Murder, D.c.: A Sully Carter Novel

Paperback | August 23, 2016

byNeely Tucker

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“The test of a crime series is its main character, and Sully is someone we’ll want to read about again and again. . . . When the murder victim in the novel is identified as the young scion of one of the city’s most wealthy and influential African American families, the story expands its themes of race and class, which lend it dimension.” Lisa Scottoline, The Washington Post

Reporter Sully Carter returns in a thrilling murder mystery of race, wealth, and family secrets

 
When Billy Ellison, the son of Washington, D.C.’s most influential African-American family, is found dead in the Potomac near a violent drug haven, reporter Sully Carter knows it’s time to start asking some serious questions—no matter what the consequences. With the police unable to find a lead and pressure mounting for Sully to abandon the investigation, he has a hunch that there is more to the case than a drug deal gone bad or a tale of family misfortune. Riding the city's backstreets on his Ducati 916, Sully finds that the real story stretches far beyond Billy and into D.C.’s most prominent social circles.

A hard drinker still haunted by his years as a war correspondent in Bosnia, Sully now must strike a dangerous balance between D.C.’s two extremes—the city’s violent, depraved projects and its highest corridors of power—while threatened by those who will stop at nothing to keep him from discovering the shocking truth. The only person he can trust is his old friend Alexis, a talented photographer and fellow war zone junkie, who is as sexy as she is fearless, but even Alexis can't protect Sully from everyone who would rather he give up the story.
 
Following the acclaimed first Sully Carter novel, The Ways of the Dead, this gritty mystery digs deeper into Sully's past while revealing how long-held secrets can destroy even the most powerful families.


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From the Publisher

“The test of a crime series is its main character, and Sully is someone we’ll want to read about again and again. . . . When the murder victim in the novel is identified as the young scion of one of the city’s most wealthy and influential African American families, the story expands its themes of race and class, which lend it dimension...

Neely Tucker is the author of The Ways of the Dead, the first Sully Carter novel, and the memoir Love in the Driest Season, which was named one of the Best 25 Books of the Year by Publishers Weekly. Currently a staff writer at The Washington Post Sunday magazine, Tucker lives with his family in Maryland.From the Hardcover edition.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:320 pages, 8.4 × 5.4 × 0.8 inPublished:August 23, 2016Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0143109111

ISBN - 13:9780143109112

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ONESULLY CARTER HAD a pleasant little bourbon buzz going. It was a fine afternoon in the first spring of the twenty-first century. He’d been out on a fast boat in the Washington Channel, taking in the sunshine and the brisk spring breeze and the view of the dead body being pulled from the water. It was all pretty cool and mellow until he decided to go over to Frenchman’s Bend and see if that’s where the guy got popped.He got there at a little after two in the afternoon, maybe four hours and change before deadline. Stillness. The wind tickling his ears, the sound of water slapping. Closed his eyes and the world was a warm yellow light behind his eyelids. Opening them again, it was almost . . . peaceful. He was walking past the first trees of the Bend, the buds tight along the branches, the faint scent of brackish water in his face, when he saw two enforcers for the drug crew that ran the place coming out of the apartment block to his right.They let him pass, the little fuckers, let him walk deeper into the park, out toward the open grassy knob that stuck out into the channel like a thumb, and now they were sliding in behind him, cutting off his retreat. He did not have a clear view of either. The shorter figure came in behind him off his right, a too-big hoodie draped over his head. The other, taller, faster, but not in any real hurry, peeled off behind him toward the brick-wall boundary with Fort McNair, coming in off his left.He could not hear them but didn’t expect to, what with the wind in his face. Their appearance wasn’t unexpected—it was the Bend, after all—but there was going to be some shit. There was going to be some shit now. Slowing his gimp-legged walk, dangling the motorcycle helmet from his right hand, the cycle jacket unzipped and open, doing his best white-man-without-a-clue impersonation. Under his breath, he swore at himself for getting involved in this two-bit homicide because now it was going to screw the entire day. He felt, somewhere behind his eyes, the bourbon beginning to burn off, his senses coming alive, calculating the moves of the men behind him without acknowledging their existence.This was how your day went south without even trying.He’d been having lunch with Dave Roberts and his crew from WCJT, having a gentleman’s drink or three at the Cantina Marina, on the waterfront. Dave got a call from the station about tourist boats shrieking to 911 that they’d seen a body floating in the waves. Good people from Iowa come to take a tour of your nation’s capital, starting out from the marina in Southwest D.C., just a few hundred yards from the cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin, then heading down to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s place, for a picnic lunch. Then bam, they get a view of how the other half lives. The body was floating just off the tip of Hains Point, at the confluence of the Potomac and the Anacostia, not even three-quarters of a mile from the marina.The station rented a boat on the fly; Sully bummed a ride because, hell, it sounded like fun. A quick story for the paper and away they went, roaring out into the channel, all boys, giggling that this was a three-hour tour, a three-hour tour, the camera man swaying, trying to get steady B-roll.Two police department launches were already out there, the station’s boat skittering beyond them so that the camera guy could shoot back toward the city as a backdrop. The body was floating like a cork in a bathtub, tangled up with a clutch of driftwood. The police techs got a net under it and then the winch on the launch’s crane creaked. The net pulled the body up and up until it was in the air, water pouring, long thick hair, dreadlocks falling away from the skull, the corpse in jeans and a jacket of some sort and one shoe. It lay there like a dead cod pulled off the bottom.“What do you know, we just made the six o’clock,” Dave said.The camera guy spread his feet and the camera whirred, getting the focus tight, pulling the body into clarity. The police boats had a lot of guys in sunglasses and Windbreakers with DC MPD on the back. Dave talking to the camera guy, “You got the Monument in the background?”