Category Archives: Free Stories
If you’re reading or have finished my novel “The Professional,” the question in the title of this post might be bouncing around in your head. Javari will have her own story one day, but in the meantime, here’s a tidbit about her background. If you’ve read “The Professional,” after reading this you’ll have the two 2′s to put together to make 4 and answer the title question.
“Who are you, DEA?” Candace Milano asked the two men sitting on the other side of her patio table.
The older agent, who’d introduced himself as Edgecombe said, “No Miss Milano, we’re not; not at all.” Edgecombe reminded her of Jimmy Stewart. He had that the same “aw shucks” disposition. He was dressed the part too, like a tourist in a vomit-inducing tropical print shirt and Bermuda shorts that exposed tragic fish belly white legs. She wasn’t buying his act.
“Well, you can’t be FBI,” Candace said. “You’d be out of your jurisdiction. CIA?”
Even behind his dark sunglasses she sensed Edgecombe darting a glance at his younger partner, Agent Silva. Silva wore a linen jacket over a tee-shirt and the same dark glasses as his partner. He said, “We’re more covert than that, which is a good thing for you.” Silva was thin and beige-skinned, and Candace detected the slight remnant of a childhood accent. She was good with dialects, and figured he was the product of Cuban immigrants.
“Because?” she asked.
“Because you’re not safe here,” Silva said.
“I’m fine. Just because you found me doesn’t mean anyone else will.”
“Well now, we didn’t quite find you,” Edgecombe said. “We were watching back in ’80 when you left New Jersey for Colorado after your testimony in the Penta trial.”
“And we watched you in Colorado,” Silva said, “including while you had a live-in lover for a month.” Candace knew that was a low blow intended to demonstrate how open her life was to them.
Edgecombe said, “Now that wasn’t a smart move, Candace, contacting Roberta Moretti back home. You’re sure lucky that back then we were the only ones watching. You could’ve led them right to you, and then where would you be? You would’ve been in some kind of pickle, that’s where. You probably wouldn’t be sitting here right now in your mighty fine house on the beach, watching your daughter playing on the sand out there.”
Candace looked past the agents to the beach, where her fourteen year-old daughter played Frisbee catch with a boy from their villa. She wanted to tell her to come rub on more sunscreen, but not while these guys were around.
“Okay, so you were watching me,” she said. “What do you want now, all these years after the trial?”
“Well Candace, we want to help you,” Edgecombe said. “You really need our help.”
“Because the bad boys back home don’t forget. You put a lot of them in jail, you know.”
“Screw them. They killed my husband.”
“Be that as it may, they know where you are now. It’s not like the good old days where you could dye your hair, move one state away and disappear. We’ve got all this technology now, technology that opens up our lives to the world. And you, dear lady, have been found.”
Silva said, “Since we already knew where you were we were steps ahead of them. But those steps are getting shorter. You need to leave here, immediately.”
“Well, thanks for the heads up, boys. I’ll think about it.”
“You don’t have time to think,” Edgecombe said. “And you can’t run on your own. Technology is a leash—a long one, but still a leash. You can only run so far before you run out of rope and it stops you; snatches you right back. You can’t run and hide on your own this time. You can’t use a credit card. You can’t book a flight. If you do, they’ll know, and know where you are and where you’re going.”
“And not just you,” Silva said. They’ll find your daughter, too. And odds are, it’ll be the Maldonado cartel, who’ve partnered with the men you helped lock up, who gets to you because they’re right here.”
“And they’re not nice guys; not bound by certain traditions like the boys back home,” Edgecombe added. “They kill women. They kill children, too.”
From the beach her daughter waved at her. In spite of the heat of the day, Candace felt a chill that made the hairs on her nape prickle.
“So you can get us out of here?” Once again she detected eyes shifting behind dark sunglasses, this time two pairs.
Silva turned in his chair and looked to the beach, to where her daughter sprinted in the surf, sending water spraying as she chased the Frisbee. He said, “She’s an amazing kid: IQ off the charts; speaks Spanish and Portuguese like a native.”
“How the hell do you know about my daughter? And why?”
Ignoring her question, Silva said, “And thanks to her racial…ambiguity…she could pass for just about anybody, from anywhere.”
“What is this? Who are you people?”
Edgecombe said, “The Maldonado cartel pairing up with organized crime in the States to manufacture, transport and sell narcotics is bad news, real bad news. They need to be stopped. So far we can’t get a handle on anything because we can’t get inside. These south of the border boys are bad news, and they’re good at what they do. We need to position somebody inside, somebody who’ll be a part of their organization from their beginnings, not someone trying to walk in off the street. They won’t go for that, no sir. We need a mole, like we and the Russians used against each other during the Cold War.”
“We want to recruit her,” Silva said. “We’ll get you out of Mexico, get you somewhere in Europe with a new identity, but she needs to stay.”
Candace shoved away from the table and shot to her feet. “Get the fuck off my property.”
Edgecombe held up his hands conciliatorily. “Candace, this is a take it or leave it proposition. I know it’s a cruel deal we’re offering, but it’s the only deal we will. Turn it down and inside a week—two at the most—you and your daughter will be dead. Well, if she’s lucky she’ll be dead. She’s a pretty girl.”
“Why would you even come to me with this?” Candace asked, her heart sinking
Silva said, “Because when the time comes the cartel and the organization are going to vet her. So she’ll need a legitimate contact that they can verify. Roberta Moretti is your godmother, and great-godmother to your daughter. She’ll vouch for your daughter’s legitimacy.”
“For something like this? She won’t.”
“She already has,” Edgecombe said. “She loves you and wants you both to stay alive.”
Javari drove the 300ZX thirty miles over the speed limit for twenty minutes before a state trooper pulled her over. Then she acted nervous enough to make the cop suspicious. He searched her vehicle and found half a kilo of cocaine in her trunk under the spare tire. She was arrested, booked, fingerprinted and posed for her mug shot.
She was eighteen so she’d be tried as an adult. There would be no question as to her guilt, so conviction was a certainty.
The average sentence for first-offense drug trafficking was three years. Javari figured that since she wasn’t one hundred percent Caucasian, her sentence would be double that, maybe more. Not that it mattered.
If things went as they were supposed to, she’d be sentenced to serve her time at the state prison in Perryville. She would meet an inmate named Louisa there, and would get close to her by whatever method necessary. She would tell Louisa that the coke she’d been busted with was nothing compared to what she usually moved. She’d tell her that she had contacts that provided her with speedboats to transport goods between Florida and the Caribbean and all along the Gulf Coast.
If things went as planned, in two years the warden at Perryville would receive a Federal directive that she was to be transferred to a prison in New York as part of a DEA investigation. The directive was bogus, and once she left Perryville she would be free.
By then Louisa would have contacted her people in the Maldonado cartel and told them about her and her contacts. At some point after that, introductions would be made.
The game would begin.
© December 2013
If you’ve read my novella “Friends, Lovers and Other Killers” you might recall that the catalyst for all the drama (okay carnage) in that tale was the friendship between characters Mitch, a divorcee, and Cynthia, a woman in a troubled marriage. You might also recall Mitch mentioning and reflecting on his failed marriage and how it impacted his friendship with Cynthia. When FL&OK took place, Mitch’s ex-wife was in prison. How that happened will be explained next year in my novel “The Hitman Chronicles.” What happened between Mitch and Margaret is chronicled in this excerpt, a tale inspired by the late, great Otis Redding’s “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember.”
DREAMS TO REMEMBER
Her voicemail message said that she’d be working late again and to not wait on her for dinner. She told him that she’d catch a bite on the way home.
Mitch wanted to go out tonight. He was in a serious mood for some cheese ravioli, and the only place that made it the way he liked was a little Italian restaurant across the street from the beach in Long Branch, his hometown.
This was the second night this week that Margaret worked late. She did this more often lately, but he didn’t want to complain because she really loved her new career as an accountant. But damn it, she worked on salary. She wasn’t making any more money for the extra time.
And he really wanted some cheese ravioli.
He walked naked from the master bath’s shower into their bedroom and stood under the ceiling fan, letting the downdraft cool the moisture from his walnut-brown skin. He caught a glimpse of himself in the dresser mirror. He was thirty-four years old and his stomach was still flat and hard. Crunches every morning before work saw to that. Push-ups and dumbbell curls kept his arms and upper body in shape. He needed to get to the gym more often to work on his legs, though. He turned to the face the mirror, studying himself a little closer. If it weren’t for the thinning hair on the top of his head he could have passed for someone ten years younger, because he kept himself in excellent physical condition. He had to stay in shape to keep up with Margaret.
They met twelve years ago when he was twenty-two and she was eighteen. He’d worked in the Housekeeping department at the hospital in Long Branch since he’d graduated high school. Through hard work, he’d made shift supervisor in four years, even though he was the youngest guy on his crew.
Margaret had been a new hire on his shift. He’d thought she was gorgeous; a slender dark chocolate beauty with black eyes that could look right into your soul and a smile that could melt your heart if she chose to grace you with it. She melted his the first day he laid eyes on her.
They hit it off right away, and in less than a month they were a couple. Two years later they were married.
They’d had a lot in common back then, not the least of which was their appetite for sex. He’d never met a woman who wanted to give and get it as much as Margaret. She insisted on having at least one dick-induced orgasm a day, preferably in the morning. Otherwise, in her own words, she’d be a grumpy bitch all day. Nighttime sex was her way to close out the day, her sleeping pill.
In addition to wanting to satisfy her own needs, she believed that the only way to make sure he didn’t fool around was to see to it that when she was done with him, he had nothing left to fool around with. She’d told him a thousand times that if he was going to come at all, it was going to be in her, his wife. To Margaret’s way of thinking, even masturbation was an insult to her womanhood, unless of course, she was the one doing it for him. The result was that for every day of their marriage, unless one of them was sick or very tired, they fucked. If it was her time of the month, she did other things to get him off. Even when they argued and weren’t even talking to each another they fucked. They just did it in silence.
So he had to keep himself in top shape to keep up with his wife. He had absolutely no complaints about their love life, however. Mitch knew plenty of guys who practically had to crawl and beg their wives for a little pussy every now and then, so he knew he had it good.
His body was dry now, but he was going to have to wait until his rock-hard erection died down before he could get dressed. Even after twelve years, thinking about his wife always had this effect on him. If she’d been around right now to see his condition, she would have been on him like white on rice. But she was working late again.
He decided to go for the ravioli. The restaurant was on the shore, some thirty miles from their condo in Lakewood, but tonight nothing else was going to satisfy his craving. Since he’d planned to take Margaret to dinner, his clothes were already laid out on the bed: Charcoal gray cords, black cable knit turtleneck sweater and over the ankle Rockports. He got dressed and rushed downstairs, throwing on his black calf-length cashmere overcoat as he headed out to the parking lot to his Jeep.
He never used to eat alone. Early in their marriage, he and Margaret had been inseparable. When he was just a Housekeeping shift supervisor and she one of his workers, they loved going out together to eat when they got off from work, before they went home. Margaret used to say that it was like foreplay; they knew they were going to get naked as soon as they got in the house, so stopping somewhere to eat served as a tease, prolonging the pleasure they were both dying for.
Two years after they married he was promoted again, to manager of all the Housekeeping shifts. Margaret was happy for his success, but she was pissed that he got to work a nine to five while she still worked the evening shift. But their conflicting schedules didn’t cut down on their lovemaking. Margaret wouldn’t allow that. No, he just got a whole lot less sleep. She’d get home at around midnight and shake or suck him awake, or he’d wake up gasping for air because her pussy was pressed against his face.
His next promotion came as a result of his love of computers. He started out working with the hospital’s system administrator in his spare time, helping him troubleshoot problems or set up new programs. Before he knew it, the administrator had moved on and the job was offered to him. It was a better job paying better money doing something that he truly enjoyed, so of course he accepted.
He and Margaret had agreed early on that at the five-year point in their marriage, they would start making babies, and now that he was the hospital’s Systems Administrator, he made enough money to allow her to quit her job and start working on getting pregnant. But when that time came, Margaret threw a monkey wrench into what he’d thought was a rock solid plan. She told him that she wanted to go to college and get a degree before she became a mother.
