Hanover County, Virginia
Standing shoulder deep in the grave Henry looked around. From his low vantage point and in the dark couldn’t see very far. The only sign of life he could see was the old mule hitched to the cart he’d used to bring Oscar out to the plantation graveyard.
The graveyard lay on a plot of land at the edge of Mr. Glenwood Johnson’s five hundred acre plantation, about a half mile from the big house occupied by the Johnson family and the cabins occupied by the men, women and children the Johnsons had once owned.
Henry peered into the darkness in the direction of the big house. He couldn’t see much, only the full moon’s icy glint on the nearest rises in the plowed potato field, and on the wheel ruts in the narrow trail that dissected the field. He didn’t see anyone standing in the field or on the trail, or any sign of life save for the mule hitched to the cart he’d used to bring old Oscar to his final resting place.
He looked at Oscar’s body, which lay an arm’s reach from the grave, wrapped from head to foot in the burlap sackcloth that would serve as his burial shroud. He imagined that Oscar’s eyes were open, and that he was looking at him through the sackcloth with malicious regard. Henry shivered, not because of the night air, and then told himself that he was being foolish. The dead could not see. He wiped his brow with his forearm and looked around again.
Stop being a fool, he told himself. Oscar’s been dead all day and he’s going to stay dead, Lord have mercy on his soul.
At twenty-five years old Henry had reached his full height of six feet, and he stood shoulder-deep in the grave. However, standing more below ground than above it in the darkness, he suddenly felt uneasy. He felt vulnerable. If someone or something were to spring out of the darkness at him he’d be almost helpless to defend himself.
He’d brought a torch along; it was in the bed of the mule cart. He wished that he had thought to light it before the sun went down. His wish became urgent need. He tossed the shovel aside, hoisted himself out of the grave and hurried to the mule cart.
The feeling that he was being watched grew stronger. He imagined that behind him, old Oscar had turned his head to follow his movement, and was staring at him with dead eyes through the sackcloth. He imagined that Oscar was struggling, trying to wriggle from the sackcloth, trying to get free so that he could get up and come after him, come after him and take vengeance for them letting his body lie all day in the back of the mule cart while the rest of them worked. The hairs on the back of Henry’s neck stiffened as he anticipated the grip of the old man’s fingers clutching at his shoulders from behind. With trembling hands he lit the torch and turned around, his imagination having him ready to fight or run.
Oscar still lay next to the grave. He was still dead.
Henry held the torch out like a protective shield and looked around the graveyard again. Now he could see the headstones at the graves of the white former occupants of the plantation. With the exception of the few simple wooden crosses that had not succumbed to time and the elements, the closer slave graves were unmarked. He saw nothing unusual within the area of the graveyard.
Beyond the gravesite in the direction of the big house the trail and the field still appeared empty, so Henry turned slowly around, scanning the darkness for as far as he could see, until he faced the grave he’d dug for Oscar, and beyond it, the dark forest.
Blades of torchlight flickered against the tree trunks at the edge of the woods, but didn’t penetrate into its deeper shadows. Instead the dancing light played tricks with his eyes, making it appear that many things moved stealthily in the inky depths just beyond the reach of the firelight.
He looked away from the illusion, down at Oscar’s body. He imagined again that beneath the cloth, the old man’s eyes were open and staring angrily up at him. Gooseflesh pimpled his arms and he backed a step away from the body.
He’d had no choice about how Oscar’s body had been treated. Glenwood Johnson – who owned the plantation and had once owned Henry and the rest of the workers – had ordered that they complete the day’s planting before Oscar was laid to rest. Mr. Johnson had grumbled that Oscar wasn’t going anywhere in the meantime.
The Negroes who had remained on Johnson’s plantation after the war felt that after a lifetime of servitude, Oscar deserved better than to have his body wrapped in burlap and stowed in the back of a mule cart amongst sacks of seed all day while they plowed and planted. They didn’t voice their opinions too loudly, however. Mr. Johnson no longer owned them, but he was still their employer, and they had to obey his work orders just as they had before the war and before emancipation.
Of the nearly seventy slaves on the plantation before the Civil War, only fourteen remained as free people three years after it ended, and thirteen since Mr. Johnson had killed Oscar that morning. But the work still had to be done, and there were many fewer bodies remaining to do it. So burying Oscar had had to wait, and it was late afternoon before Mr. Johnson had directed Henry to go on and bury him. Alone.
Henry didn’t want to climb back down into the grave in the dark; however he felt that tossing Oscar’s body into the hole as if he were a dead dog would be a final and unnecessary disrespect to the old man. Oscar deserved better. He deserved to be laid to rest with a little dignity.
Still feeling that unseen eyes were on him, Henry reminded himself that Oscar’s body was just an empty shell. The Good Lord had taken his spirit away. Oscar saw nothing; could watch nothing. He was dead.
