Published

Curveball

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With some short stories, persistence pays off. Curveball has been searching for a home for nearly four years. I knew the characters were interesting and plot was good, but the story didn’t fit neatly in a genre; it touched the supernatural and a crime was involved, but it fell somewhere in-between. Submitted 25 times and rewritten twice, this tale was  published in October 2019 by Freedom Fiction.

Curveball

by DL Shirey

Ravé Eloh was born a bit wider than the other babies. Not fatter, wider. The doctor told his mother that Ravé’s body was made up of two conjoined twins who had barely started to separate. Then stopped.

He had a third kidney, he told me, a coccyx with two nubby tails, and a small, secondary larynx. But it was Ravé’s face where the twosome really showed. He had a wider-than-usual space between his eyes, a nose with a broad bridge and slight double hump. And when viewed in profile, one side was more feminine compared to the other.

Although it was biologically impossible, Ravé believed he was one-half woman. He called all his extra parts Renee.

Half in jest, Ravé mourned the dearth of freak shows. Such a venue would suit him, he said. He described his imagined costume, split up the middle, on one side a tuxedo, the other a cocktail dress. His face would have half a mustache, the other side rouge and lipstick. Fortunately, he found a more lucrative use for his schism without having to dress in halvsies.

Ravé Eloh could throw his voice. Not in the stumble-bum way ventriloquists do, but by using his spare larynx in a manner enhanced by his unique anatomy. He told me the story after our second night together.

“I can pitch Renee’s voice like a curveball. Not that I ever played sports in my life, but the physics, I’m told, are the same,” Ravé said using his manly larynx. “I can ball up her voice and hurl it around the person in front of me, at someone across the room to catch.

“Listen,” he said. While his mouth hung open in the conversational pause, I heard a sound: a long, sibilant exhale, like a smoker’s wheeze, that Ravé claimed were curveball words whistling past my ear.

“I’ll fetch it for you right away.” This was from Siobhan, Ravé’s versatile personal assistant, who, as it turned out, had an uncanny ability to blend into a room unnoticed. What I mistook as a table lamp was the diminutive gamine who had earlier served us breakfast in bed. Apparently, this wallflower had remained to await further requests.

Siobhan soon reappeared with tea, specially brewed to soothe the Renee parts of Ravé’s throat.

“He told you to get him tea?” I asked her.

“Renee did, yes,” Siobhan said softly, then explained it was best that Ravé not speak until the tea had its prescribed effect.

“Laryngitis. Worst case. Both throats,” Ravé scraped words together.

“Rest your voice,” said Siobhan, then politely scolded Ravé for curveballing too many words–five, six in a pinch, was the limit. Especially if he planned to work tomorrow.

“He’s just showing off. Trying to impress you,” she said to me, just before she removed dishes from the bedside table and disappeared. Hopefully to another room.

I turned to snuggle Ravé, touching his twin Adam’s apples. He nodded yes when I asked if Siobhan was really gone.

“What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a medium,” he whispered.

“Ooh, I would have thought you a large.” I tasted the sweetness of his mouth and pressed myself against the man who would become my lover and partner for life.

#

Stylishly occult. That’s the term I like to use to explain the success of our little business. Ravé is the performer, while I set the stage–the parlor of our home–with, if I say so myself, an exquisite, gothic taste in costume, lighting and set decoration.

I hope my previous description of Ravé didn’t give any other impression than attractive; no, beautiful. He has an Americanized ethnicity, blending handsome Caucasian features with a hint of the exotic. He has black, black hair and is dark-skinned enough to play the part of someone from the Middle East, Eurasia or South America. Believe it or not, occultism is rife with bigotry. No matter how good your act, people tend to believe readings from ‘one of their own.’ So it’s to Ravé’s benefit, and our bank account’s, if he can claim partial ancestry from pretty much any place on earth that isn’t East Asia or equatorial Africa.

We’re gay, too. An important point only because we are members of a demographic which likes to spend freely for diversions having a certain je ne sais quoi. Ravé certainly has it, and our crowd always fawns about the chichi eeriness surrounding his performance.

