Strike sits on top of the benches at the projects, surveying his small slice of the cocaine trade and nursing a bottle of vanilla Yoo-Hoo to ease his burning stomach. His clockers, young teenagers who actually make the deals, take money from customers and fetch ten-dollar bottles from the projects under Strike’s watchful eye, subject to swift discipline for cheating or general stupidity.

Strike saves his money, never samples the product, and stays clear of the “knockos,” following the advice of Rodney, the next man up the ladder. Over Rodney is Champ, with his brutal enforcer, Buddha Hat. Strike is giving himself a little more time in the business, counting up the thousands he has stashed around town, when Rodney surprises him by offering Strike a step up, selling ounces, a chance at bigger money, faster.

There’s only one catch. Rodney demands that Strike remove the man currently holding that position—permanently. Unable to carry out the murder, yet afraid of Rodney, Strike encounters his honest, hard-working brother in a bar, who offers the services of “a friend” to do the job. Thinking that his brother is only talking, Strike is amazed when his target is promptly murdered, and distraught when his brother gives himself up for the crime.

Once Strike crosses paths with Rocco Klein, the investigating officer who refuses to believe that Strike’s brother committed the murder, things begin to fall apart. Nearing...

(The entire section is 495 words.)