The Man Who Came Uptown


By George Pelecanos

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From the bestselling and Emmy-nominated writer behind HBO's We Own This City: a "gripping, surprisingly soulful" mystery about an ex-offender who must choose between the man who got him out and the woman who showed him another path (Entertainment Weekly).

Michael Hudson spends the long days in prison devouring books given to him by the prison's librarian, a young woman named Anna who develops a soft spot for her best student. Anna keeps passing Michael books until one day he disappears, suddenly released after a private detective manipulated a witness in Michael's trial.

Outside, Michael encounters a Washington, D.C. that has changed a lot during his time locked up. Once shady storefronts are now trendy beer gardens and flower shops. But what hasn't changed is the hard choice between the temptation of crime and doing what's right. Trying to balance his new job, his love of reading, and the debt he owes to the man who got him released, Michael struggles to figure out his place in this new world before he loses control.

Smart and fast-paced, The Man Who Came Uptown brings Washington, D.C. to life in a high-stakes story of tough choices.


Part I


WHEN ANTONIUS thought of all the things they'd done wrong the day of the robbery, wearing hoodies might have been at the top of the list. Considering that it was ninety degrees out, four men in heavy, dark sweatshirts were bound to attract attention. Might even be the reason the armored-car guard drew on them first when he was coming out the drugstore. That and the fact that all of them were tooled up. Course, if Antonius and his boys hadn't smoked all that tree before the job, they might have thought the sweatshirts through. The sweatshirts, and the vanity plates on the getaway car. The plates were high up on that list too.

Antonius, braids touching his shoulders, sat back in his chair and maintained eye contact with the investigator seated across the table. Antonius was in the number one seat in the interview room, the inmate's spot, his back to a cream-colored wall. As he was currently housed in solitary, his legs were manacled. Other inmates were in various glassed-in rooms around them, talking to their lawyers, their girlfriends, their mothers, their wives. A guard sat in a nearby office, watching them. An alarm button had been mounted by the door of every room in the event that guard intervention was needed. Conversations here sometimes got amped.

"You musta been hot out in that parking lot," said the investigator, whose name was Phil Ornazian.

Antonius looked him over. Broad-shouldered dude with short black hair and a three-day beard flecked with gray. Late thirties, early forties. Wedding band on his ring finger. Almost looked like an Arab, with his prominent nose and large brown eyes. Antonius had assumed he was Muslim when they'd first met, but Ornazian was some brand of Christian. He'd mentioned once that he and his family attended an "apostolic" church. Whatever that was.

"You think?" said Antonius. "It was August in the District."

"The sweatshirts…whose idea was that?"

"Whose idea?"

"On the surveillance video, you guys are all standing around in winter clothing in the parking lot of the drugstore, and people are walking in and out of the store in T-shirts, polo shirts, and shorts. So I was just wondering, I was curious, who thought that was a good idea?"

It was Antonius's lifelong friend DeAndre who had insisted they wear the black sweatshirts in the middle of a Washington summer. Hoods up, so their faces wouldn't be caught on the cameras that were mounted on the building. DeAndre, that dumbass, never did do anything right. Boy could fuck up a birthday party at the Chuck E. Cheese.

"I don't recall," said Antonius.

Antonius was not trying to be difficult. He knew that Ornazian was there to assist him. The defense strategy was to paint DeAndre as the leader and decision maker of the group. To take that information into court and pull some of the shade off of Antonius. Ornazian was working for Antonius's lawyer, Matthew Mirapaul, trying to dig up dirt that would help him when he went to trial. But Antonius wasn't going to give up too many details about his boys, any of them, even though DeAndre had already put Antonius and the others in for the robbery. He had a code.

"Okay," said Ornazian. "Let's talk about your girlfriend."


"You say you were with her at the time of the robbery."

"We were riding in my car together. She had called me to come pick her up over at the Giant off Rhode Island Avenue, in Northeast. Sherry had just bought a rack of groceries. She phoned me at, like, two in the afternoon, and I went over there to snatch her up. I got her at, like, two thirty."

