I should’ve listened to Sidney. I shouldn’t have come here.
I tapped my first pair of ‘Red Bottoms’, courtesy of you-know-who, against the carpet. My eyes surveyed the dimly lit room, different hues of purple linens draped the walls, over-sized arm chairs sat next to small tables in the four corners. A few matching couches surrounded a golden pole in the middle of the room.
“Ms. Monet’-Baldwin will be with you in a moment.” A short androgynous woman with a spiked cut smiled as she handed me a cocktail.
“Oh, I didn’t order anything.” I declined, “but thank you.”
“Compliments of the house. I wanted to extend something for the wait.” I accepted the drink, hesitantly, but didn’t drink it. I had no idea where I was, so taking a drink was the last thing I wanted to do – especially since this meeting wasn’t under the best circumstances.
Sidney’s lawyer filed the divorce paperwork the day after she proposed. Surprisingly, Monica agreed to sign – with one exception – I had to meet with her, alone. Sidney was completely opposed to the idea, but I figured I owed the woman that much. So, I lied and told Sidney I’d let her handle it; then, called and accepted Monica’s invitation – on the condition she kept it between us because Sidney didn’t want me to come.
“Typical.” She replied, a smirk in her voice. “I’ll see you Friday, at 8. I know Sidney will be out of town. I’ll text you the address.”
Sidney was in Miami with her Aunt MeMe on business. She’d be back Sunday evening and my plan was to surprise and welcome her home with the signed divorce papers. One less thing on her plate…more time for her to spend making love to me. At the time, it seemed like a simple plan; but now that I was here, waiting on the soon-to-be-ex-wife of the woman I was about to marry, I started to develop second thoughts.
“Soooo sorry to keep you waiting,” Monica’s voice appeared behind me just as I was thinking about making an escape. “I was held up with one of the new girls, things get a bit crazy around here when Monica and MeMe are away…”
Dark curls fell around a silver mask that covered her eyes. My face expressed my confusion, but she didn’t bother to explain as she pulled it off.
“I figured since you were so eager to take my place, you should know exactly what you’re getting yourself into.” She scoffed and beckoned for me to follow her, “How about we chat over a few drinks?” Monica’s smile let me know I probably wasn’t going to enjoy this, but somehow, I knew she would.
We walked down a narrow hallway, and made a left into a much smaller room with a sign that read “House Only” on the door. A dark wood theme dominated the room. Four wooden stools sat at a high bar that extended from one end of the wall to the other. Two small tables with enough seating for eight sat in the middle of the dark-wood floor, and Wale’s Lotus Flower Bomb flouted from an antique juke-box in the corner.
A delicate faced brown-skinned woman with large eyes and honey blonde goddess locs greeted us from behind the bar. She and Monica chatted briefly while I made myself comfortable at the table furthest from the door. I overheard Monica ask for a double-shot of rum and coke, before joining me at the table.
“What would you like to drink?” The pretty bar-tender’s eyes landed on me.
“I’ll have a Sangria, if you have one.”
“Absolutely” She smiled and got busy behind the bar. She disappeared through a door behind the bar before returning with our drinks and a bowl of spinach artichoke dip that seemed to appear – freshly made – out of nowhere.
“We have a chef in the back. Clients like a little wine and dine with their grind…” Monica laughed at her own joke. I didn’t get it.
“Anya, would you mind?” Monica shooed the bartender out the room. She nodded and exited quickly, closing the door on her way out.
We were finally alone.
“So….” Monica took her time sipping her rum and coke before finishing her sentence, “Let’s just cut to the chase shall we?”
“Sure, I jus–” She cut me off.
“You’re a fish out of water here, honey. You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into, and you don’t know Sidney like you think you do.”
“Monica, if you brought me here to argue with you, I’m not—“
“You’re going to do whatever I ask you to do right now, if you want those papers signed. Well…that is if you still want them after this.”
“After what?” I took the bait, hoping I could move things along. Whatever she wanted to tell me wasn’t going to change my mind about marrying Sidney.
She gave me a disparaging look and ignored my question. “Sidney thinks she loves you more than me, and you actually believe her…” She chuckled and stared for a second. Her eyes studied me as if she were trying to find the “thing” that pulled Sidney away. I responded with silence.
“…and I suppose you think you love her, too?” Her perfectly sculpted left brow shot up while she waited for my answer.
