A bold, brilliant tale of mystery, revenge, and survival in the 1980s, when cocaine and money ruled the city streets and even the good guys wanted a piece of the action
It’s March madness and the college boys are playing basketball on television. But on the streets of DC, the homeboys are dealing, dissing, and dying. From behind plate glass, with a 1980s backbeat pounding in his brain, Marcus Clay watches it all happen, and prays that he can make a go with his downtown record store. Then a car comes careening down U Street, and what Marcus sees next will plunge him into the middle of a war.
A drug runner is decapitated in the crash. A bystander—a white boy desperate to buy a woman’s love—snatches a bag of cash from the wreck, and a prince of crime wants it back. For Marcus’ buddy, Dimitri Karras, the mayhem is a chance to make a score. For a pair of dirty cops, it’s a chance to get free. And for dozens of lives swept up into the maelstrom, it’s just springtime in America’s capital, where the game is played for keeps.
Release date: August 3, 1998
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Print pages: 304
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The Sweet Forever
a man in his position couldn’t do. He’d gotten some just that morning—a high-assed young thing by the name of Rowanda—and
the feeling had stuck with him right into this bright, biting afternoon.
Tutt made a left onto U Street, eye-swept the beat that he knew he owned.
The Power. It was a cop thing, but not an across-the-board cop thing. The desk jockeys never had it. The homicide dicks were
too tortured to have it. A few of the boys in Prostitution and Perversions had it, but only some of the time. The beat cops,
the ones who really knew how to walk it, had it all the time.
Tutt dug the free-fall feeling that came with the Power. He even looked forward to the looks he got—the looks of fear and
hatred and, yeah, the looks of respect—when he stepped out of his cruiser. He’d been a cop for five years, always in blue,
and always out on the street. You could keep your promotions and gold shields. Tutt liked the fit of the uniform. He knew
he’d never wear anything else.
Tutt turned to his partner, Kevin Murphy, who was staring through the windshield, one thumb stroking his black mustache. Murphy’s
head throbbed with a dull ache; he hoped for a quiet day. He’d fallen asleep on the couch with a beer in his hand the night
before, trying to make out the blurred images on the screen of his new television set. Murphy’s nights had been ending this
way for some time.
“Let me ask you something, Murphy.”
Murphy exhaled slowly. “Go ahead.”
“Got a man-woman kinda question for you.”
“Had me a little brown sugar action this morning, on the way in to work?”
Tutt, bragging double, not just letting Murphy know he had gotten some pussy, letting him know it had been some good black pussy in the bargain.
Tutt smiled. “Yeah. Lady took a long ride on that white pony.”
Murphy thinking, Yeah, ’cause you promised some poor sucker’s girlfriend that you wouldn’t bust her old man if she gave a
“Have a good time?” said Murphy.
“Good for you, man. So what was that question?”
“Right. So I’m playin’ with her privates, see, got my finger right on the trigger.”
“I haven’t put it in her yet, but even without that, her elevator’s gettin’ ready to shoot right up to the penthouse suite,
you know what I mean? Just about then, the bitch looks up at me and goes, in this real whiny voice, ‘Pleeeease?’ ”
“My question is, what was she askin’ for? I mean, please what? Please do? Please don’t? Please have a bigger dick? I was wonderin’
if this was something, you know, the sisters say all the time, something I just don’t know about.”
“I wouldn’t know, Tutt. I only been with one sister for the last ten years. Had some sisters before I was married, understand, but not every single sister. So I can’t speak for all of them. And I sure couldn’t tell you what this particular sister was lookin’ for when she
asked you the question.”
“I’m bettin’ she was begging for it. Had to be ‘Please do.’ ”
“Think so, huh?”
