A killer identified via a fleeting facial expression and behavioral cues turns a middle-aged FBI agent dealing with a disruptive disability into an unexpected hero in Goldman's latest terrific thriller (after Deadlocked). After the brutal murder of Marcellus Pearson, a notorious Kansas City drug dealer, the collateral damage includes his cronies; his young son, Jalise; Jalise's mother (and Pearson's girlfriend); and an older woman who witnesses the killer fleeing the crime scene. The shooter is Pearson's mild-mannered neighbor, Latrell Kelly, who harbors more than a few dark secrets behind his soft-spoken ways. FBI Special Agent Jack Davis understands secrets-he has seizures he's been able to hide until the Pearson crime scene makes him erupt into visible tremors. Davis must take medical leave, but conducts a private investigation that connects to another chilling puzzler involving his missing daughter, Wendy. Is her significant other, Colby Hudson, an undercover and possibly corrupt FBI agent, responsible? Davis's new girlfriend, jury consultant Kate Scranton, helps him deal with both cases by teaching him how to "read" faces using the Facial Action Coding System. Goldman's surefooted plotting and Davis's courage under fire make this a fascinating, compelling read. (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Shakedownby Joel Goldman
The lives of three people collide over mass murder at a Kansas City residence that Special Agent Jack Davis has carefully staked out for weeks. Kate Scranton, whose job is spotting lies for high-priced courtroom lawyers, is convinced that mild-mannered Latrell Kelly knows something about the crime. But Latrell is hiding far more than Kate can guess. And
The lives of three people collide over mass murder at a Kansas City residence that Special Agent Jack Davis has carefully staked out for weeks. Kate Scranton, whose job is spotting lies for high-priced courtroom lawyers, is convinced that mild-mannered Latrell Kelly knows something about the crime. But Latrell is hiding far more than Kate can guess. And with Jack half-blinded by an imploding personal life, and someone on his own side leaking crucial information, they're headed straight for the ultimate danger zone.
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By JOEL GOLDMAN
Copyright © 2008 Joel Goldman
All right reserved.
Marcellus Pearson counted out three thousand dollars, wrapped the short stack of cash with a rubber band, and handed the money to Oleta Phillips, a narrow-shouldered woman with razor lips. He covered her hand with his, her hard knuckles like pitted marbles against his palm, and rolled her arm over, studying the needle tracks running from the crook of her elbow like drunken sutures stitched into her coffee-colored skin.
"You stayin' clean, Oleta?" he asked.
"Tryin' to," she said, pulling her hand away.
"That's good, real good. Sorry 'bout your boy. He was family."
Oleta looked at him, opening her mouth, then thinking better of it, not asking him what kind of family put a fifteen-year-old boy on a corner, his pockets full of crack, so he could get killed over just whose corner was it anyway. She was afraid to ask Marcellus, the way he watched her with his own dead eyes. And she was flush with shame, knowing that she might have saved her boy if she had cared more about him than her next fix. It was too late by the time she realized how important her son was to her.
"Funeral costs and a little somethin' extra, this being a hard time and all."
Oleta nodded, knowing Marcellus was paying for her son's funeral and her silence, damning herself for taking the money, taking it anyway.
Marcellus's girlfriend, Jalise Williams, came down the stairs into the front room where he did his business, wobbling on four-inch heels. Barely out of her teens, she carried their son, Keyshon, on her hip, the boy old enough to walk but glad to be in his mother's arms. A short-legged honey-colored dog followed after her.
"Put him down," Marcellus told her. "Boy can't spend his life bein' carried around by his momma. Ask Oleta, here. She know. She raised her boy right."
Oleta looked at Jalise. The crack dealer's whore, she thought. Girl's ass hanging out of shorts that was too short, her tits squeezed out of a tube top wouldn't cover nothin' if nothin' was all the girl had, wearing enough bling to buy a house. They the ones somebody ought to be collecting death benefits on, she thought, saying nothing.
"He be walkin' enough," Jalise said, ignoring Oleta. "I'm goin' out."