Hanging on to that reassurance, Henry jammed the torch in the mound of earth he’d displaced while digging, took a deep breath to steady his nerves, and jumped back into the grave. Immediately his feeling of exposure and vulnerability returned.
Standing in the grave again, Henry imagined what it might feel like to be buried out here all alone or worse, to be buried alive and left out here in the dark with no one to hear your final dirt-choked screams.
Stop thinking such foolishness. Get a move on and get Oscar in this grave and get yourself out.
Henry reached and grabbed double fistfuls of burlap and dragged Oscar’s body closer. Carefully he lifted and lowered the old man down into the grave. When he straightened up the sense that he wasn’t alone became so intense that he almost expected to hear someone speak his name.
Anxious to get out of the hole Henry braced his palms on the dirt and boosted himself up. His fear made him anticipate with all certainty the clutch of Oscar’s bony fingers on his pant leg as the dead man tried to pull him back down into the death hole. But his legs swung free of the grave.
Standing, Henry grabbed the torch again. If someone was out here, it was likely someone from the cabins. Mr. Johnson had probably started feeling guilty about what he’d done and sent someone to help him bury Oscar. That someone – probably one of the younger men – likely thought it would be fun to try to scare him before showing himself.
With the grave and the woods at his back, Henry squinted out into the darkness toward the other graves, toward the field, toward the trail. He saw no sign of human or animal presence. Still, the feeling that eyes were watching him remained.
Well, he had no more time for such foolish thoughts. He was anxious to finish burying Oscar and get back to his cabin.
Henry turned around, intending to set the torch down and pick up the shovel.
The little girl was standing on the other side of the grave.
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
Boxing had sunk so low in the public eye that Jamal’s interview didn’t air until the Friday evening broadcast. He missed the first airing because he was in New York taping the Letterman show. But ESPN repeated their programming all night long, so when Jamal returned home that night he was able to catch a rebroadcast. Tia was in Miami getting ready for her fashion show. Pops had come to Jamal’s oceanfront condo to watch the interview. Stephanie was sleeping over.
Stephanie had a condo in Manhattan that she’d leased back when she was a Wall Street shark, but she often stayed at Jamal’s place on the Jersey Shore when they had extended business to handle. It was easier that way because Jamal trained at Pop’s gym in Asbury Park, and he was almost always in training. So Stephanie staying over because they had their telephone meeting with Bob Sterling’s people tomorrow afternoon was nothing new.
What was new was that this time Stephanie was here but Tia wasn’t. Jamal didn’t see it as an issue. Stephanie had spent nights in his guest room before he ever knew Tia. And Tia never said it was a problem, even though Jamal had noticed that when Stephanie slept over, Tia always made sure that she gave him some hot sex, and that she was much louder than usual while they were doing it. He figured that that was just Tia’s way of peeing to mark her territory, letting Stephanie know what was what. He’d told Tia about the meeting tomorrow, so she had to figure Stephanie was at the house. So it was no issue.
Jamal and Pops were in the living room watching ESPN when the reporter started the lead-in for his interview. Pops yelled out, “Hey girl, come on! Our boy’s coming on TV!”
Stephanie hurried out of the kitchen carrying a sandwich on a paper plate and a bottle of water. She wore a plaid flannel nightshirt that fell to her knees and ankle socks. “What’d I miss?” she asked.
“Nothing yet,” Jamal said. “It’s just coming on.”
Jamal was sitting on one end of the sofa. Pops sat on the other end. Stephanie plopped down between them and curled her shapely bare legs under her bottom. As she made herself comfortable Jamal caught a whiff of whatever girly stuff she’d bathed in. It smelled nice. It crossed his mind to wonder if she had anything on under her nightshirt. But he didn’t dwell on it because he had a woman. Besides, Stephanie was more like a big sister than a real chick.
Pops leaned toward the screen and said, “There he is!” like they were looking at a stranger. Jamal sat back, watching himself on video replay. Stephanie sat with the paper plate resting on her hip. In the corner of Jamal’s eye plaid flannel molded to the curve of hip and bottom. But he didn’t dwell on it because he had a woman.
The interview was edited with the reporter’s questions cut out so that the piece just showed Jamal talking about his strategy for beating Delgado, and how he wanted to bring respect back to boxing, and how one day he hoped that every weight class would only have one champion, and how he wanted to start things off by unifying the Middleweight title.
When his piece was done the reporter said, “Well, if this were a presidential State of the Union Address, now is when we’d air a rebuttal by the opposing party. So here’s our interview last night with the WBC Middleweight Champion, and arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, Ernest ‘The Gunslinger’ Gaines.”
