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I Know What You Mean
I shouldn't have been awake, but it was one of those nights. I was in the garden, with Dashiell, watching the blue-black sky, waiting for dawn and the false feeling of safety that comes with the light. When my cell phone rang, I sent Dash for it, wiped it off on the leg of my jeans, and flipped it open.
"I got to get to sleep," someone said.
The wind blew. I shivered. The dry yellow leaves that had clustered against the back wall of the garden lifted and eddied.
"I know what you mean," I told her without bothering to ask who she was or who had died this time.
"What I was wondering," she said, a heavy smoker, a rich, raspy Lauren Bacall voice, "is if you're going to the run with Dashiell tomorrow."
He was over at the back wall, poking his big head into the pile of leaves, trying to figure out what had made them move.
"Who wants to know?" I asked.
"Never mind that for now. This is about work. For you."
I waited for more. She waited for me to comment.
"This here's Rachel, right?"
"Well." Pleased with herself.
I had a nearly overwhelming urge to talk, to tell her that maybe I was awake because the wind had made the windows rattle, that the noise had gotten me up. Or maybe not—maybe something else, the holiday blues arriving earlier than usual this year, before Thanksgiving this time, ask if she ever got them, and if she did, what she did about it. I could have gone with it, told her the story of my life. Four in the morning, you'll talk, period. You'll order a pizza to talk to the deliveryman. You'll say anything to anyone who'll listen.
Instead I said, "Two-thirty."
"Before work. Eight o'clock."
"That's less than four hours from now," I said, more to myself than to her, thinking I wouldn't get any sleep at all, a hell of a way to start a case.
"Not that eight. The other one."
"Eight P.M.? But you said—"
"Right. I'm a health care professional. Night shift."
"Okay. Eight P.M. it is, but then not at the dog run. Too many aggressive dogs late in the day. Name another spot."
"You the fussy one. You name one."
"Farther west okay?"
"Abingdon Square Park, Twelfth and Hudson." I figured it wasn't all that far from St. Vincent's Hospital. If that's where she worked. If not, then the hell with it. Let her take the subway.
"You got it."
"How will I know you? I mean, just in case someone else decides to take a load off at eight o'clock, enjoy the scenery."
"Are you kidding? You don't got a dog to exercise, some other pressing reason to be out, you staying inside, watching HBO, you're not sitting out in no unheated park. It's November, woman. Where you been, hibernating?"
"Girl, you too much with your questions. Take something, okay? Help yourself relax. It's not gonna be your problem. I'll know you. Okay?"
"And how will you do that?"
She sighed. There was some whispering then, but her hand must have been over the mouthpiece, because I couldn't make out the words.
"Honey, you was described, in detail. No stone was left with moss on it. You wanna skip the park, walk around the Village with your dog, keep moving to keep warm, it don't make no difference to me, I'll find you, jus' make up your mind. What I can't do is keep standing here yammering about it. My feet's killing me."
"Okay. Abingdon Square it is. And what did you say the job was?" Wondering what kind of a person calls at this hour of the night, wondering what she had in mind for me to do.
"You see what I mean about you? I din't say. But it's undercover investigation. What'd you think I was goin' to say, nucular physics? We'll tell you all about it tomorrow."
But there was nothing more. The line was dead.CHAPTER 2
I slept for three and a half hours, from just after light to nearly eleven A.M. Then I shopped for organic meat and vegetables for Dashiell and me, did the laundry at the main house while checking to make sure no one had broken in and that all systems were operational, the job that gives me a rent I can afford. I raked the last of the fallen leaves, trimmed back the herbs for winter, and vacuumed the cottage from top to bottom. At a quarter to eight, Dash and I headed over to Abingdon Square, the small triangular park where Hudson Street and Eighth Avenue play kissy-face for just a moment.
I sat to the right of the Twelfth Street gate so that I could see both entrances, turned up my collar, opened the Times, holding it high, the way you do when you read in the subway, except there the paper gets folded like a road map in large accordion pleats so that you don't take up the room of three people. Here, alone on a park bench, I spread the paper out and slumped down behind it. Very B movie. Not to mention pointless. I was not only the only person there with a pit bull, I was the only person there. Besides that, it was way too dark to read.
I didn't have long to wait. She was on time. Rather, they were on time. I knew they were my clients the moment they showed. It wasn't the white uniforms either, because, truth be told, they didn't look much like nurses.
The one holding the dog, a wirehaired mini dachshund the color of bread crust sticking halfway out of her short, red leather jacket, had big hair, loose, frizzy, and a shade of blond that was closer to white than yellow. Her skin was pale, too, coffee with much too much milk in it. She wore a short, tight, shiny black skirt, lacy stockings, and pointy-toed stiletto heels. Her compatriots, one on each side, weren't wearing white either. The biggest one, head and shoulders above the other two, was wearing a halter top and matching miniskirt in a floral pattern, a faux fur jacket over it, her bronze hair piled high on her head, loose curls falling forward against her shiny ebony skin. In the light from a streetlamp, I could see she had glitter along her prominent cheekbones. A nice touch. I thought I might try that sometime. The smallest of the three, her skin the color of walnuts, eyes as small and dark as currants, wore spandex, a kind of cat suit, except the pants ended mid-thigh, as if she were about to do a cross-country bicycle race. But had that been her plan, the shoes were all wrong. They were little strappy things with the highest heels I'd ever seen, heels as sharp as needles that made a metallic peck-a-dee-peck sound as she approached, like a hungry chicken with a stainless-steel beak. Me, I couldn't sit in those shoes, let alone work as a health care professional in them.
