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New Orleans detective Jack Brenner is struggling with a faltering marriage, an injured partner, and an overbearing lieutenant when Emmett Floyd Graves, a convict facing lethal injection, sends Jack word through his lawyer that he has information about the unsolved murder of Jack's cousin, a civil-rights worker killed in the summer of 1972.
Jack is intrigued but suspicious, and before he can figure out whether he's being played, he and his new temporary partner, Keisha Lundy, are assigned to the drive-by shooting of a teenage boy. Eerily, both Steven Bowen and Jack's cousin David were distance-running phenomenons at the same high school where Jack himself was a champion hurdler. Jack juggles the Bowen case with his own secret investigation of Graves's claim, backed up by Keisha, who knows what it's like to lose a young family member through violence. Jack thinks he has time to make sense of things before bringing anyone else into it. But then television reporter Willow Ashe, an old flame from Jack's past, comes on the scene. She not only stirs up old memories of hot nights on the levee, but breaks Graves's story on the evening news for all the world to see, including Jack's lieutenant, wife, and aunt. Jack is in hot water at work and at home. But the publicity gets him what he wants---a chance to solve his cousin's murder.
The two crimes, separated by thirty years, send Jack and Keisha shuttling between the Big Easy underworld and the delta town of Bon Terre. Jack's gut tells him that the Dixie Mafia kingpin who runs Bon Terre is somehow connected to both murders. Proving it will put him and people he cares about in the line of fire.
An impressive debut set among the moonlit bayous, great houses, and old ghosts of Louisiana, Bound by Blood delivers a fine balance of humor, violence, and sorrow.
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|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
|File size:||388 KB|
About the Author
Rick Nelson had more than twenty years of experience in the energy industry and was director of human resources for the city of Pasadena, Texas. He lived with his wife in Houston, Texas.
Rick Nelson, author of Bound by Blood, had more than twenty years of experience in the energy industry and was director of human resources for the city of Pasadena, Texas. He lived with his wife in Houston, Texas.
Read an Excerpt
Everyone in New Orleans knows that when you crack open a crab shell and a pungent ammonia odor smacks you in the face, the crab was dead before it hit the boiling pot. But the acrid air blasting my nostrils as I entered the Second District squad room Monday morning wasn’t foul shellfish. It was the cleaning crew’s liberal application of caustic wash to the linoleum floor. As I reached my desk, the phone rang and I lifted the receiver, not knowing I was about to rip open something that, unlike a putrid crab, I couldn’t toss away.
“Jack, this is Neil Gross.” The nasal voice belonged to a public defender whose father generously supplemented his son’s income rather than let him join his law firm.
I settled into my chair. “A little early in the day for you.”
“I have an arraignment before a judge with a ten o’clock tee time. I’m on my cell phone sitting in traffic.”
It was July and a hundred percent humidity, but Neil no doubt had his Porsche’s top down. “So whose case are you pleading out today?”
“I’m the poor schmuck who got stuck defending that redneck scumbag Emmett Floyd Graves.”
“All your clients are scum, Neil. Isn’t he the guy who stabbed a corrections officer to death trying to get off the bus to Angola?”
“I pled him on drug dealing. Now it’s capital murder.”
“Then my advice is to lose the case.”
“Listen. I called you because Graves was in Bon Terre when your cousin David was killed.”
Hearing my cousin’s name caused my face to flush with the heat of July 1972. Static crackled in my ear.
“Jack? We don’t have such a good connection.
I clenched the receiver. “What’s your client got to do with David?”
“Oh, good. You . . . there. I . . . recharged the damn . . . Graves . . . he can—”
A dull hiss replaced the sputtering on the line. I returned the receiver to the hook.
“Smells like cat pee in here.” My partner, Ferrell Arceneaux, walked up wiggling his nostrils with his thumb and forefinger. A few months earlier, he was shot, almost fatally. He had lost weight from the surgery, but his belt was still a good six inches below the bottom of his tie. I was now working with a temporary partner until he was released for full duty.
Arceneaux sat at the desk across from me twitching his nose. I looked past him into another decade, my mind rapidly scanning through dark childhood images.
“What’s eating you?” he said.
My eyes refocused on Arceneaux. “You know a guy named Emmett Graves?”
“Yeah. He sliced up a guard trying to escape during transport to the Farm. Why?”
“Neil Gross is defending him. Says Graves was in Bon Terre when my cousin David was killed doing civil rights work there.”
Arceneaux pulled his lower lip. “David’s the one they named the chapel for at your temple, ain’t he?”