The scene switched to show Gaines standing just outside the arena tunnel in Las Vegas in his day glow orange suit. As the piece started he was already talking:
“…Delgado is what, thirty-five years old?” Gaines grinned. “He’s washed up. He’s nobody. He beat a nobody to get that fake belt, and now a nobody beat him to take that fake belt. I’m the real champion, and Jefferson knows it. The whole world knows it. I don’t need to fight Jefferson because I’m the real man and I’m already on top. Everything Jefferson wants, I got. Everything he wants is mine. Everything he desires is mine. And he knows exactly what I’m talking about.” Gaines looked directly into the camera and repeated, “Everything.”
Later Jamal watched the live webcast of Tia’s fashion show down in Miami. She modeled four ensembles. In Jamal’s opinion she made the other models look like men. Nobody could hold a candle to his baby.
On her last run Tia wore a military style jacket over a mini skirt that showed off her long legs and gave a whole new meaning to the term “combat ready.” She attacked the runway with the shoulder-swaying swagger that models must learn on their first day of training. Watching her, Jamal was thinking that he had just the weapon with which to go to war with his baby. He couldn’t wait for her to get back to Jersey.
Tia reached the end of the runway, stopped, and with one hand on her hip cut a sharp turn and pose left, then right, then did an about face and started back up the runway. The camera angle switched to a side view of the runway, which Jamal liked because now he could see the nice curve of Tia’s booty. He was looking at her ass and thinking that maybe he should fly down to Miami after his meeting tomorrow when someone in the audience at the side of the runway stood up and pumped their fist in appreciation as Tia sauntered past.
It was Ernest Gaines.
“You know, she might come for you one day,” he says.
I look at him sitting across from me, trying to be cool. I’m not impressed. I know all his secrets. “Anything is possible in the realm of the imagination,” I answer.
“If she does come after you, what are you going to do?”
“I might end it for her. I have that ability. Depends on how I feel.”
Duncan laughs. “She’s not that easy to kill.”
“Not for you she isn’t. But I know all her secrets. Just like I know yours.”
He lifts his glass of merlot. “Touché.”
We both look up as the next guest enters the room. She’s a tall sister, obviously of African descent. She’s wearing a floor length caftan and matching head dress. Her skin is a dark, rich brown, like coffee without cream. Her eyes are green. She’s beautiful, but she looks dangerous. In truth she is dangerous. People who’ve lost everything can be that way. Sometimes I feel sorry for her.
Always the gentleman, Duncan stands up. I introduce them.
“Duncan, this is Amarante,” I say. “Amarante, this is Duncan Gray.”
As they shake hands Amarante says to Duncan, “Our mutual friend is looking for you. She has unfinished business.”
Duncan looks at me with a cocked brow.
I shrug. “This isn’t a set up. If I wanted you dead, you’d already be there. And I wouldn’t need to use Nikira Horikoshi to do it.”
Duncan spits out a derisive laugh and looks away from me as more guests enter the room.
Eric Adams and Diane Clayton. They’re private investigators, business partners who are also sleeping together. It’s working for them right now. We’ll see what the future holds.
Here comes another interracial couple, Justin Reed and Erin Milano. Things seem to be on track for them in their careers and their relationship. But that’s today. Who knows what tomorrow holds?
Next enter the five women who call themselves The Group: Elizabeth, Robyn, Paula, Kim and Jamila. These sisters have more issues than Time Magazine. Jamila is looking at Duncan like she’s starving and he’s well done prime rib.
And there’s Mitch and Cynthia. She looks happy now that she’s with a man who doesn’t beat her down every other day. Mitch is a beat down artist, but only for other hard heads.
Gallery owner Maisha Templeton comes in with Duncan’s niece Simone. Simone has been chilling at Duncan’s second home down in North Carolina. She’s really looking good since she eased up on the alcohol, getting back in shape and all. I’ve got a feeling she’s going to have an exciting life.
Government agent Avery Silva slips into the room. As soon as he enters I catch him scanning the room, seeing who’s who and what’s what. Typical government cop. But I know he’s looking for Nikira, too. He wants to bring her down, not just because she’s a cold-blooded killer, but because after his one-on-one encounter with her he doesn’t sleep well at night knowing she’s out in there somewhere. Nikira tends to have that effect on people.
Now Lucas arrives. Smooth ass brother. Women’s heads turn his way. He makes them curious. He also makes them pay. You don’t get to play with Lucas without giving up some cash. That is, not unless you’re the woman on his arm tonight: Olivia Bettencourt. Olivia is not in Lucas’s business, but in one way or another, she still makes every man pay.
Right behind Lucas and Olivia comes Julian St. Christopher. He’s accompanied by four women: Victoria West, Grace Trouillot, Glenda Engerman and Bethany Arthur. One of the women—Beth—is Julian’s cousin. The others…well…what they’ll be to him in the end is a story yet to be told.
The room is starting to fill up. I have to stand up so I can see.
Oh man, there’s Elle. Damn. Fine ass sister. Likes to get naked—and sometimes bound—with the right man. Simon Bishop is the right man, and Elle is on his arm.
