Chapter 9: The Lost Boys

Another surreal day at the office passed in the awkward, jarring wake of Special Agent Tom Fine and his frankly unpleasant demeanor. Mike came in right after he left and cleaned up the cheese spread, moved it into the second conference room, and Meredith retrieved his cup, cleaning it at the sink and returning it to the rack.

Everything else seemed normal. My wife arrived in the afternoon and although she’d left again by the time I was finished with my back-to-back appointments, she did not have a shotgun. I called that a win. And down in Tom’s office, he had his face back in his hands and sounded like he was chanting something – more normal stuff. I conducted my appointments, one after the other, and since I’d fully prepared for them in advance, they were all uneventful.

After the last appointment, the staff started draining out of the office slowly, most of them stopping by my doorway to say goodbye, Tom slinking out the side door like a cat through an unattended window. Soon I was walking across the parking lot again, eyeing the cars around me as my heels clicked on the asphalt, and then I was in my car, heading home on the outer belt.

I started imagining grilling some chicken. I had some leg quarters in the refrigerator, and a batch of homemade barbecue sauce my brother had given me. I thought about an ice-cold martini, shaken up nice so the tiny ice crystals floated around in it like snow and began to design the exact timing of it. I thought I’d get the chicken on the grill, flipped them a couple of times, and then leave them on low with the lid closed for a good half an hour. I thought about fifteen minutes into that would be the perfect spot to shake up the martini. I’d sit there on the back patio, smelling the roasting chicken, sipping the martini, and not thinking about kidnappings, elaborate murder plots, or irrational shakedowns by federal agents.

I’d made a salad that morning, and there was a fresh baguette on the counter. When the chicken was done, I’d open a bottle of Fat Tire Amber Ale, and have a magnificent meal with my wife and daughter at the back patio table. Or by myself, if they weren’t around to enjoy it.

Just thinking about it made me realize the tension that had ridden about in my neck and back muscles all day. I tilted my head around as I drove, stretching the tendons, and I could feel how I could will the muscles to loosen up just by really focusing on the fact that they were tense.

My family made a solid attempt to break up my relaxation plan, but I held firm. When I walked in, my daughter shook me down for sixty bucks for something very, very, vitally important that nearly had her on the verge of tears before I’d even said anything. I forked it over and she perked right back up, heading out the door to get whatever it was I’d just bought for her. And that was fine. Sixty bucks, a small price to pay for a nice relaxing chicken dinner and a martini and a beer.

Then I found my wife in the kitchen. She was all for the chicken dinner idea, said she was starving. I asked her if she’d had fun with Becky.

“I did. Have you seen their remodel? Place looks amazing, Carl’s office looks like it should be in a skyscraper, all sleek, modern furniture. Becky said he went completely digital about three months ago, everything stored in the cloud, just a laptop and an iPad and some charging ports discreetly built into his little mahogany wet bar by the window. Anything that was on paper or analog went into storage.”

“Did they get that granite countertop they’ve been talking about?”

“They did, and they screened in the back porch. Makes me want to throw some money around.”

“Fantastic, how was the firing range.”

“It was great. I’m thinking about taking classes.”

“Where’s your shotgun?”

“Charlene?” She motioned across the kitchen. “She’s on top of the fridge.”

I winced, remembering that I’d decided to hold off on getting worried about the shotgun until she gave it a name. But nope, I wasn’t going to worry. I needed my martini-and-chicken dinner. Welcome to the family, Charlene.

I had the chicken marinating in a tub in the refrigerator. I frowned at Charlene as I got the chicken out and headed out to the back patio. A bad feeling was growing in my gut, and a dull, throbbing alarm was going off in my head, so I started whistling to drown them both out. I pulled the cover off the grill and tossed it over one of the patio chairs, kept right on whistling while I open the grill and gave it a scrub. My dog Skylar had followed me into the back yard and was loping around, playing with a tennis ball that had been left out there.

