Chapter 1 | Jam Run
Citrusville Bar, Pegga Road, Irwin, Jamaica.
Eddie Barrow thrust his Jamaican five-hundred-dollar bill across the counter to the bartender before the other patron could utter a syllable. There was no way in hell Eddie was going to let someone else cut in front of him tonight.
This time, it was a wire-thin sista dressed in a crop-top, Harley Quinn shorts, and a Mary J Blige weave. To him, she looked like she must be thinking, “He ain’t much of a man,” but Eddie couldn’t give a rat’s ass what she thought. He may not have been born in Barbados like his parents, but he knew the rules of the Caribbean—that cut-ins were a way of life down here.
At five foot eight and a little over one hundred and seventy pounds, Barrow wasn’t the most physically imposing brotha around, but it didn’t mean that he didn’t know how to stand his ground when he needed to.
“Two waters please,” Eddie yelled as he competed with the heavy bass in the background that shook his internal organs—keeping his hand on the five-hundred dollars.
The bartender leaned closer. “What you say?”
“I said water.” He held up two fingers. “Two.”
Eddie loosened his grip on the bill as the bartender pulled it away and slipped it in the cash register. He reached below the counter, then placed two bottles in front of Eddie before moving on to the sista—the one who tried to undercut him.
With a bottle in each hand, Eddie navigated through the crowd. It was no different than trying to exit a packed subway car—especially getting elbowed and poked. He kept looking down, worried someone was going to step on his toes and dirty up his pristine pair of Air Max runners.
This was exactly the reason Eddie outgrew the club scene a year after he came into it roughly seven years before. It didn’t take him long before he realized that he wasn’t missing anything. As for Corey Stephenson, his “brotha from another motha” from way back, clubbing and going out was more his thing. Eddie was the quiet one who always wanted to stay home with his head buried in a book or, up until recently, writing one to keep up with deadlines. If he went out, it was because Corey had dragged him.
The funny thing was that Eddie had always been told that Barbadians—or Bajans—were the loudest, more so than Trinidadians. Corey was born in Trinidad and moved to Montreal when he was around eleven or twelve, not too long before he saved Eddie’s ass from a bunch of skinheads who’d ambushed him in the park. At a solid six-foot-two with his Trini charm, he was always able to talk his way into a woman’s panties, unlike Eddie.
But he’d since settled down a bit—getting his girlfriend pregnant and then marrying her had changed Corey for the better. He’d once had an alcohol problem too. Those were moments that Eddie wanted to forget. One of those memories involved both of them, and Corey’s then-girlfriend, Jordyn, being on the run from the police for a murder Eddie had been framed for.
Eddie didn’t even wait to get back to Corey before he took a drink of his water to cool off in this sweltering Jamaican heat. Even though this section of the bar was outdoors, a bunch of brothas and sistas crowded together like sardines still made the mercury rise—especially since they weren’t close enough to the ocean to catch the breeze.
They’d only arrived from Montreal earlier that afternoon. As expected, Corey had to drag Eddie out of the Airbnb to find the nearest party.
It was their first time in Jamaica. It was business for Eddie. Pleasure for Corey. In less than twelve hours Eddie would be signing copies of his latest thriller, which was why he didn’t want to be out too late or drink anything alcoholic. Eddie was a lightweight. The last thing he needed was to be hungover during the book signing.
“Come on, it’ll only be for a few hours. You’ll have plenty of time to sleep,” Corey had said earlier. Which had only made Eddie sigh. He didn’t have much of a track record in saying no to his friend.
A sista caught Eddie’s attention, clearly not hiding the fact that she was eying him. The woman’s jet-black hair with blond highlights reached the top of her midnight dress—one which conveniently stopped just below her thighs. When she turned to the side it was as though the world moved in slow motion. Yeah, she wanted him to notice her—especially her peach-shaped booty. Eddie’s eyes then dropped to her feet, and he nodded in appreciation. A wicked pair of stilettos. This sista had polished herself literally from head to toe.
He gazed around now. There must be at least a dozen brothas there, all ready to jump her bones.
Eddie shook it off and found Corey—lost in his own world—doing the Gully Creepa. At least the crowd wasn’t as dense, and the air was less tainted by the smell of sweat and perfume. He held out Corey’s water bottle.
