Maps in a mirror, p.28

Maps in a Mirror, page 28


Maps in a Mirror

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  He took me to his cheap condo on the old Guilford College campus, near the worm, which was real congenital for getting to Charlotte or Winston or Raleigh with no fuss. He didn’t have no soft floor, just a bed, but it was a big one, so I didn’t reckon he suffered. Maybe he bought it back in his old pimping days, I figured, back when he got his name, running a string of bitches with names like Spike and Bowser and Prince, real hydrant leg-lifters for the tweeze trade. I could see that he used to have money, and he didn’t anymore. Lots of great clothes, tailor-tight fit, but shabby, out of sync. The really old ones, he tore all the wiring out, but you could still see where the diodes used to light up. We’re talking neanderthal.

  “Vanity, vanity, all is profanity,” says I, while I’m holding out the sleeve of a camisa that used to light up like an airplane coming in for a landing.

  “They’re too comfortable to get rid of,” he says. But there’s a twist in his voice so I know he don’t plan to fool nobody.

  “Let this be a lesson to you,” says I. “This is what happens when a walker don’t walk.”

  “Walkers do steady work,” says he. “But me, when business was good, it felt bad, and when business was bad, it felt good. You walk cats, maybe you can take some pride in it. But you walk dogs, and you know they’re getting hurt every time—”

  “They got a built-in switch, they don’t feel a thing. That’s why the dongs don’t touch you, walking dogs, cause nobody gets hurt.”

  “Yeah, so tell me, which is worse, somebody getting tweezed till they scream so some old honk can pop his pimple, or somebody getting half their brain replaced so when the old honk tweezes her she can’t feel a thing? I had these women’s bodies around me and I knew that they used to be people.”

  “You can be glass,” says I, “and still be people.”

  He saw I was taking it personally. “Oh hey,” says he, “you’re under the line.”

  “So are dogs,” says I.

  “Yeah well,” says he. “You watch a girl come back and tell about some of the things they done to her, and she’s laughing, you draw your own line.”

  I look around his shabby place. “Your choice,” says I.

  “I wanted to feel clean,” says he. “That don’t mean I got to stay poor.”

  “So you’re setting up this grope so you can return to the old days of peace and propensity.”

  “Propensity,” says he. “What the hell kind of word is that? Why do you keep using words like that?”

  “Cause I know them,” says I.

  “Well you don’t know them,” says he, “because half the time you get them wrong.”

  I showed him my best little-boy grin. “I know,” says I. What I don’t tell him is that the fun comes from the fact that almost nobody ever knows I’m using them wrong. Dogwalker’s no ordinary pimp. But then the ordinary pimp doesn’t bench himself halfway through the game because of a sprained moral qualm, by which I mean that Dogwalker had some stray diagonals in his head, and I began to think it might be fun to see where they all hooked up.

  Anyway we got down to business. The target’s name was Jesse H. Hunt, and I did a real job on him. The Crystal Kid really plugged in on this one. Dogwalker had about two pages of stuff—date of birth, place of birth, sex at birth (no changes since), education, employment history. It was like getting an armload of empty boxes. I just laughed at it. “You got a jack to the city library?” I asked him, and he shows me the wall outlet. I plugged right in, visual onto my pocket sony, with my own little crystal head for ee-i-ee-i-oh. Not every goo-head can think clear enough to do this, you know, put out clean type just by thinking the right stuff out my left ear interface port.

  I showed Dogwalker a little bit about research. Took me ten minutes. I know my way right through the Greensboro Public Library. I have P-words for every single librarian and I’m so ept that they don’t even guess I’m stepping upstream through their access channels. From the Public Library you can get all the way into North Carolina Records Division in Raleigh, and from there you can jumble into federal personnel records anywhere in the country. Which meant that by nightfall on that most portentous day we had hardcopy of every document in Jesse H. Hunt’s whole life, from his birth certificate and first grade report card to his medical history and security clearance reports when he first worked for the feds.

  Dogwalker knew enough to be impressed. “If you can do all that,” he says, “you might as well pug his P-word straight out.”

