November 1963: Easy's settled into a steady gig as a school custodian. It's a quiet, simple existence -- but a few moments of ecstasy with a sexy teacher will change all that. When the lady vanishes, Easy's stuck with a couple of corpses, the cops on his back, and a little yellow dog who's nobody's best friend. With his not-so-simple past snapping at his heels, and with enemies old and new looking to get even, Easy must kiss his careful little life good-bye -- and step closer to the edge....
About the Author
Hometown:New York, New York
Date of Birth:January 12, 1952
Place of Birth:Los Angeles, California
Education:B.A., Johnson State College
Read an Excerpt
When I got to work that Monday morning I knew something was wrong. Mrs. Idabell Turner's car was parked in the external lot and there was a light on in her half of bungalow C.
It was six-thirty. The teachers at Sojourner Truth Junior High School never came in that early. Even the janitors who worked under me didn't show up until seven-fifteen. I was the supervising senior head custodian. It was up to me to see that everything worked right. That's why I was almost always the first one on the scene.
But not that morning.
It was November and the sky hadn't quite given up night yet. I approached the bungalow feeling a hint of dread. Images of bodies I'd stumbled upon in my street life came back to me. But I dismissed them. I was a workingman, versed in floor waxes and bleach not blood. The only weapon I carried was a pocket knife, and it only pierced flesh when I cut the corns from my baby toe.
I knocked but nobody answered. I tried my key but the door was bolted from the inside. Then that damned dog started barking.
"Who is it?" a woman's voice called.
"It's Mr. Rawlins, Mrs. Turner. Is everything okay?"
Instead of answering she fumbled around with the bolt and then pulled the door open. The little yellow dog was yapping, standing on its spindly back legs as if he were going to attack me. But he wasn't going to do a thing. He was hiding behind her blue woolen skirt, making sure that I couldn't get at him.
"Oh, Mr. Rawlins," Mrs. Turner said in that breathy voice she had.
The adolescent boys of Sojourner Truth took her class just to hear that voice, and to see her figure Mrs. Turner had curves that even a suit of armor couldn't hide. The male teachers at school, and the boys' vice principal, made it a point to pay their respects at her lunch table in the teachers' cafeteria each day. They didn't say much about her around me, though, because Mrs. Turner was one of the few Negro teachers at the primarily Negro school.
The white men had some dim awareness that it would have been insulting for me if I had to hear lewd comments about her.
I appreciated their reserve, but I understood what they weren't saying. Mrs. Idabell Turner was a knockout for any man from Cro-Magnon to Jim Crow.
"That your dog?" I asked.
"Pharaoh," she said to the dog. "Quiet now. This is Mr. Rawlins. He's a friend."
When he heard my name the dog snarled and bared his teeth.
"You know dogs aren't allowed on the property, Mrs. Turner," I said. "I'm supposed "
"Stop that, Pharaoh," Idabell Turner whined at the dog. She bent down and let him jump into her arms. "Shhh, quiet now."
She stood up, caressing her little protector. He was the size, but not the pedigree, of a Chihuahua. He settled his behind down onto the breast of her caramel-colored cashmere sweater and growled out curses in dog.
"Quiet," Mrs. Turner said. "I'm sorry, Mr. Rawlins. I wouldn't have brought him here, but I didn't have any choice. I
I could tell by the red rims of her eyelids that she'd been crying.
"Well, maybe you could leave him out in the car," I suggested.
rdPharaoh growled again.
He was a smart dog.
"Oh no, I couldn't do that. I'd be worried about him suffocating out there."
"You could crack the window."
"He's so small I'd be afraid that he'd wiggle out. You know he spends all day at home trying to find me. He loves me, Mr. Rawlins."
"I don't know what to say, Mrs. "
"Call me Idabell," she said.
Call me fool.
Mrs. Turner had big brown eyes with fabulously long lashes. Her skin was like rich milk chocolate dark, satiny, and smooth.
That snarling mutt started looking cute to me. I thought that it wasn't such a problem to have your dog with you. It wasn't really any kind of health threat. I reached out to make friends with him.
He tested my scent and then bit my hand.
"That's it!" Idabell shouted as if she were talking to a wayward child. "Come on!"
