When I got to work that Monday morning I knew something was wrong. Mrs. Idabell Turner's car was parked in the external lot and there was a light on in her half of bungalow C.
It was six-thirty. The teachers at Sojourner Truth Junior High School never came in that early. Even the janitors who worked under me didn't show up until seven-fifteen. I was the supervising senior head custodian. It was up to me to see that everything worked right. That's why I was almost always the first one on the scene.
But not that morning.
It was November and the sky hadn't quite given up night yet. I approached the bungalow feeling a hint of dread. Images of bodies I'd stumbled upon in my street life came back to me. But I dismissed them. I was a workingman, versed in floor waxes and bleach -- not blood. The only weapon I carried was a pocket knife, and it only pierced flesh when I cut the corns from my baby toe.
I knocked but nobody answered. I tried my key but the door was bolted from the inside. Then that damned dog started barking.
"Who is it?" a woman's voice called.
"It's Mr. Rawlins, Mrs. Turner. Is everything okay?"
Instead of answering she fumbled around with the bolt and then pulled the door open. The little yellow dog was yapping, standing on its spindly back legs as if he were going to attack me. But he wasn't going to do a thing. He was hiding behind her blue woolen skirt, making sure that I couldn't get at him.
"Oh, Mr. Rawlins," Mrs. Turner said in that breathy voice she had.
The adolescent boys of Sojourner Truth took her class just to hear that voice, and to see her figure -- Mrs. Turner had curves that even a suit of armor couldn't hide. The male teachers at school, and the boys' vice principal, made it a point to pay their respects at her lunch table in the teachers' cafeteria each day. They didn't say much about her around me, though, because Mrs. Turner was one of the few Negro teachers at the primarily Negro school.
The white men had some dim awareness that it would have been insulting for me if I had to hear lewd comments about her.
I appreciated their reserve, but I understood what they weren't saying. Mrs. Idabell Turner was a knockout for any man -- from Cro-Magnon to Jim Crow.
"That your dog?" I asked.
"Pharaoh," she said to the dog. "Quiet now. This is Mr. Rawlins. He's a friend."
When he heard my name the dog snarled and bared his teeth.
"You know dogs aren't allowed on the property, Mrs. Turner," I said. "I'm supposed -- "
"Stop that, Pharaoh," Idabell Turner whined at the dog. She bent down and let him jump into her arms. "Shhh, quiet now."
She stood up, caressing her little protector. He was the size, but not the pedigree, of a Chihuahua. He settled his behind down onto the breast of her caramel-colored cashmere sweater and growled out curses in dog.
"Quiet," Mrs. Turner said. "I'm sorry, Mr. Rawlins. I wouldn't have brought him here, but I didn't have any choice. I
I could tell by the red rims of her eyelids that she'd been crying.
"Well, maybe you could leave him out in the car," I suggested.
rdPharaoh growled again.
He was a smart dog.
"Oh no, I couldn't do that. I'd be worried about him suffocating out there."
"You could crack the window."
"He's so small I'd be afraid that he'd wiggle out. You know he spends all day at home trying to find me. He loves me, Mr. Rawlins."
"I don't know what to say, Mrs. -- "
"Call me Idabell," she said.
Call me fool.
Mrs. Turner had big brown eyes with fabulously long lashes. Her skin was like rich milk chocolate -- dark, satiny, and smooth.
That snarling mutt started looking cute to me. I thought that it wasn't such a problem to have your dog with you. It wasn't really any kind of health threat. I reached out to make friends with him.
He tested my scent -- and then bit my hand.
"That's it!" Idabell shouted as if she were talking to a wayward child. "Come on!"
She took the dwarf mongrel and shoved him into the storage room that connected C2 to C1. As soon as she closed the door, Pharaoh was scratching to get back in.
"I'm sorry," she said.
"Me too. But you know that dog has got to go." I held out my hand to her. The skin was broken but it wasn't bad. "Has he had his rabies shot?"
"Oh yes, yes. Please, Mr. Rawlins." She took me by my injured hand. "Let me help."
We went to the desk at the front of the class. I sat down on the edge of her blotter while she opened the top drawer and came out with a standard teacher's first-aid box.
"You know, dog bites are comparatively pretty clean," she said. She had a bottle of iodine, a cotton ball, and a flesh-colored bandage -- flesh-colored, that is, if you had pink flesh. When she dabbed the iodine on my cut I winced, but it wasn't because of the sting. That woman smelled good; clean and fresh, and sweet like the deep forest is sweet.
"It's not bad, Mr. Rawlins. And Pharaoh didn't mean it. He's just upset. He knows that Holland wants to kill him."
"Kill him? Somebody wants to kill your dog?"
"My husband." She nodded and was mostly successful in holding back the tears. "I've been, been away for a few days. When I got back home last night, Holly went out, but when he came back he was going to...kill Pharaoh."
Mrs. Turner gripped my baby finger.
It's amazing how a man can feel sex anywhere on his body.
"He wants to kill your dog?" I asked in a lame attempt to use my mind, to avoid what my body was thinking.
"I waited till he was gone and then I drove here." Mrs. Turner wept quietly.