I see Elle’s receptionist Erica and her husband Ben with them. I wonder if Erica’s ass is still hurting. She’s a freak like that. It’s a thing that goes back to her childhood.
Simon sees me looking at Elle. I look at him, and he nods his head as if to say, “Yeah, we know how it is with the right woman, don’t we?”
Simon’s cousin Gordon comes in with the beautiful Aurélle. Heads turn again. This time it’s the men looking. Okay, some ladies look, too.
Now Doctors Evan and Freda Michaels arrive. They’re together but not together, still friends after their divorce. They’re trailed by their son Kyle and his friend with benefits, Dr. Britt Chandler. I wonder if either couple will find a way to get together.
Two gorgeous women enter after the Michaels, a statuesque blonde and a drop dead sexy sister. Gretchen and Ana. They’re two women who are so fine they look too good to be true…because they are too good to be true. They’re Dream Girls.
After the sun sets a new trio arrives, and I get a little nervous. Some of my other guests cut them curious glances. Some women instinctively move closer to the men.
The newly-arrived trio make a striking group; the man in his tuxedo under a floor-length overcoat and his two lovely companions adorned in midnight-hued cocktail dresses. One of the women—the youngest—is Abigail. She was born an American slave in the 1700s. The other woman is Linares. She was born in Spain when it was called Iberia, some two thousand years before the time of Christ. Neither woman looks her age.
They’re beautiful, but it’s the man who is most striking. He stands nearly six and a half feet tall. His skin is as dark as wet tree bark. Power radiates off him, so strong that one can barely stand to look into his eyes—eyes that like his beautiful companion’s seem to glint silver when they catch the light a certain way. His name is Abdiel. He knew Eve, and was a young man when she died.
Yes, that Eve.
I hope that tonight wine will be enough to quench this trio’s thirst.
Others come, and eventually they’re almost all here, all the lovers, the entrepreneurs, the cops and killers, those who have survived death and those who have never truly drawn a living breath; all but one. Every now and then those who know about that one steal nervous glances toward the entry.
I’m about to grab myself a glass of wine when a hush falls over the room. I look around, toward the door. The crowd is parting like the Red Sea in the tale of Moses, opening a path between the entry and me.
She’s there, standing in the entry, glaring at me with her lifeless black eyes.
I see Avery Silva reach inside his jacket. Duncan is pushing Maisha behind him. There’s murder in his eyes. I hold up my hand, signaling both of them to chill.
I look back toward the door. She’s coming toward me, striding confidently through the aisle of onlookers, not worried what any of them might try to do. Most of them she could kill before they knew they were dead. Without a weapon.
She’s wearing all black: a pullover and stretch jeans, like she’s working. Black that matches her ebony eyes and hair. Black that lets her hide in the shadows.
She reaches me and stops, and fixes me with her cold eyes, in which I see the emptiness of space. I wonder if there’s a soul in there somewhere.
I stare back at her, refusing to blink. She’s waiting for me to show fear. She’s a predator. She feeds on fear. If I show fear she’ll eat me alive.
I don’t break my gaze, because though I can’t see it, I do know what lies in those depths. It’s all the pain, the anger…and the fear. Yeah, I know her fear. I created it. We all have weaknesses; it’s a necessary ingredient in our psyches. Without fear there is no self-control, nothing to stop the beast from running wild.
After a moment she blinks. She’s uncertain now. It’s been a very long time since she’s seen eyes that understand her.
“Who are you?” she demands.
She moves around me. I turn with her, not wanting to lose sight of her, not wanting her behind me. “You know who I am,” I say.
“No, I don’t.”
I’d forgotten how beautiful she is. Sometimes evil can make a beautiful one ugly.
“Tell me,” she hisses. “Who are you? What are you?”
She’s stopped moving now. She clenches her fists. From somewhere in the room I hear a gasp.
I smile at Nikira. I’m not afraid of her. But I give her what she wants. I tell her who I am.
She’s satisfied with my answer. She actually smiles. Then she asks, “Do the people in this room know about me?”
“Some do. Others don’t need to.”
“What about the people outside this room, all those readers? Are you going to warn them about me?”
“I have to. They need to know you’re out here, and that they’re not safe.”
Behind Nikira, in a far corner I see Agent Silva speaking into his Bluetooth. He’s calling for backup.
“You’d better go,” I say.
“I know. He’s scared, and he should be, and so should you. I’ll be back. I’ll visit you again. You’re going to pay for making me wait.”
Ice cold dread trickles down my spine. “When?”
Nikira smiles and says, “Next year. But don’t bother looking over your shoulder because you won’t see me coming. No one sees me coming until it’s too late.”
And then she’s gone, vanished into the crowd.
Lucas steps to me, and looking amused, says, “Woman problems?”
“Not the kind you deal with.”
