Bad Boy Brawly Brown

An Easy Rawlins Mystery


By Walter Mosley

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Young Brawly Brown has traded in his family for The Clan of the First Men, a group rejecting white leadership and laws. Brown’s mom asks Easy to make sure her baby’s okay, and Easy promises to find him. His first day on the case, Easy comes face-to-face with a corpse, and before he knows it he is a murder suspect and in the middle of a police raid. Brawly Brown is clearly the kind of trouble most folks try to avoid. It takes everything Easy has just to stay alive as he explores a world filled with betrayals and predators like he never imagined.




Devil in a Blue Dress

A Red Death

White Butterfly

Black Betty

A Little Yellow Dog

Gone Fishin'


RL's Dream

Blue Light

Walkin' the Dog

Fearless Jones



Workin' on the Chain Gang


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

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First eBook Edition: March 2010

ISBN: 978-0-7595-2812-3


MOUSE IS DEAD. Those words had gone through my mind every morning for three months. Mouse is dead because of me.

When I sat up, Bonnie rolled her shoulder and sighed in her sleep. The sky through our bedroom window was just beginning to brighten.

The image of Raymond, his eyes open and unseeing, lying stock-still on EttaMae's front lawn, was still in my mind. I lurched out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom. My feet hurt every morning, too, as if I had spent all night walking, searching for EttaMae, to ask her where she'd taken Ray after carrying him out of the hospital.

So he was still alive? I asked a nurse who had been on duty that evening.

No, she said flatly. His pulse was gone. The head nurse had just called the doctor to pronounce him dead when that crazy woman hit Arnold in the head with a suture tray and took Mr. Alexander's body over her shoulder.

I wandered into the living room and pulled the sash to open the drapes. Red sunlight glinted through the ragged palms at the end of our block. I had never wept over Raymond's demise, but that tattered light reflected a pain deep in my mind.

IT TOOK ME over half an hour to get dressed. No two socks matched and every shirt seemed to be the wrong color. While I was tying my shoes Bonnie woke up.

"What are you doing, Easy?" she asked. She had been born in British Guyana but her father was from Martinique, so there was the music of the French language in her English accent.

"Gettin' dressed," I said.

"Where are you going?"

"Where you think I'ma be goin' at this time'a day? To work." I was feeling mean because of that red light in the far-off sky.

"But it's Saturday, baby."


Bonnie climbed out of the bed and hugged me. Her naked skin was firm and warm.

I pulled away from her.

"You want some breakfast?" I asked.

"Maybe a little later," she said. "I didn't get in from Idlewild until two this morning. And I have to go back out again today."

"Then you go to bed," I said.

"You sure? I mean… did you need to talk?"

"Naw. Nuthin's wrong. Just stupid is all. Thinkin' Saturday's a workday. Damn."

"Are you going to be okay?" she asked.

"Yeah. Sure I am."

Bonnie had a fine figure. And she was not ashamed to be seen naked. Looking at her pulling on those covers reminded me of why I fell for her. If I hadn't been so sad, I would have followed her back under those blankets.

FEATHER'S LITTLE YELLOW DOG, Frenchie, was hiding somewhere, snarling at me while I made sausages and eggs. He was the love of my little girl's life, so I accepted his hatred. He blamed me for the death of Idabell Turner, his first owner; I blamed myself for the death of my best friend.

I WAS SITTING at breakfast, smoking a Chesterfield and wondering if EttaMae had moved back down to Houston. I still had friends down there in the Fifth Ward. Maybe if I wrote to Lenora Circel and just dropped a line about Etta — say hi to Etta for me or give Etta my love. Then when she wrote back I might learn something.

"Hi, Dad."

My hand twitched, flicking two inches of cigarette ash on the eggs.

Jesus was standing there in front of me.

"I told you not to sneak up on me like that, boy."

"I said hi," he explained.

The eggs were ruined but I wasn't hungry. And I couldn't stay mad at Jesus, anyway. I might have taken him in when he was a child, but the truth was that he had adopted me. Jesus worked hard at making our home run smoothly, and his love for me was stronger than blood.

