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 (6 page)

BOOK: Rob Cornell - Ridley Brone 02 - The Hustle
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I ran through that whole conversation in my head as I raised a hand to signal Paul to bring me another drink. I hoped gin and tonic number four might have all the answers in its liquid loveliness. If not, at least I’d get a good buzz out of it.

Paul brought me the drink. I sipped while listening to the karaoke host, Holly, take the mic and give everyone a break from the ear scratching amateurs. She took it down a notch, treating her throaty alto to “The Very Thought of You.” An otherwise perfect song became marred to me as it brought up thoughts of Autumn.

How long would it take me to get over her?

Too long already.

Halfway through my drink, I had the buzz, but no answers. Just a lot of confused speculation. Two con men. Two different cons. Both marks who had recently connected over a case that tied into the first con.

Really? I mean,
Really?
What kind of messed up shit had I stepped in?

I’d have to sleep on it. Tomorrow I could head back to the library, look at the research from a grifter’s perspective.

I hadn’t expected a morning visit to slow me down.

Chapter 6

The pounding woke me up from a perfectly good and dreamless sleep. A rare commodity ever since I learned I had a daughter out in the word somewhere, sold like a discount appliance. I thought the pounding might be my head. But I didn’t have a headache. I felt pretty well rested, in fact.

When the pounding came again, I figured it out. Why, I wondered, couldn’t people learn to use the doorbell? I could sleep through that.

I threw on my pants and did the wobbly walk of sleepiness down stairs to answer the door. I had forgotten what month it was. I wasn’t wearing a shirt and the winter wind sent a shock of cold straight through me, doing a better job of waking me up than chewing on raw coffee beans would.

I jerked back from the open door and wrapped my arms around me. Only after that initial blast of freeze, did I take note of my guest. Eddie. He had himself bundled in a parka, a snow crusted scarf, and a knit cap pulled down so low it covered his eyebrows. A swirl of snow blew in behind him.

“Jesus Christ,” I shouted. “Get in here.”

He stepped in, and I swung the door shut, shivering like a hype in need of a fix.

While Eddie stamped the snow off his boots, he said, “Aren’t you cold?”

Well, duh. I rubbed my arms, trying to work back some feeling. “Is it storming out there?”

“Supposed to get six inches today.” He pulled his cap off and began unwinding his scarf. Clumps of snow dropped to the runner at his feet. “Roads already suck.”

“I’m going to get a shirt on, maybe some thermal underwear. Then you can tell me why you’re here.”

Like I said, I don’t use too many rooms in the house. I led Eddie back to the kitchen, where I ate most my meals and, more importantly, kept the coffee pot. My parents left me with this fancy Bunn coffee maker. At first, I looked at it askance. Then I discovered how fast it could brew a damn good cup of Joe.

I used the heavy stuff that morning. The darkest blend I could find in the cupboards. Nothing like a caffeine shock to the system to help get you through a cold, blustery day.

Coffee brewed, I offered some to Eddie, but he refused. So I poured myself a cup and was about to sit down when—

“He called me again.”

I jerked to a halt. A wave of hot coffee rolled over the top of my cup and splashed my hand. I used some of the more choice curses in my arsenal while I set the cup down and rinsed my hand in cold water.

“You okay?” Eddie asked.

“Not the most coordinated guy in the morning.”

“You do realize it’s ten o’ clock.”

“Still morning, right?”

He flashed a smile, not very convincing. “How do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Turn everything into a joke even when everything sucks.”

“Takes practice. Tough making new friends, though. I doth quip too much.”

He shook his head. I couldn’t tell if he was disgusted or amused. Didn’t matter.

I eased into my chair at the table. “Your con man called again?”

“I don’t think he’s conning, Ridley.” He stared me in the eye, his eyes rimmed red with dark circles underneath. “I really don’t.”

“We’ve been through this. All the details he knows were in—”

“He knows about the sticker.”

The smell of my coffee turned bitter. The inset lighting along the kitchen’s ceiling grew too dim. I craved sunlight. Great big blasts of genuine UV. Wasn’t going to happen in the midst of a typical gray Michigan winter. “Did you ever tell anyone else about that?”

“Just the police.”

That didn’t sit well with me. I’d had my trouble with the local cops after one of their own—and an old friend of mind—was killed in a trap meant for me. I didn’t want to consider one of them had decided to use Eddie’s case as a quick buck. Most of the guys working back then were probably retired by now. Could one of them have decided their pension wouldn’t provide the cozy living he wanted for his golden years?

Farfetched, but you had to go where the facts took you. “No one else? You’re certain?”

