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Bad Girlz 4 Life
By Shannon Holmes
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2008 Shannon Holmes
All rights reserved.
Tonya Morris, aka the notorious "Tender," navigated her Mercedes-Benz through the section of Philadelphia called the Badlands and floored the gas pedal, wishing she was already back in New York. In this neighborhood, and in Philadelphia in general, they would steal your car in a heartbeat and she knew it. Still, she couldn't resist the allure of driving the luxury vehicle through its streets. There was a certain pride and prestige that it evoked in her. The car seemed to say she was somebody and that she had made it. Never mind that it was leased.
Tonya had come a long way from her stripping days. She had seriously stepped up her game since then and had been ruthless at times in the pursuit of her goal to become a certified success. Now she was the marketing consultant for Prestige Records and had snagged Quinton "Q" Phelps, the CEO of Prestige Records. Sometimes Tonya was amazed at how funny life was. For instance, she and Q went way back and most of their history wasn't all good. She never would have imagined that they would run into each other again at a party she had been promoting four years ago. And she never would have dreamed that this time he would end up being the love of her life, her best friend, confidant, partner in crime, and lover. Like all roads she seemed to travel with Q, this one had been full of twists, turns, and drama. A couple of times it had seemed like neither she nor Q were going to make it. But she had done what she needed to do to protect herself and, at times, Q. And that was a change for her because no one had ever been the center of Tonya's world but Tonya. Now she would live and die for Q, no questions asked. And she knew he felt the same way about her. She felt so blessed to have him in her life. Maybe she didn't deserve her blessings, but she damn sure was going to hold on to them with everything she had.
Maybe her train of thought was making her paranoid, but when Tonya pulled the car to a smooth stop at a STOP sign, she immediately noticed the young Hispanic male walking in the crosswalk. He walked slowly, too slowly, as if he were purposely trying to hold her up. But her instincts told her something wasn't right about this guy. Or maybe it was his attire. He was dressed in all black from head to toe, big black hoodie, baggy black jeans, and black Timberland boots. Tonya didn't want to stereotype him; after all, this was the hood, her hood. This style of dress was the norm around here. Just because he was dressed like this at night didn't necessarily mean he was up to something. But Tonya's instincts told her that he was.
Tonya had been out of the hood for almost two years now. But one doesn't lose one's instincts, the sense of danger acquired over a span of a lifetime. In this case, Tonya's instincts were like a knife, sharp edged and slicing through her in a painful warning.
Suddenly, in one swift motion, the man stopped directly in front of her car, pulled out a large gun from beneath his hoodie, and pointed the barrel directly at Tonya's face. The man moved from the front of the car to the back passenger side, keeping the weapon trained on her the whole time.
I should pull off on his ass, Tonya thought to herself.
Her eyes darted around the area as the surreal event unfolded. Tonya's mind raced with thoughts of escape, yet her driving foot didn't move an inch off the brake pedal.
As if he could read her mind, the man said, "Bitch, pull off and I'll kill you!"
The man put enough emphasis behind his words that Tonya believed him. She had no other choice. She wasn't willing to gamble with her life. The gunman appeared jumpy and volatile. Tonya knew one wrong move could set him off.
Quickly the gunman proceeded to the passenger's door. He pulled the handle, but the car door didn't open. It was locked.
"Bitch, open the fucking door! Now!" he shouted.
Tonya complied, opening the door with a touch of a button.
Fuck it. If the vehicle was all that the gunman wanted, then he could take it. Tonya wasn't about to resist; her life was worth more than a car. She could get another one tomorrow if she wanted to.
"You can have it! Here, take the car!" Tonya said as the man entered the vehicle.
"Bitch, shut the fuck up and drive!" the gunman yelled, poking the gun hard in her ribcage.
While Tonya followed his orders, he scanned the area to see if anyone had seen him. Confident that nobody had, he focused his attention back on Tonya, who at this point was a nervous wreck.
"You can have anything you want. Take my pocketbook and the car. Here, you can even have this chain," she said, starting to feel desperate. "Just let me go."
Momentarily his eyes were diverted to the exquisite piece of jewelry, hanging around her neck. It had been a gift from Q. He had only seen pieces like these on entertainers, in music videos. If he hadn't had something else in mind, then the gunman might have just taken the chain and fled. The jewelry would have put him on easy street, no question. Yet he had bigger fish to fry.
"Bitch, shut up and drive!" the man snapped. "I don't want ya muthafuckin' car, ya chain, or ya fuckin' pocketbook! I want you!"
