Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Gigolo Johnny Wells

Lawrence Block

  Gigolo Johnny Wells

  Lawrence Block

  Writing as Andrew Shaw


  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  A New Afterword by the Author

  A Biography of Lawrence Block

  Chapter One

  THE SEVENTH AVENUE IRT pulled into the 96th Street station with a metallic screech. The doors opened. Six passengers left the third car from the front and made their way to the stairwell that would take them to the street.

  There were two ladies in their fifties. One had a red bandana over her head and carried a black patent leather purse. The other was bareheaded and a shopping bag dangled from her left hand. There was a middle-aged man, small and featureless, who looked like an accountant. He carried a nine-by-twelve manila envelope under one arm and walked with measured steps. There was a teen-age girl wearing false breasts and too much make-up, and her behind twitched as she ascended the flight of stairs. The movement was meant to be provocative but the girl succeeded only in burlesquing the motion. There was another girl, older, who looked like a prostitute on her day off. This was not unusual, since she was in fact a prostitute, and the day might be said to be her day off in that she worked only at night. She was returning now from an afternoon movie on 42nd Street. She went to the movies every afternoon and worked every night, except for four or five evenings each month when she took an enforced vacation.

  There were those five — two old ladies, one man, one teen-ager and one professional slut.

  And there was Johnny.

  He was seventeen, but you would be hard put to guess his age by looking at him. He looked both older and younger depending on how you viewed him. If you saw the hardness around the well-spaced dark brown eyes, if you saw the tightness in the corners of the firm but full mouth, you might guess that he was in his mid-twenties. But then you noticed the almost too-easy walk, the cat-like way the long body moved with easy fluid grace. And his clothing — faded denim dungarees tight on his hips and legs, a still-shiny black leather jacket with zipper pockets — placed him again in his teens.

  His name was Johnny Wells.

  He mounted the stairs quickly and effortlessly and looked out at the intersection of Broadway and 96th Street. On the second floor of the building at his side was Manny Hess’s pool hall. The boys were there now he guessed. Ricky and Long Sam and Beans, each with a cue in his hand and a gleam in his eyes. They weren’t actually waiting for him, he knew, but he was expected. Now was the time to climb the flight of stairs which would creak under his feet, to nod briefly to those patrons and hangers-on whom he knew, to take a heavy cue from, the stand and run off a quick thirty points of straight pool with the boys.

  He didn’t feel like it.

  To begin with, he was too damn hungry to care much about pool or Ricky and Long Sam and Beans or anything else except filling his stomach as quickly as possible. He’d been prowling around downtown all day long and he was fed up with the hollow feeling in his stomach. He needed a decent meal and he needed it in a hurry. There were other things that would come afterward, more important things, but it was impossible to concentrate on anything else when you were hungry. Food first — then the rest.

  He dipped a hand into the pocket of his blue jeans. There was a jingle of coins but he missed the rustle of currency. You could keep the coins, he thought. Stick to the folding green, lots of long crisp bills, and to hell with the nickels and dimes and quarters. The crap about taking care of the pennies and the dollars would take care of themselves was crap and nothing but. That had been one of his old man’s bits of brilliance, along with the penny-saved-is-a-penny-earned routine, and where had it gotten the old man?

  The grave, he answered himself. When you never hauled down more than thirty bucks a week, you didn’t save too many pennies. And no matter how well you took care of them, they were still pennies. And then the old man was dead, just as the old lady had been for eight years, and there weren’t even enough pennies left to bury him properly. The city had taken care of that.

  Johnny Wells pulled his hand out of his pocket and looked at the coins in it. There was a nickel and eight pennies. He counted them three times. Then, suddenly, he laughed wildly and threw the coins into the gutter.

  To hell with the pennies!

  He ignored the people who stared at him and strode away quickly. When there was no place else to go, it was time to go home. Not that home was worth the trouble it took to get there, he thought. But he might as well get his money’s worth out of the place. He wouldn’t be staying there much longer. He hadn’t paid a nickel of the rent for the past six weeks and he wasn’t going to pay now. In another day, he judged, the landlord would get around to changing the locks. That would leave him out in the cold.

  Where was he going to stay then? And what was he going to use for money? Those were good questions, but he didn’t worry about them. Something would turn up. Something always did turn up, if you were a sharp good-looking kid with an eye open for a quick couple of dollars and the guts to get ahead. If you went through with your eyes shut and your shoulders sagging, then you were going to take it on the chin all across the board. But a sharp kid never got licked. He came out on top.

  His room was on the top floor of a run-down brownstone building on 99th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam. He went through the hallway and climbed four flights of stairs, following his nose. It was easy to follow your nose in his building. The second floor smelled of cabbage, the third floor of garlic, the fourth floor of booze. You could tell that a batch of Irish lived on the second floor, a slew of Italians on the third, and a couple of lushheads on the fourth. You could also tell that the occupants of the building were not exactly rolling in dough.

