The Night Gardener


By George Pelecanos

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Gus Ramone is “good police,” a former Internal Affairs investigator now working homicide for the city’s Violent Crime branch. His new case involves the death of a local teenager named Asa whose body has been found in a local community garden. The murder unearths intense memories of a case Ramone worked as a patrol cop twenty years earlier, when he and his partner, Dan “Doc” Holiday, assisted a legendary detective named T. C. Cook.

The series of murders, all involving local teenage victims, was never solved. In the years since, Holiday has left the force under a cloud of morals charges, and now finds work as a bodyguard and driver. Cook has retired, but he has never stopped agonizing about the “Night Gardener” killings.The new case draws the three men together on a grim mission to finish the work that has haunted them for years. All the love, regret, and anger that once burned between them comes rushing back, and old ghosts walk once more as the men try to lay to rest the monster who has stalked their dreams.

Bigger and even more unstoppable than his previous thrillers, George Pelecanos achieves in The Night Gardener what his brilliant career has been building toward: a novel that is a perfect union of suspense, character, and unstoppable fate.


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THE CRIME SCENE was in the low 30s around E, on the edge of Fort Dupont Park, in a neighborhood known as Greenway, in the 6th District section of Southeast D.C. A girl of fourteen lay in the grass on the side of a community vegetable garden that was blind to the residents whose yards backed up to the nearby woods. There were colorful beads in her braided hair. She appeared to have died from a single gunshot wound to the head. A middle-aged homicide police was down on one knee beside her, staring at her as if he were waiting for her to awake. His name was T. C. Cook. He was a sergeant with twenty-four years on the force, and he was thinking.

His thoughts were not optimistic. There was no visible blood on or around the girl, with the exception of the entrance and exit wounds, now congealed. No blood at all on her shirt, jeans, or sneakers, all of which looked to be brand-new. Cook surmised that she had been undressed and re-dressed after her murder, and her body had been moved and dumped here. He had a sick feeling in his gut and also, he realized with some degree of guilt, a quickening in his pulse that suggested, if not excitement, then engagement. An ID on the body would confirm it, but Cook suspected that this one was like the others. She was one of them.

The Mobile Crime Lab had arrived. The techs were going through the motions, but there was a kind of listlessness in their movements and a general air of defeat. The transportation of a body away from the murder site meant that there would be few forensic clues. Also, it had rained. When this happened, it was said by some techs that the killer was laughing.

On the edge of the crime scene were a meat wagon and several patrol cars and uniformed officers who had responded to the call for assistance. There were a couple dozen spectators as well. Yellow tape had been strung, and the uniforms were now charged with keeping the spectators and the media back and away from the homicide cops and lab techs doing their jobs. Superintendent of Detectives Michael Messina and Homicide Captain Arnold Bellows had ducked the tape and were talking to each other, leaving Sergeant Cook alone. The public-relations officer, a moley Italian American who appeared frequently on TV, fed the usual to a reporter from Channel 4, a man with suspicious hair whose gimmick was a clipped delivery and dramatic pauses between sentences.

Two of the uniformed officers stood by their cruiser. Their names were Gus Ramone and Dan Holiday. Ramone was of medium height and build. Holiday was taller and blade thin. Both were college dropouts, single, in their early twenties, and white. Both were in their second year on the force, past their rookie status but not seasoned. They had already acquired a distrust of officers above the rank of sergeant but were not yet cynical about the job.

"Look at 'em," said Holiday, nodding his sharp chin in the direction of Superintendent Messina and Captain Bellows. "They're not even talking to T.C."

"They're just letting him do his thing," said Ramone.

"The white shirts are afraid of him, is what it is."

T. C. Cook was an average-sized black man in a tan raincoat with a zip-in lining, worn over a houndstooth sport jacket. His dress Stetson, light brown with a chocolate band holding a small multicolored feather, was cocked just so, covering a bald head sided by clown patches of black hair flecked with gray. He had a bulbous nose and a thick brown mustache. His mouth rarely turned up in a smile, but his eyes sometimes shone brightly with amusement.

"The Mission Man," said Holiday. "The brass don't like him, but they sure don't fuck with him. Guy's got a ninety percent closure rate; he can do what he wants."

