The next morning I arrive at Judge Fong’s office at 7:30 am as ordered. I’m suffering a headache hangover. I’m mildly irritated to see the Judge’s Clerk beaming with excitement. “What’s up Bob? You look remarkably bright this morning.”
Robert “Bob” Mitchell gives me a classic shit-eating grin. “Tecumseh, your ass is grass. The Judge’s mad as hell at you for letting your client get killed. What the hell was that all about? That’s all everybody’s talking about is the Mayhew mess. The word is he was practicing voodoo–”
I lean forward to whisper as Bob, raises halfway up from his seat eager to receive my secret message. “Bob, this is just between you and me. Now, keep this to yourself, but I know for a fact that Mayhew put a curse on anyone mentioning his name in a disrespectful manner. If I were you, I would have nothing to do with that potentially deadly gossip. Got me, man?”
“Bullshit! I ain’t heard nothing like that. I mean, the sucker died suddenly and brutally. How did he have time to put a curse on anyone? I mean, those jackals were on him like stink on shit!”
“OK, Mr. Badass. Don’t come running to me when you step out in the hallway and Adonis Brown grabs your black ass.”
“Nigger, please. Your ass the one about to get busted wide open. I’ve never seen Judge Fong so pissed. You better get in there quick.”
Judge Linda Fong and I went to law school together. We had a brief fling and found that we were incompatible as lovers but rather successful as collaborators in our various political activities. The judge is 5 feet 2 inches, a dynamo, a take-no-prisoner attorney, and a clever and demanding jurist. However, she really excels as a politician. She’s as aggressive as a shark in bloody water. She smells blood this morning.
“Douglass, where the fuck where you? Where did you disappear to? Goddamn it, I expected you to deliver that kind of news to me personally. I asked you to represent Mayhew to avoid exactly this kind of disastrous outcome.”
I ignore the eruption of Mount Fong and cross to her mini fridge. I grab two cold glasses and her bottle of expensive vodka. I pour two drinks and settle back into one of her easy chairs.
Fong looks at me now. Looks at me, sees me and switches from anger to concern. “Douglass, what the hell’s wrong with you? You look like shit. You never drink vodka and you never drink this early in the day.”
I tell her the whole incredible story. She does not interrupt me or challenge me. Afterwards, we set there for a moment staring at each other. At last she picks up her drink and swallows it in one gulp. I follow suit.
“Linda, why did you pressure me to take this case?”
Fong shakes her head in annoyance. “Gonzalez is being promoted from the second District Court of Appeals to the State Supreme Court. I’m on the Governor’s shortlist to replace her.”
“OK, I see where this is going. Mayhew’s publisher ‘s a major contributor to the Governor’s campaigns.”
“Tecumseh, that damn Appellate Court seat was mine. Now, I’ll be lucky if I can get the Governor’s support for reelection.”
“Linda, do you believe me? Do you believe that unbelievable yarn I just told you?”
My friend tugs at her ear lobe and squints her eyes. A sure sign that she’s uncertain, on edge, and ill at ease.
“Tecumseh, when you and Melody divorced, was there a time, a moment that one tiny, microscopic, gesture, one word or touch that would have saved your marriage?”
She picks up the bottle and her glass and steps around the desk. She sits in the chair next to me, and pours both of us another drink.
The abrupt change in topic disorients me for a second. “Why? Why’re you asking me that?”
“Matt and I were supposed to be on a second honeymoon in Hawaii right now. I canceled our trip to take advantage of this opportunity with Mayhew.” She reaches out and touches my hand. “Matt moved out last night.”
We touch glasses and down our shots.
“For us, it was like resentment, anger, and frustrations, built up behind a dam. You could stick your finger in one hole, but that would just delay the eventual collapse of the dam. I think that’s how it was for us.”
The door opens quickly. Bob slides in and leans back against the door as he closes it. He’s shaking, eyes wide, and sweat on his brow. He’s gesturing back toward the reception area.
Fong’s on her feet instantly. “Robert, what is it? Are you alright? Are you ill?”
