The police don't show up on Easy Rawlins's doorstep until the third girl dies. It's Los Angeles, 1956, and it takes more than one murdered black girl before the cops get interested. Now they need Easy. As he says: "I was worth a precinct full of detectives when the cops needed the word in the ghetto." But Easy turns them down. He's married now, a father -- and his detective days are over. Then a white college coed dies the same brutal death, and the cops put the heat on Easy: If he doesn't help, his best friend is headed for jail. So Easy's back, walking the midnight streets of Watts and the darker, twisted avenues of a cunning killer's mind....
I turned to see Quinten Naylor twist the handle of my front gate.
"Eathy," my baby, Edna, cooed as she played peacefully with her feet in her crib next to me on the front porch.
Quinten was normal in height but he was broad and powerful-looking. His hands were the size of potholders, even under the suit jacket his shoulders were round melons. Quinten was a brown man but there was a lot of red under the skin. It was almost as if he were rage-colored.
As Quinten strode across the lawn he crushed a patch of chives that I'd been growing for seven years.
The violent-colored man smiled at me. He held out his beefy paw and said, "Glad I caught you in."
"Uh-huh." I stepped down to meet him. I shook his hand and looked into his eyes.
When I didn't say anything there was an uncomfortable moment for the Los Angeles police sergeant. He stared up into my face wanting me to ask him why he was there. But all I wanted was for him to leave me to go back into my home with my wife and children.
"Is this your baby?" he asked. Quinten was from back east, he spoke like an educated white Northerner.
"Yeah. She sure is."
"She sure is," Quinten repeated. "Takes after her mother, I bet."
"What do you want wit' me, officer?" I asked.
"I want you to come with me."
"I'm under arrest?"
"No. No, not at all, Mr. Rawlins."
I knew when he called me mister that the LAPD needed my services again. Every once in a while the law sent over one of their few black representatives to ask me to go into the places where they could never go. I was worth a precinct full of detectives when the cops needed the word in the ghetto.
"Then why should I wanna go anywhere wit' you? Here I am spendin' the day wit' my fam'ly. I don't need no Sunday drive wit' the cops."
"We need your help, Mr. Rawlins." Quinten was becoming visibly more crimson under his brown shell.
I wanted to stay home, to be with my wife, to make love to her later on. But something about Naylor's request kept me from turning him down. There was a kind of defeat in the policeman's plea. Defeat goes down hard with black people; it's our most common foe.
"Where we gonna go?"
"It's not far. Twelve blocks. Hundred and Tenth Street." He turned as he spoke and headed for the street.
I yelled into the house, "I'm goin' fo' a ride with Officer Naylor. I'll be back in a while."
"What?" Regina called from her ironing board out back.
"I'm goin' out for a while," I yelled. Then I waved at my forty-foot avocado tree.
Little Jesus peeked out from his perch up there and smiled.
"Come on down here," I said.
The little Mexican boy climbed down the tree and ran up to me with a silent smile stitched across his face. He had the face of an ancient American, dark and wise.
"I don't want you off exploring today, Jesus," I said. "Stay around here and look after your mother and Edna."
Jesus looked at his feet and nodded.
"Look up here at me." I did all the talking when around Jesus because he hadn't said a word in the eight years I'd known him.
Jesus squinted up at me.
"I want you close to home. Understand me?"
Quinten was at his car, looking at his watch.
Jesus nodded, looking me in the eye this time.
"All right." I rubbed his crew-cut peach fuzz and went out to meet the cop.
Officer Naylor drove me to an empty lot in the middle of the 1200 block of 110th Street. There was an ambulance parked out front, flanked by patrol cars. I noticed a bright patent-leather white pump in the gutter as we crossed the street.
A crowd had gathered on the sidewalk. Seven white police officers stood shoulder to shoulder across the front of the property, keeping everybody out. The feeling was festive. The policemen were all at ease, smoking cigarettes and joking with the Negro gawkers.
The lot itself was decorated with two rusted-out Buicks that were hunkered down on broken axles in the weeds. A knotty oak had died toward the back end of the lot.
Quinten and I walked through the crowd. There were men, women, and children stretching their necks and bobbing back and forth. A boy said, "Lloyd saw'er. She dead."
When we walked past the line of policemen one of them caught me by the arm and said, "Hey you, son."
Quinten gave him a hard stare and the officer said, "Oh, okay. You can go on."
Just one of the many white men I've shrugged off. His instinctive disrespect and arrogance hardly even mattered. I turned away and he was gone from my life.
"Right this way, Mr. Rawlins," Quinten Naylor said.
There were four plainclothes policemen looking down at the back of the tree. I couldn't make out what it was that they saw.
I recognized one of the cops. He was a burly white man, the kind of fat man who was fat everywhere, even in his face and hands.
"Mr. Rawlins," the burly man said. He held out a pillowy hand.
"You remember my partner," Quinten said. "Roland Hobbes."
We'd come around the tree by then. There was a woman in a pink party dress, a little open at the breast, sitting with her back against the trunk. Her legs were straight out in front of her, a little apart. Her head tilted to the side, away from me, and her hands were on either side of her thighs with the palms up. Her left foot sported a white pump, her right foot was bare.
I remember the softness and the underlying strength of Roland Hobbes's hand and the insect I saw perched on the woman's temple. I wondered why she didn't bat it away.
"Nice to see you," I was saying to Hobbes when I realized that the insect was a dried knot of blood.
When Roland let go of my hand he listed toward Quinten and said, "Same thing."
"Both?" Quinten asked.
The girl was young and pretty. It was hard for me to think that she was dead. It seemed as if she might get up from there any minute and smile and tell me her name.
Walter Mosley is the acclaimed author of forty-three books, including the internationally bestselling Easy Rawlins series. His best known Easy Rawlins novels include Devil in a Blue Dress, A Red Death, White Butterfly, Black Betty, and Little Yellow Dog. He is also the author of the collection of stories Always Outnumbered. Always Outgunned featuring Socrates Fortlow, which was the basis for an HBO feature film. A former president of the Mystery Writers of America, he was named a grand master by the organization in 2016. He has served on the board of directors of the National Book Foundation and is a recipient of the PEN American Center Lifetime Achievement Award. A native of Los Angeles, he now lives in New York City.
"Wonderful page-turning excitement....Like Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, and others, Mosley has been reconstructing the hard-boiled tradition from the bottom up....Easy Rawlins moves through mean streets even Marlowe wouldn't walk."
– San Francisco Chronicle
"With White Butterfly, Walter Mosley has established himself as one of America's best mystery writers."
– The New York Times Book Review
"Rawlins...might be the best American character to appear in quite some time."
– Entertainment Weekly
“Startling and powerful…Mosley handles well the conflict between good and downright dirty that drives the great street detectives of the crime genre.”
“If [Philip] Marlowe was tough, Easy has to be even tougher.”
– Washington Post Book World
“Crackles with the suspense and wit of vintage Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, but its keen commentaries on racial issues make it a vital piece of modern fiction…Mosley has earned a place among contemporary masters of crime fiction.”