Meet your new superhero. Former Marine and Detroit ex-cop August Snow barrels in with two big fists and a heart to match. Fiercely protective of his friends, family and community, Snow will not be stopped in the search for justice. While he plays the lone wolf, he is equally dependent on some very strong women in his life — including his girlfriend, godmother and ace computer hacker — not to mention a boxer with pink gloves. Keep your guard up! Snow, his friends and this novel are a knockout.
Authentico Foods Inc. has been a part of Detroit’s Mexicantown for over thirty years, grown from a home kitchen business to a city-blocklong facility that supplies Mexican tortillas to restaurants throughout the Midwest.
Detroit ex-cop and Mexicantown native August Snow has been invited for a business meeting at Authentico Foods. Its owner, Ronaldo Ochoa, is dying, and is being blackmailed into selling the company to an anonymous entity. Worried about his employees, Ochoa wants August to buy it. August has no interest in running a tortilla empire, but he does want to know who’s threatening his neighborhood. Quickly, his investigation takes a devastating turn and he and his loved ones find themselves ensnared in a dangerous net of ruthless billionaire developers. August Snow must fight not only for his life, but for the soul of Mexicantown itself.
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My house is quietly becoming Frankenstein’s monster.
Carlos Rodriguez and Jimmy Radmon, my good friends and partners in the business of flipping houses in the southwest Detroit neighborhood of Mexicantown, have for the past several years used my house as a laboratory guinea pig for features they’d like to integrate into our renovations. Several months ago, it was “smart house” features: light switches, door locks and thermostats I could operate through an app on my smartphone.
“It’s seamless technology, boss man,” Jimmy told me. “You don’t even need no key or nothin’!”
“What if I drop my phone in a gas station toilet?” I said.
“Then you’re kind of screwed, boss,” Carlos said. “You don’t want to reach inside a gas station toilet. Toilet snakes are poisonous, man.”
“Toilet snakes?” Jimmy said.
“He’s yankin’ your chain, Jimmy,” I said.
“Don’t be doin’ that, man!” Jimmy said, punching Carlos in the shoulder.
Without my having given them my permission to install it, or even a key to the house, a vented gas fireplace log (with remote) appeared in my living room. I hadn’t used the fireplace since I’d moved back to the house, my late parents’, after my $12 million wrongful dismissal dustup with the Detroit Police Department. Every Michigan winter since then the hearth had seemed like a sad waste of a hole in the wall.
In the winters of my childhood, my parents would sometimes sit in front of the fireplace staring at a wood log burning, my mother swaddled in a wool throw blanket, my father’s strong arm around her shoulders.
“What are we doing?” I’d ask after a while, not understanding how something with no plot or exposition could be so interesting.
“Thinking,” my father once answered.
“Or not thinking,” added my mother.
It’s quite possible I hadn’t used the fireplace for exactly this reason: remembrance of those long-ago times with my beloved parents might prove a bit difficult on top of whatever moderate Afghanistan-induced PTSD I brought with me here back in the world.
I was even less keen on the new-tech voice-assistant pods: The wonderful women in my life hardly ever listen to me anyway. Why add the disembodied female voice of a robot to the mix?
“I’ve got an idea,” I said, when I came home to find the pods installed. “How’s about this, guys? Maybe you could install door locks on my house that even you guys can’t pick?”
Carlos and Jimmy exchanged a look, then burst out laughing.
“Ain’t no such luck with no such lock, Mr. Snow,” Jimmy said.
Begrudgingly, I let the boys work on the house. Mainly because when I saw them these days, I felt guilty: what had looked like promising employment for a kid with no future (Jimmy) and a Mexican immigrant not authorized to work in the US (Carlos) had come down to one last house to renovate and flip on Markham Street. Certainly, there were other properties in Mexicantown, but with Detroit’s recent renaissance, more suburbanites and real estate companies were buying up properties with a solid promise of a 300 percent return on investment. Instead of a one-and-a-half-square-mile lower-to middle-income working-class brown-and-Black “ghetto,” Mexicantown was quickly becoming the hipster, urban-chic place to be. I couldn’t find properties fast enough, and when I did, I was outgunned on fair market price.
My real estate agent (who is, I suspect, part-time Oracle of Delphi) had warned me this day was coming five years ago.
“What was lost, abandoned and forgotten all them years will be found again, young Snow,” Miss Jesse had told me over hibiscus tea and gingersnaps at her 6,000-square-foot Neo-Renaissance Louis Kamper-designed Indian Village home. “Everybody done forgot about the ’08 mortgage meltdown. The pirates are soon to find your little island nation of Mexicantown, and they will spread they money like cancer.”
Had I known I’d be responsible for the livelihoods of two good men, I would have listened a bit harder to Miss Jesse.
