Read Rob Cornell - Ridley Brone 02 - The Hustle Online

Authors: Rob Cornell

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

Rob Cornell - Ridley Brone 02 - The Hustle (25 page)

BOOK: Rob Cornell - Ridley Brone 02 - The Hustle
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I drove back to Hawthorne, heedless of any speed limit. Only by pure luck did I not get pulled over for reckless driving. I made no stops. Drove straight to Shwineski’s office, which sat almost exactly on the midline between north and south.

This time I didn’t do the dance with the receptionist. I only waited as long as it took for one of the nurses to call a patient back, then shoved my way past and into the back. “Shwineski,” I shouted, stalking down the hallway, glancing into the couple rooms with their doors open. One room had the door closed. The inebriating mix of desperation and anger almost pushed me to fling open that door, patient’s privacy be damned. I came up short, turned in a circle, mad gaze looking for something, anything that would beckon Shwineski out of the room.

The nurse I had slipped by caught up to me, her wide face red. “You can’t be back here. Get out of here or we’ll call the police.”

I pointed at the closed door. “I need to talk to Shwineski. Now.”

Her gaze shifted to the door, then back to my face. “Dr. Shwineski isn’t in today. Now leave.”

A gaggle of smock-wearing staff had gathered in the hall behind her, staring at the crazy dude who had stormed into their quiet office like a whirling dervish on a caffeine high. Which is pretty much how I felt, too.

I took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. It’s just very important that I speak to him.”

“Like I said, he isn’t here today.”

“Is he at home?”

“You need to leave. I won’t say it again.”

I buttoned up and forced myself out.

Shwineski was listed. After looking up his address on my phone, I headed straight over. He did not answer the doorbell or my persistent knocking. So he was out. I could wait. But the idea of waiting made me that much more antsy. I contemplated breaking in. Maybe I could find where he kept his records, if he was still keeping them. But not only was it the middle of the day, the sky was clear and reflected off the white sheen of the snow’s crust.

If I went round the back of the house I would have some amount of cover. The lots these houses sat on in this neighborhood were on the larger side. These were doctors and lawyers houses, on par with Hal’s place, which was only four blocks away.

For shits and giggles I tried the front door.

Sometimes you catch a break. The door easily swung open. But my brief sense of triumph quickly turned to suspicion. Nice house like this, with nice things inside? You didn’t leave your door unlocked when you weren’t home.

I had a flashback to finding Eddie in his apartment. With my luck, walking in on dead bodies wasn’t as rare as it was for others, not even other PIs. Just once I’d like to walk in on a naked woman who looked like Scarlett Johansson.

Never happen.

I stepped through the threshold and inhaled deeply through my nose. No hint of that telltale stink of death. But it was a big house. While I couldn’t see any advantage to Bobby for killing the doctor, I wasn’t getting my hopes up. Murdering simply to cut off a lead on my daughter seemed a little extreme. Then again, I had no concept of Bobby’s state of mind. This tortuous “race” he had initiated spoke to at least a few loose bolts in his noggin.

I found the doctor in an upstairs study.

He sat on a wooden office chair not unlike the one in the music room at my house. Stripes of orange electrical cord crisscrossed his torso and wrapped around the chair back, holding his body fast. A shiny rectangle of duct tape covered his mouth. A piece of paper was taped to his chest, a message written in thick black marker:
Been here, done that.

The doctor’s wide eyes stared at me when I walked into the room. He moaned frantically against the tape, his face soaked with sweat.

I crossed the room and whisked the tape off his mouth.

He gasped and sucked in air like it might run out. After his moment of relief, he directed his pointed gaze up at me. “Who are you? Are you with him?”

Three guesses on who
him
was, and the first two don’t count. “I’m not with him.” As a sign of faith, I yanked the sign off his chest and untied his bonds.

He staggered when he stood. I tried to steady him, but he pushed me away. “I’m fine. Circulation cut off is all.”

I stood back and let him recover.

After he walked a few circles in the room, he stopped and focused on me. “Who are you?”

“My name is Ridley Brone.”

What color had returned to his face drained back out. He shuffled backward as if afraid of me. “No. You can’t…you can’t have…”

“I did. And judging by your reaction, you know exactly why I’m here.”

“The other man. He…”

“Was looking for her, too. I know.”

“How did you find me?”

“Once you hack through a few lies, finding someone is pretty easy.”

“But how do you know? How did
he
know?”

I wasn’t here to answer his questions. I was there to get answers—one answer in particular. The answer to the three year-old question. “Where is my daughter?”

He shook his head like he meant to shake it off his neck. “I can’t divulge that.”

“Will you divulge it to the police when they come in here with a warrant, looking for your records?”

He drifted over to a bookcase, drew his fingertips across the spines of what looked like medical texts. “I’m not afraid of the police.”

“It’s not the police you should worry about.” I tapped my thumb against my chest. “It’s me.”

“Will you hurt my family if I don’t tell you? Will you torture my grandchildren? Murder my wife? Castrate me?”

What the fuck?
“I was thinking more like a straight up fist to the kidneys.”

He drew his fingers away from the books, closed the hand into a fist, and stared at the fist as if he’d never seen one before. “I’m not afraid of a beating, either.” He uncurled his fist and dropped his hand to his side. “The other man hit me a few times.” He lifted his shirt, revealing the first yellowish shadows of the bruises to come. “It didn’t bother me at all.”

