With James O. Born
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around February 7, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Lightning-fast stories by James Patterson
- Novels you can devour in a few hours
- Impossible to stop reading
- All original content from James Patterson
I HAD RACED through my paper route this morning, chucking papers onto the frozen front yards of Marlboro, New York, in January. Normally, I’d stop and chat with the customers who happened to be up around dawn, but today I just waved. It’s a shame, because that’s my favorite part of the job.
Now I was in my unofficial office for my unofficial second job. For the past few years I had made my office in a little diner off Route 9 named Tina’s Plentiful. Tina didn’t mind, because I occasionally brought in a little extra traffic. I have to admit that lately there hadn’t been much extra traffic. But right now, Edith Ledbetter sat across from me with a pleasant look on her aging face. No one under seventy is ever named Edith. She’d approached me about three months ago to see if I could locate her estranged daughter. They hadn’t spoken in twenty-six years, since the daughter turned twenty-one and thought that Syracuse University had turned her into the smartest human on earth.
But years have a way of making people lonely and feel their regrets more acutely. Even after I explained that I wasn’t a licensed private investigator, Edith said that she didn’t care and hired me on the spot. Word-of-mouth recommendations in the community had helped me. I was honest and generally let my clients decide how much they wanted to pay.
We’d been waiting together almost forty-five minutes and there was no sign of the daughter. She had told me she would be at the diner at eight o’clock. I didn’t like the looks of this at all.
Edith said, “It’s some kind of miracle that you found Linda after all these years.”
“All I really did was use the internet. It wasn’t that big a deal.”
“And you drove all the way down to Philadelphia.” Edith looked up at the clock on the wall between the two framed posters of the California coastline. “Are you sure she really wanted to see me?”
I hoped Edith wasn’t keeping track of the time.
“Of course she wants to see you.” It was a shade of the truth. The daughter had been hesitant, but when I told her about the sweet eighty-year-old woman who missed her, she had agreed to meet at the diner when she was on a trip to Albany with her husband.
The new waitress, Alicia, flashed me a wide smile from the counter. She was the only one here I had let in on the plan. Her intelligent eyes darted to the front door. She sensed my apprehension. I just shrugged.
Edith said, “Maybe she changed her mind. She’s waited this long. I bet it was too much for her.”
Alicia came by with some coffee for us and chatted with Edith about her homemade sweater and how nice her new glasses looked.
Alicia, God bless her, knew to keep Edith’s mind off the time.
I said, “Edith, there could have been a mix-up. Although the roads are clear, it’s awfully cold and it might’ve changed Linda’s plans. Should we wait at your house where you might be more comfortable?”
“But what if Linda shows up and we’re not here?”
I looked at Alicia, who was still standing right next to our booth, and said, “I bet I could talk Alicia into calling us if Linda comes later.”
Alicia nodded. She had replaced Mabel, a young woman whose death was still a mystery and haunted me. I respected the fact that Alicia had moved back to Marlboro to care for her father while he recovered from a stroke.
Just as I got Edith to her feet and we turned toward the front, I noticed a woman in an expensive leather coat standing silently just inside the door. It took me a moment to realize it was the same woman I’d spoken to in Pennsylvania three weeks earlier. She just stared at us. That’s when my anger melted away. This woman was scared.
As I held Edith by the arm, I felt her tense and knew that she had recognized her daughter even after two and a half decades. Edith took a tentative step forward. The few people in the diner didn’t even realize what was happening, but Alicia did. She wrapped my hand in hers and squeezed it.
I watched in excited silence as Edith moved closer to her daughter. Suddenly Linda burst forward and hugged her mother. They both started to cry. So did Alicia. Damn it, so did I, but I was able to cover it well.
They both plopped down in the booth closest to where they’d been standing, holding each other’s hands across the table.
Then my phone rang and I saw it was my brother, Natty.
I thought about ignoring the call. Now wasn’t the time and Natty wasn’t the person I wanted to talk to. I hate to confess it, but the scene made me really want to call my mom.
But guilt got the better of me and I answered the phone, “Hey, what’s up?”
“I never thought I’d say this, but I need your help. I need your private investigator skills.”
My brother wasn’t much for compliments. I was skeptical and knew my brother could be a jackass. I always had to be on the lookout for pranks.
I said, “What kind of case?”
“A homicide. I’m not kidding, Mitchum, I need your help right now.”
I looked up at Edith and her daughter, who were chatting like family should, and told Natty, “I’m on my way.”
If there was one thing I knew about my brother, it was that he had a knack for making mistakes. And it seemed like this one was deadly.
