About the Author
Hometown:Silver Spring, Maryland
Date of Birth:February 18, 1957
Place of Birth:Washington, D.C.
Education:B.A., University of Maryland at College Park, 1980
Read an Excerpt
THE CAR WAS a boxy late-model Ford sedan, white over black, innocuous bordering on invisible, and very fast. It had been a sheriff's vehicle originally, bought at auction in Tennessee, and further modified for speed.
The car rolled north on Wisconsin beneath a blazing white sun. The men inside wore long-sleeved shirts, tails out. Their shirtfronts were spotted with sweat and their backs were slick with it. The black vinyl on which they sat was hot to the touch. From the passenger seat, Frank Farrow studied the street. The sidewalks were empty. Foreign-made automobiles moved along quietly, their occupants cool and cocooned. Heat mirage shimmered up off asphalt. The city was narcotized it was that kind of summer day.
"Quebec," said Richard Farrow, his gloved hands clutching the wheel. He pushed his aviator shades back up over the bridge of his nose, and as they neared the next cross street he said, "Upton."
"You've got Thirty-ninth up ahead," said Frank. "You want to take that shoot-off, just past Van Ness."
"I know it," said Richard. "You don't have to tell me again because I know."
"Take it easy, Richard."
In the backseat, Roman Otis softly sang the first verse to "One in a Million You," raising his voice just a little to put the full Larry Graham inflection into the chorus. He had heard the single on WHUR earlier that morning, and the tune would not leave his head.
The Ford passed through the intersection at Upton.
Otis looked down at his lap, where the weight of his shotgun had begun to etch a deep wrinkle in hislinen slacks. Well, he should have known it. All you had to do was look at linen to make it wrinkle, that was a plain fact. Still, a man needed to have a certain kind of style to him when he left the house for work. Otis placed the sawed-off on the floor, resting its stock across the toes of his lizard-skin monk straps. He glanced at the street-bought Rolex strapped to his left wrist: five minutes past ten a.m.
Richard cut the Ford up 39th.
"There," said Frank. "That Chevy's pulling out."
"I see it," said Richard.
They waited for the Chevy. Then Frank said, "Put it in."
Richard swung the Ford into the space and killed the engine. They were at the back of a low-rise commercial strip that fronted Wisconsin Avenue. The door leading to the kitchen of the pizza parlor, May's, was situated in the center of the block. Frank wiped moisture from his brush mustache and ran a hand through his closely cropped gray hair.
"There's the Caddy," said Otis, noticing the black DeVille parked three spaces ahead.
Frank nodded. "Mr. Carl's making the pickup. He's inside."
"Let's do this thing," said Otis.
"Wait for our boy to open the door," said Frank. He drew two latex examination gloves from a tissue-sized box and slipped them over the pair he already had on his hands. He tossed the box over his shoulder to the backseat. "Here. Double up."
Roman Otis raised his right hand, where a silver ID bracelet bearing the inscription "Back to Oakland" hung on his wrist. He let the bracelet slip down inside the French cuff of his shirt. He put the gloves on carefully, then reflexively touched the butt of the .45 fitted beneath his shirt. He caught a glimpse of his shoulder-length hair, recently treated with relaxer, in the rearview mirror. Shoot, thought Otis, Nick Ashford couldn't claim to have a finer head of hair on him. Otis smiled at his reflection, his one gold tooth catching the light. He gave himself a wink.
"Frank," said Richard.
"We'll be out in a few minutes," said Frank. "Don't turn the engine over until you see us coming back out."
"I won't," said Richard, a catch in his voice.
The back kitchen door to May's opened. A thin black man wearing a full apron stepped out with a bag of trash. He carried the trash to a Dumpster and swung it in, bouncing it off the upraised lid. On his way back to the kitchen he eye-swept the men in the Ford. He stepped back inside, leaving the door ajar behind him.
"That him?" asked Otis.
"Charles Greene," said Frank.
