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The brisk fall Dallas air brushed against Chandelle's cheeks. "It's too cold to be early October," she shrieked. The mink jacket she slid out of a slick plastic covering from the trunk of her car, the one she'd sufficiently convinced herself that she couldn't live without, hugged her shoulders as they approached the front doors of the Alley Cat'n Restaurant parking lot.
Dior caught the hint. She peered over the hood of the car at the dark brown collection of expensive pelt and escalating debt. Chandelle sashayed casually in the ridiculously overpriced fur as if the hefty bill, including a truckload of finance charges, wouldn't be arriving in her mailbox within the week. "Look at what the cat drug in," Dior howled. "That's a nice coat." She stepped around the front of Chandelle's two-year-old Volvo to run her fingers along the velvety sleeves. "Uh-huh, soft as cotton too. Who boosted it for you?"
Highly offended, Chandelle was outdone. "Boosted? Don't get the way I do business mixed up with how you handle yours. I don't get my hands dirty like that anymore, and if I did, I wouldn't appreciate you putting it out there like that."
After Dior smacked her lips, she turned her nose up at Chandelle's refusal to pay the drastically discounted prices for stolen goods like she had done in the past. "I's just saying, I know Marvin didn't let you run up his credit cards with no department store mink. Even I'm smarter than that."
Chandelle flipped the collar over her ears and huffed. Shows how little you do know. Marvin didn't let me because he doesn't know about it yet, she thought. "Let me deal with my husband. He doesn't tell me what I can buy with my own money," she contended in an irritated tone.
Still fuming over having been chastised by a street-wise headache after their entrées were delivered, Chandelle quietly picked over a deep-fried fish basket while Dior dove into hers face-first. Instead of listening to her cousin recount the events that landed her inside of the county-funded facility for observation, she was having second thoughts of treating herself to the exotic jacket now saturated with oily catfish odors. It was all right, Dior explained only what she was willing to share, there were always incriminating details she'd purposely leave out. And despite how often Dior managed to get herself caught up in a web, it was never, under any circumstances, her fault.
"See, what had happened was, that trick of a store manager couldn't hold off long enough to see things from my standpoint. It would've been cool if he'd have just listened to me and then let me bounce. Besides, it was a victimless crime anyhow. After being poked and pinched in that loony bin they put me in, I'm the victim." With a half-eaten hush puppy in one hand, Dior used the other to illustrate how she'd been wronged yet again by the system, although she was caught dead to rights shoplifting in the department store restroom. Fourteen sets of lingerie items, in assorted sizes, were stuffed inside her jogging suit when an employee began pounding on the door. Dior's eyes had bugged out as the realization of serving jail time popped into her head. That was a fate worse than death as far as she was concerned. Knowing that the jig was up, she worked feverishly at pulling the bunched undergarments out of her pants while reattaching them to hangers scattered about on the floor. "Just one minute," she pleaded, before a large, brooding white man opened the door with his master key. When Dior heard him warn that he was coming in, she acted fast. She snatched her jogging pants down past her knees and plopped down on the toilet seat. The scream she hurled at him reverberated throughout the women's clothing section of the store. "Get out!" she shrieked. "Police! Police!"
Immediately detained in the manager's office, Dior readily explained how she'd never felt so violated before and that she'd never intended on stealing a single garment, but rather how she'd innocently taken the items to the restroom during the fleeting hours of a "once a year" sale because she couldn't risk losing her great finds to other shoppers with similar taste. Soon enough, the police arrived, heard Dior's outrageous story, and as quickly as they appeared, sped away with her handcuffed in the backseat of their squad car. She pled her case vehemently while traveling downtown for central booking. "I'm serious, officers!" she clamored loudly. "I couldn't wait for a store employee to come and watch the clothes for me because I got a condition, uh-huh, a weak bladder." After being reassured that the officers had no plans for letting her go, the cagey criminal decided to build a case for insanity by leaving a urine sample on the vinyl seats of their squad car.
"You know what, Chandelle? I ought to sue," Dior contemplated, from the other side of a forkful of fries. "I just might win, too. You know I can lie real good. Humph, I can make a stupid bunch of jurors believe me like I fooled that judge who signed my crazy papers instead of sending me to county."
Chandelle sat across the table. She stared at Dior as if she had been released too soon. "Don't tell me you thought you could pee your way out of that too?"
"Why wouldn't I?" she questioned. Wetting her pants had gotten Dior out of numerous tight spots before, and it still worked.
"How many times are you going to use that stupid defense as a 'get out of jail free' card?"
