Authors: Andrew Vachss
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #(¯`'•.¸//(*_*)\\¸.•'´¯)
“I have no idea.”
“Sure you do,” I told him. “You never spoke to her, but you spoke to someone who knew her well enough to tell you about that vegan thing and the movies.”
“I . . .”
“You know what you said before? About some kids being a lot more mature than people would think? That’s especially true for girls, isn’t it?”
We both listened to the sounds coming from his kitchen. I looked in that direction, making sure he saw me do it.
Then he told me the friend’s name.
“I heard she took off,” the tall, rangy girl said, bouncing a basketball absently. We were standing together at the end of her driveway, the hoop on a stanchion nearer the garage.
“That’s what it seems like, Charmaine.”
“Well, if she did, I’m not going to help you find her.”
“If she took off for a good reason, I won’t bring her back,” I said.
The girl looked at me as if she was thinking about taking me to the hoop off her dribble. “I don’t know,” she said, thoughtfully.
“I’m not asking you to
me anything,” I said softly. “Just to give her a message if”—I held up my hand to stop her from interrupting—“
she gets in touch. Okay?” When she didn’t say anything, I handed her my card.
She chewed her lip. “You want to play some one-on-one?”
“Do I look like a basketball player to you?”
“Basketball players don’t
like anything in particular,” she said. “People think if you’re tall you can play basketball. But that isn’t necessarily true.”
“You can, right?”
“I had to teach myself,” she said quietly. “It didn’t come naturally or anything. It was a lot of work.”
“I respect that,” I said. Telling the truth.
She bounced the ball a couple of times, stepped off, and launched a long jumper, goosenecking her wrist to guide it home.
Nothing but net.
“An easy three,” I congratulated her.
“They’re never easy,” she said. But a smile teased at her lip.
I went quiet, waiting for her decision.
“Rosie is the most . . . moral person I know,” she said, finally. “She wouldn’t do anything wrong. I don’t mean she wouldn’t, you know, break the law. If she thought the law was . . . immoral. Like civil disobedience. But she wouldn’t do anything . . . unethical. Like cheat on a test. Or even tell lies. She didn’t drink and she didn’t do drugs. . . .”
“Her father said she smoked pot.”
never saw her do that.”
“Maybe he got it wrong.”
“He probably did. He doesn’t know her.”
“Fathers never know their daughters, do they?”
“Mine doesn’t,” she said, the smile gone from her voice.
The next day, I went back to the school, walked the corridors for a while. But it was pretty much cleared out for the summer. When I came back outside, a girl was perched on the front fender of my Ford. She was auburn-haired, wearing blue-jean shorts with matching suspenders. They were strapped over a white T-shirt as flimsy as the excuses she’d probably been trafficking in since she was thirteen. Her mouth was a wicked slash of dark red, and she was licking a green lollipop like she was auditioning for a porno movie. I couldn’t tell if she was sixteen or thirty-three.
“You’re the guy, right?” she greeted me.
“What guy would that be?”
“The guy looking for Little Miss I’m-All-That.”
“Oh! You thought I was looking for
Sorry, young lady. You’ve been misinformed.”
“That’s cute.” She shrugged her shoulders against the off-chance I was confused about her not wearing a bra. “You know who I’m talking about.”
“I don’t know
you’re talking about,” I told her, taking out a cigarette.
“Give me one,” she demanded, holding out the hand without the lollipop.
“You’re not old enough.”
“Get real. People don’t have to be as old as
“People don’t have to be as old as me to be retired.”
She gave me a long look. One that apparently required her to arch her back deeply.
I kept my eyes on hers.
She put the lollipop back in her mouth, then bit down on it, hard. I could hear the crunch as the lollipop fragmented. She pulled out the empty stalk, tossed it away.
I lit my cigarette, took a drag. She reached over, plucked it out of my hand, took a drag herself. She didn’t return it to me.
“What’s it worth to you?” she asked, crossing her meaty thighs to emphasize the ambiguity.
“To stand around in a parking lot and play games with a kid? Nothing.”