  “No puedo, putz,” says I as cheerful as can be. “Think of the fed as a castle. Personnel files are floating in the moat—there’s a few alligators but I swim real good. Hot data is deep in the dungeon. You can get in there, but you can’t get out clean. And P-words—P-words are kept up the queen’s ass.”

  “No system is unbeatable,” he says.

  “Where’d you learn that, from graffiti in a toilet stall? If the P-word system was even a little bit breakable, Dogwalker, the gentlemen you plan to sell these cards to would already be inside looking out at us, and they wouldn’t need to spend a meg to get clean greens from a street pug.”

  Trouble was that after impressing Dogwalker with all the stuff I could find out about Jesse H., I didn’t know that much more than before. Oh, I could guess at some P-words, but that was all it was—guessing. I couldn’t even pick a P most likely to succeed. Jesse was one ordinary dull rat. Regulation good grades in school, regulation good evaluations on the job, probably gave his wife regulation lube jobs on a weekly schedule.

  “You don’t really think your girl’s going to get his finger,” says I with sickening scorn.

  “You don’t know the girl,” says he. “If we needed his flipper she’d get molds in five sizes.”

  “You don’t know this guy,” says I. “This is the straightest opie in Mayberry. I don’t see him cheating on his wife.”

  “Trust me,” says Dogwalker. “She’ll get his finger so smooth he won’t even know she took the mold.”

  I didn’t believe him. I got a knack for knowing things about people, and Jesse H. wasn’t faking. Unless he started faking when he was five, which is pretty unpopulated. He wasn’t going to bounce the first pretty girl who made his zipper tight. Besides which he was smart. His career path showed that he was always in the right place. The right people always seemed to know his name. Which is to say he isn’t the kind whose brain can’t run if his jeans get hot. I said so.

  “You’re really a marching band,” says Dogwalker. “You can’t tell me his P-word, but you’re obliquely sure that he’s a limp or a wimp.”

  “Neither one,” says I. “He’s hard and straight. But a girl starts rubbing up to him, he isn’t going to think it’s because she heard that his crotch is cantilevered. He’s going to figure she wants something, and he’ll give her string till he finds out what.”

  He just grinned at me. “I got me the best Password Man in the Triass, didn’t I? I got me a miracle worker named Goo-Boy, didn’t I? The ice-brain they call Crystal Kid. I got him, didn’t I?”

  “Maybe,” says I.

  “I got him or I kill him,” he says, showing more teeth than a primate’s supposed to have.

  “You got me,” says I. “But don’t go thinking you can kill me.”

  He just laughs. “I got you and you’re so good, you can bet I got me a girl who’s at least as good at what she does.”

  “No such,” says I.

  “Tell me his P-word and then I’ll be impressed.”

  “You want quick results? Then go ask him to give you his password himself.”

  Dogwalker isn’t one of those guys who can hide it when he’s mad. “I want quick results,” he says. “And if I start thinking you can’t deliver, I’ll pull your tongue out of your head. Through your nose.”

  “Oh, that’s good,” says I. “I always do my best thinking when I’m being physically threatened by a client. You really know how to bring out the best in me.”

  “I don’t want to bring out the best,” h
e says. “I just want to bring out his password.”

  “I got to meet him first,” says I.

  He leans over me so I can smell his musk, which is to say I’m very olfactory and so I can tell you he reeked of testosterone, by which I mean ladies could fill up with babies just from sniffing his sweat. “Meet him?” he asks me. “Why don’t we just ask him to fill out a job application?”

  “I’ve read all his job applications,” says I.

  “How’s a glass-head like you going to meet Mr. Fed?” says he. “I bet you’re always getting invitations to the same parties as guys like him.”

  “I don’t get invited to grown-up parties,” says I. “But on the other hand, grownups don’t pay much attention to sweet little kids like me.”

  He sighed. “You really have to meet him?”

  “Unless fifty-fifty on a P-word is good enough odds for you.”

  All of a sudden he goes nova. Slaps a glass off the table and it breaks against the wall, and then he kicks the table over, and all the time I’m thinking about ways to get out of there unkilled. But it’s me he’s doing the show for, so there’s no way I’m leaving, and he leans in close to me and screams in my face. “That’s the last of your fifty-fifty and sixty-forty and three times in ten I want to hear about, Goo Boy, you hear me?”

