Free Kindle Nation Shorts -- February 12, 2012
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In This Issue
About the Author: Erik Hanberg
KINDLE FIRE Giveaway Sweepstakes!
Two More for Kindle by Erik Hanberg
An Excerpt from THE MARINARA MURDERS by Erik Hanberg

About the Author: Erik Hanberg

Erik Hanberg

 


Erik Hanberg has been a writer all his life. Novels, screenplays, plays, even a stray poem or two. 
 
Arthur Beautyman Mysteries 

The Saints Go Dying (2010) and The Marinara Murders (2011) are about Arthur Beautyman, a computer hacker turned detective. While The Marinara Murders follows The Saints Go Dying, it stands wholly on its own, and readers should not feel they have to read the first book to understand it. 
 
Nonprofit Fundraising 

Based on his years of nonprofit fundraising and leadership, Hanberg published The Little Book of Gold, a fundraising guide for small (and very small) nonprofits. 
 
When he was just 23, Erik Hanberg was hired to run a non-profit arts organization with an annual budget just over $600,000. Two years later, he had increased the budget to $800,000, and increasing fundraising more than 400%. 

Since then he has worked in development at multi-million dollar non-profit, and has volunteered on many boards. 
 
He is currently the Executive Director of a small civic non-profit and sits on the distribution committee for a foundation that gives away more than $200,000 a year. 

He lives in Tacoma Washington with his wife Mary, where in addition to writing novels, he is a Park Commissioner. 
 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

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The Marinara Murders

 

A Free Excerpt from

The Marinara Murders

 

by

Erik Hanberg

 

 

Arthur Beautyman is a computer hacker turned detective.  In the second book in the series about him, introduced in today's 12,000-word Free Kindle Nation Short, Beautyman has fallen on hard times.

 

A grown man living in his mother's basement, and a disgraced detective, Beautyman knows his life has fallen off a cliff. 

 

But that doesn't mean he has to be happy about his mother's solution to his woes: volunteering him to solve a case for her favorite bridge partner. 

 

Oh, and to make matters worse, she wants to be his partner on the case as well .. 

 

    

by Erik Hanberg

4.8  Stars  -  4 Reviews

 

Text-to-Speech and Lending: Enabled

 

Click here to begin reading the free excerpt

 

Here's the set-up:  

 

In a sequel to the first book in the authors series, The Saints Go Dying, we find Det. Arthur Beautyman feeling a bit disgraced after leaving the force in California and now living in his mother's basement in Minnesota. 

 

So his life took a downhill slide, he has his computer and can be quite happy where he is, or so he thinks. His mother has other plans for him, like doing what he does best, being a detective. 

 

One of his mother's bridge partners, Julie Diamond, wants to hire him to find out where her grandson had been the past three years. The catch:  he committed suicide, or so everyone thought. His body was never found until the present. 

 

Now for the mystery--where has he been for the past 3 years and why did he not contact anyone? How did he happen to wind up dead now? With Beautyman taking the case, he has to make his mother a partner to keep her from telling Julie everything he finds out. Now the fun begins . -   (Editor's note:  Thanks to Reviewer Lynn for her expanded "set-up" summary.)


From the reviewers:

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Marinara Murders. I found myself caring what happened to the characters, especially Arthur Beautyman, who looks like he may find a little redemption, along with plenty of future adventures, in his new calling as a P.I. partner with his mom. -- Jane P. Edwards

A very quick and entertaining read. I literally read this book in a 24 hour period while on vacation. I am an avid follower of detective/PI characters such as Harry Bosch, Elvis Cole/Joe Pike, Jim Knighthorse, etc... Arthur Beautyman's character development is quite different than that of the others I enjoy reading about. However, Beautyman's character is brilliant in that it is much easier to relate to him as a PERSON as opposed to strictly seeing him as a hardened cop or an arrogant PI. In addition to the superb character development of Beautyman, this story had wonderful twists and turns - Dave

This was a very enjoyable read and I found very hard to put down when I started. There are more twists and turns through the book with intrigue and suspense to keep the reader very involved. The characters were well rounded and very easy to connect with. - Reviewer Lynn 

 

 

By Erik Hanberg

            

  

More
Two More For Kindle 
By Erik Hanberg
 
Excerpt    

Free Kindle Nation Shorts - February 12, 2012

 

An Excerpt from

The Marinara Murders

By

Erik Hanberg

Copyright © 2012 by Erik Hanberg and published here with his permission


 

  

 

Chapter 1

 

Arthur Beautyman sat unmoving in his mom's basement, trying to ignore the hard thump of her heel on the floor above him.

"Arthur!" Ruth called. He heard her heel fall again. "Julie stayed late to see you!"

