Strange Fruit in the Concrete Jungle

Hello,
I hope you all have been enjoying the short stories that I have been posting.  I started out doing them once a week, but as my Ghostwriting career took off, I began to find it more difficult to continue writing weekly stories in addition to the other contracts that I picked up.  However, another project that has taken up a lot of my time is my upcoming novel, “Strange Fruit in the Concrete Jungle.”  Oh, you didn’t know that I was writing a novel?  Well, let me fill you in on the plot!
Ehhis is young man who moves from a small, racist town in Idlewild, Texas to Harlem, NY in 1921. He has aspirations of presenting an unheard of form of art to the citizens of Harlem, Spoken-Word. But his dreams of becoming an entertainer are quickly interrupted when he witnesses a murder within the first few months of his move to Harlem.  Against the advice of one of his good friends, he speaks to the police and is prepared to testify in court.  If he testifies against the killer, it will expose a string of corrupt cops and city officials and their ties to a viscous, black crime mob terrorizing Harlem. The powers that be are not prepared to let that happen so they seek to handle it the best way they can; eliminate Ehhis.  Not knowing who to trust and where to go, Ehhis becomes a target of one of the most dangerous crime families in Harlem as he stubbornly continues pursuing his dreams as an entertainer. In a narrative that captures the essence of 1920’s Harlem with breathtaking descriptions and painstaking imagery of the Renaissance, it will make you feel as if you are right there with the characters. Journey with Ehhis through his triumphs and downfalls in this epic story of ambition and determination. It will leave you speechless and inspire you to always keep going, no matter what is ahead of you.
Check out the trailer below!
This is the website where you can get additional information on the novel.
There are a couple of snippets of the book inside of this blog and if you want to check them out, just look for the book the cover when you scroll through my blog posts.  I have enjoyed every moment of this process, from starting out in three notebooks (Yes, I wrote the ENTIRE first draft of the novel by hand and it is over 111k words), transferring it to the computer, creating in-depth characters and studying the time period so I would be sure to have everything close to how it really was in the 1920’s.  I have even written a movie script to go along with the novel!  I have put a lot of time and effort into this project and I am thoroughly excited about its release!  I am currently on my third edit of the book and it is going well, but I am reaching the point that I realize I cannot do it all on my own.
NOW THIS IS WHERE YOU ALL COME IN!
I appreciate all of your support, “likes”, and comments so please take a minute and check out the Kickstarter page for my upcoming novel, “Strange Fruit in the Concrete Jungle.” My backers receive an array of packages, ranging from physical signed copies of the novel and Special Edition E-Book bundles, to your name being placed in the books acknowledgements!
Check out the page and see what is going on with this ground-breaking novel that captures the essence of the renaissance! Thank you in advance! Peace.

The Unfortunate Reality

“Alright, Monica, push!  Push!”

She let out a scream that would’ve shaken the graves of those who passed away.  It was her first child, and she didn’t know what to expect.  When the doctor came in with a needle the size of her finger, she waved it off, “You have to stick that in my back?  No, I’ll pass.”  The epidural would’ve saved her from a multitude of pain, but she wasn’t privy to it.  As a matter of fact, she rarely saw the doctor throughout the pregnancy so it was a tossup as to whether or not the child would be born without any difficulties.  Her mother passed away when she was five, and it left her father to raise her on his own.  At the time, he was twenty-three, and he was so caught up in his own life that he didn’t make time for her.  Luckily, she had a grandmother who was older but still willing to take custody of Monica to keep her from going into the foster care system.  She had seen first-hand the effects that could have on a child, so she did what she had to do.  Her name was Janice Carter, and she was her father’s mother, but Monica only knew her as Mama.

“Push, Monica, Push!  That’s it, keep it going!  Good job, Monica, good job!”

In the hospital room, the nurse stood beside her and held her hand as she used a towel to wipe the sweat from her forehead.  “You’re doing great, Monica.  Just keep going.”  She coached her from the side and as a two-time mother herself, she knew the pain the Monica was going through and did her best to ease it all.  Trey, the child’s father, stormed out in an unbelievable rage the day he found out Monica was pregnant.  The scene wasn’t how she expected it to go at all.

“Trey?  Hey, baby.”

“Whassup, Monica?”

She walked to the couch as he sat, watching Sunday football with a burger in his hand that she just prepared for him.  They were both nineteen years old, and Janice passed away two years before, but she left her the house that she paid for before she died.  Janice was living in a three bedroom house with no mortgage, and the only thing she had to pay for was the monthly bills, something she could manage as a cashier in a department store.  “Do you like the burger?”  Trey didn’t turn to look at her when he answered, “Yeah, it’s straight.”

The announcer on the television spoke up as the play just began.  Monica reached into her pocket and pulled out two pictures to place them on the table.  After a few moments, she realized that Trey wasn’t going to look at them from there, so she picked them up and set them on his lap.  He stopped in mid-chew and glanced down at them, speaking will a full mouth.  His voice was muffled, “What is this?”  She was nervous because she didn’t know how he would take it but she knew the truth had to come out eventually, “These are sonograms.  We’re um; we’re gonna have a baby.”  She had been dating Trey for almost a year and even though it was off-and-on, it was still the most consistent relationship either of them had.  Monica smiled at him as she waited for a response and suddenly, she got it.

Trey smacked the small photos off his lap as they fluttered to the ground, “Pregnant?!  Nah, I… I don’t know why you’re tellin’ me that.  You know I pull out every time we don’t use a condom.”  She exhaled, hoping that it didn’t go this way, but she knew it was a slim chance that it wouldn’t.  She sat back on the couch as seclusion saturated her facial expression.  He slammed the plate down on the table, nearly shattering it as the top bun of his burger flew onto the floor.

“Nah, nah, I know that ain’t mine.  You’ve been cheatin on me, Monica, huh?  You’ve been messin’ around with somebody else, and since they got you pregnant, you’re tryin to pass it off as mine?”

“Trey, stop trippin’.  You know I ain’t been with nobody else.”

“I know?  I know, huh?  All I know is that I never came inside of you so how is this baby mine, huh?”

“Trey, it’s yours!  I haven’t been with anybody else!  You’re the only dude I ever been with!”

Tears began to well up in her eyes as Trey paced back and forth, his nostrils flaring with both fists balled up as if he was ready to punch through a wall.

“Whatever, Monica!  You can tell me anything you want to!  Oh, I guess the dude I saw you at the grocery store with ain’t nobody, huh?  Go and tell him that you’re pregnant!”

“Grocery store?  Trey, I told you that he worked there, and I asked him where the vegetables were!  That’s it!”

“Whatever!  Look, I ain’t stayin’ here for this!  I’ma let you go and find the real father of that baby and tell him the news because it ain’t mine!”

He looked down at the sonograms that laid spread out on the floor and when he reached down to grab one, he ripped it into pieces and flung them into the air like confetti.  “And don’t call me until you get all this situated!  I’m done!  For real!”  He stormed out of the house and slammed the door behind him, the vibration knocked pictures off the wall as Monica buried her head into the couch and cried out loud.  It was an acute pain that she hadn’t felt before, the precise stabbing of small needles into her heart as she was on the verge of hyperventilating.  Suddenly, she felt a cool and calm spirit around her.  “It’s gonna be alright, Monica,” the voice said as she looked up with teary, reddened eyes.  She calmed her breathing and sat up as she looked to the floor to grab the two pictures that were still intact.  On the back of them, she wrote, “Monica and Trey’s baby,” and placed them on her table.  The truth was the truth, no matter what Trey said.

Inside the hospital, she pushed again but this time, the baby was fully out as the doctor suctioned the fluids out of his mouth and patted him on the back until his first cries came out.  “There we are, theeere we are little boy, you’re fine, you’re fine,” the doctor said as he passed him to the nurses to they could quickly clean him up.  Monica was out of breath and suddenly, the pain she had seconds ago seemed to all be worth it once she realized her baby boy had come out unharmed.  “Can I… can I see him?” she asked, still trying to recollect herself.  “Of course!  They are just cleaning him and then they will bring him right to you.”

They walked over with her baby boy and placed him in her arms as tears rolled down her face.  The nurse that was by her side continued to coach her, “Just hold him close to your skin for a while so his body temperature can regulate.  Yes, that’s it, right by your bosom.”  Monica held him close and kissed him on the cheek as he relaxed, his eyes moving around aimlessly like he knew he was no longer in the comfort of the womb.  “Do you have a name for him?” the nurse asked as she admired them.  “Yes.  His name is Allen.  Allen Travelle Taylor.”  From that day, she always held him close to her and when Trey came to visit his son in the hospital, Monica rolled her eyes at him.  He hadn’t contacted her at all for the entire length of the pregnancy, but Monica didn’t want her son to grow up without her father around, so for his sake, she told Trey what hospital she was in.  When he came in, his hair had grown out and was on the verge of locking up.  His pants sagged just below his waist, and he had all types of jewelry hanging from his neck and around his wrists.  During the last nine months, Monica had gotten word that Trey started selling drugs to make extra money.

“Yo, whassup, Monica?”

“Allen is right there.”

He walked over to look at his baby boy, but honestly, he wasn’t interested in him, and he still hadn’t accepted the fact that he belonged to him.  He stuck his finger inside the incubator and smiled at Allen, but quickly left his side and stood by Monica.  He reached out for her hand, but she snatched it away, “What do you want, Trey?  I thought you were here to see the baby.”  He smiled arrogantly, “Yeah, I did come for that, but I came for you, too.  I miss you.  I miss what we had.”  She sucked her teeth, “Trey, get out of here with that, for real.  You dissed me nine months ago and after all the morning sicknesses, the cravings, and everything else I had to go through BY MYSELF, you wanna come back around?  Nah, I’m not goin’ there with you.  There is your son.  He is the only reason we will ever need to communicate with each other.”  He reached out for her hand,

“Come on, Monica.  You know you-”

“Trey, get out of here before I call security!  I’m not playing with you!”

His nostrils flared, the same look he had when she told him that she was pregnant and with that, he left the room without once looking at his son.  Monica refused to let tears fall from her eyes over him as Allen moved around in his incubator.  He deserved more than what Trey was going to give him, and Monica knew it but for now, she was only focused on raising her son to the best of her ability.

 

FIFTEEN YEARS LATER

 

“Mama!  Mama!  Where is the ketchup!”

“It is in the refrigerator!”

“Where?  I don’t see it, Mama!”

The two of them yelled back and forth from the kitchen to the front room until Monica sighed and got up, “If I come in there and grab that ketchup, I promise I am going to pop you upside your head!”  She walked in as Allen stood with the ketchup in his hand and a broad grin on his face.  He burst out laughing as soon as he saw her.  Monica shot him a look of disgust before she charged at him.  She was thirty-four years old, but she still looked as though she was in her mid-twenties and people had a hard time believing that she was the mother of a 15-year-old boy.