Of course he supported her, even though he was disappointed that they wouldn’t become parents according to their original schedule. He paid her way through college, and to Margaret’s credit, she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting in just three years.
And then things started to change.
It was nothing drastic, just some little things. Like all of a sudden their old friends, people from the Housekeeping staff that they’d hung out with for years, weren’t good enough for her. Like how she’d traded in the Sebring convertible he bought her for her birthday the day after she got it for a Lexus, without even telling him. She paid the extra cost, but damn. Her reason had been that she had an image to maintain, that people expected a white-collar worker to drive a white-collar automobile. Like that she didn’t want to play racquetball with him on Saturday mornings anymore. She’d taken up golf, and now she hung out on the links on Saturdays with the suits from her firm. Like that they hadn’t gone out to dinner together at their favorite Italian restaurant in over a year. The only true constant in the two years since she’d become an accountant was their sex life.
Mitch parked his car around the corner from the restaurant and walked up the street toward the front entrance. He’d been so deep in thought that he almost walked right by the white Lexus parked four spaces up from his Jeep. He wouldn’t have noticed the car at all; after all there had to be dozens of white Lexus’ in this county alone, except for the black Raggedy Ann doll perched on the rear window deck.
Her Raggedy Ann doll.
He stood for a minute on the curb with his hands stuffed in the pockets of his overcoat, looking at the car. There had to be a logical explanation. Margaret said she’d be working late. It was a quarter to eight now. She got off at five-thirty. She worked all the way up in Newark, at least an hour away in the best traffic. So if she’d just worked an hour over, she could be here by now. But they lived straight down Route 9 from Newark. This restaurant was twenty miles out of her way. Why would she drive all the way out here? Had she had a sudden taste for ravioli too?
The hostess asked him if he’d be dining alone. He said that he wasn’t sure, that he thought someone he knew might be here. She led him into the dining area.
Mitch spotted her sitting in a booth in a corner near the back of the room. Her back was to him. Some light-skinned pudgy-faced brother in a suit sat across from her, talking animatedly. Mitch couldn’t see Margaret’s face, but she was leaning forward and nodding her head as if she were hanging on this guy’s every word.
Mitch made himself relax. There was no point in assuming something without knowing the facts. Maybe this dude was just her co-worker, or even her boss. She’d never introduced him to the people she worked with. He told the waitress that he’d spotted his party and headed for their booth.
Margaret was lifting something from her plate with her fork. She raised it…and offered it to the suit.
Mitch froze in his tracks.
The suit stopped talking and smiled at his wife, then accepted the bite. A bit of the food remained on the corner of his mouth. Margaret—his wife—wiped it away with her bare finger. The suit kissed her fingertips.
Mitch moved quickly, without thinking, and was standing over them in an instant. She looked up at him, and her face answered every question he could have thought to ask. He asked anyway.
“Is this how you always work late, Margaret?”
He watched her struggle to find the words, to come up with some saving explanation. But there was no suitable excuse—not when you’re caught red-handed—and she knew it.
Margaret—his wife—breathed out a heavy, resigned sigh and said, “Mitch, could we please talk about this at home…”
“What could we talk about Margaret? What the fuck could you possibly say?”
The suit cleared his throat. Mitch ignored him.
“Mitch, please,” she said. “Don’t make a scene.”
“I’m not making a fucking scene. I came here to get something to eat because my wife said she was working late. If I wanted to make a goddamned scene, I’d be tearing this place apart.”
Her eyes scanned the dining area. “Please keep your voice down, people are watching.”
He snatched her hand up, and before she could protest, pried her wedding band off her finger. To his disappointment it slipped off easily. He’d hoped to peel some flesh off with it.
Margaret gasped. The suit stood up.
“Now see here, fella…” the suit began.
Mitch stabbed him in the middle of his expensive silk tie with the tip of his finger, cutting him off in mid-sentence. “Motherfucker, the smartest thing you will ever do in your life will be to sit your ass down and shut the fuck up, right now.”
The suit didn’t move. They stood eyeing each other like two pit bulls waiting to be let off their chains so that the battle could begin. The dining area had become as quiet as a tomb. All eyes were on them.
Mitch shifted his feet on the carpet, left foot forward, right foot back and perpendicular to the left, bending his knees a little to set his balance: a boxer’s stance. He kept his hands low, but if this cocksucker so much as flinched…
Margaret knew him well, and when she spoke there was a trace of panic in her voice. She grabbed his wrist. “Mitch, don’t please.” She looked at the suit. “Thomas, sit down.”
That’s right bitch, Mitch thought, save your boy’s life.
The suit named Thomas looked down at her, considering, then said, “All right, dear,” and took his seat.
Margaret breathed a sigh of relief and let go of his wrist. “Let’s talk at home, all right?”
Mitch glared down at her, said, “Fuck you,” and left the restaurant.
He’d almost finished packing when he heard the front door open downstairs. Shit. He’d hoped to be out of the condo before she returned. He wanted to leave her while he was still angry. He knew the pain would come soon enough.
She stood in the bedroom doorway, watching as he closed his suitcase.
Don’t say anything to me. Just let me go.
“You don’t have to leave, Mitch.”
He tried not to look to her as he spoke. “One of us has to go, and I never liked this place anyway. You picked it out, remember?”
“Where are you going?”
“To a hotel. I’ll start looking for a place tomorrow.”
“Mitch, I’m so sorry. This is not how I wanted it to happen.”
He looked at her now. “Yeah, cheaters never plan to get caught.” He lifted his suitcase and stepped to the door. She didn’t move out of his way. “Excuse me…”
Her eyes shone with tears. In all the years he’d know her, he’d never seen her cry. She always fancied herself as the epitome of the strong black woman.
“I really need to go.”
She touched him, her fingers tracing over his sweater. A single fat tear slid down her dark chocolate cheek. “Can’t we at least say goodbye to each other, just this one last time?”
She stepped closer to him, her face nuzzling against his neck, her hand sliding against the front of his pants.
He thought about their life, their relationship. How it had always been.
Even when they argued and weren’t even talking to each another they fucked. They just did it in silence.
He thought about how she looked naked. Her dark slender body: always wanting; always needing; and always giving. She was an incredible lover, certainly the best he’d ever had, and they’d grown and learned together. Nothing had ever interfered with their sex life. Even now, as much as he hated to admit it to himself, he wanted her. He could feel himself growing under her coaxing touch.
He looked at her, deep into the depths of her black eyes. “Just tell me one thing, Margaret…”
“Did you fuck him yet?”
“Oh Mitch, I couldn’t…I wouldn’t do that to you. I swear it.”
He stared at her. She looked back at him, her tearful gaze unwavering.
He thought he believed her. He wondered what it could hurt, to do it this one last time.
Margaret had already stepped out of her pumps and was taking off her business jacket. She pulled her blouse out of her skirt, unbuttoned it and slipped it off, letting it drop to the carpet at her feet. Her bra followed.
Firm, dark breasts; even darker nipples. What would it be like to never know them again?
She unzipped her skirt and let it drop around her feet.
Tiny black bikini panties and thigh-highs as dark as her legs. She’d always hated pantyhose.
She peeled her panties down, watching him watching her. Fresh tears—so shocking because he’d never seen cry—flowed freely.
He stood in his bedroom, his suitcase still clutched in one hand, staring down at the woman he’d desired most in the world, the woman who was about to become his ex-wife.
Nothing had ever come between them and sex before. Nothing had ever been greater than their desire for each other. But this…
Mitch looked down at Margaret as she waited for him on their bed; on her bed now. He couldn’t imagine that he’d ever sleep in it again. He thought about all that he’d invested—the love, the trust, and the years—in the belief that they would be together until one of them put the other in the ground.
He could have cheated. He’d certainly had his chances over the years. He couldn’t even remember how many opportunities had come his way, opportunities that he’d turned down because he’d wanted to do the right thing. He wondered when things had changed for Margaret, when she’d stopped wanting to do the right thing by him and their marriage. What had made her lose so much feeling and respect for him that she could go to another man?
He pictured them again in the restaurant, the way she’d fed the suit from her plate, the way she’d wiped food from his mouth, the way he’d kissed her fingertips. Those weren’t the kinds of things you did when you were just thinking about fooling around with someone. And it wasn’t the kind of thing you did in a public place if you were worried about getting caught. Those were the kinds of things that people in the midst of new love do. The kind of things you do when the person you care most about is sitting across from you. Someone you’ve been intimate with.
She swore that she hadn’t slept with that guy, but could a cheater be trusted to tell the truth? He and Margaret made love almost every night. Had he been sleeping with her, fucking her after another man had been inside her, perhaps just a few hours before him?
Mitch looked at Margaret, naked and waiting for him to come to her. Would she have fucked the suit tonight first if he hadn’t caught her, and then come home to let him have what was left? Had she done it before, on one of those nights that she’d said she was working late? Had he already been getting sloppy seconds…from his own wife?
He was glad now that he hadn’t eaten anything, because suddenly he felt sick. His stomach was trying to churn up and expel the remnants of whatever remained from his lunch. He backed toward the bedroom door.
Margaret sat up, surprised. “Mitch?”
She was in danger. He’d never laid a hand on her before, but he wanted to hurt her now. He wanted to hurt her badly.
“Mitch, wait. I told you, nothing happened between Thomas and I.”
She’d spoken his name. From their bed, she’d spoken his name. By speaking his name she’d brought him into their bedroom.
“Find a lawyer Margaret,” Mitch said, his voice tight with anger. “Find a lawyer and get me his name. I’ll have mine contact yours and tell you what I intend to keep.” He turned and left the room.
As he reached the stairs he heard her call out, “It wasn’t anything about you, Mitch. I still love you.”
Mitch stepped out of what used to be his home and closed the door quietly behind him. He stood on the stoop of his condo for a moment, breathing in the cool autumn night and wondering where he might go. A hotel was an option, but he had plenty of relatives in Long Branch, any one of whom would take him in without hesitation. But they would ask questions and feel sorry for him, and he couldn’t stand that right now; wouldn’t be able to take the pity. Already he could feel the pain starting to spread, pumping from his heart like blood and coursing through his system.
He could go to his best friend Eric’s place, but that presented the same problem. He couldn’t take the sympathy, even from another man. Even thinking about it now made his eyes burn with pain. He hurried to his Jeep, blinking the hurt from his eyes as he moved.
He tried to conquer his sorrow with anger, by visualizing her laying with her lover, doing the things to him and for him that Mitch had thought were his gift alone. But that image brought a new bolt of agony to his heart so powerful that it almost made him moan. He got into his jeep with his suitcase and slammed the door.
Now that the image of Margaret with her lover had entered his head, he couldn’t push it out. He turned on the radio as he wheeled out of the parking lot, hoping to blot out the vision of his wife naked with another man with music.
Jammin’ 105 out of New York was playing Otis Redding’s “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember.”
Son of a bitch.
I’ve got dreams, dreams to remember
I’ve got dreams, dreams to remember
Honey, I saw you there last night
Another man’s arms holding you tight
Nobody knows what I felt inside
All I know, I walked away and cried
I’ve got dreams, dreams to remember, listen to me
I’ve got dreams, dreams to remember
Mitch braked at the corner of Prospect Street, put the Jeep in park and let Otis’ plaintive vocals rip into his soul. This song was a killer for anyone with a broken heart, but he wasn’t going to let it get to him. He hadn’t cried since he was thirteen, when he’d decided that he was a man and above such things. Children cried. Females cried. He was a man, damn it, and he wasn’t going to break down.
The rookie cop waited as his partner returned from side of the black Jeep Cherokee driven by a black male, approximately 30 years old. The Jeep was stopped at the corner of Massachusetts and Prospect Streets in Lakewood with its blinkers on.
As his partner slid back under the wheel of the police cruiser the rookie gave him a questioning look. “Well, what’s up, Sarge?” he asked.
“Forget about it,” his partner said. “This guy just found out that his wife is cheating on him, and he just walked out on her. He lives right back there in Wyndham Place. This is as far as he got before life punched him in the gut. The poor bastard is sitting there bawling his eyes out.”
