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Authors: Andrew Vachss

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BOOK: Born Bad
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At the bottom, there was a big paneled room. In one corner there was an octagonal table covered with green felt. The border of the table had little round cutouts, one on either side of each chair—I could see what they were for, a place to rest an ashtray and a drink. Five men were seated at the table, playing cards. There were a lot of chips in the middle of the table.

"Have a seat," the husky man said.

I took one of the empty chairs. A girl came over, said "What will you have, sire' She was a tall girl. She looked even taller in the fishnet stockings and black high heels. She wasn't wearing anything else.

"A glass of water," I told her.

Nobody laughed, the way they do sometimes when I say that. The girl went off and came back with a heavy-bottomed crystal tumbler full of water and ice.

"Meet your poker buddies," the husky man said to me. He went around the table, pointing at each of the five men in turn.

"Indian Pete," the husky man said.

A medium-size man with a dark reddish complexion nodded at me.

"Sammy Belt," the husky man said.

A slender man with a wispy mustache nodded at me.

The husky man did the same for all of them. Then he said, "Boys, this is Knight, okay' He's a semi-regular, plays stud and draw, plays for cash, no markers. He settles up each time. Sometimes he wins, sometimes he loses. Heavy cash player, but not much swing, you all got it?"

The five men nodded again.

"Questions?" the husky man said.

"You smoke?" a black man with a fine-boned face asked. His voice was Caribbean.

"No," I answered.

"Drink anything but water?" a pudgy blond man asked me.

"No." I told him.

"You mind turning around…slow?" the man who said he was Sammy Belt asked.

I did that, one full turn. When I faced him again, he nodded an okay.

A tall slender man came over to the table. A couple of the players nodded at him, but he didn't say anything. The tall man opened a mahogany box and took out a new deck of cards. He slit the wrapper with his thumbnail and dumped the cards out onto the green felt. Then he shuffled the cards, his hands moving in a blur, faster and cleaner than any machine. When he was done, he looked up expectantly.

"We need you to play a few hands," the husky man said. "Take you maybe an hour, an hour and a half, all right? Just so we can get a look at your style."

The tall slender man looked at the pudgy blond guy to his left, raising his eyebrows in a question.

"Draw," the pudgy blond man said.

The tall man tapped the table in front of him. Each player tossed a blue chip into the middle. "The chips are twenty, fifty, and a hundred," the husky man said. "You'll probably need about five grand worth."

"You already —" I started to say.

"This is an honest game," the husky man said. "Dead honest. If you don't play…with your own money…we can't really get to know you. And you can't get what you're paying for."

I took five thousand dollars out of my jacket and put it on the table. A girl came over. A redhead, shorter than the first one but dressed the same way. She opened a box. It was lined with white velvet. She put three stacks of chips in front of me: red, white, and blue. Then she put my money in the box and walked away.

I tossed a blue chip into the middle of the table like the others, and the tall man dealt the cards. The men were good players. I'm a good player too. After about an hour, the man called Sammy Belt said. "You don't talk much, do you?"

"No," I said.

"That's the way you are? All the time?"

"Yes," I said.

The man they called Indian Pete laughed.

The husky man came back into the room. He tapped me on the shoulder. "How are you doing?" he asked.

"Good," I said.

"Let's count them up," he said. He spread my chips around on the green felt. "You got sixty-one hundred dollars here," he said. "JoJo will cash you out."

I guess the redhead was JoJo because she came over with the velvet-lined box. She put my chips inside, then she counted out the money for me—sixty-one hundred dollar bills.

"Here's the setup," the husky man said to me. "The house cuts every pot five percent. That's all you pay, ever. Anything you want to eat, anything you want to drink, it's on the house. Got rooms upstairs where you can take a nap, take a shower, take one of the girls if she's willing, okay''

"Okay," I said.

"The house provides the dealer." He pointed at the tall man. "That's Slim," the husky man said. "This is his table. Your table too, all right? This table is only stud and draw—no red dog, no wild cards, nothing fancy. Other tables, they have different rules. The five percent of each pot, that buys you the entire services of the club, understands'

"Yes," I said.