“The money shot,” the man said, nodding.Cops crowded around the corpse and after a few minutes the huddle broke up. Lt. John Parker, the chief of D.C. Homicide, emerged, walking to the rail, hands on his hips, feet at the width of his shoulders, sunglasses, and a blue-and-black Windbreaker over his suit, glaring at them like they were walking on his lawn.“Hey John,” Dave called out, cupping his hands into a megaphone. “Any ID on floater man?”“That thing off?” John yelled back, rolling a hand toward the camera, shades still down, that hard-ass cop look he had.Dave sighed and nodded and the cameraman flicked the camera off and set it by his feet. The boats idled closer, pulling alongside, the sun splashing on John’s bald head, his sunglasses.“All off the record,” John said, “and I mean, I don’t want to hear ‘police sources say,’ ‘a source familiar with the investigation,’ no shit like that. All y’all hear?”Everybody on the boat on the forward rail, leaning to hear him, nodded: Dave, the former Redskins linebacker turned local news personality; Sully, the alleged hotshot for one of the nation’s great newspapers, nodding, yeah, yeah, whatever.“No I.D., no name,” John said.“Courageous, taking that sort of bombshell off the record,” Dave said.“Was he still recognizable?” Sully chipped in.“Mostly,” John said.“What does that mean?”“He still had a face.”“Jesus,” said Dave.“Fish, shrimp, crabs get after them when they been in a couple of days,” John said, “so I’m guessing our guy was a recent entry.”“Cause of death?” This was Sully.“I’m just a homicide cop, and I just got my body five minutes ago, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the extra hole in his head, entry at his left temple, exit on his right, contributed.”“That’s actually two extra holes,” Sully said.“Thank you, Pocahontas,” John said.“The head shot is on or off the record?”“Did I stutter?”“Theories?”“Drugs, guns, pussy, turf,” John said. “Take your pick. Brothers get popped like clockwork around here and you asking me, without so much as an ID, a motive?”John was somewhere between irritated and angry, so when Dave said they were going to need to back the boat off and shoot some more B-roll, Sully just shrugged. He’d ask John more later, after the autopsy, in private, when he’d cooled off. The boats pushed back and the camera guy went back to filming the police boats at a distance.Sully killed time by studying the D.C. waterline, about four hundred yards to the north, already having a pretty good hunch where this particular corpse would have come from, and no doubt John Parker did, too—Frenchman’s Bend, which bellied out into the water like a limp dick, like a mini-Florida, about a half mile back up the channel. It was a bullshit city park, scrubby grass and beat-to-shit trees, sitting right before the pencil-thin strand of Southwest D.C. gave way to the brick walls and manicured lawns of Fort McNair, the small U.S. Army base that ran to the end of the peninsula.From his vantage point, the fort’s long row of precisely spaced waterfront houses seemed so close that you could almost tell if the drapes were pulled. The jonquils and tulips and pansies and begonias were coming up around the porches. The flowers were planted at each house in the same pattern. The exacting nature of this arrangement, replicated at house after house, made the fort appear monotonous if not robotic. And yet it was those startling bursts of red and yellow and pink and white that made the protruding knob of the Bend so identifiable and desolate by comparison: brown dirt and weeds too dumb to die and scraps of paper and brightly colored plastic bags, trash flitting across the scrub. No wonder there was a seven-foot brick wall running between the fort and the neighborhood.The Bend, meanwhile, wasn’t on any tourist map and was scarcely acknowledged by the city itself. It had been the District’s most notorious antebellum slave market, its chattel packed into long-gone wooden pens, slaves brought from the farms lining the Potomac or the Anacostia, put on a platform, and sold off onto ships bound for cotton plantations down south. It had opened long before Washington was the capital but stayed in business for decades, the shame of the city, slaves force-marched through the streets in neck shackles.Its stigma was so great that the land had never been built upon, not in the late nineteenth century when Southwest was a working-class address of the Irish and Germans, not later when it became a warren of blacks and Jews, not even in the post–World War II razing and building boom in that quadrant of the city.For the past thirty years, it had been a yellowish scab, a drug park run by one crew or another, and nobody really seemed to give a good goddamn. If Sully hadn’t been raised in Louisiana, an entire state of a yellowish scab still haunted by slavery, he might have thought the Bend was poisoned or cursed or defiled, a city block of malignant soil so infected by the sins of its past that it seeped into the souls of the living.Now, twenty minutes after Dave had dropped him back at the dock, Sully was walking across this sorry expanse of real estate, seeing if there was anything that passed for a connection to the body in the water. The giddy high of the bourbon and fucking around with Dave’s crew was fading into a headache and a slow burn. John Parker was right. This was going to turn out to be another drug shooting in a city that had averaged almost a homicide every day of every week of every month, all year round. For John, that likely meant another unsolved killing. For Sully, it translated as a fuckall story that was going to take too long and add up to not much.He stopped a few feet from the water. He slid the backpack off his left shoulder, pulled the notebook out of the backpack, and then reached around inside it, looking for a pen. When he found one, he set the helmet and the backpack down, flipped open the notebook, and started writing down the basics of the park. No relevant details as to floater man jumped out at him, but he was after scenery, not specifics. The main atmospheric—the big picture that gave the place its sense of foreboding, even in the daylight—was the dearth of anything anyone would want. Across the channel at Hains Point, East Potomac Park looked like an emerald idyll, bike paths and the golf course and manicured roads. Over here, on the wrong side of the water, it was all packed dirt and broken glass and the hard hustle.“Not buying,” he said loudly, still writing, not looking up.The footsteps behind him paused, then resumed and stopped again. He kept writing, idle observations about the desolation of the place and the meanness it gave off, like the scent of blood in a coroner’s office. He had been here once or twice at night on crime scenes and thought it depressing and mean. The fresh spring disinfectant of daylight and a good breeze didn’t do much for it.