Crooks leaned forward
over the edge of the bunk. "I ain't a southern
Negro," he said. "I was born right here in California. My old man
had a chicken ranch, 'bout ten acres. The white kids come to play at
our place, an' sometimes I went to play with t
hem, and some of them
was pretty nice. My ol' man didn't like that. I never knew till long
later why he didn't like that. But I know now." He hesitated, and when
he spoke again his voice was softer. "There wasn't another colored
family for miles around. And now there ain't a colored man on this
ranch an' there's jus' one family in Soledad." He laughed. "If I say
something, why it's just a nigger sayin' it."
ed, "How long you think it'll be before them pups will
be old enough to pet?"
Crooks laughed again. "A guy can talk to you an' be sure you won't
go blabbin'. Couple of weeks an' t
hem pups'll be all right. George
knows what he's about. Jus' talks, an' you don't understand
nothing." He leaned forward excitedly. "This is just a nigger talkin',
an' a busted
back nigger. So it don't mean nothing, see?
couldn't remember it anyways. I seen it over an' over
a guy talkin'
to another guy and it don't make no difference if he don't hear or
understand. The thing is, they're talkin', or they're settin' still
not talkin'. It don't make no difference, no difference." His
excitement had increased until he pounded his knee with this hand.
"George can tell you screwy things, and it don't matter. It's just the
talking. It's just bei
n' with another guy. That's all." He paused.