The desk lieutenant nudged his aide and winked to the auxiliary policewoman, a blonde portorriquena who worked the switchboard during off hours and had a weakness for detectives; the lieutenant's aide hoped to soften this portorriquena by tweezing the hairs in his nose and trying French perfume, but he couldn't have told you the color of Isobel's underpants, or named one beauty mark above the knee. Isobel preferred the men from homicide and assault.
The five uniformed patrolmen in the musterroom shared the lieutenant's views. They begrudged the privileged lives of the bulls on the second floor: gold shields, glory assignments, the chance to fondle Isobel. They laughed at the war party, a thickfooted regalia of shotgun, cigars, and fiberglass vests. They could tolerate DeFalco, Rosenheim, and Brown, third-graders whose swaggering in stringy neckties was familiar to them. Coen they despised. He earned more than their own sergeant, and he had become a first-grade detective sitting on his rump in some inspector's office and escorting ambassadors and movie stars from the Bureau of Special Services. They were sure Coen was a spy for the First Deputy Commissioner. They prayed he would come back with a hole in his head.
Only Isobel wished him good things. He was the first israelita she had met with blue eyes. He didn't ask her to strip on a hard bench behind the squadroom, like DeFalco and Brown. He would take her to his apartment, undress her properly, buy her strawberry tarts, sit in the bathtub with her for an hour, and not rush her into her clothes. She watched him carry his shotgun in a shopping bag. DeFalco stepped between Coen and Isobel. He expected more attention from her. She had unzippered him an hour ago, near the footlockers, just as she was about to begin her tour of duty. He attached the groin protector to his fiberglass vest in front of Isobel. She still refused to look at him. "Where's your boy?" he snarled at Coen.
"On the stoop."
And they tramped out, four Manhattan bulls, past Isobel and the security guard. DeFalco, Rosenheim, and Brown ignored Arnold the Spic, who sat on the steps of the precinct wearing Coen' s handcuffs. He was a black Puerto Rican with a clubfoot. He rode with detectives in unmarked cars, near the siren, if possible, and lived with the homicide squad until the commander tossed him out of the house for spitting at male prisoners and propositioning female suspects and half the auxiliary police. Arnold sulked under the green lamps. He wanted to help the bulls collar the taxi bandit Chino Reyes, so he would be allowed to mind the cage in the squadroom again. DeFalco had no pity for Arnold. The Spic was Coen's personal stoolie, and he wouldn't perform for any other detective. Resting on his bad foot, Arnold peeked inside Coen's shopping bag. "I saw the Chinaman, Manfred, swear to God. He was sucking a lamb chop at Bummy's, on East Broadway."
Rosenheim frowned. "Since when does the Chinaman mingle with captains and plainclothesmen? You know who hangs out there. Coen, we take that bar, we'll come out with blood in our eyes."
"Bummy's," the Spic insisted.
"Get in the car," Brown said. Arnold had to lean hard to activate his orthopedic shoe. On the sixth try he cleared the stoop. He sat up front in the clumsy green Ford between Coen and Brown. Being the youngest detective, Brown drove. DeFalco and Rosenheim slumped on the back seat. "Spanish Arnold?" DeFalco whispered. "Want the siren?"
Arnold abused his skin with a handcuff, rubbing until blue lines emerged on his wrist, but he couldn't say no. They ran three red lights, the siren whirling under their knees, Arnold growing stiff. He would have given up humping the grocer's wife for a long ride with the bulls. He made his handcuffs visible to the traffic. His tongue was swollen with spit.
"Hold him. The Spic's gonna fly through the roof."
Coen switched off the siren. "Leave him alone." Arnold wiped his tongue. Rosenheim cackled. Coen slid the shopping bag along his thighs.
Rosenheim saved enough breath to call, "He's right. Coen's right. The biggest brains on the force are out looking for the lipstick freak, and we're stuck with a common Chinese nigger who punches cab drivers in the head. Why didn't they put me and Spanish on the freak? We'd flush him out, chop off his peanut, show him you can't mess with Puerto Rican babies in Manhattan North."
"Rosenheim," DeFalco said, "stop giving Spanish privileged information. He might get the wrong idea. Then we'll have two freaks to worry about. Let him hang on to Chino. Coen and the Chinaman are cousins."
