Dolores Rey lived in a loft in SoHo. She was more than happy to get her wallet back. She gave Silky a big smile when he handed it to her.
-I had a premonition you were coming, she said in a low voice. Just what I expected. Maybe an inch or two shorter.
-It's hot out there. Could I trouble you for a glass of water?
-Forget about water. You look like you could use one of my potions. Come in.
The place, almost entirely black in color, was bedecked with all kinds of trappings: crystal balls of many sizes, some suspended, some set on luminous rocks in the middle of the floor, stuffed bats and stuffed birds on wires, a mummy, shortwave-radio equipment, and a large telescope pointing to the sky.
-Nice place, he said.
-Did you design it yourself?
-I put it together is more like it.
-I admire people who aren't afraid to go for what they like. Seems a cop-out, wheeling in designers.
-Have a seat. Think positive. It'll soothe your hemisphere.
Silky sat on the sofa, which was upholstered in black satin.
-You definitely have a good eye, he said.
-It's crucial in my line of business.
-I read something about that recently.
-Hold it right there.
She returned almost immediately with a glass pitcher filled with what looked like a snake that had been fed through a juicer.
-Here you go, she said. This'll restore your energy.
Silky waited for her to drink some of hers before he touched any of his.
-Where's that? he said, pointing to a large photograph on the wall.
-The Sudan. I go there every January to talk to the dead.
-Not much there. Sand and sun in the day. Stars at night.
-Ah, but stars give us much of our power.
-I didn't know.
-I sense a secretive, but very sensitive, side to you.
-You were in my latest readings, you know.
-You're more handsome than she told me.
-The woman I connected with. An old Norse woman who lived five hundred years ago. She told me you'd come today.
Dolores moved closer to pour him more of her concoction.
-No thanks, I'm fine.
She remained close to him after she put the pitcher down. Silky, sensing his opportunity, took hold of her hand.
-Death will have the last word, she said.
Silky's colored contact lenses felt gritty. There was nothing he could do about it but blink, and in the hope that a kiss might take his mind off them, he leaned forward. She met him halfway. So far, Gamberge could have nothing to complain about.
-Every inch as good as the old woman predicted, Dolores said.
She closed in for another kiss, longer than the first, more intense, and where it was possible to measure ambiguity in the former, this one left nothing to doubt. Dolores began to stroke Silky's back. After a few moments she stood up.
-Come with me, she said.
She led him by the hand into a chamber off the living area. It was poorly lit, cold. Large objects were lined up in rows. At first he couldn't make out what they were, but as he moved farther in and his eyes adjusted, he could see that they were sarcophagi, marble sarcophagi. On top of each one, carved in marble, was an effigy of a man lying down. He identified Elvis, Napoleon, Alexander the Great, and Jimmy Hendrix. Elvis had a sheepdog at his feet.
-Glorious, aren't they? Dolores said.
She lit three candles on the pricket between Elvis and Napoleon.
-That's a lot of marble you've got there. Hope the floor's reinforced.
Dolores unbuttoned her blouse and pushed gently against Silky. Ran her fingers along the back of his neck and up into his hair, and then she undressed him.
-I love famous men. Dead famous men. You can have any one you want.
-The one we're going to do it with.
-Oh. Who's that over there, the guy in the corner?
-That's the Unknown Soldier. You want him?
-He's one of my very favorites. Get up there, she said. Lie on your back next to him.
Her tone was military. Silky didn't mind. He'd learned, as part of the job, to go with the current in whatever direction it flowed. He climbed up onto the sarcophagus of the Unknown Soldier. The guy had a very off-putting expression on his face. Silky looked away.
-For the Unknown Soldier, Dolores said as she climbed on top of Silky.
-The marble's cold, Silky said.
-Never mind that. For the Unknown Soldier.
She signaled for Silky to say it with her.
-For the Unknown Soldier, they said in unison. For Mr. Gamberge, Silky thought.
Wait a minute, Gamberge said. I need to pop another tape in. Okay. Back up.
-After you climbed off the Unknown Soldier.
-We took a break while she smoked a cheroot. Then she pointed to Robert Mitchum in his marble trenchcoat. She got up first, knelt down, and put her hands on his chest. Last we moved on to Napoleon. I was spent. I asked to leave.
-You didn't, did you?