  And I’m talking real meek and sweet, cause this boy’s twice my size and three times my weight and I don’t exactly have no leverage. So I says to him, “I can’t help talking in odds and percentages, Dogwalker, I’m vertical, remember? I’ve got glass channels in here, they spit out percentages as easy as other people sweat.”

  He slapped his hand against his own head. “This ain’t exactly a sausage biscuit, either, but you know and I know that when you give me all them exact numbers it’s all guesswork anyhow. You don’t know the odds on this beakrat anymore than I do.”

  “I don’t know the odds on him, Walker, but I know the odds on me. I’m sorry you don’t like the way I sound so precise, but my crystal memory has every P-word I ever plumbed, which is to say I can give you exact to the third decimal percentages on when I hit it right on the first try after meeting the subject, and how many times I hit it right on the first try just from his curriculum vitae, and right now if I don’t meet him and I go on just what I’ve got here you have a 48.838 percent chance I’ll be right on my P-word first time and a 66.667 chance I’ll be right with one out of three.”

  Well that took him down, which was fine I must say because he loosened up my sphincters with that glass-smashing table-tossing hot-breath-in-my-face routine he did. He stepped back and put his hands in his pockets and leaned against the wall. “Well I chose the right P-man, then, didn’t I,” he says, but he doesn’t smile, no, he says the back-down words but his eyes don’t back down, his eyes say don’t try to flash my face because I see through you, I got most excellent inward shades all polarized to keep out your glitz and see you straight and clear. I never saw eyes like that before. Like he knew me. Nobody ever knew me, and I didn’t think he really knew me either, but I didn’t like him looking at me as if he thought he knew me cause the fact is I didn’t know me all that well and it worried me to think he might know me better than I did, if you catch my drift.

  “All I have to do is be a little lost boy in a store,” I says.

  “What if he isn’t the kind who helps little lost boys?”

  “Is he the kind who lets them cry?”

  “I don’t know. What if he is? What then? Think you can get away with meeting him a second time?”

  “So the lost boy in the store won’t work. I can crash my bicycle on his front lawn. I can try to sell him cable magazines.”

  But he was ahead of me already. “For the cable magazines he slams the door in your face, if he even comes to the door at all. For the bicycle crash, you’re out of your little glass brain. I got my inside girl working on him right now, very complicated, because he’s not the playing around kind, so she has to make this a real emotional come-on, like she’s breaking up with a boyfriend and he’s the only shoulder she can cry on, and his wife is so lucky to have a man like him. This much he can believe. But then suddenly he has this little boy crashing in his yard, and because he’s paranoid, he begins to wonder if some weird rain isn’t falling, right? I know he’s paranoid because you don’t get to his level in the fed without you know how to watch behind you and kill the enemy even before they know they’re out to get you. So he even suspects, for one instant, that somebody’s setting him up for something, and what does he do?”

  I knew what Dogwalker was getting at now, and he was right, and so I let him have his victory and I let the words he wanted march out all in a row. “He changes all his passwords, all his habits, and watches over his shoulder all the time.”

  “And my little project turns into compost. No clean greens.”

  So I saw for the first time why this street boy, this ex-pimp, why he was the one to do this job. He wasn’t vertical like me, and he didn’t have the inside hook like his fed boy, and he didn’t have bumps in his sweater so he couldn’t do the girl part, but he had eyes in his elbows, ears in his knees, by which I mean he noticed everything there was to notice and then he thought of new things that weren’t even noticeable yet and noticed them. He earned his forty percent. And he earned part of my twenty, too.

  Now while we waited around for the girl to fill Jesse’s empty aching arms and get a finger off him, and while we were still working on how to get me to meet him slow and easy and sure, I spent a lot of time with Dogwalker. Not that he ever asked me, but I found myself looping his bus route every morning till he picked me up, or I’d be eating at Bojangle’s when he came in to throw cajun chicken down into his ulcerated organs. I watched to make sure he didn’t mind, cause I didn’t want to piss this boy, having once beheld the majesty of his wrath, but if he wanted to shiver me he gave me no shiv.

