Fear of the Dark

A Novel


By Walter Mosley

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Fearless Jones and Paris Minton, stars of the bestsellers Fearless Jones and Fear Itself, return in a high-velocity, larger-than-life thriller about family, betrayal, and revenge.

“I’m in trouble, Paris.” Paris Minton has heard these words before. They mean only one thing: that his neck is on the line too. So when they are uttered by his lowlife cousin Ulysses S. Grant, Paris keeps the door firmly closed. With family like Ulysses — useless to everyone except his mother — who needs enemies?

But trouble always finds an open window, and when “Useless” Ulysses’ mother, Three Hearts, shows up from Louisiana to look for her son, Paris has no choice but to track down his wayward cousin. Finding a con artist like Useless is easier said than done. But with the aid of his ear-to-the-ground friend Fearless Jones, Paris gets a hint that Useless may have expanded his range of enterprise to include blackmail.

Now he has disappeared, and Paris’s mission is to discover whether he is hiding from his vengeful victims — or already dead. Traversing the complicated landscape of 1950s Los Angeles, where a wrong look can get a black man killed, Paris and Fearless find desperate women, secret lives, and more than one dead body along the way.

Fear of the Dark is filled with the sheer-nerve plotting and brilliant characterizations that prompted The Nation to credit Walter Mosley for “the finest detective oeuvre in American literature.”




Devil in a Blue Dress

A Red Death

White Butterfly

Black Betty

A Little Yellow Dog

Gone Fishin'

Bad Boy Brawly Brown

Six Easy Pieces

Little Scarlet

Cinnamon Kiss


Workin' on the Chain Gang

What Next: An African American Initiative Toward World Peace

Life out of Context


RL's Dream

Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned

Blue Light

Walkin' the Dog

Fearless Jones


Fear Itself

The Man in My Basement


The Wave

Fortunate Son


I WAS EXPECTING ONE KIND of trouble when another came knocking at my door.

A year or so after I opened my Florence Avenue Used Book Shop, I installed four mirrors; one in the upper-right-hand corner of the door frame, one just outside the lower-left-hand side of the window, and the third, and second-largest, mirror was placed inside the window. So by daylight or lamplight at night, all I had to do was pull back the bottom hem of the inside drape to see who was knocking.

I installed my little spying device because if a man wanted to kill you and you asked "Who is it?" on the other side of a thin plank of wood, all he would have to do is open fire and that would be it. You might as well just throw the door open and say "Here I am. Come shoot me."

Someone might wonder why the owner of a used-book store would even think about armed assassins coming after him at any time, for any reason. After all, this is America we're talking about. And not only America but Los Angeles in the midfifties—1956 to be exact.

We aren't talking about the Wild West or a period of social and political unrest. That was the most serene period of a democratic and peaceful nation. Most Americans at that time only worried about the cost of gas going above twenty-nine cents a gallon.

But most Americans weren't black and they sure didn't live in South Central L.A. And even if they were my color and they did live in my neighborhood, their lives would have been different.

Through no fault of my own I often found myself in the company of desperate and dangerous men—and women. I associated with murderers, kidnappers, extortionists, and fools of all colors, ages, and temperaments. By nature I am a peaceful man, some might say cowardly. I don't care what they say. It does not shame me to admit that I would rather run than fight. Sometimes, even with my mirrors, I didn't go anywhere near the door if the knock was too loud or too stealthy.

And during business hours, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Monday through Saturday, I sat at my desk at the top of the staircase so that if someone dangerous walked in I would be able to get away before they even knew I was there; the fourth, and largest, mirror was on the ceiling at the head of the stairs for just that purpose.

Don't get me wrong; most of my customers were readers, primarily women and children, and unlikely to be looking for trouble. Whole days could go by and no one came to my bookstore (which was also my home), so I could spend long days reading books, uninterrupted and blissful.

But even though I was alone most days and the people who sought me out were, 999 times out of 1,000, looking for a book, there was that one time now and again when someone came to my door bearing malice and a gun.

