Smoke had three men with him, and they surrounded him until they reached a cherry red Maxwell. One of them opened the back door and Smoke hopped in and they drove off. Luther went back to the field of weeds, dug the bag back up, took what he needed, and buried it again. He walked back into Greenwood and kept going till he'd reached the outskirts and found the place he'd been looking for--Deval's Junkyard, run by an old fella, Latimer Deval, who'd occasionally done side work for Uncle James. Luther had never met old Deval in the flesh, but he'd passed his place enough back when he'd lived here to know Deval always kept a few heaps for sale on his front lawn.
He bought a 1910 Franklin Tourer off Deval for three hundred, the two barely exchanging words, just the cash and the key. Luther drove back to Admiral and parked a block down from Poulson's.
He followed them for the next week. He never went out to his house on Elwood, though it pained him more than anything to be this close after so much time away. But he knew if he saw Lila or his son, he would lose all strength and have to run to them, have to hold them and smell them and wet them with his tears. And then he'd surely be a dead man. So he drove the Franklin out to unincorporated scrub land every night and slept there, and the next morning he was back on the job, learning Smoke's routine.
Smoke took his lunch every day at the same diner but mixed it up for dinner--some nights at Torchy's, others at Alma's Chop House, another night at Riley's, a jazz club that had replaced the Club Almighty. Luther wondered just what Smoke thought about as he chewed his dinner in view of the stage where he'd almost bled to death. Whatever else you could say about the man, he definitely had a strong constitution.
After a week, Luther felt reasonably confident he had the man's routine down cold because Smoke was a man of routine. He might have eaten at a different place every night, but he always arrived at six sharp. Tuesdays and Thursdays, he went to his woman's place out in the sticks, an old sharecropper's shack, and his men would wait in the yard while he went about his business and came out two hours later, tucking in his shirt. He lived above his own billiards parlor, and his three bodyguards would all accompany him into the building and then come back and get into their car and return the next morning at five-thirty on the nose.
Once Luther got the afternoon routine figured--lunch at twelve- thirty, collections and package re-ups from one-thirty to three, back to Poulson's at three-oh-five--he decided he'd found his window. He went to a hardware store and bought a doorknob, lock assembly, and keyhole plate that matched the one on the door leading up to Smoke's apartment. He spent afternoons in the car, learning how to thread a paper clip through the keyhole, and once he could open the lock ten out of ten times in under twenty seconds, he started practicing at night, parked beside the dark scrub, not even the light of the moon to guide him, until he could pick that lock blind.
Of a Thursday night, when Luther knew Smoke and his men were at his woman's shack, he crossed Admiral in the looming dusk and was through the door faster than he'd ever stolen a base. He faced a set of stairs that smelled of oil soap and he climbed them to find a second door, also locked. It was a different lock cylinder, so it took him about two minutes to get the hang of it. Then the door popped open and he was inside. He turned and squatted in the doorway until he spied a single black hair lying on the threshold. He lifted it and placed it back against the lock and closed the door over it.
He'd bathed this morning in the river, his teeth clacking from the cold as he covered every inch of his stinky self with brown soap. Then he pulled the fresh clothes he'd purchased in East St. Louis from the bag on the front seat of the car and put them on. He commended himself on that now, as he'd guessed correctly that Smoke's apartment would be as orderly as his dress. Place was spotless. Bare, too. Nothing on the walls, only one throw rug in the living room. Bare coffee table, Victrola without a wisp of dust or even the tiniest smudge.
Luther found the hall closet, noted that several of the coats he'd seen Smoke wearing in the last week were hung precisely on wooden hangers. The hanger that was empty awaited the blue duster with the leather collar Smoke had worn today. Luther slipped in among the clothes, closed the door, and waited.
Took about an hour, though it felt like five. He heard footsteps on the stairs, four sets of them, and pulled his watch, but it was too dark to see, so he put it back in his vest and noticed he was holding his breath. He let out a slow exhale as the key turned in the lock. The door opened and one man said, "You good, Mr. Poulson?"
"I am, Red. See you in the morning."
The door shut and Luther raised his pistol, and for one horrible moment he was seized by overwhelming terror, a desire to close his eyes and wish this moment away, to push past Smoke when he opened that door and run for his life.
But it was too late, because Smoke went to the closet straightaway and the door opened and Luther had no choice but to place the muzzle of the pistol against the tip of Smoke's nose.
"You make a sound, I'll kill you where you stand."
Smoke raised his arms, still wearing the duster.
"Take a few steps back. Keep those arms high." Luther came out into the hallway.
Smoke's eyes narrowed. "Country?"
"You changed some. Never would recognize you on the street with that beard."
Smoke gave that a small upward tilt of his eyebrows.
"Kitchen," Luther said. "You first. Lace your hands on top of your head."
Smoke complied and walked down the hallway and entered the kitchen. There was a small table there with a red-and-white- checkered tablecloth and two wooden chairs. Luther gestured Smoke into one of the chairs and took the one across from him.
"You can take your hands off your head. Just put them on the table." Smoke unlaced his fingers and placed his palms down on the table. "Old Byron get back to you?"
Smoke nodded. "Said you threw him through a window." "He tell you I was coming for you?"
"He mentioned it, yeah."
"That what the three bodyguards are for?"
"That," Smoke said, "and some rival business associates too quick to the anger."
Luther reached into his coat pocket and came out with a brown paper bag that he placed on the table. He watched Smoke stare at it, let him wonder what it was.
"What'd you think about Chicago?" Luther said.
Smoke cocked his head. "The riots?"
"Thought it was a damn shame we only killed fi fteen whites." "Washington?"