Me? I’m as vanilla as a white boy can get. However, ethnicity isn’t central to my part as is personality and aplomb. What better illustration of our roles than yesterday’s session:

Siobhan confirmed the appointment with the Iversons, who drove down from the Hamptons. Beautiful people. They never flaunted their monied means, wearing ordinary clothes and everyday jewelry. I greeted them in the courtyard, then hovered while they munched and mmm’d on hors d’oevres and cocktails. Small talk uncovered useful tidbits about the family that Siobhan’s background check had missed. Surreptitiously, feigning embarrassment, I accepted the envelope of cash before adjourning from library to parlor.

If there was a better room for a séance, I hadn’t seen it. Norma Iverson cooed over the decor, even used the word baroque. She liked all my little touches, gushing over the platter on which we served appetizers. I’m certain I blushed at her flattery, but did not reveal that I was the ceramicist who made the plates, or that my potter’s wheel was secreted in the base of the enormous table dominating the parlor.

Norma ran her manicure along the ivory inlay of the round tabletop, tracing the ornate compass parquetted into the rosewood. Ravé and I found the table in a small town outside London, but the base was modified by a local craftsman, rest his soul. He rigged the table so, with a mere nudge from my knee, I am able to spin the top at any speed I choose. That wonderful old man also altered the legs of my favorite Windsor chair so I need only raise my heel to put my knee in contact with the underside of the tabletop.

Usually, Ravé and I are the only ones who sit. Our guests stand on the Persian rug we found in an Istanbul smoke shop. It’s not terribly old, but it is enormous. And round. It sets off the room with dark blues and burgundies, laced with meandering vines of golds and whites. Stylish and occult.

We prefer guests to stand so they can watch the compass spin and not see the knee-work beneath the table. Chairs can be provided for the elderly, infirmed or those inclined to faint. Norma Iverson was without a chair when she swooned yesterday. Luckily, Siobhan appeared from the wall to discreetly catch her after Ravé curveballed words to the old lady’s ear.

It was a message from her dear, departed Megan.

There, I’ve gone and spoiled the story. Other than the faint, it was our usual, believable, profitable floorshow. The overnights were in, Siobhan read aloud the Twitter raves about our performance. Among them: @Rave_Eloh opened the door to the other side and Mother heard Megan speak! #truepsychic.

#

Working back-to-back evenings was rare because Ravé’s throat barely had time to recover overnight. We usually performed once a week, giving Siobhan time to schedule, confirm dates and times, and research the backgrounds and ancestries of our impending guests. We require a group of four, one for each cardinal point on the compass. And everyone in the group must know each another. Camaraderie or familial goodwill is essential because Ravé can only curveball to one person in the room. Three will be disappointed, but if all know one another, they will celebrate the lucky one’s good fortune. An unchosen stranger in a group tends to feel short-changed, and we do not like customers squabbling about getting their money’s worth.

It’s quite a lot of money.

Tonight’s back-to-back was scheduled to accommodate F-Dark’s concert tour. He, a noted hip-hop musician, is part of the wave of minor celebrities who have recently found us on social media. Siobhan said there are a dozen apps for psychic readings, but we disdain those blatant pokes at commerce in favor of good ol’ word-of-mouth. And, my God, how the stories spread, with the likes of F-Dark telling his socials about it.

“Mr. F-Dark has a dead wife, I see,” I said to Siobhan. She was making appetizers for tonight’s guests while we reviewed the 3x5s she had compiled. The index cards gave Ravé and I just enough background information to allow us to improvise during the performance.

“Allegedly murdered,” Siobhan said, “Supposedly by F-Dark himself.”

Ravé cleared his throat, intending to speak.

“Rest your voice, dear,” I said him, but I was looking at Siobhan. Our pretty wallflower was concerned; she had underlined words on the cards like posse and street cred.

“These are different people than our normal crowd,” said Siobhan, arranging crudité on one of my ceramic platters.

“What kind of people? Didn’t fail the credit check, did he?”