She still lived in her grandmother’s house, but now, she worked as a supervisor at a call center and made well over enough money to keep her and her son happy.  Allen was a good kid for the most part, but she saw a lot of Trey in him.  His temper, mainly, was what she worried about the most.  He was always getting into fights at school and with children around the neighborhood.  His father came close to laying hands on her when she was younger, but he never crossed the line.  With Allen though, it didn’t seem that he had that kind of restraint when it came to other people.  The two of them had an air-tight relationship and even though he didn’t have a father figure in his life, he still had a good grasp on what it was like to be a man.  His teacher, Mr. Weston, did much to structure him as much as he could, and he recognized Allen as a bright student during the parent teacher conferences.

“Allen is really a smart kid, Monica.  He just gets mixed up with the wrong crowd a lot of times, you know?  Bad company corrupts good morals, so all of the good things you are teaching him at home sort of gets washed away when he comes around these group of kids.”

That was what he said each time Allen had gotten into trouble at school, and he was on the verge of being kicked out of Madison High School if he kept up his behavior.  Trey had only seen Allen twice in his lifetime, once at the hospital and then once again when Allen was five.  Allen said that he had no memory of his father and even though Monica tried her best not to talk bad about Trey in front of his son, Allen still drew his own conclusion.  He was a mirrored image of his father, same thick eyebrows and dark brown eyes.  His hair kinked up the same way Trey’s did when he started growing it out, and Monica would shake her head at how much the two of them resembled.  At times, it scared her because she felt that somehow, she had gone back in time and started life as a teenager all over again.  Those thoughts only lasted for split seconds, though, and she hated when it happened.

Trey continued to be a dope dealer since the day he left the hospital and for a while, he was making a lot of money.  Monica would hear how he was driving new cars almost every other week and flashing pockets full of twenty dollar bills and tossing them up at the strip clubs like they were dollar bills.  Ten years after Allen was born, Trey was robbed by a group of other men and the ended up shooting him in the legs.  The doctors thought he would be paralyzed, but amazingly, he regained his ability to walk after extensive rehab sessions.  He had a limp, but it was better than strolling along in a wheelchair.

Back at the house, Allen was preparing to leave.  “Aight Mama, I’ma be back later on.”  He grabbed his bag and headed to the door,

“Wait a minute, boy!  Where are you going?  Don’t play with me.”

“Mama, I’m going to Ricky house right down the street.”

“Ricky?  Is his Mama gon’ be there?”

He exhaled,

“Yes, Mama.  She will be there.”

“Boy, if I call around there, and she is not home, I am coming over there with a switch, and I am lighting you up right in front of yo’ little friends.”

He laughed and kissed her on the cheek,

“Aight Mama, beat me with a switch, aight.  I got it.  Any other method of abuse you got for me?”

She playfully swung at him, but he eluded her and ran to the door,

“I’ll be back, Mama.  I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

When he got far enough away from the house, he looked inside of his bag to make sure he had everything.  A black Glock 9 and a few bags of weed was what he needed for the trip he and Ricky were about to make.  Ironically, he followed in the same footsteps of his father except he started at a much younger age.  He was influenced by the wrong crowd, and when the music videos showed him what it was to be a man, he figured he needed to step into his place as well.  He made it over to Ricky’s house, “What up, fam?”  They shook hands as Ricky spoke,

“Chillin.  You ready?”

“Yeah, let’s roll.”

They headed to the West side of town to make a drop.  Allen knew that it would be dangerous because they were going on unknown territory but he wasn’t scared at all.  In fact, Ricky was the one who was calm, and it was just because Allen was there.  As they rode to the West Side, Allen glanced at his phone.  “My Moms is calling, man.  She is about to snap once she finds out where I’m at.  She probably called your mom first.”  Ricky drove his car with one hand on the steering wheel, “Yeah.  Don’t answer that, though.  Just wait until we get back.”  Allen slid his phone back in his pocket, and twenty minutes later, they arrived on the West Side of town.

Both of them were unfamiliar with the area, but they knew where they needed to go.  Little did Allen know, Trey lived on the same side of town, but Allen wouldn’t be able to pick him out of a lineup, let alone identify his relation to him.  “Aight, you ready?  The house is right there,” Ricky said as they were parked on the street.  “Aight, Let’s go.”

They both got out of the car and headed towards the house as Trey walked down the sidewalk with a limp.  He was still on edge since the time he had gotten shot and even though it was almost ten years ago, he never forgot the moment it happened.  A group of young boys, close to the ages of Ricky and Allen, were the reason he had to walk with a limp.  As they approached him, Allen put his hand near his waist.  In unfamiliar territory, he always wanted to be ready to pull out if it came down to it.  Trey tensed up as they inched towards each other’s path, “Whassup, little nigga?” he said as he stopped in the middle of the sidewalk to block their path, “Yall don’t belong over here.  I can tell.  What’s up?”  Allen glared at him, but before he responded, he realized that something was off about him.  It was like he was looking in a mirror and watching an older version of himself right in front of him.

Ricky spoke up, “We ain’t here to see you, so watch out.”  Trey didn’t budge, and when Ricky shoved him back, Allen snapped out of his trance and pulled his gun out, “Look, we ain’t come here for all that.  We just trying to see Snap, aight?”  In Trey’s mind, flashbacks of the fateful night he was shot twice by the group of boys began to replay in his mind.  He looked down the dark barrel of the gun, oblivious to any detail of Allen that might have told him that they were related.  It was all erased, and the only thing he could focus on was avoiding being gunned down again by a group of teens.  As Allen pointed the gun at Trey, he froze again.  He saw his own eyebrows, lips, nose and eyes on the face of this man in front of him.  His eyebrows wrinkled up but to Trey, he sensed hesitation.  He is not going to shoot me, he said in his mind.  He had been living a street life for a while, and he knew when somebody was going to shoot and when they were bluffing.  Allen wasn’t bluffing by any means, but seeing his features on another man bugged him out completely.  Slowly, he began to wonder if the man standing in front of him was his father.  Before he could react to his thoughts, Trey pulled the pistol from his waist and as Allen was on the verge of yelling for him to stop.  Pow! Pow! Pow!  Trey emptied his clip into Allen as Ricky ran from the scene.

Blood spilled from his body as he laid on the sidewalk, gasping for air.  Trey stood over him and shook his head, “Not this time, little nigga.  Not this time.”  As Ricky sped off, Trey turned around and limped away from the scene of the murder.  Allen laid there with his eyes wide open; chest covered in blood as his gasps for air slowly ended.  If you are not being a father to your son, you are killing your son.

 

If you liked this story, or any of the short stories I have posted, please take a moment to check out the kickstarter page for my upcoming novel, “Strange Fruit in the Concrete Jungle.”

 

 

Allen “Breeze” Rawlons

“Hey Daddy, when can I drive?”

I looked in the rearview mirror to get a better look at my son.  His light brown eyes illuminated as the sun beamed down onto his mahogany complexion.  He sat in his car seat, his feet dangling halfway to the floor.  It was almost time for him to sit on the regular seat like the big kids but he still had a few more months to go, and I didn’t want to rush it.  If I could have it my way, he would stay the same age for as long as I could keep him there like Peter Pan.

“When you get old enough, son.”

“But Daddy, I am old enough.  I can see over the steering wheel.”

“It takes more than seeing over the steering wheel to know how to drive.  You’ll get there, trust me.  Just enjoy the ride for now.”

He sighed and glanced out the window as I smiled to myself.  He was a splitting image of me when I was his age.  My mother would sit down and show pictures of me in my younger days, and if I didn’t know any better, I would’ve sworn that the boy in the picture was the same kid in the car seat behind me.  Just as I was about to speak to him again, the phone buzzed in my lap.  I immediately became disgruntled when I saw the name flash across the face of my screen.

My ex-wife barely gave me any breathing room whenever I had my son.  My visitation rights were cut down because of my job.  Being a police officer took up the majority of my time, and it was mainly the reason why she felt she needed a divorce.  Her insecurities built up over time and for the longest, she just felt like there was another woman.  Somebody, I was cheating on her with and she was partially right.  It wasn’t a physical act that was brewing but more of an emotional one.  She checked out of the marriage, and it forced me to fill the voids in other ways.  In my mind, physically cheating was worse than doing so emotionally, so I chose the lesser of two evils.  In retrospect, emotional adultery was worse, and once those doors opened, there was no way to close them.  I read her text when I came to a stop light.

“Where are you at with my son?”

“This is my time with him.  Why are you worried about it?  I’ll have him home when he is supposed to be home.”

“You better not have him around no other women.  I swear to God, Allen.”

“Look.  This is my time with my boy, aight?  You can interrogate him later on about the other bs, but right now, I am busy.”

The light turned green as I set the phone in my lap and pulled off.  I looked back at A.J. as he picked up one of his toy cars and drove it across his lap.  In his other hand, he made another car crash into it.  “Boom!” he said as he banged the cars into each other repeatedly.  Just then, the phone buzzed in my lap again.  I tried to do things to get my mind off the fact that Lauren seemingly harassed me anytime I had A.J. with me.  She had the ability to send me from one to one-hundred in record time at any given moment.  I looked straight ahead, doing everything in my power not to look at her text but I couldn’t resist.  If it was something disrespectful, I had to fire back.  I couldn’t let it sit and wait until later because then; she would feel like she won whatever childish dispute was going on between us.  The road was clear ahead of me, so I reached down and grabbed the phone as my son kept replaying the same accident over and over.

“Interrogate him?  You should be the one interrogated for posing as a man!  You’re not a man!  A.J. will be ashamed once he knows who his father really is!”

She sent a cold chill down my spine.  She knew what buttons to press to piss me off.  My son kept playing with his cars in the back seat, yelling out “Boom!” every few seconds as I drove.  I looked up to make sure the road was clear and with that, I put one thumb on the screen and began firing off my response.  “Boom!  Boom!”  Just after I pressed send, I looked up, but it was too late.  An SUV was coming at us full speed on the same side that my son was seated.  My mouth dropped open, and before I could say a word, the truck smacked into the side of our car and flipped us over like a tumbleweed blowing in the wind.  When we came to a stop, our car was flipped over on the hood as blood trickled down from my forehead and onto the ceiling which was now the floor.

“A.J.?”

I called out to him in a faint voice, struggling to hold onto my consciousness.  I slowly turned my head back to him as he was suspended in the air and the only thing that was keeping him from hitting the bottom were the straps of his car seat.  His side of the car was caved in as blood dripped from his head.  The window beside him had completely shattered, and as I reached back to him, I finally lost consciousness.

“Um, sir?  Are you ready to order?”

I looked up at her as she stood at my table with a pen and a pad of paper in her hand.  She was young and attractive.  She seemed like she was either a single parent reaching to make ends meet or a College student doing what she had to so that she could keep some money in her pocket.  Her hair was tied up in a ponytail, and there were a few loose strands that fell over her forehead.  She pushed them to the side as she smiled, waiting for me to order.

“Yes.  Just um, give me the blackened salmon, please.  Mashed potatoes and corn.”

“Alright, sir.  Will that be all?”

I looked at the menu while simultaneously stealing glances of her pulchritude.  I was good at hiding my eyes with the brim of my hat.

