The Little Black Book
By Jones Harwell
The long screech and smell of diesel informed Cayla that the bus has reached the platform. Gathering her things, she waits to pay her token. Clink. Pressing down the aisle, she takes her usual seat. It was a glooming evening. The only sound was the engine humming, and the creak of the seats as the bus made its way down 91st Street. Briefly closing her eyes, she rubbed at her temples; the pounding of the migraine becoming more prominent in force as she took each breath. She removed her glasses, giving them a quick wipe before placing them back on her face. She opens her eyes again and quickly glances at her hands. The scars, unusually visible ache, adding to her discomfort and brings back an uncomfortable memory. Blinking it away, she continues to stare out at the blurred buildings in the black haze.
Tonight, is the last night at the restaurant. The owners, well into their eighties, had finally retired and were moving to Florida. Cayla had managed their business for over ten years, scraping and saving every nickel, hoping she could purchase the last remaining franchise when the Myers retired. Business was dwindling in the neighborhood. Some heavy-hitting investment firm started buying surrounding properties and, despite the negotiations between her, the Myers and the investors, she could not afford to buy them out or even rent the property to continue. At 46, Cayla wasn’t interested in starting over. She’s done that once already, leaving a life that left burn scars on her hands; the constant reminder of her previous life and what her conscience cost her. Yet here I am, starting over again. She had no intentions of going back to her prior life. The long hours, sleepless nights weren’t the problem. She found herself caught up in the lives of her clients. She had never learned how to not care about people. Becoming an attorney, championing for the everyday people, was all Cayla ever wanted to do in life. She worked hard at becoming one of Phoenix’s best defense attorneys in her early 30s. Well respected among her peers, she had a small group of loyal friends and advocated in her community until that fateful night. The burn scars on her hands were a constant reminder of her previous life and what her conscience cost her.
The ride home normally took thirty minutes, yet it seems to drag on. An accident on Hamilton turned the thirty minutes into ninety as they held traffic until officials removed the carnage of a three-car accident from the middle of the intersection. Reaching her stop, she tugs the bell and exits from the back of the bus. In no rush, she walks the remaining two blocks at a snail’s crawl; the pulsing in her skull slowing her pace and the uneasiness in her stomach. Just two more blocks and you’ll be home. A sigh of relief spills from her throat as she enters her door code on the pad. The buzzer chimes as she pulls the heavy glass door open and makes her way to the lobby elevator. She wouldn’t describe her housing as luxurious, but it wasn’t shabby either. Her apartment was on the 7th floor of a twenty-floor high-rise, equipped with security cameras and twenty-four concierges. Hearing her name, she pauses and makes her way to the desk.
“Good evening, Ms Davis. This came for you today.” The concierge hands Cayla a large envelope. She extends her hand, noticing the weight of the package was heavier than she expected. She gives her thanks and makes her way back to the elevator bank. On the ride up to her floor, she glances at the envelope. The uneasiness in her stomach turns to knots as there is no return address, only her name, postage and the post mark which read Phoenix, AZ. Phoenix? Her heart races. Cayla has never believed in consequences. She had had no contact with anyone from Phoenix since leaving over fifteen years ago. She spent the first five years wandering around as a nomad until settling in a suburb outside of Portland nine years ago. Cayla worked on becoming invisible, and invisible she became, leaving behind the life she worked so hard to achieve.
Bing. Exiting she makes her way to her apartment, quickening her steps needing the comfort of her surroundings to quell her anxiety. Her apartment, a modest two bedroom, was her haven. Filled with a mixture of afro-centric patterns and live plants, she discards her coat on the thick raspberry chaise and plops her purse and envelope on the island separating the living room from the kitchen area. A creature of habit, she turns to the kitchen to prepare a mug of ginger tea. She’s unsure why the envelope has spooked her. Steadying her trembling hand, she takes a few sips to calm her nerves. With her mug in hand, she retreats to her bedroom and walks straight into the bathroom. Turning the shower knob, she stands at the mirror and begins wiping away the day’s makeup, studying her face. It portrays her. Wide black eyes framed the mocha skin with a slender nose, full forehead and full lips. The salt and pepper curls slenderize her full face, wisps tenderly caressing her ears and jawline. The confidence she had worked so hard to rebuild. Shaking her head, she refuses to go down that road of anguish. Not now, As the steam builds, she inhales deeply, letting the combination of tea and steam work its magic. After several minutes the pain subsides slightly and she feels somewhat human again. She takes a quick shower and changes into sweats and slippers before returning to her living room.
