A few days ago, in the town where I was born and spent the first two years of my life, an unarmed black man was shot in the back seven times by a police officer – while his children watched.
Kenosha, Wisconsin, doesn’t make the news very often. We’ve almost come to expect police violence in big cities like Chicago or New York or LA. But Kenosha? I don’t remember much about the place, but my parents always talked about what a warm, neighborly town it was, how Midwesterners were more open and welcoming than folks from New England, where they came from.
If black men are being slaughtered in Kenosha, things are even worse than I’d realized.
As of the time I’m writing this, Jacob Blake is still fighting for his life in intensive care. I pray that he’ll survive, but even if he does, that doesn’t mitigate the horror of it all. I am dedicating this Charity Sunday to Jacob and the scores of other men and women of color who have suffered at the hands of police. For each comment I receive, I’ll donate two dollars to ColorOfChange.org.
Color of Change is one of the largest organizations fighting for racial justice. Their concerns are very varied, with campaigns focused on criminal justice, racism in media, voting rights, police brutality, economic inequality and many other issues that impact the lives and livelihood of people of color. I personally approve of this broad perspective, because I believe all these questions are related. For instance, when the media cater to racist stereotypes and portray Black men as dangerous criminals, that feeds the fears of whites and the encourages the violence of the police. If census procedures are biased and undercount people of color, that leads to disenfranchisement and loss of political power.
Anyway, I’m not here to lecture you, but to encourage you to read and comment. Visit the website for ColorOfChange.org to find out more about their work. Meanwhile, I have an excerpt from my ménage erotic romance Wild About That Thing. I chose this book because it has both black and white protagonists, whom I hope I’ve portrayed in a non-racist manner.
more than one way to beat the blues.
Two things are important to Ruby Jones: her teenage son and her struggling club, the Crossroads Blues Bar. Her love life comes as a distant third, despite the efforts of Zeke Chambers to convince her otherwise. Zeke's the lead singer in her house band, a devoted friend, and an occasional lover. He can drive her wild with desire, but can't get her to make a commitment. Deserted by her cheating ex-husband, Ruby's determined she's going to make it on her own. She's hot-blooded like her bluesman daddy, happy to satisfy her physical cravings, but she's not about to let any man into her heart.
The stranger who takes the stage on the Crossroads open mike night upsets the delicate balance in Ruby's world. Remy Saint-Michel inspires irrational, irresistible lust as well as inexplicable sympathy. Overwhelmed, confused, guilty and worried about her prized independence, Ruby decides that the only way to deal with her two lovers is to push them both away. Zeke and Remy, though, have other ideas.
Ruby could feel it in her bones. It was going to be a good night. Only ten thirty, but most of the tables clustered ‘round the stage were full. Lori had already lugged two extra cases of Heineken—tonight’s beer special—up from the basement, and from the looks of the empties accumulating in front the customers, they were going fast. The bartender caught Ruby’s eye and gave her a thumbs up. Everything under control.
Up front, the Night Travellers hit a dark groove, wailing through Born Under a Bad Sign. Zeke’s fingers flew over the strings, improvising a high riff, while Jojo’s bass kept the song grounded. “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all,” Zeke growled, torturing his guitar to match the pain in his voice. Damn, but the man sounded black, despite the mop of straw-coloured hair he kept pushing out of his eyes. Born in Mississippi, he must’ve soaked up blues in the water and the air. Certainly he could play with the best. Ruby was lucky to have him and his band, given the pittance she could afford to pay them.
As if he sensed her attention, Zeke picked her out of the shadows at the back of the club. She felt the warmth of the smile he beamed to her, a smile totally at odds with the desperate mood of the song. You know why Zeke plays here, her inner critic commented. You’re just taking advantage of him.
He gets what he wants, she argued with the internal voice that sounded so very much like her mother’s. I treat him fine. Of course, she got as much out of their relationship as he did. Zeke was a strong man with powerful desires. He could set her on fire. It wasn’t her fault that he was so sentimental. You wouldn’t expect it from a rough and tumble guy like Zeke Chambers—ten years a New York cabbie, a guy who’d seen every horror the city could dish out.
