?”
“I’m close, but I’m in a place where I need your help.”
Kendrick had last minute issues with his passport, but the California governor, who had become quite fascinated with Alberta, assured him that if he came to Sacramento, the matter could be resolved within a few hours. Kendrick was born in a small village outside Negril, Jamaica, to a native mother and an American father, but his elderly mother had lost his birth certificate and the photocopy passport he had was suspect.
Leaving Alberta in the charge of Roland, his assistant, he and Jennifer set out at eleven a.m. with the hope of reaching the State Capitol by one o’clock. While the shopping in San Francisco was nonpareil, Jennifer appreciated the humbler, more helpful personal stylists and personal shoppers at the Nordstrom in Sacramento, and her favorite restaurant by far was Zocalo, on Capitol Avenue.
The governor seemed disappointed that Kendrick did not bring Alberta along, and though annoyed, he settled for small talk with Jennifer. It was Friday, so the governor’s chief-of-staff managed to expedite the passport so that it would be ready on Wednesday—when Kendrick, Jennifer and Alberta were set to fly to Stockholm for the Nobel ceremony. The governor was also able to work out an arrangement so Alberta would not have to travel as “a pet,” relegated to a kennel in the cargo area of the jumbo jet. The airline agreed to allow her to occupy a seat aboard the jet, much to Jennifer’s displeasure.
“So when we get to the hotel, she’s going to sleep in the room with us?”
“Don’t be silly,” he answered. “The Committee’s already said she’d have her own room. She’ll be next door, so we’ll have our privacy. We can have a romantic night.”
“With her listening through the walls! Now that’s just creepy. I don’t know how you’re going to expect me to be turned on with that filthy, stinking sub-gorilla’s ear against the common wall. I’d be too grossed out!”
Zocalo Restaurant in downtown Sacramento was one of the city’s premiere dining spots. Named for a famous square in Mexico City, its exotic décor reflected the upscale opulence of that distant metropolis. High ceilings, tall plants, hammered copper accents and a pool with floating flowers made for a festive yet intimate atmosphere. They sat at a table on the enclosed sidewalk.
He reached across, taking her hand.
“I love you, Jennifer, and we’re going to be married. You have to know you’re the number one priority in my life, and…”
“But…” she interjected.
“I said, ‘and.’ But what?”
“But Alberta is your number two priority, and sometimes you tell ‘unremarkable’ number one to just sit her ass down while you’re catering to your oh so special number two! And it’s getting old.”
“That’s not true.”
“She was with you before me, and she’ll be with you after me, I suppose.”
“Why you wanna act like that?” he groaned. “We’re supposed to be out having a nice dinner. I thought you’d be happy going out to your favorite place.”
“Just get me another Cadillac margarita, okay?”
They ate in silence for ten minutes.
“Tell me something,” she began. “Why were you so against the plan to have her bred with another chimp? They were going to pay your boss over a million dollars for that.”
“They wanted the baby for experiments, which wasn’t going to happen,” he answered. “It wasn’t just me. Davis Franklin was against it, and Alberta wasn’t having it.”
“Baby? Don’t you mean ‘the puppy?’ Isn’t that what they call little monkeys? And who cares what Alberta wants? She’s a pet!”
“She’s emancipated. She’ll have legal rights as a nonhuman person. She’s allowed to make her own decisions.”
“And why didn’t she want to be bred? Was she saving herself for you?”
He moved her margarita to his side of the table.
“I think you’ve had enough to drink.”
She glanced toward the bartender, smiling.
“Maybe I hit a nerve? A little too close to home, you think?”
“No, a little too much tequila.”
“You can’t stop me from drinking, papi. I’ll just go to the bar.”
While Kendrick remained at the table, finishing dinner, Jennifer went inside the restaurant and joined a group of young men at the bar, where she slammed three of four Patrón Silver shots.
She wore a black pencil skirt with Christian Louboutin stilettos and a low-cut, maroon, button-up blouse. She had a shapely butt, with subtly muscular, well-toned legs and large breasts, so it wasn’t long before one of the young men began touching her—first her hands, and then her hair, shoulders and back, but when his hands landed in her lap, Kendrick rose, went inside and approached.
“Ooh, that’s nice perfume,” the man said leaning in, inhaling, lingering. “Makes me wanna take a bite!”
“I’m sure the lady appreciates the drinks and all the attention, but fellas, the girl is mine. And now you’ve primed her up for me. I’ll thank you later.”
He removed the shot glass from in front of her.
“Hey! I was drinking that! Put it back!”
As she stood, struggling to reach for the glass, she fell over onto the man who had been flirting.
“Who are you? Ooh! I’m not feeling so good.”
And before she could regain her balance, her face contorted, and her eyes seemed to bulge. The explosion of warm tequila and lime ooze, laced with bits of chewed-up tortilla chips and salsa bits, surprised the man, whose face was immediately drenched in the frothy, bubbling liquid. Jennifer was mortified.
“I am so sorry!”
Without warning, she hurled on the cringing young man again, this time in his lap. Fearing a third assault, he scrambled to get out her line-of-fire as one of his friends was nearly doubled over, laughing, while the other took pictures of the spectacle with his smart phone.
“Is that blood?” Kendrick asked as he wrapped his arm around her waist to escort her away from the bar.
She examined the goop, embarrassed.
“No, that’s the salsa. I am so sorry.”
Kendrick paid the bill, ordered the car from the valet, and within minutes, they were headed back to the Bay via I-80 West. It wasn’t the first time he had rushed her away from a bar. Three weeks earlier, she passed out in the bathroom of a Carmel restaurant. A week before that, she went off on him at his brother’s retirement party dinner. The problem was getting worse.
“You okay? You all right?” he asked.
“I’m fine! Why did you do that?”
“Why did I do what?”
“Why did you take my drink? That’s what started it all. It was all your fault!”
“My fault? I’ll just leave that one alone.”
She awoke an hour later.
“I’m sorry, Kendrick. I’m sorry, baby.”
“I know. It’s okay, sweetie.”
He glanced over, exhaling.
“Jennifer, what’s going on with you? You never used to be like this.”
He reflected on the earlier oddity.
“That was blood I saw when you threw up. Something’s not right. I think you need to go see a doctor tomorrow, definitely before we leave for Stockholm.”
“I’m fine, papi. It’s just I’ve been a little insecure lately. I know it makes no sense for me to be so jealous, but I don’t trust her. She’s evil and you’re blinded to it. Everyone’s blinded to it! She’s this living miracle, and you can’t see past that to understand what she really is. Stupid monkey!”
“That sums it all up.”
“But do you ever think about how it all makes me feel?” she sobbed. “You dote on her! She’s the only thing you ever want to talk about. She’s all anyone ever asks you about. It’s all about her! No one ever says, ‘How’s your fiancée? How’s Jenny?’ It’s always Alberta! What woman in the world would want to be second-rate to a damned chimpanzee?”
“There’s nothing second-rate about you, baby, and when we get married—”
“When we get married,” she interrupted, “I’m going to have a little more say in this relationship! Things are going to change, and there may come a point when I’ll say it’s either her… or me!”
She glared over at him.
“But that’s a no-brainer for you, isn’t it, Kendrick? That’s why you’re not saying anything.”
“It’s a false choice,” he answered. “There would never be a basis for such a decision.”
“Yes, I say… it’s a false choice.”
She sighed, rolling her eyes.
“And you know I have abandonment issues. Say whatever you want to say, Kendrick. It’s all going to come to a head very soon, and you’re going to have to choose. You can get another job. Just get her out of my life! I’ll give you exactly one month. Either she’ll be gone… or I’ll be gone.”