July 14, 2007
"Surprise!" the crowd crooned loudly in unison.
Camille covered her mouth with her hands as she stood in the doorway in shock. Before her was a room full of everyone she loved. Her mother was there, her sister, her cousins and all of her friends. Balloons were everywhere, and there was a huge cake in the shape of the number 30 sitting on top of a long table. Camille felt like crying from sheer happiness, and she looked at her husband in wide-eyed amazement. "You did this for me?"
Frankie smiled at her and nodded, proud that he’d been able to pull this off without Camille getting wind of it. His wife was a hard woman to surprise, and he had gone to great lengths to make this happen. Camille beamed with joy and threw her arms around her handsome husband’s neck in an ecstatic embrace. "Happy birthday," he said, hugging her tightly. Cameras flashed all around as if the couple were being swarmed by paparazzi.
Camille swirled around and faced the crowd of partygoers, a permanent smile plastered on her face. They began to rush her, planting kisses on her cheeks, hugging her and wishing her a happy birthday. Soon, Frankie got lost in the crowd, but Camille spotted him standing across the room with his cohort Gillian. Camille smiled. God, she loved him!
When they had gotten married seven years prior, Camille had been a twenty-three-year-old aspiring model/actress and Frankie had been a low-level hustler. He wasn’t making any real money in those days, just enough to be hood rich and finance a ghetto-fabulous lifestyle. Today, the name Frankie Bingham (Frankie B, as he was known in the hood) was synonymous with respect, extreme wealth, and clout. He made major moves and major money, diversifying his criminal enterprise by investing in other ventures. Frankie made money not just from drug distribution, but from a myriad of businesses that ranged from a barber shop to a bar and grill. He always used the various connections he’d made over the years to keep himself plugged in to the newest get-money capers. It had been a rough road to the top. Through all the ups and downs, Camille had loved him.
Even in the early days, she could tell that Frankie was destined for greatness. He was a very handsome man, tall, brown, and sexy as hell. He was rough around the edges, yet more charming than anyone she’d ever known. He had broad shoulders and his toned physique made everything he wore look amazing. But most of all, he was focused. He was a risk taker, and he chased paper like few others. Frankie lived big. When he came around, heads turned. Camille herself was a five-foot-ten beauty with smooth chocolate brown skin, full lips, and flawless style. She complemented Frankie, and the two became fixtures in the circles of the ghetto-fabulous elite. They met at a nightclub in Manhattan and fell in love almost instantly. They got married after dating for less than a year and had lived together in a cramped studio apartment in the early days—Camille working hard to break into modeling and Frankie working his way up the ladder of one of New York City’s most notorious criminal organizations. That seemed like a lifetime ago. A lot had changed since then.
Frankie had worked for Doug Nobles, one of the city’s original drug kingpins. Nobles (as he was known in the streets) and his crew controlled the dope trade in Brooklyn in the eighties and nineties, and Frankie had been a bold young hustler who made a lot of money for them. Frankie had been hungrier than ever back then, eager for the lifestyle of the movers and shakers that he saw doing big business before his eyes. He wanted to impress Nobles and even the low-level street hustlers he dealt with day to day. So he had put in work, flying below the radar and never getting bagged, but bringing back double their investment at times. He gained the trust and respect of the men at the top—the ones who really had the power. Nobles took a particular interest in the young man and took him under his wing. And then Nobles got sent away for twelve years on a murder charge.
That was 1992. While Nobles did his time, his children corresponded with him via weekly letters. So did Frankie. And Frankie went along with Baron and Gillian when they visited Nobles up north. In some ways, Frankie became like a son to him. Nobles admired his work ethic and valued his loyalty. He schooled the young man on the ins and outs of the game, and he spoke from experience. Frankie grew to love Doug like a father. Though Doug loved and was proud of his own son, Baron, Doug felt especially close to Frankie.
In the years since his release, Nobles had wisely continued to play the background. He let his son take the lead while he pulled the strings from behind the scenes. Nobles had been quietly grooming his daughter for the business as well. He didn’t want her settling for a role as the wife of some hustler. If she was going to be affiliated with the game at all (which was likely, considering the fact that she had been surrounded by gangsters, killers, and hustlers from the moment she was born), Nobles wanted his baby girl to be the one calling the shots.
By the time Nobles came home from prison, Frankie had used his close relationship with Nobles to gain leverage in the game for himself. Frankie eventually became the main distributor for all of the Nobles family operations, and over the years he had become a real part of the family. It wasn’t unusual to find him seated at the family Thanksgiving feast or standing as a pallbearer at a family funeral. These days, he ran a distribution empire that dealt in everything from cocaine and heroin to prescription drugs. And he also owned several legitimate businesses where he only made cameo appearances on occasion. He and Camille enjoyed a life of luxury, and to her the only thing missing was the pitter-patter of little feet.
