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Authors: Thomas Mullen

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40

THE DEPARTMENT OF
Public Works had taken its sweet time, but the lamppost that Brian Underhill had nearly knocked down was finally being repaired. Three white men in hard hats, sweaty T-shirts, and aggrieved expressions arrived one day around noon, the sun high and punishing as they took ladders from the roof of their truck.

A block away, the seven remaining Negro officers were having lunch together at Mae's Spot. In the back, they'd dragged together two tables to accommodate them and were feasting on ribs and collards, mac and cheese, and pitchers of sweet tea.

“Good luck at Morehouse,” Smith proclaimed.

Glasses in the air, they toasted to Xavier Little, who had worked his final shift the night before.

Little had decided to go back to school and finish his degree. Maybe he would rejoin them once he had the diploma in hand, he told them. Lucius didn't believe him, though. The job was not for him. So now there were seven, and each wondered which of them might make it six.

They swapped stories about their families, trying to talk about the job as little as possible. Those conversations could occur in more discreet surroundings, far from civilians' ears. In public like this, though, they were all honored to have the job, they deeply respected their community, they worked well with the white officers, and none would ever think of relinquishing such an exalted position.

“Buddy of mine,” Smith said. “He just told me his uncle's house burned down, in Hanford Park.”

“There aren't any colored folk in Hanford Park,” Champ Jennings said.

“There ain't
now.
He was the first. Built it about a month ago. He and his family were away for the weekend, and someone burned it down.”

“I heard the fire department didn't get there until there was nothing left,” Boggs said.

After they'd finished eating and were sitting there too full to move, Little got emotional. He said he was sorry for letting them down. He told them he'd wanted to be better at this, wanted to be stronger. His eyes were watering and some of them nodded and others looked away.

Then Smith made a joke about Spelman girls, and they all laughed even though it wasn't that funny, everyone relieved that the spell was broken and they could get up now and leave.

Outside they all shook Little's hand again and told him not be a stranger, then they went their separate ways for a few hours, until roll call.

Lucius walked toward an apartment he wanted to check out, as he had decided to start looking for a place of his own. Not least because he had a date next week with Julie Cannon, and though he certainly didn't expect to be taking her home that night, he also didn't want to let slip that he lived with his parents. A rented room would be a waste of money, he could hear his father saying, and he would be better off saving for a mortgage that one of the Negro-owned banks could extend to him, but Lucius didn't care. He needed his own space, needed to escape some shadows.

As he walked down Auburn, he passed the lamppost repair. Two of the white men were rifling through tools in their truck, and the third was high above on a ladder.

The man on the ladder hocked and spat. A circle of saliva landed not far from where Lucius had been about to step.

Maybe the man had just spat from up high and hadn't been looking. Or maybe he had aimed it that way. Lucius thought he heard a mutter from above but he wasn't certain. Nor would he look up, as that would have meant staring into the sun, not to mention giving the man the satisfaction.

The white man was very precariously placed indeed. All it would take is a gentle shove to knock the ladder down. Just the lightest push.

Officer Boggs kept his shoulders straight as he walked past the ladder, looking forward to seeing the lamp aglow when he'd next walk the Auburn Avenue beat.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

THANK YOU!

The Mullen and Strickland families; Susan Golomb and Writers House; Dawn Davis and everyone at 37Ink and Atria; Rich Green and ICM; Amy Pascal; Charles McNair; Professors Stephen Mihm and Joe Crespino; Thomas Lake, Tony Rehagen and the writers at the Auburn Chautauqua; Terra Elan McVoy; David Huntington, John Carter, and Sparks Grove; the Decatur Book Festival; Joe Davich, Bill Starr, and Georgia Center for the Book; Rebecca Burns, Steve Fennessey and
Atlanta
Magazine; Chuck Reece and
The Bitter Southerner
; booksellers everywhere.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

AUTHOR PHOTOGRAPH BY JEFF ROFFMAN

THOMAS MULLEN
is the author of
The Last Town on Earth
, which was named Best Debut Novel of 2006 by
USA Today
and was awarded the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for excellence in historical fiction;
The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers
; and
The Revisionists
. His works have been named to Year's Best lists by the
Chicago Tribune
,
USA Today
, the
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
,
The Onion's
A.V. Club, and several others. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and sons.

MEET THE AUTHORS, WATCH VIDEOS AND MORE AT

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Authors.SimonandSchuster.com/Thomas-Mullen

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 @37INKBOOKS

ALSO BY THOMAS MULLEN

The Last Town on Earth

The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers

The Revisionists

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This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real places are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and events are products of the author's imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2016 by Thomas Mullen

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Interior design by Kyoko Watanabe

Jacket design by Laywan Kwan

Photograph of car by Dan Chan; Photograph of ground by Tim Robinson/Arcangel Images

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Mullen, Thomas.

Title: Darktown : a novel / Thomas Mullen.

Description: New York : 37 Ink/Atria , 2016.

Identifiers: LCCN 2015041687 (print) | LCCN 2015044852 (ebook)

Subjects: | BISAC: FICTION / Mystery & Detective / Police Procedural. | FICTION / African American / Mystery & Detective.

Classification: LCC PS3613.U447 D37 2016 (print) | LCC PS3613.U447 (ebook) | DDC 813/.6—dc23

LC record available at
http://lccn.loc.gov/2015041687

ISBN 978-1-5011-3386-2

ISBN 978-1-5011-3388-6 (ebook)

BOOK: Darktown
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