From Ante Up – coming late January. Unedited, and subject to change. Enjoy 🙂
“And I got the information you wanted on Asha Davis.”
I turned my attention to Ace, listening to her for the first time since she’d climbed into the back of the car. She was my assistant as much as she was my “harmony advocate” – the sight of her was usually a pretty good diffuser of conflict – and she’d been running off a list of things I needed to be updated on. Everything else, she would have to tell me again. About Red though… I was all ears.
“Oh, so now you want to pay attention?” she teased, her emerald-toned eyes laughing even though her mouth wasn’t. “I knew you liked her.”
I shook my head, turning my gaze back toward the window. “I already told you, I don’t like her, I’m—”
“Interested,” she finished for me, disbelief apparent in her tone. “Which is understandable, because she is… interesting.”
“How so? Like she has a slew of strange hobbies or something?”
Ace cleared her throat as she used a stylus pen to navigate the tablet in her hands. “Like she has mug shots and a fucked up childhood.”
I took the device when Ace handed it to me, staring at the screen as she explained what I was seeing. “Arrested for assault and battery, stalking, harassment, all against a police officer, so I don’t know how the hell she got out of that. Some drunk and disorderlies. She’s banned from the Venetian, Bellagio, Aria, and Encore for suspicion of card counting at their poker tables. Before all of that, she graduated college with high honors, degree in finance paid for with scholarships. “No children, but…”
My eyes shot over to Ace. “But?”
“She was in a lengthy relationship, from college to about three years ago. And well… keep scrolling. You should see a familiar face.”
Those words were barely out when I reached the picture she must have been referring to. I narrowed my eyes at the screen.
Familiar face indeed.
“That relationship was… volatile. There are a few police reports for domestic disturbances, social media archives brought up a few videos of very nasty, very public verbal fights. It’s not clear if there was physical abuse or not, but they definitely could’ve been boxing with each other. Which isn’t new for Asha, considering the multitude of domestic disturbance calls she grew up with. Her father was kicking her mother’s ass, on a regular basis. And… more likely than not, Asha and her brother too.”
“I see now why you called her… interesting.”
Ace nodded. “Yeah. The face may be angelic, but the girl herself… is not.”
As I scrolled back through the pictures on the tablet – copies of police reports, mug shots – I let the information I’d just heard sink in. I certainly hadn’t thought there was anything innocent about her, but… damn.
“You’re in love now, aren’t you?” Ace snickered from the other side of the car, and I flipped her off with one hand, gave the tablet back with the other. “Oooh, sensitive about it too!”
I ignored Ace’s teasing as the driver pulled up to Beauchamp’s. I buttoned my jacket as we walked up to the back entrance and went inside, walking through the obvious signs of renovation – dust in the air, paint cans lining the floor, and most notably, the neon lights that lined the entrance were switched off.
We didn’t linger there. Our destination was the back office, where I was sure we’d find Leonard Beauchamp doing what he’d been doing since the contracts that gave us 60% of his business were signed – trying to find a way to get out of the contracts.
My hunch was spot-on.
Old Leo was a troll of a man, deeply wrinkled and hunched in his age. His advanced years had taken a physical toll, but not a mental one, and the man was cunning, always looking for the upper hand – even when advantages had already been handed to him.
“What the fuck do you want?” was the greeting I received, not from Leo, but from his youngest son, Randall. Randall was in his early forties, and if it were possible, hated the my family even more than the old man seated beside him.
I smirked at Randall, then Leo, as I stepped fully into the office, with Ace close by my side. “Now, is that any way to address the man who saved your family’s livelihood?” I asked, pushing my hands into the pockets of my slacks. “Impolite, don’t you think?”
“Politeness isn’t a contracted stipulation.” Randall stood, crossing his arms, and I knew how this meeting was about to go.
I nodded. “You’re 100% correct. But, our governance over the new design of this restaurant is. Do we need to have our attorneys meet, and review that paperwork again? I’d hope not, since from the outset this was supposed to be a friendly arrangement. We do the work, everybody makes money.”
“Your snake-ass father stole our business,” Randall growled, coming from around the desk. I gave Alicia a subtle shake of my head, urging her not to act.
“I can understand why you might feel that way.” Randall and Leonard both looked shocked by my words, but I continued on. “Your father scrapped and saved to build this business into what it was. Legendary on the strip. A black man, owning something like this… who would have thought?”
“You’re goddamned right,” Leo said, shoulders back, un-hunched, chest proud as he looked at me. “I hung that sign over the front door myself.”
I smiled. “Oh, I know that. Saw the newspaper clipping and everything.”
“So then you and your daddy ought to be giving respect where it’s due.” Randall crossed his arms over his chest, staring me down.
“We always do.”