“F-Dark has money, no doubt. But he’s different than the other celebrities we’ve done in the past. He’s a thug, the Dark Thug, F-ing dark.”

“Certainly doesn’t dress like it,” I said, reviewing printed photos. “Looks like it pays well to hip hop like a gangster.”

“It’s gangSTA, and he’s a real one. All his friends are from the streets,” Siobhan warned, “At least the ones still alive.”

“You’re right,” I said, looking at an index card, “There are quite a few people we can bring back to speak with Mr. F-Dark. He has no children, so a spouse is next best. I vote LaDonna.”

Ravé was about to chime in, but I shushed him. He nodded concurrence to my vote.

“What is this note about LaDonna’s mother?” I asked. Siobhan had put a double red underline on one of the cards. “She’s not on the guest list?”

“Heavens, no. After LaDonna’s body was found, her mother accused F-Dark of murder. Swore to get even with him for killing her baby girl. She was all ‘baby girl this’ and ‘baby girl that,’ everywhere on the news.”

“Guess we don’t need those two in a room together,” I said. “So it’s F-Dark and posse. Who’s this Antoine fellow?”

“His manager.” Siobhan air-quoted. “He’s been friends with F-Dark since they were kids in Brooklyn.”

“The ‘hood,” I said playfully.

“Don’t joke around,” Siobhan replied, finishing up the canapés, “F-Dark’s a different breed of alley cat. He writes some of the most poetic lyrics in the business, but the violence and tragedies in his songs are true. Like when LaDonna was found dead, he wrote a song about her murder.”

“Maybe that’s why he called us,” said Ravé, “Wants LaDonna to identify who really killed her.”

“Rest your voice, dear.”

“Don’t go there, Ravé, please,” Siobhan implored. “Just for the record, I vote to stay away from LaDonna.”

“Duly noted.” All I know, a dead spouse with a tragic end is always a good curveball. That, and the fact that F-Dark twittered his socials that he would pay any price to hear his wife’s voice again.

Even our price.

Suddenly, a bass-throb of speakers preceded the crush of gravel outside in the courtyard.

“My God, they’re two hours early,” Ravé said in a strained whine. “I’m not even dressed yet.”

“Leave it to us,” I said, glancing at Siobhan who, with paralytic stillness, tried disappearing into the wall. I pointed her to the kitchen.

“You get the refreshments on the trolley, I’ll bring our guests to the library. Ravé, darling, sip the rest of your tea slowly. Then gargle, just in case.”

I shut their startled faces behind parlor room doors, trotted through the library, down the hall and opened our monolithic front door. We’d put gravel in the courtyard drive in the manner of old England, but the vehicle rumbling there contradicted that geography: a black stretch limo constructed from an already ginormous SUV. The gaunt, pale face of the driver looked at me with hollow eyes, no doubt gone deaf from the music reverberating inside the tube of sheet metal. He turned off the engine, which dimmed the headlights, but did not diminish the deep, slow beat pulsing the evening air.

As an atonal drum noise stutter-stepped to silence, the rear door flew open. The blackout windows masked chattering faces; pungent smoke rolled out above the door. A beefy hand appeared atop the doorframe, an untied sneaker crunched gravel, and a huge man winched himself from the car. I was surprised his bulk didn’t cause the limo to tilt his way, then I saw it was counterbalanced by another hulk of equal stature, pulling himself up and out the far door. The twins surveilled a slow 360, then the man nearest me gave the limo’s roof three quick slaps with a ham-sized palm.

As the behemoths lumbered to the rear of the vehicle, it was impossible not to notice how they matched in size and dress. Their masses were packed into collegiate sweatsuits of canary yellow, highlighted with green accents. Their flat-brim caps were green as well, the only difference between them was the direction the lids pointed.

The next shoe that stepped from the limo was of fine leather, glossed to a sheen. F-Dark himself stood to full height, clad all in black. Lean, tailored, pin-neat, he strode out into the courtyard and buttoned his suit coat. The wrap on his forehead was somehow both formal and gangSTA.

