- Published: 30 March 2021
- ISBN: 9781529125382
- Imprint: Century
- Format: Trade Paperback
- Pages: 416
- RRP: $32.99
The Red Book
A Black Book Thriller
LIGHTS, CAMERA, action.
This could mean everything to Latham. It could be his ticket out.
But it could ruin him, too. It could land him in prison.
Or worse. It’s the “worse” that jars him awake in the middle of the night, heart pounding, bedsheets soaked in sweat.
If Shiv ever found out. Shiv wasn’t the forgiving sort. Shiv didn’t have a sense of humor.
Just ask Joker Jay, who one day last summer made the mistake of joking around a little too much with Shiv’s woman. They found Jay in a pool of blood by the field house in Clark Park. Shiv had decided to take Jay’s nickname literally and slice open both sides of his mouth.
Jay doesn’t joke around much anymore.
And that’s just for messing with Shiv’s girl. Messing with Shiv’s business?
If anyone figures out what Latham’s doing, he’s a dead man. Shiv will make an example of him, beat him, torture him, leave his bloody corpse for all to see. This is what happens when you mess with Shiv. This is what happens when you mess with the business of the K-Street Hustlers.
Lights: easy enough, the sunlight of late afternoon pouring through Latham’s bedroom window, up on the fourth floor of the apartment building.
Camera: a small one, hidden inside the AC unit perched halfway out his window, overlooking the street to the south.
Action: a silver BMW sedan slows at the intersection down the street, then turns left, driving north on Kilbourn toward Latham’s position.
A Beemer, Latham thinks. Promising.
Using the toggle, Latham zooms in on the license plate, then widens the view and captures the intersection’s street signs, Kilbourn and Van Buren.
Then he returns the focus to the street, where the BMW crawls along Kilbourn before pulling over to the curb on its left, exactly where Latham knew it would stop, just past the alley, by a brick two-flat, only four doors down and across the street from Latham’s apartment and his hidden camera.
A young African American in an oversize Bears jersey and tattered jeans — that’s Frisk — strolls by, does a once-over of the idled sedan, then looks up at some people sitting on the porch of the brick walk-up. Latham doesn’t bother moving the camera. He knows what’s going on. Frisk is looking for the green light from Shiv, sitting on the front porch.
Shiv must have given it, because Frisk ambles over to the sedan and leans against the driver’s door. The window rolls down. Latham toggles the camera down and focuses in. The driver is a white man, probably midthirties, dressed in a suit and tie. He talks to Frisk for a minute, then hands him some cash, folded over once. Frisk palms the money like an expert, still leaning in close, then gestures down the street, to the spot where the driver will score the drugs he wants. Heroin, presumably; it’s cheaper in the city than it is in the suburbs.
The car moves on. Latham stops the camera, downloads the short video onto his laptop.
Picks up his cell and calls his cousin Renfro, in his third year at the DMV since graduating from Farragut. Reads him the license plate.
“Registered to a Richard Dempsey,” says Fro. “From River Forest. That’s cash, my brother. And a BMW?”
Latham agrees: it could be a real payday. Guy like that, dressed like a professional, in a fancy ride from a fancy suburb, probably a doctor or lawyer or financial guy. A guy who’d have a hard time explaining that video to his bosses or his wife.
He’ll check out this Richard Dempsey. Will go online, look at his house, find out his occupation, search him up on social media. You can’t get too greedy. Gotta be something they can afford.
But yeah, Latham’s seeing dollar signs. Ten thousand? A guy like that, to protect his dirty little secret? He might pay that.
Shit, ten thousand dollars — that’s more than halfway to the tuition for film school. More than Latham could make in six months at Best Buy.
“Peace.” Latham punches out the phone. Thinks about the money.
Thinks about film school.
I’d like to thank the Academy, he’ll say one day, clutching his Best Director Oscar, and I’d especially like to thank the men and women who made this all possible by traveling the Heroin Highway.
TODAY’S THE day. The roiling in my stomach is supposed to signal excitement, not dread.
I open my eyes to the water damage on my ceiling, the paint splintering and soggy, which should be a metaphor, though I can’t make it work. I can’t make much of anything work. My head is banging like a gong; my tongue feels like shag carpeting; my stomach has erupted into civil war. I warned myself when that third bourbon slid across the bar last night. By the sixth, I was pretty confident the morning would be a challenge.
You’re avoiding, my shrink would say, the shrink the department made me see during my “vacation” from the force — paid administrative leave while the department shook out from the scandal, indictments, calls for reform, reassignments. I was the hero and the villain in the story, depending on your point of view, though most of my comrades on the force put me in the latter category. They couldn’t fire me after my one-man wrecking ball to the police department that made Sherman’s march through Atlanta look like a sightseeing tour. I’m the face of reform now!
“More like the face of death,” I mumble, getting a load of myself in the bathroom mirror. Hair standing on end, dark circles, pale complexion. I have . . . what, twenty minutes to look presentable? But how presentable do I have to be, sitting behind some desk or assigned to traffic duty? Who knows what the superintendent’s going to do with me? I’ll be about as welcome in his office as an IRS audit.
“You don’t have to go back,” I say to my reflection. “But what else are you gonna do? Work private security? Roam the earth as a shepherd?”
