Book cover



Toby rolled out of his bed and walked to the front door. He opened it and looked down, expecting to see his pile of papers, delivered to him by one of the nicest guys on the planet, Jake Adler, his circulation boss for the Bugle. Mr. Adler took care of his few carriers. Most had been replaced by married couples who drove cars.

Instead of seeing his pile, there was nothing.

Thankfully, it wasn’t raining. Toby hustled down the steps to the sidewalk. He saw Mr. Adler’s car, double-parked, just down the street to his left. He didn’t see Mr. Adler. He knew the car well because his dad had one, just like it, same color and everything.

He ran back up the stairs to inside the door and put on flip-flops, and hustled back down the stairs and onto the sidewalk toward Mr. Adler’s car.

Toby came even with Mr. Adler’s car and the one it was double-parked next to. The cars looked weird, though.

He walked slowly into the street, behind Mr. Adler’s car. The car looked like it had rolled down the hill, backwards, into the car parked on the curb. Toby cautiously walked up to the driver’s window and looked inside.

There, sitting back in the seat, his face turned toward the open window, was Mr. Adler.

His eyes were wide open, and there was a bullet hole in his chest.

“Oh, no!” Toby said.

Toby looked into the car and saw Adler had scribbled on a piece of paper.

“Not gang.”

He ran upstairs and into his home and alerted his dad, who called the cops. Det. May Evers received the call and knocked on the Wallace’s front door.

“Hello, I’m Detective Evers, Philadelphia Police. Did you find the body?” she said to Toby at the door.

“Yes, I did. Come in, please,” he said, pulling open the door and leading her into the living room.

“This is my dad, Jim Wallace,” Toby said. Jim sat on the couch, being interviewed by a uniformed cop. Jim rose and shook May’s hand.

The moment they shook hands, Jim knew she was Anton’s wife, but May remained blissfully unaware of their connection and Jim would keep her there.

“Yes, Detective Evers, how can I help you?” Jim said as the three sat.

“I actually wanted to ask your son some questions, but I wanted a parent or guardian to be present,” she said.


“Sure, Dad. What do you want to know?” Toby said.

“How long had you two worked together?” she asked.

“Well, I’ve had my route for two years and he was there at the beginning, my route manager. He drops -- or dropped -- my papers off, every day, until this morning.

“That reminds me, I gotta call in and let them know. I wonder if the papers are in his car,” Toby said.

“Two years. Were you two close?” May asked.

“Close? I don’t know if we were close. I liked the guy, I mean, but I could go weeks without actually seeing him. Only time I’d see him was if I was up early enough to see him deliver my pile,” Toby said.

“How often was that?” May asked.

“Maybe once every couple weeks, around 5 a.m., except during the winter. Then, I’d see him every Saturday.”

“Why’s that?” she asked.

“Delivering the newspaper in the winter is tough on a kid,” Jim pitched in.

“Mr. Adler watched over his carriers, made sure they all had warm coats and hats and the right kind of boots to withstand being out in snow and ice.”

“Yeah, he was great,” Toby said, looking down sadly.

“What time did you discover Mr. Adler?” May asked.

“I went out at 6, like I normally do, to get my pile and bring it in. Even though I got a car now, I still get up early. So, I guess around 6.”

“Okay, thanks, that’s all for now,” May said.

“Mr. Wallace, where were you this morning while Toby was outside?”

“Well, 6 o’clock, asleep. Toby has been doing his own thing, getting himself up and to work, delivering the papers, really, since he started. I see him a few minutes before we leave for the day,” Wallace said.

“Okay, thanks. Here’s my card if you have any questions.”

“Ma’am? Detective, I mean? Could we look in Mr. Adler’s car? I need to get my papers,” Toby said.

“Sure, let’s see if they’re done with it,” May said, rising and walking to and out the door, and down the steps.

“You all done with the car?” she asked the crime scene investigators.

“Well, we dusted for prints on the driver’s door. Nothing but the driver’s. The passenger door was another story. Two more sets, we’ll let you know if we get a match,” a tech said.

“The kid wants to see if his newspapers are in the car, so he can deliver them,” May told the tech.

“The keys in the ignition?”

The tech opened the driver’s door, the seat empty. Adler had been carted off. The tech opened the trunk of the late-model American land yacht. Nothing but bundled newspapers, this morning’s edition.

