I woke up by myself. It was past one. I stretched my legs out for a bite. On the way over I took a pit stop in a bar right in the heart of the action. It stank like a son-of-a-bitch. It was a junkie joint. I sat sipping on a bottle of suds ; I couldn't trust the glasses. A cannon with a tired horse face stood up and came over. He took the vacant stool in my right. His stall came out of nowhere, and took the one on the left. The stall had a yellow fox face. Out of the corner of my eye I saw him pinning me. He snapped his fingers. I jerked my head toward him. He said, "Bruda, yo lucky than's a shit-house rat. 'S benny an' vine grabs ya? I's Dress 'em up Re-ehd. Stand up bruda s'I dig yo size. I gots a pile of 'em cra-a-aze vinnis fo' dirt che-yap."
I stood up facing him. He ran his eyes up and down me. He unbuttoned my top coat. He pulled my vine's lapels. He shoved me back toward Horseface. I stumbled, half turned, to apologize to Horseface. The cocksucker showed his choppers, got off the stool and trotted through the slammer so fast he was like a streaking blur behind me. He moved so fast, I couldn't have sworn I seen it. I figured out later what it had been. He left me behind, facing the stall. I bet I looked like a shit-house kid. "The hell got into him ?" I wondered outloud. The stall smiled crookedly at me. He straightened my tie. He said, "Slim, I gots dat blue an' dat black mo-hay. I can fit ya like Say-villy Ross o'Lowndun. You wants dat blue too? Them bite's fiddy slats fo' two" I shrugged. "Yeah, alright. Let's go see what you got." His brow telescoped like I was going to open a door and catch his Moma crapping in my hat. He started oozing toward the slammer. He said "Bruda, I don't knows ya well enoughs to trust ya. I gots to proteck ma bidnis. Be'et a bye-etch if yo went an' copped then backs later again an' beat me fo' dat who' stash? No, Slim. Cool it. I be back in twenny with them vines fo' ya. Dis here's a slat fo's gets a taste on Dress."
I shrugged. Not like I went to him and asked for anything. I quizzed the fat broad behind the bar as to where the swank joints were at. She rattled off a bunch, and gave me directions. We were a while at it, I drilled her down. When we were done rapping it musta been more than half an hour. I figured Dress 'em up Red got busted or something. My bill was eighty cents. I gave her his dollar to steal the change off of an' cop herself a Hog. As I went out the door she yelled after me asking what kinda Hog to cop ? I told her "Get a convertible" without turning around.
A gusty wind blew down the street. A junkie whore with a face like Dracula was squatting, peeing in the gutter. Her gash looked like she was just crapping out a crumb crusher when somebody came, shot it in the head, and left it there for dead. That musta' been half a year ago at the least. She grinned toothlessly into the glare of some parking car like maybe she was a starlet taking bows at a movie premiere. She stood up wide legged, holding up the bottom front of her dress with her rusty elbows to show off that mangy red rash, her long black fingers pulling that snare wide open, to stop them folk getting out of that car. As they shot by her, she hollered, "Come back here nigger! It ain't but a buck."
I thought, "For all I know this is where June's walking that ass, getting herself played for a fool and maybe stabbed in the eye one of these days. Pepper's been out of the game for a while. She knows the how, no doubt, but how is she to know what's what ? I have to find somebody to clue me in about current events." I was walking down the street figuring it all out when a big neon sign caught my eye. It read "Devil's Roost." It was one of the joints the fat broad at the hype bar told me about. Gaudy Hogs and trim Lincolns were piled bumper to bumper, like them jokers in there had so many of 'em, they'd have piled them up on top of each other if only they'd have found a way how. I started making my way toward the magic light. "The Bird", Eckstein and Sarah sent a crazy medley of soul sounds from a line-up of rib and chicken joints' loudspeakers. The whole street around there was as busy as a black anthill at rush hour. Studs and broads in sharp clothes paraded up and down the whole block. The hickory-smoked rib odors watered my mouth. I was at the point of stepping in for a fast feast. The sign said "Creole Fat's Rib Heaven." I didn't make it.
A long, stooped shadow stood in my way. He was chanting at me like a voodoo doctor. He pointed toward a storefront. Its window was blacked out with blue paint. He sang, "Shootin' 'em up inside, heavy and good. Scratch piled up like cords of wood. Geez you look lucky, Jack. Seven, eleven point right back. That's sure you, Jack. Go in fast. Come out quicker. Lady Luck is a bitch, but you can still stick 'er."
