Read by Michael Boatman
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 10, 2007. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Easy’s investigation brings him to Faith Laneer, a blonde woman with a dark past. As Easy begins to put the pieces together, he realizes that Black’s dissappearance has its roots in Vietnam, and that Faith might be in a world of danger.
Also by Walter Mosley
EASY RAWLINS BOOKS
Devil in a Blue Dress
A Red Death
A Little Yellow Dog
Bad Boy Brawly Brown
Six Easy Pieces: Easy Rawlins Stories
Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned
Walkin' the Dog
The Man in My Basement
Fear of the Dark
Killing Johnny Fry
Workin' on the Chain Gang
What Next: A Memoir Toward World Peace
Life Out of Context
This Year You Write Your Novel
It's hard to get lost when you're coming home from work. When you have a job, and a paycheck, the road is set right out in front of you: a paved highway with no exits except yours. There's the parking lot, the grocery store, the kids' school, the cleaner's, the gas station, and then your front door.
But I hadn't had a regular job in a year and here it was two in the afternoon and I was pulling into my driveway wondering what I was doing there. I cut off the engine and then shuddered, trying to fit inside the sudden stillness.
All morning I had been thinking about Bonnie and what I'd lost when I sent her away. She'd saved my adopted daughter's life, and I had repaid her by making her leave our home.
In order to get little Feather into a Swiss clinic, Bonnie had reacquainted herself with Joguye Cham, a West African prince she had met in her work as a flight attendant for Air France. He made a temporary home for Feather, and Bonnie stayed there with her — and him.
I threw open the car door but didn't get out. Part of my lethargy was exhaustion from being up for the past twenty-four hours.
I didn't have a regular job, but I worked like a dog.
Martel Johnson had hired me to find his runaway sixteen-year-old daughter, Chevette. He'd gone to the police and they had taken down her information, but two weeks had gone by and they hadn't turned up a thing. I told Martel that I'd do the footwork for three hundred dollars. On any other transaction he would have tried to dicker with me, giving me a down payment and promising the balance when and if I did the job. But when a man loves his child he will do anything to have her safely home.
I pocketed the money, spoke to a dozen of Chevette's high school friends, and then made the rounds of various alleys in the general vicinity of Watts.
MOST OF THAT TIME I was thinking about Bonnie, about calling her and asking her to come home to me. I missed her milky breath and the spiced teas she brewed. I missed her mild Guyanese accent and our long talks about freedom. I missed everything about her and me, but I couldn't make myself stop at a pay phone.
Where I came from — Fifth Ward, Houston, Texas — another man sleeping with your woman was more than reason enough for justifiable double homicide. Every time I thought of her in his arms my vision sputtered and I had to close my eyes.
My adoptive daughter still saw Bonnie at least once a week. The boy I raised as my son, Jesus, and his common-law wife, Benita Flagg, treated Bonnie as the grandmother of their newborn daughter, Essie.
I loved them all and in turning my back on Bonnie I had lost them.
And so, at 1:30 in the morning, at the mouth of an alley off Avalon, when a buxom young thing in a miniskirt and halter top had come up to my window, I rolled down the glass and asked, "How much to suck my dick?"
"Fifteen dollars, daddy," she said in a voice both sweet and high.
"Um," I stalled. "Up front or after?"
She sucked a tooth and stuck out a hand. I put three new five-dollar bills across her palm, and she hurried around to the passenger side of my late-model Ford. She had dark skin and full cheeks ready to smile for the man with the money.
When I turned toward her I detected a momentary shyness in her eyes, but then she put on a brazen look and said, "Let's see what you got."
"Can I ask you somethin' first?"
"You paid for ten minutes; you can do whatever you want with it."
"Are you happy doing this, Chevette?"
Her years went from thirty to sixteen in one second flat. She reached for the door, but I grabbed her wrist.
"I'm not tryin' to stop you, girl," I said.
"Then let me go."
"You got my money. All I'm askin' is my ten minutes," I said, letting her wrist go.
Chevette settled down after looking at my other hand and around the front seat for signs of danger.
"Okay," she said, staring into the darkness of the floor. "But we stay right here."
I lifted her chin with one finger and gazed into her big eyes until she turned away.
"Martel hired me to find you," I said. "He's all broken up. I told him I'd ask you to come home but I wouldn't drag you there."
The woman-child glanced at me then.
"But I have to tell him where you are . . . and about Porky."
"You cain't tell Daddy 'bout him," she pleaded. "One'a them get killed sure."
Porky the Pimp had recruited Chevette three blocks away from Jordan High. He was a pock-faced fat man with a penchant for razors, diamond rings, and women.
