Writing

SAMPLE SUNDAY: From ‘Afterwards’

Afterwards new coverThis is where we first meet Jamal Turner, the hero in my next book, ‘The Come Up’.

From ‘Afterwards’:

Jamal Turner tapped more ass than Usher.

Scaife Enterprises’ resident Casanova stood about six-one and had a dark coffee complexion and thick, dark eyebrows that women around the office seemed to like for some reason. That, the fact that he was built like a beast, and to top it off was a silver-tongued bastard seemed to keep him up to his neck in female company.

Every week or so, there was some minor office drama where Turner’s various women got into it with him or each other, but as long as it wasn’t too disruptive of the esprit de corps, Chris didn’t care, because Turner was also a genius at identifying, securing and developing talent. While he preferred the development side of things, his law degree also made him a crack negotiator. His specialty, unsurprisingly, was female talent. They loved him, and he’d been known to ‘love’ a few of them as well.

Heading to the conference room to meet with her, Frank and the R&D folks, Chris almost ran into Turner standing at the elevator, deep in conversation with Robyn. Chris had done a double-take when he spotted her, and not just because she looked outstanding in a cream suit pantsuit and nude pumps, but because of the way Turner was leaning in as he spoke to her. It was his Mack Daddy pose, his head leaning to one side, his body angled toward the woman in question, those eyebrows of his arched for maximum effect. It was the stance Chris had seen him adopt at the party where he’d bagged one of the foremost female recording artists in the world. And word on the street was, she’d been sweating him ever since.

When he walked past them into the conference room, all he heard was snippet of conversation.

I’ll definitely wait for the call, Turner said. And then he smiled.

Robyn was about to say something in response when Turner spotted him and grinned.

‘Sup, Boss-Man, he said.

Chris nodded in response and headed into the meeting where Frank the R&D guys were already waiting. Robyn was the last to arrive, when she was done with her business with Turner, and had absently smiled at everyone before taking her seat, opening her notebook.

Apparently, she chewed on things when she was concentrating. As the meeting commenced, Chris watched her across the conference room table, just masticating the hell out of a pencil she had between her teeth. Everyone else was taking notes on a tablet or laptop, but Robyn was the only one who had a notebook in front of her. One of those with covers in speckled black-and-white, like a high school student might use to take notes in Trigonometry. While he spoke, everyone had their head buried in some form of technology and Robyn wrote longhand, intermittently looking up at him, scribbling a few things then chewing on her pencil some more. A little smear of her lipstick got on the pencil and she reached for a tissue in her suit jacket and wiped it off, looking at it as though perplexed about how it got there.

Though completely neutral, and purely professional, whenever her gaze met his, Chris thought he could see behind it, a teeny-tiny hint of the other thing that was going on between them.

The Other Thing.

The thing where she came over on Saturdays and had motorcycle riding lessons with Jon, while he sat in his office, more aware of her presence than he wanted to admit to himself.

The thing where, after her lessons, she showed up at his office door, ebullient, and babbling about how much better she was getting; then sometimes sitting on the edge of his desk and asking whether she was keeping him from his work, when clearly she knew that she was.

The thing that made him believe that all his efforts at restraint where she was concerned were pointless, because surely, it more distracting not to sleep with her than it would be to just give in.

She was distracting him now, too, looking so damn cute in that cream pantsuit . . . and because she had been, just minutes earlier in conversation with a man who had no reason to exercise the same restraint Chris was imposing on himself.

“Honestly, the guys at Pouvoir Noir are little more than a bunch of twenty-somethings who got lucky,” Frank was saying. “Y’know like the dotcom assholes who were getting rich in Silicon Valley about a decade ago? Like that. Not a lick of business sense among them. But what they do have, which we don’t, is an instinct about their market. The European market.”

“I would argue that the European market is very much like the U.S. market,” Chris said, his attention returning to the matter at hand once again.