Frank checked the .22 Woodsman and the .38 Bulldog holstered beneath his oxford shirt. The guns were snug against his guinea-T. He looked across the bench at his kid brother, sweating like a hard-run horse, breathing through his mouth, glassy eyed, scared stupid.
"Remember, Richard. Wait till you see us come out."
Richard Farrow nodded one time.
Roman Otis lifted the shotgun, slipped it barrel down into his open shirt, fitting it in a custom-made leather holster hung over his left side. It would show; there wasn't any way to get around it. But they would be going straight in, and they would move fast.
"Let's go, Roman," said Frank.
Otis said, "Right." He opened the car door and touched his foot to the street.
* * *
"C'mon," said Lisa Karras, "put your arms up, Jimmy."
Lisa's son raised his hands and then dropped them as she tried to fit the maroon-and-gold shirt over his head. He wiggle-wormed out of the shirt, giggled as he backed up against a scarred playroom wall. Looking at him, Lisa laughed too.There were mornings when she would be trying to get him off to school or get herself to an appointment and Jimmy would keep pushing her buttons until she'd lose her temper in a big way. But this was not one of those mornings. Jimmy had been out of kindergarten since June, and Lisa had not picked up any freelance design work in the last month. This was just a slow morning on a hot summer day. The two of them had nothing but time.
"Hey, kiddo, I thought you said you wanted some ice cream."
Jimmy Karras zoomed over and raised his arms. Lisa got the short-sleeved Redskins jersey on him before he had a chance to squirm out of it, then sat him down and fitted a pair of miniature Vans sneakers on his feet.
"Double knots, Mom."
"You got it."
Jimmy stood up and raced off. He skipped once, something he did without thought when he was happy, on the way to the door.
Ice cream at ten a.m. Lisa almost laughed, thinking of what her peers would have to say about that. Most of the other mothers in the neighborhood were content to sit their kids down in front of the television set on hot days like this. But Lisa couldn't stand to be in the house all day, no matter the weather. And she knew that Jimmy liked to get out too. A trip to the ice cream store would be just fine.
Jimmy stood on his toes at the front door, trying to turn the lock. A rabbit's foot hung from a key chain fixed to a belt loop of his navy blue shorts. The rabbit's foot was white and gray, with toenails curling out of the fur. Lisa had given her husband, Dimitri, a few sharp words when he had brought it home from the surplus store, but she had let the matter drop when she saw her son's eyes widen at the sight of it. The rabbit's foot was one of those strange items pocketknives, lighters, firecrackers that held a mutual fascination for fathers and sons. She had long since given up on trying to understand.
"Help me, Mom."
"You got it."
She rested the flat of her palm on his short, curly brown hair as she turned the lock. His scalp was warm to the touch.
"Mom, can we go for a Metro ride today?"
"One thing at a time, okay, honey?"
"Could we take the Metro to the zoo?"
"I don't think so. Anyway, it's too hot. The animals will all be inside."
"Aw," said Jimmy, flipping his hand at the wrist. "Gimme a break!"
Jimmy ran down the concrete steps as she locked the front door of the colonial. She watched him bolt across the sidewalk and head toward the street.
"Jimmy!" she yelled.
Jimmy stopped short of the street at the sound of her voice. He turned, pointing at her and laughing, his eyes closed, his dimples deeply etched in a smooth oval face.
Mrs. Lincoln, the old woman next door, called from her porch, "You better watch that boy!"
Lisa smiled and said cheerfully, "He's a handful, all right." And under her breath she added, "You dried-up old crow."
As Lisa got down to the sidewalk of Alton Place, Jimmy said, "What'd you say, Mom?"
"Just saying hello to Mrs. Lincoln."
"You mean Mrs. Stinkin'?"
"Now, don't you ever say that except in our house, honey. Daddy was just kidding when he made up that name for her. It's not nice."
"But she does smell funny, though."
"Old people have a different smell to them, that's all."
They walked a bit. They stopped at the corner of 38th Street, and Jimmy said, "Where we goin' for ice cream, Mom?"