“Working on a story,” he said, still writing, but turning around, “about this guy who wound up in the channel last night? Shot in the head.”He looked up. Didn’t recognize either of them. Foot soldiers. It wasn’t like the Hall brothers, the identical twins who ran this turf, would stoop to checking out the loco paleface wandering into the Bend in the middle of the afternoon.The one on his left, he dubbed him Short Stuff, the hoodie still pulled over his head. That tall drink of water on the right, he’d go with Lanky Dreads as a nickname, at least for now. They both had their hands in their pockets and regarded him with the dull, flat glares that a nobody like him warranted.“Probably military,” Sully continued, making it up as he went, selling it, gesturing off to his right, “from the fort? But it turns out you can’t get in there. So I stopped off here to look around.”He’d never been to the fort in his life and had no idea of the entrance requirements, and he was guessing the same applied to these two halfwits, so it wasn’t like they were going to be reciting U.S. military protocol to him.“Man dead in the channel?” This was Short Stuff, his voice deeper than Sully would have thought, and he moved his guess on the man’s age from eighteen to twenty.Sully nodded, yeah yeah, sure.“White man?”“Nah.”“You police?”A shake of the head. “Reporter.”Lanky Dreads, the tall one on his right, shifted his weight to his back foot, eyeing him, Sully recognizing the long gaze on the scars. Then Lanky Dreads said, “The fuck’s with your face?” his voice raspy, like a grate, like somebody sandblasted his vocal cords when he was three. Short Stuff laughed. It sounded like a bark.“It’s a shrapnel tattoo,” Sully said.“It looks like shit.”“Good thing I got it for free.”The same dude, flicking a wrist forward at him. “Whyn’t you walk right?”“Same shrapnel.”“It hurt a lot?”“Until I passed out.”“You military?” This was Lanky Dreads again, but Short Stuff flicked a glance over at his partner, irritated, not hiding it.“Nope,” Sully said, cutting his eyes between them, trying to figure out who was in charge. “Reporter, like I said. I was in Bosnia. The paper? Sent me over there. They had a war going on. I got blown up.”“They get the guy?”“What guy?”“That fucked you up.”“It was a grenade. There wasn’t any guy to get.”“So why you down here?”“Curious,” said Short Stuff, flicking that glance at his partner again, “cut that shit out.”Lanky Dreads blinked, three, four, five-six-seven times, like he was processing the interruption, but he did not take his gaze from Sully. “Brothers get capped on the block all the time,” he said, defensive, like he was justifying the line of inquiry. “Ain’t no reporters show up.”Sully shifted his weight, time getting short. You could only talk to dickheads like this for so long before it got ugly, and the clock was about to strike half past. “I already done said. This dude floating out there in the channel? Had six holes in his head instead of the usual five. Seven, you want to count the exit wound. Tourist boat spotted him riding the waves, they freaked, so now it’s all over television. Police? They figure he’s military, went in the water off the fort over there. Turns out you got to have a pass to get in. Which I don’t got. Like I said.”“Whyn’t you think he didn’t fall off a yacht?” Yat.“’Cause that’s not what MPD thinks.”Short Stuff snorted like he was about to hawk up a wad. “Like they know shit.”“John Parker,” Sully said, cutting his gaze back to Shorty. “When I say MPD? I’m meaning John Parker.”He threw the name out there—the head of D.C. Homicide—to show he wasn’t a fuckhead, right, and to see if they knew the name, to get a gauge of what level of the crew he was dealing with. Short Stuff clocked his head a quarter turn.“Hey, Parker? John Parker? Hey, fuck him, fuck you,” he said. “You know where you at, fool?”“The Bend.”“Then you ought to fucking know better.”“So you saying you didn’t see nobody down here last night, picking up a couple dime bags? Gunshots? Nothing?”The two didn’t speak or look at one another. But Lanky Dreads blinked again—three, four times, bap bap, just like that—and it gave Sully the idea that maybe Lanky didn’t have the heart for what had gone down. That was all the confirmation he needed.“MPD been down here?” Sully said, putting the top back on the pen, flipping the notebook shut. Short Stuff and Lanky were ten feet away, standing maybe three feet apart, between him and the rest of the park.“Parker’s your bitch,” Short Stuff said. “Ask him.” Axt.Sully nodded, a half smile, not putting much into it. “Well. Yeah. So.” He picked up the helmet and backpack, moving forward, right between them because going around would have been giving ground and if you flinched, hunched over, slowed, showed any sign of deference, they’d beat your ass into the dirt for being that weak. It was the same everywhere you went. Bosnia, Somalia, South Africa, Lebanon, the Bend. Dudes, half-cocked.He got within two steps of them and Lanky said, “That your Ducati at the curb?” Sully got the smell of sweat, of flesh, of ganja, of closed rooms and broken mirrors and moldy carpet, the smell and feel of the projects.“The 916. Yeah.”“Bring that out to the Cove. Run you for pinks.”Sully worked up a cough, laughing, the you-gotta-be-kidding-me thing, turning his shoulders to edge through, making sure he didn’t bump either one of them. “For pinks? Nah, nah, you ride what, I’m guessing here, a ’Busa?” he said. “And it’s an eleven-second bike in the quarter, some shit like that?”“Ten-eight.”He was past them now, walking backward, keeping eye contact, keeping it light. “Doubt that. But the Duc ain’t a straight-line bike. I’d be looking at your ass the last two hundred.”“Reporter man?” This from Short Stuff.Sully kept walking backward, not slowing down but not going any faster than he had to, either, and now he switched his gaze to acknowledge who was talking. Short Stuff had shucked his piece down into his hand, which was now out of his jacket pocket, flat against his leg.“Stop walking.”“I’m on deadline.”“I say stop walking.”Sully, still moving, looked at his watch, looked up and smiled. “I got an hour and fifteen. And I got to—”Short Stuff flipped the pistol forward and brought it level, pointed sideways, gangster chic, aiming at Sully’s chest.Sully stopped, still smiling, but raising his eyebrows, giving the man the respect he wanted. He brought his hands up a hey-you-got-me motion. “Okay. What? What are we talking about here?”“Don’t be bringing that broke-ass bike back down here, ’less you want to float yourself. You feel me?”“Yeah. I do. Yeah. Okay? I hear you. But you got to know MPD’s gonna come down here in a couple hours, start sweating you, the Hall brothers, everybody? You know that, right? That throwing the dude in the channel didn’t fool anybody with a double-digit IQ?”Short Stuff brought his chin up. “Thought you said they made the floater for military. From the fort. Over there.”Sully, giving him that same shrug, moving backward again. “Me, myself? I don’t trust MPD for shit.”TWO“IT’S A FLOATER story, but I don’t know how good,” he was saying, back in the newsroom, back in the recycled air of the office, the quiet hum of the overhead fluorescents making him wish he was back out on the water, wishing R.J. would get up off him for a minute.