Michael and Jackson Crane seemed like regular guys to most people who knew them. Except most people were unaware the twin brothers were fixers for Jocko Scarpelli, one of Boston’s most ruthless crime bosses. Jocko had sent them to fix Jack Murphy.
Gwen Crane, the twins’ mother, was the only person alive who called them by their given names. She had been a devoted fan of the late King of Pop, and named her boys after him. To everyone else, Michael and Jackson were Mikey and Jax.
“I thought Murphy was supposed to be here,” Jax said checking his watch.
“Relax. He will be,” Mikey replied.
Jax hoped it was soon. The endless thump of bass from techno music, and a permanent haze of pot smoke, was giving him a headache. Coming to the Snake Pit night club was a hazard of their profession. Jocko Scarpelli conducted a lot of business at the Snake Pit, so it was necessary for Mikey and Jax to come and deal with those who were late with payments.
Jack Murphy, however, was not one of them. In Scarpelli’s book, Murphy’s sin was worse. He had been stealing from Scarpelli for months. Mikey and Jax were at the Snake Pit to make an example of him.
At 8:35 PM Jack Murphy entered the club. He looked like a bean counter. The accountant from Brockton was average height with a basketball-sized gut, receding hairline, and wire-rimmed glasses.
Murphy looked around the crowded club for Mikey and Jax. It didn’t take him long to spot the twins who each stood six feet and five inches tall and were built like Sherman tanks. Mikey and Jax parted the crowd like Moses at the Red Sea.
Jax took Murphy by his arm and led him a private room near the back. Inside the room were several seating areas. Jax shoved Murphy into a booth. The twins sat down on either side.
“Look at this,” Murphy nervously croaked, “a rose between two thorns.”
“You trying to be cute?” Jax asked.
“Never mind,” Murphy said. “I don’t understand why Mr. Scarpelli wanted to meet here. I usually go to his office.”
“Mr. Scarpelli won’t be coming this evening,” Mikey replied.
Jack Murphy looked from one twin to the other. He knew he was in trouble, but there was no use in trying to get away.
“Whatever the issue is, I’m sure I can fix it,” Murphy said.
“We understand you have something belonging to Mr. Scarpelli in a safe deposit box,” Mikey said.
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“Sure you do,” Jax said. “Don’t play dumb. It will go easier on you if you just give us the key.”
“I don’t have it. But I can get it for you.”
“So if we search you,” Mikey said, “we are not going to find the key?”
Murphy swallowed hard.
“Take him out back,” Mikey said to Jax.
“No. Wait,” Murphy pleaded. With a trembling hand he reached into his pocket and retrieved the key to a safe deposit box. He held it up. “Here it is.”
Mikey took the key from Murphy. “See, that wasn’t so hard.”
Murphy closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
“Now take him out back,” Mikey said to Jax.
Murphy’s eyes sprang open. “No!” he shouted. “I gave you the key. Just let me go. I’ll disappear.”
“You’re going to disappear, alright,” Mikey said.
Jax pulled Murphy out of the booth. The twins dragged Jack Murphy into the alley behind the Snake Pit. Mikey held Murphy while Jax unleased a violent round of blows.
Murphy looked like Rocky Balboa after fifteen rounds with Apollo Creed. Jax dropped Murphy like a stone, his arms bending in positions they shouldn’t. Mikey got down on his haunches directly in front of Murphy. He lifted Murphy’s head and said, “This is what happens when you steal from Mr. Scarpelli.”
Jack Murphy groaned.
“It is unfortunate you lied to us,” Mikey continued. “We could have avoided this unfortunate incident if you had only told us the truth.”
Murphy looked at the twins through his bruised and swollen eyes. He knew this was it. This was how he was going to die.
Mikey turned to his brother. “Finish him.”
“No loose ends,” Jax said to Mikey.
“Never leave loose ends,” Mikey replied.
Jax stepped forward, bent over, and picked Murphy up by his collar. He shoved Murphy into Mikey’s arms.
Jax had once been a good boxer. Both of the brothers had been. Jax, though, had a heightened killer instinct. But it had been hard to make a career in the ring, so Jax unleashed all his rage and strength in back-rooms and alleyways.
