Excerpt from Soul Circus by George Pelecanos, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Soul Circus

by George Pelecanos

Soul Circus
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2003, 336 pages
    Feb 2004, 416 pages

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"I was just askin' a question, big man. I don't have many friends left, and I want to make sure that the ones I do have stay friends. We square, right?"

"We're square."

"Good. But, look here, don't come up in here empty-handed next time. I could use some smokes or somethin'."

"You know I can't be bringin' any contraband in here. They bar me from these meetings, it's gonna be a setback for what we're trying to accomplish."

"I hear you. How about some porno mags, though?"

"I'll see you next time."

Strange stood.

"One more thing," said Oliver.

"What is it?" said Strange.

"I was wonderin' how Robert Gray was doin'?"

"He's staying with his aunt."

"She ain't right."

"I know it. But it's the best I could do. I got him all pumped up about playing football for us this year. We're gonna start him in the camp this summer, comin' up."

"That's my little man right there. You're gonna see, that boy can jook. Check up on him, will you?"

"I get the time, I'll go by there today."

"Thank you."

"Stay strong, Granville."

Strange signaled the fat man in the booth and walked from the room.

Out in the air, on the 1900 block of D Street in Southeast, Derek Strange walked to his car. He dropped under the wheel of his work vehicle, a white-over-black '89 Caprice with a 350 square block under the hood, and rolled down the window. He had a while to kill before meeting Quinn back at the office, and he didn't want to face the ringing phone and the message slips spread out on his desk. He decided he would sit in his car and enjoy the quiet and the promise of a new day.

Strange poured a cup of coffee from the thermos he kept in his car. Coffee was okay for times like this, but he kept water in the thermos when he was doing a surveillance, because coffee went through him too quick. He only sipped the water when he knew he'd be in the car for a long stretch, and on those occasions he kept a cup in the car with a plastic lid on it, in which he could urinate as needed.

Strange tasted the coffee. Janine had brewed it for him that morning before he left the house. The woman could cook, and she could make some coffee, too.

Strange picked up the newspaper beside him on the bench, which he had snatched off the lawn outside Janine's house earlier that morning on his way to the car. He pulled the Metro section free and scanned the front page. The Washington Post was running yet another story today in a series documenting the ongoing progress of the Granville Oliver trial.

Oliver had allegedly been involved in a dozen murders, including the murder of his own uncle, while running the Oliver Mob, a large-scale, longtime drug business operating in the Southeast quadrant of the city. The Feds were seeking death for Oliver under the RICO act, despite the fact that the District's residents had overwhelmingly rejected the death penalty in a local referendum. The combination of racketeering and certain violent crimes allowed the government to exercise this option. The last execution in D.C. had been carried out in 1957.

The jury selection process had taken several months, as it had been difficult to find twelve local residents unopposed to capital punishment. During this time, Oliver's attorneys, from the firm of Ives and Colby, had employed Strange to gather evidence, data, and countertestimony for the defense.

Strange skipped the article, jumping inside Metro to page 3. His eyes went to a daily crime column unofficially known by longtime Washingtonians as "the Roundup," or the "Violent Negro Deaths." The first small headline read, "Teen Dies of Gunshot Wounds," and beneath it were two sentences: "An 18-year-old man found with multiple gunshot wounds in Southeast Washington died early yesterday at Prince George's County Hospital Center, police said. The unidentified man was found just after midnight in the courtyard area behind the Stoneridge apartments in the 300 block of Anacostia Road, and was pronounced dead at 1:03 a.m."

Copyright © 2003 by George P. Pelecanos

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