I often think that this was true because of my decade-long friendship with Fearless Jones. Fearless was tall and thin, jet of color, and stronger of thew and character than any other man I had ever met. He wasn't afraid of death or love, threat or imprisonment. Fearless Jones wasn't even afraid of poverty, which made him a rare man indeed. No one could intimidate him and so he went wherever he wanted and associated with anyone he cared to.

Those anyones often came to me when they were looking for my friend and expressed themselves in ways that Fearless would not have stood for—if he were there.

Sometimes Fearless came to me when he was in a jam and needed the clear eye of logic to see his way out. And, because he'd saved my life more than once, I most often agreed to help, with the caveat that my aid wouldn't throw me into trouble.

The problem was, Fearless didn't ever feel like he was in trouble.

"Don't worry," he'd tell me. "It ain't all that bad."

And then someone was shooting at us, and Fearless did some impossible maneuver, and the gunman was disarmed, and Fearless was there smiling, saying, "You see? I told you it was all right."

So when I heard that knock on my door at 3:51 in the afternoon, I moved the hem of the drape expecting one thing, but instead I saw Ulysses S. Grant IV staring up into the mirror and waving.

"Open up, Paris. It's me."

I was a fool. I knew it even then. So what if Useless saw me in my mirror? I didn't have to open the door. I could have walked upstairs, opened up a copy of Don Quixote that I'd just acquired, and read to my heart's content.

"Come on, Cousin," Useless said. "I know you there."

I should have walked away, but Useless worried me. The kind of trouble he brought was like an infection. He never had a simple yes-or-no kind of problem; it was always "You're already in a mess. Now how do you plan to get out?"

I opened the door and stood to bar his entrance.

"What do you want?" I asked him.

"Let me by, Cousin," he said with a grin. "I need some ice water."

"I'm not askin' you again, Useless."

We were the same height, which is to say short, and he was fairly light colored, where I am considered dark (that is unless you see me standing next to Fearless Jones). Ulysses S. Grant IV, whom everyone but his mother and Fearless called Useless, was a petty thief, a liar, a malingerer, and just plain bad luck. His mother and mine were half-sisters, and I'd been dragged off by the ear because of him as far back as I could remember. As young as nine years old I was avoiding Useless.

The last time we'd seen each other was at my previous bookstore. He'd come over asking for a glass of ice water and use of the toilet. After he'd gone I didn't think much of it. But that night, while I was sleeping, I began to worry. Why had he been there? Who drops by somebody's place in L.A. for a glass of water?

It was three o'clock in the morning, but I pulled myself out of bed and went into my bathroom. I searched the medicine cabinet and behind the commode and in between the bath towels stacked on a shelf. Nothing.

I made coffee in my hot-plate kitchen and then went back to lift the heavy porcelain lid off the tank of the toilet. Down in the tank was a waterproof rubber sack filled with gold chains of various lengths and designs. Solid gold. The whole thing must have weighed two pounds.

That was 4:00 a.m.

Fearless was at my place in less than half an hour and he took the swag to hide it elsewhere.

I was in bed again by five.

At 6:47 the police were at my door with a warrant.

They went right to the toilet. Somehow they managed to shatter the lid.

It was late morning before they stopped turning over my bookstore. Those cops flipped through more books in that one day than most librarians do in a year.

After all that they arrested me. Milo Sweet, the bail bondsman, got me a good lawyer who told the cops that they had nothing on me and that any accusations made against me had to be proven or at least strongly indicated.

A week later an ugly guy named José Favor came by my house.

"Where the gold, mothahfuckah?" he said to me right off. One of his nostrils was wider than its brother, and the knuckles of his fists were misshapen, probably from beating on smaller men like me.

"You will have to speak to my agent," I told the man, who had already grabbed me by the collar of my shirt.

"Say what?"

"Fearless Jones," I said, and he let me go.

"What about him?" the ugly black man with the round eyes asked.

"He told me that anyone wanna know anything about gold they should come and see him."

José didn't say any more. I never heard about the gold again. Fearless came by the next week and took me to Tijuana, where we drank tequila and met some very nice young ladies who taught us Spanish and made us breakfast four mornings in a row.

I hadn't seen Useless since then and I hadn't missed him for a second.