Although the hour was late, she found herself restless. Events of the last day still weighed heavily, and now this package has just unnerved her more. The restaurant traffic was busier than usual with customers coming in and out extending goodbyes and well wishes. The Myers closed the doors at eight and held a small party for the remaining staff, handing out bonuses and reminiscing on the fifty-year history of great food, staff and customers. She enjoyed working as a manager, mentoring the staff and pampering the loyal customers that frequent the institution. After leaving Phoenix, she became a recluse, not allowing many people to enter her inner sanctum. Though friendly with the Myers, they knew very little about her life before coming to Portland. Another scar, though not as visual as her hands, but a scar from her previous life. Instead of the day being festive, she was melancholy. The migraine only dampened her spirits further with the realization that tomorrow her daily routine would no longer exist. Daily routines grounded her. Unexpected events created chaos and reminded her of a life she strived daily to forget.
Despite knowing the day was coming, she had not prepared for another job. With her savings untouched, she had time to relax for a few months or a couple of years if she wanted to. She would give herself a few days before deciding which direction to go. Uninterested in watching TV, she wonders about the package on her kitchen counter. Retrieving it, she returns to the sofa, scissors and package in hand. Snipping at the corners, she peers inside. A little black book. Frowning, curious she removes it from the envelope, noticing another smaller white envelope attached to the book and a thick legal envelope. Across the front written in bold print Egypt Calypso Jackson, Esquire. A cold sweat trickled from her forehead and down her back, expunging the pain wreaking havoc in her skull. This is impossible. Who? How in the world did they know where to find me? Opening the larger of the two envelopes first, she counted two hundred crisp 100-dollar bills. In the second envelope were five type written pages. Picking up the original envelope, she examines it again. Calling down to the front desk, her inquiries about the time envelope arrived and by whom. “The envelope arrived around eight this evening by courier,” the concierge responded. Hanging up, she leans back on the couch, contemplating should she read the letter or not? Apprehensive, curiosity got the better of her. After reading it twice, she rises and makes herself another cup of tea. Pulling out a notepad, she opens the little black book, jotting notes occasionally. Pulling out her laptop, her searches only confirm her fears. Now she’s pacing the floor with worry. Her world has just turned upside down. Two hours fly by before she calls it a night. Rising, she turns off the lights and goes to sleep.
Morning came early. The brightness of the day did little to improve her mood from the night before, nor had the migraine dissipated, it only intensified. Grabbing her backpack, she throws in a couple of outfits, the notepad, her laptop, the cash and the black book. Returning to the kitchen, she rinses the mug. Placing the letter in the sink, she lights a match and watches the embers turn the pages into soot. Rinsing the drain of the residue, she places a couple of calls, the second to a car service. Grabbing her bag and purse, she exits the apartment and waits in the lobby for her ride to appear. When she sees it pull up in the driveway, she exits the building and takes her place in the back seat.
“Where to Miss,” the driver asked politely. “To the airport, please. Terminal B,” Cayla responds. After attempting to start a conversation a few times with no response, the driver continued to their destination in silence. Despite the morning rush hour, the ride was quick. Tipping the driver generously, Cayla exits quickly and heads towards the airline kiosk. After collecting her ticket, she makes her way to the TSA security station. “Driver’s license and ticket,” the agent requested when she approached. The agent scans the license and ticket. E. Calypso Jackson. Phoenix, AZ. Landing a few hours later, she walks out of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to a waiting car and driver. “Ms. Jackson,” the driver quizzes as she approaches. She nods as he opens the back passenger door of the running Jaguar. Returning to the driver seat, he navigates through the airport traffic to the highway heading towards downtown Phoenix. Several minutes pass before the vehicle pulls up in front of a posh executive building. Opening the passenger door for her, Cayla hesitates before exiting to find another waiting doorman holding the door open at the building’s entrance.
