COMING NOV. 30th!
Vision of Life in Los Angeles was one of the most popular churches to attend for Los Angeles’ youth. It had the best music, youth programs, and opportunities to rise in the ranks. Dorian Temple, a young drummer who had been attending the church for most of his teenage years, began to notice some heavy cracks in the perfect façade of Bishop Wilmington’s Los Angeles mega church. Although he saw the Bishop and First Lady put on the front of a strong, Christian couple, the two were anything but. Gossip from behind closed doors would reveal a neurotic, power-hungry minister whose wife would one day mysteriously disappear.
Watching all the chaos, Dorian wanted to get to the bottom of it. However, the Bishop quickly introduces Aniyah, a beautiful, former homeless young woman who takes the entire congregation’s breath away. It isn’t long before Dorian is able to uncover what’s underneath the gilded surface and find out the new, spoiled darling of the church is also beginning to fall into the Bishop’s dangerous trap.
Once more church officials uncover the Bishop’s double life, there are two choices: obedience to the man of God without question or termination. Dorian, not afraid of either, decides to use his own wits to find evidence of child sex trafficking, abuse, murder, and theft all under everyone’s nose. Risking his sanity and life, he is ready to face the Bishop and his powerful schemes created to protect his perfect image.
God will surely have to be on his side when Dorian is ready to expose one of the most powerful religious leaders in the state. However, will the young drummer become a hero, or will he just end up as more Prey in the Pulpit?
Dorian arrived home an hour after he left the church. With a wrapped sub sandwich in his left hand, he opened the door to his parents’ modest, stucco home in Watts. As a child growing up in the neighborhood, he knew he had to be extra careful not to fall into the traps of South-Central life. He never joined a gang, never did drugs, and kept himself busy in church as a drummer since he was a teenager. His parents were proud their only son managed to dodge the traps laid out for young Black males. They just weren’t too thrilled he was attending a community college before going to a four-year university as he had promised.
His next move was to apply to UCLA, USC, or even Stanford, but his grades in the latter part of high school had been less than stellar. He began to lose sight of what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. His mother and father wanted a doctor or lawyer in the family. Dorian just wanted to be out of his parents’ house by twenty-five.
“I see you’re home early,” his mother said, sweeping the kitchen floor with beads of sweat lining the top of her forehead.
“Yeah, I didn’t want to stay too long. I got some schoolwork to do.”
“How are those grades?”
Dorian tried to keep his expression away from his mother who still treated him like a child sometimes. “They’re fine,” he sighed.
“Well, have you decided what you would like to do?”
“I’m not sure. I’m working on it. Why can’t you and dad just give me a little space sometimes? I’m not trying to be mean, but I literally just enrolled into West LA this semester.”
His mother leaned her broom against the refrigerator and put both hands on her hips. Dorian braced himself for the lecture.
“Dorian, you just can’t keep going to school with no plan. You got to plan to be something. I don’t know what you want to do but you can’t waste too much time. There are many options for you.”
“Lawyer and doctor, right?” Dorian smirked. “Can I go eat my food now?”
His mother waved him away and picked her broom back up.
Dorian went up to his room and opened his laptop. His mind went back to Aniyah, the Bishop’s long prayer for her, and how oddly he behaved once Dorian told him he was related to her. He wondered if Aniyah had been a prostitute, on drugs, in jail or a combination of all three. As beautiful as a girl she was, he knew the way she dressed was simply due to her circumstances. He wondered if she lived with anyone she trusted.
Instead of opening his emails, he went straight to social media to see if he could find Aniyah. He had to snoop through the friends lists of several distant family members until he found a profile with her name. It was public, and she only had a few pictures. She had no selfies and the pictures she had were of a bottle of alcohol and her freshly done nails. Dorian messaged her.
Dorian: Hey, it’s me, Dorian from church. Is this Aniyah? I was just saying hi.
While he scrolled through other friends’ pages, he was surprised she messaged him back.
Aniyah: Yeah, this Aniyah.
Dorian: Oh, so you have a phone?
Aniyah: I use my cousin’s phone to check my messages.
Dorian: Cool. I’m going to be honest. You kind of worried me when I saw you. I wanted to make sure everything was okay.
Aniyah: Yeah, I’m good. I mean, to be really honest, I’m kind of homeless, but I’m about to get my own place. I used to live with my boyfriend. I lived with him after I got out of jail.
Dorian wanted to ask much more, but he stopped himself. He knew asking too many questions at once would lead to her being skeptical of talking to him at all.