"Why was she shopping at a Giant in Northeast when there's two Safeways in your neighborhood?"

"She likes that Giant."

"Anybody see you two together?"

"Nah. Not that I know. But, see, if the robbery was at three, and I was with her at two thirty, ain't no way I could get across town to Georgia Avenue, in Northwest, in time to be involved in what went down over there. All you got to do is pull up the phone records and you'll see that she called me at two. It proves that I wasn't there."

Ornazian made no comment. The phone call, of course, proved nothing of the kind. Sherry, the girlfriend, most likely had made the call, as she had been instructed to do. That, too, had been part of the plan. It was weed logic, creating an alibi through a phone call without a third-party eyewitness to corroborate the event. Unfortunately, there was no one who could testify and put Antonius and Sherry together at the time of the robbery.

Along with his own investigation, the prosecution's discovery, and the store's surveillance-camera footage, this is what Ornazian knew: Nearly two years earlier, on a sweltering midsummer day, an armed security guard had collected the daily cash deposits from a Rite Aid on upper Georgia Avenue and was in the process of exiting the building with canvas bags in hand. He was on the way to the company's armored truck idling out front.

Waiting in the parking lot were four men in their early twenties, wearing black sweatshirts, hoods up, and sweating profusely. All were armed with semiautomatic handguns. The driver of the armored car could have seen one of them in his side mirror, but he was not paying attention, as, counter to company policy, he was eating the lunch he had recently purchased from the KFC/Taco Bell up near the District line.

The men in the parking lot were Antonius Roberts, DeAndre Watkins, Rico Evans, and Mike Young. They mostly spent their time in the basement of Antonius's grandmother, who owned a house in Manor Park, where Antonius had a bed. There they smoked copious amounts of marijuana, watched conspiracy-theory documentaries on television, played video games, and made poorly produced rap videos and occasionally videos of themselves engaging in boxing and mixed martial arts matches, though none of them had studied or trained.

One afternoon someone got the idea to go over to the local drugstore on Georgia and observe the details of the daily cash pickup. They did this, stoned as Death Row rappers, for several days straight. It was always the same roly-poly dude came out with the bags, didn't look like he'd put up any kind of fight, didn't look like he could run or jump one foot off the ground. If you drew on him, said DeAndre, what could he do?

The guard's name was Yohance Brown, and he was not as passive or as physically incapable as he appeared to be. Brown was ex-military and had done two combat-heavy tours of Iraq. Though he had put on weight after his return to the States, Brown took no man's shit.

The day of the attempted robbery, the four accomplices arrived in two cars.

As Yohance Brown entered the protected entranceway of the drugstore, walled by sliding automatic glass doors front and back, he saw the hooded robbers standing in the parking lot, spaced out like gunmen in an Italian Western, holding nine-millimeter pistols tight against their thighs. As one of them raised his nine, Brown dropped the cash bags to the floor, pulled his Glock from its holster, calmly steadied his gun hand, and commenced firing. The robbers ran toward their cars, shooting over their shoulders in the direction of the store. Later, a flattened slug was found inside a Twinkie in the Rite Aid. Miraculously, no customers had been injured.

One of the robbers, Mike Young, was shot in the back by Brown. Young was later dropped off like dirty laundry outside the ER doors of Washington Hospital Center by Rico Evans, the driver of a Hyundai sedan day-rented from a Park View resident. Young survived.

Antonius and DeAndre got into an old Toyota Corolla, owned by DeAndre's cousin Rhonda, and sped north on Georgia Avenue. Traffic cameras recorded the Corolla's vanity plates, which read ALIZE, the brand name of a cognac-based liqueur popular in certain quadrants of the city. Later, at the Fourth District police station, officers of various races and ethnicities watched the traffic-camera footage repeatedly, laughing their asses off at the idiots who had driven a vanity-plated car to an armed robbery, laughing even harder at the word Alize. By then all the suspects had been apprehended and arrested. DeAndre Watkins quickly flipped on his friends in exchange for reduced charges. He was currently on the fourth floor of the Correctional Treatment Facility, the hot block most commonly referred to by inmates as "the snitch hive."