Frankie had never really yearned for children, feeling that parenthood would dampen their lifestyle. They wouldn’t be able to travel as often or move around as freely, he always said. Frankie told Camille that he wasn’t ready to change his lifestyle to accommodate fatherhood. Plus, he felt that in his line of work, having children could be a liability. He’d seen his share of ruthless practices in his business, and families weren’t always off-limits when there was beef. But the truth was that the idea of having children scared him. It reminded him of the misery he’d endured in his own childhood. He reasoned that someday he’d be ready for fatherhood—just not now.
Camille, on the other hand, loved kids and had always envisioned that she would be a mother soon after marriage. But she acquiesced, figuring that her life with Frankie would be enough to fill the void. And it was. Despite the lack of children, Camille was happy in her relationship with her husband. She had the man she wanted and an enviable lifestyle. She wouldn’t have traded her life with any woman in the world.
As she greeted one person after another, a familiar face made its way through the crowd and Camille’s eyes lit up with excitement. "Toya!" she exclaimed, throwing her arms around her old friend. Toya and Camille had gone to school together, and once upon a time they’d been inseparable. After high school, Toya had gone off to college in Atlanta while Camille began to pursue acting and modeling in New York City. The two friends had kept in touch at first, calling and sending letters and postcards. Camille landed ad campaigns for retail catalogs as well as print work for a number of high-fashion publications. As she hopscotched from one photo shoot to the next, Toya got acquainted with Atlanta nightlife and began to collect stamps on her passport by traveling from one exotic location to the next. They eventually lost touch with each other. It wasn’t until a Kanye concert six months ago that the two friends had run into each other again. During an intermission at the famed Radio City Music Hall, Toya had spotted Camille, and the rest was history. Toya had just moved back to New York City a year earlier and was living her black Sex and the City dream. Now here she was, looking as lovely as ever in a short black dress. She also had another young lady in tow.
"Camille, this is my friend Dominique Storms," Toya introduced. "She’s the one I was telling you about." As they had caught up on each other’s lives during their recent phone conversations, Toya had told Camille all about her new friend.
Camille’s smile broadened. "Hi!" she exclaimed. Dominique looked even more fabulous than she’d expected. She wore a white linen belted safari jacket and matching skirt. Her weave and her makeup were flawless. "I’ve heard so much about you."
Dominique frowned, wondering what they’d discussed. "What did she tell you about me?" Dominique asked Camille while looking suspiciously at Toya.
Camille laughed. "All she told me was that you were an A&R at Def Jam and that you two do a lot of partying together. It was all good things."
Dominique’s lips twisted into a look of disbelief. She knew Toya well enough to know that that wasn’t all she’d told Camille. Toya was a very matter-of-fact, no-holds-barred type of person. What she’d probably told Camille was that Dominique was a dumb young girl with potential whom Toya had taken under her wing. That sounded more like something Toya would say. Dominique didn’t really mind, though. She loved Toya for her brash and cynical personality. Toya saw the world in black and white with no gray areas, a stark contrast to Dominique’s sunny and optimistic outlook. It was an interesting friendship.
"Yeah, right. I’m sure she said something crazy, but it’s all good. It’s nice to meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you, too." She winked at Camille and they all laughed.
The party was in full swing. The deejay played one hit after another until the dance floor vibrated from all the people celebrating. Camille mingled and introduced Toya and Dominique to her friends and family. They danced, ate, drank, and let their hair down. It was a great party.
Soon the deejay announced that everyone should gather around the cake table. Camille and her girls made their way over and found Frankie standing with a microphone in his hand, Gillian by his side. Dominique’s face lit up at the sight of Frankie, and she pulled Toya closer to her. "Is that her husband?" Toya nodded. "Damn!" Dominique said. "He’s fine!"
"Can I have your attention, please?" Frankie’s baritone voice boomed through the speakers. "I want to pay tribute to my wife."
"Awwww!" Dominique gave Frankie her full attention.
Toya elbowed her discreetly. "Stop cumming on yourself. He’s already married!"
Dominique shot a wicked glance at her friend and rolled her eyes. She turned her attention back to sexy Frankie.
He held the mic in one hand, the other hand tucked. "I love you, baby," he said. "I really do. No man could ask for a better wife." He pulled a large square-shaped box from behind his back, and the crowd got excited, knowing that whatever was inside was bound to make their chins hit the floor. "Happy birthday!" He handed her the box, and Camille opened it to reveal a platinum and diamond spiral necklace. The brilliant carats sparkled in the light, and every woman in the room gasped. Camille jumped up and down and hugged Frankie tightly, kissing him over and over.
"Damn!" Toya said, admiring the stunning piece of jewelry. "That shit must’ve cost a grip!"
