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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Leonard Elmore

«Unknown Man #89», ELMORE LEONARD

For Peter

A Prompt Man Is a Lonely Man

-Andrew Donahue


A FRIEND OF Ryan’s said to him one time, “yeah, but at least you don’t take any shit from anybody.”

Ryan said to his friend, “I don’t know, the way things’ve been going, maybe it’s about time I started taking some.”

This had been a few years ago. Ryan remembered it as finally waking up, deciding to get off his ass and make some kind of run.

His sister drove him down to the Detroit police car auction, where he bought a 1970 maroon and white Cougar for $250. His sister didn’t like the Cougar because it had four bullet holes in the door on the driver’s side. Ryan said he didn’t mind the holes. Didn’t mind; he loved them.

The friend of Ryan’s who told him about the car auctions was a police officer with long hair and jeans and a big Mag under his leather jacket who worked out of the Criminal Investigation Division at 1300 Beaubien. His name was Dick Speed. He showed Ryan around the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice and what went on behind the courtrooms and told him about serving papers and how a guy could do pretty well if he didn’t mind driving around in his car all day. The way Dick Speed explained it, it didn’t look too hard.

Ryan met a few process servers. He studied them to see if there was a process server “look.” There didn’t seem to be one. They could have been working on the line or delivering dry cleaning. Only one of them stood out, a short and sort of fat Jewish guy who wore leisure suits and seemed to know everybody in the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice. His name was Jay Walt. Ryan couldn’t figure out what made the guy so sure of himself.

Ryan was thirty-six by then and starting to worry that maybe he was a misfit, a little out of touch with reality, that all the people strapped to their boring nine-to-fives were right and he was wrong.

He had sold insurance one time, for three weeks. He had sold new cars for several different Detroit dealerships; but, each place, the sales manager or the owner turned out to be a pain in the ass. He’d worked construction and driven a truck. He’d been with Local 299 of the Teamsters as a business agent for a while and got into a couple of fistfights that were interesting. He’d worked on the line at Chevrolet truck assembly in Flint, quit before he went out of his mind, and got a job at Abercrombie’s store in Troy, but only lasted two weeks. One day during the Christmas rush he told a lady if she didn’t like the service why didn’t she go someplace else. He’d said to her, “Why should a nice person like you stand around taking a lot of shit?” Ryan was always polite. He had also been into a little breaking and entering when he was much younger and working for a carpet-cleaning company; but it was more for fun than profit: see if he could get away with it. He had been arrested only once, for felonious assault-belting a migrant crew chief the summer he picked cucumbers up in the Thumb-but the charge was dismissed. He had never served time.

What he got into serving was legal papers and it surprised him he liked it and was good at it. It surprised him that he was patient and had a knack for finding people. He wasn’t afraid to walk up and hand someone a writ or a summons. As long as he didn’t know anything about them personally it was all right. What they did, whatever trouble they were in, was their business, not his. He was polite, soft-spoken. He never hassled anybody. He would identify the individual and hand over the paper and say thank you, best of luck, and that was it. He couldn’t remember many of the faces and he liked it that way.

He decided he liked process serving because he was his own boss. He could work two hours a day or twenty-four; and because he liked it, he usually put in at least twelve. He didn’t mind being in the car most of the day. He liked to drive around and listen to music or, about a hundred days a year, a Detroit Tigers baseball game. It didn’t matter what place they were in. Ryan’s ambition, up until the time he was twenty, was to be a major league third baseman. He’d looked good enough to get a tryout with the Red Sox; but he couldn’t hit a breaking ball if the guy hung it up there in front of him. They told him he’d never make it. He had connected with that Chicano crew chief, though: hit him with a baseball bat on the hardpacked clearing in the cucumber fields when the guy came at him with a knife. Ryan had learned early that in street fighting, if there was no way to get out of it, you hit first and made it count and usually it was over. It was a good thing to know and keep with you.

The only problem he anticipated in his work was taking shit from people who didn’t want to be served: people who’d give him a hard time, like he was the one taking them to court. But he handled it in a way that surprised him. He just didn’t let these people bother him. He realized they were frightened or reacting without thinking. They were so pissed off at the first party, the plaintiff, they had to take it out on somebody and he was standing there, responsible. He realized they didn’t mean it personally, so why get mad or upset?

He was told process serving was a dangerous occupation and that most process servers carried a gun. But Ryan never packed. A friend of his-not the cop, Dick Speed, another one-said, “But look, this guy sees you come in, he knows if he gets served he’s going to lose his ass maybe. What if he’s got a gun? The guy’s scared shitless, he sees you come in, bam, you’re dead.”

Ryan had been threatened with getting his head taken off. He had had guns pointed at him and waved in his face. He had served a guy, in a child-custody case, who had beaten up a couple of policemen. He had walked into the headquarters of a blacks-against-the-world group and had gotten all the looks and the bullshit and had walked out with an adding machine, a repossession.

“You’re not even that big,” his friend said, “that you’d scare anybody.”

“In this work,” Ryan told his friend, “you can be a boy scout, a humanitarian, you can be an ass chaser, there’s plenty of that. I mean broads, ones that’re lonely or grateful. You can lean on people, stick it to them if you get a kick out of that. Christ, like a guy I know, he’s in the collection business now, Jay Walt. He likes to torture people, get them to squirm and whimper. You can do that. Or you can wish them luck and not horse them around any. We’re all making the same trip, right? Trying to get along. Why should we fuck each other over and make life miserable?”

But never get personally involved, he might have added. That was rule number one. Don’t get too close and start feeling sorry for people. You want to do that, go work for the Salvation Army.

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