“That’s just the way people think about him,” Bonnie said.

“No. It was something else.”

“What do you mean?”

I went back to the bed and took Bonnie’s hands in mine. “Do you have to leave today?” I asked her.


Jesus’s hammer started its monotonous beat again.

Feather turned up the volume on Crusader Rabbit now that she knew we were awake.

“I know you got to go,” I said. “But…”


“I dreamt about my father last night.”

She reached out and touched my cheek with her palm. Bonnie had work-woman hands, not callused, but hard from a long life of doing for herself and others.

“What did he say?” she asked me.

That was her superstitious streak. She believed that the dead could speak through dreams.

“He didn’t say a thing,” I said. “Just sat there in a chair on a raft in the water. I called out to him four or five times before he looked up. But just then the current started pullin’ the raft downstream. I think he saw me but before he could say anything he was too far away.”

Bonnie took my head in her arms and held on tight. I didn’t try to pull away.

WE SAT DOWN TO BREAKFAST at nine o’clock, two hours after I was supposed to be at work. Jesus had taken Feather to school. After that he was going to work four hours as a box boy at Tolucca Market on Robertson. In the late afternoon he’d come back home and read to me from Treasure Island. That was our deal: he’d read out loud to me for forty-five minutes and then discuss what he had read for three quarters of an hour more. He did that every day, and I agreed to let him drop out of high school.

Jesus wasn’t interested in a public school education, and there was nothing I could do to light a fire under him. He was smart about things he cared for. He knew everything about grocery stores because of his job. He worked there and did gardening around our neighborhood to afford his boat dreams. He liked carpentry and running. He loved to cook and explore the beaches up and down the coast around L.A.

“What are you thinking about?” Bonnie asked.

We were holding hands under the table like schoolchildren going steady.

“Juice,” I said. “He’s doin’ pretty good.”

“Then why do you look so sad?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s that phone call.”

Bonnie leaned closer and squeezed my hand. “I’m going to be gone longer than usual,” she said.

“How long?”

“Maybe three or four weeks. Air France is having a special junket around western Africa with black political leaders and some European corporate heads. They need a French-speaking black stewardess who can also speak English. They’ll need me on call for special flights.”

“Oh. Yeah.” It felt like she was punishing me for feeling bad.

“I told you that I’d have to be gone sometimes,” she said sweetly.

“That’s okay,” I said. “Just don’t go believin’ it when one’a those men says that he wants to make you his queen.”

HUNDREDS OF CHILDREN were assembled in front of Sojourner Truth Junior High School when I arrived—three and a half hours late.

“Mr. Rawlins,” Archie “Ace” Muldoon said, greeting me on the granite stair of the main building. Short and balding, the little white man doffed his White Sox baseball cap in deference to his boss—me.

“Hey, Ace. What’s happenin’ here?”

“Fire in the metal shop bungalow.”

“But that’s down on the lower campus. Why they wanna evacuate up here?”

“Mr. Newgate.” That’s all he needed to say. Our principal, Hiram Newgate, was the source of all discord and wasted energy.

“Rawlins, I want to talk to you,” Newgate said from the entrance hall. It was as if Archie conjured him up by saying his name.

“What about, Hiram?” I called back.

Newgate’s lip curled into a snarl at my disrespectful tone.

He was tall and scarecrow-thin with cheekbones that were almost as high as his eyes. He would have been ugly if he didn’t have perfect grooming, bright white and immaculate teeth, and clothes bought only in the finest Beverly Hills stores. That day he was wearing a shark-gray jacket and slender-cut black slacks.

He was looking good but I had outdone him. I was dressed in one of my best suits; off-white linen with felt buff shoes, brown argyle socks and tan shirt that I kept open at the collar due to the nature of my job, which was supervising senior head custodian.

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