Sample of Saving Charmaine
Copyright © 2015 Taretha Jones
All rights reserved. No part of the work may be reproduced without the expression written permission of the author. This book is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. All characters, events, and incidents in this book are a product of the author’s imagination.
Charmaine Heaton stepped out of Moses Cone Hospital into the summer heat. She was happy to know that her sister-in-law, Tabitha, who'd been attacked by her ex-husband last night, would be okay. It had been touch-and-go for awhile, but the doctor had assured them that she would pull through.
She reached into her purse and retrieved her designer sunglasses. She adjusted the shades on the bridge of her button nose.
There...perfect, she thought to herself as she headed out into the bright sunshine.
She didn't notice the broad-shouldered, pecan-complexioned man until he was close up on her.
“Charmaine, we need to talk,” he said as he planted himself firmly in front of her and crossed his arms over his muscular chest.
Charmaine frowned. “There's nothing to talk about Devin.”
He matched her frown with one of his own. “I beg to differ.”
She tilted her head to the side. “What are you going to do, arrest me, Officer Harris?”
He didn't flinch. “If need be.”
She stared at him in disbelief. Every since her best friend had told Devin that she planned to fly to Afghanistan on a two-month photo-op assignment, he'd been giving her drama.
She laughed, a little nervously. Something instinctively told her that he would do just that — arrest her — if he felt so inclined to find a reason to do so.
She decided she wouldn't be intimidated by him, or anyone for that matter. The only person she feared was God. “You may be an officer of the law, but you can't arrest me — I haven't committed any crimes, I haven't done anything wrong.”
He set his lips in a thin line as he stared down at his little sister's best friend. Charmaine Heaton was stubborn — but it was that stubbornness that had protected his little sister Angela when both of the girls were in middle and high school together. He owed Charmaine a lot for being there when Angela had been bullied and taunted — practically pushed to the verge of attempting suicide. It had been Charmaine who'd told the bullies to back off of Angela, or they'd have her to deal with. He kind of admired her spunk, but Afghanistan and all the terrorist factions that came with the country, was way over Charmaine's head. He wouldn't willingly go to that part of the world himself at this point in time — and he was currently an undercover CIA agent — one who had dealt with espionage, murder, and corruption on a daily basis.
“Look, Charmaine...the environment in Afghanistan is too volatile for you to be heading over there right now.”
She cut her eyes at him. She wasn't a tenth-grader in high school anymore. She wasn't stupid. She was well aware of the climate of the war-torn country.
“I'm very familiar with the dangers of that sector of the world, Devin.”
He showed no emotion when he looked down at her and said, “Are you aware that there's been a rash of journalist being abducted from the streets of Afghanistan and never being heard from again?”
She swallowed nervously. She had heard the rumors — from other journalist in her profession, but she'd chalked them up to be just that — rumors.
He met her gaze, eye-to-eye. She felt like he'd read her mind when he said, “They're not rumors, Charmaine.”
“Look Devin. I'm a woman of faith. I don't believe that God would send me anywhere that he didn't want me to be.” She paused. “I do appreciate your concern. Have a blessed day, Officer Harris.”
With that she stepped around him and climbed into her Dodge Charger.
He could do nothing but scowl and frown as she sped out of the parking lot.
* * *
“Charmaine, could you come in here for a minute.”
Charmaine looked up from the computer monitor in her small cubicle — it had no door and only three thin partitions separated her from her co-workers. The large office was spacious, but loud, since she and eleven other journalist shared the area.
She glanced over her shoulder and hit enter on the keyboard. “Sure, sure...just give me a second, Sal.”
She stood up, took four steps and rapped lightly on the heavy oak-wood door that he'd left slightly ajar. She stepped into his sunny office.
She smiled. “You needed to see me, Sal?”
“Yes, yes...close the door behind you and have a seat.”
Charmaine frowned and glanced across at her middle aged, heavy-set boss as she reached back to push the door closed. This can't be good, she thought to herself.
She sat down in the armless chair that faced his desk. “Yes, Sal.”
He steepled his hands in front of him and frowned.
“I'm gonna have to take you off the Afghanistan project and give it to O'Malley.”
Charmaine stared at her boss in disbelief. She frowned, confused. “Am I being demoted...did I do something wrong?”
He shook his his head slowly and smiled, his receding hairline glinting in the sunshine that poured into the room.
“No, no...you've been doing an excellent job around here...a phenomenal job.” He almost told her that she was the best photo-journalist that he'd hired in a long, long time, but he decided not to — that's not what he called her in there for. He was sure the moment for that would come up some day.
He tilted his head to the side. “I just got an email from the US Embassy — Afghanistan is not allowing any unmarried women to enter the country on assignment.”
“What do you mean that no unmarried women are being allowed into the country? My work VISA just got approved yesterday. I stated on my application that I am female...and single — the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs approved it.”
