Read Pain Management Online

Authors: Andrew Vachss

Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #(¯`'•.¸//(*_*)\\¸.•'´¯)

Pain Management (6 page)

BOOK: Pain Management
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“What’s your problem?” I asked Gem as soon as the handjob hooker took off.

“My problem?”

“Yeah, your problem. You have to ask me if I want some fucking slot machine to sit on my lap?”

“Oh. So sorry.”

“Cut it the fuck out, all right, Gem? You’re about as Japanese as I am. And you’re too bossy to be a geisha, anyway.”

“She was just—”

“Never mind. You ready to go?”

“You didn’t like her . . . looks?” Gem asked me that night in bed.

“Who are you talking about?”

“The dancer. With the big chest.”

“I didn’t pay any attention.”

“How could you miss them?”

“What?”

“Her breasts. Do you like such big ones?”

“Ahhh . . . they’re like . . . I don’t know, red silk sheaths.”

“Because you can buy them?”

“No. Because they look good on some people, and not on others. I don’t like red silk sheaths all by themselves. If I saw one on a hanger, it wouldn’t race my motor, okay? On some women, they look perfect. Really gorgeous. On others, they look . . . ridiculous. You don’t look at the trimming, you look at the tree, understand?”

“Oh yes. Certainly. Would you like me in such big breasts, then?”

“No.”

“Why not? Do you not think I would—?”

“They’d look all out of proportion. Like they were stuck on with glue.”

“That is the way they looked on her, too.”

“Maybe.”

“Oh? You do not agree?”

“I didn’t pay any attention.”

“Huh!” is all she said. For the rest of the night.

I tried it in daylight first. Invested a lot of cigarettes and a few dollars, but I didn’t come up with anything other than a few numb attempts at shining me on. I collected some stale info, a few bad addresses, a couple of street names. I didn’t push it; why squeeze when there’s no juice?

Pioneer Square was the downtown see-and-be-seen place, preening and posturing the order of the day. There were a few skateboard artists, a juggler, a threesome doing a little close-up Frisbee, music blasting from a dozen boom boxes, some “Look at me!” dancing. A guy made the rounds, flexing an upper body that must have looked a lot better in his own mirror. Anarchists handed out leaflets about some demonstration coming the next day. They seemed pretty organized about it. I watched people watching people for a while, getting nowhere.

It wasn’t a particularly good spot for buskers, but a few tried. None that looked remotely like Rosebud.

A young, pretty, nicely put-together girl walked by, slowly. The black Lab at her side sported a set of saddlebags—a working partner, not a pet. I flashed on Pansy and
drove
the thoughts away before they hurt me. The girl had a toolbelt of some kind around her waist, and a backpack that looked homemade. She wasn’t panhandling, she was scavenging, carefully checking the ground for anything of value, occasionally putting something she picked up into the Lab’s saddlebags.

There’s plenty of street kids in Portland, but no single street culture. And I was way too old to try fitting in, so I went looking for a guide. I finally ran across one of their halfass gurus in a coffeehouse, but all he wanted to do was rant about the Internet.

“If you deconstruct it, the whole thing is a sham. A fake. The Internet is supposed to be all about personal freedom, but, if you think it through, you see that the whole Net culture is about invasion of privacy. It’s just a ruse to register us all, man.”

I was running into this all the time, that intersection thing—where the extremists on both ends of the political continuum looped back onto each other until you couldn’t tell them apart. This guy wasn’t any great distance from the gun loons who’ll tell you that banning private ownership of armor-piercing bullets or rocket launchers is just the opening salvo in ZOG’s plan to disarm all American citizens.

The guru may have been a little slow in the synapses, but he had his finger on the pulse—if there’s one common cause between the hyper-right and the ultra-left, it’s that they hate the very
idea
of Registration.

“This girl I’m looking for . . . ?” I opened, trying to get him off his topic and onto mine.

“She has to find
you,
man. It can’t go the other way,” he intoned, as the two stick-figure kids at his table nodded sagely.

“Fair enough. But she can’t find me unless she knows where to look, right?” I said, handing him a business card with my name and cell-phone number on it, wrapped around a twenty.

“Right, man,” the guru said, pocketing the offering. “The Internet is all bullshit, you know. I mean, even the fucking
anarchist
Web sites send you cookies!”

I don’t think he noticed me leaving.