Rosenheim and DeFalco smiled without having to exchange winks; they knew Coen would enter Bummy's first, and they wouldn't grieve if the Chinaman happened to blow him away. They didn't appreciate getting the wonderboy. The First Dep had tossed him into their lap. They preferred a team without Coen. If they needed some face-slapping, or grubby detective work, they could depend on Brown. Coen lost his rabbi in the First Dep's office, and the chiefs couldn't get rid of him fast enough. They bounced him from one detective district to the next. But you couldn't say a word in his presence. Maybe the chiefs were dangling Coen. Only a moron would relax around a man who had come out of the fink squad.
So their expectations bumped in Chino's direction. The Chinaman had promised to fry Coen's brains. Having a Creole father and a Chinese mom, he was peevish about letting a blond detective touch his face. Coen had humiliated him in front of his clients. Chink-town gamblers hired the Chinaman to protect their fan-tan games. He was on good terms with the down-town precincts. None of the gamblers he sat for had ever been raided. But a "kite" came down from the District Attorney's office; a Chinese gentleman in one of Chino's games was wanted for murder in Port Jervis, New York, so DeFalco, Coen and three uniformed men took the game with a
sledgehammer, two gold badges, and Coen's shopping bag. They broke through a door at the back of a laundry where the game was held. They frisked all the Chinamen. They scattered fantan beads. They confiscated twelve thousand and eight dollars in cash, Chino smoldering with his arms behind his head. He lunged at Coen, who was busy feeling the Chinaman's pockets. Coen slapped him with a knuckle, and Chino had a split on his cheek. He refused to be fingerprinted at the stationhouse. Coen flopped Chino's wrist over the fingerprint board and stood him inside the cage while DeFalco delivered the gamblers to the interrogation room. Chino spit through the wires. Spanish Arnold, attending the cage before the commander ousted him, offered to sell Chino a pillow and a chair. Chino spit a little higher. Spanish walked around the cage wagging his testicles at Chino. An assistant district attorney peeked at the gamblers through the one-way mirror outside the interrogation room. He advised DeFalco that homicide had booked the wrong chink. The Chinamen called their bondsmen on the upstairs phone. Chino was on the street in five hours, but the raid hurt his credibility. Gamblers could no
longer feel immune with Chino in their parlors. He was phoning the precinct once a week. He wanted Coen. "Tell Blue-eyes Chino Reyes is remembering him." He began taking off newspaper stands and taxi-cabs in Coen's district. He hoped to embarrass all detectives this way. Careless, overeager, he dented a few cabbies' heads. And Coen carried his shotgun to work in a shopping bag.
They parked on Clinton Street and made Arnold sit in the car. Rosenheim shook Arnold's handcuffs. "It's dangerous, Spanish. You don't want Chino to know who fingered him."
Coen felt inside the shopping bag. Arnold couldn't catch his eye. He moped on the seat and parroted the scratches and bleeps that came in over the police radio. "Sector Nine Henry, respond to Seven-oh-five Delancey. Child in convulsions. Advise Central if ambulance is needed. . . Sector Seven George, suspicious woman prowling in Battery Park."
Rosenheim walked to the side entrance of the bar and idled there, cleaning his nails with an emery board. Coen, Brown, and DeFalco crashed through the front. No guns were drawn, but Coen had a wrist in the shopping bag. Bummy Gilman saw the three detectives from his washroom. He rinsed his hands and held them under the tap. He didn't have to tolerate bulls on the doorstep. Precinct captains ate with Bummy. Jew inspectors played pinochle with him at headquarters. And he had a uniformed lieutenant at his private booth. DeFalco aimed Coen's shopping bag at the floor. Bummy kept his mean stare. DeFalco approached him.
"Bummy, this isn't my show. Some punk who belongs to my partner says Chino Reyes was eating lamb chops at the bar."
"I wouldn't hide no crappy chink pistol. Pull your cheap tricks in somebody else's joint. Your friends stink, DeFalco."
The lieutenant called from Bummy's table. "Bummy, bring him here." DeFalco remained stiff while the lieutenant brushed his tunic. "Who told you to come into my yard with a goddamn cannon?"
"We're looking for Chino Reyes."
"Fuck Chino Reyes," the lieutenant said. He was drinking pure rye. "Who's the glom with the stick in his hand?"
The lieutenant hunched in the booth, his jowls working. "Manfred Coen?" He sucked on the whiskey. "You talk Chino Reyes, and you send the First Dep's choirboy down on Bummy?"
