“No. Jo. Couple’a months ago. She called and asked if I knew where you were. It was that same deep voice. Yeah. I couldn’t place it at the time. She healed you?”

“Yeah, baby. You know Jo’s a witch.” I remembered Mouse saying the same words when we were only nineteen. He’d taken me to her cabin in the woods outside of Pariah, Texas. Jo was twenty years older than we were. She was tall and jet black, crazy and full of need.

She seduced me and then saved my life when I came down with a fever.

“She used powders and ointments,” Mouse continued. “Stayed up all night by my side, every night for six weeks. She sat next to me almost the whole time. Etta and LaMarque was in the corner worryin’ and Domaque did all the work. You know, Easy, I believe that her standin’ sentry was why Death couldn’t pull me off. When my heart got weak she held foul-smellin’ shit up under my nose. And then one mornin’ I was awake. Everything looked normal. My chest hurt but that was fine. I was walkin’ in seven days’ time. I woulda been fuckin’ but Etta was mad at me for gettin’ myself shot.”

He sipped while he talked. After each swallow he hissed in satisfaction. As the moments ticked by I got used to seeing him. That was easy because Mouse had never really been dead for me. I took him with me everywhere I went. He was my barometer for evil, my advisor when no good man would have known what to say. Raymond was proof that a black man could live by his own rules in America when everybody else denied it. Why couldn’t he crawl up out of the grave and return to life whenever he felt like it?

“Damn,” I said. “Damn.”

Mouse grinned again. I refilled his glass.

“Good to see you, Easy.”

“I looked everywhere for you, Ray. I asked just about everybody here and down in Texas. I asked EttaMae but she said you were dead.”

“She told me about that. You know I was mad at her for not gettin’ me to help that musician boy.” Mouse held up his glass in a toast to his wife. “But she’s a good woman. She didn’t want me hangin’ ’round you ’cause she said that she thought that you’d get me in trouble.”

“Me?” I said. “Me get you in trouble?”

Mouse chuckled again. “I know what you mean, Ease, but Etta got a point too. You know you always on the edge’a sump’n’. Always at the wrong door. I did get shot followin’ you down that alley.”

Mouse winked at me then. We were both in our mid-forties but he didn’t look thirty. His smile was as innocent as Eve’s come-on in the Garden of Eden.

“I’m sorry,” I said. A tear did escape my eye. “I really am.”

Mouse ignored the emotion I showed. “Anyway,” he said. “She don’t know that a man cain’t be worried ’bout every Tom, Dick, and Harry wanna do him some harm. There’s always somebody out to get ya. Always. You cain’t hide from it. Shit. At least we friends, right?”

“Yeah,” I said. “We sure are.”

Mouse focused those cloud-colored eyes on me. “Domaque’s in trouble again.”

“What about?”

“Ugly,” the dapper killer said. “Ugly brought him into this world and ugly gonna take him out.”

“What’s wrong with him?”

“Wrong with him? Don’t you remember?”

Domaque was Mama Jo’s son. He had the soul of an artist, the strength of a mule, and the looks of a fairy-tale ogre. His nasal passages didn’t work right and so his drooling mouth was always open. One eye was larger than the other and between his arms and legs no two of them were the same length. He had a curve in his spine that made him hunchbacked and, though he was very intelligent, he had the emotional makeup of a twelve-year-old.

“I mean, what trouble is he in?”

“They say he robbed a armored car on its way to the Bank of America in Santa Barbara.”

“Did he?” I asked.


“Did you?”

That made Mouse laugh. But it wasn’t his debutante titter. It was a snort that was meant to be a warning. I had seen dogs run away from him when he’d made that sound.

He’d only been alive for ten minutes and I was already under threat.

“So what did happen?” I asked.

“Some white girl been hangin’ ’round, that’s what Jo says. She met Dom down at this cove where he went fishin’ and started sweet-talkin’ him. One day she disappears and the next thing they know the cops come up to Jo and Dom’s house.”

“They get him?”

“Naw. Jo got a false floor with a hole for Dom to hide under. She told them cops that Dom was down in Texas, that he’d been there for two weeks. They didn’t believe her. But they couldn’t find Dom neither.”

“Where is he now?”

“Compton. With Etta.”

“Etta’s here?”

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