Read an Excerpt
The car was a boxy late-model Ford sedan, white over black, innocuous bordering on invisible, and very fast. It had been a sheriff's vehicle originally, bought at auction in Tennessee, and further modified for speed.
The car rolled north on Wisconsin beneath a blazing white sun. The men inside wore long-sleeved shirts, tails out. Their shirtfronts were spotted with sweat and their backs were slick with it. The black vinyl on which they sat was hot to the touch. From the passenger seat, Frank Farrow studied the street. The sidewalks were empty. Foreign-made automobiles moved along quietly, their occupants cool and cocooned. Heat mirage shimmered up off asphalt. The city was narcotized it was that kind of summer day.
"Quebec," said Richard Farrow, his gloved hands clutching the wheel. He pushed his aviator shades back up over the bridge of his nose, and as they neared the next cross street he said, "Upton."
"You've got Thirty-ninth up ahead," said Frank. "You want to take that shoot-off, just past Van Ness."
"I know it," said Richard. "You don't have to tell me again because I know."
"Take it easy, Richard."
In the backseat, Roman Otis softly sang the first verse to "One in a Million You," raising his voice just a little to put the full Larry Graham inflection into the chorus. He had heard the single on WHUR earlier that morning, and the tune would not leave his head.
The Ford passed through the intersection at Upton.
Otis looked down at his lap, where the weight of his shotgun had begun to etch a deep wrinkle in his linen slacks. Well, he should have known it. All you had to do was look at linen to make it wrinkle, that was a plain fact. Still, a man needed to have a certain kind of style to him when he left the house for work. Otis placed the sawed-off on the floor, resting its stock across the toes of his lizard-skin monk straps. He glanced at the street-bought Rolex strapped to his left wrist: five minutes past ten a.m.
Richard cut the Ford up 39th.
"There," said Frank. "That Chevy's pulling out."
"I see it," said Richard.
They waited for the Chevy. Then Frank said, "Put it in."
Richard swung the Ford into the space and killed the engine. They were at the back of a low-rise commercial strip that fronted Wisconsin Avenue. The door leading to the kitchen of the pizza parlor, May's, was situated in the center of the block. Frank wiped moisture from his brush mustache and ran a hand through his closely cropped gray hair.
"There's the Caddy," said Otis, noticing the black DeVille parked three spaces ahead.
Frank nodded. "Mr. Carl's making the pickup. He's inside."
"Let's do this thing," said Otis.
"Wait for our boy to open the door," said Frank. He drew two latex examination gloves from a tissue-sized box and slipped them over the pair he already had on his hands. He tossed the box over his shoulder to the backseat. "Here. Double up."
Roman Otis raised his right hand, where a silver ID bracelet bearing the inscription "Back to Oakland" hung on his wrist. He let the bracelet slip down inside the French cuff of his shirt. He put the gloves on carefully, then reflexively touched the butt of the .45 fitted beneath his shirt. He caught a glimpse of his shoulder-length hair, recently treated with relaxer, in the rearview mirror. Shoot, thought Otis, Nick Ashford couldn't claim to have a finer head of hair on him. Otis smiled at his reflection, his one gold tooth catching the light. He gave himself a wink.
"Frank," said Richard.
"We'll be out in a few minutes," said Frank. "Don't turn the engine over until you see us coming back out."
"I won't," said Richard, a catch in his voice.
The back kitchen door to May's opened. A thin black man wearing a full apron stepped out with a bag of trash. He carried the trash to a Dumpster and swung it in, bouncing it off the upraised lid. On his way back to the kitchen he eye-swept the men in the Ford. He stepped back inside, leaving the door ajar behind him.
"That him?" asked Otis.
"Charles Greene," said Frank.
Frank checked the .22 Woodsman and the .38 Bulldog holstered beneath his oxford shirt. The guns were snug against his guinea-T. He looked across the bench at his kid brother, sweating like a hard-run horse, breathing through his mouth, glassy eyed, scared stupid.
"Remember, Richard. Wait till you see us come out."
Richard Farrow nodded one time.
Roman Otis lifted the shotgun, slipped it barrel down into his open shirt, fitting it in a custom-made leather holster hung over his left side. It would show; there wasn't any way to get around it. But they would be going straight in, and they would move fast.
"Let's go, Roman," said Frank.
Otis said, "Right." He opened the car door and touched his foot to the street.
"C'mon," said Lisa Karras, "put your arms up, Jimmy."
Lisa's son raised his hands and then dropped them as she tried to fit the maroon-and-gold shirt over his head. He wiggle-wormed out of the shirt, giggled as he backed up against a scarred playroom wall. Looking at him, Lisa laughed too.
There were mornings when she would be trying to get him off to school or get herself to an appointment and Jimmy would keep pushing her buttons until she'd lose her temper in a big way. But this was not one of those mornings. Jimmy had been out of kindergarten since June, and Lisa had not picked up any freelance design work in the last month. This was just a slow morning on a hot summer day. The two of them had nothing but time.
"Hey, kiddo, I thought you said you wanted some ice cream."
Jimmy Karras zoomed over and raised his arms. Lisa got the short-sleeved Redskins jersey on him before he had a chance to squirm out of it, then sat him down and fitted a pair of miniature Vans sneakers on his feet.
"Double knots, Mom."
"You got it."
Jimmy stood up and raced off. He skipped once, something he did without thought when he was happy, on the way to the door.
Ice cream at ten a.m. Lisa almost laughed, thinking of what her peers would have to say about that. Most of the other mothers in the neighborhood were content to sit their kids down in front of the television set on hot days like this. But Lisa couldn't stand to be in the house all day, no matter the weather. And she knew that Jimmy liked to get out too. A trip to the ice cream store would be just fine.
Jimmy stood on his toes at the front door, trying to turn the lock. A rabbit's foot hung from a key chain fixed to a belt loop of his navy blue shorts. The rabbit's foot was white and gray, with toenails curling out of the fur. Lisa had given her husband, Dimitri, a few sharp words when he had brought it home from the surplus store, but she had let the matter drop when she saw her son's eyes widen at the sight of it. The rabbit's foot was one of those strange items pocketknives, lighters, firecrackers that held a mutual fascination for fathers and sons. She had long since given up on trying to understand.