"That store next to the pizza parlor."
"Which pizza parlor?" said Jimmy.
"You know," said Lisa Karras. "May's."
* * *
Roman Otis went in first, putting a hard shoulder to the door. Frank Farrow stepped in next, cross-drawing the .22 and the .38 revolver at once. He kicked the door shut behind him as Otis drew the sawed-off and pumped a shell into the breech.
"All right," said Otis. "Don't none a y'all move."
Charles Greene, the pizza chef, stood still behind the kitchen's stainless steel prep table and raised his hands. Mr. Carl, a short man with a stub of unlit cigar wedged in the side of his liver-lipped mouth, stood to the side of the table. On the tiled floor beside him sat an olive green medium-size duffel bag, zipped shut.
"What is this?" said Mr. Carl, direct and calm, looking at the armed white man with the gray hair.
Frank up-jerked the .38. "Raise your hands and shut your mouth."
Carl Lewin raised his arms very slowly, careful not to let his sport jacket spread open and reveal the .32 Davis he carried wedged against his right hip on pickup day.
"Against the wall," said Frank.
Greene and Mr. Carl moved back. Frank holstered the .22, stepped over to the duffel bag, and opened it. He had a quick look inside at the stacks of green: tens, twenties, and hundreds, loosely banded. He ran the zipper back up its neck and nodded at Otis.
"Okay, pizza man," said Otis. "Who we got in the front of the house?"
Charles Greene licked his dry lips. "The bartender. And the day waiter's out in the dining room, setting up."
"Go out there and bring the waiter back with you," said Otis. "Don't be funny, neither." Greene hesitated, and Otis said, "Go on, boy. Let's get this over with so we can all be on our way."
Greene had a look at Mr. Carl before hurrying from the kitchen. Mr. Carl stared at the gray-haired white man without speaking. Then they heard footsteps returning to the kitchen and a chiding young voice saying, "What could be so important, Charlie? I've got side work."
The waiter, who was named Vance Walters, entered the kitchen with Greene behind him. At the sight of the men and their guns, Walters nearly turned to run, then swallowed and breathed out slowly. The moment had passed, and now it was too late. He wondered, as he always did, what his father would have done in a situation such as this one. He raised his hands without a prompt. If he'd just cooperate, they wouldn't hurt him, whoever they were.
"What's your name?" said Frank.
"Vance," said the waiter.
"Over there against the wall with your boss," said Frank.
Otis watched the waiter with the perfect springy haircut hurry around the prep table. One of those light-steppin' mugs. Vance with the tight-ass pants. Otis knew the look straight away. Marys like Vance got snatched up on the cell block right quick.
"I'll get the bartender," said Frank to Otis.
Frank Farrow left the kitchen. Otis pointed the shotgun at each of the three men against the wall in turn. He began to sing "One in a Million You" under his breath. As he sang, he smiled at Mr. Carl.
* * *
Detective William Jonas cruised up Wisconsin in his unmarked and made the turn up 39th. The cold air felt good blowing against his torso, and for a change he was fairly relaxed. It wasn't often that he rolled on the clean, white-bread streets of upper Northwest's Ward 3. Most of his action was in neighborhoods like Trinidad, Petworth, LeDroit Park, and Columbia Heights. But this morning he had an interview with a teenage kid who worked at the chain video store over near Wilson High. The kid lived in Shaw, and he had grown up with a couple of young citizens charged with beating a pipehead to death outside a plywood-door house east of 14th and Irving. Jonas hated to roust the kid at work, but the young man had been uncooperative on his home turf. Jonas figured that the kid would talk, and talk quick, at his place of employment.
William Jonas had two sons at Wilson himself. They took the bus across town from Jonas's house on Hamlin Street, over in Brookland.
It wouldn't be too long before he had his boys in college and could retire his shield. The money was already put away for their schooling. He'd been saving on an automatic-withdrawal plan since they were boys. Thank the good Lord for blue chips. With his pension and the house damn near 75 percent paid off, he and Dee could enjoy themselves for real. He'd be in his middle fifties by then retired and still a relatively young man. But it was a little early to be dreaming on it. He had a few years left to go.