"I'M IN TROUBLE, PARIS," Ulysses said, looking pathetic.


"I need help."

"I sell books, not help."

"It's about that time with the gold chains, right?" he asked me.

I didn't even answer.

"That wasn't my fault, Paris. The cops got a hold'a me and like to beat me half to death. I told 'em that I hid 'em in yo' sto'. I told 'em you didn't know nuthin' about it."

I could have asked him why did they arrest me, then? But that would have opened a conversation, and I didn't want to have anything to do with Useless Grant.

"I need a place to hide out," he said.

"Not here."

"We blood, Paris."

"That might be, but I ain't bleedin' for you."

I thought Useless was going to break down and cry. But then he looked at my face and saw that I wouldn't let him in if he was having a heart attack. He wasn't getting across my threshold even if he fell down dead.

"Well, do me one favor, okay?" he said.

I just stared at him.

"Tell Three Hearts that there's a man named Hector wrote my name on a black slip'a paper. Tell her that I tried to make it work with Angel, but I guess I was mudfoot just like she said."

I didn't say a thing. Nothing. Useless was less than that to me. I heard his words and I would repeat them if I ever saw his mother again, but he wasn't going to make it into my house.

No sir, not in a thousand years.


I CLOSED THE DOOR on Useless and took a deep breath. I had to send him away, had to. Useless was the kind of trouble that could get a man killed. He had no sense except for the sense of survival. That meant he would deal with thugs or criminals just as if they were upstanding citizens; he'd invite those men into your house and then leave out the back door when trouble started.

The next day he'd call and ask how you were just as if he hadn't seen his partners come after you with a butcher's knife. He'd come to visit you in the hospital and hit you up for a loan even after you explained to him that you couldn't pay the doctor's bill.

Useless was trouble from the git-go.

But still I felt guilty.

I loved my auntie Three Hearts. She was the finest individual that you could imagine. She never passed judgment on people without cause and she was loyal. I once had a fever of 105 degrees, and she sat there sponging me down for days while my mother was laid up sick with the same flu. She stayed with us another week, cooking and looking after us while her son, Useless, broke every toy I owned.

Three Hearts's only blind spot was her son. Useless could do nothing wrong in her mind. If he got in trouble it was always somebody else's fault. If he lied it was for a higher purpose. Her son was a perfect man, and woe be unto those who thought otherwise. She lived in Lafayette, Louisiana, which was a good thing because that meant I wouldn't have to face her wrath at my turning her boy away in time of need.

Maybe I would have offered Useless a glass of water but, as I said before, I was already expecting trouble when he came knocking.

THREE WEEKS EARLIER I had been having dinner at a diner in downtown L.A. It was an Italian-American place at one of the crossroads between the races. There were all kinds of patrons eating there: whites, blacks, Asians, and even one Mexican family.

I liked integrated places. I guess that's because my time in the Deep South had been defined by segregation. They wouldn't let me into the library in my hometown. I wasn't even allowed to urinate where a white man had gone.

I had ordered eggplant parmigiana and was sitting there reading Ulysses by James Joyce. The book was no longer banned in the United States, but there was still a stigma attached to it, and I wanted to see what that was all about.

Between Joyce's playfulness, the eggplant and Italian bread, and the satisfaction of being able to sit where I was sitting, I was pretty happy.

Also, at the booth across from me there was this skinny young white woman. She had natural, if dirty, blond hair and blue eyes that looked like pale quartz. She used her tongue a lot while eating and I was quite enchanted by her wandering gaze.

The meal and Stephen Dedalus went along just fine, and I was completely satisfied. But then a disturbance occurred.

The plump waitress, who wore a tight red uniform, had delivered a check to the blonde's table, but then she came back with the cook. The cook was dressed all in whites. He had a sailor's cap, a stained white T-shirt, bleached white trousers, and an apron that was once buff colored but now had faded to a kind of off-white.

"No, no, miss," the burly, all-white cook was saying. "This is the dinner menu. The meat loaf is two ninety-nine, not one fifty."

"It says right here that meat loaf is a dollar fifty cent," the young woman said, pointing.

"It says lunch from noon to four right here," the cook, who had a kindly face, insisted.

