Shandell Bird’s career is soaring. But just after the NBA luminary signs a multimillion-dollar contract with the Denver Nuggets, and another as celebrity spokesman for Nike, the “Blackbird” makes headlines again—when he and a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist are shot to death mid-court. Honeymooning in Hawaii, bail bondsman and investigator C. J. Floyd is too far from reality to find the sniper, so he hands his gumshoes to his godson, Damion Madrid.
Best friends since grade school, Damion and Shandell grew up on the Glendale courts. At Colorado State University, they led their basketball team to the NCAA Championship finals. They were as close as brothers. Now Damion is hearing stories of Shandell’s connections to organized crime, point shaving, selling of performance-enhancing drugs, and association with low-life sycophants drawn to wealth and fame.
But the Blackbird had secrets no one knew—some so private he took them to his grave. On the dark road of discovery, Damion will be forced to shed his innocence and come face-to-face with the cold truth. And when he’s put in the crosshairs of a killer, only C. J. Floyd can help him.
Bestselling author Robert Greer has been hailed as a “taut, powerful writer” (The Plain Dealer). Fans of hardboiled detective stories or the novels of Walter Mosley will enjoy his suspenseful, edgy, “winning series” featuring a tough African American sleuth in the modern-day West (Library Journal).
Blackbird, Farewell is the 7th book in the C. J. Floyd Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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A C. J. Floyd Mystery
By Robert Greer
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.Copyright © 2008 Robert Greer
All rights reserved.
The $4 million Nike athletic-shoe contract in Shandell Bird's shirt pocket wasn't about to solve his problem — couldn't even put a dent in it — and neither would the $3.2 million he expected to start drawing in October, once the NBA season started. All that money, more money than he suspected any human being was worth, would only add to his problem. Somehow, deep down, he'd always known that.
Months removed from being one of the nation's elite college basketball players, he was now a big-money pro and celebrity, and there seemed to be no way to step away from the limelight. In a sense, he was fortunate that he had to worry about only $7 million and change, not three or four times that, like an NFL draftee. In the NFL the sky was the limit, and salaries weren't limited as they were in the NBA by a rookie scale that was pegged to where a player had been picked in the draft. Although the money tied to his contract wouldn't begin to roll in until he arrived at training camp in October, six and a half weeks down the road, he knew there was no way he'd be trouble free by then. Training camp would only serve to magnify his problems.
Amid NBA draft-day pomp and circumstance, the Denver Nuggets had made him the second overall pick in the draft, assuring him that once the ink was dry on his rookie-year contract, which he'd signed only weeks earlier, the dream he'd been chasing since fourth grade would be his.
Jittery and sweating, "Blackbird," as he was known throughout the sports world, found himself thinking, Money don't buy you love, as he uncoiled his six-foot-eight-inch, 250-pound frame from behind the steering wheel of the $93,000 Range Rover he'd bought just days earlier. He was about to make the bank deposit of a lifetime.
The shoe-contract money in his pocket, small potatoes in the professional athlete endorsement game, which he'd requested (much to the chagrin of his agent) be issued as a cashier's check rather than by wire transfer so it could be photocopied and savored for posterity, hadn't yet arrived when he'd bought the Range Rover. But no one at the dealership where he'd purchased the car — not the salesman, the manager, nor the head of the financial department — had batted an eye at letting him walk out the door a few minutes before closing time into gathering darkness and drive off in the options-loaded SUV. He'd bought the car on the strength of a handshake and the single word "Blackbird" scrawled near the bottom of a hastily drawn-up contract.
For years he'd wanted a white Range Rover, had even salivated at the idea, but his girlfriend, Connie Eastland, had insisted he'd look better in black. "Fits your image better," she'd claimed. "Gets to the heart of who you are on the court." Armed with Connie's advice and the endorsement of his best friend since grade school and his former Colorado State University teammate, Damion Madrid, he'd left the dealership in an ebony metallic Range Rover that screamed to the world, Blackbird here! I'm soaring!
