G. M. Ford's
A Leo Waterman Mystery
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Chapter One
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Nowadays, he was just a pimp with a limp. A wiry specimen with a head too big for his body and a string of two dozen call girls he ran out of a limousine service in south Seattle. The girls called him Baby G, but I remembered a time when he was plain old Tyrone Gill, a playground legend who could take you off the dribble and stick it in the hole with the best of them. The Rocket Man, we'd called him ... after that old Elton John song. That was back before he made what he now liked to call "a series of unfortunate self-medication choices." Back before a rival procurer tried to amputate his foot in a Belltown alley. Back before a lot of things. For both of us.

"Gonna call it Ho-Fest Two Thousand."

He nudged me hard in the ribs. "Can you see it, man? The tents. The banners. The food stands."

"Food stands?"

I caught his feigned astonishment from the comer of my eye. "Man do not live by pussy alone," he said gravely.

When I reckoned how he might be right, he went on.

"Culturally coordinated, too, my man."

"How's that?"

"You know, man, like we got one tent set up for the regular trade. Missionary position types. Right next store we got some comfort food. Strictly meat and potatoes. Grits and gravy. That kinda shit."


He cut a swath with his hand. "'Cross the way we got the Greek tent. You know ... for the backwards types."

I pulled one hand from the wheel and held it up. "No. No. Let me guess. Dolmas, kabobs, and rice pilaf."

He grinned and nudged me again. His big head bobbed up and down like one of those spring-loaded dolls. "I knew you was a man of vision, Leo."

Vision was precisely what I didn't have. The Explorer needed new wipers. Despite slapping back and forth at breakneck speed, the worn blades merely flattened the intermittent rain across the glass, smearing the muck into pulsating blobs of form and color that reminded me of long-ago light shows and psychedelic drugs. The unwanted memory tightened my lower jaw and sent a shiver sliding down my spine. I clapped my free hand back onto the wheel and scrunched down in the seat, peering out at the thick traffic through a small, unsullied crescent of glass at the bottom of the windshield.

Baby G snapped me back.

"That's why you got to help me out wid this," he said. "Ain't nobody else could do it but you, man."

I shook my head. "You got to get real here, G. No way anybody is going to give you a city permit to stage..." I looked over at him. "What did you say you wanted to call it?"

He wore a blue silk suit. Three-piece. Tailored to him like it was made of iron. And a bright yellow tie.

"Ho-Fest Two Thousand," he said.

"Not gonna happen in any city park, man. No point even talking about it."

As G opened his mouth to protest, I leveled him with the coupe de grace. "Even my old man couldn't have pulled that shit off," I said.

He recognized this as a serious rejoinder, indeed. His face clouded. He closed his mouth so hard he looked like a large-mouth bass and then began staring sullenly out through the windshield.

My old man had parlayed an early career as a union thug into eleven terms on the Seattle City Council. In the course of his storied thirty-year career of public service, Wild Bill Waterman had tilled previously unimagined ground in the fertile fields of influence peddling, insider trading and familial hiring preferences. When I turned forty-five, I was in line to inherit a bundle of ill-gotten downtown real estate, and to this day, twenty-five years after my father's death, nearly every city department is still being run by somebody related to me either by blood or by marriage.

That's how come G had spent the ride from downtown filling my ear with his nonsense about wanting me to use my connections to help him get a permit to use Discovery Park for some kind of a superbowl of suction. Mostly, though, he was just talking to hear himself talk. He was nervous about our errand tonight, He wasn't letting on, but I could tell. Those huge hands were twitchy.

"There's Darlene," she said.

First time she'd spoken. G had introduced her as Narva. The professional makeup job made it hard to tell, but I made her to be about thirty. Better than six feet, light green contact lenses, short blond hair, smooth and curled under. Impeccable in a blue microfiber raincoat, she sat in the center of the backseat, her perfect face as smooth and unmoving as a figurine's. If I hadn't known better, I'd have made her for a corporate type. Big-time Ivy League. Stocks and bonds. Maybe a junior partner attorney. Never for a hooker. No way.

Up ahead on the right, wedged between Watson's Plumbing Supply and a boarded-up beauty college, the Pine Tree Diner lurked in its own shadows, like one of those Edward Hopper paintings. At once welcoming and onerous, a classic silver diner, back before they added on and became "family restaurants." From a distance, the rounded silver edges and the solid band of light along the front facade made it look like a jukebox buried to its neck in asphalt. I moved the Explorer into the right lane.

Just as you'd never make Narva for a whore, you'd never make Darlene for anything else. The girl had the look down. Texas teased hair, a white fur bolero jacket over what appeared to be a red rubber dress. Knee-high white boots that laced up the side.

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