Blood Acre

Blood Acre

by Peter Landesman


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In Blood Acre, Peter Landesman hones the evocative depth of his award-winning first novel, The Raven, into a magnificently noirish murder mystery -- and a shattering portrait of a deftly drawn maddened man. Nathan Stein, son and partner of a corrupt and powerful New York criminal lawyer, was once brilliant, beautiful, cultured, and sensitive. Now, on his way to one more shady deal, he wanders the wintry wastes of Coney Island, sick in body and soul, nervously checking his pager and ignoring its clamor. His career and life careening out of control, Nathan knows he is running out of time. What he does not know is that he's about to become a prime suspect in the murder of his paramour and secretary, Isabel Santos. Lurching toward redemption but stumbling into the safe haven of graft, Nathan must answer for all that he has done and for what he has left undone. Is he a murderer or the victim of an elaborate frame-up? Or do his sins go even deeper? The answer unfolds in a hard-bitten, stunningly written work sure to transfix both mystery readers and lovers of fine fiction.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780140282368
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date: 12/15/1999
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 7.74(h) x 0.51(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


A night dark beyond emergency. The waves, rising skyward, have begun to tear at the beach, carrying away trash cans and blankets and here and there a door. Wood skids float off, riderless life rafts wheeling in the boil. The checkerboard of houselights in the Luna Park projects dims, flickers off, then back on. Sparks rain from the elevated tracks where the F train has stopped, stranded between stations. On the boardwalk lies a lone figure, limbs outflung. Her dress is split in two, some floral print, once red, once pretty, twine—or is it seaweed—wraps her neck. The gun-metal staring eyes. A frozen gasp. She is dragged from the boardwalk across the sand to the water's slushy edge, dragged past the lips of frozen foam, and, bobbing in the lee of a wave-break, shoved off, like a rowboat or a canoe, riding the swells up then down, flexing to the form of the water. Behind the boardwalk an engine coughs to life. A car pulls away, the long rip of tires on the wet pavement carried another direction by the wind. In the lightless slur of ocean and air a hundred feet from shore there is no one to see two waves collide and collapse, shooting under the body, heaving, pulling it in, spinning it, and spinning it, and spinning it—


2 p.m. Can it be—the sun and moon occupying the same piece of sky?

    Above Coney Island the momentary overcast has pulled apart like cotton batting, but it has only confused matters. Dry snow whirlpools on the boardwalk into narrow cyclones, weaving betweenthe rails. Below, strung along the frozen beach, a hightide mark of harbor refuse, clothes, bottles, the skeletons of household appliances thrown from the piers, unnameable mounds shrouded in frozen seaweed and foam snaking out of sight past Brighton Beach. Past the blackened ruins of the wood rollercoaster banking and rolling above an empty lot, the tarred lattice threatening collapse. Past the Wonderwheel and its love seats rocking out of sync, squealing in the wind. Past other rides, the giant octopus, the skeet shoots, the basketball throw, seven blocks of tarpaulined cotton-candy stands, the Sea Land clam bar, a large brick building bearing the legend ORIENTAL HOT BATHS barricaded by plywood sheets and wrapped in ribbons of graffiti. A pair of sneakers dangling from a telephone line kicking like amputated feet toward the backside dumpsters of Famous's where red paint spells FUCK WHITIE.

    At the boardwalk rail, Nathan Stein sips at his cold coffee. He peers nervously across the peeled lip of plastic lid at the motionless harbor but doesn't see a thing. The oily slush is much higher now, these few hours later, hovering like ground fog rather than sitting on actual land. His cashmere coat billows around the middle; signs of heavier times. His eyes, luminous, green and clear, follow a white bloom of gulls attending a garbage barge right to left, out to sea. He contemplates a storm front moving in from open water, a solid line of the high purple thunderheads that usually mean summer, now covering the breadth of the horizon, billowing toward land.

    His eyes are bad. That might explain things. They are worse now without his glasses. She'd knocked them away last night, he doesn't know where. He lifts his head up the beach, as though to see again the little scene, but finds only a galloping posse of stray dogs, adjusting their direction in small increments en masse across the ice, like a flock of birds.