"Martel's your father," I reasoned. "He deserves to know what happened with you."
"Porky'll cut him. He'll kill him."
"Or the other way around," I said. "Martel hired me to find you and tell him where you are. That's how I pay my mortgage, girl."
"I could pay you," she suggested, placing a hand on my thigh. "I got seventy-fi'e dollars in my purse. And, and you said you wanted some company."
"No," I said. "I mean . . . you are a fine young thing, but I'm honest and a father too."
The teenager's face went blank, but I could see that her mind was racing. My appearance had been a possibility that she'd already considered. Not me exactly but some man who either knew her or wanted to save her. After twenty blow jobs a night for two weeks, she'd have to be thinking about rescue — and about the perils that came along with such an act of desperation. Porky could find her anywhere in Southern California.
"Porky ain't gonna let me go," she said. "He cut up one girl that tried to leave him. Cassandra. He cut up her face."
She put a hand to her cheek. It wasn't a pretty face.
"Oh," I said, "I'm almost sure the pig man will listen to reason."
It was my smile that gave Chevette Johnson hope.
"Where is he?" I asked.
"At the back of the barbershop."
I took the dull gray .38 from the glove compartment and the keys from the ignition.
Cupping my hand around the girl's chin, I said, "You wait right here. I don't wanna have to look for you again."
She nodded into my palm and I went off down the alley.
TALL AND LANKY LaTerry Klegg stood in the doorway of the back porch of Masters and Broad Barber Shop. He looked like a deep brown praying mantis standing in a pool of yellow cream. Klegg had a reputation for being fast and deadly, so I came up on him quickly, slamming the side of my pistol against his jaw.
He went down and I thought of Bonnie for a moment. I wondered, as I looked into the startled face of Porky the Pimp, why she had not called me.
Porky was seated in an old barber's chair that had been moved out on the porch to make room for a newer model, no doubt.
"Who the fuck are you?" the pimp said in a frightened alto voice. He was the color of a pig too, a sickly pinkish brown.
I answered by pressing the barrel of my pistol against his left cheekbone.
"What?" he squeaked.
"Chevette Johnson," I said. "Either you let up or I lay you down right here and now."
I meant it. I was ready to kill him. I wanted to kill him. But even while I stood there on the verge of murder, it came to me that Bonnie would never call. She was too proud and hurt.
"Take her," Porky said.
My finger was constricting on the trigger.
I moved my hand three inches to the right and fired. The bullet only nicked the outer earlobe, but his hearing on that side would never be the same. Porky went down to the floor, holding his head and crying out. I kicked him in his gut and walked back down the way I'd come.
On the way to my car, I passed three women in short skirts and high heels that had come running. They gave me a wide berth, seeing the pistol in my hand.
"SO WHY'D YOU LEAVE HOME LIKE THAT?" I asked Chevette at the all-night hamburger stand on Beverly.
She'd ordered a chili burger and fries. I nursed a cream soda.
"They wouldn't let me do nuthin'," she whined. "Daddy want me to wear long skirts and ponytails. He wouldn't even let me talk to a boy on the phone."
Even in a potato sack you could have seen that Chevette was a woman. It had been a long time since she had been a member of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.
I drove her to my office and let her sleep on my new blue sofa while I napped, dreaming of Bonnie, in my office chair.
In the morning I called Martel and told him everything — except that Chevette was listening in.
"What you mean, walkin' the streets?" he asked.
"You know what I mean."
"You still want her back?" I asked.
"Of course I want my baby back."
"No, Marty. I can bring her back, but what you gonna get is a full-grown woman, not no child, not no baby. She gonna need you to let her grow up. She gonna need you to see what she is. 'Cause it won't make a difference her bein' back home if you don't change."
"She my child, Easy," he said with deadly certainty.
"The child is gone, Marty. Woman's all that's left."
He broke down then and so did Chevette. She buried her face in a blue cushion and cried.
I told Martel I'd call him back. We talked three more times before I got all the way through to him. I told him that it wasn't worth it for me to bring her back if he couldn't see her for what she was, if he couldn't love her for what she was.
And all the time, I was thinking about Bonnie. I was thinking that I should call her and beg her to come home.
It only took me ten minutes or so to climb out of the car.
Walking across the lawn, I heard the little yellow dog barking. Frenchie hated me and loved Feather. We had something in common there. I was happy to hear his canine curses through the front door. It was the only welcome I deserved.
When I came into the house the seven-pound dog began screaming and snapping at my shoes. I squatted down to say hello. This gesture of truce always made Frenchie run away.
