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Authors: Rob Cornell

Tags: #Mystery: Thriller - P.I. - Humor - Karaoke Bar - Michigan

Rob Cornell - Ridley Brone 02 - The Hustle

BOOK: Rob Cornell - Ridley Brone 02 - The Hustle
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Rob Cornell - Ridley Brone 02 - The Hustle
Number II of
Ridley Brone
Rob Cornell
Paradox Publications (2011)
Tags:
Mystery: Thriller - P.I. - Humor - Karaoke Bar - Michigan
Mystery: Thriller - P.I. - Humor - Karaoke Bar - Michiganttt
Three years after the case that changed Ridley Brone
forever, he has cobbled together a life he can deal with, working as a PI out of the office above his karaoke bar. Then Eddie Arndt walks in. He wants Ridley to investigate his family’s murder-suicide
from twenty years ago. But to Ridley, it doesn’t sound like there’s much to investigate. He passes on the case until he receives a peculiar phone call—cryptic, vulgar, and disturbing. the caller threatens the one thing most precious to Ridley—something very few even know about.
Ridley uses Eddie’s case as a distraction from the continued harassment by the strange caller. But when Ridley learns Eddie has a caller of his own who claims to be his family’s real killer, Ridley can draw only one conclusion...they’re both getting conned. The search for who’s hustling them and why leads Ridley down
the twisted trails of both their pasts. What he discovers will force him to question every assumption and lead him to one hard truth...the easiest targets are those with the most to lose.

Three years after the case that changed Ridley Brone forever, he has cobbled together a life he can deal with, working as a PI out of the office above his karaoke bar. Then Eddie Arndt walks in.

He wants Ridley to investigate his family’s murder-suicide from twenty years ago. But to Ridley, it doesn’t sound like there’s much to investigate. He passes on the case until he receives a peculiar phone call.

Cryptic, vulgar, and disturbing. the caller threatens the one thing most precious to Ridley. Something very few even know about.

Ridley uses Eddie’s case as a distraction from the continued harassment by the strange caller. But when Ridley learns Eddie has a caller of his own who claims to be his family’s real killer, Ridley can draw only one conclusion…they’re both getting conned.

The search for who’s hustling them and why leads Ridley down the twisted trails of both their pasts. What he discovers will force him to question every assumption, and lead him to one hard truth…

The easiest targets are those with the most to lose.

The Hustle

A Ridley Brone Mystery

Rob Cornell

For Patricia Pinianski (a.k.a Rosemoor). Mentor, former landlord, and friend.

Chapter 1

Bobby Quinn, an old friend and private eye I once worked with in LA, used to say a person’s eyes never changed, even as they got older—which always sounded like a load of crap to me until Eddie Arndt walked into my bar.

I didn’t know it was Eddie right away, but I knew I knew him from somewhere. While he scanned the bar, squinting as if he’d gone from a dark place into a light one instead of the other way around, I studied his movements, his posture, the way he pinched his lips together and to one side, all the while trying to figure out where the hell I knew this guy from.

I’d like to say my sharp detective mind dug through the old mental files, pulled out the proper dossier, and gave me a name. My mind isn’t as sharp as it used to be, though, detective or otherwise.

Apparently, he knew who I was, because when his gaze found me in my usual booth back by the bar, his eyes widened and he headed straight for me, unzipping his snow-dusted coat on the way.

I finished off the last of my gin and tonic. Somehow, I felt I’d need it. The determined twist to his mouth, perhaps? The look of a man troubled and looking for answers. I see the look a lot. But usually my clients meet with me during normal business hours in my office upstairs.

On the stage, the
High Note’s
most dedicated regular, Hal, snapped his fingers in time with the song on the speakers, bobbling his head like some parody of Tom Jones. The title on the karaoke screen claimed the song was “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor, but Hal’s off-key Sinatra style made it near impossible to recognize.