Toby’s bundle was in one corner of the trunk.

“Wallace, right? Let’s check out your bundle,” May said, lifting it gently out of the trunk and carrying it into the middle of the street and setting it down.

“Something wrong, Detective?” the tech said.

“This bundle looks lumpy,” she said. “Got a knife?”

Just after saying that, she produced from a coat pocket her own stiletto.

“I’ll use mine,” she said sarcastically.

She got down on her hands and knees and eyeballed the papers from the side of the bundle. On one side, the shin-high bundle had a slight gap, about halfway up the stack. May eyeballed it carefully, and gently sliced the cellophane wrapping. She sniffed.

“Officer, let’s get everyone back,” she said to a uniform, who started to corral a crowd up on the sidewalk.

Morning traffic zoomed around the police-taped area.

“Let’s dust the cellophane on the outside of this bundle, right now, shall we? And gently.” she said to the tech. A few short minutes later, it was done.

“You gonna unwrap it?” the tech said. “We ought to call the bomb squad, you know.”

“Toby, in the morning, tell me what you do to get ready to deliver?” May asked, looking intently at the bundle.

“Well, Mr. Adler brings my pile up to the front door, even in the snow and rain. I bring it inside, undo it, and start folding,” he said, reaching down to it. May stopped him.

“I think somebody left a little something extra for you this morning,” she said, getting down on her knees and pointing out the small gap in the papers.

“Yeah, I think maybe, you better call the bomb squad,” May said to the uniform. The call was made.

“Looks like your customers are going to miss their morning paper,” she said.

“My guess is, there’s a bomb inside there.”

“A bomb?” Toby said loudly.

“We’ll know in a little while. You going to school this morning?”

“I called and let them know he’d be late. Family emergency,” Jim said, walking up.

“A bomb? Really?” Jim said with interest.

He turned and looked at Adler’s blue land yacht. He then turned the other direction, and looked at his own car, an identical, blue land yacht, parked houses away, on the other side of the street.

“Detective?” Jim said, turning back to May.


The bomb squad in no time determined that the bundle of papers contained a bomb that was spring-loaded. When the plastic binding on the bundle was unwrapped, the stack would separate and the bomb would go off.

May Evers looked at Jim’s car, across the street.

“No shit, that’s your car?” she said.

“Yeah. Do you think …?”

“I don’t know. Hey, Tom? Can you dust the outside of that blue thing across the street, and Bomb Detail? We may have another customer for you.”

“Okay, Detective,” the main bomb guy said.

The bomb guys neutralized Toby’s bundle, and the newspapers remained scattered on the street.

“Can I pick up the papers now? I still gotta deliver,” he asked May.

“No kidding? Yeah, they’re safe,” she said. She admired the kid's guts.

“Going to school?” she asked.

“Yes, he is,” Jim said, walking up and bending down to help Toby pick up the papers.

“You married? Got any kids?” Jim asked May.

“No, we never had any, my husband and I,” she said. Jim reached down for a paper and opened it to page 1.


The front page did not have a story on The Exercise.

The reason is, despite being told by Jefferson that he knew about The Exercise, Isabel knew why she came to Jefferson’s apartment, and it wasn’t to make a confession.

They had pulled the story on The Exercise at the literal 11th hour. Jefferson couldn't get Isabel to crack.

A call interrupted them. Jefferson saw it was O’Grady.

“What?” Jefferson yelled into his cell.

“Geez, is this the Mercantile Exchange?” O’Grady said, in case someone might be listening in.

“What? The what? Listen lady, I’m busy trying to get laid here, do you mind?” he said, clicking the call to an end and tossing his phone onto the floor.

“Who was that?” Isabel asked.

“Some woman looking for the, the Mercantile Exchange,” Jefferson said.

They looked at each, each knowing what the other wanted. Isabel wanted more of what she enjoyed the prior evening.

Jefferson wanted a confession.

Neither happened.

With very few words, Isabel dressed hurriedly and was gone.

Jefferson texted O'Grady an apology.

Across town, Jim and Toby looked at each other.

Someone wanted them dead.

Toby gathered his papers and set about folding them. His car was parked two spots away, so he didn’t think he needed to carry them upstairs to fold them.