“So what are we gonna do? He’s blocking traffic.”
“You’re not married, are you kid?”
“Well, I’ll tell you what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna sit here for a while and make sure nobody rear ends him. Let’s call it a public service; helping a citizen in need. Call back in to the desk and tell them to disregard.”
I know you said he was just a friend
But I saw him kiss you again and again
These eyes of mine, they don’t fool me
Why did he hold you so tenderly?
I’ve got dreams, dreams to remember, listen honey
I’ve got dreams, dreams to remember
I still want you to stay
I still love you anyway
I don’t want you to ever leave
Girl, you just satisfy me, me
I’ve got dreams, dreams to remember
© 2002 Christopher Bynum
Lyrics excerpted from “I’ve Dreams to Remember,” written and recorded by Otis Redding, released posthumously in 1968.
Purchase FRIENDS, LOVERS & OTHER KILLERS here:
A tapping on her bedroom door pulled Kia up out of a dream that foretold the death of someone close to her family. By the time she rolled over beneath the covers the dream had rinsed out of her memory.
She sat up and called out, “Yes?”
No one answered.
Okay, this is weird, she thought. She knew she’d heard someone knocking. It woke her up, so someone had to be there. She clicked on her bedside lamp and slid out of bed, went to her door and opened it.
The hall was dark and empty. She leaned out and looked. The door of her parent’s bedroom was closed. She didn’t see a light at the bottom of their door.
She knew she’d heard a knock. She didn’t dream it because it woke her up.
As she climbed back into bed she looked at her nightstand clock. It said 3:13 in the morning. And now she was wide awake and she had to go to school and no way in heck was Daddy gonna let her skip just because she was sleepy. Just great.
Maybe it’d be better if she just stayed up. She looked across the room at her desk, at her open laptop. She could play computer chess. She still hadn’t figured out how to beat the computer when she set it on expert level. And when she’d tried to see ahead and see what the computer was gonna do she’d slipped, and instead saw all the crazy bad stuff that wanted to hurt Uncle Paul.*
Kia reached and clicked off her nightstand lamp, and with the darkness came the feeling, hitting her strong.
Somebody was in her room.
Kia turned her light back on. She didn’t see anyone. But someone was there; something was there, in her room. She could feel it.
“Who’s in here?” she whispered.
Kia told herself not to be scared. Mère said some of them were good and some were bad, but mostly they just watched people.
“Are you good or bad?” she asked.
She heard it, but not with her ears. It was like a whisper inside her head.
“What’s that mean? Are you good or not?”
“What do you want? Why are you in my room?”
“Yeah well, you’d better get outta here. Mère can kill you.” Kia didn’t know if that were true, but she figured maybe whatever was in her room didn’t know either.
“Anyway, I’m not scared of you.” She hoped whatever it was couldn’t read her mind, because if it could it’d know she’d just told a new and improved king-sized lie.
“You’re what? What’s your name?”
Kia heard it speak in her head. She heard its name, and it was a sound she knew couldn’t be formed by any human language. So it wasn’t from…here. Then where was it from?
“You’re not a ghost, are you?” she asked. “I don’t think you’re a ghost…right?
She thought about the things Mère had asked her about; the things with red eyes. She didn’t see any red eyes in her room. She didn’t see anything. She just felt it.
Yeah, felt it.
Over there, by her desk.
Waiting for what?
It had knocked on her door and woke her up. So it wanted her to know it was there. Why?
“Okay, quit screwing around. What are you? What do you want?”
Kia heard a soft click and then a beep. Her laptop screen blinked on and the machine went through its boot cycle. Then the desktop screen appeared, and then the computer’s word processing app opened up to a blank page.
Kia scooted back against her pillow and pulled her covers up under her chin. “You can touch stuff?”
“What do you want? Are you bad? ‘Cause if you’re bad you better get outta here.”
Her laptop’s keyboard went tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap.
A word appeared on the previously blank word processing document. It was too far away for her to read, and no way was she gonna go closer to her desk to see. No way, Hosea.
The text highlighted and its font size increased, so large that the single word spread across the top of the page. Kia leaned and looked. She could read it now:
“What’s that mean?”
“You’re a mistress?”
Holy Crap. It felt extra special creepy hearing the thing say her name in her head. And what did it mean?
On her laptop screen the word changed from black to red to blue and back to black.
“You’re talking about me? Hey, I’m only twelve. I can’t be a mistress. That’s old lady stuff, like a lady who has servants or something.”
“You’re what…a servant?”
“Hold up…you’re my servant?”
“For real, like, you’ve gotta do what I say?”
Mère told her that if she prayed or made wishes that sometimes the powers that be might help her get what she needed. But she wasn’t supposed to do that unless it was an emergency, and only if she asked Mère for permission first. She’d only done it that one time, and something really bad happened.**
But she didn’t care about praying or making wishes because she’d found out that sometimes she could make stuff happen just because she wanted it to, by pushing with her thoughts. So she didn’t have to ask anything for help. But now this thing was in her room…
“How come you’ve gotta do what I say?”
“Look, if that’s all you’ve got to say then you’re not much help. I mean, seriously.”
“Can you help me beat my computer playing chess?”
Her laptop screen flickered, and the chess game app opened up.
“Ooh, sweet! But I can’t play now. I’ve gotta go to sleep ‘cause I’ve got school.”
The laptop flashed back to the word processing document.
“Okay, you can come when I want, right? ‘Cause it’s too creepy with you hanging around looking at me while I’m sleeping. So you need to go someplace else ‘til I want you, okay?”
“Seriously, you need to be gone right now, and I wanna know you’re gone. That’s um…that’s like an order, okay?”
The word processing app closed, and a moment later the screen message advised that the computer was shutting down.
When the machine shut off Kia said, “Are you there? Hello?”
No answer, and she didn’t feel it in her room anymore. Cool beans.
Kia clicked off her nightstand lamp and snuggled under the covers. She drifted away, and dreamed of things passing through, back and forth between dimensions and worlds.
Some of them were good, and some were bad.
The really bad ones were shadows with eyes that glowed red.
She dreamed that some of the shadows of death with their glowing red eyes were already here, in her world. The wretchedness of man had opened a gap that allowed them to squeeze through from their world, from the place where a beautiful garden used to be.
She dreamed that as mankind further lost its way the gap would grow wider, and more shadows would come through, and that every soul on earth would be taken unless people like her, and other people who weren’t like her, could save them.
Come morning, Kia would not remember her dream.
**From Golden (Insatiable: Book Two
The Hitman Chronicles: Return to the Hurting Place
Duncan Gray flew from Newark to Tokyo using a passport and driver’s license that said he was Charles Washington. Since he wasn’t working the fake identification was probably a waste of good paper. This trip was supposed to be a getaway; a last minute vacation to reunite with a friend. There shouldn’t be danger involved, but he figured where Nikira Horikoshi was concerned, he couldn’t be sure.
Maybe it was simply as Nikki said when she’d contacted him after they hadn’t spoken in almost five years: that she missed their time in Fussa City and wanted to revisit it. Or maybe it was something else. Maybe she was the one working. Their business made them hunters. It could also make them prey.
In spite of the possibilities Duncan agreed to meet Nikki in Japan. His logic told him that if she were working and if he was the target it wouldn’t make sense for her to contact him. She knew that would put him on his guard. Better to catch him unaware when he was feeling safe at home than let him know he was on her mind.
Okay, if he were being honest with himself, there was another reason he’d agreed to go back to where they’d spent fifteen months training together, learning their craft. He missed her too.
He hoped missing her wouldn’t get him killed.
The Boeing 777 attained altitude over the Pacific Ocean, and there was nothing to see from his window seat but clouds. Duncan pressed the ear buds of a new device called an iPod into his ears, closed his eyes and let Sade accompany him into sleep. It was going to be a long flight, and he wanted to be rested when the plane touched down at Narita Airport in Tokyo. Once he stepped off the plane he was going to need to be alert and ready for whatever might come at him.
Using his international contacts Duncan could have had a car at his disposal when he arrived in Tokyo, but decided against it. Even though Fussa—a city of sixty thousand people—was only about thirty miles from Tokyo proper and considered one of its suburbs, with Japan’s insane traffic it could be a four-hour drive between the cities. It wasn’t worth the trouble. He took the train instead.
The people crushed against him on the train reminded Duncan of how crowded it was in Japan, and as a result how its citizens were accustomed to physical contact with strangers on the trains and streets and almost anywhere else in public. It put Duncan on edge; an assault could come from anywhere in the mass of humanity packed around him and he might not see it coming. If this trip was a setup it wouldn’t even have to be Nikki doing the wet work. The blade slipping through his ribs could be clutched in the hand of any of the couple dozen people packed around him on the train.
As he rode Duncan scanned the faces of the people nearest him. Most of them looked back at him, some of their faces curious. He was the strange one, the black man in their country. But this wasn’t like back home in the States. The people here didn’t view him as a potential threat. The expressions on most of the faces looking at him were friendly. Some even smiled at him.
The smiles didn’t put him at ease. Duncan remembered that on the one occasion he and Nikki had worked together on a job she’d smiled, too, as she’d killed a man.
That job had been his assignment, while they were still in training. Against the professor’s wishes Nikki had wanted to tag along. She’d ended up pulling the trigger on the target. She was smiling at the man as she watched his fear and then watched him die.
Somewhere Duncan had heard a saying that if you loved what you did for a living, then it wasn’t really work. He had a feeling that for Nikira, killing for money wasn’t work. He’d seen it in the way she’d smiled and in the cold emptiness in her black eyes as she’d squeezed the trigger on his target.
For all the good things he remembered about Nikki, there was something wrong about her too.
Looking at the neighborhoods from the back of the taxi, at the Kanji text on street signs and storefronts, and at the people who for over a year had been his people, Duncan felt a longing for what he once had been. Though he’d killed before he came to Fussa five years ago, this was the last place at which he’d been an innocent. Before coming to Japan he’d killed in self-defense, and then to attain justice for someone he cared for and revenge for himself. Maybe, he thought, that was another reason he’d come back here. Maybe he’d wanted try to recapture some of the person he used to be when he was innocent, before he’d started killing for money. Maybe even if Nikki was working that was worth risking his life for.
The apartment complex was a grouping of five-story buildings just off Highway 16 in Fussa. Five years ago when the professor sent them to Japan to train he’d set them up in a unit in this complex because it was a few blocks from an American Air Force base. Dozens of newly arriving military personnel and their families rented units there short-term while waiting for a home in base military family housing to come available. Living there among other Americans, Duncan hadn’t stood out.
Nikki selected the same place for their reunion. She told him that she’d leased a unit for a month. Maybe she did so out of sentiment. Or maybe, Duncan thought, she wanted him to go to a place he knew and where he’d feel comfortable and perhaps let his guard down. As the taxi slowed to a stop in front of the complex’s rental office Duncan told himself to stop over-thinking things and to just be ready for anything.
The rental office wasn’t equipped with security cameras, which was a good thing. However the old woman at the desk was the same woman who’d been there five years ago. Duncan didn’t think she’d remember him, but when he entered the office she said in halting English, “So nice to see you again, sir. A long time.”
“Yes, it has been.” He didn’t try to refresh her memory further by saying how long.
“Your wife already here,” the woman said. She retrieved a tagged key from her desk drawer and handed it to him. “This time you live in 2-C, okay?”
Duncan wished the old woman hadn’t remembered him. If Nikki were working and things happened in apartment 2-C and he survived, he would to have to take care of anyone who knew of his presence in the apartment. The old woman didn’t know his real name, but with all the resident traffic coming through this place, if she remembered his face after five years she’d probably be a police sketch artist’s dream.
Considering that he would be a sitting duck in the elevator should anyone be looking out for his arrival Duncan took the stairs to the second floor. No one was waiting for him on the second level exterior balcony. To minimize the noise of his arrival he carried rather than rolled his carry-on down the walkway to apartment 2-C. He paused at the door, retrieved his leather gloves from the pocket of his overcoat and slipped them on. If Nikki was working and in a hurry to finish her job and if he were able to stop her he’d might as well not leave fingerprints. He unlocked the door, and leaving his carry-on on the balcony for the moment, stepped in quickly, ready for whatever.