    But here, this cold offering no hope of thaw, these days in early December. A forty days and forty nights arrested in perpetual winter, as if someone had opened the door to the true outdoors. The papers say the face of weather everywhere seems to have been radically altered. In New York this past summer damp, sooty days were followed by sweeps of ovenheat. Since then there has been, amid other confusions, disarray amongst the trees. Two months ago, while the leaves of some had been singed at the edges, others were at the height of their promiscuity, continuing to flower and bud and discharge lurid fragrances that had a somnolent, hypnotizing effect. The old and new piers in Brooklyn and the Seaport and up and down the Hudson have been taking water.

    Mercifully, the wind has dropped. At the bleating of his watch alarm Nathan's hand motions over his right coat pocket, then roots to the bottom there for the plastic vials. His fingers ache, the tips are raw. His wrist stings against the lining, the blood clotted by the cold. Other scratches have surfaced. Here and there the impressions of teeth.

    But some kind of bird is rustling in the trash under the boardwalk, chirping away. Nervously rolling the vials in his fingers, Nathan looks not down but up, for the sun, and finds instead sun and moon like dim bulbs hanging vague and cold in opposite corners. The sky smolders with winter light, a football sky, once a blank scoreboard waiting to chronicle an afternoon of mud and scraped knees, of Nathan uncoiling like a human spring, running for the cheap seats beyond a fortress school and its squinty windows. Soon, though, the air will take him in. And he'll be gone, backing out of the gate, lifting slowly away from JFK, the craggy Manhattan skyline grabbing up at him and the surrounding stews of filth and monotony that are the outer boroughs twirling below him down and down and down, the cobalt swimming pools of Forest Hills and Great Neck scattering like gems. Then one last flush, and nothing but the drone of jet engines, that lush cottony sea of cloud and the hushed subservience of a stewardess. The plane south to Tegucigalpa, a jittery puddle-jumper over the straits to that island Roatán. The sliver of white beach, water the color of lapis stone, the thick trees murmur behind him—

    But for now this strange bird and its ceaseless chirping. And the sun, like everything else, has snuck up on him. He raises his hand, inadvertently saluting the Statue of Liberty where she stands on the water from this distance like a curlicue of smoke. Wherever he looks these days he shields his eyes, as though from an eclipse. All week he's had this feeling of calamity. Somewhere Christmas is lurking, sometime soon. And Hanukkah. The commercials on the TV are growing urgent. It all seems to mean something, but he can't bring himself to care. Like the legions of shoppers he no longer lives in weeks or even days. He is down to hours. Sometimes it feels like minutes.

    The bird, he finally realizes, is inside his blazer, his Twenty-first-Century Message Center/Beeper. He clutches his side, as if shot, and peers in: Doctor E—urgent—call immediately. And he'd managed to forget. Though of course now Nathan replays that time he sat in the doctor's office with Maria holding his hand so tightly she was cutting off the blood. "I'm sorry, Nathan," the doctor was saying, looking out his picture window with its view of Park Avenue. "I can't tell you how sorry I am."

    Nathan had merely nodded, peeling Maria's fingers away, a small smile creeping across his face. It isn't me.

    It wasn't him. It was Maria, sobbing, hysterical, "I didn't know. How could I have known? It's not my fault my god please forgive me hailmaryfullofgrace."

    Nathan had looked casually over the doctor's shoulder, at the assemblage of framed family faces that lined his sill. He looked past the windblown hair and the smiles and boat decks and through the window down Park Avenue, wanting to bring himself to some sort of conclusion, to achieve, even, some state of grace; knowing he should; that he would, he believed, his gaze plunging into a yellow river of taxicabs, if given time, he would actually feel something.

    A violent burst of shivering rips through, and Nathan, reaching for the railing to steady himself, tips back his head and blinks. Though still he feels no cold. It stays vague and somewhere far outside him, weather beyond the window, something he can go out in if he wants. Doctor E had forgotten to warn him about that, this numb impenetrability, so easily mistaken for perfection, for immortality. He tries and fails to laugh at himself, at the cruel swindle, opening his mouth to release the laughter but releasing instead dry breath, staccato pants. So tasting the sea air on his tongue he puts there a pill or two, he doesn't know which ones, he didn't see the colors, or the time—is it even time? And another for good luck. Why not still another? Why not, feeling little, stretch out in a rented room, turn on the oven, open his lips, pour in the whole vial, and truly feel—finally—nothing at all?