  He took the stairs two at a time and hit the top floor without breathing hard. He was in good shape. That was one thing about the life he led, he thought. It kept a guy on the go, kept his muscles in shape. And there was no extra weight on his frame, not when he never had any extra food to stuff his guts with. His arms and legs were strong, his stomach flat without a spare ounce of tissue on it. His chest was firm and hard and well-muscled. He was in damned good shape.

  He kicked open the door of his room, pleased that that bastard of a landlord hadn’t gotten around to locking him out yet. Not that it would make a hell of a lot of difference. The room wasn’t much — good for sleeping in and nothing more. There wasn’t room to swing a cat in it, he thought, and he was a very swinging cat.

  He smiled. That sounded nice.

  The room was very small. Its one window faced the brick wall of a building on 98th Street, and the room was dark day or night. A covering of scarred and cracked linoleum topped most of the floor, but the linoleum had been cut poorly and didn’t fit well. There was a single cot that sagged in the middle. The sheets were dirty since he never bothered to change them.

  There was no chair in the room, only a single dresser with three drawers, two of which opened. The top of the dressers was scarred with burns from twenty or thirty years of forgotten cigarettes, many of them his own. His clothes hung from nails that some enterprising tenant had driven into the wall. There was no closet in the room.

  A pigpen, he thought. Six bucks a week and not even worth that much. It would be a pleasure to leave the goddamned place. Wherever he wound up, it wouldn’t be a hell of a lot worse than the place he was in now.

  He kicked the door shut, then tossed himself down on the bed without taking the trouble to remove his shoes. What
the hell — why keep the sheets clean? They’d be somebody else’s problem soon enough anyway. What the hell concern were they of his? Why worry about them?

  There were other things to worry about. Food, for example. That was the short-range problem, the immediate concern. And money; and a place to live. His last eight cents were scattered in the gutter at Broadway and 96th, waiting for some penny-pincher to pick them up and stow them away in a lockbox. Hell, eight cents wasn’t going to do him any good. It cost almost double that for a ride in the lousy subway.

  He needed money.

  He grinned, thinking what his old man would have done. For his old man there was only one answer — you found a job and you worked. You worked your butt off for a buck an hour, but that was good clean work, the American way, and you were happy to get it.


  They could keep their jobs, he thought savagely. They could take them and stick them for all he cared. He needed money, all right, but he was damned if he was going to bust his hump and go hungry while he did it. To hell with that noise.

  A smile spread on his face. There was an easier way to get money. There was always an easier way, if you had that necessary core of hipness that would rule out work and keep you grooving with enough bread in your pocket. Everybody had his own way. For Ricky it was pool. Ricky had a phenomenal talent that way. He knew just how bad to look without making it obvious that he was holding back, fluffing shots on purpose. Then when the heavy bread was on the table he made the shots and let the mark think he was making them with sheer luck. Eight-ball was Ricky’s favorite game. He’d line up an easy shot, then shoot it wrong and sink a very hard shot, making it look like on accident. The sap walked away thinking Ricky was a rotten player with a horseshoe up his rear. But Ricky was the slickest guy with a cue on the Upper West Side.

  Or take Beans. Beans’s old lady taught him to boost from the supermarkets so they wouldn’t go hungry. She was too busy lapping up the sauce to do her own stealing, so she taught Beans the tricks of the game. Beans learned well. He had a working arrangement with a Third Avenue hockshop owner, and once a week Beans made a trip to Third Avenue with a cab loaded up with goodies. He was silky smooth in a store. He never got caught.

  Or Long Sam. Long Sam was a heavy, not too brilliant between the ears, but nail-tough. The neighborhood was gang turf and any one of the gang would have liked to have Sam on their side. But the four of them liked to swing by themselves. They had no use for the gang bit. And nobody ever bothered them.

  Sam did a little mugging when things got tight. He was on expert. He never hit anybody hard, never took a chance on falling into a murder mess. The arm around the throat, a gentle love tap behind one ear, a quick grab for wallet and watch and it was all over. He had his own angle and he never missed.

  Johnny yawned, scratched his head. He had his own angle, he thought. He was an expert, too — and it paid off for him when it had to. Everybody had to have an angle and he had his.

  It was women.

  He didn’t know why it worked so well for him and he didn’t care. He wasn’t complaining. It was partly looks, he guessed, and partly self-confidence, and partly something you couldn’t quite put your finger on. Whatever it was he wasn’t going to kick it in the head. It worked fine for him.

  For years women had been picking up tabs, paying the freight for him. Hell, all he had to do was give a broad a hard look and she was flat on her back. panting.

  And they didn’t have any complaints when he was done with them, either.

  He closed his eyes, the smile growing wider and wider on his handsome face. He couldn’t remember them all — there had been too many of them, for one thing, and for another most of them had not been worth remembering. He’d done his best to forget them as soon as he was walking out the door with his desires satisfied and his clothes buttoned up.

  Now he was remembering the first one. It hadn’t been so long ago, really. Not when you stopped to think about it. Just two years.