“I wouldn’t mind taking your number.”

She took my menu away from me and winked,

“I’m sorry, I can’t do that… but if I were single, I would.  I would, and I wouldn’t think twice about it.”

She turned and walked away.  She could have been just trying to let me down easily because she didn’t have to add to her reason but at this point in my life, I didn’t care.  The rejection wasn’t something I was afraid of.  There was either going to be a yes or a no and either way; I would live with it.  My son, though?  He wouldn’t have that chance and even though the accident happened five years ago, my mind still replayed it like it was something that just occurred.  I leaned back as the patrons continued to flood into the restaurant.  It was more of a bar than anything else, but there was an area where you could sit and dine and across the room, there were a wet bar and a dancefloor for those who wanted to cut a rug.  The atmosphere around me was a bit cloudy, but I didn’t mind.  It added to the peculiarity of my personality.  Unclear.  Foggy.  Ambiguous.  Enigmatic.  I reveled when people used those words to describe me.  It meant that I came off to them exactly how I wanted to.

After my son’s death, I developed tunnel vision.  The psychiatrists I was referred to stated that the path I was headed down was unhealthy.  “Mr. Eddison, you are powering straight towards a profound and dark depression.  You cannot keep shutting people out and holding onto the bitterness that lives inside of you.  It is going to make you rotten from the inside out and cut your life in half.”  I sat up on the awkward couch that I was forced to lie on, “The more I let people in, the more bitter I become and by the way things are going in this world, it would be better to be dead than deal with the nuances of this life.  I’m fine where I am and quite frankly, Dr. Slowerwizt-” he interrupted me,

“That’s Showerwitz.”

“Whatever.  You are wasting your time with me.  You could be using this slot to help someone who wants your help than to be with me and continue to allow me to patronize you and your profession.  I have been sending barbs at you all day, but I guess you can’t catch on to my sarcasm.  Common sense is not something they teach you.  You have to be born with it.”

The sessions never went well, and finally, my lieutenant let me off the hook so I could do my job.  I went from a regular patrol officer to a detective in eight years on the force.  I loved my job, and it was only because I could get lost in it and forget about the things that were happening in my life.  My wife made the divorce final just one year after my son’s death.  Soon after that, she packed up and moved across the country to California.  I blamed her for his death, but it wasn’t her fault.  It wasn’t her fault at all; I just couldn’t find the strength to shoulder the blame on my own.  I am a man, but I have my flaws, and that was one of them.  I could face anything in life except going to the grave and apologizing to my son for ending his life well before it should have.  I sighed and took my hat off just as the pretty waitress brought my food to the table.

“How does everything look?”

I winked at her, not once glancing at my food,

“Things couldn’t look any better.”

She smiled and walked away as she switched back and forth.  She made her case, but now, I just thought she was working for a bigger tip.  Life had made my cynical even though most would say that it was one of the effects of bitterness.  To hell with them all.  I popped the napkin open and stretched it across my lap and no sooner, he walked in.  I put my hat back on to cover my eye sight as I watched him walk to his table.  A pretty boy.  Tall, chocolate and deep, wavy hair that most men would kill to have.  He wore a fitted shirt that showed off his physique as two women draped on each side of him.  He was a player and women knew that.  They knew it, but when you have looks and money, none of that matters.  Most women will put up with your flaws when you have it made like that and the more money you have, the more they will put up with.  It was like clockwork.  He was the guy, though.  He was the one that the agency had their eye on.  He had a slew of women at his disposal and periodically, a few would come up missing with him being the last person they were with.  None of us could get a hook into him, though.  The women that were with him kept their mouths shut at all costs.  It was like trying to pry open the mouth of a hungry alligator while his dinner was locked inside.  Nothing was coming out.

I watched him walk over to his VIP booth that overlooked the first floor of the restaurant.  His haughty gaze brushed over the patrons below him as if we were all his peasants and he was the king of the city.  In his mind, he was, but that was far from the truth.  This was my city and the only people that didn’t know it was the ones that hadn’t been crushed by my hands.  I took a sip of wine just as he looked in my direction.  Right now, he was a man that was seemingly able to side-step the grim reaper, but I had my sights on him, and he knew it.  He puckered his lips at me and then smiled.  Taunting.

It wasn’t too long ago that I was at his house asking him questions about the last missing woman.  Just behind him, another female stood with her arms folded over her chest, pushing her breasts up on top of her arms.  He turned around to see where my eyes were fixated,

“Oh, yeah, she is nice, isn’t she?  For the right price,” he leaned in towards me, “You can have her for the night.”

“Not interested.”

“Your eyes make you out to be a liar.”

“Your lips make you out to be one as well.”

His smile immediately wiped away and from that point, he refused to answer anything without his lawyer present.  We didn’t have concrete evidence about anything so we couldn’t go any further.  Ever since then, three more girls had come up missing, and all were with the same MO.  From that point on, he had become the only light in my tunnel vision.

I took a bite of salmon, and before I knew it, the same woman that stood behind him at his house stood in front of me.  She licked her lips and took it upon herself to pull a chair out, “I hope you don’t mind if I join you.”  She said it in a way that said she would be shocked if I said that I did mind.  I was torn on the decision myself.  She was easy on the eyes, full bodied and pretty.  Not movie star pretty, but she was pretty.

“So, what brings you here… alone?”

“My Camaro.”

She smiled,

“Cute.  Real cute.  How about you join us on the top floor.  Mike asked me to extend the offer.”

I took another bite of salmon,

“I’ll pass.”

“Oh, come now.  You can’t possibly be happy sitting here alone.”

“I’m quite content.”

Under the table, I felt her hand brush over my thigh.  My eyes peered up at her slowly as she smiled,

“For me?  I mean, listen, he sent me down here to extend the offer.  I will look like a failure if I can’t do something as small as bringing you back with me.  I mean,” she leaned forward, “WE, would appreciate it if you came with us.”

I couldn’t avoid what she was flaunting.  It was a weakness of mine that I spent time after time praying to God for forgiveness about.  I hadn’t visited a church in months, and that wasn’t the main reason that I gave in, but it had a lot to do with it.  I took another bite as she pleaded with me earnestly and after she had batted her eyes a few times, her long eyelashes fluttering like butterfly wings, I gave in.  It wasn’t because of her pleading; it was more so that I wanted another shot at Mike.  He was too comfortable, and I hated that.  I hated that more than anything else.

Upstairs, the suite was decked out.  Champaign on every table, the lights were low, women scantily clad.  If I were in my younger days, I would’ve indulged myself but I was much older now and besides that, it just wasn’t my thing anymore.  I couldn’t care less about getting drunk and reckless.  Mike extended has hand to me when I made it up there, “Detective Rawlons.  Good to see you again.”  I shook his hand firmly, my lips tight, jawbones gyrating inside my mouth.  “What is this about?”  He laughed, “Oh, come on, Detective.  I thought we would be on good terms now.  I mean, after all, you guys did come back with a search warrant and the whole nine, but you guys couldn’t find anything.  Now,” he leaned towards me, “You guys did trash a few wings of my home but hey, those were materialistic things.  They can be replaced and have been, but I’m willing to let bygones be bygones here.  I mean, I’m even the one inviting you up here with me.  I’ve buried the hatchet, and I think we can have a good relationship.”  He put his arm around me, but I swiftly smacked it off.  “I am not your friend, nor will I ever be.  You understand that now and there won’t be any need for you to invite me up next time.  You still have the stench of kidnapped bodies and missing women on you, and if it is the last thing I do, I will sniff it out.”

Mike glared at me and for a moment, I believed he was going to swing at me.  I wanted him to.  I was looking for a reason to put my fist to his jaw and send him crashing to the ground.  He was a few inches taller than me and as he peered in my direction, nostrils flaring, he decided against it and suddenly, a smile appeared across his face.  I was disappointed that he didn’t take his shot.  “Well, Detective, you are going to have a long road ahead of you, following a scent that is not even there.”  I squinted my eyes and looked around the room at the women that perused the VIP area.  Some walked around gauntly while others were smiling as if they were just happy to be around.  I made eye contact with her.  She sucked on her cigarette and blew the smoke out, then quickly turned away from me.  I knew who she was because I never forget a face.  I turned to Mike, “Thanks for bringing me up.  I’m sure we will bump heads later.”  He laughed, “Alright, Detective.  You can keep chasing ghosts and pass up on all these beautiful women.  I’ll tell you what, though, I will not make another offer for you to leave the slums and dine with a king.”  I stopped in my tracks as I walked away from him, wanting to turn back around and empty my clip into his chest.  He continued, “And if I catch you on my property again, harassing me with that nonsense, you will regret it.  I will make sure of it.” I took the cigar out of my pocket and relit it, leaving a cloud of smoke behind me as I left the VIP room.

My home was in shambles.  I hadn’t cleaned in over a month, but I didn’t see a need to.  I was barely home, and things seemed to be easier to find whenever I didn’t put them up somewhere.  I grabbed a cup of room temperature water from the table and took a few swallows of it.  Only God knew how long it had been there, but I didn’t care.  It wasn’t a time for me to be picky about it.  I pulled out my phone and flipped through the contact list until I got to his name.

“Donald.  I think we got a way in.  I saw Sherrie there, and she looks like she is mixed up with Mike.”

“Jesus, Allen, you’ve gotta leave that guy alone.  We’ve been embarrassed twice already by trying to put that guy’s name in some place that it doesn’t belong.”

“That’s bull, Don, and you know it.  We both know that Mike had somethin’ to do with-”

“Listen, Breeze, I hear you.  I hear you loud and clear, but it is not about what we know, it is what we can prove.  We can’t take some hair-brained case to the prosecution.  She will laugh us out of the office, and I know she will tell Lieutenant Branderson.  You know she will.”

“Alright, Don.”

He sighed,

“Listen, man, I’m sorry, alright?  I’m sorry, and you know I usually have your back on these things.  I had it when nobody else did.  I’m the one that went to his house with you when we didn’t even have a warrant, but enough is enough.  If he is guilty, it’ll show.  We just have to wait.”

“Yeah.  And in the meantime, those girls are going further and further into the sea of forgetfulness.”

There was a brief silence between us.  I knew he had already made his line in the sand, and he wasn’t going to cross it, so it would be up to me to find those girls.  I don’t know why it drove me to this point, but if I had to guess, it was because I know what a missing child can do to a family.  I’d seen first-hand how A.J.’s death ripped whatever strands were left of my marriage apart.  Not only my marriage but my reclusiveness had even driven me away from my family.  Instead of pulling everyone close together, it pushed me away.  As the silence lingered between us like a thick, morning fog, I hung up my phone and placed it on the crowded table.  What did I have to lose, I thought to myself as I picked up the glass of water and took another swallow.  The warm water slid down my throat like backwash as I looked around my apartment.  Nothing was hanging on the wall except a picture of A.J., his broad smile jetted across his face, exposing the missing front tooth that had fallen out just days before he was set to take his school pictures.  “It’s alright, man, the little girls will love your smile.  Just tell them you got into a fight and they won’t think twice of it.”  I remembered giving him that little pep talk the day before he was set to take the pictures.  I walked up to it and removed it from the glass so I could fold it and shove it into my pocket.  I wanted to make sure I had it with me because, for some reason, I knew I wasn’t going to be home.  Not for a while.

