“Station to station but I’ll give you two dollars for it.”

“You better. It’s ’cause of you I lost my job.”

“What do you mean?”

“Matt really didn’t know that Jackie was dead. When he asked me if I knew and I said yeah he fired me.”

“Oh.”

“YES?” Musa Tanous said into my ear.

“It’s Easy Rawlins,” I said.

“I’ve been waiting for you, Mr. Rawlins.”

“Where were you from eight to nine on the day Jackie was killed, Mr. Tanous?”

“Picking up floor wax from a distributor on Alameda. S&J Distributions.”

“You were in the place at eight?”

“Yes. Mr. Hind and I were having coffee. He’s an old friend.”

“What time did you leave Mr. Hind?”

“Quarter to ten. Why?”

“What time did they find Jackie?”

“Nine-fifteen,” he said, and then he choked. “She had been stabbed and beaten. She wasn’t dead until they got her to the hospital.”

Nothing I could say seemed important but still I went on, “If that’s true then I can prove that you didn’t do it.”

“Do you know who did?”

“I didn’t sign up for that. But once the cops clear you then they’ll probably find the man who did it. It’s somebody she knows. It always is.”

“So what do we do now?”

“Give me the name of your lawyer. I’ll tell him what I found out.”

Musa gave me a name, William Berg, and the number to call.

I told Rita that the lawyer would probably call but that it wouldn’t be any trouble.

It was time for me to leave but I hesitated.

“He really fired you because of Jackie?” I asked.

“Yeah. I asked him for my last paycheck but he said that I didn’t even deserve that. I can take him to court but my landlord’ll have me on the street before he’ll pay me.”

“Can you do accounting work?”

“I learned a lot from Mr. Munson. I could do simple stuff. Preparin’ and like that.”

“I can probably get you a job. I know a guy runs a place that does unofficial accounting work. Over on Pico.”

I gave her Anatole Zane’s name and number. I told her to use my name and he’d probably hire her right off.

I keep a hundred dollar bill in my wallet at all times—in the secret fold. I gave it to the young siren.

“What’s this for?” she asked. It was almost an accusation.

“To pay your rent until the next check comes through.”

“Why?”

“How old are you, Rita?”

“Twenty.”

“I’m forty-four. I went in there today and slapped your boss to the ground. That’s why he fired you. At my age a man should take responsibility where he finds it. Take that money and use it. And remember, you didn’t have to do anything for it except be on the right side of life.”

*   *   *

BONNIE AND I MADE LOVE that night. It wasn’t the way we usually came together. Afterward she asked, “What is it, Easy?”

“What?”

“The way you touched me. It was so delicate, as if you thought you might hurt me, as if you didn’t know my body.”

“Do you love me, baby?” I asked her.

“Yes. You know I do.”

“I’m not talkin’ about in a perfect world,” I said. “I’m not askin’ do you love me lyin’ here next to you. I don’t

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