2007-03-08: Two Latinos And A Crispy Office



Guest Starring: The middle-eastern woman in The Knife and Necklace, the yellow-haired girl in Like A Daffodil, and Ramirez, the janitor of JP Sousa Junior High

Date It Happened: March 08, 2007

Summary: Frustrated by the fact that Ramon hasn't heard about his wife's case from Xander in a while, he defies legal counsel yet again in search for answers…..and obtains a new lead that may very well lead him straight to the serial killer monikered "The Alchemist."

Two Latinos And A Crispy Office

John Philip Sousa Junior High School, #142

It is a Friday, and it looks like school is just letting out. The doors burst open and unleashes forth a mass of screaming, hyperactive pubescents who are reveling in the fact that it is, once more, the weekend. Some students linger at the front of the school, while others move to the parking lot to meet their waiting parents. The school bus is, once again, late, so there's a line forming up in the bus stop.

The J. Philip Sousa School looks, for the time being, crowded. But at the very least inside the building if Ramon has the will to go through the double doors, is quiet because most of the students are outside. There is an adult moving around here and there, and a mean looking janitor is dragging his maintenance cart around through the first floor, but so far its mostly devoid of children. Down the hall is a door leading into the administration office. Unfortunately - it's chorded off, a sign in English and Spanish that says 'Do Not Enter, Please Go To Room 302' is on it. The doorframe looks blackened, and the smell of smoke and char is faint around that area.

And now, walking like he belongs there, is Ramon. After Xander failed to return his call and with everything else going on, he believes his case has again been swallowed in more pressing concerns. And he is able to recognize the concerns are large. But his jaw is set. He no longer feels helpless to do anything for Catalina. And he knows there is a living lead somewhere at this school, or a link to her. One who escaped. And now he has an edge he never had before. He shoves his hands into his jacket as he walks, his lanyard swinging from around his neck. At the least perhaps they'll assume he's here to do computer work.

Up the stairs will take him to 302, and Ramon isn't spared a glance - they probably saw his lanyard. Though the janitor casts him a suspicious look as he ambles on the first floor. If he looks at him, he'll see the janitor stopping by the chorded-off door, looking up at it as he holds his mop with narrowed eyes and muttering quietly in Spanish. Something about cavron cops being stupid.

The spare room in the third floor has been turned into a replacement Administration office thanks to the fire a few weeks back. Given it's in the public school system, it's taking a while for contractors to be brought in to fix the damage. When Ramon enters through the door, he'll find a middle-eastern woman at the desk on the phone as she busily arranges the papers on her desk.

Ramon approaches the woman and says, "I'm wondering if you can help me out." Regretfully, he starts to actively listen for the woman's thoughts. It has to be done, because the lead he needs might never be spoken aloud. "She might have told a strange story about a package under a bridge, and maybe a necklace." Best not to mention the knife, that will scare someone immediately.

The woman's eyes snap up, dark eyes staring at Ramon. ~Oh my god who is this man? I didn't tell anyone about that why is he here? Was he the one who called me…?~ The administrative assistant slowly puts the phone back in the cradle and swallows. "Why are you looking for her? We're a little busy here, we had a fire in the office downstairs and I'm afraid we are swamped…" Her accent is evident, but it's not thick. In fact the woman speaks very good English, it's just that it's quite evident that she's not from around here originally. She's also wearing a traditional habib around her head, though the veil is detached so she can talk freely.

Ramon takes a step back and raises his hands, sort of patting the air. "Ma'am, I'm not here to hurt anyone. I'm here because the man who called that woman on the phone maybe killed my wife. My name is Ramon Gomez. I just…want a moment to talk to her. She's the only one who survived. The only lead I have. Por favor."

The woman pauses and searches Ramon's face - but at what he says, her eyes widen. She looks skeptical, like she doesn't believe him, but she does clutch a kind of amulet around her neck, and gives a small nod. "My name is Ameera," she says, bobbing her head. "I am the school's administrative assistant. Would you like to have a seat and have some coffee? School is closing up, and the Principal has left for the day. I am sure no one will mind."

Women are always offering him coffee. Ramon drops his hands. "Yes ma'am," he says respectfully. He sits down and waits for his coffee. "Thank you, Ameera." His eyes seek out a wedding ring on her finger — for if she's not married that breaks pattern. He puts his hands in his lap, doing his best to look harmless, trying to keep the harsh lines of his face softer so she doesn't bolt.

