Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Jon looked around the uncrowded dining room of the Marriott near Spirit of St. Louis Airport. "Well," he said. "Now the only question is whether he shows up, or what."
"I don't know what to think," Tanisha shook her head. "I can believe anything from not showing up at all to bringing a small army with him."
"That's the range," Jon said. "I'd be willing to bet the first, and be real doubtful about the second. That's why we planned it this way, after all. Neutral territory and all that."
"There's nothing to worry about," Crystal shrugged as she took a sip of ice water. She glanced at Preach and continued, "There's prepared, and there's over-prepared, and I think you've managed the latter."
"But better to be over-prepared and not need it than be under-prepared and sorry about it later," Preach pointed out. He was there because it seemed likely Kwame would raise the issue of Tanisha's church status, and he was the family minister, as much as they had one. When she heard about it, Crystal had announced that she was going to be accompanying them just on general principles.
Jon glanced around the room again. He'd only met Kwame Blythe that one time, very briefly and there had been a fight involved when that happened, so he wasn't looking forward to this. But, Preach was right: better to be ready for any possibility, which was part of why he was there -- and in more ways than one.
He really didn't expect the confrontation to get physical, if for no more reason than where they were. The Marriott was a nice, neutral place, but part of the reason it had been chosen was that it was far enough outside what Halloran considered Kwame's comfort zone that he'd be a little less likely to attempt any violence. But if he considered it . . . well, the four guys talking basketball at the next table were all Halloran operatives, and all of them armed -- Jim Bricklin was among them. There were also two uniformed cops sitting partway across the room; they happened to be off duty but would be getting checks from Halloran for being present. Jennlynn was also sitting partway across the room, staring at an open laptop and giving off the attitude that she really didn't want to be disturbed. While she'd mostly come along to fly them to the meeting in Skyhook, she also had a small video camera concealed in her purse so she could record things if the situation started to get ugly.
They'd spent a considerable amount of time working out a plan on how to handle this, which was why Jon and Tanisha were sitting with their backs to the wall of the nicely appointed restaurant, with Crystal sitting next to Tanisha and Preach sitting next to Jon. If someone wanted to get to Tanisha from Jon's side, they'd have to go around the table and through both Preach and Jon, who could at least be bodies in the way. If there were to be an attack, having it come from the other direction seemed more likely -- but would put Crystal's black belt in the way. Things would have to go considerably wrong to get that far, but if all else failed Tanisha had the .38 Special in her purse, and Jon had a Sig Sauer P229 in a shoulder holster under his sport jacket.
Maybe they were over-prepared, Jon thought, but better safe than sorry.
He glanced at his watch, and looked toward the entrance again. "Any time now," he said, as if anyone else wasn't aware of it. "That is if he's coming at all."
"There's a good chance he won't," Tanisha sighed. "Or, if he does, he'll keep us waiting so he can prove he's in control."
"I'm willing to let him have that," Jon smiled. "There's no way he could have any idea what we want to do."
A couple minutes went by when no one dared say much of anything. Jon tried not to stare at the entrance but there was no way he could keep from looking at it out of the corner of his eye. He and Tanisha had worried about and feared seeing Kwame again for years; although every precaution had been taken, there was still room for worry.
Even though Jon was trying to pay attention, it was Crystal who first noticed the black man and woman out in the lobby, looking as if they were trying to figure out an unfamiliar place. "That him?" she asked softly.
"Yes," Tanisha responded with visible relaxation. "And that's Shantel with him." Shantel was a small woman, nowhere near as dark as her husband, with a nervous look on her face, her thick, curly hair pulled back into a ponytail.
Without discussion most of the tension evaporated around the table. This now stood every chance of being relatively peaceful; it seemed unlikely that Kwame would bring his wife to a kidnapping attempt. If he'd brought Clemmens, it would most likely have been ugly from the beginning.
They could see Kwame look around, see the dining room, and then pick Tanisha out on the far side of the room. The two turned and walked toward where they were sitting at the table. "Tanisha," Kwame said as he got close. "You're looking good."
"Thank you," she replied as she stood up. "You look well yourself. I'd like to introduce my husband Jon . . ."
"We've met," Kwame replied sourly; he had an angry expression on his face, but it was one that seemed he had been born with. "Briefly but unhappily. I thought there was more going on than you claimed."