"You shouldn't have the lunches on the same menu with the dinners," the girl said. "I wouldn't have even eaten here if I thought I had to pay all that."

"I'm sorry," the big man said.

The woman took out a small red purse and reached in.

"Oh, no," she said.

"What now?" the waitress, who was almost as large as the cook, said.

"I must have left my wallet at home."

"I do not trust you," the cook said, and I wondered what his native language might have been.

"I'll just go home and bring it right back," the woman went on as if she had not heard his words.

"No," said the man. "You will be staying here and Diane will be calling the police."

The woman attempted to rise, but the man with the kindly face held up a warning hand.

Diane turned to go toward the counter.

People all over the diner were craning their necks to see what was happening.

"Rita?" I said. I was standing next to the cook with a restraining hand on the waitress's elbow.

The dirty blonde looked up at me, trying not to seem confused.

"Hey, Rita. It's me . . . Paris. Don't tell me you lost your wallet again. I told you you got to remember to put it in your purse before you leave the house."

"You know her?" the cook asked.

Instead of answering, I handed him a twenty-dollar bill, the first twenty I'd had a hold of in a few weeks. That's the reason I had come to the diner, because I was flush and didn't have to eat pinto beans and rice for once.

"Rita Pigeon," I said, lying easily. "We work at the Lido Theater. I take tickets in the afternoon, and she's the nighttime usherette."

"Bullshit," Diane, the obese waitress, said.

"Watch you language," the cook said. "Don't speak like that around customers."

"What customers?" Diane spat.

"Come on over and sit with me, Rita," I said to the blonde. "And could you bring us some coffee with milk?" I asked the waitress.

Diane was going to tell me where I could go, but one gesture from the cook and she was on her way.

"I don't know what kind funny stuff this is," the cook said to me, waving the Jackson note. "But I will take your money."

I remember thinking that there was a great deal more truth to what he said than he meant.

The blonde moved to my booth, and the rest of the patrons returned to eating.

"Jessa," she said, introducing herself. She held out her hand and I shook it. "Thanks."

"It was a good scam," I said. "Three out of four places would have just thrown you out and said not to come back. But you should at least have the two bucks so that the one hardnose won't send you to jail."

Jessa was wearing an orange sundress that had little white buttons all the way down the front. The collar had a little dirt on it. Her red purse was scuffed.

"If I had two dollars I would have gotten a burger someplace," she said, smiling at me. "My boyfriend took off with our money, two weeks behind on the rent."

She didn't have to ask where she was going to sleep that night. I might be a coward, but that doesn't prevent me from being a fool. Watching that girl masticate her meat loaf had wiped any caution from my mind.

I had seen Jessa every third day after paying for her meal. I even went into my sacrosanct bank account and came out with money for her weekly rate on a room down on Grand.

That woman knew how to talk to a man.

But eight days before Useless came knocking, I had gotten information from a guy who worked at the front desk of Jessa's downtown rooming house.

"Mr. Minton," Gregory Wallace, the night manager, said, speaking to me as if we were equals. He was a white guy from Idaho. He'd never understood racism. There are many white people like that, even in the South.


"You know your friend Jessa had another boyfriend before you," the skinny young man said.


"This big mean guy called Tiny."

Greg had my attention then.

"What about Tiny?" I asked.

"He's been comin' around on days that you're not here. And last night he asked me what the name was of the guy paying her rent."

Gregory had a pale, crooked face, with permanently bloodshot eyes, but he looked to me like a savior right then.

"Thanks, man."

I hadn't gone back to the rooming house for a week. That meant it was time for the rent to be paid and so Jessa would be looking for me. My phone had been off the hook for three days. I'd taken sixty-five dollars from my savings account to give to Jessa if she came by, but I intended to tell her that she needed to leave me alone.

So, Three Hearts notwithstanding, I had to turn Useless away. Because if he was there when Jessa was, I would most certainly come to grief. Useless was like monosodium glutamate for problems; he brought out the evil essence and magnified it.

I HAD JUST FINISHED rehearsing my speech to Jessa for the thirteenth time when her gentle knock came on my door.

