Brand new stories by: George Pelecanos, James Grady, Kenji Jasper, Jim Beane, Jabari Asim, Ruben Castaneda, James Patton, Norman Kelley, Jennifer Howard, Richard Currey, Lester Irby, and others.
Mystery sensation Pelecanos pens the lead story and edits this groundbreaking collection of stories detailing the seedy underside of the nation's capital. This is not an anthology of ill-conceived and inauthentic political thrillers. Instead, in D.C. Noir, pimps, whores, gangsters, and con-men run rampant in zones of this city that most never hear about.
While only a few of the contributors, such as editor Pelecanos, will be familiar to most readers, every story in this all-original noir anthology set in the nation's capital is well written, even if each captures the cynicism and despair of classic noir with varying success. Highlights include Pelecanos's "The Confidential Informant" and Laura Lippman's "A.R.M. and the Woman," though these could have been set elsewhere with little change to characters or plot. Jim Fusilli's "The Dupe," a contemporary political tale of betrayal, best makes use of the Washington setting. Despite Pelecanos's claim in his introduction that it's too easy to call the city polarized, rarely do the paths of the haves and the have-nots cross in these 16 tales, 10 of which have their crimes occur in the prosperous Northwest section of D.C. (Feb.)
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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January 31, 2006
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Excerpt from D. C. Noir by George Pelecanos
Benning Heights, S.E.
This shit has gone way too far. That's what the little voice in your head tells you. The black hoodie concealing your face is too warm for mid-April, and is thus putting your Right Guard to the test. However, it will keep you above description. And in this case, it's all that matters.
The radio's on but turned all the way down. More commercial breaks than there ever is music. Makes you curse your tape deck for being broken. Maybe it's a blessing though, one less thing to distract you.
After all there are three other men to worry about. The first, Sean, the one you've known since Ms. Abby's class at nursery school, is in the passenger seat sucking on a half-dead Newport as he loads a final shell into the sawed-off he stole from your first catch of the day. The four of you introduced his flesh to four pair of steel-toed Timberlands. You can still hear his ribs splintering, and that shrill scream he let out at the end, when Babatunde's fist split his nose in two.
Dante and Baba are in the '85 Escort behind the house, both in the same hot-ass hoodies you're rocking. Sean was the only one smart enough to go with short sleeves. But there are beads even on his brow, mostly near the sideburns. You've been telling him to cut that nappy 'fro of his for the last six months. It makes him look like a cheap-ass Redman. But he likes Redman.
"This jawnt is like that for '92!" he proclaims, continuing to take the critique as a compliment. You can't wait for '93.
"You ready?" Baba asks, his voice crackling with static through the pair of ten-dollar walkie-talkies you've purchased for this hit. The car sits different on your new rear tires. Rochelle slashed the old ones two weeks ago when you told her it was over. Maybe it wasn't too prudent for you to mention that Catalina had bigger titties.
You love titties, or breasts, as a more elegant politically correct nigga might say. But you ain't elegant and you definitely ain't PC. You're from Southeast. And there's four lives inside the rules say you gotta take.
It was definitely not supposed to turn out like this. You would have rather spent the last three hours in Catalina's basement, bumping and grinding in nothing but a latex shield. You should be squeezing her nipples with your fingers, and putting a thumb on that pearl down below.
You were supposed to be five grand richer by dawn. But that hammer hit the base of the shell and next thing you knew, Fat Rodney's skull was missing a chunk the size of your fist, his blood sprayed across your cheek as you took cover to the left of that door frame. It was your first time out and somebody had the fix in. Go fuckin' figure.
"So y'all ready?" Dante asks again. Burns Street is nothing but quiet, a block the cops hardly every patrol. Nothing over there but grandmas and kids and the P.G. line just a few up the hill. All of this for Boyz II Men at the Cap Centre. All of this because once again you didn't know when to pull out.
You got up that morning Ferris Bueller style. Peered through the shades and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Your new girl was still on your fingers, the smell of Claiborne all over everything else. You remembered the way her tongue felt against your chest and the way she said good night before she went out through the basement, knowing your moms always slept like a corpse.
You woke up with all of that on your mind and two dollars in your pocket. The weekend was on the way and Boyz II Men was coming to the Cap Centre with a bunch of other acts. Catalina loved those gump-ass niggas, and thus expected you to foot the bill for two tickets, preceded by dinner and hopefully followed by you getting some long-awaited ass. You'd been chipping away at that pussy for weeks, first base all the way to the edge of third. Now home was definitely in sight.
Things would've been simple if that coming Friday was a payday. But it wasn't. Add in the fact that you already owed Dante twenty dollars from the last time you took Catalina out and thirty to Sean for those tapes you were supposed to go in half on, then taxes, your pager bill, and cake for gas, and that forthcoming check was already spent. You needed some more dough and you needed it yesterday.