“FD. FD! Help me out of this thing.” The female screech was followed by a hand, long-taloned and ornately manicured. Between fingers dangled straps and stiletto heels. “I got the wrong shoes for all this rocks and shit.”

F-Dark took the shoes, then reached in to extract the damsel in distress. Nearly as tall as F-Dark, she clearly wasn’t in control of her faculties. It was all she could do to unbunch the skimpy dress from her hips and tuck a breast back beneath a scant sheath of sparkling cloth.

F-Dark tossed the stilettos to yet another man emerging from far side of the car.

“The hell are we, anyway?” The woman’s long, straight hair was severely restrained at the crown of her skull. The ponytail whipped back and forth as she looked around.

“Welcome to our home,” I said, traipsing out onto the gravel drive with my hand extended.

“You ain’t that Ravé dude.” This was from the other gentleman who circled in front of the limo towing a hookery-looking girl in a clingy, leopard-print pantsuit. He handed her Ponytail’s stilettos.

“Duncan Mosley, at your service,” I said.

“I’m Antoine, Dark’s business manager.” He ignored my still-raised hand, thrusting his mitts deep into the pockets of his parachute pants. His belt scraped another inch down, below the muscular stomach plastered beneath the world’s tightest T-shirt. Antoine continued, “You know F-Dark.”

My levitated hand was rescued by the rapper. I felt the monumental girth of four rings clamping down on my flesh.

“Pleased to meet,” he said.

I think I jumped at the sound of his voice. Very deep, but at a volume I didn’t expect. It echoed around the courtyard as I waited for someone to introduce the women.

I finally inquired, “And the ladies?”

“Rented,” said Antoine.

This brought a snicker from Leopard Skin, an amused snort from F-Dark, and finally noticing everyone around her was laughing, Ponytail joined in. Then she stopped, unable to both giggle and juggle the shoes being handed back to her.

“We’re early, I know,” said F-Dark, finally releasing my hand. “Got invited to a club opening in Brooklyn tonight. They my boys, from my block growin’ up. Got to represent, you know?”

“Means we be in-and-out here real quick,” said Antoine, pulling a softball-sized wad of cash from the pocket of his voluminous trousers. Leopard Skin’s eyes locked and followed as he peeled off bills. “Two Gs over and above should cover. Sorry and all for the inconvenience.”

Antoine passed the stack of cash to F-Dark who handed it to me.

“Asked around about y’all’s séances and stuff. They say this Ravé dude be bombin’.” F-Dark squared his lanky frame, propped an arm on his hip for Ponytail to grab. “Came early so we can spend as much time as you need to do it up right. Long as we’re done before we go to Brooklyn. Chkkk.”

This last, tongue-clucking sound accompanied a knowing wink, to make sure I was in line with our guests’ rushed itinerary. For two thousand more than our fee, in line I was.

“Well, if you’ll accompany me to the library, I’ll tell you how this all works. Chkkk.”

I led the group to the promised destination with its elegant, blood-red wallpaper and a score of twelve-foot mahogany bookcases. “And this is our library,” I said, watching Ponytail flop into the nearest chair. She puzzled on how best to reattach shoes to her feet. The bodyguards positioned themselves just outside the door.

“You read all them books?” Leopard Skin said, jaw agape in wonder. I truly cannot recall if I ever saw her bright red lips unparted.

“Here and there,” I replied. “They are mostly for reference. Everything from dreams to mysticism, arcane histories and the like.”

“Old books, man, they smell funny,” said Antoine, pulling a leather-bound volume from a shelf. “Hey, I got a friend named Dante.”

“Refreshments?” Siobhan appeared from the stacks at the far side of the room. Like a TV-game-show hostess, she made two flourishes, one to the pushcart laden with finger food, and to the other with a pyramid of liquor bottles.

Ponytail perked, “Cristal?”

“You’ve had enough. And I got some questions.” F-Dark assumed a classic rapper’s pose: weight hitched upon one hip, head tilted in the opposite direction, arms slung across his chest with hands clutched just below his shoulders. He wasn’t waiting for acknowledgment. “When we meet this Ravé dude?”

