Courtney Bowers pulled into the Kroger parking lot and waited. He didn’t keep her waiting long. Pastor Calvin Reynolds slipped into the passenger seat and slammed the door shut.
“Drive.” He instructed curtly. They drove for a few blocks in silence. “This had better be important. This is not the time to risk exposure.”
“Of course you’re right. But I felt like this information was better given to you sooner than later.”
“Well then, spit it out.”
Courtney paused before speaking, choosing her words with care. “Andre knows about Genesis.”
Pastor Reynolds dropped his head. If he were anyone else, Courtney would have thought he was praying. “He knows what exactly?”
“I found a requisition for a private investigator. Andre found the word Genesis attached to several names in his father’s contacts, yours included. He’s suspicious since his father claimed not to know you. So now, he’s asked for full background checks, including known associations.”
“You called me away from church business for this? This is nothing. All he has is a bunch of names. Meaningless.”
“I know Pastor, but you know how dogged Andre could be. I just thought you should know.”
“Well, daughter, you were just trying to protect us, I know but you have nothing to concern yourself over. Who’s the investigator?” Reynolds asked quietly.
When Courtney identified a member of a very expensive, very tenacious private firm, Pastor Reynold’s brows creased in concern. “What do you want me to do?” she asked.
“Nothing right now. Let me handle it from here. Stick close to him though.” He handed her a disposable cell phone. “Use this to contact me from this point forward. Face to face meetings are too risky.”
Courtney paused before starting again. “This is it for me, right? When this is over, I mean, I’m out, right?”
Courtney restrained the instinctive cringe at the pastor’s touch on her thigh. “Daughter, you and I had a deal. And as the Good Book says, I’m a man of my word. You have more than fulfilled your end of our bargain and I can’t fully express how much I appreciate it.” He continued to rub her thigh, moving higher with each move. She held her breath, not daring to move, not even to shift her eyes from the road.
“Unfortunately, especially in light of this new information, I think it’s going to be awhile longer before we can go our separate ways. Your presence here has become . . .” he allowed his eyes to follow the path of his hands, then back to her face. “. . . vital to us. It’s been awhile since you’ve paid me a visit. They say confession is good for the soul.” His hand applied pressure over the V between her thighs.
Courtney applied the brake suddenly and both of them jerked forward against their restraining seatbelts. There was just enough pressure to force the pastor’s hands away from her body.
“Pastor, I’m sorry, I’m being impatient again, not one of my finer qualities, as you know. You saved my life and I will never be able to repay you for that. I am here to serve you for as long as there is a need.” She prayed she sounded passive and submissive, but dared not look him directly.
The gathering storm on his face cleared and his brief annoyance disappeared. “Of course. Let me know the next time Pierce meets with this investigator. No delays, do you understand?” When she nodded her acquiescence, he added, “I’ll expect you Sunday.” Pastor Reynolds spent the remainder of the ride giving her a preview of his Sunday sermon.
Courtney dropped Pastor Reynolds back at the Kroger parking lot and then directed her car home. She had accomplished at least one thing. The House of Peace would never willingly let her go.
As soon as she pulled into the driveway of her Mud Island town home, Courtney placed the call. If she was going to pull off her plan, she would need help. After putting in her request, she snapped shut the cover of her own disposable cell phone. Despite his joviality, she knew she no longer had Pastor Reynold’s full trust. She wouldn’t put it past him to bug her phone.
While she waited for the arrival of her visitor, Courtney tried to pinpoint the exact moment when her life began to spiral out of control. She’d been elated when Eva, Andre’s secretary, called to schedule a job interview for a law clerk position in his firm. Courtney, fresh out of law school had been in that never-never land before sitting for the bar. Andre and Courtney liked each other right away. Their interview became more a reunion of old friends.
From the first day of her employment, her life took off and she never looked back. Andre was a generous boss and a dedicated mentor. Andre had taken her under his wing, so to speak. He praised her abilities, found opportunities to continue her training, included her on some of his important cases. She was not just as a gofer, as many lawyers use their clerks, but a valued member of the team.
This was quite a lifestyle change from a former child prostitute and addict.
The closer you get to the end, the more you think about the beginning. Courtney had been thinking a lot lately about the first time she heard about The House of Peace. . .