“And you would be wrong,” Frank said flatly.

“Are you going to tell me about the music business, Frank?”

Frank Casey smiled. “Chris, no one’s questioning your instincts . . . in the States. But I think even you would agree that just because K Smooth sells out in twenty minutes in New York City doesn’t mean the same will be true in Paris.”

“Bad example,” Chris said. “As a matter of fact, he does sell out in Paris in twenty minutes.”

“Fine,” Frank leaned back in his chair. “We can quibble over details, or you can concede the point that there are distinctions between the U.S. . . .”

“What are your thoughts, Robyn?” he interrupted.

Robyn sat up straighter, and Chris could see that she was surprised to have been called on, as was Frank and just about everyone else in the room. The “everyone else” was the team from Research and Development. DeJuan Stokes was a twenty-something hotshot himself, who would go far in the business if he didn’t let his considerable ego get in his way; Dean Olsen, a Jewish guy from Brooklyn who grew up listening to the Beastie Boys; and Harper Bailey, a Long Island sister who had a fetish for young rappers that was going to get her ass in trouble one day.

All very talented in their field, the R&D team had one key weakness; unlike Frank, they were sometimes afraid to tell him things he didn’t want to hear. They knew he wanted to acquire Pouvoir Noir, so their inclination was always going to be to cast their findings in a way that would enable him to do just that. Frank on the other hand, was unburdened by such concerns, which Chris thought explained his dispatching Robyn weeks ago to get him to agree to go to Paris and investigate the other option—investment, rather than acquisition.

Since that first conversation in his kitchen, Robyn had stopped lobbying him on the Paris trip. In fact, she’d been really careful never to mention work during personal time; and now during work time, she was careful to behave in such a manner that gave no hint whatsoever that there was personal time between them.

Now, she looked up from her notebook and seemed to be thinking about a response.

“I’m not sure I have enough information to make a judgment,” she said finally.

“Really? Then why are you even in this meeting?”

A flash of mild surprise crossed her features, and she straightened her back even more, becoming almost rigid in her seat.

“What I mean is,” she said slowly, “that I have no information about the similarities between the U.S. and European market. But I do know enough about the planned acquisition of Pouvoir to know that Frank’s recommendation is sound.”

“But his recommendation is based on an assumption. An assumption that I don’t know squat about the European music market and these, I think he called them ‘lucky’ twenty-somethings know more than I do.”

“I don’t think I would have put it quite that way,” Frank interjected, shaking his head. “That you don’t know ‘squat’ about . . .”

“I’m asking Robyn.” Chris cut him off.

“Look, Chris, there’s no need to turn this into a pissing match,” Frank interrupted once again. His face had grown somewhat red, and he was leaning forward, his elbows on the conference table. “Do the Paris meeting and assess for yourself what they do and don’t know. But their performance speaks for itself. They pick winners in their artists. All I’m saying is that they’ve reached the limits of their potential on the business management side, and so that’s where we go in. We leave the rest to them and take over the business operations.”

“Robyn?” Chris looked at her again. “Is that your recommendation as well?”

“It’s been my consistent recommendation,” she said. “And frankly, we’ve spent so much time debating the Paris trip, you could practically have flown there and back by now.”

Harper Bailey snickered into her hand and tried, unsuccessfully, to disguise it with a cough. Everyone else seemed to be waiting in stunned surprise for Chris to deliver a smackdown. And he wanted to; damn did he want to. But instead, he contented himself with the knowledge that he’d succeeded in ticking her off.

Only once it had been accomplished did he realize that that had been his mission all along.

___________________

After the meeting, when she left with Frank, Robyn avoided his eyes, deliberately keeping her head down as she walked by, and Chris left the conference room, feeling the shallowness of his victory.

Sitting in his office, he considered calling her back up to his office. But what the hell was he planning to say? Don’t talk to Jamal Turner?  Reaching for his phone, Chris instead buzzed Turner.

