I’m too paranoid to drive my own car worrying about who’s going to trail me or fuck with my transmission. Supposedly that’s how the Miniskirt Mafia killed Escobar even though his Dominican mistress insists he caused the dive through the guard rail. accident. Between being high as a kite and hype from a fight with his wife, Lydia said he was driving erratically from the moment they got into his Hummer. According to the tabloids, she even told the police that Esco snapped and back slapped her when she pleaded with him to slow down. I don’t know what to believe but figure if I stuck with Uber or Lyft, I’m safe. Or at least safer.
Going into New York City not only takes my mind off Malik, it keeps his suspicions at bay. Ironically, recording the followup to Ankhanetics has the same impact. He wakes up in a great mood, bringing me breakfast in bed, doing chores around our ranch house and then heading down to our studio in the basement. Meanwhile, I sit in our king size bed watching my scrambled eggs and sausage links grow cold because I’m afraid to eat them. Instead I scrape the food into a plastic bag, knot it up, and shove it into my purse to discard on my way to the studio we rent in the Bronx.
As soon as Ride submits her contract, we schedule her first recording session. I invited Leila to come meet her, but one of her boys is sick so she has to stay home with him. When Ride and I are finished at the studio, I might swing by Leila’s crib in Astoria. I’m in desperate need of some face-to-face girlfriend time.
My driver is a petite bald chick who reminds of Poussey from Orange is the New Black. She barely acknowledges me, and I prefer that. I mumble good morning, climb into the back seat and get to work. My phone battery is low so I rummage in my bag for the portable charger and come across the Miniskirt Mafia calling card.
I don’t want to call them, I never wanted to call them, and I never will call them. I rip up the card and stuff it into the ashtray.
When I plug my telephone into the charger I find another text message from Shelby J. Lee. This thread began last week when my freelance publicist released the news that I had signed Ridin’ Hood. Shelby hit me up minutes after she pressed send.
But she’s still blowing up my text messages trying to get me on her web series Straight Street with Shelby J. I haven’t had an interview with her since the Explicit Content fiasco. I had stayed away from the media throughout Hi-Jack’s trial and only came forward to speak exclusively to Shelby when I was ready to launch the Coven. I knew she would extend me fairness and get me clicks. That was 2004. Now with almost seven million YouTube subscribers and an exclusive contract with Bent reportedly valued at over six-figures, I wouldn’t be dodging Shelby if she wanted to discuss anything but Ankhanetics.
It kills me because Shelby is my secret idol. The woman is a visionary who was always miles ahead of the industry, blazing trails in constantly shifting ground. Shelby launched her vlog when folks were still fucking with MySpace. I once made the mistake of saying to Leia, “Shel JL and I are besties in my mind.” She was beyond hurt and avoided me for two weeks. My initial guilt turned into resentment right quick wondering how did Leila and I get to this place where I had to constantly prove that I had forgiven her for betraying me. I said this to Malik, and he told me, “You know that saying reason, season, lifetime? Maybe Leila’s season in your life is over, and you should just let her go. Just let the friendship fade to black.” That made sense to me, and while I still had love for Leila, I was tired of walking on eggshells when I was the victim. Yet I could never bring it, rationalizing that it would make things worse to bring up the past that I wanted to reassure her was settled.
Then I had the miscarriage and sunk into a depression so deep I couldn’t see one minute into the future. I hit rock bottom just as Leila was released from prison. Malik called my doula to watch over me as he drove to Bedford Hills to pick her up. On the ride back, Leila got on his phone and handled everything like her last name was Pope. My doula God bless her always somehow had me bathed, dressed and packed when Malik and Leila arrived. I had forgotten completely that Leila was coming home that day and the sight of her stepping out the car pierced the psychic lid on all my trapped feelings. I ran out the house shrieking and threw myself into Leila’s arms. We sunk into the lawn, Leila holding me as I sobbed, “My baby, my baby…” A half-hour later, I allowed Malik to check me into a women’s retreat center where Leila had scored me a bed. I stayed there for almost three months.
I start to send Shelby a polite but firm text declining her umpteenth request for an interview when my driver pulls off to the side. I gripe to myself at no longer having my ride to myself as the back door opens and a white woman in an expensive pantsuit eases in beside me. She closes the door and turns to face me. “Hello, Cassandra.”
Samantha fuckin’ Reiser. The Gloria Allred of the hip-hop industry. Need to find the loophole in an ironclad pre-nup? Call Samantha Reiser. Without entering a courtroom, she can turn a deadbeat dad into Father of the Year. As if he didn’t have enough legal problems for a lifetime – Hi-Jack dared Samantha to meet him before a judge. He was trying to revive Explicit Content and fool people into believing he had turned a new leaf by signing an R&B singer. Of course, she was in court with Reiser not even a year later contesting a contract that made Toni Braxton’s deal with LaFace look like a million-dollar lottery ticket. Reiser ethered Hi-Jack with briefs instead of bars, and rumor has it that he backpedaled because the kind of questions she was raising in deposition threatened to land Hi-Jack on the feds’ radar and his ass back in prison.
