Authors: Karin Slaughter
“Go Deep,” “Necessary Women,” and “Remmy Rothstein Toes the Line” are works of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
A Dell eBook Edition
Copyright © 2015 by Karin Slaughter Publishing, LLC
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Dell, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
and the H
colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.
“Remmy Rothstein Toes the Line” was originally published in
Mystery Writers of America Presents the Mystery Box
, edited by Brad Meltzer, published by Grand Central Publishing in 2013.
eBook ISBN: 978-0-8041-8097-9
Cover design: Carlos Beltrán
Charlie Lam stared out his open office doorway at a stacked blonde carrying a purse the size of a briefcase. Long straight hair slapped at the curve of her ass. Black eyeliner and heavy blue shadow brought out the violet in her eyes. Her lips were wet with red lipstick. Even from fifteen feet away, he could see the dark of her nipples underneath the pale yellow blouse she wore with a skirt that was short enough to raise a man from the dead.
She was looking at the used convertible Mustang in the center of the showroom floor. There was a sugar daddy somewhere in the equation. A girl that pretty couldn’t afford the bus fare to the car lot, let alone a convertible anything. If she had a rich father, he’d be here making sure she didn’t get ripped off. A husband would be making sure she didn’t get hit on. Only a very wealthy man with a wife and kids would let a pet like that off the leash.
Charlie licked his lips. He’d had girls like that before. They could take it so deep you felt the strain in the back of your eyeballs.
Charlie’s gaze didn’t move off the blonde. His secretary had been hired by his wife, which meant on a bad day in a good light, there still wasn’t enough hand lotion in the world.
The blonde moved out of his line of sight. Charlie scowled with every muscle in his face. “What is it?”
“Your wife called. She needs—”
Charlie waved her off. His wife always needed something. “What else?”
“Mr. Chop is on line three.”
The pleasant tingling from the blonde drained like piss down a sink.
“Close the door.” Charlie’s hand was shaking when he picked up the phone. He put the receiver to his ear. He waited. He waited some more. He cleared his throat.
Charlie had to clear his throat again. “Mr. Chop?”
“The dry cleaner has your suits ready.”
“Thank you.” Charlie’s hand was still shaking when he put the receiver back in the cradle. He took out his handkerchief and tried to stanch the line of Niagara Falls pouring down his forehead.
Mr. Chop’s real name was Mike Thevis, a tough-guy mobster whose violent temper was so legend that just the thought of his name scared the hair off Charlie’s balls.
Charlie looked down at his hand. Still shaking.
The speaker on the phone shot a burst of noise into the office. “Mr. Lam?” His secretary again. Her voice was a cheese grater on his eardrum. “Your brother needs a consultation on pricing the Mustang.”
Deacon. Of course that worthless asshole had grabbed the blonde the minute she’d walked through the door.
Charlie grabbed his suit jacket off the back of his chair. He checked himself in the mirror, straightened his tie, smoothed down his hair. There was some gray, but it looked good on him. His mustache was still dark. He was growing out his sideburns, which his wife hated and his girlfriend loved. He’d been tempted to tell the former if she screwed him like the latter, he’d happily grab a razor, but that conversation had died like an electrocuted elephant in the back of his brain.
Charlie walked onto the showroom floor. Deacon’s mouth was open like a braying jackass’s as he fake-laughed at something the blonde had said. Twenty seconds ago, Charlie would’ve been looking forward to this. Now, all he could think was that there was a timer ticking somewhere, and if he didn’t move fast enough, Mike Thevis would explode.
The hi-fi was playing Karen Carpenter through the giant speakers in the corners. Instantly, Charlie had a headache so bad that he could taste it in his mouth. The lights were too bright. The posters advertising on-lot financing and the best deals in town seemed to be screaming at him. Worst of all, the life-size cutout of Charlie dressed in a chicken suit mocked him by the front door. Chicken-Charlie was holding a sign that read, “
M TOO CHICKEN TO GIVE YOU A BAD DEAL!”
Some jackass had stuck an Atlanta Braves baseball cap on top of the chicken’s head. Charlie felt his lips twist into a sneer. He didn’t give a shit about baseball, but three days from the big game, just about every customer who walked through the front door did.
“Hey, boss.” Deacon Lam flashed a smile at Charlie that reminded him so much of their
father that his stomach barbwired into a rabbit snare. “Let me introduce you to—”
“That’s a pretty name, honey.” Charlie said the words automatically. He wasn’t thinking about the blonde so much as what would happen if he wasn’t at the dry cleaner’s soon. “I see you’re looking at the Mustang. She’s a solid ride. Only one driver, a little old lady who took it to church every Sunday.” He winked at her, like he hadn’t watched the porter cleaning up oil underneath the engine fifteen minutes ago. “You’re a smart cookie. I can see we’re going to have to give you a good deal.”
“ ‘Charlie Lam the Chicken Man.’ ” The blonde hummed the jingle from the commercials. “I grew up watching you on TV.”