Julie Diamond was Ruth's favorite bridge partner. Since moving back in with his mother he'd noticed that Ruth tended to cancel Thursday bridge parties if she couldn't have Julie across the table from her. He knew she was one of his mom's closest friends, but he hadn't warmed to her. Like the rest of his mom's new friends, he felt she was an imposter-an older parody of the women he remembered visiting the house when he was a child.

But Beautyman was no longer a child. He was a 41-year-old man currently hiding from company in the basement. And even he was getting a little embarrassed by his mother's shouts and stomps.

Beautyman pressed a key on the computer keyboard that sent his screen into lockdown. Now only a 20-digit password would unlock the computer. It would take the Feds, or anyone else for that matter, years to crack through the 256-bit cipher to gain access.

He stood and grabbed a ticket to the Vikings game later that night. It wasn't for another couple hours but he would use the game as an excuse to leave if he needed to.

"There you are, Arthur. I thought you were ignoring me," Ruth said as her son appeared in the doorway to the kitchen.

"I had my headphones on, Mom," Beautyman answered. He kissed the top of her head and went to the cabinet. "Would you care for a drink, Mrs. Diamond?" he asked, pulling a glass out.

"Good heavens, she's been sitting here for two hours and you think I haven't offered her something?" Ruth asked.

"I'm fine, thank you, Arthur. Ruth made me some tea," Julie answered.

Beautyman looked over at her as he filled his glass from the sink. She didn't look fine. In fact, he might have guessed that she had been sitting at the table for two hours without even a glass of water. Her skin was ghastly pale and an uneven application of makeup couldn't hide it. Over her head she wore a bright red turban, tight against her temples with not a hair showing underneath it.

"You like it?" Julie asked, putting her hand to her head. "It's a little like that poem. I figured if I had to wear something right now it should at least be pretty, right?" She gave a small forced laugh, and Beautyman was impressed she could muster that.

He sat at the table across from her and rested his forearms on the cool Formica surface. "I do like it. It looks warm too."

"I've lived in Minnesota all my life but I had no understanding of how cold it actually was. Without my hair the chill just cuts through me." Julie looked down at her teacup. Beautyman couldn't tell whether she expected a response and without one, the room fell into an awkward silence.

"She has a case for you," Ruth said several seconds later.

Beautyman's head snapped up in surprise. He'd assumed this was a social visit, that his mother had wanted him to spend 20 minutes with her friend avoiding the topic of pancreatic cancer. He hadn't imagined that Julie Diamond was here to see him. Although wasn't that exactly what his mother had been shouting?

He didn't even know where to begin. "Ah ... Mrs. Diamond, I don't know what my mother's told you-"

"That you were the best detective the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department ever saw," Ruth cut in. "It's the truth and you know it."

 "I'm not in L.A. anymore."

"You can be a detective here."

She said it with the force of someone who had no idea what she was talking about, Beautyman thought. Like when she deleted the first chapter of her "memoirs" from the computer and insisted that he could bring them back. "I'm done with all that. No department is going to hire me after what happened."

"I'm not asking you to join up again, Arthur. Just get your feet wet as a private detective and see if you still like it."

"I don't want to do it, Mom!"

"He's just being obstinate, Julie, but he'll hear you out," Ruth said, changing strategies.

For the second time in as many minutes, Beautyman couldn't think of a response. Not that he'd mounted an elegant argument in the first place. For the last four months it felt like he was 16 and pleading with his mom to change his 10:00 curfew.

He sulked, barely tuning in as Ruth tried to convince Julie to unload her problem onto Beautyman. Clearly his involvement was his mother's idea, he thought. Or maybe he'd put up too much of a fight in front of his mom's friend. He winced.

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Diamond, my mother and I seem to have that fight more and more often," he said. "But now you've got me curious." It was a lame explanation partnered with a lame smile, but Julie stopped packing tissues into her purse. So maybe she did want his help.

"It's my grandson, Jake. He's been gone for so long ... no one imagined we'd ever see him again."

"When did he leave?" Beautyman asked.

"Three years ago. There was a note that made it sound like he ... like he was going to drown himself in Lake Calhoun. When he disappeared the police searched the lake but there was no body, just his jacket. But we all knew. He'd been having such a hard time ... We just knew that he had gone through with it.

"Since then we've had so much death visit our family. First Jake's mom-my daughter-in-law Ellen. She died two years ago in a car accident. Then my diagnosis just a few months ago ... it's been too much. Nathan never came back like he promised-he's on Wall Street doing who-knows-what. And May is in Europe thinking she's getting cultured but probably just drinking a lot."

"Nathan and May?" Beautyman asked.

"All grandchildren. Nate's the oldest, then Jake, then May."

He wished he had a pen to keep track of the names being thrown at him. He looked over at his mother to ask for one but saw that he needn't have worried. She would know the names of Julie's grandchildren as if they were her own.

"But my son Henry keeps pushing on," she said, smiling fondly, as if his perseverance were a great in-joke. "He opens his restaurant tonight. If Ellen were around to see it I know she would have been so proud."