Courtney was sixteen years old when she started noticing the signs plastered up in the neighborhood. The House of Peace, the posters read, a place to find God. Courtney and some of the other street urchins snickered at the signs. They’d been invited to churches before. The Lord was the biggest pimp in the world. It was just another scam.
After awhile, members of the church started hanging out in the neighborhood. They brought food and clothes and never asked for anything in return. They passed out cards telling the kids where they could find shelter, if there was a need. All the kids were talking about them because the members never spoke a word about their church or try to push a religious agenda. For some kids, this was their first encounter with unconditional love. Kids and even some of the adults started leaving the street in droves, following members of the House of Peace.
Courtney was no different. Six months after members of the House of Peace invaded her neighborhood, Courtney left with them and never looked back. The group took care of her and became the family she’d never had. They helped her get cleaned up and sent her to school. She rejected just about all of her old street associations and embraced the loving and supportive friends here. The last five years of her life had been a time of enlightenment and she developed faith in her ability to be someone, not just living on the fringes of society but an active participant. It would be much later before she realized that there was more to the group than it seemed.
It wasn’t a normal church. No one ever left. Nobody. She knew of a few who’d tried, but after awhile, no one ever heard of them again. Abigail’s beautiful, serene face appeared in Courtney’s mind’s eye. Courtney had jumped from one fire, her life on the streets, into another one, into the heavenly hands of Pastor Calvin Reynolds.
At the time, she hadn’t really considered the ease at which she was able to interview and then secure the clerk’s position at Andre’s firm. The House of Peace had been making a way for her since she joined.
But she would come to learn that she had been carefully groomed to spy and gather information about Andre Pierce. Initially, she wasn’t squeamish. The church had been too good to her and it would have been unheard of to consider denying them anything. Pastor Reynolds in particular had been a fatherly mentor from the day of her arrival.
She was wrong.
Two events happened which led to her current crossroads.
First, her friend Abigail disappeared. Abigail started complaining and expressed an increasingly disillusioned view of the House of Peace. She wouldn’t tell Courtney anything initially, but after one particularly bad night, Abigail showed up at Keisha’s doorstep in a bad way. She revealed her sordid involvement with a high echelon group of members of The House of Peace, who included among other prominent Memphians, Pastor Calvin Reynolds. Abigail was at the sexual beck and call of both the male and female members. “I can’t do this anymore, C.” she cried out her agony. “If I wanted to be a prostitute, I could’ve stayed on the streets. Pastor Reynolds keeps telling me that God has called me to service his flock and that it is my Christian duty to comply.”
Courtney didn’t believe her, of course. Courtney’s experience had been nothing compared to what Abigail described. She called her friend a liar and told her never to speak of those things to her again. Shortly after, no one heard or saw Abigail again.
Courtney replaced Abigail in her service to the elite members of The House of Peace.
Second, Courtney fell in love with Andre Pierce.
She didn’t intend to. In fact, she had fought very hard to resist his potent charms. She knew by the phone calls coming into his office all day long, from multiple females, different and new ones all the time, she knew that Andre was a whore. But none of that seemed to matter.
Not once had Andre stepped out of line with her or made sexual advances. She would have given in to him without thought but it appeared that at least in Andre’s mind, she was off limits. This made her love him even more. It seemed that here was the evidence of his respect and mutual love for her. She knew that she would spend the rest of her life with Andre.
The deeper her feelings for Andre however, the more disillusioned she became with her position in The House of Peace. She continued to spy for them during the day and passed on most of the information she gathered. But she retained enough of her street smarts to know when to keep her mouth shut. Her new connections in the legal community taught her how to make discreet inquiries. She thought that if she had the right kind of information, she might be able to bargain herself out.
Courtney had an unexpected visit one day from Pastor Reynolds. He entered her home, uninvited and settled himself in the living room before she could close the front door.
“I think it’s past time for us to talk. We haven’t had a good visit in awhile. Come on in, daughter.” He beckoned her over.
Courtney watched the religious leader of one of the largest conservative ministries in Memphis, unzip his pants, lift his bony hips to ease his pants and silk boxers over his hip and then grasp a penis the size of a wine cork in his hands. He lifted it up to her in lewd invitation.
“Come daughter, let us pray.”
Afterwards, he held her close to him and smoothed her hair.
