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To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.
—G. K. Chesterton
Fear is a man’s best friend.
I never count the days. Why would I want to know how long it’s been since I quit? It’s only a reminder of what it is I’m trying to let go of. I loved the fucking lifestyle. I loved cocaine. Didn’t want to let it go. I still have cravings. Pops in my head like it’s a good thing, visit from an old friend, but all I got to do is remind myself of why it is I quit—because of all the people I hurt, even got killed. And yes, it is something I did for me, too, but not for the reasons you might think.
Sometimes what gets me through the day is doing what I’m best at.
It still gives me a rush, even more so without the cocaine high. You realize how reckless it is. Just how dangerous.
I slip on my tactical gloves, grab my suit jacket from the front seat, step out of the car. I put the suit jacket on, reach back in to take my backpack. I shoulder it and lock the car door.
The house I’m going to is up the street, second from the corner, an unattached, paint-peeled, light-blue two-story with a large patio.
I ring the doorbell. Wait. Ring again. Open the storm door and knock on the door a few times.
When enough time passes so I feel comfortable, I take the tactical pry bar out of my backpack, wedge it in between the door and the frame, about half an inch below the dead bolt. I smack the heavy flattop of the handle hard with the palm of my hand, and with one solid push inward, I pry the door open, bending the dead bolt out with the door.
I scan the area, slip the pry bar back in my pack, and enter. Once inside I stand and listen, then secure the backpack over my shoulders and quietly shut the door. There’s a fold-up chair leaning against the wall beside a filthy sofa. I take the chair and prop it against the door to keep it closed.
My stun gun is clipped to my belt at the small of my back. My Glock 19 is in a holster on my right side, but I don’t want to have to use it unless I find myself facing another gun. I’d figure out a good story after. That’s why the stun gun is preferable. Saves me having to think up a good story.
I’ve known about the occupants of this house since I was a detective working narcotics. It’s low-level. Detective Al Luna, my former partner at Narcotics Branch, and I hit it a couple of times. Sent a CI in to make a buy, then drafted an affidavit in support of a search warrant and rammed the door in the next day. A good quick hit, and we always got enough to make us look good when other work was slow. Luna’s still on the job. Me? Well, that’s another story.
Nothing has changed with how the boys in this house operate, except a couple of new faces that replaced the two who are doing a bit of time. They’re working the same park area a couple blocks north of here, where some of the local drunks and junkies still hang, but not near as many as back in the day. Gentrification has seen to that, pretty much cleaned everything up. Lot of the dealers had to change up their game. These guys didn’t have enough sense to. From what I’ve been able to learn, they haven’t been hit by the police in a while. That can be good for me.
What has changed is who the boys cater to and all the homes in this neighborhood, once vacant shells, now worth a million bucks. They’re dealing mostly to young clean-cut men and women who drive nice cars with Virginia tags and consider themselves social users, pulling up and making their deals without stepping out of the cars. Times change. Old street junkies die or go to jail for getting caught up in something bad. The boys gotta move up if they wanna make a living.
My cell phone vibrates inside my blazer’s inner pocket. Nearly sends me through the roof. I don’t pull it out. Instead I just let it go to voice mail.
This house is messy and still has that bad-breath-after-a-night-of-hard-drinking smell. A few of those empty Moet bottles on the floor and empty beer cans stuffed with cigarette butts have probably been there since Luna and I were here last. Gets me to wondering if they still keep their stash and money in the same spot.
I walk up the stairs to the room and that old spot.
Fuck. Sure enough they do. In the inner pockets of a couple of winter jackets hanging in the bedroom closet. I pull out baggies containing a good amount of zips with heroin, crack, and what looks like meth. All dimes and quarters, and a few larger. Fortunately, no cocaine. That’d be too much of a temptation. But that’s why I targeted this spot. I was pretty sure they weren’t selling that shit. I go through a couple more jacket pockets, and then, oh fuck, a baggie with about an ounce of powder. The wrong side of my brain starts to work me, and I say to myself, Take it. Recreational purposes only. I can control it.
Who am I kidding? I put it with the rest of the drugs. My cell vibrates again. I let it go to voice mail again. I’m not going to jinx this shit by pulling it out.