"He isn't with the First Dep any more."
"Shithead, the rat squad has lifetime membership cards. They're circulating him, that's all. They plant him on you, then they pull him out. DeFalco, some good advice. Don't bounce too often with the glom. People might think he's married to you. Take him out the back. I don't want to be seen with a rat."
Coen wouldn't go. He ducked the shopping bag under a stool and ordered a sloe gin at the bar. "Woman's drink," Bummy figured to himself, but he didn't ask his barman to close any bottles. Brown had German ale with DeFalco. He only looked once at the lieutenant. Coen walked out the front after his third sloe gin. He stole peanuts for Arnold. Rosenheim was sleeping in the car, a Spanish comic book over his eyes. DeFalco went to twist Arnold's ear. The pout on Coen stopped him. He satisfied himself poking Arnold in the chest.
"Trust a Spic. Who paid you to mention Bummy's? Spanish believes in phantoms these days. He must be sniffing airplane glue."
"Manfied, Chino ate a chop. He had a fancy napkin with Bummy's name on it. He was there."
DeFalco slapped a thigh. "Jesus, you take Arnold's word over Bummy?"
They arrived at the precinct without mentioning Chino again.
Humped against a pickle barrel and a pile of table-cloths, the Chinaman had seen Spanish Arnold ftom the window grille of Bummy's storage chest. He pitied the Spic who couldn't stay alive without sleeping in detective cars and nibbling rust off the squad-room cage. But he wasn't going to allow a stoolie with handcuffs to snitch on him, tell his hiding place to the Manhattan bulls. "Arnold, you'll join your master one of these days. In the cemetery for Jews." He would take Coen and his Spic together, bend their teeth, show them how unprofitable it could be to mess with Chino Reyes. He waited until the bulls left East Broadway, then he slipped out of the closet without confronting Bummy. He was wearing a red mop that he had bought at a trading company on Pell Street and fluffed out with a pair of scissors. He would make no other concessions to the bulls. He wore the mop mostly for Bummy, who entertained assorted captains at his private booth and couldn't afford a fracas in his bar. Otherwise the Chinaman would have pissed on Blue-eyes and his mends.
He crossed the Bowery, avoiding the crooked lanes of Doyers Street, because he didn't want any of the Chinese grocers to spot him in a wig. He was safer on Mulberry, where the Italians and Puerto Ricans wouldn't be upset by red hair on a Chinaman. He walked under the fire escapes of his old school. A Chinaman with Cuban ways, he had never been accepted by the toughs of P.S. 23 (Chino arrived from Havana with his father at the age of nine). They called him "nigger boy" and outlawed him from all the Chinese gangs. So the Chinaman had to steal fruit and vegetables on his own. He modeled himself after the guinea bloods who loitered on Grand Street, and by the time he was eleven he took to wearing suspenders with his initials on the supports, pants with flares for his knees, and striped socks. At thirteen he delivered shrimp balls and spicy duck to the fan-tan players of Mott and Pell. Soon he guarded wallets and money belts at fan-tan games, and earned bonuses settling fights among the players, until Coen chased him off the street.
He recognized Solomon Wong sitting in a garbage can. Solomon had washed dishes in Cuba for Papa Reyes, and became a norteamericano like Chino and his dad. He lived in the yards of certain flophouses off the Bowery. Seeing him in the fall, wallowing inside a ratty spring coat with sleeves that could wrap twice around his waist, Chino was certain the old man wouldn't survive the winter. Then Solomon would appear at the end of March, on a stoop, in a garbage can, or a grounded delivery wagon, his coat rattier than the year before. It was April now, and Chino addressed the old man in Spanish, calling him "tata" (or daddy), with great affection and no snobbery. "Bueno' dias, tata." The old man belched a blurry hello. He had trouble pronouncing s's without his teeth. Chino wanted to give him a hundred dollars, two hundred maybe, but Solomon would have been insulted by so munificen,t a' gift. The Chinaman had to learn the art of proportion with this old man. Solomon might accept a loan of five dollars, but only if it was given in the name of Chino's dad. "Tata," the Chinaman said, dropping money in Solomon's cuff. "My father's bones will tear through his grave if you don't accept the fiver."