“If it involves women, I deal with it,” he says. He looks at his watch. “We on schedule, man?”
“Yeah, your thing will drop any day now.”
“I’ve got more associates willing to help promote our endeavor if you need it.”
“Okay, clients. I don’t brag, but some of them like to kiss and tell. And some are straight up exhibitionists.”
“I’ll let you know, man. Enjoy the party. I’m getting back to work.”
I leave the room and leave my characters to their party.
In my car I fire up the engine and tune the radio to some smooth jazz. Before I back out of my parking space I check my rearview mirror, and my heart clutches up when I see cold black eyes staring back at me.
“Don’t worry,” she says, “this is just practice.”
The shoe store was called Sensual You. The place was nice. Classy. It reminded Robyn of the Christian Louboutin store in Manhattan, but on a smaller scale. She even saw some red-soled Louboutins on display.
But she didn’t pay much attention to the ambience. She was too busy fighting off her urge to commit assault and battery as some tall blonde woman rushed to them and exclaimed, “Lucas sweetheart, it’s so good to see you again!” and then hugged him and kissed him on the corner of his mouth.
When the wench finally took her hands off him Lucas said, “Robyn, this is Alexandra. She owns this store. Alexandra, this is Robyn.”
“It’s very nice to meet you Robyn,” the woman smiled.
Robyn checked the woman out as she shook her hand: Tall and blonde; around forty years old. Pretty, if you liked the Nordic type. Brown eyes. Her light brown eyebrows and lashes meant that she might actually be a real blonde. Nice body too, in a tailored skirt and jacket.
She wondered if Lucas had ever slept with this woman. How else would he know her? Did she pay him to fuck her? And if they did do it, when was the last time?
“So Lucas, how may I help you today?” the woman gushed.
“I’m looking for shoes for Robyn,” he said.
Alexandra looked at her and asked, “Is this for a particular function? Do you already have your ensemble?”
Robyn looked at Lucas. She didn’t know why he’d brought her here; much less what kind of shoes he had in mind.
Lucas said, “Actually Alexandra, what I’m looking for is something to go with a black satin corset. As you can see Robyn has very sexy legs and feet so I’m going for a look without stockings. And she’ll either wear a black G-string or nothing, so what I want are shoes that’ll accessorize her, not clothing.”
Robyn was shocked; stunned. Lucas had just stood right there and told this woman that she was going to be wearing “fuck me” clothes.
The woman looked at her. She was already smiling, but now her smile changed. It changed into a knowing smile—a conspiratorial smirk. She said, “Ah…I see.”
Robyn thought that she ought to feel embarrassed as well as shocked. But that wasn’t how she felt at all. Instead of embarrassed, she felt…
She wasn’t sure exactly how she felt. Lucas had just basically told this woman who was a stranger to her that he was going to do her and wanted her to wear the proper shoes for the occasion.
Lucas helped her out of her coat. Then he took her hand and guided her to one of the long bench seats and said, “Sit down baby.”
If she were going to be hesitant at all about what was happening, his calling her baby cancelled it. She sat down obediently.
The woman named Alexandra looked down at her and asked, “What size are you, dear?”
“Six and a half.”
“Let’s see some mules,” Lucas said.
“Oh, we have some very nice slides, just in,” Alexandra said. “And I’m sure I can find some other goodies that will suit your…occasion perfectly.”
When Alexandra went to the back to look for the goodies Lucas took off his coat and laid it over the bench next to hers. He didn’t sit, but he looked down at her and asked, “Are you doing okay?”
Why would he ask her that? She wasn’t nervous. Should she be nervous? Just wondering if she ought to be nervous put her a little on edge.
Alexandra returned with four shoe boxes. As she sat the boxes on the bench she said, “We’ll begin with these. She opened the first box and held it out to show them a pair of black patent leather slides with a black bow on the toes.
Lucas said, “Let’s take a look.” He took the shoe box from Alexandra and kneeled in front of Robyn, then placed the box on the floor at his side. He gazed into her eyes.
Robyn felt her heart quicken.
Lucas slipped her wedges off. And then while looking into her eyes, he placed his hand under the back of her right ankle and lifted her foot onto his knee.
Suddenly the air felt too thick and Robyn found it difficult to draw a breath. Her stomach quivered. It wasn’t just Lucas’s actions, but the look in his eyes that told her that something very different was about to happen.
She was nervous.
I lifted Robyn’s sexy leg and placed her little foot on my knee. She seemed apprehensive. Cute. Keeping my eyes in hers I lifted her leg by the ankle and kissed the tips of her toes.
She flinched and let out a little gasp. Her eyes flittered first up at Alexandra, and then around the store, looking guiltily at the other customers. I thought that if just this embarrassed her, in a minute she was going to be in serious trouble.