I saw Siobhan sneak a peek at her watch and shake her head.

“Right now, I imagine, he is in meditation. Communing with the other side is unlike, say, making a telephone call. It requires patience, the time and the mood must be…”

“I’m in the mood.” F-Dark snapped his fingers and the bodyguards rumbled into the library, closing the doors behind them.

“Mr. F-Dark, surely you can appreciate the delicate situation here. If Ravé is rushed, I cannot guarantee that the response you receive from the spirit world will be satisfying. The voices that come from beyond cannot be hurried, in fact, the atmosphere must be…”

“Must be what? Paid for they troubles?” Antoine pulled the wad from his pocket, bookmarked a stack of bills in Dante’s Inferno and let gravity slam the volume to the polished bamboo floor.

“On with it.”

“Certainly,” I said. “Siobhan, please inform Ravé that our guests are ready. Ladies and gentlemen, this way please.”

I opened the door to our parlor, while F-Dark yanked Ponytail to her stilettoed feet. I allowed the two couples entrée, but thrust myself into the threshold, stopping the giant yellow twins in their tracks.

“I must insist,” I said, turning my back on the double-stack of impatience. I was looking intently at F-Dark. “It is our pleasure to perform this reading in the timely manner required for you to keep the appointment in Brooklyn. However, I must insist you limit the number in this room to four.”

F-Dark lowered his head in thought, then re-engaged his narrowed eyes with mine.

“You choose,” I demanded. “The big boys or the ladies.”

Antoine sighed and reached into his parachute pocket.

“More money will not change the fact that if you want to properly experience this séance, you must limit occupancy to four.”

F-Dark flicked eyes to everyone in his posse, lastly on the two behind me. The rapper pointed his chin toward the library.

“Okay, boss.” The voice at my back was surprisingly girlish. “But if we’re outside, you stayin’ packed.”

My gaze never wavered from F-Dark. Not when the meaty hand swept into my periphery, nor when the revolver gleamed and glinted in mid-air, nor when F-Dark caught the gun at his forehead and, in one swift motion, tucked it in the rear waistband of his finely tailored slacks.

The twins closed the doors and remained outside.

A gun in the house was of less concern to me than Ravé knowing it was there. As long as we pulled off this performance with our usual panache, it wouldn’t be an issue. But if Ravé saw the pistol, the strain could be too much for his delicate larynx; the straw that could break the camel’s vocal chords, as it were. I made a promise to myself. When this was done, I would take Ravé someplace tropical, to nap on the sand, and sip enough frosty Mai Tais to soothe both his throats.

“Please take your places,” I said to the foursome, as I strolled around the table and indicated the cardinal points of the inlaid compass. “Each of you stand quietly in these spots and empty your minds of all thoughts.”

At one end of the round, rosewood table, I pulled out Ravé’s Windsor armchair. F-Dark and Antoine had already found their places, Leopard Skin seemed confused, so I escorted her to her place. Ponytail was more unable than unwilling to detach herself from F-Dark’s arm, until Siobhan appeared with a padded chair and set it on her designated spot. Ponytail teetered, weaved and collapsed into the seat.

“I want a chair, too,” said Leopard Skin, and Siobhan quickly fulfilled her request. The lights were lowered and Siobhan became a wallflower.

“Empty your minds. Free them of everyday troubles and con-cen-trate,” I intoned, taking my seat at the table. “Con-cen-trate fully on the compass design on the tabletop.”

In the dim light, the pale compass rose glowed from the dark wood; delicate bands of ivory lay in concentric circles, with four lines crisscrossing the circumference. Each point had an arrowhead, the largest one was also inscribed with an ornate N, designating north.

The room looked ready, so I began. “The spirit world is but an empty void. Lonely. Directionless. The thing that spirits lack is what they crave most. Guidance. To be shown the way back to the ones they love.

“We are here to guide. This table will point the way.”

