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"People are always whispering

I died.

Believe me, when I die,

the voices will not be whispers."

 

Todd Kachinski Kottmeier

 

Chapter One

 

Cassandra slowly picked her bag up, slinging it over her shoulder. It was not  necessarily a fancy piece of luggage, nor was it a plastic grocery bag, but inside it held her makeup, several wigs, and three costume changes from the show she performed that evening at The Phoenix Galleria.

She left the makeshift dressing room, which once operated as a utility room for the restaurant turned bar. The door gently closed behind her, leaving Cassie in the dark hallway leading to a long service alley long vacated since the bar’s last call two hours ago. She used her right hand to pat the wall, seeking the emergency bar on the exit door to allow her to leave the nightclub. The cool, fresh air pushed back the smell of rotted beer yeast lingering in the old establishment.

It was a beautiful night. It was one of those evenings, which are not too hot nor too cold, not too dry and not too humid. She was proud as she walked toward her new shiny black Chrysler Sebring convertible, tucked behind the bar next to the Barber Shop in the far corner of the shopping strip.

Three customers that enjoyed her show were still lingering in the parking lot near their white S10 pickup truck. Without hesitation, she approached them to thank them for the contributions of dollar bills lining her pocket.

“Why are you boys still hanging out here?” Cassie asked flirtatiously as she approached the more attractive collegiate boy of the group. She giggled, realizing how ridiculous she must seem toting her American Tourister suitcase. Over her left arm, she held her purse as she grasped the keys to her car.

“You were so incredible this evening,” yelled a much younger boy sitting in the back bed of the Chevy. He watched as Cassie came closer to their two vehicles.

“You kissed her a good ten times, Buster, before you realized she was a boy,” rebutted the taller young man now standing next to Cassandra. An uneasy feeling pulsed through Cassie’s body, the type of warning signal that reminds you things are not right.

“Oh boys, the three of you are so damn precious”, Cassie interrupted, trying to work her way to the car. In her mind, she realized she almost used the word ‘adorable’, but caught herself, as nothing made her seem older than referring to college-aged men as adorable, sweet, or cute.

“Bet you fucking think its funny when you catch three straight guys in your fucking fag bar.”

In six seconds, the air in the parking lot vanished. Cassie looked nonchalantly around the parking lot, hoping to catch the attention of a random barback taking out the trash or a bartender leaving for the night. As she glanced off to the right, she realized the older person next to her had lifted his arm. An excruciating pain shot through the left side of her face as this man, twice her size, struck her with all his force.

Falling backwards, she tumbled over her blue bag, forcing her to cartwheel head first onto the concrete parking lot. By nature, her body forced her arms into the air trying to prevent her fall, only to feel a second facial blow, but this one dead on. She felt her nose snap to the side.

Terror was in her heart. Cassie knew instantly this was going to be a fight she would not win. She knew this fight would not end unless someone opened the rear door of the bar leading into the back parking lot. With the same thought came the ripping of her cheek as it grated across the asphalt, placing rubble where there was once skin. She was able to let out a scream, but only for a moment, as her body collapsed in the parking lot followed by the first kick into her gut.

Having the breath knocked out of her, she could no longer scream. By now, all the boys circled around her, taking their turns kicking at her small body. She laid there limp, heaving from the momentum of each kick.

They say a person beaten to death, reaches a point where their brain disconnects from the pain, caused by a rush of adrenaline. This was not one of those moments. She felt one of the boys tear her wig from her scalp pulling chunks of hair from the braids she created with her own hair to hold the wig in place. The older man in the group pressed his kneecap into her chest, proceeding to punch her face one solid blow after another. She could not see anything. Her eyes swelled, her five foot six frail frame twisted in the parking lot.

It is at this point, a person prays that Cassandra had died. Any rational person would beg for this to be the moment where Cassandra could feel nothing.

Nothing on earth sounds similar to a heavy chain dragging across corrugated metal of a truck liner. Cassie’s limp body fell still as the boys proceeded to tie this rusted brown towing chain around her waist while they screamed derogatory terms into the still calm air.

According to the Phoenix police reports the following day, the violence started at the nightclub, situated on Seventh and West Marshall Avenue. It is estimated by the Maricopa Sheriff’s department, that the unknown suspects were traveling south on Seventh Avenue at such a great speed that the body was no longer dragging, but bouncing violently across the pavement.