Tutt drove the blue-and-white east on U. Black Washington’s once grand street was ragged, near defeated by crime and indifference
and Metro’s Green Line construction, which had blighted the area for years. They passed the Republic theater, dark now, where Kevin Murphy had seen classics like J.D.’s Revenge and King Suckerman and a bad-ass prison picture called Short Eyes back in ’77. Flyers touting the mayor’s upcoming reelection effort were stapled to telephone poles, his increasingly bloated
image distorted in a haze of dust kicked up by jackhammers and trucks. Murphy’s eyes followed a young dealer stepping out
of a drug car parked at the curb.
“Don’t get this wrong, partner…”
Don’t get this wrong, huh? Here we go.
“… but all I kept thinking of when I was hammering this black chick is that y’all, what I mean is you brothers, y’all fuck
in a furious fuckin’ way, you know what I mean?”
“That so. How’d you arrive at that conclusion?”
“Well, okay, here’s what got me started. I was watchin’ this porno flick the other night. My brother-in-law, the art director, brought it over. All-black cast; the star of the flick was hung like a donkey, you know what I’m sayin’? Anyway,
this brother in the movie, he was just wailing on this punch, up on one arm, doing some high-ass, violent-ass thrusts.”
“Man was goin’ at it.”
“Like I’ve never seen. And the way this girl was screaming, now, I shouldn’t have been surprised. I mean, I’ve been with some black women, man. So you know that I’ve heard some screams.”
“Oh, I know.”
“But watchin’ that porno tape, it made me think of that old expression.”
“What expression’s that?”
“ ‘I thought I’d fucked a nigger’ ”—Tutt grinned—“ ‘till I saw a nigger fuck a nigger.’ ” Tutt air-elbowed Murphy, cackled in that high-pitched way of his. “You ever hear that?”
Murphy stared at the Twenty-third Psalm card he had taped to the dash. He made his lips turn up into a smile. “Nah, King,
I never did.”
Tutt breathed out in relief. Murphy calling him “King”—Tutt’s nickname from the Twinbrook neighborhood, where he’d come up—meant
everything between them was okay. Course, Tutt knew it would be okay. Civilians didn’t understand about the shell cops had, the things that could be said between partners. You could use
any goddamn words you wanted to use in fun, because those were just words, and there was only one real thing that mattered,
one serious task at hand, and that was to watch your partner’s back out in the world and know that he would do the same. Sensitivity
was for the high-forehead crowd, the ones standing comfortably behind that last line of defense, skinny-armed liberals and
ACL-Jews. Men knew that words were just words and only action counted—period.
“Hey, Murphy. I was just shittin’ around. Hey, you all right?”
“I was thinking on somethin’,” said Murphy. “That’s all.”
I was thinking of my wife… my mother, and my brother, and my father. Niggers, all of them. I was thinkin’ on how I betray
them every day, listening to those filthy words coming out of your fat redneck mouth, doin’ nothing, saying nothing to shut
“Hey, Murph. No offense, right?”
“Nah, Tutt,” said Kevin Murphy. “None taken.”
Murphy noticed the kid wearing the Raiders jacket, maybe ten or eleven, standing outside of Medger’s Liquors at 12th and U.
He had seen the kid the last year or so, hanging on that corner, often during school hours. No one had the time to bother
much with truants anymore, but Murphy wondered what the kid was up to, if he was a runner or a baby foot soldier or just checking
out the hustler’s map, prepping himself for a lifetime of nothing.
“There’s your boy,” said Tutt. “Same as always. One of these days we ought to stop, see what his story is.”
“I expect we’ll be crossing paths someday. When he grows up some.”
“Yeah, they all grow up, don’t they? Grow up and fuck up.”
Across the street, past immobile construction equipment, near the bank on the 11th Street corner of U, flags and balloons
announced the grand opening of a new store named Real Right Records. Below the identifying sign, in smaller letters: “African
American Owned and Operated,” and “Your In-Town Music Connection.”
Tutt said, “You believe some fool, opening up a business down here? You got your criminal element and, on top of it, all this
construction. How stupid could the man be?”
