Authors: George Pelecanos
Tags: #Reconciliation, #Minorities - Crimes against, #Mystery & Detective, #Crime and race, #Political, #Family Life, #Hard-Boiled, #Fiction, #FIC022010, #Crimes Against, #Crime, #Washington (D.C.), #Minorities, #General, #Domestic Fiction, #Race discrimination
Copyright © 2008 by George P. Pelecanos
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Little, Brown and Company
Hachette Book Group USA
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First eBook Edition: August 2008
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Also by George Pelecanos
The Night Gardener
Hell to Pay
Right As Rain
The Sweet Forever
Shame the Devil
The Big Blowdown
Down By the River Where the Dead Men Go
A Firing Offense
Lance Cpl. Philip A. Johnson
3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment
2nd Marine Division
2nd Marine Expeditionary Force
E CALLED the place Pappas and Sons Coffee Shop. His boys were only eight and six when he opened in 1964, but he was thinking that one of them would take over when he got old. Like any father who wasn’t a
he wanted his sons to do better than he had done. He wanted them to go to college. But what the hell, you never knew how things would go. One of them might be cut out for college, the other one might not. Or maybe they’d both go to college and decide to take over the business together. Anyway, he hedged his bet and added them to the sign. It let the customers know what kind of man he was. It said, This is a guy who is devoted to his family. John Pappas is thinking about the future of his boys.
The sign was nice: black images against a pearly gray, with “Pappas” twice as big as “and Sons,” in big block letters, along with a drawing of a cup of coffee in a saucer, steam rising off its surface. The guy who’d made the sign put a fancy
on the side of the cup, in script, and John liked it so much that he had the real coffee cups for the shop made the same way. Like snappy dressers got their initials sewn on the cuffs of a nice shirt.
John Pappas owned no such shirts. He had a couple of blue cotton oxfords for church, but most of his shirts were white button-downs. All were wash-and-wear, to avoid the dry-cleaning expense. Also, his wife, Calliope, didn’t care to iron. Five short-sleeves for spring and summer and five long-sleeves for fall and winter, hanging in rows on the clothesline he had strung in the basement of their split-level. He didn’t know why he bothered with the variety. It was always warm in the store, especially standing over the grill, and even in winter he wore his sleeves rolled up above the elbow. White shirt, khaki pants, black oilskin work shoes from Montgomery Ward. An apron over the pants, a pen holder in the breast pocket of the shirt. His uniform.
He was handsome in his way, with a prominent nose. He had turned forty-eight in the late spring of 1972. He wore his black hair high up top and swept back on the sides, a little bit over the ears, longish, like the kids. He had been going with the dry look the past few years. His temples had grayed. Like many men who had seen action in World War II, he had not done a sit-up or a push-up since his discharge, twenty-seven years ago. A marine who had come out of the Pacific campaign had nothing in the way of manhood to prove. He smoked, a habit he had picked up courtesy of the Corps, which had added cigarettes to his K rations, and his wind was not very good. But the physical nature of his work kept him in pretty fair shape. His stomach was almost flat. He was especially proud of his chest.
He arrived at the store at five a.m., two hours before opening time, which meant he rose each morning at four fifteen. He had to meet the iceman and the food brokers, and he had to make the coffee and do some prep. He could have asked for the deliveries to come later so that he could catch another hour of sleep, but he liked this time of his workday better than any other. Matter of fact, he always woke up wide-eyed and ready, without an alarm clock to prompt him. Stepping softly down the stairs so as not to wake his wife and sons, driving his Electra deuce-and-a-quarter down 16th Street, headlights on, one cigaretted hand dangling out the window, the road clear of traffic. And then the quiet time, just him and the Motorola radio in the store, listening to the smooth-voiced announcers on WWDC, men his age who had the same kind of life experience he had, not those fast-talkers on the rock-and-roll stations or the
on WOL or WOOK. Drinking the first of many coffees, always in a go-cup, making small talk with the delivery guys who dribbled in, a kinship there because all of them had grown fond of that time between night and dawn.
It was a diner, not a coffee shop, but coffee shop sounded better, “more highclass,” Calliope said. Around the family, John just called the store the
. It sat on N Street, below Dupont Circle, just in from Connecticut Avenue, at the entrance to an alley. Inside were a dozen stools spaced around a horseshoe-shaped Formica-topped counter, and a couple of four-top booths along the large plate glass window that gave onto a generous view of Connecticut and N. The dominant colors, as in many Greek-owned establishments, were blue and white. The maximum seating was for twenty. There was a short breakfast flurry and a two-hour lunch rush and plenty of dead space, when the four employees, all blacks, talked, horsed around, brooded, and smoked. And his older son, Alex, if he was working. The dreamer.
There was no kitchen “in the back.” The grill, the sandwich board, the refrigerated dessert case, the ice cream cooler, the soda bar, and the coffee urns, even the dishwasher, everything was behind the counter for the customers to see. Though the space was small and the seating limited, Pappas had cultivated a large carryout and delivery business that represented a significant portion of the daily take. He grossed about three, three hundred and twenty-five a day.
