After parting company with Pretty Dumb Preston I made for the Roost. An old church tower struck six. I thought to myself "Nice going so far, Iceberg. By three you'd done nothing for two hours, but by six you put in the ground along with three more hours a good hundred-plus slats to keep 'em company. Those two bitches humping their asses off of them out there in who knows what sewer and getting their ears cut off of them by these genuine injuns around here ain't got a prayer in hell to keep up with that rate between the two of 'em. That's progress for ya, and getting better by the minute. Let's see if you can do yourself better before midnight. Maybe get your head cut off, or maybe some new holes for your dumbass nigger hide. Won't that be tops!" But really, I was gonna keep my mind like a sponge, and use my eyes and ears like suction cups. I had to find out everything about crosses and whores. I had to find out all the secrets of pimping, and fast. I didn't want to be a half-ass giggolo lover like the white pimps. What I wanted was to control the whole whore, like at the cannery : everything up to and including the squeal. I wanted to be the boss of her life up to and including her thoughts inside her skull. I had to make it like that Lincoln never freed no bitch slaves.
The Roost was really jumping now. I copped the one open stool at the middle of the bar. A Mexican broad in a red satin cocktail dress brought me a pink Planters Punch. The combo was speed riffing "Tea For Two." Through the barlength mirror I could see an ugly nigger stud playing stink finger with an angel-faced white broad in a booth behind me. He was playing pocket pool with his other hand. The broad had her eyes closed. Her rhinestone tiara looked like a phony halo. She was biting her bottom lip like maybe she was taking a pussy-first heavenly trip right there in the booth. My ear cups started sucking. The dapper joker on my right was whining to the stud on the other side of him. "I want my three bills back. That pretty bitch ain't turned three tricks since you sold her to me. That bitch is dying. She's falling apart. She can't walk the street." The seller wasn't buying. He said "Jack, I sold you the package as is. I ain't responsible for divine acts." The buyer came back with "Divine my ass. You knew that dog was rotten inside and needed a grand's worth of carving. Give me a yard and a half and take the bitch back." The seller said, "You a stick-up man? The bitch was whole when I sold her. Maybe you trying to play con on me. Maybe you stomped on the package. Maybe you put the bitch in bad shape. I got more bitches than I know what to do with, that's why I sold the one to you. I ain't buying her back if you only wanted a slat for her, not anymore than you can sell liquor right back to the bar." The buyer shook his head half-resigned, and feeling plenty sorry for himself, too. "Ain't this a bitch? I went for the okee doke. I'm out three bills for a black dog with a foot in the grave."
The seller said, "Jack, I'm pimping on my own. I ain't got no time to pimp on yours. But just to get you off my ass, I'm going to rundown for you. There's a whore house upstate with all Spic trade. They don't spend but a fin, but there's a zillion of 'em. On weekends they line up on the sidewalk. All you gotta do is cop some pills. Patch the bitch up and take her up there. There ain't no walking up there. She can flat back, so long as she keeps breathing you'll get some scratch. Jack, she may even last long enough so you can invest the scratch to overhaul her, and still show a profit. The bitch is black and pretty. She ain't got much mileage on her. Them Spics are wild for black broads. Jim, I been running down the out for you. If you go for it call me at noon. In the meantime I'll contact the joint. Me and the house broad are tight. It's a cinch you can place your grief tomorrow." The buyer finally saw the light. He went "Jack, you know I deserve some cooperation. I'll try anything to break even on that dog. I'll call you at noon. I ain't salty with you now. Let's split and make the scene at the lair. I'll pop for a coupla rounds." The buyer stood up. He knocked his knuckles against the log. The cute Mexican broad came toward him to check him out. She stood before him. She was smiling.