Her voice cracked and Beautyman let her regain her composure without interruption.

"Jake named it, actually. Years ago when Henry first said he wanted to open a restaurant-and not just any restaurant, the finest restaurant in Minneapolis-it was Jake who suggested he name the restaurant Carat." Julie smirked and Beautyman's face mirrored hers, a habit formed in many interrogation rooms. Maybe he had something of a detective's soul left in him.

"What an awful pun, Henry Diamond naming his first restaurant Carat," Julie said. "But he thought the name had a certain flair, and after Jake disappeared, I don't think there was any doubt what he was going to name it.

"We ... we all thought it was behind us, I think. We'd each made peace with it, as best as we could. Until yesterday, when Jake came back into our lives." Julie's face suddenly collapsed into tears.

"He came home?" Beautyman was confused, and his mother's startled look made a mockery out of any vain belief that he still was on his game. A good detective would have known what was coming next.

"Jake's body was found yesterday," Ruth said, her arm around her friend. "In Lake Calhoun."

"They said he'd only been in the lake a couple hours before they found him," Julie said, her nose red and sniffling. "A couple hours! That's it. After being gone so long, after making us think he'd killed himself ... he's been alive? He's been here? And now taken from us again. It's like I'm living it all over again." She started crying again. "I just want to know where he's been the last three years, that's all I want. Why did he do this to us?"

 

 

Chapter 2

 

Beautyman sat behind the Viking's end zone, stewing in his Budweiser and barely registering the field. He hated football. In virtually every metric he could think of, it fell short when compared to baseball. The brute force of the gridiron couldn't compete with the elegance of the diamond. But October had come and gone. His beloved Dodgers had come up short again and the Twins weren't any better. So the only sports left to get him out of the house were football or hockey. It was a coin toss which was worse, so he picked the one without ice.

And what were they doing playing on a Thursday night? Football was supposed to be confined to the weekend and baseball went through the week. Next week was Thanksgiving, and that was the only Thursday football should be allowed.

Beautyman looked down into his plastic cup and gave his beer a small shake. Only a few bubbles of carbonation left. What could he possibly do for Julie Diamond? He had no Minnesota license to act as a private investigator. He had no friends in the police department who could help him out. All he wanted was to be out of his mother's house and out of Minnesota as fast as he could.

How long had he been saying that? Six months now? He'd slunk into his mom's basement, jobless and disgraced, telling himself that he was there to look after his ailing mother. But she was not ailing. What was he doing, waiting for her to start dying like her friend so that he could justify living off her savings?

Beautyman stood. It's a bad sign, he thought, when you can lay a guilt trip on yourself better than your mother.

 

Tonight I am the Ghost of Christmas Past, Beautyman thought, his nose practically pressed to the window of the new restaurant. Standing next to him could have been Ebenezer Scrooge, watching his younger self dance and drink and peck coquettes under the mistletoe.

The party inside was that kind of party. Friends were embracing, land deals were auctioned like door prizes, the food looked as if it'd been plucked from the perfect world of television commercials, the alcohol only gave you the perfect buzz, and all the women were sexy and smart. At least, that was how it looked though the window.

Despite the night chill of November in Minneapolis, Beautyman still held back from going inside. This was not his party. Julie was going to be the only one who knew him. Would anyone be happy to see him? Jake Diamond was dead. Bringing it up at his father's restaurant opening-a restaurant that Jake had named, no less-was going to go badly.

If he exploded the party, Julie was going to be devastated and Ruth furious. But being a good detective always had an explosive quality. "What if someone in Jake's family knew he had faked suicide three years ago?" he could hear himself shouting to his mother. "What if one of them even knew why he was dead now?" But she wouldn't be willing to hear of it, of course. His job was to catch the one-armed man. That he would suspect a relative of her closest friend would be outrageous.

His fingers were beginning to look and feel like frozen fish sticks. He jammed them in his pockets and walked in.

The hostess was at her podium and greeted him with a wide smile. "Good evening, sir. Welcome to Carat."

She looked at him expectantly. Beautyman suddenly wished he could just flash a badge. But out of his pocket came the invitation Julie had given him.

"The nicer they are, the more worried I am that I received it by mistake," he smiled.

"Don't worry, you look like you'll blend right in," she said coming around her station. She placed her fingertips on his elbow. Beautyman felt himself holding his breath.

 "I'll take your coat if you'd like, sir," she prodded when he didn't move. She grinned as he turned around, exhaling, and he knew that she had read his face exactly.

Beautyman let his coat fall off his shoulders and into her hands. He couldn't help but feel his short stature next to this Amazon of a woman. She barely had to raise her arms to catch it.

"I'm here as a guest of Julie Diamond. Can you point me toward her table?"

"I'm sorry, sir. She's already left for the night. Can I show you to a private table?"

