Pimp. By Robert Beck aka Iceberg Slim. Adnotated without permission. Chapter 16 -- Away from the track.
They locked me up in central jail. At dawn a jail trusty brought a basket of bologna sandwiches down the line of cells. A moment later another trusty brought a gigantic kettle of black stinking chicory. I passed up the delicacies.
The tiny cell was too small for two men. Eight of us were in it. I was lying on the concrete floor. I was using my rolled up benny as a pillow. My lid shielded my eyes from the bright bare bulb in the corridor.
My cellmates were bums and junkies. Two of them were getting sick. They were puking all over. The bums were stinking almost as bad as the junkies. A drunk lying beside me dug his fingernails into his scalp and crotch over and over. He scratched his back against the floor. He had to be lousy. It was rough going for a pimp all right.
I thought, "If someone had told me a year ago I'd be back in a shit-house I'd have thought he was nuts. Christ! I hope nothing happens to Chris. She's the only link to the outside I can trust to get my clothes and scratch.
"I know after she calls and can't get me at the pad she'll check out all the shit-houses. It's a good thing I'm not in the federal lockup at county jail. Here she can grease a mitt and see me. I hope she makes it before the U. S. Marshal shows to move me."
At nine the turnkey came and called out my name. I went to the cell door. He looked hard at me through the bar. He twisted the cell-lock open. I stepped out into the corridor and followed him.
He took me to a break-proof glass window with a speaking hole in it. I saw Chris on the other side of it. She was crying. I couldn't blame her. I felt like crying with her. I bent down and put my mouth to the hole. She stuck an ear against it on her side.
I said, "Baby, there's nothing to cry about. You're daddy's brave bitch, remember? Now listen. I want you to give the copper at the property desk a double saw or so for the key to my pad. I want you to get my scratch outta the sleeve of my green trench coat. Rent a safe-deposit box. Then move my stuff to your hotel. The Feds are gonna take me back to Wisconsin. They call it the point of origin for the runt's beef. They'll set a bond for me there. I'll get a slick lip in Wisconsin, baby you keep checking. Get to Wisconsin a day before I do with the scratch. I'll need it for the lip and bail, understand sugar? Once I get bail, I'll get our stable back and beat this rap."
I took my jib from the hole and put my horn there.
She said, "Daddy, I'll do everything the way you say. I understand. Daddy, I'll go and get the key to your latest hideout. Where did you move? I thought you were going to wait for my call?"
It didn't register. Maybe I was cracking up under all the strain and grief. Maybe I had moved before I got busted. I raised my head and looked at her. Her eyes were questioning. I pointed my index finger at the hole. I decided to risk my theory that I hadn't moved.i
I said, "Chris, goddamnit! I haven't moved! All my stuff is still on West Ave. Now come on, girl, this is not the time for jokes from daddy's witty bitch. You knocked on the door, I wasn't there. Naturally, I couldn't be, I was down here."
She said, "Daddy, I didn't have to knock. The door was wide open. Both trunks and all the suitcases were gone. In fact the only thing left was your hair brush. I put it in my purse. Daddy, all this is too much for me. I must be losing my mind."
I stood there glaring hate at her. Her eyes were wide, staring at me.
I thought, "Poison or Sweet has stolen this Judas-bitch from me. I'm in a cross. One of them has rehearsed this bitch. She's a sonuvabitching actress. A sucker looking at that innocent look she's got would have to buy the con. I hate this bitch worse than I do the runt. If I could just get my hands around her throat. I'd love to see her tongue turned black, flopping across her chin. Well, I can't croak her through that glass wall. No matter what, I've gotta stay Iceberg, I can't let her take back a chump emotional scene to report. She and her new man are not gonna get their kicks at my expense."ii
I turned and walked away from her. I saw the turnkey at the far end of the corridor with his back to me. Good thing for me he hadn't been close enough to lock me back in the cell right away. I was twenty feet from her when it exploded in my skull.
I thought, "It's the skinny flunky! It's the skinny flunky! It's the bastard that saw me get busted! He rushed back and sprang that spring latch. I gotta go back to Chris and really play some game. If she gets hip I don't trust her she'll blow for sure. She's the only stick I got to fight with."
I turned back toward her. She was still standing there. She was crying harder than before. I walked to the glass and spoke into the hole.