-No. She told me no one exits the mausoleum till she's ready. Would be very bad medicine to leave without her.
-Chick had stamina. You gotta give her that. Who'd she like the best?
-The Unknown Soldier.
-Weird. He's like nobody. So how do you rate her?
-Mr. Gamberge, you know I hate-
-Silky, get on with it. You know we got to have details for the book. How was her body?
-Fabulous. Toned. Beautiful neck.
-Good catch, Silky. I'll call her Marble Woman for now. Might come up with something better when I transcribe the tape.
Gamberge turned off the machine.
-You leave your name?
-Of course. On Jimmy Hendrix's marble guitar.
-I never found one to slash. While she was taking a shower I prowled around. Pocketed some jewelry. Rings mostly. Diamonds with rubies in filigree settings. Gold and silver crosses of all kinds. Fancy stuff. No pillows anywhere.
-Show me what you got.
-In the box. There on the desk.
Gamberge looked inside.
-Nice. Very nice. Maybe I'll give my mother a couple of the rings. A belated birthday present.
-That would be nice. You haven't seen your mother in a very long time.
-On second thought, you can fence it all. What did you do with the four hundred bucks?
-Put it in the usual place. I took a dollar for a cup of coffee.
-I'm going to get to work on this tape. We need more catches like Marble Woman, Silky.
-You'll get them. Law of averages.
Gamberge put the lid back on the box of jewelry.
-You don't really like women, do you?
-I prefer money, Mr. Gamberge. But a good job is hard to find.
The next morning, Gamberge, still charged from the night before, dispatched Silky into the park in pursuit of a tall blonde in a yellow minidress, who he fantasized would top Marble Woman's deathly excesses.
The woman in the yellow dress was sitting on the bench, drinking coffee and reading a newspaper. Silky kept his distance, waiting. He became agitated. He lost his rhythm. His hands felt heavy. The woman finished her coffee, threw the cup and the paper into the trash, and walked away. Silky followed her. He stopped when the tree cover grew thick, the moment he knew Gamberge had taken his eyes off him. The woman headed south. Silky continued on, along a different path, to the west side. Before he left the park he put on a fedora, affixed a mustache, and popped in blue contact lenses to become Mickey. He made his way to a diner where he knew he'd find Lance.
Lance was sitting at a table in the corner cracking his knuckles. He'd pushed his scrambled eggs to one side, untouched. Silky joined him.
-Where you been hiding, Mickey?
-It's my boss.
-Your pimp more like. I made an important discovery since I saw you.
-Guys in baggy suits carry more cash on them than anyone else.
-Glad you appreciate it. . . . The cops are tightening up, Mickey.
-Getting real tough out there.
-Survival of the fittest.
The waitress came over. Silky ordered a coffee.
-Something wrong with your eggs? she said to Lance.
-They're too yellow.
-Eggs is suppose to be yellow.
-Not that yellow, they ain't.
She took the plate away. Brought Silky his coffee.
-They're going to use these new cameras, Lance said.
-You think so?
-Sure. What else are we going to do?
-I know I am.
-You think you're hot shit, don't you, Mickey?
-I'm not bad.
-What's eating you this morning?
-I dunno. Maybe it's the eggs. How about a little wager, Mickey? Settle this shit once and for all.
-Who's the best dip in the business, me or you?
-Come off it.
-Fifty-seventh and Fifth. We'll work the two blocks south. Take whatever side of the street you want. The one with the most hits in an hour wins. Winner takes all.
-The one with the most hits wins? Not the one with the highest takings?
-You got it, Mickey. Winner gets to keep everything.
-So if you lose I get all yours as well?
-If I lose.
-You're on, Silky said. When is this world championship event going to take place?
-Soon as you've finished your coffee.
-You're going to regret this, Lance.
-No way. . . . You see the paper? That Silky guy struck again. He's asking for it. He'll get caught.
-You think so?
-Yeah. If he keeps sticking his dick out too far.
The cab pulled up on the southwest corner of Fifty-seventh and Fifth. Lance and Silky bundled out. Took in their surroundings.
-Let's toss for who takes what side, Silky said.
-Fine by me. Heads.
-Tails. I'll take the east side.
-What time do you have?
-Check. Good luck, Mickey.
-May the best man win.