She took the dwarf mongrel and shoved him into the storage room that connected C2 to C1. As soon as she closed the door, Pharaoh was scratching to get back in.
"I'm sorry," she said.
"Me too. But you know that dog has got to go." I held out my hand to her. The skin was broken but it wasn't bad. "Has he had his rabies shot?"
"Oh yes, yes. Please, Mr. Rawlins." She took me by my injured hand. "Let me help."
We went to the desk at the front of the class. I sat down on the edge of her blotter while she opened the top drawer and came out with a standard teacher's first-aid box.
"You know, dog bites are comparatively pretty clean," she said. She had a bottle of iodine, a cotton ball, and a flesh-colored bandage flesh-colored, that is, if you had pink flesh. When she dabbed the iodine on my cut I winced, but it wasn't because of the sting. That woman smelled good; clean and fresh, and sweet like the deep forest is sweet.
"It's not bad, Mr. Rawlins. And Pharaoh didn't mean it. He's just upset. He knows that Holland wants to kill him."
"Kill him? Somebody wants to kill your dog?"
"My husband." She nodded and was mostly successful in holding back the tears. "I've been, been away for a few days. When I got back home last night, Holly went out, but when he came back he was going to...kill Pharaoh."
Mrs. Turner gripped my baby finger.
It's amazing how a man can feel sex anywhere on his body.
"He wants to kill your dog?" I asked in a lame attempt to use my mind, to avoid what my body was thinking.
"I waited till he was gone and then I drove here." Mrs. Turner wept quietly.
My hand decided, all by itself, to comfort her shoulder.
"Why's he so mad?" I shouldn't have asked, but my blood was moving faster than my mind.
"I don't know," she said sadly. "He made me do something, and I did it, but afterwards he was still mad." She put her shoulder against mine while I brought my other hand to rest on her side.
The thirty desks in her classroom all faced us attentively.
"Pharaoh's a smart dog," she whispered in my ear. "He knew what Holly said. He was scared."
Pharaoh whimpered out a sad note from his storage room.
Idabell leaned back against my arm and looked up. We might have been slow dancing if there had been music and a band.
"I don't know what to do," she said. "I can't ever go back there. I can't. He's going to be in trouble and I'll be in it with him. But Pharaoh's innocent. He hasn't done anything wrong."
As she talked she leaned closer. With me sitting on the desk we were near to the same height. Our faces were almost touching.
I didn't know what she was talking about and I didn't want to know.
I'd been on good behavior for more than two years. I was out of the streets and had my job with the Los Angeles Board of Education. I took care of my kids, cashed my paychecks, stayed away from liquor.
I steered clear of the wrong women too.
Maybe I'd been a little too good. I felt an urge in that classroom, but I wasn't going to make the move.
That's when Idabell Turner kissed me.
Two years of up early and off to work dissolved like a sugar cube under the tap.
"Oh," she whispered as my lips pressed her neck. "Yes."
The tears were all gone. She looked me in the eye and worked her tongue slowly around with mine.
A deep grunt went off in my chest like an underwater explosion. It just came out of me. Her eyes opened wide as she realized how much I was moved. I stood and lifted her up on the desk. She spread her legs and pushed her chest out at me.
She said, "They'll be coming soon," and then gave me three fast kisses that said this was just the beginning.
My pants were down before I could stop myself. As I leaned forward she let out a single syllable that said, "Here I am, I've been waitin' for you, Ezekiel Porterhouse Rawlins. Take my arms, my legs, my breasts. Take everything," and I answered in the same language.
"They'll be coming soon," she said as her tongue pressed my left nipple through thin cotton. "Oh, go slow."
The clock on the wall behind her said that it was seven-oh-two. I'd come to the door at six forty-nine. Less than a quarter of an hour and I was deeply in the throes of passion.
I wanted to thank God or his least favorite angel.
"They'll be coming soon," she said, the phonograph of her mind on a skip. "Oh, go slow."
The desks all sat at attention. Pharaoh whimpered from his cell.
"Too much," she hissed. I didn't know what she meant.
When the desk started rocking I didn't care who might walk into the room. I would have gladly given up my two years of accrued pension and my two weeks a year vacation for the few moments of ecstasy that teased and tickled about five inches below my navel.