I said, "Chris, a joker in the building saw me get busted. He cleaned me out.iii Baby, we've been so close. I had a crazy thought that if you'd been thereiv I wouldn't have been robbed. What the hell, sugar, I'm the bastard that kept you away. It wasn't your fault at all. Christ! I'll be glad when this is over. Give a lip here in town a half a yard or so. Have him come to county jail and bring me whatever papers are needed to sell the Hog.v Get the slip on the Hog from the property desk. It's in my wallet. We should get twenty-five hundred or so for it. Bring that scratch and all you can hump up onto Wisconsin."
They moved me to Wisconsin. Chris came to county jail there and put three-thousand dollars in my jail account.vi
Mama came to see me. She was in pieces. She thought the government was going to give me fifty years.
At my hearing, bail was set at twenty-thousand. A bondsman put up the face amount. His fee was two G's. I got the state's best criminal lip. I gave him a G retainer.
Chris and I went back to the track. I stayed out on bail for four months. I had two turnouts and three seasoned whores during that time. None stayed longer than a month.
Everybody in the street knew about that rap over my head.vii I guess the whores didn't want to fatten a frog for snakes.viii Sweet and I didn't see much of each other. I didn't feel close to him any more.ix I was a pimp on the skids. Poison was top pimp.
Every slat I got my hands on I wired to the lip. I had to. I was getting one continuance after another. Finally I went to trial. The runt and Ophelia were there. They were afraid to look at me. They gave the government a penitentiary case all right.
They grinned at each other when I got eighteen months.x Mama fainted. Chris boo-hooed. I had a good lip though. With the counts against me I could have gotten ten years. Chris went back to the track. She swore she'd stick until I got out.xi
Leavenworth was what the government called a class-A joint. It was big and escape proof. It was run by master psychologists. There was no screwxii brutality. It wasn't necessary. The invisible mental shackles were subtle but harder than the steel bars. Alcatraz was the grim trump the officials held over our heads.
It was a joint of con cliques. The most dangerous clique was the Southern cons. They hated Negroes!
I had references as a cellhouse orderly from other joints. I got a spot in a cellhouse with mostly pimps, dope dealers and stick-up men.
I was out at night until ten exchanging newspapers and magazines for the cons. I'd been in the joint about six months. I stopped in front of a cell to rap to a pimp pal. He was excited and standing gripping the bars of his cell door. He was a yellow version of Top. They called him Doll Baby.
He said, "'Berg, you told me I couldn't steal the beautiful bitch. Well, the bitch sent me a kitexiii this morning. She's transferring to the shoe shop. I already got the spot picked out where I can sock it into her. I told you that square-ass peckerwood she's got couldn't out-play me. The bitch is got four bills on the books. She's getting me a big order on commissaryxiv this week. Shit, on the street or in the joint it's all the same to pimping Doll Baby."
I had seen the beautiful bitch. He was a lanky white boy with watery blue eyes and bleached corn-silk hair. A fat red-faced Southern con was madly in love with him. The beautiful bitch would lie in the fat con's arms in the yard and pick at the pimples on his face.xv The con was feared by everyone. He was the leader of a treacherous band of Southern cons.
I said, "Doll, you better cut that bitch loose. Her old man is from Mississippi. He's a cinch to cut your heart out in that yard. He can't let a nigger steal his broad. Take my advice, pal. I like you. You've only a year to go."
The next time on the yard I saw Doll and his bitch billing and cooing on the grass. They didn't see any of the ball game. The game was over. The fat con and his band of Southern shiv men had been evil eyeing Doll's show. I was fifty yards back of Doll when it happened.
Hundreds of cons were pressed together filing from the bleachers and playing field. I saw Doll throw up his hands and scream. He disappeared. The gray tide moved on. Three screws were standing over him. He was on his back. Blood was gushing from his open mouth. Blood seeped from holes in his jacket.
He lived, but he had a bitch of a time making it. He stayed hitchlessxvi for the rest of his bit.
I was filing out to sick call one morning. A group of cons on the other side of the road was filing to work. I saw a con marching behind a dark-complexioned con raise something that glinted in the sun. It was a shiv. He was chopping away at the con. Finally the con folded dead. Screws rushed up and took the hatchet man away.
I was two months from release. I had stopped to rap to an old con forger who knew Sweet. We were shooting the breeze about stick-up men and how they stacked up in the skull department with pimps and con men. We were rapping loud. I knew the night screw was at his desk four tiers down on the ground floor.
I said, "Pops, a stick-up man is gotta be nuts. The stupid bastard maybe passes a grocery store. He sees the owner checking his till. Right away a stupid idea flashes inside his crazy skull. 'That's my scratch.' The screwy heist man walks in. Maybe the grocer is a magician or an ex-acrobat with a degree in karate, worse an ex-marine. The silly sonuvabitch doesn't realize the awful odds. He ain't got enough in his dim skull to think about the trillion human elements.xx Any one of them can put him in his grave. The suicidal sonuvabitch maybe has his back to the street with his rod in his mitt. Pops, the stick-up man is champ lunaticxxi in the underworld."