So you tried to come up with a plan in the shower, 'cuz that's where you do your best thinking. Under water your thoughts flow evenly. In the stream you cut through all the bullshit. So it was there, under the "massage" setting spray, that you thought about running game at the rec.
It was a Tuesday after all. Who the hell went to school on Tuesday, especially when you could buy off the rec manager with an apple stick and two packs of Now and Laters? What a pathetic price for a nigga as old as your father, whoever he is.
"You tryin' to play for time?" you asked your first mark, some light-skinned dude with a low-taper his barber shoulda got stabbed for.
You knew the kid had cake. He had that look in his eye, plus a Guess watch, the new Jordans, and a sweet pair of Girbauds cuffed at the ankle. You'd seen him around before, so you knew he wasn't some out-of-bounds hustler trying to move in on your racket. Yeah, that's right, it was already yours, even before the first shot.
"I'm tryin' to play for money," he said boldly, tapping a nervous finger against his thigh, the biggest tell in the world that he didn't have what it took. You had him on the rack six times in under an hour. The idea crossed your mind of majoring in pool when you got to college.
"My game's off today," he confessed earnestly after handing you three twenties without a flinch. "I guess my loss is your gain."
There was something about that phrase that didn't sit well with you. It wasn't the kinda shit niggas say on Ridge Road. Or if it was, you'd never heard it before. And that made you curious. You and your damn curiosity.
"And a nice little gain it is," you replied gloating, thinking of the words as a perfect move to finish him off.
"It ain't shit to me," he replied. "But I can see you need the money."
You told him he needed to watch himself, that he didn't know you like that. You turned open palms into fists, preparing yourself for battle. Yet all he did was grin. And that little grin made you think he might have heat, which meant you might be dead in the next few seconds. There you went again, acting before you could think on it.
He told you to chill. He didn't mean any disrespect. He just thought that maybe the two of you could help each other out. After all, he'd seen you around the way and knew you were no joke. Truth be told, he even made it so he lost the first game or two of the previous series just to make you feel comfortable, just so you could feel like he was an easy mark. You took in all the words, but you didn't really understand them, except for when he said that he had a problem he wanted you to help him with.
"What you mean you want me to help you? I don't know you, nigga," was your response.
"It's ten G's in it for you," he replied. "Ten G's for some shit that won't even take ten minutes."
This was when you should have turned away. You weren't a fuckin' criminal. Sure you'd sold a few rocks back when everybody was doin' it, and sure you and Sean had run some chains off people outside of the go-go. But anything worth ten G's was way too hot for you to touch. Yet even though you were thinking these things, your mouth said: "Ten G's!? Shit, what the fuck I gotta do?"
Now according to the story, this dude who soon after introduced himself as "Butchie" had a little crack thing going down on Texas Avenue with a partner of his. The two of them had either bought (or run) some old lady out of her crib and were dealing there, but strictly to respectable clients (i.e., people who had all their teeth and wouldn't draw suspicion from the cop details). And it had actually worked out. They'd cleared just over 100 grand in six months.
This partner, introduced only as "D", handled muscle and management. Butchie dealt with the supplier and scouting out clientele. The only problem came in when D got hit with a rape charge on the other side of town. Not only was it a parole violation but the dude's second felony. Needless to say, D wouldn't be seeing daylight anytime soon. But there was money and some product still at his crib on Adrian Street, right over the hill from the rec where you met Butchie.
At this point, all the young man in front of you wanted to do was cash out, because there were no guarantees that D wouldn't give him up. However, he still wanted what was his, half the thirty-five grand in D's crib and whatever product was left over, so he could sell it wholesale and dump the money into a McDonald's he wanted to reopen out on Bladensburg Road. It was a plan you could respect. Shit, if you'd had the cake you would've done the same thing yourself.
Butchie went on to inform you that D lived alone and had even given him a key to the house. But he didn't want to pick up the loot himself just in case the cops were there waiting for him. Plus, he wasn't the kind of "go-hard nigga" that you were. As a matter of fact, he'd brought D into the equation because he wasn't from the street, because he needed somebody to have his back in an always competitive and treacherous marketplace. Thus, he was willing to give you almost a third of the cash sum if you'd just go in and get it for him.
Once again you were listening less to the plan and more to your own imagination. What would ten G's feel like in your hand? What couldn't you buy with that kind of dough? The possibilities were endless, and you, even with sixty-two bucks in-pocket, enough for the tickets and a little dinner, were now game on snatching this new ball of wax. Citing a prior commitment, he gave you his pager number before he headed toward the '93 Pathfinder on the asphalt. The deal would expire at the end of the day.
