The Devil Knows You're Dead Page 25

 “Because you hadn’t heard his name yet.”

 “No, I didn’t even know it was the gentleman I’d seen ear-lier, because he was lying facedown and could have been anybody. For all I knew, the man I’d seen before had gone home while I was trying to talk business with Mr. Machismo. Later on, of course, I saw his picture in the pa-per, and then I knew I’d seen him. But at the time the only person I recognized was George.”

 “George Sadecki, but you wouldn’t have known him ei-ther, would you? Until you saw him in the paper, or on TV.”

 She shook her head. “I used to see George all the time,” she said. “I was afraid of him at first, the way he would stare at you, but everybody said, oh, that’s George, he’s harmless. So I would say hello to him when I saw him. ‘Hi, George!’ But he never answered.”

 “And you saw him the night of the shooting?”

 “Bending over the body.”

 “Was that the first time you’d seen him that night?”

 “No idea. You have to remember that George was part of the scenery. There was no reason to remember seeing him, or to distinguish one sighting from another. I could have seen him earlier, or I might not have seen him for the past week. Did I see him and Glenn together? No, not until after the shooting.”

 “And he was bending over the body? What did you think he was doing?”

 “I couldn’t tell. Possibly checking to see if the man was alive or dead. Possibly going for his wallet.”

 “Did you assume he had shot Holtzmann?”

 “No, because I saw right away it was George, and I was used to thinking of him as harmless.”

 “You didn’t know that he carried a gun.”

 “No one ever mentioned it, and he certainly never showed it to me.”

 “You didn’t see a gun in his hand when he was leaning over the body.”

 “No, but I was at a distance. I was wearing my contacts but even so I don’t think I could have seen if he was holding something. But my impression is he had both his hands free.”

 I went back and forth over it with her without getting a whole lot more than that. She was clearer about what she had seen than I had feared she might be, but she’d missed the shooting itself. If her testimony made the hypothesis of George’s innocence a little more plausible, that was about all it did. It certainly didn’t offer a clue as to the killer’s identity.

 I asked about other possible witnesses.

 “I don’t know,” she said. “That street doesn’t really come into its own until midnight, and the real action is between two and four-thirty in the morning. A lot of the johns like to do their drinking first. The bars close at four, and a half hour after that everybody goes home, or to an after-hours.”

 “You were out there early.”

 “I like it early. The early mongoose gets the cobra, as our dusky sisters from the subcontinent like to say. Fewer johns, but less competition. Not that I have anything to fear from competition.” She shot me a sidelong glance. “More to the point, I’d rather have my dates before they get all liquored up. Married men. You’re not married, are you? You’re not wearing a ring.”

 “I’m not, no.”

 “But TJ says you’ve got somebody.”


 She sighed. “All the good men are taken. What was I say-ing? Oh, yes, about getting an early start. I like to go out early and have my dates and close the store as soon as I can afford to. That gives me the rest of the night to be me. But first I have to take care of business. Speaking of which—”


 “Well, I hate to bring it up, but TJ did say I’d be reim-bursed for my time.” I found a pair of fifties in my wallet. She made a show of tucking them into the neckline of the harem pajamas. “Thank you,” she said. “It seems tacky to take money for sitting around and having a conversation, but you wouldn’t believe what those doctors charge, and Blue Cross won’t pick up any of it. If I had Blue Cross in the first place, which I don’t.” She touched her Adam’s apple. “Pretty soon,” she said, “I’ll have this little flaw corrected, and you’ll have the satisfaction of having contributed. But I’m sure your work is full of satisfactions.”

 “Not so full as you might think.”

 “Oh, you’re too modest,” she said. “I think I’ll be able to have the apple peeled by Christmas. As for this”—she patted herself between the legs—“I’m just not sure. You know, every man I go with wants to know when I’m going to have it done. Like then I’ll be a real woman, and ever so much more desirable.”


 “And nine out of ten of them can’t keep their hands off it. If it’s so loathsome, if it’s something they want to have nothing to do with, why do they want to be touching it while I’m doing them? And they don’t just want to touch. They want to elicit a response. They want it in their mouth, however inexpert their performance. They want it every-where you could imagine.” She looked at her wineglass and set it down when she saw it was empty. “These are straight men,” she said. “Most of them are wearing wedding rings. They wouldn’t even accept oral sex from another male, let alone perform it. But they see me as a woman and that lib-erates them. It sets them free to enjoy themselves with my cock.” She shrugged. “If it’s such a prize,” she said, “maybe I ought to keep it.” We established that there was no question of her testifying, in or out of court. “I couldn’t,” she said, “because I was home alone that night, watching A Star is Born and gorging on mi-crowave popcorn. I’m serious. There are pimps out there who d just love to have a reason to do a number on a girl who works independent. Just talk to a cop, tell him how sweet he looks in his uniform, and somebody might decide to teach you a lesson. No way I sit down with anybody official.”

