I hailed a cab two blocks down from Glass Top's. The short walk had licked me clean. I came to some by the time we made my roost. The joint sure looked shabby after spending time at Top's fine establishment. As I staggered into the lobby, Harry was on the phone. "He's right here Ma'am" he chirped, then handed me the phone. It was Pepper checking in. She said to me "Daddy... Big Daddy wants to keep Daphne. You mind ?" I sat my ass down on the joker's desk. I really needed the rest. I growled in the receiver "Naw, bitch. Let him have her, he can wash his head with her." Pepper didn't exactly sigh her relief, but I could hear it across the wire just the same. She whispered "In that case Daddy... Ima be back there in two shakes of a lamb's tail." She was, too. I barely had time to say "Well Henry... how you keepin' up these days my man ?" and for ol' Homer to burble something I don't remember back at me that she was right there, shooting through them doors. She carried me upstairs and clued me in.
She told me she got on the phone to get the dollies play dates for the afternoon. Some jokers she knew had a small blind poker game out in the swank district they wanted a whore for. They didn't want all three of them, and she figured June's a perfect fit anyway just by herself. She said to me "Oh Daddy... I didn't want to bring her down again, that's all" with a twinkle in her eye. She couldn't find anything that'd work well for Daphne and her together, and she wasn't going to go by herself or put Daphne down by herself, so she figured the best thing'd be to drop in on her old man, work the square bitch over and learn her some whoring there. The way she figured it she'd drop Daphne off there, then take June to her game twelve blocks away, then go back and spend the night at her old pad until the time rolled around to pick up the other whore and head back. The way it played out, Frank and Daphne hit it so well together, she figured that prissy bitch is mostly worthless anyway. Why not throw a rock where there's two birds already ? I patted her sweet ass and ran her down. I said "You mangy old whore, here's what you're worth : I was just shooting the breeze with a pimp fresh off the top shelf. He's making five grand in three days, working a half-dozen whores or more raw over at the Franklin Arms." She said "You mean Glass Top ?" I nodded at her. "Well done, bitch. There's a prize at the end waiting for you. Now get this : he's paying a bill for grease each night. Per girl." Pepper giggled. "You don't know this, but that's what I offered the pigs after copping June, back before we met : a bill a block. By the week, for the whole precinct. Comes to seventy-six a week. They wouldn't deal, let that aside. Besides cutting me in you cut the price, too. Frank's five grand tops' a thirty-five percent discount. Ain't that right ?" She giggled more and she nodded. "Yeah, that's right." I grabbed her by the hair again with my left mitt, and reached my right far out. "That's right, you worthless bitch. He's paying 30% to some bellhop on top of a bill to the girl each night. I got a 35% discount off a bill a block each week, all because of your dumb ass. What do you deserve for that, bitch ? What's fair ? Huh ?"
Her eyes rolled far inside her head. "Beat me up, Daddy. Beat my ass. Hurt your poor Pepper bad." I brought my hand in slow and caressed her face. "I ain't gonna hurt you that way, baby. I love you, don't you know that ?" She purred. "Hurt my ass with your big thick rod, Daddy. Please Daddy, put it in me where it hurts the worst. I'm so hot for you, Christ! Make Mama bleed for you. Please Daddy! Hurt your old dog down there lovey dovey Daddy baby!" She was going crazy. She was driving me crazy right along with her. My swipe was like a baseball bat. When I was done with her she walked like a cowboy after six days of posse. I sat up and counted twenty-one hundred out of Frank's pile. I said to her "I'm not done punishing you by a damn sight. Get this : you're going to Glass Top's. You know where he pads at ?" She knew alright, once I said six west of the Roost she knew the rest. "You give him this scratch. You get two crumbs of girl and six cans of reefer. You come straight back." Her eyes opened wide. "Did you have a taste ?" she asked me. I shook my head. "I've never had anything like he's got. I don't know what pie crust pre-mix you've been having me snort, but Glass Top's girl can raise the dead." She shook her head. "Frank's always too cheap to buy his stuff." I stopped. "Say, what ?" She shook her hand, like "Don't ask." I couldn't figure it at all, the same guy that'd drop fifty on a kid he just met wouldn't drop a coupla on some real crack ?!
