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 (31 page)

BOOK: Rob Cornell - Ridley Brone 02 - The Hustle
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“I didn’t ruin anything. You ruined it yourself when you took advantage of Mort one too many times.”

“I took care of him till the end. I did everything for him. Bathed him, dressed him, sat with him for hours at a time. I even wiped his damn ass.”

“You’re his son. That’s your duty.”

“That’s rich coming for the guy who abandoned his parents because he didn’t want to sing. Where are they now? Did you spend the last six months of their life with them?”

I unleashed. My fists pumped like pistons, slamming into his abdomen over and over until Bobby started coughing blood and sprayed my face with it. I staggered back, panting, the muscles in my arms and shoulders burning.

Bobby hung limp, eyelids drooping, swath of hair stuck to his sweaty forehead.

Paul startled me when I place a hand on my shoulder. I hadn’t seen him approach. “Come on,” he said. “We’re done.”

I gave Bobby one last hateful look. Then I let Paul guide me out of the cellar.

I ran for the bathroom and puked in the toilet. My sides cramped from my heaving so hard. I felt clammy, shaky, and the image of Bobby’s bloody and beaten body kept flickering across my mind’s eye, prompting another heave each time. I would never wash what I had done to him off my soul.

Eventually I regained control over my quivering stomach, washed my face, and met Paul back in the kitchen. He had the laptop open and was perusing the files about my daughter.

About Lisa.

He looked up as I sat at the table. “You sure this isn’t faked?”

He obviously hadn’t gotten to the most conclusive evidence. “Click open the file marked ‘Insurance.’”

Paul swiped at the touchpad then tapped it. His brow furled. “I don’t get it. Who are these people?”

He was looking at a scanned photograph, the image of which had seared itself permanently to my brain. I could see it as clear as if I were looking at it myself. Either Shwineski had lied about not giving information to Bobby, or Bobby had found some other way to get at Shwineski’s records. “The one on the far left is Lincoln Rice, Autumn’s father. The woman to his right is Dr. Lee. The guy on his left is Dr. Kahn. The couple holding the baby are Lisa’s adoptive parents, for lack of a better term. I imagine Shwineski took the photo.” The picture had a date stamp too—about two weeks after Autumn gave birth.

“How do you know that’s your daughter or those are her parents?”

“Now click into the folder labeled ‘Spawn Pics.’”

Paul made a face and shook his head. He used the touchpad again to open the folder. His eyes scanned the screen. He was looking at a series of thumbnail photos.

“If you look through them, you’ll find a picture of Lisa with her parents.”

I watched his eyes move until they stopped. He tapped open a photo. He mouth opened, eyes widened. “Holy shit.”

“It’s the same couple,” I said.

“So the first photo? That was what?”

“Insurance, just like the label says. Shwineski was the record keeper. Playing it smart meant making a record of those involved in the…transaction. I’d bet money Lee and Kahn have, and Rice
had
, a similar photo, only with Shwineski in them.”

“Wouldn’t someone have found it going through Rice’s things after his death?”

“Who knows where he kept it? Maybe there’s a safety deposit box somewhere out there with the photo in it. I’d doubt Lee or Rice would have let Shwineski take this picture without getting one of their own. If fact, I bet there’s a slew of pics like it featuring the other parents.”

“Gotta make sure everyone’s ass is covered in case the parents’ had second thoughts.”

“Yep.”

Paul shook his head. He closed the laptop and folded his meaty hands on top. I noticed his knuckles looked a little pink and raw. “Now what?”

I sucked in my lower lip and bit down. The magic question. I had done what I had strove to do for three years. I had found her. But I had never thought what I would do once that day came. Approach her? Tell her who I was? Confront her…I didn’t want to call them parents, but what else were they after all this time raising her? What would that accomplish? Did I want to take her away? Claim her like a piece of stolen property? From the pictures I saw, she wasn’t in any duress. Her parents looked like they loved her like real parents do. She had a whole life without me. Would letting her know I even existed do her any good? Or would it only disrupt what looked like a normal, happy life?

I ran my fingers through my hair and sighed. “I don’t know. I do not know.”

What I
did
know? I had other business to attend to. Another case to focus on, giving my subconscious time to noodle with what to do about Lisa. (Not a name I would have chosen; not that there was anything
wrong
with the name.)

First things first, we had to deal with Bobby. Paul offered to take him back to his car over by Angie’s. We unhooked him from the pipe and half carried him up out of the cellar and out to Paul’s car. Bobby could barely walk on his own. The whole thing reminded me of a time we’d been out drinking together and I ended up having to carry him out of the bar.

We flopped Bobby into the backseat and re-cuffed his hands behind his back.

He gave me a bleary eyed look. “We’re not done.”


I’m
done,” I said. “Get out of Hawthorne after you heal up. Go home. There’s people there worried about you. They think you’re still worth saving.”

He chuffed. “You don’t have a clue.”

I didn’t want one. I slammed the door shut and turned to Paul. My breath puffed in the cold air when I spoke. “You’ve gone above and beyond, my friend.”