Marcellus didn't argue. Jalise took better care of the boy than he would have, changing diapers he wouldn't touch, keeping herself and the kid out of the way and out of his business. Girl had a fine ass. That was enough.
"You go on," he told Oleta. "Put that money away, hear. And stay clean."
Marcellus smiled to himself as Oleta opened the screen door, letting herself out, knowing that she wouldn't stay clean, not now, not after burying her boy. She'd be high by the time it got dark, broke a week later, selling her ass again, the money he'd handed her back in his pocket.
It was Monday, late September; there'd be a few days still warm like today, but the nights were going cold. Not much color in the trees, the leaves mostly brown and blowing up and down the street like they was lost, same as Oleta.
Her family gathered around her on the front porch like it was Christmas, whispering to her, "Wuhju get?" Oleta, her head down, answered in a quiet voice, flies buzzing around them. Her brother, a heavyset man, yanked at his pants, shooing away the flies with the back of his hand, telling the others it was more than Condre Smith got when his boy got hisself killed last year, saying that Marcellus sure knows what it costs to live and die.
Rondell and DeMarcus Winston leaned against the porch rail, tipping their heads at Marcellus to let him know that the family was satisfied. They were Marcellus's enforcers-hard-muscled, cold-blooded brothers, seventeen and eighteen years old, three killings between them. If Marcellus decided to hit back for the boy's death, the Winston brothers would do the hitting.
Marcellus was twenty-three, a high school dropout running the crack trade in Quindaro, a rundown quadrant in northeast Kansas City, Kansas. Of all the money Marcellus paid out to run his business, funeral benefits were the smartest. It sent a message: We take care of our own. His people understood that. They needed to feel valued and he set the price.
A fan hanging from the ceiling in the front room stirred heavy air stale with Chinese takeout that had been left to rot in open boxes on the kitchen table. The dog stole one, racing into the front room, its snout deep in the container, wrestling for crumbs. Marcellus cursed the dog, kicking the box out of its mouth; the dog scampered out of the room, out of his reach.
An old twenty-seven-inch television sat in the corner, rabbit-ears antenna not helping to make the picture clear. He kept the plasma screen with its high-definition cable in the upstairs bedroom.
Marcellus's mother lived across the street, cooking the crack. He stored his inventory in the basement of the one-room church next door to his mother's house. The pastor rented the space to Marcellus, and the rent was paid in protection.
For thirty years, Kansas City, Kansas, had been the disrespected punch line to jokes told by people living south in Johnson County or east, across the state line, in Kansas City, Missouri. Now, the city had turned the corner, merging with Wyandotte County into a unified government, landing a NASCAR track that triggered an economic boom. The city had shed its stepchild image, the conversation changing from getting out to getting in.
But nothing had changed in Quindaro. Too many people didn't have jobs and a lot of those that did still couldn't pay the rent. Boys joined gangs and quit school. Girls got pregnant and followed the boys into the street. The economy ran on drugs, not NASCAR, not strip malls and subdivisions with walkout basements, not anything, Marcellus bragged to his people, that wouldn't kill you or thrill you.
Marcellus stuck to crack despite the growing competition from meth, on top of the heat he got from Javy Ordonez and his bunch, pushing out of Argentine and into Quindaro. Rondell Winston had warned him that they were losing money, giving him a hard time a couple of days ago.
"That cracker, Bodie-what's his name?" Rondell had asked.
"Name of Bodie Grant. I know who he is. White boy over in Raytown. Got so many tats, hardly see any white on the boy."
"He peddlin' meth in our territory," Rondell had told Marcellus. "It's bad for bidness. We gotta git in it or git they asses outta here. Mebbe both."
"That shit is a real mess," Marcellus said. "People all the time blowin' their own selves up just cookin' the shit. No way my momma gonna jack wit no fuckin' meth."
"Shit, man," Rondell said. "Javy Ordonez picking us off our street corners and Bodie Grant bringin' his shit into our motherfuckin' backyard. Things gonna get real tight around here we don't do somethin'."
Marcellus had already talked to his supplier about it, the supplier tellin' him nothing lasts forever, like he don't already know that. Marcellus said how he busted his nuts every day keeping the lid on, the supplier saying keep on busting while he could.