At three o’clock, he stopped ringing the register and cut its tape. The grill was turned down and bricked at four. There was little walk-in traffic after two thirty, but he kept the place open until five, to allow for cleanup, ordering, and to serve anyone who happened to drop in for a cold sandwich. From the time he arrived to the time he closed, twelve hours, on his feet.
And yet, he didn’t mind. Never really wished he could make a living doing anything else.
The best part of it,
he thought as he approached the store, the night sky beginning to lighten,
bending down to pick up the bread and buns left outside by the Ottenberg’s man, then fitting the key to the lock of his front door.
I am my own man. This is mine.
Pappas and Sons.
ALEX PAPPAS had had his thumb out for only a few minutes, standing on the shoulder of University Boulevard in Wheaton, before a VW Squareback pulled over to pick him up. Alex jogged to the passenger door, scoping out the driver as he neared the car. He looked through the half-open window, saw a young dude, long hair, handlebar mustache. Probably a head, which was all right with Alex. He got in and dropped onto the seat.
“Hey,” said Alex. “Thanks for stoppin, man.”
“Sure thing,” said the dude, pulling off the shoulder, catching second gear, going up toward the business district of Wheaton. “Where you headed?”
“All the way down Connecticut, to Dupont Circle. You going that far?”
“I’m going as far as Calvert Street. I work down there at the Sheraton Park.”
“That’s cool,” said Alex with enthusiasm. It was only a mile and a half or so down to the Circle from there, all downhill. He could huff it on foot. It was rare to get one ride all the way downtown.
An eight-track player had been mounted on a bracket under the dash. The live Humble Pie,
Rockin’ the Fillmore,
was in the deck, “I Walk on Gilded Splinters” playing in the car. Music came trebly through cheap speakers on the floorboard, the wiring running up to the player. Alex was careful not to get his feet tangled in the wire. The car smelled of marijuana. Alex could see yellowed roaches heaped in the open ashtray, along with butted cigarettes.
“You’re not a narc, are you?” said the dude, watching Alex survey the landscape.
“Me?” said Alex with a chuckle. “Nah, man, I’m cool.”
How could he be a cop? He was only sixteen. But it was common knowledge that if you asked a narc if he was one, he had to reply honestly. Otherwise, a bust would always be thrown out of court. At least that was what Alex’s friends Pete and Billy maintained. This guy was just being cautious.
“You wanna get high?”
“I would,” said Alex, “but I’m on my way to my father’s store. He’s got a lunch place downtown.”
“You’d get paranoid in front of Pops, huh.”
“Yeah,” said Alex. He didn’t want to tell this stranger that he never got high while working at his dad’s place. The coffee shop was sacred, like his father’s personal church. It wouldn’t be right.
“You mind if I do?”
“Righteous,” said the dude, with a shake of his hair, as he reached into the tray and found the biggest roach among the cigarette butts and ashes.
It was a good ride. Alex had the Pie album at home, knew the songs, liked Steve Marriott’s crazy voice and Marriott’s and Frampton’s guitars. The dude asked Alex to roll up his window while he smoked, but the day was not hot, so that was fine, too. Thankfully this guy did not have a change of personality after he had gotten his head up. He was just as pleasant as he had been before.
As a hitchhiker, Alex had a fairly easy time of it. He was a thin kid with a wispy mustache and curly shoulder-length hair. A long-haired teenager wearing jeans and a pocket T was not an unusual sight for motorists, young and middle-aged alike. He did not have a mean face or an imposing physique. He could have taken the bus downtown, but he preferred the adventure of hitching. All kinds of people picked him up. Freaks, straights, housepainters, plumbers, young dudes and chicks, even people the age of his parents. He hardly ever had to wait long for a ride.
There had been only a few bad ones that summer. Once, around Military Road, when he was trying to catch his second ride, a car full of St. John’s boys had picked him up. The car stank of reefer and they smelled strongly of beer. Some of them began to ridicule him immediately. When he said he was on the way to work at his dad’s place, they talked about his stupid job and his stupid old man. The mention of his father brought color to his face, and one of them said, “Aw, look at him, he’s getting mad.” They asked him if he had ever fucked a girl. They asked him if he had fucked a guy. The driver was the worst of them. He said they were going to pull over on a side street and see if Alex knew how to take a punch. Alex said, “Just let me out at that stoplight,” and a couple of the other boys laughed as the driver blew the red. “Pull over,” said Alex more firmly, and the driver said, “Okay. And then we’re gonna fuck you up.” But the boy beside Alex, who had kind eyes, said, “Pull over and let him out, Pat,” and the driver did it, to the silence of the others in the car. Alex thanked the boy, obviously the leader of the group and the strongest, before getting out of the vehicle, a GTO with a decal that read “The Boss.” Alex was sure that the car had been purchased by the boy’s parents.