"How's Sherry doing?" said Ornazian.

"She's a little agitated at me right now," said Antonius. "See, I was using the phone here in the jail, called this other girl I know. I needed someone new, Phil. I been with Sherry a long time, and I can't get sprung by the same-old. You know how that is."

"So, you had phone sex with this girl who wasn't your girlfriend."


"I told you before, the jailhouse phones are bugged."

"Yeah, well, you were right. The Feds recorded my conversation with this girl, then played the tape back for Sherry to make her angry. They trying to get her to testify against me, say I was in on the robbery."


"Sherry was madder than a mad dog," said Antonius. "But, see, that's my girl right there. She'll stand tall."

Antonius was a man with needs, maybe more than most. He was good-looking and charismatic, which hurt him more than helped him. He was currently housed in the solitary-confinement unit known as South 1. He was being punished for having sexual relations with a female guard. Inmates claimed there were only two spots in the D.C. Jail that were safe for sex or shankings, out of view of cameras. Antonius thought he had found one of the spots. He had been mistaken.

Ornazian fired up his laptop, set it on the table between them, found what he was looking for on YouTube, clicked on it, and turned the laptop around so that Antonius could see the screen. A video commenced to play. It featured Antonius, DeAndre, and several of their friends smoking blunts, boxing clumsily with their shirts off, and brandishing bottles of champagne and cognac as well as various firearms, including an AK-47. All of it set to a third-rate rap tune that they had freestyled themselves. Antonius couldn't help but smile a little. He was feeling nostalgic for the camaraderie of his friends and a time when he was free.

"The prosecutors are going to play this for the jury," said Ornazian.

"What's that got to do with the robbery?"


"They just trying to assassinate my character."


Antonius shook his head ruefully. "Everybody be steppin on my dick."

Antonius's prospects were not good. He'd been in the jail awaiting trial for the past twenty-three months. The evidence against him was overwhelming. He was looking at twelve years in a federal joint. Lorton, the local prison over the river, had closed long ago, so he was going somewhere far away.

"How are you handling the hole?" said Ornazian.

"I don't mind it," said Antonius. "I got my own cell. Nobody bothers me down there. No situations, nothing like that."

"You getting out soon?"

"They supposed to move me back to Gen Pop any day."

"Let me ask you something. You ever come across a guy named Michael Hudson up on that unit?"

Antonius thought it over. "I know a dude goes by Hudson. Not really to speak to outside of a nod. Quiet, tall dude, keeps his hair close. Medium skin."

"Is he clean-shaven?" said Ornazian, road-testing Antonius's information.

"Nah, he wears a beard. Gets it full too. Heard he's in on a rip-and-run charge. He's waiting to go to trial."

"That's the guy," said Ornazian. "Could you pass on a message to him when you get out of solitary?"

"Sure," said Antonius. "What you want me to tell him?"

"Just tell him Phil Ornazian said, 'Everything is going to be fine.'"

"I got you."

"Thanks, Antonius. I'm sorry I couldn't do more for you."

"Wasn't your fault. You tried."

Ornazian reached across the table. He and Antonius bumped fists.


MEN IN orange jumpsuits stood in an orderly line, waiting patiently to talk to a woman who was seated at a desk bolted to the jailhouse floor. On the desk was a paper circulation log, a stack of DCPL book receipts, and a pen. Beside the desk was a rolling cart with shelves holding books. The cell doors of the General Population unit had been opened remotely by a guard in a glassed-in station that was known as "the fishbowl." Two other guards were stationed in the unit, observing the proceedings, bored and disengaged. There was no need for them to be on high alert. When the book lady was on the block, the atmosphere was calm.