I pulled the drape back to be sure she was alone, took a deep breath, and then opened up.

She was wearing a tan dress that hugged her slim figure and somehow wrapped around her calves.

"Hi," she said, letting her head loll to the side.


"Can I come in?"

No died on my lips as I backed away from the door. She swayed twice and crossed the threshold. She pushed the door closed, and I shivered.

Jessa Brown reached out as if she was about hold my hand, but instead she unzipped my pants and reached down into my shorts with quick and deft fingers.

"That's what I need," she said, looking into my eyes. "You know a girl can't give up a treasure like that."

I took half a breath and held it.

I am what the genteel folks call well-endowed. Some women like that. It gives them a de facto sense of power, I believe.

I'm small and weak and scared of my own shadow, and so my sexual prowess is one of the only things I have to be proud of in a masculine way. So when a woman looks me in the eye like that and tells me she needs me, I can't say no.

"Let's go upstairs," I said.



"Let's do it right here on the floor, with your pants down around your ankles and me riding that monster."


THERE WE WERE, lying on the wood floor, naked where it counted. Jessa's feathery touch was keeping me excited, and her kisses on my shoulder and cheek delivered me from fear.

I would be thirty years old later that year, but in my heart I was still a kid. When a woman laid her hands on me, there was nothing I could do. That's why I hadn't as of yet entertained the idea of marriage. My auntie Three Hearts had always told me, "A man shouldn't say I do until he can say I don't."

I was a long way from no in the presence of a woman like Jessa.

She was a good seven years younger than me, not pretty but fetching. White women were another taboo that I liked breaking now and again. But there were other qualities about that girl.

The first thing was that she didn't feel compelled to talk and didn't mind listening. She liked masculine company and so never complained about toilet seats, dirty dishes, or the errant eructation. And when she did talk, she knew how to speak to a man.

"How come you haven't been by to see me, lover?" she said with her head on my chest and her left thigh over both of mine.


"Him? Why you worried about him?"

"Because he's big and the jealous type."

"Big? He's not even half of you."

"Maybe not in the bed. But I'm not talkin' about love, J. I'm talkin' about gettin' my ass kicked—hard."

Jessa sat up to look down on me. "I'm not gonna tell Tiny about you. I don't tell him nuthin'. He just came back because he thought I'd take him in. But you know I'm easin' him out. By next week he'll be gone and forgotten."

"I don't know if we should be seeing each other," I said. I might have been more convincing if my voice hadn't gone up an octave.

"Come on, lover," she said, looking deep into my eyes. "You want this."

I did. I really did. Even though I knew better, I saw no use in that knowledge. The only reason I learned things was to be in a situation like I was there: lying on the floor in the entranceway of my bookstore, all tangled up with a girl that made my blood boil.

She kissed me.

"I can't let you go, Paris," she whispered.

Jessa Brown was from a whole slate of southern states. Her mother had moved around quite a lot. Her family was from the Midwest somewhere, but she never saw them because they called her and her mama trash. She could barely read, but she sang beautifully and had come to Los Angeles with a man named Theodore who had promised to get her an audition.

I didn't know that much about her, but it was enough to know that she was trouble.

But there I was on that floor, floating in a dream and not even thinking about waking up.

That's when the front door slammed open, breaking the lock and splintering part of the frame.

Jessa was on her feet in no more than a second. I was on my back, moving backward on all fours, under the shadow of one of the largest white men I had ever seen.

"Tiny!" Jessa shouted, and I remembered, quite clearly, why I stayed away from women like her.

"Kill you, bastard!" came from Tiny's lips. He had a movie star's voice, loud and strong.

It was his threatening tone that got me to my feet.

It was my youth and sexual prominence that saved my life.

Tiny was mad but not blind. He did a double take when he saw my diminishing erection. That one moment of hesitation was enough for Jessa. She grabbed a hardwood bookend from one of my shelves and threw herself at the behemoth. I didn't wait to see how it went.

With my pants in one hand and my drawers in the other, I made it up the staircase in triple time. At the top of the stairs I kept a large oak bookcase that only had towels and sheets on it. This light load was by design. I tipped the bookcase over so that it blocked entrée to the second floor. Then I scooted out the window and onto the tar paper roof.