“What the fuck could Graves have to do with your cousin?”
“Don’t know.” I watched the fans spinning from the high ceiling. “Maybe he knows something about his murder.”
“Did he tell Gross that?”
I turned up my palms. “Neil’s cell phone went dead before he could finish.”
Arceneaux drummed his knuckles on the blotter. “Whatever it is, don’t get involved with Graves. I’ll tell you a story I heard about him when I was a uniformed in Lafayette.”
I leaned back in my chair.
“Emmett Graves came down here in the sixties from the red clay country up around Monroe,” Arceneaux said. “He got a job digging trenches for a natural gas line near the Atchafalaya in the middle of summer. The basin was boiling like a schoolhouse furnace, and Graves was slapping at mosquitoes in a ditch filling up with water almost as fast as the crew could sling out the mud. The working conditions didn’t bother him, but the black boy alongside him did.”
Arceneaux looked around, then leaned across the desk and hushed his voice. “He complained to the foreman about having to work with a nigger. The foreman told him nigger work was all Graves was fit for, so Graves cursed the man and walked off the job.
“The black kid didn’t show for work the next day neither. Someone cut off half his hand the night before.” Arceneaux drew a finger across his palm.
“That afternoon, the parish sheriff found Graves sitting without a shirt on the bank of a bayou holding a cane pole with a line in the water. There was a whiskey bottle and a brown paper sack next to him. One deputy lifted him up by the armpits and another grabbed the rod from Graves’s hands and pulled the line up. The hook looked like a burnt piece of pork sausage with a dull, hard covering at one end. When the deputy reached down and picked up the sack, he saw four black fingers in it and he spewed his lunch into the bayou. Then Graves says, ‘Can’t catch nothing with this bait. Don’t even a gar eat nigger meat.’”
Arceneaux sat upright and resumed a normal tone. “An all-white jury convicted Graves of simple assault. Nine months later, he was out, doing odd jobs and driving stolen cars to Texas.”
“This one of your Cajun yarns?” I asked.
“No siree. This is for true. I’m telling you. Don’t mess with Emmett Graves.”
The phone rang and I quickly grabbed it. “Brenner.”
“Sorry we lost contact.” Neil Gross’s voice was as astringent as the ammonia searing my nostrils.
“What’s this about Emmett Graves and my cousin?” I asked.
I heard him rev the Porsche’s engine. “He says if you visit him at Angola, he’ll help you find who killed David.”
The skin tightened across my forehead. “What’s he told you?”
“Not a damn thing.”
“How do I know this isn’t some sort of con shuck?” I asked.
“I’m a lawyer, not a mind reader. Let me know if you want to talk to him.”
I heard the Porsche downshift and the tires squeal around a corner.
“What’d Gross say?” Arceneaux asked as I hung up.
“Graves wants to talk to me about David’s death.”
“Cons always say they have information. He’s jerking your chain. Or Gross is trying to use you to muddy the waters at trial.”
“Neil isn’t that smart,” I said. “And he doesn’t care about his clients.”
“Well,” Arceneaux said. “No disrespect to the dead, but this is 2003. Whaddaya think you’re gonna do about it now?”
“What he’s gonna do is get that fine-looking butt of his out to the car.” My temporary partner, Keisha Lundy, stood over us like a five-foot-ten sculpture of polished obsidian. “We gotta meet with the DA before we get on the stand and put Frank Marino away.”
Arceneaux looked up at her with fretful eyes. “Sorry. Didn’t mean nothing by sitting at your desk here.”
“It’s your desk, Ferrell,” she said.
“Don’t look like it.” Arceneaux scanned the gleaming white blotter, always hidden by files, loose sheets of paper, and Styrofoam cups when he’d worked there.
“You’ll get your desk and partner back soon enough,” Keisha said. “But I’m not returning the fingernail clippings you left in the bottom drawer.”
Arceneaux stood, catching his heel on one of the chair wheels. A thin red line formed around the edge of his collar. “Gotta get back to work. Guidry’s got me so’s I can use the computer now.”
“The desk work’s been tough on him,” I said to Keisha as Arceneaux shuffled up the aisle.
“Better than the alternative,” she said.
“Yeah.” I followed her toward the door. “Thanks for coming to get me. I got distracted.”
“Tell me on the way if you want.” Keisha pinched her nose, then snorted. “Did someone in here piss in his pants?”