Body pieces slowly separated for six blocks until the torso finally snapped at the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Colter, leaving a dismembered victim. An hour later, an unsuspecting neighbor, walking down Colter Avenue, stumbled upon a three-foot section of a body best described as the chest area. Unaware of its relationship to a human body, he left the scene to walk back home.

The concrete, and the friction of the tumble, shaved the arms and head from the torso. The jerking of the chain eventually stressed the torso, snapping it in half as the white truck disappeared into the night. Slowly, the white truck vanished past Camelback Road, leaving nothing but the echo of a distant bell, the sound the chain makes as it dances, driving away from Seventh Avenue.


“If you don’t protect those people

on your side fighting with you,

then all you leave are those

trying to harm you.”

 

Todd Kachinski Kottmeier

 

Chapter Two

 

The great thing about being a senior in high school is each day brings you closer to graduation and the chance at starting a new life. Charlotte and her sister Clara were eager to head to the bus stop at the end of the street. It was not even seven in the morning and already the Arizona sun had the temperature pushing ninety.

Seventh Avenue is one of those streets that regulate traffic flow by limiting the center lanes to one-way traffic based on the time of day. In the morning, the center lanes become a thoroughfare to assist the traffic flowing downtown. On this particular morning, they rerouted the traffic for some unexplained reason to the unaware driver. A person that woke up early enough to turn on the television realized a horrific crime took place while they slept.

For two hours Cassandra’s torn body was shredded along six blocks. None of the pieces was over eighteen inches. As the morning traffic built, most of the drivers passing the limbs and broken torso assumed the remains belonged to some unlucky pet.

Travis Taylor, a reporter at the television station on North Seventh Avenue discovered the first body part as he smoked his first morning cigarette. As the truck left the bar parking lot with Cassie’s body hours earlier, it swung widely, whipping the chain, and instantly tearing off Cassandra’s left arm, flinging it obnoxiously into the parking lot of KTVK, a local station.

Travis left the television station with fellow reporter Judy Taplin to sneak a cigarette in between commercials. As they exited the secured studio, and passed the windowed booth that held the receptionist behind bulletproof glass, they entered the front parking lot.

In morbid curiosity, Judy kept looking at the mutilated cat resting in front of some aqua green Toyota Celica. Almost five minutes passed with her staring at the torn flesh of the cat, before she realized that in the area that would normally have a tail, rested five fingers accented by a diamond cocktail ring catching the glimmer of the new morning sun.

Not thirty minutes passed before the reporters from Channel 3 notified Sheriff Joe Arpaio himself of body parts strewn across the asphalt near the Target store leading up to Camelback Road. The night before, as some unknown suspect tore down Seventh Avenue, dragging the petite frame of Cassandra Garcia, not a soul was in sight. The harvest moon placed a surreal calmness onto the tragic event. The momentum of the swaying truck flung her body widely, as it tumbled violently across the pavement.

Not even a half block later, Cassandra’s head was torn loose and tossed into the Missouri Avenue Car Wash as the truck picked up speed, racing past a vacant soccer field often used by Hispanic youth players. The pressure from the metal link chain finally severed the torso, throwing the chest area into an apartment complex while the pelvis tumbled feverishly, coming to rest in front of some brush on the north end of Valley Lutheran High School.

In a constant replay of the events, the news organizations began an ongoing chant of pleas, begging for a city to offer a single clue.

Charlotte and Clara were still carrying their school bags as they unexpectedly approached the end of Oregon Avenue. To them it looked like a parade. They could not understand why there had been no notice of a special event. On both sides of the street, three and four people deep stood their neighbors. It was not until they were within arm’s reach that they realized the facial panic of the people crowded on each side of the street.

An elderly man that frequented the local Mary Coyle Ice Cream Shoppe, where Charlotte worked weekends, pushed them gently back away from the street remarking, “Don’t come here. For your protection, do not look.”

The girls could tell that the man had been crying for a long time. They could tell that everyone on the street had swelled eyes, and concern for their presence at the scene.

By ten o’clock, over fifteen thousand people crowded from Camelback Road north to Bethany Home Road. By noon, an entire country sat by their radios and television sets, as the details of the most violent crime to take place on a public major thoroughfare became national headline news.

An eerie panic started rumbling through the Alhambra neighborhood, as alarmed citizens discovered the details of the brutal crime. This part of Seventh Avenue is far from the cleanest or safest part of Phoenix, Arizona. With the same respect, it is not a dangerous part of town.