On cue, a secret wall panel silently slid open and Ravé emerged from the darkness. He was robed in an exquisite caftan we’d found in Port-au-Prince. The fabric was woven into brightly colored bands of sky and earth and sea; spikes of green trees were sewn upon it, as were primitive animal shapes. Quite the voodoo vibe.

Ravé took his place, standing at the table just in front of his chair. He bowed his head and raised his arms, the sleeves of his caftan draping the table. There was a minute of silence that seemed interminable.

“What’s he doing?” half-whispered Leopard Skin.

“Silence,” I demanded, “There is a presence in this room.”

I raised my heel and nudged the tabletop to motion. Ravé maintained his act of concentration, not moving for so long that the tension in the room bordered on impatience. I was about to improvise Ravé’s lines, but he beat me to the punch.

“A presence, yes. Strong is she who stands among us.” Ravé cleared his primary throat, then lowered into the chair. He sat with arms extended, Buddha-like circles formed between thumbs and fingers. A faux-look of confusion interrupted his repose. “I can also feel a sadness. She is searching.”

“A spirit has come to us in need of direction,” I said to the room. “F-Dark, everyone, con-cen-trate on the compass. Empty your thoughts from everything except True North.”

“Ya’ll do what he says,” F-Dark boomed and all bodies in the room jumped at the over-loud volume. Except Ponytail, who was slumped in her chair, snoring softly.

“Hush,” I demanded, “Con-cen-trate on True North.”

The rosewood top continued its revolution.

“The compass will point the way. Kind spirit, follow it to the one who can help you speak.”

I slowed the spin with my knee, stopping the northerly needle at Ravé. My lover seized the arms of his chair as if subjected to an electric shock. He rolled his eyes back into his skull; the trick, no matter how many times I see it, still left me breathless.

“LaDonna…” Ravé’s regular voice said it, painted with a theatrical mixture of fear, recognition and astonishment.

“Here, Sugar.” F-Dark didn’t have an inside voice. His bellow caused Ponytail to snort.

“Shh!” I hissed. “Dear spirit, to whom do you wish to speak? Is a loved-one here with us in this room?”

My knee danced back and forth as if control of the compass was seized by an invisible other. Finally, the north point crawled and stopped at F-Dark.

“The choice has been made. Everyone, close your eyes, con-cen-trate on freeing your mind from thought.”

I snuck a peek at F-Dark, eyes shut, face skyward, arms extended as if expecting an embrace. Antoine slouched, foot tapping, impatient from standing so long, but his eyes were closed as well. Leopard Skin had both hands clamped over her face, like a scared child.

I looked at Ravé. He straightened his neck and leaned his head back at a familiar angle.

“Spirit come forth and speak,” I exclaimed.

All in the room who were not asleep heard the mysterious whistle emanate from Ravé’s little larynx, but only F-Dark heard the words. He popped open his eyes in wonder, narrowed them with confusion, then they darkened.

“Who that? Tell me something else so I knows it’s you.” The rapper said, a menacing rumble to his voice. “Go on.”

“What do you mean?” I stammered.

F-Dark took one threatening step toward the table. “She never say words like that in her life. That somebody else, not her.”

I didn’t know what to do or say. No one had ever questioned the curveball voice before. And Ravé certainly wasn’t going to try another one so soon. The parlor seemed a lot darker than it was a minute ago.

“It’s me, Sugar.” A voice came from behind F-Dark. The rapper spun around, startled, as if sucker punched in a street fight. He balled his fists, ready to retaliate, but he saw no one there.

“I heard her that time,” said Antoine. Leopard Skin nodded in agreement, still hiding behind her hands.

Horrified, Ravé and I exchanged glances. How was this possible? Did Siobhan really think she could get away with it?

“Can’t stay, Sugar. Trust me, my love,” said the wall. It was a fine imitation of the curveball voice.

“That’s LaDonna. Swear to God.” Antoine said, walking up next to the rapper. “This changes everything, man.”

“Don’t I know it. This Ravé dude is for reals,” F-Dark said, his voice humbled into a hushed tone.

