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Chapter One            

There were guardrails aligning both sides of the tight, two-lane road which skirted the hillside just above the Potomac River.  Ellis was unfamiliar with the area, having just dropped off a new female friend at her apartment in an equally unfamiliar section of Alexandria, Virginia and taken this foreign route back to the city.  They’d both had more than a few drinks earlier; it was now shortly before sunrise, and he was trying to get home to his live-in girlfriend while she remained in a deep sleep and perhaps not be aroused and take note of the early morning hour.

The guardrails reflected the lights from his late-model SUV, causing him to glance askew as he rounded curves shadowed by the lush overhanging trees.  On a particularly steep section of the parkway, he lost it.  The SUV seemed to dance a drunken skedaddle along one guardrail, sending sparks into the air and causing Ellis to panic.  He overcorrected, sending the vehicle into the oncoming lane.  He immediately regained control however, finally eased on the brakes and slow-rolled out of the heavily wooded section, glad to see the broadening road and the overhead lights before him.  At a deserted gas station he pulled into a service lane, got out and inspected the damage.

“Damn!” he spat in frustration, eyeing the inch-wide scar marking the black paint the entire length of the passenger’s side. 

“Ain’t that a bitch!”

He climbed back behind the steering wheel, then headed further east.  Immediately he began lambasting the young woman he’d been with earlier, reasoning that had she submitted completely to his advances he would not have been so frustrated and drowsy and would not have done the damage to his prized vehicle.  The cost of repairs would cut deeply into his unsteady income, he was already estimating.   During his often tumultuous twenty-five years, he’d always blamed others for his problems, and this was surely no exception.  As he neared home, he mentally played over schemes to get the woman to somehow pay for this latest in a string of costly misfortunes.

“The bitch gonna have to put some of my products out there in her ‘hood,” he whispered to himself, pulling up before the apartment building, easing out of the car and quietly moving towards his girlfriend’s unit in that awkward, be-bopping gait he’d assumed since his teenaged years. He tried to make as little noise as possible when freeing the multiple locks on the apartment door, hoping Shantelle was in the rear bedroom in a deep sleep.  But apparently she’d spent the night on the plush living room sofa awaiting him, head planted on a pillow near the end table clock which glowed a prominent red “4:37 a.m.”

“So,” her drowsy voice arose from the darkness. “Who’s the little skeezer had your ass out there till this time of morning?”

He moved in a practiced pattern around the coffee table, to an end table and turned on a low-wattage lamp, even then forming the toothy smile she so loved while formulating his alibi. 

“You know I had to be out there handling my business, baby,” he said, setting on the end of the sofa, reaching under the comforter and running a hand along a warm thigh.  “Had to get my hustle on, baby.  You know that.”

She sat up.  “I thought them young’uns you got slingin’ for you were handling your shit on the streets.  Thought you ain’t have to bother with that kinda stuff no more. Come here.”

She reached for him, and he unsuccessfully attempted to feign away the motion he knew she was trying for.  She buried her nose into his chest, and immediately recoiled.  The sweet smell of an unfamiliar female fragrance pierced her nostrils, and a sharper pain rankled her brain, her heart, the very fabric of her being.

“Mother fucker!” she shouted, throwing back the comforter and maneuvering her legs around him.  “You tired-ass mother fucker!”

She arose and dashed into the rear bedroom, and as he sat trying to formulate some sort of plea, he pulled on the front of his shirt himself, whiffed the fragrance Janet had virtually embedded into him and shook his head.  He could hear a tumult coming from the back, but couldn’t imagine what Shantelle was doing.  He found out in moments, as she rushed back into the living room, arms laden with what appeared to be every bit of clothing he had in the apartment whose lease bore only Shantelle Bridgefield’s name.

She tossed the mound at his feet. “Here’s all your shit!  Now get the fuck back to that bitch you was with!  And don’t even think about calling me or ever coming back in here!  I’m tired of your shit, Ellis!  Mother fucker…”

While her tears flowed, he managed a slight smile, arose and began gathering his things.  He placed them on a chair by the door, turned and moved to her.

“Baby, you know how it is,” he pleaded, moving to embrace her.  “I was just, you know, out there and some honey I’ve known for a long time gave me a hug.  That’s all.  I smell her perfume on my shirt.  That’s what the problem is?  Come on.  You know me better than that.”

"Fuck you," she said softly, twisting with little true effort to free herself from his embrace. 

"You know how it is," he repeated, lips on her cheek, on an ear, lightly grazinig, nibbling at her lips.  "All these holidays coming up.  I gots to make my bank.  Come on.  Let's go to bed and talk about this in the morning."

"It is morning, mother fucker..."

But he had her now, in a closeness she'd given in to first three years earlier, when they'd initially met.  And he leaned back, flashed the smile which had warmed her and won her over countless times, seduced her and not for the first time made her contemplate forgiveness and again reason that she was so wrong about him, about the present charges.

"Man, I got to get ready for work in another hour or so," she relented, moving back to the bedroom and looking over her shoulder to him.  "You coming?"

"I'm coming," he said, then placed a hand down the front of his pants, stroking himself and again faulting the woman he'd been with in Virginia earlier for failing to sate his always active sexual appetite. 

He gathered his clothes.  "Yeah Shantell, I'm coming," he whispered.  "Or I will be in a minute, better bet it!"