That got me his signature sideways smile. “You can thank me with that raise we talked about.”

“Consider it done. Double what you make now sound fair?”

“Are you fucking shitting me?”

I patted him on the arm. “See you tonight.”

I watched him drive off, then got into my own car and headed to Shawn’s place. On the way I called Detective Shanks.

I no sooner introduced myself and she asked, “Find anything?”

“What? No small talk?”

“You know, witty quips don’t work when you sound like someone just kicked you in the balls.”

Perceptive. I liked that. I really wished she and I had met under different circumstances. “Metaphorically, you’d be right. But that’s another issue. I have a photograph of the guy I suspect killed Eddie.”

“You suspect how?”

“It shows him exiting Eddie’s apartment with a date stamp that puts it on the day and around the time Eddie had his so-called accident.”

“And you’re headed here with the photo I assume?”

“No,” I said. “It’s not enough for you to act.”

“It’s enough to give us something to push with.”

“I know. But I’d probably have better luck with the pushing, seeing as I have a little more leeway with the rules.”

“No,” she said, drawing out the word. “No leeway. You bring that photo here and we’ll do this right.”

I turned the corner onto Shawn’s block. “I’ll let you know what he tells me.”

“Don’t do anything stupid. Who is it? Who’s in this photo?”

“If I told you that, you’d try to come help.” I pulled right into Shawn’s driveway. The time for subtlety and sneaking had ended. “Or stop me.”

“Mr. Brone, I like you. Don’t make me change my mind.”

“Be honest. Your superior has already got you working a different case. A
real
homicide. Not some bullshit this cop killing private dick is ranting about.”

“No one has come out and called you a cop killer.”

“Comforting.” I drew my gun and checked the load. Good to go. “Even if I bring the photo, you can’t act on it. You know that. As nice as you were to me at the scene, you can’t follow up on this because the department’s already classed it an accident.”

“That doesn’t mean I can’t do a little digging on my own time.”

I slid my gun back into my holster, cut the car engine, and climbed out from the heated car into a cold that bit extra hard. Twilight had night close on its tale. The last blue-gray light would give way to darkness in an hour at most.

“This is going to take more than a little digging,” I said, staring at that darkening horizon. “This calls for more of a jackhammer approach.”

“If you’re off on your own, why are you bothering to call me?”

“In case something happens to me. I have a copy of the photo on my home computer. I labeled it ‘My Killer’ just in case.”

“Not funny.”

“I know.” I hesitated a second, a few words on my mind I wanted to say and felt just reckless enough to say them. “Next time I see you, I’m going to ask you out. If I come out of this a little bruised, you’ll feel so sorry for me, you’ll have to say yes.”

“Quit screwing around and tell me where you’re going.”

“Nowhere,” I said. “I’m already there.” I hung up before she could try again to talk me out of this.

Shawn must have heard me pull in because he stared at me through the glass of his storm door.

I tucked my phone in my pocket and approached the house.

He let me in on the pretense that I only wanted to ask a few more questions about Eddie. He had no idea why I was really there. I could tell from his confident demeanor, he didn’t even suspect I might know what I did.

That is, if what I knew amounted to anything. The photo was circumstantial at best. Though it did raise the question—why hadn’t he mentioned the visit when I told him about Eddie’s death? Something like:
What do you mean he’s dead? I was just over there and he was fine!

Shawn invited me into his living room. A wide screen television was tuned to ESPN. They were recapping the recent Lions versus Bears game. Bears won, twenty-one to zip.

“I’d offer a beer,” he said, “but my wife doesn’t let me drink in the house. You want a pop?”

“I’m good.” I jerked a chin at the TV. “Fucking Lions.”

“I know. The Rapture will happen before they see the Super Bowl.” He crossed the room and dropped into an easy chair. He picked up a fifteen pound barbell from the floor and started doing curls. “So what do you need to know?”

“You made funeral arrangements yet?”

“Yeah. Viewing on Thursday. Funeral’s Friday.” If he was a killer, he knew how to keep his cool, and lie like a snake. “Cops said it was an accident. You still think it wasn’t?”

I shrugged. I could play cool, too. “Eddie was a client who died in the middle of an investigation. I like to tie up loose ends and that’s a whopper.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because it steps over the line from coincidence to pattern. See, the whole time I was looking into things for Eddie, I kept assuming something. But assumptions can kill an investigation as quick as anything.”

He stopped mid curl, eyes full of fake interest. “What were you assuming?”

“That his problems were the same as mine, and anything that contradicted that had to be a weird coincidence. Then I found a pattern that just seemed too ridiculous to be true. So I let myself get sidetracked.”

“I don’t follow.”

The volume on the TV was on the low side, but the incessant chattering about this amazing play and that failed pass distracted me. “Can we turn that off?”

He set down his barbell, picked up his remote from an end table, and clicked the TV off. “What pattern are you talking about?”

BOOK: Rob Cornell - Ridley Brone 02 - The Hustle
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