Gone for Good Page 20

Raquel spotted us and started tottering in our direction on stiletto heels. Men’s shoes size fourteen. No easy task, I assure you. Raquel stopped under a streetlamp. His face was worn like a rock battered by centuries of storms. I didn’t know his back story. He lies a lot. One legend had him as an all-American football player who blew out a knee. Another time I’d heard him say that he’d gotten a college scholarship based on high SAT scores. Still another pegged him as a Gulf War veteran. Choose one of those or create your own.

Raquel greeted Squares with a hug and peck on the cheek. He then turned his attention to me.

“You looking so good, Sweet Willy,” Raquel said.

“Gee thanks, Raquel,” I said.

“Tasty enough to eat.”

“I’ve been working out,” I said. “Makes me extra yummy.”

Raquel threw an arm around my shoulder. “I could fall in love with a man like you.”

“I’m flattered, Raquel.”

“Man like you, he could take me away from all this.”

“Ah, but think of all the broken hearts you’d leave in these sewers.”

Raquel giggled. “Got that right.”

I showed Raquel a photograph of Sheila, the only one I had. Weird when I think back on it now. Neither one of us were picture-takers, but to have only one photograph?

“You recognize her?” I asked him.

Raquel studied the picture. “This your woman,” he said. “I seen her at the shelter once.”

“Right. You know her from anyplace else?”

“Nope. Why?”

There was no reason to lie. “She’s run off. I’m looking for her.”

Raquel studied the picture some more. “Can I keep this?”

I’d made some color copies at the office, so I handed it to him.

“I’ll ask around,” Raquel said.


He nodded.

“Raquel?” It was Squares. Raquel turned to him. “You remember a pimp named Louis Castman?”

Raquel’s face went slack. He started looking around.


“I gotta get back to work, Squares. Bidness, you know.”

I stepped in his way. He looked down at me as if I were dandruff flakes he might flick off his shoulder.

“She used to work the streets,” I said to him.

“Your girl?”


“And she worked for Castman?”


Raquel crossed himself. “A bad man, Sweet Willy. Castman was the worst.”

“How so?”

He licked his lips. “Girls out here. They just a commodity, you know what I’m saying. Merchandise. It bidness with most folk out here. They make money, they stay. They don’t make money, well, you know.”

I did.

“But Castman”—Raquel whispered his name the way some people whispered the word cancer—“he was different.”


“He’d damage his own merchandise. Sometimes just for fun.”

Squares said, “You keep referring to him in the past tense.”

“That’s ’cause he ain’t been around in, oh, three years.”

“He alive?”

Raquel became very quiet. He looked off. Squares and I exchanged a glance, waited.

“He still alive,” Raquel said. “I guess.”

“What does that mean?”

Raquel just shook his head.

“We need to speak with him,” I said. “Do you know where we can find him?”

“I just heard rumors.”

“What kind of rumors?”

Raquel shook his head again. “Check out a place on the corner of Wright Street and Avenue D in the South Bronx. Heard he might be there.”

Raquel walked away then, steadier on the stiletto heels. A car drove up, stopped, and again I watched a human being disappear into the night.


Most neighborhoods, you’d hesitate about waking someone at one in the morning. This wasn’t one of them. The windows were all boarded up. The door was a hunk of plywood. I’d tell you the paint was peeling, but it would probably be more apt to say it was shedding.

Squares knocked on the plywood door and immediately a woman shouted, “What do you want?”

Squares did the talking. “We’re looking for Louis Castman.”

“Go away.”

“We need to speak with him.”

“You got a warrant?”

“We’re not with the police.”

“Who are you?” the woman asked.

“We work for Covenant House.”

“No runaways here,” she shouted, nearly hysterical. “Go away.”

“You have a choice,” Squares said. “We talk to Castman ourselves right now, or we come back with a bunch of nosy cops.”

“I didn’t do nothing.”

“I can always make something up,” Squares said. “Open the door.”

The woman made a fast decision. We heard a bolt slide, then another, then a chain. The door opened a crack. I started toward it, but Squares blocked me with his arm. Wait until the door opened all the way.

“Hurry,” the woman said with a witchlike cackle. “Get inside. Don’t want nobody seeing.”

Squares gave the door a shove. It opened all the way. We stepped through the frame, and the woman closed the door. Two things hit me at the same time. First, the dark. The only light was a low-watt lamp in the far right-hand corner. I saw a threadbare reading chair, a coffee table, and that was about it. Second, the smell. Take your most vivid remembrance of fresh air and the great outdoors and then imagine the polar opposite. The stuffiness made me afraid to inhale. Part hospital, part something I couldn’t quite place. I wondered when the last time a window had been opened, and the room seemed to whisper, Never.

Squares turned to the woman. She’d shrunk back into a corner. We could see only a silhouette in the darkness. “They call me Squares,” he said.

“I know who you are.”

“Have we met?”

“That’s not important.”

“Where is he?” Squares asked.

“There’s only one other room in here,” she said, raising her hand in a slow point. “He might be asleep.”

Our eyes started to adjust. I stepped toward her. She didn’t back away. I got closer. When she lifted her head, I almost gasped. I mumbled an apology and started backing away.

“No,” she said. “I want you to see.”

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