No response. The only sound Duncan heard was his own voice echoing down the long entrance hall.
The apartment was laid out the same as the one they’d shared five years ago. A hallway extended from the entry and terminated in the main living area. A few steps beyond the entry were two equal-sized rooms on either side of the hall. Duncan remembered that those rooms were barely larger than an American walk-in closet. He checked them first. Both were empty; not even furniture. The rooms made him think about five years ago; about plums.
He retrieved his carry-on from the landing, and with his senses on high alert moved deeper into the apartment, toward the main living area.
Nikira had furnished the main living area sparsely, with just a futon sofa and a 19-inch television/DVD player combo sitting on a wheeled stand. The efficiency-sized kitchen lay just off the living room, behind his right shoulder. The kitchen was empty. The bathroom entry stood just off the kitchen. Duncan thought the bathroom would be a good place to hide if an unsuspecting target walked straight through the main room into one of the bedrooms without checking it. She could sneak up behind them. He checked the bathroom and found it empty.
The rear right bedroom was as empty of furnishings as the two front rooms. The left bedroom held a full-sized bed, a dresser and mirror and in the closet, female clothing and shoes, to include a couple of pairs of stiletto heels. Duncan thought about plums again.
Five years ago, on an evening when they’d left training after a day of learning nothing but kicks until Duncan felt like his legs were going to detach from his crotch, Nikki had said that she wanted to stop and pick up a few things before they returned to the apartment. They went to the Seiyu shopping center, where Nikki bought a package of plant hanger hooks, a roll of shipping twine, and a couple pounds of plums.
Back in the apartment she’d had him screw one of the hooks into the ceiling of the empty front room and attach a length of twine to it. She attached a second hook to the end of the twine, and then hung a plum on the hook, about six feet above the floor. She left the room and came back wearing a pair of her stiletto high heels.
When he’d asked her what she was doing she’d said, “I figure when I’m in heels the best spot to place a kick is through the eye. Instant brain damage.”
It took Nikki a of month of dedicated practice to put her heel through a plum on the first try, every time. But she wasn’t done. She’d said that a target wasn’t going to stand still and let her kick his eye out, so she’d had him swing plums back and forth on the string. It took her three months to master putting her heel through a moving plum. And she still wasn’t satisfied. Next they were in the apartment’s long hall and he was tossing plums at her.
By the time they left Japan Duncan was pretty sure that Nikira was the only person in the world that could kill a flying plum with a pair of Jimmy Choos. Woe be unto the person who pissed her off while she was dressed up.
Standing in the bedroom that was a replica of the bedroom from five years ago his muscle memory kicked in. Duncan flexed, and was almost surprised that he felt no pain. During their fifteen months in Fussa learning to use their bodies to kill they were always in pain, always in recovery from some training injury.
He stood in the bedroom doorway, looking at the bed and remembering.
Being in such pain, they shouldn’t have wanted to fuck so much, but they were young and strong. He was twenty-one when they began. She was nineteen. Nikki said it was because they were animals, that their training had broken them down to their base state of being. Animals hunted and killed and ate and fucked and slept, and the next day did it over again. So they learned to hunt and kill because that was to be their livelihood, their means to food. They fucked because she was female and he was male, and their bodies craved each other. They’d shared a two-bedroom apartment just like this one, but they’d only slept in separate bedrooms the first month of the fifteen.
Master Ono—who the professor had sent them to to learn lethal methods of hand-to-hand combat—didn’t allow them to spar with his cadre of expert martial artists. Rather, he told them to try to survive against them. They suffered for their survival, but they learned. Duncan recalled that on some particularly brutal training days, when their bodies were so battered and battle-weary by the time they returned to the apartment that they could barely move, Nikira would be especially horny and wouldn’t be denied. He’d wondered if she wanted sex because they were in pain. With Nikki he could never be sure.
Like he wasn’t sure why he was here.
In their conversation last week Nikki told him that five years ago she’d been too busy training to think much about her heritage. So she’d wanted to come to Fussa again. But she wasn’t even born in Fussa. Her mother was.
Her mother had been a poor shop girl who’d had the misfortune of falling in love with a wealthy businessman. The businessman had only loved Nikki’s mother for what she could do to please him with her body. When she became pregnant he wanted her gone because he didn’t want to bring disgrace to himself. He was after all, a married man. So he shipped Nikki’s mother off to the island of Okinawa, seven months pregnant and with a small stipend that was gone by the time baby Nikira was born.
Nikki’s mother did what she had to do to make ends meet. Mostly that involved servicing American Marines stationed on the island for money. It wasn’t her choice, buy she had to feed her baby. When Nikira was two years old her mother married a Marine who adopted Nikki and moved them to San Diego.
Nikira was as American as Duncan. Five years ago she’d shown no interest in learning about her Japanese heritage. Now all of a sudden she wanted to return to Fussa. She’d told him that as before, she wanted him by her side.
In their business the hunter could easily become the hunted.
Maybe Nikira was the hunter and he was the…
It was starting.
There’d been a change in the quality of light in the apartment. It was just for an instant, but Duncan caught it. He hadn’t heard a sound, but he knew that the apartment door had opened and closed. Someone had come in. Someone who could move as silently as a shadow.
He spun in the bedroom doorway.
So fucking quick.
Quicker than him.
Duncan tensed as watching him, she shrugged out of her overcoat. Beneath the coat she wore a bulky black cable knit sweater and tight Levis. Her shoes were over-the-ankle numbers with wedge heels. At least they weren’t stilettos. He didn’t see any weapon, which didn’t matter. Her body was a weapon.
Nikki said, “I went shopping yesterday, got a couple of steaks and some wine. It’s going to be nice being here and not having to do anything. Oh, and I got you some of those nasty instant noodles you like.”
Japanese by birth or not, she was more Southern Californian than anything; more about Big Macs and Mexican food than sushi and sake.
“How’s your jet lag?” she asked.
Still standing in the bedroom doorway Duncan said, “I’m good. I slept a lot on the plane.”
“Good. You hungry? If you don’t feel like the steaks tonight we can go out for dinner.”
“I could eat,” Duncan said.
“Then let’s eat now and get it over with,” she said, “because once we get undressed nothing’s gonna happen but us.”
Later, when she was naked in the bed and as he was perched over her, Duncan noticed a small, circular indented scar at the edge of her left shoulder. The wound hadn’t been there five years ago.
As Nikki clutched his erection and guided him to her he slipped his hand under her and felt rough scar tissue at the back of her shoulder. He was surprised at himself at the pulse of rage he felt; at his desire to hurt an unknown someone.
Seeing the rage in him Nikki said, “It went straight through,” and rubbed the head of him along her silken cleft. “Pre-trial witness protection contract. I watched the safe house for two weeks. One of the two agents guarding the target went for groceries on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Just dumb bad luck that the day I picked, he forgot his grocery list. That’s what he said when he came back in: ‘I forgot the friggin’ list.’ Then he saw me.”
She sighed as she pressed the head of him against her bud.
“What happened?” Duncan asked.
“I already had the other agent down—got him from behind. Didn’t kill him, though; this was federal and the professor said to try to minimize collateral damage. Anyway, the target was done; bleeding out from his throat. The grocery shopper had his gun out. My Sig was holstered so he had me. Mmm, this is nice. Stay in me all night, okay? Hard and then easy, remember?”
He remembered. He throbbed in her hand because he remembered. Muscle memory of her.
“So how’d you get away after you got hit?” he asked.
“He was across the kitchen from me. I wasn’t about to try to run and get shot in the back, so I went for him. I think that surprised him, that I went for him; threw his aim off. I didn’t give him a chance to shoot me twice.”
Nikki was so quick. Duncan imagined the agent’s surprise that she could be across a room and then in his face in a blink.
“I broke his wrist and he dropped his weapon. My shoulder hurt so bad, so I had to focus the way we learned in Master Ono’s fucking torture chamber and put the pain away, in another place.” Nikki rose up and kissed him, flicked her tongue against his lips. “I miss us,” she said. “Stay inside me until we become one again.”
Duncan didn’t know if they’d ever been one, but he wanted back in. And it was going to be nice to do it without pain being a part of it.
“He broke pretty fast,” Nikki said. “At first he was whining about having a wife and kids, like I cared. Then it was ‘Please don’t hurt me anymore.’ And this is after he shot me. He shot me, Duncan. I took my time until he was begging me to kill him. I told him if he told me he was sorry for shooting me then I’d kill him and end his suffering, but he had to be really sincere in his apology and make me believe him. I believed him.”
She was really wet now, and Duncan wondered if it were because she’d been rubbing the head of him against her clit or because she was reflecting on how she’d killed a man with her bare hands, slowly.
With Nikira Horikoshi he could never be sure.
They spent the first week in Japan acting like tourists during the day and fucking each other to exhaustion at night. Midway through their second week in Fussa Nikki placed the keys for her rental car on top of the television, said “I’ll be back soon,” and left the apartment.
She was gone for four days.
On the third day after Nikki left the apartment the television news was full of a story about a man named Tanaka going missing. From what Duncan could tell Tanaka was the head of his family’s business empire, manufacturing electronics.
On the fourth day after Nikki left the apartment the media announced that Tanaka’s remains had been found in a storeroom in one of his company’s warehouses. He’d been strapped to a worktable, hacked to pieces and beheaded with a meat cleaver.
At 3:17 in the morning of the fifth day Duncan was awakened by the sound of the washing machine running. He found Nikki standing in the tiny kitchen, naked and stuffing her clothes into the washing machine. Her wrists and forearms were stained with dried blood.
She picked up her bloody sneakers, looked at him and asked, “Do you think Air Jordans can stand a washing machine?”
“Screw it,” she said and dropped them in the machine with her clothes.
“Where’ve you been, Nikki?”
“You’re not supposed to ask me that. It’s not professional.”
“You had me come here under false pretenses. You made me a part of your work. So tell me what I’m a part of.”
She shook her head as he spoke, then said, “No, I wanted to come back, and I wanted to see you. I’m not working.”
“I need to take a shower. Come shower with me.”
“Tell me what the fuck is going on or I’m on the train to the airport.”
Nikira braced her hands against the countertop as if she needed support to stand. Without looking at him she said, “People with money think they have power, and think they have power over people who don’t have money. They think they can use people and discard them like trash when they’re done with them, just because they have money. I wanted to teach him how weak and helpless he was when his money couldn’t buy him the thing he needed most.”
“What did he need most?”
“He had no idea I even existed; thought my mother had aborted me or killed me at birth or gave me away or something. He said my mother dishonored him by not having a boy. The fucker.”
“We should go home.”
“I know. But I need a couple of days here. I need to stay here and honor my mother by breathing her air—air that’s fresh and pure again because she’s not sharing it with him. And I need you with me, Duncan, because somebody’s gotta hold me when I start crying.”
He’d never seen her cry. Not through all the bruises, all the pain. He’d wondered if she even had the capacity to shed tears, because usually she seemed so cruel, so heartless.
Duncan supposed it just went to show that with Nikira, you could never be sure.
The Hitman Chronicles series begins in 2014
Across Liberty Street
Long Branch, New Jersey
Cole checked out his processed hair in the bathroom mirror. He licked his fingertips and used them to slick his hair down over his ears. He grinned at his reflection.
Cool, baby. Fried, dyed and laid to the side!
He leaned closer to the mirror and squinted at the fuzz that was barely more than a shadow over his top lip. Yeah, it was coming in. Slow, but it was coming. Oh well, even what little mustache he had made him look older. He hated when people told him that he had a baby face.
Other folks said he looked like Eddie Kendricks. That was cool. All the honeys liked Eddie. Cole stepped back from the mirror, held up an invisible microphone and started singing, “I know you wanna leave me, but I refuse to let you go…”
He kept singing the Temptations “Ain’t To Proud To Beg” as he left the bathroom and did the Temptation Walk to the stairs.
Before he even got to the top of the steps Cole smelled the mingled odors of sausage, coffee, hot Dixie Peach and frying hair.
Still singing, Cole went down. He was in a good mood this morning. It was Sunday.
“Ow Ma, ow!” Cole’s little niece Connie yelled.