“I..I do…” I stuttered, sounding more like a timid child than a thirty-something-year-old woman.
“Let’s see …you’ve known Sidney for what, ten minutes?” she leaned in close and folded her arms on the table. “I get it, you’re new, exciting and – apparently – you make her feel something she hasn’t felt with me in a long time. But let’s face it…” her expression changed to one of pity, mixed with amusement, “you’re not cut out for this position. You can’t be me…and deal with all of…this…” she waved her hand around the room before taking another drink.
I didn’t come here to get into some argument over who was a better fit for Sidney – obviously, Sidney chose the better fit – ME. I wanted to keep this as cordial as possible, so thought I would say something to show her I wasn’t reveling in this, “I understand this must be hard—”
She cut me off.
“Oh…no…you’re not about to do that.” She sat up straight and perched her arm on her waist. “You’re not going to come in here and make this ok – we’re not going to hug and be friends, and I don’t need you to feel sorry for me. You should feel sorry for yourself.”
I rolled my eyes, shut my mouth, and folded my arms across my chest. She picked up her glass and finished off her cocktail before moving to the bar to make another. She offered me one, but I refused. I’d barely touched my Sangria, plus I had to drive home.
I rolled my eyes, “Seriously, Monica. What’s this about? I didn’t come here to throw jabs with you.”
“I’m not here to throw jabs with you either.” Her gaze was serious, “I’m here to try to talk you out of the mistake you’re about to make.”
Here we go.
“Mistake?” I asked, a lackadaisical look on my face.
“Absolutely. You don’t know a damn thing about what you’re getting yourself into. You think you’re the first she’s tried to replace me with?”
What in the hell was that supposed to mean?
“You’re not honey, you’re just the latest in a long line of women she entertains when she’s bored, or manic, or depressed…or whatever mood she’s in – who knows with her….” She shrugged her shoulders and pulled a compact out of her bra. She began fluffing her curls while continuing her thought, “You can’t honestly think Sidney would leave me, for someone like…you?” She laughed and snapped her compact shut. Her eyes filled with sympathy.
“You actually believe Sidney is in love with you – don’t you?” She walked back over to the table to have a seat.
“She loved me enough to buy a home for us, and divorce you, and marry me…” I snapped, arrogantly.
“She hasn’t gotten a divorce and married your ass yet, don’t get too comfortable.” Her tone was harsh, but she had a point. I was supposed to be here to help things, not make things worse. I certainly didn’t want this to escalate, so I backed off.
“I apologize.” The words came up like vomit. It wasn’t my fault she was an inattentive, selfish, bitch-of-a-wife who didn’t appreciate what she had. I didn’t break them up, she basically pushed Sidney into my arms. “I thought you’d be happy that you could finally be with Tanya.”
The look of disgust on her face made me want to run for cover.
“What I do…how I do it…and when I do it with Tanya is none of your business. If I wanted to leave Sidney for Tanya I would’ve.”
“Exactly, Monica. You didn’t want to leave Tanya for Sidney. You’ve been dragging Sidney around on a leash for years…going back and forth between her and Tanya, only thinking about you. You’re selfish!” The sentence came out before I had a chance to stop myself. This wasn’t going well at all.
“Ohhhh, I’m selfish? Sidney and I have been living this way for years and she’s been fine with it.”
“She’s not fine with it. She’s never been fine with it.”
“Is that what she tells you?”
“It’s what I know.”
“You don’t know a damn thing, Jameka!” A vein popped out of her neck and she slammed her glass on the table, startling me in the process. Clearly, I’d touched a nerve. “But it’s cute that you think you do.” Her voice calmed.
“Why don’t you fill me in on what I don’t know….” Exasperation filled my voice. I was ready to go.
“Well,” She gulped down her second drink and cleared her throat, “That’s part of the reason I invited you here, I want to make sure you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into…”
“…and what does that mean?” I asked, impatiently. I needed to get back to the other side of town before my friends arrived, and I’d already wasted forty minutes waiting for her to show.
“It means, I think you’re in over your head and you really need to reconsider what you’re getting yourself into. A marriage proposal from Sidney comes with a lot of baggage.”
“Look,” I stopped her before she could say something else, “If you brought me here to try to make me change my mind about marrying Sidney, it’s not happening. Unless Sidney raped, murdered or tortured someone – there’s nothing you can tell me about her that’ll make me leave her.”
