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If You Don't Know Me
By Mary B. Morrison
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Mary B. Morrison
All rights reserved.
"When he walks in, you'll walk out."
"Are you sure?" Nyle asked me after the prison guard closed the door to our private glass-enclosed room.
We sat facing each other. The chill from the stainless steel chair made me sit on the edge of my seat. The rectangular-shaped metal table was cold enough to keep my favorite butter pecan ice cream from melting. Three feet of space separated us.
I stared into his crystal-blue eyes as I said, "Help me get Granville Washington back behind bars and you'll be discharged the same day he's booked. The remaining two-and-a-half of your three-year sentence will be dismissed. You'll be on a one-year probation with an officer that you'll meet face-to-face one time. After that you'll check in over the phone. A few people owe me favors. If you complete the assignment to my satisfaction, your early release is guaranteed."
Nyle sighed heavily. His neatly arched brows drew close together. His eyes darted to the left. He blinked. When he opened his eyes, they were intensely on me. Instantly, I became motionless.
"I've already done what you've asked of me."
"Not exactly my ass." Veins protruded from his neck. His voice escalated in anger. "The outcome isn't what either of us anticipated but I did my part. Now you want me to do you another favor? Fuck the money you paid me. I want out of here today."
That wasn't happening. When we left this room, I was going home; he was headed back to his cell. I did not influence him to commit a crime. That was his choice. Helping him get out was mine.
"What if what you want now isn't what you expect later? Then what? You walk away and leave me to do all of my time?"
Precisely. In my mind, I nodded, but didn't move my head. He had nothing to lose. I did. I needed him to calm down so he could focus on what was important to me.
I softened my tone. "Fair enough. Regardless of what happens this time, I'll keep my word." Not sure if I were lying, I extended my hand and shook his. I had to tell Nyle what he needed to hear.
Getting men to do whatever I wanted—with the exception of my father—that was my strength. Loving another woman's husband was my weakness.
Better for me to pursue the man I wanted than to allow my dad to arrange for my husband the way he'd done with Siara. I missed her. Skype was nice but I hadn't seen my sister in person in twelve years. Her being sold by our father wasn't my fault but she didn't feel the same. Occasionally, she still says, "You are my big sister. You were supposed to protect me." I think our father or her husband told her not to come back to America and not to let me visit her in Paris. I wasn't sure how or when but one day we would reunite.
Trust your gut instincts. That was how I lived. My word used to be a firm commitment. Since I was a little girl, when Sindy Singleton made a promise, I kept it. Truth or lie, right or wrong, my love for Roosevelt "Chicago" Dubois was gradually overruling my senses. Lately I'd been doing what was in my best interest. When things didn't go my way, I didn't hesitate to change my mind.
This morning I'd smoothed back my long straight cinnamon hair and coiled it into a bun that sat at the nape of my neck. My cream-colored pants, which I only wore when I visited the Federal Detention Center, were loosely fitted. A simple short-sleeved matching blouse draped my hips. Comfortable leather flats clung to my feet. No lipstick. No perfume. No jewelry. My purse was in the trunk of my Bentley that I'd parked in a downtown lot a block away. My keys were secured in one of the small lockers in the lobby. My Texas driver's license was left with the guard at the security entrance.
Sitting in a room reserved for attorney/client visits, I was the attorney. Nyle Carter was my protégé. I needed this inmate's help the same as he desperately desired mine.
"Let me get this straight. I have to find a way to bring Granville back to prison before you'll get me out of here?" he lamented.
Peering through the glass door, I scanned the visitors' room. There was a handful of folks who had come to see what I called "the mentally ill and prayed up." Prison made grown men ask the Lord, Buddha, Allah, Jehovah, or whatever higher power they believed in to set them free. Forgiveness wasn't practical for repeat offenders. I wished repentance wasn't an option for them either.
A lot of the criminals I represented were guilty but the majority of them had raised their right hand and sworn on the Bible that they were innocent. I was paid to defend, not to judge. Ultimately, that was God's job.
Nyle had pleaded the Fifth on his charges and still had to do time. He'd become known to those on the inside as G-double-A. Some youngster by the name of No Chainz had given Nyle the name saying it meant "Got All the Answers." I wished that were true for me. I wouldn't be sitting in this cold room trying to convince a man to entrap another man so that I could be with the man I loved.
"I said you were to make sure he never got out."
Nyle remained quiet.
On a scale from one to ten, Nyle was handsome above average. Put a suit on him the way he used to dress prior to getting locked up and no one would believe he was forty years old when he was arrested. Not that there was a better age to be charged but with his thick blond curly hair and smooth pale skin he could easily pass for thirty.
"I paid you twenty thousand to give Granville advice that would get him convicted with two consecutive life sentences."