She steps around the counter, and moves for the back. "I hope you do not mind instant," Ameera says, lifting a hand to adjust her habib - and sure enough, Ramon sees it, the ring glinting on her left ring finger. She fills two cups full of hot water, and gets the instant packet. "What do you wish to know about this caller? And the necklace?" She looks at him. "In all honesty I have thought that the incident was just strange. Very strange. I did not think I was in any danger except for the fact that I was walking down the sidewalk of a very busy highway. A nice young man made sure that I did not come to harm."

"Did you notice anything strange in the days leading up to the event?" Ramon asks softly, simply nodding that instant coffee is fine. He scratches at the underside of his scruff as he watches her. "Or meet anyone odd? Do you remember anything about the voice that spoke to you on the phone at all? Did anything weird happen after?"

"No I'm afraid I have not," Ameera says, walking over to hand Ramon the coffee, and taking a seat in the waiting area with him. She takes a sip of the weak coffee. Certainly not the good stuff, but it's cheap enough to supply the school with. "The strangeness only occured on that very day. The only strange thing that has happened that week to me is the fire downstairs. Though unfortunately I do not know much about what happened. I was ill that day. But my daughter, Maria, has told me about it. A nice firefighter came to rescue her." She looks at Ramon with sad eyes. "Your wife was killed, yes?"

He looks down into his coffee and nods. "Yeah. Yeah she was." He looks up and says, "Can you remember if the voice was familiar at all? Like maybe it could have been someone you knew?" He's grasping at straws, he realizes, but…she's the only survivor. The question looms in his mind as to whether or not the bastard will try again.

"I have not heard it before," Ameera says, trying her best to remember. "It is very deep. And gravelly. Like he smokes too many cigarettes. A man…..he called me by name. I remember it because I do not know anyone who sounds like that. But after he said my name, it gets fuzzy. Before I knew it, the nice young man was pulling me away from the traffic, and I was holding the box. It said Happy Birthday on it. It was not my birthday." She pauses, and ventures. "I wish I could tell you more…." She falls quiet. "….I also found it very strange that whoever called me knew my cellphone number. It is not very well known. Maria knows it, and my husband knows it. But not many people in New York know it except for work. We have just moved here, you see. From Florida. Two months ago."

Ramon considers that. "And she was here on the day of the fire too? May I have your permission to speak to her, Ameera? I don't want to overstep my boundaries with you. You are kind to speak to me, to entertain me, at all. But I mean your daughter no harm either, I promise it to you."

"….alright…" Ameera says after a bit of silence. She still isn't sure about this, she sees it in her expression. "I am to take Maria home after I am done here," she tells him. "She is to meet me in this office." She checks the watch on her wrist, and nods. "She has an extracurricular activity today after her last class, but it should be letting out now." She takes another sip of her coffee. "Did this man intend to kill me? Like he did your wife?" she ventures hesitantly.

"I think so," Ramon says gruffly. "I don't know if he'll strike again though. Don't answer any numbers on any phones you don't recognize. Get caller ID on your home phone." He pauses. If only he knew how to protect someone from a persuader! The guy could come right up behind her and do something. "Try not to be alone, anywhere vulnerable."

"…I see…." Ameera glances down at her coffee cup. Part of her is still skeptical, but if this man is serious then she could be in danger. And her family. "I will notify my husband," she says. "He will know what to do." As the man of the house, she is deferential to what her husband decides. But she takes another sip of her coffee, and waits. If Ramon was the murder, he would have done his deed already. But she is serene, and at peace. If it is Allah's will that she should be taken today, she will go with a good conscience, having lived a long and fruitful life. However, if Ramon was sent by Allah to keep her safe, then she will, as well, embrace her fate with open arms and prepare.

The door to the office opens, and a young woman arrives, carrying her bookbag. "Mom?" she ventures. "Are you ready to g-" She stops, seeing Ramon sitting with her mother. A quizzical expression enters her face.

Ramon puts his coffee cup aside and stands up. He looks over to Ameera, allowing her to introduce him. He just sort of nods his head at her, adjusting his jacket. He has, rather, the look of an old west man about to tip his hat and say 'Ma'am.' Only he doesn't.

"Maria," Ameera says, gesturing for the young girl to come to her. "This is Mr. Gomez." Her voice is calm, and she extends a hand to her daughter. "He is asking about that day at school when the fire occured. Do you remember the fire?"

Maria looks at Mr. Gomez hesitantly, and she nods. "Yes…" she says. "A nice firefighter found me and saved me. It started downstairs." She stops, and continues. "It was very hot. But I didn't get hurt thanks to Mr. Firefighter."

"I wonder if you saw anything, Maria," Ramon rumbles gently, speaking much like he might speak to one of his own daughters. "Anyone you didn't recognize. Anyone strange. Not the firefighters or the good ones. Also if you remember anyone asking for your mother's cell phone, or ever seeing anyone lurk around your house."

