Christine Thurman and her husband, Jesse Ray, built a business worth millions and were once deeply in love. But lately J.R. has become obsessed with his empire and Christine feels taken for granted. . .until Wade Eddie Fisher, a bad boy with good looks from Christine's past, comes back to town. Even though Wade is penniless and undependable, he reignites something deep within Christine. Before long she's immersed in a sultry affair, and has devised a plan so risky that it promises to deliver all she could possibly wantor shatter the lives of everyone close to her. . .
"With its sexual triangle and triplecrossing plot, Deliver Me From Evil is modern noir." Akron Beacon Journal
"Her wildest and most entertaining novel yet." Publishers Weekly
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Deliver Me From Evil
By MARY MONROE
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2007 Mary Monroe
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA crude tattoo on his right bicep told the world that his name was Wade. I recognized prison artwork when I saw it, but he didn't look like a thug. At least not like any of the ones I knew. There were no grills of tacky-looking gold teeth decorating his mouth like stale corn. There was no thick gold chain wrapped around his neck like a noose. With his neatly trimmed jet-black hair; smoky gray eyes; sharp, handsome features; and a thin T-shirt and tight jeans hugging his well-developed body, he looked like a low-income Lenny Kravitz.
Between sips from a can of Coors Light, he puffed on a thick blunt. A strong haze swirled around his head like a halo. It was some pretty good shit, too. I welcomed the immediate buzz I got from inhaling the secondhand smoke. I hadn't smelled weed this strong and sweet since I was a teenager, more than ten years ago. But within seconds that halo around his head turned into a dark cloud and was moving in my direction.
I swallowed a huge lump that was threatening to block my throat. Then I held my breath as he dialed the number to the video store that my husband owned and managed.
"Hello ... Yes!" Wade said in a loud and gruff voice as soon as he got a response on the other end. It sounded likehe had a huge lump in his throat, too. He coughed and cleared his throat, altering his voice this time. "I need to speak to Jesse Ray Thurman." He talked with the blunt dangling from the corner of his lips. "Put him on the phone. Put him on the phone right now," he ordered, a grimace on his face. "Dude, I ain't playing!" He even sounded like Lenny Kravitz.
The telephone, sitting in the lap of a wobbly bamboo chair, was so cheap looking, it resembled a child's toy. The Wal-Mart bag that he had removed it from lay on the floor, with the sales receipt peeking out like a white tongue. But the cheap telephone had a speaker feature, so I could hear my husband's response on the other end of the line from where I stood, a few feet away from Wade.
"You've reached Video-Drama located on Alcatraz near downtown Berkeley," my husband answered, sounding as cheerful and phony as a used-car salesman. "Please hold."
Wade's mouth dropped open so wide, the blunt fell to the floor, scorching the faded carpet. He immediately ground it out by stomping on it with the heels of his run-over, well-worn shoes, which he had probably picked up from Payless or Goodwill. It must have been hell for such a handsome man to be so broke in this day and age. I wondered where he'd gotten the money to buy the weed.
"This motherfucker put me on hold!" he hollered, looking at me with an incredulous look on his face. "What kind of dumb-ass motherfucker are you married to?" he yelled, shaking the beer can at me like it was a weapon.
"He doesn't know I've been kidnapped," I whimpered. My eyes were itching, and the insides of my nostrils felt like they were on fire. I held my breath again. I could barely feel my lips when I spoke again. "Give him time ... He'll be with you in a minute. Please give him time."
"Fuck this shit! You better be right! I ain't got all day! They got another line I can call at that damn place?"
"They ... they have two lines, but ... but if you call the other one, you'll just get put on hold again," I managed, my words rolling out of my mouth like rocks. "Please give him time," I begged. The inside of my mouth was so dry, it felt like my tongue had stuck to the roof.
I closed my eyes and prayed that the man who was about to demand a half-million-dollar ransom for my release was not going to run out of patience. I knew from experience that a caller to my husband's business could be put on hold for one minute or much longer and left listening to an instrumental version of "Strangers in the Night." That was why when I needed to call him up at work, I usually called him on his cellular phone.
"This is Video-Drama," my husband said after what seemed like an eternity. "We are located-"
"Shut the fuck up!" Wade roared, cutting my husband off in midsentence.
"Excuse me?" Jesse Ray said, still sounding cheerful and phony.
"I need to speak to Jesse Ray Thurman. Right now!" Wade glared at me with such an extreme sneer, it looked like his face had been turned inside out. He looked raw and more menacing than ever. Now he did look like some of the thugs I knew.
There was a pause before Jesse Ray responded. A pause that was long enough to make my blood pressure feel like it was about to go through the roof.
"Speaking. How can I help you today?" Jesse Ray continued, almost singing his words. "We are here to fill all of your video needs. We've got everything from the earliest to the latest Hollywood hits to-"
"I said shut the fuck up! I got a gun, and I know how to use it!"
My husband let out a gasp that was so loud, it made me jump. "What did you say?"