"Until they take it away," Dior answered quickly. "That pill-popping palace they call Happy Horizons is the closest I've ever gotten to doing real time. Well, except for that one night, when I almost get snatched up. That cop caught me behind that night club trying to get back in good with Kevlin. Girl, I had my skirt hiked up when he shined the light on us. Shoot, I squatted so fast it nearly ruined the officer's shoes. Sure did, told the law how Kevlin was back there to keep a lookout so nobody would bother me. Uh-huh, the same bad bladder scheme was on and popping then too."
"You're getting too old to be showing out like that with Kevlin."
"That's what you think," Dior smarted back. "I'll never be too old to hike my skirt up whenever I feel like it."
"You are too old to be doing it in back alleys with some brotha who won't half call you afterward. And all of the scheming you're so stuck on has gotten you tossed into that asylum. Dior, nobody even knew where you were until you called today begging for me to pick you up."
"That's why I had to go about the schizted route. I couldn't risk you or Dooney showing up there talking about 'she ain't crazy, just too sinful.' That's been the bad rap all of my life, and I don't deserve it. I'm just misunderstood."
"You mean misdiagnosed."
"Whatever. You say po-tay-to. I say to-may-to."
Chandelle glanced up when she replayed Dior's mishandling of the common cliché. "You mean po-tay-to, po-tah-to?"
"Why would I say the same thing twice? That's stupid."
"Yeah, and so is this conversation," Chandelle replied, realizing it about thirty minutes too late. She massaged her temples with all ten fingers, agonizing over the slim chances of returning a mink coat that reeked of deep-fried fish. Since Dior didn't elaborate on how she'd successfully proved to clinically trained psychologists that she wasn't harmful to herself or others but not likely to harbor the propensity for shoplifting either, Chandelle assumed she'd pulled off yet another ruse whereby urinating her way out of it. Unfortunately, this time around, Happy Horizons was only the beginning.
Chandelle fought with further attacking her cousin's dirty deeds while maneuvering through the streets of Dallas. She wondered if beating a dead horse would have amounted to much, if anything, in the way of setting the mixed-up sister straight. When Dior insisted that Chandelle zoom past her apartment, she didn't question it until they were speeding off in the other direction. "What's gotten into you?" she yelled, feverishly glancing in the rearview mirror.
"Just keep driving!" Dior cried out, whipping her head around to see if they were being followed. "Make a left up there at the corner." Chandelle did just that; she kept her foot on the gas pedal and followed directions until entering a drug-infested neighborhood off the interstate. On the outer ring of a densely cluttered assortment of aging apartment complexes, commonly referred to as "Crack City" by the local police, Chandelle pulled her car into a convenience store parking lot, and then slammed on the brakes.
"I've been quiet long enough, Dee. This is as far as I go until you tell me what's got you too scared to set foot into your own spot and has me all jacked up and ready to jet from this one. I'm trying not to end up on the news, gunned down in a drug bust gone bad."
"It's not that serious, Chandelle," Dior argued, although reluctant to face her. With her head down, she fiddled with the suede tassels hanging from her Navajo Indian-style purse. "You wouldn't understand if I told you, so I won't even try."
Now, Chandelle was seething too much to lay eyes on her salty passenger. "So that's it? I just fled the scene like some kind of fugitive from justice and that's the best you can come up with to justify it? I'm not moving another inch unless you tell me what you're running from and why you've chosen this crack alley of all places to hide."
"You're lucky, Chandelle, always have been. You might no longer be what you used to be, but I am. This thing hanging over me ain't up for discussion. Feel me on this, pop ... pop ... bang. It's dead and buried. Trying to go home again was my fourth mistake of the day, so please let it rest in peace."
Chandelle lips pursed into a firm pucker. "Fine, if you want to go at your demons alone, then so be it. I'll drop you off, but don't come beating down my door when Kevlin decides to throw you out with tomorrow's trash." When Dior's eyes widened, Chandelle laughed. "Huh, sure I knew you've been creeping back to him every chance you got. Your never-agains don't hold any weight with me, baby girl. I'm still slicker than you'll ever be without even breaking a sweat, so save it. All I needed was one time for a man to paint me stupid and then go upside my head because I called him on it. That grew me up quick, fast, and in a hurry. We'll play it your way, but this is where I get off of your constant collision with catastrophe. You need to grow up, too, and get your head on straight before Kevlin knocks a hole in it."
A sigh escaped from Dior's lips, making it apparent to Chandelle that the words she spoke were ignored. Dior's eyes gradually rose to meet Chandelle's icy glare. "What makes you think I want to grow up, huh? What makes you think that just because you made college and marriage work, that I want the same things? Besides, ain't no guarantees, Chandelle, not for a sistah like me. What, am I supposed to grow up and get shackled down to some brotha selling toasters for a living while trying to make a slave outta me? I already know I don't look cute chained to a stove."