His sister Bernice snapped, “If you stop fidgeting you won’t get burned. Now be still!”
Cole grinned and made a face at Connie as he entered the kitchen. Teary-eyed, she stuck her tongue out at him.
Still singing, he stepped to Bernice and gave her a smacking kiss on her cheek.
Bernice smiled at him and said, “You’re in mighty good spirits this morning. You coming to church with us?”
“Um, I don’t know, Sis. Can’t say yet.”
Cole started singing again and danced to the stove to see what smelled good. He saw that Bernice had cooked up some hot links, grits, scrambled eggs with cheese and biscuits. His stomach rumbled that that was just what the doctor ordered.
“Where’s Joe?” he asked as he made his plate. “Did he eat yet? Cause if he didn’t he’s ‘bout to go hungry.” Then he picked up on the next verse of “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg.”
“Joe already ate, “Bernice said, “He went to the Esso station to get some gas. Cole, going to church or not, you need to stop singing that mess and dancing on the Lord’s Day. There’s cheese toast in the oven. And Connie made Kool-Aid. You need to come to church, Cole. You haven’t been more than a couple times since you came up here. Everybody needs a church home.”
Cole looked back from the stove. Ignoring his big sister’s weekly nagging about church he said, “Connie made the Kool-Aid? Then don’t you mean she put a couple of drops in a pound of sugar?”
Connie looked around from her chair. “Forget you, Uncle Cole! Ma, ow!”
“Girl, I told you to be still!”
As he settled into the porch swing he looked across Liberty Street, at Deacon Jefferson’s house.
Come on baby.
His brother in-law Joe’s ’64 Impala rolled to a stop at the curb. Joe got out of the car. He was already in his church suit. Joe was grinning as he came up the walk to the house. Cole knew what was coming.
Sure enough, Joe said, “That don’t look like church get-up to me, boy. You ain’t rolling with us this morning?
“Hey Joe. I don’t know, man. I’m thinking on it.”
“Well don’t think too long, Cole. Can’t keep God waiting.”
Cole shot another glance across the street at Deacon Jefferson’s house, at the window on the second floor. “Amen to that, brother,” he said.
As Joe went inside Cole checked his watch. It was almost nine-thirty.
Come on baby.
He sat and swung and watched the sparse traffic rolling up and down Liberty Street. Not too many cars on a Sunday morning. Hell, still a lot more than he’d see along the dirt road in front of his house down home. And back home there weren’t any houses across the road to look at. Nothing but woods. Cole figured if he had anything to give thanks for on Sunday it was that his sister Bernice married Joe Cherry, and that he’d moved her from North Carolina up here to New Jersey. Yeah, thank the Lord for that. And for the house across Liberty Street.
Yes Lord, thank you Jesus!
Cole looked at the second floor window of the house across the street.
Come on, baby.
Bernice called out from inside the house, “Cole, if you going with us you need to get to stepping! It’s almost ten o’clock, boy!”
Girl, come on!
Across the street the second floor window blinds closed, then opened, and then closed and opened again.
Cole grinned and yelled back into the house, “Nah, I ain’t going today!”
Thank you Jesus!
Across the street Deacon Jefferson came out of the house dressed in a black suit and carrying his bible.
The Deacon was a big man. He reminded Cole of Bubba Eley down home. Built thick and solid, like a bull. Not the kind of Negro you wanted to tussle with. Cole grinned and waved over at the deacon. Deacon Jefferson nodded back at him and tapped the brim of his hat. Then he slid into his black Chrysler Imperial and drove off, on his way to the church to help spread The Word and save souls.
Cole sat back and swung and grinned and sang under his breath, “I’ve got sunshine, on a cloudy day…”
After Joe and Bernice and Connie left for church Cole went upstairs and put a shirt on over his wife-beater. He left the house on foot and headed north up Liberty Street.
He walked casually, telling himself not to run. There was plenty of time. The first service was from eleven until one o’clock. He checked his watch. It was five till eleven. Plenty of time.
He told himself not to run.
When Cole reached the corner of Joline Avenue he crossed Liberty Street and headed south, back the way he’d come but on the other side of the street. He stole a glance around, and then cut between two houses to the back yards. Now he moved faster. He hurried along the edges of the neighbor’s back yards until he reached the back yard of Deacon Jefferson’s house. Gasping more from excitement than from running, he stopped and looked at the back door of the house.
He hadn’t been moving that fast, hadn’t even broken a sweat. But now his heart started pounding. It was pounding because he saw her standing there, just on the other side of the screen door, looking out at him.
Cole hurried across the back yard. As he leapt onto the porch she opened the screen door for him. And then he was in the kitchen and Francine was in his arms.
They kissed like they were eating after almost starving to death. Her body felt so good in his arms. After Cole had had his first fill of her sweet lips he let her go and stepped back to look at her.
Lord have mercy Jesus!
Francine smiled at him as he looked her up and down. She didn’t act even a little bit ashamed that she was downstairs in the kitchen wearing nothing but a white slip. She didn’t even have a robe on over it. The girl was bold as hell.
And she looked so good, with her big-legged self. Cole couldn’t understand how old ass Deacon Jefferson could get a young, fine piece of trim like Francine to marry him. That Negro had to be at least forty, maybe fifty.
“How’d you get outta going to church?” he asked.
“I’ve been working on a migraine headache since Friday night.” She smiled her pretty smile. “This morning it got really bad.”
Cole grinned at her. “A migraine headache, huh?”
“Mmm-hmm.” She backed away from him to the kitchen counter and looked out through the window over the sink.
“You ain’t worried about old lady Henry next door seeing you through the window with no clothes on?” Cole asked.
“I’m in my house,” Francine said. “It’s my business what I wear…or don’t wear.”
“You got anything on up under that slip?”
She looked around at him. She gave him a sexy smile and said, “Why do you want to know?”
“’Cause I’m the doctor, and I think I’m gonna have to give you a shot to take care of your headache. And it’s not the kind of shot you get in your arm, neither.”
“Oh, is that right? You’re going to give me an injection, Doctor Cole?”
“Ha-ha, yeah, I’ma inject you baby. You got your drawers on under there?”
“They need to come off.”
“I don’t know. Is your injection going to hurt?”
Cole grinned harder. “Yeah baby, it might. But it’s a good kinda hurt.”
“So if I’m a good girl and let you give me your injection, are you going to give me a lollipop…or something else good to suck on?”
“Whoo lord! Yeah, girl!”
He watched Francine with greedy eyes and a hard dick as she lifted her slip and peeled her underwear down. She stepped out of them and kicked them away. As Cole went to her he said, “Now turn that thing around.”
“Don’t you fall asleep!” Francine said as she shook him out of his nod. “You need to go. He’ll be back soon.”
Cole struggled upright on the sofa. “Why that nigga gotta come back anyway?” he grumbled. “Next service is at three-thirty.”
“He always comes home between services. Now fix your pants and go home.”
When Deacon Jefferson got home he saw Bernice Cherry’s kid brother Cole still sitting on the porch across the street. That boy ought to be in church, he thought.
The Deacon went into his house through the front door. He hung his hat and suit jacket on the coat rack. Something smelled good. He headed back to the kitchen.
He didn’t see Francine, but she had a pot of something going on the stove. The Deacon went over and lifted the lid. It was pot roast with white potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and pearl onions.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw something on the floor in front of the refrigerator. He looked, then went over and picked up Francine’s underwear.
The Deacon went upstairs to the master bedroom. He went in and stopped just inside the door.
Francine was in the bed, sitting up with her back propped against the pillows and the bedspread pulled up under her chin.
They looked at each other for a moment without speaking. Then the Deacon said, “Pot roast looks good.”
“Thank you,” she said. “How was the service?”
“Good. The reverend outdid himself. Ida Banks and Annie Wilson got the spirit at the same time. So Roberta Johnson had to go into her weekly seizure. Ushers had to carry her out kicking and flopping.”
Francine smiled. “You know Roberta’s not going to let anyone outdo her catching the Holy Spirit.”
The Deacon looked at his young wife. She held his gaze for a moment, but then looked away.
“How’s your headache?” he asked.
“It um…it went away while I was down in the kitchen.”
“In the kitchen, huh?”
“Yes…” Her voice had gone soft. She still wouldn’t look at him.
Deacon Jefferson tossed his wife’s panties onto the foot of the bed.
Francine looked at them, and then up at him.
“Let’s hear it,” he said.
Francine said, “He made me bend over the sink. I was looking out the window at Mrs. Henry’s strawberry patch while he did it to me.”
With his eyes on his wife, Deacon Jefferson loosened his tie and lifted it over his head. Then he unbuttoned his shirt. “How was it this time?”
“He barely looked at me. He didn’t even bother to take my slip off—just stuck his little mess in and did his business.”
“It wasn’t good to you?”
“All he did was warm me up for you, Daddy. He can’t do me the way you do.”
As the Deacon took his shirt off he said, “The boy’s a fool, can’t appreciate a beautiful woman like you. Can’t do you right.”
Francine smiled and said, “You do me right, Daddy. Nobody can do me like you do, with that big thing of yours. Let me see it Daddy.”
“Let me see you baby.”
Francine flipped the bedspread away to reveal her nakedness.
The Deacon unfastened his suit pants and pulled his stuff out. “Get up,” he said. “Get over by the window.”
Obediently, Francine slid out of bed and went to the window. She bent over and braced her hands on the window sill.
The Deacon stepped up behind his wife. As he pushed into her from the back he looked through the window, out across Liberty Street.
“Looks like he’s singing,” the Deacon said.
© November 2009
When the law isn’t on a man’s side and he doesn’t want to break the rules, all he can do to seek revenge and attain justice is what the law allows…
Everything the Law Allows
“Are you Sean Daniels?”
Sean looked up at the dude standing in his office doorway. Light-skinned brother. Light brown eyes. Wavy hair—the shit they called good hair back in the day.
“Who wants to know?” Sean asked.
The dude came into his office, stepped about halfway to his desk and stopped. “I’m Derrick DuShane. That name mean anything to you?”
Sean leaned back in his desk chair. He thought about his Smith & Wesson SW1911. It was safely locked up back at the house. He kept it under lock and key so his little girl Nina couldn’t get to it. Probably wouldn’t need it for this bitch, though. “The name doesn’t mean a thing to me, man. I might have heard it…but it doesn’t mean shit.”
The dude took a step closer. Just a step. Still wasn’t close to his desk. “Well let me tell you who the fuck I am, bro,” the dude said. “Lisa is my wife. You know her, huh?”
Sean leaned farther back and laced his fingers behind his head. He smiled like he was reliving a pleasant memory. A very pleasant memory. “Oh, Lisa…yeah. Our paths have crossed.”
“Well make sure you uncross ‘em motherfucker, you understand me? Stay the fuck away from my wife!”
Sean almost laughed. This punk was so mad that he was standing there with his fists clenched, shaking like he was about to explode. But he still didn’t step too close. Bitch. “I’m not interested in Lisa…anymore,” Sean sneered. “She served her purpose. I was done with your wife months ago, bro.”
“I ought to kill your ass,” DuShane spat.
Now Sean did laugh. “Shit sucks, doesn’t it Derrick? Did the paternity test not come out like you expected?”
Now the bitch blinked. “What…how did you know about that?”
“Just put two and two together…bro. You wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t found out something. Your wife’s baby doesn’t look too much like you, does it? See, women aren’t the only ones who can punch pinholes in condoms.”
“Motherfucker, why would you do some shit like that?” DuShane asked.
Now Sean stood up. He put his fists on his desk and leaned over it. “Because it’s not illegal to sleep with another man’s wife,” he spat. “See, I’m doing what the law requires. I’ve been doing that for the past seven years. Sometimes when I think about it, I get so pissed that I really want to hurt somebody. But that would be illegal. But fucking Lisa…your wife? Well, as wrong as it might be, that’s something the law allows.”
DuShane backed toward the door. “Man, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. Just stay the fuck away from my wife, got it?”
“Oh, I have no problem doing that,” Sean said. “Like I said, I’m done with her. You have a good life, bro. And have fun paying for my baby for the next eighteen years.”
