Langston Brown is running out of time and options for clearing his name and escaping death row. Wrongfully convicted of the gruesome Mother's Day Massacre, he prepares to face his death. His final hope for salvation lies with his daughter, Liza, an artist who dreamed of a life of music and song but left the prestigious Juilliard School to pursue a law degree with the intention of clearing her father's name. Just as she nears success, it's announced that Langston will be put to death in thirty days. In a desperate bid to find freedom for her father, Liza enlists the help of Eli Stone, a jazz-club owner she met at the classic Five Points venue, The Roz. Devastated by the tragic loss of his wife, Eli is trying to find solace by reviving the club… while also wrestling with the longing to join her in death. Everyone has a dream that might come true—but as the dark shadows of the past converge, could Langston, Eli, and Liza be facing a danger that could shatter those dreams forever? Inspired by the atmospheric poetry of Langston Hughes and set in the heart of Denver's black community, this gripping crime novel pits three characters in a race against time to thwart a gross miscarriage of justice… with deadly consequences.
Release date: December 7, 2021
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Print pages: 304
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They Can't Take Your Name
Langston sat, but his mind raced. It never stopped.
He hated everything about prison—the guards and the food, the monotony and the boredom. He despised the caged feeling that came from knowing that his future—his very life—was out of his control.
What he hated even more was the price his family paid for his wrongful arrest and conviction. His wife, Elizabeth, aged with each visit. She tried to smile and cheer him up, but he saw how her frown lines had grown deep over the past decade.
Then there was their daughter, Liza. As her father, he yearned to watch her ambitions become her reality, but over the years his despair has only grown as she gave up everything in pursuit of his freedom.
He hated that his freedom had become her life.
Langston clenched his teeth and pounded his bed mat with both fists, their force stopped by the concrete slab beneath.
“Elizabeth, I know I have to forgive … but I can’t.”
Fists still tight.
“That governor and detective, they have done me wrong.”
His fury fueled his fight.
Caged as he was, he had done his best to assist his court-appointed counsel. Langston used to send them a letter each week outlining a new theory, chapter and verse, for an appeal. Each day he rehearsed the facts and reviewed the details of his case, hoping to clear his name. Even today, with all legal options exhausted, he focused on the crime itself.
Langston remembered how he and Elizabeth used to start their days with her reading him the morning paper as they sipped their coffee. The day after the murders was no different, and he remembered their surprise and sadness as they learned about the killings at the bank.
“The chief of police says that it was ‘meticulous.’” Elizabeth had said. She began to read him the Denver Post’s account.
While the bank was officially closed, a half-dozen or so of the bank’s weekend employees were huddled in the vault counting cash when the phone rang at the guard station. It was the direct line from the loading dock, which was not unusual, even for a Sunday morning, given the bank’s location in one of Denver’s premier skyscrapers. Deliveries happened day and night, Mother’s Day included.
Police would later surmise that the guard was overpowered at the loading dock door and forced into a trash room, where he was found, skull crushed and shot. The assailant, in possession of the dead guard’s two-way radio and electronic security pass, took the elevator into the bowels of the building, where he quickly made his way through the maze of underground corridors to the control room containing the building’s security system. He fired one shot into the door’s lock, setting off the alarm. The disguised gunman then disabled the remaining alarms, ejected the security tapes, and placed them in his backpack.
Then, he waited.
Tears welled in Langston’s eyes as he thought how he and Elizabeth had assumed that the tragedy at the bank wouldn’t get any closer to them than sharing sadness with coworkers. They never imagined that it would send him here, to a solitary jail cell, for so long that he would see presidents Reagan and Bush come and go.
“Oh, my God! Langston that could have been you,” Elizabeth had said while reading the article in the Post.
To make ends meet all those years ago, he’d worked as a weekend security guard in the building in addition to his other jobs as a maintenance man and barber. On the day of the robbery and murder, however, he wasn’t at his post, having asked for and received the day off to celebrate Mother’s Day with Elizabeth and Liza.
He remembered Elizabeth’s silent tears as she continued to read.
It was Mack Lang’s first week on the job, so when the alarm sounded, bank employees heard security supervisor Jim Taylor say, “Come with me, Mack. You need to learn how to do this stuff.” Both men were found dead in the hallway outside the control room.
The final remaining guard was discovered in his seat at the guard’s station, victim of another gunshot wound.
In all, the assailant fired fifteen rounds from a 9mm handgun, but no bullet casings were left behind. It is assumed that the shooter took the time to pick up each one as he progressed in the robbery.
“I worked with all of those guys,” Langston remembered saying as Elizabeth paused to wipe her eyes.
“The robber just appeared, we had no warning,” one of the bank employees recounted. “We were counting the money, and the next thing we knew there was a gun pointed in our faces.”
The intruder appeared to be familiar with the bank’s procedures and knew the timing and process for assembling cash from all the branch offices at this central location to be counted and bundled. Bank employees describe the robber as calm while he tossed them two empty duffle bags and ordered them filled with the uncounted cash on the table.
“That was really smart,” said the Assistant Manager, “because that uncounted cash wasn’t yet bundled with the security monitors.”
After locking the bank employees in the vault, the murderer walked out with almost a half-million dollars.
The Denver Post was the first to coin the phrase “Mother’s Day Massacre,” and by Monday evening every news outlet was using the moniker as well. The city was unsettled, police were on edge, and Langston, along with all of those in Five Points, the heart of Denver’s black community, prayed that the perpetrator was not one of their own.
Speculation was that it was an inside job, which is why the police showed up on Langston Brown’s doorstep that Monday afternoon. The detectives took his statement as to his whereabouts over the weekend and left.
Langston remembered the relief they felt a week later when the authorities announced that they had a suspect in custody. A former police officer who had moonlighted off and on at the bank.