The Chinaman went to Ferrara's pastry house and ordered three napoleons and one cannoli, and a tall glass of orzata, an almond drink favored by Italians, Cubans, and half-Chinese. A crapshooter from uptown caught him in the middle of a napoleon. The crapshooter was sixty-seven, with bleached hair and uninterrupted moons on his fingernails. His cheeks were wide with agitation. He couldn't keep his hands off the Chinaman's suspenders. "Chino, I want the girl." The Chinaman started another napoleon. "You hear, it has to be Odette."
"Ziggy, you'd better settle for something less. That girl is off the market."
Unable to operate in Chinatown, Chino was managing a small train of whores for an uptown syndicate.
"Zorro says she's still in business. I'll tell him about you, Chino, I mean it."
"Tell," the Chinaman said.
"Chino, I'm offering you a hundred and fifty. That's clear profit. She doesn't have to take off a garment. I just want to look."
"Ziggy, walk away while you still own a pair of legs. I can't digest the cannoli with your perfume in my nose."
Not all of the Chinaman's problems stemmed from Coen. He was in love with an eighteen-year-old prostitute, one of his own girls. The Chinaman distributed short subjects featuring Odette, the porno queen, to specific bars and stag clubs, he arranged dates for her with serious men who arrived at Odette's apartment on Jane Street with fifty-dollar bills tucked in their shoes, but he couldn't get a finger inside Odette's clothes. She wouldn't fornicate with a Chinaman. Kicking under his pride, he offered to pay. Two hundred dollars. For a girl he was managing. Two hundred dollars for someone who should have admired the soft leather on his suspenders, who should have been grateful for making her rich. Odette said no. "Sonny, I don't get down with triggermen." The Chinaman would have branded her, shaved her crotch, put his initials on her belly, no matter how valuable a property she was, but Odette could control his rages with a few chosen words. "Zorro wouldn't like me with blood on my behind."
So Chino walked the line between Bummy's and Ferrara's, his mop growing a dirty brownish red (he couldn't risk eating at any of the dim sum cafes on Mott Street though he was starving for pork and abalone), until the spit accumulated on his underlip and he tired of almond syrup on his tongue. Then he went looking for Odette. He tried Jane Street, stabbing her buzzer with a double-jointed finger.
"Odette, you home? It's only me, Reyes. I want we should talk. I make you a promise. I won't touch."
Odette's landlady, a woman in hair curlers and pink mules, came to the tront door. She wouldn't open it for the Chinaman, and he had to shout through the glass. "Take me to Miss Odette." Her frowns convinced him; he would have to go in around the back. "Hey muchacha," he said, tapping on the glass, "don't wait too long for me." He blustered toward the side of the house, trampling little vegetable gardens, crushing the remains of certain flower pots. The Jane Street alley cats wouldn't move for the Chinaman. He had to unhitch one of his suspenders and whirl it at them before they would give up their perch on the fire escape. Then he grabbed for the bottom
rung of the ladder, chinned himself up, and settled outside Odette's windowsill. The window revealed nothing to him. He saw green furniture through a maze of curtain fluff. He forced open the window without splitting any glass. Climbing ill, he searched Odette's room and a half, nibbling the miniature sandwiches she kept in the icebox for the clients Chino brought her (crescents, triangles, and squares of black bread with snips of cheese), reminding him of his new livelihood as a pimp. He took stockings out of her hamper, garter belts, soiled brassieres that she wore in her films. He wanted keepsakes, a wealth of underclothes. "Jesus," he said, stuffing his pockets. "She's with her girlfriends." And he went out the front, scorning fire escapes this time, a garter belt dangling at his knee.
He could have charged into Odette's hangout, The Dwarf, but both the lady bouncers were taller than Chino, and he would have lost a sleeve and a shoe before he reached Odette. So he called from a booth across the street. "Odette Leonhardy," he said with a fake lisp.
"Who is this?"
The bouncer had a softer voice than he expected.
"She hasn't come in yet, Mr. Zorro. Can I take a message?"
"Yeah," the Chinaman said. "Tell her somebody raided her hamper. And if she wants her party clothes back, she'd better be nice to a particular gentleman. She'll know who."
"Anything else, Mr. Zorro? Then I'll have to say goodbye."
The Chinaman stood in the phone booth biting a knuckle and watching the blood rise, his red hair sticky with sugar from all the napoleons he'd consumed. He couldn't decide whether to go uptown or downtown, to meet up with Zorro, Odette, or Coen. He hogged the booth, scattering men and women who wanted to make a call. Finally he trailed a stocking from the top of the booth and walked away from The Dwarf.