“I’m not a kid. I’m a girl. A bad girl.”
“Congratulations. You look as if you put a lot of effort into it.”
“Look, I know you’re not a cop.”
“Is that right?”
“Yes. I heard you were asking around. About her. I figure someone hired you to do that. So maybe you want to hire me.”
“Hire you to do what?”
“Help you. Like, be your assistant. For what you’re trying to find out, you’re too . . . I don’t know . . .”
“Scary. You already scared some people. Nobody’s going to talk to you.”
“If they don’t know anything, what’s the difference?”
“What’s your name?”
“Hazard. B. B. Hazard.”
“You didn’t ask me mine.”
“That’s right, I didn’t.”
“You don’t care?”
“No. I don’t play with kids.”
“My name is Peaches.”
“Uh-huh. Is that what it says on the birth certificate? You know, the one that says you’re twenty-five.”
“Twenty-two. And it’s not a phony.”
“Right. And you’re a schoolmate of the person you think I’m looking for? How many times were you left back, exactly?”
“Why do you have to be like this? Bobby Ray told me you were looking for this Rose girl. I didn’t say I knew her or anything. But I could help you find her. If you paid me.”
“Who’s Bobby Ray?”
“He works for Project Safe. You know, like an outreach worker. He’s out there every night.”
“Red-haired kid, freckles? About my height, wears a Raiders jacket?”
“I don’t know him.”
“But you just said—”
“I ran across him. That’s all. He can’t vouch for you.”
“Ask him, okay? I mean, you can check
out, can’t you? Where he works and everything? So, if Bobby Ray tells you I’m cool, that would be enough, wouldn’t it?”
“I’m not a kid. And I
“Let’s cut to it, okay? You know where the girl I’m looking for is, we can do a deal. Name your price, I’ll run it past the people who hired me. They go for it,
you turn her up, the money’s yours.”
“How do I know you’d—”
“You tell me you know where she is, I’ll let your pal Bobby Ray—you know, the guy
trust—I’ll let him hold the stake.”
know where she is. But I
help you find her.”
“No sale, kid.”
She hopped off the fender like it was a glowing griddle. Denim is a restrictive fabric, but the curve of her rump imposed its will anyway. I watched her walk away . . . just to see what car she got into. But she turned the corner of the building and disappeared.
Just like the girl she said she could lead me to.
“You know a girl named Peaches?” I asked Bobby Ray that night.
We were standing on a corner in the Northwest, a few doors down from a building where kids crashed. It wasn’t a South Bronx burnout, not even abandoned, really. The kids had moved in while the owner waited for financing on the renovations he would need to rehab the rental units. The way I heard it, the place had running water, but no electricity. Probably no heat, either, but the weather kept that from being a big deal.
It had taken a couple of more weeks, and another extension on Kevin’s money, to get this close to Bobby Ray. We weren’t pals, exactly. But he wasn’t distancing himself from me by body language anymore, deliberately warning kids off, the way he did when I’d first come up on him.
“I know a lot of people,” he said, vaguely.
“Bobby Ray, I asked you if you know her, okay? Not who she hangs out with. Not what she’s up to. And not where to find her.”
He gave me a measuring kind of look. I knew what that meant. A question he wanted answered. Bobby Ray was a trader. Info for info. He kept his street position by being in the know. You couldn’t buy his knowledge for money, and that’s why he got so much of it for free.
“Is it true you were a mercenary?” he asked me.
I kept my face blank.
Maybe the girl’s father is nosing around again? Name-dropping while he’s at it?
No point asking Bobby Ray where he’d heard something like that: the whisper-stream flows through every city in the world.
“What do you mean by a mercenary?” I said. “Like a ‘soldier of fortune’ in the movies? Someone who gets paid to kill people in a country where the only law
from killing people? What?”
“I don’t know, exactly. I never really thought about it. A lot of Vietnam vets you meet out here say they were—”
“I’m not a Vietnam vet,” I cut him off. I don’t mind lying about who I am or what I’ve done, but something about posing as a Vietnam vet makes me sick to my stomach. Tens of thousands of kids sacrificed to testosterone politics and business-worship while their better-born counterparts stayed home and partied. Back then, the only sincerity was in the antiwar movement. But that rotted at its core when movie stars started preening for the heroic torturers of the VC.