His topcoat was a threadbare green-checked antique. The tops of his shabby black shoes had criss-cross holes snipped out. His bulging corns were humps pressing through the vents. He stank like a bootlegger's garbage. There was something ghostly familiar in the banana yellow, Basset-Hound face. I said, "Jim, I'm not in the mood to whale the craps. Say, don't I know you?" His transient eyes jerked their bags. They moved over my shoulder, searching down the sidewalk for a fresh prospect. His bald head glistened like a tiny yellow lake under the sun. He cricled back to me and said, "Jack, I can't put a pistol on you. I can't force you to go inside and collect your scratch. Kid, you too young to know me. You might a heard of me. I'm Pretty Preston. I gave the whores blues in the night when I was pimping at my peak. Who're you?"
Hearing his name sparked it for me. He was driving a gleaming black La Salle, back in the day. Back then, back in those happy pressing shop days I shined his shoes and thanked him for his tips. Back then he was as sleek and handsome as a prettier, yellow Valentino. I saw his diamonds sparkle again as if they were again right there, right before my eyes. They had winked and sparkled brightly on his fingers, in his shirt cuffs, even on his shirt front. He was tops, then, back all those years ago. I thought, "Could this really be the same dandy? What had happened to him? Is this that cripple Roosevelt in five, ten years too ? If there's any justice in the world..."
I said, "Preston, I know you. I'm the kid who used to shine your stacys back on Main Street. Remember me? You sure pimped up a storm when I was a kid. What happened? How come you're steering for this two bit craps joint?" The question painted a dreamy, far-away look in his dull brown eyes. He was probably remembering his flashy pimp days from long ago. I wondered if he remembered the same as me. He sighed and put his arms around my shoulders. I walked with him through the door of the craps trap.
The raw stink of gamblers' sweat punched holes through my nose. We sat on a Howitzer-battered sofa in the almost dark front of the joint. Through the thin wood partition I could hear the tinkle of silver coins in the back. I heard the flat cackle of the bone dice laughing at the cursing shooters, all begging for a different natural. He said, "Sure, kid, I remember you. Christ, you got tall. I gotta be getting old. What's your name? Kid, I been getting funky breaks since I came to this raggedy city, musta been six-seven years ago. I'm just here steering for a pal who runs the joint. Hell, he needs me more than I need him. Believe you me, I'm gonna catch a hot number, or a wild daily double one of these days. Old Preston's name will ring again, you can take that to the bank. How many girls you got?"
I said, "They call me Iceberg, on account I guess that I'm too dumb to float, at least for the most part. I've got one, maybe, but I figure with all the whores here I'll have bookoos in maybe a month or two. I just got into town tonight. I want to put my girl to work. Give me a rundown on some streets after I dash next door for a slab of ribs. I haven't dirtied a plate since don't know when. Anything I can get you?" He took me in from sole to eyebrow and then said, "Iceberg, if you must do something, you get me a half-pint of that Old Taylor at the corner liquor store. Sure thing I'll rundown for you, but you ain't going to like my tail-end rundown at all."
It felt like a great relief to step back out into the stinking street. I stopped in the rib joint and put my order in. I saw the front of the Roost on my way to the corner. I tiptoed and peeked through the bottom of the window blind. The joint was jumping. Pimps, whores, and white men crowded round the circle bar. Some skinny joker with scald burns on his face was fronting a combo. He tried to ape the Birds phrasing and tone. His tan face had turned black. He was choking on his horn. Mixed couples danced to "Stomping at the Savoy" on a square dance floor towards the back. Silk broads itching for forbidden fruit sat in booths lining the walls. Their faces glowed in the red dimness. Most had long hair, flopping around their shoulders every time they threw their heads back. They laughed drunkenly with the black studs, working themselves into a stir.
I took my peepers back and went on to cop the bottle for Preston. That's when I saw Poison for the first time, and boy did he make a dent. He was towering in the middle of a small crowd. His high crown white hat was bobbing a foot above it. He was a nut brown giant. As I drew closer I could see his snow white teeth. His heavy lips were drawn back in a snarl. His wide shoulders jiggled. He was stomping on something. It was like maybe he was a sharply togged fire dancer or maybe a dapper grape crusher on big harvest day. I squeezed through the crowd for a ringside view. He was grunting. His labor was yanking the sweat out of him. The crowd stood tittering and excited like a Salem mob watching the execution of a witch. The witch was a little black bitch. She had the slant eyes and doll features of a Geisha girl. The breeze whipped back the bottom of his benny, showing off the giant's thigh muscles rippling, cased inside the pants leg of his two-hundred-dollar vine. Again and again he slammed his size-thirteen shoe down on the witch's belly and chest. She was out cold. Her jaw hinge was awry and red frothy bubbles bunched at the corners of her crooked mouth. At long last he scooped her from the pavement. She looked like an infant in his arms. His eyes were strangely damp. He wedged through the crowd to a purple Hog at the curb. He looked down into her unconscious face. He muttered, "Baby, why, why do you make me do you like this? Why don't you hump and stop lushing and bullshitting with the tricks ?"