The woman at the desk was the mobile librarian of the D.C. Jail. The men addressed her as Anna, or Miss Anna if they were raised a certain way. On the job she wore no makeup and dressed in utilitarian and nonprovocative clothing. Her skin was olive, her hair black, her eyes a light shade of green. She had recently turned thirty, was a swimmer and biker, and kept herself fit. In the facility, she used her maiden name, Kaplan. On the street, and on her driver's license, she went with her husband's surname, which was Byrne.

"How you doin today, Anna?" said Donnell, a rangy young guy with sleepy eyes.

"I'm good, Donnell. How are you?"

"Maintaining. You got that chapter-book I asked for?"

From the cart beside her, Anna found the novel Donnell had requested and put it in his hand. She entered his name, the title of the book, his inmate identification number, cell, and return date in the log.

"Can't nobody mess with Dave Robicheaux," said Donnell.

"I hear he's pretty indestructible," said Anna.

"Can I ask you something?"


"You got any books that, you know, explain women?"

"What do you mean, explain them?"

"I got this one girlfriend, man, I don't know. Like, I can't figure out what she thinking from day to day. Women can be, you know, mysterious. Sayin, is there a book you could recommend?"

"Like a manual?"


"Maybe you should read a novel written by a woman. That might give you an idea of the kinds of things that go on in a woman's head."

"You got any recommendations?"

"Let me think on it. In the meantime, that Robicheaux is due in a week, when I come back."

"What if I don't finish it by then?"

"You can renew it for one more week."

"Okay, then. Cool."

Donnell walked away. The next inmate stepped up to the table.

"Lorton Legends," said the man, asking for a novel that was often requested but unavailable inside the walls. The book was set in the old prison and on D.C.'s streets. "You got that?"

"We don't," said Anna. "Didn't you ask for this same book last week?"

"Thought y'all might've got it in since then."

By policy, sexually explicit books and books that promoted violence were not available in the jail library. Some urban fiction made the cut, some did not. Certain heavily requested books that espoused outlandish conspiracy theories, like Behold a Pale Horse and The Forty-Eight Laws of Power, were also prohibited. The sexuality and violence standards set by the D.C. Public Library for the detention facility were murky and often went unenforced. Some serial-killer novels and soft-core potboilers made it through the gates. Anna had once seen a group of inmates in the dayroom watching a DVD of The Purge.

"What you got for me, then?" said the man. "Don't give me no boring stuff."

On the cart, Anna found something by Nora Roberts, a prolific, popular novelist who typically generated good feedback, and gave it to the man. She began to log the details of the inmate and the novel.

"I read one of hers before," said the man, inspecting the jacket. "She's cool. That'll work."

As he drifted, the next man came up to the table. He was tall, with a full beard and close-cut hair. Anna knew little about him except for his reading habits. He was nice-looking, had a lean build, and spoke with soft confidence. His name was Michael Hudson.

"Mr. Hudson."

"What do you have for me today, Miss Anna?"

She handed him two books that she had chosen for him when she had staged her cart the previous afternoon. One was a story collection called Kentucky Straight. The other was a single volume with two Elmore Leonard Western novels, written early in his career.

Inmates could check out two books a week. She often gave Michael longish books or volumes containing multiple novels because he tended to run through the material very quickly. In the past year, since he had first been incarcerated, he had become a voracious reader. His tastes ran to stories occurring outside of East Coast cities. He liked to read books about the kinds of people he'd not met growing up in Washington, set in places he'd never visited. Nothing too difficult or dense. He preferred stories that were clearly written and simply told. He read for entertainment. Michael was new to this. He wasn't trying to impress anyone. But his tastes were evolving. He was learning.

He studied the jackets, glanced at the inner flap of Kentucky Straight.

"The stories in that book are set mainly in Appalachia," said Anna.

"Like, mountain folk," said Michael.

"Uh-huh. The author grew up there. I think you'll like the Westerns too."

"Yeah, Leonard. That dude's real."

"You read Swag. One of his crime novels."