The black guy couldn’t have been out of the joint long. The prison weight-room muscles were still chiseled, the eye-lock was race-war hostile, and my color still made him glance behind me to make sure I was alone. “Who asking about Odom, slick?”

“Cash.”

“Like Johnny Cash?”

“Like Benjamin Cash.”

“What the fuck kind of name that be, slick?”

“It’s a Muslim name,” I told him. “Benjamin 5X Cash.”

“You must think I be someone to fuck with, slick,” he said, closing the distance between us.

“No, he thinks you’re someone who understands English, dumbass,” said a voice from behind him. “You’re putting up five yards to . . . what, man?” he asked me, stepping forward out of the gloom in the back of the bar. Much smaller than the bodybuilder, with a yellowish cast to his skin. I’d have about the same luck guessing his age as I would an alligator’s.

“Odom’s the one I need to talk to.”

“And you never met this ‘Odom’ dude, is that it?” the smaller man said, telling me who he was.

“Not by face. Only by status.”

“Status?” the bodybuilder snarled. “Motherfucker, you talk some strange—”

“He means
rep,
” Odom told his pupil. “Listen and learn. Now,” he said, turning to me, “where’d you get word on me?”

“Inside.”

“You was in the SHU? Where? Pelican Bay?”

“No. I did all my bits on the other coast. But word travels; you know how that works.”

“Yeah, I know. You got friends still in, then?”

“Might have.”

“Might be AB, too, right?”

“Some of them.”

“You going to give up some of those names?”

“I never give up names,” I said.

He smiled at that. Thought for a moment. Then said, “They got some mighty strange-looking undercovers these days.”

“I heard that, too,” I agreed. “But, see, an undercover, he’d be looking to score some dope. Or a piece. Or . . . well, you know how it goes. Me, I got five hundred dollars for you to tell me something. If you know it. And, if you don’t, to find it out.”

“Ain’t no crime to listen.”

“Right. Okay to sit down?”

“Glad you asked, man. Slide into that booth over there.”

I wasn’t exactly blown over from shock when the bodybuilder slid in right next to me, with Odom across the table. No way for me to move. Just the way I wanted it.

“I’m looking for a girl,” I said. “A runaway. Her parents are worried.”

“I got nothing to do with girls,” Odom said.

“I know you don’t. That’s why I came here. If the girl was merchandise to you, then I’d be messing in your business, and I wouldn’t do that. She’s on the street, somewhere. You’ve got people out there. Here’s what she looks like,” I said, handing him one of the copies of Rosebud’s photo I’d had made.

He glanced at the photo, his face expressionless.

“Here’s how to find me,” I said, handing over the card.

“That be two out of three, my man.”

“The five is if you turn her up.”

“No, man. The five is for my people to be on the eyeball. I know there’s got to be a nice reward for this little girl. People
had
to have money to hire you and all.”

“The reward’s only for people working on commission.”

“Yeah. Brutus, you had his white ass pegged, brother. This motherfucker
is
slick, all right.” He swiveled his head toward me. “How much?”

“Another five, only not centuries. Five large.”

“That ain’t enough to pay for a tuneup on my Rolls, man.”

“You want to raise, you got to have chips,” I told him.

He nodded slowly. When the boulder who’d been blocking my exit finally understood what the nod meant, he stood up to let me out.

By the time the ten days was up, all I’d accomplished was to make sure the whisper-stream knew a man was looking for Rosebud. It was like betting on a horse without looking at the form. Hell, without even knowing if your horse was in the goddamned race.

So, when the father renewed my contract, I went back inside myself, looking there. I had one card I thought I could play, but it was too early to be sure. And if I moved too soon, it could backfire. In the meantime, that
Cuckoo
comic still nagged at me, so I went looking for a way in.

Took me only about an hour to find a little comics shop. It was devoid of customers, and the proprietor, a fat, balding guy with a face that had once been jolly, was glad to shoot the breeze with me. He recognized my copy of
Cuckoo
right away.

“Oh sure. That’s Madison’s.”

“Madison, the guy who wrote this?”

“Yep. Only she’s not a guy. She lives around here, you know.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Portland’s really a big town for graphic artists,” he said in a confidential tone, like he was disclosing secrets. “Dark Horse Comics, that’s one of the
major
independents, they’re right over in Milwaukie.”

“Is that right?”

“Sure.”