Pops agreed and I walked away down the tier. I heard a hiss from the cell next to Pops'. A new transfer was standing at his cell door. He was skinny with a rat face. I stopped. He was sneering at me. His hands were trying to crush the rolled-steel bars.
He stuttered, "You you lousy pim-pim-pimp motherfucker. You you pu-pu-pussy-eating sonuvabitch.xxii You-you ain't going to live your bit out."
I went fast to get a rundown on the nut from a stud on the tier below.
He said, "Ah, 'Berg, I hope you haven't crossed that dizzy bastard. He croaked a stud in Lewisburg. They hung fifty on him. He's a heist man. You better watch him close. He's a cinch to make the Rockxxiii or loony bin."
It was a week later just after the cellhouse filed out to the shops. The cellhouse screw had signaled "sick call." I was standing in the back of the cellhouse on the flag. I was lighting a cigarette to smoke before I started mopping and waxing the flag.
Somewhere above me an excited voice shouted, "Look out, 'Berg."
I looked up and chilled. A plummeting shadow flashed like black lightning in my eyes. I heard a whooshing whistle as it scraped gently against the cloth of my shirt at the tip of my shoulder. A dozen cymbals clashed as it grenaded against the flagstone at my side. I looked down. A steel mop wringer lay in three pieces. There was a Rorschach crater in the flagstone. Its outline was like a headshrinker's blot.
I stared at it and idly wondered what the prison head-shrinker could make of it. He was a slick joker. Months ago he had told me, "Pimps have deep mother hatred and severe guilt feelings."
I looked up. It wouldn't take a head-shrinker to figure this one. The rat-faced heist man was grinning down at me. He was on his gallery on the fourth tier near the ceiling. He had stayed for "sick call" to bomb my skull off. The crater symbol was easy. Rat-face hated pimps without guilt feelings tied in. That night I took a pack of butts to the con who had screamed out the warning to me.
The nutty bomber went to solitary. Two weeks later he tried to gut a con with a shiv made from a file. They shipped him to the Rock. I was ecstatic to see him go.
During my bit I had read the second cellhouse full of books. I had read mountains of books on psychiatry, psychology, and the psychoneuroses. I couldn't have done a smarter thing. I'd have to be my own head-shrinker when the white folks entombed me for a year in that steel casket in the future.
I got all my good time. I was released in the early spring of nineteen-forty-seven. I stopped off at Mama's for a week. Then I went back to the fast track.
I had sixty slats and the joint vine on my back. The clothes I'd bought while on bail were with Chris. Maybe her pullman porter was my size. Anyway, I wasn't going to do a "Dick Tracy"xxiv for a few used vines.
Sweet was still in the penthouse. He had blown down to only three whores. Poison had made a bad pimping blunder. He had turned out a white square and put his foot in her ass. It was the last straw for the downtown brass. They bounced him off the force. He had one whore. He bird-dogged her.xxv He took his scratch off after every trick like a Chili Pimp.
I rented a pad by the week. It was in the same slum district where the flunky had beat me for my roll and clothes. I had no flash and glamour, no pimp front. I was just another pimp down on his luck. I was starving for a whore.
In a pimp's life, yesterday means nothing. It's how you are doing today. A pimp's fame is as fleeting as an icicle under a blow-torch.xxvi The young fine whores are wild to hump for a pimp in the chips. A pimp in bad shape can't get the time of day from them. A pimp's wardrobe has to be spectacular. His wheels must be expensive and sparkling new. I had to get the gaudy tools to start pimping again.xxvii
- Frosty! [↩]
- Just when you thought he had nothing left to lose... [↩]
- Maybe he didn't expect to see a good pimp in a ratty rat trap like that.
