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Table of Contents
< size="3">Chapter 42
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ALSO BY WALTER MOSLEY
EASY RAWLINS MYSTERIES
Six Easy Pieces
Bad Boy Brawly Brown
A Little Yellow Dog
A Red Death
Devil in a Blue Dress
The Tempest Tales
Killing Johnny Fry
The Man in My Basement
Fear of the Dark
Walkin’ the Dog
The Right Mistake
This Year You Write Your Novel
What Next: A Memoir Toward
Life Out of Context
Workin’ on the Chain Gang
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA • Penguin Group
(Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson
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New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd) • Penguin Books
(South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Copyright © 2009 by Walter Mosley
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or
electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted
materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
Published simultaneously in Canada
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The long fall / Walter Mosley.
eISBN : 978-1-101-01137-9
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
I’m sorry, Mr. um? . . .” the skinny receptionist said.
Her baby-blue-on-white nameplate merely read JULIET.
She had short blond hair that was longer in the front than in the back and wore a violet T-shirt that I was sure would expose a pierced navel if she were to stand up. Behind her was a mostly open-air-boutique-like office space with ten or twelve brightly colored plastic desks that were interspersed by big, leafy, green plants. The eastern wall, to my right, was a series of ceiling-to-floor segmented windowpanes that were not intended to open.
All the secretaries and gofers that worked for Berg, Lewis & Takayama were young and pretty, regardless of their gender. All except one.
There was a chubby woman who sat in a far corner to the left, under an exit sign. She had bad skin and a utilitarian fashion sense. She was looking down, working hard. I immediately identified with her.
I imagined sitting in that corner, hating everyone else in the room.
“Mr. Brown isn’t in?” I asked, ignoring Juliet’s request for a name.
“He can’t be disturbed.”
“Couldn’t you just give him a note from me?”
Juliet, who hadn’t smiled once, not even when I first walked in, actually sneered, looking at me as if I were a city trash collector walking right from my garbage truck into the Whi"><„te House and asking for an audience with the president.
I was wearing a suit and tie. Maybe my shoe leather was dull, but there weren’t any scuffs. There were no spots on my navy lapels, but, like that woman in the corner, I was obviously out of my depth: a vacuum-cleaner salesman among high-paid lawyers, a hausfrau thrown in with a bevy of Playboy bunnies.
“What is your business with Mr. Brown?” the snotty child asked.
“He gives financial advice, right?”
She almost answered but then decided it was beneath her.
“I’m a friend of a friend of his,” I said. “Jumper told me that Roger might show me what to do with my money.”
Juliet was getting bored. She took in a deep breath, letting her head tilt to the side as she exhaled.
It wasn’t my skin color that bothered her. People on Madison Avenue didn’t mind dark skins in 2008. This woman might have considered voting for Obama, if she voted. She might have flirted with a rap star at some chic nightclub that only served imported champagne and caviar.
Roger Brown was black. So were two of the denizens of the airy workspace. No. Juliet didn’t like me because of my big calloused hands and no-frills suit. She didn’t like me because I was two inches shorter and forty pounds heavier than a man should be.
“If I leave you my card, will you make sure that he gets it?”
After another sigh she held out a hand, palm up.
My fat red-brown wallet was older than the child, no doubt. I opened it and rooted among the fake business cards that were the hallmark of my trade. I decided on one that I hadn’t brought out since a woman I hardly knew had died at my feet.
Van Der Zee Domestics
and In-home Service Aides
I went down on one knee, taking a pen from the red plastic desktop.
“Excuse me,” Juliet said in protest.
I scrawled for Roger (aka B-Brain) Brown across the bottom. Beneath that I added a number from a lost, or maybe stolen, cell phone that I had purchased specifically for this job. I stood up easily, without grunting, because, unknown to Juliet, most of my extra weight was muscle. I handed her the card and she took it gingerly by a corner.
“Is that all?” she said.
The chubby woman in the corner looked up at just that moment. I grinned at her and waved. She returned the gesture with a slightly puzzled smile.
“Thank you for your time,” I said, pretending I was talking to the woman under the exit sign. “This means a lot to me.”