    His eyes swim. Pinching them shut, his throat—as always these days—raw, the pills click inside his mouth like subway tokens.

    Upwind, blue smoke and sparks flush through the boardwalk slats. Squinting unhappily without his glasses, Nathan spots movement below. Quickly he looks left and right up the beach and walks on, his shoes squeaking on the frost. But something alarming on the water has caught his eye. Unhappy, he tosses his coffee cup over the rail, clutching wood, and peers out.

    Below him, a half-naked figure paces the shadows of a flaming oil drum, back and forth across the daylight. A nasal honk beneath the boardwalk, a whoop, a bellowed, "Hurry fools! Prepare thyselves!"

    The pacing stops. Out in the light appears a head of thick red hair, a chin held aloft, then a pair of white tennis shorts fluttering at his hips, more loincloth than garment. The rest of him a flaccid patchwork of pinks and blues, his areolae puckered and browned like two gunshot wounds to the chest. He staggers on his heels, knees locked, bearing a blue-and-orange plastic horn with the logo of the New York Mets, a silhouette of the midtown skyline and the motto CATCH THE RISING STARS, the crackerjack prize from that fan remembrance day years ago when the Mets were contenders and the roster was filled with young talent. Ballasting himself in the wind, he aims the trumpet behind him. Out leaks a gurgling bleat.

    "Clowns!" he cries. "Fools, come on!"

    One by one they emerge. From the open doorway of a tin cabana recessed beneath the boardwalk, short and fat, short and thin, old and withered, tall and stooped. At a windchill of minus ten Fahrenheit they are barefoot and equipped to swim. Racing suits, satin running shorts, a T-shirt and thong. Their bodies smoke. They wander the ice and cross ridges of frozen seafoam, obscured in shrouds of vapor.

    Nathan would have laughed, but the sight haunts him instead. From behind, it seems an insurrection by inmates from a mental institution, their enactment of some joker's hypothesis about their primordial origins.

    A fainter, garbled cry downwind.

    The drunk has drifted, blowing his trumpet at the clouds gathering at the horizon, as though summoning the gods in New Jersey. He points threateningly. "Prepare ye, wimps!"

    In the lee of a wave-break, a pair of hookers has stopped to watch. The bathers stamp the ice and pound their arms, but the hookers stand still, warding off the cold with routine refusal.

    So it is a false alarm, Nathan sees. The water is clear. He palms down his thinning hair then leans his elbows on the rail like a man with nothing on his hands but time, hoping this, actually believing it to be, his very last time here—that plane south awaiting him on the tarmac, its engines whining—and looks more closely at the scene as though these few extra inches, if nothing else, will clarify it all.

Two men are probing through the cord grass of Jamaica Bay, high-stepping at a jog. Across the tops of the grass, the control tower at JFK; the tails of taxiing jets crossing like the fins of prowling sharks. Beyond, a mountainous landfill where clouds of birds are ripping off in the wind; beyond that, a tourist's diorama of Manhattan laid out end to end, red warning lights slowly blinking among the high-rises.

    Two figures await them a hundred yards on. Unable to see down past his knees, Errol Santos stops to snap the collar of his coat around his chin, his eyes skittering about, taking the sparse clouds of gulls hovering overhead for signs of what lurks within.

    A big man in his mid-thirties, just now giving up the battle against his tendency to turn to fat, Santos rustles through his coat pocket and produces a pack of cigarettes. He offers one to his own mouth and puts another to his companion's lips. Unshaven Barbados, the lines on his face saying drugs or the years of weather; he could be thirty-five, he could be fifty.