It was an impossible tightrope to walk—oppose the war, but support the soldiers—and most fell off to one wrong side or the other. A few of the antiwar radicals died, and a few more went to prison. Some of them are still there.
Some of the white members of the “underground” surfaced to yuppiedom. But the blacks couldn’t go back to where they’d never been. The profiteers and the cherry-pickers found new targets, the SLA survivors got paroled, and ex-Panthers and former SDS members ran for Congress.
Some revolutionaries of that era stayed true. Leonard Peltier is still buried alive in a federal POW camp. But he gets less media attention than Vanilla Ice. And
less fan mail than Charles Manson.
The war itself was as big a lie as the “war on drugs.” Politicians announcing a war, sending others to do the actual fighting . . . then fixing it so they couldn’t win.
And the kids who died for the lie—all they got was their name on a fancy slab of marble.
It’s a whole syndrome now: people pretending to be Vietnam vets. Especially popular among guys in the financial industry, for some reason I don’t get . . . probably the same twits who think they grow bigger balls every time some Internet stock runs up. See, it’s chic to “support” the people who fought over there, now that it’s over. So every guy who tries to glom a handout, he’s a Vietnam vet. People who would have had to be three years old when they enlisted, they’re Vietnam vets. They’re running for office, working a barroom, hustling women . . . all playing that liar’s card.
And now we’re all buddy-buddy with Vietnam, right? Like it never happened. Hell, business is business, and the slopes over there like McDonald’s even better than the niggers do over here. Great market for cigarettes, too. And you can’t beat those cheap labor costs with a stick . . . although it’s okay to beat the laborers.
MIA. Money Is All.
I turned eighteen while Vietnam was still raging, but I was safe from being called up—they didn’t have a draft board in prison. They had one in court, though. Plenty of guys my age went when judges safe from the draft did their patriotic duty by letting young men trade a sentence for an enlistment. That’s how Wesley learned to work long-distance—Uncle taught him some new tricks.
I got out of prison while it was still going on, but I never went near the army. I ended up in another jungle, on another continent. A genocidal war fueled by tribalism, but ignited by nondenominational lust for oil.
Years later, a government spook told me I was still listed on the Nigerian registry of war criminals. Good joke. The Nigerian government is a fucking crime cartel, holding whole tribes down by military violence, while their privileged classes spend their time making the country the international scam capital of the world.
I’m a veteran of a lot of things. War is only one of them. But Vietnam’s not on that list; and there’s something special about it keeps me from adding it to the fabric of lies I roll out for strangers.
“So where’d you learn the military stuff, then?” Bobby Ray asked. A clever kid. Or one who had been interrogated by professionals often enough to learn some of the tricks himself.
“Why is anything like that important?”
“You never know,” he said, solemnly. “You never know what something’s worth.”
“That’s true,” I said. Thinking I wouldn’t have to go through this crap if I was back in New York. My references were all over the street there. And the threads were never so tangled that I couldn’t find someone who knew me
whoever was asking about me, too. But in Portland, I was nobody and nothing.
There was an upside, sure. Nobody looking for me, either.
“I’ve been in military conflicts under foreign flags,” I finally said. “Good enough?”
“Do you know, like, karate and shit?” he asked, pronouncing the word “cah-rah-dee,” not “ka-rah-tay.” I liked him for it.
“So you’re, like, into weapons?”
“I’m a pacifist.”
“You don’t look like that was always the case.”
“When I was your age, I did a lot of stupid things.”
“Yeah? Like what?”
“Going to prison.”
“For being stupid.”
He waited for me to add something. Finally, he realized I was done.
“What kind of name is B.B.?” he asked.
“Same kind as Bobby Ray.”
“You know, I’m thinking it might just be. Bobby Ray, that was the name my mother . . . I mean, my . . . Anyway, that was the name I was born with. Sounds kind of like a hillbilly one, right?”