Still holding her tenderly, he stooped and opened the front door of the Hog. He placed her on the front seat. He shut the door and walked around the Hog to the driver's side. He got inside and the Hog roared off into the night. The crowd was scattering. I turned to a fellow about my age. His eyes were glazed. He was sucking a stick of gangster, little jerks of his hips and elbows making like he replayed the scene in his head, move by move, to get it right. I said, "That stud would have gotten busted sure as Hell if the heat had made the scene." He stepped back and looked at me like I was fresh in town from a monastery in Tibet. He said, "You must be that square, Rip Van Winkle, that I heards about. That's Poison, and he's heat. He's vice heat. He's got nine whores. He's a pimp. That broad is one of 'em. She got drunk with a trick." I gave him a look, like maybe he's right. I said "That's nine whores including this one ?" He just looked at me. Back in Rockford I had known two kinds of farmers : those who had good crops, and those who beat the horses. I guess the gangster sucking kid wasn't from Rockford though, that's all.
I finally made it to the liquor store. The clock on the wall showed half past three. I had been at nothing at all more than two hours. I wondered how the whores were making out. I hoped better than me, that's for damn sure. I ordered the half pint. The clerk put it on the counter. I swung my topcoat away to get my hide in my hip pocket. There'd been sixty dollars in fives and tens in it when I stepped out the door, some of the drier ones. I had five C notes in a tobacco sack I kept in my shorts. That's one good thing a place like Tuskegee teaches any man worth his salt, that old tobacco sack trick. I'll tell you, going everywhere with three balls in your shorts sure beats going around with your own two balls in your hand, if you catch my drift.
My fingers touched the bottom of the pocket. The god damned hip pocket was as empty as Sunday school promises. I dug my left hand into the left pocket too, and for no reason. I was sure my hide had been on the other side. Within seconds both my sweaty hands darted in and out and explored all the pockets I had on me a half-dozen times. The clerk just stood there like he was watching a peep show. His hairy paw slid the half pint back toward him and away from foul territory. Finally he chuckled and said, "Whatsa matter buddy ? Some broad ram it into you for your poke ? Or did you leave it in your other strides?"
I was thinking, "As slick as those two bastards are, they can't miss making a million or getting croaked." The scene back in the hype joint came back to me in clear detail and full color. I saw that rattlesnake lightning again. For the first time I saw the thrill of the cop on the face of the horse. The Fox sure held my balls in the fire for Horseface. I said, "Jack, your score's your score. I think... yeah that's right, they've made a vic of me alright. Listen, you got a toilet I can use ?" He shook his head, then lifted the slat and let me in. I peeled off one of those C notes in the tiny crapper in the back of the shop, came right back out and handed it to him. He was nodding as I came out. "You had some hidden, did you then ?" I nodded back at him. "That's right." He lifted the slat one more time, and said "Figgered as much. That'll be thirty-five cents the bourbon."
That sparked it for me. Thirty-five cents by the half-pint ? I left the fat broad with a dollar for two suds where those two jokers peeled me of sixty bucks for a little dance. But fair is fair, a thing's worth just as much a sucker's willing to pay for it. A dance can go for sixty bucks just as well, a half pint for thirty-five cents while two beers go the buck... I wondered what the tricks would pay for something to wet their whistle. I looked up at him and said "Jack, you do delivery ?" He nodded, "Of course we do." I quizzed him as to what he sold the most, and ordered up a case of each. The thirty-five cent bite ballooned into sixty-eight dollars, but I said "Jack... I get no bulk discount for an order like that ?" In the end I walked into that corner shop with my hands in my pockets and five hundred sixty dollars on me, and I walked back out with a half-pint of Old Taylor in my left hand and four hundred forty-five dollars. Liquor's a curse on the good man's finances, just like they said ; but from that day to this one no scratch worth the mention's ever been where anyone'd know to look.
