A high powered Washington attorney buys an apartment building in the heart of the city, hoping to create low income housing for good families. Instead he finds the building occupied by squatters: drug dealers, winos and hookers intent on staying in place. Hannibal Jones is hired to free the building from them, but the people holding crack pipes are backed up by people holding guns. Hannibal soon finds himself up against a local crime boss and his mob connected father. But Hannibal realizes that his success or failure will determine the fate of a neighborhood, and the future of one small boy.
Austin gives an overview of the book:
Raul thought he had seen it all before. The white Volvo 850 GLT slid precisely over to the curb. The thin guy getting out had honey colored skin, but not from the sun. He had on wraparound dark glasses. Black suede jacket. Sharp creased black slacks. Black driving gloves. And Raul knew that smile. A pimp, a high roller, or maybe one of those high class con men. It all fit, except for the walk.
He walked like a cop.
"I need to see Adolfo." The black guy, barely six feet tall, had to look up into Raul's eyes. Raul didn't wear shoulder pads under his gray suit coat, but his body made it look like he did. When he pulled himself to his full height, the other man was lost entirely in his shadow.
"Who the hell are you?"
"Jones," the newcomer replied. "Hannibal Jones. Got a message for Adolfo."
"Adolfo ain't seeing nobody today." Raul was stone faced, the very model of the professional tough guy. He was pleased with his image.
"He'll see me." The black guy started past. Raul laid a hand on his shoulder, covering it completely. He figured he could toss this guy all the way to the gutter with one arm.
Jones did not so much pull or toss Raul as simply fold under him. The bigger man rolled forward, landing hard and awkwardly, face up on the cement. By the time he lifted his head, Jones was jogging down the four steps to the door.
Hannibal stepped into the small office, staring through a haze of acrid cigar smoke. He smiled as he walked toward the desk at the back, past two more fullback types sitting on either side of the room. Both guards drew pistols and aimed at his back, but Jones kept his eyes on the short, round man at the rear desk.
"No guns, please, Adolfo, I just want to talk."
"Well, before the boys break something you might need, just who the hell are you?" Adolfo Espino tapped ash from his cigar. "I ain't seen you on the force, and I don't know you from the street."
Jones perched a hip on Espino's desk. "Look, I ain't a cop, I'm just here to help somebody avoid some trouble." He ran a gloved hand back through short, dark brown hair that was more wavy than kinky. "One of your customers wants to renegotiate his loan contract."
"Uh-huh." Espino's swivel chair creaked as he leaned back grinning. "Eddy. Nicky. Throw this asshole out."
The one called Eddy grabbed Hannibal's left arm with both hands, while his partner took the back of Hannibal's collar. Hannibal glanced left. Poor guy, he thought. He's had his nose broken too many times already.
"Hey, can't we talk about this?" Hannibal's training fed responses to this situation directly to his limbs without the need for conscious thought. His right fist snapped around, smashing Eddy's already flat nose. Hannibal's left arm swung around and forward, dragging Eddy with it. As Eddy's head crashed down into the desk, Hannibal's right foot lashed back at an angle, dislocating Nicky's right knee. The big man howled. Before Nicky hit the floor, Hannibal had Espino out of his chair by his collar.
"Now, let's chat a bit before the rest of your friends show up." Hannibal breathed directly into Espino's face and pressed the muzzle of his pistol into the right side of Espino's neck. He figured Espino would recognize the cold steel tube for what it was.
"Ray Santiago," Hannibal continued in a smooth, quiet voice. "Know him? He only owes you a grand. You hold the paper on some gambling debts."
"Yeah. Yeah I know him," Espino said, but Hannibal could see in his eyes that he had no idea who Ray Santiago was.
"Well, he's hit on hard times and he can't pay you all at once. So, tell you what. He'll go two hundred a week starting Friday, and an extra two bills at the end. Okay?"
Fear gave way to shock on Espino's face. Then the door slammed open. Hannibal glanced quickly over his shoulder. Three newcomers held automatics trained on him. Espino waved his hands to stop them where they stood.
"Put me down," Espino said slowly, staring into Hannibal's nearly opaque lenses. "Put me down and this don't have to get messy."
Hannibal paused just long enough to show he had to think about it, then slowly lowered Espino into his chair. Espino got comfortable before reaching into a desk drawer for a new cigar. It was a show of calm and control not lost on Hannibal.
"Put the guns up and close that door," Espino barked to his guards. As they did, Hannibal slid his own pistol into a shoulder holster under his right arm.
"Now, let me get this straight." Espino watched closely as Hannibal shoved his hands into his jacket pockets. "You're not trying to get this guy out of his debt, just arrange a payment schedule?"
"It would have been so simple if you had a listed phone number," Hannibal said, smiling into Espino's face with impossibly white teeth. He pointedly ignored the men behind him. "Mr. Santiago knows he owes the money. He just don't want your goon squad busting up his furniture while he's trying to pay you back. Or his face for that matter."
The loan shark could not help chuckling. "Well, boy, you got more balls than brains, that's for sure. How do I know he'll pay?"
"Because, my man," Hannibal leaned forward, pulled Espino's desk drawer open and plucked out a cigar. "I'll bring you your money personally, every Friday, without fail, until it's all paid up." He pulled a very small Swiss Army knife from his pocket and used its scissors to clip the end off his cigar. "Got a match?"
Espino signaled to one of his men, who tossed Hannibal a disposable lighter. "So, what happens if you don't show up?" he asked.
