"Uh-huh. White man on NPR yesterday, was talking about this book he wrote about African American culture? Said that doing the dozens was this thing we been doin' for generations. Called it the precursor of rap music."
"They got a name for it, for real? And here I thought we were just cracking on Jimmy."
"I'm not lying." Strange buttoned his coat. "Get that bill out to Simmons, will you?"
"I handed it to him as he was going out the door."
"You're always on it. I don't know why I feel the need to remind you." Strange nodded to one of two empty desks on either side of the room. "Where's Ron at?"
"Trying to locate that debtor, the hustler took that woman off for two thousand dollars."
"Old lady lives down off Princeton?"
"Uh-huh. Where you headed?"
"Off to see Chris Wilson's mom."
Strange walked toward the front door, his broad, muscled shoulders moving beneath the black leather, gray salted into his hair and closely cropped beard.
He turned as his hand touched the doorknob." You want something else?" He had felt Janine's eyes on his back.
"You need me, or if Ron needs me, I'll be wearin' my beeper."
Strange stepped out onto 9th Street, a short commercial strip between Upshur and Kansas, one spit away from Georgia Avenue. He smiled, thinking of Janine. He had met her the first time at a club ten years earlier, and he had started hitting it then because both of them wanted him to, and because it was there for him to take.
Janine had a son, Lionel, from a previous marriage, and this scared him. Hell, everything about commitment scared him, but being a father to a young man in this world, it scared him more than anything else. Despite his fears, their time together had seemed good for both Strange and Janine, and he had stayed with it, knowing that when it's good it's rare, and unless there's a strong and immediate reason, you should never give it up. The affair went on steadily for several months.
When he lost his office manager, he naturally thought of Janine, as she was out of work, bright, and a born organizer. They agreed that they would break off the relationship when she started working for him, and soon thereafter she went and got serious with another man. This was fine with him, a relief, as it had let him out the back door quietly, the way he always liked to go. That man exited Janine's life shortly thereafter.
Strange and Janine had recently started things up once again. Their relationship wasn't exclusive, at least not for Strange. And the fact that he was her boss didn't bother either of them, in the ethical sense. Their lovemaking simply filled a need, and Strange had grown attached to the boy as well. Friends warned him about shitting on the dining room table, but he was genuinely fond of the woman, and she did make his nature rise after all the years. He liked to play with her, too, let her know that he knew that she was still interested. It kept things lively in the deadening routine of their day-to-day.
Strange stood out on the sidewalk for a moment and glanced up at the yellow sign over the door: "Strange Investigations," the letters in half of both words enlarged inside the magnifying-glass illustration drawn across the lightbox. He loved that logo. It always made him feel something close to good when he looked up at that sign and saw his name.
He had built this business by himself and done something positive in the place where he'd come up. The kids in the neighborhood, they saw a black man turn the key on the front door every morning, and maybe it registered, put something in the back of their minds whether they realized it or not. He'd kept the business going for twenty-five years now, and the bumps in the road had been just that. The business was who he was. All of him, and all his.
Copyright © 2001 by George P. Pelecanos. Reproduced with the permission of the publisher, Littl, Brown & Co.
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