I hurried down the street to pick up my rib order. Old Preston was back out there bird-dogging suckers. I saw him point a jolly fat joker into the joint. He slapped the balking sucker on the rump. The vic went greased inside. He saw me and hobbled toward me. That's when I first took in his crippled walk. He grinned when I laid the bottle on him. He said, "Thanks Kid. Want the first suck?" I said, "Jack, it's all yours. Hang on, I'll duck right back and rap with you."
Preston had his bad dogs propped on a chair when I got back. I stumbled over his make-shift sandals beside the sofa. I sat down. His feet stank like terminal cancer. He said, "I guess you saw pimping Poison hanging that whore on the corner. He's number two mack man in town." Moving more to my ease away from him I burbled, "Yeh, she looked dead to me. I guess he checked her into the morgue. How does he cut the double action? Who, as strong as he is, could top him?" He tilted the bottle straight up and drained whatever was still left of it. He said, "She ain't croaked. Not by a damn sight she ain't. She'll be back out before daylight, humping her ass off. He's the top nigger vice roller in town. His pimping don't faze the white brass just so he don't kick no white ass. Poison is a nice sweet stud compared to Sweet Jones. Sweet's the top spade pimp in the whole country."
I said, "Preston, that's what I want to be. I want my name to ring like that. I want to be slick enough to handle a hundred whores. Can you pull my coat so I can cut into Sweet and get down right and really do the thing ?" In the dank darkness I saw his yellow jaw pop loose. His hound face was twisting sideways in quizzical amazement. His lip jig-sawed like maybe I had asked him to let me knock him up. He starched like a corpse on the sofa. Then he said, "Kid, you bang a whole cap of smack or something? Sweet's crazy as a whole flock of loons. Your bell ain't never gonna clang that loud, lest you go crazy too. He's killed four studs. He ain't human. He's got every nigger in town scared shitless. His whores call him Mr. Jones. He hates young punks. I can't cut you into him. I wouldn't if I could, kid. I like you. You're good looking. You conned me that you're smart. I am going to give you some advice. Take it or leave it. I came to this town years ago. I was so pretty just my ass would have made you a Sunday face. I brought five whores with me. I had been one hell of a pimp back in the sticks. I was only twenty-eight when I got here. Just like you, I had to cut into Sweet. I thought it'd be easy for me, too. I was yellow, and pretty, but first of all I was me. What beats that ? I had three beautiful white whores in my stable that every white stud ran into them wanted to make a wife out of. I had a coupla black bitches could take a hundred pricks in them the same one night, and then get up and ask for more. I didn't know Sweet hated yellow niggers as much as white men. He grinned that gold-toothed smile at me for a year. He conned me that he loved me. He was a hype even then. He started to rib me, called me a square. I tried so hard to be like him I was a cinch to hook on H. My habit screwed my mind up. All I wanted to do anymore was bang H and coast. Like a real pal he kept my stable humping and my stash supplied. At first his angle was Uncle Sweet to my whores. In six weeks he was giving everyone orders. He tore my image down before my whores. He copped my stable nice and sweet. One morning, I was puking sick. Sweet was torturing me. He hadn't brought me my stuff in twenty-four hours. One minute I was cold as ice, wrapped in three blankets, then red hot, crawling naked on the floor, nailing my body bloody. That's when he came in. He stood over me flashing that gold in his jib. He said, 'Easy now, you pretty yellow bastard. There's been a panic. Until this morning I couldn't cop any stuff. I copped you a sixteenth in Spic town. You know I gotta love your stinking junkie ass to stick my neck out like that.' Then he looked me up and down. 'Ain't that a bitch, I just noticed when you sick you almost black as me. I wish that bastard white father of yours could see you down there on your knees begging this black nigger to stop your misery.'
Sweet held the tiny cellophane pack out to me. I was too weak to take it. I said, 'Please Sweet, cook it for me and load my outfit. It's inside the candy-striped tie in the closet. Sweet if you don't hurry, I'm sure to croak.' I was one big ache and cramp all over. He walked slowly to the closet. He fumbled past the striped tie on the rack. He was getting his kicks making the yellow nigger suffer. I screamed, 'Sweet you had your mitt on the right one. It's there! Right there!' Sweet finally got the spike out of the tie lining. I was too weak to shoot the H when he got it cooked. I held my arm flat on the carpet. My eyes begged him to tie me up and bang me. He pulled my belt from my trousers on a chair. He tightened the belt around my arm above the elbow. I said 'Sweet, why you do that for. You know I ain't got no veins left in my arms, man.' He stood there just looking at me. 'Where'd you want me to stick this into, your ass ?' I was too weak to speak anymore, I just bucked and kicked with my leg. I lay there freezing to death waiting for the black-ass nigger to rope my leg and stab the needle into a vein. The glass tube turned red. I felt the smack slug the sickness and pain out of me."