“Corey,” yelled Eddie, but his friend didn’t seem to notice.
Eddie tapped the bottle on Corey’s shoulder, catching his attention.
“There you are.” Corey took the bottle and unscrewed the cap. “What took you so long?”
Corey drank a bit and then nodded past Eddie. “You notice that girl staring at you?”
What a question to ask. How could he not? Eddie had always been the more observant of the two. He finished off his water in a single swig, giving Corey what Eddie hoped was a nonchalant shrug. “Yeah, I saw her.”
“Why don’t you go talk to her?”
“Oh sure, so that I look desperate.”
“Bwoy, stop being a pussy and go talk to her.” Corey shook his head and took a swig.
Eddie watched as three brothas—two of them solidly built—approached the sista. They weren’t holding back, and one of the three reached under her skirt from behind. But she had already spotted them, anticipated his move, and slapped his hand away before striding off.
The brotha laughed as he casually ran his hand over the top of his du-rag. The other, who wore a bandana, bent over at the waist laughing as he held onto his friend’s shoulder. The third, who looked like the odd one of the three, bowed his head and looked away while covering his mouth. He, unlike the other two, didn’t fit the tough-guy, macho type. The fact is that he looked as though he was embarrassed by his friend’s behavior.
“You see that?” Eddie asked.
Corey nodded. “She’s waiting for you to make the first move.”
Eddie knew when Corey was right, and this was one of those times. People around him were up on each other, sistas whinin’ up on a brotha—bent over between six-fifteen and six-thirty—to music whose lyrics at times even degraded them.
Eddie caught her smile as she ran two fingers across her brow to clear away the few strands of hair that fell over her eye. He approached her slowly, not letting go of her gaze. She gravitated toward him. The DJ suddenly cut off the music, screaming something in Jamaican Patois that Eddie couldn’t understand, right before a bombastic tune blasted around him. That was the moment when Eddie was caught off guard as she spun around and backed up into him—ass first—and performed the most energetic and wildest Dutty Wine he’d ever seen. She then followed through to Bruk It Down.
Damn, she has skills.
It was way more than Eddie could handle, and he struggled to keep up with her. She then turned around and looked into his eyes—their noses barely touching. He stared back, held her gaze, but something was off. It made him pause his dancing, a tiny voice in his head telling him to back up. But he was caught off guard when the sista grabbed him by the shoulders with a firm grip. Before he realized what was happening, she hoisted herself in the air and locked her legs around him just above the waist in a vicelike grip. Out of reflex, he quickly took a deep breath as he felt the pressure from her legs onto his ribcage.
The jump’s momentum knocked him off balance, and he stumbled backward before falling—nearly striking his head on the ground.
The crowd went crazy, and all Eddie heard was howling laughter. For the next several seconds, the jarringly loud thumps of the bass from the speakers were reduced to background noise.
Eddie felt as though a nasty prank had been pulled on him as the back of his throat dried up.
But she wasn’t done with him yet. She continued gyrating onto him as though nothing had happened while he lay on his back. She then spun around to face the opposite way—with her ass literally up in his face as she shook it. All Eddie saw was booty and thong. He couldn’t help but watch—his neck hurt from holding his head up for so long. She then did a front roll into a handstand, held it, then gracefully let one leg fall after the next to form a bridge, and pulled herself up at the waist with seemingly little effort to stand on both feet.
Eddie couldn’t hold his head up any longer and let it drop as he breathed deeply, attempting to process what the hell just happened. Even before he sat up, brothas inundated him as they rushed to give him high-fives. He was slow to return them, considering that he was still recovering from the ordeal.
He couldn’t tell if the crowd was cheering or laughing. It sounded more like laughing—and at him. Twenty-seven years young, and he still felt like the odd one in the crowd. It reminded him of the times in elementary and high school gym class where he was always the last one chosen to be on a team.
The sista winked at him before turning to go. He felt the blood rushing to his groin as her ass bounced from side to side as she sashayed away.
“Wait,” Eddie yelled as he scrambled to his feet, but she was already gone.
Where did she go?
Eddie heard Corey’s long, drawling holler as his friend grabbed his shoulder. “Yoooooooo! Did you get her number?”
Eddie turned to him and saw Corey wiping the tears away with his towel.
“Naw, she took off too fast.”
