1959 October 03 Saturday 23:45
"What'd he look like?" Rufus asked Silk. The two men were in the back booth of a sawdust-floored juke joint, walled off from the other patrons by three men who stood in a fan around them, facing out.
"Like any of your regular hillbillies, man. Kind of tall, but not no giant. Slender, but not skinny. White skin, but not ex-con color. He just … average-looking, I guess. Not the kind of man leaves an impression. Except for his eyes."
"I couldn't even tell you, brother. Not in the light we was in. But it's not the color, it's the look."
"Like nobody's home?"
"That's it! Even when he smiled—"
"And he gave you those?" Rufus asked Silk, looking down at the pimp's open palm. "Just gave them to you?"
"You know what they are?"
"Looks like a pair of gold dice. With little diamonds where there's supposed to be dots."
"Solid gold, brother. Real diamonds. You never heard of these?"
"Supposed to be some kind of good-luck charm?" Rufus asked, his mind flashing to an image of the mojo Rosa Mae had described.
"You know how the greaseballs be moving in on our policy banks?"
"You know what I mean, man," Silk said, deliberately not taking offense. "The numbers game is a colored thing. Always been. We invented it. Got a whole big industry behind it: dream books, charms, stuff like that. Naturally, Whitey sees us making some money, he wants it for himself."
"You got me all the way over here so you could tell me that?"
"I know you don't feature me, man. Behind what I do."
"I don't care what you do," Rufus said. "I care about what you are. You're a black pimp, that's okay. What I got to find out is what comes first. Black, or pimp."
Silk leaned back in the booth. He lit a cigarette with a small gold lighter. Half-closed his eyes. "Young boys, they think being a pimp takes a steel cock. What it takes is a steel mind."
"They think it's the perfect job, what I do," Silk went on, unruffled. "All the free pussy in the world. What they don't know is, there's no such thing as free pussy. You pay, one way or the other."
"Why you telling me all this?"
"Outsiders, they don't understand The Life," the pimp went on as if he had not been interrupted. "They think a whore's a coldblooded cunt. Like a slot machine-you slide in the money, and they open up. You want to know the truth? To be a high-class working girl, like the kind I got, you have to believe in love. That's what they get from me. That's what I pay with. See, a real mack, he knows everything comes from here," Silk said, touching his temple in the same spot Dett had with his .45. "I talk for a living. I'm not going to do that with you. I came here to show you something. You don't want it, I'll just—"
"Something besides these trick dice?"
"Those dice are famous, man. Maybe not where you live, but every player this side of St. Louis knows them. Belong to Brutus Farley, king of the Cleveland policy game. That's where I came up, Cleveland. Back then, the whole East Side belonged to Brutus. That policy money made him too rich for anyone to touch. He had all kinds of legit businesses. Colored businesses. Barbershops, liquor stores, gas stations. Owned him some apartment buildings, too.
Word is, Brutus got his stake rolling bones; that's what he started his bank with. Those were his lucky dice, man. He always carried them with him, wherever he went."
"You're sure those are the same ones?"
"Brutus always had men around him," the pimp continued, ignoring the question. "Not collectors—you don't need muscle to collect for numbers—bodyguards, like. He had a pair of motherfuckers so ugly make a gorilla run back into the jungle, he see them. Huge boys. Carried so much iron they clanked when they walked, too.
"A few years ago, Brutus disappears. Him and his two bodyguards. For a while, some of the people under him was able to keep things together, run the bank. But they couldn't hold it. Now you still got a numbers game in Cleveland. And you still got our people working as runners. But the wops own it."
The pimp puffed lightly on his cigarette. "Nobody ever knew what happened to Brutus," he said. "Some people say he had enough money, he just went someplace else, live out the rest of his life in peace. Some say he's laying in the cut, waiting to make a comeback. But it was on the drums that he got done, and that's what most people believe."
"You think this guy, the one who snatched you, he did that?"
"Where else he get those dice, brother? You know him, right?
You said he staying at your hotel. What do you think?"
"He's … he's kind of a nice guy. Real gent."
"He was nice to me, too. Polite and everything. Kept his voice soft. But I'll tell you this, Brother Omar. You don't like what I do, but you know what it take to do it. My game, it is game. All game. You got to play people like a violin. Know what strings to stroke. And you can't play them unless you can read them. This guy, what'd you say he called himself …?"
"Yeah. I know he go by a lot of different names, but I never heard that one for him before."
"What are you talking about, man?"
"You ain't going to catch me saying his name out loud, brother. Not his real name—that's the worst kind of bad luck there is," Silk said fervently. "I never thought I'd ever see him, not with my own eyes. But I always knew he'd be a white man."
Two Trains Running © 2005 Andrew Vachss. All rights reserved.
Click here to read more excerpts.