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Walter Mosley - Fearless Jones

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Walter Mosley - Fearless Jones
Fearless Jones
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“So,” I continued. “Tell me about Leon and why it’s his business to kill me.”

“Are you going to help me?”

“No. I’m gonna help myself. You got Frankenstein and his brothers stakin’ out my store. If I don’t do something, I’ll either lose my business or lose my life. You know I don’t like either one’a them choices.” I spoke in a whisper that had all the weight of a shout.

“What could you do?” Her sneer reminded me that she had witnessed my humiliation under Leon’s threats and violence.

“Go to the cops for one thing.”

That wiped the smug off her face.

“No, don’t,” she said.

“Why not?”

Elana Love struggled with the truth. It was all caught up with lies and fears. She couldn’t tell me everything, but she had to let up on something or I’d blow the game.

“Leon had a cellmate in prison. A man named Sol Tannenbaum. Sol was in for embezzlement, but, you know, he wasn’t a criminal type, never even been in jail. Leon’s tough. He promised Sol that he’d protect him. But Sol had to give him something.” Elana stopped a moment.


“It was a bond. What they called a bond of deposit. It was issued by some bank in Switzerland.”

“How much?” I asked.

“It was ten thousand francs, about two thousand five hundred American dollars.”

“So? What does all this have to do with Leon?”

“Sol didn’t have the bond in jail. He set it up so that I got it from his wife.”

“I thought you broke up with Leon before he got sent up?”

“He asked me for a favor. An’ maybe I didn’t exactly tell ’im that we were through.”

“And so you took the bond and…”

“I gave it to William to hold it for me.”

“I thought you said he didn’t have it.”

“He didn’t think he did, that’s what I meant,” she said. “I didn’t tell him what it was or anything. It was just in a whole bunch of papers I left with him for safekeeping.”

Selena came with the beers and a basket of white bread.

When she was gone I asked Elana, “Why didn’t you keep the money with you?”

“Not money,” she corrected, “a bond. After Leon got sent to jail I was having trouble making my rent, and I didn’t wanna take a chance and lose it if the landlord changed the locks and took my stuff.”

“But couldn’t Grove go through your papers, find the bond, and cash it in?” I asked reasonably.

“No,” she said as if talking to a fool. “It was made out to Mr. Tannenbaum. Only he could cash it. That way everybody was covered. I couldn’t get the money and neither could Leon if he got out before Sol. He didn’t though. Leon told me that Sol got out on good behavior last week.”

“So you think Reverend Grove went to this Sol guy an’ got him to sign over the bond?” I asked her.

“No,” she replied, looking down into her beer.

“Why not?”

“ ’Cause William don’t know he got the bond.”

I knew she was lying. Why would she tell me the truth?

“Why didn’t you go to find Grove yourself?” I asked. “And take the bond to Sol for him to sign it?”

“I didn’t even know that he was out of jail,” she said. “And even if I did, he would’a been a fool to sign it without Leon’s say-so.”

“There’s something else I don’t understand. You said that Leon was in for armed robbery and attempted murder. How’s he gonna get out anytime before twenty years?”

“Leon had a bad lawyer. He was sure that if he got a new trial he could beat the charges.”

“So now you sayin’ he didn’t do the robbery?”

“He did it all right, it’s just that they didn’t have no evidence.”

“Uh-huh. And the bond was gonna pay for the new lawyer?” I was trying to make some kind of sense out of her story, but it wasn’t easy.

“Yeah. Leon told me that he told his lawyer that he could pay him a thousand dollars when he got out. He was gonna use the bond for that.”

“And now he needs the money to pay his lawyer?” I asked.

Elana nodded. “Otherwise the lawyer’ll drop the case an’ he’s back in jail.”

“I’m sorry, honey, but your story still don’t add up,” I said. “Here you tell me that you’re close enough to Reverend Grove for him to store your things, but you don’t even know his church’s address.”

“I knew where Messenger was” — there was acid on her tongue now — “I knew that William had cleared out too. But I needed to get away from Leon. The church store was padlocked, so I told him that your place was the church office. That way I could leave him outside and get away through the back.”

“Why wouldn’t he just come in with you?”