That's Holiday all over, thought Ramone. Get results, and all will be forgiven. Produce, and do whatever the fuck you want.

Ramone had his own rules: follow the playbook, stay safe, put in your twenty-five and move on. He was not enamored of Cook or any of the other mavericks, cowboys, and assorted living legends on the force. Romanticizing the work could not elevate it to something it was not. This was a job, not a calling. Holiday, on the other hand, was living a dream, had lead in his pencil, and was jacked up big on the Twenty-third Psalm.

Holiday had started on foot patrol in the H Street corridor of Northeast, a white man solo in a black section of town. He had cut it fine and already had a rep. Holiday remembered the names of folks he had met only one time, complimented the young women and the grandmothers alike, could talk Inter-high sports, the Redskins, and the Bullets with guys sitting on their front porches and those hanging outside the liquor stores, could even shoot the shit with the young ones he knew were headed for the hard side. Citizens, criminal and straight, sensed that Holiday was a joker and a fuckup, and still they liked him. His enthusiasm and natural fit for the job would probably get him further in the MPD than Ramone would go. That is, if that little man with the pitchfork, sitting on Holiday's shoulder, didn't ruin him first.

Ramone and Holiday had gone through the academy together, but they weren't friends. They weren't even partners. They were sharing a car because there had been a shortage of cruisers in the lot behind the 6D station. Six hours into a four-to-midnight, and Ramone was already tired of Holiday's voice. Some cops liked the company, and the backup, even if it was less than stellar. Ramone preferred to ride alone.

"I tell you about this girl I been seein?" said Holiday.

"Yeah," said Ramone. Not yeah with a question mark on the end of it, but yeah with a period, as in, end of discussion.

"She's a Redskinette," said Holiday. "One of those cheerleaders they got at RFK."

"I know what they are."

"I tell you about her?"

"I think you did."

"You oughtta see her ass, Giuseppe."

Ramone's mother, when she was angry or sentimental, was the only one who ever called him by his given name. That is, until Holiday had seen Ramone's driver's license. Holiday also occasionally called him "the Ramone," after having had a look at Ramone's record collection on the single occasion Ramone had let him into his apartment. That had been a mistake.

"Nice ones, too," said Holiday, doing the arthritic thing with his hands. "She got those big pink, whaddaya call 'em, aureoles."

Holiday turned, his face catching the strobe of the cruiser light bars still activated at the scene. He was smiling his large row of straight white teeth, his ice blue eyes catching the flash. The ID bar on his chest read "D. Holiday," so naturally and instantly he had caught the nickname "Doc" within the department. Coincidentally, he was as angular and bone skinny as the tubercular gunman. Some of the older cops claimed he looked like a young Dan Duryea.

"You told me," said Ramone for the third time.

"Okay. But listen to this. Last week, I'm out with her in a bar. The Constable, down on Eighth…"

"I know the place." Ramone had gone to the Constable many times, pre-cop, in that year when he thought of himself as In Between. You could score coke from the bartender there, watch the band, Tiny Desk Unit or the Insect Surfers or whoever, in that back room, or sit under the stars on the patio they had out back, drink beers and catch cigarettes behind the shake, and talk to the girls, back when they were all wearing the heavy mascara and the fishnets. This was after his fourth, and last, semester at Maryland, when he'd taken that criminology class and thought, I don't need any more of this desk-and-blackboard bullshit; I can do this thing right now. But then just wandering for a while before he signed up, hitting the bars, smoking weed, and doing a little blow, chasing those girls with the fishnets. It had felt to him then like he was stumbling. Tonight, wearing the blue, the badge and gun, standing next to a guy he would have ridiculed a few years back, now his contemporary, it felt like he had been free.

"… and she drops a bomb on me. Tells me she likes me and all that bulljive, but she's dating one of the Redskins, too."

"Joe Jacoby?" said Ramone, side-glancing Holiday.

"Nah, not that beast."

"So who?"

"A receiver. And not Donnie Warren, if you catch my drift."

"You're saying she's dating a black receiver."

"One of 'em," said Holiday. "And you know they like white girls."

"Who doesn't," said Ramone.

