(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In A Red Death, it is now 1953, the period of McCarthyism. Easy has used the money he made in Devil in a Blue Dress to buy rental properties, which he owns secretly. He pretends to work for Mofass, his manager and rent collector. Trouble looms, however, when an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agent named Lawrence targets Easy for investigation. Easy is soon facing the possibility of prison.

As if this is not enough, Etta Mae and LaMarque, Mouse’s wife and son, come up from Houston. Etta Mae is estranged from Mouse and wants to live with Easy. Easy desires Etta Mae, but he knows that living with her might put him on a collision course with Mouse. Sure enough, Mouse appears in Watts, though he spends a night partying before looking up Easy. The delay gives Easy a chance to find an apartment for Etta Mae and LaMarque.

The situation with the IRS takes a twist during Easy’s meeting with Lawrence. Desperate enough to respond violently, Easy is saved from drastic action when a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent named Craxton offers to help. Craxton says that he will patch up Easy’s problems with the IRS in return for help in nailing a union organizer and suspected communist named Chaim Wenzler. Wenzler, a Jew, is also active in several black churches, including one in Easy’s neighborhood. Easy agrees to cooperate.

Easy meets Mouse in a bar. He tells Mouse the truth about Etta Mae and LaMarque, but he honors Etta Mae’s request and refuses to tell Mouse her address. Mouse does not push the matter but warns that he will not wait forever to hear from Etta Mae.

The following morning, Easy finds the body of Poinsettia Jackson, one of his tenants, in her apartment. She appears to have hanged herself, which seems plausible in the light of her poor health and lack of money to pay rent. Easy, in fact, had been on the verge of letting Mofass evict her.

Easy takes Etta Mae to church the following Sunday morning. He hears an avid sermon against the waste of black youths in the Korean War, perhaps direct evidence of Chaim Wenzel’s influence. Easy is introduced to Chaim. Despite himself, Easy likes the man.


(The entire section is 897 words.)