Jolene Monroe sat curled up in the corner of the ugliest coach since the seventies. Hell, it probably came from that period. She leaned her blond head against her knees and tried to breathe through the kind of panic she had not felt in over a decade.
The words, ‘if you tell anyone, I’ll kill you,’ had been playing through her mind for the past three hours. She knew the man was dead. That this ‘accident’ was not related to her rape. But the mind was a funny thing. Even the most brilliant ones. All her logic was making little headway against those old demons. And she needed to. Needed to screw her head on straight and come up with a plan.
When that door opened, and she first heard those pops, Jo thought a car had backfired. Though that was silly, modern vehicles didn’t do such things. When Donovan had pushed her and the girl to the floor, she wasn’t sure what to think. Then, the sound of an engine revving and tires squealing against concrete. The sound of that deep, smooth voice calling her name.
It was all there, vividly portrayed in her mind. The red stain on Donovan’s white dress shirt, the girl’s hysterical tears, and her… Her what? Denial? She’d come so far, risen so high. This could not be happening to her. Driveby shootings did not happen to senior partners in prestigious law firms.
Think. Dammit, think. But she could not stop the shivering and that voice in her head long enough to fight her way out of a paper bag. Let alone figure out what had happened.
“Here. Drink this.”
She did her best to smile at the old woman wearing a colorful African-style dress. Jo tried to remember the woman’s name, but those types of details were lost in the nightmare. “Thank you,” she took the steaming cup of something that she could tell was not coffee. Then again, caffeine might not be the best idea at the moment. What time was it?
“A little after three,” the woman replied as she used the arm of the chair and her cane to lower herself into a sitting position across from her. “Drink. It tastes like shit, but it’ll help calm your nerves.”
Jo nodded and raised the cup to her lips, sipping slowly. The woman didn’t lie. If she weren’t afraid of offending her hostess, she would spit the swill out. “What is it?” She tried not to grimace too much.
The woman laughed, “I told you it tasted like shit. It’s an herbal tea. A blend from my gardens. This one helps with anxiety. And I figure even someone like you might be a tad anxious if they got shot at.”
Jo wanted to correct the woman’s assumptions. ‘Someone like her.’ What did this woman know of her? Of course, the irony was that she counted on people making those assumptions. This carefully crafted veneer of tailored suits, silk blouses, and perfect make-up was all she wanted them to see. So what right did she have to be angry at the woman’s assumption?
“Donnie is still trying to get that other one to calm the fuck down.” The woman leaned forward, resting her chin on top of her wooden cane. “You want to tell me how come the grandson I sacrificed everything to send to law school is the one with a bullet hole in his shoulder?”
As much as Jo hated the shit, she lifted that cup and sipped more as she tried to organize her thoughts enough to answer the woman. After three drinks, she was no closer. “I’m sorry. I don’t know.”
“Don’t know? I’ve invested everything in that boy. And the posh white lady that was supposed to be his mentor don’t know why someone is shooting at my boy?”
“Grandma, give Jo a break.”
They both turned to Donovan, standing in the doorway. Jo was glad that he had changed out of that blood-stained shirt into jeans and a t-shirt. Even if the outfit looked better on him than a suit. Of course, none of it was as nice as what was underneath. But now was not the time to think about that either.
“Then you can fill me in, boy. Why is it that this old lady is spending her Friday night fishing a bullet out of your shoulder and sewing you up instead of your gang banger cousins? I taught you better…”
“Yes, Grandma, and you always said that them white people in the highrises were just as dirty or more so.”
“That ain’t no answer.”
Donovan crossed the room to sit on the other end of the couch. She noticed his shoulders slump, “I’m sorry, Grandma. I never meant to bring you more troubles. I know how hard you work…”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Trouble ain’t nothing new to this family. Since the day they sent Cyrus back to me in that wooden box, there ain’t been much else. Probably before that. But boy, I worked hard, so you didn’t face those troubles. So, tell me again why you got shot and not Trey or Darius?”
He shook his head, and his dark eyes turned towards her. Their gazes met for a long moment before he turned back to the old woman, “I think they were trying to kill Selena. Maybe me too.”
“That still don’t tell me nothing. Why would anyone want to kill a couple of interns? And who?”
“The Tysons. Selena is pregnant by Jack, Junior.”
Jo inhaled sharply; she had no idea that he knew. How? When? How much did he know? This was a complication they had not anticipated. Would they need to buy him off too? How much more would that cost from the partners’ fund? Damn, Junior.
“What does that have to do with you, boy? It ain’t your baby.”
“Selena is my client, Grandma. You taught me to take the side of the underdog, so don’t act surprised.”
“Your client?” It was Jo who asked the question this time.