Over the crackle of the radios coming from the cars they heard Cook telling one of the men in his squad to keep the Channel 4 reporter, who was attempting to move under the tape, away from the deceased. "Punk motherfucker," said Cook, saying it loud, making sure the reporter could hear. "He's the one got that witness killed down in Congress Park. Goes on the air and talks about how a young lady's about to give testimony…"

"I had a problem with what she told me, I gotta be honest," said Holiday, watching Cook but going ahead with his story.

" 'Cause he's black."

"I can't lie. It was hard for me to forget him and her after that. When I was in the rack with her, is what I'm talkin about."

"You felt, what, inadequate or somethin?"

"Come on. Pro football player, a brother…" Holiday held his palm out a foot from his groin. "Guy's gotta be like this."

"It's an NFL requirement."


"They check their teeth, too."

"I'm sayin, I'm just an average guy. Down there, I mean. Don't get me wrong; it's Kielbasa Street when the blood gets to it, but when it's just layin there—"

"What's your point?"

"Knowin this girl was hanging off the end of this guy's dick, it just ruined her for me, I guess."

"So you what, let her go?"

"Not with that ass of hers, I wasn't gonna let her go. No, sir."

A woman had wandered under the tape while they were talking, and as she approached the body of the girl and got a look at it, she vomited voluminously into the grass. Sergeant Cook removed his hat, ran a finger along the brim, and breathed deeply. He replaced the Stetson on his head, adjusted it, and allowed his eyes to search the perimeter of the scene. He turned to the man beside him, a white detective named Chip Rogers, and pointed to Ramone and Holiday.

"Tell those white boys to do their jobs," said Cook. "People regurgitatin, fucking up my crime scene… If they can't keep these folks back, find some men who will. I'm not playin."

Ramone and Holiday immediately went to the yellow tape, turned their backs to it, and affected a pose of authority. Holiday spread his feet and looped his fingers through his utility belt, unfazed by Cook's words. Ramone's jaw tightened as he felt a twinge of anger at being called a white boy by the homicide cop. He had heard it occasionally growing up outside D.C. and many times while playing baseball and basketball in the city proper. He didn't like it. He knew it was meant to cut him and he was expected to take it, and that made it burn even more.

"How about you?" said Holiday.

"How 'bout me what?" said Ramone.

"You been gettin any hay for your donkey?"

Ramone did not answer. He had his eye on one woman in particular, a cop, God help him. But he had learned not to let Holiday into his personal world.

"C'mon, brother," said Holiday. "I showed you mine, now you show me yours. You got someone in your gun sights?"

"Your baby sister," said Ramone.

Holiday's mouth fell open and his eyes flared. "My sister died of leukemia when she was eleven years old, you piece a shit."

Ramone looked away. For a while there was only the squawk and hiss of the police radios and the low conversations of the spectators in the crowd. Then Holiday cackled and slapped Ramone on the back.

"I'm kiddin you, Giuseppe. Oh, Christ, but I had your ass."

The description of the victim had been matched to a list of missing teenagers in the area. A half hour later, a man was brought to the scene to identify her. As he looked at the body, a father's anguished howl filled the night.

The victim's name was Eve Drake. In the past year, two other black teenagers, both living in the poorer sections of town, had been murdered and dumped in similar fashion in community gardens, both discovered shortly after sunrise. Shot in the head, both had traces of semen in their rectums. Their names were Otto Williams and Ava Simmons. Like Otto and Ava, Drake's first name, Eve, was spelled the same way backward as it was forward. The press had made the connection and dubbed the events the Palindrome Murders. Within the department, some police had begun to refer to the perpetrator as the Night Gardener.

ACROSS TOWN, AT THE same time the father cried out over his daughter's body, young Washingtonians were in their homes, tuning in to Miami Vice, doing lines of coke as they watched the exploits of two hip undercover cops and their quest to take down the kingpins of the drug trade. Others read bestselling novels by Tom Clancy, John Jakes, Stephen King, and Peter Straub, or sat in bars and talked about the fading play-off prospects of the Jay Schroeder–led Washington Redskins. Others watched rented VCR tapes of Beverly Hills Cop and Code of Silence, the top picks that week at Erol's Video Club, or barely sweated to Jane Fonda's Workout, or went out and caught the new Michael J. Fox at the Circle Avalon or Caligula at the Georgetown. Mr. Mister and Midge Ure were in town, playing the clubs.