"I remember." Michael looked her in the eye. "Thank you, Miss Anna."

"Just doing my job."

"So, tell me a couple more titles. For later."

As Michael had gotten more into reading, he had asked Anna to recommend some books for him to read in the future, either upon his release or when he transitioned to prison. Novels that were not in her inventory or were deemed inappropriate for the inmates. Books she thought he might like. She gave him the titles verbally. He'd write them down later, tell them to his mother when she came to visit. His mother had been surprised, and pleased, that he had developed an interest in books.

"Hard Rain Falling," she said. "By Don Carpenter. And a short-story collection called The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien. It's set in Vietnam, during the war."

"Hard Rain Falling, Carpenter," repeated Michael. "Things They Carried."

"Tim O'Brien."

"Got it." He stood there, as if waiting.

The man behind him said, "Shit. My hair about to go gray."

"Is there something else?" said Anna.

"Just want to say…I never read a book in my life before I came in here. You know that, right? This pleasure I got now, it's because of you."

"The DCPL put a branch in here a couple of years ago. That's why you get to read books. But I'm glad you're taking advantage of the opportunity. I hope you like those."

"I'll let you know."

"You're coming to book club next week, right?"

"You know I am," said Michael.

"I'll see you in the chapel."


She watched him walk toward his cell. He was rubbing the cover of one of the books as if he were polishing something precious in his hands.


THERE WAS a law library in the detention facility that the inmates used to research their cases. Anna had worked there when she'd first come to the jail.

The law library was available to members of each housing unit for two hours per week and to inmates who were in Restricted Housing by request. A civilian law librarian ran the operation and was assisted by a legal clerk who was an inmate, a desirable, soft-labor position in the jail. Inmates had access to reading materials and to LexisNexis programs on computers but had no access to e-mail services or the internet. In addition to research, the law library's space was used for voting, which was available to non-felons only, and for SAT and GED testing.

Though the D.C. Jail's library was an official branch of the DCPL, it was not a traditional library in that inmates could not enter a room and browse through the stacks. An actual library was to open soon, but for now, books were delivered to the inmates on a cart.

There were fifteen units at the jail. The mobile librarian visited three units per day, so every unit received her services once a week. Among the units were GED, General Population, Fifty and Older, Mental Health, Juvenile, and Restricted Housing. Each unit had its own characteristics and needs. It was part of Anna's job to anticipate those needs when she staged her carts and chose titles from the over three thousand books housed in the workroom. The library stocked paperbacks only.

Four thirty was her quitting time. Anna was in the workroom and had been staging her cart for the Fifty and Older unit, which she was scheduled to visit the following morning. That particular unit housed mostly repeat offenders, parole violators, and drug addicts. She chose a couple of Gillian Flynn novels, popular among inmates, and some early Stephen Kings. Anything by King was in heavy play. The Harry Potter books were wildly popular as well.

Anna's assistant, Carmia, a recent graduate of UDC who had come up in public housing in Southeast, stood nearby, inspecting each book that had been returned, fanning through pages, checking for notes and contraband. For security reasons, books could not be passed from inmate to inmate. Each book was inspected between rentals.

"You almost ready, Anna?"


"We can walk out together. I got to get my boy out of day care."

"I'm nearly done."

Anna had been at the D.C. Jail for several years but not always in her current position. After her undergrad studies at Emerson, in Boston, she accompanied her husband, who had been hired as a junior attorney in a District law firm, to Washington, where she obtained her master's in library science at Catholic University. Her first job in town was as a law librarian in a firm on H Street. This bored her silly, so when she saw an ad posted by the Corrections Corporation of America for the position of law librarian of the D.C. Central Detention Facility, she applied. To her surprise, she was quickly hired.