Corey shook his head. “Come again? You let her do all that, and you didn’t even get her number?”
“I said she was gone before I could get up. By the way, I’m okay—considering that I nearly cracked the back of my head open.”
“That ain’t no excuse. Bwoy, I oughta slap you upside the head.”
It was then that the DJ lowered the music and started yelling into the mic, announcing a dance-off, and that the participants should present themselves. Six army-vet-looking brothas, showing off their pecs by wearing tight black t-shirts with the word SECURITY emblazoned on the back, cleared a circle. As the area was being prepared, four young sistas—ranging from petite to thunder thighs—were already on the floor.
Corey beckoned Eddie to follow him quickly so that they could get a closer view. There was only one row of people in front, forcing Eddie to look between to see, while Corey—being the taller one—only inconvenienced the ones behind him.
It took just a few moments before Eddie spotted her again. She was on the opposite side of the circle, talking to another sista. It appeared that she was complimenting her on her dress. The woman then took out her smartphone, and they snapped a selfie. The smile was so irresistible. But something was still off, and a red flag was flapping in his mind. If only he knew why. The other sista, whom she took the selfie with, ran into the circle as the DJ blasted the music again.
Eddie tapped Corey’s arm. “I’ll be back.”
“You leave, and you’re going to lose your spot.”
Eddie then nodded in the direction of the woman. “It’ll be worth it.”
When Corey looked away, Eddie saw what appeared to be a scuffle. He nearly pushed aside the person in front of him to get a better view. It was the woman. She was trying to leave, but some brothas and sistas were blocking her path.
A few seconds later, though, it appeared that they were persuading her to join the dance-off. It came to the point where the woman was literally pushed into the circle—where the other sistas already had a head start.
The look on her face, she was worried. It was as though she didn’t want to do it or even be there anymore. But the crowd was not forgiving. One of the bouncers who helped clear the area came to her and said something into her ear. It was at that moment that she removed a stiletto.
Eddie thought he would go deaf from the amount of screaming that erupted around him.
The second stiletto came off, and she handed those, along with her purse, to the bouncer. She relaxed, and her smile came back. It was contagious enough that it even made Eddie smile. After she started to move, he knew that the contest was already over after the first twenty seconds. It was evident by the amount of noise the crowd made that she was the winner. Two of the other competitors seemed to know they didn’t stand a chance of winning, and they gave up and bolted in a New York Minute. She clearly had more energy and endurance than the remaining competitors. However, it was the backflip ending in a ground splits that sealed the deal for her.
The music came to an abrupt stop, and the DJ called out the names of the remaining contestants one at a time to let the amount of noise the crowd made determine the winner. He came last to the woman Eddie had danced with. The DJ had to ask for her name.
She must be new. How else would the DJ know the others and not her? Eddie thought.
The woman was handed her belongings along with a cordless mic. She then turned to the DJ. “My name’s Shenice.”
Eddie was bounced from both sides and from behind as everyone around him completely lost it—jumping up and down, swinging towels, obviously not caring who they knocked into. It was soon after that the DJ announced her as the winner.
“You better get her number. That’s wifey material,” Corey shouted into Eddie’s ear. Eddie didn’t answer. As blown away as he was, he still couldn’t help but feel that there was something off about Shenice.
As she slid her feet back into her stilettos, a brotha walked to Shenice and handed her an ultra-wide gold-colored column trophy and an envelope. Eddie assumed the latter was either a cash prize or a gift card.
Thunder-thighs and the selfie-sista both gave Shenice congratulatory hugs while the other two women scowled and stormed off.
Eddie forced his way past the people in front of him, but others crowded back inside the circle, creating enough obstacles to slow him down. When he got to where Shenice was, she was gone again.
He jumped in the air a few times, hoping to see her above the crowd. The sixth time he spotted the blond highlights at the back of her head.
“Shenice,” Eddie yelled, only for his voice to be lost among the dozens. He went to the spot where he last saw her and found himself next to a line to the ladies’ room.
A line this long, she couldn’t have gotten in so quickly. “Excuse me. Anyone see Shenice?”
“Who yuh call Shenice? Which Shenice is dat?” answered one woman in a heavy Jamaican accent.
“She just won.” All Eddie saw were shaking heads.
“Me no see yar pass tru.” Eddie assumed she said: I didn’t see her pass through here.
