Authors: Carl Weber
“Now listen to me, Darnel,” I said as I made the switch into his bloody pants and shoes. “This is what I want you to do. Get out of here, go home, and take a good shower; then drive down to your mother’s. Before you get to her house, take the car to a detailing place and have it cleaned from top to bottom. Whatever you do, don’t tell anyone what went on here. Ever.”
He nodded but said nothing. I could only hope that he was comprehending everything I said to him. His freedom would depend on it.
“I want you to go on and live a good life. Make me
proud of you. Fall in love with the right woman and have yourself some babies. Tell your mother I’m sorry and that I love her very much.”
“Dad, are you—”
“Yes, I’m sure. This is the only way. Now get out of here.”
Darnel stepped toward me, and although I longed to hug my son one more time, I backed away. “Don’t touch me. I don’t want any blood on your clothes.”
“I love you, Dad,” he cried, and those words meant everything to me.
“I love you, too, son. I always have.”
“You don’t have to do this,” he tried one more time.
“Yes, I do. You would do the same for your son.” I tried to smile as I motioned for him to leave. “I love you. Now get the hell out of here and make me proud.”
With that, Darnel walked out. I didn’t move until I saw him get in his car and drive away.
I made a final sweep through the apartment to be sure all evidence of Darnel’s presence was erased. I was wearing Darnel’s shoes, but just to be safe, I trampled over the bloody footprint I found until it was nothing but a red smear. I wiped all the surfaces in the apartment—doorknobs, furniture, countertops, and window-sills—any place Darnel might have touched. Back in the bedroom, I picked up the knife and wiped Darnel’s fingerprints off of it; then, fighting back the nausea, I laid my hand in a pool of blood to place my own bloody prints on the knife.
Next, I delicately lifted Keisha’s nude body and wrapped it in the Oriental rug that lay on the bedroom floor. I wanted the police to think I had tried to hide my crime at first. The more guilty I looked, the less likely they would be to do a thorough crime scene investigation.
Last, I said a quick prayer. “Lord, please help me pull this off. Let my son go on and live a good life. I’ve had a good life, and I thank you, Lord. I just need you to help me one more time.”
Satisfied, I picked up the phone and dialed 911. An operator answered.
“Emergency operator. How may I help you?”
I took a deep, calming breath before I spoke. “My name is James Black. I’ve just murdered two people.”
My son was safe and his life would go on. I had no regrets. I was at peace.
Carl Weber takes readers back to church with
THE CHOIR DIRECTOR
Coming in February 2011 from Dafina Books
I stepped off the elevator and onto the third-floor hospice unit of Jamaica Hospital, holding my wife’s hand. As Monique and I walked down the hall, I recognized the pungent odor of medical disinfectant. It didn’t matter what hospice I visited; the smell was always the same, and it seemed to embed itself in my nostrils. I hated it because it always reminded me of the imminent deaths of the people in the rooms around me. Oh, I learned to tolerate it over the years, especially since visiting people in their last days was part of the job of being pastor of First Jamaica Ministries, the largest church in Queens, New York. But today’s visit wasn’t to just any old parishioner on their deathbed. No, today’s visit was with my best friend, James Black, who was dying of cancer.
“T. K., Monique, get your behinds in here,” James coughed out when he saw us standing in the entrance to his room.
Despite his condition, it was obvious he was glad to see us. As we entered the room, Monique’s grip tightened around my hand as she struggled to hold back her surprise at just how bad James looked. I had tried to
prepare my wife before we arrived, but words couldn’t describe how badly my good friend had deteriorated.
This was the first time Monique had seen him since he pled guilty to murder charges a little over a year ago. I still couldn’t believe he’d gone to jail for a crime he hadn’t even committed. He’d been given a twenty-year sentence, but I pulled some strings after a recent visit when I heard his prognosis, and he was released for medical reasons. The cancer had taken a vibrant, six-foot-tall, two-hundred-pound man and virtually turned him into a talking skeleton. Even more unbelievable was the fact that his hair was completely white. He seemed to have aged twenty years in a year’s time.