"Mr. Rawlins!" she cried. I lifted her from the desk, not to perform some silly acrobatics but because I needed to hold her tight to my heart. I needed to let her know that this was what I'd wanted and needed for two years without knowing it.
It all came out in a groan that was so loud and long that later on, when I was alone, I got embarrassed remembering it.
I stood there holding her aloft with my eyes closed. The cool air of the room played against the back of my thighs and I felt like laughing.
I felt like sobbing too. What was wrong with me? Standing there half naked in a classroom on a weekday morning. Idabell had her arms around my neck. I didn't even feel her weight. If we were at my house I would have carried her to the bed and started over again.
"Put me down," she whispered.
I squeezed her.
"Please," she said, echoing the word in my own mind.
I put her back on the desk. We looked at each other for what seemed like a long time slight tremors going through our bodies now and then. I couldn't bear to pull away. She had a kind of stunned look on her face.
When I leaned over to kiss her forehead I experienced a feeling that I'd known many times in my life. It was that feeling of elation before I embarked on some kind of risky venture. In the old days it was about the police and criminals and the streets of Watts and South Central L.A.
But not this time. Not again. I swallowed hard and gritted my teeth with enough force to crack stone. I'd slipped but I would not fall.
Mrs. Turner was shoving her panties into a white patent-leather purse while I zipped my pants. She smiled and went to open the door for Pharaoh.
The dog skulked in with his tail between his legs and his behind dragging on the floor. I felt somehow triumphant over that little rat dog, like I had taken his woman and made him watch it. It was an ugly feeling but, I told myself, he was just a dog.
Mrs. Turner picked Pharaoh up and held him while looking into my eyes.
I didn't want to get involved in her problems, but I could do something for her. "Maybe I can keep the dog in the hopper room in my office," I said.
"Oh," came the breathy voice. "That would be so kind. It's only until this evening. I'm going to my girlfriend's tonight. He won't be any bother. I promise."
She handed Pharaoh to me. He was trembling. At first I thought he was scared from the new environment and a strange pair of hands. But when I looked into his eyes I saw definite canine hatred. He was shaking with rage.
Mrs. Turner scratched the dog's ear and said, "Go on now, honey. Mr. Rawlins'll take care of you."
I took a step away from her and she smiled.
"I don't even know your first name," she said.
"Easy," I said. "Call me Easy."
Copyright © 2002 by 1996 by Walter Mosley
Table of Contents
On Tuesday, August 26, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Walter Mosley, author of A LITTLE YELLOW DOG.
Moderator: August 26th, 1997, BarnesandNoble@aol welcomed bestselling author Walter Mosley. Mosley, President Clinton's favorite mystery author, continues his bestselling Easy Rawlins series with A LITTLE YELLOW DOG. The adept sleuthing of reluctant detective Easy Rawlins came to the nation's attention in 1995 when TriStar Pictures released Devil in a Blue Dress," starring Denzel Washington.
JainBN: Welcome, Mr. Mosley, and thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us tonight.
Walter Mosley: I'm very happy to be here.
JainBN: We have a pile of questions in the queue from readers. If you're ready, we'll turn our mike over to them.
Walter Mosley: Okay.
Question: Mr. Mosley, I am a budding writer. Could you please tell me how you choose the point of view for your novels and how you bring your characters to life?
Walter Mosley: The point of view is informed by the story. If the story is very much about one character and his or her story, it will most likely be benefited by a first-person point of view. But if you are telling a story about a subject or a larger group of people, the third person needs to be considered. Character development has more to do with love of your characters and an ability to edit out all that is extraneous.
Question: What's your opinion on DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS being used in college fiction classes, after the tremendous hype released with the making of the movie?
Walter Mosley: I don't see much of a connection between the movie and it's being used in college classes, but I'm very pleased to have it used in contemporary college courses.
Question: Will Mouse return in any of your future novels?
Walter Mosley: Only time will tell.
Question: Mr. Mosley, are there any more novels in the works for Easy and Mouse, or was GONE FISHIN' the end of their travels together? I mean, after all, with Mouse reformed, who will have Easy's back?