Only if you'd join me, he wanted to quip. Her light blonde hair was pulled tight into a small professional bun at the back of her head. She had to be half his age, and yet he found himself actually entertaining the possibility that she might reciprocate his attraction. I need to get out more.

"That'll be fine, thank you."

Beautyman let her guide him through the crowd of people. He should have been scanning the crowd but his eyes couldn't leave the perfect skin and muscular shoulder blades exposed by the backless dress of the hostess.

She stopped at a small table tucked into the back of the dim restaurant and indicated a chair.

"Actually, I wonder if there might be a seat at Henry's table?" He ventured. He wasn't going to learn anything sitting alone at a table.

She grinned politely. "Mr. Diamond hardly has time to take a seat tonight. But I will be sure to tell him to come find you and say 'hello,' Mr. ... "

"Beautyman. Detective Beautyman. It's about Jake."

The tall woman's eyes flashed hot as he sat down. Was it fear? The pang of loss? Anger at being ambushed with it? The heat, whatever it was, dissipated, and her eyes filled with tears. She hurried toward the kitchen, her hand up to her mouth too late to prevent him from hearing a small sob. Beautyman realized that once again he'd missed his guess. He was getting rusty.

Beautyman ordered a Manhattan from the waiter who came by after the hostess had fled. He didn't particularly like the drink, but it felt appropriate for the atmosphere. The restaurant was expertly lit. Save for the ornate polished silver chandelier in the middle of the room, Beautyman could hardly see a bulb or a fixture. Every light source seemed to be hidden, the light bouncing off the walls as if they were faintly glowing. The dim was periodically punctuated by the blasts of fire escaping the pans in the open kitchen tucked in the back or the table-side preparation of bananas flambé. It looked to Beautyman like an ideal choice for a first date or a silver wedding anniversary.

He stopped his survey as a thick hand in a tuxedo sleeve placed his Manhattan in front of him.

"You made Dana cry," a voice said.

Beautyman looked up. A silver-haired man was staring down at him. Built wide and tall, his barrel chest filled his tuxedo. From his seated position, Beautyman could have sworn he looked like he was wearing football pads under the jacket. The man was huge, and packed with strength.

Before Beautyman could rise, the man slid into the seat across from his with surprising grace. "Holst promised no one would be doing anything but observing tonight. But you're harassing my family and drinking my liquor."

"I'm sorry if there's been some confusion, Mr. Diamond. I don't know anyone named Holst and I fully intend to pay for my drink."

Henry Diamond cocked his head to the side. "Dana said you were with the police."

An impression Beautyman had intended to give her, although he regretted how cavalierly he had thrown out Jake's name now. "I think she must have been mistaken. I'm a private investigator." Just don't ask for my license.

 "With which agency?"

"My own."

"May I see your license?"

"I must have left it in my other pants," Beautyman answered without bothering to go through the charade of looking for it.

"I understand." Diamond stood up. "You're not a detective, you're a friend of Alcamo's. If you don't start walking toward the door now, the officers here will be happy to escort you all the way to the station. I believe they have some questions for you." Despite his crisp words, Diamond didn't look like he actually believed what he was saying.

"Unfortunately, I don't know anyone named Alcamo, either. I'm here on behalf of Julie Diamond."

Diamond snorted, but when Beautyman didn't flinch he eventually sat back down. "Of course you are," he muttered, shaking his head.

"I'm sorry if I created a stir at your opening, Mr. Diamond. Sometimes a stir can provide information that you can't find any other way. I hate doing it, but it's part of the job."

"What job is that? Scamming little old ladies out of their pensions with promises that can't be kept?"

Beautyman took a sip of his drink. Why was he doing this? Normally he hated playing aggressive games with people. First, he wasn't very good at it. Something about being 5' 6" with lifts in his heels. Or maybe it was his face, which managed to be ugly without being menacing-entirely useless. And yet for some reason he was playing games with a man who had nine inches and a hundred pounds of muscle on him.

There was a better way.

He slouched back into padded chair. "I'm not getting paid, Mr. Diamond. Truth be told, I'm not really here for your mother, I'm here for mine. She's your mother's favorite bridge partner. Or Julie's my mother's favorite, I should say. I don't know that it goes both ways. Does the name Ruth Beautyman ring a bell? She's wanted me to start working again, and I suppose when she heard about Jake she saw an opportunity for her only son to save the day. And, well ... Julie is enough like Ruth that I'm sure you understand how hard they can be to say 'no' to. Which is what brings me here tonight."

Beautyman tipped his glass toward Diamond and took another drink. Diamond showed a small smirk. He had visibly relaxed his shoulders, which Beautyman thought was a sign that he wasn't going to get thrown out.

"I'm going to check anyway, but you say she wanted you to start working again?"

