Courtney Bowers pushed through the door of CK’s coffee shop and paused to allow her eyes to adjust to the gloom. She searched among the patrons until she found the pair she sought parked at a table in the back.
“What’s up, Courtney?” Martin responded, sliding over to allow her room in the booth. Jesus smiled and tossed a head-nod from his corner of the table.
“You looking good, girl. What’d you do, get your hair done?” Martin reached out and ran an appreciative hand down the sleek tresses.
“Dang! Is that makeup?” Jesus had straightened and leaned in for a closer look. When Courtney left the street life and joined the House of Peace, she cast aside all efforts to adorn herself or wear anything that called attention to her body. She wanted people to see her spirit without the distraction of clothes and makeup.
But falling for Andre brought out a desire to be beautiful again, for him; to make him proud to have her standing at his side.
“Y’all need to stop. You act like you ain’t never seen me before.” Without thinking, Courtney slipped back into the street vernacular like a second skin.
“Oh, we seent you, all right. Just not looking this good, mami. Damn!”
She blushed in spite of herself. Courtney has known Martin and Jesus since they were kids. They looked out for her like two, big, bossy brothers. They were just as likely to punch her as they were to compliment her. She mentally sent up a “thank you” to her friend Keisha for hooking her up.
“Stop playin’.” She ordered, much more comfortable giving orders than accepting praise from these two. “Y’all ready for tonight?”
They each looked around the diner, verifying that they would not be overheard.
“Here, take this. You get half now and half when the job is done, deal?” She slid an envelope across the table. Jesus picked it up from the table and fanned through the enclosed bills. He nodded at Martin. “I’ve also included some last minute instructions.”
Courtney lowered her voice, as she pulled out the hotel floor plans. “We will be at the Madison, tonight about nine o’clock. I figure that between dinner and drinks, you can expect us to be there until eleven or later.”
She pointed out the exits, floor design of the hotel, and the location of the bar, as well as the level of security, and the number of hotel staff expected on duty at that time of night.
“Say, Courtney. You sure you know what you’re doing?”
“What do you mean?” She looked at Martin over the top of her glasses. Martin and Jesus exchanged a glance before he responded.
“We just don’t like the idea of you messing around with this guy. What if something goes wrong?”
“If you handle your end, what could possibly go wrong?” She looked at both of them with all the confidence she could muster. They would never let her go through with it if they knew just how truly terrified she was. “So, we good? You know what to do, right?”
Neither man spoke. They just looked at her, as if they could see through her mask. Which they probably could . . . they’d known her long enough.
“Yeah, it’s all good. You gone have some breakfast?”
“No, I’ve got to get back to the office. You got my cell. Call if you run into problems.”
Later that afternoon, Courtney heard Andre call out to her as he walked through the office. She looked up from the briefs she’d been reviewing and greeted him with a smile. He was so incredibly handsome; he took her breath away sometimes just by entering a room.
Andre walked around behind her and leaned down to kiss her neck. She shivered then purred. “Ummm, now you know that’s my spot. Don’t start nothing you can’t finish.” She only half-teased.
Courtney couldn’t believe her boldness. She had dreamed of being with him this way for so long. Too bad it couldn’t’ve happened sooner. Something good may have actually come from it. The fact that it couldn’t last was bittersweet.
“I’m looking forward to tonight.” Andre smiled knowingly at her; he knew how much she wanted him. But he moved away and propped himself up on the corner of the desk. “I’ve just confirmed our reservations. Dinner with you will be wonderful. You’re going to love the restaurant. We have so much to celebrate. Speaking of which,” he paused dramatically and turned and went back out the door. When he returned, he carried a dress bag from an exclusive couturier shop.
“I hope you don’t think me presumptuous. But tonight, I want you to look like a princess. I picked out the dress, but I asked the saleswoman to pick out shoes and accessories as well.”
“Oh Andre,” she squealed after unzipping the bag. “It’s beautiful. But you didn’t have to do this.”
“I know, but I’ve been anticipating that smile all day. So we both got something we wanted.”
Andre returned to his office, leaving her to go through the other packages on her own. She tried on the dress, wondering how Andre could know her size. She admired herself in the mirror. Of course, it was a perfect fit. She decided not to spend too much time wondering about this man’s skilled ability at guessing female sizes and styles.
About an hour later, Rasheed Harris came into the office. Courtney recognized him from his newspaper and tv photos. She knew that Andre had represented him during his arrest and conviction. What she hadn’t realized was that he’d been released from the penitentiary.
“I have a meeting with Judge Pierce. Can you let him know that Rasheed Harris has arrived?”
Courtney looked at him from beneath her lashes. She admired his smooth chocolate skin, strong white teeth, and mid-back length dreadlocks. She pretended to review Andre’s appointment book but had trouble managing her curiosity. She had a hard time believing that this quiet, refined man, with his deep, resonant voice and sad eyes, could have done any of the things he’d been accused.