"You just keep on pressing your luck, trying to get over without putting the work in," Chandelle said, before issuing a stern warning. "And you got one more time to criticize my man."
"You're right, my bad going there about Marvin, but don't forget I've done the nine-to-five thing and it didn't suit me. My heels were too long, my lunch breaks were too short, folks didn't like my clothes being too tight, and somebody was always complaining about something I was doing wrong. Listen to me close, I can't do the square life and can't use no square love."
Caught between a hard head and her better judgment, Chandelle refused to let Dior's difficulties in the workplace go unchallenged. "That may be so, but every black woman deals with the same issues until they realize it's not always about us. I wasn't gonna say anything, but you know who you sound like talking all pitiful and woe-is-me?"
"I know who you bet' not be thinking of," Dior spat ferociously. "Leave her out of this. I'm not going to end up like Billie." Her mother was doing a ten-year bid in the state penitentiary on a welfare food stamp charge. Dior had yet to forgive her for getting caught. Hustling was a way of life she'd grown accustomed to, but a woman leaving her family behind was unacceptable under any circumstances.
"Dior, you might not plan to but that's where the road you're headed down leads. Me, I love being a square. Need I remind you that you're in my whip? My square job and my square husband help to keep me rolling in it. Thank God."
"Whatever, I'm just saying ... can't do the square thing."
"Here's a note for you, cousin, we all have to grow up sooner or later."
"I hear you, just ain't ready yet. Anyways, all that stuntin' I do, it's cool because it's like I've heard you say, that God of yours knows my heart."
"Listen at you. He knows your heart. That's another reason for you to check yourself because He does know about the stuff you're too ashamed to tell me." After Chandelle got her dig in, she backed out of the small parking lot and proceeded toward the apartment she'd sworn never to revisit, Kevlin's den. "I can't believe I'm doing this," she huffed. "Nothing good can come from getting mixed up with him again. He's a snake, poison."
"Bump that, Chandelle. Kevlin said he was sorry, and that's what's up. Let me out so I can get what I've been dreaming about for almost two weeks." Dior hopped out and wrestled her bag down the walkway to an open gazebo-style beige-colored brick building with three doors on either side. She knocked at the nearest door on the right. When a yellow-toned, muscle-bound man wearing a long gangster perm and sagging blue jeans opened it, Dior's eyes floated up in a begging-please-take-me-in manner. Chandelle, looking on from the street, shook her head disapprovingly. Kevlin's expression was undecipherable to Chandelle as he stared at Dior and her bag resting at his doorstep. Then he leaned out to clock whoever was watching their reunion from the red Volvo idling in the road.
Yeah, I'm the one who told Dooney you were putting hands on his twin. Uh-huh, the same one who's responsible for him posting you up at the car wash and had you crying like a li'l punk, Chandelle thought, as she rolled down the window so he could see her face clearly, displaying her unmistakable contempt for him and men like him. Yeah, the stitches and the lumpy hospital bed, that was all on me.
After mean-mugging Chandelle like he wanted to return the favor, Kevlin nodded his head respectfully instead, pecked Dior on the lips, and then ushered her inside.
"That's what I thought," Chandelle mouthed triumphantly, before making a fast U-turn to get out of the area as quickly as possible. Although Dior was willing to brave the climate of the low-rent apartment district, she wasn't in the mood to reminisce on the life she led before leaving it all where it belonged, in the past.
Appliance World, a second-rate retail operation, thrived in the midst of mammoth-sized chain stores dwarfing it on both sides. When the owner, Larry Mercer, learned that two appliance giants wanted his location near the busy freeway, he held out for more money. Unfortunately, his plan backfired. Instead of making another lofty offer to purchase his property, each built stores on either side and squeezed him in the middle.
Weeks before Mr. Mercer was forced to pull the plug on his family business, Chandelle's husband, Marvin, walked through the front door to price a blender. The salesmen on duty had neither salesmanship skills nor an appreciation for customers. After overhearing Marvin explain how that was a leading reason most people were reluctant to do business with African Americans (who expected to succeed simply because their doors were opened), Mr. Mercer took a good look the attractive medium brown shopper and quickly offered him an assistant manager's position on the spot. Marvin's first order of business was scheduling training classes for all eight of the slacker salespeople.
Excerpted from SINFUL by VICTOR MCGLOTHIN Copyright © 2007 by Victor McGlothin. Excerpted by permission.
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