KEITH THOMAS WALKER - THE MASTER OF ROMANTIC SUSPENSE AND URBAN FICTION


CHAPTER ONE
CHURCH SUNDAY
 
  
 
            For as long as she could remember, Shayla Humphries loved Sunday mornings.  This was the day God gave us for rest, a day for worship and for family.  Sunday was a day for collard greens and black-eyed peas and pot roast with potatoes and carrots or a succulent Butterball ham.  Sunday was a day for giving and for good will towards your fellow man.

            Shayla considered these things as she listened to the voice messages saved on cellphone #3.  She kept up with this phone by remembering the last four digits of the number, which, coincidentally, were 3666.

            According to her father, 666 was an evil number, the number of the beast who would come in the end days.  The beast would torture and horrify anyone who was left behind after the rapture.  Shayla believed in the rapture.  She knew the anti-Christ was real as well, but she didn’t think there was anything particularly evil about cellphone #3.

            Then again, some of the messages she got last night were anything but Christian:

            You a nasty wench!  A demon spawn.  You think you can come up in here and mess up what me and my husband got?  Girl, you ain’t messed up nothing!  I see you for who you is, and so does Allen.  You ain’t did nothing but make yourself look like a slut!  And if I ever see your ass again, Lord have mercy.  My man’s staying right here with me, so poof, be gone.  Dumb ass whore!”

            Shayla grinned and shook her head.  She pressed seven to delete the crazed woman’s rant.  The next voicemail on her phone was from Allen himself.  She rolled to her side and closed her eyes as she listened to this one:

            Hey, hey, Crystal.  I – I’m sorry but I had to give my wife your phone number.  She’s, she say she’s gonna call you.  I’m, I mean, she, she probably is gonna call you.  I didn’t wanna give her the number, but she wouldn’t let it go.  She went through all my shit.  I’m sorry.  I’m, I’m really sorry.  I still want, to, to see you.  I wanna be with you, Crystal.  Send me a message, if you can.  I, I really wanna hear from you.  And, I’m sorry about my wife.  She’s, I think she’s gonna call you…

            That message made Shayla sick to her stomach, but her twisted grin remained.  She knew she should leave well-enough alone, but it upset her that Allen’s wife still wasn’t getting the picture.  Some wives will always blame the other woman.  Even if they find evidence of multiple affairs, it’s always the other woman’s fault. 

            Allen’s wife thought he was as pure as the driven snow.  In her mind, every time he left the house, voluptuous vixens accosted him and threw him to the ground and raped him.  They forced him to take them to nice restaurants.  They made him go to the jewelry store and buy them nice things – things Allen would never even consider purchasing for his wife. 

            These scandalous women were the problem.  They were evil and wretched.  Some of them were real-live witches.  They casted spells that made good husbands commit adultery. 

            Shayla frowned.  She sighed.  She opened her eyes long enough to dial Allen’s home number.  It was clear she was going to have to dispose of cellphone #3 today, so why not burn all of her bridges?

            His wife Betty answered after two rings.

            “Hello?”

            “Hi,” Shayla said.  “Is, may I speak to Allen?”

            Pause.

            “Who is this?”

            “This is Crystal – Oh my God.  Did I, I meant to call his cellphone…”

            Crystal?”  Another pause, this one longer.  Betty’s breaths came hot and hard.  “Girl, I know you ain’t calling my house.”  Her voice was low now.  Low and mean.

            Shayla scratched behind her ear and then held out her hand so she could examine her fingernails.  She needed a manicure, but it could wait a few more days.

            “Who is this, his wife?” she asked. 

            Betty exhaled loudly, mostly through her nose.

            “Ain’t no need for you to be calling me,” Shayla said, “talking all crazy.  Me and Allen gon’ be together – no matter what you say.  You might as well get used to it, ’cause whenever he ain’t right in your face, he prolly licking on me.  When he get home and kiss you, I know you can smell it.  You like the way I taste, don’t you?  That’s why you still with him, ’cause you like it.”

            Betty was so infuriated, she couldn’t speak right away.  “Listen here, you little nappy-headed–”  

            “Why don’t we share him?” Shayla offered.  “I don’t mind sharing.  Matter of fact, you can have him most of the time.  I just want him one day a week, maybe two.”

            “He don’t want you, whore!”

            “Why he put hickeys on my thighs then?” Shayla wondered.  “Why he spend your car payment on a bracelet for me?  I don’t wanna argue with you, lady.  Let’s just agree to disagree.”  She laughed.  “We gon’ share Allen.  We doing it anyway, so you might as well get with the program.”