    Santos draws deep and his chest tightens at once, his reedy exhale already a thin sigh, pulling air as if through a coffee stirrer. It's happening faster and faster; he pats his coat pockets, pats them again, then rummages through the old tissues and paper clips and pencil stubs for his inhaler, finally finding the little blue thing in his pants pocket. He pumps it into his mouth, pinching twice, his plumber's gas. The relief is instant, and even grants him a bonus shot of adrenaline to the heart, momentarily, lightening his mood, clearing his eyes. By now he's forgotten which comes first, the cigarettes or the asthmatic strangle. He has inhalers planted everywhere, a little pump for every occasion, in the glove box of the car beside his lighter, on his bed stand, in his coat pocket with his cigarettes, one with the other, one always following the other.

    "You should cut that." Barbados peers at him from under his cap.

    Santos turns his head to offer his usual reply but Barbados has trudged on.

    The body rests broken on a bed of grass, arms and legs akimbo. The cheek has been pulled back, the meat picked at. Prints of muddy claws cross the bridge of the nose.

    One of the cops looks up. "You Brooklyn?"

    "Why not," Barbados says.

    "No blood," the other cop says.

    Santos gestures downward. "You look underneath?"

    The first cop shakes his head. "Hell of a place to leave a body."

    "Who is this?" Barbados asks the partner.

    The partner shrugs. "It's not his fault. He's new on the job."

    Santos looks over one shoulder then the other. "Is this even Brooklyn?"

    The four men, faces averted against the wind, scrutinize the empty marsh as though for a signpost. Snowy egrets return their stares.

    "It doesn't matter," Barbados says. "This isn't a homicide."

    "You still have to make the call," the partner says.

    Barbados points his chin. "You make it.'"

    "Suicide ?" the neophyte asks.

    A gull glides down and hangs overhead to investigate.

    "In a manner of speaking," Santos says.

    Above, an approaching growl, then the whine of jet engines reversing themselves. They all lift their heads. A massive plane passes at a thousand feet, skidding sideways in the crosswinds; the belly opens and the landing gear unfolds and locks into place. Santos waits, and nothing falls.

    He used to consider the age of the deceased and compare it with his own. He'd think two more years and he's dead, three years left, eleven to go. This boy in the grass is no more than twenty, maybe twenty-five. Santos reads the obituaries of his cases. He still makes bargains about natural causes. Heart disease. MS. Something exotic and cruel. Would he be happy enough to die at fifty, at fifty-three?

    He says, "They hide in the landing gear and hang on for the ride. Every now and then they fall asleep, or they're not ready. And then the doors open."

    The neophyte looks up, then down at the body, the surprise on his face telling a story of human flight, of falling like a stone through long seconds to the promised land.

    Barbados sniffs. "Third bird this week."

    The neophyte's partner is swinging his head, looking over both shoulders. "I don't know, this just feels like Brooklyn."

    Barbados toes at the corpse's arm and lifts it off the ground and delicately places it over the head. Backstroking swimmer. "Now it's Queens."

In the car, Barbados takes them between empty lots and rollercoaster ruins. They pass a patchwork of trailers and tin sheds, plots of weedy flourishes clicking with ice, dead space compressed by the shapes of more dead space around. They pass a dark street of eyeless brick, a receding forest of I-beams bearing the elevated F train above, high square vaultings where the hollow snapping of pigeons' wings echo like gunfire. Shafts of murky half-light hang from the tracks in an infinity of gauzy curtains. The few cars and pedestrians pass through and pass through, vanishing and reemerging closer as through the slowmotion camera wink of old memory.

    They drift to the curb. This street where no one lives crawls with life. In the alleys, a maze of coops, constructions of plastic sheeting and boxes slumped with snow. Tracks in the snow-dust begin nowhere, wander like goat paths and converge at a phone booth down the block where a man in thin leather jacket and baseball cap stamps his feet and leans out of the booth into a shaft of light. A small boy appears in a doorway and heaves a plastic bag of garbage out into the street and goes in again. Barbados falls asleep.