As he went slowly up 39th, Jonas noticed a parked car on his right, looked almost like an old cop car, with a man behind the wheel, sitting there with all four windows rolled down. The man was pockmarked and sweating something awful; his sunglasses slipped down to the end of his nose as he bent forward, trying to put a match to a cigarette. Looked like his hand was shaking, too, and . . . damn if he wasn't wearing some kind of rubber gloves. As Jonas passed, the man glanced out the window and quickly averted his eyes. In the rearview Jonas saw Virginia plates on the front of the car a Merc, maybe. No, he could see the familiar blue oval on the grillwork: a Ford.
Veazy Street, Warren, Windom . . . Now that had to be the only car he'd seen all morning with the windows down on a hotter-than-the-devil day like today. Everyone else had their air-conditioning on full, and what car didn't have air-conditioning these days? And the man behind the wheel, white like everyone in this neighborhood but still not like them, had seemed kind of nervous. Like he didn't belong there. Wearing those gloves, too. Twenty-five years on the force and Bill Jonas knew.
He had a few minutes before his interview with the video-store kid. Maybe he'd cruise around the block, give that Ford another pass.
* * *
Richard Farrow hotboxed his smoke while watching the black car hang a left a few blocks up 39th. Any high school kid with an ounce of weed in his glove box would have spotted the unmarked car. And the driver, some kind of cop, had given him the fish-eye as he passed.
The question was, Was the black cop in the black car going to come around the block and check him out again?
Richard touched the grip of the nine millimeter tucked between his legs. The way he had it, snug up against his rocks and pressing on his blue jeans, it had felt good. But now the sensation faded. He grabbed the Beretta and tapped the barrel against his thigh. He dragged hard on his cigarette and flicked the butt out to the street.
God, it was hot.
What the fuck was he doing here, anyway? Sure, he'd done his share of small-time boosts car thefts, smash-and-grabs, like that with his older brother when they were in their teens. Back between Frank's reform school years and his first four-year jolt. Then Frank got sent up for another eight, and during that time Richard went from one useless job to the next, fighting his various addictions alcohol, crystal meth, coke, and married women along the way. The funny thing was, when Frank got out of the joint the last time, he was smarter, tougher, and more connected than Richard would ever be. Yeah, crime and prison had been good to Frank. So when Frank had phoned and asked his little brother if he would be interested in a quick and easy score that he and Otis were about to pull off, Richard had said yes. He saw it as a last chance to turn his life around. And to be on a level playing field to be a success, for once with Frank.
Richard looked in the rearview. The black car had circled and was coming up behind him on 39th.
Richard turned the key in the ignition. A natural reaction, that's all. He realized Frank had told him not to, but . . . fuck it, it wouldn't do any good to get himself down about it now. He'd done it.
The cop car was slowing down. It was crawling.
"Come on, Frank," said Richard. He heard the high pitch of his own voice and was ashamed.
Richard stared straight ahead as the cop car accelerated and passed. Richard exhaled, removed his glasses, wiped at the sweat that stung his eyes.
The cop car stopped at the next corner, pulled over, and idled beside a fire hydrant.Richard steadied the Beretta, pulled back on the receiver, eased a round into the chamber. What was he doing? What was he going to do now, shoot a cop? This was crazy. He'd never shot anything, not even an animal in the woods. Frank had told him to carry the gun. Frank had made him bring the gun.
Richard Farrow looked at himself in the rearview mirror. He saw a pale, wet mask of fear.
* * *
Frank Farrow pressed the flat of his palm against the bartender's shoulder. He pushed him firmly through the open door into the kitchen. The bartender, heavy and broad of back with a friendly pie-plate face, stared at the three men against the wall. A long-haired, sharply dressed black guy was holding a shotgun and singing to himself on the other side of the prep table. He stopped singing as Frank entered the room.