Strange Fruit in the Concrete Jungle – Snippet

I walked inside to inquire about where the help was needed.  An old man stood behind the register.  His round belly extended out further than it should have.  His suspenders went down his sides instead of his stomach; no belt would have a chance of reaching around his waist.  There were a few patrons in the store.  A tall, slender man stood in line with a carton of milk in his hand.  I took my place in line right behind him.  The store looked much different from the mom and pops stores in Idlewild.  No ceiling fans and no screen doors that popped when it crashed to a close.  It was very foreign to me.  A young woman walked past me and headed to the register where the over-sized man stood.  We made brief eye contacted.  I tipped the front of my hat towards her, and she smiled.  The man behind the counter noticed our interaction and slapped his hand on the table,

“Josephine! Stop flirtin’ with every man that walk through here and get behind this register before I find somebody more qualified to do this here work!”

She continued smiling at me as she walked towards the register, seemingly paying no attention to the old man’s threat.  The old man waddled from behind the counter.  I figured he was the one I needed to talk with.  I followed him towards the back of the store.

“Excuse me Mr.”

He kept walking as if he didn’t hear me.  I spoke a little louder as I stepped closer to him.  Still no response.  He was near his office when I finally reached out and grabbed him by his shoulder.

“Pardon me, suh.”

He spun around; his belly just inches from where I stood.  He had lit a cigarette on the way to his office, and it dangled out of his mouth as he spoke.  His voice was raspy, and his words seemed to all come out at once.  It sounded as if he was gargling his words,

“What can I do for ya?”

I took my hat off and held it in my hands,

“Well, Suh, I noticed you had a ‘help wanted’ sign outside your store.  I was hoping it was something here that I could help out with.”

“Ummhmm,” he said, looking me up and down.

He blew smoke from his cigarette into the air.  His goatee was almost entirely gray.  He was bald, except around the sides.  He had to have been close to 45 years old, but not more than 50.  He touched my biceps and shoulders.  I stood there, confused as to what he was doing.

“Where ya’ from?” he said, “ya’ talk like you ain’t from around these parts,” I responded as he continued checking me out, “I’m from Idlewild, TX suh.”  He spoke as soon as I finished talking like he knew when my sentence would end,

“Idlewild, huh? You say Idlewild?  So you come way up here to work for a mom-and-pop store?”

“No suh, I just need work for-”

He cut me off as I spoke,

“Pick up this here box,” he pointed to the bottom shelf, “and put it up here,” he pointed to the top shelf.  I placed my hat on the shelf and did what he asked.  “Ummmhmmm,” he said as the cigarette dangled out of his mouth.  I spoke up,

“I just need something to-” he cut me off again, “This is only gonna’ be temporary until my son gets outta’ jail.  When can you start?”  His words were too mumbled for me to understand him, “Suh?” I asked.  He took the cigarette out of his mouth and held it in his hands.  “I said when can you start? Are you hard a hearin’, too?” I could only make out a few words, but I guessed at what he said, hoping I was right, “I can start today.”  I guessed right.  “Hold on right here,” he mumbled as he placed the cigarette back in his mouth and walked back into his office.  I glanced around the mom-and-pop store.  It was larger than any store in Idlewild.  Josephine walked past the aisle I stood in, sweeping up the front of the market. Her dress stopped just below her knees.  Her hair was cut in a bobbed shape.  She wasn’t the prettiest woman, but by far, she wasn’t the ugliest.  It wasn’t her appearance that intrigued me, though; it was her aura.  She started down my aisle but quickly reversed her steps moments later when Leroy headed back in my direction.

“Here ya’ go,” he said, handing me an all-black apron, “You wear this when you come in tomorrow.  Your responsibilities will be to help keep the place clean. Sweeping, mopping and cleaning the restrooms. Stock the shelves, take out the trash and run errands for me when I need it.   Be here at 7 am.  Not 7:01, not 7:02, 7 am sharp.  If you are late, I dock ya’ pay for that day.”

“Thank you, suh,” I said as I held the apron in my hand.  He began walking away but turned around abruptly to say his last words, “And one last thing.  Do NOT mess with that girl here.  That girl right up front sweepin’ up.  You see that girl”, he grabbed my shoulders and pointed at her, then looked me in the eyes, “OFF. LIMITS. You hear me?”

“Yes suh, I hear you,”

I put my hat back on, and he released me so that I could head out of the store.  She smiled at me again when I walked out.  “Josephine!” the man yelled, “What I tell you, huh!?  Finish sweepin’ and then come round’ back here and sort these papers out!”  I had a feeling she would be trouble.

 

Chapter 3

 

It was 1 am when the phone rang.  I was too tired to get up to answer.  It was 2:20 am when I heard aggressive knocks at my door.  I lifted my head up, taking a moment to recollect myself as the knocks turned into bangs.  My bare feet slid lazily across the cool, wooden floor as I crept to the door.  “Who is it?” I asked in a raspy voice.  She yelled, “Ehhis, open up this door! Who else is comin’ over here before the rooster crows?!”  I was tempted to leave her outside, but I knew she would do nothing but bang louder until I opened up.  I opened the door, and she pushed her way past me before I could get a good look at her.  “Where is that Hussie at!?” She yelled as she frantically searched the apartment, “I know she’s in here! Where is she at!?”

She walked antagonistically through the apartment in a nightgown with a scarf over her head, opening and closing closet doors and cabinets in the pantry.  She looked under the bed and behind furniture.  I shook my head, walked lazily back to my bed and crept under the covers.  She turned on the lamp in my room moments later and stood at the foot of my bed. “Ehhis, where you been all day, huh?  I been calling you and calling you and you haven’t answered.  I even came by earlier today.  Now WHERE have you been negro?”  Her anger and foolishness were momentarily hidden by her beauty.  It had the innate ability to calm me down in heated moments.  I answered her peacefully, “I was out looking for work.”   She relaxed her stance, taking her hands off of her hips, “Oh,” she said, her voice beginning to soften.  I spoke, “I don’t do it as much as I should on account of all my time going to you.”  She sat down on the bed as I scooted my way into an upright position,

“Oh, so you’re gonna’ blame the fact that you don’t have a job on me?”

“Not entirely,” I said, “Besides, I found some work.”

She smiled,

“Well, I’ll say!”

I always thought it was incredible that she could go from extreme anger to happiness as quick a flip of the switch.

“Where bout, Ehhis?  Spill the beans.”

“At a mom-and-pop store a few blocks from here.”

“Well, when do you start?”

“Tomorrow.  7am”

She looked at my chain watch.

“Well, you need to be sleeping then!  It’s nearly 3 am!”

I shook my head in amazement at the range of emotions she exhibited in the last 10 minutes.  From rage to happiness, to concern. I spoke to her, “I was sleepin’ peacefully till’ you came in here with all that ruckus.”  She gently guided me back down on the bed and tucked me in.  Moments later, she turned off the light and was tucked in next to me on the other side.  “Ehhis, I’m sorry for acting a fool.  Sometimes, I just think the worst in situations like that.  I know you a good man, but that alone makes me think every woman in Harlem wants a piece of you.  I mean, not just that you’re a good person, but you’re quite a handsome fellow as well.  I’m just scared of losing you.”

The warmth of her body was comforting as she scooted closer to me and placed her arm on my stomach.  I responded as she readjusted herself.  “Yeah, but even with that, I have to be willing to go along with them if I was to cheat.  It’s all on me.”  She sighed, “I know Ehhis, I’m sorry, though, ok?  I’ma do better by you, I promise.  Now, let’s get some shut-eye.  You gotta’ get you some rest.  7 am ain’t slowin’ down on account of my craziness.”

My alarm went off at 6 am, and I slapped the clock on my nightstand to silence.  The abrupt movement caused my lady to re-adjust herself in the bed.  The room was sweltering.  A dry, humid air rested in the room on account of the window that was left open all night.  I looked at her.  She was still peacefully asleep, her face slightly glistening from sweat.  Her scarf had come off in the middle of the night and exposed the silky appearance of the hair that flowed from her head.  I gently moved the hair off her forehead and kissed her.  The sweat clung to my lips as I walked away from her.  She was a heavy sleeper.  I got out of bed, searched the closet for clothes and headed to the bathroom.  By the time I was cleaned up, the clock had read 6:44 am.  I walked back into the room.  She had kicked the covers onto the floor and was sprawled out on her back.  She only had on her undergarments.  Her thick thighs were exposed, resting peacefully on the top of the mattress.  Her breasts sat up perfectly inside her bra like they were wide awake, waiting to be released from their prison.  I walked over to her, running an ice cube across her forehead.  She opened her hazel eyes slowly.  I kissed her on the lips, and she smiled,

“Have a good day at work.”

I smiled and left.  The walk went quicker than I thought it would.  The street was quiet.  Much quieter than I had ever heard it.  Crickets chirped loud until the moment I got closer to them.  Street lights were flickering off.  A few men with factory clothes on came out of their apartments and headed down the same sidewalk with lunchboxes in their hands.  I looked down a little further, and a group of men with the same outfits stood at the bus stop.  We exchanged silent pleasantries as I walked past.  I got to the mom-and-pop store and tried to push the door open.  It was locked.  I cupped my hand to the glass door and peeked in, trying to see inside.  Seconds later, the store’s owner appeared seemingly out of nowhere and tapped the window.  Startled, I jumped back.  He peered at me from the other side of the glass, lip curled up like a Rottweiler, shaking his head with a cigarette hanging out his mouth.  He finally opened the door,

“Hey, you only five minutes early,” All of his words running together.  I looked at my chain watch, “Yes, suh.  You said sev-”, He cut me off,

“I know what I said. It’s 6:55, you may as well be late.”

“I’m sorr-,”

He cut me off again,

“Jus’ follow me,” he said as he tossed an apron into my chest.

I tied it around my waist and headed to the back of the store with him.  The girl I saw yesterday stood behind the counter as I walked past her.  She smiled as I bowed my head to her behind the owner’s back.  In the rear of the store, he barked out directions to me.

“Take these a here boxes and empty em’ out.  Everything in these boxes right here”, he pointed, “Go in aisle 5 and 6.  These a here boxes go in aisle 7 and 8.”  The cigarette hung onto the edge of his lips with each word.  He seemed like the type of person that preferred an early morning cigarette over a cup of coffee.

“Yes, suh,” I responded to him as he stood, waiting for me to get to work.

“Now, I needa’ run a couple of errands.  You have this done fore’ I get back, hear?”