I said to her "Now Pep, you ready for your punishment ?" She put her smoky peepers on me. "You're worth a million bucks before counting in the clothes. That girl's two grand. I ain't gonna let two grand worth of girl kill a million bucks worth of whore for me." She muttered, "Good grief!" I went on. "You ain't gonna pig out. You're gonna have a little now and again. Not every day. Not all the time. Now and again. Not a lot. Not just a little more. A little bit, that's all. I'm buying it to store it, not to snort it. You got that ?" I could tell there was nothing I could've said that'd have put the hurt more on her. I walked up to her and kicked her lightly in the shin. She crumpled on the floor. I put my stomper on her throat, not pushing down any, just resting there. I said "Can I trust you to do that or do you have to ask permission every time before you touch the stuff ?" She was crying. After all this time together, after all the game we'd played, I finally had her broken down. She whispered "You'd better make me ask you for permission, Daddy." I took my stomper off her throat. I said "Alright, go cop and I'll cut you a line. You've earned that much you beautiful black bitch." She touched up her make-up and flew out of there.
Half hour later she was back. The broom closet upstairs that we were using for hot storage was starting to get full. Between all the liquor, enough fine cocaine to make somebody's tombstone in plaster of it, cans and cans of reefer and all the stashes of scratch it was starting to look more and more like the evidence room downtown. She said "He threw in a bag of yellows. Did you tell him he can sock into me ?" I nodded. "He's wanted to for as long as I known him, did you know that ? When he saw me at the door he got excited like I'd run away to him. Then when he saw the dough he got wise. He told me you said you'll send a whore, and he could lay her if he wants to. He said he didn't get the joke then, but he gets it now. I think he thought you're showing me off, to pull his chain." I smiled at her. "What did you do ?" Pepper caressed my hair and went on "I told him if you said so I'm his to lay. I leaned into him on his couch, but he couldn't do anything. He was too loaded up I think." I started laughing like a maniac. Pepper looked at me like maybe my cork's blown. I said to her "When we were there, he figured me for some kid, offered up Radell, if you know her. But then he got a call and sent her off to work the Arms. He said to me sorry kid, that I've missed my chance. So now..." Pepper was laughing too. "Poor guy", she said. "He's always missed on all of his." Then she looked up at me serious. "You gotta be careful mixing yellows with C, Daddy. The yellows make you sleep, they're good to catch some doss if you bang lots of C. They're bad though because enough of them can kill you dead. They make it so you forget to breathe. They're opposite one another, too, so if you're on C you don't feel the yellow. But the bitch of it is, cocaine fades faster than they do. It's like pulling the rug from under you. If you go to bed with a load of yellow in you that's too much to live and enough C to make so you can't feel it, by the time the C's gone you've bought a one ticket out of here. It'll take you with it. And don't take them with liquor, neither."
Then the runt came in, with a new face in tow. That new bitch rolled her lustrous eyes at me. Her sly hot smile made a flat statement, "Please, try me out for size." The runt says "This is Chris" and got herself out of her glove. Chris followed suit without looking at her. The runt had prepped her alright. A white jacket fringed in a rich purply blue and its matching skirt came off, not frantic fast, not too slow either. She stood there a moment in just white stockings held up by a nude belt and white satin panties over them. Then she ditched the panties. Her cat was trimmed neat and close, just a thin line of hair left to go up from the slit. I turned to the runt "You taught her to trim out her cat like that ?" The runt shook her head. "No Daddy. She taught me. Before you made me whore Chris made me lez." I turned back to Chris "That so ?" She nodded. Looked me right in the face bright eyed too, as she did it. "Yes, sir." I took her in. She was pretty, and looked close enough to brave, too. I said "Chris, do you smoke pot ?" She nodded. Phyllis got excited. "There's pot ?" I nodded and said to her "Bitch, go to the closet pick a can. I don't know about that crap. Get something mellow we chill out." She bounced out of there. By the time Pepper had a newspaper sheet in thin strips she was back holding a can of black gunion. "Daddy, this smells great!" She took a strip and rolled a bomber, licked it to give it even burn and, matchbox in hand, held it for me. "You light it, bitch." I said. I didn't have to say it twice. She reached the gleaming, bulging paper cigar to me. I took a puff of it like it were a cigar for real. They started cracking up. I looked at them like "what the fuck ?" and puffed again. They lost their shit. They were laughing so hard it coulda killed them, mostly from trying to hold themselves in. Chris teared up, the runt was rolling on the floor. Eventually Pepper broke out, "Pretty Daddy, you ever smoke a joint before ?"