“Man’s name is Marcus Clay.”
“You know him?”
“Heard of him. Played ball for Cardoza back in the sixties. I saw him go off in this Interhigh match when I was, like, twelve
years old. Got a few years on me, but they still talked about him a little when I was comin’ up. They say he could sky like
Connie from the key.”
“Hawkins. Clay’s got another store over at Dupont Circle, and in Georgetown. Got one in Northern Virginia, too, I think. Tryin’
to bring somethin’ into the community here, I guess.”
“Yeah, I see what he’s tryin’ to do. Question is, what the fuck for?”
Tutt turned south on nth. They passed a black Z parked on the left. Tutt slowed down, checked out the driver and passenger,
cruised past and went along the strip of two-story residential row houses.
“Rogers and Monroe,” said Tutt, and Murphy said nothing.
Down by T Street, Tutt pulled the cruiser over to the curb and cut the engine. Tutt liked to park here and watch the neighborhood.
This was his quiet time, an opportunity to engage in what he called his “street surveillance.” Tutt still imagined himself
to be a good cop. Murphy had no such illusions but was grateful for these rare moments of silence.
Murphy wished he were home, kicking back on his sofa, watching the game. The first two rounds of the tournament were the best,
maybe the four best days in all of sports. Maryland would be finishing up with Pepper-dine now, and it gnawed at him that
he had no idea how Len Bias and the Terps had done. Like most D.C. natives, Murphy was a Georgetown fan, had managed to see
the Hoyas edge Texas Tech the night before. Georgetown still had some good players—Williams and Jackson and Broadnax, too—but
it hadn’t been the same since Patrick had shipped off to New York. Murphy’s heart had gone on over to Maryland this year because
of Bias alone; there was beauty in the way that young man played.
“Check it out,” said Tutt.
Murphy scoped T. His eyes lit on a boy, eleven, maybe twelve, wearing a neon green knit cap and palming something over to
another boy, bone skinny, at the head of an alley.
“You recognize them?”
Murphy shook his head. Far as he knew, they weren’t part of Tyrell’s crew.
“Stay here,” said Tutt, patting the grip of his service revolver.
“Want me to radio it in?”
“Uh-uh. I got it wired.”
Tutt was out of the car and across the street just as fast, one hand on his night stick, keeping it steady at his side as
he made it behind a tree and then another, getting closer to the alley. Murphy studied Tutt: careful, but fearless as a mothafucker,
too, the kind of partner most cops wanted. That is, if you could get past everything else.
Murphy heard a dull explosion somewhere behind him. He gazed idly in the rearview, saw nothing.
Tutt came up on the two boys, shouted out his warning, took off after the one in the green cap as the other hightailed it
west on T. Tutt hit it: chest out, running hard while carrying twenty-five pounds of pack set and gun and assorted cop hardware,
blowing and going, almost on top of the kid. Then he was gone into the narrow alley. Murphy did not consider chasing the skinny
In the rearview, Murphy saw smoke rise over a row house roof, back off of U. Several sirens called out from different directions.
Murphy adjusted the radio’s frequency and listened for the report. He keyed the microphone and informed the dispatcher that
Tutt emerged from the alley a couple of minutes later, John Wayning it across the street. He got into the driver’s side, his
face pink, his eyes stoked and wide. Murphy noticed the red seeping into the skinned palm of Tutt’s right hand.
“Who was he?” said Murphy.
“Nobody we know. Some kid, young kid, way out of his territory. I was almost on him, but Tyrell’s boys got these old tires and shit spread out all over the
alley. Slowed me down.”
“That’s what they’re there for.”
“I know. You should have seen the look on his face when I told him to stop, Murph…. Ah, Christ. Stupid. I tripped back there,
took some skin off on the concrete.” Tutt shook the pain out of his hand. “What’s all the noise?”
“Just came over the radio. Some kind of accident in front of that new record store. Got a car in flames right in the middle
of U. Told them we’d get on it.”
