"This is a fine mystery and [protagonist] D Hunter is as world weary, yet steadfast, as Philip Marloew, Spenser, Dave Robicheaux, or Easy Rawlins. A definite yes to purchase for both mystery and African American collections."
--Library Journal (Starred Review, Pick of the Month)
"George covers a lot of ground with style: the rhythm-and-blues music scene past and present, the sometimes startling evolution of Brooklyn and its environs, and the multitude of hangers-on, wannabes, and grifters who want a piece of the action."
"Real relationships and real talk frame the mashup of mysteries in George's street-framed series."
"The wonderful sing-song street slang dialogue and esoteric industry knowledge make The Lost Treasures of R&B a richly entertaining addition to George's evolving series."
"George uses The Lost Treasures of R&B to tackle the hot-button issue of the gentrification of Brooklyn (and elsewhere) as protagonist D struggles to come to terms with the ghosts of his childhood in 'old Brooklyn.'"
"Written in the spirit of authors such as Walter Mosley and Donald Goines...The book blends music from the past with thug appeal of the present to appeal to young and old alike."
"George is a historian of his culture."
"Hunter is back in Brooklyn solving a mystery that has a backdrop firmly on the R&B scene."
--NBCBLK, 14 Books to Read This Black History Month
"Like its predecessor this installment of D's story fuses music, history, and crime on the streets of New York."
"Nelson George delivers an entertaining and hard-boiled look at the music scene, and raises the question of proprietary rights and black culture."
--MysteryPeople, One of Three Picks for February
"As a huge R&B fan, when I ran across the title, The Lost Treasures of R&B, I just had to read it...and I'm glad I did."
Professional bodyguard D Hunter takes a gig protecting rapper Asya Roc at an underground fight club in poverty-stricken Brownsville, Brooklyn. Unknown to D, the rapper has arranged to purchase illegal guns at the event. An acquaintance of D from the streets (and from the novel The Plot Against Hip Hop) named Ice turns out to be the courier.
During the exchange a robbery is attempted. Ice is wounded. D gets Asya Roc to safety but is then chased by two gunmen because he has the bag containing the guns. This lethal chase ends under the elevated subway where D and the two gunmen run into a corrupt detective named Rivera. A bloody shootout ensues.
D, who has just moved back to Brooklyn after decades in Manhattan, finds himself involved in multiple mysteries. Who were the gunmen? Why were they after the guns? Who was being set up--Asya Roc or Ice? Meanwhile, he gets a much-needed paying assignment to track down the rarest soul music single ever recorded.
With gentrifying Brooklyn as the backdrop, D works to unravel various mysteries--both criminal and musical--while coming to terms with the failure of his security company and the ghosts of his childhood in "old Brooklyn." Like its predecessors The Accidental Hunter and The Plot Against Hip Hop, The Lost Treasures of R&B uses pop music as the backdrop for a noir-flavored big-city tale.
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The Lost Treasures of R&B
a D Hunter mystery
By Nelson George
Akashic BooksCopyright © 2015 Nelson George
All rights reserved.
I've Got Dreams to Remember
D Hunter had been having sad, traumatic, musical, sometimes unspeakable, oft times prophetic dreams since he was eight. All three of his brothers had been murdered in Brownsville by then, so there was no doubt that this trauma had twisted up homeboy's subconscious.
But did these dreams really contain prophecies? He never understood them while they were happening. Not until well after the fact was their truth revealed. He certainly didn't think he deserved foresight and he sure as hell didn't want it, since it felt more an affliction than a comfort. D's dream on his last night living in Manhattan had gone like this:
A soul singer, resplendent in a shark fin–silver suit with three buttons open on his white shirt, was onstage at some Chitlin' Circuit palace that could have been Harlem's Apollo, Chicago's Regal, Philly's Uptown, or DC's Howard back when a Negro's big-city life was trapped within a few square miles per metropolis.
But the soul singer wasn't singing. From his open mouth came the percussive sounds of bass, drums, and even keyboards, as if Doug E. Fresh had been teleported back to the '60s. Break beats—"Funky Drummer," "Dance to the Drummer's Beat," "Tramp," songs recorded before D was born and reanimated by DJs and B-boys—exploded in a barrage of rhythm.
D sat alone, orchestra center, row E, seat twenty-four, his eyes locked with the shark skin–suited beat boxer as the lights went down and the singer became a living black-light poster with his teeth, cuff links, and pocket square radiating a blue neon glow.