How does Shenice keep going ninja on me? He went back and found Corey waiting where he had left him.
Eddie furrowed a brow and shook his head. He tugged at his own collar. “I’m going out to the parking lot for a bit. It’s too stuffy here.”
The sound of tiny gravel crunching under his feet was a relief from the jarring bass from the subwoofers. As he walked between two rows of cars, all he saw were Toyotas, Mitsubishis, and Hondas—not an American or European car in sight. The ringing in his ears wasn’t as bad as he had expected.
His phone buzzed in his front pants pocket. He grabbed it and saw the envelope icon indicating that he had received a text message. Eddie held his thumb on the monitor in the fingerprint display to unlock it. The message was from Corey, asking if he’d found Shenice.
Eddie replied with a “No.” A few seconds later, the phone buzzed again. He checked it out, expecting to see Corey’s answer. Instead, he saw that his text didn’t go through. It bounced back, accompanied by a red exclamation mark. Damn. A slashed zero replaced the phone signal bars and the Wi-Fi icon at the top of the screen.
Eddie stopped and walked backward a few steps while raising the phone above him to catch the signal. Still nothing.
That was odd.
Eddie slid the phone back into his pocket. He tapped the other pocket and still felt the thin pouch—the third time he’d done so this evening. The pouch was too obscure to be visible to a would-be pickpocket but large enough to just hold his ID and a few dollar bills. No sense in him checking it too often, or he’d tip off someone that he had something of value on him. As for his wallet, he’d left it in the glove compartment of his car.
His thoughts drifted back to Shenice. What kind of sista whine-up on a man so and don’t even talk to him after? But she was gone. Either she caught a taxi, was picked up by a friend, or she drove herself. Who knew? Again, the thought came back to him that there was something about her that was unusual. It was killing him that he couldn’t figure out what it was.
Eddie was startled by shouting that came from several cars away, and he turned to see what appeared to be fighting among three people. Two brothas held onto a sista by the arms and threw her face down onto the hood of a car. Eddie’s walk turned into a jog so that he could get a better view. That’s when he saw that it was Du-Rag and Bandana. Eddie couldn’t see the sista’s face but caught a glimpse of the back of her head and saw the blond highlights, sending his heartbeat into overdrive.
Holy shit, they’re going to rape Shenice.
“Hey!” Eddie yelled, catching the attention of Shenice’s attackers. “Leave her—”
The cuff to the back of his head sent a shock that penetrated Eddie’s brain. The world spun around him, seconds before he fell forward, striking another solid object before he hit the ground. He scrunched up his face as he forced his eyes shut, crying out from the sudden shock of pain. But he only heard his cries internally. Something—no, someone was forcing down hard on his mouth with what felt like a damp cloth with a noxious-smelling chemical. Whatever it was, he had already inhaled too much of it that he was left disoriented.
He felt the crook of an arm under his chin, pulling him backward. His body fell limp as his heels dragged across the ground. He didn’t even have the strength to turn his head to see his attacker before his eyes got very heavy.
The choking startled Eddie awake as he rolled on his side, only to inhale a mouthful of dust, making things worst. He got onto all fours as he tried to take deep breaths in between violent coughs. He turned around and into a seated position with his back to one of the cars beside him. The right side of his forehead throbbed. He put a hand to it. Things started to come back to him. He had bumped his head. And right before that, he was hit from behind. And that was right before…
Standing was a struggle, but he held onto the car next to him for support. Once up, he heard the banging cacophony coming from the bar. He let go of the car to see if he could walk on his own but ended up stumbling forward. Eddie braced himself on the car again to stop himself from falling.
He did his best to maintain his footing as he headed to where he had seen Shenice being attacked.
“Shenice?” Eddie yelled. Nothing but the slow-jamming reggae in the background. He grabbed his cell and called Corey, and held the phone to his ear as he searched the area.
Come on, pick-up. It suddenly hit him that the phone signal was down earlier. Eddie took a quick glance at the screen and still saw the slashed zero.
The loud sliding of tires on dirt and gravel startled him—freezing him where he stood as the shock took over, preventing him from jumping out of the way of the oncoming vehicle. The car still slid but luckily came to a stop—within inches of striking him.
Eddie’s nerves unlocked, allowing him to breathe again.