"Anything else'' the husky man asked, glancing around the men seated at the table. Nobody said anything. The husky man put his hands behind his back. "Knight here comes in around ten," he said, watching me. I nodded. "Leaves around four, five in the morning."

I nodded again.

"What night?" the husky man asked me.

"Tomorrow," I told him.

"You got it," the husky man said. "Remember what Roger Blue told you, right? Tomorrow is what you bought for your fifty large. It don't go down like you expected, you want to do this again, it costs the same."

"I know," I told him.



went out around nine the next night. The doorman saw me leave. He's very alert.

The doorman pushed the call button. A light would go on outside, a signal that a cab was needed. When a taxi pulled up, the doorman opened the back door for me. I thanked him and palmed a dollar bill into his hand.

I told the cab driver where to go. He wrote the destination down on his trip sheet. When he pulled up in front of the club, I thanked him for the ride. I gave him a tip too.

I walked the rest of the way. It was almost midnight before I arrived at his house, a big house in a fancy neighborhood. I went over the back fence. He didn't have a dog. I knew that from watching. I'd been watching a long time.

The back door lock wasn't much. I slipped inside. He lived alone. It was easier for him to be himself that way.

I moved toward the light. He was watching television. On the screen, it showed a little boy. The boy was…It wasn't television he was watching, it was a videotape.

The same kind of videotape I knew he made of my son. The police had never found it, but I knew.

I made a little noise so he'd turn around. He saw me then. He sat back in his chair, startled.


"You know who I am?" I asked him.

"No. Look, if you want —"

"It's you I want," I said quietly. "For what you did to my son. My son David. Remember?"

Sweat broke out all along his hairline, but his voice was calm. "Look, I…I know who you are. I couldn't tell at first…in that bad light. I…don't blame you. Any father would be enraged if that sort of thing happened to his kid. But I was the wrong man. Come on, you remember—you were at the trial, for God's sake! It wasn't me. You know that. It wasn't me. It's a terrible thing, what happened to your boy. But it wasn't me. They all testified. That whole night, I was —"

"I know where you were," I told him. "I'm there myself. Right now."

Anytime I want



he didn't answer my knock. I used the key she gave me to open the door. When I saw her lying on the bare hardwood floor, I knew he'd finally taken her. Like he always told us he would.

I went next door, rang the bell. The people there called the police, like I asked. I didn't scare them, didn't panic. I was polite, like I always am.

Two detectives came. I told them Denise was my sister. My big sister. They were all my big sisters, four of them. Denise was the baby girl, twenty-two years old when he took her.

The cops asked me a lot of questions. It was okay—I'm used to questions. They asked me where I'd been, before it happened. That was the easy part—I work the night shift, plenty of guys at the plant saw me.

I gave them the names: Fiona, Rhonda, Evelyn. And Denise. My four sisters. I have one brother, Frankie. He's sixteen. I wasn't worried about an alibi for him—he was in the last month of a one-year jolt with the state. Frankie's a big kid, and he's got a bad temper.

I'm nineteen. I work nights, go to college in the daytime. Weekends, I'm a thief. A careful, quiet thief.


Denise's face was all swollen, slash marks on her hands, trying to stop the knife before it went in the last time. All her clothes were off, thrown around the room. He left her like that.

"Did you love her?" one of the detectives asked me.

"I still love her," I told him.

I went home, changed my clothes, put on a nice suit. I drove down to Pontiac. The guards like me there. I'm always polite, always respectful.

They brought Frankie out, left us alone.

I told him.

"Don't kill him until I get out," he begged me, looking at me with those big dark eyes.

"Can I count on you?" I asked him.

"Count on me? He's dead, Fal. On my honor, he's dead. You just make sure you got yourself a place where you can be seen, first night I come out of here."

Frankie calls me Fal—short for Falcon. Most of the kids in our club did. Because I was always watching. I leaned over close to him, talking quiet. "You remember, Frankie? Remember how it was…before we got out?"