Dorian: What were you in there for? You seem like too much of a nice girl to have been locked up.
Aniyah: Yeah, I was in there for prostitution.
Dorian: Oh, okay. Well, are you better now?
Aniyah: I am. The pastor of your church said he was going to help me out. He told me he was going to buy me a phone, so I could stay in contact with the church.
Dorian: Really? Wow! That’s good. Well, let’s keep in touch. I’m family, so I don’t want anything to happen to you.
Aniyah: Yeah. Well, thanks for reaching out.
Dorian hoped he could breathe a sigh of relief, but their conversation led to even more questions. The Bishop buying her a phone even though they just met alarmed him. He knew the Bishop would do nice things for people sometimes, but he was never that charitable. Once, when the Sunday School class asked for new classroom supplies, he took months to deliver them. When they were finally delivered, he chose the cheapest items he could find. The crayons, pens, and paper had obviously been purchased from the dollar store in bulk.
He opened his emails and began scanning them to organize his week. There were three projects due in the next three months and a fifteen-page essay. The load of busy work his professors gave him was beginning to stress him out, so he took another break on social media two hours later. Aniyah had messaged him again.
Aniyah: Your pastor just came to where I stay at and gave me my phone. I’m still on my cousin’s phone though. I have to turn it on. He said he’s going to pay the bill.
Dorian: What kind of phone is it?
Aniyah: The new iPhone.
Dorian didn’t even have the new iPhone, and he worked at church and with for his dad’s landscaping business when he was available. He had been surviving with his cracked screen for the last two years, refusing to upgrade due to the expense.
Dorian: Wow, that’s amazing! I’m happy for you. Send me your number when you get a chance.
Aniyah: I will.
In the next hour, Dorian received another notification with her phone number. He locked it in then texted her.
Dorian: Got it. That was really nice of him.
Aniyah: Yeah, it was.
Dorian: You coming back next Sunday?
Aniyah: Yeah, I think so. I like it so far.
Dorian: You should join the choir. We need help, even if you can’t sing. Our choir director is amazing. You’ll be sounding like Beyonce when he’s done with you.
Aniyah: Lol, I don’t know about all that. I’ll be there next Sunday. I think the Bishop wants me to join the choir too. That’s what he’s walking about right now.
Dorian: Like, right now?
Aniyah: Yeah, he’s still over here. He came back. He prayed for me, and we’ve been talking.
Dorian: You know, I never asked, but how old are you?
She took a few minutes longer to respond.
Aniyah: I just turned eighteen two weeks ago.
Dorian: Oh wow! So you’re super young.
Dorian couldn’t wrap his head around how a very petite, young girl had been involved in prostitution and jail so early.
Dorian: Well, I’ll talk to you soon then. Tell him I said hi. Choir rehearsal. Think about it!
Aniyah: I will lol.
Dorian went downstairs to catch his father watching football highlights and his mother eating leftovers from yesterday on a barstool. Her long dreads brushed her back as she bent over to cool her soup.
“Hey, Mom. Do you know someone named Aniyah?”
“No. The name doesn’t ring a bell.”
“Well I remember her at the last family reunion. She was quiet, but Aunt Cheryl introduced us.”
“Hmm, I’m not sure. Why?”
“Well, she goes to the church now where I play drums. She doesn’t look like she’s doing that well, and she’s so young.”
“Probably on drugs. Don’t get too involved. Cheryl’s side has always been a mess. She probably had that little girl and abandoned her. Legend has it, she has over twelve kids that were either shipped to foster care, adopted, or she only half took care of. I wouldn’t communicate with her.”
“Well, you never know. People need help sometimes.”
“That doesn’t mean we have to get involved.”
Dorian felt a vibration in his pocket. It was Aniyah.
Aniyah: Yeah, your pastor convinced me to join the choir. I guess I’ll go. I don’t have anything to do anyway.
Dorian assumed she didn’t work.
Dorian: That sounds great. I’ll see you on Thursday then. Bring comfortable shoes, you’ll be standing a lot!
He cringed when he sent it because he remembered she probably didn’t have any other shoes than what she had on her feet.
Aniyah: I will, for real. The pastor said he was gonna buy me some new stuff to wear. I told him I wasn’t going if I had to wear all my old stuff.
Dorian didn’t know whether he should be worried about all those sudden gifts or happy that a young lady had clothing to wear; it was obvious she didn’t have much. A headache was beginning to set in. He went to bed with thoughts of Aniyah and the Bishop bouncing all throughout his mind.