With the headlights shining below his waist, he was able to see the visible BMW insignia on the hood of the car and who was inside. Bandana was in the passenger seat, but there was something wrong with his eyes. He was clearly in pain as he was rubbing them with his hands while howling. The driver was one of his friends, the odd one of the group. He then saw Du-Rag in the backseat, staring between both of them and straight at Eddie.
“Delroy, Laawd Jesus! How yuhh slam pun de breaks so? Why nuh kill me?” yelled Bandana.
“It’s dat bloodclaat who shout at us,” said Du-Rag. “Move out at de road, yuh damn idiat. Bombaklaat!”
The driver wasn’t among the two who attacked Shenice. At least, Eddie didn’t remember him being there. But the fear was all over his face. When his hand slammed on the horn, it startled Eddie enough that he jumped to the side.
Eddie raised his hands in surrender. “Yo, my bad.”
The accelerator was floored, causing the tires to spin wildly, gravel ricocheting out behind the car. As they passed, Eddie saw Du-Rag point at him while imitating a gun. He then lowered his thumb to touch his index as though he was pulling the trigger. This was done slowly, and Eddie knew that Du-Rag was making a point.
Eddie shielded his eyes with his forearm as a dust cloud emerged from under the spinning tires. The tiny pebbles became projectiles, stinging his arms and legs as the car cut left, causing it to fishtail. It then sped off and exited the parking lot. Once it hit the road, Eddie heard the screeching of tires and the accelerating roar of the engine.
Even though it was impossible to catch the license plate number, he already had two clues: the driver’s name was Delroy, and he drove a BMW—the only European car he saw in this lot so far.
Eddie turned to see Corey running toward him.
“I was looking all over for you.” Corey slid to a stop, a bit out of breath. “Didn’t you get my text?”
It didn’t take long for his best friend to notice his injury.
“Bruh, what happened to your head?” Corey reached out to touch the bruise.
Eddie moved his head to dodge his hand. “That’s nothing.”
“What happened to you?”
Eddie continued searching for Shenice. “I wish I knew.”
“What?” Corey put his hand on Eddie’s shoulder to get his attention. “Were you fighting? Who did this to you?”
Corey tilted his head. “Shenice did that to you?”
“No, she was being attacked,” Eddie answered. “It was those same guys we saw earlier.”
“They did this to you?”
Eddie began to wander off. “No, not them.”
Corey moved quickly to catch up to him. “You ain’t making any sense.”
“We have to find her.” Eddie picked up the pace—looking both left and right. “I think they raped her.”
“You serious? Where?”
“Over there, I think.” Eddie pointed to the spot where he last remembered seeing her. “I saw Du-Rag and Bandana dragging her, and I yelled at them. Then someone jumped me from behind. That’s when I fell and hit my head. I tried texting you, but the phone signal’s out.”
“I know,” said Corey. “When you didn’t reply, I texted you again, but it bounced back. So I came out here looking for you.”
An object on the ground caught Eddie’s attention. It was a shoe, more specifically a stiletto—and it looked like one that Shenice had been wearing. Eddie darted right for it and picked it up. The heel was broken and dangled from its attachment like a shoelace. He showed it to Corey, who raised his eyebrows.
Shenice could’ve been running for her life.
They both frantically searched, looking underneath the cars in anticipation that she was on the ground, all while yelling her name.
A loud, frightening scream came from the entrance to the parking lot. Eddie jumped to his feet, and his mouth dropped in a gasp. A human torch ran blindly in zigzags and circles with both arms flailing. The person fell but continued to kick and thrash on the ground, screaming as the bright flames seared through fabric to flesh.
Eddie rushed to the victim while pulling off his shirt, then swung it as hard and fast as he could to beat out the flames. He didn’t care that his hands were getting singed. This person’s life was at stake. Moments later, he noticed that Corey was doing the same. Both of them yelled for help as they lashed the victim and furiously kicked dust and gravel from the ground to help smother the flames.
Eddie’s shirt caught fire, forcing him to throw it on the ground. He grabbed his phone and dialed 911 while kicking as much dust as he could onto the victim. Still, the call wouldn’t go through. This doesn’t make sense. Emergency calls always worked, whether there was a phone signal or not.