The seller drained his glass and stood. He leaned across the log staring into her bosom. I was digging the action from that trap door in the corner of my eye. She said, "Both tabs come to twelve dollars. Yours is seven. Your friend's is five." The buyer said, "I've got 'em both. Here's a double saw. Keep the change Miss Bet I Get You. Say girl, was that bum your father who brought you in when you started to work here last night? Ain't you afraid I'll salt and pepper you and eat you raw?" She said, "No, not my father, my husband. He's no bum. He had his work clothes on. People are not good to eat. It's not nice to eat people. Thanks for the tip. Come back soon." The buyer hurled his beak toward the ceiling and laughed. Flakes of grayish white dust clung to the hairs in his nostrils. He had snorted a good skull load of cheap horse, cheap enough maybe to be more hearse than horse. Her mouth was still smiling, but her big black eyes were slitting in Latin fury. She turned away toward the register. She punched it. She came back. She stood staring at the buyer. She had a fin and three slats in her hand. She was crushing them into a missile. In the mirror I saw the seller shaking his head as he walked out the door. All the while all I could think was "If even this joker has a twenty to spare..." Preston had pushed hard on how many slick pimps ran around these fast tracks here, and how mindbending slick they were, but somehow I had yet to see one. Between the cop pimp croaking his own whore like some god-damned maniac, this smooth operator burning through the Cs and Preston himself, the fast track looked more and more like the State Home For Special Children.
The buyer looked at the Mexican broad like the eight slats had made her his indentured slave. The four-carat stone on his left hand flashed like neon as he caressed his fly. He said, "If that tramp was your man I'm stealing you. Shit, I should kidnap you right now. You ain't got no business juggling suds. Bitch, you got a mint between your big hairy legs. I'm gonna show you how to make a grand a week. I ain't never wanted nothing and didn't get it. Bitch, I'm gonna get you. I'll be back at four to pick you up." Just as I was thinking "Well, maybe he didn't get his three hundred slats back that he wanted, but I bet he gets what he's wanting now, and soon enough" a massive black bulk with a face like a rabid bulldog snuck into the scene. Somehow he looked just like the joint bouncer. He stood himself several feet behind the buyer, grinning like a starved croc shown a trainload of cows. He was hunching his shoulders. The Mexican broad was shaking. She fired the missile. It struck the buyer on the tip of his beak. I guess she musta had some practice doing that. The wizard of words threw his hands across his face. She hissed, "That's some of the dumbest shit I ever heard, and I hear a lot of dumb shit around here. Take your life savings and blow, ugly." The bouncer streaked toward the buyer like a human torpedo, although I don't think they make torpedoes twice the size of the boat they get sent after. He vised the buyer's rear end through the tail split in his topcoat and the scrawny neck with his other, giant paw. The buyer was airborne almost. The tips of his shoes did a tap dance against the floor on his way to and through the door. The joint was silent. The buyer swiveled his head back toward the angry tamale. Just before he skidded toward the sidewalk he screamed, "You square-ass greasy chili-gut bitch. I'm gonna triple-cross you." A lanky stud stood up from a booth and yelled "Let us pray, brother." The joint blew up in peals of laughter. The combo started to riff "Mood Indigo" and the joint got back on jump time.
I thought about the runt. The Mexican broad had her hands on her hips. She was looking at me. She wanted me to say the buyer was a down and out nogood bastard. She didn't know I was up as a pledge in his club, and I didn't want to clue her. I put a deuce on the log and walked out. It was about ten at night. Preston had been right about one thing. The little black whore Poison had crumpled was standing, on her own feet somehow, in front of the liquor store. She hit on me. That terrible beating she took sure hadn't done much to cure her bad habit. She laid right into me "Hey Slim! Give me ten and sock it in. I won't put the rush on you, handsome. Cop a jug and let's go freak off." Though I had a quick vision of Poison's thirteens giving me a butt ache, I couldn't help myself. "If I cop a jug you come with me where I'm going ?" She nodded her head while she said "Anywhere, sugar." I copped a quart of cheap bourbon and flagged a cab. I took her to an old run down theatre twenty blocks away. We sat in the dark, toward the middle of the hall. There was almost nobody there. I handed her the bottle and said "Babe, I ain't got no ten and I ain't gonna sock it in ya. I just want to rap." She looked at me. I made like I was a lonely heart, same lame June trip I laid on Mama. I could tell she ain't buying it any, but a whore's no roller. Makes no difference to her if your story checks out or not. Just as long's you got one's good enough for her. After a few hearthy swigs she reached for my fly. She had a soft touch alright. I stopped her, told her I ain't got no ten or nothing, sorry. She said "Don't worry handsome. I ain't gonna want nothin'."
