With James O. Born
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Lightning-fast stories by James Patterson
- Novels you can devour in a few hours
- Impossible to stop reading
- All original content from James Patterson
My moody mongrel, Bart Simpson, kept watch from the warm backseat. He rarely found my job interesting. At least not this job.
I was next to the loading dock, folding newspapers for delivery. A surly driver named Nick dropped them off for me every morning at 5:50 sharp. What he lacked in personality he made up for in silence. I always said hello and never got an answer. Not even a “Hey, Mitchum.” It was a good working relationship.
Even with the wind off the Hudson, I could crack a sweat moving the heavy bundles of papers. I used the knife I had gotten in the Navy to cut the straps holding them. My station wagon sagged under the weight of a full load. My two-day-a-week afternoon gig in Milton didn’t strain the shocks nearly as bad. I usually dropped Bart off at my mom’s then. My dog was as close to a grandchild as she had, and they could both complain about me.
In the early morning gloom, I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye and reacted quickly, turning with the knife still in my right hand. It was an instinct I couldn’t explain. I was raised in upstate New York, not Bosnia. But I relaxed as soon as I saw Albany Al, one of the few homeless people in Marlboro, standing near the loading dock, a dozen feet away.
The older man’s whiskers spread as he grinned and rubbed his hand across his white beard. “Hello, Mitchum. They say you can never sneak up on a Navy SEAL. I guess that’s true.”
I was past the point of explaining to people that I was never an actual SEAL.
When I took a closer look at the old man, I realized he wasn’t ready for the burst of arctic air that had descended on us. “Al, grab my extra coat from the car. It’s too cold to be wandering around dressed like that.”
“Go ahead. My cousin usually wears it, but she didn’t show today. She’s a wuss for avoiding the cold.”
“I wondered where Bailey Mae was. I was hoping she had some of her coffee cake.”
Then I realized the older man hadn’t come to keep me company. He’d wandered over to snag some of Bailey Mae’s famous coffee cake, which she handed out like business cards.
I said, “I miss her cake, too.”
The old man said, “I can tell.” He cackled as he rubbed his belly, but he was looking at me.
I patted my own belly and said, “It’s my portable insulation.” Maybe I hadn’t been working out as hard as usual. A few warm days and some running would solve that.
The old man continued to cackle as he walked away with my coat.
When I’d finished my route, I headed over to my office off Route 9. At least, my unofficial office. I always hit Tina’s Plentiful at about 8:15, right between the early breakfast crowd and late risers. The old diner sat in an empty strip mall that hadn’t been updated since 1988. A couple of framed posters of the California coast hung on the walls. No one had ever explained their significance, and none of the customers seemed to care. The place had the best Reubens and tuna melts in upstate New York, and they treated me like family. Maybe it was because one of my cousins worked in the kitchen.
The lone waitress, Mabel, named by a mean-spirited mother, lit up when I walked in. Usually I sat in the rear booth to eat and see if I had any pressing business. There was never much pressing in Marlboro. Today I headed toward the counter since there wasn’t much going on and it would make it easier on Mabel.
Mabel was a town favorite for her easy smile and the way she took time to chat with everyone who came into the diner. As soon as I sat down she said, “Finally, a friendly face.”
I gave her a wink and said, “Is the world not treating Miss Teenage New York well today?”
“Funny. You should cheer me up by taking me to the movies in Newburgh one night.”
“Only if my cousin Bailey Mae comes with us.”
“So you understand it’s as friends and not a date.”
“Am I so terrible? You’ve had some tough breaks and I’m a lot of fun.”
I couldn’t help a smile. “Of course you’re not so terrible. You’re also so young. And I’m not going to be the guy who holds you back from all the suitable young men in the area.” That was as much as I wanted to say today.
Before she could answer, I glanced out the wide front window and saw my cousin Alice, Bailey Mae’s mom, hustling across the street toward the diner. She is a year older than me and was only twenty when Bailey Mae was born. She is a good mom, and the rest of us help. Her usual smile was nowhere to be seen as her long brown hair flapped in the wind behind her. She yanked open the door and rushed right to me.
“Mitchum, Bailey Mae is missing.”
Suddenly, the day got colder.
I spent a few minutes trying to calm Alice down as we started to check some of the places Bailey Mae liked to hang out. Bailey Mae hadn’t been to school that day or to the library or to the sad little arcade where she sometimes played out-of-date games. Alice had gone to sleep early the night before, after her shift at the bottling factory in Gardnertown. Bailey Mae usually came home about eight o’clock. She’s a smart fourteen-year-old, and a quarter of the town is related to her.
We wandered around town, asking a few questions. No one thought it was unusual, because I am the unofficial private investigator for the whole area.
Mrs. Hoffman on Dubois Street hadn’t seen Bailey Mae but took the time to thank me for finding her son, who had been on a bender in Albany and didn’t have the cash to get home.