As these movers of the Reagan generation entertained themselves west of Rock Creek Park and in the suburbs, detectives and techs worked at a crime scene at 33rd and E, in the neighborhood of Greenway, in Southeast D.C. They could not know that this would be the last victim of the Palindrome Killer. For now, there was only a dead teenager, one of three unsolved, and someone out there, somewhere, doing the murders.

On a cool rainy night in December 1985, two young uniformed police and a middle-aged homicide detective were on the scene.



THE WIRY LITTLE man in the box, sitting low in his chair, was William Tyree. In the opposite chair was Detective Paul "Bo" Green. A can of Coca-Cola and an ashtray holding dead Newports sat on the rectangular table between them. The room stank of nicotine and the crack sweat coming off Tyree.

"Those the kicks you were wearing?" said Green, pointing at Tyree's shoes. "Those right there?"

"These here are the Huaraches," said Tyree.

"Those shoes you've got on right now, you saying you weren't wearing those yesterday?"

"Nah, uh-uh."

"Tell me something, William. What size you wear?"

Tyree's hair held specks of fuzz. A small cut, now congealed, was visible below his left eye.

"These here are nine and a half," said Tyree. "I wear tens most times. You know them Nikes be runnin big."

Detective Sergeant Gus Ramone, watching the interview on a monitor in a space adjacent to the interrogation room, allowed himself the first smile of the day. Even being questioned for murder, even under the fluorescent lights of an interrogation, a man damn near always felt the need to lie about or explain away his shoe size.

"Okay," said Green, his hands folded on the table before him. "So those Nikes you got on now… you telling me you weren't wearing those yesterday?"

"I was wearin Nikes. But not these ones, no."

"Which type were you wearing, William? What I mean specifically is, which type of Nikes were you wearing when you visited your ex-wife yesterday at her apartment?"

Green's brow wrinkled as he considered the question. "It was the Twenties."

"Yeah? My son has those."

"They're popular with the young ones."

"The black Twenties?"

"Uh-uh. I got the white with the blue."

"So, if we were to go to your apartment, would we find a pair of white Twenties, size nine and a half?"

"They ain't at my apartment no more."

"Where are they?"

"I put 'em in a bag with some other stuff."

"What other stuff?"

"The jeans and T-shirt I was wearin yesterday."

"The jeans and T-shirt you had on when you visited your ex-wife?"


"What kind of bag?"

"One of those bags from Safeway."

"A grocery bag, says Safeway on it?"

Tyree nodded his head. "One of those plastic ones they got."

"You put anything else in that bag?"

"Besides my clothes and sneaks?"

"Yes, William."

"I put a knife in there, too."

Detective Anthony Antonelli, seated beside an impassive Ramone in the video monitor room, leaned forward. Bo Green, in the box, did the same. William Tyree did not pull back from the space that Green was invading. He had been sharing the box with Green for several hours now, and he had grown comfortable with his presence.

Green had started slowly, small-talking Tyree but dancing around the murder of Jacqueline Taylor. Green and Tyree had gone to the same high school, Ballou, though not at the same time. Green had known Tyree's older brother, Jason, a pretty fair Interhigh baseball player, now with the post office. They had talked about the old neighborhood, and where the best fish sandwich could be gotten in the 1980s, and how the music had been more positive, and how parents watched their kids more closely, and if they couldn't, how the neighbors chipped in and helped.

Green, a bearish man with gentle eyes, always took his time and, through his familiarity with the area and the many families he had come to know over the years, endeared himself, eventually, to many of the suspects in the interrogation room, especially those of a certain generation. He became their friend and confidant. Ramone was the primary on the Jacqueline Taylor case, but he had allowed Green to conduct the crucial interview. It appeared that Green was about to close this now.

"What kind of knife, William?"

"A big knife I had in my kitchen. You know, for cutting meat."

"Like a butcher knife?"

"Somethin like that."

"And you put the knife and the clothing in the bag…."

" 'Cause the knife had blood on it," said Tyree, like he was explaining the obvious to a child.

"And your clothing and shoes?"

"They had blood on 'em, too."