My hand decided, all by itself, to comfort her shoulder.
"Why's he so mad?" I shouldn't have asked, but my blood was moving faster than my mind.
"I don't know," she said sadly. "He made me do something, and I did it, but afterwards he was still mad." She put her shoulder against mine while I brought my other hand to rest on her side.
The thirty desks in her classroom all faced us attentively.
"Pharaoh's a smart dog," she whispered in my ear. "He knew what Holly said. He was scared."
Pharaoh whimpered out a sad note from his storage room.
Idabell leaned back against my arm and looked up. We might have been slow dancing -- if there had been music and a band.
"I don't know what to do," she said. "I can't ever go back there. I can't. He's going to be in trouble and I'll be in it with him. But Pharaoh's innocent. He hasn't done anything wrong."
As she talked she leaned closer. With me sitting on the desk we were near to the same height. Our faces were almost touching.
I didn't know what she was talking about and I didn't want to know.
I'd been on good behavior for more than two years. I was out of the streets and had my job with the Los Angeles Board of Education. I took care of my kids, cashed my paychecks, stayed away from liquor.
I steered clear of the wrong women too.
Maybe I'd been a little too good. I felt an urge in that classroom, but I wasn't going to make the move.
That's when Idabell Turner kissed me.
Two years of up early and off to work dissolved like a sugar cube under the tap.
"Oh," she whispered as my lips pressed her neck. "Yes."
The tears were all gone. She looked me in the eye and worked her tongue slowly around with mine.
A deep grunt went off in my chest like an underwater explosion. It just came out of me. Her eyes opened wide as she realized how much I was moved. I stood and lifted her up on the desk. She spread her legs and pushed her chest out at me.
She said, "They'll be coming soon," and then gave me three fast kisses that said this was just the beginning.
My pants were down before I could stop myself. As I leaned forward she let out a single syllable that said, "Here I am, I've been waitin' for you, Ezekiel Porterhouse Rawlins. Take my arms, my legs, my breasts. Take everything," and I answered in the same language.
"They'll be coming soon," she said as her tongue pressed my left nipple through thin cotton. "Oh, go slow."
The clock on the wall behind her said that it was seven-oh-two. I'd come to the door at six forty-nine. Less than a quarter of an hour and I was deeply in the throes of passion.
I wanted to thank God -- or his least favorite angel.
"They'll be coming soon," she said, the phonograph of her mind on a skip. "Oh, go slow."
The desks all sat at attention. Pharaoh whimpered from his cell.
"Too much," she hissed. I didn't know what she meant.
When the desk started rocking I didn't care who might walk into the room. I would have gladly given up my two years of accrued pension and my two weeks a year vacation for the few moments of ecstasy that teased and tickled about five inches below my navel.
"Mr. Rawlins!" she cried. I lifted her from the desk, not to perform some silly acrobatics but because I needed to hold her tight to my heart. I needed to let her know that this was what I'd wanted and needed for two years without knowing it.
It all came out in a groan that was so loud and long that later on, when I was alone, I got embarrassed remembering it.
I stood there holding her aloft with my eyes closed. The cool air of the room played against the back of my thighs and I felt like laughing.
I felt like sobbing too. What was wrong with me? Standing there half naked in a classroom on a weekday morning. Idabell had her arms around my neck. I didn't even feel her weight. If we were at my house I would have carried her to the bed and started over again.
"Put me down," she whispered.
I squeezed her.
"Please," she said, echoing the word in my own mind.
I put her back on the desk. We looked at each other for what seemed like a long time -- slight tremors going through our bodies now and then. I couldn't bear to pull away. She had a kind of stunned look on her face.
When I leaned over to kiss her forehead I experienced a feeling that I'd known many times in my life. It was that feeling of elation before I embarked on some kind of risky venture. In the old days it was about the police and criminals and the streets of Watts and South Central L.A.
But not this time. Not again. I swallowed hard and gritted my teeth with enough force to crack stone. I'd slipped but I would not fall.
Mrs. Turner was shoving her panties into a white patent-leather purse while I zipped my pants. She smiled and went to open the door for Pharaoh.
The dog skulked in with his tail between his legs and his behind dragging on the floor. I felt somehow triumphant over that little rat dog, like I had taken his woman and made him watch it. It was an ugly feeling but, I told myself, he was just a dog.
Mrs. Turner picked Pharaoh up and held him while looking into my eyes.
I didn't want to get involved in her problems, but I could do something for her. "Maybe I can keep the dog in the hopper room in my office," I said.
"Oh," came the breathy voice. "That would be so kind. It's only until this evening. I'm going to my girlfriend's tonight. He won't be any bother. I promise."
She handed Pharaoh to me. He was trembling. At first I thought he was scared from the new environment and a strange pair of hands. But when I looked into his eyes I saw definite canine hatred. He was shaking with rage.
Mrs. Turner scratched the dog's ear and said, "Go on now, honey. Mr. Rawlins'll take care of you."
I took a step away from her and she smiled.
"I don't even know your first name," she said.
"Easy," I said. "Call me Easy."
Copyright © 2002 by 1996 by Walter Mosley