Once Lincoln Perry and Ed Gradduk were friends. Then Perry became a cop, Gradduk turned dangerous, and their friendship imploded. Now, Gradduk is dead. And Perry wants to use his PI license to prove that whatever else his childhood friend might have been, he wasn't a murderer.
For the police, this case is over. The woman Gradduk is alleged to have killed can't tell her side of the story, and the building she entered with him has burned to the ground. But Perry is making connections to a wave of arson that struck Cleveland seventeen years ago-fires that lit up the dark secrets of two families, a local powerbroker, and at least one crooked cop. Now Perry and his partner can see ties between the past and present, between innocents and criminals-and sirens that keep playing...
With an intense exploration of both character and crime, Sorrow's Anthem establishes Michael Koryta as one of the top young mystery writers in America today.
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By Michael Koryta
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2006 Michael Koryta
All rights reserved.
I heard the sirens, but paid them no mind. They were near, and they were loud, but this was the west side of Cleveland, and while there were many worse places in the world, it was also not the type of neighborhood where a police siren made you do a double take.
"You ready, West Tech?" Amy Ambrose asked, taking a shot from the free throw line that caught nothing but the old chain net as it fell. Out here the nets were chain, not cord, and while they could lacerate your hand on a rebound attempt, they sounded awfully satisfying when a shot fell through, a jingle of success like a winning pull on a slot machine.
"Of course I'm ready," I answered, trying to match her shot but clanging it off the rim instead. This didn't bode well. Amy had been challenging me to a game of horse all week, and I was distressed to find she could actually shoot. I'd played basketball for West Tech in the last years of the school, before the old building was shut down, but it had been several months since I'd even taken a shot. Amy had become a basketball fan in recent years, more inspired than ever since LeBron James had arrived in Cleveland, and I had a bad feeling that I was about to become the latest victim of her new hobby.
"I hope you've got a better touch than that when you actually need it," Amy said of my errant effort.
"I was always more of a point guard in high school," I said. "You know, a distributor."
"So you couldn't shoot," Amy said, hitting another shot, this one from the baseline. She pointed at her feet. "You've got to make it from here."
I missed. Amy grinned.
"You've got an 'H' already, stud. Looks like this will be a short one." She was about to release her next shot when her cell phone rang with a shrill, hideous rendition of Beethoven's Fifth. She missed the shot wide, then turned to me with a frown. "Doesn't count. The cell phone distracted me."
"It counts," I answered. "You ask me, you should be penalized a letter just for having that ring on your phone."
She let the phone go unanswered. I took a shot from the three-point line and made it. Amy missed, and we were tied at "H." Her phone rang again, turning the heads of a few of the kids who were hanging out at the opposite end of the court. We were playing at an elementary school not far from my apartment.
"I'm not losing to you, Lincoln," Amy said as I hit another shot. She continued to ignore the phone, which was on the ground behind the basket, and eventually it silenced. After a long moment of focusing, she took the shot and made it, forcing me to try again.
We traded makes for a few minutes, and then Amy pulled ahead by a letter. We were both beginning to sweat now as we moved around the court, the mugginess of the August day not fading as fast as the sun. Amy looked like a teenager in her shorts and T-shirt, with her curly hair pulled back into a ponytail. A couple of boys who were maybe sixteen went past on skateboards and gave her a long, approving stare.
"Your shot," Amy said after she finally missed one. "Make it interesting, would you?"
I dribbled left and came back to the right, pivoted, and fired a pretty fade away jump shot that caught the side of the backboard and sailed out of bounds, a Michael Jordan move with Lincoln Perry results.
"That was embarrassing even to watch," Amy said.
"I won seven games with that move in high school, smart-ass."
Her phone began to ring again. I groaned.
"Just answer the damn thing or turn it off, Ace."
"Okay." She tossed the ball back to me and walked over to pick up the phone. While she talked, I stepped outside the three-point line and put up a few more long shots, missing more than I hit.
Amy hung up and walked back onto the court. She stood with her hands on her hips, her eyes distant.
"What's up?" I said, dribbling the ball idly with one hand.
"It was my editor. Big story breaking. He wanted to know if I had a good source with the fire department."
"Involves your old neighborhood," she said. "Any chance you want to ride down there with me and do some reporting? Maybe you could hook me up with a good source or two."
I smiled. "You're way too suburban to be hanging out in my old neighborhood, Ace."
"Shut up." Amy likes to think of herself as tough and street-savvy, and she hates it when I hassle her about her childhood in Parma, a middle-class suburb south of the city. I was west side all the way.
"What's the story?" I took another jump shot and hit it.
"That does sound like the old neighborhood." I retrieved the ball and dribbled back to the top of the key, my back to Amy.
"Some guy set fire to a house down on Train Avenue with a woman inside. Dumb ass was caught on tape, though. A liquor-store surveillance camera from across the street, I guess. When the cops went to arrest him this evening, he fought them and got away."
"Remember the sirens we heard earlier?" I said.
"That could've been the reason for them. Guy who set the fire lives up on Clark Avenue. I thought you grew up off Clark."
"That's right." I took another shot. "What's the guy's name?"