Nike was already well on its corporate way to selling the public the branding package it had developed for him. The image of a soaring raven was emblazoned high on the outside ankle wall of every one of the $180 pairs of sneakers it sold under his name. He was "Blackbird" now, the corporate suits he lunched with never missed reminding him. He was no longer, nor could he ever return to being, the lanky, introverted black kid from Denver's Five Points neighborhood. It was time for him to play the part, shoulder his share of the load, and walk the walk he'd been paid $7.2 million for. He was destined to become a household name, an eye-level product on Nike and the NBA's supermarket shelf. He was an energy drink in the offing, a high-end vehicle endorsement — hell, he'd even heard some of the suits whisper that his name could one day be as recognizable as the Coca-Cola brand.
The Nike suits and their NBA counterparts also seemed to enjoy reminding him, and never in a whisper, that they expected him to stay in character at all times. His image, and by inference theirs, would be reflected to the world by his behavior, he'd been told over and over at his Nuggets and his endorsement contract signings. With his head bent low over the signature pages as Julie Madrid, his attorney and Damion Madrid's mother, and his own mother, Aretha, looked on, he'd never looked up at those signings, thinking that he was selling a piece of his soul. Only Damion, who'd watched from across the room, recognized that what most people would have perceived as a festive occasion was causing Shandell pain.
Stretching and glancing skyward before walking away from the Range Rover, Shandell moved quickly across the always crowded parking lot of the Guaranty Bank in Denver's trendy Cherry Creek shopping district.
"Got Blackbird in the house," the guard sitting inside at one side of the revolving door called across the lobby to a line of four instantly attentive tellers as Shandell strolled in.
Shandell nodded at the moonlighting Denver cop, smiled, and tapped his left fist against the bank guard's. "Ready for training camp?" the cop asked excitedly.
"Yeah," Shandell responded, heading for the nearest teller.
"Well, give 'em what for. Time to let folks on the coasts know we play basketball out here in the Rockies too."
"Sure will." Shandell stepped up to the closest teller and smiled. "Need to deposit this." He nudged the deposit slip and check across a marble countertop. The thin-faced teller, a dark-haired woman who'd emigrated from Russia five years earlier, eyed Shandell, a bank regular, and smiled back. She'd always liked the aloof African American giant with the shaved head, Dumbo ears, and fuzzy growth of mustache that never seemed to fully take hold. He was always polite in a refreshingly un-American way. He also seemed always frustrated, even sad, as if he were chasing something he couldn't quite catch, whenever he visited her window. As Shandell leaned down to meet her gaze, she suddenly had the distinct feeling that he was about to confide in her. When, however, he remained silent, she checked the endorsement on the back of the check and, unfazed by the amount, logged in the deposit.
"Thank you," she said softly, handing Shandell a receipt. Watching Shandell stuff the receipt into his shirt pocket, she asked sheepishly, "How long before your basketball games start?"
"A couple of months." His response was mechanical.
"You'll do good," the teller said reassuringly as Shandell flashed her a parting smile and pivoted to leave. On his way out, he gave the bank guard a halfhearted high five before stepping out into the bright noonday sun. It was a picture-postcard Mile High City late-summer day, but the undeniable crispness in the air announced that autumn, always a time of renewal for Shandell, and his favorite time of the year, was on the way. For him, fall had always meant a return to school and friends after a summer filled with loneliness, save for his friendship with Damion Madrid and his recent romance with Connie Eastland.
Now, instead of returning to the security of high school or a college campus, he was headed for a grueling job that started in October and, depending on how the Nuggets' season fared, might not end until the NBA playoffs the following June. A job in which his every action would be scrutinized and his deepest thoughts dissected. He would be talked about and written about, idolized and put down, and regardless of what he'd told Nike and the Nuggets, he wasn't at all certain how he'd react to that kind of scrutiny. All he could do, as his mother so often put it, was go with the flow. He'd spent most of his twenty-two years climbing a mountain that would have been insurmountable for most human beings, and now that he was at the top, he wasn't sure he wanted to be in a place where the whole world could see him, and only him.