“Yo, Boss-Man . . .”

“C’mon up lemme holla at you a minute,” Chris said, just as Chastity and Stephen walked into his office, looking like they were on some essential mission.

“You don’t really have time to be hollerin’ at anybody right now,” Chastity said. “You’re supposed to be in a car heading uptown.”

“How much time do I have?” Chris asked.

Chastity looked up at the ceiling and pretended to think. “Let’s see. Ahm . . . none? You’re already late, isn’t he Stephen?”

“Yeah. You’re about fifteen minutes late now, and with traffic . . .”

Stephen still didn’t feel empowered enough to come in by himself and keep him on task, always roping Chas in when he had to deliver a difficult message. Chris made a mental note to ask her whether she thought Stephen could cut it. He needed someone who would keep the trains running, not look to someone else to tell them which track.

“Okay, call them and tell him I’ll be forty minutes late. This thing shouldn’t take but a minute.”

“I’ll get the car to pull around front so you can get going right away once you’re done,” Stephen said, happy to have a manageable mission.

When he left the room, Chris looked at Chastity.

“It takes two of you to do his job? Is that what’s going on?”

“He’s still learning, Chris. Cut the kid a break.”

“I don’t cut breaks. Get him with the program or replace him.”

“You can’t fire everyone. And I can’t keep up with your schedule on my own. We discussed this.”

“Then maybe you should look into replacing yourself as well,” he said, not meaning a word of it. If he lost Chastity, he wouldn’t know his ass from his elbow.

And she knew it, too. She blinked impassively, and pretended he hadn’t said anything at all.

“Look, if you need to do this quick meeting, fine. But I’m going back to the system we had last year of building in at least a half hour between every appointment for unanticipated interruptions.”

“No. We talked about that. I could lose about four hours a day of productive time if you do that. I can’t afford it.”

“You can,” Chastity said. “You just tell yourself you can’t. One of these days it’s going to catch up with you, and it won’t be pretty.”

It had already caught up with him. Chris could feel it catching up with him right now in fact; the first tiny bloom of pain, like a houseguest who’d never left.

“Where the fuck is Jamal Turner? I called him . . .”

“Right here, Boss.”

Turner came sauntering into the room and collapsed in the chair opposite Chris’ desk. Few were as relaxed as he was when he entered this office.

“Jamal, don’t sit,” Chastity said, sounding exhausted. “He has somewhere to be. So please, please don’t take more than five minutes.”

Jamal shrugged and looked back at Chastity over his shoulder, his eyes scanning her from head to toe, lingering momentarily at her ample bosom. “Hey, I didn’t call the meeting, so it ain’t on me.”

Making an impatient sound, she left them alone and Turner looked at Chris once again, a question in his eyes.

“Robyn Crandall,” Chris said. “What’s your business with her?”

Turner took a minute and then shrugged. “None. None that I know of.”

Chris waited, and when he didn’t elaborate, leaned back in his chair. “Personal business?”

For a moment Turner looked confused then realization dawned in his eyes.

“Oh! You mean from before when we were . . . . nah, no personal business. I mean, not yet. Because . . . well, hell, you’ve seen her, but nah, she was just asking me to return a phone call.”

“What phone call?”

“From her man. Or her ex man. Some cat named Curtis? I told her I get like a dozen messages a day from folks looking to have me meet with their client, so . . .” Turner shrugged. “Anyway, I told her to tell him holla at me again tomorrow and I’ll see what’s up.”

Chris nodded and stood, looking around for his iPad and taking a quick look at the time. “Okay.”

Turner looked confused. “So . . . was there something you wanted me to do about this dude? Or not do about this dude?”

“Nope. Just do whatever,” Chris said, not meeting his gaze.

“Okay?” Turner didn’t move from his seat. “I don’t under . . .”

Chris stopped and looked at him. “Turner,” he said. “Don’t you have shit to do?”

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