“…you do know she’s crazy, right?” Her tone was insensitive and extremely sarcastic. I didn’t like it; no wonder Sidney was divorcing her.
“She’s NOT crazy,” I shot back annoyed, “she has Bipolar Disorder, it doesn’t mean she’s crazy.”
“Oh, I see she’s told you her little secret.” She brushed her hair from in front of her face, “…and did she also mention her history of jealousy and how she likes to beat on her women when she goes into a jealous rage?”
I found it funny she was telling me this now. If she was so concerned why hadn’t she mentioned this when she surprised me at the hotel suite when all this started? Clearly, she had ulterior motives, I wasn’t about to fall for it.
“I’m aware she’s had some issues, but she’s doing well now. She’s been in counseling since she found out you were cheating on her with Tanya.” I threw that part in on purpose. Monica’s mouth twitched, but she managed a stiff smile.
“…Ahh…the same rage she went into when she found you and Tanya kissing at your house?” Her face was smug as she leaned back and waited for me to respond.
I sighed, “Tanya kissed ME on the cheek. If you’re going to tell a story about me, get it right. Besides, she can’t be that bad, you’re still here trying to convince me to walk away. If she was such an abuser and such a terrible person, it’d seem you’d be happy I’m taking her off your hands, right?”
I felt my phone vibrate and reached into my purse to grab it. My best friends, Dionne and Taffney, text they were on the way to the house on Suello. It’d take them about an hour-and-a-half to get there in this traffic, which meant I needed to leave within the hour so I could meet them there.
“Since you know so much,” Monica continued trying to prove her point, “…did you know her mom was a whore and her daddy was a pimp who beat the shit out of them both?”
I know she didn’t call me over here for a damn history lesson on Sidney. She could’ve did this over the phone.
“Monica, I don’t know what you’re trying to prove here. I know all about Sidney’s history. She told me about her grandmother, her mother, her Aunt MeMe and her dad. I know it all – I even know how you played her into marrying you after you found out Tanya was married, and how you spent the night before your wedding with Tanya…since you want to go down memory lane…shall I go on?”
I gave her a look that told her I wasn’t afraid of anything she was trying to dish out. I didn’t just develop some girlhood crush on a woman I barely knew. Sidney and I had been together for over a year, we developed a meaningful relationship that wasn’t based on sex. Sure, Sidney had some ways about her that I didn’t care for – like her jealousy, controlling nature, and anger issues – but those things hadn’t been issues as of late. Besides, there was no such thing as a perfect mate. I loved Sidney regardless.
Monica tried to hide her irritation. She obviously didn’t like the fact that Sidney had revealed so much to me – particularly about their relationship. I don’t think that was part of the plan.
“Looks like you and Sidney talk a lot, huh?” Monica spat, folding her arms across her chest. Her red lips snarling in my direction.
“We do.” My voice was calm, controlled. We sat and stared for a moment, sizing each other up. Then Monica’s face grew pleasant.
“You’ve clearly made up your mind and nothing I can say will change it.” Monica slid her chair back and stood motioning for me to follow her. “Sometimes, the only way to show a person what they don’t need is by giving them exactly what they want, so you know what? I’m going to grant her this little divorce. I could use the break anyway.”
If she assumed our marriage was temporary, she had another thing coming. I could give Sidney what she wanted – commitment, a real marriage, loyalty, devotion – things she couldn’t and wouldn’t.
“Well, come on. The papers are in the office, upstairs.”
If she had an office, why were we meeting down here in a bar? And what was this place anyway that she had an office here? Sidney said Monica didn’t work and depended on her for everything…clearly, she was up to something.
I lost my train of thought as we made our way out the small room. Things were much busier now than when I arrived. Several women mingled around a piano in an entrainment room. A few scantily clad women led others into bedrooms with signs outside the doors that read, “Do Not Disturb”.
We passed a woman, who looked a lot like the Governor’s wife, as she entered one of the “Do Not Disturb” rooms with a chiseled Asian woman. She acknowledged Monica, who responded by telling her to “enjoy herself”. She responded, “Chan always makes sure I do…” The Asian woman, who I assumed was Chan, blushed and playfully smacked the woman – who was wearing a bad wig and shades – on the buttocks before they went into the room.
“Was that the Govenor’s wif-…”
“Yep, that’s exactly who it was.”
“What’s she doing…in a place like this?”
“We service a lot of high end clientele.”