Or maybe it's a stupid fucking idea to use cheap accomodation for value storage. Almost as stupid an idea as not taking Fay off the street to live-in, and trying to hole solo. I've never heard something this fucking dumb in my life ; but it's not much worse than breaking Phyllis' jaw because Carmen wasn't much of a whore, or staying put in a town with no support. What's this joker take himself for, Giulio Moneta, uno dei dieci latitanti piu ricercati del mondo, to hole himself up in a posh appartment overseeing the Colliseum in Rome like he doesn't give a shit because he doesn't give a shit ? He ain't no Giulio Moneta, shock an' surprise, he's nobody's nigger from the shithouse ; and come to think of it I don't think that unwritten "book" he's going by is really a skullbook. I think it's a gutbook, and I further think them guts writing it are mostly fulla shit. [↩]
- Motherfucking idiot. He just said she's his only asset, what the fuck is he going to have everything in the same bag so it can accidentally burn down in one fell swoop ?! She can't fucking be where he is, she has to be somewhere else for the exact fucking reason your left hand isn't inside your right hand, holy shit moron on wheels of 4 billion and change IQ. [↩]
- Why the fuck store rather than sell the hot car's anyone's guess ; why this misfortunate bottom bitch doesn't have her own wheels is one for the oracles, god knows she needs 'em way more than he does. Why's he never talked to Poison ever is beyond baffling.
Did this schmuck actually do anything for seven years running besides shooting up and droning on, pointlessly if incomprehensibly, at seventy or so women ? Because he doesn't seem to have much more infrastructure on the ground than he had when he first blew into town, there's not as much as a greengrocer owing him a favour, he's got no boat on lake Michigan an' no tunnel dug under the South side going back out across state lines in Indiana... he doesn't even know who his Senator is. Who is his fucking Senator ?!
Worthless dweeb, "skull game" and black hero pimps of yore. With studs like these it's little wonder Lincoln had to free the slaves, and it didn't take the first time so the Supreme Court had to free them again, and it still didn't take. It'll never fucking take, this sorta black lives couldn't possibly ever matter. [↩]
- So she "humped" five hundred dollars or thereabouts. Wouldn't you like to hear her out ? I'd like to hear her out. Tell me about the tricks, Chris. Short fat guy, lanky stooped guy, hairy greasy guy, shifty black guy, lots and lots, a coupla dozen guys at the least. In and out, glans stretching vaginal walls, meeting pearlike, lazy cervix hanging inside the folds, bouncing off it, squirting more or less towards it, six, twelve, twenty times. Another one. Twenty one. Let's go have a cuppa coffee... let's try again... walk, stop, go, I absolutely wish to fucking hear it. What's Chris thinking about, while "staring" for the third twenty in the fourth hundred ? What's going on inside her, while all that's going on inside her ?
I've no compunction whatever asking for what I need or what should be asked ; but I'd die of fucking shame if the use to which I put the fruits of those askings were anything as pitifully pointless as this guy's stock in trade. [↩]
- "Who's he ?"
"He used to be a bigshot."
"What's your relation to him ?"
"I never could figure it out."
Gangsters at least die better than pimps. [↩]
- You know ? [↩]
- And yet, the all-precious stable did scatter to the winds. Would it have been so much worse if Sweet had it, instead of some random porter ? Really ? [↩]
- This is shockingly light. The same piece of nonsense "legislation" ("transporting a female across state lines for immoral purposes", which readily included one's own girlfriend, as well as pretty much anything else) got Chuck Berry saddled with three years if memory serves -- nope, just checked, it was five -- and he wasn't even pimping. [↩]
- I'm curious now how he manages to lose her, the bottom bitch in the intro piece was called Rachel. [↩]
- Guardian. [↩]
- Inter-cell communication method, relying on strings hung outside windows from cell to cell. [↩]
- There's a system whereby convicts can buy various things on a sort of prison-run mail-order catalogue. [↩]
- Ew! [↩]
- Without a girlfriend. Well... "girlfriend", two-hole prison broads. [↩]
How, just fucking how can this reprehensible, iliterate lout evoke regret so exquisitely out of so little material at all. There's one measly line, and there's the emotion, full, rounded, resounding.
I wonder if anyone ever figured out just what a great life he and some of them seventy gals could've had, if it weren't for his bookish delusions. [↩]
- [again] [↩]
- Likely not, but then again the thing's with boys that the less they know, the better it works out. [↩]
- The "bad at math" argument. There's some substance to it, but it's really not nearly as strong as it seems to pussies (be they pimps or confidence artists), chiefly because men are like ferrets. [↩]
- What does the fellow want to believe ? "Courage = lunacy", perhaps ? [↩]
- This isn't even so far off, pimps were probably the first to eat pussy among the underworld elements. [↩]
- Alcatraz. [↩]
- Play detective.
He's not going to as much as go over there, say goodbye properly. What sort of a man is this child ?! [↩]
- Kept his eyes on her at all times. [↩]
- Sooo then... why bother ? [↩]
- O brother.
Why so fucking insecure, anyways ? The young fine whores are wild for a good story, like anyone else. [↩]