"At the time you met him he really was just a ride," she explained. "We became friends after that, but we worked together for years before we decided to get married." Before he could make a response, Tanisha hurried on, "And this is my sister-in-law Crystal, and her husband, Reverend Noah Whittaker."
"Reverend?" Kwame frowned. "Tanisha, I'm relieved that you married into a Godly family."
"As well as being my brother-in-law, Noah is also our family minister," Tanisha said. "We had a couple extra seats, so we worked out for them to hitch a ride with us."
Kwame turned to Preach and nodded his head slightly. "Reverend, pleased to make your acquaintance."
"And yours," Preach smiled, rising to extend his hand.
"What church?" Kwame asked.
"Glen Hill Road First Baptist in Chattanooga," Peach told him. "I'm officially an associate pastor there, but I'm currently on a mission out of there."
"No, it's independent," Preach explained. "The church split off from the Southern Baptists back in the sixties sometime. I'm afraid I don't know the details; it was way before I was born."
"Feel free to sit down," Jon said in a friendly manner. "I can call the waitress over when you're ready."
"Oh, I think at this hour of the morning, just coffee for both of us," Kwame said, clearly not happy about the situation but seeming to at least try to act polite. He nodded to his wife, who pulled out her chair and sat down as he did. "So," he said as he got seated. "What is it that you want?"
"We just happened to be in the area for a meeting and thought that we ought to make contact with you," Tanisha said. "It's been years, after all."
"Instead of making us come all the way out here, you could have come by the house," he grumped. "You know where it is."
"We don't have that much time," Jon explained. "We flew in on a charter flight, and they charge while they're on the ground as well as when they're in the air. Besides, Tanisha and I have to be in Phoenix for another meeting this afternoon."
"Phoenix? This afternoon?" Kwame raised his eyebrows. "That's a long way away."
"The time difference makes it a little easier, and besides, we're in a Learjet," Jon explained offhandedly.
"A Learjet?" Kwame asked, clearly impressed for the first time.
"Well, it's on charter for the company so it's worth it," Jon shrugged as if it were of little importance.
"What is it you do, anyway?"
"Defense work for the government," Jon replied. "Engineering. It's very highly classified, so we can't tell you any more than that."
"Tanisha works with you?"'
"All the time. We couldn't have accomplished anything like what we've managed to do without helping each other."
Kwame shook his head. "Then can I ask what you're doing carrying a gun? I can see the lump under your coat."
"We're always armed," Jon replied. "Both of us. Tanisha has one, too. Well, unless we have armed guards with us, and sometimes even then."
"We've been attacked by people who want to know what we know," Tanisha expanded. "This last time, well, it could turn into espionage charges against them."
"We're hoping it will, anyway," Jon shrugged. "Too early to say for sure. There are lawyers involved, and you know how that works." And Kwame, he thought, if that doesn't give you the message that we're a tough nut to crack, I don't know what will.
"That sounds very dangerous to me," Kwame observed. "Tanisha, are you sure you want to live like that?"
"I can't imagine it any other way," she smiled, realizing his question could be taken in several different ways. "Sure, there are some prices to pay, but what we're doing is both interesting and worthwhile. I always thought I could be good in the field, and I was right."
"You're doing pretty well for yourself, then?"
"We can't complain," Tanisha told him.
"Well, that's good," Kwame shook his head. "I expected that the reason you wanted to talk to me was to ask for money."
"No, it was the furthest thing from our minds," she replied. "We're working for a living, so you couldn't call us rich, but we're getting the bills paid with a little left over. It took us a while to get that far."
"Then you seem to have done well for yourself. I'll be honest, Tanisha. Your father and I thought that the idea of you getting into engineering was the wildest kind of pipe dream for a black person, especially a black woman."
"Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who seem to think that," she sighed. "There's plenty of room in the field, but people who want to get into it have to be prepared to work for it. The man in charge of the company we work for is interested in talent, and doesn't care about the color or shape of the package it comes in."
"I find it incredible that a black woman could be a success in a technical field like that. I can't believe that you would be given any real responsibility."
"What?" she shook her head, "I can't be a success because I'm black, or I can't be a success because I'm a woman?"
"I still think that it's an inappropriate field for a woman. You could have been of much more service to your family and your church working in social work like your father wanted you to."