“Dead body in the Washington Channel, scaring the tourists, what’s not to love?” R.J. said, leaning over the wall of his cubicle, an editor looking for fresh meat for the final edition. He was rubbing his beard, the paper’s wise old man in high good humor, his still-black hair slicked back over his scalp, the bow tie knotted at the button-down collar, all but chortling about this one. “I saw it on the television a few minutes ago. It’s all over cable now, did you know? Talking heads yammering about floating bodies, the nation’s capital gone to hell in a handbasket.”“I sort of thought it did that a while back.”“And you got the tourists, right?” R.J. said, looking down at him, his eyes big and weird through the bifocals. “Yahoos from flyover, a-damn-mazed this happened in sight of the Capitol Building?”“Yes. At the marina. They were quite upset.”“You’d think they’d read the papers before they got here,” R.J. snorted. “We’ve been the murder capital since when, Bush? Reagan? Carter? You get anything great? Like, ‘I had to cover my kid’s eyes,’ or—”“Two of them said it was Clinton’s fault.”“Any logic ascribed to that position?”“Are you serious?”“Like maybe they thought he tossed Monica in the water, and—”“Floater was black. And male.”R.J. sighed, still with the beard. “Well. That’s not very creative.”“No.”“That’s going to put a dent in the story—I mean, not that it should, but you know—”“I could just make some shit up.”“Nah,” R.J. said absently, looking at his nails now, not getting it. “Nobody has a sense of humor anymore.” He blew out his lips, looking around, coming out of a trance, realizing the hour. “We gotta do something for the daily.”“I know it.”“You got out on the water, talked to the cops?”“With Dave, on the WCJT launch. I been thinking about getting me a little boat myself.”“Thrilled. Look, if you can get MPD to say it was drug related, that’d help. Could you do that? You know, ‘Drug wars spilling out into tourist country,’ yada yada. But what would be great, I mean give this thing some elevation, if he’s some sort of diplomat, an attaché at an embassy, or an, an operative, with a couple of passports—”“A diplomat in baggy jeans and dreads,” Sully said, rolling back in his chair, propping his feet on his desk. “The Ambassador to the State of the Most High.”“Jamaican! He could be, like, an operative of—”“—the dreaded Blue Mountain coffee mafia? Rastas don’t get into the diplomat thing, R.J. And he might be a narc, but that’s hardly your CIA henchman.”R.J., pulling off his glasses, polishing them, looking at his watch. “Yeah, yeah. Okay. Trying to get us somewhere. Look, unless we get some sort of ID on floater man? I’m talking twelve inches below the fold on the Metro front. Maybe even inside. A lost day.”Ah, shit, Sully thought. Little in the life of R.J. was worse than a lost day. He’d won two Pulitzers, been a finalist twice more, never mind the George Polks. The man was carpe diem and kick over the sandbox of life.Front page and cleavage or it was bullshit, that was R.J.’s take.“Sometimes it’s just vitamins, brother, not steak sauce,” Sully said.“Come again?”“It’s going to run on B-12, not A-1, no matter what we do.”“You southern people are so colorful. Well. Here’s a thought. You’ve had a run of vitamin stories of late, lad. Pop out front. Try the steak sauce.”“We tie it to the Bend,” Sully said, pulling his feet down, rolling up the chair to the desk, “we’ll be getting somewhere. I went down there just now, two vampires show up, say they’ll cap my ass, I come nosing around again. I say to you, I just stepped on a nerve. I say to you, floater man went into the water right there, in Frenchman’s Bend. This is going to be the M Street Crew, the South Capitol Crew; they’re always beefing in Southwest. The Hall brothers run the—”“‘Vampires’ being your term for drug dealers.”“Bloodsuckers. Yeah.”“They know anything about floater man?”“Like they’re going to spout to me? But yeah, one of them, this kid, he blinked.”“He blinked?”“He blinked.”“You’re fucking with me now, right? Just to have something to do?”“He blinked a lot.”R.J. looked at him, hard. Then blinked. Three times.“Clearly the man is guilty of murder. How could anyone doubt this? ‘Blinker Man Kills Floater Man.’ I say we go hard with it on 1-A.”“No, I mean, what I’m saying, he has this little affectation, this tic. He blinks bam bam bam, seven or eight times in a row. He knows something.”“Good tracking, Kemo Sabe, but that’s not going to carry the water. Maybe you want to get your guy Parker to spout. He’s the homicide director, right?”“Chief. John Parker is the chief of MPD Homicide. He ain’t going to say nothing until he knows for sure. There’s not even an ID on the body yet.”“Maybe he could blink it to you.”Sully rubbed his eyes. “I shouldn’a gone out there. I knew it and did it anyway.”“Like blink blink, pause, blink. Blink. Morse code. You know?”“I repeat.”R.J., running with it now. “A homicide cop, blinking like that, I’d say means they just busted Pablo Escobar down at Twelfth and—”“Did you have any sort of point in mind or—”“—they got—what? What did you say? Are you with me here? Without a reliable source with an ID for floater man,” R.J. said, coming back to the point, opening his eyes wider, “we don’t have any connection to the Bend, correct? All we got is that there was a man in the water and he—”“Scared the tourists,” Sully finished for him.R.J. raised his eyebrows, mock incredulous. “Get the man the stuffed giraffe from the top rack! So we’re seeing it the same way.”“Mas o menos.”“Unless you can work some sort of miracle before the five o’clock.”“Not happening,” Sully said. “I’ll send you something short and mean.” He sat up straight in his chair and poked his head up over the divider, seeing Chris two rows down, filing something, stuck on the cops beat, dying to move up to something more glamorous. He plunked back down. “And could you smooth it over with Chris? That I just happened across this?”“Don’t want his panties in a twist because you bigfooted him again? Look. Get the ID. Then floater man becomes a Specific Dead Man, and Mr. Specific might just be a story.”And then R.J. badda-badda-bapped the top of the cubicle, a little drum roll, like he’d told Sully something he didn’t know, and he was off, his loafers hushed on the carpet, going to talk Chris down off the ledge.The clock on the wall was ticking past four. The newsroom at this hour was a place that if you didn’t want a drink before, you did after. Editors with armpits about to break into a sweat, stories that were evaporating or that were taking too damn long or just were too damn long. Copy editors settling in to examine the belly buttons and lint of newspaper copy. Reporters with fixed faces and ties or blouses askew, legs crossed at the knees, feet pumping, leaning forward and slapping keyboards like they were percussion instruments, talking too damn loud into the phone. Sully could swear, actually swear, that he could hear the clock tick from twenty paces.He opened a file in the paper’s word processing system, tapped in a slug, floaterman, and then closed his eyes. The shrink. His shrink. Ah, Christ. He was supposed to have been there thirty minutes ago.He picked up the phone and turned his shoulder into it so the words wouldn’t travel to the next cubicle and tapped in the psychiatrist’s number, and Gene Henderson himself picked up, surprising him.