Authors: Andrew Vachss
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #(¯`'•.¸//(*_*)\\¸.•'´¯)
“If you mean Appalachian, yeah.”
“Well, so does B.B. You ever notice how, sometimes, the white people who hate blacks the most, they’re the ones most likely to have the same kind of names?”
“It’s not so surprising. They come from the same places.”
“Oh. Yeah. Does B.B. stand for anything?”
I measured the depth of his eyes. Made the decision. “Baby Boy,” I told him.
His face went sad enough for me to know he got it.
We talked for another hour or so; exchanging now, not fencing like before. A woman with one bad leg hobbled past, moving with the aid of a stout stick. A rednose pit bull trotted alongside of her, off-leash, but obviously hers, from the way it was moving. When she stopped to ask Bobby Ray for a smoke, the pit sat beside her. It was wearing a little white T-shirt, with “ICU” written across its broad chest in big red letters. I gave the woman a whole pack, saluted to tell her I got the joke. She gave me a ghosty smile back.
I wonder if she knew that pit bulls were a “forbidden race” of dogs in some countries. Like Germany. Or if she’d get
Finally, Bobby Ray did the mental math and figured I’d brought enough to get some. He said: “I know Peaches.”
“Yeah . . . ?”
“She’s not a runaway. Maybe she was, once. But she’s got to be thirty, at least. Been hooking out here even before I came.”
“On the street?”
“Sure,” he said. Meaning, “Where else?”
I couldn’t picture the girl who’d braced me in the parking lot with a street pimp. She was too brassy-sassy for that. And way too fresh-looking. So I came in sideways. “I guess the johns couldn’t miss all that red hair.”
“Red hair? Not Peaches, man. She sports a natural. Not many do that anymore—it stands out.”
“Peaches? Does Nike suck?” he said, the Portland street-kid equivalent of “Is the Pope Catholic?”
“Hmmm . . . I must have been confused that night,” I told him, giving a cigarette from a fresh pack to one of the kids who stopped and stood in front of us, wordlessly.
When the kid moved along, I tried to divert Bobby Ray off any trail he might have thought he’d discovered. “How’d you get into this?” I asked him.
“Outreach . . . whatever you call it.”
“Oh. Well, it’s a long story. But I’m sure you could put it together easy enough.”
“You were out here yourself, once?”
“No, man. I had a home. A
home. That’s what saved my life.”
“I’ve been in a few myself,” I said, my voice level, inviting more info. I didn’t think it would be a good idea to mention what happened in one of the foster homes I’d done time in. Or that I’d used one of Wesley’s credos to get out of it: “Fire works.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said. “I’ve heard it all. Foster homes are just warehouses for kids, run by people who do it for the money. Or even abuse the kids themselves. You know what? Maybe that’s true for
of them. But the one I was in . . . man, they raised
of kids. And I mean
fucked-up kids. Like I was.”
“Drugs? Maybe my
drugs, I don’t know. Me, I was two years old when I came there. And I never left.”
“I thought they usually bounced foster kids around from place to place.”
“Nobody was going to bounce
out of Mom’s place,” he said. “She was a tiger, man. Once they dropped you off, you were
that’s all there was.”
“Your bio-mother,” I said, watching close as he nodded at the term, “she never tried to get you back?”
“When I was around eleven, she did, I think. There were some people coming around, and I had to go to court, talk to the judge, and all. But it was nothing.
“She was . . . I didn’t remember her. She was mad about that. Like it was my fault that I didn’t. Anyway, she said she’d give me up if she could have some pictures taken with me. I didn’t know what that was all about. But my mom—Mrs. Kznarack was what everybody called her—she said, Sure, go ahead, Bobby Ray. So I did. But as soon as . . . as soon as my ‘birth mother’ left, the fun started.”
“The court wanted you to be freed for adoption, right?”
“Yeah! How’d you . . . ? Ah, never mind, I guess that’s the way it always is.
is, anyway. My mom, she wasn’t going for
I can still remember her yelling at the judge. At
of them. She said the time for me to be adopted was when I was little, but they kept putzing around, giving my bio-mom one chance after another, and now who was going to adopt me, eleven years old?”