I find a wad of money in another coat pocket. Doesn’t look like more than a couple thousand. Small bills, rolled up and secured with one rubber band. I stuff it into my empty left pants pocket. Nice bulk there.
I search the rest of the room and find a little more cash, a couple boxes of 9mm ammo, cheap rounds, only good for the range. I leave them and open the nightstand drawer. There’s an older-model 9mm Taurus sitting on top of some other loose rounds.
I pick it up, drop the mag, let it land on the floor, then lock the slide back. A chambered round flips out, but I catch it, put it on the nightstand. I pull out the barrel and take the spring out. Pocket it, grab the mag, and put the gun back together. I leave the live round on the table and slip the gun in my pack.
I do a quick search of the rest of the house, but don’t find shit.
I take the narcotics to the upstairs bathroom, break the baggies open, and drop the contents into the toilet, along with all the little zips. I flush, wait for the reserve tank to fill. Flush again. Wait a bit longer to make sure nothing pops up, then flush one more time. I grab the baggie of coke and quickly pour the lovely white powder into the toilet, too. Damn, that’s hard, but I passed the test. Again. How many more tests before I don’t have to worry about failing?
This is what I do.
Clouds are high, moving over the city slow. Smells like snow.
On the way to the car, I toss the Taurus spring into a gutter drain, try to be discreet when I pull the gun out of my pack, drop it at my feet, and kick it into the drain.
After I start the car, I check the phone, see who called.
Haven’t talked to her in more than a year. Don’t wanna think about that morning we last talked. I was so fucked up. I fucked up. I can’t even remember most of what was said. She kicked me out of her house after, so it must have been bad. One of the worst days of my life. Losing her was. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through, even tougher than giving up blow. That shit was the reason I lost her to begin with. After I got myself four months clean, I called her and confessed and asked for forgiveness. Didn’t matter. I think it made it worse ’cause I lied for all those years, even about why I had to retire from the police department—pissing dirty. According to her, I’d even jeopardized her law practice. So that was that.
What does she want now, after all this time?
She left a message on the second call. I hesitate to listen, but tap the screen, put the phone to my ear.
“I’m calling on behalf of Al Luna. It’s important, so please call me back.”
On behalf of Al?
What kinda message is that, unless he’s in trouble or sick? Al’s still one of my closest friends, but I haven’t talked to him in a few weeks. I was caught up in this bullshit domestic-violence, cheating-husband case that was resolved just yesterday. In fact, Al’s busier than me, working that same Narcotics Branch assignment from when we were partnered and I went down, forced into early retirement.
Best thing to do is drive home, catch my damn breath, and call her from there.
Once inside, I lock the door behind me, hang up my jacket, and go to the kitchen to pour myself a Jameson on ice. It’s still early, but for me it’s never too early.
In the laundry room I slide open the secret wall panel on the side of the washer and place the wad of money from the house I hit on a shelf beside several stacks of ones, fives, tens, and twenties that’re bound tight with red rubber bands. I always pocket the hundreds that I find. I’ll count this wad later. Need to call Leslie back first.
Back in my armchair I consider lighting a cigarette but decide against it. Too much of a trigger. Always makes me want. I’m stronger, but weakness is always trying to find a way in.
I swear I stare at the cell phone for more than ten minutes before I decide to return Leslie’s call. Then—
“Leslie Costello’s office,” a receptionist answers. Not the voice I remember for the woman who used to work for Leslie. And damn, Leslie didn’t even call from her direct line. I go straight to the receptionist.
“Frank Marr returning Leslie’s call,” I advise her.
“One moment please.”
I take a breath.
“Hello, Frank.” She answers evenly—professionally.
Aside from the tone, she sounds like the same person, but lacking a certain once-shared familiarity. May as well have answered with “Hello, Mr. Marr.”
“Hi, Leslie. Sorry it took so long. I was working something.”
“I didn’t want to call you,” she begins matter-of-factly. “It was Al’s decision.”
“What’s going on? Is he okay?”
“He’s in some trouble—”
“What kind of trouble?”
“He was involved in a shooting. Doesn’t look good.”
“What the—did he get hurt?”