"A year ago I was a detective for the L.A. County Sheriff, and not a bad one either. But then I managed to make a series of disastrous and very public mistakes. Before you can say 'disgrace to the uniform,' I took an involuntary early retirement, as they called it. I skipped town before the pitchforks chased me out, took advantage of a mother's hospitality, and have been living in her basement ever since."

"What did my mom tell you about Jake?"

"She wants me to find out where's he's been the last three years."

"Not to find out who killed him?"

"Killed him? No, definitely not. She told me he'd faked a suicide three years ago and then yesterday-well, she didn't say how he died yesterday. Do you believe your son was killed, Mr. Diamond?"

"No. But the police haven't ruled it out yet, and I didn't know if she was using you to look for vengeance," Diamond said. He grabbed a passing waiter and asked for a whiskey. He's covering, Beautyman thought. He absolutely believes Jake was killed.

"Tell me, Mr. Diamond. The hostess ... Jake's girlfriend?"

Diamond nodded, arching an eyebrow.

"Just a guess. She's not May, but to react as she did ..."

"And how do you know she's not May?"

"Because May's in Europe. You also told me that I made Dana cry. As I said, no big guess."

Diamond's whiskey arrived, and both men sipped their drinks, Diamond's considerably larger than Beautyman's.

"Have you told May yet?" Beautyman asked softly.

Diamond took a moment before shaking his head. "I don't want to send this via email, but I have no other way to reach her. So I asked her to call. I haven't heard from her yet."

"And Nathan?"

"On his way. He'll be in tomorrow."

"For a funeral?"

"A wake. Sunday evening. I thought it would be long enough to give May time to get home but I'm starting to wonder."

"Are she and Dana close?"

Diamond's eyes narrowed and he met Beautyman's forced casual gaze.

"So you intend to play detective, Mr. Beautyman? License or no?"

Beautyman had overplayed his hand intentionally. He wanted to have this conversation. "My mother is not going to let me off the hook so easily. Plus, I think I can help."

Diamond looked him over, as if fitting him for a suit. "Why the interest in Dana?"

"Because truly disappearing is one of the hardest things in the world to do. I'm not talking about hiding your trail, although that's hard enough. But the ache for contact can be too much to bear. If Jake contacted anyone since he faked his death, I'd put my money on his girlfriend. Has she dated anyone in the last three years?"

Diamond shook his head.

"Maybe she didn't date because she knew her boyfriend was still alive."

"Maybe she was still grieving," Diamond shot back.

"Maybe. But that's where I'd like to start."

"Are you asking my permission?"

"I have your mother's permission. I'm working for her."

"With no license. I can report you for that."

"Not if I'm working for free. Then I'm just a nosy neighbor." Beautyman didn't know if that was true, but it sounded plausible enough.

Now it was Diamond's turn to slump back. He stared at his drink, defeated, and Beautyman let him stare.

Finally, Diamond said, "You're from L.A.?"

"Modesto originally, but yes."

"Why is your mom in the Cities?"

"My dad was a chemical engineer. He got a job at 3M while I was in college and left Modesto. When he died, my mom had been here for almost twenty years. So she stayed."

"But you personally don't know anyone out here?"

"Besides my mother and a few of her bridge partners, I don't know a soul. This is practically the first time I've left her basement for anything other than a Twins game."

"I ..." Diamond took a drink and started again. "I could use your help."

"About Jake?"

"Not about his disappearance or ... It's a side issue with him and Carat that needs resolving."

"What kind of issue?"

"I'm being blackmailed."

"Alcamo?"

Diamond gave a start and then sat back again, remembering. "You don't miss a word, do you?"

"If you know who it is, then you don't need a private detective, you need the police. But since you haven't gone to the police, the guy's got something big on you. So now you want me to-to, what, to make the problem go away?"

"Could you?"

"I'm not an enforcer, Mr. Diamond, I'm a detective, even if my only case is for my mother's bridge partner."

"But what if you could prove that what he has is false? Then he couldn't hold it over my head. Certainly that's a job for a detective."

"What does he have?"

"Murder," Diamond said, letting the word hang in the air. "Also bribery. Extortion. Corruption of the public process. God know what other laws might have been broken if what he says is true. And if it is, then Carat-"

"Wait, how can you not know?"

Diamond polished off his whiskey. "Because Alcamo has proof-says he has proof-that Jake did all those things on my behalf before he disappeared. And I can't very well go ask him anymore, can I?"

 

 

Chapter 3

 

Beautyman awoke to the sound of his mother's heel once again pounding on the floor above him. "Arthur! The phone!"

This was a first. He'd gotten immune to the phone ringing the same way people who live by train tracks got immune to the whistle-it was loud, but it never had anything to do with him. Stumbling out of bed, Arthur threw on sweatpants and a t-shirt and aimed for the stairway.

"Arthur Beautyman," he said into the phone, taking it from the hand of his mother. She turned back to the newspaper on the kitchen table, and Beautyman caught a fleeting glimpse of a pleased smile on her face.