“Yes Suh”

He waddled away from me, but not before he tossed me a box cutter.  The slim, silver case was cold in my hands.  It felt like I had officially begun my first job.  I started stacking the shelves with everything from peanut butter and crackers to paper towels and dish detergent.  I rehearsed poems in my head as I worked,

“This old gray haired man said he was sellin’ his soul because he was poor/and the pastor in church asked for so much offering that he thought he had to buy his way into heaven/he thought that heaven was only for rich men-“

“Scuse me,” She interrupted my train of thought.  I sliced another box open with the cutter as my silence made a response for me.  She spoke again, “I just figured you needed a towel or something.  It can get kinda’ warm in this establishment and you are building up quite a sweat back here.”  The sleeves of my white, collared shirt were rolled up midway on my forearm.  I wiped the sweat from my head with it.  “No ma’am, I can make it.  That was a mighty kind gesture, though.”  She seemed bashful, lowering her head towards the ground as she smiled.  She looked young, but could’ve passed for any age between 16 and 25.  Her body was fully grown, but it was her personality that threw me off.  “I don’t mean to pry,” she said, “but were you back here talkin’ to yourself before I showed up?”  I looked at her, picked up a box and carried it over to a shelf, “No ma’am.” I was terse with her.  The owner told me to stay away from her, and I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers.  She followed me to the shelf.  “Well, do you have an imaginary friend of some sort?”  I took a few things out of the box and neatly stacked them on the ledge, “no ma’am.”

There was an awkward silence between us as I wiped my forehead of sweat and unloaded the final objects from the box and headed back to the rear of the store.  She followed me again.  I prayed that someone would walk into the store so she would have to attend to them.  I hated to imagine what would happen if the owner came back into the store and saw us chit chatting after his explicit warning to me.  I took the box cutter and sliced open the next box.

“Listen,” she said, “I don’t know if you shy or just rude.  I’m hoping you just a shy country boy in a new city.  How do I know you from the country? Cuz yo’ tongue is the laziest thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life.  Now, before I jump to the conclusion, I want to ask you.  Did my Uncle say anything to you to have you actin this a way towards me?”

The way she spoke to me led me to believe that she was much more mature that what she initially seemed.  She was a lot more aggressive and straight forward than I pegged her to be.  I took another box and headed back towards the shelf.  She followed me around like a little sister.  I spoke as I placed more items on the ledge,

“He just said that I need to keep my distance from you, you know.  And I don’t wanna’ disobey his orders.  I don’t wanna’ get fired on account of speakin’ with you.”  She let out a laugh from the pit of her belly, “Shoot, that old hound said that?  I tell ya’, that man is so over-protective of me.  Ever since my dad passed a few years back, he’s been this bodyguard type of old man for me.  Well, at least that’s what he thinks he is.  If he had his way, I’d die old and alone.  In his eyes, no man is right for me.  They all cheaters and dogs.  I just say that’s karma for him, ya’ know?  He must’ve been some kinda’ womanizer in his day.”

I let out a chuckle.  I couldn’t imagine him being a womanizer.  I believed his appearance hit its peak when he was born, and it went downhill from there.  She continued, “I am a 24-year-old woman,” she put her hands on her hips as if she was posing for a photograph, “he can’t keep me away from men for forever,” I smiled,

“I understand, but as I say, ma’am, I just don’t wanna’ be the cause’ of no trouble round’ here and end up losin’ the first real job I ever had.”

“Honey, don’t worry bout’ that.  As long as I like ya’, you’re gonna’ be here.  I am the apple of his eye and believe it or not,” She held up her pinky, “I got Uncle Leroy wrapped around this pretty little finger of mine.”  I placed more items on the shelf.

“Now, is you gonna’ tell me what you was sayin’ before I came back here or will I just have to introduce myself to your imaginary friend?”

I laughed.

“It was poetry, ma’am.”

“Poetry?” I headed towards the back to get another box, and she was right there with me with each step, “Yes, Poetry.  Why did you respond that way?”

“Because, I’ve…never actually met a poet before.  Can I hear something?”

I cut the box open and wiped more sweat from my brow, “Not right now.  I’m a Lil’ busy.” I picked the box up and carried it to the aisle.“Oh, come on.  You were just back here sayin’ one to yo’ imaginary friend just a few moments ago.”  I stacked the ledge,

“That’s mighty funny of ya.’”

“Well, let me hear it!”

“Maybe another time.”

She twirled her hair playfully as she leaned against the shelf.

“Fine, I won’t push anymore.  It’s a spot that just opened up over on 125th.  They play jazz music there.  Maybe we can check it out.  I used to date a guy that does security for them and reckon we still on good terms.  Maybe I can get us in for no charge.  It might spark some creativity in you, or you could make some umm… poetry connections or something.”

She finally had gotten my full attention.  I thought her suggestion wasn’t a bad idea.  I could check out the place and maybe it would lead to more opportunities.  Besides, I never thought of how my poetry would sound behind something like a live band.  My imagination began flowing as soon as she mentioned jazz music and the excitement burst out of my mouth in the form of an unexpected question,

“How would we get there?”

“I can drive Uncle Leroy’s car.  The band plays on Thursday nights, so clear ya’ schedule next week.”

“Will do.”

“Just remember,” she said with raised eyebrows, “you owe me.  But, instead of money, you can pay me in poetry.  And I’d like my payment upfront.”

I smiled, “Ok, I guess I can give it to you now.”  She clapped her hands as a big smile jetted across her face.  Just as I began saying the poem, the bell rung on top of the front door of the store.  It was the day’s first customer.  She slapped her hands together,

“You lucky scoundrel!”

I laughed as she headed towards the front of the store.  My words followed her down the aisle as she scurried away, “You’ll get your payment, I promise!”  She turned back towards me as she continued walking, “Oh, I know I will! I’m not the least bit worried about that!”  I couldn’t tell if she was flirting or if she was just a friendly person, but if I had to choose, it would be the latter.  I smiled to myself when she was out of sight.  After I had wiped more sweat from my head, I yelled towards the front of the store, “Oh, and I could use one of them towels now, ma’am! Please.”  She yelled back, “Ok!”  There was a brief pause; then she yelled again, “And stop calling me ma’am like I’m 50-leven years old!  My name is Josephine!”

See No Evil

The sun beamed down on them as they sat outside on the outskirts of a park in New York City.  It was the place that people came to find good chess competition.  He emptied the pieces out of his brown paper bag as they slid onto the table and banged into one another.  He set each piece up carefully, first the King and Queen, then the Bishops, the Knights, the Rooks and finally the Pawns.  When he placed the clock on the side of the table, she walked up to him and took a seat.  He looked at her with a haughty smirk as she glared down at the chessboard.

She wore jeans and a black, sleeveless shirt with a small bag strapped over her shoulder.  Her smile was alluring and had been the downfall of many men before her.  Her lips were full like moons at the winter solstice.  Her eyes were barely visible behind her dark shades while her brown skin was as smooth as soft, chocolate ice cream.  The man shook his head, “Are you lost, little lady?”  She didn’t pay attention to his sarcasm as she nodded to the clock, “Whenever you’re ready.”

He was a shark, one of the best players that this park had seen in quite some time, but she was by no means intimidated by his reputation.  She enjoyed the strategy of the game just as much as anybody else.  The way everything is set up to attack the king slowly or quickly with tactical means.  She went in for the kill if it was there every time.  She hardly ever waited because patience wasn’t her strong suit.  If she had to, she would wait for the kill but for the most part, she wanted to pounce as soon as her opponent made his mistake. This was her life but to him, it was just a game, and that is where he made the mistake.

“You first, Madame.”

He extended his hand and with that, she picked up her first piece and slapped the clock.  Pawn, E4.  Pawn, D4.  Pawn, C3.  She was playing a gambit, and he fell right into it.  Moments later, his fallacious smirk slowly began to fade as she pushed him into taking pieces so that she could get into a better attacking position.  A small crowd started to gather as he looked at her.  She folded her arms just under her chest as her breasts sat perfectly on top of her forearms.  She was built like a model, and every man knew it.  Most times, they were caught off guard when she showed what she could do, and that’s what she loved the most.

“Being underestimated is a position that I’d prefer to be in.  The more your victim underestimates you, the more options you have to kill them.”

Words she lived by.  During each of his moves, she shifted her head slightly to the right, picking up on every sound the piece made when it came in contact with the board.  She was a student of the game.  When she was younger, her father blindfolded her and made her play games against him.

“Focus on the sound of the board.  You have to learn how to see your opponent’s moves before they do.  You have to see the whole board in your mind before you can take apart your adversary.  Always remain two steps ahead of them.”

It wasn’t the same since he passed away and even thought she was responsible for it, she had good reason to do it.  Things changed a lot as she grew up in her parent’s home and that was one of the things she had to deal with.  She had to deal with his death on her terms and most of the times; they came in the form of nightmares.

She tapped her finger across the surface of the table as his clock ticked further and further down.  He simultaneously looked between her and the board as his hands started to shake and people around began to gasp at the fact that he was on the verge of being dismantled by this attractive young woman.  She wasn’t from around here.  She was too quiet to be a New Yorker.  Too reserved.  Too calm.  Her accent wasn’t gritty.  He makes his move, and she smiles.  She could have ended the game, but she wanted him to suffer.  She enjoyed it.  She moved her Bishop down and took his Queen and with that move, you could feel the torment shooting from his soul.  He flipped his King over onto the board as the people around stood with their mouths open.

It wasn’t completely because he had lost because, even with his skill, he has seen defeat a few times before in that very park.  What caused everyone to remain with looks of unbelief plastered onto their faces were her eyes.  The coolness of the gray that covered her iris’s when she removed her glasses.  The way she looked at her opponent with eyes full of nothing and winked at him as if she could see everything in front of her.  It was the same look she had given the men before she ended their lives.  Her beautiful smile was where they underestimated her.  The perfect shape of her lips coated with black lipstick, the complexion that wrapped around her body flawlessly.  The beauty mark that sat right in the middle of her cheek and made a small trail to the edge of her eyes.  Two long french braids hung down from both sides of her head.  Her pulchritude was uncanny, and it hid who she was.  Moments later, she got up and walked away from the table, parting the crowd with each step like the red sea.  She was dangerous.  Much more dangerous than anything that chess table had ever seen.

 

Chapter 1

 

“Hey Dad, how are you?”

“I’m good, sweetheart.  Here, have a seat.  Your mother just finished up with breakfast.”

He slid his plate of bacon, eggs, and pancakes in front of her as she sat down at the table.

“No, Dad.  I don’t want to take your plate.”

“You don’t have a choice.”

He smiled and got up from the table to fix two more plates.  He was that kind of guy.  A loving father who was willing to sacrifice his things just to make sure his two women were ok.  Jade Bowen was the only child of two well-off parents.  Her Father was a defense attorney, and her mother made her living as a surgeon.  There wasn’t much that the family couldn’t get if they wanted it, but they did their best not to spoil Jade, and so far, they did well.  She was seventeen and just a few months away from graduating High School and had aspirations of going off to College to major in pharmaceuticals and follow the path of her mother.  She was fascinated with repairing wounds and sewing up deep wounds were guilty pleasures for her.  The blood didn’t make her queasy the way it did her father.  She had a strong stomach, and her mother was the same way.  Her parents were pleased because they wanted her to understand that she should have to work for everything she got, just as they did.

