“Excuse me, Officer, but you must be mistaking me for some other Ezekiel Rawlins. I’m just a custodian for the board of education, down at Sojourner Truth Junior High School. I don’t have any official capacity whatsoever.”

“No. I have the right man.”

Suggs had brilliant taupe-colored eyes that somehow fit his grubby appearance. He just stood there, staring at me.

For my part I turned to assess the destroyed cobbler’s shop. All he had left was the burnt and broken worktable surrounded by a couple hundred pairs of scorched shoes. Why would somebody want to burn shoes? Other than with footwear, the floor was covered with things turned out of Theodore Steinman’s drawers, shelves, and filing cabinet. There was a bone-handled pocketknife, a yellow package of Juicy Fruit chewing gum, a fat pink eraser, and maybe a thousand rubber bands. There were index cards marked by the footprints of looters and firemen, and the torn and crumpled leaves of a Bible written in German. Under a broken oak chair I saw a small shattered pane of glass within the loose confines of a splintered wood frame. I knelt down and shook the slivers of glass from a portrait- like photograph of Sylvie—Theodore’s muse and wife.

“Oh my,” the shoemaker said when I handed him the scraped and punctured picture.

He cradled it in both hands as if holding a baby.

“Mr. Rawlins,” Detective Suggs said.

I had forgotten he was there.


“Go, Ezekiel,” Theodore Steinman said. “He needs you.”

“I can’t leave you here like this, Theodore. Suppose somebody else comes for his shoes like that guy?”

“I will talk to him.”

I already knew that Theodore had blue eyes. I had been bringing my shoes to the man for nearly twenty years. I see things, things that other people overlook. That’s why the sign on my office door reads EASY RAWLINS— RESEARCH AND DELIVERY. But there was something about the quality in Theodore’s eyes that I had never seen before. It was as if the violence of the past few days had given me the power to look deeper, or maybe it was that the people around me had changed—Theodore and his angry customer and maybe even Melvin Suggs, the cop that approached me with his hand proffered in greeting.

DETECTIVE SUGGS AND I left through the now doorless doorway of the shoe shop. That took us out onto Central. There were dozens of people wandering the street. This was unusual because in L.A. even poor people got around by car. But in the aftermath of the riots, the smoke in the air brought people out by foot to investigate the aftermath of a race war.

Suggs drove a Rambler Marlin. It was roomy and equipped with seat belts.

“I never use the damn things,” the cop told me. “It’s my ex. She says I can’t take the kids unless I have ’em.”

We had been driving for quite some time when I asked, “So what do you want from me, Officer?”

“I got a case that needs solving outside of the public eye.”


“The LAPD,” he said. “Chief Parker, Mayor Yorty.”

Suggs didn’t look at me while he talked. He didn’t seem like the kind of driver who needed to keep his eyes on the road, so I guessed he was a little embarrassed by needing my help. This was both a good and a bad thing. If you were a black man in L.A. at that time (or at any time) it always helped to have a leg up on the authorities. But you didn’t want to have it too far up; because the higher you get, the further you have to fall.

“What case?” I asked.

“You’ll see when we get there.”

“No I will not.”


“Either you tell me where we’re going and what it is you plan to get me involved in or when you stop this car I will go find a bus to take me home.”

Suggs took a sideways glance in my direction. He muttered something that sounded like “funny papers cabbage head.”

We were on the southern end of La Cienega Boulevard by then.

He pulled to the curb, yanked on the parking brake lever, and turned toward me. It was then I noticed that the man had no smell. No kind of body odor or cologne. He was a self-contained unit, with no scent or any kind of style—the perfect package for a hunter.

“You ever hear of a woman named Nola Payne?” he asked.

I had not and shook my head to say so.

“What about her?” I asked.

“She’s victim number thirty-four.”

“And what does that have to do with me?”

“The circumstances around her death are a little confusing and possibly a problem if they make it to the press before we have a handle on the case.”

“You not tellin’ me anything, man.”

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