Lucas met Tavon Lynch and a young man named Edwin Davis at the Florida Avenue Grill, at 11th and Florida, for breakfast. Locals called it the Grill, as if there were only one, and in their heads it was so. It was the old city's soul diner, the warmest spot for a real southern breakfast, owned and operated by the son of the original owners, in business for almost seventy years. Autographed head shots of former mayors, movie stars, comedians, Howard Theater headliners, and singers, many in Jheri curls, lined the walls. Customers typically wore Redskins gear, bled burgundy and gold, had deep knowledge of high school sports, worked every day, spoke of their mothers with reverence, attended some kind of church, listened to HUR, PGC, or WKYS for their music and John Thompson's show on 980 AM for sports talk, and would have elected 88.5's Kojo Nnamdi for mayor if only he would run. The people behind the counter were friendly if you wanted them to be but not intrusive or overly familiar. The conversations were spirited and often poetic. Some came here for the atmosphere. For Lucas, that was a part of it, but he returned repeatedly for the value and the food. He normally sat at the counter, but because they were three they took a booth. Lucas had a plate of grilled half-smokes split under onions, grits, two eggs over easy, biscuits, and butter. He'd work that off later on his bike. Tavon had been served pork chops and eggs, and Edwin ate eggs and corned beef hash, hot apples, and toast. Only Lucas was drinking coffee.
"This is good right here," said Tavon, using his fork to point at his plate.
Like his boss, Tavon wore his hair in braids. He was around twenty, had sensitive eyes and an open manner. He wore a T‑shirt showing Bob off the cover of Kaya and white perforated-leather Lacoste high-tops.
Edwin Davis was around the same age as Tavon, average height, with prominent cheekbones. He rocked LeBrons and a Rapteez T. His ears were almost comically elfish, softening the effect of his muscular build. Edwin was soft-spoken to the degree that Lucas could barely hear him. They seemed tough enough, but neither of them were thugs, nor did they pretend to be. Lucas imagined they liked girls, fashion, cars, video games, sports except for hockey, and getting their heads up. They were typical urban young men who happened to make their living in the marijuana trade.
"You got the bomb breakfast," said Tavon.
"I been dreamin on these half-smokes," said Lucas.
"Them shits repeat on me," said Edwin, breaking one egg and letting its yolk run into the hash.
"Everything you put in your mouth does," said Tavon. "Stinkpot like you."
They ate for a while, grunting and sighing in pleasure but barely speaking. Lucas didn't feel the need to rush into their business and he believed that meals were close to sacred. When he had sopped up the last of the egg with his biscuit, he pushed his plate aside and let the waitress refill his coffee mug.
"Anwan said I'd be meeting with you," said Lucas, looking at Tavon. "He didn't say you'd be bringing anyone along. I'm not being confrontational. I just want to know who I'm dealing with."
"Understood," said Tavon, glancing at his partner. "I don't know you, either, but I got told to be straight with you."
"You can be."
"When Anwan said you'd be seein me, he meant me and Edwin, 'cause that's how we do. The two of us are, like, equal. If we had one of those organization charts, Anwan would have a square at the top, and then, under him, there'd be lines to me and Edwin. Us alone, on the same level, and everyone else below us."
"I get it."
"Anwan tells us what we need to know," said Edwin. "But it stops there."
"You must have security," said Lucas.
"We don't need it," said Edwin.
"You sayin this is the inner circle right here?"
"You gotta understand how our operation works," said Tavon. "This ain't no corner thing. We got no turf or real estate to protect. We're all over the city. In the clubs, in the workplace, in all kinds of neighborhoods. Selling to all different kinds of people. Customers who don't have jobs and some who make six figures. But not selling direct. Got a network of people who move it for us just so they can have some walkin-around money and free weed to smoke. Once we repackage it and move it on to our dealers, we don't even touch it."
"Repackage it how?" said Lucas.
"We dime it out," said Tavon. "That's where the profit comes from."
"Lot more upside, too."
"You sound confident," said Lucas.
"We are," said Tavon.
"You know the law's gotta be watching you."
"No doubt," said Tavon. "But me and Edwin take precautions. We got no use for guns. We won't even get near 'em. No landlines, either, and we only use disposable cells. Every time I go to my car, I check underneath it for tracking devices before I get in. Drive around for a while, take our time, before we even start to go to where we need to be at. We know what we're doin."
"So did Anwan," said Lucas.
"Someone snitched him out," said Edwin.
"Ain't a whole lot you can do to stop that," said Tavon.
"Cost of doing business," said Lucas.
"Right," said Edwin, missing Lucas's edge.
Tavon worked a toothpick into his mouth and gave Lucas a long go‑over with his eyes. "Anwan said you were some kind of badass marine. I was expecting . . . I don't know what I was expecting, exactly. But it wasn't you."
"I feel the same way about y'all," said Lucas. He signaled the waitress for their check.
Lucas settled up at the register. Out on the street, Tavon pointed to his car, a black Impala SS with 22s, custom rims, and extended pipes. It was the kind of ride that would be remembered.
"You or me?" said Tavon.
"Me," said Lucas.
Excerpted from The Cut by George Pelecanos. Copyright 2011 George Pelecanos. Reprinted with permission of Reagan Arthur Books.