Authors: Peter Mack
Stone Sweetwater's life had taken a turn that he did not anticipate. He’d accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior at a time when he was the most unlikely person on earth to do so.
Until that point he’d lived his life as a flocker. He robbed the rich and kept the goods for himself. He couldn’t do this alone. He relied on an exotic dancer, a good friend, named Candi. They’d gotten good bread together. Then she was found murdered and left behind a dumpster behind a Santa Monica apartment building.
This news came after a long and tragic day for his family. His brother Marcus, at the time California's most successful Century 21 real estate broker, was arrested for money laundering and fraud. Come to find out he had a secret house in West Hills that he'd taken Candi to for some devious sex acts.
Stone had robbed the house (not knowing it was his brother's secret spot with the body of his fugitive Irish crime partner freshly buried in the backyard) for several hundred thousand dollars in cash and a large Coach bag of good marijuana, which he promptly sold; he was already crazy enough without adding anything to the mix.
Upon finding out that Marcus was being arrested he went with his sister Lillian to her husband's office, then a high profile sports agent, to find him sexing another man on his desk. Lillian was shook, but Stone always knew that her husband was on the DL.
It was already nearly too much for Stone to handle. What he did succeed in doing was purchasing an apartment unit and agreeing to marry his longtime girlfriend, a virgin, who had yet to give in to his sexual demands; he tried to reason with her that engagement was just as good as getting married.
She was really trying his patience with this no-sex thing. There was only so much phone sex and head she could give him. She wouldn't even let him fuck her in the ass.
Stone heard the small feet tapping up the stairs before the big hazel eyes peered through the door at him. "Good morning uncle Stone," Serena called, her eight-year-old body poised to bounce across the hardwood floor and leap to join him in bed.
Stone pretended to be asleep, quickly pulling the heavy comforter over his wooly afro. Serena's giggles followed quickly, soon replaced by her playful hand and soft words. "You're not sleeping!" More laughter as she struggled to peel away the comforter.
"Is he up yet?" came the matronly voice of his mother. Stone could picture Mabel standing at the bottom of the narrow stairway with a spatula in her hand. He could smell the fresh blueberry pancakes she was preparing for breakfast.
"He's pretending to be asleep!" Serena giggled out just as Stone threw back the cover and grabbed her into his embrace.
Her shrieks filled the attic space he used for his room. It had always been this way. His mother had been constantly chided (by her two older children) to make the twenty- five year old Stone get his own place and grow up. What his older siblings, Marcus and Lillian, didn't understand was that he had more money and sense than both of them combined. And now he had the daughter of his dead friend to look after. It was for Serena that he was committed to finding Candi's killer. And the fact that she was a good friend.
"Is he up?" This was a new voice. Lillian. She would be in his room in a matter of seconds, Stone knew. After finding her husband sexing a man she'd moved back home. So much for being grown and on your own, Stone reasons as he assured Serena that he would be down soon, giving her instructions to head off Lillian and take her back downstairs.
Serena smiled mischievously, her hazel eyes glittering with her mission, as she bound from his cloying embrace. Two long silky auburn braids erupted from above her ears like thick ropes. They bounced across her shoulders joyously as she skipped across the large space.
Stone watched the buoyant girl skip across the hardwood floor and turn to him with that smile that reminded him so much of her deceased mother. He shooed her away to be about her mission, but it was too late. Lillian was at the top of the stairs, invading his private space with her look of wonder and amusement.
There was always something new to see when she entered his room. She'd seen the electronic money-counter in action and the six foot fireproof safe tucked into an alcove held money and treasuries easily worth several million dollars.
Serena looked back at Stone apologetically, questioning if she'd failed her mission.
"Make sure mama put just as many pancakes on my plate as you get," he said to free her of her guilt.
"Okay," Serena responded breathlessly with a child's glee before brushing by Lillian on her way to the narrow stairwell.
"Don't run Serena! Be careful before you fall!" Lillian called after her before turning to her younger brother. "And good morning to you too. What was all that about?" she asked.
Stone feigned ignorance, watching casually as his pecan complexioned sister sauntered to his bed. She was the lightest of the family, inheriting some obscure creole gene from generations back. She was also the most refined, affecting the mannerism of someone born to privilege, though hardly of the Sweetwater clan.
"Wassup sis," Stone said, feigning a renewed wariness as she plopped her thin frame onto the side of his bed. Her ass rocked against his leg. He moved them slightly so that she could have more room.
"Nothing," she breathed out as she scanned his room. There was a new picture of him hugging Coretta at Disney World in Orlando. They'd spent seven days and six nights there. "You really like her, hunh?" she asked, looking from the glass-top table to Stone.
Her hand came down to his chest with a playful slap. "Everything is just cool to you." She became pensive with this statement, her brow slightly furrowed in thought as she looked through the pyramid shaped window above his head. Outside a red chested bird navigated a high wire.
Fleeting thoughts passed through Stone’s mind. He had to piss, but wasn't ready to disturb the comfort he felt being near his sister; the social worker would come today to check on Serena; he had to stop by his apartment unit, Sweetwater Manor, to collect the rent; he had to contact Misty to help find Candi’s killer.
"Why is it that things come so easy to you?" Lillian wanted to know, lowering her eyes to the sedated, cool expression of her brother. His afro was smashed in on the side. She wanted to grab the afropick, with its clenched fist handle, and puff his hair out.
Stone shrugged. "Do the work earn the perks," he offered. Lillian smiled.