“Service…how? What is this place anyway?” I was afraid to ask, but she was taking me to her office in what I was sure was some kind whore house.
We passed through the purple room with the golden pole, where a woman (who looked so much like Rhianna that I had to do a double-take to make sure it wasn’t her – it wasn’t) performed a sexy burlesque dance for a group of women in police uniforms. A young blonde woman with over-sized breasts served drinks and lit cigars. One of them whispered something in her ear and she blushed, put her tray down, and they disappeared together down the hallway.
We continued up the stairs and passed by a room with an open door. I saw a toned, topless, light-skin woman with long, wavy hair, kissing her way down the dark-chocolate buttocks of a woman on the massage table. I watched the dominant woman’s hand disappear between chocolate thighs. I heard the woman on the table moan. It made me think about my first time with Sidney; I couldn’t wait until she got home.
Monica turned and caught me looking, “That’s the exhibitionist room. They like it when you watch.” I quickly looked away, “I wasn’t looking.”
“Sure, you weren’t.” We continued up the hall.
There were armed, mega-buff, men and women strategically placed throughout the home. Two of them stood outside the double doors at the end of the hallway. Monica went right in, but when I tried to follow, a muscular brunette woman pushed a large hand into my chest, damn near knocking me into the floor.
“What the hell?” I said stumbling back, trying to catch my balance.
“I’m sorry Ms. Monet-Baldwin, you’re the only other person authorized in this room. No one else can enter this room per MiMi and Sidney.” The brunette spoke with a deep monotone voice. She wore a pained expression on her face, the kind you wear when you’re going through a serious bout of menstrual cramps, but you can’t afford to take off work.
“She can. She’s your new boss. She’s the woman Sidney’s divorcing me for, Jameka.” Monica continued in the room and pulled me along. Once she said my name, there was no further interference from the muscle.
I asked, concerned, “…what is this, some kind of brothel? And what do you mean I’m the new boss? I know Sidney doesn’t own this…does she?” We entered a large room with a separate living area, patio, small bar, and a desk with seating for guest. I took one of the seats on the couch near the fireplace.
Monica pulled some papers from the desk and grabbed a pen. She leaned over, exposing a white laced bra underneath her shirt, and signed the papers before handing them over to me. “I thought you said you knew everything…oops…” She balanced her back against the desk, folded her arms in her chest, and crossed her legs. The look on her face was one of enjoyment. I suspected she planned this.
“Sidney has investments, properties, and she owns her own company…” I really didn’t know how Sidney made her money. I never even bothered to ask, it just never came up. Monica quickly caught on.
“You have no idea how she makes her money,” she opened her mouth wide and covered it with her hand. A surprised look appeared on her face, “…you’re about to marry into a criminal enterprise and you don’t even know it.”
She burst into laughter, “Oh, this is going to be good. You won’t last two months!”
“What are you talking about, Monica?” I wrinkled my forehead and stared at Monica, waiting for her to smile, or give me an inkling that she was merely joking. She didn’t.
“Pimps, honey. Well, Sidney likes to think herself more of a ‘manager’, but MeMe calls it good old-fashioned pimping.” She laughed at her own joke, I didn’t find it funny. “They’ve been doing it for years, they just opened this house. It’s for women only. But they have houses in Louisiana, Texas, Miami, and you’re opening one in Atlanta in a few months – that one will also be women-only.”
“You’re lying.” This had to be a final effort to scare me away. There was no way Sidney was involved in something like this.
Monica reassured me she wasn’t, “It’s true, Jameka. Why do you think they’re in Miami?”
“Umm…Sidney just said she needed to handle some business, I didn’t…ask.”
I didn’t. I never asked Sidney about her business, it just wasn’t something that came up; and since I rarely spoke about my job, I didn’t think anything of it. Some people are private with their work, others leave their work at work – I figured she was one of the two. Besides, we had better things to do with our time.
“Girl, please.” Monica rolled her eyes, “She went to Miami because some guys robbed one of the houses, I think a girl may have been shot. A few girls were raped. I don’t have all the details, we don’t talk business over the phone so she couldn’t get much information. That’s why they had to go down there.”
I couldn’t hide my astonishment. I was in love with Sidney, but I didn’t want to risk getting involved with someone who was caught up in a life of crime. There had to be more to this.
“But… wait a minute…” I put my hand up and shook my head trying to digest what I’d just heard, “I thought Sidney owned several businesses and had investments? Why would she need to do…this?”
