Peanut had been hard to find for almost a week so Ray was relieved when he called.
"Where you been, man?" he said.
"I found us a sucker," Peanut said.
"I'm at the store. Come and pick me up. We need to talk."
"Give me forty minutes," Ray said.
"Ginger and me are shooting the breeze. Take your time."
Ray took a little extra care to clean up and put on a sharp suit. This was because of Ginger. He knew that, but he figured it didn't make any damn difference as long as he kept it between him and himself. That was as far as it was going to go.
Ginger was Peanut's girlfriend, and she was beautiful. Peanut could be an irritating little piss ant at times, but he was Ray's partner, and Ray couldn't field much enthusiasm for watching his back with the people who were supposed to be covering his ass.
He put Ginger out of his mind as he walked to the parking lot. He was good at making his brain work on a practical level. Whenever something troubling or frightening jumped into his mind, he would think about the altogether different until his cool returned.
This morning he thought about his ride. It was a Voodoo Cadillac -- a four-year-old Eldo he had gotten cheap because it was rumored to carry a curse of death.
Ray liked to tell people that the car was a lot like him. Its bullet holes had been repaired, people were afraid of it, and it was responsible for a number of unnecessary deaths.
The story on the Voodoo Cadillac was its previous owner had been cruising along Ralph McGill, minding his own business when a notorious member of the gangsta-American community placed six rounds from a nine-millimeter pistol through the driver's door.
The victim died instantly, and the car veered across the road and came to a gentle stop against a phone pole. Unfortunately, it caused a church bus of religious pilgrims from Snellville bound for the Atlanta Passion Play to swerve and roll three times.
The gunman expressed no remorse.
"He shouldn't have messed with my old lady," he said when apprehended.
This sentiment caused a great deal of confusion when it was learned that the victim was an openly gay businessman. Later, when the gangsta-wife admitted that at the time of the shooting, she had been doing the hokey-pokey in the back seat of Eldorado number two at Lake Lanier, it became evident that the entire slaughter had sprung from a horrible mistake of identity.
Actually, Ray didn't believe that truth in advertising applied to a career criminal like him. He told people he was like the Eldo, but it wasn't true. He was always thoughtful about what he did, had never killed anyone that didn't need it, and his bullet wounds hadn't been repaired nearly as well as he would have liked. Some mornings they hurt.
But, what the hell, if you are going to spend your life being Ray Justus, you better have a sense of humor about it, and if your legend scares some pathetic street punks, so much the better.
This was the deal. Ray and Peanut would pretend to be dope dealers, and they would find wealthy people like dentists who were under the impression they would make good gangsters.
They would offer to sell them a franchise. "You can be The Man in Lowest Buckhead" -- that sort of thing.
Of course, it took a lot of money to be The Man in Lowest Buckhead, and when the poor innocents arrived with piles of cash, Peanut and Ray would take it away from them and give them nothing in return.
Under ordinary circumstances, the underlying unfairness of this transaction would provoke bitter protest, but in this special case the citizens would happily give Ray their money and be grateful to be allowed to return to the comfort of their homes.
This was due to the special talent Peanut and Ray had for terrifying people by imitating men with marginal IQ's, permanent facial twitches, and a fondness for senseless violence.
Ray thought this was socially useful work, because it returned promising professionals to the straight and narrow path.
In many ways, it was like counseling. True, it cost much more, but, unlike counseling, it always worked.
Ray rolled to his store on Cheshire Bridge. It was three small rooms marked only with a hand-painted sign, "Collectors' Books," in the back of an old brick building that housed a redneck lesbian bar called the Cheshire Beach.