"Say hello," Mr. Jones said.
"Say hello, you little jive-ass motherfucker," Fifty-Eight said.
The voice was that of Cochise Jones, the unmistakable smoker's croak, but way more irritable than Archy had ever heard Mr. Jones become. Everybody laughed except Chan Flowers. His eyes kept aloof from the smile on his lips.
"Keep it up," Flowers told Fifty-Eight. "You know I have a deluxe cherrywood pet casket sitting on my stockroom shelf right now, waiting to house your remains."
This was true; Cochise Jones had made funeral arrangements of Egyptian exactitude for himself and his partner in solitude.
"Brother Singletary." Flowers pointed a slender finger. "The King of Bling, how are you, sir?"
"Councilman," Singletary said, looking at Flowers the same way he looked at Fifty-Eight, with a mix of curiosity and distaste, as if touching his tongue to something bitter at the corner of his mouth.
The two of them, Singletary and Flowers, had beefed often and openly over the years, always in a civilized way. Lawsuits, real estate, a long cold war fought against a backdrop of redevelopment money using proxies and attorneys. West Oakland rumor traced the source of beef to the late 1970s, tendering the story that Singletary had married his wife out from under a preexisting condition of Chan Flowers. Rumor further added the dubious yet somehow creditable information that her reason for choosing Singletary over Flowers came down to an ineradicable odor of putrefaction on the undertaker's hands. "I'm all right, 'less you here to tell me otherwise."
"Now, you know," Flowers said, half addressing the room, the voice modulated, genial, but not, in spite of the rhetoric, orotund. Cool and dispassionate, as ready to express disappointment as flattery. "Back in the Bible, only a king could even wear the bling. They did not call it that, of course, did they, Mr. Oberstein? King Solomon, in his book of Ecclesiastes, do you know the vernacular he employed to allude to that which we now style 'bling'?"
Moby guessed, "Frankincense and myrrh?"
"He called it vanity," said the King of Bling. "And I got no argument against that."