Plain Brown Wrapper

Plain Brown Wrapper

3.8 8
by Karen G. Bates

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African-American reporter Alex Powell has the kind of curiosity that tends to get a nosy girl in big trouble. Luckily, she also has the wit and wiles to get out of it. But when Alex finds her boss, Everett Carson, dead at a black journalists' conference, she finds herself caught in a situation far nastier than normal ... and in grave danger.

At least she's not


African-American reporter Alex Powell has the kind of curiosity that tends to get a nosy girl in big trouble. Luckily, she also has the wit and wiles to get out of it. But when Alex finds her boss, Everett Carson, dead at a black journalists' conference, she finds herself caught in a situation far nastier than normal ... and in grave danger.

At least she's not alone. Fellow journalist and old friend Paul Butler is determined to accompany Alex on her investigation into who killed Ev and why. The trail is leading Alex and Paul from California to D.C., New York, and the competitive social whirl of Martha's Vineyard ... and into a relationship well beyond "friend." But when the truth about the murder of a man as hated as he was revered comes to light, all that — and everything else — could end for Alex Powell in a devastating instant.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Newcomer Alex Powell thinks that the National Association of Black Journalists Conference will provide a welcome break from her twice-weekly "Los Angeles Standard "column-until she discovers that the reason her philandering old publisher Everett Carson hasn't come down from his hotel room to accept the Journalist of the Year award is that he's chilling the big chill. Urged on by her bosses and her friendly rivalry with friend Signe "Magnolia Mouth" Tucker at the "L.A. Times, "Alex is soon on, and all over, the wide-ranging case.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Chapter One

A sixty-eight-year-old woman being shot on her own front lawn in broad daylight is not normally a laughing matter, but every time I tried to describe the particulars of this specific incidence of urban violence, I ended up laughing so hard I feared I'd never finish my column in time for deadline.

My name is Alex Powell; I'm a journalist. My column runs in the Metro section of the Los Angeles Standard twice a week, Sundays and Thursdays. Basically I can write whatever I want, as long as it reflects life in the fractious jumble of communities that make up greater Los Angeles. Sometimes the stories actually do make a positive difference in people's lives. Occasionally, they're even life-changing.

Like the one I wrote about Adrienne Pierce, a seventeen-year-old South Central girl who, after her parents' deaths from AIDS, was struggling to care for her younger siblings so they wouldn't be broken up and distributed in the wasteland of foster care. An honors student at a local public school, she'd given up hope of going to college (no money, and who would look after the kids?) and had resigned herself to working in fast-food joints and slipping in a class or two at a local junior college whenever she could manage it. After the column ran, she was offered a full scholarship to the University of Southern California, and an anonymous benefactor prepaid the freight for the little Pierces for four years in a university-affiliated day-care center, so they'd be cared for after school while Adrienne was finishing her own classes. That was three years ago and they still send me notes fromtime to time, letting me know how they're doing.

My column about the Fernandez family won a local reporting award and, more importantly, helped a family of hardworking immigrants in a moment of severe crisis. Aurelio Fernandez and his family had been firebombed out of their small home near Watts when some Latino gang members mistakenly thought Aurelio was a police informant in a drug sting that had nabbed some of their colleagues. In retaliation, they torched the house -- in the middle of the night, with the six Fernandezes inside. The family made it out with their lives but very little else. Little Sylvia Fernandez, a bubbly five-year-old, was badly burned over 30 percent of her body, and the family was homeless and totally without medical insurance. When the Standard ran the news story and my column (an interview with Aurelio and his wife, Alta Gracia, which I managed to get the day after the fire), help poured in. A local real estate developer who normally deals in the luxury end of the market gave them a small home, rent-free, for two years, and the possibility of buying it after that. Three of the country's best reconstructive surgeons teamed together to give Sylvia the operations she'd need to look like herself again. Catholic Charities provided counseling for the traumatized family. And a black sorority at UCLA took turns baby-sitting the younger Fernandez kids for six months, so Aurelio and Alta Gracia could remain by Sylvia's bedside while she was in ICU and rehab.

Those kinds of stories make me realize why I wanted to be a reporter. Those kinds of stories are life-enhancing, maybe even transforming.

The shooting story, however, wasn't one of them. Which was why I was having such a hard time finishing it without...well, I may as well just show you what I handed in, and you can decide for yourself:

The Grass Is Always Greener -- for a Reason

By Alex Powell
Standard columnist

Up here in View Park, the neighbors take their property seriously. The streets wind randomly upward from the noise and hustle of Crenshaw Boulevard. On still summer days, if you leave the windows open, you can hear the congas from the drummers assembled in Leimert Park, a half mile away. The lawns are uniformly green and wide, the homes large and well-kept. It is a house-proud section of South L.A., full of people who don't joke about the responsibilities of domestic upkeep.

Emmaline Andrews is no slacker in that department. Her lawn is the pride of Mount Vernon Drive -- "velvet green," her neighbors like to call it. A widowed retired high school principal, Mrs. Andrews lovingly tends her lawn and garden daily; joggers huffing up the hill in the early morning wave to her as she pinches back the deadheads on her rosebushes. In the evening, she chats with the neighbors as their automatic sprinklers pop up and hiss moisture where it's needed. The errant piece of trash doesn't stay too long on Mrs. Andrews's sidewalk: "Anything out there, once she notices it, that's it; it's gone," says Roscoe Washington, a neighbor for almost 25 years. "Emma takes no mess."

Apparently, she doesn't like any left on her lawn, either. Which is why the normally easygoing community volunteer would get after Robert Mawbry, a new resident, who liked to walk his twin rottweilers off their leashes, letting them do their business where they might. Most neighbors resented it but weren't around to catch Mawbry in the act. The few who did and protested say Mawbry just shrugged. "That's what dogs do, man. When they gotta go, they go."

Maybe it was the timing. Maybe the moon was squared in something assertive, like Aries, which makes even mild-mannered people grow fangs and growl. Whatever the reason, Emmaline Andrews had arisen for the third time that week to find twin steaming piles on the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street. "You know, I don't think I even thought twice about it," she told me later. "I just saw those piles of -- well, you know -- and I guess I...

Plain Brown Wrapper. Copyright © by Karen Bates. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Karen Grigsby Bates is a correspondent for Day to Day, NPR's mid-day news magazine. She lives in Los Angeles with her family. Chosen People is the second novel in the Alex Powell series.

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