Eddie didn’t ask. Just sat down across from me, movements jerky and nervous, with a contagious quality that set me on edge, too. “Ridley? Ridley Brone?”

Voice sounded as familiar as his eyes looked. No doubt now, I knew this guy.

He must have caught something in my expression. “Eddie Arndt. We went to school together.”

Click. Like that, the memories tumbled into place like the pins in a lock. Yeah, I knew Eddie. But I never really
knew
him. Rumors and news reports filled his reputation back in high school like the straw in a scarecrow. And boy how us kids treated him like a scarecrow, scurrying like a flock of crows whenever he came near. Not because we had anything against the guy. We simply didn’t know what to say to someone who had suffered through what he had.

When you’re young, tragedy is as good as leprosy. No one wants to get infected. I guess that’s true when you’re not young, too.

I slid my empty glass aside for something to do. I didn’t like the way Eddie gaped at me. He made me feel like a life raft in the middle of shark-infested water.

Eddie took my hesitation as a gap in memory. “You remember? The kid whose dad…” He couldn’t say it, but he didn’t have to.

I wasn’t going to let him squirm. “I remember.”

He sighed through his nose and his shoulders dipped, though I hadn’t realized he was hunching them. His long neck and prominent Adam’s apple drew the last lines in my memory’s sketch of Eddie Arndt. High school was twenty years ago, but it might as well have been yesterday.

“I’m looking for help,” he said.

I could see that. Obviously he hadn’t come here for drinks. But God only knew what kind of help he’d need from me. “You married?”

He shook his head. “No, why?”

“Cheating spouse is the A-number-one reason people come see me. I was trying to show off my canny skills of detection.”

Eddie let a corner of his mouth lift, but no part of that half-smile spread further than that. He held onto that desperate and drowning look.

I fidgeted in my seat. That stare got my skin feeling all squidgy. “What do you need?”

“I need to hire you.”

I opened my mouth to toss a smartass remark his way—something along the lines of
No shit, Sherlock,
but with some clever twist. Instead, I kept quiet and nodded. Some people can take a little jabbing. Eddie here looked like he might shatter in the wind of a whistle.

That half-smile twitched again, gone as quick as it came. “I guess you figured that out already.”

The guy knew how to read a person. I’d give him that. Which left me feeling like I should tear up my investigator’s license right there, because I couldn’t figure out what the hell he’d want from me.

I guess the obvious answer didn’t occur to me because it was so ridiculous.

“I want you to investigate my family’s murder.”

I only knew Eddie’s story from what the newspapers, TV, and rumor mill told. That he came home from school one day to find his mother on the living room floor, a bullet in her head and her body already cold. In the hall, he found his little brother, not even four yet. Two shots to the chest. Dad sat in a corner in his bedroom, propped against where the walls met, brains dripping down the paint behind him, the revolver he had purchased as protection against a home invasion five years prior gripped in his right hand resting in his lap.

A familiar story, no matter how damn sick. A father, pushed to some invisible edge, overtaken with the urge to tear his life free from this world and take his family along with him. It never made any sense. Never got easier each time you heard about it. But that’s all you did. You heard about it. It never happened to you, or anyone you knew. At least, that’s how it was supposed to be. But a lot of us knew Eddie Arndt, even if we didn’t really
know
him. Close doesn’t only count in horseshoes and hand grenades, no matter how the saying goes. Senseless tragedy sends its ripples far and strong when it strikes nearby.

But this tragedy happened over twenty years ago. Enough time for everybody to shake off the psychic tremors. Everybody except Eddie, of course.

I swallowed to make sure my throat still worked. “That’s out of my range, Eddie.”

“I know what you’re thinking,” he said, the words rattling faster than a sales pitch. “It was murder-suicide. End of story. Case closed. Get over it already.”

“Not exactly.”