"Then you come talk to me," Hannibal said, pulling a leather case from an inside jacket pocket. "I'm a bit easier to find than you are." From the case Hannibal flipped a card onto the desk. Espino picked it up. The card bore Hannibal's name and the word "Troubleshooter" in big letters. Below that, an address in Alexandria, Virginia and a telephone number were listed.
"Hannibal Jones, eh? And you're not in from outside the Beltway," Espino said. "Funny I don't know you. Must be new in town."
"Not really. I've just been keeping a low profile." Hannibal held his smile, but his eyes prodded Espino's for an answer. After a brief silence Espino sighed, snorted and actually smiled back.
"Well, you're one crazy son of a bitch, but since you asked so nice, we'll try it your way."
"Cool." Hannibal drew on his cigar, tasting the sweet smoke before blowing out a long stream over Espino's head. "Do me a favor, huh? Let your doorman know I'm coming Friday so we don't go through this nonsense again."
Hannibal liked Cindy Santiago's home. She had lent character to her small, two-bedroom brick row house on the edge of Old Town Alexandria with subtle, if feminine decorating touches. Lacy cloths covered tables at each end of a big chintz sofa. Porcelain and crystal figurines crowded shadow boxes, the mantle and nearly every other surface in the room. Victorian artwork was carefully spaced on the walls, preventing a cluttered look, yet filling the house with flowers. He even caught a faint hint of the scent of wildflowers, probably provided by bowls of that strange confetti-looking stuff his mother had called potpourri.
He had removed his Oakley sunglasses when she answered the door. His hazel eyes held her attention for a moment, but she had let him in with a smile. After directing him to the couch she went to get her father.
When they returned they stopped in the living room doorway for a moment, giving Hannibal a brief chance to examine them side by side. Ray Santiago was short and bulky, while his daughter was tall and svelte, but that was hardly the only difference. He was almost bald, but she had carefully trimmed deep brown hair, hanging three or four inches below shoulder length. Her face glowed with anticipation of tomorrow, while her father's scowling visage implied a dread of what the next day would bring.
Of course, she was beautiful. Her Latin heritage showed in her high cheekbones, dark eyes and broad smile. She had a high, narrow waist, and he thought her form just a little top heavy. Ray, on the other hand, looked like what he was: an aging Cuban workman, wearing a lifetime of struggle on his face and starting to thicken around the middle.
"Cynthia..." Hannibal began.
"Okay, Cindy. Could I please have a moment or two with your father? We have some..."
"Of course," she replied. "Man stuff. Go right ahead. I'll get coffee." She headed toward the kitchen, her hose swishing against her business suit's rust colored skirt. Her melodic humming supplied background music. Ray sat in the overstuffed chair at the far end of the couch. His dour face struck a stark counterpoint to the bright Latin tune Cindy hummed.
"What did he say, Hannibal?"
"He said you could pay in installments," Hannibal told him. "Two hundred a week for six weeks. No violence and no threats to your daughter."
Ray heaved a short-lived sigh, but then reality brought him up short.
"I thank you for all your help, Hannibal, but where will that leave me?" Ray asked. "Since I got fired from the cab company I haven't made a dime. I don't even know how I'll pay you. As it is, living here with... "
He stopped when Cindy returned carrying a silver server set. She placed the tray gently on her Queen Anne coffee table, then poured and prepared cups for three. While the men lifted their cups, Cindy picked up a remote control and switched on the large screen television on the entertainment center opposite her sofa.
"I don't mean to be rude," she said with an embarrassed smile, "but I really can't stand to miss the evening news. So, did you guys make any progress with, um, whatever it is you're working on?" Hannibal guessed she knew nothing about her father's problem. It was no surprise that Ray wouldn't want to share his problems with her.
"In fact, I was just about to ask your father for some help." He lifted the tiny cup, swallowing half its contents. "My business is growing, and I need a good courier who could double as a chauffeur. What do you say, Ray? Help a guy out?"
"You know, Papa, when I joined Nieswand and Balor right out of law school, it was a smaller firm." Cindy sat beside Hannibal, speaking to him directly now. "Three years ago their business law practice was all about small, new businesses. Just in time they plugged into the Internet startups that were still happening back then, and business in that area really exploded. Business law just happens to be my specialty. The firm has grown enormously, and I've grown right along with it." She turned back to her father. "If Mister Jones' investigative firm is moving up..."
"I'm afraid I can't offer much to start out," Hannibal told Ray. "How about three hundred a week?"
"It'll certainly help, Papa," Cindy put in. "Especially with your love of the ponies."
Hannibal leaned back into puffy cushions, suppressing a smile. "Yes, I believe that's what originally brought your father and me together."
Like most men, his eyes were easily drawn by beauty or disaster. In an effort to keep from staring at Cindy Santiago he looked at the glowing screen across the room, which momentarily arrested his attention. The show she was watching showed firemen battling a fierce blaze in a set of close set brick buildings. Then he remembered that Cindy was a self-confessed news junkie. He wasn't watching a drama, but what appeared to be live footage. He slowly sat forward as recognition pulled him nearer the television.
"I don't see how I can say no to such a generous offer," Ray said. "When do you want me to start?"
"Right now!" Hannibal snapped, bouncing to his feet. "That's my apartment complex burning down!"
Austin S. Camacho is the author of the Hannibal Jones detective series - Blood and Bone, Collateral Damage, The Troubleshooter, Damaged Goods and Russian Roulette, plus two action adventure novels, The Payback Assignment and The Orion...