"Arthur, this is Sam Kelly of Spencer, Sadler, and Kelly. I'm calling at the request of Henry Diamond. He's set up an appointment for you at my office this afternoon at 2:00 with Dana Foster. Can you make it?"

"Well, yes, but can you tell me what this is about?"

"My client has let me know that you wanted to discuss Jake's disappearance with her. He's arranged for an interview, properly supervised by myself, of course."

"I'm old enough to see women without a chaperone, Mr. Kelly."

"Not this one. And I don't think you're in a position to be asking for anything. 2:00."

Kelly hung up.

Beautyman looked at his mother. "What are you smiling about?"

"Was that about the case?" Ruth asked, her eyes sparkling with excitement. The way she said "the case" made it sound like Beautyman was on the trail of Bonnie and Clyde.

"If you know it is, why are you asking?"

"Well, I didn't know for sure," she said, getting up from her chair and going to the counter. She pulled down a souvenir mug with the Chicago skyline on it, and poured a cup of coffee. "But it's just been so long since anyone's called for you, and with you starting your investigation last night, I just assumed."

She gave him his mug and indicated the cream and sugar on the table, next to scrambled eggs and toast. Beautyman sat, wondering how long she'd been waiting for him to wake up. She may have been too tired to wait up for him last night, but she was definitely going to get the story now.

"Did you meet Julie's son Henry?"

"I did." The eggs were cold and the toast brittle. She'd been waiting a while.

"He sounds like such a nice man. So successful and so respected in the community."

"That doesn't always go hand-in-hand with being a nice guy, Mom."

"Well, he is nice. Julie lives with him now, and he's taken care of her ever since she was diagnosed. Now, tell me everything. Who is this Kelly?"

"Henry's lawyer. I'm meeting with him and Jake's old girlfriend Dana. What have you heard about her?"

"Henry's done so much for her. He's treated her like his own daughter. He gave her money so she could finish her degree. Since then she's been helping him get Carat started. Julie says she doesn't get along with May or Nathan very well. But she was always protective of Jake, and very loyal to him."

"Hmm." Beautyman thought for a moment over his coffee. "When did you say that Henry's wife died again?"

"About a year after Jake disappeared."

"And how old was Jake?"

"Well, let's see. Julie told me that Nathan just turned 30, and they were about five years apart. So ... three years ago he was 22, I think."

"So Dana's probably about the same age as Jake? Which would make her 25 or so?"

"I think so. Did you know she was a hockey player?"

"For real?" Beautyman asked.

"I guess she's quite good. She plays in a league or something."

"That explains why she was in such good shape. I thought she was ... a beautiful young woman."

"You're just wondering if Henry's noticed that too."

Beautyman nearly dropped his mug in his lap and escaped with only a dribble of coffee on his Gopher football sweatshirt, purchased for him by his mother when it started to get chilly.

"What are you talking about, Mom?" As it happened, that was exactly what he was thinking. But he'd kept it to himself because he didn't know how his mother would take it.

"Oh, c'mon, Arthur. I might be sixty-five, but that doesn't mean I can't think anymore. After Ellen died, Arthur was lonely and Dana was still grieving from losing Jake. It wasn't too long afterward that Dana enrolled at the U on Henry's dime. I might have said that he treated her like a daughter, but there's a lot of other reasons a man would be so generous to a young and beautiful woman."

"I have a hard time believing she'd be sleeping with Henry these last three years if she'd known Jake was alive."

"No one knew he was alive until Wednesday, Arthur."

"Someone did. I can guarantee it. When you fake your own death, you lose contact with everyone you've ever loved or who's ever loved you. That can be devastating and most people aren't up to the challenge. Eventually you succumb to the temptation to get back in contact. I just can't see Jake being any different. Dana seems most likely."

"What about Nathan or May?"

"Hard to say. They're both away right now, which might have worked to Jake's benefit. A brother in New York would be handy if you wanted to disappear and lay low for awhile. Hell, maybe May's in Europe because her brother was there, although that assumes he's got himself a new passport to get there."

"Not to mention getting back. If he was there with her, why is she still there when he's back here?"

It was a good point, Beautyman thought. He had never talked to his mother this way before. It was a lot easier than fighting with her. He should have taken a case earlier, just to get her off his back. "Maybe she's not in Europe anymore, I don't know. At this point, I don't trust anything, not even anything Julie's told you."

"How can you say that, Arthur! She's been my friend for years! She's the one who came to us for help."

"Even friends keep secrets from each other if they're embarrassed or guilty about something. And just because she wants me to find one thing out, doesn't mean that she's afraid that I'll find out something else entirely. Mom, you need to know that my first instinct here is that one of Jake's family members is lying. I don't know which one, or about what, but it's almost certain that one of them-or Dana-knew he was alive. And whichever one that is will be able to help me figure out where he's been."

Ruth looked prepared to put up a fight, but Beautyman interrupted her.

