Corrupted Chapter 12, Page 1Omar Tyree
A Serial E-book
Decisions, Decisions . . .
Natalie Cumberland met alone with her pastor, Reverend T.J. Smith, on Wednesday morning in his office at the huge, First Baptist Family Church of Detroit. The pastor had scheduled time to see her after she and her husband Michael had shown up at the Sunday afternoon service with an obvious story to tell, judging from Michael’s facial wounds.
Rev. T.J., a stout, round, brown and bald man in his early forties, was still tickled by the Sunday afternoon sight. “Well, I must say, Bother Michael sure carried his bruises with honor. That’s a real testament of your love for one another, Praise God.”
They sat across from each other in comfortable, high-backed leather chairs. But Natalie didn’t see the incident in New York or her husband’s bruises as a means for humor. In fact, she didn’t find anything humorous of late.
“What if it had been me with the lumps and bruises?” she questioned.
The reverend heard that and quickly stopped his chuckling and erased his grin. It was a chauvinistic comment on his part. It was only funny because the man had gotten whooped on in New York. So he nodded and apologized to her.
He reached out and held her hands. “I didn’t mean to make light of your situation, Sister Cumberland. You’re right. And I’m sorry.”
Natalie nodded back to him. “I forgive you, Reverend. I understand what you’re trying do. I haven’t been myself lately. It’s just that . . . we’ve really going through some hard times.”
“Sister, we are all going through hard times. I understand. The Lord is putting us all through trials.”
“That’s why I haven’t been able to give as much as I usually do –”
“You’ve already given enough,” he cut her off and told her with a shake of his bald head. “Everyone at the church understands how generous your family has been, not only with your good graces, but with your time. Not once have you turned us down when he needed your help or your attendance at a church program.
“So we humbly appreciate you,” he told her.
She said, “Well, outside of the fight with my husband, which was basically out of frustration and stress, I wanted to talk to you about my writing.”
“Your writing is beautiful, Sister Cumberland. Your novels have been a blessing for the members of the church and for the African-American community,” he blessed her.
The reverend’s praise made her pause. Natalie felt the same way about her work. She didn’t see a need to change it. She loved the mature, moral and community perspective that she offered through her stories. But she also understood that she was at the end of her rope now at Williams & Klein. Obviously, the readership wasn’t as excited anymore.
She said , “Well . . . my publishers feel that I ah . . . haven’t been selling as many books lately.”
Rev. T.J. stopped her with a frown and shook his head before she could even get started good. “Everyone is suffering from a lack of consumerism these days. It’s not just your books; it’s cars, houses, groceries, movies. Every industry’s complaining. Even the football and basketball players are going through hard times now, because the club owners are complaining about their money, as if they don’t have enough already. But what more do they want people to do in this economy?
“They tell us to spend more to make the economy go, but you’re gonna spend what if you’re not making money and you don’t have a damn job,” he blasted. “Where they think we gon’ get this money from? And they don’t want Obama to tax ’em for it. God, no, they don’t want that. So I don’t complain about the tithes in this church,” he told her. “You give what you can give when you can give it.”
Natalie listened to the reverend’s comments and only felt more guilt about it. She had gotten so comfortable in her ability to give that it made her feel miserable now to know that she couldn’t. She felt broke and helpless, and a sudden wave of emotions stirred through her body producing unexpected tears. Natalie realized it and squeezed her eyes with her hands to try and stop them. But it was too late.
“Oh my God, I feel so useless,” she confessed. Everyone in her church knew her as Big Sister Cumberland, who had helped send kids to college, summer camps, afford new clothes, shoes, houses, start-up businesses, community repairs, you name it.
“Sister, please. You are far from useless. And it may be time for the church members to help you out for a change,” the reverend commented.
Natalie heard that and shook it off immediately. “Oh, no, Reverend T.J. I would never do that. There are far more people in this church that need it more than we do,” she told him. She would never want the church members to know about her economic struggles anyway. The woman had pride.
She said, “Please don’t let anyone know I came to you about this. Please, Reverend,” she begged him.
He nodded and thought about it. He understood that Natalie had pride and an image to keep. But she had already damaged that when she and Michael walked into church for the Sunday afternoon service with bruises all over him. People were already talking. So if she was so concerned about her image, why didn’t she just stay home from church until he had healed better?
He said, “I understand, Sister Cumberland. But sometimes . . . sometimes . . . humility is actually good for us. But I understand.”
