PROLOGUE

Jax and Mikey dragged the man into the alley. He looked like Rocky Balboa after fifteen rounds with Apollo Creed.

But there would be no credit for going the distance with the heavyweight champ.

Jax and Mikey weren’t finished.

The man just wanted the beating to stop.

Jax dropped the man like a stone. The man’s arms bending in positions they shouldn’t. Mikey got down on his haunches directly in front of the man. He leaned forward and smiled.

“Care to reconsider your position?” Mikey said.

“I can’t,” the man gurgled.

“That is unfortunate,” Mikey said. He stood and turned to his brother.

“Okay, Jax, finish him.”

“No loose ends,” Jax said to Mikey.

“Never leave loose ends,” replied Mikey.

Jax stepped forward, bent over, and picked the man up by his collar. He tossed him like a rag doll against the building. The man slammed against the brick resembling a test crash dummy. He slumped to the ground. Jax moved toward the motionless man and pulled him up again. The man’s arms dangled like a marionette.

Mikey laughed. “He looks like Howdy Doody.”

Jax considered the man a moment. Arms flopping freely. “Yeah, he kinda does. Doesn’t he?”

The man tried to speak.

“What’s that?,” said Jax. “Speak up. I can’t hear you.”

“I think his jaw is broken,” said Mikey.

Jax smacked the man in the jaw. He let out a guttural cry.

“Yep. Broken,” said Jax.

“Okay,” said Mikey, “Finish up so we can get something to eat. I’m starving.”

“Can we go to IHOP?” Jax asked.

“Sure. IHOP. Wherever. I just want to eat.”

Mikey got cranky when he was hungry. Jax figured it was low blood sugar or something. He didn’t want to listen to Mikey drone on about how hungry he was.

“Hold him,” Jax said as he shoved the man into Mikey’s arms.

Jax let loose with a flurry of rapid punches to the man’s body. His fists a blur.

Mikey laughed as he held the man upright to take the beating Jax doled out.

Jax could have been a champion in the ring, Mikey thought. Maybe even one of those mixed martial arts fighters. Instead he unleashed all his rage and strength in back rooms and alleyways. Criminal. Lethal.

The man coughed. Wheezed. Then silence.

Jax landed another round of punches. Overkill.

“Give me a hand,” Mikey said.

Jax grabbed the man’s legs. Mikey held him under his limp and twisted arms. They hoisted the body and tossed it into a dumpster. Mikey closed the lid.

The two brothers took off latex gloves, balled them up, and threw them into a backpack. Mikey picked up the bag and slung it over his right shoulder.

Jax wiped his sweaty hands with a handkerchief. He folded the linen cloth and shoved it into his back pants pocket.

“IHOP?” said Jax.

“Yeah, little brother. Let’s eat.”

A cat mewed loudly and a metal trash can lid clanked on the pavement. The cat scurried into the shadows.

“Just an alley cat,” said Jax.

“Better check. Just to be sure.”

Jax nodded in agreement.

The two brothers did not like witnesses. And no witnesses ever came forward to testify against them. Hard for the dead to testify.

Jax and Mikey moved toward the trash cans.

“Run!” a young voice shouted from the darkness beyond the trash cans. Four shadowy figures sprinted out of the alley and disappeared around the corner.

Jax started after them when Mikey grabbed hold of his arm.

“Hold up. We’ll never catch them.”

Jax had lightning fast hands, but neither he nor Mikey could run worth a lick. They were big. Lumbering. But within reach, they were deadly.

“They probably saw everything,” Jax said. “No loose ends. Ever.”

“And there won’t be.”

Mikey tilted his head toward the ground. The glossy plastic from the front side of an ID card reflected in the lamplight. Mikey bent over and picked it up.

“One of them dropped this.”

Mikey studied the card for a moment. “Looks fake. Says the guy is twenty-three.”

He snorted. “My bet is eighteen or nineteen. Definitely not twenty-three.”

“If it’s a fake, how does that help us?” Jax said.

“Information is fake. The picture is real.”

Mikey held the card up to Jax and pointed to the photo of the teenage male. “Somebody has seen this kid around here. Somebody knows his real name. We find that out and we find him. And his friends.”