With the two men hunched in whispered conversation, and Leopard Skin still hiding her eyes, Siobhan made her move. She flashed me a thumbs up, just before exiting through the secret wall panel. We weren’t out of the woods yet, but had anyone spotted our little wallflower, there’d be a lot more explaining to do.

F-Dark grunted in an apparent ending to the two-man powwow.

“If you say so,” Antoine shrugged. “Let’s hit it.”

Relieved they were leaving, I stood up to escort our guests back to their limo. That’s when F-Dark pulled the pistol from his waistband, and Antoine pointed me back to my seat.

“‘preciate you hookin’ me up with LaDonna. There’s just one problem.” F-Dark’s pistol hand moved back and forth between Ravé and me.

“Yeah,” said Antoine, “How we know she won’t talk again? When we’re gone.”

With each sweep of the gun, Ravé’s eyes grew larger with panic. It was up to me. I stood slowly, drawing the barrel my way.

“If you never come back, LaDonna can’t talk again.” I motioned for the gun to be lowered and F-Dark reluctantly complied. “It’s this room. The compass. Ravé’s ability. It only works in this room. LaDonna can only come back in the presence of someone she loves. So if you leave, there’s no one here for her to speak with.”

“Yeah?” Antoine questioned.

“Honest.” I was never more sincere in my life. I almost offered to give their money back.

The room waited for F-Dark.

“Don’t know.” He rubbed the pistol with his free hand. “Seems square, but there’s no hundred percent to it.”

Had there been a clock in the room, I’m sure the ticks would have been deafening. But in the silence that followed, the first sound heard was Ravé’s chair brushing back against our lovely carpet. He stood and propped his hands on top of the table.

“What if LaDonna promised you herself?” His regular voice was quite hoarse when he said it. “Her presence is still with us in this room.”

F-Dark hesitated, then nodded consent.

Ravé locked his gaze on me. I could see the determined look on his face. With a nod, he closed his eyes and raised his hands from the table, as if he could feel power emanate from the rosewood. My knee nudged the table into motion.

“Kind spirit,” I said in my most dramatic voice, “Do you have a message for someone in the room? Point us to the one you love.”

The compass slowed, N aligning with F-Dark. I watched Ravé muster all the strength he had. He took a big breath, relaxed fully, opened his mouth and let a long wheezy-whisper of words curveball across the room. Then from deep in Ravé’s body, there was a croak of pain as Renee’s vocal chords rasped to silence.

Antoine and F-Dark both heard the voice. They looked at each other, momentarily dumbfounded. Then every muscle clenched in F-Dark’s face as he raised the pistol once more.

“Didn’t get to say it the first time. LaDonna, I’m sorry,” he said and opened fire.

Three sharp blasts. The first splash came from Ravé’s forehead, the others from his neck and shoulder.
Leopard Skin dived to the floor. A scream opened Ponytail’s mouth an instant after the gunfire opened her eyes. As the burly twins burst through the door, F-Dark signaled the bodyguards to halt their advance, and tossed the pistol back to its owner.

“That oughta hush her up.”

“Yo mama,” Antoine agreed.

I crawled to Ravé who was sprawled on the floor. His ragged breaths were rapid and shallow. Between gasps it looked like he was trying to form words.

“Rest your voice, my darling.” Then I whispered it again after his chest heaved one last time.

Through my tears, I searched the faces in the room until I saw the one who had killed the man I loved. I pushed myself to my knees, showing F-Dark the dark red stains on my hands.

“Isn’t it enough?” I could taste the acid on the words, but I wasn’t speaking them loud enough. Only a shout could match my rage. “Isn’t it enough that LaDonna promised?”

“Not the promise, it what she say after.” Antoine paused. “She say ‘give my love to mama’.”

F-Dark shrugged and said to me, “That bitch be on your porch the minute she find out I talked to her baby girl.”

The rapper turned back to the bodyguards. Their guns matched, too.

I wrapped my arms around Ravé one last time, whispering words I hoped he could still hear. My tearful regrets and prayers were accompanied by the crisp clicks of twin pistols being cocked.

END

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