“You’re not here,” Henderson said, his tone abrupt, no hi-hello, sounding exasperated. Sully didn’t mind the man, actually liked him a little.“Astute, even for a former military man such as yourself.”“Is there an explanation?”“I’m working,” Sully said back down the line, pleasantly. “This dead guy turned up in the channel. It didn’t make sense to stop working to come talk about work, if you see what I’m saying here.”“You didn’t call me beforehand to cancel.”“The dead dude didn’t call me, either,” Sully said. “That’s the thing about dead people.”Henderson was talking then, taking that official tone, telling him that by the contract the paper had signed, he now was required to inform HR that Sully had missed the appointment and that this was the third one this year, three in four months, and that was way over the line of—“Peachy, peachy, peachy,” he said, cutting Henderson off. “Just be sure to tell them that I couldn’t make your appointment because I was covering the murder of a young man and having other young men with guns say they’ll shoot me if I come back and ask any more questions about it and, you know, if they’d like to cough up some combat pay for that sort of work I’d be pleased.”“Three times in four months,” Henderson repeated.Sully, looking in his desk for gum and not finding any, the worry about bourbon on his breath in the back of his mind. You’d think gum wouldn’t be a hard thing to keep in a desk. “So you’ll bill me for it,” he said. “You won’t go broke and neither will I.”“Next week, same time,” Henderson said. “You’d do well to remember this isn’t an optional program.” The line disconnected. Sully looked at the phone and decided he liked Henderson a little less today than he did yesterday.He slumped back in the chair so far his skinny ass was barely on the seat, stuck a pen in his mouth to chew, and proceeded to take the easy day-hit cheap shot:Tourists aboard a sightseeing yacht in the Washington Channel were startled yesterday to see a corpse floating past their view of the Tidal Basin.A few minutes later, across the way, R.J. hooted, reading behind him.“My boy!” he exclaimed. “You’re so subtle!”THREEAFTER HE HAD filed—floaterman was a dozen inches, buried deep inside Metro—it was still just six thirty, middle of the week. The day had clouded over and now it was starting to mist. Ta-dum ta-dum. It was happy hour somewhere. There was a baseball or basketball game on at a sports bar, sure, but it wasn’t football so who gave a fuck? That left his late-night plans with Alexis.She was back home for a couple of weeks, R&R from her posting in Cairo, in the middle of a photo project on the Israeli pullout from Southern Lebanon. Had he not been blown up in Bosnia, he mused, he likely would be in Jerusalem now himself, a room at the American Colony, a bottle of Basil Hayden’s with his name on it at the bar, evening runs up the hill to the Mount of Olives and then back, the sweat and the chill evening air and the Garden of Gethsemane in the middle distance, calling up some hot Israeli chick, Hey, we’re just having a drink at the Colony and . . .As it was, here he sat, fucked-up leg, fucked-up story, fucked-up life.He thought about calling Alexis, see if she could meet him early, but nah, she was supposed to have dinner with the brass: the publishers; Eddie Winters, the executive editor; the honchos running the foreign desk. The kind of evening that would start at the Palm and move to the bar of the Hay-Adams, going past the Washington witching hour of ten—amazing, how the powers that be in this town ran for home at that hour. Given that, he and Alexis had made plans for drinks at his place at eleven.But that was what, four hours and change? To do, to do. Movie listings, flapping open the Features section, staring at the agate type: costume drama, rom com, rom com, horror. Christ. He didn’t want to go to his row house on Capitol Hill and stare at his backyard thinking he should have mowed his tiny rectangle of grass last weekend, he didn’t want—He picked up the phone.“John? Hey, Parker?” he said into the cop’s cell-phone voice mail. “No shit. Need the ID of floater man, partner. Call me when you get it. Anytime.”He clicked off and looked around until his eyes settled on his murder map of the city. It was new for the year but there were already sixty or seventy pins on it, each marking a killing. The map—his oracle, his witchcraft, his guide to understanding the ways of the living by divining the ways of the dead—was a poster-sized replica of the city’s seven police districts, with homicides marked in each.There were already three in or near the Bend, each of them noted with black pins and little red crosses that he marked on the map at the place of the killing. The color of the pin denoted that they were black men. The red crosses, marked with a colored pencil, denoted that their cases were unsolved. White victims got white pins; Hispanic, yellow; women, pink. No matter the color of the pin, most of them had red crosses, too.Solved cases, which were only about a third of the total, got black crosses.Sully turned to the computer and began keying in the passwords to legal databases that tracked arrest records and court decisions. He opened the file drawer to his left, the one that housed the murders of the current year.His filing system: Each homicide victim got their own manila folder, filed alphabetically, the name of the victim and a number that denoted the order in which they were killed in the upper right corner of the tab. The police incident report, the PD 1099, was all that was in some, but it gave the essential details. Matching the numbers on the murder map to the numbers on the folders, he pulled out the folders of those killed this year in or near the Bend.They were: suspected drug shooting (no arrest), suspected drug shooting (no arrest), argument turned into a shooting (no arrest). This was pedestrian crap. But after a few minutes, a pattern started to register, to coalesce, his mind already sensing connections between the pin dots.On the map of Washington spread before him, the quadrants of the diamond-shaped city originated from of the Capitol—northwest, northeast, southeast, southwest—a daily reminder of the power that radiated out of that building; the entire city turned on its axis. Meanwhile, the cluster of red (unsolved) crosses, nearly all of