Sean hung up his coat, loosened his tie and stepped into his living room. The aroma of marinara sauce drifted out from the kitchen. His stomach grumbled in response.
Hearing him come in, his daughter Nina came bolting down the stairs and leaped into his arms. “Hey Daddy!” she yelled. She hugged him tight and gave him a kiss on the cheek. Sean felt his heart fill up with love for his little girl. “Hey baby,” he said. “How was school today?”
“It was good! I made you and Mommy a Memorial Day card. Come and see!” Nina squirmed out of his arms and took his hand, leading him into the kitchen.
Donna was standing at the stove stirring sauce in a pot. She turned to give him a kiss. Sean made himself not flinch away. The memory of today’s events—of the visitor to his office—was still strong. They reminded him of things about his wife that he wanted to forget. Things that made him not want to kiss her, or even touch her.
“C’mon Daddy, look at your card!” Nina said, pulling him toward the refrigerator door, on which her homemade cards and other artwork hung.
Sean looked down at his little girl. She was light-skinned, not like him. She had light brown eyes and wavy hair—the kind they called good hair back in the day.
Nina looked just like her father. The man Donna lay with behind his back almost eight years ago.
But the law said that because Nina was born during the course of his marriage, he was the one who had to pay. There was nothing Sean could do about that.
All he could do was what the law allowed.
© December 2007
The Hitman Chronicles: Nikira and Kevin
Linden, New Jersey
“So you’re not afraid?” Nikira asked.
“I’m not afraid of you,” Kevin said, though his heart trip-hammered.
“Are you afraid of death?”
Kevin stared up into her dark eyes. He was determined not to show her fear. His gut told him that that would only make things worse – that she would feed on his fear. “We’ll all die sometime,” he said. “No point in getting worked up over it.”
“Ah, but you would say that,” she said. “Look at you – you’re a cripple. Worse, you’re not even a whole man. What does that feel like, hmm? What does it feel like to not be able to do that which God intended, to be fruitful and multiply?”
She smiled at him and leaned closer, and placed her hand between his legs. She brushed her lips against the side of his face, until her mouth was near his ear.
Kevin tensed and gripped the arms of his wheelchair.
“Tell me, what does it feel like to be half a man?” she whispered.
He could see her arm moving, could sense her hand in his crotch manipulating him, though he could feel nothing. He grabbed the wheels of his chair and shoved himself back and away from her.
She smiled at him, a smile as cruel as any he’d ever seen. “What a pity. You couldn’t even feel that. It’s what most men yearn for, but God has denied you that pleasure. No wonder you don’t want to live.”
“Go to hell!”
“God has cursed you,” she said, stepping close and leaning over him again. “That’s why you don’t care about life…because you have no life.” Nikira clicked her tongue and shook her head, feigning pity. “Oh, you poor little helpless half a man.”
He swung at her, putting all his strength and speed behind a punch aimed at her head.
But she was gone. One instant she was leaning over him in his wheelchair, her mocking face just inches from his, and the next she was halfway across the room. His fist cut through empty air. How did she move so fast?
Nikira threw her head back and laughed. “Oh, that’s just beautiful. Don’t you want to come after me? Do you want to get up from that cripple’s chair and hurt me? It must be so frustrating for you; your legs are as useless as your cock.”
Kevin’s voice shuddered with emotion as he said, “Just do what you came here to do and get it over with.”
Nikira’s smile snapped off. “Okay, then tell me where he is.”
“I told you, I don’t know the man.”
From out of nowhere a knife appeared in Nikira’s hand. Its six-inch blade gleamed in the low light. “Oh, but you do know the man. You know Duncan Gray very well, I’m sure. And you’re going to tell me where he is.”
She placed the blade tight against his throat. Kevin sat silent, waiting. If this was to be the end, then so be it. He wouldn’t betray his friend, no matter what.
“You know, I could kill you,” Nikira said. “But I think that’s what you want. You want to be free from your pathetic, worthless life. But there’s no fun in that for me. I think instead I should finish God’s work.”
She moved the knife around, until the tip of its blade pressed into the back of his neck.
She said, “What I could do instead is complete your paralysis. One little cut and you’ll become a full-fledged paraplegic – no legs, no arms, nothing but a brain on a worthless husk of a body. How would you like that, hmm?”
Kevin felt the cold finger of fear touch him now. Beads of sweat blossomed on his forehead and burst, sliding down his face.
Nikira smiled at him. “Yes, now we have something interesting to talk about, don’t we? Now you have a choice. You can tell me where Duncan is, and I’ll give you what you desire and kill you quickly. Or you can resist me, and after I’ve tortured the half of you that’s still alive, I’ll leave you with nothing – nothing but a nightmare life of helpless dependency.”
She pressed the tip of the blade into the flesh at the back of his neck. Kevin wasn’t sure if he felt blood or sweat trickling down his back.
Oh God, please have mercy on me.
He was afraid now. He wasn’t the man Kevin McAllister, owner of one of the largest technology companies in the country anymore. Once again he was that eight year-old boy, that skinny, terrified child in the wheelchair of the foster home in Long Branch. Once again his existence was filled with dread, with no hope for anything in life but pain and misery. But this time there was no escape. This time there was no Duncan Gray to come rescue him. This time the best thing he could hope for was a quick death. The other option was too horrible to contemplate.
To escape that horror, all he had to do was betray his best friend.
The Hitman Chronicles: Simone
Simone was a realist. She was twenty-one years old, and she knew that if she wasn’t yet an alcoholic, she was only about five minutes away from making her first “Hello, my name is” speech.
She left her apartment because the call from the bottle of gin on her kitchen counter had grown too strong for her to resist. She’d figured taking a nice long walk and getting some fresh air would be just the medicine the doctor ordered to help her fight her own personal demon tonight.
Her effort at sobriety proved futile because less than four hours after leaving her apartment, at just past midnight, she was exiting a local tavern accompanied by three college students – Americans like her – and she was soused to the gills. But hey, it wasn’t her fault; these guys had bought the drinks. She’d lost count of exactly how many after her third gin and tonic.
Simone staggered down the sidewalk between two of the students on her way with them to their hotel room. She vaguely recalled promises she’d made to the trio back at the bar – promises of pleasures of the flesh borne of drunken boasts.
Somewhere in the alcohol-soaked recesses of her brain a warning tried to give voice, but she couldn’t focus on that thought. She couldn’t call it up to a place where it made sense.
She weaved between two of the young men, gripping their muscled shoulders so she wouldn’t stumble and collapse to the cobblestone sidewalk. She floated along on their strength and smiled to herself, basking in her drunkenness, enjoying the feeling of comfort that in the past year she’d come to find only at the bottom of a bottle or glass.
They could do what they wanted with her; she didn’t care. It was only her body, and it didn’t matter. What mattered was the warm protection provided to her mind by the blanket of booze that enveloped it. Yes, that’s what mattered. That was the only thing that mattered.
The third student – the black guy – walked behind them. He smacked her booty as she walked between his two companions. She smiled back over her shoulder at him, and then glanced back and forth between the two on either side – one blonde, the other dark-haired, and remembered the catch line from some old school cop show about three young detectives: One black, one white, and one blonde.
For some reason that struck her as hilarious, and she broke out in a fit of uncontrolled tear-filled laughter. The guys laughed along with her.
That little sane voice drowning somewhere in the sea of liquor warned her that they were only playing along, that their only interest in her was to get her back to their hotel so that they might do all the things their lusty hearts and bodies desired…all the things she’d promised back in the bar. It hadn’t been the first time she’d made such promises, and it wouldn’t be the first time she’d kept them. She’d had a lot of fun in Paris.
A middle-aged woman passed them going in the opposite direction. The woman’s eyes locked on hers, and in them Simone saw concern and compassion. There was something about the woman’s eyes – maybe that look of motherly concern – that made her stop in her tracks and stop laughing.
The voice of sanity finally broke through the fog of alcohol. This was wrong. She shouldn’t be doing this, not tonight. She shouldn’t be doing this because it did matter.
“Hey, is everything all right?” the blonde boy asked.
She looked at him, forcing her eyes to focus. He was frowning at her, trying to display an expression of concern. She compared his eyes to those of the woman who’d just passed, and knew that his face was a lie. He didn’t care about her. He only wanted one thing.
The dark-haired one tugged at her arm, and not too gently. “Come on,” he said. “It’s not much farther.”
“Wait,” she heard herself say.
“Wait for what?” the brother behind her asked.
She turned back to him, hopeful that perhaps he would be the one to show compassion and understanding to a sister.
“I think I’d better just go on home,” she said. “I need to sleep this off.”
“Oh no, that’s bullshit,” the brother spat. “We’ve been hanging with you the whole night, spending our cash on you.”
“Yeah, you owe us,” the blonde said.
“Look guys, I just want to go home, okay?”
“No, it’s not okay,” the dark-haired one said. He grabbed her arm again, even harder this time, and pulled her off the sidewalk toward an adjoining alley. “You could’ve had it nice in our room, but since you want to play games we’ll get it right here.”
He swung her hard into the darkness, and Simone gasped as her back slammed into the alley’s brick wall.
They were pushing and pulling at her now, all three of them, moving her farther back into the darkness as they uttered their intentions.
The fog of drunkenness lay thick over her brain, but instinct took over. The dark-haired one still gripped her arm. She grasped his fingers and forced them back, bending until he cried out, “Ow, you bitch!” and let her go.
If she hadn’t been drunk, the blonde never would have been able to hit her. But her awareness and reflexes were dulled by the gin, and he punched her hard in the side of the head before she even saw it coming.
She was only out for a minute. When she regained consciousness she was down on her back in the alley, and the black guy was kneeling over her, yanking her panties down over her shoes.
She kept her eyes slitted and waited, and felt him position himself between her legs. He unsnapped his pants and pushed them down, and then pushed her legs open and positioned himself over her.
Simone jerked her legs up and slammed them together, catching the brother’s hard dick between her kneecaps like a like a bear trap snapping shut.
He howled and rolled off her, and she was up on her feet in an instant. The blonde was coming at her. She saw him this time, and met his charge with a side kick to his chest. She tried to drive her foot through him. She wanted to feel it tear between his lungs and push his heart out through his back. She had to settle for him flying backward into the brick wall. She heard his head smack against the bricks with a dull thud, and he crumpled to the ground.
The dark-haired one called her a bitch again and rushed her from behind. She was ready for his assault. She running on autopilot, her uncle’s training overriding the effects of the alcohol.
Simone caught him with a spinning back fist, knocking him off balance. She didn’t wait to see if he would fall. Her uncle taught her to never wait, to never give a target a chance to find a way out. She went after him, delivering a kick to the side of his knee intended to destroy cartilage and tear loose ligaments. His scream told her that she’d accomplished her goal.
She turned back to the black guy, who lay whimpering on the ground, grasping his crushed privates. She spun him onto his back and glared down at him.
A brother. He should have been looking out for her, instead of teaming up with these bastards to rape her.
His pain-stricken face swam in and out of her drunken vision. Simone forced herself to focus and started punching.
“Are you all right, Mademoiselle?” Michael, the night doorman asked.
“I’m fine Mikey, and how are you?”
Simone tried to sound sober, but her words sounded slurred even to herself. It didn’t help that that the sidewalk in front of her apartment building suddenly tilted, making her stumble forward into the surprised doorman’s arms.
He caught her before she cracked her head on the sidewalk. To show her gratitude she vomited on his highly polished shoes and passed out.
Michael helped her to the elevator and up to her apartment. As he carried her down the hall she woke up and muttered slurred apologizes about his shoes.
“Do not worry, Mademoiselle,” Michael said. “They will clean. Do you have your key?”
He carried her into her apartment and placed her on her bed, wrapping the bedcovers over her. Such a shame, he thought. The girl had no one to turn to – no one to care for her and take care of her. She only had alcohol and men. That was no way for one so young to live.
Simone lay on her side, waiting for the boat that used to be her bed to stop tossing on the ocean that used to be her bedroom. She heard Michael close her apartment door. She tossed the covers aside, ready to bolt to the bathroom if another wave of nausea struck.