He turned back to her and nodded, “Yes, she told me about your offer. Or should I say Junior’s? The answer is no. All that girl wanted was money to support herself until the baby was born, and she could place it for adoption. And a letter of recommendation. That she more than deserves.”
“But, no. Junior wants her to have an abortion. Not that I’ve got anything against that. But a woman’s body, a woman’s choice extends to having her child as well as aborting it. So, I guess Junior or maybe Jack decided that if she wouldn’t murder the child, they’d murder her? Maybe take me out too. Since they knew we were friends, and she might have told me the truth.”
His grandmother shook her head, “How’s the girl?”
“Worried, scared. She wanted to flee back to her family in Mexico, but I finally convinced her that would just put them in more danger. It’s the first place they’ll look for her.”
“And here is where they’ll come for you, boy.”
“I know, Grandma. I’m sorry, but I knew we couldn’t go to the hospital or doc in the box. You were the only place I knew to come. We’ll be out of here as soon as I can get a few things together. We’ll…” But he stopped then, dropping his head and just shaking it.
The hard truth was that Donovan had no idea what to do now. He had spent the last hour and a half trying to calm Selena and convince the girl not to put others in danger. He’d finally settled her down enough that he could leave her with his aunt. But he had no idea what to do next. Where they could go. Sure, he knew that he could count on Trey and Darius to keep his grandmother and aunt safe. But how did he keep Selena, her baby, and his woman alive?
Maybe Jo could walk into the office of Tyson, Turner, and Tyson, LLP, on Monday like nothing happened. But he could not be sure of that. He was not certain of anything right now. How had something that should have been a legal matter turn into a gun battle? He was in over his head, and he knew it.
“What were you thinking, boy? Taking on that girl’s problems. You know better than to get yourself involved in other people’s shit. If that girl spread her legs for the wrong man, what’s that to you?”
“That’s just it, Grandma. She didn’t.”
“Now, boy, don’t be telling me that. A woman don’t get pregnant by herself. I should know,” his grandmother laughed. The world condemned the woman as ‘another single black mother.’ Three children by three fathers, but few knew Margot Bradshaw’s full story.
But if he let her get started on one of her tirades, they never get anywhere. “He raped her.” He knew those words would stop his grandmother cold. But the gasp from Jo shook him. So, Junior had not come completely clean with her. Had he with Jack Tyson? Or did they think this was just another of his minor indiscretions? “John Maxwell Tyson, Junior raped Selena Ortiz.”
“No, that’s not possible. Jack doesn’t resort to rape. Flattery, absolutely. Intimidation and harassment, if he needs to. But rape? That isn’t Jack’s M-O. When I…”
So, Junior had at least tried it with her too. Donovan had wondered. It was almost common knowledge at Tyson, Turner, and Tyson that the only way to make partner for a woman, even a junior partner, was in the man’s bed. But how much she knew or how far it had gone was another matter. One, he was determined to find out. Later.
“A man doesn’t need a gun or knife or even his fists to rape a woman. When he threatens to destroy the career, she is building, or have her brother deported, or destroy her family, if she doesn’t…”
Donovan had just gotten started on his own obloquy, a skill he seemed to have inherited or learned from Margot Bradshaw. But when he saw the color drain from her face, watched Jo curling into a ball, and begin to rock back and forth in the corner of that old couch, it stopped him. Quickly, he scooted across the cushion between them and wrapped her in his arms, drawing her face against his chest.
Selena’s tears had soaked his shirt more thoroughly than his blood had. But the silent stiff way Jo held herself worried him far more. It was as if one small tear, any sign of weakness, would crush her. So she kept it all inside. But as much as he knew she needed to let it go, let it all out, now might not be the best time. He had one woman who was a basket case. Maybe she was right; perhaps another one was not the best idea. But the moment he got her to safety, they were fucking talking about this.
He looked up at his grandmother. She was just shaking her head, “I should have known. Another one.”
He stared at the old woman. Half pleading, half warning. Now was also not the time for another of her lectures about his affinity for older, white women. “Grandma,” this time, thankfully, that was enough. Or maybe Margot Bradshaw was finally giving this one up? He doubted that. But if he had his way, the woman would just have to get used to this older, white woman in her grandsons’ life.
Margot shook her head, “Okay, so we call Trey and Darius. Maybe they have some ideas. Back in my day, they’d be safehouses where we could hang low for a while. Unless, of course, the feds found out, then ‘accidents’ tended to happen. Ya’ll try and get some sleep until my boys get here. We’ll figure something out then.”