This guy had looked down too many throats and up too many noses. Who knew that could drive a person to insanity’s front door? “Are you a sadist or something?”

He smirked and let his shirt fall back. “Far from it.”

“Then what’s with all the torture talk?”

“Do you think Lincoln or me sat at the top of this operation? That it was us who somehow started it?”

I actually hadn’t thought about it at all. Bringing down the adoption ring, whoever had started it, was secondary to finding my daughter. But now that Shwineski had laid out the question, it demanded an answer. “Who?”

“If I tell you,” he said, a crazed look in his eyes that made his grin looked positively Grinch-like, “those things I spoke of will happen to me and my family.”

Jesus. This sounded like mob shit. I didn’t think there was much of a mob left in Michigan. “Are we talking mafia here?”

Shwineski shot out an abrupt laugh devoid of humor. “Worse than that.”

“What could be worse?”

“You’ll have to use your imagination, because I’m not saying any more.” He lifted his chin. “If you’re going to beat me, please get it over with.”

I stood there gaping at him like he’d smacked me in the face. What he was saying did not compute. “Did you tell the other guy anything?”

“Not any more than I’ve told you. Which is too much by far. I’ll ask you to leave or work out your frustrations on my body like the last fellow. But you’ll get no more talk from me. I’m done.”

I could look at it two ways. Silver lining—Bobby had hit a dead end trying to track down my daughter. Glass half empty—I had hit a dead end trying to track down my daughter.

“You’re worried about your family. I get that. But what about me? That’s my daughter out there, out of reach.”

“You don’t know your daughter. She might as well not exist to you. Most of your life, she didn’t. What makes now any different? For all intents and purposes, she’s not your daughter, Mr. Brone.”

I burned. “If I had known about her from the beginning, I never would have let her go.”

“Maybe. But don’t pretend you have any inkling of what it’s like to have children you know and love threatened as I do. My grandchildren are not some abstract concept. They are a part of my life.”

I shielded his words from sinking too deep. Fine, I didn’t know how he felt. He had no idea how I felt, either. I wouldn’t let someone responsible for tearing my daughter out of my life make me doubt my right to find her.

I stepped up close to him. Despite his claims that he wasn’t afraid, I could hear his breath quicken.

“Do what you want to me. I’m not talking.”

“I heard you the first time.” Then I reared back and punched him square in the face. The cartilage in his nose crackled like gristle on a fry pan. Blood gushed from his nostrils, some of it smearing across my knuckles.

He reeled, arms flailing for balance, and stayed on his feet only because he backed against the bookcase and clawed at a shelf to steady himself. Glaring at me, he wiped under his nose with the back of his hand. Blood streaked over his upper lip. “You’ve changed nothing with that.” He sounded congested, his voice muffled and nasal.

“It made me feel a little better,” I said. “Do you know what happened to your colleague, Lincoln Rice?”

“I know enough.”

“I was there when he blew his brains out,” I said. “When the time comes for you to do the same, I’ll make sure I’m there, too.”

“I have no intention of committing suicide.”

“Don’t worry. Next time you see me, I’ll help.”

Chapter 26

Next time you see me, I’ll help.

Yeah. I was a real tough guy, empty threats my specialty.

I sat in my booth at the
High Note
, though the bar wasn’t due to open for another three hours. The silence felt both wrong and right. On the table before me sat a bottle of
Tanqueray
, a glass with ice, and a lime wedge. I constructed myself a drink. Had to construct another one a minute later. Then a third, which I decided to savor. Getting sloppy drunk, as appealing as it sounded, wouldn’t help me a bit.

How it burned to have someone within reach who could tell me how to find my daughter, but had more motive to die than tell me. If what he said was true about the threat to his family, and the sick specificity he gave regarding their fate, I couldn’t break him.

There had to be another way to get that information from him. Break into his house and toss the place was one idea. Something told me I’d be hard pressed to find anything, though. No, it came down to somehow motivating Shwineski to talk. Threats wouldn’t work. This bee needed some honey.

What brand of honey that would work on Shwineski was a whole other story. But it gave me a place to start—the ENT doctor’s past.

As folks started filing in for the Saturday night karaoke, I watched for Hal, knowing I probably wouldn’t see him—though, God knew where bobby was keeping the poor old guy. I remembered the pictures taped to my door of me in the bar. It occurred to me if Bobby had taken those pictures, he also took a big risk in my recognizing him. In fact, I was surprised I hadn’t noticed him.

Which made me wonder if it was Bobby who had taken the photos at all. Did he have someone working with him? It would explain how he had kept an eye on me while staying ahead of me. In fact, I became certain he did have a partner in all this.

As if this wasn’t hard enough.

I kept my bottle of gin and glass at my table just so I could maintain the even buzz I had going. Paul had been surprisingly chipper when he arrived for work. Chipper for Paul meant he kept his scowl mostly in his eyes. He did not give me the shit I expected for leaving him high and dry the night before without even a phone call. He had taken one look at the bottle and grunted, leaving me alone while he set up for the coming night.

The music started with Holly taking the mic as she always did to let folks warm up to the idea of coming on stage themselves—or giving them time to throw back a few glasses of liquid courage first.

I shoved my mind off of Bobby for a moment, and directed my thought back to Eddie. I had almost forgotten he was dead. I half expected to see him slink in, his shoulders hunched, his lips screwed tight to one side.

BOOK: Rob Cornell - Ridley Brone 02 - The Hustle
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