Marcellus told his supplier that if Javy Ordonez and Bodie Grant took him down, the supplier could kiss good-bye the money Marcellus been paying for his product and the extra to keep the cops off his back. The supplier said competition was good for everybody, said get back to the street while he was still walking on the green side instead of lyin' under the brown side, letting Marcellus know he on his own.
"I know what I know," Marcellus said. "Ain't gonna do no fuckin' meth."
"Can't keep pretendin' Javy and Bodie Grant ain't squeezin' our ass. Wuhju gonna do 'bout it?" Rondell asked, stepping up in Marcellus's face.
The way Rondell asked the question was more important to Marcellus than the question, Rondell telling Marcellus maybe he'd do somethin' 'bout it if Marcellus didn't. That's the way it always was, Marcellus thought to himself. Somebody always watchin, askin' wuhju gonna do 'bout some shit, waitin' for his turn to make hisself head nigga. Best way to cool that shit was to give Rondell someone else to take a few swings at, calm his ass down.
"You and DeMarcus go see Mr. Tattoos-Up-His-Ass Bodie Grant, mess wit his mind a little bit, tellum peddle his shit some other place."
"What about Javy?"
Marcellus gave Rondell a flat, street stare. "Let him know what's what. I don't care what shit he puts on the street long as he keep it out of Quindaro. Tell him take his shit back to Argentine."
"I'm all about that," Rondell said, satisfied for the moment, coming back that night, his chest puffed up like he'd gotten laid for the first time, telling Marcellus he and DeMarcus done delivered the messages.
Marcellus had started out like Oleta's son, standing on a corner, selling rocks. He made a name for himself when he killed a soldier from a rival Hispanic gang. The soldier had thirty pounds on Marcellus and a gun under his shirt. One day he shoved the gun in Marcellus's eyes and grabbed him by the balls, telling Marcellus it was his corner and to take his skinny black ass home.
Marcellus waited until it was dark before he came back and hid in an alley with a baseball bat. When the soldier walked past, Marcellus stepped out behind him, swinging the bat like he was in a slow-pitch cage. The soldier was dead when he hit the ground, Marcellus's gang calling him Barry motherfuckin' Bonds. That was six years ago, a couple of lifetimes in the crack business. He'd survived by taking care of his own and doing business with the right people.
His strategy had paid off when the cops came crashing through the front door of his house two weeks ago. He was ready, watching TV in bed with Jalise and Keyshon, the only shit in the house belonging to the dog. The cops kicked them out while they searched, saying they had a fugitive warrant for some cat named Darrell. The next day, when the Winston brothers asked what had happened, Marcellus told them it waddn't nothing.
Then Oleta's boy got hisself shot the day after Rondell and DeMarcus delivered their messages. Marcellus suspected the shooting was either Javy's or Bodie's way of answering back, though, in some ways, it didn't matter who did it.
What mattered was what his people thought happened and what he was going to do about it. If Marcellus didn't hit back at someone, they would think he was weak or afraid. Worse, they would think he didn't value them. As soon as that happened, they'd want someone else to tell them what to do. Marcellus shook his head, knowing he had to do something even if it was wrong. He walked to the screen door, tapping on the wire mesh.
"Gitcho asses inna house," he told the Winston brothers.
Latrell Kelly blinked, ducking his head from the sun, his eyes stinging. He'd slept in the cave again and the daylight was painful. The night before, he'd watched from the shadows on his back stoop while the Winston brothers took turns with some girl in his backyard, the bitch hollering, Rondell smacking her till she shut up. Latrell was mad, seeing his mother taking that beating instead of the girl.
He'd lived in his house more than half of his thirty-two years. The closest thing to a father he ever knew was Johnny McDonald, the man who used to own the house. Johnny sold dope and pimped his mother out, sometimes slapping her, sometimes him, sometimes both of them, until Latrell buried Johnny and his mother in the basement.
