Sitting in front of her computer, which she had packed along with other essential items the previous evening, Carla half-heartedly makes a few belated contacts with other sales representatives of Sheene. There’s a conference meeting with the executives of Lustre, a rival company, in an hour and she has about forty minutes to get ready; not that she’s looking forward to it given the present circumstances. She had sat up late last night ‘til the early hours of today with her husband, discussing the vandalization of their home last evening. Justin is tutoring Marla in the guest room and trying to fend off her questions as to why she was not going to school today. He already called off from work, explaining to his supervisor that he had a family emergency to deal with.

Giving her head a mental shake, Carla tries to answer a few emails, then gets up, doing a few stretches. Her muscles are sore.

She checks in on Justin and Marla who are engrossed in trying to put the pieces of a puzzle together. Both look up as they sense her presence. “Mom, come and see. Look!” Marla calls out. Carla walks up to them, smiling. Inclining her head, she looks at the puzzle they’re fixing. “You are doing great, hon,” she says. Justin stands up, giving Marla a kiss on the head. “Get on with it, young lady,” he says to her. Be back in a minute.” Marla replies with a laugh, saying, “Okay, Dad.”

Grabbing her playfully at the waist and moving out of the room with her, Carla feels her body heat up at Justin’s closeness. She babbles, “I have an important meeting in less than 15 minutes, Justin. I’ve got no time for this.” But Justin chuckles, saying throatily, “If it were not for the present circumstances which I do not find funny in the least, I could almost tease you about your shyness. There’s no need for you to be awkward around me, Carla. We’re still married, remember.” Coughing slightly, Carla automatically says, “But s-sep…” Justin raises a brow in question, and Carla repeats, “I meant that we are…” Hand still at her waist, his face coming down on hers, he mutters, “I know exactly what you meant, hon. But I still can’t help doing this….” Leaving the rest of the sentence unsaid, he kisses her deeply, drowning out further protests from her, as she unwillingly yields to his demands, giving a soft moan and hearing an answering deep groan from him, which abruptly brings her to her senses. “Oh dear! Justin, that was unforgivable,” she says, pushing him away and running to her room. “Now I’m late for the meeting,” she wails. “It takes two, you know,” Justin calls out after her, with a grin. Blowing a raspberry as she moves away, Carla does some freshening up, changing quickly into formal clothes and giving her hair a quick brush before sitting hurriedly in front of her computer, just in time for the meeting. She realizes that her supervisor is also present at the meeting, which is going to be really interesting. She tries to stay focused on the meeting, trying not to let the craziness of the past 24 hours unsettle her.


Brenda smiles as she studies the paper in front of her. It’s obvious that Philip McGee is impressed at her performance, since he had left the Al Sahib Real Estate deal to her. If she pulls this off, she’ll get a large commission, which is well deserved. After all, she’s practically the one running the company, thank you very much. The phone rings, shattering her lofty thoughts. It was Philip calling from his office in Atlanta. He asks her to cancel his tomorrow’s appointment with Mr. Hollister. With a saccharine smile, she gives him a brief update of the Al Sahib Real Estate deal. She intends to make him aware of her personal efforts in ensuring a smooth close of the deal. Obviously bored with this attempt, Philip hangs up at the other end, though not without hearing a startled gasp from her.

“Come over here for a minute, will you?” Brenda snaps at the new clerk, Daisy, her frustration evident. She feels let down by Philip’s obvious lack of appreciation of her efforts in sustaining the growth of the company. Daisy’s an African-American and is doing her internship with the realty. Brenda is still miffed at Philip’s decision in hiring a black lady as the new clerk, and she makes her displeasure obvious at every opportunity. Daisy stands before her now, looking smart in tailored slacks and shirt, with matching pumps. Looking at a point past Daisy’s shoulder, loathe to look at her directly, she bites out, “I worry at your lack of imagination, Daisy. Didn’t you know that those files you arranged at the lower compartment of the third shelf needed proper indexing?” Or is that to much to ask of your…oh, never mind. Just get it sorted out is all I ask,” she finishes dismissively, grabbing the phone to make a call.


