Six Easy Pieces: Easy Rawlins Stories

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9780743442527: Six Easy Pieces: Easy Rawlins Stories
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Walter Mosley's bestselling and award-winning novels -- from Gone Fishin' to Devil in a Blue Dress, named one of the "100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century" by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association -- have endeared him to legions of readers from a U.S. president to everyday people who can't get enough of Easy Rawlins. Now from the bestselling and award-winning writer comes Six Easy Pieces. The beloved Ezekiel Rawlins now has a steady job as senior head custodian of Sojourner Truth High School, a nice house with a garden, a loving woman, and children.He counts the blessings of leading a law-abiding life, but is "nowhere near happy." Easy mourns the loss of his best friend, Mouse. Though Easy tries to leave the street life behind, he still finds himself trading favors and investigating cases of arson, murder, and missing people. People who can't depend on the law to solve their problems seek out Easy. A bomb is set in the high school where Easy works. A man's daughter runs off with his employee. A beautiful woman turns up dead and the man who loved her is wrongly accused. Easy is the man people turn to in search of justice and retribution. He even becomes party to a killing that the police might call murder. Six of the seven stories in Six Easy Pieces were published in reissued Washington Square Press editions of the Easy Rawlins mysteries Gone Fishin', Devil in a Blue Dress, A Red Death, White Butterfly, Black Betty, and A Little Yellow Dog. A seventh, "Amber Gate," is newly published here, making this new Walter Mosley classic a must-have for all fans of great fiction.

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About the Author:

Walter Mosley is the author of the acclaimed Easy Rawlins series, the novels Bad Boy Brawly Brown, Fearless Jones, Blue Light, and RL's Dream, and a collection of stories, Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, for which he received the Anisfield-Wolf Award.

He was born in Los Angeles and lives in New York.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

From Six Easy Pieces

Smoke

Easy," she said, and then the phone rang.

Or maybe it was the other way around. Maybe the phone rang, and then Bonnie called my name.

Bright sun shone in the window, and the skies were clear as far as I could see. There was a beautiful woman of the Caribbean lying next to me. From the living room, early morning cartoons were squeaking softly while Feather giggled as quietly as she could. Somewhere below the blue skies, Jesus was hammering away, building a single mast sail that he intended to navigate toward some deep unknown dream.

It was one of the most perfect mornings of my life. I had a steady job, a nice house with a garden in the backyard, and a loving family.

But I was nowhere near happy.

The phone rang again.

"Easy," Bonnie said.

"I hear it."

"Daddy, phone," Feather yelled from her TV post.

Her dog, Frenchie, growled in anger just to hear her say something to me.

Jesus stopped his hammering.

The phone rang again.

"Honey," Bonnie insisted.

I almost said something sharp, but instead I grabbed the receiver off the night table.

"Yeah?"

"Ezekiel?"

Ezekiel is my given name but I never use it. So when that deep voice came out of the phone, I stalled a moment, wondering if it was asking for someone else.

"Ezekiel?" the voice said again.

"Who is this?"

"I'm lookin' for Raymond," the near-bass voice said.

"Mouse is dead."

I sat up, pulling the blankets from Bonnie's side of the bed. She didn't reach for the sheets to cover her naked body. I liked that. I might have even smiled.

"Oh no," the voice assured me. "He ain't dead."

"What?"

"No." The voice was almost an echo. There was a click and I knew that the connection had been broken.

"Easy?" Bonnie said.

I put the phone back into its cradle.

"Easy, who was it?"

Bonnie pressed her warm body against my back. The memory of Raymond's death brought about the slight nausea of guilt. Add that to the heat of the woman I loved and I had to pull away. I went to the window.

Down in the backyard I saw the frame of Jesus's small boat on orange crates and sawhorses in the middle of the lawn.

"It was ...a woman I think. Deep voice."

"What did she want?"

"Mouse."

"Oh. She didn't know he was dead," Bonnie said in that way she had of making everything okay with just a few words.

"She said he was alive."

"What?"

"I don't think she knew. It was more like she was certain that he couldn't be dead."

"That's just the way people think about him," Bonnie said.

"No. It was something else."

"What do you mean?"

I went back to the bed and took Bonnie's hands in mine. "Do you have to leave today?" I asked her.

"Sorry."

Jesus's hammer started its monotonous beat again.

Feather turned up the volume on Crusader Rabbit now that she knew we were awake.

"I know you got to go," I said. "But..."

"What?"

"I dreamt about my father last night."

She reached out and touched my cheek with her palm. Bonnie had work-woman hands, not callused, but hard from a long life of doing for herself and others.

"What did he say?" she asked me.

That was her superstitious streak. She believed that the dead could speak through dreams.

"He didn't say a thing," I said. "Just sat there in a chair on a raft in the water. I called out to him four or five times before he looked up. But just then the current started pullin' the raft downstream. I think he saw me but before he could say anything he was too far away."

Bonnie took my head in her arms and held on tight. I didn't try to pull away.

We sat down to breakfast at nine o'clock, two hours after I was supposed to be at work. Jesus had taken Feather to school. After that he was going to work four hours as a box boy at Tolucca Market on Robertson. In the late afternoon he'd come back home and read to me from Treasure Island. That was our deal: he'd read out loud to me for forty-five minutes and then discuss what he had read for three quarters of an hour more. He did that every day, and I agreed to let him drop out of high school.