"What you doin' today?" I asked him.

"Nuthin'. Messin' around."

"Sit down," I said.

Jesus didn't move the chair as he sat, because there was enough room for him to slide in under the table. He never wasted a movement — or a word.

"I wanna drop out of high school," he said.

"Say what?"

His dark eyes stared into mine. He had the smooth, eggshell-brown skin and the straight black hair of people who had lived in the Southwest for thousands of years.

"It's only a year and a half till you graduate," I said. "A diploma will help you get a job. And if you keep up with track, you could get a scholarship to UCLA."

He looked down at my hands.

"Why?" I asked.

"I don't know," he said. "I just don't wanna be there. I don't wanna be there all the time."

"You think I like goin' to work?"

"You like it enough," he said. "'Cause if you didn't like it, you'd quit."

I could see that he'd made up his mind, that he'd thought about this decision for a long time. He probably had the papers for me to sign under his bed.

I was about to tell him no, that he'd have to stick out the year at least. But then the phone rang. It was a loud ringer, especially at six-thirty in the morning.

While I limped to the counter Jesus left on silent bare feet.


"Easy?" It was a man's voice.

"John? Is that you?"

"I'm in trouble and I need you to do me a favor," John said all in a rush. He'd been practicing just like Jesus.

My heart quickened. The little yellow dog stuck his nose out from under the kitchen cabinet.

I don't know if it was an old friend's voice or the worry in his tone that got to me. But all of a sudden I wasn't miserable or sad.

"What you need, John?"

"Why'ont you come over to the lots, Easy? I wanna look you in the eye when I tell ya what we want."

"Oh," I said, thinking about we and the fact that whatever John had to say was too serious to be discussed over the phone. "Sure. As soon as I can make it."

I hung up with a giddy feeling running around my gut. I could feel the grin on my lips.

"Who was that?" Bonnie asked. She was standing at the door to our bedroom, half wrapped in a terry-cloth robe. She was more beautiful than any man could possibly deserve.


"The bartender?"

"Do you have to leave today?" I asked.

"Sorry. But after this trip I'll have a whole week off."

"I can't wait that long," I said.

I gathered her up in my arms and carried her back into the bedroom.

"Easy, what are you doing?"

I tossed her on the bed and then closed the door to the kitchen. I took off my pants and stood over her.

"Easy, what's got into you?"

The look on my face was answer enough for any arguments she might have had about the children or her need for sleep.

I couldn't have explained my sudden passion. All I knew was the smell of that woman, her taste and texture on my skin and tongue, was something I had never known before in my life. It was as if I discovered sex for the first time that morning.


JESUS, FEATHER, BONNIE, AND I sat down to breakfast at nine o'clock. Jesus had made the pancakes from a mix while we were still in bed, proving once more that he was a better son than I deserved.

"Those pancakes were delicious," Bonnie said to the boy.

"I'm dropping out of school," he replied.

"Do it hurt if you drop?" Feather asked, and then she giggled.

I snickered and Bonnie gave me a hard look.

"When did you decide that?" Bonnie asked.

"I 'ont know," he said. "Lately."

"Did you know about this, Easy?"

"He told me this morning."

"What do you think?"

"I think we have to talk about it."

Jesus chose that moment to stand up and walk out of the kitchen. It was a rare show of anger on his part. I wanted to stop him, make him come back to the table and discuss his education. But I still felt feverish and giddy. I wanted to run from the room, too.

"Jesus," Bonnie called. But he pretended not to hear.

"Juice, wait up," little Feather screamed. She jumped out of her chair and ran for the door.

"Feather," I said.

She stopped and turned around. She was full-faced but not chubby, with bushy blond hair, light skin, and Negro features. She was another man's child but I was the only father that she had ever known.

"Um… ah…," she stammered. "May I be excused?"

"Go on," I said, and she was gone.

Frenchie ran after her. The screen door was already closed but he scratched at it until it bounced open, then ran to find his little-girl master.

When I looked over at Bonnie I found her gazing at me as if I were some Martian just dropped out of the Twilight Zone.

"What's wrong with you, Easy?"