Three female background singers appeared floating behind the singer, cooing some nonsense doo-wop sounds like street-corner kids from the '50s. Yet they were garbed in matching red Adidas sweat suits, classic white-shell toes, and the kind of red Kangols that LL used to rock. Doo-wop and hip hop, the neon blue lights, and the beats assaulted D and sent him scurrying out his seat, up the aisle, and into the lobby's blinding white light.
And then D woke up.
100 Yard Dash
Here's how it worked. A white van swung down Rockaway Avenue about seven p.m. every couple of months and scooped up a group of women waiting in the shadow of the elevated BMT subway station at Livonia Avenue. They were mostly stocky, as Brownsville women tended to be, and held their gear in shopping bags. They wore old Baby Phat sweat suits (with the long cat logo) or newer House of Deréon or Apple Bottoms jeans purchased on Pitkin Avenue, Brownsville's main shopping drag. One or two had little kids with them. A few were missing front teeth. The vets spoke to each other—recounting old fights and showing off their newest scars. A newbie or two stood off to the side eyeing the competition, wondering which of these women they'd be punching in a few hours.
In the van Deuce Chainz, the promoter of the Brooklyn B-Girl Fight Club, laid it down for first timers. Winner got three hundred dollars. Losers got fifty. Three rounds of two minutes each. Taped hands but no gloves. Mouth guards. Headgear. No biting. No spitting (unless accidental). No fighting in the van home afterward or you get kicked to the curb.
Once filled with these distaff warriors, the van rolled through a corridor of public housing, past the Tilden, Van Dyke, and Brownsville projects, scattered crumbling tenements from the twentieth century, some tracts of new local church–developed private homes, and then made a right into an industrial park of nondescript two- and three-story factories and warehouses.
The fights moved around to one of three locations in this industrial park up toward Atlantic Avenue. Except for the trainers, the audience was invitation only. Hustlers, thugs, gamblers, pimps, and other choice customers filled the room. Tims, low-slung jeans, colorful underwear, and red bandannas, both in back pockets and around necks, were in abundance. Guns were checked at the door, though Deuce Chainz's security guards wore visible holsters to let niggas know. This, after all, was the Brooklyn B-Girl Fight Club, a place as combustible as a ghetto gas oven.
Usually deserted at night save the occasional truck, on this evening the street in front of the industrial building teemed with jeeps and pedestrians, a miniparade of folks from Brownsville, East New York, and as far uptown as the Bronx's Grand Concourse. It was a bimonthly ritual in the heart of the hood that had given the world Eddie "Mustafa" Gregory, Riddick Bowe, and "Iron" Mike Tyson. Brownsville was many things, and one of them was a place where bloody knuckles reigned supreme.
Those standing outside trying to talk their way in were not surprised to see a black Denali jeep parked in front. For any ghetto celebrity, the Brooklyn B-Girl Fight Club was a requisite stop. Some thought the vehicle belonged to fight fan 50 Cent or maybe BK's de facto mayor Jay-Z. Instead, the hottest young MC in the city, Asya Roc, popped out of the jeep, china-white do-rag offset by his almond, girlish eyes and a mouthful of fronts as amber as a harvest moon.
By his side, in an oversized black tee, black jeans, and sneakers, and a woolly natural hairstyle, was D Hunter: bodyguard, student of musical history, owner of a failing security company, HIV positive, and Brownsville native son.
D never enjoyed coming to these fights (watching out-of-shape women bash for cash didn't move him), but quite a few Brooklyn MCs did, such as tonight's client. D was to go with him here and then accompany him to John F. Kennedy International Airport and put him on a flight to Europe. Asya Roc was a new breed of New York rap star who rhymed like he was from ATL or Texas. Atlanta, Memphis, and Miami ran hip hop in the twenty-first century's second decade, and if you wanted to be on the radio, even in New York, you had better put some twang in your delivery, cuz. Asya was from Canarsie, but on record he sounded like a Southern boy cruising in a candy-colored Caddy.
The bout underway featured Bloody Knuckles versus BAD, a.k.a. Bad Azz Beeyatch. Bloody Knuckles was a big gal with short dyed-blond hair and a couple of twisty tattoos on her fleshy, light-brown arms. She had no technique but swung fast and often and would definitely hurt you when she landed solid. BAD was taller but slighter, with Michael Jordan–like dark-chocolate skin, actual muscle tone, and she had some training. Her jab was very crisp and quickly she was bloodying her knuckles on Bloody Knuckles's nose. Jab. Jab. Jab.