They took up their respective positions, glanced at their watches, looked across the avenue at each other, and nodded. Silky got off to a flying start, opened with a new gambit he'd been practicing. He named it the Flipper. Took about four seconds. Pretending not to look where he was going, he walked directly into the first woman he saw laden with shopping bags. He apologized. But whichever way she moved to get around him, he blocked her. This way or that, he was working, first to open, and then to delve into, her handbag. By the third move he'd grasped her wallet. And with that he let her pass. One down! Gamberge would not approve of this. There'd be nothing in it for him. Silky looked over at Lance, who'd gone in for his first hit only to run afoul of a pack of assorted barking mutts that appeared to be walking the dog walker. With time on his side Silky watched Lance extricate himself from leashes and dander, and laughed.
Pleased with the Flipper, Silky decided to employ it again. After all it was fast, and took very little preparation. His target was a tubby old lady who'd just wandered out of Tiffany's. She was shorter than the first hit. This caused him to modify his act somewhat because he could not make the all-important eye contact so easily. He distracted her as he went for the spoils by making his left arm violently twitch. Two down!
Lance was still in the blocks. Looked as if he'd bumped too hard into this big guy from behind. The big guy seemed to want to take it a step further than a verbal apology. There was no wallet on the scene. Silky felt certain Lance had the guy's wallet safely tucked away. Lance could be erratic, but was one of the best dips around when he was on. Silky assumed it was two to one in his favor, and he went back to work.
He spotted a vendor pushing his hot dog cart up Fifth. The vendor hadn't set up yet, but Silky persuaded him to sell a cold hot dog with plenty of mustard on it. Hot dog in hand, he took a moment or two to check the scene and identify his next mark. This was more fun, he thought, than stealing women for Gamberge. A guy in an Armani suit looked promising. Silky moved into action, looked briefly over to see where Lance was. He'd disappeared in the crowd. A second later Silky feigned a trip and stumbled into the Armani suit, applying a dollop of hot dog mustard to it before righting himself. With a flurry of napkins and apologies, he tried to make amends. The guy watched, forlorn, as his suit continued to absorb more mustard. Three down!
Lance had reappeared. He held two fingers in the air. Silky dismissed him with a wave. And with that the battle was joined; both men threw in a bit extra as they continued along the two-block course.
Silky utilized a variety of skills. Among others, he pretended to faint, dipping into the pockets of both the men who helped him to his feet.
Then with only twelve minutes to go, on the premise that some people will watch anything for as long as it takes someone else to pick their pockets, he started a fire in a garbage basket. Silky, aware that Lance didn't go in for pyrotechnics, figured he might gain the advantage here, on the homestretch. He hit three spectators in quick succession and then, knowing the time was up, joined them to watch the blaze. The fire truck, as soon as he heard its siren in the distance, gave him a feeling of accomplishment.
Lance crossed over to meet him at Fifty-fifth Street. They took a cab back to Lance's place. Neither of them spoke until they were safely inside his living room. Lance took the tops off two cold beers. Gave one to Silky.
-Thanks. I needed this.
-Okay, Mickey, how many you got?
-Seven, Silky said.
-It's true. What about you?
-Six. I thought that would do it. Show me.
Silky removed wallets from all his pockets, together with three watches. Laid them out in a line on the coffee table.
-Watches don't count as separate hits, Lance said.
-All the same to me. I'm ahead on wallets.
Lance looked inside every wallet Silky laid down.
-I didn't throw my own in with them, if that's what you're insinuating, Silky said.
-I'm thinking I can't figure out how the fuck you beat me.
-Simple. I'm world champ.
Lance added his own spoils to the table: six wallets and two watches. By the time all was added up, Silky had himself twelve hundred dollars and change, excluding what he'd make on the watches.
-Not bad for an hour's work, he said.
-Fuck you, Mickey.
-Now that's what I call bad sportsmanship. You can forget that C-note I was going to give you.
-Listen to Mr. Generosity here. You were lucky, Mickey. Real lucky. You realize how fucking lucky you were today? You were lucky it just happened to be more fertile on your side of the street. Very lucky. You know, anyone halfway decent would make it the best of three. At least have a rematch.
-You want to do it again, it's fine by me. But there's no way I'm rolling over my winnings. No way.
Silky beamed as he pocketed the money.
-I'd better be getting back, Lance. The empty wallets are all yours. Consolation prize.
-Careful you don't get picked on the way home.
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