“Because he’s out on bail waitin’ for his new trial and he don’t wanna get that revoked.”

“Out on bail?” I said. “How much was that?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t go to the hearin’. All I know is that the judge turned over his conviction and set bail. I told him that the people in the church would call the police if he caused trouble. He said he’d wait ten minutes, but I guess he didn’t trust me.”

“No kiddin’? So all that shit you said about lookin’ for Grove, that was just actin’?” As I said the words I realized that I was no more a match for Elana Love than I had been for her boyfriend.

“Maybe I already knew the church was gone, but I really was scared. You saw Leon. You can’t blame me for tryin’ to get away.”

“Here you are, hun.” Selena appeared with our soup and antipasto on a wide, cork-lined tray. She set the plates out in front of us and stared admiringly at Elana. “You’re a beauty.”

“Thank you,” the siren said.

“Are you an actress or model?”

“No,” she answered. But there was something else. The way her eyes moved and her body twisted, a whole volume of mystery passed from her to the waitress.

When Selena was gone I said, “So tell me something.”


“Did Leon have money from that robbery? Is that what he’s after?”

She shook her head again. “They let him out of jail today and he was at my door an hour after. All he said was that he wanted his bond.”

I wrapped a slice of salami around a semi-sour gherkin and popped it in my mouth. I chewed for a while, enjoying the loud crunching in my ears.

“I didn’t mean to get you into trouble, Mr. Minton. I was just looking for a way out.”

I took Elana to that restaurant instead of putting her out on the street because I wanted to know about the trouble I had fallen into. I had found out a few things, but they didn’t help much.

“So what do you intend to do now?”

“I don’t know.” She made a gesture of hopelessness with her hands, but I had learned by now not to trust when she was acting weak.

“What about that place on Hazzard you wanted to go before? You wanna go there?”


“Why not?”

“Are you going to help me?” she asked.

“I don’t know. I can’t go back to the store because of Leon. That’s where he’d go for sure.”

“We could go to your place,” she suggested.

“I live at my store,” I said.


“But there’s a motel down at Venice Beach take us. It’s cheap and there’s the ocean outside. The waves help me think.”

“Let’s go there.” She reached across the table and laid her hand over mine. And damn if my fingers didn’t curl around hers.


THE MUSSEL BEACH INN was half a block up from the water, perched on a small hill. You couldn’t see the ocean in the darkness, but you heard and smelled it just fine. I left the sliding doors open because of a false sense of security I had. I mean, Leon wouldn’t find us at the beach if he searched for seven years.

The lights were down and the linen curtains were waving in and out from our little cement patio. Every now and then the moon appeared in a curve of the flowing fabric.

Elana told me that she was from Georgia, that her mother had brought her to live in L.A. when she was only twelve. But then, just three years later, her mother moved to Jackson, Mississippi, with a merchant marine who later abandoned her.

“She left you on your own when you was just fifteen?” I said, sounding more concerned than I actually felt.

“We didn’t see eye to eye, my mama and me,” Elana said rather callously. “And anyway, I had a boyfriend I was livin’ wit’ when she left.”

I said that that was sad and tried for a kiss, but she turned away before I got there.

Leon, she said, was a strong arm and a robber. She worried that Sol Tannenbaum had to give up part of his life savings for his thuggish protection. That’s why she left him. She wasn’t going to be a moll or an accomplice. She needed a man who was going to be sweet and gentle.

I didn’t believe a word she said, but that didn’t matter. I told her that my mother raised me as a gentleman. “A gentle man,” I said before launching another kiss. That one missed too.

It was late, and there was no immediate danger. She was a young woman, and I was the young man who had just saved her life. I couldn’t see where a kiss was out of line.

“I’m too upset to do that, baby,” she said after my third awkward attempt. “Why don’t we try an’ get some sleep. I’ll feel better tomorrow.”

The only vacancy the motel had was furnished with two single beds. I could see that I was destined to sleep alone and so crawled under the covers of the one nearest the window.

“Aren’t you gonna take off your clothes?” she asked.


“I won’t look.”

