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Authors: Lynn Emery

Smooth Operator

BOOK: Smooth Operator
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2013 © Lynn Emery

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Lagniappe” - A little
something extra

 

 

On a sunny Thursday afternoon in June,
Charmaine sat across from her newest “client” and stared back at
her. A small air conditioner worked to keep the humid New Orleans
heat at bay. All the bad vibes from this woman made Charmaine feel
claustrophobic, as though her usually pleasant home office was
stuffed with greasy smog. From the top of her flaming red hair to
the tips of her gaudy rhinestone encrusted acrylic fingernails,
Kiesha Front screamed “gold digger”.

Keisha got up and started making a circle of
the room examining the decor. She started by reading framed degrees
and certifications on the wall. Charmaine proudly displayed her
diplomas. She loved being a therapist with a little something
extra, psychic ability. Her gift of sight gave her a rare insight
into her clients. She’d had terrific success helping them find the
source of their pain and recover. Others she’d helped avoid dangers
creeping toward them from the past. Despite her attempts to keep
that part of her practice discreet, the word got out.

For the past year most who came to her
wanted more of the supernatural help than therapy. Most couldn’t
pay much. Charmaine’s professional reputation among her more
conventional colleagues had suffered. Referrals from local
psychiatrists and other counselors dried up. Three insurance
companies removed her from their provider networks. Charmaine had
had to supplement her income with part-time jobs for the past two
years, including a stint working at a local dollar store. And now
this.

“Impressive credentials,” Keisha said as she
leaned closer to stare at one document. “You’ve re-invented
yourself since we were kids in the projects.”

“So have you I see,” Charmaine said in a dry
tone. She remembered Kiesha from high school, though she’d been a
year behind Charmaine. Keisha had always been determined to get
attention and get ahead.

Keisha gave a short laugh.
“Yeah, you could say that.” Then she turned and read out loud from
another framed document. “So you’re a ‘
Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist
’.
Bet that comes in handy.”

“It does at times,” Charmaine replied.

“Don’t think you can try it on me. I’m
resistant to that kinda mess,” Keisha said, tossing the words over
her shoulder without looking at Charmaine.

“Would you like a glass of sweet tea?”
Charmaine asked.

“See, that’s what I mean. You start off with
a simple request. Nothing important, but you establish a connection
and start a chain of me doing what you suggest.” Keisha came to a
decorative mirror on another wall. She gazed at her make-up, patted
her hair and turned to Charmaine. “No, I don’t want tea. Can’t
stand the stuff.”

“I offer everyone some form of refreshment.
Maybe you’d like…”

“I’m fine, Ms. Joliet. Hmm, that sounds too
formal. I’ll call you Charmaine,” Keisha said and smiled. “Nice how
you turned this addition your mama used as a beauty shop into your
office.”

Charmaine smiled back at her. “Thank you.
And of course you can call me Charmaine. You’re right. No need for
formality.”

Keisha raised an eyebrow. She strolled back
to the chair facing Charmaine’s desk, sat down and crossed her
shapely brown legs. “You’re good, but it still won’t work. Look,
I’ve done my homework on you. I have… friends who specialized in...
Let’s just call it research.”

“Research, right.” Charmaine folded her
arms.

“Okay, don’t get an attitude. This proposal
can do good things for both of us,” Keisha said. She sighed and
uncrossed her legs. “My husband has a lot of money. He’s as mean as
a bucket of rattlesnakes, and he has lots of enemies. You need
money, and you have skills and experience in making a man...
disappear. I’ll keep your secret, pay you money and you’ll have
something on me.”

“So we’ll both have to keep our mouths
shut,” Charmaine added and clenched her teeth.

“Exactly.” Keisha nodded with
satisfaction.

“Why shouldn’t I just go to the police? You
don’t have proof that I made anyone ‘disappear’ as you put it. Or I
could go to your hubby and tell him of your sincere desire to get
rid of him,” Charmaine shot back.

Keisha’s expression hardened. “You don’t
really want to put your dear, emotionally fragile baby sister
through the stress. She’s had a few issues since that ugly incident
back when you were kids, hasn’t she? Poor little Jessica. In the
past two years alone she’s been arrested twice for soliciting,
three times for possession of weed, three times for assaulting her
male customers. One might even wonder if she’s about to become a
female serial killer. Girlfriend has some serious anger
issues.”

Every hair on Charmaine’s body stood at
attention. A prickle of fear mixed with loathing shot through her.
“Don’t threaten my sister.”

“We don’t have to be enemies. You two had it
hard growing up. I’ve been there, girl. I’m like you, Charmaine; a
survivor. I learned to use men for what I want, instead always
being used by them,” Keisha said with a grimace.

“No, you’re not like me. And you’re damn
sure not going to be my friend coming in here trying to blackmail
me into killing your rich husband,” Charmaine hissed.

Kiesha stood and looped her expensive gold
metallic leather purse over the crook of once arm. She actually
almost looked elegant, minus the hair and fingernails. “Jessica is
in trouble again. She’s going to need a good lawyer.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”
Charmaine gripped the imitation leather covering the arms of her
cheap office chair.

“Call her hooker pal Diamond if you don’t
believe me. You haven’t talked to Jessica in three days. That’s
because she’s in the Orleans Parish lock-up, sweetie. She knifed a
guy over drugs or something.” Keisha picked up a small note pad
from Charmaine’s desk. She wrote down a phone number and held out
the pad. When Charmaine didn’t take it, Keisha tossed it onto the
desk. “Call me when you’re ready to talk.”