            “Allen!”  The woman barely moved the phone away from her face before yelling.  “Get your ass in here right now!  I got your whore on the phone!  How the hell you let her call our house?!”

            Daaaang,” Shayla said.  “Ain’t you going to church today, Mrs. Archer?  You know, God don’t like ugly.”

            “You gon’ get yours,” the woman growled.  “I swear before God, you gon’ get yours!”  Her voice was so menacing, Shayla felt a chill roll down her spine.

            “Tell Allen I’m sorry for calling his house.  Tell him we can meet up at our usual spot later.”

            “Allen, get your ass in here now!!”

            Shayla disconnected, and then she turned cellphone #3 off for good.  It was a cheap, prepaid gadget she got from Walmart.  She paid cash and never had to register it before use.  She had absolutely no fear of repercussions.

            She was slightly disappointed Allen’s wife chose to stay, but she didn’t feel bad about her role in their marital dysfunction.  Hell, their marriage was a sham way before she ever hit the scene.  She tossed the phone to the floor and rolled to her other side, hoping to catch a few more Z’s before she had to get up and get ready for church herself. 

            She was in a good mood.  She loved church Sundays.  It was a perfect day for rest and relaxation, good food and good friends and peace towards your fellow man.
 
**********
 
            Donna called at nine a.m. sharp.  Shayla was up by then.  She stepped out of the shower and rushed to dry herself but didn’t make it in time.  She put on a black robe and found her real phone (cellphone #1) on the nightstand.  She returned to the bathroom and called her friend back as she opened the medicine cabinet and removed her deodorant and other essentials.

            “Shayla?”

            “Yeah, what’s up?”

            “You woke?” Donna asked.

            “I just got out the shower.”

            “You still coming?”

            “Yes, I’m coming.  I told you I’d be there.”

            “I know,” Donna said.  “I was just checking.  I’m, never mind.”

            “Are you nervous?”

            “Yeah, a little.”

            “I thought you weren’t coming,” Shayla said.

            “I know,” Donna replied.  “But I thought about it, and I think it will look suspicious, if I’m not there today, you know?”

            “It’s not like you think,” Shayla said.  She flinched a little from the coolness of her antiperspirant.  “Nobody’s gonna know you had anything to do with it, unless you tell them yourself.”

            “I’m not telling nobody,” Donna assured her. 

            “I’m sure you won’t,” Shayla said.  “And don’t forget you don’t know me.  I won’t say anything if I run into you, and you shouldn’t speak to me either.  Don’t even look at me.  You don’t want them people coming after you when it’s over.”

            “I know.”

            “For real,” Shayla insisted.  “I done seen it get real ugly, a couple of times.  Some of the same people praying for you every Sunday will slash your tires if they find out you had something to do with it.  They’ll kick off they shoes and fight you right there in the church house.  I seen it happen.”

            “I’m not telling nobody,” Donna said in a hushed voice.

            She was spooked now, and that was good.  She needed to understand there were serious consequences to what they were doing.  Shayla never had to see those people again, but Donna lived on the same street as some of them.

            “Thanks again for doing this,” Donna said.  “If there was any other way...”

            “If you wanna back out, tell me now,” Shayla said.  “’Cause it might get ugly.”

            “No, I don’t wanna back out,” Donna said.  “He deserves it.  You’ll, you’ll see when you get there.”

            “Alright, well let me get off this phone so I can get dressed.”

            “Service starts at ten.”

            “I don’t want to be on time,” Shayla said.
 
**********
 
            Shayla was tall for a girl, standing nearly five feet eleven barefoot.  If she was thinner, she would’ve had the perfect build for high fashion modeling, but God blessed her with shapely breasts and wide hips that couldn’t squeeze into most outfits from the Marc Jacobs collection.

            But she had the perfect build for urban wear.  She could rock a pair of jeans like nobody’s business, and all the men found it hard to stay on task when she wore a pair of tight, black slacks to work.

            Her skin was brown like Cognac.  Her lips were full.  Her eyes were small, but her lashes were long; they added depth and volume to her dark brown orbs.  She usually wore her shoulder-length hair in a bun or ponytail.  Today it was straight and layered with no bangs.

            She put on lipstick and mascara and then slipped into a pink bra and panties set.  She put her robe back on and left her bedroom for the first time that morning.  She heard gospel music coming from her sister’s room two doors down.  Carla had her door open, but Shayla stopped at Lisa’s room first.  She knocked softly and then pushed the door open when she heard her friend say, “Come on in.”