He nodded his head. He had known this was going to be difficult when he'd seen the notice that morning.
“I'm sorry, Charmaine.” He shrugged his shoulders sympathetically and turned his palms up in the air. “There's nothing I can do.”
“This is the opportunity of a lifetime, Sal — you know that.” She scowled. “I earned this.”
He nodded his head understandingly. “I know, I know Charmaine. I wouldn't have given you the assignment if that wasn't the case.”
“This assignment has the power to be my breakthrough on a national level.”
He nodded understandingly.
The wheels started quickly spinning in her brain. There was no way she was going to let this opportunity pass her by...no way.
She smiled and looked her boss eye-to-eye. “Don't hand my assignment over to Steve, boss. I'm getting married.”
Charmaine poured two tall glasses of iced tea and brought them both into her living room. She handed one over to her best friend, Angela.
Angela took the glass and took a sip as Charmaine flopped down beside her on the sofa. “You can't possibly be serious, Char.”
Charmaine bobbed her head, her dark curly tresses brushing her shoulders. “Uh, yeah...I actually am.”
Angela frowned. “Who are you going to find that would be willing to A, marry you — and B, travel to Afghanistan for two months? It's a terrorist hotbed right now.” She cut her eyes at her friend. “In fact, you shouldn't even be heading over there...it's too dangerous.”
“Now you sound exactly like that domineering big brother of yours.” Charmaine quickly filled her in on what had happened when she'd spoken to Devin last week outside of the hospital.
When she'd finished, Angela reached across the sofa and gave her a quick hug. “My brother knows that I love you like a sister, Charmaine. I would be devastated if anything ever happened to my bestie...he's just trying to keep you safe.”
Charmaine hugged her back and smiled. “You of all people should know that I believe that whatever happens to me is ultimately in the hands of the Lord.” She paused and shrugged her shoulders. “If somethings happen in Afghanistan...then it would be because it was within God's will.”
Angela frowned. “You must not have heard the sermon that your brother delivered last Sunday at Second Chance.”
“You know I was there, Angela...I heard it.”
In fact, most Sunday mornings when she was actually home in Greensboro NC, Charmaine could be found on the front pew in Second Chance Ministries, the church that her eldest brother had founded five years ago.
“So you understand that God also gave us free will and he wants us to make good decisions...” She gently tapped Charmaine's temple using her index finger. “That's why he gave you that big ole brain!”
Charmaine laughed and pushed Angela's finger aside. Charmaine had graduated at the top of her high school class — it was a running joke within their tight-knit trio of girlfriends that Charmaine had been the Brains of their sisterhood. Angela had been given the title Poetess — because of her ability to spin lyrical rhymes. Melissa had been the Attorney, because she had a knack for settling the disagreements that they'd occasionally have.
Charmaine smiled. “I'm going...and I will find a husband.”
Angela shook her head. Not only was her friend known for being smart, she was also known for being stubborn. Once she got an idea of what she wanted to do, she never backed down — she always made her vision a reality.
“Okay, okay...once again, who is going to marry you and go to Afghanistan?”
“You'd be surprised what money can do. I'll run an anonymous ad in the paper...offering five-thousand dollars for the job. All travel and accommodation expenses will be paid by me, of course. I'll just consider it an investment in my future.” She giggled. “Maybe I can even have my accountant to write it off as a business expense on my tax return next year.”
Angela frowned. As crazy as the idea sounded, it would probably work. “You're insane, Charmaine.”
Charmaine laughed. “That rhymed, Angela.”
Angela grinned. “Well, it wasn't meant to...it just came out that way. I guess that's what happens if you're a songwriter and all.”
Charmaine slanted her eyes and then squealed in delight. She excitedly pulled her friend into her embrace, then wagged her finger accusingly. “You got the job, didn't you Angie?”
As she pulled back, Angela grinned and danced her slim shoulders. “You're looking at the newest songwriter at Silverlight Records.”
Charmaine gave her another hug. “Congratulations, sweetie. Does Melissa know?”
Angela shook her head, she hadn't told the third member of their girlfriend trio yet. “You're the first person I've told.”
“Well then, you, Melissa, and I are going to have to get together for a real girls-night-out to celebrate the good news.”
* * *
Charmaine checked the private response section of her account for the tenth time that day. Her ad had been live for three weeks and she still hadn't gotten any responses.
She frowned — no that wasn't entirely true. She had gotten one response...from a sixty-three year old named Claude Jazobiwosky. She had been desperate, so she'd agreed to meet him despite her reservations. She'd quickly figured out that Claude was a schizophreniac when his other two personalities had decided to join them at the dinner table.
