Authors: Carl Weber
“Sandra, I’m going to be fine. And if you and I are destined to be married someday, then yeah, I’ll be there,” I said, trying to sound lighthearted.
She, on the other hand, was completely serious when she said, “So why don’t we just do it, then?”
“Let’s go down to City Hall and get married tomorrow.”
“Are you serious? You wanna get married tomorrow?”
“Yes. It’s the only way.”
“The only way for what?”
“For you to protect me.”
This conversation was becoming harder to understand by the second. I moved her off my lap so I could stand up. I paced across the floor of my study and asked, “What do you need me to protect you from?”
“Your children.” She stated it like the answer was obvious. “You saw what happened to James Brown’s girlfriend, how she got thrown out of the house and now she’s fighting to get what should have been hers. If he loved her, he should have married her.”
I stopped pacing and stared at Sandra, who suddenly didn’t seem like the woman I thought she was. “What are you trying to say, Sandra? How is our situation anything at all like James Brown’s?”
“James, death brings out the worst in people. And Jamie already hates me. If we’re married, then I don’t have to fight with her.”
“Fight with her about what?” I asked, though it was starting to become clear to me what she was implying.
“You don’t want me to have to fight to get control of your money, do you? If we’re married, then Jamie and Darnel can’t try to cut me out. And while you’re at it”—she pointed toward the folder full of papers I ’d been trying to hide from her—“we should change the beneficiaries on your insurance policies and your retirement accounts.”
“What do you know about my insurance policies?”
“Well, to be honest, I did a little snooping.”
I had to struggle to keep myself from yelling at her. She had crossed way over the line, and I was getting this sick feeling that Jamie might have been more correct about her than I ever imagined.
“You had no right to go through my papers, Sandra.”
“Oh, don’t be silly,” she said. “I just came across them by accident. It’s not like I went looking for them or anything.”
“You just came across them by accident? What were you doing in my desk in the first place?” Now I was yelling, and it started a coughing fit.
“Honey, calm down before you cough up a lung. It’s not a big deal, you know. I mean, let’s be real. With your history, can you blame me for wanting to look through your stuff? You know, to check out credit card receipts and phone bills, stuff like that. I just happened to find the statements, and I got to thinking …”
The truth hit me like an elephant on my chest, and suddenly it was hard to breathe. Jamie had been one hundred percent right about Sandra. How could I not have seen it?
“Why are you looking at me like that?” she asked, hands on her hips and plenty of attitude in her voice.
“James, don’t trip. As many women as you messed with, I would have been a fool not to snoop around.”
“This is all about money to you,” I said when I caught my breath. “You’re worried that I might die and you won’t get what you worked so hard for.”
“That’s not how I meant it,” she said, though not very convincingly.
“Really? How did you mean it, then? No, you know what? It doesn’t matter how you meant it, ’cause when I die, everything I got belongs to my kids. And not you or anyone else is going to change that.”
“Ding dong, the witch is dead. The wicked witch …” I was singing the old
Wizard of Oz
song as I cleaned Daddy’s room. I still didn’t know all the details, but when I got home from Darnel’s this morning, Sandra was gone and so were all her things. Yes, sir, the witch was dead, and I for one couldn’t have been happier.
I had spent the day scrubbing the house from top to bottom, and now that it was nearly dark, I was putting the finishing touches on Daddy’s room to get rid of any last remnants of Sandra’s presence.
I moved into my room, where I stripped the bed. I was about to put on the tired old flannel sheets I ’d been using ever since I moved back in, but then I thought it would be nice to have the brand-new sheets and matching comforter I ’d left at Louis’s house. Actually, it would have been nice to have all of my stuff back. The day I moved out, I was in a huff and just packed a couple of suitcases. I never really expected to be gone but a few days. I was only trying to scare Louis into understanding just what he would be missing. But when I got home and Daddy told me about seeing him with the blonde and Darnel reminded me of seeing him in the
city, my mind had been made up for good—at least until Agent Ford showed up at my door.
