was some of those hysterical chicks began screaming and carrying on, trying to impress their niggers that they was scared of a little cutting.'

She giggled suddenly. Mamie gave a start.

'It ain't nothing to laugh about,' Mamie said sternly.

Dulcy's face fell. 'I ain't laughing,' she said. 'I'm scared. Johnny's going to kill him.'

Mamie went rigid. Moments passed before she spoke. Her voice was hushed from fear.

'Did he tell you that?'

'He ain't had to. But I know it. I can feel it.'

Mamie stood up and put her arm about Dulcy. Both of them were trembling.

'We got to stop him somehow, child.'

Dulcy twisted about to face the mirror again, as though seeking courage from her looks. She opened her pink straw handbag and began repairing her make-up. Her hand trembled as she painted her mouth.

'I don't know how to stop him,' she said when she'd finished. 'Without my dropping dead.'

Mamie took her arm from about Dulcy's waist and wrung her hands involuntarily.

'Lord, I wish Val would hurry up and get here.'

Dulcy glanced at her wrist watch.

'It's already four-twenty-five. Johnny ought to be here now himself.' After a moment she added, 'I don't know what's keeping Val.'


Someone began hammering loudly on the door.

The sound was scarcely heard above the din inside the room.

' Open the door! ' a voice screamed.

It was so loud that even Dulcy and Mamie heard it through the locked bathroom door.

'Wonder who that can be,' Mamie said.

'It sure ain't neither Johnny or Val making all that fuss,' Dulcy replied.

'Probably some drunk.'

One of the drunks already on the inside said in a minstrel man's voice, 'Open de do', Richard.'

That was the title of a popular song in Harlem that had originated with two blackface comedians on the Apollo theatre stage doing a skit about a colored brother coming home drunk and trying to get Richard to let him into the house.

The other drunks on the inside laughed.

Alamena had just stepped into the kitchen. 'See who's at the door,' she said to Baby Sis.

Baby Sis looked up from her chore of washing dishes and said sulkily, 'All these drunks make me sick.'

Alamena froze. Baby Sis was just a girl whom Mamie had taken in to help about the house, and had no right to criticize the guests.

'Girl, you're getting beside yourself,' she said. 'You'd better mind how you talk. Go open the door and then get this mess cleaned up in here.'

Baby Sis looked sidewise about the disordered kitchen, her slant eyes looking evil in her greasy black face.

The table, sink, sidestands and most of the available floor space were strewn with empty and half-filled bottles-gin, whisky and rum bottles, pop bottles, condiment bottles; pots, pans and platters of food, a dishpan containmg leftover potato salad, deep iron pots with soggy pieces of fried chicken, fried fish, fried pork chops; baking pans with mashed and mangled biscuits, pie pans with single slices of runny pies; a washtub containing bits of ice floating about in trashy water; slices of cake and spongy white-bread sandwiches, half eaten, lying everywhere-on the tables, sink and floor.

'Ain't never gonna get this mess cleaned up nohow,' she complained.

'Git, girl,' Alamena said harshly.

Baby Sis shoved her way through the mob of crying drunks in the packed sitting room.

'Somebody open this door!' the voice yelled desperately from outside.

'I'm coming!' Baby Sis shouted from inside. 'Keep your pants on.'

'Hurry up then!' the voice shouted back. 'Baby, it's cold outside,' one of the drunks inside cracked.

Baby Sis stopped in front of the locked door and shouted, 'Who is you who been beating on this door like you tryna bust it down?'

'I'm Reverend Short,' the voice replied.

'I'm the Queen of Sheba,' Baby Sis said, doubling over laughing and beating her big strong thighs. She turned to the guests to let them share the joke. 'He say he's Reverend Short.'

Several of the guests laughed as though they were stone, raving crazy.

Baby Sis turned around toward the closed door again and shouted, 'Try again, Buster, and don't tell me you is Saint Peter coming for Big Joe.'

The three musicians kept ruing away in dead-pan trances, their fixed eyes staring from petrified faces into the Promised Land across the river Jordan.

'I tell you I am Reverend Short,' the voice said. Baby Sis's laughing expression went abruptly evil and malevolent.

'You want to know how I know you ain't Reverend Short?'

'That's exactly what I would like to know,' the voice said exasperatedly.

'Cause Reverend Short is already inside of here,' Baby Sis replied triumphantly. 'And you can't be Reverend Short, 'cause you is out there.'

'Merciful God in heaven,' the voice said moaningly. 'Give me patience.'

But instead of being patient, the hammering commenced again.

Mamie Pullen unlocked the bathroom door and stuck out her head.

'What's happening out there?' she asked, then, seeing Baby Sis standing before the door, she called, 'Who's that at the door?'

'Some drunk what claim's he's Reverend Short,' Baby Sis replied.

'I'm Reverend Short!' the voice outside screamed.

'It can't be Reverend Short,' Baby Sis argued.

'What's the matter with you, girl, you drunk?' Mamie said angrily, advancing across the room.

From the kitchen doorway Alamena said, 'It's probably Johnny, pulling one of his gags.'

Mamie reached the door, pushed Baby Sis aside and flung it inward.

Reverent Short stepped across the threshold, tottering as though barely able to stand. His parchment-colored bony face was knotted with an expression of extreme outrage, and his reddish eyes glinted furiously behind the polished, gold-rimmed spectacles.

'Hush my mouth!' Baby Sis exclaimed in an awed voice, her black greasy face graying and her bulging eyes whitening as though she'd seen a ghost. 'It is Reverend Short.'

Reverend Short's thin, black-clad body shook with fury like a sapling in a gale.

'I told you I was Reverend Short,' he sputtered.

He had a mouth shaped like that of a catfish, and when he talked he sprayed spit over Dulcy, who had come over to stand with her arm about Mamie's shoulder.

She drew back angrily and wiped her face with the tiny black silk handkerchief that she held in her hand and that represented her dress of mourning.

'Quit spitting on me,' she said harshly.

'He didn't mean to spit on you, honey,' Mamie said soothingly.

' Po' sinner stands a-trembling…' Deep South shouted.

Reverend Short's body twitched convulsively, as though he were having a fit. Everyone stared at him curiously.

'… stands a-trembling, Daddy Joe,' Susie Q. echoed.

Вы читаете The crazy kill
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