Nick Stefanos isn't in the business of finding missing people, but when the grandfather of a former stock boy at the company he works for asks him to find the kid, he agrees -- with dangerous results. Nick works for Nutty Nathan's, a low-rent electronics and appliance discount store in Washington, D.C. The missing kid is Jimmy Broda, who was rumored to have been fired for stealing a VCR from the warehouse. Nick begins his search for Jimmy by temporarily demoting himself from the main office to salesman at the store he started out at, giving himself a more flexible work schedule to play private investigator.
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He also reconnects with his old friend Johnny McGinnes, another salesman at the store. It's just like old times for Nick and Johnny, who spend the day selling inferior stereos and television sets, flirting with their female co-worker Lee, and sneaking illicit swigs of beer in the stock room in between customers. They hit the bars after the store closes, and Nick has apparently forgotten about his plan to find Jimmy.
After a couple more days at the store, Nick gets around to looking for Jimmy. He hits up a skinhead bar the kid's grandfather said he hung out at, where some punks direct him to another skinhead who says Jimmy left town with a girl, Kim Lazarus, and a thug named Eddie Schultz. Before he can go much further, Nick has to return to work.
Following up on these leads, Nick figures out that Jimmy had to disappear because of the stolen VCR after all -- it was stuffed full of drugs, because Jerry Rosen, a top executive at Nutty Nathan's, was using the company's warehouse and shipping infrastructure to move illegal product throughout D.C. Nick and another salesman, Andre Malone, bust in on a deal the next night, killing all of Rosen's people. Malone gets killed in the process, and Nick escapes with the drugs and the money, which he uses to buy Jimmy's freedom. In the end, Nick receives in the mail a letter stating his application for a private investigator license has been approved, clearing the way for his new career.
Best part of story, including ending:
Pelecanos layers this novel with so many realistic details about the sketchy life of bars and junkie houses that I began to feel like I was there in person.
Best scene in story:
Early in Nick's return to the sales floor, McGinnes redirects a customer away from a TV set advertised at a low price (and rigged in the store to look inferior) to a more expensive model that gives him a higher commission plus a kickback, then smoothly sells the customer a service agreement that he doesn't really want. Slick salesmanship at its finest.
Opinion about the main character:
It was distracting to hang around the electronics store with Nick for as long as he did. Considering he was supposed to be finding a missing kid, he sure did spend a lot of time selling TV sets and getting drunk in the storeroom.