"Where'd you put the bag?"

"You know that Popeyes down there on Pennsylvania, near where Minnesota comes in?"


"There's a liquor store across the street from it…."

"Penn Liquors."

"Nah, farther down. The one got a Jewish name to it."

"You talking about Saul's?"

"Yeah, that one. I put the bag in the Dumpster they got out back in the alley."

"Out back of Saul's?"

"Uh-huh. Last night."

Green nodded casually, as if someone had just told him the score of a ball game or that he had left the lights on in his car.

In the video room, Ramone opened the door and shouted to Detective Eugene Hornsby, his ass parked against a desk, half-seated, half-standing beside Detective Rhonda Willis, both of them in the big office area of VCB.

"We got it," said Ramone, and both Hornsby and Rhonda Willis straightened their postures. "Gene, you know that liquor store, Saul's, on Pennsylvania?"

"Over there by Minnesota?" said Hornsby, a completely average-looking man of thirty-eight years who had come up in the infamous part of Northeast known as Simple City.

"Yeah. Mr. Tyree says he dumped a butcher knife and his clothes in the Dumpster out back. And he put a pair of white-and-blue Nike Twenties in there, too, size nine and a half. It's all in a Safeway bag."

"Paper or plastic?" said Hornsby with a barely detectable grin.

"Plastic," said Ramone. "It should be there."

"If Sanitation didn't pick up the trash yet," said Rhonda.

"I heard that," said Ramone.

"I'll get some uniforms down there straight away," said Hornsby, snatching a set of keys off his desk. "And I'll make sure them rookies don't fuck it up."

"Thanks, Gene," said Ramone. "How's that warrant coming, Rhonda?"

"It's comin," said Rhonda. "Ain't nobody going in and out of Tyree's apartment until we get it. Got a patrol car parked right out front as we speak."

"All right."

"Nice one, Gus," said Rhonda.

"That was all Bo," said Ramone.

In the box, Bo Green got out of his seat. He looked at Tyree, who had sat up some in his chair. Tyree looked like he'd had a fever that had broken.

"I'm thirsty, William. You thirsty?"

"I could use another soda."

"What you want, same thing?"

"Can I get a Slice this time?"

"We don't have it. All's we got like it is Mountain Dew."

"That'll work."

"You got enough cigarettes?"

"I'm good."

Detective Green looked at his watch, then straight up into the camera mounted high on the wall. "Three forty-two," he said before leaving the room.

The light over the door of the interrogation room remained green, indicating that the tape was still rolling. Inside the video room, Antonelli read the sports page of the Post and glanced occasionally at the monitor.

Bo Green was greeted by Ramone and Rhonda Willis.

"Good one," said Ramone.

"He wanted to talk," said Green.

"Lieutenant said to come on back when you had something," said Rhonda. "Prosecutor wants to, what's that word, interface."

"Rhonda says we drew Littleton," said Ramone.

"Little man," said Green.

Gus Ramone stroked his black mustache.


DAN HOLIDAY SIGNALED the bartender, making a grand circular motion with his index finger over glasses that were not quite empty but empty enough.

"The same way," said Holiday. "For me and my friends."

The men at the bar were three rounds deep into a discussion that had gone from Angelina Jolie to Santana Moss to the new Mustang GT, their points argued with vehemence, but all of it, in the end, about nothing at all. The conversation was something to hang the alcohol on. You couldn't just sit there and drink.

On the stools sat carpet-and-floor salesman Jerry Fink, freelance writer Bradley West, a residential contractor named Bob Bonano, and Holiday. None of them had bosses. All had the kind of jobs that allowed them to drink off a workday without guilt.

They met, informally, several times a week at Leo's, a tavern on Georgia Avenue, between Geranium and Floral, in Shepherd Park. It was a simple rectangular room with an oak bar going front to back, twelve stools and a few four-tops, and a jukebox holding obscure soul singles. The walls were freshly painted and unadorned with beer posters, pennants, or mirrors, instead showing photographs of Leo's parents in D.C. and grandparents in their Greek village. The bar was a neighborhood watering hole, neither a bucket of blood nor a home for gentrifiers. It was simply an efficient place to get a pleasant load on in the middle of the afternoon.