I’m not sure which side won that debate, but twenty minutes later, I’m driving to headquarters, at 35th and Michigan, still considering that shepherd thing. Does it have to involve sheep?
Police headquarters is a long low-rise building that looks like a high school. Not a bad analogy, because this mandatory meeting feels like being sent to the principal’s office, though far less pleasant. I’d rather be visiting my proctologist, and he has a criminal record.
Most people don’t notice me as I walk the halls in my sport jacket and blue jeans, shield on, just another cop, not one who opened the wrong closet door and found a bunch of department skeletons inside. Not one who got a bullet to the head and a murder indictment for his trouble. And my biggest crime? That I overcame all of it. I was supposed to go away, surrender, but instead I fought back and won — if returning to a job where you’re persona non grata counts as a victory. Good thing I’m not bitter.
“Detective Billy Harney for the superintendent,” I say to the receptionist when I enter the vaunted anteroom of the Chicago top cop’s office. He might also be Chicago’s top asswipe, though a lot of people are competing for that prize.
I glance at the clock to make sure I’m not late. I’m late by two minutes. Aces.
“You’re late,” says the supe before I’ve even entered the room. He’s alone behind his desk. Makes sense. No eyewitnesses.
I think you can be a shepherd without sheep. You just wear flowing robes and say something deep once in a while. Fear not what you do not know but that which you do not endeavor to know. That’s not half bad, and I just pulled that out of my keister.
“Have a seat, Detective.” Superintendent Tristan Driscoll, though the top cop in full dress this morning, isn’t a cop in any real sense of the word. He’s a politician. He somehow managed to survive the destruction I caused, which also took down the person who appointed him, the mayor of Chicago. Not to mention the top prosecutor in town, the Cook County state’s attorney. It was a big wrecking ball.
But Tristan, who must have had sadistic parents for giving him that name, managed to stay in the graces of the new mayor and avoid the chopping block himself. And all while Chicago is making a name for itself as the murder capital of the free world — Beirut-by-the-Lake. His knees must be sore. The walls surrounding us are lined with framed photographs of him standing next to people whose asses he’s kissed.
“We can forgo the pleasantries,” he says to me.
“That’s a relief,” I say. “I couldn’t think of any.”
His mouth zips into a tight smile. “Always that mouth, Harney.” He looks down at a file on his desk. “Your psych evaluation says you’re ready to return to the force.”
“I was always ready. I wasn’t put on leave because I couldn’t work. I was put on leave while you figured out if you could fire me. Then you realized you couldn’t, because it would look like retaliation against the reformer. The media would have you for lunch.”
Never hesitate to say that which is true over that which is comfortable but false. Shit, I’m really getting the hang of this. Where do I buy flowing robes?
Driscoll grins and leans back, rocking in his high-backed leather chair. “I own you, Harney. I can put you on traffic duty. I can make you Officer Friendly, wanding high school students and patrolling crosswalks.” He shrugs. “All I have to do to make that happen is to say you’ve been damaged psychologically. Forget about the union filing a grievance. Nobody’s taking your side. Nobody would challenge me. As long as I don’t fire you — so the media doesn’t ‘have me for lunch.’” He uses air quotes, playing my words back to me. “I can make your life a nightmare. And I will.”
My hands ball into fists, blood rushing to my head. My head was already hurting; now it feels like it’s going to burst.
“So whaddya say, Harney? You retire, you get a full line-of-duty pension, and I don’t have to deal with your fucking bullshit for one . . . more . . . day.”
He actually maintains his smile throughout.
The part that really stings — he’s not far off. Do I really want back in? With a shitty assignment and nobody wanting to work with me? The line-of-duty pension isn’t half bad, and I’m still in my midthirties — I could think of something. A fresh start.
But maybe it took this moment, this opportunity to walk away with a clean bill of health and some money in my pocket, to realize it: I still want to be a cop. If I did something wrong to deserve getting the ax, I’d own up to it. But I didn’t. I did my job. Why should I leave?
And those flowing robes? They’d be a bitch to keep clean, I bet.
“No deal,” I say. “Put me where you’re gonna put me.”
Driscoll loses that smarmy smile. He Frisbees a file across his desk. I catch it in my lap and open it. I read it. I read it again.
Then I say, “You’ve gotta be freakin’ kidding me.”
I WASN’T PRESENT at the courthouse in Erva, Alabama, on that morning in June, when events unfolded that would suck me into the undertow of Douglas County.
The forest had a particular scent to it, a dewy moistness off the Columbia River mixed with Douglas fir, ponderosa pine, red cedar, hemlock, and maple.
A board a Night Stalkers Special Operations MH-60M Black Hawk helicopter code-named Spear One, Navy chief Nick Zeppos of SEAL Team Six checks his watch.
CINDY THOMAS FOLLOWED Robert Barnett’s assistant down the long corridor at the law firm of Barnett and Associates in Washington, DC.
I CHECKED THE street in both directions in front of an upscale coffee house called Flat Bread and Butter on Amsterdam Avenue near 140th Street. The street was about as quiet as New York City gets.
IT TOOK BOBBY a week to decide where to park. It had to be close to the wedding, but not too close.
DEVON MONROE TORE HIS EYES off the two dead bodies in the powder-blue Bentley convertible, top down, idling not twenty yards away, and glanced at his best friend.