As he slipped into the Range Rover to head home, he had the feeling that Damion, who'd passed on the NBA to head for medical school and a life away from the limelight, might have chosen the better path. Without Damion there to offer him guidance, he knew that for the first time in a very long while, he'd pretty much be on his own.
Moments after he started the engine, his cell phone chirped out its Connie Eastland-programmed aviary ring tone. "Bird here," he said, responding quickly.
The person on the other end of the line chuckled. "See you're at the bank. Puttin' in or takin' out?"
"You know who it is, Blackbird. Your guardian angel — and we need to talk."
Shandell opened his door, stepped out of the vehicle, and looked around only to hear the person he was talking to laugh. "Too late for looking, friend. You should've done that long ago." Still chuckling, the caller added in the singsong voice of a tattletale child, "I know something you don't know. So when do we talk, Mr. Number-Two Draft Choice?"
With his cell phone pressed to his ear as he continued to scan the parking lot's perimeter, Shandell weakly asked, "This evening?"
"Seven." Shandell's response was a nervous half-whisper.
"The Glendale courts," Shandell said without hesitation. "Across from the post office."
"I know where they are, friend. Seven o'clock, then. See you there."
The line went dead as Shandell stared into the distance, looking flustered. Several heart-pounding moments later, he sighed, gritted his teeth, and slipped back into his vehicle. Almost as an afterthought, he plucked the bank-deposit slip out of his shirt pocket and eyed it briefly before wadding it into a ball and tossing it onto the floor. Backing out of his parking space, he drove out of the parking lot, slipped his cell phone's earpiece into his ear, and hastily dialed a number. When the person on the other end answered, sounding groggy and half asleep, Shandell said, "It's showtime. Seven o'clock. The Glendale courts. Don't be late." He hung up and sped east on First Avenue, his back to the snow-capped Rockies.CHAPTER 2
Rosie's Garage, a legendary Denver landmark, had been located at the corner of Twenty-sixth and Welton Streets in Denver's historically black Five Points community since 1972. Roosevelt Weeks and his wife, Etta Lee, had started their gas station and automotive repair business three months after Roosevelt, known simply as Rosie to his friends, had finished his training at the Denver Diesel Mechanics School. At the time, there was nothing on the premises but two aging Conoco gas pumps, an unpaved gravel drive, and a lean-to service hut for oil changes and lubes. A few locals maintained that the business had succeeded on the strength of Etta Lee's brains and Roosevelt's back, and when you came right down to it, there was more than a little truth to that statement. But no one, especially Rosie and Etta Lee, was keeping score, and over the years Rosie's Garage had grown from a run-down eyesore into a substantial enterprise. The now spotless concrete drives sported three service islands with six tall, stately looking 1940s-vintage Conoco pumps identical to those that had come with the place when Rosie and Etta Lee had originally signed on. The original lean-to hut with its grease-monkey pit had been replaced by a modern garage with three service bays, a gymnasium-sized storage facility, and a small business office. Whenever Denver politicians wanted to catalog the black community's business successes, they never failed to single out Rosie's Garage.
Every pump at Rosie's featured full attendant service from a bygone era. At Rosie's uniformed local high school students or college kids from the University of Colorado at Denver or Metro State still cleaned your windshield, checked the oil, and made sure the pressure in your tires was even all the way around. If they didn't, they knew they'd have Rosie or Etta Lee to contend with, and although Rosie, six-foot-four with no appreciable neck and massive shoulders that made him appear as if he was always wearing football pads, was generally even-tempered and slow to anger, he could intimidate almost anyone if crossed.