Tonya felt everything inside her freeze. Oh my God, she thought. This muthafucka is kidnapping me. Her hands started to shake, and it was all she could do to keep from driving the car into a pole, she was so nervous. She had only read about this type of shit or seen it in the movies. She wished she could spot a cop right now. If she did she would do something to alert him to the situation, like run a red light or beep her horn. But she had no such luck. So in the meantime she complied with the gunman in hopes that she would make it out of this alive.
Tonya's wild ride ended just a few blocks from where it began. From that point on she was led by gunpoint through an alley into a dark house. Once inside, she was subsequently tied up and blindfolded. Two more accomplices later joined her original abductor, bringing the total number of people involved to three. The latter two accomplices were dispatched to dispose of her car in some other part of the city, just in case it was equipped with any antitheft tracking devices. For about an hour Tonya was left alone in a dark room while her abductors performed various activities crucial to the success of their plan.
The situation was surreal to Tonya. In her first few hours of captivity, she spent most her time blinking away tears and fighting a guilty feeling of "it's all my fault." She wondered if this was her past catching up with her. She thought about Q. I love you, baby, she wanted to say. She had never wanted to be safe in his arms more than at that moment.
Tonya had no choice but to assume the worst. Of all the thoughts racing through her mind at this point, death was the most prominent.CHAPTER 2
Four Years Ago
Tonya had just closed and locked the door to her apartment when she heard heavy footsteps coming down the hallway.
"Damn!" Tonya swore. She would know the sound of those footsteps anywhere. She had been trying to avoid that fat, ugly fuck, Anthony Brown, the building's manager, for the past couple of weeks. She was behind on her rent, and that meant he was coming looking for payment in the form of pussy.
The first time Tonya had been solicited by Anthony for sex, she had balked at the notion. First of all, he wasn't her type. He was fat, stupid, and had an odor about him. And second, he wasn't spending any money. She would only be working off a previously established bill. Once before Tonya had successfully been able to fight her notice of conviction in a Philadelphia housing court by coming up with her past-due rent money at the last minute. But by doing so she had only created a new problem, robbing Peter to pay Paul. Unfortunately, she was never able to do it again. As a result, she soon fell right back into the money pit she had just climbed out of. So when Anthony approached her again, she reluctantly accepted his offer.
Tonya despised Anthony, in every sense of the word. She couldn't help but feel as if each sexual encounter with him was an act of rape. It was unlike any encounter she ever had with a trick, who bought some kind of sexual favor from her. Anthony gave her the creeps, just like her mother's boyfriend, Pete, had.
She hurried toward the stairs, not bothering to wait for the elevator. Tonya breathed a sigh of relief when she finally got outside. Then she felt the sharp bite of the wind and cursed again. Jamming her hands in her pockets, she headed for the bus stop.
Winter in Philadelphia had always been notoriously brutal. A combination of low temperatures and wicked winds had been known to freeze the city. Residents of the City of Brotherly Love were all too familiar with these hazardous weather conditions. Still, life went on for those people who had to venture outdoors to brave the elements. Unfortunately for Tender, she was one of these unfortunate souls.
Routinely, she battled the cold, the wind, and even the snow just to make an honest living. It was days like this that made her yearn to be in her previous occupation as a stripper, where she set her own hours and was paid handsomely.
This morning was one of those days when nothing seemed to go right for her, from the weather on down. Standing at the bus stop, she took a deep breath, completely frustrated as puffs of white escaped her mouth with every breath. Impatiently, she glanced down at her watch for what seemed to be the umpteenth time. She was growing more impatient by the minute.
The bus was now putting her job in jeopardy. Had her car not been stolen a few months ago, she never would have been in this position, late for work, while forced to take public transportation.
If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all, she thought.
Except for the steady line of vehicles that went to and fro, the streets of Philly looked like a ghost town.
Glancing up and down the busy city streets, she saw no signs of her ride. As usual, the SEPTA bus was nowhere in sight. It was just like the police, never around when you needed it. Tender was growing madder by the second. She had to be at work, she had a few clients coming in early today.
Bundled up tightly in her black North Face goose-down parka, blue jeans, and black Timberland boots, it was too cold outside to be concerned with looking cute. She paced the small area of the bus stop in a desperate attempt to keep warm. Underneath her armpit, she clutched the local newspaper, the Philadelphia Daily News. It was a daily habit of hers to read the paper while on the bus on her way to work. This thwarted any man's weak attempts to holler at her on the bus. And the other reason was just being plain nosy. She wanted to see who got robbed, shot, or killed last night in Philly while she was fast asleep.
Currently the city of Philadelphia was under siege. The murder rate was at an all-time high, one of the highest in the nation. Neither the mayor nor the chief of police seemed to have a good solution to stop the bloodshed. Operation Safer Streets had only had limited success. Young black males in the hood were still dropping like flies. They were dying every day on the streets of Philly over some frivolous reasons.