The ball hit hard off the back of the rim and came bouncing straight at me. I let it sail past without even extending a hand. It rolled to the far end of the court, but I kept my eyes on Amy.
"Ed Gradduk," I said.
"That's how my editor pronounced it. You know him?"
The sun was all the way behind the school now, the court bathed in shadows. The ball lay still about fifty feet behind us. I walked across the court, picked it up, and brought it back to Amy. She was watching me with raised eyebrows.
I said. "Here's your ball. Listen, I'm sorry, but I need to leave. Consider it a forfeit if you want. We'll have a rematch some other time."
She took the ball and frowned at me. "Lincoln, what's the problem? Do you know this guy?"
I wiped sweat from my forehead with the back of my hand and looked off, away from the orange sunset and toward the shadows east of us. Toward Clark Avenue.
"I knew him. And I'm sorry, but I've got to go, Ace."
"I need to take a walk, Amy."
She wanted to protest, to ask more questions, but she didn't. Instead she stood alone on the basketball court while I walked away. I went around the school building and out to the street, got inside my truck, and started the engine. The air conditioner hit me with a blast of warm air and I switched it off and lowered the windows instead. It was stuffy and hot in the truck, but the trickle of sweat sliding down my spine was as cold as lake water.
* * *
It's early summer. I'm twelve years old, as is Edward Nathaniel Gradduk, my best friend. We are spending this night as we've spent every night so far this summer: playing catch in Ed's front yard. The yard is narrow, as they all are on Clark Avenue, so we begin our game in the driveway. As the night grows late, though, the house and the trees block out the remains of the sun, and we move into the front yard to prolong things. Here, with the glow of the streetlight, we can play all night if we want to. The ball is difficult to see until it is right on you, but we've decided this is a good practice element, calling for faster reflexes. By the time we get to high school, we'll have the best reflexes around, and from there it will be a short trip to the major leagues. High school, to us, seems about as real a possibility as the major leagues this summer; a dreamworld with driver's licenses and cars and girls with breasts.
"Pete Rose is a worthless piece of shit," Ed says, whipping the ball at me with a sidearm motion. "I don't care how many hits he has."
"Damn straight," I reply, returning the throw. Ed and I are Cleveland Indians fans, horrible team or not, and if you're a Cleveland Indians fan you hate Pete Rose. You hate him because he is a star player in Cincinnati, a few hours to the south, but more than that, you hate him because he ran into Ray Fosse at full speed in an All-Star game more than a decade ago and Ray was never the same after the collision. Thirty years after the team's last pennant, a player like Ray Fosse means a lot to Indians fans. He is another bust now, another hope extinguished, but for this one we get the satisfaction of blaming Pete Rose.
"My dad said he'd like to see Pete Rose come up to Cleveland and go into one of the bars," Ed says. "Said he'd get his ass kicked so fast it wouldn't even be funny. 'Cept it would be funny, you know? Funnier than shit."
Ed has a way of talking just like his old man, which explains the persistent profanity. My own dad would clock me if he ever heard me swearing like we do, but when I'm with Ed, it's safe. Cool, even. A couple of tough guys.
"Damn straight," I say again, a tough-guy phrase if ever there was one. "I wish I could be there to see it."
"Pete'll never come to town," Ed says. "Doesn't have the balls."
Ed lives on Clark Avenue, and I live with my father in a small house on Frontier Avenue, just south of Clark. Our wanderings carry us as far east as Fulton Road, and a favorite spot is St. Mary's Cemetery on West Thirty-eighth. Sometimes Ed and I run through the cemetery at night, telling each other ghost stories that start out seeming corny but end up making us sprint for home. Ed's mother is always at home; my mother has been dead since I was three. I have a framed picture of her on the table beside my bed. The first time Ed saw it, he frowned and asked why I had a picture of my mother in my room. I told him she was dead, flushing with a mix of shame and anger — ashamed that I was embarrassed to have the picture out, and angry that Ed was challenging it. He looked at it judiciously, touched the edge of the frame gently with his finger, and said, "She was real pretty." From then on, Ed Gradduk has been my best friend.
My dad's at home now, probably asleep in his armchair with the Indians game on the television or the radio, whichever is broadcasting tonight. We don't have cable, so we still listen to a lot of the games on the radio. I'm allowed to be at Ed's house because his mother is home. Ed's father is probably down at the Hideaway, playing cards and drinking beer. He might come home soon, toss the ball around with us for a while and tell jokes, or he might not come home at all. Ed will pretend he doesn't care if his dad hasn't shown up by the time we go to bed, but he'll also alternate glances between the clock and the street until he falls asleep.
"Pretty Boy Pete Rose," Ed sings, jogging back until he is on the sidewalk and rifling the ball at me so hard I take a step back and hold my glove up with both hands, feeling silly, but thankful I am able to see the damn thing before it can drill me in the nose.
"Tougher than usual tonight," Ed says, seeing my near disaster with his throw. He points skyward. "One of the streetlights is burned out."
"You wanna go in?" I say.
He scowls. "Nah, I don't want to go in this early."