It didn’t take my wife long to gather her composure. In a matter of seconds, she leaned in and wrapped her arms around James to give him a kiss on the cheek. She shot me a pointed look when she spotted a picture of his two grown children sitting on the night table beside his bed. Monique hated the idea that his daughter and son were both missing in action and hadn’t come to see their father once since his arrest. I couldn’t say I blamed her, but I knew a little more about the situation than she did. I ’d made a promise to James not to share what I knew, even with her.
“So, Monique, how are you?” James asked as she took a seat in the chair beside his bed. “You’re looking good as ever.” He turned his head toward me and winked. “No offense, old friend, but your wife just gets finer and you get older.”
“None taken.” I chuckled. “I think she looks pretty good myself. That’s why I married her, remember? And as far as getting old, well, I’m like a bottle of wine. I get better with time.”
“Mmph, you sure do, honey.” Monique gave me a
smile, then turned her attention back to James. “To answer your question, I’m doing fine. What about you? How you doing? You look good.”
James laughed. “Girl, I swear, you have fit right into that first lady’s role, haven’t you?”
I watched my beautiful wife blush.
James spoke gently to her. “Now, I know I look like crap, so you don’t have to lie to me, Mo.” He sighed. “I know my best days are behind me. I’ve made my peace with that a long time ago. I’m ready to die.”
“Who said anything about you dying? You’re probably going to outlive us all, you old coot.” I was trying to break up the mood in a way only a true friend could do.
“If I do live that long, it’s only to be a pain in your ass, T. K.,” he joked, forcing himself to sit up. My wife helped him by propping a pillow behind his neck. “But seriously, I’m tired and I’m ready to go home. I just hope the Lord’s willing to let me in the door.”
I hated to hear him say things like that, so I tried to offer him some encouragement. “I don’t think you have to worry about that, James. I think you’ve sacrificed enough, don’t you? The Lord—”
James shot me a glance that basically said,
Let’s not go there.
I nodded my head out of respect for his condition and his feelings, but that didn’t mean I had to like it. That man had sacrificed his entire life for the love of his family and had been willing to die in a jail cell because of it.
James quickly changed the subject. “So, Mo, how about him? He taking care of you the way he’s supposed to?”
She reached out to take my hand as she answered him. “I couldn’t have asked for a better man. I couldn’t have asked for a better life.”
“That’s what I like to hear.” James nodded his approval. “Are those wenches in the church treating you all right? They’re not trying to run over you, are they? ’Cause all you have to do is kick one of them in the ass and the rest will fall right in line,” he said with a laugh.
“Oh, you don’t have to worry about that. I’ve got them right where I want them.” Monique and I had had a rocky start to our relationship, because certain members of the church—mostly female—thought her rumored past was too dicey for her to be considered a candidate for the role of first lady after my first wife died. She was strong, though, and had withstood the storm. Now she was well respected and loved by most church members. Even those who had been adamantly against our marriage knew enough to treat her cordially now, and they kept their opinions to themselves.
“Besides,” she continued, “we have bigger problems than that at the church. With—” She stopped when I squeezed her hand, signaling for her to shut up, but it was too late. James’s body might have been failing him, but his mind was still sharp as ever.
He sat up straight as a board, ignoring the pain. There were three things James loved most in this world: his two children and our church. He knew the ins and outs of church politics like nobody’s business. He’d been both a deacon and a member of the board of trustees just as long as I ’d been pastor, and we made quite a formidable team. But now, with him being sick, I didn’t have the heart to tell him what we had built together over the years was crumbling.
“What’s going on at the church, T. K.?” He was staring directly at me, and his eyes did not budge from my face.
“It’s nothing, James, seriously. I can handle it.” I glanced down at my wife, who was trying to apologize
with her eyes. I loved her to death, but just this once I wished she would have kept her big mouth shut.
When I turned back to James, he was still staring at me, waiting for an answer.
“What, do I look stupid? If it was nothing, you would have told me by now. Now, spill it. I wanna know what’s going on at my church.”