“And they publish this one?” I asked, holding up my one copy of
Cuckoo.

“Nah. That’s from a
real
indie operation. There isn’t much money in comics anymore, not like the old days.”

“The old days?”

“Yeah, like, oh, ten years ago, there were all kinds of comics selling hundreds of thousands of copies.
Big
collector’s market, too.”

“But not anymore?”

“Right. The bottom’s dropped out for everything but the super-primo stuff. But you know what? Comics are coming back, my friend. Those of us who stay the course, we’re the ones going to clean
up
when it turns around.”

“Uh-huh. So this
Cuckoo,
is it a good investment?”

“Could be,” he said, stroking his chin, considering. “The early editions, especially the first one, they could be worth a nice piece of change. The later ones . . . I don’t think so. It’s gotten real popular now. Won some awards. Not as collectible.”

“But it would be better to have the whole set, right?”


Always
better,” he assured me. “A mint set, from number one on, well, I’m not promising anything, but that’d be a good play, I think.”

“Okay, I’m sold,” I told him, wondering what I was letting myself in for. “How much for a whole set?”

“Well, see, I don’t
have
a whole set here. We don’t keep back issues much anymore; it just doesn’t pay. I’ve got . . . let me see . . . okay, I’ve got numbers five through nine.”

“But you could get the others, right?”

“Sure. Might take a while, but . . .”

“You think Madison would have back issues?”

“Oh sure, man. Every creator keeps copies of their own stuff.”

“Creator?”

“Yeah!” He chuckled. “That’s what comics folk call the people who
create
comics, like the people who draw them, you see what I’m saying?”

“Yeah. Well, could you give her a call, ask her?”

“Uh . . . I guess so.”

When he saw I wasn’t going to move, he fumbled around with some papers behind the counter. Finally he said, “I don’t see her number here, man. Tell you what, okay? I’ll ask around, find it out easy enough. You want to check back in a few days?”

“That’s a little hit-or-miss for me,” I said. “Are these comics like books? I mean, are they worth more if the author signs them?”

“Absolutely,” he said, reverently.

“So, okay, here’s the deal. How about five hundred for a complete set, but all
signed,
okay?”

His eyes flickered, so I guessed I’d bid a little high.

“I can get that for you,” he said quickly.

“Fair enough. You track her down, give me a call, and we’ll set up a meet.”

“A meet? What for?”

“Well, look—friend—no offense. I don’t know anything about comics, but I know how things work. She’s got to sign them in front of me, so I know it’s legit; fair enough?”

“I can authenticate—”

“That’s the only way I want to do it. Look, I’ll leave you my number, you reach out, find out if it’s okay with her. It is, you give me a call. It’s not, no harm done.”

He was dubious, but he took my number. When I left, the place was still as empty as a senator’s conscience.

It didn’t take him long. My cellular buzzed the next afternoon.

“What?”

“Uh, this is Smilin’ Jack, man. From Turbocomix. Remember, you wanted to buy—”

“Sure, I remember. Madison going to sign them for me?”

“Well, man, here’s the thing. She’s willing to sign them, sure; but—I got to tell you—Madison, she’s a real nice person, we all like her a lot.”

“So?”

“So I told her you don’t look like no comics collector to me, man. And I think I might have made her nervous.”

“So tell her to bring a few friends.”

“Well, she wants to do it a little different, man.”

“Tell me.”

“She wants to meet you at the federal courthouse. Outside, on the steps.”

“Okay.”

“Just like that? You know that address, man?”

“Sure,” I lied, figuring it couldn’t be that hard to find.

“Always a lot of cops around there,” he said, obliquely. “But so what, right? I mean, it’s only going to take a couple of minutes for her to sign your books.”

“Sure. Fair enough.”

“You don’t care?”

“No. I figure, she’s an artist, right? They’re all weird.”

“Tomorrow.” He chuckled. “Eleven a.m.”

I could have sent Gem, but I figured this Madison would be less likely to spook if the person waiting for her matched the comic-shop guy’s description. At 10:52, I strolled up Southwest Third Avenue to the courthouse. I was wearing a charcoal suit with a faint chalk stripe over a white shirt and port-wine tie, carrying a black belting-leather briefcase. Lawyer-look; corporate, not criminal . . . although, if the Portland cops were anything like their New York brothers, they wouldn’t acknowledge a difference.

BOOK: Pain Management
7.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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