There is no stronger argument for the death penalty than Nicholas Balagula, the bloodthirsty West Coast crime boss who has been charged with sixty-three counts of homicide, many of them children. And now reclusive rogue journalist Frank Corso -- the only non-participant invited to observe the closed court proceedings -- stands uncomfortably in the center of the most crazed media circus to hit Seattle in years . . . until a personal tragedy diverts his attention. When photojournalist Meg Dougherty -- once Corso's lover and still his dearest friend -- comes face-to-face with a pair of cold-blooded executioners and ends up clinging weakly to life in the I.C.U., the angry lone-wolf reporter vows to make all the guilty parties pay, by his own hand if necessary. But the black river of lies, secrets, corruption, and murder surrounding both the Balagula trial and Meg's "accident" is much deeper and more dangerous than even Frank Corso anticipated. And if he wades in over his head, the undertow could drag him to his death.
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About the Author
G.M. Ford is the author of six widely praised Frank Corso novels, Fury, Black River, A Blind Eye, Red Tide, No Man's Land, and Blown Away, as well as six highly acclaimed mysteries featuring Seattle private investigator Leo Waterman. A former creative writing teacher in western Washington, Ford lives in Oregon and is currently working on his next novel.
Read an Excerpt
A Leo Waterman Mystery
Wednesday, July 26
Like nearly everyone born in the tin shacks that line the banks of the Río Cauto, Gerardo Limón was short, dark, and bandy-legged. A textbook cholo, Limón was less than a generation removed from the jungle and thus denied even the pretense of having measurable quantities of European blood, a deprivation of the soul which, for all his adult life, had burned in his chest like a candle. That his partner, Ramón Javier, was tall, elegant, and obviously of Spanish descent merely added fuel to the flame.
Gerardo shouldered his way into the orange coveralls and then buckled the leather tool belt about his waist. A sticky valve in the truck's engine ticked in the near darkness. Twenty yards away, Ramón spaced a trio of orange traffic cones across the mouth of the driveway leading to the back of the Briarwood Garden Apartments.
The kill zone was perfect. The driveway had two nearly blind turns. This end of the building had no windows. To the north, half a mile of marsh separated the apartments from the Speedy Auto Parts outlet up the road.
"You wanna pitch or catch?" Gerardo asked.
"Who was up last?" Ramón wanted to know.
"We turned two, remember?"
Last time out, they'd encountered an unexpected visitor and had to play an impromptu doubleheader. Ramón's thin lips twisted into a smile as he recalled the last time they'd worn these uniforms. As he settled the tool belt on his hips, he wondered how many times they'd run their "utility repairmen" number. Certainly dozens. He'd lost count years ago.
Ramón Javier liked to think he might have become a doctor, or a jazz musician, or maybe even a baseball player if things had been different. If his family had made it to Miami the first time. If they hadn't been dragged back to that stinking island and treated like pig shit for five years.
Ramón settled the yellow hard hat onto his head and checked the load in the .22 automatic, screwed the CAC22 suppressor carefully onto the barrel, and then slipped the weapon through the loop in the tool belt generally reserved for the hammer.
He checked his watch. "Three minutes, " he said. "What will it be?"
"Whatever you want," Gerardo said. "I don't care."
"Don't forget, we got orders to lose the truck," Ramón said.
Gerardo shrugged. "You pitch. I'll catch."
Wednesday, July 26
The kitchen floor squeaked as he made his way over to the refrigerator. He removed a brown paper sack, set it on the counter, and checked inside. Two sandwiches: olive loaf and American cheese on white. A little salt, a little pepper, and just a dab of Miracle Whip. Satisfied, he grabbed the plastic water bottle from the refrigerator, stuffed it into the pocket of his jacket, and headed for the door.
Overhead, the Milky Way was little more than a smear across the sky. Too many lights, too many people, too much smog for the stars. He used his key to open the truck door. The '79 Toyota pickup, once bright yellow, had oxidized to a shade more reminiscent of uncleaned teeth.
The engine started at the first turn of the key. He smiled as he raced the motor and fiddled with the radio. The on-off knob was going. You had to catch it just right, and even then, first time you hit a bump, it would switch itself off, and you had to start all over again.
He caught two bars of music. Chopin, he thought, when the light in the cab flickered. As he sat up, a movement caught his eye. He looked to his left, thinking it was that sorry ass troll who lived in the basement. Guy never slept. Never washed either.
Wasn't him, though. No, it was old hangdog himself. Standing there with his hands clasped behind his back, staring in the truck window like he's the messenger of doom or something.
He rolled down the window. "You want something?" he inquired.
"How do you live with yourself?" the guy asked. "Have you no shame?"
He raced the engine three times and then spoke. "Don't you ever give it up, man? It's over. What can I say? Shit happens."
Given a second chance, the driver probably would have chosen his words more carefully. As last words go, shit happens left a great deal to be desired. Those three syllables were, however, the last mortal utterance to pass his lips, because, at that point, old hang-dog pulled a gun out from behind his back and shot the driver four times in the face.
As he stood next to the truck, trying to absorb the gravity of his act, the truck radio suddenly began to play classical music, scattering his thoughts like leaves. He looked uncomprehendingly at the weapon in his hand; then he lobbed it through the window into the driver's lap and slowly walked away.
Wednesday, July 26
"What was that?" Ramón asked.
"Shhh." Gerardo held a finger to his lips.
The pulsing yellow light circled them in the darkness.
"Sounded like shots to me," Ramón whispered.
Gerardo slipped the gun from his tool belt and held it close along his right leg as he worked his way along the side of the building all the way to the back, where he could see out into the parking lot. He peered around the corner and then came running back.
"He's sitting there warming up the truck, just like always."
"Musta been backfires," said Ramón, without believing it.
They'd been following him for a week. Memorizing his schedule. Getting to know his habits. Gerardo checked his watch. "One minute," he whispered.
Whatever his other failings, and the quality of his life suggested they were many, their victim was always on time. Left...Black River
A Leo Waterman Mystery. Copyright © by G.M. Ford. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Though a very tiny earthquake occurred along the San Andreas fault that hardly registered on the Richter scale, the damage to the newly built Fairmont Hospital left sixty-three people dead, forty of them children. It was discovered that the building was not built to specifications because the builders skimped on earthquake prevention fortifications by bribing building officials and inspectors to sign off that it met the code. The prosecution says that known criminal Nicholas Balagula was the mastermind behind the tragedy that led to the calamity. The Feds brought him to trial twice and failed to get a conviction. Now they are trying again and true crime writer Frank Corso is the only journalist allowed to witness the proceedings. Corso wants to see justice served but the case abruptly becomes personal when his ex-girlfriend is almost killed by two goons in the pay of Balagula. G.M. Ford is an excellent writer who tells quite a story. His enigmatic protagonist is a likable chap content with being alone. Still he strives to do the right thing for the only person who means anything to him while not expecting any payment or even a return favor. The interesting plot is filled with unexpected yet reasonable twists and turns that compels the audience to drive this vehicle in a one sitting pleasurable ride. Harriet Klausner