I finished telling Keisha about my conversation with Neil Gross as she pulled into the courthouse garage. When I stepped out of the car, an electric arc shot up my left calf. I reached down to massage it.
“Therapy not helping?” Keisha asked as she shut her door.
“No. But I go anyway. I like sitting in the hot tub.” I’d torn a tendon in my calf chasing the man who shot Arceneaux.
Keisha walked slowly with me into the building.
“Think Graves really might have something about your cousin’s murder?” she asked.
“Who knows?” I pushed the elevator button. “Maybe I should leave it alone.”
Keisha dropped her eyes. “Some things don’t get finished.” Then she turned and looked directly at me. “But if there’s a chance, why not take it?”
“Like I can handle more than I already have. Utley has us working double shifts a couple of times a week and—”
Keisha held up her hands. “Hate to tell you, but the lieutenant caught me on my way to get you.”
“Oh no. Not tonight.”
I jabbed the elevator button several times more with my thumb. “I’m supposed to take Alexis to Emeril’s. She’s going to be pissed.”
“Not your fault,” Keisha said.
“With her, it’s always my fault.”
“Don’t mind the OT myself,” Keisha said as the door finally opened and we entered the elevator. “No one at home for me to disappoint.”
“I was hoping to have some quality time with Alexis while Sarah and Carrie were away at summer camp.” And maybe improve our faltering relationship. “Going to Angola to talk to Graves will mean even more time away from home.”
“David was family,” Keisha said. “She’ll understand.”
“You’d think.” I rolled my eyes and pulled out my cell phone. “Wait for me outside the courtroom.”
The doors opened and I found a quiet alcove to call Alexis. I got her voice mail. “Guess you’re busy. The lieutenant stuck us with a double shift tonight so it’ll be another late one. Sorry about missing dinner. I’ll cancel the reservations.” I started to shut off the phone, then drew it back. “Love you.”
Catching up with Keisha in the hallway, I saw her talking to someone in a wheelchair. My jaw grew taut and my hands felt numb, the way I felt when last winter’s first cold front forced its way across Lake Ponchartrain into the city. The last time I saw Mary Evans.
“Hi, Jack.” Mary looked up at me with familiar, molten sapphire eyes. “Nice to see you. It’s been a while.”
I turned to Keisha. “When did they put a second prosecutor on the Marino case?”
Mary tugged at my coat sleeve. “We won’t be working together on this one. I just happened to run into Keisha. She tells me the job’s spoiled your evening plans.”
I stuffed my hands into my pockets and shrugged. “Didn’t know you two knew each other.”
“We’re both in LEPIK,” Mary said.
I threw my partner a puzzled look.
“Law Enforcement Professionals Investing in Kids,” Keisha said. “A child protection organization.”
Mary grabbed the controls of her electric wheelchair. “Gotta go, guys. Knock ’em dead.”
“It’s not a capital case,” I said.
“Lighten up, Jack. It’s just an expression.” Mary smiled as she turned her chair. “Good to see you again.”
“Same.” I watched her vanish among a group of empanelled jurors a bailiff was herding into a courtroom.
Keisha moved next to me. “I feel like I just turned the TV on in the middle of a movie.”
“What do you mean?”
“Honey, there was something going on there besides idle courthouse chitchat.”
“We worked together on a case. That’s all.”
“That’s not all. She looked at you with a woman’s eyes, not a lawyer’s.”
“I didn’t notice.” I started down the hallway.
“Brenner.” Keisha’s voice stabbed me from behind. “The sorry thing is, you probably didn’t.”
I was twelve when I finally beat my cousin David at fifty yards, but he was a distance runner. He’d set a Tulane record in the three-mile run a month earlier and barely missed qualifying for the NCAA nationals. His senior year was still ahead of him.
We jogged from his house to the high school track. Our bare chests glistened as we loped along the asphalt steaming from the showers that rush across New Orleans every summer afternoon. The musty smell of wet oyster shells rose from the shoulders of the road.
The crushed-brick running surface had a sun-baked firmness and the earthy musk I always associated with David. I dug small holes in the red clay for footholds. He took a standing start and dug just one.
David let me call the starter’s signals and I thrust my arm and leg forward, keeping low, as he’d trained me. The yellow post at fifty yards grew closer. Our feet made rapid crunching sounds as they tore into the track. He’d taught me to look straight ahead, that I couldn’t keep a stronger competitor from overtaking me, that my only purpose was to direct my own potential to the finish, to hope it was enough, and be satisfied if it was not.
