It was clear that winter was on the way. A freezing wind followed us all the way to Sheffield Street and sent flurries of snow pulled from the piles on the ground into our eyes. Let me tell you about the wind in Chicago: it never gives up. It goes tearing through the buildings like a damned hurricane, ripping through coats and sweaters and into your bones.
So it was ripping up Sheffield Street, over and around the dancers and hookers and their clients. At least the women in the windows looked warm, skimpily though they were dressed.
Most of them ignored us – a man with a woman already. But a couple tried to convince Sam there was better game inside, and I was surprised to see him smile politely as he waved their comments away, then ask them where he might find Amnon. Most of them didn’t know, or claimed not to know. The latter shook their heads violently and turned away, but Sam didn’t press them. In fact he looked almost cowed, as if they had deeply insulted him. Finally I got fed up with this. When an only moderately pretty girl wordlessly shrugged her shoulders and made to walk away down the street I blocked her path.
“Look, I can tell you know where he is. Half of the women on this street know, so just tell us.”
“I don’t know anything,” she said, too shortly. “Now move on, you’re blocking business.”
“Just tell me and we’ll leave.”
She huffed a bit, her breath puffing a cloud into the wind. “What? You into revenge shit? Snuff? That interest you?”
“What have you heard about him?”
She glanced up and down the street, scared, as if talking about him would cause him to appear. She shrugged again, but sincerely this time. “He…hurts people. Whoever you want to hurt. Which sounds like he puts out hits on people, but it’s not like that. It’s like… I don’t know.”
“It’s okay,” Sam interrupted. “We just want to know where he is.”
“No,” I said to him, and then to the woman “Like what?”
She looked a little dazed, as if she were thinking thoughts she’d rather not have in her head. “Look, all I know is girls go there and never come back. Girls from this neighborhood. And if you do see them again, they’re like zombies. Just walking around with their eyes all glazed over. I don’t know what he does, but it fucks with your head.”
“Tell me where he is,” Sam asked, his voice like ice.
I looked at him, once again surprised by his vehemence, and by something else in his voice, something deeper, something I could swear I’d heard before, but not from him. Or not just from him.
She leaned closer to us, as if she were about to tell us a secret. “Between the Black Cat and the 9:50. Back the way you came. But if you knew what was good for you, you’d keep moving where you were going.”
“Sorry,” I said. “That is the way we’re going.”
We left her shaking her head, mumbling like she was chanting a spell of protection. She wasn’t of course; we were on our own.
We walked wordlessly, though I caught glimpses of Sam’s expression. His eyes were creased with anger, his mouth set in a thin line. We were in sight of the Black Cat before I spoke.
“Sam, what’s your beef with these things?”
He didn’t answer right away. The pause went on for so long I almost repeated the question. But then he spoke. “There’s nothing. It’s just a job. I told you that.”
“It’s more. I can tell. How you look right now. How you spoke to that woman back there.”
Another pause. “It’s nothing.”
I sighed. “All right. You don’t have to tell me. I just hope it’s nothing that’ll come back and bite us in the ass.”
He didn’t reply.
I stopped in the street, about to ask him if it was something that would come back and bite us in the ass. But then a door between the Black Cat and the 9:50 opened and a girl was tossed out into the street. I heard her cry of dismay and pain as she hit the sidewalk.
It was girls who threw her out too. One of them shouted an insult as they shut the door, retreating inside.
We ran to the girl on the pavement. People passed by her, some casting questioning glances, others – girls all – not looking. When Sam and I got to her, she was pushing herself to her knees, salt digging into her hands, which were covered not by gloves but by bandages.
“Are you alright?” I asked her.
She looked at me in alarm, as if I had threatened her. Her right eye was covered in a bandage as well, and a fresh scar cut across her left cheek. She turned away as quickly as she had looked at me.
“I’m fine,” she said. Her voice shook considerably. She tried to rise but toppled, and I caught her arm.
“Did he do this to you?”
She blinked at me. Her eye was red, but no tears came. She was in shock, had been in shock for some time. “Oh God,” she breathed. “Help me.”