Preston stopped for breath. Bubbles of sweat popped out on his bald head. I guess he really relived Sweet's cross while running it down. I fished my handkerchief out and blew my nose. My eyes were tearing up from all the chlorine gas piling up in that joint. Those dice the house was using had a Ph.D. Every ten minutes a chump would shuffle from the rear, the same tapped out look on his face, like they were on assembly line. I said, "Christ, Sweet's slick and cold blooded. What happened after that?"
Preston said, "That shot took the fever and pain away. I wasn't ready to go a fast fifteen with Joe Louis or anything like that, but as bad as I was I felt better. Sweet stood in the middle of the floor watching me. My legs were weak when I finally stood up. I stood there naked. I said, ‘Sweet, I know you gone stolen my stable. I know I was a prize sucker to go for you. I demand that you lay a grand or so on me. I got to kick this habit you conned me into. I won't give you any headache. You got to loan me that G.' Sweet just stood there like a black Buddha for a long moment. I thought he was going to put his foot in my ass like I was a whore. He grinned. He pulled my robe from the foot of the bed. He draped it around my shoulders. Then he said, ‘Sweetheart, I ain't stole no whores. Them whores woulda have blew to the wind if it don't be for me. You got me, I'm just like your whore. Wouldn't you rather I had them whores than some bastard you couldn't cop a favor from? Course I'm going to give you the grand. I'm even going to give you back that buck-toothed yellow whore you had. I want you to straighten up. Sweetheart, I love you.' I said, Sweet when do I get the grand? I got to know it's coming at a certain time.' Sweet said, ‘Look sweetheart, you get it no later than tomorrow morning. I'll bring the buck-toothed bitch with me. Today before noon I'll send you another piece, I have some promised five or six places, something'll come up. You got no reason to sweat. Sweet's in your corner, Sweetheart.' He chucked me under the chin and walked out. A runner came with a quarter piece at eleven o'clock. I was beginning to think Sweet was only half rat. At noon two rollers broke the door down. I was coasting. I was draped in my P.J.'s. They found the H and booked me for possession with intent. I got a fin. I kicked the habit cold turkey in city jail. I did three years, nine months in the state joint. I left my hair, teeth, and looks behind me in that joint. I only walked out half. A con ran a shiv into my plumbing just like that, one day. I ain't done nothing to him ever. I didn't even know him. That's why I limp and pee out of this tube in my side. I ain't had a whore since."
Preston choked up. He said, "Kid, you still want to try this track, and cut into Sweet?" I turned my face from him. He was mopping his tears away with his sleeve. I was sure a lost, stupid punk, because even after a rundown like that, I was still itching to take my crack at the fast track. All I could think was "Boy this Preston chump's dumb. He's worse than a square broad. He ain't got enough brains on him to make a pickaninny of five years old. If he climbed himself that high as I saw him be just on that pea brain in his box, this pimping game must be the softest thing there is, right after being a chicken on a chicken farm." What's worse, Preston's rundown only boosted my desire to meet that slick, icy operator Sweet. I thought, "Sweet hates yellow and white. Mama's black, my daddy was black too. The runt is black, June is black, Pepper he don't have to see, though if he's been at the top for so long odds are he knows her and look he somehow didn't croak her, or her old man. He doesn't want a black whore anyhow. I've got nothing he wants. He does though. I have to find him and pick his brain." To Preston though I said, "To hell with the Sweet cut-in. I'm not bats. But still I've got to make a buck, Preston. I've got to eat now and again. The bitch's got to eat too. It's true, man, you sure got the hurt put to you. I feel for you. I'd say you are overdue for a break. I tell you if I win the lottery somewhere I'll drop a big crumb of it on you. Now tell me the best spot to down my package."
