John D McDonald – Travis McGee 07 Darker Than Amber

“Do you know the names of the girlfriends?”

“DeeDee was one of them. Small and redheaded and a little bit heavy. Let me think, now. For fun sometimes they’d use her full name, to tease her. It was… Delilah Delberta Barntree. Usually it was DeeDee or DeeDee Bea. She seemed more educated than the other two, but she had the dirtiest mouth. And she was the same age as Miss Western, in her middle to late twenties, I think. The third girl was younger, early twenties, and very slender. She’s a natural blonde, with very thick and heavy hair, that creamy kind, and she wears it usually in some way that leaves her little face sort of peering out from under all that weight, a pretty little face with sharp features and black eyebrows and black lashes. Not naturally that way, just to make more of a contrast. I don’t know her last name. They called her Del.”

“What kind of a car did Tami Western own?”

“A red Mustang convertible with a white top.”

“How long would she stay in the apartment after her cruises?”

“A week or so. Ten days. Then she would start going out. Usually then she did a lot of shopping. She’d be out a lot in the evenings. And then she’d start not coming home at all at night, three or four nights a week, and when she was home and I was there, sometimes there would be phone calls and she’d lie on her bed and make love talk into the phone, and wink at me and make a face if I walked by. Once she was crying and begging into the phone to somebody, but it didn’t mean a thing. The wink and the face were the same. Then after a while she’d start packing to go on a cruise.”

“Did men come to the apartment?”

“No. She had a thing about that. She said it was her place and out of bounds and it was going to stay out of bounds.”

“The man in Seven C knew her. Griff.”

“Yes. I know. A big man with a mean look. I don’t know what the relationship was. He’d call up and she’d go next door for a little while.”

“What if you had to make a guess at the relationship?”

She frowned. She pressed a slim brown finger to the corner of her mouth. When she stepped out of her housemaid role she had that slightly forced elegance of the educated Negro woman, that continuing understated challenge to you to accept her on her terms or, by not doing so, betray the prejudice she expected you to have. I cannot blame them for a quality of humorlessness. They carry the dead weight of all their deprived people, and though they know intellectually that the field hand mentality is a product of environment, they have an aesthetic reserve, which they will not admit to themselves, about the demanding of racial equality for those with whom, except for the Struggle, they would not willingly associate. They say Now, knowing that only fifteen percent of Negro America is responsible enough to handle the realities of Now, and that, in the hard-core South, perhaps seventy percent of the whites are willing to accept the obligations of Now. But they are on the move with nowhere to go but up, with the minority percentage of the ignorant South running into the majority percentage of ignorant Negro America, in blood, heartbreak, shame and confusion. I hoped that this penny-colored dedicated pussycat wouldn’t stick her head under the wrong billy club, or get taken too often to the back room for interrogation. If, even on the word of one of their shrewdest lawyers, Sam Dickey, she was willing to trust a white man, it meant she had a vulnerable streak of softness in her, which could guarantee martyrdom sooner or later.

My intolerance is strictly McGee-type. If there were people around colored green or bright blue, I would have a continual primitive awareness of the difference between us, way down on that watchful animal level which is a caveman heritage. But I would cherish the ones who came through as solid folk, and avoid the slobs and fools and bores as diligently as I avoid white slobs and fools and bores.

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Categories: John D MacDonald