“The Third District,” said Tutt happily, ignitioning the squad car. “Always somethin’ goin’ on down here.”
“Why you love it, man.”
“You got that right, partner.”
Tutt spun the wheel, one-eightied the cruiser, and punched the gas coming out of the fishtail. Murphy flipped on the overheads
and grabbed the door’s armrest. Tutt high-cackled as the cruiser left rubber on the street.
Donna Morgan didn’t get downtown much anymore. Her job was in Wheaton and so were the bars where she hung out with many of
her friends. But she liked being downtown. In the District the young people talked about music and ideas and took chances
on what they wore and how they cut their hair. Donna could remember wanting to live downtown, be a part of it herself. But
she was cruising up on thirty now, and figured that her time had passed.
These days Donna Morgan only came downtown every other month or so to go to a club or see a concert. When her regular dealer
ran dry, she also came downtown to cop a little blow.
Eddie Golden, Donna’s boyfriend and date for the Echo and the Bunnymen concert that night, hated to come downtown. Donna had
seen Eddie lock his door as soon as they hit the District line on Georgia Avenue. Eddie told Donna to do the same, as he feared
that car-jacking thing he had heard so much about, and Donna locked her door to make him happy, though she doubted anyone
would want to steal Eddie’s drab four-cylinder Plymouth Reliant. The car had one of those magnetic signs on the passenger
door, “Appliance Installers Unlimited” spelled out in red letters, even gave the phone number and address, as if anyone cared.
No, nobody would want to steal this boring rag, not even on a lazy bet.
Eddie turned down Missouri, cut south on 13th Street.
“This looks a little better,” said Eddie. “More residential.”
“I won’t let anything happen to you, Eddie. Besides, we’re not exactly riding in the inner-city sports car of choice. Maybe
if someone’s looking to heist some dishwasher hoses…”
“Go ahead and make fun. Just remember, we’re playin’ an away game here.” Eddie pushed in on the dash lighter, pulled a Marlboro
red from the sun visor where he kept his pack, stuck the filter between his thin lips. “Who’s opening for Echo, man?”
Eddie lit his smoke. “Oh, yeah, you played me one of their records, right? It was kind of trippy.”
Trippy. Eddie Golden could deal with that. Eddie used to love to smoke a little green, lay back and listen to Meddle or some other old Floyd, huff cigarettes, drink some ice-cold beers, maybe pull one off if he was alone. His dust days were
over, though; he’d lost too many amigos to that stuff, K-heads who had dropped their bikes doing eighty or taken on the wrong
guys in bars or sometimes everyone in the bar behind that crazy shit. So Eddie had made his way over to cocaine. He liked
cocaine better because it made him more alert and also less shy. There was that other good thing, too: When he did high-grade
C with Donna the two of them could go half the night.
“Eddie, shit, can’t we listen to something a little more, you know, hip?”
Donna reached over, flipped the radio off DC-101, where they were playing the new one by the Outfield.
“Sure, babe, anything you want.”
Donna went right past the broadcasting of a basketball game that neither of them cared anything about, got the dial over to
HFS, caught the Weasel doing his Frantic Friday thing, Lene Lovich singing about her new toy and then right into the Slickee
Boys doing “When I Go to the Beach.”
“Sure, Donna, this ain’t bad.”
The truth was, Eddie hated that new-wave shit they played on WHFS, but Donna dug it, and if it made Donna happy, he could
stand it for a little while. Eddie liked the newer groups that rocked, Mike and the Mechanics, Mr. Mister, INXS, like that.
Donna seemed to be into any group that had fucked up–looking hair.
“Where we goin’?” said Eddie.
“Take this all the way down to U Street, hang a left. My friend works in a record store down around Eleventh.”
“This guy white?”
“Greek guy. Works for his best friend. A black guy, Eddie. He owns the place. Four places now. Real Right Records.”