He slid his hand from his forehead to the nape of his neck. No response.
Nyle could benefit from a daily dose of natural vitamin D. The inmates didn't get much sunlight. Everything was indoors, including the gym. The few windows they had were high above the basketball court. Nyle deserved to be here but didn't belong. There were some people you never envisioned behind bars. Others you knew it wasn't if they were going to do time. It was when and for how long?
"Why did the judge overturn the jury's decision?" I asked.
Getting myself this involved, I could risk being disbarred and losing Roosevelt if he thought I was part of the conspiracy to kill him. I was undoubtedly determined to have that man.
Secretly, I was attracted to Roosevelt well before we'd met. A schoolgirl crush, more like college, was what I had. We didn't go to the same university but I'd gone to his football games. Unlike some of the other players, Roosevelt never had a bunch of groupies tailing him. For me it was one of those situations where I liked him, but never thought we'd meet. After his engagement was announced on the news and he married Madison, I'd given up on my fantasy of being with him until his brother came to my office one day for business. Chaz suggested Numbiya and I stop by Eddie V's. Roosevelt was there. Instantly, we hit it off. Initially, I wasn't, then I was, then I wasn't saving my virginity for him but now that I knew him better, I'd decided Roosevelt—not the billionaire who had paid my father for my hand in marriage—was the one.
How long was Nyle going to hold out without answering me? I refused to say another word. If he was done, so was I.
My father was a self-made multimillionaire. If Charles Singleton owned all the gold in Fort Knox, it wouldn't be enough and it'd never make him happy. He was so driven by greed he didn't know how to enjoy life or value people. Money was his god.
I still didn't believe my mother accidentally fell down the stairs. Never saw her insurance policy but knowing my father he'd probably collected a hefty seven figures. My father told us he had our mama cremated. Her family begged for a memorial service. They had no legal rights. Jasmine Singleton had no funeral. Dysfunctional as we were, until the day Mama died and Siara was sold, we were a family. Shortly after Mama's ashes were scattered over the Gulf of Mexico, my daddy became richer. My gut told me there was no wake because there was no death. Perhaps that was my wishful belief.
The man that I wanted couldn't be bought. If I were more like my father, I'd pay Roosevelt's wife to leave him alone. If she'd refused, I'd hire a hit man.
Nyle had ten minutes. If I stood, I was leaving and not coming back.
I was thirty. Ready to walk down the aisle and eventually breastfeed Roosevelt's children. Unlike my father, I knew how to be happy. I think.
Tired of Madison Tyler-DuBois interfering with my getting her husband, I added her to Sindy's shit list. I was about to strip that bitch of her last name like she'd lost an all-or-nothing game of poker. It was time for her to find herself another man. The horrible things she'd done, she should've petitioned for their divorce.
Madison was responsible for her husband having been shot, then she'd taken him off the respirator hoping he'd die. God had a different plan. Her soon-to-be ex-husband had survived. And rather than her letting him love me, she'd prefer to keep him and smother his generous forgiving spirit. Her having his baby was the last lucky charm I was going to snatch from her.
Roosevelt had no idea what to do with Madison. Keep her? Let her go? Stay for the baby? Men generally embraced the "Do as I say" philosophy. The women, "Do as I do." Neither gave a damn about how the other felt as long as the other obeyed. Madison wasn't the conforming type. Neither was I. I was a true Southern belle born and wrapped in a Republican cloak of cutthroat confidence.
I was soft, only on the outside.
When I saw on the news that Roosevelt "Chicago" DuBois had been shot three times, I had to find out who wanted him dead and why. Granville pulled the trigger but that imbecile could never mastermind an execution. Right now, I was getting involved with every aspect. That was why I was sitting in this freezing room instead of being outside in the sunny eighty-degree weather.
Nyle stared at me. "Welcome back," he said.
"Same to you." I'd drifted into my own world but where had he gone?
"Granville is so dumb he's actually smart. Tell me what I need to do to walk out of here. I'll make sure it's done."
Nyle's son was in my I'm Not Locked Up nonprofit program for kids with parents in jail. His son was an amazingly brilliant child. Landry was so impressive that six months ago I accompanied him on a visit here to the Federal Detention Center to meet his father.
I had to know what kind of man could have single-parented a brilliant child then end up behind bars. I'd learned that Nyle had an office downtown. He represented hundreds of clients for a decade. Problem was, he'd never passed the bar. His degree was real. His credentials weren't valid. How could people retain a lawyer without certifying if the attorney was legit?
I agreed. "Granville is the smartest dumbest person I've witnessed as well. Do you know how many inmates represent themselves and get off? Almost none. Hearing Granville question Chaz, watching him get Loretta arrested, seeing him present that sex tape of Madison, made me realize we cannot underestimate this guy. When he degraded Roosevelt on the stand. Made a mockery of my man. That was it. We've got to get him to state and I'm not talking about a high school championship. Prison is where Granville belongs."