When I looked up to watch him scamper down the hall toward Feather's room, I saw the little Vietnamese child Easter Dawn.
"Hello, Mr. Rawlins," the petite eight-year-old said.
"E.D. Where'd you come from, girl?" I looked around the room for her village-killing father.
"Vietnam, originally," the cogent child replied.
"Hi, Daddy," Feather said, coming from around the corner.
She was only eleven but seemed much older. She'd grown a foot and a half in little more than a year and she had a lean, intelligent face. Feather and Jesus spoke to each other in fluent English, French, and Spanish, which somehow made her conversation seem more sophisticated.
"Where's Juice?" I asked, using Jesus's nickname.
"He and Benny went to get Essie from Benny's mom." She hesitated a moment and then added, "I stayed home with E.D. today because I didn't know what else to do."
I was trying to figure it all out while standing there.
My son had agreed to stay with Feather while I was out looking for Chevette. He and Benita didn't make much money and had only a one-room studio apartment in Venice. When they babysat they could sleep in my big bed, watch TV, and cook on a real stove.
But Jesus had a life, and Feather was supposed to be in school. Easter Dawn Black had no business in my house at all.
The child wore black cotton pants and an unadorned red silk jacket cut in an Asian style. Her long black hair was tied with an orange bow and hung down the front, over her right shoulder.
"Daddy brought me," Easter said, answering the question in my eyes.
"He told me to tell you that I had to stay here for a while visiting with Feather. . . ."
My daughter knelt down then and hugged the smaller child from behind.
". . . He said that you would know how long I had to stay. Do you?"
"You want some coffee, Daddy?" Feather asked.
My adopted daughter had a creamy brown complexion that reflected her complicated racial heritage. Staring into her generous face, I realized for the twentieth time that I could no longer predict the caprice or depth of her heart.
It was with the sadness of this growing separation that I said, "Sure, baby. Sure."
I picked up Easter and followed Feather into the kitchen. There I sat in a dinette chair with the doll-size child on my lap.
"You been having a good time with Feather?" I asked.
Easter nodded vehemently.
"Did she make you lunch?"
"Tuna fish and sweet potato pie."
Looking up into my eyes, Easter relaxed and leaned against my chest. I hadn't known her and her father, Christmas Black, for long, but the confidence he had in me had influenced the child's trust.
"So you and your daddy drove here?" I asked.
"And was it just you and him in the car?"
"No," she said. "There was a lady with yellow hair."
"What was her name?"
"Miss . . . something. I don't remember."
"And was this lady up in your house in Riverside?"
"We moved away from there," Easter said, a little wistfully.
"Behind a big blue house across the street from the building with a real big tire on the roof."
"A tire as big as a house?"
By then the coffee was beginning to percolate.
"Mr. Black dropped by this morning," Feather said. "He asked me if Easter Dawn could stay for a while and I said okay. Was that okay, Daddy?"
Feather always called me Daddy when she didn't want me to get angry.
"Is my daddy okay, Mr. Rawlins?" Easter Dawn asked.
"Your father is the strongest man in the world," I told her with only the least bit of hyperbole. "Whatever he's doin', he'll be just fine. I'm sure he's gonna call me and tell me what's going on before the night is through."
FEATHER MADE HOT CHOCOLATE for her and E.D. We sat around the dinette table like adults having an afternoon visit. Feather talked about what she'd learned concerning American history, and little Easter Dawn listened as if she were a student in class. When we'd visited enough to make Easter feel at home, I suggested that they go in the backyard to play.
I CALLED SAUL LYNX, the man who had introduced me to Easter's father, but his answering service told me that my fellow private detective was out of town for a few weeks. I could have called his home, but if he was on a case he wouldn't have known anything about Christmas.
"ALEXANDER RESIDENCE," a white man answered on the first ring of my next call.
"Mr. Rawlins. How are you, sir?"
The transformation of Peter Rhone from salesman to personal manservant to EttaMae Harris would always be astonishing to me. He lost the love of his life in the Watts riots, a lovely young black woman named Nola Payne, and pretty much gave up on the white race. He moved onto the side porch of EttaMae's house and did chores for her and her husband, Raymond "Mouse" Alexander.
Rhone worked part-time as a mechanic for my old friend Primo in a garage in East LA. He was learning a trade and contributing to the general pot for the upkeep of Etta's home. Peter was paying penance for the death of Nola Payne because in some way he saw himself as the cause of her demise.
"Okay," I said. "All right. How's the garage workin' out?"