"You long-eared motherfucker, I know you ain't deaf. I know damn well you heard what I just said. But in case you didn't, I will say it again. I got a gun, and I know how to use it!" I hadn't seen a gun yet, and I hoped I wouldn't.
The hollow silence that followed for a few moments was almost unbearable. It seemed like every sound in the world had come to an end. My body had begun to let me down. It felt like spiders were crawling over every inch of my flesh.
Then there was a muffled hiss. Jesse Ray cleared his throat before he responded. "Who in the world is this?" His voice was almost as hollow as the silence I'd just endured.
Wade leaned his head to the side and sucked in a deep, loud breath. Then he spoke like he was reading a script. "Listen and listen good, motherfucker. Don't you say another goddamn word until I finish. Now, this is the score. We got your wife!" He paused, winked at me, and then lowered his voice. "I just wish she wasn't so damn pretty. It's hard to keep my eyes off a woman with such a nice, juicy petite body, such big brown eyes, cinnamon brown skin, and a head full of thick black hair falling across her shoulders. She looks like a film star." He sighed and moaned, sounding like the same obscene caller who had called me up one night a few years ago.
I didn't think that I was "so damn pretty," but I was attractive. The rest of his description was quite accurate. This situation was more about my husband's money than my looks, but it didn't matter. I was still nervous and frightened about how it was going to turn out.
Wade increased the volume on the speaker. Now I could even hear Jesse Ray breathing on the other end of the line. My husband was a healthy man, but by the way he was wheezing, coughing, and clearing his throat now, you would have thought that he was struggling to stay alive. And I guess in a way that was probably true. He worshipped the ground I walked on and had once told me that if I died before him, he didn't know how he'd be able to go on living.
There was another pause before Jesse Ray responded again. "You need to tell me who this is, and you need to tell me now," he said in an impatient and amused tone of voice.
"You'll find out soon enough. Like I just said, we got your wife. And what a fine piece of tail she is! If you want her back with her pussy in one piece, you'll do everything I tell you to do. Now, first thing is, you don't call no cops, and you don't tell nobody else about this. If you do, I'll know about it, and you can forget about ever seeing this sweet little woman of yours again. Any questions?"
Jesse Ray let out an impatient sigh. Then he laughed. He laughed. He cackled long and loud, like a hyena. My mouth dropped open, and I stared at the telephone. My life was at stake, and my husband was laughing!
"Man, what the fuck is wrong with you? Didn't you hear what I just said?"
"I heard you," Jesse Ray said, still laughing.
"You think I'm playing? You think this is funny?"
"Hell, yeah, this is funny," Jesse Ray said, mumbling profanities under his breath. "But I got work to do, so you have to call me back at a better time."
I sat there in slack-jawed amazement. I could not believe what I had just heard.
"Harvey, I know this is you. I've heard you use that same voice when you do your lame-ass impressions. I must say, you are beginning to sound more and more like the Godfather, so keep practicing," my husband said in a stern voice. "But don't practice on me. I'm a busy man."
"Shit! Look, I am not playing with you! Damn you to hell!"
The room got so quiet, I could hear the water dripping in the sink in the bathroom across the hall.
"Are you still there, motherfucker?" Wade shouted, kicking over a chair.
"Yes, I'm still here."
"I told you, I wasn't playing with you! Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"And I am not playing with you, either, Harvey. You are my only brother and I love you, but you are one sick-ass puppy, and you need some serious help! I begged you for years to get some therapy, and you didn't. Now look at what you are up to. Now let me get off this phone so I can get back to work."
Wade and I looked at each other at the same time. My mouth was hanging open wider than his. My husband had just hung up.
Chapter TwoWade redialed the number to the video store, one of three that my husband owned and managed. Jesse Ray had worked hard to build his small empire, and he had taken me along for the ride. Not as an equal partner, but more like a paid companion. He never let me forget that it was his business, period.
"Woman, you are a lot more trouble than you are worth," Wade shouted at me, giving me a cold look. "You better pray that your old man comes through with that half a million bucks. All this drama I'm going through, I better get paid! What the hell kind of fool did you marry? What kind of man puts his wife's kidnapper on hold?"
"I told you, my husband doesn't know I've been kidnapped," I reminded.
"This is some ... Hello? Yes, I need to speak to Jesse Ray Thurman," Wade yelled, tapping the top of the telephone with his finger.
"Herro. This is Vlideo dwama." The cute but heavily accented voice that answered this time belonged to Kim Loo, the twenty-two-year-old Korean woman who worked for my husband. Of all the people who worked for my husband, Kim was the most valuable. As his assistant manager in the main store, she was dependable, punctual, trustworthy, and smart. She even took care of all the accounting. Even though Kim was young and had some mysterious affiliations with the local Asian massage parlors, I didn't worry about her working alone with my husband. She looked like a sumo wrestler and had the face of a mule.
"I don't believe this," Wade hissed. He glared at the telephone like it was a pile of shit. He glanced at his watch as I sat there, with my heart beating about a mile a minute. "I said, put Mr. Thurman back on the telephone."