Frank said to the bartender, "What's your name?"
"All right, Steve. You're going to be smart, right?"
Maroulis nodded and said, "Yes."
"Is there any rope here?"
Maroulis looked at the pizza chef, tried to make a casual gesture that played clumsy. "I don't know."
"Who knows?" said Frank.
"Got some clothesline rope over in that utility closet," said Charles Greene. "That there's the onlyest rope we got."
"Get it, Steve," said Frank.
"Gonna have to tie you gentlemen up," said Otis. "Give us time to, uh, effect our getaway."
Maroulis went to the closet on the opposite wall and opened its hinged gate.
Mr. Carl watched the black guy with the funny hair. The joker was holding the shotgun loosely, barrel-down against his thigh. How long would it take to raise a sawed-off and pull the trigger? Two seconds? He could draw the .32 quicker than that. He did have that element of surprise. Hell, not even his own employees knew he carried a piece. He could wait until the gray-haired one got distracted. Shoot the spade first, the gray-haired sonofabitch next. Then, after it was over, find the one who tipped these two to the pickup.
Mr. Carl hitched up his slacks, kept his hands on his belt line.
Go ahead, Maroulis, Mr. Carl thought. Just keep ratfucking through that closet. Frank turned around. "How's it coming, Steve?"
"I don't see the rope."
"It's on the bottom shelf, man," offered Greene.
Vance Walters felt his knees weaken. He willed himself to stand straight.
Now, thought Mr. Carl.
I'll do it now, while gray-hair's got his back turned. These two are nothing. Lettuce-pickers. I'll shoot the spade first and then the gray-haired bastard. Someone will pin a fucking medal on me "Let's go, Steve," said Frank. He looked up at the wall: A stainless steel paper-towel dispenser hung there, shiny and clean. He could see the reflection of the men behind him in its surface.
Otis glanced at his wristwatch, turned his head to the side. "C'mon with that rope!"
Carl Lewin's hand inched inside his jacket.
Now. Nigger, you are going to die now. In the towel dispenser's reflection Frank Farrow watched Mr. Carl reach into his jacket. He saw Mr. Carl's hand on the grip of a gun.
Frank spun around and leveled his gun at Mr. Carl. Their eyes met and locked. Mr. Carl's finger jerked in spasm. Frank squeezed the trigger of the .38 three times.
Mr. Carl took two rounds in the chest. The third blew tiling off the wall behind him. Mr. Carl winced, spit the cigar and a spray of blood onto the prep table. His hands flopped comically at the wrists as he dropped to the floor.
Frank went to Mr. Carl. He stood over him and kicked him in the stomach. He stepped back and shot him again. The corpse jumped and came to rest.
A sliver of tile had cut into Vance Walters's cheek. His hand flew to the spot as tears welled in his eyes. But he didn't let the tears go. He swore to himself then that he wouldn't cry.
Charles Greene was silent, stunned, openmouthed. Steve Maroulis stood still, the clothesline slack in his shaking hands.
A look passed between Frank and Otis. Otis took the clothesline from Maroulis's hand and tossed it over the prep table to Charles Greene.
"Okay, bartender," said Otis. "You and the waiter: Lie down on your bellies."
"You," said Frank, pointing the .38 at Greene. "Tie them up. Feet to hands."
* * *
Detective William Jonas thought he heard something. Muffled, like. Couldn't be gunshots, not in this neighborhood. Kids lighting off a string of firecrackers or ladyfingers, most likely it was July. Or a car or Metrobus backfiring on Wisconsin. Hard to tell with the air blower on full and the crackle coming from the mic.
He had called in the plate numbers of the Ford, and now he was waiting to see if the car was on the hot sheet. He'd have word on that momentarily, and then he'd be gone. He didn't know why he was wasting his time messing with this one, anyway. He was Homicide, not a beat cop. He had done his beat time, and he had worked hard to get his shield. Still, there was definitely something wrong about that sweaty white man wearing those gloves back in the white car.