Running the law library of the jail was her first encounter with lockup. Initially, the experience was troubling, especially the daily security process and the ominous finality of doors closing, locks turning, and gates clanging shut. But these procedures and sounds soon became part of her routine, and quickly she found that she preferred dealing with inmates to dealing with attorneys. Interacting one-on-one with men who were incarcerated was not problematic. She was there to help them, and they knew it. It unsettled her, sometimes, to sit with a man charged with rape or pedophilia and direct him toward informational avenues of appeal. But she never felt threatened. Rather, she was unfulfilled. It wasn't a creative or particularly rewarding way to spend one's day. Also, she had a deep love of fiction, and she thought it would be cool to promote literature and literacy. So when the DCPL opened a library branch in the jail in the spring of 2015, she applied for the position of librarian and got the job.

"Coming?" said Carmia, a devout Christian with pretty brown eyes who was built small and stocky, like a low-to-the-ground running back.

Anna shut down her government cell phone, then gathered the few belongings she had brought into the jail and placed them in a clear plastic handbag.

"Let's go."


ANNA AND Carmia exited the D.C. Central Detention Facility and walked to the lot where they had parked their cars. They passed a variety of guards, visitors, administrators, and law enforcement officers, driving, headed on foot to their vehicles, or standing around, catching smokes and talking about their day. The jail was at Nineteenth and D, Southeast, on the eastern edge of the 20003 zip code and residential Kingman Park. Longtime natives knew the area mainly as the 190-acre Stadium-Armory Campus, which housed the jail, the former D.C. General Hospital, now an enormous homeless shelter, and the beloved RFK Stadium, where the Washington Redskins had played during their glory years.

"Have a blessed day," said Carmia, veering off toward a Japanese import that she would be paying on for the next five years.


  • "Like his hero Elmore Leonard, Pelecanos finds the humanity in the lowest of lowlifes. . . . Pelecanos' peppery dialogue energizes every page."—Lloyd Sachs, Chicago Tribune
  • "This is a book about love of family, about the stresses that can lure almost anyone into crime and about how hard it can be for someone [to] make it on the outside. But most of all, it is a book about the transformative powers of friendship and reading. The story is told in tight, soulful prose by a novelist who has devoted many hours to inmate literacy programs in D.C."—Bruce DeSilva, Associated Press
  • If I were in jail, George Pelecanos would be on my reading list, right up there with James Lee Burke and Elmore Leonard. . . . Pelecanos's characters [are] so human and so doomed. This is an author who writes with the steady hand of a man who knows he's driving a cool set of wheels and respects his own mechanical skills."—Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review
  • "A modern storytelling master's paean to the power of books, literature, librarians, and booksellers."—Bethanne Patrick,
  • "One of the top ten crime novels of the decade . . . George Pelecanos's tales of tough times in Washington DC have all the force, and none of the nonsense, of ancient Greek tragedy."—Mark Sanderson, The Times [UK]
  • "Read this crime novel for entertainment, a look into the human condition in extraordinary circumstances, and for the dissection of the democratic act of the experience of reading great books."—KUMW
  • "In this book, George Pelecanos stretches, showing a broader understanding of his characters' actions and motivations, and the result is a more interesting book. I hope that whatever he may do in television in the future, he never stops writing novels."—Washington Times
  • "The thriller plot is taut and suspenseful, as jolting as it is carefully nuanced, but it is Pelecanos' focus on character, on his ability to show the richness and depth of his people, as well as their often-heartbreaking yearning for something more, that gives this novel-and all his work-its special power."—Booklist, Starred Review
  • "Using his customary knowing dialogue and stripped-down, soulful prose, Pelecanos skillfully, sensitively works the urban frontier where the problems and stresses of everyday life cross the line into the sort of criminal behavior that could tempt anyone-anyone at all."—Kirkus

On Sale
Sep 10, 2019
Page Count
272 pages
Mulholland Books

George Pelecanos

About the Author

George Pelecanos is the bestselling author of twenty-two novels and story collections set in and around Washington, D.C. He is also a producer and Emmy-nominated writer of HBO's The WireTremeThe Deuce and We Own This City. He lives in Maryland.

Learn more about this author