"He just sprung it on me this morning," I explained. "And I know Juice. If you tell him no straight out, he won't do any homework or he might even try to get in trouble so they have to expel him."

"So you just let him throw his life away?"

"I have to talk to him, honey. I have to see what his problem is. Maybe we can work something out."

I was no longer grinning, but there was a carefree tone in my words.

"It's not just Jesus. You're acting very strange this morning," Bonnie said.

"Strange? When's the last time I made you feel that good?"

"You never made me feel like that before," she said. Her dark eyes were large and filled with concern. The shape of Bonnie Shay's face contained the continent of Africa. Those eyes saw in me things that I could barely imagine.

"Well then, what you complainin' about?"

She reached across the table, binding my arms with hers.

"What's wrong?" The question gained a lot of weight the second time around.

"Nuthin's wrong. I just decided to come back to bed and love my woman — that's all." I tried to pull away but she was too strong. "And I know how to deal with my own boy."

"What did John want?"

"I don't know. Really. He just said that he needed a favor and that I should come on down to his lots. It's probably just a construction thing. I know a lot more about that kinda stuff than John does."

"You told me that he's hardly called you in the last year," Bonnie said.

Her grip loosened slightly. I took the advantage to pull away. "So?"

"Isn't that what you said you used to do?" she asked.

"What are you talkin' about?"

"Favors. Didn't you say that you used to trade in favors? That before you had honest work, you used to help people when they couldn't go to the authorities?"

"It ain't nuthin' like that here," I said. "John's an old friend, that's all."

"What are you doing making love to me three times this morning? Why are you just sitting there smiling while your son tells you that he's dropping out of high school?"

I heard her questions but they didn't mean anything to me. If I thought she'd've let me, I would have taken her back into the bedroom for number four.

"I guess the love kinda built up. You know, I been so tired at night."

"You've been sad, Easy. Sad because of your friend. I don't care that you need to grieve."

That was too much. I stood up, hoping that the air would be cooler above my head. In the few months since Raymond's death I had come closer to Bonnie than I ever had with a woman. She knew my dreams and property holdings, but I could not talk to her about my impotence — my failure to save Mouse's life.

"It's okay. Nuthin's wrong. I was just a little confused when I woke up. It just kinda threw me off, that's all."

Bonnie stood up and caressed my face with her fingers, then shook her head slowly and shrugged. It was her way of saying that a fool was his own worst enemy.

"I'm going to be gone for three or four days," she said. "Depending on the layovers and weather."

"Oh. Yeah."

"I told you that I'd have to be gone for days at a time now and then," she said sweetly.

Bonnie and I hadn't been together long. She moved in with me only a week after Mouse had died, but already I found myself aimless and unsatisfied when she was away.

"That's okay," I said. "Just don't forget where home is."

"Don't you forget who loves you," she said.


I DROVE MY NEW USED PONTIAC with all the windows down and a Chesterfield cigarette between my lips. Somewhere, way in the back of my mind, there was an alarm going off. It was like the uneasy feeling after a nightmare that you can't remember. The worry had no picture, so it was more like a suspicion than fear. At the same time I was happy to be driving toward someone else's troubles. The sensation of delight on top of anxiety made me smile. It was a grin that represented a whole lifetime of laughing at pain.

JOHN'S LOTS were on an unpaved street that hadn't been properly named yet. There was a sign where the street name should have been that read A229-B. John was building six homes, three on either side of the street. He was part of a syndicate put together by Jewelle MacDonald, the girlfriend of my real estate agent, Mofass.

Mofass had been dying from emphysema for the past few years. The doctors gave him three months to live about every six months or so. But Jewelle kept him going and made the few shanty houses he owned into nearly a real estate empire. Jewelle had put together six or seven colored businessmen to invest, along with a downtown real estate firm, in a couple of blocks under construction in Compton.

John was standing out in front of the first of his houses on the north side of the road. The straw hat, T-shirt, and blue jeans looked wrong on him. John was a night man, a bartender from the time he was sixteen in Texas. He was taller, stronger, and blacker than I, ugly enough to be beautiful and silent as a stone.