"Not in this life" I said. "Why, could you tell ?" That gave them hysterics. It was the funniest thing in the world to these three bitches standing on the stained cheap carpet in my crumbling pad. They explained it to me then, that the idea is to hold the smoke in, for as long as you can. Oh, I said, thinking of Rotten Tooth Jimmy. "I thought that was just an old gangster myth." They started snort-laughing like idiots. I passed the spiff to Pepper, who drank it in like a sponge. We got comfortable. Pepper laid her bloodied asshole out in bed, leaning on the side. I lay my neck on her belly. The runt kneeled at my feet, then went on her ass to the side and slowly found her way to rubbing them for me. Chris sat on the floor, her back against the wall, facing towards the runt's side. She asked how many whores I've got. Pepper giggled. The runt said "Nooobooody knooows" in a booming, spooky voice like on a radio play. Chris gave her a lingering eyelick, desperate for support. I was trying to figure out if they're conning together, making like they're apart and the show a put-on, or if the runt's turned solid and they just never prepped this far. The runt coached her some, clear as day. It's how the bitch knew to step out of her duds. But did she coach her on how to please, or did she coach her on how to get one through ? Whose bitch was Phyllis, anywho ? She said to the runt, "Ooh, when he looks at me like that!" She turned to me "I know you can read minds. You give me the creeps with that look. It's like you're Svengali or that crazy Russian Monk I read about." She giggled. I could hear the thrill in her voice. The whore was alive and thrashing inside her. She had done more than screw on the fire escape at high school, that's for sure.
I said "Drop the lids on those pretty peepers in your skull and make with the jib. Spill your story, bitch." She closed her eyes and said "I'll spill. Anything you want from me, I'll give it up, whatever it is. Don't put the pressure on me. Please don't. I get nervous.". Phyllis looked at me. I nodded at her. She grabbed my hand and spelled out words in it, with her finger, letter by letter. It took her three or four tries before I got what she was saying to me. Chris' voice came softly, like from far away. "I'm married. Leroy plays the horn and bugle. He saved my life, really. He's been wonderful to me. He used to be good looking. He didn't get so insanely jealous until after his accident. We've been waiting over two years for a settlement. My life is so screwed up. I don't know what to do. I don't know what to tell you. Would you believe that you're the first people I've talked to in over two years, other than Phyllis?" Pepper gave a start. I sent my left hand overhead, to squeeze her ass and settle her. "I don't love Leroy." Chris gave a shudder. The runt grabbed her by the hand and pulled her in. Chris leaned in and rested her head on the runt's thighs. She wasn't opening those peepers come what may, that's for damn sure. I lifted my feet to let her in, then brought them back down, resting my heels on her tits. The runt kissed my toes a little then went back to rubbing. Chris' nostrils flared. She went on, "I remember nothing but good until I was eleven. That's when my mother died. One wet Autumn day they put her in a box. My father was a kind, good man. He always worked. He was a good carpenter. That changed quickly after Mama died. He took my bed down. He said he wanted me to sleep with him. He told me how lonely his bed was after all those years with Mama. It was nothing at first. When my little girl titties first came in, they hurt a lot. The bumps were sore all the time, and tender to the touch. They itched and hurt at the same time. One night I had a nightmare. A wild ferocious animal with barbed wire teeth was on me, suckling at my breast. It was terrible, the pain of it drove me crazy. It woke me up. Papa was on me, sucking on my bud. I screamed. He slapped me, hard. His face was all twisted. Hateful. He looked like a crazy stranger. I sobbed quietly until I blacked out. When I came to Papa was crying and begging me to forgive him. I forgave him. He was so sad. His sadness made me sad. It never went away, that sadness never went away. Then later I dreamed about the evil wolf again. I didn't want to wake up. After a while I would just lie there, numb, and let him use me. I wanted to hate his guts. In school I had the crazy feeling all the other girls could see and feel my shame and filth. I barely made it to fifteen, more skeleton than girl. By then he had me doing everything to him. I'd lay flat on my back while he moved over me, thinking him dead in Hell. Papa, the beast, was killing me. I was so nervous I couldn't wash dishes. I broke dozens. I wasn't eating enough to keep a bird alive. I collapsed one day coming from the grocery. I woke up in a hospital. My system was shot and I was pregnant. They kept me in that hospital a month. I stayed at Papa's two days and one night after getting out. I took some money while he slept and left Wichita with the clothes on my back. I came here and got a waitress job. A flashy young pimp named Dandy Louee took to picking me up when I got off. I thought he was a millionaire. He dressed me up and turned me out. He was a cruel black bastard. He liked to beat me, and then screw me. He said it's not right to put his swipe in a whore that's not hurt for it. He liked to give me bruises with his belt and then grab on to them and pinch them while he fucked me. He liked to hear me squeal in pain."