Philip, in the fifth floor of the building where his office is located, pops a mint into his mouth after getting a call from a detective about Lisa. She had been fished from the river with both hands and legs bound, obviously a victim of foul play. He had been asked to come back to Cheyenne immediately, as an investigation has been initiated following the unfortunate incident. He had called Brenda immediately and she had tried his patience when she brushed away the unfortunate incident with some statement about a group of investors hoping to meet with him next week. Her lack of empathy makes him think of a piranha. He brushes back his already ruffled hair with his fingers and takes a deep breath, allowing the mint’s cooling effect to reach the recesses of his mouth. His mind was already making plans on how to go about fending off the ghoulish reporters who are certain to descend like a flock of crows as soon as they sight him entering the realty office. Heaving a sigh, he sits on a chair, leaning against the backrest. He owes it as a duty to visit the girl’s family, to offer his condolences. Asking Brenda to go with him is like inviting vultures to view a kill. He would have relieved her of her duties, efficiency be damned, if not for his uncle’s insistence that she remain there. Sentiments are at play here, he thinks, shrugging his shoulders.


In a dimly lit room in one of the apartment buildings located in the busiest part of the town, two men are playing poker. The room stinks of stale whiskey fumes, cigarette smoke, and some suspiciously exotic weed. The shrill ring of a phone is heard. “How I hate the loud noise that mother-fucker makes,” Giles (Tweedledum) says feelingly as he drops a butt in an already-filled ashtray. “Go and answer it. Could be da boss. And don’t go yakking your head off. Ith could get you kilth,” the more forceful of the two, Luke (Tweedledee) lisps in reply. As Giles picks the phone, Luke rolls up a joint, lighting it up. He inhales the smoke, savoring it, then places the unlit end firmly between his lips. He hears the sudden clatter of the phone and turns his head sharply towards the sound. “Hey man, w-what…” he begins to say, but Giles interrupts with a low whine: “They found her, pal. The cops, they found the gurl!” Pulling out the smoking joint from his mouth and extinguishing it in the already-overflowing ashtray, Luke replies with a short laugh, standing up with arms spread wide. “So fucking whaat? It’s neither your headache nor mine. Let them figure out how the fuck it happened.” But Giles is not so convinced as he raises a shaking hand to his thinning hair. His friend, giving him a punch on the shoulder, brusquely asks, “Look, you’re not gonna rat on us, are you? You gotta get yourself together man, or you will get us kilth.” But Giles says quietly, a note of uncertainty in his voice, “That was the boss on the phone, pal, and she didn’t sound too happy. I swear that th…” But he is cut off as the object of his discussion enters the room, in a dark hugging pantsuit and high-heeled pumps, looking like a tall specimen from outer space. And she’s holding a Smith and Wesson and pointing it at them.

The two men are startled at her sudden appearance. “You are right that I’m not happy,” she says with a thrust of her jaw at Giles. “I’m not happy that you two botched the simple job I gave you. Why couldn’t you clean up properly after your lousy selves? Now the police have found her, and like sniffing dogs, they will continue to dig until they fish you two out like they did her, only this time you will be injected with some lethal elixir prepared by some quack.” The two men seem to look different now, as night is from day, as they face their boss. Luke, hands in pockets, is rocking slightly on his heels, while Giles is all a-quiver, sweat running down his face and darkening his shirt right under his armpits. “W-wee are sorry, ma’am,” he says, fear in his voice. Regarding him with contempt, his friend spits out scornfully, “Get a hold of yourself, man. You’re shaking like a leaf in a goddamn storm.” Brenda laughs at this. “You’re so right, mister,” she says, gun still pointed unwaveringly at them. “I think I’m getting too soft at this. My initial thought was to come in blasting away with this, but on second thought, I have decided to forgive both of you. Now, I have a second assignment for you…” she finishes ominously.


It is 5.00pm, and Carla is sitting—sprawling, more like—on the rug in Justin’s living room, as Marla sits curled up on the sofa without Bugs, watching her favorite cartoon, Sophia the First. She had once asked about going back to their home and getting her toy bunny, Bugs, but Carla had made some excuse about having it dry-cleaned. They’ve been in Justin’s condo for about four days now. The break-in still leaves her shaking when she thinks about it, especially with the underlying threat the intruders had made concerning her daughter. She reluctantly admits that staying here with Justin brings a little measure of comfort under the circumstances, but staying here is certainly not the solution to their problems. And moreover, going to the cops and reporting the incident is courting danger. Justin now does most of his work from home, as he’s loath to leave them on their own for long periods of time. He drove Marla to school and brought her back himself, using different routes each time to avoid detection. Most of her conversation with Justin is centered on the break-in and what the perpetrators could be looking for. She had tried calling Lisa a few times, but her line was unreachable. She wonders if she’s alright.