“No. He’s on administrative leave, though. Just listen for a second. You know the police shooting—a sixteen-year-old kid in Northwest, near Howard?”
“No. I don’t watch the news anymore. But damn…” Because I know what’s going to come next.
“He was the cop who shot the kid.”
“The department determined that it was a bad shooting. No gun on the kid, but Luna swears there was. He said the kid pointed it right at him. That’s why he wants you.”
“Of course. Anything. So you’re representing him, then?”
“Yes, and you’re not my first choice for investigator.”
“You sorta made that clear, Leslie. I got it a long time ago. So why didn’t Luna call me himself?”
“That’s something you’ll have to ask him.”
“Is he home?”
“I believe so. There’s a lot of media attention on this, but the department has managed to keep his name out of it for now. But that won’t last. We both know how it goes.”
“I’m going over there now.”
“I’ll meet you there.”
“What, I need a babysitter?”
“Yes,” she says a little too firmly.
Luna lives in Northeast DC, near Catholic University, an older home on a small one-way street off Michigan Ave. It has a large front porch. We used to sit there on rickety old rattan chairs after a hard day’s work, smoking cigars and drinking good scotch. Luna liked the good stuff. Still does.
Lot of families living in his neighborhood now. Not like when he bought it in the early nineties. There were a couple of good families then, long since passed, though. It used to be a rough area, but that’s why he could afford it on a cop’s salary. Hell, that’s why I could afford my house on 12th Street, in Northwest. We still got our problems in both neighborhoods. That’s the price you gotta pay if you want to live in DC.
The shades in his front window are pulled down. The patio light is on, even though it’s daytime. Can’t tell if he has any lights on inside, and I don’t see his car, but then he’s had a take-home vehicle for as long as I can remember. I’m sure the department took that back along with his badge and gun.
When I’m about to hit the steps that lead to his front door, I notice a cab pull to the curb.
Leslie steps out, carrying an expensive-looking teal-colored briefcase and sporting a gray three-button overcoat.
Damn, she looks nice.
I wait for her by the steps. “Hello, Leslie. You look good.”
I shoot her an uncomfortable smile. Was that necessary?
“Is this how it’s going to be? ’Cause it’s getting awkward, and I’m here for Al. So, can you try to forget what I can’t even remember?”
“That’s what the problem is. But yes, because I’m here for Al, too. And I got it out of my system with the ‘Fuck you,’ so that’s that.”
I allow her up the steps first, then follow.
She rings the doorbell. After a few seconds, she rings again.
“You sure he’s home?” I ask.
“No, but like I said, I know he’s been keeping a low profile. I don’t know where else he could be.”
I open the glass security door, knock a few times on the front door.
“Al, it’s Frank and Leslie! Open up!”
A moment later I hear footsteps on a creaking wooden floor approach the front door. Then we hear the dead bolt unlock.
Al’s wearing baggy jeans and a T-shirt it looks like he’s been sleeping in for a few days. His face is a week’s worth of scruff.
“Come in,” he says, his voice throaty. He backs away from the door to give us room. “Good to see you, Frank.”
He manages a slight smile. I can smell the alcohol on his breath. Something peaty, probably his go-to, Laphroaig.
“You too, my friend.”
We enter. He closes the door. Dead-bolts it.
I notice a blanket and pillow on the sofa. Been sleeping there. Probably his comfort spot, trick the mind into thinking it’s a nap and you fall asleep faster. I also spot the nearly empty bottle of Laphroaig on the end table at the pillow side of the sofa, an empty tumbler beside the bottle as well.
“Sorry about the mess,” he says, tries to straighten up the sofa.
“Don’t worry about that, Al,” Leslie says.
He scoots the blanket in a pile by the pillow and sits beside it. I take the recliner, and Leslie sits on the cleared-off side of the sofa, next to him.
Like I said, it’s an older house. It smells like an old house. Not a terrible smell. Old wood. Your grandmother’s place maybe.
He starts to get up again, says, “Oh, can I get you anything? I can make coffee.”
“No. Sit down,” Leslie tells him, like a polite order.
Damn, he’s looking frail. Probably hasn’t been eating, just drinking. I wanna say something, but I don’t.
“Well, Frank,” he says, turning to me. “You want I should tell you the story?”
