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Strike spotted her: baby fat, baby face, Shanelle or Shanette, fourteen years old maybe, standing there with that queasy smile, trying to work up the nerve. He looked away, seeing her two months from now, no more baby fat, stinky, just another pipehead. Her undisguised hunger turned his stomach, but it was a bad day on his stomach all around, starting with the dream about his mother last night, with her standing in the window looking at him, pulling the shades up and down, trying to signal him about something, then on to this morning, being made to wait for an hour in the municipal building before anyone bothered to tell him his probation officer was out sick, then Peanut this afternoon not respecting two-for-one hour, and now, right here, some skinny white motherfucker coming on to The Word, trying to buy bottles, The Word looking to Strike like, "What do I do?" Strike turned away, thinking, "You on you own, I told you that," his stomach glowing Re a coal, making him want to go into a crouch to ease the bum.
Strike was seated on the top slat of his bench, his customary perch, looming over a cluster of screaming kids, pregnant women and too many girls, drinking vanilla Yoo-Hoo to calm his gut, watching The Word try to think on his feet. The white guy, a scrawny redhead wearing plaster-caked dungarees and a black Anthrax T-shirt, looked too twitchy and scared to be a knocko, but you never knew. Knockos making street buys usually came in colors, or at least Italian trying to be Puerto Rican, but not piney-woods white, and they usually acted cool or sneaky, not jumpy. The guy was probably a customer for real, but it was The Word's call on-the-job training.
The guy took out a twenty for two bottles. Strike watched The Word thinking, thinking, finally saying, "Go change it for singles," Strike shook his head: Marked bills, Jesus, they ain't gonna go to the trouble of using marked bills to make a case on a two-bottle buy from a fifteen-year-old boy. A kid getting busted for that would probably get revolved at Juvenile and be back at the benches before the dinner-bout lull was over, fight on time for the heavy night traffic when he was really needed.
The white guy nodded and loped away, looking for a minimart, the twenty-dollar bill sticking tip out of his fist like a flower. Nobody would take him off with Strike here on the bench Tolling the Yoo-Hoo bottle between his palms, but Strike knew that if he was to go take a leak, the guy would be lying in the grass with a crease in his hat. Rodney had said it: most niggers out here want all the money now. They kill the golden goose, the return customer, because they never see past the next two minutes. A bunch of sneaker dealers: get ten dollars, run out and buy a ten-dollar ring.
Like Peanut earlier in the day, trying to make a little extra selling bottles one for ten instead of two for ten during Happy Hour. On each clip he had been pulling in a hundred instead of fifty, then turning over forty and pocketing sixty, until some pipehead came up to Strike and said, "I thought it be HappyHour." Strike looked at Peanut now, sulking on the comer, demoted to raising up -looking out for the Fury a fiat twenty-dollar gig, no bottles, no commission. Watching Peanut probe the raw bump on his cheekbone, Strike swung into his usual recitation: Sneaker dealers, pipeheads, juveniles. Stickup artists, girls, the Fury. You can't trust nobody, so keep your back to the wall and your eyes open 24, 7, 365.
Strike scanned the canyon walls of the Roosevelt Houses. There were thirteen high rises, twelve hundred families over two square blocks, and the housing office gave the Fury access to any vacant apartment for surveillance, so Strike never knew when or where they might be scoping him out. The best he could do was to get somebody to spot them sneaking into a building from the rear, yell out "Five-oh" so nobody did anything stupid and then just wait for them to get bored and leave.
The Fury consisted of only a handful of cops, and they had half a dozen housing projects to cover so they couldn't hole up for more than an hour. But it was no secret that Andre the Giant had a surveillance apartment too: 3A in 14 Dumont, the apartment Housing couldn't rent out because six children and their grandmother had died in a fire there a year before. Andre was obsessed with the dope crew that worked the Dumont side of the projects, unlike the Fury, who liked hitting the Weehawken side, Strike's side. But Andre was a free-range knocko; he could Show UP anywhere, anytime, and he could see the benches just fine from Dumont
Strike's clockers got jumpy if they thought they were being watched. They'd start singing too laud, get into idiotic arguments, let go of the pent-up tension in a hundred dumb ways, becoming a danger both to themselves and to Strike. And then there were the girlfriends to worry about. They were the worst flirting with other guys in front of their boyfriends, gassing up their heads, starting fights. To Strike, the girls were good for one thing only. The Fury were all male, so if a girl kept her mouth shut, acted like a lady, she could carry two clips down in her panties, another two up top, and the Fury couldn't do anything unless they pulled her into the precinct for a strip search. And it was a lot quicker to serve up bottles out of a bra than to have everybody...