A CAR DOOR SLAMMED on the street somewhere but it didn’t mean anything to me. I was at home drinking lemonade from the fruit of my own trees on a Saturday in L.A. Nobody was after me. My slate was clean. Bonnie had gone out with her friend Shirley, Jesus was taking sailing lessons near Redondo Beach, and Feather had gone down the street to her little boyfriend’s house, a shy red- headed child named Henry Hopkins.

Just four weeks before I would have spent my solitary time wondering if I should ask Bonnie to be my bride. But she had spent a weekend on the island of Madagascar with a man named Joguye Cham. He was the son of an African prince born in Senegal while I was born a poor black orphan.

Bonnie swore that the time they spent together was platonic but that didn’t mean much to me. A man who expected to be a king, who was working to liberate and empower a whole continent, wanted Bonnie by his side.

How could I compete with that?

How could she wake up next to me year after year, getting older while I made sure the toilets at Sojourner Truth Junior High School were disinfected? How could she be satisfied with a janitor when a man who wanted to change the world was calling her name?

Sharp footsteps on concrete followed the slamming door.

Bonnie had made my life work perfectly for a while. She never worried about my late-night meetings or when I went out for clues to the final fate of my old friend Mouse. I knew he was dead but I needed to hear it from the woman who saw him die. EttaMae admitted that she buried him in a nameless grave.

The footsteps ended at my door. They were the footsteps of a small man. I expected Jackson Blue to appear. Maybe he wanted my advice about his crazy love affair with Jewelle now that Mofass was dead. Or maybe he had some scheme he wanted to run past me. Either way it would be better than moping around, wishing that my woman wasn’t born to be a queen.

The knocking was soft and unhurried. Whoever it was, he, or she, was in no rush.

When I pulled the door open I was looking too high, above the man’s head. And then I saw him.

He pushed me aside and went past saying, “If it wasn’t for ugly, Easy, I woulda never even seen you again.”

“Raymond?” I could feel the tears wanting to come from my eyes. I was dizzy too. Torn between the two sensations I couldn’t go either way.

“You know I been drivin’ up an’ down Pico for the last hour and a half tryin’ to figure out if I should come here or not,” Mouse was saying.

He wore dark gray slacks and an ochre-colored jacket. His shirt was charcoal and there was gold edging on three of his teeth. On his baby finger he wore a thick gold ring sporting an onyx face studded with eight or nine diamond chips. His shoes were leather, honed to a high shine.

He wore no hat. Kennedy killed hats by going bareheaded to his inauguration, any haberdasher will tell you that. And if Mouse was a slave to anything it was fashion.

“Where the hell you been, Ray?”

He grinned. He laughed.

That was one of the few times I ever hugged a man. I actually lifted him off the floor.

“All right now, Easy. Okay. It’s okay, brother. I missed you too, baby. Yeah.”

Mouse was still laughing. It wasn’t a guffaw or even a roll. It was a calculated chuckle that only debutantes and killers had mastered.

“Where the hell you been?” I asked again.

“You got somethin’ to drink around here, Ease?” he replied. “I know you don’t drink but I thought maybe your woman did.”

Bonnie kept a bottle of brandy on the top shelf in the kitchen, behind the mixing bowls. I poured Mouse three fingers and refreshed my lemonade. Then he got comfortable on my recliner and I sat on the loveseat Bonnie brought from her home when she moved into mine.

“Well?” I asked after his first sip.

“Well what?”

“What happened?”

“You saw me get hit, didn’t you? You saw me sprawled out there at Death’s door. Shit. I was almost dead, Easy. Almost. Everything looked different. Slow and like black-and-white TV through red sunglasses. I heard Etta cryin’. I heard the nurse tellin’ her I was dyin’. I believed her. As far as I was concerned I was already dead.”

Mouse stared at the kitchen window through the door, his gray eyes amazed with the memory of his own demise.

“Where did Etta take you?”

“Mama Jo’s,” he said. “That’s why I’m here, partly.”

“You were too hurt to be taken all the way down to Texas,” I said. “Your heart wasn’t even beating.”

“Jo moved up around Santa Barbara six years ago,” Mouse said. “Etta knew about it but she never told no one. Domaque had got himself in trouble down Harrisville and she helped ’em move here.”

“She called me.”

“Etta?” Mouse asked.

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