Al lifts the bottle of Laphroaig toward us like an offering.
“No thank you, Al,” Leslie says.
It’s early. Still, I wouldn’t mind. But doesn’t look like there’s enough in that bottle to go around so—
“Me either, but thanks.”
He looks at the bottle, then at me, and says, “I got another bottle,” as if reading my mind.
I consider it, but don’t want to piss Leslie off. This is a job.
“No thanks, bro.”
He pours what remains in the bottle into the tumbler, nearly fills it to the edge.
Takes a careful sip.
“The kid had a fucking gun, Frank.” He tells me direct.
“Talk to me.”
A hefty sip this time, and a pause after, because he’s either savoring it as it goes down or trying to figure where to start.
“You fill Frank in about any of this?” he asks Leslie.
“No. Just that it was a kid and it happened near Howard.”
“I’m telling ya, I don’t know what the hell happened to the gun.”
“Tell Frank what happened.”
“I was at that spot off Sherman Ave. You know, the place you and I used to meet our CIs at?”
“Won’t be able to use it much longer with all that construction going on. Shit.” Sips his scotch. “So, when we’re done talking, my CI steps out of the car. I watch the CI walk off. It was a little after sixteen hundred hours. Traffic was already heavy, and I was working evening. No rush. Right? I step out to smoke a cigar. That’s when I hear someone walking on the gravel behind me. I turn, see this young kid standing at the back end of a trailer, just looking at me. He was wearing a puffy jacket. When he saw that I saw him, he stepped up like a challenge, pointing what looked like a gun at me. I thought I was about to get robbed. My take-home doesn’t look like anything a cop would drive, so I figure that’s what this dope is gonna attempt. I step around the car toward the rear to get a better view. That’s when I see he’s closer and holding a gun in his right hand, stretched out and pointed at me. I draw my weapon, quickly move to a position behind my vehicle where I have better concealment, but I can still see him. He starts walking toward me. I don’t think he saw me take my gun out. I yell out, ‘I’m the police!’ And for him to drop his weapon. I have mine with sights on him at this point. He has to see the gun. He’s like twenty-five yards away. I keep repeating for him to stop and drop the weapon. He says something, but I don’t understand. He just stands there, fucking aiming at me. I shoot. Don’t remember how many times. It was fast, but slow, you know what I mean?”
I nod, ’cause I do.
“He drops to the ground. My slide is locked back. Didn’t realize I had fired so many rounds. Empty magazine, so I get down behind the tire, drop and reload, scoot around the rear of the vehicle, and get a bead on him. He’s still on the ground. I scan the area. Don’t see anybody else. I slowly make my way toward him, still calling out commands for him not to move. I notice that his right hand is under his lower torso. Fell on it. Can’t see his gun anywhere. ‘Must’ve been under him,’ I thought to myself. I had my weapon right on him.”
He pauses, reaches for the tumbler and takes another heavy swig.
Still holding the glass, he looks at me and continues. “I get up over him, nudge him on the shoulder with my shoe. Doesn’t move. I didn’t want to check his carotid. Too much blood. I move around him, his hand still tucked under his belly. I scan the area. ‘My fucking radio,’ I thought to myself. ‘I forgot my fucking radio in the car.’ I get my cell out with my free hand and dial nine one one. I ask for an ambulance, too. I get back behind my car, still keeping an eye on the kid, and wait for the backup.”
Couple more sips. He doesn’t continue. Goes blank for a moment.
“What next?” I ask him.
“Homicide arrived fast, and so did EMT. EMT called it on the scene. Dead. When they rolled him over, they didn’t find his gun. I knew it had to be somewhere, maybe tossed under the trailer or one of the construction trucks. Everyone was searching the perimeter. Never found it.”
“Did they identify the suspect?”
“No ID, but couple days later, the homicide detective that was on the scene, she came over to ask if I knew anyone by the name of Arthur Taylor. I said I did not, and then she showed me the death photo, see if he looked familiar. I said only when he was about to shoot me. Other than that, I never seen him before.”
I notebook the name and ask, “Any construction surveillance cameras found on or around the lot?”
“Nothing on that lot,” Leslie says, “and the ones they were able to locate didn’t reveal anything. It was blocked by the trailer.”