Asya stood next to Junot, a Dominican fool with more diamonds in his mouth than on his glittering chain. The two were rooting for different girls just for the hell of it. Neither was invested in the fighters—as athletes, women, or even human beings.
From behind D a voice said, "You got a good heart, dude."
D turned to his right and there stood Ice, big bald head, thin salt-and-pepper line of a hair around his jawline, and drooping eyes. His burly shoulders, product of many jailhouse bench-press reps, were the size of newborn babies. The last time D had seen Ice was in the basement of a house in Canarsie a couple of years back. Also in that basement, tied to a chair, had been a rogue FBI agent (and wannabe hip hop mogul) named Eric Mayer, a nasty manipulator who'd engineered the killing of a woman dear to D along with two decades of other foul behavior. D had nodded his consent and hadn't looked back. The rogue agent hadn't been heard from and these two hadn't spoken since.
"Quiet has kept, you do too," D said back.
"In my own damn way." He gazed over at Asya Roc. "You backstopping the star over there?"
"As best I can."
"Hope you can get him out of here safe," Ice said. "A lot of people in here would like to pistol-whip him and then piss on what's left."
"I just work for him sometimes."
"Yeah. You can't be with him all the time."
"And I wouldn't want to be."
"I bet. He's why I'm here." Ice touched the backpack hanging off his left shoulder.
"This a delivery?" D asked, now worried.
Ice nodded. "All the way from one of those states where you can buy gats like Tic Tacs."
"Why are you doing it yourself?"
"Better me than one of these damn fool kids. Niggas get stupider every day. Believe that."
Over Ice's shoulder D noticed a wiry young man who, sans forty pounds and years of hard living, looked a lot like Ice. Clearly they were kin. "He with you?" D asked.
Ice didn't even turn around. "For the moment."
The young man looked uneasy and a little angry. Upon hearing Ice's comment he walked away, muttering, "I'ma go get some water."
Bloody Knuckles had absorbed the smaller woman's jabs the entire first round—kind of a ghetto rope-a-dope—and was now using her weight to bully her opponent into corners and was smacking BAD up side the head with disrespectful vigor. It seemed just a matter of time before the smaller woman went down.
"Where is this supposed to happen?" D asked.
"Here. I know a spot in the back."
"He didn't tell me."
"Like I said, stupider every day."
BAD made a sudden comeback with a quick flurry of jabs before the round ended and, in a savvy preemptive move, raised her hands in victory despite getting pounded for most of round two.
Asya Roc told Junot he'd be right back and strutted over to where D and Ice stood. "I see you guys got acquainted and shit."
"Yeah," D said, a little irritated by the kid's tough-guy tone.
"So," the MC said, "let's do this."
Ice nodded and started past the ring with Asya behind him and D bringing up the rear. Asya Roc didn't completely owe D an explanation—it was for-hire work, after all. Show up and guard the fool. But making D part of a gun deal wasn't in his job description. This was felony shit. No plea bargain. Mandatory sentences. A gun deal transacted in the back of an illegal fight club was just plain reckless.
They went through a metal door and into a storage area converted into a dressing room where a bunch of the fighters were in various states of undress and activity. One woman was removing tape from her hand. Another was squeezing her red-tinted weave under headgear. Another was making out with a boyish little teenaged girl. They paid scant attention to the three men.
The trio entered a small washroom—toilet, stall, urinal, sink—all of it grimy. The room smelled like mildew stirred in a blender with vomit. D knew this was about the worst place imaginable for this transaction. One way in and out. No windows. No backup. D was cool with Ice—they had a serious bond—but would Ice have set up a jack move on this sucker MC before he knew D was on the case?
Ice took the backpack off his shoulder and handed it to Asya Roc, who unzipped it greedily. Two Berettas. A Desert Eagle. A couple boxes of bullets.
"Yes," Asya Roc said. He stuck his hands in the backpack and pulled out the two Berettas and held them up like Eastwood in Josey Wales. Ice rolled his eyes at D.
At that moment, the door burst open and a pint-sized kid with a red bandanna covering everything but his eyes stuck out a Glock like it was shit on a stick. "Yo—"
Before he got his second word out, D slammed the door on his arm twice. The gun dropped from the kid gangsta's skinny arm, but the bullet in the chamber discharged when the weapon hit the floor and lodged itself in Ice's thigh.