Donovan reluctantly let Jo go long enough to help his grandmother up from the chair. He knew that it irritated the hell out of the old woman. But his grandmother was entering her seventh decade on the planet, and it was only natural that her body began to betray her. At least Margot Bradshaw retained all her mental faculties, and her grandson knew that was much more important to her than a bit of arthritis in her hips and back.
When she was finally steady on her feet, his grandmother did something that he could remember the woman doing only a handful of times; she leaned in and kissed his cheek. “We’ll get through this, too. We’ve come this far. The man ain’t gotten us yet, and I’ll be damned if he takes you from me now.”
Margot Bradshaw hobbled towards her bedroom. Assuredly to call or text his cousins, he just hoped like hell she didn’t take this mess to Black Twitter. At least, not until he had a better handle on the situation. And that began with getting some answers from his woman.
He turned back to the woman on the couch. Jo’s normally alabaster skin was still a sickly gray-blue. Her eyes were down as if studying the hen-shit green shag carpet for the meaning of life. He could almost see her hands trembling as they wrapped about her legs. He wanted to go to her, take her back in his arms, promise her that everything would be alright, that he would protect her, and never let her go.
But now was not the time for softness. Not yet. Not until he knew where this woman stood. And if she indeed were on their side? Privy to all this? What then? He wasn’t entirely sure. But he would not allow her to be drawn deeper into this quagmire of misogyny, rape, and now attempted murder. “How much do you know?”
Jo shook her head, those blue eyes widening and filling with tears, even if her steel will held them back. “I’m sorry. So sorry to drag you and your sweet old grandmother into this mess. Honestly, I thought the girl was just another of Jack’s little…”
It was enough. Donovan could not resist any longer. He needed to hold this woman probably more than she needed him to hold her. Whatever else she might or might not know, the details were not as important to him as that need to just be with her right now. He had come so fucking close to losing her or never having the opportunity to touch her again.
This time he was through with pretense. He pulled her onto his lap and buried his face in that soft, peach-smelling hair. He inhaled her, and hope came with it as he chuckled. “You are probably the first person to call Margot Bradshaw sweet since 1968. Hell, the last time I used the Freedom of Information Act to request the woman’s file from the feds, it was over two thousand pages, mostly blacked out.”
He could not resist kissing that mouth any longer. It had been weeks since he tasted her. And that perfect O of shock gave him just the opportunity he sought. His fingers laced through her hair and held her in place as his tongue relearned every nook and crevice of her mouth. By the time that he finally broke the kiss and leaned his forehead against hers, they were both breathless.
“My grandmother, that sweet old lady as you called her, spent five years in a federal penitentiary and would still be there if she had not taught herself the law and gotten her conviction overturned on bogus evidence. My mother was born in prison.”
“The irrepressible and formidable Margot Bradshaw is a radical feminist and Black Panther. To this day, she holds their Ten-Point Program as gospel and would incite a revolution if given half a chance. I’ll guarantee you that she’s got her loaded gun out of the drawer and on the nightstand next to her where she can reach it if she needs it.”
Donovan could not resist placing another tender kiss on the corner of her lips at the surprised look. “The only thing that woman has against my cousins’ gang-banging is that they spill black blood. If that woman had her way, she’d rally Black Live Matter, the Bloods, and the Crips to take down ‘the man.’”
“Since she’s failed as she calls it, she pours those dreams into this community and me. Turning this place into a community garden to provide fresh produce for the kids. Every single flower she grows had some medicinal property, and that woman knows them all.”
“She knows the recycling schedule for this whole damned city and takes a trolley on the bus every day, salvaging clothes, books, and whatever else she can find from rich white people’s trash. Then she usually calls one of my cousins to pick her up because she has more than she can fit in the damned thing.”
“And woe be them if some Karen calls the cops. She films it all and posts it to social media before the officers are back in their patrol cars. Most of them have gotten to the point they just drive right by when they see it is her. A few of them give my cousins a break, load her crap into their squad car, and give her a lift home. A couple has gotten into real trouble for that shit.”
“I don’t want you frightened of my grandmother. I owe her and my Aunt Sukey everything. I was only six when my mother died of cervical cancer. Did you know black women are twice as likely to die of that shit as white? Trust me, Margot Bradshaw made damned sure that every doctor and nurse at USC, UCLA Medical Center, and Cedars-Sinai knew that. She dragged my mother to every last one of them, trying to save her Flavia, the ‘golden’ child.”
“And when they lowered my mother’s casket into the grave, that woman poured all those dreams into me…”
Before he could finish, the front door slammed open. On instinct, Donovan wrapped his body around her to protect the most important thing in his world.
“What the hell have you done now, bro?” His cousin Trey, wearing blue, demanded.
“You know better than to get the old woman riled up,” Darius, in red, stared him down.