“How come she didn’t just—?”
man. I see where you’re going, but Mom was way ahead of you. They told her the plan was adoption, and that’s the way it was going to be. So Mom told them, cool,
adopt me. There wasn’t a thing they could say. . . .”
“Had she adopted a lot of—?”
“Look, man,” he said, his voice turning hard for the first time since I’d met him, “this is my mom we’re talking about, not some Mia Farrow wannabe, all right? Foster mother, adoptive mother, didn’t make a damn bit of difference to her. Or to me.”
“She sounds like one hell of a woman,” I said by way of apology.
“She is. And Pop’s no slouch himself, although he lets Mom do all the talking.”
-working guy. He’s a stonecutter. Best around.”
“I thought that was a lost art.”
“Pop says it’ll never be lost, so long as someone’s doing it. He taught us all stuff, but we didn’t all have the gift for it. My sister Helene, she’s the one he picked to carry it on. She’s a
at it, man.”
“The foster kids those people had, they all turned out so . . . ?”
“You’re cute, man. But I’ll tell you straight. Some turned out better than others. Like in any big family. But not a motherfucking one of us hurts their kids; you understand what I’m telling you?”
“Yeah. That DNA doesn’t mean squat when it comes to how you act.”
“On time!” he said, offering me a palm to slap. “Mom and Pop proved that one. Too bad the shitheads running the government never snapped to it.”
“Too bad there aren’t more like your parents.”
“Truth, man. But there’s a lot more than there used to be, if you get what I’m saying.”
“Sure. Your parents couldn’t have
that many kids, but they
a whole pack of them. That’s what counts.”
“That’s what counts,” he repeated. “And that’s why I’m out here. What I do, it counts, too.”
I didn’t know what the girl’s note about finding the “Borderlands” meant, but I knew she wasn’t going to be working at Starbucks to save money for the trip.
I’d been trolling for Rosebud mostly on foot, using the Ford to get me to the starting spots. But if I was going to play it like she was out there using her moneymaker, the Ford’s plain gray wrapper wouldn’t do. It just screamed “unmarked car,” and I needed to make my approach from downwind.
When I ran it down at dinner one night, Gordo offered me his ride. I was grateful—I knew how much he had invested in that car. Money was the least of it. But the Metalflake maroon ’63 Impala was as distinctive as the Ford was anonymous. And its dual quad 409 had a sound that stayed with you.
I thought of a station wagon, but it wouldn’t go with my face. I could use some of that Covermark stuff Michelle got for me on the bullet scar, and the missing top of my right ear wouldn’t show. No one would see the mismatched right eye, either; there has to be some decent light for anyone to notice. But the one eye they’d make contact with would tell them I wasn’t a citizen.
Flacco said they had plenty of cars in the garage. People who came to them for custom work expected their rides to be tied up for a while.
I took a look. Finally, settled on a white Cadillac Seville STS. Central Casting for the role I’d be playing.
I started that same night. They don’t mark the prostie strolls on tourist maps, but you don’t need to be a native to find them. I just nosed the Cadillac in ever-widening figure-8 loops, using a down-market topless bar as a starting point. It didn’t take long.
They work it in Portland the same way they do in every city I’ve been. Brightly colored birds with owner-clipped wings to keep them from flying away, fluttering at every car that cruises by slow. Like Amsterdam, only without the windowboxes.
The more subtle girls worked about half dressed; the rest of them put it all right out there. Lots of blond nylon wigs, torn fishnet stockings, and run-down spike heels. Cheap, stagy makeup around bleached-out eyes. A shabby, tired show that needed the murky darkness to sustain the illusion. Pounds of wiggle, not an ounce of bounce.
If Rosebud had been younger, I’d have looked elsewhere. I didn’t know if the local cops swept for underage hookers, or kept tabs on their pimps, but I figured it was like anywhere else—if you’re pushing kiddie sex, you do it indoors. In America, anyway.
Sure, Rosebud was underage, but just barely so. She could tart up legal easy enough, if that’s the way she was earning. And even gutter-trash pimps know where to get passable ID today.