When I started kissing along the inside edge of her foot Robyn flinched reflexively and tried to pull away. But I was ready for that. The back of her ankle still rested in my palm, so I closed my grip and held her leg immobile. I saw the color rise in her cheeks as my lips reached her heel.
There were a handful of customers in the store. They might have been looking, but my eyes were on Robyn’s so I didn’t know. I definitely didn’t care. The only one in my existence for the moment was Robyn.
I kissed my way back to her toes, this time trailing my lips over the top of her foot. Then I removed the shoe from the box.
Robyn’s leg and foot felt tense as I slipped the shoe on so I said, “You need to relax.”
She swallowed hard and didn’t say anything.
I lifted her other foot and repeated my kisses, then slipped the second shoe on. I placed her feet on the floor and stood up, and offered my hand to help her up.
When she was standing she leaned to me and whispered, “What are you doing?”
She cut her eyes around the store. “People are looking at us!”
“No, they’re looking at you because you’re so fucking beautiful and they’re jealous. Not because of me, but because they want to be you. They want to be cherished like you. Now go see how you like the shoes. There’s a mirror over there.”
Robyn felt like every eye in the store was on her as she walked to the mirror. She felt nude, even though she was fully dressed. Lucas had made her feel exposed; naked.
She almost felt like she did yesterday morning when Mrs. Murchison caught them in the elevator, like she’d been caught doing something very naughty…
…naughty but very good.
She stood in front of the floor-level mirror, turning by force of habit so that she could view the shoes at different reflected angles, but without really seeing anything. Her mind was on the dreaded walk back to the bench, and of having to meet the eyes of the strangers that she just knew were looking at her.
She turned from the mirror and yep, people were looking at her. Robyn dropped her eyes to the carpet and kept them there until she made it back to the bench.
“This is a Marabou slipper,” Alexandra said. “It’s basic, but a classic that never goes out of style. It really goes so perfectly with lingerie. A lady should have several pair in various colors as part of her wardrobe.”
Robyn barely heard her. She was focused on Lucas, who was kneeling in front of her again. He’d been kissing her toes again, but now he kissed his way up her leg to the inside of her knee. And he was caressing her leg, too. His hand had slid up past her knee to the inside of her thigh, and he was pushing her pencil skirt up with it.
Alexandra was standing right over them. Robyn looked up at her. The store owner was smiling down at her.
As Lucas’ tongue tickled the inside of her knee and his fingers teased the inside of her thigh under her skirt Alexandra said, “Robyn, I think you’re going to very much enjoy your Sensual You experience.”
She thought she should say something back to the store owner. Maybe thank you.
But she couldn’t breathe.
After my haircut I drove to the beach to the Pier Village. I just wanted to walk around, enjoy the ocean view, breathe some salt air and generally chill…and maybe to do a little work. I’m dressed for an afternoon boardwalk stroll in a Polo shirt over khaki slacks. Nothing fancy. It’s not my style to try to be flashy.
One thing I like about the village on weekdays: it’s easier to separate the spenders from the pretenders. The shops and boutiques down here don’t sell anything cheap.
You’ve got two basic types of females out here on the weekdays. First there are the unemployed and the shift workers, out here to window shop and dream. Then you have the serious shoppers. If they’re out here on a weekday it means they don’t need to work and they’re spending old money, or they’ve got somebody out making enough dough to let them come out here and burn some. Yeah, it’s mostly white women.
Money’s all green.
I was only in the village about fifteen minutes when I spotted this brunette checking me out every time I looked her way. She was curious, I could tell. Curiosity can lead to cash. I thought I’d go basic on her, just walk over and tell her that I thought she was beautiful and keep going, see if she followed and went after the bait on the hook. I was getting ready to make my move when my cell phone rang.
My caller ID showed it was Angel, my “agent.”
“Hey baby,” I answered. I kept my eyes on the brunette.
“Hello, handsome,” Angel cooed.
Angel’s voice is like liquid heat. I’ve never seen her, but if her sultry voice is any indication of her physical beauty then she’s got to be one of the most gorgeous creatures to ever breathe air.
“I have a session available this Saturday evening, if you have no plans,” she said.
“I’m open,” I said. “What’s the story?”
“A high school reunion.”
Angel laughed a throaty laugh. Even her laugh made me want to fuck something.
“The client is attending her twenty year reunion,” she explained. “She wants someone on her arm to make people believe that she’s done more with her life over the past two decades than make money.”
“So it’s all show?”
“Well, she’s paying for premium service, Lucas. I’m sure she’ll let you know her specific desires. The function is at the Shore Casino in Atlantic Highlands. You’ll pick the client up at her residence in Tinton Falls.”
“Just like a real date, huh?”
“That’s what she’s paying for. I’ll email you the particulars, if you want the job.”
“I’ll take it.”
“Every job is one step closer to your retirement goal.”
“Yep, two more years and I’m done.”
“Have you enjoyed your career, Lucas?”
