In her mid-twenties, Sophia, a young Puerto Rican woman, is running down the sidewalk in Spanish Harlem. The sun is slowly descending. She is stopped mid-stride by her bandmate Allen at a fruit stand.
“Hey Sophia, what’s the hurry.”
“No hurry, I’m just running as a piano warm-up.”
He grins sarcastically. Allen is the lead singer and most responsible member of the band. He’s profoundly focused and cares a bit too much about what everyone thinks.
She turns trying to be as short as possible.
“I am just running late, trying to make it to my mom’s before our set tonight.”
“Ok, don’t be late tonight again. Our fans aren’t the types that’ll be patient.”
She starts running and yells.
He yells back at her.
“Don’t be late to work tomorrow.”
Allen had gotten her a job at the New York Zoo as an attendant in charge of cleaning out the animal exhibits.
Sophia arrives at her destination. Her mother Estela lives in a quaint row home that’s both charming but a bit run down.
“Hey mama, here are your prescriptions and scratch-offs.”
She is still catching her breath.
“Thanks, meda, are you staying for dinner?”
“No, I have a set tonight at the Indigo Lounge.”
Estela looks disappointed.
“Ok, let me know when you get home tonight.”
“Mama, I’m a grown woman, and I’ve had my own place for years now.”
“I know, I just want you safe.”
Sophia looks away, disengaged.
“By the way, I’m a little short on rent after buying a new Yamaha keyboard.”
“There is a check on the table.”
“Thanks, I will pay you back tomorrow after we split the money from the show tonight.”
“Mama, I heard from dad last week.”
Estela looks intrigued.
“What did he want?”
“He wants to meet for coffee.”
Sophia becomes disheartened and looks into Estela’s eyes.
“It’s not fair. Dad left us when we needed him most and started a new family, and now he wants to have coffee?”
“Is there no justice?” Sophia looks up at the clock.
“It’s almost showtime. We will talk later, mama.”
Sophia wakes up abruptly and stares emotionless out the window before putting both feet on the ground. After a quick cup of joe, she begins playing her keyboard. As she gets close to cracking the melody for a heartfelt new song—her phone rings.
“Hello Sophia, when are you scheduled to be in today?”
She pauses in sudden fear.
Allen says, “It’s just orientation, so get here by 10 am,”
Sophia regains her composure.
“Of course, Allen, that’s when I was planning to get there.” She rushes off the phone and gets ready.
After leaving and getting off the subway, she stumbles upon a small black notebook on the ground. She picks it up, intending to find who dropped it. No one claims it, and she throws it in her bag.
She arrives at the Zoo and begins what is likely the most boring orientation in history. After training, she talks with her new coworkers laughing about how boring the orientation was.
At approximately 2 pm, a police officer, Detective Jones walks into the common area and enters Allen’s small supervisor’s office. Allen signals for Sophia to come.
Det. Jones has had a 23-year career with the NYPD. He’s focused on justice and making up for his past.
“Reggie’s girlfriend is looking for him, he is the drummer of your band, right?”
Allen confidently looks the officer in the eyes. “Yes, officer.”
“Any idea where he went after the show last night?”
“He caught an Uber to go home with Ryan.”
Allen looks a tad confused. “I thought he was waiting on his girlfriend, but I mean, he probably got an Uber.”
Det. Jones takes detailed notes on some additional information about Reggie as Allen dumps any info he can.
“Reggie does this all the time. I’m sure he’s with some girl he met last night.”
Sophia is staring out the window. She comes too and gestures as if she needs to say something. “Are we done here, because I don’t have a clue what happened after we all left?”
Det. Jones wraps up the questioning and leaves.
That evening, Sophia is at her apartment playing her piano when a call comes in from Allen. “Hey, are you watching the 6 o’clock news?”
“No, I’m working on our hit song.”
“I’m serious, Reggie is still missing, and they found his ID and some belongings at the zoo.”
“I don’t remember Reggie getting an Uber last night, Sophia.”
“Why would I lie about that? I was the only sober one trying to get home. Ryan and Reggie left together.”
“I barely drank anything.”
“It’s not what you drank, Allen. I gotta go.”
At 11:24 pm, Sophia gets a FaceTime call.
“Are you ok?”
“Yes, mama, you worry too much. I”m at home.”
“They found Reggie’s remains,” Estela said.
Sophia stares away out the window.
Estela continues, “Seems the lions dragged his body into the enclosure. It was only a skeleton left. Listen, I know you had nothing to do with what happened, but to be safe, I’d be happy to say you spent that night with me.”
“I love you mama but I can’t right now, that’s the last thing on my mind.”
“Meda, you need to clear your name and focus on your job. You can finally quit that dumb band.”
“Mom, not now! I just lost a bandmate and a friend.”
The next morning Sophia arrives at the zoo, the lion exhibit is taped off. Around 1 pm, Det. Jones corners her outside. “Ms. Alvarez, do you have some time to talk?”
She was looking away and visibly shaken to the core. “Yes, detective.”