them marked by black pins (black male victims), was a deluge across the Anacostia, in Southeast D.C.By comparison, Southwest was just a scattered shower of red raindrops and black pins. This wasn’t surprising because Southwest—a tear-drop-shaped, north-to-south sliver of land below the Capitol—was by far the smallest of the city quadrants. The National Mall cut it off to the north, the Washington Channel to the west, South Capitol Street on the east. The Anacostia cut it off to the south. Another chunk of Southwest existed on the other side of the Anacostia, most of it taken up by Bolling Air Force Base and that stinking sewage plant, Blue Plains, but neither of those was civilian turf.Southwest, Southwest, he mused, tapping the map with the butt end of his pen, you’re just a civic bunion south of the Mall, drug houses, apartment blocks, hipster whites and sort-of-but-not-really-upscale blacks living in condos, the occasional Supreme Court justice who doesn’t like a long commute, and whatever the fuck Fort McNair is. You’re some hairy-legged women and ganja-puffing douches on houseboats at the Gangplank Marina. You’re good for fresh seafood at the dockside markets, for the grown and sexy clubs up on the waterfront, but that’s about it.Most of the housing was that post-1960s modernist crap, or row houses that went back to the early twentieth century when it was a packed-dirt warren. Now, since the 1960s, as long as you hewed to the riverfront? There were four or five blocks of modern apartment buildings and condos, nice enough eight- to twelve-story things, sure.But once you hit the Bend? Construction yards, one-story warehouses, empty lots, a power station, a bus parking lot, cheap wire fences, and some of the most brutal projects in the city, a reminder of the days when thousands of people lived in carriage houses that opened onto brick alleys. If you crossed over South Capitol, you were technically in Southeast, but it was still on the peninsula dangling below the belly of the city, and it was spiritually still Southwest—car washes, long-term storage lots, the Navy Yard, that block of gay clubs on O Street, dilapidated row houses and street corner drug markets.He went to his file drawers and began to pull out the folders of the dead from near the Bend, not just this year, but from years past.“W1 (witness one) reports finding deceased BM facedown at base of wall of Fort McNair, in the Bend,” read the witness accounts of the killing of Henry Andre Douglas, a black male, dead in January of a gunshot wound to the head.“W1 and W2 report hearing shots in the Bend at approximately 3:15 a.m. Feb. 12,” another report read, quoting the two witnesses, “a body subsequently found at the base of a cherry blossom tree, roughly twenty yards from the waterfront.” The body belonged to Curtis Michael Lewis, “shot twice in the back of the head.”He read further into the reports, the newsroom emptying out, the time passing and his concentration growing as the jigsaw puzzle deepened and opened before him. As the hours passed and his awareness of them dimmed, an oddity became apparent in the police paperwork: Officers on the scene often denoted the address of the slaying as the entrance to the park, there at the intersection of P and Fourth streets. But the police action reports, the 1099s, of, say, Lewis and Douglas? Those killings actually took place in the Bend.Reaching beneath his desk, he pulled out the murder maps of previous years. He unfurled them, three feet tall by two feet wide, and pinned them to the wall of his cubicle, sequentially: 1996, ’97, ’98, ’99 and now, the first few months of 2000. This was the murder chart of the deadliest big city in America, a place that had been so for more than a decade. Four hundred or so homicides in a city of 550,000 in the heyday of the crack epidemic. The display took up the whole cubicle, making him stand back to take in the effect. There were no pins in the rolled-up maps, but the red Sharpie crosses remained: red for unsolved, black for solved.You put it together like this, with a street-map overlay, year in and year out—what was it, a longitudinal study—and then you could recognize the city’s worst housing projects and neighborhoods over the course of time. Benning Terrace, right over there in Southeast; Sursum Corda, closer to downtown; yeah, you could spot those. So, stepping back, looking at it, going to get a cup of coffee from the copy editor’s desk, and coming back, your vision better now, you could see the flurry of crosses in greater clarity. His eyes drifted, automatically, up to Princeton Place, the cluster of crosses that marked the killings that had taken over his life last fall, that had, in their way, ruined the relationship he’d been building with Dusty, then a bartender at Stoney’s. She was long gone now—he wasn’t even sure if she was in Baltimore or had gone back home to Miami, or Boca, or wherever.He blinked and his eyes refocused on the murder map and he saw something so obvious he’d never really noticed it before. It was a view of comparison and contrast, available only when you splayed it out like this on maps encompassing more than twelve hundred homicides over five years.Though Southwest had only a few dozen homicides each year, the Bend itself showed up as a radiant spot of red crosses—an effect enhanced when you moved some of those crosses from near the park, as the cops had listed them, and into it, where the killings had actually occurred.He counted all the crosses from the past five years that were in or near the Bend, and just to get the visual, moved them into the map of the most current year. He counted, his lips moving slowly to be sure, and stepped back to look at it.Forty-four.Over the past five years, forty-four people had been killed in the Bend, a knoblike park of little more than an acre, and not one had been solved. No mass shooting to skew the body count. It wasn’t a high-rise housing project. No one lived there. It was just open ground. It was where D.C. went to kill and be killed.