They spotted me and tottered over. I dropped the paper onto the bench, stood, and smiled. Or maybe I gaped. Who knows?
The big one stuck out her enormous hand. I felt sure she was going to say her name was Alice, because Lord knows, I was in Wonderland. But I was wrong.
"I'm LaDonna." She was tall, dark, and gorgeous, six-one, maybe even six-two in stocking feet. Only she wasn't—she wore thigh-high pink boots and matching lipstick. We shook hands, her grip, like her broad shoulders and narrow hips, at odds with the message her outfit was trying so desperately to convey.
"Chi Chi," the frizzy-haired one said. "And this here's Clint." She jiggled the dog. "Same deep-set, dark eyes." She nodded slowly. "I could go for him," she said.
"Aren't his blue?" the one in the cat suit said, wagging one long finger to and fro.
Chi Chi looked down at her dog, then shook her head. "No way. They brown."
The one in the cat suit shook her head. Never mind, her hand said.
Chi Chi shrugged, turning back to me. "Did you see the one where he risked everything for the hookers?"
"I did," I told her. "I loved it."
One hand to her chest, long, iridescent purple nails. "Me, too. The Un something, am I right?" It was the voice from the phone. "This here's Jasmine. She won't tell you herself. She won't speak up 'less you make a mistake. Then she jump in, point it out to you, make sure everyone knows how smart she is. One year of college." Chi Chi nodded, then knocked my third client with her hip.
Jasmine had one arm bent, her pointer on her heavily rouged cheek, the elbow resting in her other hand. She looked me up and down.
"She needs work," she said. "But she has potential, I'll give her that. Turn around."
I did, Dash standing up, then sitting down again, confused. He wasn't the only one.
She pushed back her long, blue-black hair with one finger—well, one long press-on nail that matched her lipstick and eye shadow—a little over the top for me, but as she'd already pointed out, what did I know? "She's lucky," she said to the other two. "She's got small feet." She turned to me. "Unless you need a tiara or a butt lifter, you don't need Lee's, size thirteen and up. You can go to Eighth Street. You can go to Barney's or Jeffrey, you got money to burn. What are you, an eight narrow?"
I looked down at my red Converse high-tops, then back up at Jasmine without answering. I thought I'd wait for the Mad Hatter to show before saying anything further.
"Shoes tell a lot about a person," LaDonna said. "Your shoes can give you away in a heartbeat."
"Yeah," Jasmine said. "You know what they say. There are only two kinds of women wear red shoes." Now they were all looking at my sneakers. "And you ain't no Spanish dancer."
The three of them fell apart laughing, like it was the funniest line ever delivered.
"At least the color's a good choice," LaDonna said, arms folded, one long finger tapping her Adam's apple.
"Can we get serious here—"
"We are serious, girlfriend. Dead serious. We're trying to save your life, so you can save ours. We're saying, you've got to look the part, for your own safety. And you've got to check them out, too. Look at their shoes. When you get the chance. You see cop shoes, you don't talk money, you beat it the hell out of the car, fast as you can. Of course, some of them, no way you're going away without they get a free sample first." Jasmine shrugged. "Cost of doing business."
"Look, you're way ahead of me here."
"She's right," Chi Chi said. "We need to start on page one. You're already in the sequel."
I sat. She sat to my left and took one of my hands in one of hers. For some inexplicable reason, the gesture touched me. LaDonna sat on my right, her eyes way too bright, as if she were about to cry, or just had. And even though I was cold, wearing much more than she was, she was sweating. They all were. Jasmine squatted in front of me. How she did that without tipping over in those shoes I'll never understand.
Chi Chi did the talking. "One of our friends got killed a couple of weeks ago. Nothing's going to be done about it. You understand how that works, don't you? We was told you would."
She scowled and flicked her hand at me. "I already tol' you, you ask too many questions. Jus' listen, okay?"
"Remember a few years ago, this transvestite Marsha got herself killed on the Christopher Street pier?" She patted my hand. "Remember what happened then?"
"Our point exactly."
They all nodded. Jasmine pushed her hair back again.
"Our friend, someone got her with a box cutter, right across her throat." She drew one finger across her own neck to illustrate, in case I hadn't gotten the picture.
"People think because we engage in commercial sex work, means we're trash," LaDonna said. "They think we're not worth shit, we don't have lives. Or feelings. This is what we do, it's not what we are."
I nodded. Enthusiastically.
"Anyways, we waited to hear something and din't. So then her brother called the precinct to inquire about the case, and they tol' him it was most likely a john and how are they going to find him, it's not like he left his business card or anything."
"But you don't think it was a john?"
