Chevette settled down after looking at my other hand and around the front seat for signs of danger.
"Okay," she said, staring into the darkness of the floor. "But we stay right here."
I lifted her chin with one finger and gazed into her big eyes until she turned away.
"Martel hired me to find you," I said. "He's all broken up. I told him I'd ask you to come home but I wouldn't drag you there."
The woman-child glanced at me then.
"But I have to tell him where you are . . . and about Porky."
"You cain't tell Daddy 'bout him," she pleaded. "One'a them get killed sure."
Porky the Pimp had recruited Chevette three blocks away from Jordan High. He was a pock-faced fat man with a penchant for razors, diamond rings, and women.
"Martel's your father," I reasoned. "He deserves to know what happened with you."
"Porky'll cut him. He'll kill him."
"Or the other way around," I said. "Martel hired me to find you and tell him where you are. That's how I pay my mortgage, girl."
"I could pay you," she suggested, placing a hand on my thigh. "I got seventy-fi'e dollars in my purse. And, and you said you wanted some company."
"No," I said. "I mean . . . you are a fine young thing, but I'm honest and a father too."
The teenager's face went blank, but I could see that her mind was racing. My appearance had been a possibility that she'd already considered. Not me exactly but some man who either knew her or wanted to save her. After twenty blow jobs a night for two weeks, she'd have to be thinking about rescue and about the perils that came along with such an act of desperation. Porky could find her anywhere in Southern California.
"Porky ain't gonna let me go," she said. "He cut up one girl that tried to leave him. Cassandra. He cut up her face."
She put a hand to her cheek. It wasn't a pretty face.
"Oh," I said, "I'm almost sure the pig man will listen to reason."
It was my smile that gave Chevette Johnson hope.
"Where is he?" I asked.
"At the back of the barbershop."
I took the dull gray .38 from the glove compartment and the keys from the ignition.
Cupping my hand around the girl's chin, I said, "You wait right here. I don't wanna have to look for you again."
She nodded into my palm and I went off down the alley.
TALL AND LANKY LaTerry Klegg stood in the doorway of the back porch of Masters and Broad Barber Shop. He looked like a deep brown praying mantis standing in a pool of yellow cream. Klegg had a reputation for being fast and deadly, so I came up on him quickly, slamming the side of my pistol against his jaw.
He went down and I thought of Bonnie for a moment. I wondered, as I looked into the startled face of Porky the Pimp, why she had not called me.
Porky was seated in an old barber's chair that had been moved out on the porch to make room for a newer model, no doubt.
"Who the fuck are you?" the pimp said in a frightened alto voice. He was the color of a pig too, a sickly pinkish brown.
I answered by pressing the barrel of my pistol against his left cheekbone.
"What?" he squeaked.
"Chevette Johnson," I said. "Either you let up or I lay you down right here and now."
I meant it. I was ready to kill him. I wanted to kill him. But even while I stood there on the verge of murder, it came to me that Bonnie would never call. She was too proud and hurt.
"Take her," Porky said.
My finger was constricting on the trigger.
I moved my hand three inches to the right and fired. The bullet only nicked the outer earlobe, but his hearing on that side would never be the same. Porky went down to the floor, holding his head and crying out. I kicked him in his gut and walked back down the way I'd come.
On the way to my car, I passed three women in short skirts and high heels that had come running. They gave me a wide berth, seeing the pistol in my hand.
Copyright © 2007 by Walter Mosley
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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