“I got paid.”
“Not exactly an answer to the question, my friend.”
Sometimes I felt like Angel was inside my head, which was really creepy since we’d never laid eyes on each other. And, she’d only been my point of contact for a couple of years. I don’t know what happened to Ahmad, the dude who was my liaison before Angel. And it’s not my business, as long as the jobs and the money keep coming.
I decided to leave the brunette on the beach to her fantasies. Angel paid a hell of a lot more than I got for freelance work.
Tinton Falls, New Jersey
“If anyone asks, you’re an investment broker. You used to work on Wall Street, but now you run your own business from home. You got that?”
“Got it,” I said.
“Are you able to answer basic questions about investments? Some may ask.”
We’d just met twenty minutes ago and I was already sick of this chick. I was driving her to the Shore Casino in my Volvo like we were on a real date and I gave a fuck about her. Her name is Beverly. She wasn’t a bad looking sister, but she had a stick shoved so far up her ass she had to spit splinters.
“I can handle it,” I said.
“What’s the difference between a bull and a bear market?”
I looked over at her. “Are you serious?”
“Listen Lucas, if that occupation is too…complicated for you, say so now. I’ll think of something closer to your level.”
“And what do you think my level might be?” I wanted to open the passenger door and kick her out into the middle of Route 35 traffic…without slowing down from fifty-five miles an hour.
“Well, considering your actual occupation, I suppose you don’t have much familiarity with the white collar world.”
I took a deep breath to get a grip on my aggravation. “In a bull market, the price of given securities are rising or expected to rise, typically at a rate faster than average growth,” I said. “A bear market is the opposite. Prices are falling and expected to keep dropping.”
“And what’s considered average growth?” Beverly asked.
I glared hate at her. I felt like I was in fucking school again. “Typically about twenty percent.”
Now she looked away. “Don’t fuck it up for me,” she said. “Just get us through the night without embarrassing me.”
Embarrassing her? I’m not the one who can’t get a fucking date. I’m not the one who needed to front in front of people I haven’t seen in twenty years.
After I park us at the Casino and helped her out of my car Beverly tossed her weave, slipped her arm into mine, smiled and hugged up on me like we’ve been together for ages, are madly in love and probably just got finished fucking in the car.
Let the show begin.
I drive a black S80. It’s stylish in a subdued way. I don’t like showing off, but I like to be different. And I like quality.
See, I travel in rarified air.
It’s nice up here.
I got started when I was eighteen years old. Not in the business of money, but in the business of taking care of women. Not fucking them, which is what I thought it was all about when I was young and uninformed. I learned early on that it’s not always about what happens between the sheets, though it could be. It’s not always about wining and dining them either, though that’s often a part of the package. I get paid to give a particular woman what she needs particularly. Sometimes it’s nothing more than company and conversation. Not often, but sometimes. The bottom line is that each woman is different. She has her own particular beauty—which has nothing to do with the external—and her particular beauty needs its particular nourishment. This is where many men fall short. I get paid to take up the slack, to fill a void; to nourish her beauty, even if only for one night.
But okay, it started with sex.
The first was a friend of my aunt’s. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. She helped me learn. Then she introduced me to some of her friends.
Maybe it’s a woman’s nurturing nature that compelled them to want to teach me what a woman likes, and more important, what she needs. And maybe because I was young they considered me clay to be molded, and they felt free to tell me to do things that they couldn’t ask their men to do (if they had a man), or things they’d asked for that he wouldn’t do.
Consider the times. Women were still largely considered not to be as sexual as men. Women didn’t always feel free to be themselves, to let their sexuality off its chain and let it run loose. Whatever the reason, I paid attention and learned my lessons. I’d say that in the end, I graduated with honors. I’m not bragging. I don’t need to. I come with references.
This thing—the Passion series—started as an online short story, one of those “what if this happened?” things. The what if was what if a woman woke up after a night out partying to find herself in a strange bed in a strange house (a mansion), with no memory of how she got there? She finds a note on the pillow that says simply: You were amazing.
That’s how this thing began, and how I thought it was going to end, by answering that single what if question, and then moving on to the next thing. But like John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” New ideas are what happen, too, and so the characters from that first story, Passion’s Nectar—Julian St. Christopher, Grace Trouillot, Victoria West and Glenda Engerman—had come alive, and they weren’t done living. More characters were to come, and they played their parts and helped me flesh out this series and add the novellas Passion’s Kiss, Passion’s Journey, Passion’s Fire, and now this last episode in the Passion series, Passion’s Fury.