"I don't know about this shit," Sean had grumbled as he passed you the remains of the blunt. Babatunde and Dante were on the other couch and Fat Rodney was upstairs cooking Steak-ums in the kitchen. If you were going to do this, you weren't doing it alone. So you got the crew together and sat them down in your mother's basement. These were the only dudes you trusted in the whole world.
"Me neither," Dante added. "This shit sounds way too easy for what he's payin' us."
"But then again, this nigga sounds weak," Baba fired back. "You know, like the kinda dude ain't never thrown a punch in his life. If the money's in there, we'd have it before him. Shit, if we wanted we could take it all and say 'fuck him.'"
"That's what I was thinkin'," Fat Rodney said with half a sandwich in his mouth. He was that kind of fat where his whole torso bounced with every other step. Five-foot-nine and 300 pounds at sixteen. Somebody needed to put his ass on a treadmill.
"We got five niggas," Rodney continued. "We go in there, get the money, and we're out. If he come around askin' questions, we let that nigga know who he's dealin' with."
Sean argued back that it was easier said than done, that as far as you all knew the house might not even belong to the alleged "D". Butchie coulda been a snitch for the cops or somebody's cousin you jumped a few weeks back at some party you can't even remember.
You rebutted that the cops didn't have a reason to be after y'all. Shit, you'd never been caught, never even been arrested, never even had to talk to a cop outside of the Officer Friendlys that blew through your elementary schools all those years ago. You'd dealt with a whole lot worse for a whole lot less. So why not give it a shot?
Dante looked nervous. Baba looked like he was already through D's door. Sean looked like you were all about to make the biggest mistake of your young lives. And Rodney, having finished his sandwich, actually looked full. Nobody wanted to put an answer on the table. So you did it for them. You were gonna tell Butchie that you were in, but stake the place out for a few hours before you made a move.
You paged Butchie that afternoon and he gave you a green light. It was around 3:00 when you made the call so you all decided to wait until after 10:00 when the block would be night and settled in. While you were waiting, Sean took the wheel of your Accord hatchback and headed over to the local arsenal, where he happened to have a running tab. He came out five minutes after he went in with a Glock 9, two snub .38s, and a .380, enough for all of you except Rodney, who "didn't do heat."
As it turned out, D's crib was the last house on the right at the bottom of Adrian, a little bungalow with a front and back yard. No basement and no alarm system, which appeared to mean that there were no problems. Texas Avenue was at the corner and Dupont Park was a block east.
Still, you decided to go with caution. Everybody took turns for three hours. The neighbors filed in car by car. By midnight all the lights in their cribs had gone dark.
Nobody went in or out of D's place either. It seemed deserted, just like Butchie said it'd be. All you had to do was go in and get rich.
Dante decided to stay in the car. Sean told him to honk the horn twice if somebody was comin'. Baba went around the back to make sure nobody was gonna sneak in from the rear. Sean was gonna stay at the front gate. You and Rodney were gonna go up the steps, turn the key, and stuff the Jansport you used for your books with more cash than you'd held in your seventeen years on the planet.
Each step brought you closer to the prize. You were thinking of Catalina and Claiborne, of having her lips wrapped around you in the privacy of your own bedroom. You slipped Butchie's key into the lock and it turned, putting a bigger smile on your face than Isaac from The Love Boat. You turned to Rodney for some sign of approval. You looked just in time to see the buckshot take half his head off.
It was only God that kept you from going out with him. The blast was deafening. You tripped over the porch railing and did a double-back into the bushes underneath. From what you could tell, Sean returned fire, trading blasts with your fat homeboy's killer. Babatunde picked you up and dragged you toward the car. Next thing you knew, Dante had parked at the river. The night sky didn't have a star in it, but you had a full clip and one in the chamber, one you wanted to use on yourself. Sean didn't have a problem reminding you that he'd told you so. Dante's hands were trembling. Baba wanted blood. You wanted a time-traveling DeLorean so you could go back and stop your boy from a closed-casket funeral. But once the shock wore off, you wanted answers.
Who the fuck were the niggas in there and why'd they open up on you so quick? If you'd been set up, what was the reason? If it was your bad luck, then why'd Rodney have to go out? The magnitude of it made your head hurt. But you couldn't go home. You didn't even want to make a phone call until the source of the problem was six feet deep.
Baba and Dante seconded the motion. Dante knew he should have covered the front with you. He was sitting in the car with a gun that could've saved his boy's life. Sean felt the same way too. He just wanted you all to be careful. This was a bigger game than any of you had ever played. So you had to be smart, or you'd be as dead as Rodney.