I sat and pondered my situation. What should I do? Should I just go over there and get my things? Honestly, I didn’t even know what was still there. For all I knew, the federal agents had emptied the place by now.
I couldn’t call Louis to find out, because I ’d already been warned that making contact with him was too risky. When I left him at the hotel, it was with the understanding that Agent Ford would contact me when they were ready to move Louis. Until then, there was no way for me to get in touch with him without putting him in danger. I wasn’t necessarily convinced that it would be all that dangerous for me. After all, I hadn’t given that woman in Detroit my name or address or anything. But I wasn’t about to piss off some federal agents by disobeying their instructions. I would stay away from Louis for the time being.
As I made a list in my head of all the things I ’d left over there, I realized it was more than I originally thought. There were some really great shoes I wanted back and a few pieces of jewelry that, although they weren’t expensive, were some of my favorites. And, more importantly, I ’d left behind my photo albums. Now that I ’d decided to stay with Daddy, I knew that I might never see Louis again. Those albums would be the only memories of Louis I ’d have left.
I decided to go back to the house to get my things. The agents had told me not to call Louis and not to go back to the hotel without permission, but no one had specifically told me to stay away from the house we’d lived in together. What could it hurt? I grabbed my purse and headed out.
On the drive to Louis’s house, I decided it might be
wise to tell Agent Ford where I was going. It was possible the feds were watching the place, and I didn’t want to show up there unannounced and have some agent putting me in handcuffs or something. I pulled out Agent Ford’s card and dialed the number. She wasn’t in, so I left a message.
I pulled up to the house, and the sight of it made me feel like crying. When Louis and I were living here, he used to always leave the porch light on for me; now the whole place was dark. I headed inside, tossed my purse on the couch, and immediately turned on all the lights as I passed through each room.
Every place I looked held a memory of my time here with Louis, but it felt so different now. The house had an echo that gave me a slight chill, and the air was stale. It used to smell like Louis’s cologne, but now there was a faint odor, like unwashed clothes or something. I wanted to hurry up and gather my things so I could get out of there.
I walked into our bedroom to start packing up the rest of my clothes, but suddenly the lights went out. It startled me, but I figured it was just an issue with the circuit breaker. We’d always had problems with the electricity, because the house was older. When too many things were on at once, it tripped one of the circuits, and we’d have to turn it back on at the fuse box. Louis had taught me how to do it, so I left the bedroom and headed toward the basement.
I felt my way down the hallway and found the basement door. I went down the stairs slowly, holding on to the banister and trying not to let the whole situation freak me out. I ’d done this plenty of times before, I told myself. Nothing to be scared of.
The fuse box was all the way on the opposite side of
the basement, so I placed my hand against the wall and started making my way across the room, praying I didn’t run into any spiderwebs. My heart was pounding by the time I reached the box, but my nervousness was nothing compared to the fear that gripped me when I heard a loud crash and glass shattering upstairs. I froze.
“I can’t see anything! It’s too damn dark in here.”
“Just shut up and find her. That’s her car out front, so she’s gotta be in here. Tear this motherfucker up if you have to.”
My heart leaped into my throat as I listened to the sounds of feet moving around in the house above me. Whoever was up there was pulling the place apart. I felt my way through the darkness until I found the stairwell. I opened the door to the small crawl space under the steps and climbed in, softly closing the door behind me.
I sat under those steps and started to cry. Why hadn’t I taken Agent Ford’s warning seriously? Now I was going to die in this house, and then who would be around to take care of Daddy? Darnel wouldn’t be able to handle it by himself, especially the way he’d been acting lately. Daddy needed a woman’s touch, and I was supposed to be the one to help him. Who would be there to help Daddy and Darnel?
Oh hell no, I decided in an instant. I ’d never been one to lie down and give up, and I wasn’t about to start now—not when my family needed me more than ever.
I pulled myself together, determined not to go down without a fight. My purse was upstairs on the couch, but my cell phone was clipped to my belt. I pulled it out and hit the SEND button to redial the last number I ’d called.
Agent Ford answered the phone on the second ring.