The Clerk tries desperately to choke out his words all in vain.
I move to assist Bob when the door flies open sending the Clerk sprawling across the room.
Adonis Brown strides into the room, snatches Bob up by his collar lifts him nearly off his feet and tells him, “Go back to your desk. Be a good little civil servant and your wife Audrey and your daughter Memphis will live to see another day. You do understand me don’t you?”
Bob nods yes as Adonis releases him, straightens Bob’s suit jacket, and pushes him toward the door. “Clerk, the Judge’s not taking any calls or seeing any visitors. Don’t forget that.” Bob, nods yes again as he flees the room closing the door behind him.
Fong recovers and starts to advance on Brown. “Who the fuck do you think you are? This is my office–”
I grab her around her waist and pull her back. She struggles to get away. Brown strides over to her desk, flops into her chair, adjusts the chair lower and addresses us. “You love birds sit the fuck down. We got serious business to deal with here. We ain’t got a lot of fucking time so shut the fuck up and listen.”
“Listen, you demented—“
“Fong, cool it!” I know better than to put my hand over Fong’s mouth. That’s a good way to lose a finger.
Brown snaps at me. “Counselor, if you don’t control your slant-eyed girlfriend I will knock her ass out. Now, sit the fuck down!”
“Linda, this is Adonis Brown. We need to be cool.”
Fong shakes free of me, glares at Brown, sits in her chair with her arms crossed looking as fierce as a hummingbird-sized tiger. “I don’t know who you are or what you are. You have three minutes to tell us what you want.”
“Judge, you and Douglass had a real simple job. You were supposed to spring Mayhew before he was harmed. You fucked up. Now you clean up this mess, or you die here together this morning.”
“Adonis, Mayhew was too arrogant for his own good. He acted the fool and paid the price. That’s not on us.”
“Yeah, he was an insufferable, vain, egotistical asshole. Shit, Counselor, everyone knew that, but you took the job knowing who you were dealing with. Shame on your black ass.”
Fong stands and points a finger at Brown. “What’s your problem? You need to get to the point. We can’t bring Mayhew back. So, what do you want from us?”
Brown reaches behind him and pulls an automatic, silencer-equipped pistol from his belt, and places it on the desk. “Little Bit, you get right to the point. I like that. Mayhew left me without a fucking dime. I lived in his homes, drove his cars, ate and traveled on his credit cards. I lived large. But, everything was in his name. Now, all his wealth goes to his dingbat sister. By rights it’s mine. I made him what he was.”
Brown’s voice goes deeper. His face is tight with anger as he talks. Linda and I exchange looks. There’s a moment of silence as Brown finishes speaking.
“Look, no disrespect, but are you—How—Where, when were you born?”
“Douglass, you need to concentrate on how you’re going to get my shit away from his homely-ass sister. Can you dig that?”
Fong comes to my rescue. “Have you met his sister?”
“No, shit-for-brains, Mayhew thought that was a bad idea.”
“Do you know his works, his Adonis Brown stories well?”
“Douglass, I fucking lived them stories. Nobody knows that shit better than me.”
“There may be a way you can claim part of his estate. You need to hire Fong and me as your attorneys.”
“Tecumseh, Have you lost your mind. I’m a Superior Court judge—“
“Linda, you need to give that up for a minute. You need to text in your resignation. If this works you’ll get that Appellate Court appointment. I promise.”
Brown waves his gun at us as he shouts at Fong. “Shit, bitch, you need to do whatever it takes. Start fucking texting.”
Fong’s no longer listening as she stomps to her desk. “You fucking figment of a mad man’s imagination. You’re on your fucking own. Go ahead kill us. You won’t get far. You’ll die in the streets or in the execution chamber, or spend the rest of your life in a cell.”
Now, all three of us are on our feet, Brown with his gun aimed at Fong’s head.
“I don’t need you bitch; Douglass can—“
I step between Fong and the gun. “I’m with her. You work with both of us or you’re on your own.”