He was fifteen then, doing odd jobs at the rail yard in Argentine when he wasn't in school, eventually hiring on fulltime after he graduated. Now he worked as a file clerk in the terminal building. He had paid off the taxes Johnny owed on the house with money Johnny had stuffed under the mattress where his mother had earned her share, and then kept the rest for groceries. When he wasn't working, he kept up his house and yard and tried not to think about his mother.
Then Marcellus come along, him and his girlfriend, Jalise, and their little boy, moving in right behind him, the three of them making it so Latrell couldn't stop thinking about Johnny McDonald and his mother and him when he was the same age as the boy, until he had a hard time telling the dead from the living. The whole neighborhood knew Marcellus was dealing dope but nobody did nothing about it. The more Latrell couldn't put them out of his mind, the closer he got to making things right. The Winston brothers waling on that girl in his backyard was it. He couldn't take any more.
Growing up, he was a small, soft boy, easy prey for bullies, gangs, and any kid looking for someone to pick on who wouldn't fight back. The cave, a remnant of a mining operation, had saved him. He'd stumbled onto the entrance one day after work while walking in the woods not far from the rail yard. It was nothing more than a seam in a rock wall till he pulled down some bigger rocks, learning how to put them back so no one who didn't know about it could tell it was anything.
After that, Latrell spent his spare time exploring the inside with a flashlight, storing batteries and candles on a rock shelf, comfortable in the shadows. Most of the cave was underwater, his hideaway confined to a series of chambers ending on a rocky beach. He never did know how far the water went or how deep it was, only that it was so black there was no bottom and no end.
Johnny McDonald had had a pair of .45 caliber Marine pistols and some night-vision goggles he stole off a guy at a gun show, that and the cash under the mattress Latrell's inheritance. When he was old enough, Latrell went to a range and learned how to shoot the .45s. Then he'd practice in the cave wearing the night-vision goggles, dry firing 'cause he was afraid of ricochets, ready in case he had to make things right again one day, same as he had with Johnny and his mother.
A few years ago, some kids out canoeing had found their way into the cave from a small lake and gotten lost, making a big deal about spending the night in the cave like they was gonna die. He read about it in the paper, the article calling the cave the Argentine Mine and saying it covered thirty-four acres underground. The county promised to seal it up before anyone else got lost and they did just that except they never did find Latrell's way in.
He spent several nights in the cave imagining how, late at night, he would walk through the front door of Marcellus's house and kill everyone inside. He could do it. Soft, shy, quiet Latrell, stronger than any of them, could kill them all. He'd practiced and practiced. It wouldn't be hard. It would be a good thing. He replayed the scene over and over in his mind, opening his eyes to find that nothing had changed until simply imagining wasn't enough.
On the day he first decided to do it, he changed his mind when he saw the camera installed on the utility pole down the street from Marcellus's house. He had seen men climb those poles before at the rail yard. He knew the kind of tools they carried, the kind of work they did, and how they did it. The man on the pole never touched his tools, the tool belt slapping against his right thigh like it didn't belong. The man was some kind of cop, maybe even FBI, he decided, not caring so long as they got rid of Marcellus. So he waited.
Latrell thought it was all going to be over a week later when the police raided Marcellus's house, until he realized that no one had been arrested. He didn't understand-first the camera, then the raid, then nothing. Still, he had waited two more weeks until last night, listening and watching Rondell and DeMarcus mess with that girl who could have been his momma.
The FBI had failed him. The police had failed him. What was he supposed to do? They left him no choice. If he didn't make it right, he'd keep seeing his mother in every woman's face. He'd have no peace. His eyes adjusted to the sun and he headed for home where he'd wait for dark, when it would finally be time.
Latrell drove past Marcellus's house. Oleta Phillips, her fat brother Rodney, and some more of her people were out in front, Oleta looking half dead, Rodney grinning. He'd heard that Oleta's boy got hisself shot on a corner belong to Marcellus. She must've come to collect.
Excerpted from SHAKE DOWN by JOEL GOLDMAN Copyright © 2008 by Joel Goldman. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Joel Goldman is a trial lawyer who lives in Kansas City with his wife, children, and dog, Willy the Wonder Beast.
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