I toss the ball in and out of my mitt and wait for him to make a decision. He scuffs his sneaker on the ground and eyes the garage thoughtfully.
"'Member when my dad was painting the house?" he asks. When I nod, he says, "Well, he couldn't do it till he got home from work, and by then it was already almost dark. So he bought a spotlight to help him."
"You still have it?"
"Yeah. He never really used it, said the paint always looked different during the day and that pissed him off. But I think he kept the light."
"We bring that out here, maybe we can even see well enough to hit wiffle balls," I say, liking this suggestion. "It'd be like playing at the stadium in a night game."
"Come on." Ed drops his mitt to the ground and starts for the tiny, one-car garage that sits behind the house. I follow.
There used to be a floodlight attached to the garage, but it, too, is broken. The overhead door is down, and we have to go in through the side door. Ed's a step in front of me, but even so I can smell the gas as soon as he pulls the door open. Most old garages carry the smell of fuel with them, but this is different, just a bit too strong. There's music playing, too — Van Morrison singing "Into the Mystic."
Ed is fumbling against the wall for the light switch, oblivious to the smell. He can't find the switch, reaching with a twelve-year-old's short arms, so he steps farther into the garage. I move with him, and now I'm inside the dank little building. The fuel smell is still potent. I'm wearing my mitt, but I slip it off my hand and let it drop to the concrete floor. The baseball is clenched tight in my right hand, my arm pulled back a bit. I've never been scared of the dark, but for some reason I want out of this garage.
"I can't find the damn switch," Ed mutters beside me, and then there's a click and the little room fills with bright white light. For a second it's too bright, and I close my eyes against the shock. They're closed when I hear Ed begin to scream.
My eyes snap open and I take a stumbling step backward, trying to get out of the garage, thinking that there is an attacker in here, some sort of threat to make Ed scream like that. My back hits the wall, though, and in the extra second I'm kept in the garage my eyes finally take in the scene.
Ed's father's Chevy Nova is inside the garage. The driver's window is down and upon the doorframe rests Norm Gradduk's head. His face is pointed toward the ceiling, his skin puffy and unnatural. It takes one look to tell even me, a child, that he is dead.
Ed runs toward the car, shrieking in a pitch higher than I would've thought he could possibly reach. He extends his arms to his father, then pulls them back immediately. He wants to help him; he's scared to touch him.
"We gotta call somebody," I say, my own voice trembling. I step closer to the car despite a deep desire to get as far from the scene as possible, and now I can see inside. There's a bottle of liquor in Norm Gradduk's lap. One of his hands is still wrapped around it. On the stereo, Van Morrison sings of a foghorn blowing, "I want to hear it, I don't have to fear it ..."
Ed turns and runs past me, out the door and into the yard. He's still screaming, and after one more look at Norm Gradduk, I begin to shout, too. Inside the house, Ed's mother yells for everyone to keep it down out there.
It takes the paramedics seven minutes to arrive, and about seventy seconds for them to tell Ed and his mother that there is nothing they can do.CHAPTER 2
I still knew the house, although I hadn't been inside in years. Word of mouth brought me the news that Ed had bought his childhood home, and while I could no longer remember the source, I remembered hearing about it. The house had never been a showpiece — nothing in our neighborhood was — but when Ed's dad was alive it had been the best on the block, hands down. He'd spent hours on it, painting and repairing and weeding. My own father had always been impressed by it, telling me on many occasions that while Norm Gradduk had his faults, he took pride in his home, and there weren't enough men around who still did that.
It was evident that Ed intended to match his father's devotion. The house looked bad, with a sagging porch roof, a broken window on the second story, and paint that had forgotten whether it was pale yellow or white and decided to settle on grimy gray. A ladder was leaning against the west side of the house, though, and it was clear that someone had been scraping the peeling paint off that wall with the idea of applying a fresh coat. A stack of discarded scrap wood near the porch was evidence of new planking laid on the floor. No doubt the porch roof was next on the list.
No police cars were in the driveway or at the curb when I arrived, but I saw a black Crown Victoria parked on the street two blocks down. They would be there all night, watching for a return that would surely not occur. I parked my truck facing them, and then I walked through the yard and up the front steps. Maybe someone would be home. A girlfriend, or a roommate. Hell, he could be married by now for all I knew.
My footsteps were loud on the new porch. I stood there and looked around for a minute, lost in memories, then nearly fell back off the porch when someone screamed at me from inside the house.
"Go away, go away, go away," a woman's voice screeched. "I told you filthy bastards to go away!"
I started to heed the command, but then the voice jarred something loose in my memory, and I stopped and turned to the closed front door.
"Mrs. Gradduk, it's Lincoln Perry," I said, speaking loudly.
Cars passed on the street, and a few blocks down some kids were yelling and laughing, bass music thumping in the background, a party building. The streetlight flickered and hummed, and I stood with my hands in my pockets and waited. I waited until I was sure she was not coming to the door, and then I reached out and knocked. I'd hardly laid my knuckles to the wood when the door swung open and a thin woman with hollow eye sockets and deep wrinkles stood before me.
Excerpted from Sorrow's Anthem by Michael Koryta. Copyright © 2006 Michael Koryta. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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