North Atlantic Books
Shandell “Blackbird” Bird has everything going for him, or so he thinks. Recently selected number two overall in the NBA draft, the six foot eight, 250-pound superstar has a gleaming new ride and a salary and athletic shoe contract that make him an instant millionaire. What he doesn’t have, is the ability to bury secrets from his past.
When Shandell is found shot to death midcourt, his best friend and college teammate Damion Madrid sets out to find the killer. Damion is well-meaning but naïve; luckily his godfather is gumshoe CJ Floyd. Floyd and his partner, Flora Jean Benson, are there to watch his back as Damion stumbles down a shadowy trail that leads to Shandell’s purported peddling of steroids and big-game point shaving. When he discovers a “Blackbird” he never knew and is able to put a face on Shandell’s killer, Damion finds himself in over his head. Will CJ be there in time to preven this godson from joining Shandell? Featuring the vivid characters and streetwise dialogue that have made the CJ Floyd series a critical and commercial success, Blackbird, Farewell is a punch-packing whodunit that exposes the dark side of the pro-athlete good life.
The $4 million Nike athletic-shoe contract in Shandell Bird’s shirt
pocket wasn’t about to solve his problem—couldn’t even put a dent
in it—and neither would the $3.2 million he expected to start drawing
in October, once the NBA season started. All that money, more
money than he suspected any human being was worth, would only
add to his problem. Somehow, deep down, he’d always known that.
Months removed from being one of the nation’s elite college basketball
players, he was now a big-money pro and celebrity, and there
seemed to be no way to step away from the limelight. In a sense, he was
fortunate that he had to worry about only $7 million and change, not
three or four times that, like an NFL draftee. In the NFL the sky was
the limit, and salaries weren’t limited as they were in the NBA by a
rookie scale that was pegged to where a player had been picked in
the draft. Although the money tied to his contract wouldn’t begin to
roll in until he arrived at training camp in October, six and a half
weeks down the road, he knew there was no way he’d be trouble free
by then. Training camp would only serve to magnify his problems.
Amid NBA draft-day pomp and circumstance, the Denver Nuggets
had made him the second overall pick in the draft, assuring him that
once the ink was dry on his rookie-year contract, which he’d signed
only weeks earlier, the dream he’d been chasing since fourth grade
would be his.
Jittery and sweating, “Blackbird,” as he was known throughout
the sports world, found himself thinking, Money don’t buy you love, as
he uncoiled his six-foot-eight-inch, 250-pound frame from behind
the steering wheel of the $93,000 Range Rover he’d bought just days
earlier. He was about to make the bank deposit of a lifetime.
The shoe-contract money in his pocket, small potatoes in the professional
athlete endorsement game, which he’d requested (much to
the chagrin of his agent) be issued as a cashier’s check rather than
by wire transfer so it could be photocopied and savored for posterity,
hadn’t yet arrived when he’d bought the Range Rover. But no
one at the dealership where he’d purchased the car—not the salesman,
the manager, nor the head of the financial department—had
batted an eye at letting him walk out the door a few minutes before
closing time into gathering darkness and drive off in the options loaded
SUV. He’d bought the car on the strength of a handshake
and the single word “Blackbird” scrawled near the bottom of a hastily
For years he’d wanted a white Range Rover, had even salivated
at the idea, but his girlfriend, Connie Eastland, had insisted he’d
look better in black. “Fits your image better,” she’d claimed. “Gets
to the heart of who you are on the court.” Armed with Connie’s
advice and the endorsement of his best friend since grade school and
his former Colorado State University teammate, Damion Madrid,
he’d left the dealership in an ebony metallic Range Rover that
screamed to the world, Blackbird here! I’m soaring!
Nike was already well on its corporate way to selling the public
the branding package it had developed for him. The image of a soaring
raven was emblazoned high on the outside ankle wall of every
one of the $180 pairs of sneakers it sold under his name. He was
“Blackbird” now, the corporate suits he lunched with never missed
reminding him. He was no longer, nor could he ever return to being,
the lanky, introverted black kid from Denver’s Five Points neighborhood.
It was time for him to play the part, shoulder his share of the
load, and walk the walk he’d been paid $7.2 million for. He was destined
to become a household name, an eye-level product on Nike
and the NBA’s supermarket shelf. He was an energy drink in the offing,
a high-end vehicle endorsement—hell, he’d even heard some
of the suits whisper that his name could one day be as recognizable
as the Coca-Cola brand.
The Nike suits and their NBA counterparts also seemed to enjoy
reminding him, and never in a whisper, that they expected him to
stay in character at all times. His image, and by inference theirs,
would be reflected to the world by his behavior, he’d been told over
and over at his Nuggets and his endorsement contract signings. With
his head bent low over the signature pages as Julie Madrid, his attorney
and Damion Madrid’s mother, and his own mother, Aretha,
looked on, he’d never looked up at those signings, thinking that he
was selling a piece of his soul. Only Damion, who’d watched from
across the room, recognized that what most people would have perceived
as a festive occasion was causing Shandell pain.