Juliet sucked a tooth and pulled in her chin.
I remember a time when only black women did that.
STOMPING DOWN THE two flights to the street, I was thinking about when I would have pushed harder to get past that girl. All I had to do was get a look at Roger Brown. I had never even seen a photograph of the man but I knew he was black and in his thirties with a small crescent scar under his right eye. All I needed was one look.
At an earlier point in my career I would have probably done something extreme to achieve that simple goal. I might have raised my voice and demanded to see her supervisor, or just walked past her, looking into offices until Roger Brown showed his face, or not. I could have pulled the fire alarm in the hallway or even put a smoke bomb in a trash can. But those days were pretty much over for me. I hadn’t given up on being a private detective; that was all I knew. I still took incriminating photographs and located people who didn’t necessarily want to be found. I exposed frauds and cheats without feeling much guilt.
In other words, I still plied my trade but now I worried about things.
In the years before, I had no problem bringing people down, even framing them with false evidence if that’s what the client paid for. I didn’t mind sending an innocent man, or woman, to prison because I didn’t believe in innocence—and virtue didn’t pay the bills. That was before my past caught up with me and died, spitting blood and curses on the rug.
I STILL HAD a family that looked to me for their sustenance. My wife didn’t love me and two out of three grown and nearly grown children were not of my blood. But none of that mattered. I had a job to do, and more than one debt to pay.
So I had contracted to find four men. I’d already located three of them. One was dead, one in prison, and the third was awaiting trial. Of the four, only Roger Brown, if this was indeed the Roger Brown I was looking for, had made some kind of life for himself, the kind of life where a pretty young white girl protected his privacy and called him Mister in an office of first names.
Maybe I went easy on Juliet because I was worried about Roger. The job was presented as a straightforward case, with no criminal prosecution involved. But if you find three bad apples, you know there’s got to be something rotten somewhere.
I walked down Madison in the bright summer sunshine, hoping that this Roger wasn’t the Roger I was looking for; and even if he was, I would have been happy if he never called.
From the Sixties on the East Side of Manhattan I took a yellow cab do a „wn to Thirty-fourth Street, a little west of Penn Station. Gordo’s Gym took up the entire fifth floor of a dirty brick building that was built sometime before Joe Louis knocked out the Cinderella Man. At noon on a Wednesday the ring was empty, as most of Gordo’s hopefuls were out plying day jobs to pay for their protein and locker space.
I set myself up in the corner where a heavy bag hung. That particular piece of real estate was next to a big window that was painted shut and so murky that you couldn’t see a thing through it. But I didn’t go to Gordo’s Gym three days a week for the view or the smell of men’s sweat, or for the company, for that matter.
I stripped down right there, put on my thick leather gloves (which were also older than Juliet), and started in on a rhythm of violence that kept up my balance in the rotted infrastructure of my city and my life.
Throwing a punch is the yang of a boxer’s life. The yin is being able to avoid getting hit. I’m pretty good at the yang part. Everybody knows but few can exploit the fact that a good punch comes first from the foot, moves in circular motion around the hips, and only then connects with the arm, fist, and if you’re lucky, your opponent’s jaw or rib cage. Fighting therefore is like the dance of a mighty Scot stamping and swinging in a dewy Highland morning.
For nearly twenty minutes I did my barbarian dance, punishing the big bag, allowing it to swing forward and hit me in the chest now and again. Since I’d given up smoking my wind was getting longer.
I needed anaerobic exercise to vent my anger.
I hated Roger Brown and Juliet along with so many things I had done over the years. At one time I had been able to live with myself because I could say that I only set up people who were already crooked, guilty of something—usually something bad—but not any longer.
I hit that bag with dozens of deadly combinations but in the end I was the one who was defeated, crouched over with my gloves on my knees.
“Not half bad,” a man said, his voice raspy and familiar.
“Hey, Gordo.” I didn’t raise my head because I didn’t have the strength.
“You still know how to give it yer all when you decide to give.”
“And even with that I come up short nine times out of ten.”
“You shoulda been a boxer,” one of New York’s unsung master trainers said to me.