She knew a lot more than Preston, that's for damn sure. She gave me the rundown of the whole town. She knew all the cops in twelve precincts by name, when they started, what they did, everything. She was like the national library of whoring. She knew all the pimps, she knew all the whores. She knew there's a coupla new girls out on the street today working together, one young the other old. She didn't know their names but she knew the old one was a whore back East and squared with the policy wheel guy. She musta ran off. There was a burglary at their house, maybe the guy kicked her out. The young one had been out before, showed up maybe a week or so ago. She's got a bullshit pimp, if she's got a pimp at all. The rollers noticed her, it's a wonder if she makes it a few days more before getting the can. They'll probably lock her up in a reformatory. She's eighteen like I don't have another ten, she said. I chuckled in the dark. She chuckled with me. As she moved past the median through the bottle she started talking more about herself. She was come to town as the singer with a small band. She'd run away from home with the tenor sax. It broke up, so she joined another. One day while singing at a private party a guest shoved her in a closet and made a woman out of her. She hadn't given it up to the tenor. She was saving herself up for marriage. She was a twisted broad alright. The bill that joker dropped on her bloodied dress went further than the seventeen bucks that was her share of their fee. Even figuring five dollars for the dress. She went to more and more parties, less and less to sing. She played the flute more and more instead. Then there was a beef, but she got it suspended. Then there was another beef. Poison walked in and suspended it for her, and that was it for her : if she walked off of him, she'd get a fin. She didn't like him any, though it was obvious enough from her story his nose was well open for her. She didn't see a way out for herself, so she drank. I sounded her for ways to break up that Poison joker. She came up empty. He was too tight, too well connected. He had been at it for more than five years, and put some respectable roots down. She fell to snoozing by the time she had put most of that quart away. Just a few sips left on the bottom, and not her kinda sips anyway. I split before they rolled the credits. I don't even know what they put on.
Years later I met an old con philosopher, an old Drag man with his bit drawing short. He laid on me the old fighting fire with fire trip. He'd say, "Always remember, whether you be sucker or hustler in the world out there, you've got that vital edge if you can iron-clad your feelings." Then he'd go down his favourite path from somewhere back to nowhere. He'd say "I picture the human mind as a movie screen. If you're a dopey sucker, you'll just sit and watch all kinds of mindwrecking, damn fool movies on that screen. But Sonny, there ain't no reason 'cept for a stupid one for anyone to play on that screen anything that will worry him or dull that vital edge. Your daddy's name might not be Shubert, but you still own one stage in the world. You're the one boss of it, and that whole show going on in your our mind. You're even the one writes the script each night. So always write positive, dynamic scripts and show only the best movies for you on that screen whether you are pimp or priest." I told him, "Humphrey my man", that was his name, stupid whitey names like they got, "I ain't even known what they put on." He died the day after that. I never told him I was thinking of that little witch bitch asleep holding the bottle up those years ago. I wouldn't have told him if he lived out to be my age, anyway.
I wandered the streets a long while after that. Walked with my thoughts. At first I had thought there's others out there. I figured there's this book, and some got it. Read it, too. I figured there'd be cruel players who go by the book. When I went to Tuskegee I thought so sure enough. I was so sure of it I didn't even think about it, like a given that there's nothing there to think about. Those jokers sure as sugar had no clue. They was no better than any other, only they didn't think so. But deep down weren't too sure of it, either. They showed each other how to not be sure of it all day long, and that was it. It wasn't any learning, just worrying and wondering and fret. Just like the bitches do. They hadn't a leg up on Preston like he had no leg up on them. Only, they didn't think so. But they all had their yes Mr. Nick sir. And if they somehow didn't for five minutes, they went wild looking for him. I thought to myself "I bet you I can make that Poison be my bitch. I bet you I can make all of them. Every last one of them. This fast track ain't no faster than that fast track. No better, either. No different, only thing making it fast is the fret and that new wardrobe in your trunk like you're going somewhere new. There's ain't somewhere new to go."
By the time I got back to my whores it must've been after three. I twisted my key in the lock and stepped inside. June was wide-eyed. She leaped from the bed. Pepper had dozed off but she sat up too. They had on red baby-doll pajamas, both of them, see through but for the fringe. June leaped to the door and squeezed herself hard against me. She acted like I had been gone a year. She yelped, "Oh Daddy, I am so glad you're back. I was worried like hell. Where have you been? Do you love me as much as I love you? Did you miss me? I'd die if anything ever happens to you." I gritted my teeth. Her pretty love con had resurrected sad old scenes. I saw poor black Henry. He was on his knees blubbering his love for Mama. I saw his pitiful eyes begging Mama not to break his heart. I saw Mama kicking herself free of his clutching arms. I saw that terrible look of scorn and triumph on Mama's face. I thought about the worms that had a bite of his flesh, in his cool, lonely grave.