I heard him breathing hard beside me as I began to lean. The line I’d drawn across the crushed brick flew beneath me and I turned my head to see him crossing just behind me.
“I did it! I did it!” I skipped twice, then stumbled forward, bending over to relieve my burning lungs.
“It was just a matter of time.” David trotted past, his breathing returned to normal. “I’ll give you ten minutes rest and we’ll race a quarter.”
“Okay. But next time we do a hundred.” He smiled and ruffled my hair.
We jogged back home. Sitting on his front porch, we watched kids play in the street as dry lightning flickered in the darkening sky like lavender fireflies. We drank from half-gallon jars filled with sun tea and hunks of ice and we mopped our faces with the cool condensation.
I loved him like a brother.
“Hello-o-o, Jack,” Keisha said as we drove back to the station. Water from a late-afternoon shower trickled into the gutters along the curb.
“Sorry. Just thinking about what you said earlier. Some things don’t get finished. But all I have are recollections from when I was twelve. It’d be nice to have some real information if I decide to talk to Emmett Graves.”
“How about your friend at the television station?”
“Odell Harris? What could he do?”
“Maybe dig up some old stories. He’s been around a long time and he’s helped you before.”
I chuckled softly. “In exchange for exclusive information. I’ve nothing to offer this time.”
She lifted her right hand from the steering wheel and held up her palm. “New-millennium cop solves thirty-one-year-old crime. Sounds like high ratings to me.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of. He’ll push me into something I don’t want to do.”
Keisha slapped me on the arm. “And when was the last time that happened?”
The sun burst from behind the thunderheads moving over the lake. My eyes tracked the transient wisps of steam rising from the concrete. “Maybe I can catch Harris after the five o’clock news.”
“Detective Brenner!” Odell’s eyes gleamed when he saw me standing at his door. His salt-and-pepper hair was mostly salt. He gestured for me to enter. “Have a seat.”
He removed his navy blue suit coat and carefully placed it on a wooden valet. He glanced at three flickering monitors on the opposite wall, then sat behind his desk. “What brings you by? Not another high-profile murder, I hope.”
I took a visitor’s chair. “Not a recent one. Do you remember the young civil rights workers who were killed in Bon Terre in 1972?”
“Yes. One white boy, one black boy. I was with the newspaper then and covered the story.”
“The white boy was my cousin.”
“My gosh.” Odell’s sharp brown eyes briefly softened. “David Brenner. I never made the connection. You must have been about—”
“Twelve.” I swallowed and thought about the day I’d learned David was missing. “I want to see if you can dig up anything about the murders.”
“I can pull articles from the archives. Should be able to find my notes as well.”
“You have notes from a thirty-one-year-old story?”
“It’s a compulsion of mine. You never know when an old story might shed light on a new one. I have one bedroom and half an attic full of files.” He lifted his chin slightly. “What’s caused your interest in your cousin’s murder now?”
I told him about my conversation with Neil Gross.
Odell’s eyes focused briefly on the monitors behind me, then met mine. “This could be some story.”
“Only if Graves gives me information and I decide to act on it. I don’t want any publicity until that happens.”
“Nothing will come from me without your say-so.”
I’d come to know Odell Harris as a straight shooter, but I had the same uneasiness about doing business with a reporter that most people have about being around cops.
“I must warn you,” Odell said. “You don’t know who else Neil Gross or Emmett Graves will talk to. They may have already talked to the press. You can’t control that. The sooner you meet with Graves, the better your chances of influencing who else he does or doesn’t talk to.”
“And the sooner you get a story.”
Odell smiled. “I’m only offering advice. I’ve seen what happens when sources start broadcasting their stories to anyone who’ll listen.”
I rose. “Call me when you’ve found your notes.”
Later that evening, Keisha and I sat at our desks catching up on paperwork. We were the only detectives in the cavernous squad room. The faint scent of ammonia still rose from the tiles.
“Quiet night,” I said near the end of our shift.
“It’s not over.” Keisha stared over my shoulder.
“Black male DOA.” The night sergeant recited the phrase I heard almost weekly.
I spun around in my chair to face him. “Where?”
“Napoleon and Miro outside a convenience store.”
“Robbery?” I asked.
“Drive-by. He was at a pay phone.”
“Drugs.” Keisha and I spoke in unison.
As the sergeant walked off, Keisha locked her desk drawer and stood. “This’ll take till O-dark-thirty, Jack. Better call home.”
I stared at the phone. I wouldn’t be getting voice mail this time. Copyright © 2008 by Rick Nelson. All rights reserved.