So this is it. Malik is serving me papers. I don’t know whether to be relieved to finally get this divorce under way or embarrassed that he beat me to it with an attorney known for defending hip hop wives. But then why go to this length of having his lawyer bum rush my ride if murder is still not on the table?
I pounce on my door, and my driver lurches back onto the highway. Samantha say, “Cassandra, relax. We’re not interested in hurting you.”
“Who the fuck is we?” I debate clocking her in the face, but then I have to contend with the driver. She has one eye on the highway and one on me through the rear view.
“You know who I represent,” says Samantha. “The organization you failed to contact after your lunch meeting with Ms. Fernandez.”
Ms. Fernandez. Olivia Fernandez. Ridin’ Hood. Samantha and the Tia Norfleet wannabe are with the Miniskirt Mafia. Even though I realize the car shouldn’t be bugged given that they nabbed me, I’m afraid to say their name.
“Olivia’s a sweet girl,” Samantha says. “She came to me wanting me to look at your contract but couldn’t afford the fee. I referred her to a protege who’s just out of law school and more in her price range, but Olivia insisted on me. She was back in my office a week later with the retainer.”
She has me so confused. “Ridin’ Hood led you to me? But why?”
Samantha grins. “I wouldn’t admit that if she had. We’re reaching out to you because we’re very concerned about your husband.”
I look away from her and out my window. “Get in line.” I turn back to Samantha. “What’s your beef with him?”
“We don’t like what we’re hearing.”
“On track, in the streets, what?”
“Both.” I look away again forcing back the tears burning the corners of my eyes. I feel Samantha’s hand on my shoulder. “Cassandra, we have been in this industry a long time. We understand the role of hyperbole and metaphor and all that and aren’t going anywhere.” I turn to face her unchecked tears be damn. “But Malik is starting to get traction. This Movement is not a metaphor. He’s building something very dangerous especially for women.”
“I know.” Ankhanetics has to be stopped. Still I find myself saying to Samantha, “But please don’t hurt my husband.” My mind scrambles for a rationale. “You’ll only martyr him.” That takes Samantha aback. She and the driver exchange glances through the rearview mirror. They realize I have a strong point. “Tell your client that even though I never intended for it to grow into this, I take responsibility for planting the seed and want to help you stop him.”
The driver shakes her bald head. “We can totally take him down without you, Bri,” she barks into the rear view mirror. “How you s’posed to help us anyway when you ain’t even know him well enough to think he could get out of control with this Ankhanetics shit? Plus, nigga wants you dead.”
“Bitch, tell me something I don’t know.”
Samantha raises her hands like a mother referring warring siblings. “Cassandra, has Malik attempted to harm you?”
I can’t tell her the truth. Malik would be dead by week’s end, and Ankhanetics would go global. He has to be checked alive. And I still need to believe I can turn him around as slight as the odds are. If Hi-Jack is in his ear, there’s a reason why I’m not gone already. Malik still needs me. Or at least something from me.
“Answer her question, yo.”
“No, he hasn’t. If anything, he’s been really lovey dovey. Making me breakfast in bed, asking me to be on tracks..”
The driver scoffs. “Straight up abuser shit.”
“I agree,” says Samantha. “Which means if she tries to leave now, she’ll be in peak danger.”
Poussey 2.0 sighs. “Right.”
Samantha turns back to me. “Cassandra, I believe that you understand the gravity of the ideology your husband is promoting….”
“And we know you ain’t with that shit either,” says the driver finally cutting me some slack.
“But if our intelligence has any credence, I don’t think you have the influence to reign in Malik.”
The driver says, “She did take down Explicit Content and lived to tell the tale.” Then she says what I’m thinking. “But can lightning strike twice?”
“Here’s what I’m going to recommend to my client,” says Samantha. “That we give you some time to turn Malik around yet keep our ears to the ground and our eyes on your back.
I remember what Leila said about my having angels. “Thank you.”
“But I can’t promise you I can convince them of anything. There’s a strident minority who believe that you’re in complete alignment with him because of your silence. You wouldn’t be the first woman to be in full-blown denial about her husband’s capacity for violence.” The driver pulls up to the PATH station. Samantha says, “And while in the history of our organization, we have never regulated a woman before as a matter of principle, there’s a first time for everything.”
“These bitches that done stuck us with 45 got us revisiting policy and shit.” Baldilocks stops the car and unlocks my door. “Stay on track and watch your back.”
As I watch them drive off, I wonder if she means for Malik or them.