Jonas got the negative response. He ordered in a cruiser anyway to check out the suspicious vehicle and its driver, and thanked the dispatcher. He replaced the mic in its cradle and pulled away from the curb.
He drove up toward Nebraska Avenue, took Albemarle Street over to Wisconsin, and parked his car in front of the big video store. He looked at his watch: a little early to take the kid off his shift. He had, what, ten, fifteen minutes to kill? Maybe he'd go on back and see what was up with that guy on 39th. By now the uniforms would have arrived. By now they'd be talking to the guy, checking him out. He was awful curious to hear what the guy had to say.
William Jonas pulled out of his spot and swung his vehicle around on the main drag. He headed south on Wisconsin.
* * *
"Put your heads down," said Frank to the three men lying bound on the floor behind the prep table. The pizza chef, Greene, had tied Maroulis and Walters. Otis had tied Greene. Frank Farrow had dragged Mr. Carl's body next to a drain set in the center of the room. His blood ran slowly down a slight grade in the floor and dripped through the grates of the drain.
Greene and Walters had lowered their heads. Maroulis had kept his head up; the carotid artery swelled in his neck.
"Please," said Maroulis. "We haven't seen anything. None of us will remember you. I'm speaking for all of us "
"Put your forehead on the tiles."
"Please." Maroulis's eyes were pleading, wild and red. He looked at Frank. "Don't make me put my head down. Please."
"Do what I say and you won't get hurt."
Maroulis put his head down slowly. In a low voice he began to pray: "Pateri mon . . ."
Otis listened to the bartender, chanting some kind of bullshit in a tongue he had never heard. Well, the bartender was the smart one of the bunch. He knew his bossman had gone and done them all by making that play.
Frank looked at Otis. Frank holstered the .38 and drew the .22 Woodsman with his right hand. He stepped quickly to Maroulis and shot him in the back of the head.
Greene began to scream. Frank waved gun smoke out of his face as he walked over to Vance Walters.
Walters felt the cool touch of metal behind his ear. Frank shielded his face from the blow-back and put his finger to the trigger.
"Dad," said Walters. He yelled, "Daddy!"
His last moment felt like fire and confusion.
"Naw, man," said Greene, tears rolling one after the other down his cheeks. "Not me, man, I hooked you up!" He sobbed and begged and screamed as he writhed violently against the rope. A line of saliva dripped from his mouth to the floor.
Frank stepped around Vance Walters's corpse. He put the muzzle of the Woodsman to Greene's head.
* * *
Richard Farrow had heard the gunshots come from inside the pizza parlor, but apparently the black cop had not. He had pulled away and been gone ten minutes. Richard was relieved at first, but growing shaky again as the time ticked off. He smoked another cigarette, tapped his hand on the wheel, spun the automatic on the hot vinyl seat beside him.
Richard figured the cop had called in the Ford's plates. But the plates had been lifted just that morning from Union Station's long-term lot. Those Spanish guys in that garage had done them a solid there. Yeah, they'd done good
Another gunshot sounded from inside the pizza parlor. Then another, and another behind it.
No, brother. God, no . . .
* * *
"Phew," said Roman Otis. "One of 'em done fouled his britches."
"Put another round in each one and let's go."
"What, you think they gonna walk away?"
"Do it, Roman. Do it and let's go."
Yeah, thought Otis, Frank is one smart man. He's going to tie us together now, forever and for real.
Otis shrugged. He holstered the shotgun and drew the .45.
* * *
Richard Farrow left the motor running and got out of the car. He paced back and forth in the street. The heat of the asphalt came through the thin leather soles of his shoes. He looked down his arm and saw the nine millimeter in his hand. He looked toward a low-rise apartment building on his left and saw a curtain drop shut.
He heard four more shots.
"We are fucked," said Richard. He glanced back at the car. No he couldn't go back to that hot car. Richard began to stumble-walk across the street toward the rear entrance of May's.
He turned at the sound of a big engine. The black unmarked cop car was blowing toward him on 39th.