 I finished my Coke and said it was time I got going.

 “Well, now that you know how to get here,” she said, “I hope you’ll come back. Are you running off too, TJ? He’s sweet, isn’t he, Matthew? It’s so much fun to tease this child. I just wish he was a little lighter-skinned so I could see him blush. I can tell when he’s blushing but I’d like to be able to see it.”

 She went up to TJ and put her arms around him. She was an inch or two taller. She pressed up against him and whis-pered something in his ear, then released him and danced, laughing, to the door.

 I followed him down the five flights, neither of us saying a word. Outside I said I wanted to get some coffee. We walked to Tenth Avenue but I didn’t see anything open outside of a couple of ginmills. We walked back to Ninth and found a Cuban-Chinese joint with one lone customer at the counter. We took a table and I ordered café con leche. TJ said he’d have a glass of milk.

 “That there was Julia,” he said.

 “I’d have thought you were old friends,” I said, “the way she was acting.”

 “Yeah, well, she the type makes friends in a hurry, Mur-ray. She pretty weird, huh?”

 “I liked her.”



 “Pretty good witness, anyway.”

 “Very good,” I said. “She didn’t see everything, but she was very clear on the part she saw. You did good work find-ing her.”

 “Yeah, well, just part of the service, Jervis.”

 “Something the matter, TJ?”

 “No, everything cool.”

 We fell silent. The waiter, walking as though his feet were killing him, brought TJ’s milk and my coffee.

 I said, “There is one other thing you might be able to help me with.”

 “Say what?”

 “I need a gun.”

 His eyes widened, but only for an instant. “What kind?”

 “Revolver’d be best.”


 “Thirty-eight or thereabouts.”

 “Box of shells with it?”

 “Just so it’s loaded.”

 He thought about it. “Cost a few dollars,” he said.

 “How much do you figure?”

 “Dunno. Never bought no gun before.” He drank some milk, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, used a paper nap-kin to wipe his hand. “I know two, three dudes got shit to sell. Won’t be no problem. Say a hundred, somethin’ like that?”

 I counted out bills, palmed them to him. He dropped his hand into his lap so it wasn’t visible from the street and fanned the bills, then looked quizzically across at me. “Three hundred,” I said. “A hundred’s for the work you’ve done so far, just to keep us current. The rest is for the gun. It may cost more than you think. Whatever it costs, you can keep the difference.”

 “That’s cool.”

 “Something’s bothering you,” I said. “If you don’t feel you’re getting paid enough, let me know about it.”

 “Shit,” he said. “That ain’t it.”

 “All right.”

 “You want to know what it is? It’s that Julia, man.”


 “I mean, what is she? She a man or a woman?”

 “Well, we keep saying ‘she.’ We wouldn’t do that if we didn’t think of her as female.”

 “She ain’t like no dude I ever met.”


 “Don’t look like none, either. See her on the street, you never ’spect she anything but a woman.”

 “You wouldn’t.”

 “Even up close you wouldn’t. Lot of ’em, you can tell right away, but she’d fool you.”

 “I agree.”

 “Say a dude goes with her, what do that make him?”

 “Probably make him happy.”

 “Be serious, man. Would it make him gay?”

 “I don’t know.”

 “If you was gay,” he said, “then you be wantin’ men, right? So why’d you be lookin’ to get down with someone looks like a woman?”

 “You wouldn’t.”

 “But if you wanted a woman,” he went on, “why would you pick one’s got a dick on her?”

 “Beats me.”

 “And why’d she say that shit about how I’d make a good girl?” He held his hands in front of his chest as if cupping breasts and frowned down at them. “Crazy damn thing to say to me,” he said.

 “She just gets a kick out of being outrageous.”

 “Yeah, well, she good at it. You ever been with somebody like her?”


 “Would you?”

 “I don’t know.”

 “You with Elaine now, but if you wasn’t—”

 “I don’t know.”

 “You know what she said to me, whisperin’ in my ear like she did?”

 “She said to come back once you got rid of me.”

 “You heard her, huh?”

 “Just a guess.”

 “Pretty good guess, Bess. Place is nice, way she got it all fixed up. Never seen no red floor before, ’less it was linoleum.”


 “All them pictures. Take you days to look at ’em all.”

 “Are you going back?”

 “Thinkin’ on it. Bitch’s got me all mixed up. I don’t know what I want to do, you know what I mean?”

 “I know what you mean.”

 “If I go I gone feel weird, and if I don’t go I gone feel weird. You know?” He shook his head, clucked his tongue, sighed heavily. “Maybe I scared,” he said. “Scared of what I apt to find there.”

 “And if you don’t look?”

 He grinned suddenly. “Scared what I might miss.”

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