            Lisa was 34, the same age as Shayla.  They were best friends in high school and were still inseparable.  They got their first apartment together during their last year of college.  Three years later, they were both still hopelessly single, so they upgraded to a rent house.  Shayla’s little sister, Carla, begged to move in with them when she dropped out of TCU.  Shayla and Lisa welcomed her with open arms.

            A lot of their friends assumed there was constant friction in the household – with three grown women under one roof, but there were surprisingly few catfights.  Everyone had their own life to live, and the roommates were never stupid enough to go after the same man.

            Lisa was still in bed, cuddled up with a Zane novel.  She looked up at Shayla briefly, and her eyes quickly returned to a steamy love scene.

            “What’s up?”

            “Nothing,” Shayla said.  “I see you’re up bright and early, reading your bible.”

            “It is a good book,” Lisa said and snickered.   She lie on her stomach with her legs bent behind her.  Her colorful toe socks kicked the air casually.  Lisa was attractive, but she was Shayla’s opposite in many ways.  She was half a foot shorter and a lot smaller.  She could still fit into a size zero.

            Lisa’s skin was fair like coffee with two dashes of milk.  She had short hair and large eyes and a wide smile that could barely contain a perfect set of choppers that were a little too big for her face.  Everyone who loved her commented on how beautiful Lisa’s smile was.  Her opponents loved to call her “Big Mouth,” which was mean, but not as bad as “Crocodile;” the moniker she endured in the third grade.

            “What you getting dressed for?” Lisa asked, noticing Shayla’s makeup.

            “I’m going to church today.  You’re coming with me, right?”

            “Hell no.”

            “Come on.”

            Lisa rolled her eyes.  “I don’t wanna.”

            “Do it for Jesus.”

            “He never did nothing for me.”

            Shayla chuckled.  “It’s a new church.”

            “Where at?”

            “Alvarado.”

            Lisa’s frown intensified.  “Hell no, Shay!  I don’t wanna go to no Alvarado!”

            “Come on,” Shayla said.  “You can bring your book with you and pretend it’s a bible.”

            “Those country-ass churches are the worst.”

            “I’ll take you to lunch afterwards.”

            “Why you going?” Lisa asked.  “Who’s acting a fool over there?”

            “Joseph Youngblood, the head usher.”

            “An usher?  Come on, man.  That’s not even worth it.”

            “It’s worth it to my friend,” Shayla said.  “She says he’s real blatant.  I wanna see for myself.”

            “How many times are you going?” Lisa wondered.  “I’ll go today, but that’s it.  I don’t like those hick towns.  They make me feel like I’m stuck in Children of the Corn.  I be waiting for Malachi to show up with his eyes glowing and shit.”

            Shayla laughed.  “It won’t be that bad.”

            “They probably got a blind organ player,” Lisa guessed.  “And at least one choir member with special needs – and he sings the loudest.”

            “Girl, stop,” Shayla said, laughing.  She turned and exited the room.  “We’re leaving in forty minutes.”

            I still don’t wanna go,” Lisa grumbled.  She threw a pillow that bounced off the doorframe.

            Shayla continued down the hallway until she reached her sister’s room.  Carla had her television tuned in to gospel music.  She emerged from the closet in her typical Sunday morning gear: a knee length skirt, an unflattering blouse, skin-tone stockings and black pumps.  She had her hair pulled back in a ponytail.

            She looked her sister up and down and frowned.  “Good morning.”

            “Good morning,” Shayla replied.  “What’s that look for?”

            “What are you getting dressed for?” Carla wondered.  She went to her dresser and checked her hair in the large mirror affixed to it.  She didn’t wear makeup, but she found a pair of gold earrings that suited her.

            “I’m going to church,” Shayla said.  She took a seat on her sister’s bed and reached for Carla’s bible.  She opened it and flipped through the real good book, not surprised to see her sister’s scribbles on nearly every page.

            “Going to church where?” Carla asked, still looking at her mirror.

            “Alvarado,” Shayla said.  “Beth Eden, off 67.”

            Carla secured her earrings and turned to face her big sister.  “What are you going over there for?”

            “Same old, same old,” Shayla replied.

            “You gonna sleep with him?” Carla asked.

            “I don’t do that anymore.  At least I try not to.”

            “Who told you about this one?” Carla asked.  She leaned with her butt against the dresser.  She folded her arms over her stomach and looked down at her sister.

