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To all the dreamers,
Those who hear the voices,
Those who see the unseen and what could be,
And those who dare to make it happen.
Guess who's back? Yep, another year as a son, husband, father, and author. As I write this, it feels like I'm getting that second wind in life. Feeling better now than I have the previous two years combined. Not what I expected, but what is life if not unpredictable, always surprising and astounding us with its ability to provide both great joy and incredible turmoil. The only thing certain is that life will go on, with or without you. That makes your choices and how you relate to others so important during your “limited engagement” on this planet. Do you get on the bus, or watch it roll by? Which pill . . . the red one or the blue one? But enough random observations. Let's get on with the program.
This novel that you hold in your hands weaves in and out of the many worlds of my past novels, glancing off a few things you might find familiar, while still charting its own wild course. (Dare you to identify all the past characters and their novels. E-mail me once you've read it. I'll tell you if you're right.) I guess its roots formed when I wondered about the back-story of an incident that occurred in
Lady Sings the Cruels
. While you may have seen the handiwork of my newest creation back then (and maybe in one other story), this is where you meet him face-to-face.
maybe you don't meet him.
He can be elusive, after all. *smirk*
I'd like to thank my family, Bee-bee, da Baby, Mom, Dad, Virginia, for loving me, warts and all. Know that I love you unconditionally too. Mom, thanks for never discouraging my love of books or those old black and white movies with which I grew up.
To my agent, Portia Cannon: Thanks for being so caring and accessible. To Lisa Cross and Cross The Network: Thanks for all you do behind the scenes. To the team at Urban (Carl, Martha, Brenda, Natalie, Kevin) and Kensington: Thanks for allowing and encouraging my growth as an author. Thanks to the art department for the awesome cover!
My dear friends and infamous ghost readers this go-roundâShontea, Jamie, and my fellow author, Jacqueline: Thanks for always being there and taking the time out of your life to let me share this certified straitjacket of a story with you.
A special thanks goes out to Elda Cantu, Max Lallemand, and Amy Paine, my friends of many skills and dialects. I appreciate you putting up with my odd requests and strange phrases in need of refining as I wrote this story, even if not all of them made it onto the final pages. One day, I can only hope to be a fraction of the linguistic masters that all of you are.
Thanks to the reviewers, interviewers, and media who've shown my stories love: RAWSISTAZ, Urban Reviews, APOOO, Book Remarks, Gail Norris, Ella Curry, Nakea Murray, Adai Lamar of KJLH, Hal Clark of 98.5 WYLD, Erik Tee and Gina Cook of 107 JAMZ, Angela Jenkins of KBMS, Mista Madd of 97.9 The Box, Michael Baisden, Glenn Townes, Dedan Tolbert, and Jake McDonald.
To the readers and book clubs who've been with me from the beginning or who've only recently picked up my works: I thank you for coming back for more. A special shout-out goes to everyone, friends old and new, who I met during my
Sticks and Stones
tours. Thanks for making them so memorable and monumental. From the bookstore signings to the book club meetings to the National Book Club Conference, it meant a lot seeing you out there on the road.
To my fellow authors: Dwayne, Kim, Victor, Mary, Gloria, Nancy, Lolita, JL, VeeJay, Kendra, Reshonda, Electa, Pat, Donna, Lissa, Earl, Shelia, Tracie, Jessica, and all the rest who are out there in the world, trying to provide an escape, bring some joy to someone, or teach important life lessons through the tales we tell, may you all be blessed with continued success. I'm honored to know you and have you in my life.
In closing, I'll go old school on ya, back to my Lake Charles days, and simply say,
The Adventure Continues
. (Some of you will get that reference. LOL)
Any omissions were completely intentional. Yep. I hate you that much. J/K.
NOW READ THE DAMN BOOK!
Can't stop. Won't stop. Believe that.
Now, like a mutha
I hurt, running as hard as I can while barefoot. Not an easy feat.
Only a warped mind can find humor in the midst of disaster.
My feet burn as I push on. I can't tell whether it's from the hot ground or simply my pain.
They've stopped shooting. I realize that as I burst through the prickly brush. Feels like razors slashing across my calves.
A small country road looms ahead. As delirious as I am, I wonder if they're waiting for me.
It would be an easy way to end it.
I can't think that way.
My mind will save me.
It always does. It's all I have.
From out of the sun, I make out an old farm truck as it meanders along. It's the only thing I see on the road ahead. I pray it's not a mirage.
Maybe I'll make it.
Then I hear its steps.
Pads under its paws, gliding over the rock and sand as it closes on me. Tap. Tap. Tap.
No wonder they stopped shooting.
“Fuck!” I curse, knowing I shouldn't be wasting a single breath. I push harder as more of the truck comes into sight. It's an aged Ford. Paint long gone.
I could almost cry.
I begin waving my arms hysterically to get the driver's attention.
I step into a tiny crevice, abruptly jamming my knee. I almost go down, but somehow balance myself with one hand. Stumbling, I resume my frantic pace. A vulture is circling overhead, just waiting on me to fuck up. He'd get leftovers at the plate of Truth, though, for my four-legged pursuer would get dibs.
Now I hear it panting. Imagine it leaping into the air, its teeth intent on finding my throat and not letting go.
My tortured feet touch scorching pavement as the truck swerves to miss me. As it passes, I grab the railing, yanking myself from my dire predicament while almost pulling my arm out of its socket.
