Andrew Vachss

Hard Candy

The fourth book in the Burke series, 1989

They don't give medals on this planet

for courage in urban combat.

But there are silver stars shining in the sky

that the astronomers can't explain.





CITY VULTURES never have to leave the ground.

I was standing on the upper level of the Port Authority Bus Terminal, waiting in the November night. Back to the wall, hands in the empty pockets of a gray raincoat. Under the brim of my hat, my eyes swept the deck. A tall, slim black youth wearing a blue silk T-shirt under a pale yellow sport coat. Baggy pants with small cuffs. Soft Italian shoes. Today's pimp- waiting for the bus to spit out its cargo of runaways. He'd have a Maxima with blacked-out windows waiting in the parking lot. Talk about how hard it was to get adjusted to the city- how he was the same way himself when he hit town. He'd be a talent scout for an independent film producer. If the girl wanted, he'd let her stay at his place for a few days until she got herself together. Projection TV, VCR, sweet stereo. A little liquor, a little cocaine. High-style. The way it's done, you know. Another black guy in his thirties. Gold medallion on his chest under a red polyester shirt that would pass for silk in the underground lights. Knee-length black leather coat, player's hat with a tasteful red band. Alligator-grain leather on his feet. Yesterday's pimp- waiting his turn. He'd have an old Caddy, talk his talk, make you a star. A furnished room in a no-see hotel down the street. Metal coat hangers in his closet that would never hold clothes.

You could go easy or you could go hard.

Two youngish white guys, talking low, getting their play together. Hoping the fresh new boys getting off the bus wouldn't be too old.

A blank-faced Spanish kid, black sweatshirt, hood pulled up tight around his head. Felony-flyers on his feet. Carry your bags, ma'am?

A few citizens, waiting on relatives coming back from vacation. Or a kid coming home from school. A bearded wino picking through the trash.

The Greyhound's air brakes hissed as it pulled into the loading port. Night bus from Starke, Florida. A twenty- four-hour ride- change buses in Jacksonville. The round-trip ticket cost $244.

I know- I paid for it.

The man I was waiting for would have a letter in his pocket. A letter in a young girl's rounded handwriting. Blue ink on pink stationery.

Daddy, I know it's been a long time, but I didn't know where you was. I been working with some boys and I got myself arrested a couple years ago. One of the cops took my name and put it in one of their computers. He told me where you was, but I didn't write for a while because I wanted to have something good to tell you. I'm sorry Sissy made me run away that time without even telling you goodbye like I wanted. I wrote to her but the letter came back. Do you know where she's at? I guess she got married or something. Anyway, Daddy, you'll never believe it, but I got a lot of money now. I'm real good at this business I'm in. I got a boyfriend too. I thought you could use a stake to get you started after you got out, but I didn't want to mail no cash to a prison. Wasn't that right?

Anyway, Daddy, when you get ready to come out, you write to me at this Post Office box I got now and I'll send you the money for the ticket up here. It would be like a vacation or something. And I could give you the money I have saved up. I hope you're doing okay, Daddy. Love, Belle.

The slow stream of humans climbed down. Hands full of plastic shopping bags, cartons tied together with string, duffel bags. Samsonite doesn't ride the 'Hound too often.

He was one of the last off the bus. Tall, rawboned man, small eyes under a shock of taffy-honey hair. Belle's eyes, Belle's hair. A battered leather satchel in one hand. The Spanish kid never gave him a second glance. A cop would, but there weren't any around.

I felt a winter's knot where my heart should have been.

His eyes played around the depot like it was a prison yard. I moved to him, taking my hands out of my pockets, showing them empty. He'd never seen me before, but he knew the look.

'You're from Belle?' he asked. A hard voice not softened by the cracker twang.

'I'll take you to her,' I promised, turning my back on him so he could follow, keeping my hands in sight.

I passed up the escalator, taking the stairs to the ground floor. Felt the man moving behind me. And Max, shadow-quiet, keeping the path clear behind us both.


THE PLYMOUTH was parked on a side street off Ninth Avenue. I opened the driver's door, climbed in, unlocked his door. Giving him all the time in the world to bolt if he wanted to try it.

He climbed in next to me, looked behind him. Saw a pile of dirty blankets.

'No back seat in this wagon?'

'Sometimes I carry things.'

He smiled his smile. Long yellow teeth catching the neon from a topless bar. 'You work with Belle?'


'She's a good girl.'

I didn't answer him, pointing the Plymouth to the West Side Highway. I lit a smoke, tossing the pack on the dash. He helped himself, firing a match off his thumbnail, leaning back in his seat.

I turned east across 125th Street, Harlem's Fifth Avenue, heading for the Triboro Bridge.

'You all got nothin' but niggers 'round here,' he said, watching the street.

'Yeah, they're everyplace.'

'You ever do time with niggers?'

'All my life.'

I tossed a token in the Exact Change basket on the bridge and headed for the Bronx. The Plymouth purred off the highway onto Bruckner Boulevard, feeling its way to Hunts Point. He watched the streets.

'Man, if it's not niggers, it's spics. This ain't no city for a white man.'

'You like the joint better?' His laugh was short. Ugly.

I motored through the streets. Blacked-out windows in abandoned buildings- dead eyes in a row of corpses. Turned off the main drag heading toward the meat market. Whores working naked under clear plastic raincoats stopped the trucks at the lights. We crossed an empty prairie, tiny dots of light glowing where things that had been

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