Jax smiled. “No loose ends.”

“Never leave loose ends,” Mikey said. They laughed as Mikey pocketed the ID card.

 

CHAPTER 1

DREW PATRICK

The aroma of Arabica beans rose with the steam from my cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. I was looking out my office window onto Brattle Street. The location just outside of Harvard Square made me feel smart.

A warm morning breeze drifted in through the open window. The calendar said September, but the weather still felt like August. I rubbed my eyes from staying up late to watch the conclusion of an extra innings Red Sox game. They beat the Yankees, so it was worth it. On to the playoffs.

The sidewalk below my office was crowded as students and professors made their way to morning classes. They jockeyed for sidewalk space with workers heading to occupy cubicles and offices throughout Cambridge and Boston.

A woman paused near the entrance to my building. She glanced at the sign out front.

HENDRICK’S & PEW, ATTORNEYS AT LAW

BRATTLE STREET PUBLISHING

ROBERT SAUNDERS, CPA

DREW PATRICK, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR

The woman looked to be in her early forties and was dressed in a stylish business suit. Early morning meeting with her lawyer? A book agent pitching the next great American novel? In need of tax advice? She seemed too classy to be a potential client for me.

The woman stepped toward the building’s front door. She wore sensible walking sneakers. A practical approach for walking and riding the T. She 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 lifted his head from his morning nap and looked in the direction of the knock.

I crossed my office and opened the door. The woman with the stylish business suit and sensible walking sneakers stood in front of me. Maybe I’m moving up in the world of private detecting.

“Mr. Patrick,” she said. “My name is Bonnie Ross.” 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.”

“Please, come in.”

I stepped aside to allow Bonnie Ross to enter my office.

Dash hopped down from his spot on the couch and walked over with his tail wagging.

“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. Friend for life. “What’s his name?”

“Dash. But be careful about complimenting his looks, he already takes full advantage of his cuteness.”

“I bet he does.” Bonnie cracked a small smile. I liked her. A dog person and she thinks my jokes are funny.

“Have a seat,” I said as I motioned to one of the chairs in front of my desk. “Would you like a cup of coffee? Tea? Water?”

“No. Thank you. Although the coffee smells heavenly.”

“America runs on Dunkin’,” I said as I held up my coffee cup.

Bonnie offered another slight smile. She would have a warm, easy-going, smile if not troubled. People didn’t usually hire a private investigator unless they were troubled about something.

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 sixteen and a junior at Cambridge Rindge and Latin. She had always been a good student and had a nice group of friends. Never any trouble.”

“Past tense?”

“Lately her grades have slipped. She’s not failing,” Bonnie paused a beat, “at least not yet. And she no longer spends time with her old friends.”

“Does she seem depressed?” I asked. “Is she spending a lot of time alone?”

“No. At least I don’t think so. Unless she is lying to me, Tina has been spending most of her time with a new group of friends. One of them is supposedly her boyfriend.”

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 with his big brown eyes. Disappointed.

“Mr. Patrick,” Bonnie said.

“Drew,” I interjected.

Bonnie nodded and continued. “The truth is I don’t know who these new friends are, where they are going, or what they are doing. Tina won’t tell me anything. If I ground her, she just sneaks out.”

“And you think they are a bad influence on Tina? Given the lower grades and lack of details about her new friends and activities?”

“Yes. And not knowing scares me.” Tears began to roll down Bonnie’s cheeks.

I handed her a box of tissues. She wiped her tears.

She seemed like a good mom dealing with a rebellious teen. Hopefully nothing 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 beyond gathering information.

“As hard as I tried when I was a teenage boy, I’m no expert in teenage girls,” I said. “Nonetheless, Private Investigator is printed on my business cards, so I can find out about Tina’s new friends, where they go, and what they are doing.”

Bonnie smiled through her tears. I was right. She had a warm and easy-going smile. Albeit with a hint of concern.

“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 only hope what we learn isn’t as bad as some things I imagine,” Bonnie said.

Bonnie didn’t strike me as a worrier, but I was certain she could imagine some very bad things about Tina’s secret life. 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.

– End of Preview –

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Copyright 2018 Jason Richards

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