"Hey, John," I said from the car window. My tires had kicked up a low-riding mist of red and yellow dust.


I got out and nodded at him. That was all the greeting old friends like us needed.

"Nice-lookin' frame, anyway," I said waving at the unfinished wooden structure behind him.

"It sure is gonna be nice," he said. "They all comin' along good. Mercury an' Chapman workin' out just fine."

John gestured and I saw the two men across the street. Chapman was hammering at a beam near the roof of one house while Mercury pushed a wheelbarrow full of debris. Both men were ex-burglars I'd helped out in my old life of doing favors. They used to make their living by tunneling into businesses the night before payday, when the safe was sure to be full of cash.

It was a good living, and they weren't greedy — two jobs a year kept them in groceries. But one day they decided to hit a dockworkers' payroll in Redondo Beach. That safe had too much money for the payroll, and within a week there were white men in cheap suits canvassing Watts, looking for the whereabouts of the two black burglars who specialized in payrolls.

When they realized their situation, Mercury came to me.

"How could you be stupid enough to knock over the dockworkers?" I asked him. Chapman had been so scared that he refused to leave his mother's house.

"How we gonna know that they was mob men, Mr. Rawlins?"

"By the way they shoot you in back'a your head," I said.

Mercury moaned and I felt for him. Even if he had been a white man, there would have been little hope for his survival.

When I called the shop steward at the dockworkers' union, he laughed at me. That is, until I told him that I was coming down there with Raymond "Mouse" Alexander. Even the criminals in the white community had heard about Mouse.

I wore denim overalls the night of the meeting. Mercury's and Chapman's clothes were so nondescript that I can't even remember the colors. But Mouse wore a butter-cream gabardine suit. He was a killing man, then and always, but back then Mouse didn't question himself, didn't wonder at all.

"They made a mistake, Bob," Mouse said to the man who had introduced himself as Mr. Robert. He wore a long coat and hat and stood over Mouse, who, already a smallish man, was seated.

"That's not enough —," Mr. Robert began in his guttural, East Coast snarl.

Before he could finish, Mouse leapt to his feet, pulled out his long-nosed .41-caliber pistol, and shot the hat right off of Robert's head. The two men who stood behind him gestured toward their guns but changed their minds when they looked down the barrel of Mouse's smoking piece.

Mr. Robert was on the floor, feeling for blood under his toupee.

"So like I was sayin', Bob," Mouse continued. "They made a mistake. They didn't know that you was who you is. They didn't know that. Did you, boys?"

"No, sir!" Mercury shouted like a buck private at roll call. He was a bulky man with cheeks so fat that they made his head resemble a shiny black pear.

"Uh-uh," Chapman, the lighter-skinned, smaller, and smarter of the two, grunted.

"So…" Mouse smiled.

The shop steward and the three thugs, all of them white men, had their eyes on him. You could see that they wanted to kill him. Each one was thinking that they probably had the upper hand in numbers of guns. And each one knew that the first one to move would die.

I was biting my tongue because I hadn't expected a fight. I brought Raymond around for weight, not for violence. Why would those men get angry if we wanted to return their money? Along with the insurance from the legal payroll, they'd make a nice profit on the deal.

"All me an' my friends need to know is what the finder's fee is," Mouse said.

"You must be crazy, nigger," Robert said.

Mouse pulled the hammer back on his pistol as he asked, "What did you say?"

The thug was looking up into Mouse's steel-gray eyes. He saw something there.

"Ten percent," he uttered.

Mouse smiled.

We walked out of the beachside warehouse with $3,500 in our pockets. Mouse gave five hundred each to Mercury and Chapman and split the remainder with me.

The burglars gave up their life of crime that very day. I'd never seen anything like it. Usually a thief stays a thief; either that or he becomes a jailbird. But those men set down roots and started a new life. They married two sisters, Blesta and Jolie Ridgeway, and went to work in construction.

When I heard that John was building, I got them together. Jewelle had set up a traveling crew of workers who went from one site to another among her various investors. But each work site needed a couple of permanent employees to do detail work and prepare for the larger jobs.