Charlie didn’t want to think about her sitting in front of the tube with pigtails and a bowl of cereal. He thought about her sitting in his lap. And then he thought about Mike Thevis coming in with a knife and slitting both their throats while Karen Carpenter sang “Ticket to Ride.”
He put his hand on the blonde’s arm. “That’s great, sweetheart. Listen, I don’t wanna rush you, but we’re busy men here. We can’t waste time, even on a pretty little thing like you.”
She had a puzzled smile on her face. “I’m sorry?”
“Maybe you could get your husband or your
…” He let the word hang between them. “… to come down here and handle the transaction. Like I said, the Mustang’s a good car. You’ll look pretty in it.” He remembered his job. “I mean, not that you don’t look beautiful already.”
“Course you’re beautiful.” Deacon narrowed his eyes at Charlie. “Ain’t I been tellin’ you that since you walked in? Pretty little peach.”
“Yes, you have.” Her smile lightened, but then she told Charlie, “I’m not a whore, Mr. Chicken Man. I can pay for my own car. I have a job and everything.”
Charlie looked down at his watch. He didn’t have time for this.
“The sign outside says you finance here.” She reached into her purse. “I’ve got paycheck stubs from—”
He grabbed her arm a little tighter this time. “Look, doll, I meant what I said. You’re a knockout. That’s great that you’ve got a job and everything, but what happens when some lucky fella snatches you up, you quit working, and your new guy doesn’t want to pay off your old debts?”
“I imagine you’ll repo my car, keep the money I’ve paid you so far, and sell it again to
the next sucker who walks through the door.”
Charlie said a silent prayer of thanks that he hadn’t hit on this bitch. He was well past his quota for mouthy women in his life. He told Deacon, “Get her out of here. And take that hat off the chicken. You wanna get us shot?”
The blonde yelled something at his back, but Charlie easily tuned her out. He pushed open the glass door and walked across the parking lot. Lam Auto Sales. Six acres of new and used cars, none of them getting sold because the whole city had shut down over a fucking baseball game.
Charlie stuck his keys into the door of a Buick LeSabre. This was a real convertible—white body, burgundy top, matching burgundy leather on the inside. Charlie didn’t know what was under the hood. He didn’t care. Any car salesman will tell you that people buy with one question in mind: how good am I going to look behind the wheel of this baby? If you find yourself stuck with some gearhead talking about thrust and torque, you’ve already lost the sale.
The Buick’s steering wheel had baked all morning in the sun. Charlie could feel the skin of his palm searing against the leather wrap. He turned the key in the ignition, pumped the gas, and felt a thousand seconds pass in the blink of an eye. He’d wasted three, maybe four minutes talking to the blonde. He wondered if that was the sort of delay that Thevis would understand. The FBI had tried to catch the man for years, but people were too terrified to turn on him. By most accounts, Thevis controlled half the country’s porn, from magazines to movies to peep-show booths.
Surely on occasion the King of Porn had caught a whiff of snatch that unexpectedly detained him.
Charlie turned on the radio as he pulled out onto the road. He fiddled with the dial, trying to find something other than talk about Hank Aaron’s chances of hitting his 715th home run against the Mets in three days. This was history in the making. A black man breaking a white man’s record. A young guy pushing out the old guard. There were some people who were happy about this and a lot of people who were hotter than two hells. Rumor was that the editor of the
was preparing two headlines for the story: one that celebrated Aaron breaking the record and another that introduced the ballplayer’s obituary.
Charlie switched to FM. He didn’t care about the death threats against Aaron, or that Sammy Davis, Jr., was going to be in the stands, or that Governor Carter was calling this an
historic time for the state. What he cared about was that everybody in Atlanta had chosen a side, and they were too busy arguing about who was wrong and who was right to get out of their houses and buy cars.
He finally found a station that wasn’t talking about the game. Then he let out a hot stream of curses. Karen Carpenter. “Ticket to Ride.” What had Charlie done to piss off God today?
“Jesus!” He jerked the wheel hard, but he was too late. A homeless man bounced across his windshield like hail before a tornado. The guy’s elbow popped against the windshield. His jacket flew up. The back of his greasy pants left a streak across the glass.
Charlie pounded on the brakes. The car skidded several yards, then finally came to a shuddering stop. He held his breath as he stared at the body in his side-view mirror. The guy was flat on his back, unmoving. His overflowing grocery cart was parked beside him. Black trash bags filled with aluminum cans stuck out like polyps.
Charlie’s eyes went up to the vacant buildings around him. He scanned the street front and back. He was calculating whether or not to keep driving when he saw the man’s legs kick into the air. He jumped up to standing like all of his strings had been pulled. He was black, with a scraggly beard and an Afro that looked like a mushroom cap.
Charlie let out a long breath of air as he rolled down his window. “Watch where you’re going, motherfucker!”