Thursday came and Dorian arrived early to make sure the instruments were up and running before the choir director came. A few of the sopranos arrived five minutes early to start chatting. The choir director, Michael, came in through a side door looking flustered as usual. Whenever he prepared to teach a new song, he was a drama queen. The altos and tenors filed in ten minutes later with Michael impatiently crossing his arms. He hated to start late, but he always kept everyone past the time he promised.
“You know the girl from last week is joining, right?” Dorian asked Michael as he guided a few of the girls into the choir stand.
“Yeah, Pastor told me. Well, we’ll see what we can do. I’ve taught people who sounded like drowning cats to sing, so she can’t be that bad.”
Dorian laughed and placed some light chalk on his fingers to keep his thumbs from developing callouses. Aniyah walked in from the back of the church with her head down. The choir was warming up to a congregational song, so Dorian didn’t notice her at first. Once he caught her attention, he smiled. Right behind her was the Bishop. He rested one hand on her shoulder and whispered in her ear. She walked over to the choir stand and sat down. Michael abruptly stopped the music.
“So, you must be Aniyah?”
“Soprano or alto?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, we’re going to figure it out. I’m going to start the song again and I want you to try to catch on. Alright?”
She nodded her head. The Bishop sat in the audience and only took his phone out a few times. Dorian thought it was odd he decided to stick around. The Bishop never came to choir rehearsal, and if he was at church, he stayed in his office until it was time to lock the church up. Aniyah followed the choir and her soft voice blended in with the powerful voices of the sopranos and tenors that always swallowed up the rest of the choir.
Dorian could tell everyone embraced her. Although she looked well-dressed and not like she just left the streets, everyone remembered the poor girl who walked inside the church at the end of service last Sunday. Michael encouraged Aniyah to sing soprano because she had a high and airy voice. Dorian could tell she wasn’t comfortable singing with the most confident singers in the choir, but the Bishop sitting there appeared to have given her confidence. Michael wanted to practice a song that featured the sopranos singing softer than usual and he wanted Aniyah to eventually take on a lead song.
Dorian watched the Bishop shift around in his seat and then beckon for Aniyah to come to him. She obeyed and walked down to his bench in the front. He whispered in her ear again and they left to go the back of the church. Dorian was sure they were headed to his office.
“Where is my soprano going, Bishop?”
“She’ll be back, Mike. Don’t worry,” the Bishop called before closing the door connected to the sanctuary.
Dorian wanted to text Aniyah to see if she was okay back there. He just didn’t know what they would need to talk about in private.
The choir continued to sing, argue, and debate which order they should sing their selections in. Dorian knew this would take a while, so this was his time to look on his phone and ignore his surroundings. He darkened his screen and went to Aniyah’s social media page. To his surprise, she had a few more pictures to share with her followers. She showed off several clothing items, her new phone while taking a selfie in the mirror, and a basic, black purse. The caption underneath the purse read:
Came up. Don’t trip. Blessed and not stressed.
Unless Aniyah was a scam artist only pretending to not have much, she might have been given more gifts by the Bishop. Dorian couldn’t imagine the cheap Bishop Wilmington giving anyone anything. Once he asked for replacement drumsticks just in case they broke during service, and the Bishop told him he needs to stop begging the church for stuff he could buy himself.
Choir rehearsal ended later than usual because Michael apparently hated how lazy the altos were that evening. Within minutes, Aniyah came back into the sanctuary. Her hair was down when she left but was in a messy bun when she returned.
“Aniyah! Where were you?”
She looked around and traced the floor with her eyes. “Oh, you know how long the Bishop can keep you. He won’t stop talking.”
“Oh, that man can talk!” The other musicians laughed and agreed.
Dorian refused to say anything and instead, studied how slightly disheveled she looked once she collected her purse that was left on the first pew.
“Next Thursday, I want you here, Aniyah. The whole time. I really want to work with you. I love your voice.”
Aniyah smiled. “I’ll make it. I promise I’ll be here this Sunday. I want to get closer with God and get my life together.”
“Well praise God!” the pianist shouted.
The Bishop returned to the sanctuary but looked at no one. He whisked Aniyah out of the sanctuary into the parking lot. “I’ll see ya’ll Sunday. I got to take her back home,” he said, waving.
“Goodnight Bishop!” a few of the choir members said in unison.
Dorian tried to hurry up gathering his things and catch up with them in the parking lot. By the time he got outside, they were gone.