All folded and bagged, he hoisted the carry bag and hauled it to his car. He dropped it onto the sidewalk and went to open the passenger door, when he noticed it was locked.

The car was old enough that it had door lock posts on the top of the inside door panel. He stopped short of opening the door.

“Detective?” he said, beckoning May over.

“This door was unlocked last night, and now, it’s locked,” he said.

“Damn,” she said. “Boys? Got another possible here!” she called to the bomb guys, who came over.

“Wow, those cars were identical, same year even,” the head bomb guy said, sweeping the underside with an upside-down mirror on a stick.

“What’s this?” he asked.

“The boy’s car. He went to open the door, thinking it was unlocked, and found it locked,” she said.

“Jimmy?” the man yelled, and a young cop tech weenie hustled over with a contraption. The head bomb guy rested the device on the passenger door, just below the keyhole.


“Let's try the driver's door,” he said, switching to the other side. Jimmy rested the device on the driver's door, and a large shape appeared on the screen, with a wire attached to the key mechanism.

“Better rescan that other blue car,” the head guy said to the tech.

“You guys might want to stand back,” the head guy said.

“Jimmy? Looks like we got a package inside the driver's door of the kid’s car.”

A rescan revealed no other bombs than the ones inside Toby's door and the paper bundle.

The police dusted Toby’s car, and Toby and Jim had to get fingerprinted as well. By the time everybody left the scene, it was noon.

“I’m hungry,” Jim said.

“Do I have to go to school?” Toby asked.

“No. If the bad guys are still looking for you, they’re sure to look at school. No, no school today. Let’s go get something to eat,” Jim said.

Toby lugged the bag of papers back to his home.

“Want to help me throw, on the way?”

“Sure,” Jim said.


Jefferson's phone rang. O’Grady, again.

“So? This is getting to be like D-Day. We can't keep canceling it. What happened?”

“I couldn't get her to admit a thing,” Jefferson said.

“I don’t know. If I was misreading her, well, I don’t think so. This is not over. I didn’t tell you, I got the sack yesterday after I turned in my surveillance reports. They paid me 10 grand for two weeks’ work. Cash.”

“Cash? We oughta get it dusted. You spend any of it?” O’Grady asked.

“A little. I didn’t think about that. If the project I was working on was The Exercise, and it’s over, what do we do?” Jefferson asked.

“Hang on, I’m gonna put you on speaker. Jack Chester from legal is here. You remember him, don’t you?”

“Yeah, sure,” Jefferson said.

“Okay, Jefferson, this is Jack Chester. You have a question?”

“Yeah, I guess. I was wondering out loud, if the project I was working on was canceled, and it was The Exercise, now what?” Jefferson said.

“We talked about that, five minutes ago,” Chester said.

“Look, the rules are the same,” O’Grady continued.

“A story – any story – isn’t a story until you have proof, a deathbed confession, some piece of evidence that proves your story,” she said. Chester had no better news.

“The fact that The Exercise might be over is still important, but it gets less and less important, as time passes,” Chester said.

“The public’s memory is short.”

“I wonder if this was the first one they ever did.” O’Grady wondered out loud.

“I don’t know. Kind of stands to reason that they probably have done this, or something like it, before, maybe more than once. How long’s America been at war with itself?” Jefferson said.

“What do we have? Connection between the two major parties that wasn’t there before, or so we think?” Chester said.

“A cooperative connection, but to what end? Just to keep Americans at each other’s throats? Aren't we already covering that story? Politics as usual?”

All of a sudden, it sunk in, the thought that the public might look on The Exercise as just more business as usual, and react accordingly.

Or not.

“This is still a story based on fact,” Jefferson said.

“So, Isabel is still our best possible source?” O'Grady asked.

“We’re having dinner with her sister tonight,” he said.

Jefferson hung up and felt sad in his heart.

He loved Isabel, but she was messing with his America.

A cold chill went up Chandler Jefferson’s spine as he walked around the corner and down the sidewalk to the same restaurant where he first saw the Smith Wilson sisters and their Dad.

He slowed his gait, and stopped a few storefronts away. He turned and leaned against the window of another restaurant. He looked in, at no one in particular.