The runt leaned over and kissed her mouth. Chris kissed her back, then with a grit of her teeth went back to her tale. "He worked me in a house run by one of his whores. He kept his foot in my ass all day long, or she did it for him. She liked seeing us other whores suffer. Funny thing, I made money even when my belly was stuck way out. A lot of tricks who came there wanted specifically a pregnant girl. The baby came out while I was turning a trick. Stillborn. Dandy got five years on a white slave rap a few months later. The other whores turned on the house boss. Pulled out all the hair from her head. They beat her up with his belt, black and blue. I got a bar-maid job. That's where I met Leroy, he was playing a gig. I was a sick girl. I fell out twice while serving the bar. The second time the owner fired me. The place was crowded, I had twenty dollars worth of drinks crammed on my tray. Leroy took me in. He nursed me back to health. He's always been good to me. I needed someone who cared. He wanted married so we did it, just four months shy of seventeen. I went along on a string of one-nighters in the Midwest. We couldn't afford a room most nights. We had his old Ford model T. The group broke up in Youngstown, Ohio. We were stranded, without a dime for gas. It was cold out. Leroy got a job in an industrial cleaning plant. The second week a boiler exploded and... you've seen his face ?" She wanted to open her eyes, but didn't. "Maybe you have." I asked her if he's playing at the Roost these days ? She said he had a gig there past week. I said then yeah, can't be there's two of him. "We came here once he was out of the hospital. His lawyer says we can expect a ten-thousand dollar settlement any time now." she said. "He's been saying it for more than a year. Leroy is driving me crazy with his jealousy. He was maybe a little jealous from the get-go, but ever since his accident it went worse and worse. I spend all day locked in the house. Half my time I answer questions, about people I don't even know, I've never seen. It's not a life. Phyllis has been the only one in my life this past year since we came here. When she cut out last week I thought that's it for me. I don't have anyone else. I don't mind hustling. I'd live here if I may. Do I have to put out for Daddy ? What should I do?"
Nobody said anything. The runt rolled out another bomber. She was nodding like someone who's taken their friends to see a freak that'd move Barnum even. I said, "Poor Chris, you've had nothing but heartache. I feel sorry for you, baby. Suckle my toes and tell me how you ain't nothing but a low dog." She mixed her tears and spit on my feet, slowly, hopelessly. She said she's nothing but dirt, that nobody'll ever love her. She said she can't look at a man like women can. She doesn't hate the jokers, but they're to her nothing besides misery and the remembering of misery. They're like the wall of tears of the Jewish people. The ash to rub in your hair, and on your face, the ash to chew instead of food. I asked if the runt's her bitch. She shook her head. She said "I love her, that's all." The runt teared up a little, but didn't let on. Then she asked "Can she stay, Daddy ? I'll do anything if she can stay. Anything." I turned to Pepper. "What do you say, Mama ? We keeping this bad luck bitch ? Find out if maybe lightning strikes or meteors drop or something to fuck it all up for her sake ?" Pepper didn't say anything. She just reached out her arms, and called for Chris. "Come here, broken birdy." I let her get into bed and in the Pep's embrace. They were kissing and hugging and crying together in bed. The runt was weeping quietly sitting on the floor. What a drag! Three naked whores, a can of reefer, and enough wailing for six funerals. Nobody'll ever figure bitches out.
I thought outloud "Weren't you supposed to get June back from school ?" Pepper jumped up like touched with hot coals. "Hot damn!" It was five after three. She jumped in a blazer with nothing underneath and flashed to her car. Three minutes later she was speeding down the avenue. I could feel my skull go into a dreamy float. I got one brilliant thought after another. The trouble was, each one I tried to hold long enough so I could put a saddle on it stampeded. It was maybe like the painful irritation a drunk wrangler suffers trying to corral a herd of greased mustangs. Gangster was sure a whore's high. That reefer confusion was no good for a pimp's skull. I dreamily drifted into bed, where Pepper had warmed it with herself. The runt and Chris got in on either side of me. They caressed my arms and chest. Once I fell asleep they cleared out.