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By DONALD GOINES
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 1974 Donald Goines
All rights reserved.
Shirley booth handled the small compact car as if it was a toy. She drove like a man. Every now and then she'd glance at the younger woman sitting next to her.
"Dolores, do you think you'll ever learn this numbers route? It's so damn spread out, you know. That's the problem. Sometimes I wonder if it's even worth it, running all over the damn place picking up each customer's play."
"I've just about got it down pat now, Shirley," Dolores answered quickly. "It's just the small stops like the one we're going to now that get me mixed up. Too many damn small stops, if you ask me," Dolores stated sharply as she glanced over at the older woman.
As the women became silent Dolores wondered idly why Shirley had never become bigger in Eldorado's numbers outfit. She had been with Eldorado Red ever since he'd first started out back in the fifties. From what she'd heard people say, Shirley used to be a fine bitch in her prime, before she allowed herself to become so heavy, and yet Shirley still had a shape. She wasn't what you'd call real fat, but she was big. She wore expensive clothes that made her look better than what another woman her size would look like in cheaper clothes.
Shirley turned on the freeway and drove over to the west side. She came up on Grand Boulevard and made a right turn at Ford's Hospital. At the first side street she made another right. She parked in front of a dilapidated house that sat back from the street. It was a small house that had once been painted white, but now from neglect the paint was peeling and it looked as if no one had lived in it for years.
As the two women walked up the long pathway leading to the front door, they both noticed someone watching them from one of the front windows.
"Goddamn it!" Shirley exclaimed loudly. "This damn place really gives me the creeps. Every time I have to pick up here I hate it. I'll be damn glad to give this route to you."
Dolores gestured at the long weeds that had taken the place of the grass. "Well, it does look like a jungle out here, but I would think a lawnmower would take care of that little problem."
"Honey," Shirley began, "it's not the grass that I'm talking about. Wait until you get inside the house. It will make the outside look like heaven, plus the fact that you have to put up with both those old bitches inside. Shit, a nuthouse would be a better resting place for them than here."
Before she could knock on the front door, it opened. As they started to go inside, Dolores stated quietly, "You're too cold, Shirley. One day we'll...." The sight of the old woman standing behind the door stopped Dolores' flow of words. Dolores stared at the old woman in surprise. She looked as if she wasn't a day under one hundred. Her skin was wrinkled like nothing she'd ever seen before. But the real shock was the eyes staring out of the black face at her. There was a gleam in them that spoke of madness.
"Lordie, lordie, lordie," the woman shouted at them like a parrot, "come on in, come on in." She held the door only halfway open so that the women had to squeeze past her.
As Shirley entered, she wondered for the thousandth time why Eldorado Red continued to carry the women. It was true that when the two sisters' brother was alive it had been a good stop, but he had died over five years ago, and since then the place had fallen off until it really wasn't worth the trouble for the field worker to stop there. It was just too small. Sometimes the sisters didn't have fifty dollars for their day's take, but she knew if she had brought the matter up to Red he'd just say every little bit counts.
This was the first time Shirley had brought Dolores to this stop. She glanced out of the corner of her eye to see how the slim, brown-skinned young woman was taking it. It was really a change from the other homes they went to. There was a look of total surprise and fright on Dolores' face at the sight of the horde of roaches running wild on the walls of the front room.
"Where the hell is Auntie Dee?" Shirley asked sharply. She didn't want to stay in the house for any length of time if it could be avoided. The roaches didn't frighten Shirley, but she didn't like the thought of one of them falling on her. It made her flesh crawl.
"Auntie Dee is the one who picks up the numbers in the neighborhood," Shirley explained to Dolores. "She takes care of all the work. This poor thing here ain't too much help, she don't understand too much other than the Bible. She'll talk you to death about that, but nothing else."
"Have a seat, have a seat," the old woman yelled in a shrill voice, waving the women towards a dilapidated couch that was covered by a sheet and a blanket.
Before Shirley could warn her, Dolores started to sit down. A mouse ran from under the couch. Dolores screamed and jumped on top of the couch. There was no way Shirley could stop the flow of laughter that was taking control of her. She bent over and laughed until tears rolled down her face.
Dolores never took her eyes off the mouse. 5 She watched the rodent go under the huge, old-fashioned china cabinet that stood against the wall.
"Little Jesus, little Jesus," the old woman scolded as she banged on the china cabinet. "You bad thing you, scaring the woman like that."
"Now, now, Auntie," Shirley interrupted, "that ain't necessary you takin' on like that. It was my fault for not telling Dolores that you kept a few pet mice and rats around."
At the mention of rats, Dolores' eyebrows shot up and she glanced around nervously. She started to say something but the sound of a harsh voice coming from behind a curtain leading into the kitchen stopped her.