In a rare moment of narcissism, Jefferson wished he was inside, being exalted, for about 10 seconds. After that, he would drink for free for the rest of the night, and the backslapping associated with his accomplishment of breaking the big story would be kept to a respectful minimum.

That would be enough for saving U.S. democracy.

Instead, he was still on that mission. Jefferson walked in and caught sight of Isabel, watching from the bar, with sister Kate and father Edgar seated adjacent. Isabel rose and tried not to hurry to meet him. Jefferson had resolved that, upon seeing her, there would be no public display of affection.

“Right on time,” Jefferson said.

He reached to her for a handshake. A pro, Isabel smiled, and slowly took it for a warm reunion of their hands, if not their lips.

“Nice to see you,” she said, and they walked to the bar.

“This is my sister Kate, and our father, Edgar,” Isabel said.

“Nice to meet you, Kate,” shaking her hand.

“Chandler Jefferson, sir. Just call me Jefferson,” Jefferson said, shaking Edgar’s hand.

“Yes, thank you,” Edgar said, with no eye contact because he looked for the bartender.

“Is our table ready?” Edgar asked the bartender.

“What are you drinking?” Isabel said to Jefferson.

“Blanton’s neat, if they have it,” Jefferson said.

“Blanton’s? You know about that?” Edgar said.

“Well, my Mom is from Kentucky. She’s even a Blanton, but not related, though. When they started, she hopped on their coattails. It’s her favorite present now, to give or receive,” Jefferson said.

“Blanton’s, neat?” Isabel said.

“Coming right up,” the bartender said.

“So, what’s the food like here?” Jefferson said to Isabel.

“Good steaks,” Kate said, grinning.

Finally at their table, they began a long and pleasant meal. The table banter continued, all the way through dinner, a dinner of spies.

There was no talk about The Exercise, or that everybody in their party had been in that restaurant before; Jefferson hoped his first hadn't been noticed.

“We met at work,” Jefferson said of Isabel to Edgar.

“They’re done with me, so right now, I’m looking for other opportunities.”

“So, where are you looking for work?” Kate said, re-hiding her phone under the napkin.

It made Jefferson giggle inside, like she was a kid, trying to hide her peas under her plate.

“I don’t know. I … I wanted to go back to the Bugle, but I don’t think that’s possible, now.”

“Why’s that?” Edgar said.

“I didn’t leave under the best of circumstances,” Jefferson said, looking straight at Edgar, hoping to spark an interest in bringing him back into the black hole.

“Will you stay in Philadelphia?” Kate asked.

“If I can find the right situation. Well, let’s have one final toast. Here’s to me, getting a job,” Jefferson said.

“Get a job!” they all shouted, downing their drinks.

Out on the sidewalk minutes later, Edgar said his good-byes and walked off. Kate and Isabel faced Jefferson.

“What do you think?” Isabel said, looking at Jefferson.

“About what?” Jefferson asked.

“I was talking to Kate,” Isabel said.

“About what?” Kate said.

Still looking at Jefferson, Isabel felt a weakening.

“Do you like him?” Isabel said. Kate smiled.

“I didn’t mean, for yourself,” Isabel said.

“No, then,” Kate said, winking at Jefferson.

“Yeah, go ahead,” Kate said.

She reached for Isabel to kiss her sister on the cheek.

“I’m out,” Kate said. Kate was two steps away when Jefferson realized he hadn’t responded.

“Goodbye,” he said. Kate waved without turning and continued to walk.

“She likes you,” Isabel said.

“She’s nice,” Jefferson said. They kissed, but Jefferson was still on a mission.


Old man river, the famous spiritual, talks of a river that keeps on rolling. The Schuylkill, in one person’s mind, evoked a kinship, a sense of belonging. It’s a nice feeling, and one a person might try to recreate.

And so, Cornell Willingham sat by the Schuylkill, a mean-natured fisherman by nature’s standards. But as big a big shot as he is, he felt insignificant, sitting along the banks of the river.

The classic river hobo must have possessed the same sense of insignificance. Seeing the river was a visual confirmation that there is something bigger.

And then, there's prison.

The prison yard is a study in personality. Every part of the civilized spectrum, and some uncivilized, is represented.

With a pecking order based on intimidation and graft, inmates mill around. They have few visible differences except race and types of tattoos.

