"So it's real simple," Mouse was saying. When he grinned the
diamond set in his front tooth sparkled in the gloom.
Cox Bar was always dark, even on a sunny April afternoon. The dim
light and empty chairs made it a perfect place for our kind of
". . . We just be there at about four-thirty in the mornin' an'
wait," Mouse continued. "When the mothahfuckahs show up you put a
pistol to the back of the neck of the one come in last. He the one
wit' the shotgun. Tell 'im to drop it --- "
"What if he gets brave?" I asked.
"What if he flinches and the gun goes off?"
"How the fuck you know that, Raymond?" I asked my lifelong friend.
"How do you know what a finger in Palestine, Texas, gonna do three
weeks from now?"
"You boys need sumpin' for your tongues?" Ginny Wright asked. There
was a leer in the bar owner's voice.
It was a surprise to see such a large woman appear out of the
darkness of the empty saloon.
Ginny was dark-skinned, wearing a wig of gold-colored hair. Not
blond, gold like the metal.
She was asking if we needed something to drink but Ginny could make
a sexual innuendo out of garlic salt if she was talking to
"Coke," I said softly, wondering if she had overheard Mouse's
"An' rye whiskey in a frozen glass for Mr. Alexander," Ginny added,
knowing her best customer's usual. She kept five squat liquor
glasses in her freezer at all times --- ready for his
"Thanks, Gin," Mouse said, letting his one-carat filling ignite for
"Maybe we should talk about this someplace else," I suggested as
Ginny moved off to fix our drinks.
"Shit," he uttered. "This my office jes' like the one you got on
Central, Easy. You ain't got to worry 'bout Ginny. She don't hear
nuttin' an' she don't say nuttin'."
Ginny Wright was past sixty. When she was a young woman she'd been
a prostitute in Houston. Raymond and I both knew her back then. She
had a soft spot for the younger Mouse all those years. Now he was
her closest friend. You got the feeling, when she looked at him,
that she wanted more. But Ginny satisfied herself by making room in
her nest for Raymond to do his business.
On this afternoon she'd put up her special sign on the front door:
CLOSED FOR A PRIVATE FUNCTION. That sign would stay up until my
soul was sold for a bagful of stolen money.
Ginny brought our drinks and then went back to the high table that
she used as a bar.
Mouse was still grinning. His light skin and gray eyes made him
appear wraithlike in the darkness.
"Don't worry, Ease," he said. "We got this suckah flat-footed an'
"All I'm sayin' is that you don't know how a man holding a
shotgun's gonna react when you sneak up behind him and put a cold
gun barrel to his neck."
"To begin wit'," Mouse said, "Rayford will not have any buckshot in
his shooter that day an' the on'y thing he gonna be thinkin' 'bout
is you comin' up behind him. 'Cause he know that the minute you get
the drop on 'im that Jack Minor, his partner, gonna swivel t' see
what's what. An' jest when he do that, I'ma bop old Jackie good an'
then you an' me got some heavy totin' to do. They gonna have a two
hunnert fi'ty thousand minimum in that armored car --- half of it
"You might think it's all good and well that you know these guys'
names," I said, raising my voice more than I wanted. "But if you
know them then they know you."
"They don't know me, Easy," Mouse said. He looped his arm around
the back of his chair. "An' even if they did, they don't know
"You know me."
That took the smug smile off of Raymond's lips. He leaned forward
and clasped his hands. Many men who knew my murderous friend would
have quailed at that gesture. But I wasn't afraid. It's not that
I'm such a courageous man that I can't know fear in the face of
certain death. And Raymond "Mouse" Alexander was certainly death
personified. But right then I had problems that went far beyond me
and my mortality.
"I ain't sayin' that you'd turn me in, Ray," I said. "But the cops
know we run together. If I go down to Texas and rob this armored
car with you an' Rayford sings, then they gonna know to come after
me. That's all I'm sayin'."