Her mother’s photo sat on the nightstand – a picture taken before she was destroyed by cancer. In the photo she was the picture of health, smiling at the unseen camera. Even in the photo her eyes twinkled with life and vitality.
The woman she passed on the street tonight had eyes like her mother’s. That’s why the woman had affected her so. She hadn’t realized it at the time, but it had been as if her mom were watching her through the eyes of a stranger.
Simone closed her eyes and whispered, “I’m sorry mommy,” and drifted away.
The insistent jangling of the phone dragged Simone up out of unconsciousness. She groaned and turned over. The movement sent a spike of agony through her brain and she groaned louder.
She squinted at the nightstand clock. It read 3:30 in the morning. Who would call her at this hour?
The phone screamed again, sending a new blast of pain through her head. She answered it in self defense.
“Bonjour?” she croaked into the mouthpiece. Her mouth felt as if it were stuffed with cotton that had been soaked in sewage.
“Simone? Is that you?”
“Yes baby, it’s me. How’ve you been?”
“I’m…I’m fine. Kev, it’s three-thirty in the morning here…”
“I know. Sorry Simone, but this is important. You need to come home.”
For the moment the agony of her hangover was replaced by the dread in her heart. “Is…is everything okay? Is he all right?”
“Yes, he’s okay right now. But someone is after him. Someone dangerous.”
Someone? That didn’t make sense. There wasn’t any single someone who could fuck with him. But if Kevin said it was serious, then it must be.
Simone sat up, wincing against the throbbing in her brain that was trying to kill her. “Where is he now?”
“I don’t want to say over the phone. He’s pissed off, but he’s different. He’s acting like this is some serious shit.”
Simone tried to gather her thoughts, tried to put together what Kevin was telling her.
“Kevin, who’s after him?”
“Look, just get home as soon as you can okay? We’ll talk then.”
“Are you okay, Kev? You sound funny…”
“Just get here Simone, okay?”
“Okay…I’ll be on a plane home tomorrow.”
“Cool baby. Have you been keeping yourself together?”
“Um, of course I have. I’m always ready. That’s what he taught me – to be ready for every contingency. I’ll call you when I get there, Kev.”
Her right hand ached. Simone flexed it, and determined that it wasn’t broken. But her knuckles were ripped and bloody. She had a vague recollection of punching the black guy, and in her drunken state sometimes missing and pounding the cobblestone floor of the alley. She hoped she hadn’t killed him.
She staggered out of her bedroom into the kitchen. The bottle of gin was waiting for her on the counter where she’d left it when she ran out of her apartment to escape the temptation. She grabbed the bottle and cracked the seal and opened it, and holding her hand over the sink, poured the clear liquid over her damaged knuckles. She winced and hissed through her teeth as the alcohol burned and disinfected her wounds.
That done, Simone looked at the bottle, considering. After a moment’s contemplation she emptied the rest down the drain.
Simone Gray stripped out of her alley-soiled clothes and headed for the shower, stretching her muscles like a cat as she walked.
It was time to get it together. Uncle Duncan needed her. He was her only family, and whatever battle he had to fight was hers as well.
A Conversation Among Male Characters About Women
GORDON MONROE (Simon’s Cousin): Featured In: Golden (Insatiable: Book Two)
ARTHUR GREEN (Simon and Gordon’s Uncle Artie): Featured In: A Southern Belle: Forbidden
GRAYSON PAGE (Gordon’s Neighbor): Featured In: What Becomes of the Brokenhearted
WESLEY: Featured In: The Neighbor
The Setting: The basement billiard room in Simon Bishop’s Monmouth Beach, New Jersey home.
“So here’s a question for you dudes,” Wesley said. “What’s your favorite outfit on your woman? What do you like to see her in?”
“Boy, what kinda freaky talk you tryin’ to get started up in here?” Uncle Artie snapped.
“Nah man, I’m just wondering. I had this conversation with Gail last night and she said that she didn’t think men cared enough about what women wore to really notice. She said that other women notice what a woman is wearing, but all men want to do is figure out how to get them out of their clothes.”
Gordon said, “Gail is right, in general. But yeah, I think we like certain things, too.”
“You’re talking specific things on our woman only?” Grayson asked.
“Yeah, that’s what I mean,” Wes said.
Grayson grinned, “Oh, hell yeah,” and leaned over the table to line up his shot. “Two in the corner pocket.”
Simon laughed, “Sounds like Grayson has something specific in mind on Ivy.”
“You know we all do,” Gordon said. “So what’s your thing on Elle, Cuz?”
“Are you talking about in or out of the house?” Simon asked. “Some things aren’t meant for public consumption.”
Gordon shrugged. “Okay, either. Both.”
“You fools don’t know jack shit about what a woman looks good in,” Uncle Artie grumbled. He glared at Gordon. “You gonna take your shot or stroke your stick all day?”
Gordon leaned over the table. “Every time I see Elle she’s looking like she getting ready to go model for some magazine photo shoot. I don’t know how you can pick just one thing, Cuz. Ten, cross-corner.”
“That’s why I asked if Wes meant in or out of the house,” Simon said. “But you know me G; my favorite ensemble on any woman is naked. If she’s wearing an ankle bracelet she’s overdressed.”
Wesley raised his beer bottle. “Hell, we’ll all drink to that one, Simon. But I can do naked with some heels, too.”
“Ya’ll a bunch a freaks, that what ya’ll are,” Uncle Artie said. “Ain’t no woman prancing around bare-assed just ‘cause you like it. Ain’t a woman God ever made happy about the way she looks with no clothes on, and you can write that shit down. I’ma put that three-ball in the side pocket…gotdamnit! Ya’ll got me thinking about naked hammers so I can’t see straight to shoot!”
“Nah man,” Gordon laughed, “You just can’t shoot pool for shit.”
As Simon leaned over the table he said, “Yeah, Elle does her thing, for sure. But it’s not all her. Sometimes I take her shopping because I feel like it; get her stuff because I want to see her in it. Some of the stores we go to and stuff we get aren’t for public consumption, either. Fourteen, straight up.”
“What kind of stuff?” Wes asked.
“Can’t go there and tell her business,” Simon said. “But one thing she can rock well is basic. She looked good as hell this morning wearing just my shirt. I think it was the light in the kitchen that did it. When the sun hit her just right and made the shirt kind of translucent, that was a sight worthy of photographing to hang on the wall. Sexy without trying to be sexy, you know?”
Gordon nodded. “Yeah Cuz, sometimes the simple things are the hottest. All that lingerie shit? Not always necessary. When we’re just kicking it around the crib when Kia is home Aurelle will wear my boxers and a wife beater. Something about that always gets to me.”
“I’ll tell you what it is,” Uncle Artie said. “It’s the dog in you.”
Uncle Artie said, “Simon likes Elle wearing his shirt. You like Aurelle in your drawers. Hey, does she know you used to piss in your drawers? Remember that, Simon? Boy couldn’t see a damned raindrop without letting the waterworks go.”
“Fuck you old man,” Gordon spat. “I was like three years old.”
“I’ma have to talk to Aurelle and warn her about your pissy drawers,” Uncle Artie laughed. “Anyway, what I was saying is that you cats like seeing your woman in your clothes ‘cause you’re like dogs; you want to mark your territory. Your woman wearing your stuff is her wearing your mark. Lets you know she’s yours and makes your dick feel bigger.”
“There’s probably some truth to that,” Grayson said. “We don’t think about it consciously, but there’s probably some primal thing going on, like we killed the animal and she’s wearing its fur.”
Gordon said, “I don’t know; maybe. But Aurelle said that when she wears my stuff it makes her feel closer to me.”
“And when she says that your dick gets big, huh?” Uncle Artie grinned.
“Fuck you again, man.”
“Well you dudes can speak for yourselves,” Wesley said. “I like the lace and frills. I didn’t think I did until I met Gail. That woman single-handedly raised the price of stock for Fredericks of Hollywood.”
Grayson said, “I think the hottest thing I’ve ever seen Ivy in was back before we got involved. She came over to chill wearing these gym shorts that must have been passed down from her slave ancestors. They were raggedy and full of holes but she made them look hot.”
“You know she wore them to fuck with you, don’t you?” Simon smiled. “A woman isn’t going to dress down for a new man without a motive. Either she’s not interested and is trying to keep you at bay, or she knows what she’s wearing will flip your switch.”
“She had me flipping switches like Thomas Edison,” Grayson laughed. “I keep meaning to ask her what happened to those shorts because I haven’t seen her wear them since.”
“They served their purpose,” Simon said. “She hooked your ass so she doesn’t need them anymore.”
Wesley said, “The thing that did it for me like that was Gail wearing nothing but a towel when she came out of the bath. The first time I saw that I damned near had a stroke. I think right then was when I started getting into full-figured women.”
Simon said, “So the bottom line is that it doesn’t take much for us, huh? Women can put in a lot of effort to look good, and we appreciate it for sure, but when it gets right down to it, clothes aren’t that important.”
“See, ya’ll’s some young, ignorant fools,” Uncle Artie said. “Women don’t dress sexy and smart like they used to. Ain’t nothing in the world looks better than a woman wearing seamed stockings and one a them tight skirts that hug their hips and hind parts…what’cha call them skirts, Simon?”
“A pencil skirt?”
“Yeah, that’s it, a pencil skirt. And a tight sweater that hugs them tiddays? Lord have mercy Jesus! See, ya’ll don’t know nothin’ about women who know how to look good and still be classy.”
“No, I feel you Unk,” Gordon said. “I’d rather see a woman like that than some chick flashing her thong and a tramp stamp. Classy is definitely sexier.”
Simon said, “That’s what I was talking about about in or out of the crib. You want your woman to represent when she’s out in the world.”
“You mean represent you?” Wesley asked.
“No, represent herself as a lady. Look good, look sexy, but don’t show the hungry assholes out there sniffing around after her what’s on the menu. That is, not unless you’re playing like that.”
“Playing?” Grayson asked.
Simon said, “Sometimes we just want to fuck with people when we go out, so Elle will wear something smoking just to draw that attention.”
“So you don’t care if other dudes look?” Wesley asked.
“They’re going to look anyway. I’m not paranoid like that. As long as they don’t step to her or disrespect her, no problem. But when she’s dressing like that we have to expect some comments to come. That’s the entire point: take her out, show her off, leave hard dicks in her wake.”
Grayson said, “I think Ivy does that sometimes on purpose, but to women.”
“Okay man, you seriously need to explain that one,” Gordon said.
“No, I mean she’s one of those women that I think sees other women as competition. I think it’s because she was married to a pro football player and women were always after him. So she had to keep her game on point back then, and now she still does. So I think sometimes she’ll wear something extra hot as much to piss women off as to appeal to men.”
“And other women will notice and hate,” Gordon said.
“…that’s what she was wearing when she came to see me…” Uncle Artie mumbled.
The men looked around at him. Uncle Artie stood leaning on his cue stick with a faraway look in his eyes.
“What’d you say, Unk?” Gordon asked.
“She came to see me last fall,” Uncle Artie said. “Shocked the shit out of me because I hadn’t seen her in forty years. But I knew her right away, because she still looked good and, well, I never forgot her.”
“Who are you talking about?” Simon asked.
Uncle Artie said, “The woman who bewitched my young, dumb ass back in the day: Olivia Bettencourt. Girl made me want to cheat on my fuckin’ wedding day.”
Gordon shook his head. “Damn, Unk…”
“Why’d she come to see you?” Simon asked.
“I was in my office at the dealership, and I heard Keisha out in the hall say, ‘That’s his office,’ and I looked up and there she was in the doorway. I almost couldn’t believe it; thought I was dreamin’…but there she was…”
“What’d she want?”
“Just to say hello and take me to lunch. So that’s what we did. After all these years I didn’t think she’d remembered my dumb ass, but she did. She remembered…things…some things that I’d forgotten about.”
“What things?” Gordon asked.
Uncle Artie shook his head. “It’s like Simon said; some things about a woman’s business you don’t talk about to nobody. She has to be sixty by now, but Lord have mercy Jesus she still looked good…”
Simon said, “Let me guess: She was wearing a pencil skirt and seamed stockings.”
Uncle Artie nodded.