He said, "You gotta get your head bumped, huh? What kind of package you got?" I hesitated. Which one to put out ? I said, "She's black, turned fifteen, cute, stacked, goes three way." He stiffened. "Ice, babe, the heat catch up to you with that, you're croaked. They'll drop a double fin on you like for a murder." I laughed and asked him when's that last happened ? He didn't catch my drift. I asked him again, how many whores, dancers, singers and whatall ain't eighteen, hell not even sixteen ? He shook his head. I said "She'll pass for eighteen well enough." He looked at me like I was trying to trade silver for flour by equal weight. "You're talking out your ass, I know you are. No man has a package like that puts it down on the street. No man dumb enough to even try that has any chance in Hell to cop a package like that." I blushed. He laid into me, "You're bullshitting, aintcha. You ain't got no whore at all." I blushed some more. "Preston, man, I... I just wanted to know for when I cop her. I think I might, you know ?" He laughed at me, waving his hands. "You put her down on a street like this, crawling with fast, whore-hungry pimps that know the game, you might as well give her up to them. They got some fancy con to lay on a fine young whore. There's a dozen strong jasper whores on this stem, they might snap her up from your hand first. They pimping tough as studs, that's fo' damn sure. Either way she won't make a walking hour, and all the better for you because if she did the rollers'd have their boots so far up your ass, you'd think yourself a pretzel." I nodded. "Alright, man. That's good to know." He shook his head, like I was a snowball asking for directions towards Hell. He said "If your game ain't tight, you'll blow your girl fast. What kind of wheels you got?" I told him I got no wheels yet. He asked how come, trying to not laugh. I said "'Cause I don't know how to drive, that's why." He lost it. He started laughing uncontrollably. It gave him the fits. He fell off the chair, and took to rolling his ass limply on the ground. I thought he had flipped his cork. He died laughing for a full minute. The tears were rolling down his cheeks when he stopped.
He said, "Sorry man, for laughing. Thanks for the drink. You ain't a pimp. You ain't ever gonna be one till you figure out there ain't no such thing as a whore held tight, or a pimp with no wheels. What do you think, that any whore can love a pimp? You ain't no pimp, and that little bitch got your nose wide open ain't no whore. These slick niggers'll steal that young bitch as soon as you try down her. The bartenders and bell hops on this fast track are more pimp than the best of the best in Rockford. You ain't got no front. You ain't got no flash. Around here, even some of these bootblacks got Hogs. You'll get that young bitch dazzled out from under you in all of three seconds. Take old Preston's advice, get out of Chi and be a good pimp in a chump town instead. Go to the West Coast, they're dumber than a flock of geese out there. A punch drunk old boxer or even a senator could make an honest living in California. Believe me, you ain't ready for this one." He stopped rapping. He sat there just looking at me like I should bolt out the door and head for Suckerville, Oregon. He sure thought he had spooked me. I thought, "What did this crippled flunky think I came here for? I knew I was slow when I came in." I didn't intend to stay that way, though. I sure wasn't getting any faster rapping with him. This poor cry baby had let Sweet's cross destroy him. I thought to myself, "Unlike Preston, I got lots of heart. I'm not a pussy. I believe each of my whores loves me, in her freak way. I believe I got 'em, each and every one of 'em. If I'm wrong, and I blow one, so what. I won't give up no matter what happens. If I go stone blind, I'm still going to pimp. If my props get cut off I'll wheel myself on a wagon looking for a whore. I'm going to pimp or die. I'm not going to be a flunky in this white man's world. You can't convince me I can't pimp, now or here or anywhere, any time. I know I can get my share of pussy to peddle. I'm going to get hip to what I don't know. I'm not afraid of the cops, or Sweet, or god almighty. I'm going to cut into all of them, and pick their brains. I'll do it like a buzzard if I have to, but it'll be done."
A heavy-set Greek with a carny face came in the door. Preston dummied up. He walked by us then went through the small door in the partition. Preston started to put his shoes on. He looked nervous. I asked, "Who's the big stud? Is he heat?" He said, "Oh, he's the owner of the joint come to check the bankroll and cut box." I laid into him a little. "Then you and your pal are flunkies for the Greek?" Before he could answer the Greek came out. Preston was slipping into his topcoat. The Greek paused and glared at him. He bellowed, "I ain't payin' you a fin a night to sit on your keister. I can get my pick of a hundred boys to jump for that fin and the cot in the back. You're gonna be out there farming icicles on your ass if you don't get on the ball. Get out on the midway and dump some suckers into the joint." Preston jumped up. "Yes, Sir, Mr. Nick, but I wasn't sitting there but a minute before you showed. You know nobody can pull a mark better than me."
I avoided Preston's eyes when we got on the sidewalk. I knew what I'd see there. I felt sorry for him. I pulled a sawbuck from my pocket. I folded it and dropped it into his ragged coat pocket. He took it out and put it in his short pocket. He said, "Thanks, Iceberg. Boy, maybe I was wrong about you. Maybe you got the guts for the fast track. You'll need all you got. Good luck, kid."