“No one. I hadn’t even thought about that sticker until you questioned me yesterday.” He picked at the table, gaze askew. “I’ve been thinking. Why would anyone con me? I don’t have anything to give. I’m broke. I can barely pay my water bill.”

The whole grifter angle had crowded my mind—after all, if I had a con man, shouldn’t everybody?—I had overlooked that one obvious detail. “Maybe he’s not after money.”

“What else could he possibly want?”

“You’d have to tell me. Anything you’ve held back, or didn’t think to tell me because you didn’t think it was important at the time?”

He shook his head. “Nothing.”

I leaned back and digested this, glancing at my coffee, which had stopped steaming. The gurgle of the coffee maker refilling its tank of preheated water sounded like a growling stomach. Or maybe that was my stomach, asking for breakfast. “What did the guy say when he called back?”

“He said if I had any doubts he was who he said he was I should think about the sticker.”

“What else?”

“That’s it. He hung up on me.”

I wrapped a hand around my coffee mug. The ceramic had already turned cool. I pushed the cup away. “I don’t know what to think.”

“Isn’t it obvious,” Eddie said. “He’s telling the truth. He killed my family.”

I told Eddie I needed time to process this new turn, saw him out, then went up to my bedroom to my computer and pulled up my internet browser—I told you I was weird about using other rooms in the house.

The idea of heading out to the library in the middle of a snowstorm did not appeal. The internet would have to do. I logged into the library’s periodical database, but discovered what I’d expected. Most of the articles from twenty years ago weren’t available digitally. I tried another tactic, surfing over to the
Tribune’s
website and accessing their archives. Again I hit the same dead end. The online archive only went back three years. I could have called the paper and asked if they could rifle through their on-site archives for the stories I was looking for. Unlike the PIs on TV, I didn’t have a special source at the paper. Calling up and asking a stranger if they could go through all the articles pertaining to the Arndt murder/suicide to look for any mention of a torn sticker…well, they would think I’m even more nuts than I actually was.

Faced with the ugly reality that I’d have to slough through the snow if I wanted to get anywhere, I bundled up and headed out.

I looked for two things while scanning the same articles I had the day before. First, any information about next of kin, friends of the family, reporters that seemed to have more information than others—anyone who might have had a connection to Eddie back then that, if I were a grifter, I could target for more information. I also looked for any mention of that sticker. An insignificant detail to the cops, but it might provide the dramatic flair to a reporter’s narrative about poor Eddie Arndt, the victim of the hour, who they would all forget about after a few news cycles.

The only thing I found mentioned Eddie’s grandmother, who had taken Eddie in after the tragedy. No stickers, though. Grandma was family, though. She would have spent time in the house, possibly noticed the ripped sticker. In this biz, you take what you can get.

Alas, it didn’t take me long to find her obituary in an issue of the
Tribune
from six years ago. She died at age 79. Not as long as some grandmas these days, but not exactly a short life. The obituary didn’t give any details about actual cause of death. Old age, probably. A heart attack or stroke. Out of curiosity, I did a little searching and found a small blurb on the back pages of the
Tribune
, where the paper gathered all the local tidbits—parades, wedding announcements, bake sales, charity auctions, and the occasional story about a lost member of the community.

Ruby Arndt had a nice little piece about her involvement with the animal shelter, a small mention of her taking Eddie in after his “tragic loss,” and the kicker—how she had died. Apparently she had mixed up her medications before bed one night. The mistake proved fatal. She died in her sleep. A “peaceful exit of a blessed soul” according to the article.

But not a natural death.

The curse of Eddie Arndt had struck again. Only there was no such thing as curses. And while I did believe in coincidence, there comes a time when you have to admit there’s a pattern, no matter how far flung.

Four members of his family and one soon-to-be wife, all killed by unnatural causes. Eddie wasn’t cursed.

He was a target.

Chapter 7

“Now you believe me?” Eddie’s jaw nearly hit the table.

“I think so. I’m not sure.”

We sat in my booth at the back of the
High Note
. I’d have rather been in my office, but I had this odd sense of responsibility to watch over the bar during operating hours. Part of the baggage that came along with that whole deal with my parents.

A girl no bigger than a twelve year-old—though definitely over twenty-one, or she couldn’t have gotten into the bar—had the mic. She sang “People” and put Streisand to shame. How such a big voice could come from such a little woman, I had no idea. Nice change from the usual. Though, speaking of the usual, I noted Hal’s absence again. Two nights in a row without Hal. Didn’t feel like the same place.

BOOK: Rob Cornell - Ridley Brone 02 - The Hustle
13.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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