"Ya'll have to keep that fuss down out there if you expect me to ever finish writin' up these here figures."
"Is that you, Auntie Dee?" Shirley asked, knowing all along it was the woman she was looking for.
"Of course it is, child. Who'd you expect it to be? Maybe Miss World or somebody like that?" the woman behind the curtain yelled sharply.
Before Shirley could stop her, Dolores was up and heading for the kitchen. Possibly because of her fear of rats, she didn't wait for Shirley to lead the way. Shirley followed the younger woman even though she had never gone any farther than the front room. Her curiosity was aroused.
The elderly woman sitting at the kitchen table looked up in surprise as the two women came barging in. But the person who was really surprised was Dolores as she stopped and stared open-mouthed at the old woman in front of her. She was utterly unlike any woman Dolores had ever seen. The impact of her presence was almost tactile in the silence that greeted their unwelcome entry. The old woman was as black as her sister. Neither woman had that rich nightshade velvety blackness that had its own sable beauty. Instead, the woman sitting in front of them had a gray-black shade with a deeply purple tinge about her lips. Her face was a mass of wrinkles that made her seem immensely old. But her eyes were the feature that held them. There was an evil glare in the pinpoint pupils—an undeniable quality of evil that could not be hidden.
"Well?" the old woman asked sharply in that husky voice that seemed to come from the emptiness of a deep well.
This was not the first time Shirley had met Auntie Dee. Ever since the death of her brother, Auntie Dee had been handling the numbers route, so Shirley was acquainted with the woman. But for some reason, the sight of Auntie Dee always gave Shirley a sense of fear. The old woman had never done anything to her, but the feeling was there just the same.
"Ya'll could have waited just as well in the front room for me to finish addin' up these here figures instead of running all over my house this-ways," Auntie Dee stated harshly.
Shirley had no doubt that the woman could see she was blushing. For something to do, Shirley fumbled around in her purse and found her eyeglasses.
"Sorry about this," Dolores spoke up loudly. "It's my fault we came barging in your kitchen. I heard your voice and just didn't think. We're running late today, so I just wasn't thinking."
"This goin' be my new pick-up girl?" Auntie Dee asked sharply, writing out numbers on a slip of paper.
"Yes, I'm the person who'll be stopping to pick up your stuff every day," Dolores replied. Suddenly she noticed something over the stove on the wall. It looked as if the wall was alive. It moved. She shook her head and squinted at the wall again, and again it seemed to move.
Auntie Dee finished writing out her figures, folded up the paper and stuck it in an envelope which held some other slips. "It seems as if my route's gettin' smaller every day," Auntie Dee offered as an excuse as she held out the envelope. "There ain't but twenty-eight dollars inside, but things goin' pick up. Ya just have a little patience with me." There was a slight hint of pleading in her voice. The few extra dollars they made off the numbers route probably helped the women pay off many of their bills.
Dolores didn't notice the envelope being offered to her. She was too busy trying to see what was on the back wall of the kitchen. Shirley reached over and took the envelope from Auntie Dee's hand.
After glancing at the figures on the outside of the package, Shirley shook her head. "I don't know, Auntie Dee, it's gettin' awful small. You had better try and pick up some of your old business. Why, we used to pick up as high as two hundred dollars a day through the week here. This kind of take," Shirley shook the envelope, "this ain't worth the price it cost us to pay Dolores here to come pick up."
"Ouch, Goddamn it!" Shirley cursed loudly as Dolores backed up on her foot. "Watch what the hell you're doing."
Dolores didn't even hear her in her haste to get out of the kitchen. Shirley grabbed her arm and held her tightly. "What the hell's wrong with you?"
For a minute Dolores couldn't speak, she only pointed. "On the wall, over the stove. Is it what I think it is?" she finally managed to say.
As Shirley adjusted her glasses on her nose, Auntie Dee spoke up. "Shit!" she exclaimed loudly. "Where's that child been living? She ain't never seen a few roaches before?"
By now, Shirley could make out the black mass of caked up roaches. There were so many of them that it seemed as if the wall was alive. They seemed to move in unison. There were so many of them that you could take a piece of cardboard and scrape them off without reaching the wall under- g neath. Roaches living on top of roaches. The smaller ones on the bottom had been crushed to death by the larger ones on top. It seemed to Shirley that the wall held more roaches than all the roaches she had ever seen in her life. Putting together every roach-infested house she had ever been in, none of them had ever come close to showing such a display of filth.
The fear that Dolores felt only added fuel to Shirley's own terror. Ordinarily the sight of a few roaches wouldn't have disturbed either woman. But so many at one time was a terrifying sight.