“Let me tell him you’re here and then I’ll take you back.” He smiled and walked over the sofa to sit down and wait.
Andre didn’t keep him waiting. Rasheed watched the smile take over his former lover’s face and had to literally pinch himself to keep from responding in kind. Andre was at his most manipulative, Rasheed knew when he was smiling and flirtatious. He wondered for the umpteenth time what Andre wanted with him. And wondered why he, Rasheed, had even bothered to show.
But here he was.
“Hey, baby.” Andre exclaimed as soon as the door closed behind his law clerk. He stood up and made as if to embrace him. Rasheed strong armed him away.
“Cut the crap.”
“I’m just happy to see you baby, that’s all.” Andre had the nerve to look hurt by this rejection. But Rasheed wasn’t fooled. He would have to first have a heart in order for it to be broken.
“I know this has been hard,” Andre continued, “but I’m trying to make it up to you. It’s just so hard to control my feelings. I longed to see you every day you were gone. And now you’re here, well, it just makes me happy. But if it makes you uncomfortable, I’ll stop.”
“So, I’m here. What do you want?”
Rasheed wanted to get this over with. He felt himself weakening and he hated himself for it. But no matter what, he wouldn’t give in to his feelings for Andre. The only reason for the charm and affection was that Andre needed him for something. He was a manipulator and conniver. It would never occur to the man to just ask.
His anger towards Andre had dissolved over the past weeks. It had all been a front anyway, to mask the hurt at Andre’s betrayal. The past years had shown him that holding on to anger and thoughts of vengeance hurt him, much more than the other person. It just didn’t make sense to hold on to it anymore. You can’t be mad at a snake for being a snake. If it bites you, it’s not personal, it’s its nature.
Andre wouldn’t know how to turn ‘it’ off if his life depended on it. Rasheed wasn’t angry anymore but that didn’t mean he was no longer cautious. Andre would never be allowed to cross that emotional barrier with him again, but that didn’t mean that Rasheed wanted to see him suffer. If indeed, someone was out to get him, they would have to go through him first.
“Is there some new problem with The House of Peace or Pastor Reynolds?” Andre had already told him about his investigation and blackmail.
Andre produced a wry chuckle and said, “No, that situation is under very good control. There won’t be any more problems from that camp. But that is partially why I wanted you to come by. I want to give you something.”
Andre guided Rasheed over to a chair. Before stepping away, he ran a caressing hand down the length of Rasheed’s locs. For a moment, just one interminable moment, Rasheed allowed himself to enjoy Andre’s touch, but then shook him off.
He was annoyed by Andre’s smug smile as he returned to the other side of his desk. That smile told Rasheed that Andre was very much aware of his physical impact on Rasheed.
Andre removed a large, yellow manila envelope from his desk and tossed it across the desk towards Rasheed.
“What is this?”
“Go head, open it.”
Rasheed opened it carefully and then pulled out a sheaf of papers. He started reading but it took him several passes to understand what he held. In addition to various reports which included several signed affidavits of eyewitness accounts about his alleged drug trafficking and his role in the death of two people, there were several photographs that showed Rasheed pointing and firing the gun. He turned over another picture that showed him leaning over the bodies, appearing to remove something from the pockets.
If Rasheed didn’t know better, he would have sworn these photographs were genuine. But he knew they were faked because none of it had ever happened; he’d never sold or purchased drugs and he’d never killed anyone. But the pictures were just that good. And damning.
“Dre, where’d you get these?”
“It’s all yours, baby. I’ve finally learned the truth about the shakedown. All those years you spent in jail and the trumped up drug charges were not caused by Genesis but by Reynold’s, acting on his own. That lawyer who came to see you is very prominent and very expensive. But right now, he has only one client. Any guesses who that might be?” At Rasheed’s stunned expression, Andre smiled again.
“You got it. Reynolds. So, a few weeks ago, I had another little heart to heart with the righteous Reverend and we came to an understanding. He saw the evil of his ways and produced all of the trumped up evidence against you.”
Rasheed was speechless, not daring to believe any of it. Not the evidence in his hands or the words from Andre’s mouth. The blossoming hope within would kill him if this turned out to be a joke. Was it possible that he could actually have his life back?
“What does this mean, Dre? Tell me, all of it.”
“You’re free, man. You’re free to live without fear. No one can ever come and snatch you back to prison. I can’t make up the time you lost, but I can give you this, my gift to you.”
“So, I can clear my name? Take this stuff to the D.A. and expunge my record?”
“Well, about that.” Andre hesitated. “The answer is yes and no.”
Rasheed felt the weight of disappointment crash in on him. He fought back the urge to cry and resisted the impulse to pick up a chair and toss it through a window. He knew this had been too much, too good to hope for. It had been way too easy. He kicked himself for even allowing himself that brief moment of hope. Or the belief that for once, Andre was capable of at least one selfless act.