The beatings were criminal. And lethal. Just as it had been for their latest victim. Jack Murphy was silent and motionless when Jax finished with him.
Mikey and Jax placed Jack Murphy’s body in a dumpster, and Mikey closed the lid. The brothers exited the alley and made their way up the dark street toward their car.
The aroma of Arabica beans rose with the steam from my cup of Dunkin’ coffee. I was looking out my office onto Brattle Street in Cambridge as a warm morning breeze drifted in through the open window. The calendar said it was the end of September, but it felt like August.
A woman dressed in a stylish business suit paused near the entrance to my building. She glanced at the sign out front. I could see her scanning the list of occupants:
Henrick’s and Pew, Attorneys at Law
Brattle Street Publishing
George Saunders, CPA
Drew Patrick, Private Investigations
I figured she must have an appointment with one of the other tenants, as she seemed too classy to be a potential client for me.
The woman stepped toward the building’s front door and disappeared from my sight as she entered the building. In the time it took for most people to reach the second floor and walk down the hallway there was a knock at my door. Dash, my rescue dog, lifted his head from his morning nap and looked in the direction of the knock.
I crossed my office and opened the door. Dash’s ears perked up, and he tilted his head. Maybe whoever was at the door brought food. They rarely did, but he never lost hope.
The woman with the stylish business suit stood in front of me. Perhaps I’m moving up in the world of private detecting.
“Mr. Patrick,” she said. “My name is Bonnie Ross.”
Being an ace investigator, I deduced her tone of voice and body language suggested she was troubled. She held out her right hand. I took it and we shook.
“Pleased to meet you, Ms. Ross. How may I help you?”
“Please, call me Bonnie. I’m worried about my daughter, and I’m hoping you can help.”
“Come in,” I said. I stepped aside to allow Bonnie Ross to enter my office.
Her eyes darted around the room. My décor was an eclectic mix of art, sports memorabilia, and my diplomas from Northeastern University and the FBI Academy. A corner of my desk contained a collection of Red Sox bobbleheads. Bonnie Ross didn’t seem to pay them any mind.
Dash hopped down from his spot on the couch and walked over with his tail wagging. He momentarily seemed to ease Bonnie’s troubles. Dogs can be great that way. Especially Dash.
“What kind of dog is he?” Bonnie asked.
“Beagle-mix,” I said.
“He’s very handsome.” She petted Dash on top of his head and scratched his big floppy ears. Bonnie had made a friend for life. “What’s his name?”
“Dash. But be careful about complimenting his looks, he already takes full advantage of his cuteness.”
The corners of Bonnie’s mouth attempted to form a smile. She would have a warm, easy-going, smile if not for the concern gripping her face. But I was familiar with people trying to offer pleasantries while consumed with what troubled them. People didn’t usually hire a private investigator unless they were troubled about something.
“Have a seat,” I said as I motioned to one of the client chairs in front of my desk. “Would you like a cup of coffee?”
“No. Thank you. Although it smells heavenly.”
The smell of coffee a reminder of normalcy.
“America runs on Dunkin’,” I said as I held up my coffee cup.
Bonnie sat in a client chair and rested her hands on her lap. Dash realized he was done getting attention and got back on the couch. He curled up, let out a sigh, and put his head down between his front paws. He whimpered.
“Ignore him,” I said to Bonnie. “He has separation anxiety.”
“But you’re right here,” Bonnie said.
“A work in progress.”
I sat behind my desk. “Now, what can you tell me about the concern you have with your daughter?…” I left space at the end of my question.
“Tina,” she said.
“What is your concern with Tina?”
“She is eighteen and was a senior at Cambridge Rindge and Latin. She just dropped out of school and moved in with some boy.” She emphasized the phrase ‘some boy.’
“The boy have a name?” I said.
“That is part of the problem. I don’t know anything about him.” Bonnie paused a moment. “You must think I’m a terrible mother.” Another short pause. “Perhaps I am.”
“You’re here,” I said. “That tells me you care.”
“How can a mother not be aware of anything about the boy her daughter is dating?”
Her question seemed rhetorical so I didn’t respond.