Jesus wasn't interested in a public school education, and there was nothing I could do to light a fire under him. He was smart about things he cared for. He knew everything about grocery stores because of his job. He worked there and did gardening around our neighborhood to afford his boat dreams. He liked carpentry and running. He loved to cook and explore the beaches up and down the coast around L.A.

"What are you thinking about?" Bonnie asked.

We were holding hands under the table like schoolchildren going steady.

"Juice," I said. "He's doin' pretty good."

"Then why do you look so sad?"

"I don't know. Maybe it's that phone call."

Bonnie leaned closer and squeezed my hand. "I'm going to be gone longer than usual," she said.

"How long?"

"Maybe three or four weeks. Air France is having a special junket around western Africa with black political leaders and some European corporate heads. They need a French-speaking black stewardess who can also speak English. They'll need me on call for special flights."

"Oh. Yeah." It felt like she was punishing me for feeling bad.

"I told you that I'd have to be gone sometimes," she said sweetly.

"That's okay," I said. "Just don't go believin' it when one'a those men says that he wants to make you his queen."

Hundreds of children were assembled in front of Sojourner Truth Junior High School when I arrived -- three and a half hours late.

"Mr. Rawlins," Archie "Ace" Muldoon said, greeting me on the granite stair of the main building. Short and balding, the little white man doffed his White Sox baseball cap in deference to his boss -- me.

"Hey, Ace. What's happenin' here?"

"Fire in the metal shop bungalow."

"But that's down on the lower campus. Why they wanna evacuate up here?"

"Mr. Newgate." That's all he needed to say. Our principal, Hiram Newgate, was the source of all discord and wasted energy.

"Rawlins, I want to talk to you," Newgate said from the entrance hall. It was as if Archie conjured him up by saying his name.

"What about, Hiram?" I called back.

Newgate's lip curled into a snarl at my disrespectful tone.

He was tall and scarecrow-thin with cheekbones that were almost as high as his eyes. He would have been ugly if he didn't have perfect grooming, bright white and immaculate teeth, and clothes bought only in the finest Beverly Hills stores. That day he was wearing a shark-gray jacket and slender-cut black slacks.

He was looking good but I had outdone him. I was dressed in one of my best suits; off-white linen with felt buff shoes, brown argyle socks and tan shirt that I kept open at the collar due to the nature of my job,which was supervising senior head custodian.

I liked dressing up because of my background, which was poor and secondhand. But it also gave me a secret pleasure to see Newgate look me up and down, comparing my clothes to his.

"Where have you been?" the jade-eyed principal asked me.

I shrugged, not having enough respect for the man to lie.

"That's not an acceptable answer."

"What's the fire report, Archie?" I asked my custodian.

"Fire captain's down in the yard," the small man said.

"Mr. Rawlins," Principal Newgate sputtered. "I'm speaking to you."

"Sorry, Hiram," I said as I walked away. "But I'm late and there's going to be a lot of paperwork around this fire."

"What?" he exclaimed. He probably said a lot more, but I touched Archie's arm and we went quickly toward the stairway that led down to the lower campus.

The metal shop bungalow was slightly scorched when the firemen arrived. They had reduced the building to splinters by the time they were through.

It was a strange vision for me. A burnt and shattered building surrounded by white men dressed in red. They were all young and grinning. Outside the nearby chain-link fence were dozens of men and women among the displaced students -- all of them black or brown -- staring wide-eyed at the demolition. I could feel my heart thumping and my hands getting hot.

A fireman approached us. He was hatless and haggard, no older than I, but he looked to be ready for retirement. He was making his way toward us with a deliberate and tired gait.

"You the principal?" the old-looking fireman asked. His gray pupils were watery, almost white.

"No," I said. "My name is Rawlins. I'm the plant supervisor."

"Where's the principal?"

"Mosta the kids're on the upper campus. He's makin' like a general on his horse up there, keepin' the troops from deserting."

That got a laugh from the fire captain. He reached out to shake my hand.

"Gregson," he said. "I'm the shift commander. Looks like you got a problem here."

I glanced at the poor colored people looking in at those uniformed marauders. I wondered if Gregson and I saw the same problems.

"It's arson," the fireman continued. "We found a scorched gasoline can under the building. It's a pretty sophisticated incendiary smoke bomb."

"They set it off with people in there?"

"Weren't you here?" Gregson asked me.

"I was late today."

"Oh. Well, somebody pulled the fire alarm and then set off the device, or maybe they set it off and then pulled the alarm. Maybe someone else saw the smoke but I doubt it; the people in the classroom hadn't even seen it yet. They pulled the alarm on the wall of the janitors' bungalow."

I borrowed some lined paper and a pencil from one of the students, through the fence, and took down all the information: Gregson's phone number, the police number to call to give information to the arson squad, and the names and numbers of the forms I had to fill out. He told me that an inspector would show up in the afternoon. All the while the firemen prowled around the shattered building, using their axes just in case some embers still burned.

I went up to Principal Newgate's office after that. I detested the man but he was still my boss.

"I'll buzz him, ...

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