Getting up from the rug and stretching, Carla tells Marla, whose eyes are still glued to the TV set, that she has to use the bathroom. She pads barefoot to the bedroom she shares with Marla and is about to open the bathroom door when she observes her cell phone, which she had left on the bed, vibrating. That would be Justin, she inwardly thinks as she goes to pick it up. He had left about twenty minutes ago to get some groceries and other supplies they may need. “Hello…”she begins, almost shyly. Then her face changes to puzzlement, as a voice asks with an audible lisp, “Thath the Missus? And how ith the little one?” With a quick intake of breath and goosebumps rising on her forearms at the reference to her daughter, she asks in an almost quaky voice, “W-who are y-you? How did you get my number?” But the caller has hung up. She rushes back to the living room to check on Marla, who appears so engrossed with what she’s watching on TV. She’s chortling now, oblivious to her mother’s present state of turmoil. Taking a few deep breaths to calm her overwrought nerves, she says with almost a squeak, “Marla, please, I need you to come with me to the bedroom now, we’re going out to meet your Dad.” Marla turns around quickly, her pigtails flying. “Ok, Mum,” she pipes, getting up from the sofa; the thought of going out to meet Dad was a good alternative to watching Sophia the First.

Their bags packed a few minutes later, Carla calls Justin. His phone rings for some time, unanswered. Almost in a panic, she dials again and Justin’s phone rings once more without being answered. Then her cell phone rings, almost immediately, causing her to almost jump out of her skin. Her first thought as she picks it up was that it had to be Justin calling back on seeing a couple of missed calls from her. But a more sinister thought that it could be the previous caller makes her shudder, even as the same eerie voice says, “Just reminding you about not calling the police.” This is followed by a humorless chuckle. “So sad if anything were to happen to the little one.” His next statement takes the wind out of her. “Well, we goth your husband here with us. And he’s goth some groceries that we couldn’t pass up…” Suddenly, Justin’s voice is heard from the background as he shouts out, “Get out of the house, hon. Just get…” but his voice is rudely cut off mid-sentence as she hears the sound of a blow being delivered and Justin groaning painfully in response.

Ten minutes later, with heart thumping furiously in a body already filled with adrenaline, Carla drives in the near semi-darkness through some winding streets without any destination in mind. Her gas tank is full; thank goodness, for she has no desire to stop at a gas station if she was being followed. She had briefly told Marla the barest details of what was happening, trying not to scare the poor girl out of her wits. Noting her distress as she spoke on the phone earlier, she had asked after her dad. Her heart had broken to see her daughter’s eyes grow round in fear, then fill with tears, as she had gently told her that some men were holding him against his will, and not to worry: he would be joining them soon. “Are they going to kill him, Mum?” she had asked, crying. But she couldn’t answer, as she had hugged her tightly to herself, blinking away the tears that had threatened to spill over.

As she drives around aimlessly at present, she thinks about a certain place she had met with her colleagues at Essence for lunch last month and decides to go there. It’s a modest four-story restored brick building, built in the 1800’s and used presently as an inn. It’s definitely the right place to lie low for a while as she carefully considers the next steps to follow. She gets there almost an hour later, her thoughts so muddled up on how to deal with their present dire situation. The thought of losing their home to some fraudsters pales insignificantly in comparison to the imminent danger that looms over them.

Purposely leaving their bags in the trunk, she enters the inn with her daughter in tow, relieved to find it softly lighted, with few people in the lounge. She feels less exposed this way. They are given a room to stay for two nights. She actually hopes that there wouldn’t be any need to spend a second night here, if she could help it. She had already made up her mind to call the police, even though she was aware of the danger involved. And Justin is in danger, too. She feels like screaming her lungs out in frustration. The situation is so unnerving.


For all installments of “A Hair’s Breadth,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1