"I'm cleaning spark plugs now. Pretty soon Jorge is going to show me how to work with an automatic transmission."
"Huh," I grunted. "Raymond around there?"
"I better get Etta for you," he said, and I knew there was a problem.
"Easy?" Etta said into the phone a moment later.
"I need your help."
"Yes, ma'am," I said, because I loved Etta as a friend and I had once loved her as I did Bonnie. If she hadn't been mad for my best friend, we'd've had a whole house full of children by that time.
"The police lookin' for Raymond," she said.
"For what?" I asked.
"Some fool name'a Pericles Tarr went missin', an' the cops here ev'ry day askin' me what I know about it. If it wasn't for Pete I think they might'a drug me off to jail just for bein' married to Ray."
None of this was a surprise to me. Raymond lived a life of crime. The diminutive killer was connected to a whole network of heist men that operated from coast to coast, and maybe beyond that. But for all that, I couldn't imagine him involved in a petty murder. It wasn't that Mouse had somehow moved beyond killing; just the opposite was true. But in recent years his blood had cooled, and he rarely lost his temper. If he was to kill somebody nowadays, it would have been in the dead of night, with no witnesses or clues left behind to incriminate him.
"Where is Mouse?" I asked.
"That's what I need to find out," Etta said. "He went missin' the day before this Tarr man did. Now he ain't around and the law's all ovah me."
"So you want me to find him?" I asked, regretting that I had called.
"What do I do then?"
"I'm worried, Easy," Etta said. "These cops is serious. They want my baby under the jailhouse."
I hadn't heard Etta call Ray my baby in many years.
"All right," I said. "I'll find him and I'll do what I have to to make sure he's okay."
"I know this ain't for free, Easy," Etta told me. "I'm'a pay you for it."
"Uh-huh. You know anything about this Tarr?"
"Not too much. He's married and got a whole house full'a chirren."
"Where does he live?"
"On Sixty-third Street." She recited the address, and I wrote it down, thinking that I had found more trouble in one day than most men come across in a decade.
I had called Mouse because he and Christmas Black were friends. I had hoped to find help, not give it. But when you live a life among desperate men and women, any door you open might have Pandora written all over the other side.
I hadn't imbibed any alcohol whatsoever in years. But since Bonnie left I thought about sour mash whiskey every day. I was sitting in the living room in front of a dark TV, thinking about drinking, when the phone rang.
Another symptom of my loneliness was that my heart thrilled with fear every time someone called or knocked on the door. I knew it wasn't her. I knew it, but still I worried about what I could say.
"Mr. Rawlins?" a girl asked.
"Is something wrong? You sound funny."
"Who is this?"
It hadn't been a full day since I'd almost murdered a man over the woman-child, and already I had to reach for her in my memory.
"Hi. Something wrong? Is pig man botherin' you?"
"No," she said. "My daddy told me that I should call and say thank you. I would have anyway, though. He says that we gonna move to Philadelphia to live with my uncle. He says that way we can have a new start back there."
"That sounds like a great idea," I said with poorly manufactured enthusiasm.
I got lost in that sigh.
Chevette saw me as her savior. First I took her away from her pimp and then I allowed her to see her father in a way he could never show himself.
I got lost trying to imagine how I could see myself as that child saw me: a hero filled with power and certainty. I would have given anything to be the man she had called.
"If you have any problems, just tell me," that man said to Chevette.
The front door swung open, and Jesus came in with Benita Flagg and Essie.
"Okay, Mr. Rawlins," Chevette said. "My daddy wanna say hi."
I waved at my little broken family.
"Yeah, Martel. She sounds good."
"I'm movin' us all out to Pennsylvania," he said. "Brother says there's good work at the train yards out there."
"That sounds great. Chevette could use a new start; maybe you and your wife could too."
"Yeah, yeah," Martel said, treading water.
"Is there something else?" I asked.
Essie started crying then.
"You, um, you said that, uh, that the three hundred dollars was for the week you was gonna spend lookin' for Chevy."
"Yeah?" I said with the question in my voice, but I knew what was coming next.
"Well, it only took a day, not even that."
"I figure that's about fifty dollars a day, excludin' Sunday," Martel argued. "You could get another job to make up the difference."
"Is Chevette still there?" I asked.
"I tell you what, Martel. I'll give you two hundred and fifty dollars if Chevy could come spend the next five days with me."
I hung up then. Martel couldn't help it. He was a workingman and had the logic of the paycheck wedged in his soul. I'd saved his daughter from a life of prostitution, but that didn't mean I'd earned his three hundred dollars. He'd go to his grave feeling that he'd been cheated by me.