Dominique was in awe.
Everyone clapped and crowded around the couple to admire the necklace up close. Frankie helped her slice up her beautiful cake, and the deejay got the party started once again. While Camille attended to her guests, Toya and Dominique found an empty banquette and sat down. They ordered drinks from a passing waitress and watched the party in full swing. It wasn’t long before Camille joined them, feasting on a huge slice of her birthday cake.
"Girl, that necklace is exquisite!" Toya said. "Frankie did a good job picking that out."
"Thanks!" Camille touched the necklace delicately as it graced her neck. She was so happy to be the envy of all her friends. Camille was going to rock Frankie’s world tonight to express her gratitude. She loved it when her husband spoiled her like this. "You look great, Toya," Camille said. "You must’ve lost weight or something." Toya did look wonderful. She had always had a small waist and a big ass, and that hadn’t changed. But her body was much more toned as a result of her crush on her personal trainer at the gym she belonged to.
"Thanks," she said, noticing that Camille had put on a few pounds since the last time they’d seen each other. She was still a lovely woman, but Toya felt that Camille’s figure couldn’t afford the big hunk of cake she was devouring. Back in the day, the two of them had been the most sought-after girls in their age group. Camille had been a new girl in their circle, since she was from Staten Island and had attended high school in Brooklyn at the illustrious Brooklyn Tech. While Toya had the appeal of being a typical Brooklyn bombshell, Camille’s unique appeal had been that she was someone unfamiliar to them. All the guys from around the way wanted them, and all the girls wanted to be like them. Toya enjoyed her status as the center of attention and had always ensured that she looked flawless wherever she went. So had Camille. Toya hated to think that Camille might be letting herself go. But she kept her mouth shut. After all, today was Camille’s birthday and she had a right to enjoy her own damn cake.
Toya scanned the room, watching everyone getting liquored up and having a good time. She spotted Frankie across the room standing with a stunning woman with long hair and frowned.
"Camille, who’s the bitch that’s been chilling with your husband all night?" Toya asked, nodding in Frankie’s direction. "Every time I see him, she’s never far away. She ain’t trying to give him no breathing room at all!"
Camille looked over and waved her hand as if it were no big deal. "That’s Frankie’s best friend, Gillian. They work together." Gillian was Doug Nobles’s daughter—Baron Nobles’s younger sister from a different mother.
Silence shrouded the table as the women digested this information. "Wait a minute," Toya said. "Your husband’s best friend . . . Gillian, the one you’re always talking about . . . is a female?"
Camille nodded. "Yup. She’s cool."
"Oh, hell no!" Toya bellowed, setting her glass down heavily on the table. "Cool, my ass! I thought Gillian was a guy the way that you talk about him—her. ‘Gillian came and got Frankie and they went golfing.’ Or ‘Frankie and Gillian just got back from out of town.’ You were talking about a female all that time?"
Camille smirked and sipped her drink. She couldn’t help being amused by how worked up Toya was getting. "Yes, Toya. Gillian’s a female."
Toya shook her head and reached for her own drink. "I would never go for that shit. That woman is beautiful, Camille."
Camille smiled. "Well, so am I, Toya."
Toya nodded, agreeing. "Yes. Yes, you are." Camille was beautiful. She had the type of face that was so flawless people often caught themselves staring at her. Her impeccable style didn’t hurt, either. But Toya couldn’t help noticing that Gillian was strikingly beautiful. She looked like Alicia Keys, with a body like a Coke bottle. Camille’s weight gain seemed even more tragic now that Toya knew that Frankie was keeping time with America’s Next Top Model. Judging from how Frankie was hanging on her every word, Gillian appeared to be a very intoxicating woman. "But what’s the saying? ‘The only thing better than pussy is new pussy.’ As long as you and Frankie have been together, you can’t tell me that he don’t wanna sample something different from time to time. And you’re cool with him being that close with a chick like that?" Toya looked at Gillian’s hourglass figure in a short red jersey dress. Her hair was perfectly coifed, and her shapely legs were accentuated by four-inch Gucci heels.
"I trust my husband," Camille said simply. She shoveled a forkful of cake in her mouth and washed it down with a swig of champagne. Gillian and Frankie were like brother and sister. Their families were intertwined in a way that Toya could never understand.
"Really? You really trust that he has never sampled that?"
Camille nodded as she struggled to keep her game face on. Inwardly, she was seething that Toya was making such a big deal of the fact that Gillian had been so close by her husband’s side all night. He never gave Camille any reason to doubt that his relationship with Gillian was anything but platonic. Gillian had been around for as long as Camille could remember, so her presence just sort of came with the territory.
Excerpted from Snapped by Tracy Brown.
Copyright 2009 by Tracy Brown.
Published in January 2010 by St. Martin’s Griffin
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.