lines from pulp fiction: “outside was the city, and it had halitosis”

Donald E. Westlake, The Mercenaries (1960)

Clay is a hit man – he organizes ‘accidents’ for his boss Ed Ganolese. Ed is into vice and drugs, lining his pockets every time anyone wants a girl or a fix. Trouble hits Ed when his pusher, Billy-Billy, gets himself hooked. And goes on the run. Clay must arrange an ‘accident’, but first he has to find him. But there’s someone else looking for Billy-Billy. Someone even bigger and with more muscle than Ed. Which causes Ed even bigger problems… (from the jacket copy)  




Outside was the city, and it had halitosis. The air was hot and damp, and breathing was a conscious matter. 

I thought about Grimes, and the boys he would probably have somewhere across the street, waiting for me to lead them to Billy-Billy Cantell. I was the only one moving on either sidewalk, and most of the windows across the way were dark, except for a couple of night owls on the upper floors. Cars were parked along both sides of the street, though they’d all be gone in a little over four hours, at eight in the morning, when the no-parking ban goes into effect. In daylight, most of these cars would be two or three different colors, pastels, pinks and blues and all the other nursery shades, but now, in the hot darkness of almost-four in the morning, they were all black. Even the chrome spattered all over them looked subdued. 

There was one street light on this side, way down to my left, and one across the street, off to my right. Grimes’ boys would probably be in one of the cars parked directly across the way, in the blackness just out of reach of both street lights. 

My street, in the West 80’s, is a one-way east. The parking garage where I keep my Mercedes is down at the western end of the block, with entrances both on my street and on Columbus Avenue. If a cop was planning to tail me, and he was in the middle of this block, aimed at Central Park, and I was to go out the Columbus Avenue way and head straight downtown, that cop would have to circle all the way around the block to get where I’d started from. It shouldn’t be too tough to avoid being tailed.

I plodded down the street toward the garage, and as soon as I moved, the sweat broke out all over me. I could feel the drops gathering on my forehead, getting ready for the straight run down through my eyebrows and into my eyes. Under the charcoal grayness of my suit, my white shirt was already sticking to me, and my tie was a hunk of warm rope around my neck. It was too hot and muggy to move, or to think, or to go running out of an air-conditioned apartment and look all over New York for a two-bit hophead with friends. 

An orange cab cruised by, the dim yellow vacancy light lit on its top, and it looked like a big, wide-mouth, toothy fish, mooching around in the seaweed at the ocean’s floor. That was a nice cooling thought, and I clung to it for a minute, until I got a look at the cabby behind the wheel. He looked twice as hot as I felt, and my shirt, in sympathy with him, got a tighter grip on my back. 

 I walked into the garage office, and the Puerto Rican kid who works nights was sitting there behind the desk, reading a comic book. He grinned and nodded at me and went away, without having said a word, to get my car. 

The office was hot and bright yellow. The kid had left the comic book open on the desk and I leafed through it while I waited for him to come back. The lettering in the balloons was all in Spanish, but you don’t need the lettering to read a comic book. What was that the comic-book publisher was quoted as saying? “We are retooling for illiteracy.” I flipped the pages over and looked at the pictures. 

The Mercedes hummed down the ramp and the kid climbed out, looking happy. It didn’t matter to him that he didn’t own any of the cars in this building. Just so he got the chance to drive them up and down the ramps, he was happy. How many Puerto Rican kids get the opportunity to drive a Mercedes-Benz 190SL?



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