    His jaw cradled in the crook of his arm, Santos eyes the fallen eaves across the street, the buckled doorways, thinking law school then the academy, then five years on the street, then five out of uniform, coming up on six now, and still he wanders like an alien through streets on which he was a child. He passes his hand over his face, closing his eyes, as though to erase what he has seen, his legs twitching, his lips moving against the tacky cold of the car seat, in his feet somewhere far below he can feel the subway, distant like surf, breaking upon him, and Santos wakes—has he fallen asleep?—his eyes searching the ceiling of the car. Following the train's guts sweeping by overhead. The shower of sparks like birthday flares burn piss-holes in the snow. Barbados, awake now, brings the lighter to his face. Up the street a man has stopped at the phone booth as before a confessional. Pusher and his buy shuffle hands in a kind of two-fisted shake. Santos watches Barbados watch the business, his deep black, even innocent, eyes like the eyes of a young girl; like himself, once a child of promise.

    The radio under the dashboard emits a fart of murmured static. The buy at the booth straightens and cocks his head, as an animal will at a sign of danger. From above, a whistle, as for a dog. The silence around them all, suddenly, sinister. Dark faces fill the doorways. The buy skids away, running the way he came. A bottle whistles overhead and powders against a wall to the car's left. A child's shriek fills the canyon. "Fuck," Barbados mutters, and takes them quickly around a corner and down a street ending at the boardwalk and sky. Santos reaches for his inhaler.

    The thousand marquee bulbs above Famous's blink off, on.

    "Look," Santos says, rubbing a porthole in the glass.

    Barbados leans over. Inside Famous's, at the window bar, stands a man, short, pear-shaped, his breaths hanging before him in yarnlike balls of vapor, pushed rapidly forward like a smoker's trick by the next, and the next. He dabs his glistening forehead and neck with a handkerchief. Looking down at his watch, his chins multiply. Krivit.

    "You call him?" Barbados asks.

    Santos shakes his head. "Wait here a minute."

    Outside on his feet he inhales the briny cold, drops his cigarette in the snow, and walks a long diagonal to the door. The plexiglass flaps behind him. A family stands at the counter, joylessly chewing. In the rear a black man labors over a clatter of steaming fry-o-matics while a well-groomed Pakistani gazes at a mute TV. An out-of-town game, 49ers and Seahawks, Santos thinks, the away team in their white uniforms veiled as ghosts, the home jerseys tackling bodiless helmets and a floating leather oval.

    "My guess, you weren't expecting me today."

    Krivit sets down his cup of coffee with a click. "Am I expecting anyone?"

    "You come all this way for the hot dogs?"

    "Everybody does." Smiling a gummy smile, Krivit dabs at his forehead with the back of his hand.

    Outside, in the street, Barbados has pulled the car alongside a baby blue police cruiser.

    "A little early for you, isn't it?" Santos says. "You're making office hours in the daylight now?"

    "I like to keep my nights free for other business."

    "I remember."

    Barbados is leaning on the horn. The cruiser's passenger window drops. Bleary-eyed, a teenage cop pats his cheeks while his partner sleeps openmouthed behind the wheel. Barbados makes a gun with his hand, fires.

    "So," Santos says, "what do you have?"

    "Nothing for you."

    "Something for someone."

    Krivit shifts his coffee cup forward then back. "Having a slow day, Detective?"

    "Slow, fast, it's a day. You've never been at a loss."

    "I'm generous. There's plenty to go around without repeating myself. Doubling back is bad for business. But maybe later. Yes, later, probably." Krivit lifts his hand, limp-wristed, and wriggles his fingers. "For now, hasta la vista, Tino."

    Santos blinks at this bottom-feeder, swallowing the metallic taste of contempt. Though who it's for he can't say. Fat rat, yes—but who's asking what from whom?

    He shoves at the door with his shoulder, hands in his pockets. A stop sign shivers in the wind. A ship brays offshore, a foghorn if there were fog, calling to—what?

    He starts for the car but a figure, his chin in the collar of his cashmere coat, brushes past him toward the door. The face is instantly known to him.

    "Cold enough for you?" Santos says.

    "What—? No, not interested."

    "Nathan, it's Errol. Errol Santos."

    Nathan Stein looks back at him, his eyes blinking, focusing with recognition. "You haven't changed."