I sat my ass down on the warm bed between 'em. I said to June "You didn't miss me that much while I was turning this whore out". She cried a little. "Yes I did, Daddy. Yes I did. Every night," and she broke down. I nodded to Pepper. "What's your story, bitch ?" She pointed to a pile like a bale o' hay. It was all slats alright, but not a bill among them. Not a fifty either, I don't think. Just fins and bones and now again a saw. There was no way to count all that without taking a bath in it. "How much you got ?" Pepper pointed at June. "This crazy bitch's at two-forty-five. I'm at two-forty. She's had me by a fin." She shook her head. "That's forty-four tricks between the two of us since noon. Daddy, you want yo Mama dead ?" I shook my head. "That ain't so much. The night I turned old Crystal out I made that much off her, and it was only three hours. What you been doin' all day ?" Pepper grabbed her own hair. She asked me what am I talking about ? I ran it down for them, how I'd turned Phyllis out. Pepper was holding her head like from bursting. "That was both of you working, and with a car ? You made two-forty-five off of her, where was your end ?" I lifted my right hand at her, like to give her a deafening slap. She just looked at me. I said "Bitch, I made my end from her titties. Then I made her end from her ass." June leaned over and put her cheek in my extended palm. She looked up at me. "Daddy, don't beat her. She's good." I said "O yeah ?" and she broke down again. "Please Daddy, don't beat her. I love her." I chuckled. "She likes being beaten, baby. She's a freak for it. Ain't that right Pepper ?" She looked at me, those smoldering snake eyes of hers defeated. "You want us back on the track ?" I laughed.
"No bitch. I don't want you back on that track. I want you back on a better track." They were both taking me in, peepers the size of saucers. "You worked it hard tonight. That's good. There ain't no other way. But now you gotta start working it smart." Then I turned to Pepper. "Yo wrinkly old ass brought this bitch down. You know a whole week she worked by herself she made twenny-eight ? That's just by herself, it comes to more than you two got together all day long." That cut her down. She turned to a wailing ball of tears, snot an' despair right there in the bed. I kept after her. "I got you in to teach my whore and to lift her up. If I wanted her cut down, I coulda done it myself, cut a leg offa her or something. Though natural like this bitch is, that might've not even done it, she go on the track with two legs under her, bring in four hundred. She go with one leg bring in five." Pepper was beating the sheets down with her pretty fist, the size of a small plum. June had her hand over her waist, facing me and tearing up. "Please Daddy. We worked it so hard. She taught me so many things." I slapped her cheek soft and light three-four times. "I know she did, sugar butt. Thing is, the tricks liked you better when you didn't know. They wanna trick with their little daughter they left abed at home, not with their used up whore of a wife. From now on, whatever you know, you don't let on any of it. You getting me ?" Her mouth was open. I don't think anyone ever told her before a woman's better off not knowing, and if she knows not letting on. Whoring's an education for the young girl, that's for damn straight.
I grabbed Pepper by her hair and pulled her face up. "Why you so useless, you good for nothing bitch ?" She had her hands over her face, then swallowed hard, bit down and pushed them away, together, right in front of me. Like a prayer, she opened herself up for me. Opened herself up for the stomping. She didn't want to, with every strand screaming in her body she didn't want to. She promised herself she'd never let herself fall down in here again. Yet there she was, and there she opened herself up for it. Her eyes closed, she mouthed silently "Please, Daddy." I shifted my weight like I was about to crack the living daylights out of her, between my left holding her hair in a vise grip and my right flying in all the way from Detroit. She mouthed "I love you". I kissed her. She opened her eyes with a start, awash in tears. I laughed at her. "That remind you of anything, bitch ?" She fell to groveling, and kissing my feet. I sure had her alright. In my mind I thanked all those bullshit pimps she had, for all the work they did. They didn't get paid for it the half that I was going to get, that's sure as sugar in the bank.
I stretched out between them two and was asleep in all of two minutes.