Sûrah LVII
IRON
"That ye grieve not for the sake of that which hath escaped you."

57
IRONY

Like bookends holding up a single volume, Squatman's bedmates lean, then cover their breasts with the sheet in a reflex show modesty (that their streetwise looks belie) at Willie's urgent, if begrudgingly granted, entry.

WILLIE

Beg your pardons.

His politeness registers instantly and appreciatively with the twins, whose smiles are bashfully coquettish and utterly identical.

SQUATMAN

Well?

WILLIE

We found 'im.

Having shifted to a sitting posture, back against the headboard, eyes still bleary from a long-day's-night of pleasuring double-down whores, Squatman takes a moment to extrapolate Willie's phrase; when he does his smile grows broader than the twin's on either side.

SQUATMAN

Marva, Maude, this man is William. I don't think y'all have met. William is my wartime buddy and peacetime right-hand man—long on loyalty, a trifle short on courage—who has just delivered news; GOOD news. Let's hope for more and better.

(to Willie)

Do we have him?

All smiles freeze; Willie, trepidatious, anticipates their thaw.

WILLIE

We know his whereabouts.

SQUATMAN

Yes?

WILLIE

Lower Haight Street. Pays by the week. Some roach hotel. He's on the top floor. Never goes out. Room six-O-seven.

SQUATMAN

Source?

WILLIE

Kimlee's Pizza. He's been livin' on cheese and pepperoni; or so the take-out people claim. They got some kid that runs the grub up to him nightly.

SQUATMAN

Who's the kid?

WILLIE

Dunno. The owner's son. Korean. Swears to God the guy's our A-rab.

SQUATMAN

If it is, I want Kimlee's on our owed-a-favor list. Spread the word. And be sure to slip the kid a hundred bucks.

(to the twins)

Will y'all excuse us? We got business to attend to, gals. Bye-bye.

Without complaint, "The M&Ms" (their stage and screen name) peel the sheets, arise from the bed, collect their next-to-nothing clothes and sashay out... their selfsame hips in motion like oscillating pendulums. Willie, chivalrous to a fault, averts his eyes—though inhales deeply, stealing a heady whiff of their post-orgasmic wakes.

SQUATMAN

What have we here?

Defondo Cantrell Shireson, pressing his paunch to see his crotch, detects a crumbly glaze of crystallized residue.

SQUATMAN

I'll be damned. Those gals got honeycombs 'steada snatches! Eat your heart out, Willie boy. Hey... Hey, man, what's wrong?

Squatman climbs out of bed and takes a solicitous step toward Willie—whose half-turned features quiver with self-reproach.

SQUATMAN

You sick or somethin'?

Willie struggles to explain. He has to swallow several times before the words break loose.

WILLIE

I let you down.

SQUATMAN

Say what?

WILLIE

I'm sorry.

SQUATMAN

What you talkin' 'bout; let me down? We got the A-rab where we want 'im, don't we?...Don't we?

WILLIE

Yeah, I guess. I meant... before. You know, in the loft? I shoulda rushed 'im, whupped his ass. Instead, I ducked. You called it right; I'm "short on courage." Damn. Damn. Damn!

His face becomes a wincing dumb show of contrition. Shoulders stooped, head bowed, disgraced, Willie discernibly wilts before the man to whom he owes life itself—whose meaty arm now lends support, reinforcing memories of a debt that, once again, has gone unpaid.

SQUATMAN

Hey, forget it, man. Be a damn fool not to duck, some dude aims a handgun at your head. What's say we go grab us a little pay-back.