His face was chiseled stone, big hands clenched the table. Scars all across his knuckles.

Our house. A terror zone. No locks anywhere, not even on the bathroom door. The basement, where he'd take the girls. One at a time. The leather strap, the one with the brass studs. I can still feel it across my back.

I was just a baby when he started with Fiona—Frankie wasn't even born. One after the other. His property. Mom tried to stop him once. I remember—I was eight, Evelyn was about thirteen. He made her suck him, right at the kitchen table. He made us all watch. "Anytime I want," is what he said. "My property—anytime I want." I tried to go after him — Denise held me back. It didn't do any good. He beat me so bad I woke up in the hospital,

Mom told them I fell down a flight of stairs. Into the basement, onto the concrete floor.

He never got Denise. She wouldn't do it. He broke her arm once, twisted it hard behind her back. I heard it snap.

I don't know what Denise told the hospital, but some social workers came to the house. The older girls, they all said Denise was a liar…she was staying out late, smoking cigarettes, drinking. Messing with boys. The social workers said something to him about counseling.

When they left, he punched me in the face. I lost two teeth. Then he took Rhonda down to the basement.

Denise tried to stab him once. With a kitchen knife, when he was holding my hand in the flame from the stove burner. I threw up on myself but he didn't stop.

The girls moved out, one by one. Fiona is a whore. She works in a club downtown, dancing naked. Rhonda killed herself with drugs. Evelyn went off with a biker.

He still sees Fiona. Anytime he wants.

Denise worked as a typist. For a lawyer. She was the smartest one, Denise. She was going to go to law school herself, someday. He picked her up once. Told her Mom was in the hospital. Drove her into an alley and went after her. Denise fought him to a standstill. She told the cops. They picked him up. He said it never happened—he was home with Mom all night. Mom was never in the hospital. But Denise was. Once before. A psychiatric hospital. When she tried to kill herself.

When the cops found out about that, they closed the case.

He always said he'd take her. She was his. They all were. Fred is his name. The girl's names were his brand. Fiona. Rhonda. Evelyn. Denise.

Frankie's name didn't matter. Neither did mine.

"Can I count on you?" I asked Frankie again.

He got it that time. Reached out his hand. "It has to be right," I told him. "For Denise. Blowing him up, it wouldn't be good enough. You understands'

He nodded.

"No more nonsense, Frankie. Do the rest of your time, no beefs, got it?"

He nodded again.

I waited and I watched.

Mom said he was with her the night Denise was killed. It's an Unsolved Homicide.

Frankie got out on a Monday. I picked him up. He came to live with me.

Friday night we went in. The locks only took me a couple of minutes.

He never woke up. I left Frankie at the head of the stairs while I went down into the basement. Frankie had a tire iron in his hand. "If he comes downstairs, you can do it," I said.

I know where he keeps his trophies. In this little back room he built in the basement. Under a loose brick in the corner. A red silk scarf, a faded corsage from a dance, a pair of little girl's panties, white. And the pictures: Fiona on her knees, with him in her mouth. Rhonda bent over, something sticking out of her. Evelyn nude, lying down, a mirror between her legs. He didn't have any little-girl pictures of Denise…just a Polaroid of her lying on the apartment floor. Naked. A knife between her breasts.

I took everything. Left him a note.

He's a creature. Needs his blood. After the girls left, whenever something went wrong, when he got stressed, he'd go down to his room, take out his trophies, say his prayers.

Saturday morning, I called the house. Mom answered, like she always does.

"Put him on," is all I said.

"What d'you wants' he challenged. Hard, aggressive. The way he told us you had to be…to be a man.

"Revenge," I told him, quiet-voice. "Revenge for Denise."

"Hey! I didn't have nothing to do with…"

"Yes. Yes, you did. You're going down. Soon. Very soon. Maybe a fire while you sleep. Maybe your car will blow up when you start it. Maybe a rifle shot. There's no place you can go. Nothing you can do. I'm good at it now. Stay there and wait for it, old man. It's coming."

I hung up the phone.

BOOK: Born Bad
13.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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