Authors: Mark Treble
Volume 1 of the
© 2015 by Mark Treble All Rights Reserved
Ethan McQuade is a recently-widowed investigative reporter for a New Orleans newspaper. Thirty-one year old Ethan and his step-son of eighteen, Alex DeLauder, live together in a fragile truce that is broken and repaired at least daily. Unfortunately, the glue is running out as the relationship deteriorates.
Then Alex mysteriously disappears and his clothes are found at the curb. Ethan's search for his step-son is fruitless. Frantic, he calls the police with little hope of any assistance. He is happily surprised when Detective Danny Flint shows up quickly with reinforcements. The reason the police are taking this seriously, though, is frightening. Alex is the tenth young man to have gone missing without explanation in the past year.
The police and the FBI's profilers can find no pattern. No one knows who is responsible, why this is being done, or where the young men are. As the police conduct a search Ethan enlists the help of his own confidential sources to navigate the danger-filled underworld of New Orleans crime. He looks for explanations in sex, drugs, murder and elsewhere. Each step into this cesspool brings Ethan one step closer to his own death. An avaricious Motor Vehicle clerk, a convicted murderer and a gay graphic artist are only a few of those who lend a hand. Ultimately, though, Ethan is on his own. And he's running out of time. Before Alex can be found Ethan is left for dead. Finding Alex just removes the top layer of a very deep archaeology dig.
Simple kidnappings rapidly evolve into a medical mystery. These young men all have something the kidnappers want, but for what purpose? Where are the young men, who are the perpetrators and who is behind this? Every time a layer is peeled back another, more complex, one is revealed. And, the final questions are not answered until the last page – if then.
Table of Contents
Holy shit! What the fuck was Alex doing? He was supposed to be mowing our lawn. Instead, he was next door mowing the neighbors'. I set down my coffee and bolted to the front door.
“Alex, get your ass in here. What the fuck do you think you're doing?” The boy had been a handful for some time, and his mother's death a year ago had made him pretty much out of control.
Alex didn't move, just turned and put his hands on his hips. “Ethan, you stupid douchebag, I'm mowing the lawn.”
I knew that, and this wasn't getting me anywhere. So, I took a different tack. “Why are you mowing Marcus's yard? I can't get you to mow ours.”
“Marcus is paying me. He used to mow the lawn as part of paying rent, and now that he's got some income he's outsourcing.” Alex stopped, and evidently getting in the last word beat out common sense. “And you don't pay me to mow the lawn.”
We could have a pissing contest for the next twelve years, and I decided to end it. “Finish up the mowing and come see me. We have to talk. And by ‘we’, I mean I have to talk and you have to listen.”
Alex flipped me the bird and continued mowing. I had no doubt I would talk, and lots of doubt that he would listen. That was nothing new.
Alex's father had died when he was a small child. Dana was my guide to the underground music scene in New Orleans. We met when I was researching a column on small venues showcasing limited-appeal music genres. I never did write the column, but I kept seeing her.
She was in her early forties, more than ten years my senior. Her husband's death in Afghanistan early in that conflict had left her with a youngster, a mortgage, a broken heart, and a need to survive. She not only survived, she thrived. Her off-Bourbon Street store-front in the French Quarter became more successful than she had hoped. She never became rich, but Dana's DaLounge was SRO seven nights a week. The acts she introduced to the music scene returned whether successful or not. More were successful than otherwise, and the fans were insatiable.
We had been married less than a year when she called from the lounge and asked me to come get her. Her stomach pain was bad and she couldn't keep anything down. I took her to the hospital emergency room. That was Wednesday.
Thursday she was diagnosed with stomach cancer and by Monday she was dead. God, I miss her so much. But so does Alex, and he's my responsibility.
I sat in the chair and re-opened the latest police procedural I was reading. Some dickhead civilian was trying to help the police investigate an assault. Fucking civilians. I'd never do that.
The hero had a bad relationship with his daughter. I felt for him. Dana and Alex had been by themselves for about ten years before I showed up. Her life revolved around her son and his life was centered on her. They had a comfortable routine and I interrupted it. Alex was devoted to his mother and quite protective. I admired that and hoped he could accept me as someone equally devoted and protective.
Alex and I got along fine right up to the point where we told him we were getting married. The seventeen-year-old didn't want to share, and I understood completely. If I'd had Dana to myself for more than a decade, I wouldn't want to share either. Alex and I used to go to basketball and football games together, and my press credentials gave us access he could never have gotten on his own. He was stunned when his favorite band came to town and I used my credentials to get us back stage. As his mother's boyfriend I was quickly becoming one of his favorite people.
“Alex, Ethan and I are getting married.” Dana had announced it matter-of-factly over dinner one night. The boy and I had been laughing and joking right up to the announcement. The stricken look on his face said everything.
“Fuck you, douchebag.” He gave me the finger and ran out the back door. I started after him but Dana stopped me.
“He's probably going to talk to his Uncle Luke next door.” Luke Dupree wasn't really Alex's uncle, but he and Dana were close and he had served as Alex's male parental figure growing up. “I've already told Luke about us getting married and he's happy about it. He's been trying to get me to date more. Let's just let Alex try to sort things out for a bit.”