Natalie understood the humility factor herself. She was willing to admit that she and her husband were going through issues. So they came to church with their two children anyway. Even Michael wanted to prove that he was willing to seek help for his philandering ways with young women. However, the money issue was a bit harder for Natalie to admit.
Everyone knew that the rich and famous could be crazy, but at least you were still rich. The knowledge of wealth often made common people treat the rich as if they knew nothing about their personal issues. You still wanted the wealthy on your side. But if the Cumberlands were no longer well off, it would make them only crazy, which would fit them right in with everyone else. And that part would be torturous.
So Natalie got back to the topic of her concern. “So, what I wanted to ask you about my writing was that . . . if I made it more, umm, dramatic . . . How do you all feel about that?”
Reverend T.J. began to smile. She was a prideful woman indeed. He nodded and said, “Sister Cumberland, we all are dramatic in this world. There’s not a person alive who doesn’t have drama. And the Bible is filled with it.”
“But that’s scripture,” she argued.
“Scripture that came from the drama of life,” the reverend countered. “Otherwise, how could you relate the same Bible to hundreds of millions, of people year after year, and have it still be valid all over the world? That’s just human life you write about in your books. But now, the publishers want you to more ahh . . .”
“Fill it up with more sex, violence and nonsense, like a lot of these television shows that I refuse to watch,” she cut in on him. “And I just don’t know how I feel about that. But in the meantime, my husband and I are just . . .” She shook her head and paused. “It’s all crazy.”
Reverend T.J. told her, “We are all are living in one hypocrisy after another. And the Lord knows this. That’s why we pray and ask Him for our forgiveness every day.” He said, “I had a young woman who came to me in private recently, who asked me if it’s all right to feel so good in bed with her husband. I told her, ‘Of course, it is, as long as he’s your husband.’ She said, ‘Well, he’s my husband in my mind, we just haven’t tied the knot yet’.”
Natalie grinned and chuckled as she continued to wipe guilty and prideful tears from her eyes. She said, “That’s a good story.”
“Sure it is. Husband In My Min
d,” he noted. “And this is real life. This ain’t fiction. The real life stories’ll make your head spin around like an exorcism.”
Natalie said, “But do we want to tell those stories though, especially just to make money off of them? I mean, it just seems wrong. I don’t feel it in my heart to write that kind of stuff.”
The reverend took a deep breath and exhaled. He could understand her confliction. When in Rome, ignore what the Romans do to keep your sanity, he told himself. But at the same time, in America, you had to pay the bills and the taxes, just like the Romans. So he was conflicted by her deeper question himself.
Before he could answer her, she added, “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. may have been as loose with women as my husband in real life, but do we want to tell that story if we know that’s all that people would want to talk about?”
Reverend T.J. raised his brow and thought about his own transgressions in the world. He had not always been a preacher, and he had never been perfect. No one was perfect!
He quoted, “And Jesus said in the book of John, ‘Let him who is without sin among you, be the first to cast a stone at her’. Which means that none of us can claim perfection from evil in this life, Sister Cumberland.”
“But that doesn’t mean that we have to write about the Devil every day,” she countered. Her confliction continued.
The reverend said, “But we do talk about the Devil every day, because the Devil is at work every day; just like Jesus. So what you need, sister, is balance. And if they want you to write about a Darth Vader on the dark side of the force, then you have to have a Luke Skywalker to slay him on the other side.”
He said, “The most powerful books, movies, plays; they always have good and evil. So the less evil you have, the less good you have on the other side. You just can’t feel it as much without the evil to bring it the greatest good. That’s why we will always have horror movies. Humans think about new ways to slay the devil every single day of our lives.”
“So, you think I should do it then?” she asked him pointedly.
The reverend hesitated. He didn’t want to actually condone it. He had no idea what she had in mind to write. So he said, “Sister, let’s both pray on it for awhile and come up with some solutions and ideas that could work. Now, I’m not really an expert when it comes to book writing and all that there, but I do see that you have some real concerns about how you would want to tackle what you’re doing.”
“Yeah, I have some real concerns,” she insisted. “I don’t want this being on my head and in my name.”
The reverend heard that and immediately thought of her using a different writing name instead; a pseudonym. But that would only create further deception, without facing up to the hypocrisy of the content. So he kept the hasty idea to himself.
