“What if he flinches and the gun goes off?”

“It won’t.”

“How the fuck you know that, Raymond?” I asked my lifelong 3

W a lt e r M o s l e y

friend. “How do you know what a finger in Palestine, Texas, gonna do three weeks from now?”

“You boys need sumpin’ for your tongues?” Ginny Wright asked. There was a leer in the bar owner’s voice.

It was a surprise to see such a large woman appear out of the darkness of the empty saloon.

Ginny was dark-skinned, wearing a wig of gold-colored hair.

Not blond, gold like the metal.

She was asking if we needed something to drink but Ginny could make a sexual innuendo out of garlic salt if she was talking to men.

“Coke,” I said softly, wondering if she had overheard Mouse’s plan.

“An’ rye whiskey in a frozen glass for Mr. Alexander,” Ginny added, knowing her best customer’s usual. She kept five squat liquor glasses in her freezer at all times — ready for his pleasure.

“Thanks, Gin,” Mouse said, letting his one-carat filling ignite for her.

“Maybe we should talk about this someplace else,” I suggested as Ginny moved off to fix our drinks.

“Shit,” he uttered. “This my office jes’ like the one you got on Central, Easy. You ain’t got to worry ’bout Ginny. She don’t hear nuttin’ an’ she don’t say nuttin’.”

Ginny Wright was past sixty. When she was a young woman she’d been a prostitute in Houston. Raymond and I both knew her back then. She had a soft spot for the younger Mouse all those years. Now he was her closest friend. You got the feeling, when she looked at him, that she wanted more. But Ginny satisfied herself by making room in her nest for Raymond to do his business.

On this afternoon she’d put up her special sign on the front 4

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door: closed for a private function. That sign would stay up until my soul was sold for a bagful of stolen money.

Ginny brought our drinks and then went back to the high table that she used as a bar.

Mouse was still grinning. His light skin and gray eyes made him appear wraithlike in the darkness.

“Don’t worry, Ease,” he said. “We got this suckah flat-footed an’ blind.”

“All I’m sayin’ is that you don’t know how a man holding a shotgun’s gonna react when you sneak up behind him and put a cold gun barrel to his neck.”

“To begin wit’,” Mouse said, “Rayford will not have any buck-shot in his shooter that day an’ the on’y thing he gonna be thinkin’ ’bout is you comin’ up behind him. ’Cause he know that the minute you get the drop on ’im that Jack Minor, his partner, gonna swivel t’ see what’s what. An’ jest when he do that, I’ma bop old Jackie good an’ then you an’ me got some heavy totin’ to do. They gonna have a two hunnert fi’ty thousand minimum in that armored car — half of it ours.”

“You might think it’s all good and well that you know these guys’ names,” I said, raising my voice more than I wanted. “But if you know them then they know you.”

“They don’t know me, Easy,” Mouse said. He looped his arm around the back of his chair. “An’ even if they did, they don’t know you.”

“You know me.”

That took the smug smile off of Raymond’s lips. He leaned forward and clasped his hands. Many men who knew my murder-ous friend would have quailed at that gesture. But I wasn’t afraid.

It’s not that I’m such a courageous man that I can’t know fear in the face of certain death. And Raymond “Mouse” Alexander was 5

W a lt e r M o s l e y

certainly death personified. But right then I had problems that went far beyond me and my mortality.

“I ain’t sayin’ that you’d turn me in, Ray,” I said. “But the cops know we run together. If I go down to Texas and rob this armored car with you an’ Rayford sings, then they gonna know to come after me. That’s all I’m sayin’.”

I remember his eyebrows rising, maybe a quarter of an inch.

When you’re facing that kind of peril you notice small gestures. I had seen Raymond in action. He could kill a man and then go take a catnap without the slightest concern.

The eyebrows meant that his feelings were assuaged, that he wouldn’t have to lose his temper.

“Rayford never met me,” he said, sitting back again. “He don’t know my name or where I’m from or where I’ll be goin’ after takin’ the money.”

“And so why he trust you?” I asked, noticing that I was talking the way I did when I was a young tough in Fifth Ward, Houston, Texas. Maybe in my heart I felt that the bravado would see me through.

“Remembah when I was in the can ovah that manslaughter thing?” he asked.

He’d spent five years in maximum security.

“That was hard time, man,” he said. “You know I never wanna be back there again. I mean the cops would have to kill me before I go back there. But even though it was bad some good come out of it.”

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