The book dropping to the floor woke me up. Fuck, it was noon, and Alex wasn't back. I looked out the window and couldn't even see him. I knew that this time I was going to strangle the little prick, and was sure it was justifiable homicide.
I strode out the door loaded for bear. “Alex! Where are you? Alex!” Yelling wasn't getting any results. I saw something white near the curb at Luke and Marcus's house. When I got to the curb my heart nearly stopped. It was Alex's T-shirt and his cut-offs. Where the hell was he?
I rang the doorbell, but nobody answered. I went back inside and called his girlfriend's house. Monica's mother said she was going to some sort of party with her cousin upstate. I tried three or four of his friends with the same results. Nobody had any idea where he was.
I sat and stewed. Alex had failed to show at the wedding rehearsal last year but Dana told me not to worry. I worried anyway, of course. Luke had told him that his mother deserved some happiness and he was sure I would help bring it to her. Alex never apologized for his outburst at the dinner table, but he had started to come around until the rehearsal.
He showed up at the rehearsal dinner dead drunk. I took him aside and he broke down crying. Alex sobbed as he eventually got out what was bothering him. “This means it's real. I won't have her to myself anymore.” I sent Dana a quick text and took Alex back to her house. He went into his room and slammed the door. When Dana got home I told her about our brief conversation.
“He'll come around,” she said. And he did.
For one glorious year Dana and I loved each other and Alex too. We resumed going to games and band concerts together, and I introduced him to the paper's technology writer. Alex wanted to become a computer programmer, and Sid took him under his wing, introducing him to the various pieces that make up the Information Technology industry. Alex warmed to me, not just appreciating what I did for him but what I did for his mother as well.
The day of Dana's funeral Alex disappeared. He showed up that night at Monica's house. Her parents called me and I picked him up. Alex didn't want to leave with me. “She was OK until you came along. You killed her.” That wounded me almost as deeply as her death.
Alex had a choice that night. Monica's parents made it clear he could leave with me or with the police. When we got home he went to his room and slammed the door again. Over the next six or seven months things had thawed a bit, but he stopped calling me ‘Ethan’ and only called me ‘douchebag.’ The last few weeks some of the venom had disappeared from his not-so-affectionate nickname for me, and I thought we'd been making some progress. And today he fucking disappeared again.
By now it was nearly one o'clock. I dialed 911. My “emergency” didn't get their attention. He was eighteen and had been missing for only three hours. The fact that he was probably naked or nearly so made no difference. The operator promised to file a report at the end of his shift. Fuck.
I'm a journalist and have contacts and sources. So do my coworkers. I called the crime beat reporter, and hit pay dirt. Will had a police contact who would listen. I hung up and watched the phone for what seemed like six hours. It was probably more like two minutes, though, and Will's contact was on the line.
“Mr. McQuade, this is Henry Ligam with the New Orleans Police Department. Will said you needed some help.” Short, professional and courteous. Maybe he should get a job at 911.
“Mr. Ligam, my step-son is missing. I last saw him at about ten o'clock this morning mowing a neighbor's lawn … Yes, he's eighteen, and I know it's too short and he's too old, but it doesn't feel right. I found his T-shirt and cutoffs by the curb … Yeah that was what he was wearing.”
Ligam asked me again about Alex's name and age, my cellphone number and address, and said somebody would call me in less than an hour. I was frantic, so I went back outside and yelled again. No luck. If he wasn't kidnapped and beaten to death, then I was going to kill him when he got home.
My cellphone rang just a few minutes after Ligam had hung up. It was some detective who was in a car on his way to my house. I owed Will big time for this.
A few minutes later a beat-up blue Ford pulled into the driveway. A somewhat overweight man and a slender woman got out. The guy looked like a detective out of central casting. The woman's pinched face and surgically-installed frown pegged her for a harridan. I was not disappointed.
“What have you found out?” I had grabbed the guy by the arm, which he extracted in order to show me his credentials. I didn't bother to look. He introduced himself as Detective Danny Flint, then introduced me to Assistant District Attorney Myra Hartag. I knew enough about real police procedure to know that detectives did not ride around with Assistant District Attorneys responding to calls about an adult missing for three hours.
I related that to the detective. “What brings the two of you here so quickly? What's going on?”
Hartag looked at the Detective and shook her head no. The detective sighed, turned his back to the lawyer, and told me. “There has been a series of suspicious disappearances of men between seventeen and nineteen in New Orleans. We're not sure what it means. Your son's disappearance may not be part of that pattern. This is the first time we've found clothes left behind. I want to ask you some questions and then call in some reinforcement.”
“Detective, this is not for public consumption. I forbid you from revealing any more details to this civilian.” Yup, harridan for sure.
Detective Flint turned to Hartag but his words were addressed to me. Sort of. “Mr. McQuade,
your son is missing
. This is serious business, and you will be the best source of information about it right now. This is the first time we've had more than one day's notice on a disappearance, and I'm not going to fuck around with protocol. Understood?”
Hartag looked ready to inflict physical harm on Detective Danny, then thought better of it. “You detectives need to start listening to me,” she called over her shoulder as she stomped off to the car. She got in and slammed the door behind her.
“She's had a rough time of it,” the detective told me. “She lost her first case when a detective failed to show up to testify. She lost the next one when somebody in the evidence room couldn't find a necklace. She figures the police are out to sabotage her.”