“You’re lying,” Charmaine said trying not to
panic. Dread washed over her like bone chilling water on her
skin.

“You already know I’m not. Go help your
sister. I can give you the bail money as part of your payment. We
both know she won’t do well in a jail cell,” Keisha replied. She
put on designer sunglasses and walked out.

Shaking, Charmaine went to the office door
leading to the outside and slammed home both deadbolts. She went
back to her phone to call the parish jail. Then she stopped and put
down the cordless handset. Charmaine’s second sight, the gift that
was both a blessing and a curse told her that Keisha, aka Mrs.
James LeLand Front, had not lied. Jessi needed to be rescued.
Again.

 

 

****

 

Club Mellow lived up to its name and then
some. No loud music or rowdy patrons allowed. Saturday night at
seven thirty Charmaine sat in a booth with seats upholstered in
real leather the color of red wine. She was drinking whiskey. Her
good friend Scotty stood behind the bar. Scotty, Jessi and
Charmaine; they’d been family for over fifteen years. Their bond
had been forged on the street, three homeless kids living hard to
escape hell at home. When he turned eighteen Scotty joined the
Army. He’d been Special Forces, skills he brought back to the
street after serving for six years.

Despite being the owner of the club and
three other thriving businesses in Orleans Parish, Scotty still
liked playing bartender from time to time. At six feet four and
with muscles all over, he could also be the bouncer. One of several
professions he’d had in his murky past. But his formidable presence
wasn’t the reason Club Mellow was so peaceful. The clientele kept
it that way. They needed a discreet safe harbor to meet like-minded
people. Upscale hook-ups is how Jessi sarcastically described it.
Singles and couples retreated to the softly light elegant club to
live out their fantasies.

Charmaine came to ease the sexual tension
that gnawed at her when she felt threatened, lonely or stressed. A
psychologist had helped Charmaine understand that her
hyper-sexuality resulted from years of sexual abuse. She and
Jessica had suffered at the hands of their two successive
step-fathers. They’d come to associate sex with all emotions.

For Jessi, sex became a means to an end; a
way to be in control. Of course the sense of control wasn’t real.
It only lasted the few hours she spent servicing her clients; tying
up men or women, ordering them to surrender to Jessi’s every whim
until they screamed in ecstasy. Then she plunged back into a dark
place that only drugs could banish.

All this insight came from six years of
therapy for Charmaine. Dr. Lance told her that one day she’d accept
true intimacy and love, and then she wouldn’t need Club Mellow.
Charmaine knew differently. Unlike Jessi, Charmaine loved sex. The
physical pleasure of being with someone as an adult and by her own
choosing was Charmaine’s drug. Charmaine didn’t have all of the
answers. She didn’t need them. Her life worked for her. Mostly.

Scotty strolled over to Charmaine’s booth
after his employee, the real bartender, took over. He held two
short tumblers with dark gold liquid in each hand. He plunked one
down on the table in front of Charmaine’s almost empty glass. Then
he eased his tall frame onto the leather seat across from her, took
a swig from his own tumbler and sighed.

“Hello Charming Charmaine,” Scotty rumbled
in his basso voice and winked at her.

She finished off the last bit of whiskey in
one tumbler and picked up the full one. “Beam me up, Scotty.”
Charmaine took a sip and let the whiskey tickle down the back of
her throat.

“Jim Beam,” Scotty said completing the old
joke they shared.

They shared a companionable silence for
another ten minutes, watching couples and some threesomes get
acquainted. Everyone chatted as though they were just out with
friends. Soft laughter and conversation floated around the room.
Smooth jazz mixed with R&B tunes played over the sound system.
Through an archway was another room with a dance floor and a stage
raised a foot higher. The regular Saturday night band would start
to play at nine o’clock. Scotty and Charmaine exchanged a few
sentences of small talk the way southerners did before getting down
to business.

“So was I right?” Charmaine asked and
studied Scotty.

“On target. Keisha is a grifter, a con
artist who hit it big time when she married James LeLand Front, an
older man with money. Good money, too,” Scotty said. He raised his
glass in a mock salute. “Go on with yo bad self, Miss K.”

“How good?” Charmaine asked.

“He sold his packaging business in 1983 for
a cool ten million to a Fortune 500 company. At thirty-five he was
too young to just put his feet up. Dude started a high tech company
three years later. Four years later he sold that company for one
hundred million. Set his four kids up and did consulting. He had a
heart attack and a stroke in 2006. Divorced his fourth wife in 2009
when he met the lovely Keisha Grant.”

“I knew from the way she talked to me that
first day that Keisha had been in the game. She summed up the ways
of a player and jail house philosophy without missing a beat,”
Charmaine replied.

Scotty nodded. “She’s served time, but I see
you figured that one out. Keisha hasn’t been able to drop her
ghetto so easy. She didn’t blend with polite society as she’d
hoped.”

Charmaine snorted. “Once a hood rat, always
a hood rat; at least for some.”

She was about to go on when a tall, fine
looking man with skin like caramel candy walked into the barroom.
Her body hummed, and not just from the psychic vibes. He wore a
short-sleeved olive green cotton knit top that clung to his muscled
chest. Dark khaki denim slacks hugged his narrow waist and molded
to his thick thighs.

BOOK: Smooth Operator
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