Claude was a middle-aged white guy with a receding hairline. His first alter ego was a black man named Cleothus, who vaguely reminded Charmaine of the character Sweet Daddy from Good Times. Throughout their meal, Claude had kept reaching up to pat his imaginary afro. The second personality was Marilyn Monroe. The baby doll voice that the burly man had used while impersonating Ms. Monroe still made Charmaine's skin crawl.
She peered up from her laptop when her doorbell began to chime. A quick glance at the clock on the wall showed that it was past eleven. Who could possibly be on her doorstop at that time of night?
She walked over to the door and placed her eye to the peephole. Then she frowned as she she unlocked the door and cracked it open.
She met Devin's gaze, a look of concern in her eyes. People didn't show up at your doorstep unannounced at eleven o'clock unless there was an emergency. Charmaine immediately thought of Angela, her best friend and his sister. Her worried eyes held his. “Is Angela okay, Devin?”
He looked down at her, completely ignoring her question, and stated in that deep quiet voice of his, “I'll marry you.”
Charmaine frowned. She was going to kill Angela. She'd obviously told her brother about her plans. Charmaine was desperate, but there was no way she was going to marry Angela's overbearing sibling. She was sure if she quadrupled her efforts — or added a couple thousand more dollars to the five that she was already offering — that she could make something come through for herself. She'd walk over hot coals before getting Devin involved.
“While I appreciate the offer, I'm going to have to turn you down.”
He continued on, as if she hadn't spoken. “I believe you arranged for your flight to leave in five days, so that won't give us much time to make the necessary arrangements — even for a quickie marriage.”
“You must not have heard me, Devin...I said no thank you.”
His hard dark brown eyes met hers. “From my understanding, you've been looking for a pseudo-husband for three weeks.” He paused. “Your boss at the paper will be handing the assignment over to one of your male co-workers if you don't produce a husband by Friday — that's two days from now.”
Charmaine frowned. As much as she hated admitting it, he was right. “Like I said, Devin...I got this.”
He looked down at Charmaine. She was stubborn. He was sure that she was bull-headed enough to come up with someone to marry her two days from now — someone at the last minute. But it was no way he was letting her travel to a terrorist area like Afghanistan without adequate security and protection. It would kill his little sister if she lost her best friend. And the chances of Charmaine not surviving this journey were high. His sources had already informed him that close to seventy-five percent of the American workers who were entering Afghanistan were being targeted for abduction and assassination.
He frowned down at her. To the public's eye, he was a rookie police officer on the Greensboro Police force. In reality, he was an undercover CIA agent. His current assignment was to infiltrate the Greensboro Police Department and uproot the corruption that had spread unchecked through the department. He'd just sent his final report and supporting evidence to Washington that morning. The Greensboro Police chief and his loons were on schedule to be arrested for corruption and drug smuggling within the week. Devin's work within the department had come to an end.
He gave her one of his rare smiles. “Okay, Charmaine. I understand.” He handed her his card. “Here's my cell number. Call me when you change your mind.”
With that, he turned on his heel and left her standing with the door ajar. He grinned to himself., a plan forming in his head There was more than one way to skin a cat.
* * *
The next day, Charmaine pumped her fists in the air in triumph as Mr. Lowell Kabadi walked out of the door of Just Dessertz coffee shop. Lowell was the perfect match for her husband. She could barely believe her good luck. His mother was African-American but his father was Afghani. He even spoke fluent Pashto and Dari, the official languages of Afghanistan. Lowell had just agreed to meet her at the justice of the peace tomorrow at three o'clock to apply for their marriage license and have their nuptials performed. She couldn't stop beaming. He even had dual citizenship — American and Afghani — so there would be no passport issues.
“What are you so happy about, Charmaine?”
Charmaine looked up from her seat. It was her sister-in-law, Irene — the wife of her oldest brother, Bishop Edward Heaton.
“Irene, hi! I wasn't expecting to see you here.” She stood up and gave her beautiful sister-in-law a hug. “How are you?”
Irene pulled out of her embrace and looked at her suspiciously. “Girl, I should be asking how you are doing. What are we celebrating?”
Irene flopped down into one of the cute little bistro chairs.
Charmaine looked down quickly. She had to tread carefully. There was no way she could let Irene know what was going on. If she did that, Irene would surely tell her husband. Charmaine's three brothers were almost as bad as Devin Harris — they would surely give their little sister a hard time about going to Afghanistan on assignment.
She smiled. “Oh, just good news at work.”
“Well, you'll have to tell us all about it after church on Sunday. We're having dinner at my house and you, of course, are invited.”
Charmaine grinned. That would be the perfect time to announce to her family that she'd be leaving on a two-month assignment in four days. The short notice would give her brothers little time to complain or prevent her from going. She stood and slung her cross-body bag across her chest. “Sorry to rush out of here Sis, but I have to get back to the office.”
Irene stood and gave Charmaine another hug. “I understand. I'll see you in church, Sunday.”
Charmaine smiled and waved goodbye. “Tootles.”