I wish this fucking bus would hurry the hell up! she thought. It's fuckin' freezing out here!
Looking down the street, Tender thought she spotted something. It was so cold outside she thought her eyes were playing tricks on her. On the horizon she saw a SEPTA bus slowly rambling toward her. It couldn't come at a better time. Her face and toes were frozen. She'd be glad to get on the bus and thaw out.
Finally the SEPTA bus pulled to its designated stop.
"Good morning," the bus driver greeted her.
You late! she said to herself. Ain't nothin' good 'bout this mornin'. It'z fuckin' freezin' out here and you talkin' 'bout good mornin'
Her body language and facial expression suggested that she was pissed. So Tender ignored him and paid her fare, then marched down the aisle of the half-empty bus. Taking a seat in the back, she warmed up for a second before beginning her daily ritual of reading the newspaper.
The bold-print headline immediately captured her attention.
TWO MEN FOUND SLAIN
Late last night police were called to the 1100 block of Broad Street. Neighbors reported hearing several gunshots. When police arrived on the scene, they made a grisly discovery. Two unidentified black men in their mid- to late twenties had been bound, gagged, and shot twice, execution style, in the back of the head. Police believe the killing to be drug related. Small amounts of crack cocaine and heroin were recovered from the scene. Neighbors say the house has long been a drug den. People had been seen arriving and departing at all times of the day and night. Police have no suspects in these murders. Anyone with information about this unsolved murder, please contact 1-800-Crime Stoppers.
After she read the article, Tender shook her head in disgust. She wondered just what everyone else did: When would the murders stop? Niggers were killing each other at a record rate, like it wasn't nothing. The young boys were going buck wild on the streets of Philly. And there was nothing anyone could do or say to stop them.
But she didn't need to read the paper to see that times were hard. Or that people were killing each other over crumbs. Tender was from the hood, North Philly to be exact, where that sort of stuff, life-and-death drama, was commonplace.
To put the situation in perspective, Tender didn't really care who got shot or killed as long as it wasn't her. She had problems of her own, namely, money. She had legitimate concerns. Her bills were killing her. She was two months back on rent. And her cable was currently disconnected. It seemed like if it wasn't one thing then it was another.
Walking away from stripping hadn't been as easy as she thought it would be. It wasn't like she really missed anyone from her former lifestyle. But she did miss the steady income. It had come so fast and easy. And that's how she spent it. Like many people who lived outside the law, she had trouble making the transition from the street life to real life, meaning that Tender spent money carelessly like she was still in the life.
Tender wanted to become a tax-paying citizen. She figured she was going to need some source of income when she got old. If at all possible, she wanted to collect a Social Security check. She didn't want to be like some of the people in the hood that managed to make it to old age and had nothing to show for it. Or like so many others, who the only time they recognized the law or the government was when they got arrested or received a welfare check.
But retirement plans and 401(k)s were out of her realm of thinking. In Tender's mind they were for rich people. She was struggling, living day to day trying to survive. Any money she earned went immediately to food, clothing, or a bill, sustaining life.
Flipping through the newspaper, Tender went into a daze. At the bus stop she looked up once and cast her eyes on the boarding passengers. One Hispanic girl caught her eye. The girl reminded her exactly of her deceased friend, Goldie. She was a stripper whom Tender had met, and had grown very grew close to, in her not-so-distant past.
Goldie, God bless her soul, she mused. You deserved better than that.
Thoughts of Goldie had definitely refreshed her memory about that bitch Kat. She turned bitter at the thought of her. Kat had never been her friend and Tender wished she never had met her.
Fuck Kat! she thought vehemently. Bitch, you got what was coming to you.
A long time ago, Tender had heard people say that it was bad to speak ill about the dead. And normally she would have refrained from doing so, but she made an exception in Kat's case. Even death couldn't kill the hatred Tender had for her. The mere thought of her made Tender's blood boil.
Kat was the primary reason that Tender had started stripping. It was she who had introduced her to the game and had helped push her life even further into its downward descent. That girl had been trouble right from the start. If only Tender knew then what she knew now.
When she looked back on her past, she saw a cluster of people, places, and experiences that had shaped her life. Overall she had more than a few ill feelings about the way her life had played out.
Her emotions were understandable. Tonya's years in the stripping game had changed her forever. Gone was the innocent, naïve girl. She had been replaced by a coldhearted and sometimes ruthless bitch. Tender had done so many unscrupulous things in the name of survival, sometimes she didn't even know herself anymore. Her morals and principles had been replaced by a different code of ethics.
Excerpted from Bad Girlz 4 Life by Shannon Holmes. Copyright © 2008 Shannon Holmes. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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