Mouse slugged back the triple shot of chilled rye and held up his glass. I could hear Ginny hustling about for his next free drink.

“You know I found out about a very special group when I was up in there. It was what you call a syndicate.”


C i n n a m o n K i s s

“You mean like the Mafia?” I asked.

“Naw, man. That’s just a club. This here is straight business.

There’s a brother in Chicago that has men goin’ around the country scopin’ out possibilities. Banks, armored cars, private poker games — anything that’s got to do wit’ large amounts of cash, two hunnert fi’ty thousand or more. This dude sends his boys in to make the contacts and then he give the job to somebody he could trust.” Mouse smiled again. It was said that that diamond was given to him by a rich white movie star that he helped out of a jam.

“Here you go, baby,” Ginny said, placing his frosty glass on the pitted round table between us. “You need anything else, Easy?”

“No thanks,” I said and she moved away. Her footfalls were silent. All you could hear was the rustle of her black cotton trousers.

“So this guy knows you?” I asked.

“Easy,” Mouse said in an exasperated whine. “You the one come to me an’ said that you might need up t’ fi’ty thousand, right? Well — here it is, prob’ly more. After I lay out Jack Minor, Rayford gonna let you hit him in the head. We take the money an’ that’s that. I give you your share that very afternoon.”

My tongue went dry at that moment. I drank the entire glass of cola in one swig but it didn’t touch that dryness. I took an ice cube into my mouth but it was like I was licking it with a leather strip instead of living flesh.

“How does Rayford get paid?” I asked, the words warbling around the ice.

“What you care about him?”

“I wanna know why we trust him.”

Mouse shook his head and then laughed. It was a real laugh, friendly and amused. For a moment he looked like a normal 7

W a lt e r M o s l e y

person instead of the supercool ghetto bad man who came off so hard that he rarely seemed ruffled or human at all.

“The man in Chi always pick somebody got somethin’ t’ hide.

He gets shit on ’em and then he pay ’em for their part up front.

An’ he let ’em know that if they turn rat they be dead.”

It was a perfect puzzle. Every piece fit. Mouse had all the bases covered, any question I had he had the answer. And why not? He was the perfect criminal. A killer without a conscience, a warrior without fear — his IQ might have been off the charts for all I knew, but even if it wasn’t, his whole mind paid such close attention to his profession that there were few who could outthink him when it came to breaking the law.

“I don’t want anybody gettin’ killed behind this, Raymond.”

“Nobody gonna die, Ease. Just a couple’a headaches, that’s all.”

“What if Rayford’s a fool and starts spendin’ money like water?” I asked. “What if the cops think he’s in on it?”

“What if the Russians drop the A-bomb on L.A.?” he asked back. “What if you drive your car on the Pacific Coast Highway, get a heart attack, and go flyin’ off a cliff? Shit, Easy. I could

‘what if ’ you into the grave but you got to have faith, brother. An’

if Rayford’s a fool an’ wanna do hisself in, that ain’t got nuthin’ to do with what you got to do.”

Of course he was right. What I had to do was why I was there.

I didn’t want to get caught and I didn’t want anybody to get killed, but those were the chances I had to take.

“Lemme think about it, Ray,” I said. “I’ll call you first thing in the morning.”



Iwalked down the small alleyway from Cox Bar and then turned left on Hooper. My car was parked three blocks away because of the nature of that meeting. This wasn’t grocery shopping or parking in the lot of the school I worked at. This was serious business, business that gets you put in prison for a child’s lifetime.

The sun was bright but there was a slight breeze that cut the heat. The day was beautiful if you didn’t look right at the burned-out businesses and boarded-up shops — victims of the Watts riots not yet a year old. The few people walking down the avenue were somber and sour looking. They were mostly poor, either unemployed or married to someone who was, and realizing that California and Mississippi were sister states in the same union, members of the same clan.

I knew how they felt because I had been one of them for more 9

W a lt e r M o s l e y

than four and a half decades. Maybe I had done a little more with my life. I didn’t live in Watts anymore and I had a regular job. My live-in girlfriend was a stewardess for Air France and my boy owned his own boat. I had been a major success in light of my upbringing but that was all over. I was no more than a specter haunting the streets that were once my home.

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