I DIDN’T GENERALLY look forward to seeing my brother at his place of business in Newburgh, about twenty-five minutes south of Marlboro. He worked out of a bar called the State of Mind Tavern that didn’t seem to ever close. It was a dingy, one-story building that spanned a full block, with the parking lot on one side and a busy, industrial street on the other.
As I pulled my beat-up station wagon into the lot, I saw my brother standing by the back door talking to two other men. My brother is two years older than me and thin as a rail, mostly from a life of cigarettes, skipped meals, and little sleep. Despite resembling a sickly marathon runner, he’s surprisingly tough. My theory is it has something to do with being a minor-league dope dealer in a tough town like Newburgh.
At the moment, though, he looked like he might be overmatched as he exchanged angry words with two guys. One was built like him and the other was a Hispanic guy who obviously spent way too much time in the gym; he had arms like legs.
I walked up casually, not wanting to give away my intentions. But I knew it might annoy my brother that I didn’t look worried.
The big man turned and saw me and waved me toward the back door of the bar, saying, “Move on. This has nothing to do with you.”
I noticed my brother had a bloody lip and a red splotch across his left cheek. That pissed me off. Generally, I was the only one allowed to pound on my brother once in a while.
I said, “Everything all right, Natty?”
“Does it look like everything’s all right?”
I admired my brother’s bravado in the face of adversity.
I said, “You guys think you could step away from my brother for a minute? Maybe we can talk about the issue.” I was serious, even though I probably was coming across as a smart-ass.
The smaller guy, wiry like my brother, who I’d already determined was in charge, said, “Ain’t nothing to discuss. Got nothing to do with you.”
“Except, like I said, he’s my brother. Mom expects to see him in one piece.”
The wiry guy looked over his shoulder and said, “Manny, deal with this.”
Everyone talks about how big guys are scary, but if you’ve been in a couple of fights, you learned a few things about dealing with giant, angry people. I let this behemoth turn toward me and square off just so I could get an idea of his abilities. Usually, when you’re that big, you don’t bother to learn the subtleties of martial arts or boxing. This guy was no exception. He balled up both fists and took a wide stance in front of me. I could’ve played with him and made it look like I had real skills, but instead I used an old, simple trick. I lifted my left hand high in the air and watched his eyes follow it like a puppy watching a ball. Then I used my right leg like a punter and brought it up right between his legs. The big man crumpled onto the ground while he tried to suck in some air.
The wiry guy spun away from my brother and started to reach under his shirt. My brother shoved him hard toward me, and I lifted my elbow to catch him square in the chin. When he stumbled back onto the ground, I stepped over and found the small, cheap .380 automatic pistol he was reaching for. I dropped the magazine and ejected the round in the chamber. Then I threw the thing down hard on the street and was shocked to see it skip along the asphalt and drop into a drain. It was like I had scored a goal in hockey. Without thinking about it, I reached up and my brother gave me a high five. Just like when we were kids.
I helped the giant man with the sore crotch stand and then grabbed the wiry guy by the arm.
“You guys need to be on your way. You can talk to Natty some other time.” Somehow, I knew the nice, rented Cadillac parked right next to us was theirs, and I opened the door and stuffed the big guy behind the wheel.
After a minute, when they slowly pulled out of the parking lot, my brother said, “Thanks, little brother.”
“Friends of yours?”
“He’s the guy I think committed that homicide I called you about.”
I WAITED UNTIL the two men had pulled away in the rented Cadillac, then turned to my brother and said, “Is that what you called me about?”
“No, something else.”
“You aren’t gonna tell me?”
“It’s nothing. Business dispute. No big deal.”
“Who in the hell were they?”
Natty was rubbing his face where the big man had slapped him. “One of ’em is Alton Beatty, my competition and the main suspect in the homicide I called you about.”
“Who’s dead? I mean, aside from the usual homicide victims that pile up here in Newburgh.”
The way Natty hesitated made me realize the case really did mean something to him. Maybe it’d mean something to me as well.
Natty said, “Pete Stahl was shot and killed on Friday.”
I cocked my head. “Petey Stahl from Highland Middle School?”
I felt my legs go a little weak and leaned on the hood of an old Dodge. “I haven’t talked to him in a few months, but seriously? I really like that guy. Even though he became a…”
“I’m sorry, Natty, I didn’t mean it like that.”
Natty said, “I know.” Then he surprised me by putting his arm around my shoulder.
Petey was a year older than my brother and three years ahead of me, but I remembered him as a decent football player and one of my brother’s few friends who didn’t pick on me too much. When I got out of the Navy, we would play basketball and complain about my brother.
“Does mom know?”
- On Sale
- Feb 7, 2017
- Page Count
- 144 pages