“See, that’s when a woman really has it going on,” Simon said. “We forget thong panties and a tramp stamp showing as soon as it’s out of sight. But a woman that you’re still thinking about decades later, for whatever reason? She’s got it going on.”
Wes said, “Okay, so that brings up another question. What is it about a woman that appeals to you? Like, I’m feeling thick women. So what’s your type, or what feature is the one you want to be on point for a woman?”
Uncle Artie snapped back to the present and said, “Boy, who the hell are you with all these questions, Walter Cronkite?”
From the stairs came the lilt of feminine voices and the sound of descending footsteps.
In a low voice Simon said, “We’ll pick this up later.” As Aurelle appeared, followed by Elle, and then Ivy and Gail he spoke louder. “So who do you think was more valuable at their position, Mariano Rivera or Michael Jordan?”
Elle laughed and said, “Don’t even try it.”
“What were you guys really talking about down here?” Ivy teased.
“Women, probably,” Gail said.
Aurelle said, “That’s fine, as long as it was about us.”
“Don’t worry about that sugar,” Uncle Artie said. “These fools might be fools most of the time, but they got enough sense to appreciate their blessings.”
Elle said, “Well, the pizzas are here. Are you coming up, or do you want to eat down here so you can talk about us some more?”
© 13 March 2013
Find the books starring these characters here:
This romantic/erotic short story features characters from the world of The Black.
The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
Valentine’s Day Morning
Monmouth Beach, New Jersey
Simon gave Elle a sponge bubble bath in his sunken Roman tub as she sipped non-alcoholic champagne. The real champagne would come tonight. He kissed her between sips: her lips, her neck, and her shoulders.
“Are we going out today?” she asked.
“No questions. It’s a surprise.”
The doorbell rang. He gave her a kiss and said, “Don’t move.” He went downstairs to answer the door.
He’d paid extra to have the delivery made at the time he specified. It was worth it. She was worth it.
As the delivery man placed everything according to his specifications he said, “Your lady must be a special woman.”
Simon said, “You have no idea.”
Back upstairs he dried Elle off, carried her to his bed like a baby and laid her down. He rubbed perfumed oil into her skin, taking his time and massaging every inch of her beautiful body. It took him nearly an hour to complete the process, and by the time he was done she was moaning and sighing and dying for it…aching for release. But it wasn’t time yet.
The new pink robe he’d bought for her was made of a silk and cashmere mix. Elle sighed and shivered as he slid it over her nakedness.
“This feels like sex,” she breathed.
“Soon enough,” Simon said. “We’ll have time for that later.”
He told her to follow him downstairs.
Elle stood on the stairs, gaping her surprise down at the living room, at what he’d had delivered for her.
One hundred roses: Thirty-three red; thirty-three pink; thirty-three white. One black, because that was his favorite color. A mixture of Godiva chocolates: Dark, milk and white.
Elle dashed among the roses like a bee, inhaling their fragrance as she sampled the chocolates. When she turned back to him he had the jewelry box out and open, presenting the pair of diamond earrings
She came to him, kissed him. Then she went to the coat closet. She came back with a package for him to open.
A watch by Parmigiani Fleurier.
He was blown away.
Simon looked at Elle, watched as she opened the robe and let it fall to the carpet.
“The time is now,” she said.
Simon and Elle are from the novel ELLE (INSATIABLE: BOOK ONE)
Montego Bay, Jamaica
Valentine’s Day Morning
They were at the same hotel at which three years ago they’d taken their relationship from friendship to love. Morgan smiled as Mina came out of the suite’s bathroom. He took a moment to drink in her nakedness and then held the wrapped box out to her.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Baby,” he grinned.
Mina pouted at him. “Oh Honey, your gift is at home. If I’d known you were going to surprise me by flying us here –“
“Don’t worry about it,” Morgan said. “You’re my gift…the only gift I need.”
Mina came to him and kissed him. Then she took the box and tore off the wrapping. Morgan watched and smiled as the box was revealed and Mina’s eyes grew wide.
“Oh my God Morgan, no! Not Christian Louboutin!”
“Yep. You’ve been talking about them since we were co-workers in the Air Force. I figured it was about time.”
Mina opened the box and gasped. “Oh Baby, you remembered…these are the ones I showed you…the Lynch fetish model!”
Morgan grinned at his wife’s happiness. “Yeah, no way was I going to forget these babies.”
Mina ripped a shoe out of the box and bent up a shapely leg to put it on. Morgan sat down on the hotel bed to enjoy the show. He watched Mina’s heart-shaped golden bottom as she moved over the carpet in the red-soled, five-inch heeled pumps.
“Damn, Baby, you make those shoes look good,” he said. “But don’t you feel like you’re walking on a tightrope?”
She turned back to him and moved his way, now adding an extra sway to her hips. “Well, these aren’t really made for walking,” she cooed.
“Oh really? Then what are they for?”
Mina stopped in front of him and looked down at him. “Get those boxers off and I’ll show you.”
Morgan did as he was told. Mina kneeled before him in her new no-bullshit fuck me pumps and took him in her mouth. After a few minutes, after she’d transformed his constant desire for her into throbbing, raging need, she rose up and pushed him onto his back.
As she climbed onto him and slid her wet, silken heat down onto his need she said, “These shoes will never touch the floor again.”
Morgan and Mina are from a yet to be released novel, untitled.
Oceanport, New Jersey
Valentine’s Day Morning
Maisha had to run out to the store, so Duncan took the opportunity to put a few finishing touches on her Valentine’s Day gift. It had taken him six months to complete, primarily because he’d redone it twice. He hadn’t been satisfied that the first two versions did her justice.
Last summer he’d taken a photograph of her sitting in the sunroom gazing out at their garden. She’d looked so beautiful in that morning light, like a goddess fallen to earth. Duncan used that photo as a reference for the oil painting he’d done as a tribute to his love for her.
He decided to take the painting downstairs so that she’d see it when she came in. He was about to do that when the house phone rang.
It was Maisha, calling from her cell phone.
“Sweetie, come outside,” she said.
When Duncan stepped out onto the porch his instincts went on alert. That always happened when he encountered something out of the ordinary. The gleaming Mercedes sedan sitting in his driveway was out of the ordinary.
Then he saw the big red ribbon strung through the Mercedes’ window, and the bow on its roof. From the corner of his eye Maisha stepped from around from the side of the house and said, “Happy Valentine’s Day, Sweetie!”
Duncan stared at the car, speechless.
Maisha said, “I always thought my man was too classy to be driving around in a Charger. This car is more you, Baby.”
Duncan grabbed Maisha and pulled her to him, and before he kissed her said, “The only thing classy about me is you.”
As they went inside Duncan said to his wife, “After a Mercedes, my gift for you seems weak.”
“Nothing about you is weak, Duncan. Believe me.”
“Okay well, come up to the studio and let’s see.”
He hadn’t expected Maisha to cry. But when she saw the oil painting he’d done of her she began bawling her eyes out.
When she was able to talk she said, “Oh Honey, you made me look like a queen.”
“You are a queen, Maisha. You’re my queen. You always will be.”
As Maisha dried her eyes she said, “Let’s go break in your new car.”
“Where do you want to go?”
Maisha smiled at him. “Who said go anywhere? I’m talking about the back seat.”
© 14 February 2009
Duncan and Maisha are from the forthcoming novel THE HITMAN CHRONICLES
The West End
Long Branch, New Jersey
Valentine’s Day Evening
He thought he’d messed up. Big time. The question had come out of his mouth before he’d thought it through. But he’d seen the way the men were looking at her in the restaurant. He’d seen their unhidden desire, the raw lust in their eyes as they’d gazed at his wife. He’d seen the women too – the wives and girlfriends and lovers – glaring at Auriel with their expressions dripping bitter jealousy instead of enjoying their Valentine’s Day dinners.
Even in her overcoat his wife exuded sexuality, so everyone watched as the hostess escorted them to their table. All eyes watched her stride in her four-inch red heels. They gaped at her sensuous sway, at the curve of her strong dancer’s calves, and at the erotic arch of her feet in her heels.
They watched as he’d helped his wife out of her coat; he could have sworn that a hush came over the room. He knew some men had to shift in their chairs as their erections came to life when they saw Auriel’s beauty revealed in her black belted dress…a red belt at her waist that showed that she had no waist…at the way her round hips and bottom flared out from that non-existent waist…at the split in her skirt that opened as she sat down, showing a glimpse of the pathway to a paradise they would never know.
He’d seen them all looking, the men with longing and the women hating. But what had gotten to him…what had made him ask Auriel the question…were the men. If they looked at her this way in a restaurant, then on her night job at Shadows…
“Do they ever offer you money to do more than dance?” he’d asked as they were finishing their meal.
It was a question that had to cross the mind of most men involved with a woman who danced for other men’s pleasure. But it was a wrong question and a stupid question for him to ask. He was a man. He knew how men thought. Of course they’d offered money to the most desirable woman most of them would ever see. So the pointless question had pointed to the deeper question. That was why Auriel had answered him with a look of surprise and hurt.
He’d apologized as he drove them home. She’d said that it was okay. But he knew his wife. He knew it wasn’t okay. He’d hurt her by asking the question.
He thought he’d ruined Valentine’s Day.
When they got home she’d presented him with a bottle of wine given to them as a gift from Amarante, her employer at Shadows. The wine was a hybrid of the wine created by Auriel’s grandfather in Louisiana. Amarante had had it analyzed and modified into her own exclusive brand. The wine was called Passion’s Nectar.
Auriel had told him to sit down on the sofa as she poured glasses for them. Then she put on the music and did what she does so well.
So now Gordon sat in his living room, watching his wife dance for him to a song called The Principles of Lust by Enigma. He watched as she gave him his own private striptease.
He hadn’t seen her get dressed before they went out. So he was surprised to see that beneath her black belted dress she wore only a thin ruby chain around her hips. A red satin heart hung from the chain, covering her treasure. She danced for him in red four-inch heels and a red satin heart. It was her Valentine’s Day gift to him. But while her body whispered desire, her face still showed her hurt.
He wanted to say something to her to make things right. But the wine – that Passion’s Nectar – was so potent. His mind felt enclosed in fog. He couldn’t focus enough to come up with the right words.
And the wine had another effect, so much more powerful than her uncle’s homemade wine. As he watched his wife dance, the thing between his legs thickened and lengthened until it felt like a throbbing shaft of concrete.
Auriel was watching him as she danced. The hurt was still in her eyes. Her sensuous mouth was turned down in a pout. Occasionally she’d move to the coffee table; take a sip from her own glass and then move back to dance some more. Gordon wondered what effect the wine was having on her, how much it was boosting her desire.
The song ended.
She stood looking at him, her luscious bare breasts heaving, her eyes blazing now, the hurt replaced by something else.
“Take it out,” she said. It wasn’t a request, but a command.
He struggled because he was so hard, but managed to release himself from the confines of his clothing. The shaft of concrete stood straight up, throbbing in the air.
“Look at me,” she said.
He was already looking.
She reached back, unfastened the chain, tossed away the red satin heart. She stepped out of her heels.
She said, “Look at this body.”
He kept looking.
“Don’t you know me?” she asked. “Don’t you know who I am? Don’t you know what I am?”
“I’m sorry, Baby…”
She said, “This isn’t my body, Gordon. It’s not mine to give to anyone. This body belongs to you, and any pleasure it gives or receives is at your whim.” She held up her left hand so that he could see her wedding ring. “That’s what this ring means.”
She came to him then, stepped around the coffee table and stood over him, looked down at him…at the shaft of concrete throbbing up at her. “And that belongs to me,” she said. “It’s mine and no one else’s, to do with as I will.”
He reached for her, but she moved away, out of his reach.
“Don’t ever hurt me like that again, Gordon. Don’t.”
“And don’t apologize again. Now come to bed and bring me my property. And come and claim yours.”
Auriel turned away and went to their bedroom.
Gordon got up and followed, his wife’s property leading the way.
© 15 February 2009
Gordon and Auriel are from the novel GOLDEN (INSATIABLE: BOOK TWO)
The story of the wine they were drinking is detailed in the novella PASSION’S NECTAR and other books in the PASSION series