Walter Mosley: One has to learn to live on one's own. And I'm not writing any books about Easy at the moment.
Question: Your construction of Philly Stetz is interesting, particularly his surprise that Easy is well-read. What message were you sending with that particular interaction?
Walter Mosley: I think that one of the strengths that Easy has as a private detective is a limitation imposed on him by the society, the general population believing that black people are inferior or uncivilized in certain ways. It's also kind of surprising that a gangster will be well-read, so the recognition between them is that they've both gone under the radar somehow undetected.
Question: How would you describe Easy Rawlins to someone who had not read your work?
Walter Mosley: I would describe Easy as one of those neighborhood heroes who takes responsibility for his actions and tries his best to live by his own moral and ethical code.
Question: Sir, did you create the character Easy Rawlins first, or the plot of the first novel? I mean did you build the story around him, or was he created from the story?
Walter Mosley: They both happened simultaneously in the novel GONE FISHIN'.
Question: What writing method do you use? Outline heavily first, or just start writing?
Walter Mosley: Just start writing.
Question: Which of your books did you enjoy writing the most, and why?
Walter Mosley: Wow! Well, the answer is this I just finished a novel -- a very difficult novel -- two months ago, and it is in the genre of my first love in fiction, science fiction writing. This book freed up my use of language and my imagination so much that it made me very happy and at the same time a little scared.
Question: How do you go about researching your material?
Walter Mosley: I think that novels are mainly the revelation of character, and in that, my research is only as much as I know people or want to know them. As far as events, facts, geographies go, I wait until I finish the book in an early draft and then go out to see what I've missed.
Question: What "censors" ride your shoulders? Any? Your writing is so honest and intense.
Walter Mosley: I think the only censor that I have are things that don't sound right. They sound wrong to me, I take them out. However there are some things in life which might be true but they would be misinterpreted if they are presented in fiction. When I come across that kind of subject matter, I sometimes exorcise it.
Question: Have you ever thought about a female sleuth?
Walter Mosley: I think about them all the time. But I think that the mysteries of contemporary women are as a rule best handled by contemporary female writers.
Question: How involved were you with the filming of "Devil in a Blue Dress"? Were you satisfied with the film?
Walter Mosley: I was very happy with the film. I spoke often to the director and writer, Carl Franklin. But it was his movie.
Question: Easy is constantly beaten up. What's the significance or message?
Walter Mosley: I don't know if there is any message. I think that if you try to exceed the bounds drawn for you by an overwhelming culture, you're bound to get some bruises.
Question: What contemporary mystery writers of either gender do you enjoy reading, and why?
Walter Mosley: I don't read a lot of mystery nowadays because mysteries are mainly plot, and when I get caught up in writing my own plot, I find myself easily confused by other people's plots. That being said, a contemporary writer, recently deceased, Charles Willeford is a wonderful, hard-boiled writer. I'll also say that Valerie Wilson Wesley is a wonderful writer, too.
Question: Please clarify if possible. In GONE FISHIN', did Mouse fully realize the identity of his father, the musician?
Walter Mosley: He suspected, but he did not know.
Question: Can we hear a little more about the next novel? Who are the characters, and when will we see it?
Walter Mosley: Two new books are finished. One is ALWAYS OUTNUMBERED, ALWAYS OUTGUNNED, a story about a 60-something ex-con after he's spent 27 years in prison for a heinous double murder. It's a group of short stories in which Socrates Fortlow attempts to find a sense of morality and ethics way down below the template of middle-class justice. That's also going to be a film by HBO early next year. A book that I just finished is called BLUE LIGHT, the first novel in the INVASION OF LIGHT trilogy. It's a slightly complex story about the invasion of earth.
Question: I know that Hillerman had had his books published back in the early '70s but became "an overnight success" in the late '80 and early '90s. How long were you writing or published before you were discovered by the popular press?
Walter Mosley: My first book was a success; it was published in 1990.
Question: Your new book was published by Norton? How was your experience with the publisher for GONE FISHIN'? Will you go with a black publisher again?
Walter Mosley: I loved being published by Black Classic Press. I would certainly go with a black publisher again.