I plan for calamity. The roof I was on covered the back porch of my house. There were three beams along it that could bear the weight of a man. I knew the route of those beams and went quickly along the center timber and into the apple tree in the yard.

A great bellow came from the house as I stepped onto the top pole of the wire fence that separated my backyard from the alley behind Florence. The volume of that shout made me lose my footing. My bare foot got tangled up in the top mesh, and I fell to the asphalt below.

The fence was only six feet high, but I landed on my right shoulder blade and it hurt like hell. For a moment I lay there feeling as though I could never get up. But then I saw my maple desk chair crashing through the window I had just gone through.

I dropped my underpants and jumped into my jeans as I ran.

I came out on Central in a matter of moments. I couldn't hear Tiny, but that didn't mean he wasn't after me.

There I was in the twilight, wearing only my jeans with no shoes or socks. The pain from the fall was returning. Somewhere on the run I had cut my right foot, so I was limping now and trailing blood behind me on the white sidewalk.

I looked like a hobo. And not only that, I looked like trouble and so I had to figure what establishment I could duck into that wouldn't eject me into Tiny's murderous embrace.

"Paris!" a voice called. I nearly fainted.

"Paris, what's wrong?"

The voice was coming from the street, not the alley. There was a yellowy green Studebaker, maybe ten years old, right there in the left lane. Sir Bradley was sitting behind the wheel.

I heard a shout. It might have been anybody, but I couldn't take that chance.

"They tryin' to get me, Sir," I cried.

"Jump on in, boy. Let's move."

I opened his car door and hopped into the backseat. Before the door was closed, Sir hit the gas and we were off across the intersection. I heard a loud thump, turned, and saw Tiny running only a foot or so behind us. Cars were honking in the intersection, and Sir swerved to avoid a collision. Tiny swung his fist and struck the trunk of the Studebaker again.

"Oh, shit!" Sir screamed.

The tires squealed loudly, and we were off down Central, leaving Tiny to swing his fists in the crossroads.

"Wow," my savior said. "That suckah's big. What he after you for, Paris?"

"His girlfriend forgot to tell him about me."

"White girl?"


The woman sitting next to him gave a disapproving grunt.

"Hm. That's what you get runnin' 'round with them white women," she said.

"Paris, meet Sasha," Sir said.

"Pleased to meet ya," I said while glancing out the back window and putting pressure on the cut on my foot. Now that I was safe from immediate harm, I began to worry about what Tiny would do to my store.

Turning my attention to the front seat, I saw that the woman with Sir was a deep chocolate color, with big eyes and high cheekbones. She was a beauty by any standard—except for the sour twist of her lips.

Sasha was born to be a queen and Sir was just a pawn. He was medium brown, middlebrow, and five eight in street shoes. His forehead was low, but he had a long skull from front to back. His eyes were crafty and his smile ever present. He was a union man from the first day he got a job at the Long Beach docks and he voted Democrat without even a glance at the candidate's name.

Mrs. Bradley, Sir's mother, had christened him so that no white person could insult him by refusing to call him Mister. He might have been a peasant by breeding, but there was a natural genuflection in just the mention of his name.

Maybe that's why the sour-faced beauty had hooked up with him: because saying his name did her honor.

"That boy was out for blood," Sir said.

"Uh-huh," I agreed.

Crossing the cut foot over my knee, I began teasing out the splinter of glass.

"You wanna call the cops?" Sir asked.


On Sale
Sep 19, 2006
Page Count
320 pages

Walter Mosley

About the Author

WALTER MOSLEY is one of America’s most celebrated writers. He was given the National Book Award’s 2020 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, named a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America and honored with the Anisfield-Wolf Award, a Grammy, a PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award, the Robert Kirsch Award, numerous Edgars and several NAACP Image Awards. His work is translated into 25 languages.  He has published fiction and nonfiction in The New Yorker, Playboy, and The Nation. As an executive producer, he adapted his novel, The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, for AppleTV+ and serves as a writer and executive producer for FX’s “Snowfall.” 

Learn more about this author