"That's some damn shameful timing," Johnson said. "The man was right about to hit it big."
"Didn't he just sell the movie rights to that magazine article?" Walker asked.
"Yeah, he did," Johnson said. "Got a nice chunk of change from that one actress, the blonde in all those legal thrillers."
His partner didn't read the entertainment section as thoroughly as I did. Walker wanted to know if she was the same actress who "gained all that weight for that one role." Nope, they just looked alike.
I guess that's the way the entertainment industry works. The victim dies, her family loses a daughter and sister, and I nearly get killed. But who sells the story and drives an S-Class Benz? Percy Crenshaw.
"I actually met him once," Johnson said.
"I hope you weren't the target of a story he was after," I said. "From what I've heard, the guy left no stone unturned."
"Understatement of the century," Walker added. "More like he'd crawl over his dying mother to get to the last stone left unturned."
"Nah, nothing like that," Johnson said. "We had a real quick 'Hello, how are you?' kind of deal about a year ago at a Boys and Girls Club thing. There's not too many brothers in this white-bread town with real jobs. Once you find yourself on the list of people to call for mentoring panels and whatnot, it's probably inevitable that you end up meeting Percy."
Fewer than 7 percent of Portland's half a million residents are African-Americans. Take into account the predictable decision of the upwardly mobile to live with similarly situated others, and you don't find many black professionals who move to or stick around the Pacific Northwest.
"So what was he like?" I asked.
Johnson's eyes darted briefly to the ME van, the doors now closed. He paused, then shook his head. "Not what you'd expect," he said. "You know, none of the 'tude he puts on in his interviews. Pretty down-to-earth. He talked to the kids about being one of the few black journalism majors at U of O. They were more interested in his work digging up the dirt. I remember him looking me right in the eye when he told them he'd thought of being a cop but wanted the freedom to do what was right."
"I know the guy's dead," Walker said, "but fuck that noise."
"No, he was all right. You get stopped a hundred times for being in a nice car, and you eventually develop a chip. Imagine what he would have written today about the protests. I feel bad for Hamilton," he said, referring to the cop who shot Delores Tompkins, "but if this shit keeps up, the city's going to burn."
I could tell that Walker was poised for rebuttal, so I brought us back to the subject at hand. "Any theories yet on who might have had a chip against him?"
They shook their heads. "Way too soon to say," Johnson said. "I suppose there's always the chance he finally ticked off the wrong kind of nut job--"
"Well, you know that's what they'll be saying tonight on the six o'clock news," I interjected.
"Of course I know that," he acknowledged, "but I also know what you've been around long enough to know too: By the end of the day, we're probably going to learn that Percy Crenshaw had something kinky going on behind the public persona."
You've seen it before in high-profile murder cases. Early speculation about a motive usually gives way to a dirty little secret, lingering somewhere in the victim's life: shady business deals, a tryst with someone else's wife, a hidden life in Internet chat rooms -- something to put the case squarely in the "comfort zone" of murder, where people toeing the straight-and-narrow are safely off limits.
From Close Case by Alafair Burke, Chapter 1, pages 3-17 of the hardcover edition. Copyright © 2005 Alafair Burke.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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