"Stupid motherfucker!" Ice yelled as he fell backward into the toilet stall.
Asya Roc now had the two guns out and was trying to jimmy the safety on one of them. "I'm shooting my way out!" he shouted.
D reached over and slapped Asya Roc silly with his right hand, took the guns out of his hand with his left. He dropped them both back into the backpack, grabbed the MC by the collar, and kicked the door open. The dressing room had cleared.
"Yo, get the fuck off me!" Asya said.
"Shut up," D shot back, pushing his face near the MCs, "and live." D grabbed him around the waist, damn near picking the kid up, and peered into the main room.
If anyone out there had heard the shot they didn't show it. The next bout was underway and most eyes were on the ring. All the people who'd been in the "dressing room" had evaporated save the kissing couple who were holding hands just outside the door.
"Where the others?" D asked.
The boyish one replied, "I didn't see no one else, but I do need glasses."
To Asya Roc, D said, "You stay behind me. When I say run, you haul ass."
The MC, bravado on mute, murmured, "Yeah." His eyes darted uneasily around the room.
They moved past the ring, D guarding the MC like Mom on her kid's first day of school.
Junot walked up to D. "Yeah," he said, "you better get him out of here. Niggas is talkin'."
"They're doing more than that."
"Oh, that's what that was," Junot said with a half-smile. "Thought it was outside."
"You like this clown enough to help us out?" D asked. Junot glanced over at the MC. "You know I like his money."
"Okay," D said. "I'll make sure you get hit off." He needed another set of eyes. He wasn't sure if he trusted Junot, but in a room of treacherous people, one semihonest Negro was an asset.
The current fight was a furious affair, both women tossing blows with video-game vigor. Most eyes still seemed to be on the match, but D knew better. There had to be someone else. A couple of someones in fact. These kids ran in packs. That punk with the gun was on some initiation mission, no doubt about that, but there was rarely a lone gunman in the hood. D searched for signs of imminent danger, trying to separate mere curiosity from larcenous intent.
And then they were outside. The Denali was parked right out front and the driver, a wavy-haired Dominican in his thirties, hopped out and opened the door for Asya Roc.
A cutie in black stretch pants and a brunette with a bone straight-haired weave intercepted the MC. Immediately Asya, out on the street and seemingly out of danger, started kicking it to her.
D noticed another jeep, a ragged-looking late-model Range Rover with illegally tinted front windows, parked across the street and down the block. He snatched up Asya again, tossed him into the backseat.
"What the fuck!"
"Get him out of here!" D said to the driver. "Do it right now!"
"What about you?" the driver asked.
"Just get him to JFK!" D replied before slamming the door shut.
Asya Roc rolled down his window. "What about my package?" "I'm gonna hold it."
When the Denali pulled off, D stood looking at the beat-down Range Rover. He held the bag over his head a moment. They'd want the guns, D was certain about that. He'd taken a risk not getting in the truck, but holding onto the bag was the only way to find out for sure.
Once the Denali was out of sight, the Range Rover jerked off the curb. Then it stopped. D imagined an animated conversation underway behind the tinted windows. Not awaiting its resolution, he started down the block, away from the club and deep into Brownsville.
D walked fast but didn't run. While the guys inside the jeep decided what to do, he opened the bag and looked inside at the three guns and the boxes of shells. How many bodies were on these? How'd they get here? Up I-95 from Virginia, North Carolina, or Georgia? Maybe they came cross-country from Colorado or Texas? If his client's prints weren't on at least two of them, he would have tossed them in the trash and kept moving. D was about to reach in and start wiping them down with his shirt when a shot zipped over his head. He tucked the bag under his arm like a football and turned the corner like Adrian Peterson.
At Howard Street, D ducked into the crook of a doorway. He wished he'd run in the other direction, toward the Broadway Junction station where he could have hopped on the A, C, or J, or even to Atlantic Avenue where there was an LIRR stop. Either way would have meant people to distract these fools, places to hide, and a train to escape on. In the direction he was headed now, D could duck into the projects, a place where gunplay was a bit too typical for safety, and the elevated 3 subway, which could be an escape hatch but, because it was above ground, wasn't as easy to use for shelter. He was contemplating doubling back toward the fight club when he spied the Range Rover down at the far end of the block.
Excerpted from The Lost Treasures of R&B by Nelson George. Copyright © 2015 Nelson George. Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
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