* * *
William Jonas accelerated when he saw the sweaty white man with the aviator shades standing in the middle of the street, holding a gun.
"Aw, shit," said Jonas. The cruiser he had called for hadn't arrived. No time to think about that now.
He hit the brakes fifty yards from the man, turned the wheel, skidded his car to a stop so that it blocked the street. He keyed the mic, screamed into it for backup. He dropped the mic to the floor, pulled his weapon, chambered a round, opened the door, and rolled out of the car onto the street. He got up into a crouch and positioned himself behind the hood of the car. He straightened his gun arm and rested it on the hood, his head and shoulders clear.
"I'm a police officer!" he yelled. "Throw the weapon to the side! Get down on your stomach and cradle your hands behind your head, now!"
The man paced a few steps, dizzy with confusion. He looked over at the back of the commercial strip, made a move toward it, changed his mind and walked back toward the Ford.
"Drop the weapon!" screamed Jonas.
The man looked in the direction of Jonas like he was hearing him for the first time. He opened the door of the Ford.
"I said drop it!" Jonas could hear a siren now. The backup would be here in a hot minute, maybe less. If the guy by the Ford could only hold onto his shit, then maybe everything could turn out all right.
* * *
Frank Farrow looked through the partially opened door as Roman Otis checked his gun and listened to the screech of tires.
"Okay, Richard's got company."
"How many?" said Otis.
"One for now."
"One's better than two."
"Richard's just standing there, out in the street. Goddamnit, I told him . . . All right, gimme the bag." Otis tossed the duffel over to Frank. "How many you got left in that forty-five?"
"I've got two in the thirty-eight." He holstered the .22 useless at this range and grasped the handles of the duffel bag.
"You know what we gotta do," said Frank.
Otis shrugged. "Can't do nothin' else." He hand-brushed his hair back behind his ears.
Otis went to the door, yanked it open, and charged out into the sunlight. Frank went out behind him, calling his brother's name.
* * *
William Jonas watched the man reach for the door handle of the Ford. Someone yelled, "Richard!" The man looked back at the center of the commercial strip. Two men carrying guns and a duffel bag bolted from a door. Jonas speed-scanned: One of them was white with gray hair and a gray mustache, the other a tall, dark-skinned man with Las VegasÐlooking hair. The image of them registered as Jonas returned his sight to the man by the Ford. The man by the Ford pointed his gun at Jonas.
He's scared. He won't shoot. . . . The man by the Ford steadied his gun with both hands.
Jonas thought of his wife and sons. He closed one eye, aimed, and fired his weapon.
Jonas's first round penetrated the door of the Ford. His second round found its target. The pale white man's sunglasses went funny on his face as he crumpled and swung down, his arm hooked around the window frame. Jonas could see a black line running like a worm down the front of the man's face.
A round sparked off the hood in front of Jonas. He blinked, moved his gun arm, fired at the two men who were standing still and firing at him. He squinted, saw smoke coming from their guns, heard his windshield spider, kept firing even as a bullet tore into his bicep and another hit his shoulder as he was jerked up and back. He took another bullet high in the chest. It was like a hot needle going in. He screamed as he fell, firing his weapon into the front quarter panel of his own vehicle, feeling the shock of his back hitting the hard, hot pavement and the wind blow from his lungs. He stared up at the blazing sun and listened to the siren grow louder. He fought for breath and got it. He turned his head to vomit. He dropped his Glock and heard the dull sound it made on the street.
Goddamn plastic gun. Oh, sweet Jesus, I am hit.
* * *
Lisa Karras couldn't believe the heat. She had called the weather service, but the temperature given on the recording didn't begin to describe the feeling of actually being outdoors. Not that Jimmy seemed to notice. He was ahead of her, walking faster even as she slowed her pace.
"Jimmy, honey, c'mon. We've got all day. The ice cream store's not going anywhere."
He turned around and jogged backward, pointing to his mother with that evil, beautiful smile of his that couldn't help but break her down.