“God is well-pleased, Sister Courtney. So am I.” He lifted her away from him and looked intensely in her eyes. “You have been a faithful servant since your arrival and we pray that we have taken good care of you as well?” He waited for her nod, and smiled in approval. “It is sometimes very hard for some to stay the course that God has laid before us. Some of us get weary and sleep while the Master toils.”
Courtney wondered about the curious track this discussion had turned. By now, he would have either been asleep or gone. So what did he want?
“Take for example, your friend Abigail.” At the mention of her friend’s name, Courtney was instantly alert. “the journey became hard and her way was made rough. She decided that she would not be able to finish this journey with us.”
What in the world was he talking about? Courtney wondered. His tone became hard and firm and the intense, almost menacing way he looked at her sent a chill of awareness down her spine. Courtney, like most of the younger members of the church, had assumed that Abigail had finally left on her own. But the threatening tone in the Pastor’s voice suggested that maybe there was more to her disappearance than they knew.
“But I expect that you will stay the course and join with all of us in the Promised Land. Isn’t that right, daughter.
“Of course, Pastor. With your help and the help of the Lord, I will stay the course.”
Courtney was pulled out of her reverie by the ringing of the doorbell.
She ran to the door and found her dearest friend waiting on the stoop. Courtney threw herself into Keisha Martin’s arms and held on for life. Keisha held her for a long moment and then pulled back to look into Courtney’s face.
Courtney had been instructed when she joined The House of Peace to sever all ties with her former life. But she had secretly held on to Keisha. She didn’t see the harm. Keisha had also been a child prostitute, just like Courtney. But Keisha was fortunate, she got busted. Ordinarily, that would have been bad, but the cop took a personal interest in her and tried to help her turn her life around. After Keisha’s mother died, the cop arranged for her to be adopted and cared for by his own parents. Keisha’s life had made a one hundred and eighty degree turn for the better. Keisha had graduated college and was now in graduate school.
“What’s going on, girl? It’s got to be something big for you to be crying. C’mon let’s go in.”
Keisha grabbed her hands and took her to the bathroom, where she bathed Courtney’s face. She looked at their reflection in the mirror and smiled.
“Look at us, C. We’re doing all right. Back when we were twelve, could you have ever imagined we’d be living like this?”
“Keisha, I’m in trouble. I need your help.”
Courtney told Keisha of her suspicions about Abigail’s disappearance, careful not to reveal any details about the House of Peace’s involvement, the real purpose behind her job with Andre or Genesis. Keisha was her only true friend, but she’d been out of the game far longer than Courtney had. She’d forgotten how to survive and depend on no one but your own wits. Keisha’s adopted brother was still a cop, a detective now and her new family had taught her to have faith in the system. Courtney knew better.
“Give me her name and address. If you’ve got a picture, that might help too. I’ll take this over to Micah myself as soon as I leave here and see if he can help.”
Keisha’s bubbly enthusiasm and playful nature quickly pulled Courtney from her troubled thoughts. Keisha was still in school and grumbled about her graduate school professors and preparations for her thesis. She and Courtney made plans for Keisha to drill her in preparation for the bar exam. At one point, however, Keisha stopped and looked at her critically.
“How do you figure to have a successful law career if you insist on dressing in those dowdy clothes?”
“Dowdy?” Courtney questioned.
“You used to have real flare, a real diva. Now you dress like a dud.”
“I’m a Christian now, Keisha. I’m not out selling ass on the street corner anymore.”
“Well, I’m a Christian too, but I don’t dress like some sixty year old woman. C’mon, let’s get out of here. We’re going shopping.”
Several days later, Courtney received a phone call from Keisha’s brother, Detective Micah Hughes. In a gentle voice, he informed her of a “Jane Doe” matching Abigail’s description had been found dead in an abandoned field in nearby Tipton county, some forty miles away. Since Abigail had no family that anyone knew of, Courtney went to the morgue to identify her body.
Courtney finally knew the power and ruthlessness wielded by the House of Peace. She also knew that they would never willingly let her go, no matter what she did for them.
Well, so Courtney’s a mole for the House of Peace. You might recall from Chapter 1 that she was found at the motel where Andre was killed. She claimed to have no knowledge of how either of them came to be there.
I wonder where she fits in with Andre’s execution.
Do you know?