“Besides, Frank, you know that’s why I use that spot for my meets—no surveillance cameras on the lot. Last thing I wanted was to get one of my CIs caught on camera.”
“And you said you scanned the area after he was down, didn’t see anyone?”
“Didn’t see anyone, but that doesn’t mean shit.”
“When you took cover to reload, how long do you think it was that you lost sight of the suspect?”
“I don’t know. Couldn’t have been more than a couple of seconds. I was quick.”
“But still, you didn’t have eyes on him for a bit?”
“And you didn’t hear anything?”
“No, Frank,” he tells me like he’s getting irritated. “Homicide and then IA asked all the same questions you asked. In fact, that’s what I figured—that he had his boys in the area and they scooped the gun up after he went down. Only thing I can think of. You remember when we first came on, Frank, and that happened to an officer in Southeast.”
“Yeah, in the middle of a street, and that kid shot back. The officer also saw the boys who ran out after, even shot at the one who picked up the gun and got away with it.”
“What are you saying?”
“Don’t mean it like that. They had good evidence that it went down the way the officer said it did, including gun residue on the shooter’s hand.”
“You don’t think it went down the way I said it did?”
“I’m not suggesting that. The other shooting shows that it has happened before, and it’s why I know you’re telling the truth. You could have made that part up—that you saw one of his boys take the gun from the scene. But you didn’t.”
“Hell no. I wouldn’t lie. I honestly thought about it, but then, what if the shooting was caught on some off-sight surveillance camera.”
“You did right,” I say.
“Yeah, but look where it got me.”
- "Streetwise."—The New York Times Book Review
"With ripped-from-the-headlines intensity,,,Swinson sustains the velocity of the drama and ingeniously gets at the power dynamic of personal relationships with nuance and generosity toward broken people in his messy world of ambiguous boundaries."
—The National Book Review
- "Frank Marr prowls Washington like a creature from a different age: hard-knuckled, hard-drinking, equal parts loyalty, craving, determination, and regret. But in Trigger, David Swinson's detailed, glittering, vicious DC is up-to-the-minute. Never one to bend a rule when he can smash it instead, Marr leads us straight back into the wreckage he left in The Second Girl and Crime Song. It's a thrill to watch him pick up the pieces."—Bill Beverly, Edgar Award-winning author of Dodgers
- "Chock full of pace and purpose, Trigger lays out hard-hustle D.C. in all its gritty shades of gray without ever once sneering at them. It's a brave novel, one with no easy outs, and an ending that feels both raw and true."—Ryan Gattis, author of Safe
- "Frankie Marr, the ex-cop turned PI with a skewed sense of justice, situational ethics and a drug habit he kicked by turning to alcohol, is back. The ex-cop turned author, David Swinson, takes us on another pulse-pounding, stripped-down excursion into the badlands of the nation's capital. An old friend and colleague teeters on the brink of catastrophe and Frankie answers the call; his street wits, reckless courage, and pit bull tenacity racing ahead of glorious and soulful collapse. I missed you, Frankie, and I'm very happy to see you again."—Joe Ide, author of IQ
- "George Pelecanos fans will welcome Swinson's gritty third novel featuring PI Frank Marr. . . . Swinson, a former police officer, writes with authority and honesty, giving readers a timely, informed look at the mean streets from an insider's perspective."—Publishers Weekly
PRAISE FOR DAVID SWINSON AND FRANK MARR:"Swinson is one of the best dialogue hounds in the business."—The New York Times Book Review
- "Within the first couple of pages, David Swinson pulls off a masterly piece of characterization: he creates a damaged, damned protagonist who no sane person would want to get close to, and then he grabs you by the collar and hauls you into Frank Marr's mind so fast and so thoroughly that none of that matters. The writing throws sparks, and the ferocious plot peels back layer after layer of Frank's character as we--and he--find out how much of his humanity is still left."—Tana French, author of The Trespasser
- "Frank remains a fascinating, deeply flawed protagonist. . . . He remains a hard-boiled hero well worth our attention."—Booklist
- On Sale
- Feb 12, 2019
- Page Count
- 352 pages
- Mulholland Books