The crowd at the scene began to grow as curiosity seekers stood on tiptoes and pushed against the yellow crime scene tape to get a peek at the body. Detective Ellerman pulled Ronnie to the side and spoke to him quietly. They appeared to be two friends talking rather than a policeman and a witness.
"You saw the victim last night?" said Ellerman, in a low conversational tone.
"Vonda. She has a name. Vonda Lanell Harris," said Ronnie. It bothered him that Ellerman had reduced Vonda to a nameless case identified only as the "victim." She was more than a victim; she was a human being. She was his woman, a fact that he didn't fully recognize until that very moment.
"Miss Harris. You saw her last night?" said Ellerman, correcting himself.
"Yeah, I saw her last night at the Hall," said Ronnie.
"That would be the American Legion Hall."
"Were you at the Hall with her?" asked Ellerman.
"No, I was there with Cindy."
"How do you know Miss Harris?" asked Ellerman.
"I lived with her for four years."
"Were you married?"
"Naw, we just lived together."
"Were you living with her recently?"
"We were trying to get back together; at least I was."
Ellerman looked at Ronnie; he appeared to be genuinely distraught. He watched Ronnie try to choke back his tears.
"When you last saw her, what was she doing?" asked Ellerman.
"We argued. She wanted me to take her home, but I wouldn't because I was with Cindy. Last time I saw her, she was walking down Powell Avenue. I didn't know that would be the last time I would see her. I didn't know," said Ronnie, grimacing, still trying to hold back his tears. ----
Sunday night was the last time Ronnie saw Vonda. It was a typical Sunday night at the American Legion Hall. The place was crowded, the music was loud, and the smell of smoke filled the air as B.B. King's steel guitar rang out a melancholy chant. Ronnie came to the Hall with Cindy. She looked seductive with her hottest, tightest pants, freshest lipstick, and best perfume. It was no doubt that Cindy was a head-turner because when he walked in the door with her, every head automatically turned as if on a signal. The women enviously eyed the way her pants fit, snugly as if factory designed for every curve on her body. She was hot, hot enough for what Ronnie needed. He needed Vonda to see her. She needed to see what she would be up against. There were other fishes in the sea, and Cindy would be called a good catch by any man.
As he and Cindy took a seat, he scanned the room, but did not see Vonda. He knew she would be there just as she said she would. He needed her to see him having a good time with someone else. It would make her jealous enough to take him back. He knew her mind and anticipated her actions precisely. As soon as she walked in the door, the plan would unfold.
A man is unpredictable when his pride is wounded. Sometimes he does stupid things that run counter to his best interests. It's the thoughtless actions and reactions that aggravate simple fractures and turn them into major breaks. His decision to come to the Hall with Cindy was one of those stupid things. He knew Vonda would see him and respond. She would make a scene. Right there in front of everyone in the Hall, she would profess her love for him by the intensity of her response. He knew she would not sit still as he flaunted around the Hall with Cindy, but he felt compelled to force her hand.
After thirty minutes of scanning and stretching his neck around fur-lined coats and leather jackets he saw Vonda come in with her friend Rosemary. It was just the two of them. At least Frankie Joe was not there. That would have been a major problem because Frankie Joe could stand his ground. He definitely would not take it lightly if anyone, even Ronnie, offended Vonda. If there was anything between Vonda and Frankie Joe, very few believed it. Its only advantage was that Frankie Joe made Ronnie jealous.
Ronnie pressed the moment. As Vonda and Rosemary found seats, he and Cindy took to the dance floor. Cindy did not know about Ronnie and Vonda, but she grabbed every chance to win his heart. When she saw Vonda walk through the door, she hardly gave her a second glance; she had Ronnie's attention, even if it was for that one night.
On the dance floor, Aretha Franklin's new song "Giving Him Something He Can Feel" was on the jukebox. It was a perfect chance for Cindy to invite him into her arms. So, she did just what the song title suggested. On the dance floor, she pressed herself up against him and moved in ways that she was sure he could feel. He held her, closed his eyes, and squeezed her tightly. Vonda saw him across the floor and snapped inside. She felt he was baiting her to respond, and she could not contain herself. She swallowed the bait completely.
"Will you look at this?" she said.
"Vonda, don't make a scene," said Rosemary trying to settle her down.
"I mean she may as well roll out a cot and lay down on the floor," said Vonda.
"He knows you're looking at him Vonda, he saw you come in; don't fall into that." "He's doing this right in front of me; then he'll be crawling his stanky ass back over to me, trying to get in my drawers."
"Let it go, Vonda," Rosemary pleaded. She saw Vonda had been working up a frenzy. Her right leg shook under the table, and a jealous glare turned her focused stare at the two of them into daggers.
Vonda watched as the two of them pressed against each other. She cringed when Ronnie rubbed and squeezed her. It was unsettling to watch the man you have lived with for four years with another woman in plain view. Ronnie said he would bring Cindy to the club, but she didn't believe it because he was in her living room Thursday night begging her to get back with him. Now, right in front of her face, she watched him squeeze and gyrate with someone else on the dance floor.
"I need to talk to him," said Vonda
"I don't think this is the right time," said Rosemary. She sensed Vonda was getting worked up over the scene; she wanted to avoid an incident.
"When is the right time? When he takes her home?"
"Don't make a scene, don't do it," said Rosemary.