And then there was the Dream Girl project. Once upon a time I had an idea for a sequel to Dream Girl. I was going to title it The Daughters of Lilith. The tale would have Frank Einstein—the founder of Headbox Industries—coming up a new invention: an injected nanochip that boosted feminine pheromones and made them irresistible to men. My idea was that there would be a plague of deadly succubus type women who were almost unstoppable. Men couldn’t go up against them because they’d be too busy wanting to…well, you know. So Agent Avery Silva—he of the unnamed government agency—would assemble a hit squad of badass women: Nikira Horikoshi and Simone Gray (from the upcoming Hitman Chronicles series) and a woman named Javari, who you’ll meet soon in The Professional. Well, a few chapters in, the story started to feel like Charlie’s Angels. That’s already been done (and maybe twice too often). So I scraped the bulk of that idea, but I still wanted to do more with Frank Einstein and the nanochip thing. The solution was to merge that idea with Passion’s Fury and wrap up two storylines.
Now, when I say “wrap up,” don’t take this as the absolute end. The Passion series is done, yes, but no one died. Well, almost no one died. You will see Julian St. Christopher and the characters from the series again, I promise. And Gretchen Smith and Ana are still out there in the world somewhere. As soon as I find out what they’re up to you’ll be the first to know.
Now, before I go, I have to give special thanks to author extraordinaire Nia Forrester (author of Afterwards), who got to listen to and put up with me griping and moaning during the making of this novella. We hold ourselves to high standards, and sometimes, when we feel that we just can’t reach that high, it helps to have someone who’s been through it to boost us up. Nia, if I left footprints on your delicate shoulders I’ll pay for the dry cleaning. Thank you.
Somewhere in Virginia
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.
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SAMPLE SUNDAY: Excerpt from COUGARS, INC (vol. I):
Anita pressed the talk and speaker buttons on her phone so that she could converse as she toweled herself off. “Hey girl, how’d it go last night?” she asked.
“Nita, that’s the first and last blind date I ever do,” Barbara grumbled. “So what’re you up to?”
“You caught me coming out of the shower. So what happened?”
“First, the fool showed up over an hour late,” Barbara said. “And when I opened the door he’s standing there in a damn Ravens jersey and a baseball cap. That fool was dressed like I used to dress Marcus when I’d send him to kindergarten.”
Anita laughed. “Well, you said he was young, right?”
“He’s not that young. Twenty-nine is a grown ass man. I mean, I get that when a brother wants to kick back and chill he’ll dress down, okay? But we were supposed to be going out to dinner at Bistro 27. I’m not saying wear a suit to impress a sister on a first date, but damn – a football jersey? And he was wearing sneakers, Nita!”
Her body dried, Anita spread the towel on the bed. As she grabbed a jar of cocoa butter and sat down she said, “Hold up – you said supposed to be going out to dinner. You didn’t go?”
“Okay, check this out: First he apologized for being late. He said he was waiting on one of his boys because he needed to borrow his car. That was red flag number one. What man almost thirty doesn’t have a car, unless he lives in New York City? So I told him he should’ve called to let me know he was running late, and do you know what he said?”
“What?” Anita was already feeling sorry for her girl, but this was getting good.
“He said he’d run out of minutes on his phone. Okay, red flag number 2. He can’t get a regular cell phone?”
Anita shook her head as if Barbara could see her. “Oh, Lord!”
“I know, right? Anyway, so we go outside to his borrowed car, and I’m thinking how foolish I’m going to look in my sexy little black dress and pumps, looking like I’m taking my son out to eat. I mean there’s only twelve years difference in our ages, but he’s dressed like he was thirty years younger than me. That shit isn’t cute. I would’ve looked like one of those child-raping teachers you always hear about.”
“So that’s why you didn’t go to dinner with him?”
“Oh no, at that point I was still going to tough it out. I mean, I haven’t had any in so long I might’ve rolled with him if he was wearing Pampers. But as soon as we got in the car – and mind you he didn’t have enough courtesy to open the door for me – he was like, ‘Hey, I’ma need you to let me hold some gas money. My boy left me on fumes.’”
Anita cracked up listening to Barbara adding bass to her voice, trying to sound mannish when imitating her bad date. When she managed to stop laughing she asked, “So that’s when you kicked him to the curb?”
“I asked him if he didn’t have gas money, how was he gonna take me to dinner? And this fool said, ‘I was gonna let you get this one, and I’ll hit you next time, nah mean?’ So I got my ass outta the car because I wasn’t about to pay for his broke ass.”
“So you kicked him to the curb literally, huh?” Anita had to pause in the task of rubbing cocoa butter into her feet and legs to wipe mirthful tears from her eyes. She felt for her girl, but this was too funny.
“Nah, I let him come back in. He’s a bum but he’s a cute one, and like I said, it’s been a minute – a lot of damn minutes. I threw together some Hamburger Helper real quick.”
“Girl, get outta here! You fed him The Helper on a first date?”
“It wasn’t a dinner date anymore, Nita. This was charity. And that fool ate like a refugee. And that’s not all he ate.”
“Oh, no you didn’t!”
Two novellas hot enough to make your milk boil.
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