"Misser Turman busy," Kim Loo said. "I happy to assist you. We are located at-"
"Listen, bitch, I need to speak to your boss!"
"Misser Thurman very busy," Kim Loo answered in a shaky voice. In addition to the massage parlors, Kim had also run with one of the toughest Asian street gangs in the Bay Area. She was not a timid girl, but she sounded frightened now.
"Busy my ass. Look, china doll, you put that black-ass nigger back on this telephone right now, or I'm going to come over there and teach him, and you, a lesson you won't never forget!" Wade warned, still looking at the telephone with disgust.
"Misser Thurman reely busy talking to his brother on other telephone," Kim Loo explained. I was glad to hear that she no longer sounded frightened, but she did sound impatient. And under the circumstances, I didn't know which was worse.
My biggest fear was that she would put Wade on hold for ten minutes or hang up on him altogether. Like Jesse Ray, she was probably thinking that this call was a prank or some disgruntled customer. But if Jesse Ray was on the other line, talking to his brother, Harvey, he knew now that the caller he'd just hung up on was not his brother. That gave me some hope. I was almost as anxious to get this "incident" underway as Wade was.
"Shit! I'm going to stay on this phone. You let your boss know that!"
"Who I say is calling?"
"Just tell him this concerns his wife and her whereabouts and her safety," Wade answered with a smug look on his face. "You tell him that I'd like to make him an offer he can't refuse. For the right price, he can have his wife back."
There was some mumbling on my husband's end and, suddenly, a sharp, shrill yell. I couldn't tell if it was coming from Kim Loo or Jesse Ray. But the next voice I heard belonged to my husband. "This is Jesse Ray Thurman," my husband said, sounding more serious now. "Who are you, and what is this all about?"
"You alone? And you better tell me the truth, motherfucker, because I ain't playing," Wade said in a firm and threatening manner. He no longer bothered to disguise his voice.
"Uh, something like that," Jesse Ray replied.
"What the fuck does that mean? Are you alone or not?"
"Uh, my assistant manager is here ... and a few customers," Jesse Ray muttered.
"Get rid of them motherfuckers. Every last one of them! That chink heifer assistant manager, too!" Wade demanded.
"Please hold on-"
"Hell, no! Hold my ass! This shit has gone on long enough! You put me on hold again, and you won't never see your wife again. It's time to get down to business! Do you understand me, asshole?"
"Yes, I ... I do understand," Jesse Ray said in a hollow voice. He paused, and I heard Kim Loo mumbling in the background as Jesse Ray dismissed her.
"You get rid of your brother on that other line, too?"
"Yes, I did," Jesse Ray said, then sighed.
"What about them few customers?"
"My assistant is taking care of them," Jesse Ray said sharply, sucking in his breath. "Now who is this, and what is this all about?"
"This is about you getting your wife back and me getting paid."
"Listen, whoever the hell you are. I don't know what kind of scam you are trying to pull, but it won't work on me. Now, whoever the hell this is, if you call here again, I'm going to call the police. I don't have time to play games. Is that clear?"
"Motherfucker! You stop talking crazy! This is for real! We got your wife, and if you want her back, you'll do what I say!"
Jesse Ray let out an exasperated sigh. "My wife is at the beauty parlor. I dropped her off there myself a couple of hours ago."
I sat as still and stiff as a statue, looking from the telephone to Wade. At this point, Wade looked at me and pointed at me, then at the telephone.
"You know what to say," he whispered, shaking a fist and giving me a threatening look.
I cleared my throat and closed my eyes as I spoke. "J.R ... honey, it's me," I whimpered. "I've been kidnapped, baby, and I'm ... I'm so scared."
Chapter Three"What the hell? Christine? Baby, what is this?" my husband asked in a low, steely voice. "Honey, where are you?" Jesse Ray was yelling now, and he sounded terrified. "Are you all right? Have you been harmed?" His voice was trembling so hard, I could almost feel it vibrating through the telephone.
"I'm fine ... for now. Please do what they tell you to do," I pleaded, with a sob. "If you don't ... they ... they are going to kill me."
"Shit!" Jesse Ray roared.
"Baby, go into your office so you can have some privacy. I don't want Kim Loo to know what's going on." I didn't plan on it, but I let out a sharp sob and a loud sniff. My tongue felt like it had doubled in size, and it was flopping up and down in my mouth so hard, I could barely talk. "Baby, I'm so scared," I managed.
A few excruciating moments of silence passed, and I kept my eyes closed until I heard my husband's voice again.
"I'm in my office now," Jesse Ray said, breathing hard. He yelled for Kim Loo to hang up the other phone. Then I heard a door slam and a glass crash to the floor. "Baby, talk to me," he bleated.
"J.R., don't let anybody hear anything you say," I warned, scraping my tongue with my teeth.
Excerpted from Deliver Me From Evil by MARY MONROE Copyright © 2007 by Mary Monroe. Excerpted by permission.
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