"My God," Shirley murmured as she backed out of the kitchen with Dolores clutching her arms. And it was a good thing the women backed out, because over the doorway was another mass of roaches. As they tumbled through the doorway, the footsteps jarred a few of the roaches loose and they fell down on the women.
"Oh, ooooh shitttt! Goddamn it!" Dolores screamed as she brushed the roaches off her arm.
Shirley thought that the creatures had fallen in her hair. She reached up and snatched the expensive wig off her head. She shook it out as she fled from the house.
Auntie Dee followed the women out of the house and stopped on the porch. She stared after the running women in shock. "Why, I never," she began, then shook her head. She turned and glanced at her sister who stood in the doorway holding the envelope that Shirley had dropped.
"Can you believe grown women could act like that at the sight of a few roaches? I do declare, women ain't women no damn more." Then it dawned on her what her sister was holding. She grabbed the envelope out of her sister's hand and rushed down the narrow sidewalk as fast as her skinny legs would allow, waving the envelope.
"Hold up there, gal, you done run off and left everything," she screamed as she ran up to the car.
Shirley sat behind the steering wheel crying hysterical tears as she held her wig. Neither woman had gotten complete control of themselves yet. "My God," Shirley murmured softly, "the sight of them things made my flesh crawl. I still feel as if I've got the fuckin' things all over me."
Auntie Dee banged on the window. "Here, child, ya done run out and left the figures. I don't know what got into you girls, acting like that."
For a minute Dolores just stared at the woman peering in at them. She couldn't quite understand what Auntie Dee was saying. It was more her nerves than anything else that caused laughter to build up inside her. It was like a relief valve, releasing the tension that had been built up inside. Dolores laughed so hard that tears ran down her cheeks, while Auntie Dee stood outside the car banging on the window waving the policy slips wildly.
Shirley knew she should do something, but for the moment her brain locked on her. She couldn't get her thoughts together. The wild laughing of ^ Dolores didn't help matters either. She started the motor so that she could let the window down and receive the package that Auntie Dee kept waving so crazily.
The sound of the motor starting put Auntie Dee in a frenzy. "Just a minute," Shirley yelled as she let the window down.
None of the women had noticed the police car that had pulled up beside them. They were all too occupied to pay any attention to what was going on outside. Shirley was reaching out for the envelope that contained the numbers when the policeman knocked on her window.
As Shirley glanced over her shoulder and saw the policeman knocking, the first thing that crossed her mind was that she was busted. There was no doubt about it. The policemen had heard Auntie Dee screaming about the numbers inside the envelope.
One quick glance at the policemen brought Dolores back to reality. She realized that she had a pocketbook full of numbers. The only thing she didn't realize was that they were already busted. She had no way of knowing that the officers had watched most of the proceedings. What they hadn't witnessed themselves they could just about fill in from the shouting Auntie Dee had been doing. There wasn't the slightest doubt in their minds as to what the envelope held.
Shirley tried to straighten up. She knew that they were on their way downtown and that there was no reason for her to look like a tramp. She began to put the wig back on.CHAPTER 2
Charles Williams stood in the bathroom and admired his physique. "Not bad," he said as he patted his growing stomach. Charles stood over six foot two barefoot. His physique wasn't anything a young man in his teens or early twenties would have been proud of, but for a man forty years old, it was above average. His stomach was too fat, but other than that, he could justly say he was in good shape. He still possessed all of his teeth, bragging that he had never even had a toothache. He wore his hair cut close in a neat natural that was graying at the edges.
Charles stepped on the bathroom scale and the needle went up to two hundred and ten pounds. Charles grinned as he got down and did ten quick pushups. "Not bad," he said again, not in the least out of breath. "For an old man, I'd say, Eldorado Red, you're in the best of health."
"Were you talking to me, Red?" his latest young girl asked from the bedroom.
Eldorado Red took one last look in the full-length mirror before walking out of the bathroom. He pranced around the bed. The young, attractive black girl was stretched out on the lush spread.
"Tina," he said in that loud voice of his, "I'd say you are about one of the luckiest bitches in this cold old world we live in."
Tina tried to frown. "You know I don't like that word, Red. I ain't nobody's bitch, and I don't like to be called one either."
Red stopped his prancing and glanced down at her. "Hey, baby, how many times do I have to tell you that bitch is a term of endearment? It depends on what tone of voice the person uses. Now, when I spoke of it a minute ago, I was really only using it as a figure of speech. If you found something depraved about the word, honey, it's in your own little mind."
For a minute Tina just stared up at him, then she sat up on the edge of the bed. "There you go again, 'Rado Red, using them words. When you start talking like that, you make everything seem right."
Excerpted from Eldorado Red by DONALD GOINES. Copyright © 1974 Donald Goines. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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