After nearly an hour, I tracked down Timmy Jones, a buddy of mine from high school who now worked for the Ulster sheriff’s office.
Timmy raised his hands, showing his thick fingers, and said, “I spoke with your cousin Alice already. We’re making a few checks, but Bailey Mae has wandered off before.”
I knew she sometimes got frustrated and left the house, but she usually ended up at my house or my mom’s house. I said, “She’s a good girl.”
“No one’s saying she’s not. But we can’t just call out the troops every time a teenager is out past curfew or mad at their parents.”
“Bailey Mae is more responsible. She wouldn’t do something like that.”
Finally Timmy said, “Okay, we’ll get everyone out looking for her. But get your family involved, too. There’s more of them than there are cops in the area.”
Bailey Mae has always been my favorite relative, and I have plenty to choose from in Marlboro. After I rounded a few up and explained the situation, the look on my cousin Todd’s face said it all: they were worried. Bailey Mae is the family’s shining light. Todd is a self-centered dick, and even he was concerned enough for our little cousin that he closed his precious auto repair shop to help search.
I pulled Alice aside and hit her with some simple questions about what was going on around the house, what the last thing she said to Bailey Mae was, and whether they’d been fighting. The usual.
She said, “I told you everything. There were no problems. I haven’t been drinking and she hasn’t been angry. The only thing that’s new is that she’s been hanging out with Natty a little bit.”
That caught me by surprise. I blurted out, “Natty, as in my brother, Nathaniel?”
Alice nodded. “No real reason for it. He’s nice to her and she likes his car. That’s all I ever hear about. You know teenagers and cars. Just another crazy dream of hers.”
“Natty shouldn’t be anywhere near Bailey Mae.”
Alice said, “He did his time.”
“He always does. But he’s still a drug dealer.”
“Maybe by New York State law, but not the way I see it.”
I purposely left Alice in Marlboro when I made my way down to Newburgh. My old station wagon sputtered a couple of times but got me there in about twenty minutes. Route 9 was open this time of day and I parked directly in front of the State of Mind Tavern, just past the I-84 underpass, the dive bar where Natty, my older brother, does business. I immediately spotted his leased sports car on the side of the dingy building. Natty had gotten tired of having cars seized every time some industrious cop stopped him and found dope inside. All it took was enough weight to be charged for trafficking and the car became part of the crime—and also part of police inventory up for auction. So now he switched out cars every year. The hot little convertible was near the end of its term.
As I opened the door, the bartender looked up through the haze. They aren’t as strict in upstate as they are in the city, so cigarette smoke hung in the air. The smell of toaster pizza was permanently stuck in the discolored wallpaper. The bartender, who looked like he dined on steroids every day, gave me a cursory look and deemed me unworthy of an acknowledgment.
My brother, Nathaniel, or “Natty” as he’s been called his whole life, is two inches shorter than me, at six feet even, and thin as a rail from a life of drugs, coffee, and cigarettes. I had no clue why he got called Natty while I’ve been called by my last name, Mitchum, since childhood. Only our mom calls me by my first name.
His head jerked up instantly. Instinct from his line of work. We have the same blue eyes and prominent jawline, but not much else in common.
I headed directly toward him when the bartender, who doubled as Natty’s bodyguard, stepped from behind the bar to grab my left arm. Now he wanted to dance; a second ago he was too good to speak to me. A quick twist and thumb lock with my right hand dropped the ox to one knee in pain until the man understood how stupid his idea had been. Thank you, SEAL basic training class 406.
Natty stood up quickly and said, “Tony, no need for that. This is my little brother.” He moved around the table to greet me, rushing past Angel, his semi-regular girlfriend, who once posed for Penthouse or one of those magazines.
I held up my hand and said, “Save it.”
That brought Natty up short. “Why? What’s wrong? Is it Mom?”
“Where’s Bailey Mae?”
“Bailey Mae? I haven’t seen her in a couple of days. Why?”
“She’s missing and I heard she’s been hanging out around you. You’re a shithead so I came here first.”
“How could you suspect me of doing anything to our own cousin? I love that girl. She’s got dreams.”
“We all do.”
Natty stepped closer and said, “Look, Mitchum, I know you don’t like what I do, but it’s only a little pot and I don’t force anyone into anything.” He put his arm around my shoulder and started to lead me back toward the front door.
I stopped short and grabbed his arm. The bartender saw his chance at some payback, stepped forward, and took a swing at my head with his ham fist. It might as well have happened in slow motion, given all my years of preparation and the months of Navy training. It was almost an insult. I bobbed back a few inches and the big man’s fist passed me. Then I swung Natty into him like a bag of potatoes, and they fell back into the barstools and got hopelessly tangled together on the grimy floor.
- On Sale
- Jan 3, 2017
- Page Count
- 144 pages