"It gets worse, Mom. For as long as this takes, you can't tell anything to Julie. If you want me to talk about this with you, I have to know that you're not passing it on to Julie. She can't know anything until I'm ready to tell her."

"But I can't hide things from her! She's my friend and she has a right to know what's going on with her family."

"I agree, but not until I know what I'm talking about. You can't tell her anything about anything, unless I ask you to."

"But-"

"If you want her to find out what happened to Jake, this is the only way. Something that gets out early could spoil everything. I'm serious about this, Mom. You can be my partner and I'll talk to you about the case, but this is the price."

"I tell her everything, Arthur."

"After we're done, you can tell her anything you want to. But not until then."

Ruth looked out the window and pursed her lips. Beautyman watched her face, and saw the creases loosen. He had a hunch why. "I can be your partner?" She was smiling now, and Beautyman couldn't help but return it when heard the excitement in her voice.

"Did I say that? How about deputy?"

"Partner. You don't work for the county sheriff anymore."

"All right. Partners. Beautyman and Beautyman Investigations. Put a sign up in the front window if you'd like," Beautyman laughed.

 

 

Chapter 4

 

Before leaving for his interview with Dana, Beautyman went down to the basement with the cordless phone from the kitchen.

After a few quick searches on the Internet, he decided he needed better information and called the Minneapolis Police Department.

"Hi, I'm calling for Raymond Holst please?"

"Er ... do you mean Detective Ed Holst?"

"Yes, I guess Ed sounds right. I don't know where I got Raymond. And you know what, I don't need to bother him right now. Would you mind just giving me his email address instead?"

"Just a moment, I have it here somewhere."

He took the address down, thanked the officer, and hung up.

Beautyman had caught the name of Holst from Diamond at the party. Holst, like all detectives-including Beautyman himself-would hate to have a private detective underfoot, especially one that was unlicensed and working a case of his own. Beautyman hoped that he might be able to get help from Holst without him even knowing he was providing it.

Beautyman opened a connection to a secure chat forum.

Here was a secret he'd probably never tell his new "partner," he thought, a smile on his face as he pictured how that would go. "Hey, Mom, by the way, you should know that ever since you guys bought me my first computer-that beautiful TRS-80 I played with for hours on end-that I've been a computer hacker."

She'd shudder, just like everyone else. Hackers were evil, they stole credit cards and deleted files and opened checking accounts in your name.

It was partially true, of course. It was also true that there were plenty of hackers who made a respectable living from hacking. They were hired by corporations to test their systems, they plugged security holes, and made everything a lot safer. Even if he could convince his mother of that, he still wasn't one of those, though. He'd never turned it into a career like a white hat, and was never willing to cross the line as a black hat. He, and those like him, thought of themselves as grey hats. They did things illegally, but not maliciously. They cracked servers, but they'd just as often repair them afterward. Beautyman liked the challenge, the threat of danger and-when he was honest with himself-feeling superior.

To Beautyman it was a diversion, the way some people looked at crossword puzzles. But there was no sense of danger completing a crossword puzzle.

Once Beautyman was logged in to the forum, he looked around for some handles he recognized, and saw a friend's. Well, friend was the wrong word. Until a year ago, Beautyman had only known him by his moniker "Aftermath." Only later did he learn that the man behind the fearsome name was a 16-year-old kid named Brad. He was the only hacker who knew Beautyman's real name, former profession, and his new home.

"U there, Aftermath?" Beautyman typed. He hated text shorthand, but writing, "Are you there, Brad?" wouldn't get him anywhere with any of this group. Writing it long enough, he eased into the lingo as fluidly as some of his coworkers back in L.A. could switch from English to Spanish.

 "hey dutchman hows the snow? LOL"

Beautyman's handle was Dutchman. It alluded to the fearsome ghost ship Flying Dutchman, but really Beautyman chose the handle because it was the nickname for the great Honus Wagner, the best shortstop to ever set foot onto the field. After all that had gone down in L.A. before he left, he'd had to abandon the handle for a few months. But he was too attached to it to find a new one and he was glad to have it back.

"Snow's just arrived. I miss CA!" Beautyman had still not brought himself to using LOL, Internet shorthand for "Laugh Out Loud." And Aftermath used it all the time, as if everything he said were worthy of a joke.

"I need a quick kludge. You got time today?"

"Depends"

Beautyman explained the script he wanted Aftermath to write for him.

"Dude this is hilarious!!! U really don't want 2 write this one yourself? LOL"

"No skillz. Especially when it comes to servers. Take it. I'll look for you online later today."

Beautyman signed off. If Detective Holst fell for the bait he was leaving, he'd have access to all the casework he'd need on not only the current investigation but the files from Jake's first disappearance as well.