  It seemed longer …

  He was fifteen. He lived with his old man in a fourth-floor two-roomer on Columbus. His old man was between jobs. Every day Walter Wells went out to look for work. He had a small breakfast at seven-thirty and didn’t eat again until he came home around six, his eyes downcast and his shoulders slumped. The unemployment money wasn’t enough. And the job the old man was looking for didn’t seem to turn up.

  Johnny still went to school — it would be a year before the city decided he was old enough to kiss the books goodbye. But he didn’t show up at school too often. He walked around the park instead, or sat over a lukewarm coke in the Garden Candy Shoppe, or stood on a street corner and felt important.

  He also stole milk.

  He happened to like milk. It was ice cold and it tasted good, and it was supposed to be healthy. You drank milk and you got strong — that was supposed to be the gimmick. He wasn’t sure whether it worked or not. The strong-looking guys in the neighborhood mostly drank beer, although they said beer made a lush out of you. But he liked milk, and since his old man couldn’t afford more than two or three quarts a week, he stole it.

  This was easy enough. You got up early and you went out and found a building or two to work. Most people bought their milk at the market, but one or two in every building had a milkman deliver it. If you timed things right, you hit the apartment after the milkman had made his delivery and before the customers had dragged the milk inside. Then you picked up the carton of milk and got the hell out of there.

  Only this time it didn’t work.

  He made two mistakes at once. For one thing, he hit an apartment that he’d been to just a week ago. For another thing, he got a late start that morning. He overslept, and it was eight-thirty by the time he was standing in front of a carton of milk.

  He reached over for it. He just had his hand on the damn carton when the door opened.

  There was a woman in the doorway.

  “I’ll be a son of a bitch,” she said. “You’re the little thief who’s been swiping the milk. I got a baby to feed, you little rat. What’s the idea?”

  Like a slow motion movie he released the carton of milk and straightened up slowly. He thought of turning and getting the hell out of the building. That was his first impulse but he stifled it. She’d run after him, or start shouting or something, and it would be a mess.

  Maybe he could bop her one. She didn’t look too strong. A little punch in the head ought to take care of her, give him plenty of time to beat it. But that might not be too good. She lived less than a block away from him. She could run into him on the street and recognize him. Maybe she already knew who he was. It would mean taking a chance.

  Besides, she probably wouldn’t call the cops. Not for a stinking quart of milk, not with him just a young kid.

  So he stood where he was.

  “A brave one,” she said. “You don’t say much, do you? You got a name?”

  He didn’t answer her. She wasn’t bad-looking, he noted with some surprise. Not Miss America, but not bad. He placed her age at thirty, give or take a year. Her face would pass and what he could see of her shape wasn’t bad at all. She was wearing a cotton wrapper that didn’t exactly put her on display. But he could see that her legs were good from ankles to knees, plump at the calves and smoothly shaved. And even the wrapper couldn’t entirely conceal the thrust of her breasts.

  “So you haven’t got a name,” she said. “Okay, No-Name. I guess that’s what I’ll have to call you, huh?”

  “My name’s Johnny.”

  She laughed aloud. “It talks,” she said. “You like milk, Johnny? Nice cold milk?”

  He shrugged.

  “Maybe I could let you have a glass of milk, Johnny. I’m an easy girl to get along with.”

  “I don’t want any.”

  “But you were trying to take mine, weren’t you?”

  “I was just looking at it,” he said. “I wasn’t looking to steal it or anything. I ain’t a thief.”

/>   It was an obvious lie and he didn’t care whether she believed it or not. But it bothered him when she laughed. She opened her mouth to laugh. She had full lips and she was wearing dark red lipstick. He wondered why she was wearing lipstick at eight-thirty in the morning. She didn’t even have clothes on but she was wearing lipstick.

  Her hair was combed, he noticed. Long yellow hair that reached almost to her shoulders.

  Pretty hair.

  “My husband works on the docks,” she said. “The docks on the Hudson. Early in the morning he leaves the house. Gets out of here around seven and he’s gone all day.”

  Johnny was lost. He knew that she was trying to tell him something but he couldn’t figure out what it was all about. He was nervous and he shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

  “I’m all alone all day,” the woman said. “Just me and the kid. And the kid sleeps all day. I didn’t want the little bastard in the first place, takes all my time and makes a wreck out of me. I thought I wouldn’t get my figure back when I had the little bastard, you know, but it worked out. At least I think it worked out. It’s hard to say.”

  Her hands toyed with the belt of the wrapper. The belt came undone and the wrapper slipped open. He had a glimpse of soft pink flesh and big breasts before she drew the wrapper closed.

  He had never seen a girl’s breasts before, had never had much experience with girls. Oh, he’d fooled around a little bit here and there the way all kids do. But nothing too much ever came of it. One time he and Ricky had messed around with a girl named Mary Krauss. She’d let them feel the softness of her breasts through the tight sweater she wore, but when they tried to get their hands up her skirt the game had come to an end.

  This was different.

  He knew instinctively that something quite remarkable was going to happen. Like most teen-age boys since the creation of the heavens and the earth, Johnny thought a great deal about sex. Now it was coming and he didn’t know what to make of it.