Her phone vibrated in her jeans pocket, interrupting her train of thought.
“Hey, hon. What’s up? You should be in bed.”
“I’m going, Mama. I just want to finish this chapter…”
“Isaiah Jones, it’s nearly eleven and tomorrow’s a school night! You shut your light off right now!”
“Okay, okay, Mama! But don’t forget about your meeting tomorrow with Ms Rodriguez.”
“Oh, right.” Ruby sighed. Isaiah’s grades were good but he was so small that he tended to get bullied. She needed to put a stop to that, somehow. “Thanks, hon. Three thirty, right?”
“I’ll be there, don’t worry. Then we’ll walk back home together. Maybe stop for a banana split.”
“But only if you go to bed right now, you understand? I don’t want to have to come upstairs and make you!”
“Of course. Good night, Mama.”
“’Night, sweetie. I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon.” Ruby fought against the wave of guilt that threatened to swamp her. Sure, it would be better if she could awaken with her son, make him breakfast and see him off to school like a “normal” mom. But the club kept her up until three a.m. most nights.
Isaiah understood. She’d tried staying up until after he’d left, but he had seen how wiped out that made her. He insisted she needed her sleep. At thirteen, he didn’t have any problem dressing and feeding himself—heck, he’d been doing it for the past two years, ever since she’d opened the Crossroads Blues Bar. He knew the club was her dream—the dream that had kept her alive after his bastard father took off with his leggy hygienist.
And the bar was finally starting to take off. Just last week, Time Out had published a feature about Crossroads. “A bit of Chicago or the Delta transplanted to Fourteenth Street,” the reviewer had raved. That glowing memory almost balanced the effects of the letter she’d received this afternoon.
The crowd erupted into claps and whistles as the Travellers finished their number. “Thank you kindly, ladies and gentlemen.” A decade in New York hadn’t erased the softness of the South from Zeke’s speech. “Welcome to our first open mic night here at the Crossroads. Hope you brought your axe, your sax or your harp—if you didn’t, well, hell, you can borrow ours! Everybody gets the blues sometimes. This is the place to let it all out!”
Fresh applause greeted Zeke’s invitation. He stood up there on the platform—his hands jammed into the pockets of his jeans jacket, his axe hanging around his neck—and grinned like the country boy he used to be. At six-foot-one, with the solid build of a halfback, Zeke was an imposing figure. He’d broken up more than one drunken brawl for her over the past two years and he had a temper that could be scary. To Ruby and Isaiah, though, he’d been nothing but kind. Whatever success the Crossroads could claim was largely due to him.
“To kick things off tonight, I want to invite a very special lady to join us here on stage. She’s been through some hard times, friends, and she knows the blues. It’s in her blood, passed on from her daddy, Jimmy ‘The Harp’ Jones. When she sings, she spills her soul. Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for Ruby Jones, the lovely owner of the Crossroads Blues Bar!”
Applause filled the club. Zeke’s invitation hadn’t been a surprise. They’d discussed having her warm up the crowd, and of course, she’d been performing since she was a kid. Nevertheless, his effusive introduction made her feel self-conscious. Ruby wished she’d worn something a bit more glamorous than her usual jeans and tailored shirt.
She picked her way between the tables, headed for the stage. Zeke held out a big hand. When she grasped it, he swung her onto the platform, and quite neatly, into his arms. The crowd roared.
Zeke brushed his lips across hers. His distinctive scent engulfed her—clean sweat, Jim Beam and Ivory Soap. It was like turning on a movie—she instantly remembered the last time he’d been inside her. His blond stubble grazed her cheek. She saw him in her mind’s eye—body suspended above hers on powerful arms as he buried his cock in her pussy, fucking her with a smooth, steady rhythm while he scanned her face, focused on her pleasure. She felt again the way he stretched and filled her. The seam of her jeans teased her suddenly swollen clit. She wondered if Zeke could smell her growing dampness. Hell, what about the rest of the band?
“Stop it,” she whispered, pushing against his rock-hard chest.
Zeke released her with obvious reluctance. “I love her,” he told the audience, eliciting a chorus of hoots and whistles. Aching, hungry and guilt-ridden, Ruby knew he meant every word.
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