    Stein looks to Santos made up for an older part, a better one, hair thinner and streaked with chalk, but his face taut and his body slim. "We've both changed. But you look good, Nathan. Isabel told me you looked good."

    "She's your sister. She has to tell you that."

    "Well, terrific for you anyway."

    Nathan lifts a hand. "Not really." He points vaguely to his watch.

    "Look, I don't want to keep you."

    "Maybe a beer sometime," Nathan says, taking a step away. "We'll catch some tunes downtown."

    "Maybe Bradley's. Like the old days."

    Nathan cocks his head. "Bradley's is gone, Errol."

    "Since when?"

    "They sold the piano. Since? It doesn't matter. Years— Well, Errol." Nathan looks about him, as though for a trap door in the air. "So how are you?"

    "Like you see. How are you?"

    "Fine. Real good. So—" Nathan is grinning. "So how is Claire?"

    "Fine, Nathan. She's fine."

    "Good. Good."

    "I'm sure she'd send her regards. If she knew."

    "I'm sure."

    Santos pulls at his cigarettes and holds out the pack.

    "No thanks," Nathan says.

    "Go ahead."

    "I don't smoke."

    "You used to."

    "That was a long time ago."

    Santos lights up and blows a thin breath toward the sky. "Not so long," he says. "It was good of you to give Isabel a job."

    "Errol, it's been, what, four years, five?"

    "Well, I never thanked you."

    "Your mother had more to do with it than I did. It was an easy handoff, a pass of the baton, mother to daughter—"

    "Still, I hope she's no trouble. And how's—" Santos peers into the air, searching. The smoke coils and fades in the low winter light.

    "We live uptown," Nathan says. "Maria. Her and her boy, Benny. What, Errol, have you been keeping tabs?"

    Santos shrugs a shoulder. "We go back in a hundred different directions. It's just information, Nathan. My mother works for your father practically before I was born. Now my sister works for you. I used to know everything about you all by myself. Now what I know they tell me, but just dribs and drabs. It's sad."

    A funny smile crosses Nathan's face.

    "But Benny, right," Santos says. "I remember now. Maria and Benny. Wow, she was something. And she was a keeper. And her kid, he was just a baby." Santos grins. "Daddy," he says. "I never would have guessed."

    "Daddy," Nathan repeats dryly. "I don't think I'd go so far as to say that."

    "I have to say I can't see it."

    "I wouldn't." Nathan steps back, clutching at his belt. "Sorry," he says. "She beeps me ten times a day." He peers down at the readout. "It's the only number she has."

    Santos sucks deeply on the cigarette, reflecting. "They need attention, Nathan."

    "We all need attention, but she's got her daughters."

    "Daughters? I thought it was a son."

    Nathan looks up. "Son?"

    "Yeah, Benny."

    "Oh, Maria."

    "Maria," Santos repeats. "Who are we talking about?" But he holds up his hand, his face darkening. "It's none of my business."

    Santos searches the street. The junk shops on Surf Avenue are opening. He motions toward the door. "Let me buy you a cup of coffee."

    "I'd like to Errol, but—" Nathan thumbs back through the doors, "I have a meeting."

    Santos stares through the murky plexiglass at Krivit, who spots them and smiles the same gummy smile. Santos returns the gaze.

    "He'll always play both ways," he warns Nathan. "You never know what he's saying in the other guy's huddle."

    "He's just playing the game, Errol, keeping the clock moving, nudging things along when the rules get things stuck."

    "That's what worries me. He's not interested in outcomes. Milton never trusted him."

    "Milton? My father doesn't trust anybody—" Nathan begins, then stops. Some clock tolls the hour. An illuminated dial inset within the Wonderwheel, suspended above the barren carnival, hanging like another early moon, making the light shift. Santos blinks a stray snowflake out of his eye, thinking of Nathan's money, Nathan's clothes, Nathan's side businesses, his little ventures, his stable of Latina mistresses with whom he famously argued—Santos could have had all that. He was always smarter than Nathan, always a step ahead; already in law school Nathan was leaning on him, pawning favors for homework and crib notes.

    Nathan shifts from foot to foot. "Anyway."