Question: I have read all of your published novels in one sitting per book. The characters are so unforgettable and realistic. You are one of the greatest writers of all time. I thought RL'S DREAM was a masterpiece.
Walter Mosley: Many thanks.
Question: I know you are pretty outspoken about racism in the publishing industry. What do you think can be done to alleviate that?
Walter Mosley: It's going to take a lot of work. One of the things that I've done is given the seed money and some legwork to start a publishing institute at the City College of New York in Harlem. I think that we all need to do whatever we can to make sure that our cultural backbone -- the publishing industry -- represents the full spectrum of our cultural experience.
Question: Your books are read and loved across all societal lines. How do you account for this universality -- is it something you consciously went after?
Walter Mosley: I hope that's true, that so many different people are reading me. It's my commitment that good writing is good writing, whatever it's about and whoever's mouth it comes from.
Question: Do you believe that writers can learn the novel craft or that good authors are born with the talent?
Walter Mosley: I do believe that people are born with varying degrees of talent for writing. Some stupendous and some not so much. However, the structure of a novel, the idea of a novel, can be learned by anyone, be that a reader or a writer. And you can be born with the talent to write, but you still have to learn about the novel before you can write one.
Question: If you did decide to write a female sleuth, would you do it under a pseudonym for believability?
Walter Mosley: I would never write under a pseudonym.
Question: Why do you think female writers create better female sleuths? I don't agree.
Walter Mosley: We can agree to disagree there. But what I meant was not just a sleuth but also culturally and in a sense of gender, the mysteries of women to be unlocked in this day and age.
Question: Why do you think there is such a lack of black male mainstream writers of your generation?
Walter Mosley: That's a very difficult question. There are quite a few black male writers, but I agree there could be more. Part of the problem comes from the publishing industry, which has historically had some problem believing in black male novelists as a viable commodity. But also it has been the job of black writers throughout the '20s, '30s, '40s, and even the '50s to use the novel as a political tool to defend and explain the race. Today the entertainment value of novels is very much a new phenomenon in the black male writing community.
Question: Who, if anyone, inspired Easy Rawlins. Is he similar to you in any way?
Walter Mosley: Easy comes from my father's side of my family. Transplants from Texas and Louisiana to southern California. Easy and Mouse, too, have many characteristics in common with my father. But there are very few similarities between them.
Question: Why did you decide to set your Easy Rawlins books in post-World War II Los Angeles?
Walter Mosley: Because I think that's really the nucleus of social and cultural change in America at that time.
Question: Why were you scared to write science fiction, if it's your first love?
Walter Mosley: Because science fiction is the one form of fiction that has the ability truly to go beyond the necessities of character development. The stories in science fiction are truly about the human imagination. It's imposing form on the nearly formless.
Question: I understand the significance of Socrates, but what does Fortlow mean?
Walter Mosley: It doesn't mean anything. It's just a last name.
Question: JFK's assassination occurs at quite a pivotal moment in A LITTLE YELLOW DOG. Why did you decide to coincide the final showdown and the news of Kennedy's death?
Walter Mosley: I think to show the sense of total helplessness on the part of Easy that was reflected in the times.
Question: Mr. Mosley, what inspired you to become a writer?
Walter Mosley: My father always told me that you have to do two things in life, and you have to do them in order. The first is to pay the rent. And the second is to do what you love. I spent the greater part of my time up until my mid-30s trying to find what I loved. I knew I was looking for it, but I didn't know what it was. And then one day I started to write, and that's it.
JainBN: This will be our last question for Mr. Mosley tonight.
Question: I have read GONE FISHIN' and A LITTLE YELLOW DOG. Mouse seeks redemption. In your opinion, does he find it?
Walter Mosley: That's an interesting question. And sadly, I think yes, he did. He was living a very brutalized life, and this was his way to overcome the pain that he and his mother experienced.
JainBN: Mr. Mosley, thanks so much for joining us tonight, and best of luck with your next book!
Walter Mosley: Well, thanks a lot, and I'll talk to you later.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Very nice touch, will keep you turning the pages. Mouse was the man I love your character. What happen to Mouse? They are so real. I'm not a dog lover, but you couldn't help but be on this the dog side.