“Yes, Sidney has several businesses between fast food chains, car washes, laundromats, and the likes. She does invest well, but it’s not enough to keep us in the lifestyle you’ve seen us live.”
She spoke so nonchalantly, she almost made it sound normal. But it wasn’t. Sidney hadn’t mentioned she was involved in criminal activity, especially not something as degrading as sex-trafficking. What was she thinking? How could she do something like this after what she’d known of her mother? She went to college – she had options – I didn’t understand.
“I have to talk to Sidney, now.” I reached into my bag to grab my phone.
“You can cancel that.” Monica snatched the phone from my hands and sat it on the desk behind her, “First, she’s going to know you met with me and that’s going to piss her off; second, didn’t I just tell you we don’t discuss this business over the phone? She has a burner phone for that, you don’t have the number, and even if you did, you wouldn’t call her to discuss something like this.”
I slumped forward in the chair and cradled my forehead in my hands, massaging my temples. I started to speak, but a knock at the door made me pause. I looked up to see the brunette muscle enter the room holding a black duffle bag with a police logo.
“I’m sorry to bother you ma’am, but Officer Young dropped off a little gift, said the girls took real good care of them at the annual retreat. This is a tip from the team.” She had a thick southern accent that made me wonder what part of the South she was from.
“Ahhh…Sidney will be very happy about this.” Monica smiled as the brunette hulk unzipped the bag and removed a meticulously wrapped rectangular package, placing it on the table. She grabbed a letter opener out of the desk and cut into the package, as she pulled the opener out, a white powdery substance spilled onto the table.
“This is perfect. Tell Officer Young we said thank you, and send Antoinette up to her room – on the house.” The muscle nodded and exited the room.
Monica beamed and did a little dance over to her desk. She grabbed a phone from the desk and made a call via speaker phone. Sidney’s voice answered after three rings.
“What, Monica?” Sidney was clearly annoyed that she was calling. That made me smile, it made Monica frown.
“I don’t know yet, I haven’t checked.”
“What the hell you calling me for then? You know what to do. CBS. Don’t call me again unless it’s important.” Click. She hung up without saying good-bye.
Monica smiled as if the call went well, “Well, I guess this is as good a time as any for you to get this over to the girls to CBS before the clubs open tonight. If this stuff came from Officer Young, it’s way too pure to sell as is, they’ll need to cut it down – so we should remember to tell them that. Last time we got some shit from her and put it out, three people died. It was THAT good.” She laughed like she wasn’t talking about anything important.
“What is…CBS?” I dared ask.
“C-B-S” she replied as if I was supposed to know what that meant, “means cut, bag, and sell.” She eyed the white slab sitting on the table, several more remained inside the duffle bag. “This is another hustle. Sidney moves cocaine, ecstasy, and marijuana – party drugs mainly – we don’t deal with crack, heroine, or meth. You don’t actually have to touch any of this stuff, we have people for that – but you will be expected to oversee the operation, sort of like a Chief Operating Officer.”
“OK. You’re kidding, right? This is all some elaborate prank,” I grinned and looked around, hoping – no praying – this wasn’t real, “or some big joke to scare me away? There’s no way you’re involved in drugs and prostitution. I just don’t believe you.”
“Girl, I don’t have time to lie to you, or a reason. You heard Sidney on the phone, did it sound like a joke? You see the cocaine on the table…does this look like a joke?” Monica stuffed the brick of cocaine back inside the duffle bag and zipped it close. “You wanted to Sidney, you got her…and everything that comes with her. Now it’s your turn to hold her down. Enjoy.”
I didn’t know the first thing about selling drugs and I damn sure didn’t know anything about pimping women. I didn’t want to know. I didn’t even understand how they could become involved in something like this. They had children to think about for goodness sakes!
No, if we were going to be together, she had to make a choice. I wasn’t with her for the money and I didn’t have a problem going back to my old life.
I stood up and grabbed my purse. “Monica, I appreciate your concern. But, I’m not going to be you or attempt to fill your shoes. Sidney loves me for me and she knows I’d never get involved in something like this. I can convince her to walk away, we can enjoy a good life without all of this.”
Monica laughed, “Right. I’d love to see you do that.”
She continued laughing as I exited the room, but I didn’t find anything funny. There was no way I was about to become someone’s “trap queen”, I just had to figure out a way to convince Sidney to leave it all behind.