I remember his eyebrows rising, maybe a quarter of an inch. When
you're facing that kind of peril you notice small gestures. I had
seen Raymond in action. He could kill a man and then go take a
catnap without the slightest concern.
The eyebrows meant that his feelings were assuaged, that he
wouldn't have to lose his temper.
"Rayford never met me," he said, sitting back again. "He don't know
my name or where I'm from or where I'll be goin' after takin' the
"And so why he trust you?" I asked, noticing that I was talking the
way I did when I was a young tough in Fifth Ward, Houston, Texas.
Maybe in my heart I felt that the bravado would see me
"Remembah when I was in the can ovah that manslaughter thing?" he
He'd spent five years in maximum security.
"That was hard time, man," he said. "You know I never wanna
be back there again. I mean the cops would have to kill me before I
go back there. But even though it was bad some good come out of
Mouse slugged back the triple shot of chilled rye and held up his
glass. I could hear Ginny hustling about for his next free
"You know I found out about a very special group when I was up in
there. It was what you call a syndicate."
"You mean like the Mafia?" I asked.
"Naw, man. That's just a club. This here is straight business.
There's a brother in Chicago that has men goin' around the country
scopin' out possibilities. Banks, armored cars, private poker games
--- anything that's got to do wit' large amounts of cash, two
hunnert fi'ty thousand or more. This dude sends his boys in to make
the contacts and then he give the job to somebody he could trust."
Mouse smiled again. It was said that that diamond was given to him
by a rich white movie star that he helped out of a jam.
"Here you go, baby," Ginny said, placing his frosty glass on the
pitted round table between us. "You need anything else,
"No thanks," I said and she moved away. Her footfalls were silent.
All you could hear was the rustle of her black cotton
"So this guy knows you?" I asked.
"Easy," Mouse said in an exasperated whine. "You the one come to me
an' said that you might need up t' fi'ty thousand, right? Well ---
here it is, prob'ly more. After I lay out Jack Minor, Rayford gonna
let you hit him in the head. We take the money an' that's that. I
give you your share that very afternoon."
My tongue went dry at that moment. I drank the entire glass of cola
in one swig but it didn't touch that dryness. I took an ice cube
into my mouth but it was like I was licking it with a leather strip
instead of living flesh.
"How does Rayford get paid?" I asked, the words warbling around the
"What you care about him?"
"I wanna know why we trust him."
Mouse shook his head and then laughed. It was a real laugh,
friendly and amused. For a moment he looked like a normal person
instead of the supercool ghetto bad man who came off so hard that
he rarely seemed ruffled or human at all.
"The man in Chi always pick somebody got somethin' t' hide. He gets
shit on 'em and then he pay 'em for their part up front. An' he let
'em know that if they turn rat they be dead."
It was a perfect puzzle. Every piece fit. Mouse had all the bases
covered, any question I had he had the answer. And why not? He was
the perfect criminal. A killer without a conscience, a warrior
without fear --- his IQ might have been off the charts for all I
knew, but even if it wasn't, his whole mind paid such close
attention to his profession that there were few who could outthink
him when it came to breaking the law.
"I don't want anybody gettin' killed behind this, Raymond."
"Nobody gonna die, Ease. Just a couple'a headaches, that's
"What if Rayford's a fool and starts spendin' money like water?" I
asked. "What if the cops think he's in on it?"
"What if the Russians drop the A-bomb on L.A.?" he asked back.
"What if you drive your car on the Pacific Coast Highway, get a
heart attack, and go flyin' off a cliff? Shit, Easy. I could 'what
if' you into the grave but you got to have faith, brother. An' if
Rayford's a fool an' wanna do hisself in, that ain't got nuthin' to
do with what you got to do."
Of course he was right. What I had to do was why I was there. I
didn't want to get caught and I didn't want anybody to get killed,
but those were the chances I had to take.
"Lemme think about it, Ray," I said. "I'll call you first thing in