For a second, I think we’re history, but Brown lowers his gun and lets out a booming laugh. “Alright, alright, I was just fucking with you all. That’s all. We all cool here. We good. Now, that shit’s out the way. What’s your plan Counselor?”
Fong and I retreat to our seats. I give Fong my phone. We both watch as she texts in her immediate resignation to the Presiding Judge.
I lean in toward Brown. “Well, here’s what I think I heard you say, you told all the Adonis Brown stories to Mayhew. Mayhew promised you a fifty/fifty split, but he played you with the trappings of the good life but never kept or intended to keep his promise. Is that right?”
“Goddamn Douglass, that’s exactly how that shit went down! Brother, you got it. You nailed it.”
Fong is on her feet now. “And you made up all the stories, and he wrote them almost verbatim, correct?”
“Yes, yes, yes indeed. How soon—“
Fong cuts Brown off. “First there’s the matter of our fees. We want ten percent of the value of Mayhew’s entire estate.”
Brown picks up his gun from the desk as he snarls at us. “Wait, wait hold on, remember I’m the bad guy here. You two trying to rip me off. Shit, I only get fifty-percent of the fucking estate. And how much is that anyway?”
Fong is ready with the answer “According to The Wall Street Journal, Mayhew was worth approximately thirty million.”
“Fifteen million! Shit, I’ll be in high cotton. Ok. Five-percent. I’ll give you five-percent. And that’s just because I like you two so much.”
Again, Fong has a ready reply. “We will get you more than fifty percent of the estate. Our ten-percent stands. But, we’ll only charge you ten-percent agent fees instead of the usual fifteen-percent.”
“What agent fees? What’re you getting at?”
I step in with the next bit of good news. “Adonis, listen to me. What you’ll win in the estate case’s just the starting point. You’re going to sell your story of how Mayhew, the unscrupulous, white devil stole a poor, trusting black man’s work and fooled the nation. It’ll be a best-seller before the ink’s dry on your contract.”
Adonis looks stunned. He tries to talk. Places his gun on the desk, and ends up sobbing and shaking his head in disbelief. Quick as a cobra, Fong moves to the desk and snatches up the pistol. Brown grabs air reaching for the gun.
“Oh, shit!” Brown puts his hands above his head. “Come on now. Don’t be like that. We got—“
Fong aims the automatic at Brown’s chest. “Asshole, if you ever disrespect me again I will bury you. Are we clear on this?”
Brown swallows hard. He keeps his eye on the gun pointed at him. “Yeah, sure. We cool.”
“I should put a bullet in you to make you understand me, shit head.” I know Fong’s as good as her word. Adonis sees that too. “But, you’re going to make us all wealthy.” After a long minute, Fong hands Brown the gun. “Put that away before someone sees it.”
Brown sighs with relief as he tucks the gun back in his belt.
I step up to look Brown in the eyes. “Good, good. Now you’re sitting on another gold mine, the Adonis Brown series. There’ll be an unprecedented bidding war for the rights to these new Adonis stories by Adonis Brown himself, but Modern Media Publishers is going to get the bid.”
“Mayhew’s publisher. Why MMP?”
Fong replies, “Would you rather figure that out or have us start working to get us all paid?”
“Shit, you two my niggers for life. I owe you. Goddamn.” Brown jumps out of his chair and gives each of us a hug. He holds Fong’s hands. “I’m sorry sister. I apologize. I was just acting the fool like in those damn books.”
There’s a timid knock on the door as Bob peeks into the room. “Judge, the Presiding Judge is trying to reach you. He—“
“It’s Ok; I’ll return his call in a minute. You can go now.” Bob, peeks a cautious look at Brown as he closes the door.
Brown embraces us again. “Now, I can be myself, at last. I got to split. I got things to do. I can’t believe this is happening. This is not what Mayhew had in mind.”
Brown has his hand on the door as I grab his arm. “Wait, wait what did you say about Mayhew?”