"Did I say that? What I'm telling you is that they're not going to do anything. I mean, din't they say that themselves, to her brother?"
"Does she have other family, or just the one brother?"
"There's no brother," Chi Chi said. She was looking down at our hands. She was mumbling. "She was alone. That's why it's up to us to find out who did her."
"But you said—" I stopped when I knew what was coming.
"It was me," she said, letting her voice drop. "I had to try to find out. She was a good person, you know, God-fearing. And she was our friend."
I nodded again. "What was her name?"
Jasmine smiled. "For a while, she was Gypsy Rosalie. She was taking dance class, at the Y. She wanted to be a stripper."
"Hence the name."
"Yeah," she said. "Like you said. Hence the name. And can I give you a little tip here? Cut the 'hence' shit when you're on the stroll, okay?"
"When I'm on the—"
"This was just her day job," LaDonna said.
"So to speak."
"Yeah," Jasmine said, "and eighty-six that one, too."
Before I could even phrase a question—being careful to omit "hence" and "so to speak" from my vocabulary really slowed me down—Chi Chi leaned closer. "What we want," she said, "is for you to find out who. Okay?"
"What we want," LaDonna said, "is to know how much for finding out who. Always good to get the money squared away up front."
"And if you take Visa, Discover, or American Express," Jasmine said.
"I—" Things were moving too fast to stop and think. Perhaps I was still trying to process the phrase "when you're on the stroll."
"Only kidding," Jasmine said. "It'll be a cash transaction. That's the only way we do business." She unzipped the front of her cat suit, reached into her bra, and took out a wad. LaDonna stuck her big hand up her short skirt and brought out another. I turned to Chi Chi, who was pulling Clint out from underneath her jacket. He had a jacket of his own on, also red leather. With a zippered pocket. She opened that and took out a third wad of cash.
"We have to know," she said. "And we're willing to pay to find out."
"And then what? What happens if I find out who?"
They were all paying attention, all giving good eye contact, but for a change, no one had anything to say.
I held up one hand. Dashiell lay down, though it hadn't been meant for him. "Look, I'm not going to find this person and have you execute him."
"What about to protect the rest of us? What if he's going to do it again? What if it wasn't about Rosalinda specifically, but there's someone out there gets off on killing hookers? What about that? At least if we know what the guy looks like, then we're safe." She began to put Clint back inside her jacket, but her hands were shaking. When she looked up, there were tears in her eyes. "If you got the information to the cops, well, that's one thing. If we said, Hey, we know who killed Rosalinda, do you think they'd lift a finger? You think they give a shit about us?"
I sat there thinking for a minute, the three tranny hookers watching me, no one making jokes now.
"So what's your take on this? Do you think it was a customer?"
LaDonna shrugged her massive shoulders.
"Could it have been another hooker? Are you guys territorial?"
No one answered.
"A pimp? Setting an example for the rest of his girls?"
"No? Not a pimp? They're nurturing, gentle, like the good mothers none of us had? That's what I've always heard, so no way, if that's what you tell me, I'm going to feel you're being less than honest."
"I take it you're not going to set the record straight for me."
"Okay, so you don't think it was her pimp?" I looked from one to the next. Mount Rushmore was more expressive, a bit less terrified, too. "If you don't tell me the truth, how am I going to help you?" Wondering if they were capable of doing that, even as I asked.
"Whatever you tell me, it stops with me. Client privilege. You know what that is? So, Rosalinda, did she do something to piss off her pimp? Hold out money? Sass him? Someone, anyone? The pimp, he decided to put the fear of God—"
"We don't know. That's why we hiring you," Chi Chi said in a voice so low I had to lean closer to hear her.
"It could be it was a wife," LaDonna said, "didn't take to her husband's little habit."
I looked up at her.
"They's all married."
"Not all," Chi Chi said. "Maybe most."
Excerpted from The Long Good Boy by Carol Lea Benjamin. Copyright © 2001 Carol Lea Benjamin. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted April 9, 2015
Posted April 8, 2015
Posted December 9, 2008
When the call came in the middle of the night Manhattan private detective Rachel Alexander was already awake, suffering from insomnia. The caller paints a mysterious scenario that boils down to wanting to hire Rachel. Intrigued, Rachel agrees to meet the three potential clients at night in Abington Square. <P>Accompanied by her partner, Dash the dog, Rachel meets three transsexual hookers, Jasmine, LaDonna, and Chi Chi as well as the latter¿s daschund Clint. The threesome wants Rachel to investigate the murder of a peer Rosalinda since the police would not waste time on the underbelly of society. Putting together tens and twenties, they give Rachel $6,000. She begins her investigation by seeing a link between Rosalind¿s death and the gangland style murder of meat plant manager Kevin Mulrooney. As the prostitutes worry that the killer is coming for them too, Rachel realizes she may have to go undercover as bait to catch a killer. <P> THE LONG GOOD DOG is an entertaining urban noir that shows a different darker side of New York City. The story line is crisp and the investigation enjoyable while Rachel and Dash are strong characters. However, this edition of the Alexander mysteries belongs to the three hookers who paint a different type of cozy. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.