"Hey, boy," I said, rising to meet my son.
He hugged me and I kissed his forehead. Benita got in on it, kissing my cheek while Essie wailed in her arms.
I took the baby in my hands and heaved her around in a circle. She looked at my face in wonder, reached up to my scratchy cheek, and then smiled.
For a moment I felt nothing but love for that infant. She had Benita's medium-brown skin and Juice's straight black hair. There wasn't one drop of my blood in her veins, but she was my granddaughter. It was because of my love for her that I had been ready to kill Porky.
Looking at her trusting face, I thought of the child that my first wife took away with her to Texas. That shadow of loss brought on the memory of Bonnie, and I handed Essie back to her mother.
"Are you okay, Mr. Rawlins?" Benny asked me.
Hadn't she just asked me that? No.
"You need us tonight, Dad?" Jesus asked. He knew that I was hurting and so tried to save me from Benita's concern. He was always saving me — ever since I first brought him home from the streets.
"No. I found who I was looking for. But you guys could stay anyway. I'll sleep in your room, Juice."
Jesus knew that I wanted him to stay, to keep my house filled with movement and sound. He nodded ever so slightly and looked into my eyes.
I couldn't tell what he was thinking. Maybe it was that he could watch TV or sleep in a big bed. But the way I felt then, I was sure that he could see right through me. That he knew I was way off course, lost in my own home, my own skin.
"Juice!" Feather and Easter Dawn shouted.
They ran in to hug the boy who took them on boat rides and taught them how to catch crabs in a net. All the commotion caused Essie to cry again, and Benita brought out her bottle.
I drifted into the kitchen and started dinner. Before long I had three pots and the oven going. Fried chicken with leftover macaroni and cheese, and cauliflower with a white sauce spiced by Tabasco. Easter and Feather joined me after a while and made a Bisquick peach crisp under my supervision.
The whole dinner took forty-seven minutes from start to the table. While the pastry cooled on the sink, Feather and Easter Dawn helped me serve the meal.
Dinner was boisterous. Every now and then Easter got a little sad, but Jesus sat next to her and told her little jokes that made her grin.
EVERYONE BUT ME was in bed by nine.
I sat in front of the dark TV, thinking about whiskey and how good it once tasted.
After a while I forced myself to consider the Vietnamese child who had been taken from her war-torn homeland, whose parents (and all their relatives and everyone they knew) had been murdered by the man who had adopted her — Christmas Black.
The professional soldier's patriotism had soured when he realized what America's war had cost him. He was a killer on a par with Mouse. But Christmas was also a man of honor. This made him more dangerous and unpredictable than the homicidal friend of my youth.
If Christmas had left E.D. with me, then he must have been at war somewhere. What he wanted was for me to look after his little girl, but he wasn't my client. Easter had asked me to assure her that her father was okay. The only way I could do that was to go out and find him.
After that, or maybe blended up in it, I would have to find Mouse and see what was what in those murder allegations. Raymond had once spent five years in the can for manslaughter. He had made it known that he would never go into prison again. That meant if the cops found him first, a goodly number of them were likely to get killed. Even if Etta hadn't hired me, I'd still try to save the lives that Mouse would take — that was one of my self-appointed duties in life.
I was jarred out of a deep sleep by something — a sound. It was very late. The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was the little yellow dog glaring at me from between the drapes that covered the front window. I wasn't quite sure that the phone had rung. But then it jangled again. There was an extension in my bedroom, and I was worried about disturbing the baby, so I answered quickly, thinking that it was either Christmas or Mouse calling in from some hazardous position in the street.
"Yeah?" I said in a husky tone.
The room disappeared for a moment. I was floating or falling into a dark night.
"I'm sorry it's so late," she said in that sweet accent. "I could call you tomorrow. . . . Easy?"
"Yeah. Hey, babe. It's been a long time."
"A year, almost."
"It's great to hear you, your voice," I said. "How are you?"
"Fine." Her tone was reserved. But why not? I thought. She was taking a big chance calling me. The last time we spoke, I had kicked her out of my house.
"I was just sittin' here in front of the TV," I said. "Jesus and Benita sleepin' in my bed. Easter Dawn is here. You don't know her, but she's the daughter of a friend'a mine."
- Mosely uses first-person narration for his Rawlins stories, so readers can get deeply inside the psyche of his unusual and complex main character. In providing Easy's audio voice, Boatman strikes not one false note, and his differentiation of the other characters is solid and equally convincing.—KLIATT
- On Sale
- Oct 10, 2007
- Hachette Audio