“Oh, man let me show you.” Brown pulls out his phone and fiddles with it for a few seconds and shows us Mayhew’s Outline for the next Adonis Brown book. Linda and I are paralyzed by the first item on the Outline:
Outline for Adonis Brown Book Five:
1. I will introduce two new characters, Tecumseh H. Douglass, A divorced, successful black attorney and Linda Fong, an ambitious Chinese, Superior Court judge on the verge of divorce.
Six hectic hours later, ex-Judge Linda Fong, and I are preparing to celebrate. We have ordered our favorite meals and champagne in our suite at the Four Seasons. However, I only pick at my sirloin steak, and Linda barely stirs her bouillabaisse. The champagne sits unopened.
Fong’s dressed for a night on the town in heels and a tight black dress with pearl earrings and necklace. It’s all a masquerade to hide the hollow emptiness that we both have been feeling since we read Mayhew’s Outline.
I look across the table at my forty-one-year-old friend. I noticed the wrinkles in the corners of her eyes, the faint vertical furrow between her eyebrows. “Linda, your Honor, what’re we doing here. This is way out of our league and my comfort zone.”
She gives me a half-hearted smile. “Tecumseh, thank you for making me part of the payday. You could have represented Mayhew by yourself and been twice as rich.”
I don’t know what to say. I’m confused at how to respond. I never even thought of the opportunity that Mayhew’s death represented without including Linda. She’s probably, no she’s, my best friend in the world. Or is she? Maybe, we’re just following the plot lines written for us.
“Tecumseh, you look exhausted… Tecumseh… I’m… I should have never got you involved in this—“
“Maybe you didn’t have a choice. Mayhew could have scripted—“
Fong slams down her fist as she cuts me off. “No! No! That, that’s just some shit Mayhew or Adonis pulled to, to confuse us.”
“Linda, I have checked out Mayhew’s computer. Adonis gave it to me with no questions asked. That outline was created thirty-six days before Mayhew’s death. It was modified twelve times. The last time three days before his death.”
“That Adonis is a tricky son-of-a… I should have shot him—“
“Linda, the first item on the outline never changed in any version of the—“
“Tecumseh, I have memories. I have a father, a mother, uncles, aunts. I have a fucking history. I have a husband and two great kids. I, I’m real! I know that!” Fong is standing and glaring down at me.
I look at her and see she’s about to fall apart. I have the same feeling down in the pit of my stomach.
I stand, walk to her, take her hand, walk us to the couch.
We sit. I hold her hands. “Linda, I can’t remember my grandparents. Can you?” She’s in an instant rage. Yanks her hand away. Slaps me like the kick of a mule.
“Fuck you! Fuck you Tecumseh! You, and him, Adonis, are in this together, to, to fuck with me. I know who I am! Fuck!”
I pull her into my arms, rock her, whisper magic words, “It’ll be all right.” Everything will be ok.” My tears fall on her like rain. Her tears soak my shirt.
I lift her, carry her to the bed. We undress, crawl under the covers facing each other.
“Tecumseh, I, we don’t have to remember our grandparents to be real, as real as anyone.” She looks so desperate waiting for my response. I pull her to me. We hold each other with that same kind of desperation.
I pull away from her, look into her eyes. “Linda, Linda, I… Look, Look… We have a bond a friendship. We can lean on each other, trust each other. We love each other.”
“Do we? Or are we written that way? Are we ever in control of our thoughts, our action, our lives…?”
I kiss the tip of her nose. “Does it matter how we got each other? The key is, we have each other. And, and we’re intelligent, competent, successful, educated and soon to be well off.”
She returns the kiss to my nose. “If we go to sleep, rest, and think about it in the morning, in the light of a new day…”
“Danny and Jules?”
“With my mother. My mother without a mother I can recall.” Linda giggles and the tears start anew.
She turns her back to me, we spoon. I hold her a little too tight, but she doesn’t complain.
“Tecumseh, we’re real aren’t we?”
I kiss the back of her head. “As real as anyone else. Yes, we are.”
And, I believe that. I have to. I have no other choice.