"… and every house gonna be different, too," John was saying. "Brick, aluminum-sided, wood and plaster. One-, two-, and three-bedroom."

"You hate it, don't you, John?"

An old hardness came into the ex-bartender's face, a look that somehow seemed happy.

"Yeah, Easy. Here I am, out in the sun every day. Damn. You know I'm black enough as it is."

"Then why you doin' it, man? You think you gonna get rich?"

"Alva Torres," he said.

I didn't know John's girlfriend all that well. She didn't approve of his old friends, so he stopped seeing most of them. He talked to me on the phone every once in a while, but we rarely saw each other.

Alva was tall and spare, her beauty was pure, flawless, and hard — the kind of beauty torn from the pain and ecstasy of what it was to be a Negro in this country.

Alva didn't like me but I accepted that because I once saw John grin when someone just mentioned her name.

"She wants me out of the nightlife and I cain't say no," John said meekly.

"So what you want from me?" I asked.

"Why'ont you take a ride with me over to our place? We can talk better over there."

"Hey, Mr. Rawlins," Mercury Hall called. He was coming across the graded dirt road, slapping his hands together like two chalky blackboard erasers.

"Mercury." I shook his hand and smiled. "I see you still playin' honest citizen."

"Oh yeah," he proclaimed. "Got to."

"Mr. Rawlins!" Kenneth Chapman shouted. He was an ochre-colored man, very thin with the broad features of our race. His smile was the biggest thing I had ever seen in a human mouth.

"Hey, Chapman. Don't you go shortchangin' them nails now."

His laugh was immense.

"Come on, Easy," John said.

It was from the tone of his voice that I knew whatever John had to ask was going to require sweat.


JOHN AND ALVA were living in a box-shaped apartment building near Santa Barbara and Crenshaw. The outside walls were slathered with white stucco that had glitter sprinkled in it. There were bullet holes here and there, but that wasn't unusual. That part of L.A. was full of Texans. Most Texans carry guns. And if you carry a gun, it's bound to go off sooner or later.

The stairway and halls were all external, making the apartment building resemble a cheap motel. John and I made it up to the third floor. While he was fishing around for his keys, I looked out across the street. Three floors was high in L.A. in 1964. I could see all the way to downtown: a small cluster of granite buildings that looked like a thousand movie backdrops I'd seen.

Across the way was a newly built and empty office building next to a used-car lot. Even that made me smile. I have a soft spot for used cars. They're like old friends or family members you love even though they always give you trouble.

"Right in here, Easy." John had worked his key in the lock and pulled the hollow wooden door open. He gestured for me to walk in and I did.

The room was the size of a ship's cabin, hardly wider than it was high. The furniture was cheap bamboo supporting fake blue leather, and the walls, though they had the sheen of being painted, were no color to speak of.

I sat down on a hammock-like footrest and regarded the bartender-turned-builder.

He walked into what I thought was a closet and said, "What you drinkin'?"

It was the question I'd heard most often from John. My most common reply had been whiskey, but my drinking days were over by then.

I got up to see what kind of bar John had carved out of a closet. But what I found was a kitchen in miniature. A tiny two-burner stove on top of a refrigerator no larger than a picnic cooler. The sink had no drain board or shelves.

"They call this a kitchen?" I asked.

"We had to sell the house an' put our stuff in storage," he said, as if that somehow answered my question. "To pay for the labor and some'a the legal expense for the buildins."

"Damn." I was amazed by the crowded little cooking closet.

"Hello, Mr. Rawlins." I didn't have to turn to know her voice.



On Sale
Jul 1, 2003
Page Count
320 pages

Walter Mosley

About the Author

WALTER MOSLEY is one of America’s most celebrated writers. He was given the 2020 National Book Award’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, named a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America and honored with the Anisfield-Wolf Award, a Grammy, a PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award, the Robert Kirsch Award, numerous Edgars and several NAACP Image Awards. His work is translated into 25 languages.  He has published fiction and nonfiction in The New Yorker, Playboy, and The Nation. As an executive producer, he adapted his novel, The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, for AppleTV+ and serves as a writer and executive producer for FX’s “Snowfall.”

Learn more about this author