“Greek, huh? How well you know him?”
“I know him, Eddie. He’s a friend, he’s doing us a favor, and he’s cool.”
And we used to have a thing. But you can’t handle hearing it, Eddie, so—
“He’s gonna hook us up?”
“Got a nice, fat gram put aside for us.”
“Sounds good to me. What’s this dude’s name?”
“Careless?” Eddie laughed, dragged on his cigarette.
Careless. Eddie, if you only knew.
They were at the top of a steep hill, looking at the downtown skyline and the monuments below, and then over the crest, and
the Reliant went down 13th between Cardoza High on the left and the ruin of the subsidized Clifton Terrace apartment complex
on the right. Some black kids walked slowly across the street, made Eddie brake, gave him hard looks through the windshield
as they passed. Eddie met their eyes for only a second, then looked away.
Donna looked across the bench at Nervous Eddie as he made the turn and took them east on U. Despite the cold March wind, Eddie
had his Sonny Crockett thing going on today: a pastel sleeveless T-shirt under a light rayon sport coat—sleeves pushed back
on the forearms—and a two-day growth of beard on his hollow cheeks. The look was cool out in the suburbs, but down here he
looked like just another guy who picked his attitude up off TV.
Donna had affection for Eddie. On the downside, he was a follower and without ambition, and the guys he partied with were
stupid and cruel, but Eddie himself was kind, and he had yet to screw her over in that thoughtless way she had come to expect
from men. He was younger than she was by a few years, too, and still eager to please in bed.
Yeah, she had affection for Eddie. Affection, not love. The difference was significant. She never stared at Eddie and imagined
what he’d look like with gray hair. Never pictured him at the head of anyone’s dinner table. Course, they did have a couple of things in common.
Both of them liked to party, for one. And they shared a cockeyed dream of moving to Florida someday, having a modest house
with their own swimming pool in the backyard. But this wasn’t much to base a future on, Donna knew.
If you asked her what she was looking for, she’d give you the simple response: Love was what she was looking for, to love
and to be loved back. And if she was being honest that day, she might have added something else: A guy with money in the bank
and the looks to make her wet.
At Donna’s instruction, Eddie pulled over near the corner of 11th. You’d barely notice the record store if you weren’t looking
for it, what with all the construction equipment, bulldozers and such, parked in the middle of the street. Eddie guessed that
was why the owner had strung up plastic flags and that big “Open” sign, on account of the store was so hard to see. Dividing
the east- and westbound lanes, a platform truck up on leg cranks held a small load of steel I beams on its flat, open bed.
“You want me to walk you in?” said Eddie.
Donna smiled, patted Eddie’s cheek like he was some kind of kid or something. What, didn’t she think he could protect her
if anything went down?
“I’ll be okay,” said Donna. “Be out in about ten.”
“Okay, babe. I’m watchin’ you.”
That’s what he did. Watched her cross the street with that bouncy walk of hers, her ass doing the alternating piston thing
inside her skirt, Eddie thinking, God, she’s some kind of woman. Man would be a fool to let that shit get away.
Donna was only inside the record store for a minute or so when Eddie noticed the kid in the Oakland Raiders coat walking by
his car. The kid had his hands deep in the pockets of the oversized coat and he was smiling at Eddie, checking out the car,
smiling back at Eddie in a way that was neither friendly nor threatening but somehow knowing. Eddie figured, smile back, and
he did it with a nod, but now the kid had passed. Eddie checked the kid out in the passenger sideview, watched him go and
stand on the corner in front of the liquor store, where a couple of older black guys were laughing over something a third
one had said.
Eddie looked ahead to the next corner. A young black guy had gotten out of a late model black 300Z and was leaning against
the door, his arms folded, just looking around. He caught Eddie’s eye for a moment—maybe Eddie imagined it; he couldn’t be
sure—and glanced away.
Eddie fumbled in the visor for another smoke.