"Jesus, you stink," said Jerry Fink, sitting beside Holiday, rattling the rocks in his cocktail glass.

"It's called Axe," said Holiday. "The kids wear it."

"You ain't no kid, hombre." Jerry Fink, raised off River Road and a graduate of Walt Whitman High, one of the finest and whitest public schools in the country, often spoke in double negatives. He felt it made him more street. He was short, had a gut, wore glasses with tinted lenses indoors, and sported a perm, which he called "my Jewfro." Fink was forty-eight years old.

"Tell me something I don't know."

"I'm just askin you why you're wearing that swill."

"Very simple. Where I woke up this morning, I didn't have my own toiletries close by, if you catch my drift."

"Here we go," said West.

Holiday grinned and squared his shoulders. He was as rail thin as he had been in his twenties. The only indicator of his forty-one years was the small belly he had acquired from years of drinking. His acquaintances called it "the Holiday Hump."

"Tell us a bedtime story, Daddy," said Bonano.

"Okay," said Holiday. "I had a job yesterday, a client from NYC. Some big-shot investor looking at a company about to go public. I drove him out to an office building in the Dulles corridor, waited around a few hours, and drove him back downtown to the Ritz. So I'm goin back to my place last night, I'm feeling thirsty, I stop in to the Royal Mile in Wheaton for a short one. Soon as I walk in, I notice this brunette sitting with a couple other women. She had some mileage on the odometer, but she was attractive. We made eye contact, and her eyes spoke a million words."

"What did her eyes say, Doc?" said West tiredly.

"They said, I'm hungry for Johnny Johnson."

This drew head shakes.

"I didn't make my move right away. I waited till she had to get up and take a piss. I needed to get a look at her bottom half, see, to make sure I wasn't settin myself up for some horror show later on. Anyway, I checked her out and she was all right. She'd had babies, obviously, but there wasn't any severe damage to speak of."

"C'mon, man," said Bonano.

"Be patient. Soon as she gets back from the head, I cut her from the herd real quick. It only cost me two Miller Lites. She didn't even finish her beer before she tells me she's ready to go." Holiday tapped ash off his smoke. "I figured I'd take her out to the parking lot across the street, let her blow me or somethin."

"And they say romance is dead," said West.

"But she wasn't having any of that," said Holiday, missing West's tone or ignoring it. " 'I'm not doing it in a car,' she says. 'I'm not seventeen anymore.' No shit, I'm thinkin, but hey, I wasn't gonna turn down some ass."

"Even if she wasn't seventeen," said Jerry Fink.

"We go back to her house; she's got a couple of kids, a teenage boy and his younger sister, they barely turn their heads away from the television when we come in."

"What were they watching?" said Bonano.

"What difference does that make?" said Holiday.

"Makes the story better. Makes me see it, like, in my head."

"It was one of those Law and Order shows," said Holiday. "I know 'cause I heard that duh-duh thing they do."

"Keep goin," said Fink.



    "Like Drama City it is heart-in-your-throat gripping from beginning to end, The Night Gardener is another of Mr. Pelecanos's beautifully delineated moral tales, filled with gut-wrenching turns of fate and razor-sharp, boisterously vivid characters."—Janet Maslin, New York Times
  • "The Night Gardener can be read as a police procedural hipper but just as good as those of the late, great Ed McBain. But it is also a wise, textured examination of life in urban America, as sophisticated as the best work of Richard Price....[Pelecanos's] last book, Drama City, is a masterpiece of American crime fiction; The Night Gardener is even better."—Associated Press
  • "Mr. part of a fraternity of writers, including Dennis Lehane and Richard Price, who push the boundaries of crime writing into literary territory, exploring character more deeply than many crime novelists dare, introducing challenging social themes and bucking expectations that everything will come out all right in the end."—Motoko Rich, New York Times
  • "Perhaps the greatest living American crime writer."—Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly

On Sale
Jun 10, 2009
Page Count
400 pages
Back Bay Books

George Pelecanos

About the Author

George Pelecanos is the bestselling author of twenty-two novels and story collections set in and around Washington, D.C. He is also a producer and Emmy-nominated writer of HBO's The WireTremeThe Deuce and We Own This City. He lives in Maryland.

Learn more about this author