Some hang around the exercise equipment, while others sit on the bleachers next to four basketball courts, only one of which is ever in use. The other three stay unused.

Tick looked at the three unused courts one morning, just before going inside to eat. He looked down and a basketball was at his feet, almost magically.

He used to love to shoot hoops, before he got in the Front Street Boyz. He picked up the ball, started dribbling and walked slowly to one of the open courts.

He shot about three shots in, from just under the hoop, when a basketball hit him squarely in the back of the head.

“Hey, you not supposed to be here,” a rough-voiced, white Adonis said, with the tinge of a foreign accent.

“Oh, man, I just wanna shoot a few hoops,” he said, shooting the ball toward the rim.

Tick watched the ball, now in slow-motion, bounce against the backboard, then off the rim, and over his head. Tick followed the ball. When he turned, the fist of Adonis met his forehead.

Hours later, Tick woke up in the prison infirmary with one whopper of a headache.

“Well, still alive. The Russian is losing his touch,” the warden said, looking down at Tick, who groaned.

“Vladimir Popov, he’s here for just a few days. Spy. If he killed you, he would have gotten to stay in the U.S. Don't think he wants to go back to Russia,” the warden said.

“Why is nobody using those three basketball courts?” Tick said, rubbing his head gently.

“It was a … concession,” the warden said.

“I don’t have enough guards to work the towers, the perimeter of the yard, and the interior of the yard, so I … gave back some of the interior to the prisoners, to do with as they please, within reason.

“So far, no one’s been killed. You stepped on Russian turf today, why you got hit. Probably shouldn’t do that again,” the warden said.

“The inmates running the prison?” Tick said.

“Just three basketball courts,” the warden said.


“You really got into the soup, writing that letter,” May said to Anton the next morning over her first cup.

Anton knew enough to not interrupt the moment, but there was the question of his life being on the line. That needed to be addressed.

It took a full five minutes of silence for May to finish her coffee. She placed the cup gently on the saucer.

“Now,” she said.


“So what?” she said.

“Two bombs?”

“Yeah, pretty basic design. We should get the analysis back this morning. Got a ton of fingerprints. We’ll know more later,” she said, rising to leave.

“You in or out today?”

He looked up with a longing look, a manly yet vulnerable look.

“I got two things today. Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure,” May said, sitting.

“How much longer you figure on being a cop?”

It was a subject they’d talked about a handful of times over the past few years.

“Well, my 25 is next year. Why do you ask?” she said.

“Why do you think? I was thinking about leaving the city, leaving Philadelphia.”

“To go where?” May asked.

“Travel, then maybe someplace in the Northwest, Oregon maybe.”

“Oregon? When did this come up?” May asked. He knew the answer before she asked it.

“I started thinking about it, the night I got shot at. How do you take that part of being a cop?” May looked at him.

“That night was the first time I was ever shot at. Almost 25 years and I’ve never been in a firefight. Not sure how that happened, or didn’t happen. I been thinking about it, too.”

“Moving?” Anton was surprised.

“Yeah, although I’d like to move someplace where we’d know people beforehand. We don’t know anyone in Oregon. You said you liked Dallas, when we visited my Aunt Jessie there. And with interleague play, the Phillies get there sometimes, and the Eagles and Sixers, too, right?”

“Dallas? The South? Are you nuts?” he said.


“Because we’re black, lady, that’s why.”

“But what would it be like to be the 101st and 102nd black people to settle in Oregon?” May asked.

Anton laughed and reached to hug her.

“Just stay alive today,” he said, kissing her.

“Will do,” and she was out the door. Anton sat down at the kitchen table.

There have to be more than 100 black people in Oregon, he thought.


Steady hands drove a nondescript black four-door sedan down a busy street in Downtown Philadelphia.

A passenger in the back seat, Cesar, was also dressed in black. He worked in a different profession today.

He unpacked a sniper rifle from a bag, also black. Put together quickly, the weapon rested in Cesar's lap.

“That's it, up here, on the right,” he told to the driver.

With noise suppressor attached to the muzzle end of the longish barrel, Cesar readied himself.

The car pulled up in front of a restaurant. It idled there, rear passenger-side window open four inches, for just 10 seconds before the target walked out of the restaurant, onto the sidewalk, and stood there, like a dumb ass.