“You guys haven’t touched anything in the kitchen, have you?” I said.
They were tinkering with the personal-assistant pod on my fireplace mantel.
“No, on account we know you like it just like it is,” Jimmy said.
“And somehow that didn’t translate to the rest of my house?”
Carlos and his family, who had been chased out of the US by white nationalists wearing federal badges, were now hardworking, taxpaying, poutine-and-hockey-loving Canadian residents living only fifteen minutes south of Mexicantown (via the US/Canada bridge across the narrow churn of the Detroit River) in Windsor, Ontario. He’d started a heating-and-cooling business that was struggling but promised growth if he could just hold on for another year. A bridge pass made for easy commuting to this side of the Detroit River for Carlos to work on my flip jobs and collect cash infusions.
I’d convinced Jimmy to take a few college classes between his reno work, karate lessons at Club Brutus and video game nights. He’d been sure he would fail. His first term at Wayne State University he’d brought home a 4.1 GPA for a course load including Introduction to Electrical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering 101. Still, we were down to the last house on Markham, and I had no dependable employment to offer him. He was worried because he had become a homeowner. And as every middle- to upper-middle-class working stiff knows, money is how you keep a home running. I’d told Jimmy he didn’t need to worry. I’d be there for him.
“Boss,” he’d said, “I don’t mean no disrespect, but a grown man don’t want no charity. He wants his shot. He wants what he earns.”
Hard to argue with that.
“Okay, Mr. Snow,” Carlos said. “Check it out.”
“Check what out?”
“Ginger! Your personalized home assistant,” Jimmy said. “Go ahead! Ask her something.”
“Ginger,” I said reluctantly, “can you make a Guadalajara-style mole sauce?”
The pod on the mantel of my now-functional fireplace lit up. After a second, the pod said, “I’m afraid I can’t make a Guadalajara-style mole sauce. I did, however, find a number of recipes for mole sauce. Would you like to hear the top five? Or shall I print them for you?”
“Hey, Ginger,” I said, “who do you like more, Smokey Robinson or Marvin Gaye?”
“Both were award-winning musical artists signed with music impresario Berry Gordy’s Motown record label in—”
“Ginger,” Carlos interrupted, “what’s today’s temperature—in Celsius?” Carlos smiled and gave me a sideways glance. “That’s what we use in Canada.”
“Socialist,” I said with mock disgust.
“Today will have a high of seven degrees Celsius,” the pod said.
“She plays chess and Jeopardy!, too, Mr. Snow!” Jimmy said.
“Be still, my beating heart,” I said feeling fairly creeped out by the prospect of having more data points collected on me. “Guys, I’ll be honest with you—I’m not too keen on having some machine connected to an eighty-acre corporate server farm listening to my every whisper, fart and flying fornication.”
“I told you,” Carlos said to Jimmy.
“You can turn it off anytime!” Jimmy said.
“Then what’s the sense in having it in the first place?” I said.
“But you can order food for delivery, boss,” Jimmy said with a tinge of desperation. “You don’t have to go out or nothing!”
“When I get that hungry or lazy, shoot me. Ginger ain’t my kinda gal, guys.”
“Doggone it,” Jimmy said as he fished a five-dollar bill from a pocket and handed it to Carlos.
“Yep,” Carlos said, accepting the money. “Told you.”
“You mind if I go to Windsor for a couple days to help Carlos out, Mr. Snow?” Jimmy said as the two men collected their tools. “Drywall for this last house ain’t coming in until Friday, and Carlos got a restaurant heating job.”
“Help Carlos out,” I said.
The two men unplugged and boxed up the three personal assistant units they had installed in the house. Then Jimmy scrubbed any memory of Ginger from my router before both men left, one of them five dollars richer.
I was in the middle of steam cleaning my face by hovering over a pan of chicken, shrimp and oyster paella (no mussels—too much work for too little return) when my phone rang.
“Octavio!” Elena said. “Do you have a moment?”
“For you,” I said to my beloved godmother, “always.” I sprinkled a bit more cayenne pepper into the aromatic mix.
“You think perhaps you could come with me tomorrow morning to Authentico Foods to meet with Mr. Ochoa?”
“Old man Ochoa?” I said. “What’s going on?”
“He has some sort of business proposition for you,” Elena said. “Plus, Jackie will be there. You remember Jackie.”
I did; she was my unrequited middle- and high-school crush and a teen-in-heat top of the list at Saturday confession.
“I’m sure you’d like to see her.”
“I’d love to see Jackie,” I said, slowly stirring my concoction. “But to be honest with you, Elena, I’m not much on expanding the Snow business empire, or investing in someone else’s.”
“He’s dying, August,” Elena said with sincere gravitas. “Por favor.”
“I’ll drive,” I said.
“No, querido,” Elena said. “I’ll drive.”