"I'm not biting for that," said Lisa. "I'm telling you, sweetheart, I can't go any faster than this."
Jimmy turned frontward and broke into a run. She called out to him weakly, but by now he was out of earshot, charging down Alton, halfway to 39th. Fireworks sounded from far away.
* * *
"Where you goin', man?"
"I'm going to finish that cop."
"You hear them sirens? The two of us ain't gonna make it if we stay. And I ain't leavin' you here, you know that."
"He killed my brother," said Frank.
"Then we'll just have to come back at a better time," said Otis. "Do him the same way."
Jonas's unmarked blocked the road. A patrol car skidded into the Wisconsin Avenue turnoff, rolled up 39th, and came to a stop behind the unmarked. The driver radioed for backup while his uniformed partner crawled out of the car.
Frank and Otis moved quickly to the Ford. Frank picked up Richard and threw him across the backseat of the Ford. He tossed the duffel bag on top of Richard, ignoring the uniform's shouted commands, and got under the wheel. Otis was already on the passenger side of the bench.
Frank yanked down on the tree and fishtailed coming out of the space. Sirens wailed from several directions. They heard the pop of gunshots behind them, and neither ducked his head.
Otis wiped sweat from his forehead, glanced at the speedometer: fifty, sixty . . . okay, shit, it would be all right. Frank always did know how to handle a ride.
"Gonna be a trick to get us out of here," said Otis. He holstered the .45.
Frank saw a flash of cop car moving toward them on the street called Windom to his right.
"Punch this motherfucker," said Otis.
Frank pinned the accelerator. The car lifted, and both of them were pushed back against the seat. The Ford blew through the four-way and caught air coming over a rise.
"Watch it," said Otis, as something small ran backward into the street ahead. "Hey, Frank, man, slow down. . . ."
* * *
Something was wrong. There were ambulance or police sirens all over now, and Lisa Karras knew something was wrong. She broke into a run.
"Jimmy!" she yelled, frantic because he was still going toward the intersection of 39th and he was too many steps ahead and it was too hot. "Jimmy!"
He turned and ran backward. She saw his crooked smile and the flush of his cheeks as he tripped back off the curb. She saw surprise on his face, but only for a moment. A blur of white car lifted him and pinwheeled him over its roof. He was hinged at an awful angle as he tumbled over the car.
That is not my little Jimmy, thought Lisa Karras.
That's just a broken doll.
* * *
Frank Farrow gave the cracked windshield a spray of fluid and hit the wipers. Blood swept away and gathered at the edges in two pink vertical lines.
Roman Otis turned his head, looked through the rear glass. A woman was in the street, her hands tight in her hair. Her mouth was frozen open, and she was standing over a small crumpled thing.
Frank gave it a hard right onto Nebraska Avenue, downshifted the automatic to low coming out of the skid, and then brought it back up to drive. He passed a Jetta on the right and crossed the double line passing a ragtop Saab.
"There's Connecticut Avenue," said Otis. "I remember it from the map."
"I see it."
"You ain't gonna make that yellow, partner."
Frank shot the red; a car three-sixtied as they went through the intersection and down a steep grade, Frank's hand hard on the horn. Vehicles ahead pulled over to the right lane.
Otis breathed out slowly, checked the backseat, looked across the bench.
"Look about your brother."
"Your brother did good, man. Remember it. He kept that cop busy and he did good."
Frank was expressionless.
"I said forget it. Where's the switch?"
"Tennyson at Oregon. About a mile up ahead."
Otis closed his eyes. Frank's brother was dead, stretched out under a bag of money. Otis and Frank had just killed five four whites and a black including a kid. Maybe even killed a black cop, too. Be hard to find a jury of any racial mix that wouldn't give the two of them that last long walk. And here was Frank, colder than the legs on Teddy Pendergrass, barely breaking a sweat.
Well, no one would ever accuse Frank of being too human. One thing was certain, though: There wasn't anyone else you'd want to be riding with when the death house was calling your name.