She pauses, and Maria shakes her head slowly. "I don't think so…" she says, glancing at her mother confusedly, and then at Ramon. "I just remember the fire…." she says. "And then I fell. And before I knew it I was waking up and this firefighter was carrying me. I was moving to room 118 in the first floor." She furrows her brows, trying to wrack her brain. "And no one has been asking about Mom. I'm afraid we're still getting to know people here. We are new to New York."

She glances down at her shoes, still frowning and trying to think if there's anything strange. Finally she speaks up again. "Though….when the fire started, I saw Mr. Ramirez running past me with a fire extinguisher. He was going to stop the fire all by himself. I tried to tell him not to go, because it was getting hot. But he still went. He is our janitor."

Ramon frowns and looks back in the direction of the janitor. "Mr. Ramirez looked a bit unhappy to see me when I walked in," he recalls. "Is there any reason why that might be that you can think of, Maria?" He looks in that direction again.

"I don't know," Maria says with a shrug. "Ever since then he's been grumpy. He keeps trying to talk to the cops about the fire for some reason, but he's complaining that they're not returning his phone calls. He's kind of crazy, I guess. He was always a little weird. But after the fire he just got weirder."

And now Ramon has the lead he needs. His eyes flare with hope. "Thank you. Both. Thank you." He stands up and charges out, trying to find and catch up with that janitor. /He/ is all ready to listen. He is more than ready to listen.

Ameera watches Mr. Gomez go, reaching out to take Maria's hand. The girl looks confused, but she utters a soft 'bye' to Ramon as he goes. And then, she'll turn to ask Ameera what is going on.

When Ramon goes to the first floor where he spotted the janitor, he'll find him attempting to scrape off a few chewing gum wads that had been stuck blatantly on someone's locker, snarling under his breath in Spanish. He is a thin, pale man with dark hair that sticks up in several directions. He is wearing overalls, and there's a wheeled bucket near him with a mop stashed within.

In Spanish, the man greets him. "Mr. Ramirez, Hola," he says. "I'm Ramon Gomez. I'm not a cop. I'm a concerned father. I'm told that nobody's listening to you about the fire. I know how that feels — nobody listened to me about important matters either. So I want to listen to you now." And he does listen. He listens hard to this man's thoughts as well.

Ramirez looks up, an unfriendly glare casting on Ramon. And while he looks a little mollified that he addresses him in Spanish, it's not by much. "Do I know you?" he asks in Spanish, grunting as he finally yanks his metal spatula away from the locker and waving it at Ramon's face. "Do you see -this-? What I have to deal with every day?! God, some kids here call me a dirty spic when I'm the one cleaning their disgusting spitwads all over the place." He drops it in the trash can and his lips curl back in distaste. "So one of your kids go here or what? I keep trying to call the cops, you know, try and help them with this fire thing but no one seems to fucking care. They think I'm all loco and shit."

"I see," Ramon says evenly. "My kids do the same thing to my own house. But none of my kids go here. Actually I came to see about the fire, because I think the man who killed my wife might have been involved in it. So…as you see Mr. Ramirez, I'm hanging off your every word." He keeps his hands out, palms up.

He looks at Ramon, Ramirez lifting his dark brows skeptical. "…..eh? What's a fat arsonist got to do with your wife?" he grunts, putting his hands on the handle of his mop and yanking it out. He starts slopping it around the floor, doing his best to clean the sticky grime off the linoleum. He continues, his Spanish rapid-fire. "All I remember was smelling smoke," he tells Ramon. "So I grab the fire extinguisher from that wall." He nods to it. "And follow my nose. I go to the office, and when I kick the door open, I see half of it on fire already, and this balding bastard carrying a bunch of papers under his arm. Before I knew what was happening, he nails me in the face. I go down. He keeps walking. I keep yelling and yelling but the fire was spreading so fast and the alarms started sounding."

"You're a brave man." Balding man. Fat balding man. "Had you ever seen the fat man before?" Ramon asks, pulling out a pen knife to start scraping some gum away with Ramirez. "Had you ever seen him around before?" And a pause. "Any chance he's recorded in the school computers as a previous visitor?"

"No. Don't look like no parent. Otherwise he wouldn't set a school on fire," Ramirez mutters, slopping around his mop some more and gritting his teeth as he grips the handle tighter so that he can scrub the floor harder with it. "And I doubt it. Mrs. Hamallah wasn't in that day because she was sick. She would've been taking the guests signing in but if he came in to steal shit' and papers or whatever, he probably wouldn't sign in either. He was such a weird looking bastard though. I mean…it's hard to explain. He looks like your typical fat, white loser but….I don't know. He -seemed- weird. Like he was high or something. S'like…he was lookin' at me. But wasn't."