“Yeah, we both need to think about it and reconvene,” he stated.
Okay, but I don’t have a lot of time for that, Natalie thought. I can’t get any more money for my family until I turn in something that Vincent likes. She knew how long it could take the pastor to get back to her; weeks or even a month. But she needed to get started on something soon. She could at least submit the summary and the first few chapters.
Natalie kept that all to herself as well. She didn’t want to rush the pastor’s thoughts over her desperation for money, especially if he had any ideas about telling the church and asking them for help. Nevertheless, the reverend already knew her underlining concerns about money. These books were how she made her living for the past ten years.
He said, “In the meantime, what can I do to help you and your family in private?”
Even in private, Natalie shook it off. “No, no, no, we’re gonna take out an equity loan on our home until I’m able to get my next contract, and then we’ll put it back in.”
The reverend frowned and didn’t like the idea. What if she’s not able to get her next contract, and ends up with a double mortgage to pay, like I had to do a few years ago? he reflected. Thank God the church was able to help out with my own family needs. But for Natalie . . . we gotta find her another way. She and her family have been very good to us.
He said, “Before you do that, you talk to me. I have access to different loan programs, where you may not have to do that. I don’t like the idea of you putting your family home in jeopardy if you don’t have to in these times.”
Again, Natalie could only think of her urgency. The end of the month bills were due, and her bank accounts were fast approaching empty.
“Okay, well, when do you think we can meet back up with everything?” she asked him. She needed a day, a date and a time to lock everything in.
The reverend noticed her urgency and didn’t want to commit to anything too soon. He said, “Well . . . you’ll have to give me at least a week to get to everything. So how about we say, ahh . . . the Monday after next?”
Wrong answer! Natalie thought. She was preparing to collect paperwork for a home equity loan anyway. And if the pastor came through with something good before she went through on the loan, then so be it. But if not . . . then she planned to move forward with her own ideas. Because, knowing his behind, even if he does find something else, it’ll take another two to three weeks to move on that process.
Jackson Smith had been invited on the movie set of New York Nights, his third Hollywood film in four years. They were shooting an action scene around the Brooklyn Bridge, on the Manhattan side. And Jackson sat in his own, close-up chair next to one of the producers.
“You getting’ a feel for this yet Jackson? You should write your own, original Hollywood scripts one day.”
The producer, dressed in dark comfortable clothes, had an easy action name himself: Davis Kahn. He was as hardwired as the stunt doubles, actors and crew members who all prepared for the action-packed, shoot-out scenes, with fast-moving cars and buses. He was also tall, slightly over six feet with slick, dark hair like Jackson’s. In fact, the two of them could be vaguely related, or at least part of the same New York City action cult in their dark looks and clothing. Davis was only several years older, with a hard-lined face that showed it.
However, Jackson grinned and turned the producer down. “Nah, I have no desire at all to do that. As long as you guys keep adapting my books and paying me for it, I’m good and dandy.”
Davis shared a laugh with him and noticed that Jackson continued to eye a tight, black-jeans wearing red-head who worked on the set as a production assistant. She wore a see-though orange and green floral skirt over a white wife-beater.
“There’s plenty more of them where she came from,” the producer suddenly teased.
Jackson looked startled by it and chuckled again, feeling busted.
Davis said, “I can read your eyes kid. In the film and television industries, we’re very visual people.”
“I see,” Jackson responded. He had been out there for less than an hour by the time the afternoon came, which was part of the reason why he never bothered to get too involved in it. The filming process took too damn long. It wasn’t like his writing, where he could see the results of a good chapter in a couple of hours. In film and television, it took hours just to prepare the proper lighting to shoot a scene, let alone see it all come together in a story. So Jackson was bored with it most of the time.
Not only that, his editor explained how useless it would be for a novelist to pen an original screenplay that may never be picked up for a film, when he could write the same story as a book with a million-dollar advance, and then sell the adaptation rights for more money and royalties to earn without ever having to worry about all the indecisive bullshit of Hollywood.
Vincent Biddle told him, “It’s a fool’s game. If you love to tell stories and be paid for it, then write books. But if you want to toss around ideas for a few years, while smoking cigarettes and eating a bunch of expensive meals, on you, then you play that Hollywood game. Because that’s all you’ll be doing is wasting time and money while waiting.”
Jackson thought ab
out all that and decided to humor himself. He said, “If I did decide to write an original script, would you pay me for it?”