“Can you recall any additional details from that night?”
“No, nothing more than before.”
“Sophia, this is serious. I need you to try.”
“I swear I don’t know anything more.”
“Ryan skipped town, do you know anything?”
“He skipped town?”
“We tried to reach him and found that he abruptly left town the night of the murder.”
“That’s a major red flag, Ms. Alvarez. It’s the only reason you and Allen aren’t the primary suspects. If you hear from Ryan, call me.”
“Of course, I will do anything to help.”
After work, she walks in on her mother eating a slice of chocolate cake.
Mama, you can’t keep eating like this. How was dialysis today?
“A little chocolate never hurt anyone. I needed it today, the doctors say I am trending in the right direction.”
Estela is in a dialysis treatment program for an advanced form of Type II Diabetes.
Sophia starts eating the cake as well. “Ok, mama.”
“Meda, the hospital bills are piling up. Do you have the money for rent?”
“No, let me call Allen to see if we got the money from the show.”
After calling Allen, she finds that the money was taken by Ryan, who has now disappeared.
Ryan is the band’s bassist and manager. He booked all the events and kept up with the marketing. However, he is hard to get along with and would often party too much.
The next morning, Sophia is walking into work when Det. Jones reads her Miranda Rights and arrests her. Upon arriving at the station, Det. Jones and Everly begin questioning her.
“Sophia, video around the Indigo and the NY Zoo puts someone that closely fits your description at the crime scene.”
“How? I was not there.”
“Well, Ms. Alvarez, we don’t have a record of your location that night.”
“Were you at your apartment that night after the show?”
“Then, where were you?”
“Did you find Ryan?”
“We are asking the questions, Ms. Alvarez,” said Det. Everly.
Detective Brad Everly finally interjected. He is the consummate bad cop, focused only on following procedure.
“Sophia, Ryan had an ironclad alibi his parents had him on camera that night.”
Ryan came from a wealthy family who would spare no expense to bail him out even with his apparent drug problems.
“I was at my mother’s house to care for her after a dialysis treatment after the gig.”
Det. Jones is visibly grieved. “How long has she been on dialysis?”
“It’s been two years, officer.”
“My wife was on and off a chemo treatment plan for eight years,” said Det. Jones.
Det. Everly says, “I am sorry that happened to Audrey, detective. Let’s get Ms. Alvarez out of here and check in with her mother.”
That evening Allen calls Sophia letting her know that she has been terminated from the zoo in light of everything that happened.
Sophia went to let off some steam with her old college roommate, Rachel. Rachel lives in a highrise with a view of the city. After college, she got a job as a violinist for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
Rachel passes her a glass of wine. Sophia looks out at the beautiful view of the city.
“I hated that band. Those guys were dead set on doing alternative rock when the fans wanted pop-ballads or house music.”
“I told you to come work with me years ago, Soph.”
“As you know, I am a classically trained pianist and they want me to play that rock crap. They would never listen to my songs. I wrote the only song that got radio play.”
Rachel lowered her glass of wine. “Sorry Soph, but that band was horrible. Let’s celebrate that they’ve moved on to Allen as the suspect.”
Rachel leaned over and touched her shoulder. “I am so sorry about Reggie.”
Before Sophia could respond, there was a knock at the door.
After Rachel stepped away, Sophia walked over to the balcony’s edge and looked over the majesty of the city.
The pressure of losing her job, being implicated in a murder, and financial strain weighs on her. She moves and almost leans over the balcony. Time stands still. “Is this life worth it?”
“Hey, Soph, the food is here,” says Rachel. Sophia turns and goes back in.
That night at her apartment, Sophia empties her bag looking for her cell phone which she feared was misplaced after the wine. She picks up the small black notebook. It reads.
“I know what you did and honey, this is my last note.” Further, it details a man confronting his wife who cheated on him. At the end of the note, it reads, “You have won and to the winner go the spoils.” In the back of the notebook is an envelope with $20,000. Sophia sits down to take it all in.
The next morning Sophia goes by her mother’s home but she’s away at treatment.
Sophia goes to the police station. Det. Jones is the only one there.
“Life has not been fair to me. I have made mistakes.”
Seeing how distraught she is, Det. Jones pulls her into his office.
“Ms. Alvarez, are you okay?”
Sophia is deeply focused on Det. Jones’s eyes.
“I have seen so much injustice. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone, but…”
Sophia is sobbing uncontrollably at this point. “She was pregnant, and I panicked.”
“What are you saying?” asked Det. Jones.
Sophia went on to state, “Reggie wanted to see my new job, so I took him to the zoo, but he wasn’t there for me. He just wanted to tell me our relationship was over because his girlfriend got pregnant. I got so angry, he was off-balance after a few too many drinks, and I accidentally pushed him over the barrier to the lion enclosure. I panicked and left. His family deserves justice and so does his future child.”
Estela made it home from treatment and she sees an envelope and a small black notebook on her kitchen table.
In the envelope is the $20,000 and underneath on top of the notebook is a post-it note that reads, “I’m so sorry.”