Stretching and glancing skyward before walking away from the
Range Rover, Shandell moved quickly across the always crowded
parking lot of the Guaranty Bank in Denver’s trendy Cherry Creek
“Got Blackbird in the house,” the guard sitting inside at one side
of the revolving door called across the lobby to a line of four instantly
attentive tellers as Shandell strolled in.
Shandell nodded at the moonlighting Denver cop, smiled, and
tapped his left fist against the bank guard’s. “Ready for training camp?”
the cop asked excitedly.
“Yeah,” Shandell responded, heading for the nearest teller.
“Well, give ’em what for. Time to let folks on the coasts know we
play basketball out here in the Rockies too.”
“Sure will.” Shandell stepped up to the closest teller and smiled.
“Need to deposit this.” He nudged the deposit slip and check across
a marble countertop. The thin-faced teller, a dark-haired woman
who’d emigrated from Russia five years earlier, eyed Shandell, a bank
regular, and smiled back. She’d always liked the aloof African American
giant with the shaved head, Dumbo ears, and fuzzy growth of
mustache that never seemed to fully take hold. He was always polite
in a refreshingly un-American way. He also seemed always frustrated,
even sad, as if he were chasing something he couldn’t quite catch,
whenever he visited her window. As Shandell leaned down to meet
her gaze, she suddenly had the distinct feeling that he was about to
confide in her. When, however, he remained silent, she checked the
endorsement on the back of the check and, unfazed by the amount,
logged in the deposit.
“Thank you,” she said softly, handing Shandell a receipt. Watching
Shandell stuff the receipt into his shirt pocket, she asked sheepishly,
“How long before your basketball games start?”
“A couple of months.” His response was mechanical.
“You’ll do good,” the teller said reassuringly as Shandell flashed
her a parting smile and pivoted to leave. On his way out, he gave
the bank guard a halfhearted high five before stepping out into the
bright noonday sun. It was a picture-postcard Mile High City late summer
day, but the undeniable crispness in the air announced that
autumn, always a time of renewal for Shandell, and his favorite time
of the year, was on the way. For him, fall had always meant a return
to school and friends after a summer filled with loneliness, save for his
friendship with Damion Madrid and his recent romance with Connie
Now, instead of returning to the security of high school or a college
campus, he was headed for a grueling job that started in October
and, depending on how the Nuggets’ season fared, might not end
until the NBA playoffs the following June. A job in which his every
action would be scrutinized and his deepest thoughts dissected. He
would be talked about and written about, idolized and put down, and
regardless of what he’d told Nike and the Nuggets, he wasn’t at all
certain how he’d react to that kind of scrutiny. All he could do, as
his mother so often put it, was go with the flow. He’d spent most of
his twenty-two years climbing a mountain that would have been
insurmountable for most human beings, and now that he was at the
top, he wasn’t sure he wanted to be in a place where the whole world
could see him, and only him.
As he slipped into the Range Rover to head home, he had the
feeling that Damion, who’d passed on the NBA to head for medical
school and a life away from the limelight, might have chosen the
better path. Without Damion there to offer him guidance, he knew
that for the first time in a very long while, he’d pretty much be on
Moments after he started the engine, his cell phone chirped out its
Connie Eastland–programmed aviary ring tone. “Bird here,” he said,
The person on the other end of the line chuckled. “See you’re at
the bank. Puttin’ in or takin’ out?”
“You know who it is, Blackbird. Your guardian angel—and we
need to talk.”
Shandell opened his door, stepped out of the vehicle, and looked
around only to hear the person he was talking to laugh. “Too late for
looking, friend. You should’ve done that long ago.” Still chuckling,
the caller added in the singsong voice of a tattletale child, “I know
something you don’t know. So when do we talk, Mr. Number-Two
With his cell phone pressed to his ear as he continued to scan the
parking lot’s perimeter, Shandell weakly asked, “This evening?”
“Seven.” Shandell’s response was a nervous half-whisper.
“The Glendale courts,” Shandell said without hesitation. “Across
from the post office.”
“I know where they are, friend. Seven o’clock, then. See you there.”
The line went dead as Shandell stared into the distance, looking
flustered. Several heart-pounding moments later, he sighed, gritted
his teeth, and slipped back into his vehicle. Almost as an afterthought,
he plucked the bank-deposit slip out of his shirt pocket and
eyed it briefly before wadding it into a ball and tossing it onto the
floor. Backing out of his parking space, he drove out of the parking
lot, slipped his cell phone’s earpiece into his ear, and hastily dialed a
number. When the person on the other end answered, sounding
groggy and half asleep, Shandell said, “It’s showtime. Seven o’clock.
The Glendale courts. Don’t be late.” He hung up and sped east on
First Avenue, his back to the snow-capped Rockies.