            Shayla put the bible down and rose to her feet.  Subconsciously, she didn’t like to be in a position of inferiority.  “Donna.”

            “Who’s Donna?”

            “One of my sorority sisters.  I don’t think you know her.”

            “She called you out of the blue and said you had to come to her church to take care of their problem?  Couldn’t nooobody else do it?”

            “She knows I’ve done it before,” Shayla explained.  “She asked if I could check him out.  And I talk to her all the time.  It’s not out of the blue.”  She chuckled.

            Carla shook her head and turned back to her mirror.

            “You gotta trip every time?” Shayla wondered.

            “I just don’t see why you can’t come with me to Daddy’s church, if you’re going to church anyway…”

            “You know I’m not going to Daddy’s church.”

            Carla turned back to her.  “It’s not like you really going to church anyway, Shay.  Your body may be there, but your head’s somewhere totally different.  You starting to act like Lisa.  Do you even believe in God anymore?”

            Shayla laughed, but her sister was serious.

            “Of course I believe in God.  I believe in Jesus and Moses too.”

            “It’s not funny.”

            “Okay, it’s not funny.”  Shayla straightened her face.  “But what this guy’s doing at Beth Eden isn’t funny either.  He’s got a wife and six kids.  Six kids, Carla.  His wife’s fat, and he thinks he’s the smoothest thing alive.  Everybody at the church knows what’s going on – except his wife.”

            “Why can’t somebody else tell her?”

            “They tried,” Shayla insisted.  “But they never have enough proof.  He keeps talking his way out of it.  Even the pastor told some of the women to leave him alone and stop spreading rumors.  After that, this dude got even more bold.  It’s disgusting, Carla.  You should hear the way Donna tells it.”

            “And you’re drawn to it,” Carla said knowingly.  “You don’t just wanna help them, you wanna get all in the mix.  You love it.  You can’t get enough.”

            Shayla opened her mouth and then closed it because her sister was dead on. 

            “Well, at least I do something about it,” she said at length, “instead of just watching and talking behind people’s back, like everybody else does.”

            “You think God respects what you do?” Carla jabbed.  “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

            “I think it’s too early to argue with you,” Shayla said, shaking her head.  “I mean, damn, girl.  Can’t I say good morning to you without getting this speech?”

            Carla loosened up.  She smiled out of the corner of her mouth.  “Good morning, Shay.”
“Good morning!” Shayla said.  “Is Jimmy going to church with you?”

            Her sister’s smile intensified.  Her boyfriend of two years was a bright spot in her life.  “Yeah, he’ll be here in a minute.”

            “How’s it going with you born-again virgins?” Shayla asked.  “Still standing strong?”

            “We be having temptations,” Carla admitted.  “But we haven’t done nothing.”

            “If I was you, I would’ve ran off to Vegas by now to hurry up and get the marriage over with.”

            “I ain’t gon’ lie, I do feel like that sometimes.  But we only got three months to go.  We can make it.”

            Shayla shook her head.  When Carla and Jimmy first met, they were humping like rabbits.  Shayla expected a niece or a nephew to be conceived any minute.  But Carla started taking Jimmy to church with her, and somehow their father convinced them to become “born-again” virgins and abstain until they were properly married.

            Carla surprised everyone by accepting the challenge with minimal heartache.  Shayla was surprised to hear Jimmy went along with it as well.  It had been seven months since the last time he got his rocks off (with a girl in the room).

            “I need to finish getting ready,” Shayla said and headed for the door.  “Tell Daddy I said ‘Hi’.”

            “I’m sure he’d like it more if you told him yourself.”

            Shayla kept walking.  No way was she getting dragged into that fight again. 

            “Just tell him,” she said.  “You know, if I could go one week without arguing with you on Sunday morning, I’d take a purity pledge my damned self.”

            “Really?”  Carla’s face lit up.  “That would be cool, Shay!  I got these books you can check out, and...”  she trailed off, and her expression changed.  “You not gon’ take no purity pledge.”

            Shayla looked back and laughed.  “No, I’m not.  But have fun with yours.”

            “I am having fun,” Carla snapped.

            “That’s great,” Shayla said.  “Enjoy yourself.”

            “I do enjoy myself.”

            “Could both of y’all shut the hell up?” Lisa yelled into the hallway.  “I’m trying to masturbate in here!”

            Carla’s eyes flashed open wide.  She brought a hand over her mouth and backed into her room.

            Shayla laughed and continued down the hallway with her eyes averted, not daring to see if Lisa was telling the truth or not.

 

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© Keith Thomas Walker
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