“Frenchman’s Bend,” he said softly, already seeing it on the front page, above the fold. “The murder capital of the murder capital.”The idea floated across his mind, there in his reverie, that maybe he was wrong and the land itself really was somehow cursed with the history of its past, a settling of accounts that didn’t limit itself to the passing of time. The sins of slavery and degradation and depravity didn’t disappear into the ether, he knew that well enough from back home.Willie Baker had gotten shot one night outside the Club, the juke joint near his hometown of Tula, hard behind the levee. Sully was seven at the time and he remembered it, rightly or wrongly, as his introduction to murderous violence.Both his parents were still alive then. Everybody in Tula spent Friday nights in the fall watching Willie come out of the backfield and run over, through or just plain past the players from other rural schools. Everybody knew he was going somewhere. It was a big deal, not that long after integration, folks from all over the county coming behind the team, them making it to the state semifinals. Willie, tall, lean, always with the laugh—he signed a game program for Sully, walking off the field after their playoff loss in his senior year, steam rising from his body in the early-winter chill. Then he went to the Club and came outside about one in the morning and took a chestful from a 12-gauge and everybody knew Carl Evans and his buddies had done it, because Willie had gotten a scholarship offer from LSU and Carl, who thought he was hot shit, had not. And the sheriff, whom Sully would come to know and hate later, never even interviewed anybody because he knew as well as they did that no jury in their postage stamp of a town was ever going to send a white kid to prison for killing a black one.And Sully, at seven, looking at his program the next day, asking his momma if they could go to the funeral whenever they had it and her blowing out cigarette smoke, saying she didn’t go to nigger funerals because it was a bunch of caterwauling that went on for three hours.It would be easy, Sully thought, to label that sort of hypocrisy and fear and loathing and violence a white southern virus, but the world was much more complicated than that. The dark verities weren’t cultural. They had been around so long that they had become genetic, worming their way into the very blood of the living, the flesh and the DNA of successive generations. They came to the fore over the millennia because the world is Darwinian and hatred and fear and loathing were not left out like a sixth finger or a useless appendage, but were adapted into the core of the species. They spawned from generation to generation to generation because they had proven themselves to be stronger, more resilient, and more vicious than other attributes. You could not kill hatred and fear and loathing. They were hardwired into the neural pathways. They found homes in the webs of the neocortex. In the gene pool of survival, nature selected them and it selected them because they had proven themselves to be an integral survival skill. They had earned the right to survive.“Hey, R.J.?” he called out, half-distracted, his eyes dancing across the map. “I’m thinking we got something here.”FOUR“WILLIAM SANDERS ELLISON,” Parker was saying, “floater man, known to friends and family as Billy. Twenty-one-year-old black male, son of Delores Ellison and the late William G. Sanders.”Sully, in his row house on Capitol Hill, half-undressed, twenty minutes to midnight, crooking the phone between his ear and his shoulder, scribbling it down on the back of the Chinese takeout menu from the place on H Street, the one you’d rather order from than pick up, as the pickup area was walled off with six-inch-thick plexiglass, people had robbed the place so often.“All right, all right, give me a second here. . . . Any more holes in him than the extra one in his head?” he said, sitting up on the couch, careful not to knock over his drink on the coffee table, Alexis sitting up herself now, pulling her unbuttoned blouse back over that racy bra, not happy about him taking the call, smoothing her skirt back down over her fishnets, things just getting interesting when his cell had buzzed. She still had her heels on—he was fine with them staying on, even if he stripped everything else off—and she was looking at the blank television screen, listening to the Van Morrison he’d had on when she had pulled up in a taxi, reaching for her chardonnay now.“Nah,” Parker said. “Just the one. Untouched otherwise, toxicology pending. But, really, the name is more important than the cause.”“It is?”“The Ellisons? This doesn’t register for you?”“Not, ah, at the moment, I’m sort of—”“The Ellisons. D.C. black society, brother. The e-lites, as the missus would say. Quiet, respectable, old money, Jack and Jill, the Links, house on the Gold Coast, summer home on the Vineyard, first black this, first black that. Dad, he married in, he was a young turk in the Carter administration.”“They’re like, what, the Quanders, the Hairstons?”“Bigger. Or, well, richer. By a lot.”“And you still thinking junior was a coke freak, scoring down in the Bend?”There was a pause. “I did not say that.”“You were thinking it, out there on the boat. Come on. That’s how they do it down there. I looked it up. Three homicides this year in Frenchman’s Bend already. All three got dumped in the channel. Floater man was a tourist, he fell off a boat? Somebody would have called 911 when it happened.”Parker sighed. “So you were the white guy who went down there asking questions. Our guys get to the Bend this afternoon, bracing the usual suspects, and they start popping off about some narc.”“They made me for a narc?”“I don’t think they could believe a civilian would have been dumb enough to walk in there like he owned the place.”“Flattered. So, young Billy had a drug problem.”“Possibly. They tell me it happens in the best of families.”“You don’t sound all broke up.”“They’re very wealthy people.”“Isn’t that what this great country is all about?”“Yeah, which is what I’m saying. The Oval Office has already called the chief, right? And our lovely congressional representative called me fifteen minutes ago, which, I conclude, was about seventeen seconds after she found out about it.”“The Oval Office? On a shooting in the Bend? Come on.”“You’d grown up here, you’d know. The family is your local institution. Major Democratic boosters, but not hostile to the party of Lincoln. Fund-raisers, society things. This is Delores’s family we’re talking about. Dad, William, got killed in a car wreck on the Beltway ten, fifteen years back.”“Well, wait. If Dad was Sanders, how come the kid has mom’s last name?”“Talk to them. This town, Ellison is the family name you want. Delores is on the White House social list, regardless of the administration. Dad worked for Shellie Stevens. Delores still does.”Sully paused, tilting his head slightly, thinking maybe he hadn’t heard correctly. “The lobbyist dude, Shellie Stevens, what gets everybody out of trouble?”“Himself.”“Wow.”“Which is what I was telling you—my phone is ringing.”“Any connection?”“How you mean?”“Did the kid, what, Billy, work for Stevens, too?”“No, no. You got it crooked. Dad was a partner in Shellie’s firm, back in the day. Now, Mom is some sort of ‘strategist’ at the firm. That’s what she said in the interview. Told the detective she works for Shellie—he says, ‘In what capacity,’ and she says, ‘I’m a strategist.’”“Oh.”“Like it’s a title.”“You go down to the ME’s for the cut?”“To make sure it didn’t get fucked up, that we’re covering our bases, showing concern, won’t rest till the killer or killers are caught, yeah, sure.”“Who you assigning?”“Jeff Weaver, the lead in 1-D, since it looks like it happened in the Bend. He was down there for the cut, too.”“I don’t know him much,” Sully said.“The ace in Southwest at the moment. Or what we have that passes for an ace. You wouldn’t believe this place.”“How’s the overhaul coming?”