"You're saying that he wanted me doing something where he could keep me under his thumb and not give me any chance to prove that I could be a success?" she snorted. "Well, Kwame, he was wrong and you were wrong. I'm happy where I am, and there's no way I would change."
"But did you have to marry outside your race? White men have abused black women for centuries! Why do you think it would be any different for you? It's shameful, Tanisha."
"You'd rather have me married to a black loser like that Martin who you were trying to stick me with? Someone who thinks that women should be beaten regularly to keep them in their place? Is he still out of prison?"
"He's a good man with a good job," Kwame said defensively. "Working for the city."
"A tail gunner on a garbage truck, I suppose," she snorted, knowing from Kingfisher that she was dead right but not wanting to reveal she knew it, or how, at least not yet. "The last I knew he'd never made it out of high school. You wanted to pair a college graduate on the way to a Ph.D., a professional like me, with a loser like him? There was no way I'd have anything to do with someone like him, no matter what you or Dad said. Jon loves me, I love him, we're very happy together. We're buying a nice new house and there'll be a baby along in a few months."
"A baby?" he asked, stunned at the word.
"Yes, a baby," she snorted. "A little girl, we've already decided to name her Barbara."
"That's even more insulting," he snorted. "Couldn't you have at least decided to give her a name that reflects her heritage? A name from the people? Have you turned your back on your brothers and sisters that much?"
"Actually," Jon said firmly, a bit of an edge to his voice, "We considered giving her a name that reflects her heritage: Birgit."
"Barbara will be as much Swedish as she will be black," Jon snorted, ignoring the Czechoslovakian side of his ancestry to make his point. As a part of the plan, he intentionally hadn't revealed his last name, which was uncommon enough to make any kind of an Internet search all too easy. "It'd be a name that reflects her heritage, too."
"We decided on a culturally neutral name," Tanisha explained. "Dad always said that the whites and the blacks should live as equals, no matter how much he didn't believe it. We do."
"He said they should live like equals," Kwame replied. "He never intended it to extend to marriage."
"Separate but equal?" Jon snorted. "There's a word for that. Segregation. Seems to me Dr. King wasn't in favor of it."
"It's not the same thing," Kwame snorted, his voice and anger rising now. "It's not the same thing at all. He wasn't talking about mixing races."
"Neither were people like Bull Conner, Ross Barnett, or George Wallace," Jon shot back. "I can't believe you'd want to identify yourself with them."
"That's the most insulting thing I've ever heard, comparing me with people like them."
"Hey, you were the one who said you're against miscegenation," Jon smiled evilly. "They were, too. How many black men have you married to white women?"
"One or two misguided ones," Kwame admitted. "I counseled against it, for just that reason."
"But your counseling didn't stop them, did it? Maybe they knew something you don't, that love can be color blind. I'll bet there are couples you've counseled who have gone outside the church to marry and never come back."
"There have been a few. But that doesn't mean anything. Whether they got married doesn't mean that they should have done it. Tanisha, the mere idea of you marrying a white man just brings me lower in the eyes of the church. I'm just as glad you wanted to meet me way out here in the middle of nowhere. Maybe word won't get back to the congregation. I have troubles enough as it is without your sin adding to it." He turned to Preach, and said, "Tell me, Reverend, how would a white man marrying a black woman go over in your congregation?"
"Remarkably well," Preach smiled. "We have mixed-race couples in the congregation. Not many, admittedly, but a few. Because of my position I don't perform a lot of ceremonies, but the last one I did was a white man and a mixed-race black and Vietnamese girl. I saw them just the other day and they're very happy together. My experience is that people marry people they're comfortable with, and that's very true in Jon and Tanisha's case. Everybody who knows them thinks that they're just about the closest couple they've ever seen. My personal opinion is that Barbara is going to be a lucky girl to have such warm and loving parents."
"But Tanisha, don't you find it difficult to be a black woman living in a white community?"
"Not at all," she smiled. "Mostly because we don't live in an all-white community. Our next door neighbors, for another few weeks, anyway, are black, and there are other races and mixed-race couples in our neighborhood."
"For the next few weeks?"