“I just heard your message. What the hell are you
thinking going back to that house?” she shouted into the phone as soon as she answered.
“I’m in the house,” I whispered, trying to hold back my tears. “Somebody’s upstairs.”
“Shit! Where are you, Jamie?”
“Under the basement steps, but they’re tearing the place apart. They’re gonna find me down here.” I started to sob.
“Okay, Jamie, keep it together. Stay where you are. We’ll have someone out there in the next five minutes. Do not move, you hear me?”
“Tell them to hurry.”
Agent Ford disconnected the call. I shut my phone and started to pray.
Lord, please don’t let them find me. I don’t want to die. I’m too young to die.
I repeated the prayer over and over as I listened to the footsteps above, trying to decipher where the people were in the house. Finally, a voice came from directly above.
“Shit. I can’t see a damn thing. Go down to the basement and see if you can turn the lights on. This bitch is hiding in the dark, and I’m not leaving this place ’til I find her. She’s gonna tell us where Rashid is even if I have to cut every finger off her hand.”
A soft moan escaped my lips. I knew it was only a matter of minutes before they felt their way to the basement and found me hiding there. I started a new prayer.
God, please take care of Daddy and Darnel after I’m gone.
Tears flowed freely down my face as I prepared for my death.
And then I heard the sirens.
“Oh shit!” one of the intruders yelled. “Out the
back! Hurry up!” Again there was the sound of footsteps through the house, but this time, they were heading out.
There was a brief silence upstairs, and then I heard the front door crashing open. Now there were footsteps again, but I knew I was safe. I held my breath, trying to slow my racing heart.
Still too terrified to move, I stayed crouched under the stairs until things calmed down upstairs and I heard Agent Ford calling my name. I saw the glint of a flashlight at the bottom of the door where I was hidden.
“Jamie, it’s Agent Ford. You can come out now.”
I opened the door and stepped out. My legs wobbled like wilted celery. “Here I am.”
I was never more relieved to see another person in my life.
“Are you okay?”
I nodded, too overwhelmed to speak.
Agent Ford took my trembling hand and helped me out of the basement. “Take it slow,” she said, guiding me outside and into a waiting car.
The streets were lit up from the flashing lights of all the official cars patrolling the neighborhood and surrounding the house.
“That was a close call, Jamie,” Agent Ford said. I know she wanted to tell me how stupid I ’d been for going back to that house, but she didn’t need to. I would be beating myself up about it for the rest of my life. Daddy had always told me my stubborn streak would get me in trouble someday. I bet he never imagined how right he would turn out to be.
I was too dazed to comprehend all that was going on. “What happened?”
“They found out where Louis was living. It looks like they had the place staked out for a few days. Thank
goodness you had your cell phone on you. These are some dangerous people we’re dealing with.”
“Did they get away?”
She nodded, then told the driver to take us away from the neighborhood.
“Where are we going?” I asked, resting my head against the seat. I was suddenly exhausted.
“Do you have your purse with you?”
“No, I left my purse in the house.”
“We didn’t find a purse in there when we searched the place. Was your license in there?”
“Yes.” I turned to look at her with terror in my heart. “Does that mean—?”
“Yes, they know who you are. It’s not safe for you.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“Jamie, welcome to the Witness Protection Program.”
It had been two days since I ’d seen my oncologist, and I was still reeling from the news he’d given me. It was hard for me to believe, but the chemo and radiation weren’t working. My cancer was now Stage 3 and was spreading fast throughout my body. The doctor had given me less than a year to live, at best.
Strangely enough, I was all right with that, as long as the kids were okay. I was still young, but I ’d lived a rich life.
I ’d gotten all my papers in order—I’d even made sure Jamie’s share of my estate would be placed in a trust in case she ever needed it or ended up coming home. That was the part that really hurt me, the thought that I wouldn’t be able to say good-bye to Jamie. Agent Ford had explained to me that she had to go into the Witness Protection Program with Louis in order to save her life. The people who were after them were unforgiving and relentless, with no concern for human life.