"Seriously, Stone… You've never worked a day in your life and I'm sure that some people would be glad to know where you are…"
Stone's eyes brightened with this last statement, bringing her thoughts to a halt. She knew her mistake immediately.
"Not like that. I mean… Here it is I went to college… Opened my own business and...” She lifted her dainty hands to the air in subtle frustration. She looked to Stone for an answer that didn't sound like it came from a pimp manual.
"We get what our hands call for," he replied. He didn't want to tell her that she was chasing waterfalls. She wanted a picture perfect life. She’d had a perfect looking husband, but she failed to look into his soul. There was a reason he didn't want children. There was a reason he spent more on facial products and hair care than she did. There was a reason he’d shaved his chest hair.
Lillian looked at him sharply with his reply. "Can't I just get a straight answer?"
Now he turned his head to her so that his eyes looked at her straight on. "I've been telling you the bizness since day one, but you wouldn't listen." This reached her. "You think I'm so cool, but if you meet someone like me on the bricks you wouldn't give them the time of day. You need to start looking beyond your perceptions." This last word got her attention.
"Any woman would be lucky to have you."
"That's cuz you know me. But if you saw me getting out my whip dressed in my gear with my afropick in my hair and the music slapping. You'd think I was a thug and wouldn't give me the time of day."
"Would you be interested in someone like me?" Lillian wanted to know, enjoying her brother's rare candidness.
Stone grinned mischievously before he answered, "You awright.” This noncommittal answer brought on another playful slap across his arms.
"Well, Coretta better be good to you or I’ma break her off." This was a rare show of ghetto lingo that brought a big smile to her fine face. "And get a prenup."
"She ain't like that," Stone assured her.
"I know her people got money and everything, but you got property now. She can get a monthly check and half of what’s in the bank if you stop liking her."
"You got one?"
"Nope. I wasn't having it,” she replied dramatically. "Now I’ma take his trifling ass to the cleaners. I wish there was some way I could put his ass in jail." She grew thoughtful, wondering if she could still report the time he slapped her when she announced that she was pregnant against his wishes.
"Naw, you don't want that."
"That reminds me," Lillian began, turning her attention back to Stone.
Serena appeared at the top of the stairs, her expression eager as a new day. “It's ready uncle Stone. ‘Come and eat,’ Mama said."
"Awright. Be right there." With this he made a move to shove Lillian off his bed.
"Didn't your manager’s husband just get out of prison?” she asked as she stood from the bed, already knowing the answer.
Stone passed into the alcove and made a left into the bathroom. "Yeah," he called back into the room.
"You sure you trust him?"
There was no answer as Lillian continued her perusal of the room. In the far corner under a window that overlooked the backyard was a pile of designer luggage; Fendi, Coach, Prada, D&G, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, etc. She was summoned to the stack of opulence as if in a trance. Behind her was a faint flush of a toilet and running water.
"Everyone deserves a second chance. Nutcracker paid his debt," Stone said behind her. She'd opened a bag and searched through the contents of perfumes, scarves, and handbags.
"These bags are filled with stuff!" she said excitedly, turning to him. "I'm not even going to ask where you got this stuff." Her brown eyes were wide with excitement.
"Grab one for yourself," he instructed before turning from her with the toothbrush hanging from his mouth.
Lillian turned without hesitation to the luxurious pile of tote bags, unable to decide which one she should grab. "You just need to be careful. You going to pick up your rent today? Why don't you just have a property management company handle all that for you... Or you should have direct deposit..." Lillian said this while opening a Fendi bag and discovering a cache of Hermés scarves, eyewear, and an assortment of smaller Fendi purses and wallets.
"That the one you want?" he asked as she lifted it from the carelessly tossed pile, aware that she was looking for an answer to her queries, though he'd taken her advice seriously.
"This is the one," she replied as she turned to him with the newfound loot. With the large Fendi bag slung over her shoulder she stopped at the mouth of the stairwell and looked to Stone, a serious expression on her face. Stone pulled the toothbrush from his mouth.
"What is it?" he asked, though he suspected he knew, based on her pleading eyes.
"I know you never got along with Marcus… No, wait, don't be like that…" she called, stopping Stone from turning his back on her.
"Let me guess. He needs some money."
"Well, not exactly," Lillian began, moving towards him and placing her hand gently on his crossed arms. She looked into his eyes softly. "They think he murdered Candi.”
"He might have. They did find a dead body buried in his backyard." Stone shrugged with this statement, not really believing that his brother was capable of murder, not wanting to believe it.
"Just because he took her to his house…"
"Secret house paid for with money that he stole from his company."
Lillian rolled her eyes. "Okay. He might not be an angel, but he didn't kill anybody and you know it."
"What he want from me?" he asked, taking a step away from her. His mouth was filled with spit and toothpaste. He needed to spit it out. Lillian followed.
"They'll give him the death penalty if he's convicted of both murders. He needs your help finding out who killed Serena's mother." She entered the brightly lit bathroom behind him.
“You ask about the man buried in his backyard?" he asked after spitting into the sink. He watched her through the large oval mirror over the marble counter.
"He said that he found him dead in his office and got scared."
Stone turned to her then. "The real estate office?" he asked with raised eyebrows.
"No. He had another office that he used to keep secret ledgers and privately financed mortgage loans," she replied in a remorseful tone. Stone shook his head sadly.
"Bruh bruh was a complicated nut. All the preaching he used to do about how I should get a job and earn an honest living." He bellowed loudly with this last, startling Lillian.