"We're buying a new place," she explained. "We need more room with Barbara on the way. Oh, by the way, our new neighbors next door are mixed race, too. Until I started to live with other races and cultures I didn't realize just how narrow-minded you can get living in an all-black society. Yes, we've experienced some resentment, but mostly it's been from people we wouldn't want to have much to do with, anyway." In case he missed the point she was making, she added, "We've learned that people who make an issue about race, of any color, are people it's best to avoid."
"The simple fact of the matter is that Tanisha and I love each other," Jon added, "And we've never let colors get in our way. My opinion is that's what Martin Luther King was reaching for. Didn't he say, 'I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character?' There are some people who are trying to uphold that dream. Yeah, it's not totally a reality yet, but when you compare then to now, things have come a long way, haven't they?"
"But the white man still tries to oppress the black man, that's a fact."
"And all too many black men not only believe that, but let that belief hold them back from what they could be," Jon snorted. "'Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.'"
"You're just perverting the words of a great man," Kwame snorted.
"This is pointless," Tanisha sighed. "You haven't changed, and I don't know why I should have expected you to. I didn't think you'd want to be friendly, but I at least hoped you'd be civil. Kwame, it's very simple. I left home because I didn't buy into that crock of baloney you and Dad peddled. Clear back in high school, I thought you were more interested in increasing tensions between the races than trying to heal them, and I can see I was right. Granted, it took Jon to teach me that a black woman can be every bit the equal of a white man. Now we've got to teach Barbara that the only place where race matters is in the heads of racists."
"Tanisha, you must have forgotten what it's like to be a black child, put down by the whites, held back by the schools. That's the kind of thing the people have to suffer."
"I'll admit, I went to a lousy school," she said. "But I rose above it or I wouldn't be where I am today. The opportunities to learn were there for me, and at least I had the good sense to take advantage of them. It took intelligence and hard work to overcome that, but I did. But you know the biggest thing I had to overcome? I had to overcome a family that tried to tell me I couldn't do what I wanted to because I was a girl and I was black. Kwame, I proved you wrong, and I proved Dad wrong. If you honestly believe that bull you're still peddling, you're just doing a disservice to people who do have the ability to do what they want to do and be what they want to be. I'm glad I saw through it, and I just wish some others would."
"If he were still alive it would kill your father to hear you say that! I know he tried to do the best he could in raising you."
"Bullshit," she snorted. "Pure and simple bullshit, that's all. He tried to keep me a submissive little slave, running the day care where he could keep me under his thumb, and you know it as well as I do, because you tried to do the same thing. Neither of you wanted me to go to college, did you? You were afraid I might have learned the way the real world is, not the way you want to make it look so you can build up your own image. It didn't work, Kwame. I feel sorry for those misguided people who still go to your church. You aren't even doing a good job of following in Dad's footsteps, are you?"
"Just what do you mean by that?"
"Just what I said. Church attendance is way down, isn't it?"
"We're still strong for the people and strong for the Lord," he said defensively, now realizing she knew something that he didn't think she had known.
"But nowhere near as strong as you were before Dad died," she smiled. "Don't try to lie to me. I know that over a third of the people who used to be in the church have walked away, mostly because they've seen you for what you are, a bully and a blowhard who isn't up to the job of walking in Dad's footsteps."
"What makes you say that?"
"Mostly my security clearance," she replied harshly. "You don't think they give out security clearances on the basis of, 'You look like a good little girl, you must be OK,' do you? They do a lot of investigating, both before I got the clearance and since. Church attendance is down by more than a third. Collections are down more than that. How do you think I know that Martin is a tail gunner on a garbage truck? How do I know you've got trouble with the IRS? I know lots more about you, Kwame."
"It's a lie!" Kwame shouted. "It's all lies!"
"It wasn't hard for the investigators to find out," Tanisha grinned. "That hypocrisy is part of the reason a lot of people have left the church."
"Tanisha," Kwame said in a fury that had several people reaching for lumps under their clothes. "I don't know why you're doing this to me. What do you want?"
"Absolutely nothing," she said. "I don't want a thing to do with you, I don't want to hear from you, and I most especially don't want you coming to me to beg for money or trying to drag me into saving your reputation, what there is of it. You can go to hell in your own way, but leave me out of it."
"That's just fine with me," he replied, the steam just about coming out of his ears. "You can go straight to hell with your white man and your white baby. You can turn your back on your people and your family and your church, because I don't want a thing to do with you either. Come on, Shantel. Let's get out of here."