During Rosie's ownership, the garage had become more than a tourist attraction and community gathering place. Its back storage room, known throughout much of Denver simply as "the den," was a place for locals to not only hang out and shoot the breeze but gamble, play the numbers, and buy liquor on Sundays, a transaction that was still against Colorado law. Rosie didn't mind folks hanging out, since they accounted for a large amount of his business, but if he caught anyone cursing in front of a female customer, or if a poker game turned sour and ended in a fight, he'd send them all packing, often with a lot more than a simple nudge. Although local politicians, prosecutors, and cops knew what went on in Rosie's back room, it rarely got a mention at the precinct station, in the newspapers, or at City Hall, largely because Etta Lee knew the right palms to grease — and as she'd once commented boldly during a radio interview, "White folks ain't interested in black-on-black crime."
The morning had been slow, and Rosie had his head under the hood of a Jeep Cherokee in the first bay, socket wrench in hand, doing what he did best, as the SUV's owner, Damion Madrid, looked on. Looking perturbed, Rosie stepped back from the vehicle he'd kept in running condition during Damion's college years at CSU, set the wrench on a shop table, shook his head, and said, "If you're gonna keep this struggle buggy runnin' another four years, Damion, you're gonna have to treat it with a little more tender lovin' care. Hell, you coulda been drivin' yourself a brand-new Range Rover like Shandell's, ya know."
"Don't start, Rosie," Damion said, sounding irritated. "I hear enough about my stupidity from strangers. No need hearing it from family." Although Rosie and Damion weren't related by blood, they were indeed family, united by their common bond to CJ Floyd, Rosie's lifelong friend, and Damion's mother, who'd once been CJ's secretary. Julie Madrid had spent three years working her way through law school at night while working days on Denver's famed Bail Bondsman's Row as CJ's secretary. Now she was a successful criminal defense attorney and in large measure the person who kept Rosie, and more importantly the den, out of the newspapers and the limelight.
"I ain't startin' nothin', Damion. Just reflectin' on the truth. Hell, the Trailblazers were ready to snatch you up like a hot biscuit right after Blackbird if you'da decided to go on playin' basketball instead of wantin' to become a doctor. Their GM said so."
"I know, Rosie. I know." Damion sounded exasperated. He'd heard the same comments scores of times. He'd heard the Five Points trash talk — the claim that he didn't have a champion's heart — and he'd put up with the criticism of people he respected, people he'd known and looked up to all his life, as they were quick to remind him in supermarkets and 7-11s that he was crazy to pass up a sure $3 million for an MD.
"People gotta do what's best for 'em, I guess," Rosie grumbled as he grabbed one of the six quarts of oil he'd lined up on a workbench earlier. "Shit, CJ and Mavis just proved that," he added with a smile. "The two of 'em smokin' outta here for Hawaii and gettin' hitched without so much as a peep to none of us. You can't top that."
"Have you heard from them?" Damion asked, hoping to steer the conversation in a new direction. Hours earlier, just like Rosie, he had learned that CJ and Mavis Sundee, the soft spot of feminine sweetness in CJ's otherwise hard-edged life, had run off to the Big Island of Hawaii and gotten married, and he too was sorry he'd missed the chance to celebrate with them.
"Nothin' but a phone call from CJ yesterday sayin' they were married and they'd be gone for the next few days. You know, Etta Lee's really pissed." Rosie broke into a toothy grin. "The woman's been lookin' forward to bein' maid of honor in that weddin' for years."
Sympathetic to Etta Lee's disappointment, Damion nonetheless found himself thinking, Good for them. He was thrilled that CJ, after two tours of Vietnam and more than a three-decade career as a bondsman and bounty hunter, and the woman who'd stood by him all that time had tied the knot — happy that they'd finally made their vows before some disgruntled bond skipper or deranged cokehead ended up taking CJ out for good.
Excerpted from Blackbird, Farewell by Robert Greer. Copyright © 2008 Robert Greer. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media, Inc..
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