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16

IM TICKLED TO death Im talking to you, Mr. Perez said. He was hunched over the papers and folders that covered the desk, smiling into the telephone.

Ryan, on the couch, was trying to listen while Raymond Gidre was telling him how he got along with niggers, how he didnt bother them and they didnt bother him.

I know it must be a surprise, yes indeed. He was giving it his Nice Mr. Perez tone. Im just happy I was able to locate you No, Im pretty sure. Miz Robert Leary, Jr., is that correct?

Matter of fact I had a good friend was a nigger, Raymond Gidre said to Ryan, across the coffee table. Boy name of Old Jim, we called him. Me and Old Jimd go crabbin down to Grand Isle.

No, Im afraid, Miz Leary, I cant tell you much more than I have on the telephone. What Id like to do is come out and see you, explain this in detail No, its a property No, not necessarily, Miz Leary. Tell me something. When would be convenient for you?

You ever go crabbin?

Ryan said yes, to shut him up. Raymond told him about it anyway, how you put the meat in the crab net, rotten meat if you had some, and how the sides of the net collapsed when it was laying on the bottom, then, see, the sides raised up again when you lifted out the net.

Yes, maam, I can come out this evening, or I can meet you somewhere if youd rather. Whatevers convenient.

Drop them suckers in the boiling water, watch em turn red. First, though, you want to put in your bay leaf and your Tabasco, also some thyme.

Thatd be fine, Miz Leary. It was nice talking to you and Im looking forward to seeing you Yes, maam, five oclock. Bye-bye.

I generally eat five, six. Shit, they go down good.

Whats that, Raymond? Mr. Perez was off the phone.

Gulf crabs.

Whatd she say? Ryan asked.

Mr. Perez was grinning at Raymond. Now you talking. Leave this meat and potato country and get back to cooking.

Howd she sound? Ryan said.

Surprised though not too excited. Mr. Perez got up and walked around to his bookcase bar next to the window. He began making himself a drink. She seemed vague, like she just woke up.

Well, I doubt shed be expecting anybody even to call her, Ryan said. You think?

Mr. Perez came over with his drink. Raymond got up quickly and Mr. Perez sat down in his deep chair.

You talked to her, did you?

I had to. Find out where she lives.

Howd she sound? Im wondering if the booze has made her soft in the head any.

Shes not drinking, Ryan said. She quit.

She tell you that?

She was sober. You could see she hadnt had anything in a while.

How do you tell that?

Her appearance. She looks like a different person now, Ryan said. It couldnt have just happened overnight.

Mr. Perez nodded, accepting that, but still curious. You say you hung around this place, Uncle Bens. She came in to get her drivers license and you started talking to her. Howd you go about that?

I went up to her, I asked her if she remembered me. She said no. I said, Arent you Denise Watson? I told her I met her in a bar one time. We had a cup of coffee and talked a little.

You tell her who you are?

I told her my name, I told her what I did. She seemed nervous then; but I didnt pull out any papers, so she relaxed.

Howd you find out where she lives?

I asked her. Well, first I asked her if shed like to go out sometime. She wouldnt say yes right away, but before I left she gave me her phone number and told me where she lives.

In Pontiac?

No, its in Rochester.

Rochester doesnt mean shit to me.

Its east of Pontiac, Ryan said. The address is on the piece of paper I gave you. With the phone number.

You go to her place?

Ryan paused. Yeah, I did, to check. Make sure it wasnt a phony address.

But you didnt go in, huh, and visit?

No. Ryan shook his head. I was wondering, he said then, when you see her you dont have to mention my name, do you?

Why?

I mean, if she asks how you found out where she lives. Since she isnt in the book or anything.

I ask you why, Mr. Perez said, but you wont tell me.

I just wondered, thats all. In case I ever see her again.

I dont see any reason to bring you into it, Mr. Perez said. Your parts done. Less she gets drunk and runs away again.

I dont think you have to worry about that, Ryan said. Once she finds out her husbands dead, I think shes gonna be more relieved than anything else.

Feel you know her pretty well, huh? Mr. Perez gave Ryan a little smile to show he understood. How many cups of coffee you have with her?

A couple, Ryan said. He was being honest and literal and gave Mr. Perez a nice boyish grin in return.

You interested in her?

Well, I got to admit shes a good-looking girl, Ryan said. Is that what you mean?

Another week or so, when she gets her money, Mr. Perez said, shes gonna be even better-looking, isnt she?

Well, I dont know about that, Ryan said.

Raymond was grinning now. Wants to fuck him a rich lady for a change. Shit, I dont blame him.

Theyre no worse or no better, Mr. Perez said, and looked at Ryan again. I dont blame you, either. Its none of my business what you got in mind for Miz Leary, once were done. As long as its her you intend to fuck and not me.

I hope Im not offending you, said boyish Jack Ryan, but I think if I had a choice

Mr. Perez smiled and Raymond Gidre laughed out loud and Ryan said hed keep in touch and left. In the silence, then, Mr. Perez sipped his drink.

He said to Raymond, You feel it?

Feel what?

That boys gonna try and run with it, Mr. Perez said. I dont think he knows it yet, but hes gonna try.

Mr. Perez visited Denise Leary on Tuesday, after she got home from work. He spent forty minutes with her while Raymond Gidre waited outside in the rented car. Raymond watched people coming and going in and out of the apartment complex and studied some of them very closely, but he did not see any niggers.

At seven-thirty Ryan called Mr. Perez at the hotel.

Mr. Perez told him it went about the way hed expected. Hed left the agreement with her and would call in a day or two. There was nothing to do now but wait. Ryan tried to ask questions. How did she react? Whatd she say? But Mr. Perez told him to save it, he was going out for his supper.

Ryan had decided not to bother Denise this evening, so he didnt call her until the next morning at eight. Hed ask her if he could pick her up after work, get something to eat and go to a meeting.

There was no answer.

At noon he drove out to the A&P in Rochester and found out Denise wasnt working today. Shed called in sick.

He called her several more times that afternoon and evening. On what he had decided was his last try, at ten oclock, Denise answered the phone.

Whereve you been? Ive been trying to get hold of you all day.

Why? She sounded all right. Calm.

He had to settle down. For all he was supposed to know, she could have been anywhere. I was worried about you.

Were you, really?

I stopped by the grocery store, they said you were home sick. I kept calling and there was no answer.

That was nice of you, Denise said. Can you come over?

Now?

Yeah, if you can. Ive got an awful lot to tell you.


| Unknown Man #89 | c