He scoffed. “That’s funny to me, because I haven’t seen it for the last… hell, since you came in this motherfucker, acting like you built it. There hasn’t been any respect around here!”
“So what should that tell you, Randall?” An expression of bewilderment mingled with the anger already etched into his features, and I fought the urge to smile. “Let me give you a hint – you really think that the piss-poor management that ran this place into the ground deserves respect? The health-code violations, expired permits, hostile work environment complaints from the employees… you think you and your father deserve praise for that shit? You’re fucking kidding me, right?”
“See this is why black men can’t get ahead,” Randall started, using his hands to emphasize his words, and I rolled my eyes. “You come in here believing these lies, spreading them, trying to tear another black man down!”
“Nigga don’t insult my blackness,” I shot back, shaking my head. “Get out of here with that bullshit. Black people are out here doing big shit, in the spirit of excellence, with nothing but determination on their side. Don’t stand in my face and put yourself in the same group as people with real barriers to their success, people that are actually getting kicked down when they try to pick themselves up. They certainly exist, but your bitch ass isn’t one of them. You’re lazy, and stupid, and you – both of you – dropped the ball with your business, and that’s no ones fault but your own.”
Randall’s face dropped into an ugly, aggressive scowl. “What the fuck did you just say to me?”
“Nothing wrong with your ears, man. You heard me. I know you’ve got a chip on your shoulder because somebody better at this than you came in to put your business back in order, but I suggest you brush that shit off. Nobody stole anything from you man. There was no gun held to your head, no duress. You were made an offer for a certain percentage of your business and you accepted it. The money has been disbursed, and it’s been spent too, if that brand new Benz that was parked outside is any indication.”
“What’s your point here young man?” Leonard spoke up, and I glanced in his direction.
I cleared my throat. “My point… is stay out of the way so we can turn this piece of shit into something, make some money, and everybody goes home happy.”
“Watch your tone,” Randall growled, and I chuckled.
“Or you’ll be at the cleaner’s paying to get blood stains out of that nice ass suit.”
I laughed as he stepped forward, fists clenched like he was ready to make good on that threat. He’d barely taken two steps in my direction before Ace was in front of him, perfectly poised, with a gun aimed right at his chest.
Confusion, and then anger set into his expression as it dawned on him that pretty-assed Alicia, in her black platform heels, slim-fitting black slacks, and gauzy black blouse, was not eye-candy.
“Oh,” he snarled. “I see what this is. You ain’t nothing but a pussy in a suit. Fucking punk. What kind of grown ass man keeps a bitch around to do his dirty work for him?”
I frowned a bit as I nodded, more to myself than him. “You know… that’s a good question.” I stepped forward, putting a hand on Ace’s shoulder. “Why don’t you step aside… I’ve got this.”
Ace didn’t lower the gun, but her gaze drifted to me with a slight turn of her head. There was an unspoken question in her eyes, “What about what your father just said?” but I wasn’t too concerned about that. I squeezed her shoulder, signaling that I expected her to follow my direction, despite the message relayed to her from my father. She dropped the gun and stepped aside without a word – but I knew I’d pay a price for that silence later.
I unbuttoned my jacket and handed it to her, then turned back to Randall, who was posted up like we were about to go a few rounds. “Do you really want to do this shit?” I asked, glancing over at Leo. “The professional way to handle this would be to simply honor the terms of the contract you both agreed to, and signed.”
“Hell yeah, I want to do this. You and your crooked, bitch-ass daddy tricked us into selling our company. You stole that shit!”
“Nobody stole anything from you,” I said calmly. “You’re upset because you didn’t understand that you wouldn’t be in charge anymore, but the terms were clear. That’s your bad.”
“Yeah, well… let’s see what you have to say about a contract after I kick your ass,” Randall shot back, then quickly threw a jab at me, trying to catch me off guard. I easily dodged the blow, then sent one of my own, relishing the sickening crunch that occurred as my fist connected with his jaw.
The howl he let out sounded inhuman, more wounded dog than man. Leo moved faster than I thought he could to get to his son as Randall crumpled to the ground, holding his face. Beside me, Ace laughed, and I shot her a censoring look that she shrugged off.
“Let’s get him to a hospital,” I told Leo, but Randall shook his head as he shakily made his way back to his feet.
“Fuck you,” he mumbled, then spit out a mouth full of blood as he raised his hands again.
I shrugged. “Fine. But after this… one way or another, we aren’t going to have any more problems.”
Instead of a simple ass yes or no, Randall responded physically, letting out some kind of half-yell as he rushed me. Once again, I saw him coming, and quickly moved aside to land a blow right in his ribs, knocking the wind out him.
I stood over him as he clutched his side, rocking back and forth.
“So,” I said, looking between him and his father. “Like I said. Stay the fuck out of the way so we can make this money.”