    Barbados pulls up to the curb and knocks on the window, motioning to Santos, aiming his finger onward.

    "Okay. I'll tell Claire I saw you."

    "Do that."

    "You ought to come down to Brooklyn some night."

    "I'm in Brooklyn all the time." He looks about him. "Like now."

    "You know what I mean, Nathan."

    "Same apartment?"

    Santos kicks at the old snow. "That's right. She'd be thrilled. You'd be surprised."

    "I guess I would."

    The plexiglass doors of Famous's flap closed. Santos spins in the snow and, squinting upward, heads for the car. Up and down Surf Avenue Russians are smoothing blankets over the sidewalks, laying out pairs of old boots and rusty pliers, lampshades, authentic jackets from the Red Army. There is something threatening about the open day, the light a diversion, the sun not quite what it seems, not high enough, even for winter; a shadow washing over the city.

    "Wasn't that Milton Stein's son?"

    Santos nods.

    "That apple didn't fall far."

    "It's a big tree."

    "You were friends," Barbados says. "More. Compadres, no?"

    Santos waves a hand, as if to say, Where would I begin?

    As the Ferris wheel sinks from sight he slumps against the car door, his eyes locked on ten years ago. On a yellow room one summer night kneeling over his father. Reek of iodine and urine. Santos saw the skull through the old man's skin, the caved and wasted face. Everything phony slips off the dying and his father arched his neck to tell him the last thing. The dead will take the living with them if they can, and he wheezed his son's name to draw him closer in, but Santos pulled back against the wall and listened to his father suck at the cold air between words. His father said that in the courts and the billable hours is the carnival of the powerful and the insane while your people walk blind and helpless. His father said that the life Errol would one day feel he was missing was occurring in the streets. And since that day, on this planet, what has he done? By that autumn Santos stepped out of his suits and his law-firm offers and into dank bars full of sweaty cops. Knights of old, wielding their stubby little guns. Into the streets, his father had said. Into the streets. After his first collar, downtown to central booking and a meet with an A.D.A., he stepped into the sour spice of a hall strewn with men, men sleeping along the walls, propped up on elbows to stare stonily into the dingy middle distance. It looked at first like a railway station in the dead of night in a far part of the world, the bums, the unwashed drunks, the reek of refugee dishevelment and sleep and malnutrition. But here and there they wore parts of patrolmen's uniforms, the pants or the shirt, or the blue cap pulled low over the eyes, their street shoes. Pretenders, kids, those beat cops, twenty, twenty-two, buzz cuts and puffy cheeks and semiautomatics and off days in front of the tube. Stepping quickly over their legs, like a halfback running through the tire drill, Santos turned for the main waiting chamber where a fuzzy TV in the corner played soaps to blank-faced and slack-jawed cops. An emergency room at a public hospital but without the urgency.

    What Santos has done, he has done it there. He has done it in elevator shafts and dumpsters. He has done it in fields of rubble where sheets of newspaper roll in the wind.

    All that school gone to waste. All that law and the money to come. His sister Isabel thought he'd gone mad. He hardly understood it then himself; today, he's forgotten his reasons for almost everything.

    Warily, Santos eyes the horizon. There are clouds, he sees, over open water, black as thunder. Like a herd, or cavalry, body parts and animal shapes charge toward shore, fists, the fleeting contour of faces, vanishing as soon as they appear, dark horses rearing up.


Table of Contents


What People are Saying About This

Stewart O'Nan

Peter Landesman couples the ripeness of Styron with the grit of George V. Higgins and comes up with a dizzying new genre: New York Gothic noir. Blood Acre is that rarity: the soft-boiled thriller, where every wound weeps, every memory stings, and every dream festers.

James McConkey

In its depiction of that human being searching for redemption while lost in a violent storm that is both emotional -- with in him -- and meteorological, Landesman's novel brings to mind the drama of a maddened king on a blasted heat; but in giving an ever-deepening definition to his central character during the last two days of his life, Landesman is describing not a Lear but a fully American protagonist, a vestigial Gatsby for the end of the millennium."
-- Author of Court of Memory

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