“I worked with him too,” Langston remembered telling Elizabeth. “He was ex-military, straitlaced, crew-cut dude, but I never …”
Nine months later, though, the Post’s headline read “ACQUITTED!”
“Langston, can you believe it?” Elizabeth’s disbelief had been palpable.
“Those high-priced pinstripes got him off with their bag of tricks,” Langston had told her.
Langston remembered when he and the guys at the barbershop watched as newly appointed Mayor Stash went on television touting the fairness of the justice system and threw his support behind the exonerated ex-cop. He announced that he was putting Detective Slager, a decorated officer with an uncanny knack for solving crimes, on the case.
It was Slager who zeroed in on Langston, and within a month Slager had him behind bars.
His name, Langston Brown, led every newscast and became synonymous with the hideous event.
He slammed his fist down again as he remembered the most troublesome fact of his case: every witness said that the murderer was white.
kirts of the mashed potatoes.
He sat back and stared across the table through tear-glazed eyes at the empty chair draped with a burnt-orange scarf. It was one of the few things he kept after her death. She was—still is—his world.
“We’re close, baby. Renovations are almost finished, even begun hiring people.” He took a bite of the steak.
“Our dream is coming true. The Roz. Can you believe it, baby? We open next week!”
After finishing his glass with ease, Eli picked up the bottle of wine and took a long draw. “Our dream,” his voice quivered, “it’s almost …”
“Antoinette … I … I’m trying, I know what I promised, but I’m not doin’ good, baby.”
Eli’s appetite had vanished. He stored the leftovers in the refrigerator and switched off the radio.
“Good night, my love.”
Blowing out the candle, he made his way to the center of the room, where he squatted down and grabbed a hidden latch in the floor and pulled open a portal to his world below. Descending the makeshift ladder, Eli recited his mantra, “Mind. Body. Spirit.”
After locking the hatch, Eli surveyed the dimly lit room, a library of sorts, with overflowing bookshelves of all sizes forming three narrow aisles, making the most of the space. On his left was a homemade, out-of-code restroom; a heavy bag hung to his right.
Eli exhaled as if to relieve a buildup of pressure.
When Eli purchased The Roz with its adjoining storage room in the back, he was just looking for a place to lie low and lay his head at night. Discovering the hollowed-out underground hiding place left over from Prohibition days was a bonus when it came to his need to lie even lower.
Three pre-cued vinyl discs sat on a record player in the corner. Eli clicked the knob, and Kind of Blue dropped. As the needle settled in the groove, he remembered how he read that Miles Davis used to play with his back to the audience—a silent but unmistakable protest against the status quo of segregation.
Eli turned his attention toward his books and, reaching above his head, grabbed the top corner of one of the bookshelves. With one giant pull, he dumped the contents on the ground. After the heap settled at his feet, Eli put the shelf back in its place. He reached down into the literary mess and picked up a book with a tan cover with black lettering.
He grasped the hardback with both hands and read the words on the cover out loud, “Black Skin, White Masks. Frantz Fanon.”
He stared at the cover as if he were looking through it and reading the words on the pages beneath.
Eli quoted from memory, “‘I am black, not because of a curse, but because my skin has been able to capture all the cosmic effluvia. I am truly a drop of sun under the earth.’”
Eli returned the book to its place, and—with Miles keeping him company—he continued reviewing titles in his collection, “The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson … The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. DuBois …”
As Miles faded, Eli placed the last book on the bottom shelf. The needle hit the label sticker, triggering the arm to lift and float to the edge. The next album drop
The next morning, Eli woke with a jolt.
Immediately and out loud he assured himself, “… just a dream … just a dream.”
He’d built this underground space with the hopes that the nightmares would stop.
They had not.
Eli forced himself to think of all that he had to accomplish before opening day—hang up the liquor license, meet with the city inspector, run by the hardware store, fix the scratches in the hardwood floors caused by the day laborers he’d hired to assemble and set up the seventeen tables—and his fear dissipated.
“C’mon … get up. Get movin’.”
Up the ladder, after a cup of coffee, Eli closed the hatch, locking away his underground world. “All right, Netty, I’ll see you tonight.” Antoinette never liked it when he called her that so she’d retaliate by calling him “Little Li Li.” That usually stopped him for a while.
Antoinette was older than Eli by four years. They met during her college internship at his high school, where he used to follow her at a distance, hoping to orchestrate chance encounters in the hallways of Manual High School. Her grace and poise both intrigued and intimidated him. She, on the other hand, didn’t know that he existed. When her internship ended, so did the relationship he’d conjured in his head.
Eli never forgot Antoinette, and three years later when their paths crossed at a mutual friend’s party, he was determined not to let her get away again. Eli asked her out on the spot. Years later she told him why she agreed to go on a date, saying, “There’s a sense of inner stability that comes to a man when he begins to realize that he is, in fact, a man.” When Eli let on that he didn’t quite follow, she simply said, “You weren’t that snot-nosed kid anymore!”
He’d always known she was the one, and—after dating for only a few months—he bought a ring. At her funeral, he told the packed church about how on the day he proposed, Antoinette shouted, “Yes!” when he sank to one knee because she didn’t feel the need to hear his prepared preamble before agreeing to a lifetime together. “Matrimony was made for us and us for each other,” he said at the conclusion of her eulogy.
Eli mostly missed the mundane tasks of marriage. For him, grocery shopping, washing dishes, and budget meetings were just good reasons for him to spend time with Antoinette.
Children were in the plans, but an early miscarriage had their hearts running. Eli chased the dream of a big-time score in the boxing ring while handling baggage at Stapleton Airport, and Antoinette focused her pain on rescuing other people’s children as a social worker. When their hearts healed, Antoinette’s sickness arrived.
Though three years had passed, ...
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