Once the chicken was arranged on the grill and the burners were set where I wanted them, I went back inside to move the martini a little up on the schedule. Somehow I knew I wasn’t going to get it, though, even as I got out a tumbler, even as I watched ice drop out of the slot on the refrigerator into the shaker. I brought out the olives anyway, thumping them down on the counter and frowning at them for a moment.

Then the doorbell rang because of course, the doorbell rang. In the living room, I heard Julia and Charlene heading over to the front window to take a look. Whoever it was knocked urgently, way too soon after ringing.

“Couple of guys I don’t know,” Julia called out from the other room.

I sighed and walked to the front doors. The last time two guys showed up, it had been very bad news indeed. But last time two guys showed up, my wife and Charlene hadn’t been here. I opened the door.

Jeremy and Jackson de Modelo were standing there, Jackson sporting a fat lip and a blackened left eye, while Jeremy stood just in front of him, rubbing the knuckles on his right hand. They were raw and bled from little scrapes like black-eyed peas. At first, I assumed they’d been in a fight with each other and Jackson had lost, but both of them were darting their eyes around, and they stood close to each other as if for protection. There seemed to be no animosity between the two of them, but they were worked up about something.

“We didn’t know where else to go,” Jackson blurted out.

I frowned. I could think of all sorts of places they could go which were not my house. My gaze drifted over their shoulders at the street, where a large blue food truck was sloppily parked at the curb. I said, “Is that your ride?”

Jeremy said, “Look you were always Dad’s attorney. You’re the family attorney. And we can’t go to the cops or the feds, because there’s this scary FBI agent who thinks we’re lying about everything.”

“I’ve met him. What happened?”

“A couple of guys driving this food truck ran us off the road, over on Riverside,” Jeremy said, his eyes still darting around.

“We kicked their asses though, dog,” added Jackson.

“I don’t know about ‘we,’” Jeremy said.

I didn’t either. I said, “Was one of them wearing a clown mask?”

“No,” Jeremy said. “It was a guy who looked like a wizard, and a guy with a pantyhose over his head.”

“Sounds like my pal Sparkles got a new outfit. You’d better come in.”

I took them through the house and sat them down at the back table, where the chicken was starting to sizzle through the lid of the grill, the aroma rising mildly around us. Julia and Charlene brought out some towels and rubbing alcohol and a bag of ice, for their various injuries while I sent texts to Carl and Mike, telling them that I needed them at my house as soon as they could get there. My dog gave both of the men a thorough sniffing and then sat down next to me, scowling at them.

Mike’s text came back with almost alarming speed. He was on his way.

“We were at the Riverfront because we’d just been by Dad’s house,” Jeremy explained. “Literally, we drove by it on Cosgray, and you can see the whole front of the house from the road. A guy was leaving the house, and it sure looked like he kissed Chelsea goodbye, but we couldn’t see who he was from the road. So we stopped in to talk about what to do, whether or not we should confront her or what.

“I was even thinking it was you, DuPont,” Jackson said. “But you have that Highlander, this was a dark-colored BMW, late model. Hair was darker than yours. Mom always said Chelsea was a serious…”

I cut him off. “Okay, I got it.”

It felt like bait, this idea that my client was in an adulterous relationship, and I wasn’t much for taking the bait. Still, if it were true, that would be a mind-bending shift in my understanding of the whole situation. I couldn’t take much that either of these guys said seriously, but they were clearly rattled, and showing no signs of deception.

“So we were pulling out of the Riverfront Saloon,” Jeremy explained. “And the food truck was hard to miss, it was right there in the office building parking lot next door, backed into a spot so it could be ready to take off. They were waiting on us.”

“Wait to be clear, you’ve been drinking,” I said.

“Yes,” they replied in unison, and I frowned at them some more, thinking about the martini that would have to wait until whatever this was cleared up.

“Another reason we couldn’t go to the cops,” Jackson added helpfully.