Moments later, her mother came down the stairs.  She was a more mature version of her mother.  Her body filled out in a way that her daughter patiently waited for.  “If that is my mom,” she thought to herself, “Then I know my body will be here sooner or later.”  She walked into the kitchen with her house robe on and tied it once she got to the table.

“Oh, well thank you for fixing our plates, Jade.”

Her father turned around as he pulled juice from the refrigerator, “Oh, so Jade just automatically gets my credit?” he said as he placed the juice on the table.  Her mother laughed, “I knew you were going to throw a hissy fit!  I was just playing; I knew that you made it.  Jade’s lazy behind just got up!”  She leaned over and kissed her daughter on the cheek, then walked to her husband and put her arms around him as she pushed her lips against his.  They had been married for thirteen years, and most people would say that was an unlucky number.  The Bowen’s didn’t believe in luck or anything like that, but that thirteenth year of marriage is when things started to become unhinged for them.

On the subway, she took a seat right next to an older white man. She folded her hands across her legs as the train glided across the tracks.  The lights flashed into the car every few seconds as she took a book out of her purse and ran her fingers across the small dots on the pages.  The older black man with silver hair looked down at her book, then towards her.  As she turned a page, she spoke, “The Invisible Man.  I love this book.  Have you read it?”  The older man adjusted his glasses, “I have.  I have read it, indeed.”  He paused for a few moments, “Have you ever wanted to become invisible?”  Suddenly, she remembered that same thirteenth year of marriage, and it was at that moment that she wished she was invisible.

Her father lost his job because he lost a case that he was forced to take.  His confidence was sky high at the time, and he hadn’t seen a loss in the courtroom in a few years, but even he wasn’t sure that he could get a man off for a double murder.  It was the governor’s son, and the case was as highly profiled as it could get, and when the jury came back with the verdict, it was like a pillowcase of bricks collided into his chest.  From that point, he was let go of the firm and blackballed in the state.  He couldn’t find another job as a lawyer if he sold his first born and the thought crossed his mind more than a few times.  He was unraveling before his family’s eyes, and as the time passed, he picked up a bottle more than he did a phone to search for jobs.  Jade’s mother, Allison, was become weary by the day, but she did her best to hold it together even though things were becoming tight on them.  They had tapped out of all of their savings and started dipping into Jade’s college fund.

She fixed dinner on her day off as Maurice stumbled into the kitchen.  She sighed when he walked up to her and put his arms around her waist.  “Maurice, not now.  I’m tryin’ to get dinner done.”  He kept trying to kiss her until she sucked her teeth and spoke with more attitude, “Maurice!  I said not now!”  He stumbled as he took a few steps away from her.  His speech was slurred, “What… what are you talkin’ about not now?  You’re… you’re MY wife and I can… I can do whatever I please to you.  Now, come here and let me get a kiss.”  He walked over to her again, but this time, she lifted her elbow and pushed it into his chest, “I said not now, Maurice!  I need to finish cooking!”

It may have been the stress that built up over the past seven months of unemployment, but now, the look in his eyes was much different than it was before.  The man that was full of love had become bitter.  Angry.  Resentful.  He bottled it all inside of him when he should’ve released it because now, it had the propensity to come out at the wrong moment.  He had an unbridled sea of emotions swirling around inside of him that was just waiting to be released.  He hadn’t been able to control them and for the most part, he had become a wild card.

“What did you just say?”

“I told you, I need to-”

She couldn’t finish her sentence before she felt a hand as cold as winter cement across her face.  She fell backward into the stove and burned her hand on one of the eyes as she braced herself.

“You… you don’t talk back to me.”

He said as every word left his tongue as if it weighed one hundred pounds.  He lifted his hand and sent it crashing down into her face again but this time, she shoved him back into the table and knocked the dinner plates onto the ground.  Just then, Jade ran into the kitchen in the midst of the commotion and saw her mother bleeding from her lip, and her father tumbled onto the ground next to the shattered glass.

“Mama!”

She ran to her aid as her father struggled to get back to his feet.

“I’ll teac… I’ll teach you to put your hands on me again.”

“Daddy, no!”

When he got to his feet, he charged forward again, but they both moved out of the way.  They had been through this before, though.  This wasn’t the first time he had put his hands on her.  It had nearly become a weekly occurrence for the past two months, and Jade was tired of it.  She was tired of seeing her mom hurt, and her mother was tired of making up excuses for the cuts and bruises she had all over her body.  Only one person can have so much misfortune happen to them at once, and things had become difficult to explain away.  He walked over to Jada, “Mo.. move out of the way, Jada.  This is between me an… me and yo’ mama.”

Jada knew what was coming.  Ever since she knew she wasn’t going to be able to go to College, she wanted to go to the army instead.  She felt she would be able to make the most money in the quickest way to help her mother as much as she could.  She took courses on how to handle guns and enrolled herself in multiple self-defense classes to help her hone in on her hand to hand combat.  She stepped in-between her mom and dad to help protect her mother as the rage built behind his glare.  He took his hand and thrust it into her chest.  She fell into the stove and smacked her head forcefully into the corner of it.  Jada grabbed her head as she started to lose consciousness and her mother rushed over to her.  Maurice grabbed Allison by the hair and threw her backward into the wall and slowly started walking to her with a staggered limp as if he was a zombie.

With the little strength she had, Jada pulled herself up and grabbed a knife from the drawer.  Maurice lifted his hand and sent it crashing down into Allison over and over, “This is th… this is the last time I’ma… I’ma tell you about talkin’… talkin’ back to me!” Pow!  He sent another hand down onto her cheek, and suddenly, he stopped and looked at his stomach to see the tip of a long steak knife sticking out of it.  Soon after that, blood began to trickle down his mouth as Allison looked up in horror.  Maurice gasped for air as more blood fell from his mouth and he dropped to his knees.  The very last thing Jada saw was her father on her back, choking on his blood.  Moments later, she passed out.

Back on the train, she turned slightly towards the older white man, “Once.  One time.  But I have no regrets.”  She quickly turned towards her book and continued reading as the train came to a stop.  The older man got up and got off as she closed her book and trailed him like a shadow.  He didn’t suspect a thing, and that’s how she saw it in her head before it happened.  She studied him.  She knew he was a fan of Ralph Waldo Emerson and flashing the book in front of him would force him to speak to her so she could get the tone of his voice.  She didn’t plan on needing it, but she was told to always see the whole board before she made her move.  Cover every angle.  She could tell you his age, height, and complexion and she hadn’t laid an eye on him.  She was good at what she did, and that’s why she was on.  She was a ghost.

He headed up the elevator to his office building and went into his corner room.  When he took his suit jacket off and hung it on the rack, he walked to the window that overlooked downtown.  He put his hands behind his back as his gray hairs reflected the sunlight that beamed down onto him.  He cleared his throat, “I didn’t think you would be coming this soon.” He fixed his glasses as his reflection in the glass window shined back at him and seemingly out of nowhere, Jade emerged.  “But you knew I would be coming.”  He laughed, “Yes.  Yes, I did.  However, I did not suspect that you would have been on the train with me.”  She walked closer to his desk as he continued standing with his hands behind back.  He was wealthy himself, the owner of the largest grocery chain in the world.  However, his desire to stay connected to the common people was astounding.  He rode the train, the subway, and the city bus at least once a week so he wouldn’t become so haughty and high-minded.  It worked as good as anything else could have as his workers, even starting, were paid two dollars above minimum wage and qualified for healthy benefits only after three months of employment.  He was one of the good guys, but the industry saw him as a bad apple.  He wasn’t falling in line with what the rest of the men in his position did and therefore, he knew the end was coming.  He knew that not falling in line with the status quo and succumbing to the powers that be; there would be a stiff penalty.  He was prepared, though.

She reached into her bag and placed two items on his desk; a poison that he could ingest and send him away quietly or a double-edged blade that would sever his head from his body with little to no force applied.  Her escape was already planned.  She walked his office many times on his lunch breaks without him noticing that she had been there.  He was positioned on the fifteenth floor, but she scoped out an exit through the ventilation system that led right outside.  She would grapple down the building and come down through the sunroof of a car driven by another member of the agency, and they would be gone before anybody could blink twice.  They were professionals.

“Jade, is that what you want to do?”

He spoke, not once turning towards her.  It was slightly jarring that he said her name. However, she wasn’t deterred.  She wasn’t going to dive off into unnecessary conversations.  She was there to do a job, and that was it.

“This is business, Albert.  Nothing personal.  I have two options for you; quick and easy or slightly painful.”

The sun beamed down on him as he squinted his eyes and remained in his position, “You know, I pride myself on the things that I do for my employees.  I respect them and in turn, they are willing to work for me and help keep my business afloat.  I understand that-” she interrupted him, “Albert, please.”  He slowly turned towards her with a smile on his face and his stomach round and plumped like a globe was stuffed in his shirt.  His dark skin enveloped his body as if he was dipped in a dark, oily river as he looked at the options in front of him.  He picked up the small bottle and opened the lid, “Temazepam,” he said as he spread the pills on the table.  Jade stood in front of him with the blade in her hand, a silenced 9-millimeter pistol in the other.  He looked at her and smiled, “Ah, three choices now, huh?”  He didn’t seem to be worried, not even in the slightest fashion.  Death is something that he was prepared for ever since he took his stance.  His will was prepared, and all of his businesses were in order.  He picked up a few pills and walked over to his water dispenser, “Would you like a drink?”  She stood there silently, her dark shades facing in his direction.  “Just being hospitable,” he said as he pressed the release button for the water.  It splashed into his paper cup, and he nearly filled it to the brim, then walked back to his desk and took a seat.  Her head moved with each step he took until he was perched in his chair.  She tightened her finger on the trigger as Albert tested her patience.  He looked up to her, “I’ll be sure to tell Allison hello for you when I get there.”  Suddenly, she paused, and the chances of that happening when she was in the midst of a job were unheard of, but right now, she was frozen.

“Baby, I’m alright.  I just need a little more time to recover.”

The machine in the hospital beeped right next to her bed as Jade stood by her mom, stroking her hand delicately to calm her anxiety.  Even though she told her she was fine, Jade knew the truth.  She could feel emotions better than most people could read faces.  Her senses seemed to enhance weeks after she lost her vision.  “I’m here, Mama.  I’m not going anywhere.”  Five years after Allison’s husband was killed, she was diagnosed with malignant cancer that was rapidly eating away at her insides.  The doctors said that she didn’t have many more days to live, however, the time she spent in the hospital was as pleasant as anyone’s last days could be.  She was bombarded with flowers and balloons almost on a daily basis just to show that she was appreciated.  Albert had grown quite fond of her in the past few years.  Although she wasn’t making herself available by any means, he still pursued her and, in fact, he was seeking to make her his bride.  Jade knew all of this, but business is business.

