Thanks to the Hip and Knee Doctor for editing assistance.
Malcolm James was not the blackest man I ever met, but he was in the top ten. Actually, he wasn't very black at all, he just seemed that way. Although he was not even six feet tall, he always left quite an impression. Maybe it was the perpetual snarl that was on his face, or the numerous scars that seemed to have a bluish tinge to them. He was definitely not a man that you would want to meet in a dark alley. I was lucky to have him on my side.
My name is John Ellison. I manage a small company called Divinity Parceling, that packages and distributes large quantities of DVDs, CDs, and other similar products. It is labor intensive work and getting people to do it for minimum pay is next to impossible. Don't be fooled by the name. There is nothing divine about it. By making use of several glaring loop holes in Federal and State laws, we are able to hire people who appreciate the opportunity, but are borderline legal. At the present time, my work force consists of mostly Jamaicans, including Malcolm, with a few Dominicans and Haitians thrown in. Although they were all appreciative of the work, sometimes they slacked off a bit. It was difficult to keep them all working to their fullest potential until I realized the power of Malcolm James.
I watched him carefully for about two weeks and then finally made the decision to approach him. He was articulate and spoke with what I thought was a perfect British accent, but what did I know about those accents? He grinned broadly when I offered him the job of shop supervisor. It was, to say the least, a little unnerving. The new job came with a nice raise and of course a few fringe benefits that none of the floor workers had. I got the feeling that there was more to him than appeared, but I was not interested enough to ask any questions. Productivity increased almost thirty percent. I was happy. The company was happy and Malcolm was happy. He seemed to be where he was meant to be. It was hard to explain.
The company was now running smoothly. If things went as planned, we would be able to continue to operate for at least another eighteen months until we were closed down for some State or Federal violations. This was my sixth similar enterprise in the last ten years. It paid good money, but was not what you would call a career opportunity. I stashed away as much as possible in anticipation of leaner times. The good thing was that I usually had another operation ready to go when one closed down.
I don't really remember how I got into this line of work. I was never really a mainstream type of guy. Doing things the normal way was boring and predictable; not what I was ever looking for. My younger brother, Bobby, was just the opposite. The most important thing in his life was his union job with the local electric company. He always knew where and when his next pay check was coming from and he was comfortable with that. I was happy for him, but never envious.
Bobby and I both married our high school sweethearts. Now that is boring and not nearly as romantic as it appears to be. Bobby and Cora had twin boys who just turned sixteen. My wife, Doreen, and I had a daughter, Aerial, who had just been accepted at Duke and a seventeen year old son, Roger, who was trying everything that he could to get into a military academy. He wasn't really particular about where he went, but he was determined.
Cora worked at one of the local insurance claims companies. They processed claims for over twenty small insurance agencies in the Tri State area. Doreen was never interested in going to work and I was happy with the way things were. We had enough to live on and I felt that a comfortable, happy, home life was more important to the family than extra money.
And that was about it. Life was good in Pleasantville. It wasn't really Pleasantville, but I remembered the name from an old movie and always seemed to relate it to things that were perfect.
Life was good, that is, until I decided to run down to the Super Mall and pick up a few office supplies. I had a girl to do that, but I was always looking for excuses to get out of the office.
The shopping went quickly because I knew what I wanted before I even left the office. I don't usually browse. I grab what I need, pay, and go.
The Keystone Mall was a two story behemoth, with an open atrium in the middle. I guess it is an atrium, as I am not sure of the actual word for it. I was sitting at a table in the second level food court overlooking the first floor when I saw Cora and Doreen coming down the center. Apparently, Cora had taken off work so that she and Doreen could do a little last minute shopping prior to their mini-girl vacation.
After much begging, pleading, and bribing Bobby and I consented to let Cora and Doreen take a five day vacation to an all exclusive resort in Jamaica, near Montego Bay. Bobby and I were not crazy about the idea, but finally agreed to it if they promised to stay at the resort and not wander about the island unescorted. They would be leaving in two days.
I was just about to call out and wave to them when something stopped me. They paused in front of a Victoria's Secret shop; not a normal venue for either of them. I sat back down and quietly watched as they entered the store with little hesitation. Interesting! Quite interesting! I got a fresh cup of coffee and made myself as comfortable as I could in one of those crappy plastic chairs.
It was at least twenty minutes later when they came out. I was not within hearing range, but I could easily tell that they were joking and giggling when they exited. Instead of leaving, they sat on the bench in front of the store. Each of them took some items from the Victoria's Secret bag and dropped them into a Wal-Mart bag. They dropped the Victoria's Secret bags into the trashcan placed at the end of the bench and then proceeded to walk down the mall towards the exit. They were still giggling as they left.
It took me less than a minute to get down the escalator and over to the waste container. I didn't even try and be discreet; I just took off the top of the can and reached in. I left the mall without replacing the top on the trash can. I guess that was an inconsiderate thing to do. Chuckle! Chuckle!
I waited until I got out to the car to look inside the bags. I don't know what I was looking for because they had removed whatever it was that they had bought. I also didn't know which bag was which, but inside each of them were a few sales handouts and a receipt. They had each bought two pairs of baby doll sleepers. One bill was for $65 and the other for $72. They were both paid for with cash. Now Doreen never pays cash for anything. It all goes on the credit cards. Needless to say, she had gotten my attention.
I didn't want to jump to any conclusions until I had a chance to confront her. Actually, I wasn't going to confront her, but rather to let her have an opening to explain the purchases. I had to conclude that they were bought specifically for her upcoming trip, which Bobby and I were not going on. On the drive back to work, I saw dark clouds on the horizon, but the sun was still shining.
I was sulking at my desk while trying to figure out where I had gone wrong when Malcolm James walked in.
"Mister Ellison. I sense that something is wrong. Is it a problem that I should be aware of?"
"No, Mister James, it is not a problem that should even concern you. Everything is fine with the floor and with the work. You have nothing to concern yourself with." I motioned for him to sit.
He was smiling, but still had a look of anxiety on his face.
We sat in silence for a few moments.
"Mister James, where in Jamaica are you actually from?"
"I am from Falmouth, but I spent most of my time in the Montego Bay area. Why does this interest you?"
I paused a short while and rocked back in my chair.
"Do you have any friends in the Montego Bay area?"
"I have lots of acquaintances, but only a few friends. I also know a few people there who are not very friendly. In fact that is why I find myself here at this time."
I reached into my bottom desk drawer and got out a bottle of Jack Daniels and two glasses. The glasses were not what you would call clean, but they were definitely usable. Malcolm James did not refuse when I pushed the filled glass in his direction.
"Is it a money problem?"
He sipped and smiled. "Yes. It is not much; only ten thousand dollars US, but enough to impel me to seek safer surroundings."
He noticed that I was smiling and I think that he knew that it was not because of his situation, but because of what I was contemplating.
"I get the feeling that Mister Ellison needs my help and is trying to figure out how we can benefit each other. Am I correct?"
I thought it was funny that he referred to me in the third person and laughed a little.
"Mister James, are any of your friends or acquaintances of disreputable character?"
Now he was laughing. "Of course, Mister Ellison. They all are."
We were both smiling as I filled the glasses a second time. We sat quietly for what seemed like several minutes, but might have been less.
"Tomorrow, Mister James. Tomorrow we will help each other."
He smiled again as he got up to leave, and I noticed the gold tooth on the right side, toward the rear. I thought it was a little ominous.
.... There is more of this story ...