mean do I measure up to other men you’ve known pound for pound. What I’m sayin’ is that I’m just a janitor and a small-time property owner. I’m not ever gonna make a difference in the way you live or in the quality of your life.”

“I don’t understand, Easy.”

“The only doors I can open are back doors,” I said. “The only money I’ll ever have is either small change or money that got blood on it, one way or the other it’s not what a woman like you should expect.”

“Is this about Jogaye again?”

“Not just him. There’s other princes and bankers, generals and entrepreneurs you meet. Some of ’em are black but there’s white ones too. What I’m sayin’ Bonnie is that I can’t do for you. I can only follow and hope you don’t take off so far ahead that I won’t even see your dust. I meet people every day that need my help. Kids at the school, people like Theodore Steinman. But you’re in a whole other class. You in the sky half the time around men and women who wouldn’t give me a second look.”

“Does any of this has to do with what Mr. Steinman asked you to do for him?”

“There was girl a friend of his knew. She was murdered.”

“That’s terrible.”

“It was. I met a friend of hers, another girl who needed help. I gave her a little information and a couple’a dollars. I helped her. I made a difference.”

“And didn’t you save me when I was in trouble?”

“You never needed me,” I said, and I meant it. “You’re every bit as tough as I am and smarter too.”

Bonnie touched my cheek with her fingertips. “My father once told me that a great man walks the back roads. He does what’s right every day and no one knows it but those lucky enough to be loved by him.”

“He did, huh?”

“I love you, Easy Rawlins. No matter what happens with us or with how you feel about me. I have never known a better man than you.”

I CALLED THEODORE the next morning and told him that Raymond would collect one pair of handmade shoes. Then I called Raymond and asked him to go over and talk to Jackie’s mother.

“Explain to her that Musa did not kill Jackie and tell her that the police will be put on the right track. Also tell her that I’ll be sending a gift that Jackie had been saving for her.”

“Okay, Ease,” Mouse said. “But you know you wastin’ all that talent on these poor people. A dollar down here don’t stay long, brother. And you know it’s only a matter’a time for that poor woman lose her stupid son too.”

AFTER WORK I drove out to the Pacific Palisades, to Musa Tanous’s home.

It was a modest house compared to some of the mansions in that neighborhood. I doubted if he had more than five bedrooms on the three floors. Birds of paradise proliferated on either side of his front door.

He seated me in his den. There was the heavy odor of port wine and tobacco in there. He had a chess board set up for play.

“Do you play chess, Mr. Rawlins?”

“No sir. I do not.”

He handed me an envelope. Inside was the key I expected but also a small stack of hundred dollar bills, ten by the feel of them.

“I didn’t ask you for money,” I said.

“The money you saved me in legal expenses alone is worth that,” he said. “And I want you to have it. You proved I didn’t kill Jackie and you never even saw the photograph of her.”

“I saw one at the house of a friend of hers,” I said, but he was already reaching for a something on the bookshelf behind him.

He took down a small picture and handed it to me.

All I saw was the polka dot scarf and the felt green derby with the yellow band and green feathers.

I WAS DOWN at the vacant lot across from Jackie’s apartment in less than an hour. At the far corner was a cardboard lean-to that smelled of Harold.

There were twenty-three little girl’s dolls lined up against the paper wall. Above them was a note written in red lipstick.

Little black girls mess with white men ain’t worth the shit in they mamas toilets. They need to die. They going to die. Oh yes, dear lord.

By the time I had gotten to the police station and back again the fire engines were already there. The lean-to had burned up completely. The only thing left of the dolls was the smell of burnt rubber, a few charred limbs, and glass eyes.

I PUT UP A SIGN on my amber door. It reads:



I spent over six months looking for Harold but he was nowhere among the poor street people of Watts. I couldn’t convince the police to even mount a search. They decided that Musa Tanous had hired someone to kill his girlfriend. And even though they couldn’t prove it they refused to believe that some tramp could be smart enough to leave no clues.

I figure that he saw me go into his cardboard teepee. He set fire to it when I went for the cops. Maybe he had searched Musa’s car when he was in Jackie’s house and knew where they went. Or maybe he followed her

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