She stood in front of him as he took a deep breath and leaned his head back with the pills in the palm of his hand.  Suddenly, he stopped and tilted his head forward as he put the cup of water back on the table.  “You know what,” he said, “You’re going to have to-” and before he could finish, she sent a shot from her silenced pistol that went through his forehead and out of the glass behind him.  She was through the ventilation system before his body hit the ground.

The interrogation

“I don’t know, it was all just a blur,” he said as the detective sat across from him with his arms folded across his chest. He sucked his teeth at the young man’s response. He knew there was something off. The way he fidgeted in his chair. How he consciously avoided eye contact whenever the detective looked him squarely into his bold, brown eyes. “A blur, huh? You really expect me to believe that? Your best friend is dead. Your wife is dead. You hear me. DEAD. And you have the nerve to sit there, no tear in your eye, no feelings of remorse, nothing!” the detective spoke as his deep voice began to rise, “on top of that, all you can give me is, ‘it was all just a blur’?!” The man leaned back in his chair, scooting further away from the detective but going nowhere. The room was small and the detective sat as close to him as possible, knees brushing against his. The room they sat in became smaller by the second. The young man fanned himself with his hand as the temperature increased in the room. “Is… is it getting’ hot in here or is it just me?” he asked the detective with a befuddled look. The detective said nothing. It was all calculated because they knew he was semi-claustrophobic. The fact that they chose the smallest room available. The way the detective sat as close to him as he did. The sudden raise in room temperature. The detectives on the other side of the glass watched as one of them consistently increased the temperature in the room every five minutes. The two detectives involved in this case were strong chess players. Their mouths all watered whenever they had the opportunity to employ these type of strategic moves during their interrogation. “Well, can I at least get some water or somethin’? I feel like I’m about to pass out” the young man said as if the life was draining from his body. The detective motioned towards the two way mirror. Moments later, another detective brought in a bottled water. It was much warmer than room temperature. The young man gagged as he swallowed it. It was better than nothing. “Now, are you done messin’ around?” the detective asked, his deep melodic voice seemed to vibrate the walls that kept them in. He was a large man. His arms resembled thighs more than biceps. Nobody could tell if people confessed to him because of his rhetoric or simply because he intimidated them that much. Either way, he was a homerun hitter but the man that sat across from him was not like the rest of them. “Two people were in that room with you at the time of the murders. Guess what? The bullet shells we found matched the gun that was on you. You know what else? I’m pretty sure we can make a case that you killed them.” The young man wiped sweat off his forehead, somehow still remaining calm in the midst of the accusations. The detective scooter closer to him brushing against his leg. The young man pressed his teeth together inside of his mouth and clinched his eyes tightly together. He wanted to yell but he restrained himself. After a few moments passed, he relaxed, breathing slowly. Inhale through his nose, exhale gently through his mouth. “So, you think I killed them?” he asked patiently, “that’s what you think? Just because you didn’t see any tears fall out of my eyes? Just because I didn’t break down crying in front of you? Good luck with proving that” he said as he gulped down a mouth full of the warm water. He didn’t even gag this time around. It was as if he nestled into the uncomfortable situation and made himself at home with it. “We know you know more than what you are giving off and if you don’t want this pinned on you then you better start talkin’!” the detective said as he leaned in closer to the young man. He smirked at the threat, “That’s all you got?” he asked with an aura of confidence as sweat plummeted from his head. His bravado was astounding. He didn’t even move to wipe his forehead clean. He blew the drops of sweat away from his mouth as they dripped down over his lip. The detective sprang up as they made contact with his face. He grabbed the young man by his shirt and hemmed him against the wall. The bottle of water tipped over onto the floor and spilled out onto the ground. The young man looked down at the warm water as it slowly drained out. There was a brief silence between them before a soft, sarcastic voice broke through the intense moment, “So, can I get another water?” he asked while he was in the grasp of the detective. The man threw him back down into the chair and stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

The young man straightened out his shirt and picked up the bottled water. It was halfway empty as he took another swig, smiling at the two way mirror. Inside, he was breaking apart. His best friend and his wife was just murdered right in front of his eyes. His tears would never be seen by any detective but the truth? We would all die to know it. It wasn’t that he was afraid to snitch, it was just the code that he lived by. He didn’t want justice in the form of prison bars. He wanted street justice. There was no way the men who did this would live to see another day. He already had it made up in his mind.
“He’s not breaking” the large detective said to his counterpart on the other side of the glass, “he’s smart. He’s in there mocking us drinking that water knowing it’s hot. He knows good got-damn well it’s hot and he’s still drinking it!” he said as the anger seeped out of him in the form of erratic yelling. “Hey, hey big fella, calm down. We’ll get him” the other detective said as he peered at him from behind the window, “he knows something. Maybe he didn’t do it. Matter of fact, I’m sure he didn’t do it but he knows who did.” They peered at him as he sat in the room, still drinking the warm water. He emptied the bottle and held it up to the mirror, pointing at it as if he was suggesting a refill. “Look at him! Look at him! That cocky son of a-”, the other detective interjected, “easy, easy big man. That’s what he wants you to do. He wants you to lose your mind and pull something out of your behind that you have no way of proving. Let me take a run at him” he said as more of a heads up call than asking for permission.

He walked into the room with another bottled water. The condensation from the coolness dripping off the surface of it. “Sorry about that last one” the slim detective said, “I know it was kinda’ warm. Don’t know how it got to you that way.” The young man shook his head, seeing right through the feeble attempt to cover the lie. “Don’t sweat it” he said, speaking with a double entendre. He unscrewed the top and took a swallow, internally savoring the coolness but being sure not to give the detective the satisfaction of knowing that he appreciated it. “How about a towel?” the detective asked. The young man left it dangling in the detective’s hand. “I’m good” he said in a low, barely discernable voice. The slim detective smiled and laid it over the young man’s knee completely disregarding his response.
“You hungry?”
The young man looked sternly into the detectives eyes as his jawbones gyrated inside his mouth,
“I’ll get something when I leave here” he said matter-of-factly.
“When you leave? That may be a while from now.”
“Oh, you think so?”
“Well, you see… the murder you were a part of-”
“I wasn’t a part of no murder.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Let me clarify. The murder you witnessed. I know the death of your friend and your wife is something hard to digest. The shock of it all may not have passed you yet so I’m not concerned with your lack of emotion. I’ve seen it all many times before.”
The young man remained silent, drinking his bottled water and avoiding eye contact with the detective. He continued, “How long were you all friends?”
“I knew Dejuan my whole life. We grew up together on the North Side.”
“North Side, huh? I used to play ball at Marshall myself. I wasn’t too good but I could hold my own.”
The detective attempted to make small talk but the young man was not biting. He sipped his bottled water and kept avoiding eye contact.
“What about your wife? How long have yall been married?”
“We were married for about a year now.”
“Newlyweds, huh? She was a beautiful young woman. It’s a shame she had to go so soon. I bet you guys were just beginning to enjoy each other.”
“Yeah” the young man said devoid of enthusiasm, “just beginning.”
“Where did you guys honeymoon?”
“Courthouse. We didn’t have a honeymoon.”
“Were you guys planning one?”
“Yeah. We were going to go to Venus but our travel bookie had a hard time finding a flight and reservations.”
“That’s funny” the detective said with a manufactured smile, “I bet you kept her laughing all day.”
“Look” the young man was getting impatient, “I’m not here to small talk with you and play these little mind games you’re playin’. If yall ain’t chargin’ me then I need to go.”
“Hold on young fella, just hold on. Now, like my man say, you look good for this murder. Ballistic reports show that your gun was fired. The shell casings in the house match your gun. Your prints are all over the weapon. I mean, it’s not looking good for you right now.”
The detective scooted closer to the young man and spoke in a low voice as if he was trying to keep what he had to say a secret between those two, “look, in my heart I don’t believe you did it. Not for one second. But the prosecution? They are looking for somebody to put away for this and right now, you fit the bill.” The young man sucked his teeth and took another gulp of water, peering over the bottle at his accuser. “A bluff” he thought to himself, “and a horrible one at that.”
“Don’t you even care about the two people you had close relationships with? The two people that died in the same room you were in? I mean, you’re coming off pretty heartless right now, don’t you think?”
“What I think doesn’t matter. I’m just waiting on a charge and if I’m not bein’ charged, I’m just waitin to leave.”
“Look. It’s going one of two ways; either you killed them both or you had them set up. We did a little digging around.”
“Like archeology?”
“No, like finding a motive. You don’t think we knew that your wife and best friend were fooling around with each other?” The young man froze, staring just beyond the detective into the wall behind him. The news hit his chest like a bag of bricks and a nauseous feeling went straight to his stomach. He kept a straight face, “everybody knew that” he said as he fell apart inside. His best friend and his wife. He had seen it too much in reality TV shows. It was something him and his wife would shake their heads at all the time. She covered it perfectly to the point that he never suspected a thing. Had he found out, he may have really been on the hook for murder right now. “They were like brother and sister” he said to himself, fighting back tears. “So, you mean to tell me you knew about it and at the same time, you were chilling with them? With no issues? No problems? You REALLY expect me to believe that?”
“It really don’t matter what you believe” he said as his heart shattered piece by piece, “it only matters what you can prove.”
“Perception is everything. And you know what the perception is here? Motive. Weapon. Shells. They all point to you.”
The young man slowly began replaying the murder scene is his head as the detective rambled off empty threats.