Black guys. Why’d they always look at Eddie Golden like they wanted to fuck him up?
Eddie had nothing against black people; it was just that, growing up where he did, out Layhill Road near Bel Pre, he never
had the opportunity to get to know any. The guys Eddie drank with, at Gentleman Jim’s in Twin-brook, the Stained Glass in
Glenmont, and Hunter’s in Wheaton, those guys didn’t care much for the brothers. Because they were his friends, he listened to their nigger jokes and, sure, he laughed
along, but it wasn’t like he had a racist bone in his body himself. The thing was, why rock the boat with his buddies for
a bunch of black guys he didn’t know and who always seemed like they’d just as soon cut his throat as look at him anyway?
What would be the point of that?
Through the windshield, Eddie watched the black guy get in his Z and drive off.
Eddie looked in the rearview mirror at the unlit cigarette dangling from his mouth. He dug the way that looked. He turned
his head a little, ran his fingers through his straight, thin hair where it had receded back off the top of his forehead.
In the rearview he saw a car approaching from two blocks back, coming on at a high rate of speed.
Eddie checked himself out. He knew he wasn’t a bad-looking guy. Miss Donna M. could be doing a whole lot worse. The comments
she made, about his car and his dishwasher installer’s job and his low-rent friends, they bothered him a little, like someone
was always pinching his shoulder from behind. It was true that careerwise, Eddie hadn’t lit up the town as of yet, but he
was a young man, just a hair off of twenty-seven, and he had time. He could score somehow—no immediate prospects, but you
never knew—and then Donna would quit cracking on him so much and look at him in a different way. Not that she wasn’t a slave
to the bone to begin with. But with a little money and success added to the bargain, she’d come all the way over to his side.
Eddie heard a sound like a plane was coming down. He turned his head suddenly, saw that the car that had been coming so fast before was almost on top of him now, up on two wheels, narrowly
missing a frantic woman running across the street with her child. The car was right behind him. It was a boxy GM, a Monte
Carlo or the hopped-up version of the Cutlass, Eddie could no longer tell any of them apart. All four wheels were off the
ground, and the car was in the air.
“Fuck!” screamed Eddie, dropping to the bench seat, covering his eyes with his hands.
An explosion filled his ears, and he felt his own car move a couple of feet as if it had been windblown, the tires abutting
Eddie sat up. He took the crushed cigarette from his lips, tossed it aside.
Eddie stood in the street. He had stepped out of the Plymouth without knowing that he had. He was thinking, I’m no hero, as
he walked toward the car that had crashed. It got hotter as he approached because the interior of the car was on fire. The
car had flown right into the platform truck parked in the middle of the street. An I beam overhanging the back of the flatbed
had gone through the car’s windshield and out the rear window, and now the car hung suspended, smoke and licks of flame coming
from the openings made by the beam.
A green rectangular piece of paper blew out of the open windshield and was lifted in the air. It was a coupon of some kind,
or one of those things they throw out of skyscrapers at New York parades—no, it was money.
Eddie heard people yelling. Black men’s voices, the winos, maybe, from outside the liquor store. He saw a tall black guy,
broad of shoulder and chest, come from the front door of the record store, walk slowly toward the center of the street.
Eddie pulled back his hand. He had burned it on the handle of the back door of the burning GM. He must have opened the door,
because the door was open, and there was a pillowcase spread out on the floor in back. Money spilled out of its open top.
Medium denominations, not hundreds and not ones. A black head, its nose flattened, its mouth a stew of bloody, mashed teeth
and gums, lay on the backseat. The I beam rested where the head had been, on the smoking shoulders of the torso behind the
The pillowcase looked damn near full. Eddie’s face stung from the heat. His hair seemed to rise momentarily off his head.
He was stumble-walking back toward his car, swallowing the bile that had risen in his throat, letting go of the pillowcase gripped tightly in his
hand and allowing it to fall to. . .
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