But Eddie’s gut told him they were already too late. It was the first time that Eddie smelled burning human flesh, and it brought on a brief wave of nausea. He still didn’t stop kicking gravel onto the victim even though the flames had died down.
“Hey, do you hear me?” Eddie yelled.
“Please answer. Can you hear me? Please say something.”
“Ed,” said Corey.
“Come on,” Eddie’s voice died down. “Say something.”
Eddie felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned to see Corey shaking his head.
“Help, somebody help.” Gritting his teeth, he ran toward the bar. He continued yelling for help, but it was as though no one heard him.
Eddie turned and ran back. “Did they say anything?”
Corey sighed and shook his head.
Eddie dropped to his knees in front of the victim and noticed they were missing their shoes. He then saw what remained of the dress. No long hair with gold highlights, which was most likely a weave that had completely burned away. It was definitely Shenice.
“Fuck!” Corey yelled as he stomped on the ground.
Eddie often read about Jamaica’s high homicide rate. He just never imagined that he would witness one within the first ten hours of his arrival. He didn’t know what had suddenly come over him as he stared at the smoking, charred body. Was it fear, shock, or both?
It wasn’t long before one of the patrons noticed what had happened. It began with one, then quickly became a few. Word spread quickly, and others began showing up. As expected, cell phones were up as the mob suddenly became the paparazzi. They practically smothered him, Corey, and Shenice.
“Who do it?”
“Move outta de way. Put it pun Facebook.”
The last comment pissed him the fuck off. Eddie jumped up and spun in the direction of the person who said it. “Who said they’re putting this on Facebook? Don’t you have any respect? Jesus!”
The crowd went silent for a moment, then they resumed what they were doing as though they hadn’t been interrupted.
Eddie turned to look back at Shenice’s body. Most of the burns were from the neck down.
There was enough light from the flashlights on the patrons’ cell phones that allowed Eddie to noticed that Shenice had suffered a skull-fracturing blow to the side of her head—maybe from a rock or a bat. But something was still off, and he was reminded of the red flags that hit him earlier. Something about Shenice’s body caught Eddie’s attention. He took out his smartphone to activate the flashlight so that he could get a better look.
What Eddie saw made him tense up while stifling a gasp. He quickly pointed the flashlight away from the victim.
So that’s what was bothering me.
“Clear outta de way!” Eddie heard a few brothas yelling. He turned to see that the crowd was being physically dispersed by the bouncers. They made it through, grabbing both Eddie and Corey, then shoving them back.
“Bombaclaat!” yelled one of them as he turned his head away in disgust.
Another pointed his finger toward Eddie and Corey. “A two a uno do it?”
“We were trying to save her,” Corey answered. “We even lost our shirts trying to beat out the flames.”
Eddie didn’t understand a word the bouncer said. But after Corey answered him, it was obvious that the bouncer asked: “You two did this?”
The same bouncer eyed them while shaking his head.
“If we did this, why would we hang around to get caught?” Eddie couldn’t believe that this idiot would have the gall to accuse them of killing Shenice.
The bouncer then sighed and pointed to a spot away from the crowd. “Stay ova deh so, and no botha move!”
Move over there, and don’t bother trying to leave! Eddie understood that part.
Both Eddie and Corey obeyed and went to where they were instructed.
“That’s some straight-up bullshit,” said Corey as they looked at the gathering. “Those guys not only raped her, but they killed her too. What kind of sick fucks do such a thing?”
Eddie shook his head. “I have my suspicions, but I don’t think they raped Shenice. And if it’s possible, a medical examiner will confirm that.”
Corey turned to Eddie and tilted his head. “I thought you said that those guys attacked her.”
“Yeah, before someone jumped me.” Eddie turned to his friend. “I don’t know what happened while I was knocked out or how long I was out for.”
It was then that Eddie saw two of the bouncers talking into their mobile phones. He checked his own and saw that the signal was back.
“It’s good that we’re over here because I don’t want anyone to overhear us.”
“Overhear what?” asked Corey. “That you don’t think Shenice was raped?”
Eddie shook his head as he continued watching the crowd. “Whoever that person is, their real name isn’t Shenice.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because I got a good look at the body before the bouncer shoved us away. I think this may be a hate crime.” Eddie then turned to Corey while he thumbed in the direction of the deceased. “Shenice is a brotha.”