Ramon scratches at the underside of his chin. "Did it ever come out? What he took exactly? What files were missing after the fire? Did it spread far enough into the office to destroy the rest of the papers or were they able to tell?"

"Room's torched, man," Ramirez says, nodding to the office. "It's closed but…" He looks around left, and looks around right, and then he lowers his voice. "Okay. You says this guy might'a killed your wife, right?" He holds that thought for a moment, and then he grabs the keyring from his pockets. "Follow me. But you be quiet, you got me?"

Ramon makes a motion of zipping his lips and ticking the lock, sliding his hands back into the pocket of his jacket. His jaw tightens in anticipation, and a worry line appears behind his brow. But he'll follow that janitor. Right now he'd follow that janitor to Spain.

The janitor sticks his mop back in his bucket, and wheels both items towards the administration office that has the charred doorframe. He fumbles with the keyring a bit, and then selects one. He puts it in the lock and fiddles with the doorknob a bit. Finally, they'll both hear purchase on the lock, the door unlocking. He pushes it open, and ducks under the chord keeping the office away from the students and other personnel. Yes, the man just broke through yellow NYPD tape, but fuck them. They wouldn't listen to him. But Ramon will.

When the door opens, the office looks like a definite ground zero of some conflagration that could have been worse if it wasn't for the city's finest coming in on time. The carpet, the desks, they were torched. So were the filing cabinets, metal having been melted some. The smell of burnt materials is strong in this room, even after a few weeks after the fact. The charring is most severe in the file room, separated off from the main reception area.

Ramon would see from where he stands that there was a drawer left open in one of the cabinets, but because it's open, the things within it are torched. However, part of the label as to what the drawer held remains visible at least.

Ramon shoots the man a look of profound gratitude, but as promised he doesn't say a /thing/. He kneels down and pushes back the label with his thumb, to read what it says. His chocolate eyes narrow in concentration, and he doesn't even look up at the door or the police tape he just crossed. He's tired of waiting on the police.

The ash and grime is cleared off. It's got some water damage, indicating that the firemen had sprayed the crap out of this room to keep the fire from spreading. But within ash and smeared ink he'll find words typed in what used to be white paper, slipped into a plastic holder into the cabinet that has long since been melted into a rough and crinkled mass against his thumb:

Personnel Fi— the rest is gone.

"That cabinet used to be full," the janitor mutters, eyeing the drawer. "All these cabinets're full. Principal just ordered more to be put in before this fire started." The cabinet in question, while it has traces of burned folders on it, is not as full as it should be.

"He sets the fire, grabs the personnel files, and then goes after her," Ramon mutters under his breath. He looks up at Ramirez and murmurs, "Did the policia dust this drawer for prints? Anything?" He starts searching all over the desk.

"They might've," the janitor says with a shrug. "All they did was poke around, chord it off, and I ain't seen them since. Those useless puta aren't worth a dime my taxes're payin' them for." Yep, sounds like the man has absolutely no love for the police. But Ramirez leans back, letting Ramon poke around the desk. As Ramons searches, under the grime and ash, he'll find something that seems a little out of place, poking out from the very end.

When Ramon picks it up, it looks like a business card at some point, burned now. But there is a logo on it, and it's not the school's. It looks….weird. Cartoony even.

Ramon holds it up, and then he takes out his wallet and carefully slides the card remain inside. He'll look it over later, matching it over against phone books and ads. Cartoony…that might be art or comic books or books of some sort maybe. He doesn't have any access to finger prints, but that…"You've been a massive help," he tells his new friend.

"Yeah," Ramirez remarks, though at the compliment, he eases up some from his surly demeanor. He looks at Ramon, and relaxes a bit. "…I wouldn't blame you," he says. "If some cavron decided to off my wife, I'd be doing what you do. Wouldn't stop until I found the bastard and beat the shit out of him before killing him." He looks around. "….we better get out of here though, we're not supposed to be in here."

Ramon nods his head and says, "Lead the way." He trusts Ramirez to take him out of here as safely as he got him in. His face twists in agony, if only because for so many years he waited and waited for justice from other people. To do things the Right Way. And he did it again, relying on the DA. But it was his responsibility all along. "Gracias," he says, roughly, again.

"De nada." Ramirez locks the door, and stows away the key and nods to Ramon. "Good luck. I hope you find him." And with that, he turns to return to his mop, and slog through the hallway with it, not looking back. It was easier that way anyway, that way no one knows they were doing something they weren't supposed to. But he feels…better about his day now, having helped a fellow latino out. He just hopes justice will be served somewhere down the line.

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