“I was able to recover this but I had to make a deal. I wanted to get him off your back. But it’s going to take me a little bit longer before we can take this to the DA and get you cleared.”
“I knew it. This is just bullshit. Who are you protecting now, Dre?”
“Rasheed, you’re going to have to trust me.”
“Why should I do that? Or don’t you remember what happened the last time I trusted you?”
“I know, and I let you down. I’m sorry but I can get you out of this. I just need a little more time.”
Damnit, it seemed like waiting was all he’d done for the last five years. “Thanks for nothing, ‘Dre. I’m out.”
Later that evening . . .
Judge Willie Pierce and police director James Hardaway sat in the Judge’s study.
“Willie, we need to put an end to this problem once and for all. We’re only going to be able to keep him quiet for so long.”
“I know he’s a loose cannon. But what else could we do without making the problem worse?”
“I’ve got a plan. Knowing you the way I do, you’re not going to like it. But I talked it over with the other members and we feel it’s the best way. Willie, I’ve already set things in motion. . .”
They were interrupted by a soft knock at the door.
“Willie?” Eula pushed open the door, paused in surprise to see Hardaway. “I’m sorry, Willie, I didn’t realize you had company. Hi, James.”
“No problem. Are you going out?”
Eula looked down at her strapless, above the knee creation and her four-inch heels. She knew that Willie couldn’t help but notice that face was perfectly made up. He was so good at stating the obvious, she thought.
Willie looked at the clock and then walked over to her. He spoke softly, presumably for James’ benefit, but Eula could hear the anger in his voice.
“It’s after nine, Eula, where are you going?”
“I’m meeting some friends for drinks.”
“At this hour?”
“Willie, I wasn’t asking your permission, I was being courteous to inform you of my plans to go out.”
“Well, what time should I expect you back?”
“What’s up with the inquisition? I’ll get back when I get back. And I don’t appreciate you questioning me about it.”
“What’s going on, darling? You’ve been so touchy lately. I feel like we hardly spend any time together anymore. Lately, we’re like two strangers sharing a house. Won’t you tell me what’s going on?”
“Willie, now is not the time, okay? Look, I won’t be too late but don’t wait up. Maybe we can spend time together this weekend.” She hardly waited for his nod of agreement before turning and nearly running from the house.
Calvin Reynolds felt better this evening than he had in months. He moved up from under the fourteen year old who had been riding him for last few minutes. He loved him some young ass. He didn’t have to worry about them talking back, they understood and respected authority. They did anything you told them. Man was king and the Pastor was next to God.
He got up off the bed and looked at the clock before heading into the bathroom. Within the next hour, he would be well rid of another problem. Andre Pierce had been a thorn in his side for years. Who the hell did he think he was, talking to him like he was some kind of lackey or something he wiped off his shoes? Andre was just as arrogant as his father who also believed that his moneyed background gave him the right to anything he wanted. But they were both wrong. The good life was available to anyone with the nerve and smarts to reach out and take it. Calvin had both.
Andre had dared blackmail him? Threatened to expose him? And he really thought he, Calvin Reynolds would just lie down and let that punk fuck him up the ass?
Not in this lifetime.
At this very moment, Andre was feeling the wrath of Calvin Reynolds. He wasn’t concerned about Andre’s threats to reveal him to the press and the DA. Calvin didn’t believe for one moment that there were multiple copies of that evidence placed all over town. Andre was overconfident and his arrogance would not allow him to believe that anyone would ever call his bluff.
The way Calvin figured, Andre may have indeed written a letter and left it with a lawyer. But, the bulk of the evidence was stored in one safe deposit box. That letter was meaningless without evidence. And the evidence would be meaningless without Andre.
Calvin knew how he would gain access to both Andre and that box.
“Come on, honey. Let’s get out of here.”
She stood up and made her way around to his side of the table. She caught him by the arm and pulled him up. “Looks like someone has had a bit too much to drink.”
She smiled coyly at the hovering waiter. She discouraged his assistance. “Oh, we’ll be fine.” She handed him the valet ticket. “If you could have the valet bring the car around, then we’ll be on our way.”
They stumbled their way towards the front entrance. It was late and there was no traffic, pedestrian or otherwise on this quiet section of downtown Memphis. She hoped the car would arrive soon. He was getting heavy and would be completely unconscious soon.
Courtney heard footsteps coming towards them but before she could call out, a hand grabbed her waist from behind while another hand captured her mouth. A cloth, covered in some foul-scented chemical was placed over her mouth. The edges of her sight dimmed and she felt her strength drain away. The last thing she heard was a harsh grunt of pain, followed by a gruff whisper.
“Calvin Reynolds says to tell you ‘hi’, muthafucka!”
Does anyone have any thoughts about Courtney’s involvement? And I know you’re not surprised by the Righteous Reverend. But there’s still more to come. Two more chapters left.
Let me hear from you.