I clapped my hand to my face without realizing I was doing it. Another text buzzed into my phone and my hand came back down again to check it. Carl was also on his way. I hadn’t even told them what was going on.

“We were driving the Corvette,” Jeremy went on. “Oh, man, the Corvette. These guys just pulled up next to us and then started drifting over into our lane. I saw them coming and thought maybe they were just drunk or something, and I started to drift out of their way into the berm.”

“I flipped them off,” Jackson announced proudly.

“He did, and I glanced up at them and saw that the guy in the passenger seat had a pantyhose on his head and it just startled me. He looked like a zombie or something at first. So I jerked the Corvette into the park around the curve there, just south of the Riverfront.”

I didn’t know where the Riverfront Saloon was, but I knew there were a lot of parks around the river so I nodded, wanting to move this along.

“They just rammed us,” Jeremy said, throwing his hands up. “They hit us like a linebacker, trying to push us into the river. I couldn’t do anything but steer us into a tree, and then Jackson got his door open and grabbed a tire iron.”

“I always keep it upfront for situations like this,” Jackson said, sort of swaggeringly proud of himself despite his black eye and fat lip. Didn’t look to me like the tire iron came in all that handy.

The two of them then began to simultaneously describe the fight, talking over each other and using a lot of physicalities to reenact each swing. It sounded like they were talking about two different fights, so I told them both to shut up, then asked Jackson to stay quiet while his brother spoke. The story that came out was both hilarious and horrifying.

By the time Jeremy got out of the car, Jackson had already been relieved of his trusty tire iron by the man wearing the pantyhose on his head. Jackson had ran at him with the tire iron as he climbed out of the passenger seat of the food truck, and the guy simply opened the passenger door all the way to block the tire iron, jarring Jackson’s shoulder and stunning him for a second.

A second was long enough for my old friend Sparkles to drive his fist into Jackson’s gut, knocking the wind out of him. Jeremy then described himself as diving across the roof of the Corvette like Bo and/or Luke Duke, landing on his feet and then effectively boxing the guy for a few seconds.

“I was sticking and I was moving,” he said. “It was solid, man.”

Jackson had hit the ground and was just climbing to his feet as the wizard came around the back of the food truck at a run, punching him twice in the face before Jeremy got to him, taking out his knee and then managing to kick him on his way to the ground.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Jeremy said. “They were both climbing to their feet and I didn’t want to have to keep fighting them over and over, and I didn’t want to like, accidentally kill anyone or anything. Then I noticed the food truck was still running, so I screamed at Jackson to get into it. I dove over the car again, just slid right over like a movie star, man, and I jumped behind the wheel, put it in gear, and got us out of here.”

“That guy really needs to get into the habit of putting his keys in his pocket,” I said. “Listen. You left the scene of an accident, and your car is still there, no doubt getting the plates run by a law enforcement officer. You’re going to need a criminal defense lawyer. I’m going to give you my pal Tracy’s number, you want to put this in your phone, Jeremy?”

I read the number out of my phone, and then the back door opened and Michael Mueller arrived, looking both interested and annoyed behind his magnificent mustache. He looked at Jeremy and Jackson, but didn’t introduce himself and didn’t ask who they were. He just said, “What’s going on?”

“Carl’s on his way,” I told him.

“He’s out in the car. He texted me and asked me to pick him up. He’s on the phone with his wife then he’ll be right in.”

“These are Arturo’s sons. They were attacked by the same two guys I was. Sounds like they’re getting desperate. They tried to kill him.”

Michael sort of shrugged. He wasn’t too attached to the de Modelo boys. “Is Tom coming too?”

“No, it’s after five o’clock, he’ll have forgotten all about his phone until morning by now.”

“Right. So what’s the plan?”

“We’re going to wait till Carl gets off the phone, and then we’re going to go over to Maxwell Mechanical and see if we can catch these guys.”

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