Authors: Edward Gorman
Tags: #Mystery & Crime, #Suspense
Digital Edition published by Crossroad Press
Â© 2012 / Ed Gorman
Copy-edited by: Patricia Lee Macomber
Cover Design By: David Dodd
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To Tom Spaight â in lieu of the six million dollars I mooched off him in our college days.
Injustice, suave, erect, and unconfined,
Sweeps the wide earth, and tramples o'er mankind â
While prayers to heal her wrongs move slow behind.
Tawanna Lucilee Jackson
Marital Status: Single
Military Service: None
: I'll tell you one thing, sweetheart, they sure ain't never gonna forget Tawanna. First thing after I got the phone call about my HIV test comin' back positive the second time . . . you know what I did, babe? I hit the streets. Absa-fuckin-lutely, like Cherie used to say before she went and died of AIDS a couple years ago. Absa-fuckin-lutely. You know what I'm sayin'? All these white Johns that think they're so high and mighty, pullin' up in their big cars and tryin' to impress me an' all . . . They're gonna remember Tawanna, I can promise you that. Just like Cherie, babe, they'll start runnin' this fever and havin' this scratchy throat all the time and they'll go to the doctor . . . They ain't ever gonna forget Tawanna, no way. I do me two, three Johns a night for the next few years . . . that's an awful lot of fancy white ladies see their lives go to shit the same way my mama and me saw OUR lives go to shit . . . No, sir, they never gonna forget ol' Tawanna.
So one night when she's thirteen, Tawanna decides to give it a try for herself. She waits till after eight, till her mother's done some dope and is sleeping in the bedroom.
She walks downtown. A lot of these businessmen, they work real late. She knows she looks a lot older than her years. At least that's what people always tell her.
Her sister Gayla's been doing this for three years now and that's how she can afford the five-year-old Chevrolet and her own apartment over in Wennington Heights and getting her hair fixed up all the time over at the Sassy Lady.
So now it's Tawanna's turn. Technically, she's a student in ninth grade but she knows this isn't going to last much longer. School bores the shit out of her. Anyway, who needs schoolin' for somethin' like this, just do what comes natural girl, that's all, just do what comes natural.
She's wearing a tan T-shirt and no bra, her young breasts outlined beautifully against the tan cotton, and white shorts so tight you can see the shape of her sex.
Plus she's done what her older sister once told her to do.
"There's three places a man wants a girl to put perfume, Tawanna, on your neck, and on your breasts and down between your legs." Tawanna has never forgotten this . . .
Night in downtown Cedar Rapids, hot July night, sodium vapor lights and lights in some of the offices in some of the taller buildings; smells of heat and exhaust fumes and the close by river, teenagers out in their cars radios booming, tires squealing; a road show at the Paramount, line around the block, mostly white folks wearing summer shirts and skirts and talking that way that white folks do. Lots of laughing, which Tawanna envies and resents. She laughs a lot too, she supposes, but she never sounds this happy when she laughs.
Over the next hour, Tawanna pretty much covers the downtown. The only attention she attracts is from teenage boys, farm boys especially. Hot nights like this, they come from all the little towns around Cedar Rapids. They pretend they're real hip and shit but they're not. They see a girl and all they can do is giggle like little kids.
There is a park in the center of town and that's where she ends up, hot and tired and frustrated. She figured this would be pretty easy. She even stole a condom from her mother's drawer. All ready. For nothing.
She is just getting up when she sees the shiny red sports car pull up to the curb across from the bench where she's sitting.
Gray-haired guy gets out, tall, lanky kind of guy, gray summer-weight suit on, and comes over to her.
"I'm looking for a little fun tonight," he says. "How about you?"
He laughs. Actually, he's got a nice, gentle laugh.
"That's a little steep."
"I'm a virgin." As, technically, she is. The one boy who was ever inside her was Randy from down the block and he was so swacked on crack, he couldn't quite get it up enough to get it all the way in.
"How about fifty?"
"Sixty," he says.
Sixty is so much more money than she's ever had . . .
They drive out along the river. You can see the lights of Harlot's Moon house boats in the dark summer night . . .
"How old're you?"
"Twenty," she says.
That oddly tender laugh again.
"Now tell me how old you are really?"
He smiles at her. "I could get in trouble."
She smiles back "So could I."
The weird thing, and the thing she really likes, is that she feels in control of the situation. Here's she with this older white guy who's got this fancy sports car . . . and she's in control.
They get out past the boat docks then, and out past the point where the river suddenly turns north, and he aims his little red car up into the hills, and the state park.
He pulls over by a pavilion and punches off the headlights.
Night in the country: owl cry and star-blessed sky and distant dog bark and silver moonlight on long grasses waving in the sudden and blessed breeze.
And that's when she hears the odd snicking sound and looks over to see that he's just opened a very long pearl-handled switchblade, the point of which he puts against her throat.
He travels the blade down from her throat to her left breast, where the point lingers against her nipple, and then continues on down to her sex.
"God, mister, please."
Now he don't even look like the same guy. Or sound the same, either.
Then he takes her hand and guides it to his groin.
The knife point goes back to her throat.
"Please, mister," she says. "Please."
"Do me," he says. "Do me."
What choice does she have?
And all the time she's doing him, he keeps the knife point pushed right against the side of her neck.
hen it's all over, he takes the knife and puts it in the glove compartment.
"You really got scared, didn't you?" he says.
She doesn't say anything. She's pissed off, she's frightened, and suddenly she's very, very weary. No thirteen-year-old in the history of the world has ever been so weary.
"Hey," he says, "I want us to be friends."
She glares over at him. He's crazy. Like most white folks.
He laughs his laugh. "I wasn't really going to hurt you. It's just how I get off. I mean, I can't even get it up unless I'm pretending that I'm going to hurt the girl I'm with. But I wouldn't actually do anything. I really wouldn't."
And the weird thing is, she believes him. He's his old nice-guy self again and she believes him.
"You really scared me."
He puts a paternal hand on her shoulder. "Tell you what, how about if I make it a hundred for tonight?"
"Wow. Are you kidding?"
"Nope. A hundred dollars it is."
She's thinking of all the stuff she can buy with a hundred dollars. She'll go to the Sassy Lady and get her hair fixed for sure.
He takes out his billfold and pulls out a crisp new bill and hands it to her.
"I was just having my fun," he says. "I didn't mean to scare you that much. You forgive me?"
She looks at the hundred-dollar bill and says, "Yeah, yeah I do."
He reaches out a long, slender white hand and they shake. "Friends?"
She giggles. "Yeah. Friends."
That night, Tawanna decided that her sister's profession was a lot better than going to school. A whole lot better.
n the morning, the first thing she said was, "I'm going to try very hard not to be depressed today."
"Good for you," I said.
We were both in my large double bed in the apartment I keep in Cedar Rapids. I spend some of my time in a small country town forty miles west. But these days I worked for a law firm as an investigator so I'd brought my shaving kit, my three cats and several packages of new white jockey shorts along. You can never be too rich, too thin or own too many pairs of jockey shorts. At least if you're baching it, you can't. Saves on a lot of unnecessary trips to the laundry in the basement.