Bonnie continued, “she had always been a good student and had a nice group of friends. Never any trouble.”
“And when did that change? I said. My instincts as a sleuth told me it was when Tina started dating our unknown boy.
“This past spring,” Bonnie replied. “Tina stopped spending time with her old friends. Her grades began to slip, she was staying out later, and she would not tell me where she was going.”
Bonnie took a beat. I realized she wasn’t finished, so I waited for her to offer more information.
“I had no idea what I should do,” she continued. “I mean, she’s eighteen. I technically couldn’t tell her what to do any longer.”
“And, boy, she was quick to point that out whenever I pressed her about her grades, where she was going, and who she was seeing.”
“But you suspect it was our, as of now, unknown boy?” I said.
“Yes,” she said. “Tina admitted she was seeing the young man, but she has refused to tell me his name or where he lives. Not even if he is in school or works. Nothing.”
“Do you think it is because Tina thinks you wouldn’t approve of who she is dating?” I said.
“I may not know who this boy is, but I feel certain he is bad news.” Bonnie took in a deep breath and let out an exasperated breath. Then she continued, “Tina nearly flunked out the end of last school year. Three weeks into this school year, she announced she was quitting school.”
“And moving in with the boyfriend?” I added.
Bonnie sheepishly nodded her head and wiped a tear from her eye. She took another deep breath and exhaled.
“I understand legally she’s an adult, but she is still my little girl,” Bonnie said.
I nodded, not sure what to say.
Bonnie stood and paced the floor. Dash raised his head. Hope springs eternal for a pat on the head or scratch behind the ear. When Bonnie didn’t pay him any attention, Dash dropped his head back down and looked at me disappointed with his big brown eyes.
“Mr. Patrick,” Bonnie said.
“Drew,” I said.
Bonnie nodded and continued. “The Tina I have witnessed the last few months is not the daughter I know.” She shook her head. “I can’t say exactly why, call it a mother’s intuition, but I knew when she started dating this guy that it was trouble. I had a sense he was a bad egg from the start.”
“Well,” I said, “as you mentioned, Tina is legally an adult –”
“But she is ruining her life,” Bonnie interjected.
I allowed for some silence in the room. Bonnie was a concerned mother. What decent mother wouldn’t be concerned?
“I’m sorry,” Bonnie said. She sat back down in one of the client chairs in front of my desk.
Tears began to roll down her cheeks. I handed her a box of tissues. She wiped her tears.
Bonnie Ross seemed like a good mom dealing with a rebellious teen. Hopefully nothing too serious with Tina’s rebellion. Raising kids can be hard.
“And before you ask,” she said, “there is no Mr. Ross in the picture. He took off when Tina was two. I haven’t heard from him since.”
I felt for Bonnie. I wanted to help. I just wasn’t sure if there was much I could do, other than find out who Tina is dating and where they are living. Perhaps I could try to convince Tina she was making a big mistake. I was good at gathering information, but convincing Tina she was making bad life choices was out of my area of expertise.
I was honest with Bonnie about this.
“I need you to try,” she said, a hint of desperation in her voice.
“Private Investigator is printed on my business cards,” I said. “Let me at least find out who the mystery boyfriend is and where he and Tina are living.”
Bonnie smiled through her tears. I was right. She had a warm and easy-going smile.
“That would be wonderful. At least I will have some information about that part of Tina’s life she is keeping from me.”
“Knowledge is power,” I said.
“I want Tina to come back home, go back to school, and realize all of her potential,” Bonnie said. “But most of all, I want her to be safe and happy. I don’t believe she is either safe or truly happy in her current situation.”
“Mother’s intuition?” I said.
“Yes,” Bonnie said.
I was pretty certain mother’s intuition was even more powerful than detective’s intuition, so I had to trust Bonnie was right about Tina. She was a concerned single mother. I had no experience as a parent, but I had dealt with many cases where a kid gets in trouble and things spiral out of control.
I thought about Ernest Hemingway writing in the Sun Also Rises where Mike went bankrupt “Gradually and then Suddenly.” It could be like that for lots of things. Gradually kids start going down the wrong path, and then suddenly they are in a world of trouble.
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