The pit bull's head smacks into the tailgate just as I raise my legs to safety. That doesn't stop it, as it shakes it off and tries to leap again, its teeth bared.
The elderly Hispanic man begins to brake, looking to see what cargo he just picked up.
Ir! Ir rapidamente
!” I yell.
Seeing the desperation in my eyes, he doesn't debate the issue.
As we speed off, the dog's masters arrive at the road as well, their black truck kicking up a plume of dust and rocks. Shooting but missing me and Grandpa. Rather than continue their pursuit of me and draw further attention to themselves, they hastily drive off in the opposite direction. I'm luckier than I deserve to be this time.
There will be reckoning, just not now.
“Gracias, seÃ±or,” I mumble before passing out in the bed, the desert sun still beaming down on me.
One month ago . . . Sin City/Las Vegas
Secluded, away from the pounding beat of the main stage, the supple bodies writhed across us in a sensual choreography of flesh. Satin and sex at our bidding. Quaking ass cheeks clapping beneath my very nose. Breasts grazing his pursed lips.
“What do you propose?” I asked, knowing the answer before he did.
“I want him to pay,” the aging, yet still physically impressive athlete answered. He should be enjoying the pussy, the ultimate salve for his wounded ego; up in here instead. Of course, if he did that, he'd have no need for me. Peaches, one of the dancers here at The Standard, as in “gold standard” of gentlemen's clubs, had earned her finder's fee by putting him in touch with me. She was one of a loose network of people around the country, from barbers to A-list celebrities, who knew how to reach me when opportunities arose.
I fixed things. No, rather, I broke things. Manipulating and molding situations to suit my customers' needs. Felt regret . . . sometimes.
But not too often.
“You sure about this? People have done worse,” I said.
“Worse? He's fucking my wife, man!” San Antonio Jackson, the future Hall of Famer and soon-to-be retired wide receiver for Oakland, snarled, jarring Peaches from the lap dance she was giving him. I motioned for her and her dead sexy co-worker to leave us alone in the VIP room. She stuck out her hand, and I placed a hundred dollar bill in it. There'd be more later. Once we were alone, I spoke again.
“No offense, but wasn't your wife a performer in a place like this when you met her?” I asked, anticipating him charging out of his seat just like he did. I was waving a red flag in front of this bull. He also stopped, as expected, without laying a hand on me. Always did my research. Even knew the man's stats from back in college. Leaving nothing to chance was a priority.
“Peaches told me you could help, but I'm not about let you insult me, bro. That was many years ago when my wife was a stripper. I have worked too long and too hard at my career and my life for this kind of betrayal.”
“Does anyone else know? About the two of them being lovers?”
“They're not lovers. He barely knows her,” San Antonio scoffed. He returned to his seat, probably besieged by images of his wife in the throes of passion at the hands or dick of a person thought to be his friend. “Nobody else knows about them.”
“And you don't want anyone else to know. Especially your teammates.”
“Precisely,” he answered. He couldn't tolerate the slap to his manhood among his peers. “I took Andre under my wing when I came over from Cleveland. Kid was a rookie . . . fucking fifth round draft pick. Fifth. Showed him how to read defenses, how to get a step on his routes. Even how to dress and carry himself in public. Now he's a starter. And he's fucking my wife.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Ruin his life,” San Antonio answered. “Take away what he thinks he has.”
“Well, your money cleared.”
“Damn straight,” he remarked. “So you better deliver.”
“I think it best to leave Andre's ruination in your hands.”
I produced photos of Andre Martin, Oakland's new golden boy, looking less than golden. I placed them in San Antonio's hands, allowing him to digest what he was looking at.
“Are these real?”
“Does it matter?” I answered as I stood to take my leave. He broke from his examination of his new weapon of vengeance to look up. “They're not photoshopped. But do you really care?”
“YesâI mean, no. What if he's . . .”
“Get tested. Both you and your wife. If you still care about her.”
Funny how things work out. Andre Martin wasn't even my target when I'd snagged those photos last month. Just an extra fish in the net I'd cast on my last visit to Vegas. One person's misfortune had turned into another opportunity.
Peaches and her friend were working two customers by the bar as I exited from the back. The DJ was spinning some David Banner.
“Did I do good, baby?” the overly endowed girl from Georgia asked as I passed. As she turned, she rubbed those big things against me as she had with San Antonio.
“You certainly did,” I replied with a kiss on the cheek and another nine hundred in her hand. “Keep up the good work.”
“Ahem.” The other one cleared her throat. Godiva, I think was the name she went by. “Anything for me?” she asked, more demand than request.
What I had for her wasn't money. She was sexier, more assertive than Peaches. Wanted to take her back to VIP and finish what she'd begun. But staying in one place too long can be dangerous. From out of my pocket, I fished five large and placed it in her hand. Peaches didn't like it, but competition between the two would do me good. And maybe I'd be back in town with time to spare one day.
By the time I emerged from The Standard, I'd already changed my clothes and ditched my faux accent. In Brooklyn, they thought I was from the Dirty South. In Chicago, they thought I was from London by way of Kingston. Out west, they thought I was an Ivy Leaguer. Here in Vegas, it depended on who I was dealing with. Like the high-dollar suit I now wore or the T-shirt and jeans I'd discarded, everything was an accessory.
As I drove away in my rental, I checked my rearview mirror, thinking my mother would have been proud.
For I am Proteus, wearer of many forms.