He was still claiming ownership in our church, despite the fact that most of our members had turned their backs on him when he was arrested for murder. If they only knew how selfless he really was.
I began to pace back and forth in front of his bed. “James, you’ve got other things to worry about. You don’t need this nonsense. You need to concentrate on your health.”
“Dammit, T. K. I’m dying. The only thing I got left is that church. Now, are you going to tell me what’s going on, or do I have to make some calls and find out myself?”
“Tell him, honey,” Monique prodded. “You two have always worked well together. Maybe he can help.”
“Thank you, Mo,” James said matter-of-factly.
I paced for a short while before I finally sat down next to my wife and looked at my friend, ready to tell him the truth. “The church is in trouble financially. We’re down about thirty-five percent in attendance and almost forty-two percent in revenue. The board’s already voted to close down the school next year.”
“What? I built that school,” he said angrily. “We had plenty of money put aside in the school fund before I went to jail.”
“Priorities changed when you left, James. I tried to keep things simple, but Trustee Wilcox was voted chairman, and he pushed to have money averted to the building of a new senior center.” I could see James running
the numbers through his head. He’d always been good with figures, which was why he’d been elected chairman of the board of trustees despite his reputation as a womanizer.
“You gotta be kidding me. What’s he trying to do, bankrupt the church?”
“In his defense, things were going pretty well until attendance dropped.”
“Why did attendance drop?” he asked. “What happened that pissed everybody off? People don’t just stop going to church.”
“They do when the choir director’s trying to sleep with their husbands and sons.” Monique was trying to hold back a laugh. The situation definitely wasn’t funny, but just like plenty of other people, my wife had a weakness for gossip.
“Oh Lord, it was Jackie, wasn’t it?” James asked with a frown. I nodded. “I told you we needed to get rid of that SOB years ago, T. K.”
“Yeah, you did.” There was nothing I hated more than listening to one of James’s I-told-you-so lectures. “I just wish I had listened to you. That man’s wife has got the whole congregation in an uproar.”
“What’s going on?” James asked, though I was sure he already understood the basic facts of the situation.
“His wife found his journal. Turns out all those rumors about him were true,” I admitted. “And she didn’t waste any time spreading the news either.”
Jackie had been our choir director for almost seven years. He was married to one of the deaconesses, but for years, there had been rumors about him having homosexual affairs with members of the congregation and choir. When his wife discovered the journal he kept, detailing all of the affairs, she gave copies to the
wives of the ten men whose sexual escapades were included in the pages.
I felt badly for his wife, and part of me could understand why she reacted the way she did. You can imagine how devastating the discovery must have been for her, and, well, misery does love company. Unfortunately, her coping method left me with a huge problem on my hands. Word spread quickly, and within two weeks, the entire choir disbanded, even though Jackie had already been fired and was no longer attending the church. My wife and I have been trying to put it back together to no avail. I never knew how hard a choir director’s job was until then.
“Now no one is willing to be a part of the choir,” I said as I finished summing up the turmoil we’d been struggling with. “Now, I’m a heck of a preacher if I do say so myself, James, but nothing goes better with the Word than song and music. Our choir has always been a cornerstone of our church. Matter of fact, wasn’t it you who once told me that half the people in pews on Sunday were there to hear the choir?”
“Yeah, I guess I did say that, didn’t I?”
“Well, from where I’m sitting, you’re sounding more and more like a prophet.”
“Man, I can’t believe something like this could take down the church.”
“Neither could I. It’s like a perfect storm. To make matters even worse, there’s a rumor that there’s another more recent journal that still has yet to be revealed, and it has everyone with a husband scared to death. To be honest, I don’t know what we’re gonna do.”
“I know what we have to do, honey,” my wife interrupted. “We have to hire a choir director. But not just any old choir director. We need someone young, someone
so talented and so charismatic that he can put together a choir that will blow the roof off the church. This choir has to be so good that everyone in the borough of Queens will be fighting for a good seat in the pews just to hear them sing.”