Vonda sat with Rosemary, but she never took her eyes off Ronnie. The more she watched him and Cindy smiling and laughing, the angrier she became. That might have been more by design than anything. Ronnie knew she was there and watched him. He used Cindy to taunt her, like waving a red flag in front of a bull, choosing each smile, each gesture, each whisper in the ear in a way that would achieve maximum impact. Even the songs they danced to telegraphed messages to Vonda. When Johnny Taylor's "Somebody's Gettin' It" sounded from the jukebox, they were on the dance floor again. Cindy gyrated, and Ronnie responded. Vonda could no longer hold her peace. She leaped from her chair and pushed her way to Ronnie on the dance floor.
"I need to talk to you," said Vonda.
"I'm busy right now," he responded as he turned to Cindy again.
"I want to talk to you right now!" Vonda yelled.
"Be cool. This is not the time or the place," he answered.
"It's the time all right. What are you doing out here with her? What, is she your next fool?" asked Vonda.
"Who do you think you are, busting up in here like this?" asked Cindy, who assumed a defensive posture, ready to protect her hard-won conquest of Ronnie against all invaders.
"This ain't got nothing to do with you, he's just using you to get back at me!" yelled Vonda.
"Using me?" asked Cindy, "How in the hell you think he's using me?"
Cindy’s voice was loud, and the scene she created on the floor caused heads to turn. Domestic squabbles at the Hall were not unusual. Women fighting or threatening each other over men, or men standing face to face in ferocious mating rituals were not uncommon. Vonda's tone was more passionate than the usual threats or shouts heard at the Hall. The jealous rage she felt reflected on her face; she even seemed to tremble at the thought that someone else could take him away from her. She loved him; she just didn't like to always fight with him. He was never satisfied.
"Look Vonda; I don't want this. Why don't you go back to your seat," said Ronnie, keenly aware that nearly everyone had stopped dancing; he was the center of attention.
"If I go back to my seat, you're coming with me, we need to talk."
"We ain't got nothing to talk about."
"You didn't say that Thursday night. We had a lot to talk about then. You didn't say that this evening when you came to my house wanting to talk. Why you can't talk now, Negro?" she retorted, with her hands on her hips. "Okay, okay. We can talk," said Ronnie as he asked Cindy to wait for him.
She returned to her seat, surprised to learn that Ronnie might have been using her just as Vonda said, but confident that she would be the victor in this contest. When a man puts his woman down in public, in front of everybody, he definitely has no plans to climb in her bed. So, Cindy quietly disappeared into the darkness as Vonda and Ronnie sat at his table
"How could you do this?" Vonda asked.
"I asked you to come with me; you said you wouldn't," Ronnie said.
"I was mad at you."
"Well, I told you I would bring Cindy, I don't see what you all worked up about. Anyway, I figured you would be out here with Frankie Joe."
"Frankie Joe ain't got nothing to do with this. Don't bring him in the picture."
"How you figure that?" said Ronnie.
"Because Frankie Joe don't mean nothing to me. He's just a friend."
"Yeah, a real close friend," said Ronnie.
"I want you to come home with me tonight. We can talk about this."
"I ain't doing that."
"Why? Because you with that skank?" Vonda asked.
"I just ain't going home with you that's all," answered Ronnie.
"If you don't walk out that door with me and take me home, don't you ever bring your stanky ass in my front door again…or my back door!" shouted Vonda.
"I ain't going home with you!" Ronnie shouted.
They argued for about thirty minutes. Each minute exasperated Vonda even more. She raised her voice and demanded that Ronnie take her home. He constantly refused. If he intended to make her jealous; he succeeded. She was right about Cindy. He had no real affection for her. He didn't even plan to spend the night with her. Cindy had one purpose: to make Vonda jealous. Ronnie had a feeling of accomplishment as he watched her anger build to an apex. He planned to play the hand to its fullest and maximize the returns he expected from her jealousy.
The lights came up in the Hall, indicating it was near closing time. Vonda and Rosemary started toward the door, but she insisted once more that Ronnie take her home, and again, he refused.
Outside the Hall, Vonda continued to demand that Ronnie take her home, but he would not budge.
Vonda shook with anger. It was hard to contain herself. When she looked at Cindy, her first impulse was to tear into her and scratch her eyes out. The next moment, she felt sorry for her because Ronnie only wanted to use Cindy to anger her. She wouldn't fall into that trap. Cindy was not the problem; she was no real competition. She was just an instrument being used by Ronnie in his cruel game of payback.
Ronnie left the Hall with Cindy. They rode away in a car driven by Ronnie's sister.
Vonda was too angry to talk or be near anyone. She refused her friend Rosemary's offer of a ride home, choosing instead to walk the few blocks from the Hall to her home. Powell Avenue was dark, but it was familiar territory; she had walked it before. She just wanted to be alone.
As she walked along the street, the assailant stared. He had watched the scene unfold from a table in the Hall and watched Vonda walk outside with Ronnie. Then he saw Ronnie walk back in without her. The assailant casually walked outside in time to see the car Rosemary was in pull away from the curb, leaving Vonda to walk alone. A rush of adrenaline welled up in the assailant that made his insides quiver with excitement. He knew at that split second that Vonda Harris would be his next target. To get home, she would need to pass the empty lots on Beale Street. It was the perfect place, nearly isolated, away from prying eyes. He jumped in his car and sped out of the parking lot. He rushed down Powell Avenue and stopped a few blocks ahead of her on Beale Street. The red taillights flashed brightly against the dark of night, but they were not bright enough for anyone to see the assailant moving stealthily out of the car into the vacant yard where he waited.
Those walking along the street didn't recognize the car. It was too dark for them to see anything. They only saw the red taillights. They suspected nothing.
Neither did Vonda.