Sherrie and Dajuan walked into the apartment together as Charles sat on the couch playing Madden.
“Whassup, yall”, Charles said as he saw his best friend and his wife walk through the door.
“Nothin much, man” Dajuan said as he sat down next to his best friend. Sherrie kissed Charles and walked over to the recliner.
“Where yall comin’ from?” Charles said with his eyes fixed on the television.
“Us?” Dajuan said nervously, “Aw man, we just comin’ from the store. I picked her up on my way over here.” Sherrie avoided eye contact with them, pretending to focus on the video game that was being played right in front of her. Dajuan picked up the vacant game controller, “Let’s get a game in” he said quickly in an attempt to avoid further questioning. They knew where they just came from and it had nothing to do with a store. Sherrie and Dajuan were just alike in the sense that they thrived on danger. The fear of “almost getting caught” is what kept the fire and passion in their affair. She believed she married Charles too young and since he cheated before, she had to get him back. She had to do it in a way that would teach him to think twice before he ever did it again. It was only supposed to happen once but once turned into twice, twice turned into three times, and three times turned into almost six months of treachery that was so covertly operated that the navy seals would’ve been proud of it.
“Aight man” Charles said, “I think you need a reminder of what happens every time you pick up them sticks” he said as a smile jetted across his face. Sherrie smiled in his direction, looking more towards Dajuan. The two men sat so close to each other that one could barely tell who her attention was really on. The way he redirected Charles made her want Dajuan even more. They were midway through the second quarter when the doorbell rang. Charles got up and walked to the door. Once he realized who stood on the other side, he scooted outside and cracked it behind him. “What are you doin’ here?” he exclaimed in a stern, hushed voice. It was the woman he cheated on his wife with almost a year ago. She would show up unannounced at times asking for things that she left hanging around his house. He believed she left traces there covertly just to have a reason to come back. “I need my notebook. It’s under your bed” she said in an irritated voice. “No its not! No. Its. Not! And you’re gonna’ have to stop comin’ roun’ here, Jazmine! I told you that!” he said as he peeked behind him into the house, making sure nobody was coming to the door. “Boy, please. Like I said, I just want my notebook. If you’re not gonna’ go get it, then I will” she said as she tried to push her way past him. He put his hand up to block her, “No, I’ll get it. Just wait here.” He looked to his right as a black Monte Carlo began creeping down the block. It was right on time. He left her at the door, closing it as she stood there waiting with her arms folded. “Who was that?” his wife asked as he briskly walked past them in the front. “Huh?” he said, attempting to stall as he walked back to their room and began searching under the bed. Moments later, he yelling coming from the front room. Jazmine and Sherrie began arguing at the door. He glanced at his watch, knowing he had to get back out there as fast as he could. He climbed all the way under the bed and pulled out a notebook she had tucked on top of the ledge of the box spring. He shook his head as he snatched it out and scooted from under the bed. As he rose up, he heard three gunshots. His heart dropped in sync with the notebook he once held in his hands. He grabbed the gun from out of the closet and rushed to the front as he heard four more shots rang out. The door was left wide open. His wife was on the ground, blood pouring out of her as the last breaths were leaving her body. He turned to look at his best friend. His head leaned back on the couch with a bullet hole right in his forehead. “Oh my god!” he yelled as he looked out the door. He fired two shots from his front porch as the black Monte Carlo sped off. Across the street, 2 men laid lifeless on the ground. He began losing his balance and fell to the ground.
“Look” the detective interrupted him out of his daydream, “I’m done here. If you don’t want to talk, that’s fine. That’s fine with me but please believe that there will be somebody you will have to answer to. We’re gonna hold you here for that traffic ticket until we can sort the rest of this out.” He shrugged his shoulders as the detective walked out of the room. He sat there, cold and sullen, sipping the final drops of water out of his bottle. He knew he would be out in a couple days and when he did get out, he would go back to life as it was before. Before the adultery. Before the wrong choices. It was a restoration time for him. He smirked at the detectives as they watched from the other side of the mirror. He held up his hand and pointed at the empty bottle. He knew he was going to get away with murder.

The Dinner

                Her mother, Elaine, walked in with a magnanimous smile on her face before he finished biting into me.  He looked at me as if I just escaped his mouth.  She walked over to hug her daughter and then headed towards me.  She was the same height as her daughter and outside of her mother’s darker skin, the two were nearly identical.  It was clear where she had gotten her beauty from.  Even in her mid-forties, her body still found a way to retain a bit of its peak from her golden years.
“Ehhis, how have you been?” she said in a voice of warmth.
“Mighty fine, thank you kindly!  How about yourself?”
“Oh, I’ve been quite alright.  Quite alright!”
Her long, sandy brown hair reached the middle of her back.  She turned towards my lady, “I’m just waiting for this daughter of mine to bring some grandbabies into this world.”
“Mother!”
“Oh please, the last thing she needs is a baby, especially by this old-”
She cut her husband off, “Oh hush, old man!  This house is too quiet!  It’s time to hear the pitter-patter of tiny feet running through here.”
“Mother, please.  It is not the time.  It is not the time,” my lady said.
“Well”, her mother interjected, “Supper is ready.  Shall we?”  She smiled.  Geoffrey, their butler, came in and directed us to the kitchen.  We walked down long hallways, passing artwork and statues along the way. Our footsteps made unnerving echoes throughout the hallow halls with each steps.  As we walked a few steps behind her parents, my lady whispered to me sternly, “Ehhis, please do not incite my father at the dinner table.”
“What?  I’m not even trying to.  It’s him talking to me with aggression.”
“I know him but I know you too and this is his house, so do your best to keep your tongue in check.”
“I ain’t makin’ no promises.”
“Ehhis!”
Her whisper went slightly above a secretive tone.  Geoffrey and her parents turned towards us.  We smiled as if nothing was being said.  They turned around and we continued,
“Ehhis, I know you.  Do your best to be respectful.”
“Respect is not given, it is earned.”
“How ironic.  Father says the same thing.”
We finally arrived at the table.  Geoffrey pulled out everyone’s chair but I sat down before he could reach mine.
“Ehhis”, her mother said, “its fine.  It’s his duty.”
I turned to her,
“I understand, ma’am.  But I can take care of it myself.”
Geoffrey looked offended, yet, appreciative at the same time.
“Well, would you like to serve the food as well?” her father said.  I began to get up, but my lady restrained me, subtly forbidding me to respond to his sarcasm.  Geoffrey served the food.  Smothered pork chops, steamed vegetables, mashed potatoes, hot water cornbread and lemon-aid.  The dinner was filled with the clanging of silverware against plates and nods of approval of the food that was served.  Geoffrey did his job of refilling our glasses with ice cold lemon-aid and providing seconds of whatever we requested.  Out the corner of my eye, I noticed the interactions between Geoffrey and Elaine.  The indirect, flirty smiles that they exchanged when they thought nobody was watching.  They looked like they enjoyed the thrill of almost being caught, like it was something that drove their relationship.  I pretended to take a drink, watching their interaction through the distortion of my glass.  It would take a blind man to not know there was something amiss between those two.  Luckily, she was married to one.  We finished our food.  Her father wiped his mouth with a napkin, then sipped a cup of tea with his pinky finger extended.  I thought of the artwork that hung on his wall and the records that were buried in the drawer.
“So, miss Elaine” I smiled warmly at her.
“Yes, dear?”
“I noticed there were a few paintings and records by Negro artists around the house.  My lady said they were yours.  Why are they tucked away beneath everything else?”
My lady sensed what I was doing.  She tried to interject but I cut her off and directed the question back to her mother.  Her father looked as if I just reviled him, placing his mug gently down on the table.  Elaine looked at him with a thwarted countenance and then turned towards me.  “Well” she said, “there is really not enough room for all of the artwork we have.  So, we just decided to put the ones up that fit the décor of the rooms.  It gives it a better ‘Feng shay’ as father puts it.”  He nodded his head as if she correctly gave the answers they rehearsed for times like this.  He added, “You do know what that means, right?” his hands were folded onto his protruding belly.
“Not really.”
He laughed, “It figures.  You’re not good for my daughter.  You have no class.”
“Charles, that’s enough,” her mother said.
“Why are you defending this fool?  He has nothing to offer our little girl.  He’s not doing a thing but suckin’ her dry” he paused, “well really, suckin’ me dry since I’m the one givin’ her all the money.”
“It ain’t always about money.  If you knew that, then maybe things wouldn’t be the way they are between us.”
“Oh?” he said, looking at Elaine, “and how are they?”
Lady and I looked back and forth between them like siblings watching their parents argue.  Lady took a drink of lemon-aid and I looked towards Elaine.  She had a scowl, mirroring the same face my mother gave my father when she was going to lay into him with her words.  She never cussed at him in front of us but she knew how to give the most sanctified tongue lashing my ears had ever heard.  I wondered if Elaine had the same type of skill.
“Oh trust me” she said, “you don’t want to talk about that now.  Not here.  Not in front of them.”
“Oh come now” he said as if he was just insulted, “the likes of him?  And Lady?  Non-sense.  Speak woman.”
She began tapping her finger nails on the table from right to left, one after the other.  Geoffrey walked back in, refilling glasses with Lemon-aid.  He knew he stepped into a war zone. I could tell he was uncomfortable when he poured the drink into my glass and splashed a few drops onto the table in front of me.  “I’m sorry, sir” he said, wiping up the small accident.  Charles took another sip of tea while his pinky was still erect.  She was hesitating to answer, either searching for the words or trying to figure out how to say them.  She finally spoke up,
“Fine.  Let’s talk about how you can’t even get your little man-man to act right when it’s time for coitus.”
Her father’s eyes bucked open as he slammed his glass on the table.  My Lady’s eyes widened as she gasped.  I looked between all of them at the table.  I didn’t know exactly what she meant but I picked up on the context clues and assumed the rest.  I was right.
He sat up in his chair.  His face was slowing turning beet red.  Geoffrey quickly exited out the room before things got worse.  My lady’s mouth hung wide open.  Elaine continued, “Yeah, I didn’t want to embarrass you in front of them but since you pushed me to do so, there it is!  Hell, you deserve it the way you’ve carried on with Ehhis this night.  It’s completely ridiculous!”
Charles stood up, “Woman, have you lost yo’ mind?  I ought’ to put you back on the first ship back to Africa!”
“Charles, sit your behind down!  You can barely tie your own shoe without me around here to help you!  Had it not been for your parents, you wouldn’t even be in the position you are in now and you’re talking like you’re some big shot.”
I smiled as I drank more of my lemon-aid.  My lady smacked me on the arm and Charles looked towards me, “What are you smiling at, boy?! I’ll put you on the same boat!  You’re the reason she’s fired up right now!”  I smiled wide, completely enjoying the situation he found himself in.  Elaine was much more reckless with her words.  I felt as if she was partly defending me in her responses, “This ain’t about him, Charles!  This is about us!  Sit your wobbly behind down, you know good and well Ehhis ain’t the cause of none of this!”  I knew Lady got her beauty from Elaine but it wasn’t until now that I saw where she got her feistiness from as well.  Elaine was a firecracker.  His face was completely red.  Geoffrey came out of the kitchen and walked towards me.  With a vague smirk, he filled my glass up with water.  The ice clanged on the sides of the glass pitcher as he poured.  Charles interrupted him,
“That’ll be enough, Geoffrey.  Our guest was just leaving!” I stood up and tipped my hat to Elaine.  “No, don’t leave yet” she said, “there is one more thing I need to say and I want you to hear this.”  She stood up at the table.  Her eyes on fire, chest moving up and down at a rapid pace from her breathing.  Geoffrey looked up towards her and subtly shook his head.  I saw their interaction and looked towards my Lady.  We made eye contact, then we both looked at her father as he peered between all of us.  His face was still beet red.  “Well, speak, woman!”
She examined him intensely.  She had something to say and it seemed that she was holding onto it for ages.  I imagined that it was that very thing that was trying to push its way out her chest as she breathed heavily.  “Spit it out!” Charles said impatiently.  She finally exploded, “I cheated on you 24 years ago!”  The room went silent.  My lady and I sat with our mouths hanging wide open, looking around the room at each other, not knowing what to do next.  “And that’s not it!” Elaine added, “I’ve been cheating with the same man since then.”  Our facial expressions didn’t change as she continued, “And Lady is not your daughter!  She is Geoffrey’s!”  I looked at my Lady and she turned to look at Geoffrey as he stood by the door just as uncomfortable as he could have ever been.  The silence in the room was deafening.  I put my head down, wanting to sink under the table and disappear.  Charles sat lifeless at the head of the table.  He passed out and rolled off his chair onto the ground.  The craziest part about that is that nobody went over to check on him.  Not one soul. 



Check the short promo for this upcoming novel!

Strange Fruit in the Concrete Jungle