An escort is standing in the lobby, waiting to escort her to the fifteenth floor. Cayla closes her eyes, gathering her thoughts all while trying to control her breathing. Terrified, the last thing she wanted to display was fear. Straightening her spine, she readies her game face. The door chimes open, bringing her back to a life she left and face to face with the man she both loved and despised. “Welcome home, Calypso,” the deep voice bellowed. Refusing to crumble, she responds at a whisper, “Uncle Vaughn, I need your help.”
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An excerpt from 9 Days 777600 Seconds, coming Fall 2021
Morning comes early and despite her best efforts, her rest was interrupted. Her mind refused to shut off. Not one to blame the weather, she trusted her instincts. Dressing quickly, she goes downstairs for a cup of coffee with Boy following behind her. The old man had informed her moments earlier that it would be late noon before power would be completely restored. Grabbing a quick bite and retrieving the pick-up truck keys, left on the counter, she heads to the shed. Opening the door, Boy cushions himself on the passenger side. She heads out south of the house to an old dirt trail behind the barn. Every hundred feet or so was a marker, until she reached a trio of magnolias about twenty minutes into her journey. Hooking a left, she continues on the path across the one lane bridge. Noticing the creaking gone, she assumes that someone had recently repaired the planks. Twenty minutes later, the road opens to a lakeview. To the right stood a rambler style cottage and a pier extending to the water. She parks and walks the length of the pier, stopping to retrieve a fishing rod out of the barrel at the entrance. Boy, uninterested, makes his way to the front porch of the cottage and lays in a cool spot. Despite still being early, the sun is beaming and sitting directly on the pier isn’t providing any shade. Azure wishes she had brought a hat with her. No shade and shade coming in spades from the presence on the pier. Taking a deep breath, she sits as a pair of slits eyes her cautiously from the oversized straw hat. Rechecking the pole already in the water, she spits into a tobacco can. Azure shakes her head in disdain. It seems her friend still has that nasty habit. “Who was my visitor last night”, she starts skipping the usual morning pleasantries and buying her some time for the second reason of her visit. “Not sure”, the southern drawl quips. “It definitely wasn’t Armani, but best I can tell a man. Stood about six feet, maybe six-one in full recon gear, with a telescope and long lens camera. Spent a good two hours before that oak split and sent him scurrying”. Removing their poles from the water, slant eyes grabs the cooler, already full of fish and shrimp. She turns to Azure signaling her to follow. They walk in silence back to the cottage. Removing the hat and fishing vest, Azure notices the first change in her friend. The once closely shaved skull now has a cascade of multi-color locs. The second thing she noticed was the interior of the cottage. Once used as a fishing shed, it now radiated in color. A small but modern kitchen anchored the living space filled with vibrant afro-centric prints and family heirlooms. Azure noticed that an extension had been added for sleeping quarters in the back. Bringing a smile to her face, she sits at the island watching her sister clean her catch. Not blood sisters, Azure and Leah were raised in the same house. Leah’s parents worked for Mamma Callie along with the Old Man. A trip to visit family in Alabama ended in tragedy as Leah’s parents were killed in a car crash that left Leah fighting for survival. Mamma Callie took Leah in, as her only other living relative was in a hospice. With only months separating the two in age, they became inseparable. While Azure ventured to Hollywood to become a star, Leah followed the Old Man’s footsteps, went to college and spent ten years in the Marines, before an injury cost her an eye in Iraq during a training mission. “You know the house belongs to you as well Leah. You don’t have to stay down here. I do like all the changes”, starting the conversation on a light note. “Hm”, Leah snorts raising her gaze from the task at hand to fully inspect Azure once again. “You’re bony and full of too much sugary sentiment. Beside I like being by the water. Spill it, what happened”?
Copyright 2020 Jones Harwell