My own ID was top-shelf. A Beretta 9000S, chambered for .40-caliber S&W. You might think a handgun would be the opposite of a walkaway card if you got stopped by the cops . . . if you didn’t know how things work. A passport may be the Rolex of fake documents, but all it will do is trip the cop-alarms if you flash one around anyplace but the airport.
An Oregon carry permit is a better play. Just possessing it tells the law you’ve already been printed and came up clean: no felony convictions, no NGIs, not even a domestic-violence restraining order to mar your record. Who could be a better citizen than a legally armed man?
Oregon’s one of the few states that closed the gun-show loophole; you want to buy a firearm here, you
going through a background check. The piece I was carrying had been purchased new from a licensed dealer in a small town in eastern Oregon a couple of years ago. Then the dealer had gone out of business. But a back-check of his records would show that he’d sold the piece to the same Joseph Grange my driver’s license said I was.
In some towns, winos sell their votes once a year. In the more progressive jurisdictions, they can sell their prints once a week.
Some of the working girls were more aggressive than others; nothing special there. Nothing special anywhere. I spent a couple of hours, crisscrossing, not making any secret of the prowling, as if I were looking for something a little different. In some cities, the legal-age girls act as steerers for the indoors-only stuff. I didn’t know if they did it that way in Portland, but I wasn’t going to ask around until I got a better sense of who was hustling.
“You looking for a date, honey?” the high-mileage blonde asked. She leaned into the passenger-side window I’d zipped down when she’d approached. Her partner was dark-haired, but with the same tiny arsenal of seductiveness; she was licking her lips with all the passion of a metronome.
“No thanks, Officer,” I told her.
Her giggle was juiceless. “Oh,
Do cops come right out and tell you they’ll gobble your cock for twenty-five?”
“Nope. But I’ve had them promise to look the other way for fifty.”
Her laugh was a snort. “You’re a funny guy. But I’m not out here to be talking.”
“Fair enough,” I told her, feeling for the power-window switch with my left hand.
“Wait!” the blonde said. “What makes you think I’m a cop?”
“Cops work in pairs,” I said, nodding my head at her partner.
“Oh, man, come on. We’re just selling sandwiches. And you look like you got just the right meat. Try some three-way; you’ll swear it’s the
“Some other time,” I told her, and pulled away.
I spent a lot of time listening to approaches, alert for the right girl—one who’d been out there for a while, kept her eyes open, wouldn’t mind making a few bucks doing something that didn’t require penetration. But no matter where I went, the approaches were mostly by pairs.
It rang wrong. Sure, pimps would put a new girl out with a more experienced one. And some hookers—lesbians who knew that most of the action would be them playing with each other while the trick watched—
worked three-ways. But this was happening much too widely for those thin blankets to cover.
After four nights, nothing had changed. It wasn’t a one-time spook, so I knew what it meant. What it
There hadn’t been anything in the papers or on the news. But down where hookers stroll, the whisper-stream flows especially deep. And if they got scared enough, they’d play it for pure true.
But while I was thinking it through, another couldn’t-be coincidence flowed across my path like a shark in shallow water. A big black car with a smooth shape, chromeless, its running lights banked. I’d seen it a dozen times over the past few nights, always in motion, moving unhurried but slippery at right angles to where I was going.
I knew it was the same car—a Subaru SvX—because of its window-in-window mortised side glass, like the DeLorean once sported. The SvX had been a techno-triumph, an all-wheel drive luxury barge that cornered well and ran strong, but it never caught on, and Subaru stopped making them years ago. Couldn’t be that many of them still around, even in the Pacific Northwest, where most of them had been sold.
The Subaru was only vaguely menacing. It didn’t follow me when I finally left the grids late every night, and it didn’t seem to frighten the girls any more than the cops who rolled by on bicycles every once in a while did. A pimp, maybe? Checking his traps? But the car was the opposite of flash, and any pimp big enough to have girls working a half-dozen different spots on the same night wouldn’t be driving anything but ultra. Maybe a “documentary”-maker who’d learned how to work his videocam one-handed? Or a screenwriter trying to pick up a little “noir”?