Its streets battled the same plague of poverty of every lower middleclass neighborhood, as crystal meth tore Arizona apart, and the insecurities of a new immigration crack down since the 9-11 attack in New York City two months ago. Respectable families struggling to achieve the American Dream for them and their children intertwine the fabric of the area.

The constant stream of news led nowhere as the police sought clues. Fingerprints on the severed arm revealed no information as to the identity of the victim. The friction from the pavement dissolved any facial recognition of the head. The crime took place for a quarter mile stretch, on one of the busiest vertical streets in Arizona, without a single witness.

The circuit boards of every cell tower in Maricopa County overloaded as the population frantically tried to take attendance of family members and friends. The only clue offered by the police department was the victim is a Latin male, approximately forty years of age, and by the quality of the clothes and jewelry, had been determined to be a person of means.

Before the clock struck noon, over seven thousand calls registered to the West Washington Sheriff’s office, each call pleading for resolution of a missing loved one. Sheriff Joe Arpaio took personal control of the media blitz, trying to calm a city, now spiraling out of control.

Stewart Carrier and his boyfriend drank too much liquor the night before at the Phoenix Galleria that offered a twelve-dollar liquor bust each week. The all-you-can-drink promotion, mixed with performances by Cassandra and a couple of her friends, always seemed like the perfect way to end the Sunday tea dance.

Stewart was able to set up a table to help raise awareness for the need of a LGBT Community Center in the county, at the Phoenix Galleria that evening, but left when most of the guests exited the property, leaving Cassandra and the bar staff to clean up the mess.

Lucky for Stewart, one of the customers offered them a ride home after noticing how intoxicated he had become with his boyfriend Andrew. The following day, as he drove back to the nightclub to pick up their car, he heard the shocking news repeatedly played over the radio in the cab. As he approached the bar, he found it strange to see Cassandra’s convertible still parked next to his. His face flushed, noticing that Cassandra’s small-wheeled suitcase was sitting, pitched under the left rear bumper.

Andrew and Stewart slowly got out of the taxi and walked over to Cassandra’s Sebring. He could feel the goose bumps spreading up the back of his neck. The bluish-gray flannel luggage was tightly wedged under the low clearance of Cassandra’s car. He could feel the tears starting to well in his eyes, as the acid from his stomach entered his throat creating a burning sensation in his sinuses. For the first time, in his long friendship with Cassie, his calls went to a recording stating, “The mailbox is full.”

He walked to the windows in front of the bar and cupped his hands to look toward the rear of the building, only to see it vacant. He could feel the trembling of his fingers as he pressed his hands on the window glass. Across the street, he noticed a police officer pushing the crowd away from the car wash on the southwest corner of the intersection. Nervously, he walked up to the officer. As Stewart began to explain the theory of his missing friend, he felt his legs start to buckle, as a hard acidy stream of vomit poured violently though his nasal passages, out of his mouth, and across the officer’s crisp uniform, leaving a mash of the previous night’s cocktails, with a “Ferguson” name badge dripping of vomit.

By sun down, the police were able to confirm the fingerprints from the car and suitcase belonged to Constantine Lopez Garcia, 46, the only surviving child of war hero Victor Lopez and Isabel Garcia of Guadalupe, Arizona.

In the initial commotion of the revelation, the news organizations only seemed to focus on the fact that Constantine was an employee of the nightclub known as The Phoenix Galleria.

Most people are under the assumption that a conservative Republican state, strongly held in the grasp of John McCain, would have difficulty sustaining a gay culture, when actually many high-ranking Arizona politicians are out of the closet. The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transsexual community is very organized in Maricopa County. Their ranks include the Mayor of Tempe, council members, and the movers and shakers that represent Arizona. Their relationship, though sometimes shaky with the police department, is still one of the strongest in the nation. There is nothing passive about the Valley of the Sun’s gay and lesbian community.

A few months prior to Cassandra’s murder, Phoenix was frontline news across the country by leapfrogging over both Dallas and San Diego to become the fifth largest city in the United States. Even with its massive size, the gays seemed to know one another, and everyone knew Cassandra.

Today, a nation knew Cassandra. The eldest son of a family torn from their roots, watching a flood of reporters trampling the proud yard of Midiron Bermuda grass, desert marigolds, and pillars of magenta bougainvillea. Today everyone lived in the Valley of the Sun.

 

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paid in full and without debt by Todd Kachinski Kottmeier and the contributing writers. No person took a single penny as a

tax deduction, gift or award from his or her written participation in these projects. 


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