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Murder, D.C.“The test of a crime series is its main character, and Sully is someone we’ll want to read about again and again. . . . When the murder victim in the novel is identified as the young scion of one of the city’s most wealthy and influential African American families, the story expands its themes of race and class, which lend it dimension.”—Lisa Scottoline, The Washington Post“In all respects, Tucker’s second novel improves and impresses. . . . Tucker’s skill in examining racial questions separates this novel from the well-populated pack. . . . Tucker at his best recalls the work of Richard Price. . . . Terrific summer reading. With his second success, Tucker has proven that his series is one to follow.”—The Miami Herald“[An] invigorating series. . . . The traits that will make this (one hopes) a long and strong series are evident in both books: the realistic dialogue, the vivid characters and the portrayal of our nation's capital as a city with many facets other than the one tourists see.”—The Cleveland Plain Dealer“Tucker has an ear for dialogue, which in this book resembles that of TV’s The Wire.”—St. Louis Post-Dispatch“[Tucker] puts forth a darkly comedic vision of race and justice (or lack thereof) over generations of American history. There's no more satisfying sight than a writer who knows exactly what he's doing—and only gets better at what he does.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)“Displaying a fantastic ear for dialog, Tucker delivers a harrowing and compelling story, brimming with authentic street talk and local idioms. His characters are also convincing, true to life, and diverse. While the novel shares similarities with works by George Pelecanos in terms of locale, subject matter, and a flair for replicating everyday speech, Tucker’s voice is very much his own.”—Library Journal“The ghost of Elmore Leonard floats over these pages. . . . A noir treasure.”—Booklist“Spot-on dialogue and a vividly described setting.”—Publishers Weekly“A great story with great characters. But there's an extra magic to Neely Tucker's writing that kept me turning page after page until I read the whole book without coming up for air.”—Camilla Läckberg, international bestselling author of The Hidden ChildPraise for The Ways of the Dead “Setting his tale in the 1990s . . . gives Tucker the chance to show how much newspapers have changed. The 24-hour Internet news cycle hasn’t yet taken root, tomorrow’s front page is still more important than getting the story online immediately and good reporters are dependent on door knocks, land lines and library research rather than e-mail, cellphones and Google. Tucker pulls off a neat, double-twist ending . . . There’s a lot to like in Tucker’s storytelling.” —The Washington Post   “Tucker may be a first-time novelist, but as a career writer, he is well ahead of many of his peers, and this book is worthy of Elmore Leonard’s legacy. . . . With equal ear for newsroom patter and street slang, Tucker has presented an exciting first novel that echoes the best writing of Pete Hamill and George Pelecanos, mixed with bits of The Wire and True Detective.” —The Miami Herald   “Gritty and masterful . . .  A mystery that will leave readers waiting for the next in the series.” —Washingtonian   "An utterly thrilling mystery set in Washington, D.C., in the late 1990s, just before the Internet and the rise of smartphones changed the landscape of print journalism. . . . Meticulously plotted, fast-paced . . . Every character is fully fleshed out and the dialogue is pitch perfect. . . . For mystery and crime fiction lovers, particularly fans of Elmore Leonard, to whom Tucker dedicates his book, this is a must-read." —Associated Press   “A tense and gripping crime novel of race and power, but its true magic lies in the dialogue, which is textured and nuanced in the manner of Elmore Leonard, James Crumley or George Pelecanos. This is a very fine debut indeed, and one that begs for sequel after sequel.” —BookPage   “Tucker, a writer of power and grace, gives great life to the newspaper milieu and he’s just as resourceful in shaping the story of an apparent serial killer in inner city Washington. It’s done up in a plot full of curve balls, shocks and surprises that we readers never see coming.” —The Toronto Star    “Crisp, crafty and sharply observed . . . Rich yet taut description, edgy storytelling, rock-and-rolling dialogue, and a deeply flawed but compelling hero add up to a luminous first novel.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)   “Journalist-novelist Tucker has crafted an addictive, twisty, debut, proving that crimes involving politics and sex can still surprise and thrill us. The slightly detached and cynical air will resonate with George Pelecanos readers and yet there’s a whiff of Elmore Leonard, too.” —Library Journal (starred review)   “With the emphasis on gritty urban life in a city rife with racism and blight, [The Ways of the Dead] evokes the Washington, D.C. of George Pelecanos. This riveting debut novel should spawn a terrific series.” —Booklist (starred review)   “[An] exciting fiction debut . . . The brisk plot is punctuated by an insightful view of journalism and manipulative editors, shady politicians, and apathetic cops, while also showing residents working to create a better neighborhood. Readers will be pleased that Tucker leaves room for a sequel.” —Publishers Weekly   "The Ways of the Dead is a great read. Deep characters, pitch perfect dialogue and a plot with as many curves as the Rock Creek Parkway as it moves through the side of Washington D.C. far away from the Smithsonian. Neely Tucker takes this novel up an even further notch with a story framed around the hot button issues of our time, including race, justice and the media. If this is Tucker's first novel, I can't wait for what's coming next." —Michael Connelly, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Gods of Guilt   “From the powerful opening to the shocking finale, The Ways of the Dead delivers the very best in gritty, hard-edged suspense.  Complex characters, taut dialogue, and a riveting plot all add up to one extremely excellent novel.” —Lisa Gardner, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Fear Nothing    “Tough, exciting, always intelligent, Neely Tucker’s The Ways of the Dead captures the multi-layered corruption and cynicism—and the edge-of-the-ledge danger—of a hard-nosed former war reporter digging out a serial killer in the backstreets of Washington, D.C.” —John Sandford, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Field of Prey   “In a textured, wholly believable Washington, D.C., simultaneously near and far from the corridors of power, Neely Tucker, in his accomplished mystery debut, has created a gripping tale of secrets and lies, malice and mayhem . . . and very dead young women.” —Otto Penzler, Co-editor of The Best American Noir of the Century   "The Ways Of The Dead has everything you'd want from a book noir—enveloping atmosphere, flavorful characters, evocative writing, and a serpentine plot which seems to make the pages turn themselves. Neely Tucker is an impressive new talent." —Richard North Patterson, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Loss of InnocenceFrom the Hardcover edition.