“Something like it. It’s what everyone thinks. My dad went crazy and killed my mom and little brother. He was a nut job. A psycho. A sick, sick man.” Eddie’s sneer wiped the desperate clean off his face. “People don’t think I hear them talk. But I can. I know what they say about Dad.”

“I’m not into rumor mongering. And I didn’t know your dad. But from what little I know…”

“That’s just it,” Eddie said. “You
don’t
know. Nobody does. And nobody ever wanted to listen to me. My dad would not do that.” He bounced his fist on the table to emphasize those last six words.

Was there a delicate way to tell a guy he was deluding himself?
Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt, Eddie.
Didn’t matter. It wasn’t my place to fix his broken soul. In fact, I had no place in Eddie Arndt’s life. He’d come to the wrong bar, talked to the wrong detective. “I can’t help you.”

“You
won’t
help.” Eddie sighed, fluttering his lips so he sounded like a deflating balloon. He raked a hand through his thinning hair. “Sorry I wasted your time.” He slid out of the booth.

“Eddie.”

He paused, the look of hope in his eyes enough to vent a guy’s heart.

“Let me get you a drink, at least.”

“I don’t drink.”

“A pop then?”

He sniffed and ran a finger under his nose. “Don’t need your pity.”

“Hey, that’s not—”

“Go fuck yourself.” With that, he turned and stormed out of the bar.

I leaned back in my seat and subjected myself to some self-flagellation by listening to Hal caw the last lines of his song. It was a Wednesday night. Quiet compared to the weekends. No college kids to laugh, applaud, and goad Hal on, making him feel like the star he always wanted to be. About a half-dozen in the bar, total. None of them said a word when the song ended. A few of them groaned, however, when my karaoke host, Holly, announced the next person up to the mic—the only one doing karaoke tonight. Hal.

I waved a hand to get my bartender’s attention.

Paul nodded and brought over another gin and tonic, took my empty glass. “What was with that bundle of nerves came in here?”

“Wanted to hire me.”

“Another cheater?”

I shook my head. “Murder.”

Paul snorted. “You remember what happened last time you investigated a murder?”

Just the mention brought Autumn’s face into focus in my mind. Sometimes I could see her so clearly, I felt like I could touch her. Not that I would. Not after what she had done.

“I didn’t take the case,” I assured Paul.

“See that? You’re not as dumb as you look.”

“Get back behind the bar before I fire your ass.”

He harrumphed. “Don’t do me any favors, Brone.”

Paul returned to his post at the bar. Hal started in on Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock.”

I leaned back and sipped my drink, thinking about Eddie Arndt, which got me thinking about high school, which got me thinking I should have never left LA to come back to Hawthorne fucking Michigan. Hard to let go of your past when you lived in it.

Chapter 2

The following morning I woke up with a headache, like I had spent too much time thinking too hard the night before. I couldn’t chase off thoughts of Eddie Arndt. His visit had torn loose part of the plaster cast I had covered old memories with. I did not appreciate that. There were too many things I still had to reconcile before I could even think to get through stuff from high school. My own parents’ murder for one. And the fact that I had a teenage daughter somewhere out there who, when she was a newborn, had been sold on the black market by her grandfather.

I still slept in my old bedroom in the house I grew up in. Like the karaoke bar, I had inherited the 5,000 square-foot mansion after my parents’ death. Though I hadn’t lived here since I left for California at eighteen, occupying any other room in the house didn’t feel right. Certainly not the master bedroom, where my parents once slept.

A house this size was more than anything I needed anyway. I kept most of the rooms locked up, the furniture draped with sheets. I used the kitchen, my bedroom, an upstairs bathroom, and a study downstairs that I had turned into my TV room. Most of my time I spent at the bar anyway.

I swallowed a few Advil before getting in the shower and getting on with my day. By the time I reached my office, the headache had faded. I wished I could say the same for the thoughts about Eddie Arndt tumbling in my mind like threadbare laundry in a dryer.

BOOK: Rob Cornell - Ridley Brone 02 - The Hustle
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