  Even after a few days, when the ghosts of the cold hard street started haunting us, he didn’t shake me, and that includes when Bellbottom says to him, “Looks like you stopped walking dogs. Now you pimping little boys, right? Little catamites, we call you Catwalker now, that so? Or maybe you just keep him for private use, is that it? You be Boypoker now?” Well like I always said, someday somebody’s going to kill Bellbottom just to flay him and use his skin for a convertible roof, but Dogwalker just waved and walked on by while I made little pissy bumps at Bell. Most people shake me right off when they start getting splashed on about liking little boys, but Doggy, he didn’t say we were friends or nothing, but he didn’t give me no Miami howdy, neither, which is to say I didn’t find myself floating in the Bermuda Triangle with my ass pulled down around my ankles, by which I mean he wasn’t ashamed to be seen with me on the street, which don’t sound like a six-minute orgasm to you but to me it was like a breeze in August, I didn’t ask for it and I don’t trust it to last but as long as it’s there I’m going to like it.

  How I finally got to meet Jesse H. was dervish, the best I ever thought of. Which made me wonder why I never thought of it before, except that I never before had Dogwalker like a parrot saying “stupid idea” every time I thought of something. By the time I finally got a plan that he didn’t say “stupid idea,” I was almost drowned in the deepest lightholes of my lucidity. I mean I was going at a hundred watts by the time I satisfied him.

  First we found out who did babysitting for them when Jesse H. and Mrs. Jesse went out on the town (which for Nice People in G-boro means walking around the mall wishing there was something to do and then taking a piss in the public John). They had two regular teenage girls who usually came over and ignored their children for a fee, but when these darlettes were otherwise engaged, which meant they had a contract to get squeezed and poked by some half-zipped boy in exchange for a humbuger and a vid, they called upon Mother Hubbard’s Homecare Hotline. So I most carefully assinuated myself into Mother Hubbard’s estimable organization by passing myself off as a lamentably prepubic fourteen-year-old, spe
cializing in the northwest section of town and on into the county. All this took a week, but Walker was in no hurry. Take the time to do it right, he said, if we hurry somebody’s going to notice the blur of motion and look our way and just by looking at us they’ll undo us. A horizontal mind that boy had.

  Came a most delicious night when the Hunts went out to play, and both their diddle-girls were busy being squeezed most delectably (and didn’t we have a lovely time persuading two toddle-boys to do the squeezing that very night). This news came to Mr. and Mrs. Jesse at the very last minute, and they had no choice but to call Mother Hubbard’s, and isn’t it lovely that just a half hour before, sweet little Stevie Queen, being moi, called in and said that he was available for baby-stomping after all. Ein and ein made zwei, and there I was being dropped off by a Mother Hubbard driver at the door of the Jesse Hunt house, whereupon I not only got to look upon the beatific face of Mr. Fed himself, I also got to have my dear head patted by Mrs. Fed, and then had the privilege of preparing little snacks for fussy Fed Jr. and foul-mouthed Fedene, the five-year-old and the three-year-old, while Microfed, the one-year-old (not yet human and, if I am any judge of character, not likely to live long enough to become such) sprayed uric acid in my face while I was diapering him. A good time was had by all.

  Because of my heroic efforts, the small creatures were in their truckle beds quite early, and being a most fastidious baby-tucker, I browsed the house looking for burglars and stumbling, quite by chance, upon the most useful information about the beak-rat whose secret self-chosen name I was trying to learn. For one thing, he had set a watchful hair upon each of his bureau drawers, so that if I had been inclined to steal, he would know that unlawful access of his drawers had been attempted. I learned that he and his wife had separate containers of everything in the bathroom, even when they used the same brand of toothpaste, and it was he, not she, who took care of all their prophylactic activities (and not a moment too soon, thought I, for I had come to know their children). He was not the sort to use lubrificants or little pleasure-giving ribs, either. Only the regulation government-issue hard-as-concrete rubber rafts for him, which suggested to my most pernicious mind that he had almost as much fun between the sheets as me.

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