"What do I need to do this time?" Nyle asked.
"Tell the guard to inform the warden that Granville Washington is attempting to kill Roosevelt again. Then—"
Shaking his head, Nyle interrupted. "How do you know this?"
"Trust me. I do. All I need you to say is Granville told you this in confidence before his release. Then you must insist that they issue a search warrant for all of his property. His apartment, his car, his mama's house, and her grave."
Leaning back, Nyle said, "Her what?"
I was the type of woman who believed in staying three steps ahead of all men. Perhaps Granville wouldn't do such a thing but the gun hadn't been found after the shooting. He either knew where it was or now that he was out of jail he had it in his possession. The guy had proven he wasn't dumb. Playpens, cemeteries, cereal boxes, diaper bags were just a few of the countless places I'd discovered where criminals had hidden weapons.
"You heard me right. Her grave. Her services are tomorrow. If Granville has that gun, he's going to get rid of it. Tell them to dig up Sarah Lee Washington, search the soil, and her coffin. Roosevelt's life is dependent on you." I'd make a few calls later today and have someone secretly videotape Sarah's funeral from beginning to end.
Roosevelt was a good man. He was the youngest vice president/general manager in the league and we were blessed to have him for our football team. After all the wrong his wife had done to him, he did all the right things for her. A man that wonderful deserved a wife like me.
I didn't disclose to Nyle the details of what the authorities would find. What my father had done, I was about to undo.CHAPTER 2
That baby looks just like me.
I closed my eyes then pictured his head full of wavy black hair. I used to have his kind of hair until my first cut when I was one. Instantly my 'fro had gone from what Mama called "good to bad."
My son's coconut was round. His hands and feet were large like mine when I was born. Zach was twenty-two inches long and weighed eight pounds. That was no coincidence. His genitals looked like they were in 3D and they were darker than the rest of his body, the same as the baby photos of me in my iPhone.
I missed Mama. That weird sound she'd made when she took her last breath echoed in my ear. I rattled my head. Stared at her body in the coffin. Mama had told my brother and me, "Don't ever say a baby ain't yours 'cause they don't look like you. Genes go way back in every family tree. Newborn babies change a lot. One minute they look like the father, then the mother. They come out light-skinned. End up dark. Born with blue eyes that turn green or brown."
All I knew was I was no deadbeat. Why did women say they wanted a good man, then when I treated them like a queen they dogged me out? After they rode my big black dick, came all over it while screaming, "Oh my God," they couldn't stand me? Oh, they'd give it up again but refused to commit to a relationship. I wasn't a mechanical bull. I had a heart, just like a woman. It was breakable, the same as theirs.
I wanted to cry. Madison had stepped on my heart with those pretty high heels like it was a cockroach. Then she squished until my guts squirted out. How would she feel if ... a vengeful idea came to mind.
Hey, I should start charging them chicks to ride my pine. A hundred dollars a hump. Even when I wasn't trying to be funny, I cracked myself up. Starting to slap my thigh, I stopped. This was not the place for that. Almost forgot where I was at. I scratched my knee, then thought, "You should've been a comedian for real, dude." Talking to people was cool but I loved getting dirty and operating heavy machinery. I drove my excavator with precision. Construction work was all I'd done since high school. My boss Manny praised me all the time.
If Madison didn't want me, I could deal with that. Fine. Not really. I was lying to myself hoping that would help me get over her. I loved her more now that she had my baby. There had to be a mistake that the DNA test was a match for her husband. But how could I get the baby, take my own test, and prove I'm right? Didn't want to go to jail for kidnapping or child endangerment. I wouldn't hurt Zach. He was mine and I'd take care of him.
Mama used to tell me, "You're never going to be the sharpest knife in the drawer, baby, but make sure you always have the right amount of edge." She taught me to stand up for what I believed in. One day my third grade teacher gave me a U. She claimed my story was unsatisfactory because she couldn't understand my handwriting. I pleaded my case. I had the biggest fingers in the class and that skinny no. 2 pencil was too small for me. The fat pencil was too big. It made me write under the lines. I'd stayed up all night rewriting my paragraph. The next day when I showed her the other five pages where I kept starting over and reminded her she was the one that taught me to write, write, and rewrite, she gave me a G.
I wish Mama would've seen her grandson before she died a few days ago. My son was a week old. My son. You hear me! I'm not crazy. I wanted to jump off the bench and scream, "Zach DuBois should be Washington. He's my son, y'all!"
Excerpted from If You Don't Know Me by Mary B. Morrison. Copyright © 2014 Mary B. Morrison. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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