“I wish you would. You might see somethin’ you like. But I’m not taking off my pants until I know that I won’t have to run any minute with some killer on my ass.” I wasn’t really afraid, but I had my car key, money, and Fearless Jones’s pistol in my pockets. I wanted all of that close at hand.

She made a little humming sound and then got under her bedclothes. She did take off her dress, but I couldn’t see anything because of the blankets.

“G’night,” she said softly.

I switched off the lamp on the night table next to my bed, closed my eyes, and concentrated on the sound of the waves. After a while my mind began to drift.

In the reverie my thoughts kept returning to Fearless Jones.

Fearless Jones. Tall and slender, darker than most Negroes in the American melting pot, he was stronger than tempered steel and an army-trained killing machine.

I learned just how deadly he was one night after a big rainstorm in San Francisco. I was coming down a dark street dancing to the jazz I knew I’d be hearing soon. When the cops stopped me, I guess I must have been a little too cocky. They didn’t like my attitude and were correcting it with their nightsticks when Fearless showed up to meet me. He jumped in the middle of the fracas as if he were still under Bradley fighting the Germans hand to hand. He disarmed both men and beat them to their knees.

He would have let it go at that if one of the cops hadn’t put a knife in his thigh. After that there was no hope. One cop fell unconscious, facedown in a pool of water. The other, the one who stabbed Fearless, well, his windpipe busted.

Fearless still had a small limp from that knife wound. There’s never a day that goes by I don’t wish that I’d taken the beating and Fearless had missed the whole thing.

But for all that he was a killer, Fearless was a good man too. Too good. He was generous beyond his means. This generosity often led to trouble that I got pulled into. Loan sharks and wife-beating husbands, con men and shady landlords. Fearless brought me into conflict with every kind of lowlife and thug. And I am not a courageous man.

Maybe that’s why I had Fearless on my mind instead of the sensuous curves of Elana Love. I was scared, and Fearless was the only person I really trusted. I considered going to the police about Leon, but the cops were an iffy bet at best. Maybe somebody had reported the shoot-out. Maybe, if they couldn’t find Leon, the cops would decide that I shot at myself. There was no way that I could rely on Elana telling them the same story she told me. And if they got me into an interrogation room, I’d confess to anything they said.

No, I couldn’t go to the police. And I wouldn’t go to Fearless either. In the morning I’d take Elana anywhere she wanted to go and then I’d go on vacation for a few weeks, maybe down in San Diego. I had enough money for a holiday. And by the time I returned, Leon would either be back in jail or on easy street. Either way he wouldn’t be worried about me.

With that decision made I dozed off, but I didn’t relax. In my dreams someone was chasing me through the main library downtown. I ran from room to room with my unknown pursuer close behind. I knew that in one of the books there was written the secret of my success and salvation, but I couldn’t stop to search for it for fear I’d get caught and drown in the waters outside the Mussel Beach Inn.

“Paris.” Her lips were touching my ear.

I tried to jump, but her arms were around me. Her breasts were heavy against my back.

“I thought you said —” I started to say.

“Shhhh,” she whispered. “What you got down here?”

I heard the zipper from under the blanket and then I felt the silken warmth of her hand.

“Dang,” she said in what I knew was real surprise. “I could use three hands on you.”

There are no two lovers alike. Every man and woman has different needs and pleasures in bed. I’ve always known this. It’s part of the reason that I have so much anticipation the first time with a new woman. But that night I realized that everybody is different with every new love they meet. Coming together with Elana made me into a new man. I was jumping through hoops I hadn’t known were there. Elana gave me pleasure in places I never associated with sex.

Together we were like an overripe peach, just dripping with sweetness and sticky with love. My orgasms were so strong that I didn’t even feel the ejaculations. But they were in no way superior to the feel of her teeth at the back of my neck.

From a worried sleep to passionate love to a deep slumber she took me. The ocean was crashing, and the cool air drove me deeper into the blankets. At the first moment of consciousness I was smiling and placated. But then I began to sense that I was alone.

Morning light was coming through the wavy curtains. Elana was not in my bed and neither was she in hers. The bathroom was empty. My pants were strewn in the middle of the floor. My wallet was laid open, emptied of cash. The .38 was gone too.

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