 

Beautyman left the house before lunch, giving himself plenty of time to make it to Kelly's office by 2:00. Which was good, because he was aiming in the opposite direction of Kelly's suburban office. He headed east from his mother's home a few blocks off Plymouth Avenue and 10 minutes later entered Minneapolis's warehouse district. Just off the Mississippi, the red brick warehouses had been converted into condos and chic restaurants after years of sitting vacant and derelict. Supposedly it had been "rediscovered" by artists and preservationists.

Beautyman pulled over to the curb and looked at the address he had jotted down before leaving. This was the place. He looked through the driver's side window at the building across the street. "Here's one building that still hasn't been discovered yet."

Unlike the clean and deep red brick of the restored warehouses around it, 202 Third Avenue was painted a dull beige, but most of the narrow two-story building was covered with years of unwashed dirt and grime. A neon sign that looked like it was as old as the building itself proclaimed it to be Dromio's of Minneapolis, serving "Sicilian Pasta and Fish."

And according to a Star Tribune article Beautyman had found, one Luca Alcamo owned the place. Was the owner of this restaurant really blackmailing Diamond? There didn't seem to be a soul near the place, even though it should have been the end of the lunch rush. Beautyman checked his phone. 1:20. Was it a front? Or just a restaurant that had fallen out of step with its glamorous new neighbors, leaving its owner to try to find a new source of income?

Beautyman pulled his car away from the curb and began heading for Kelly's firm. Diamond hadn't mentioned Luca Alcamo or his blackmail to the police. It was a huge lead, and if Beautyman had been the investigating officer, he would have charged Diamond with obstruction of justice. But he wasn't the investigating officer, which meant that he needed to protect his client.

Still. If Jake had done something illegal on Diamond's behalf, fear of getting caught was a pretty compelling reason to run. People had faked their deaths over smaller things. All that was really needed was a feeling of being trapped, with no other options. A 22-year-old kid in way over his head might have felt that precisely.

But why was he dead now, Beautyman wondered. That part of it still took some figuring.

 

"Good afternoon, Mr. Beautyman. Please have a seat," Kelly said, pumping Beautyman's arm before sitting. To Beautyman, Kelly looked like a typical Midwesterner-blond hair, blue eyes, and a few lines in his face-was it from the wind? But unlike the typical Midwesterner, Sam Kelly could have passed for a Hollywood movie star. He had the height of Diamond, but not the bulk. His dark suit was cut to show his strength. The whole office, in fact, tried to telegraph strength. The high ceilings, clearly expensive art, and mahogany table were there to warn him off. It said either "Don't you dare sue us," or "You'll only be safe with us on your side," depending on which side of the table from Kelly you sat.

And Beautyman sat across from him.

But like a heavyweight fighter living off his belt and not his punches, Beautyman suspected that Kelly's successes had meant he hadn't been in a scrape for a while.

Next to Kelly was Dana Foster, who was glowering at Beautyman across the table. He might have believed that the two were related. Both were surprisingly tall, showing off their Scandinavian ancestry with exceptional poise. And both were exceptionally good-looking. Beautyman tried to put it out of his mind as he turned to Dana. Allowing her to see any hint of his attraction to her might be dangerous later.

"Before we start, I'd like to clear the air about something," Beautyman started. "Ms. Foster, I was callous last night. I couldn't have known you were so close to Jake, but I should have guessed he had friends on staff at Carat, and I could have been more delicate. Please accept my sincerest apology for shocking you as I did."

Dana continued to stare hard, but Beautyman could tell he'd gotten through. She dropped her eyes to her lap and nodded.

"And allow me to clear the air as well," said Kelly. "You are an unlicensed investigator. Against my advice, my client has granted you access to his family, friends, and employees in order to investigate ... actually, what exactly are you doing on behalf of Mr. Diamond, Arthur?"

Beautyman wasn't sure if Kelly knew about Alcamo, and didn't want to be the one to share it if Diamond hadn't. "I'm sorry, Mr. Kelly, but I think you might be slightly mistaken on that point. Mr. Diamond is not my client. I was asked by his mother Julie to find out where Jake has been for the last three years since he faked his death. Last night, I met your client and apprised him of what I would be doing."

"The entire Diamond family is my client, Arthur. I have power of attorney for the family and am tasked with protecting them from all potential threats. With that in mind, I have serious concerns about this 'investigation,'" Kelly held up his hands and made air quotes around the word.

"I'm willing to answer his questions, Mr. Kelly," Dana cut in, raising her chin and looking at Beautyman again. "I want to know where Jake's been just as much as anyone."

Before Kelly could cut him off, Beautyman started directly, "Ms. Foster, I apologize again for bringing up such a difficult subject. But I need to know something. At any point have you suspected that Jake wasn't really dead?"

"You don't have to answer that, Dana," Kelly cut in.

"Of course she doesn't. I'm not a policeman, I'm not a lawyer, and this is not testimony. She doesn't have to answer, but whatever she can tell me will be a help." Beautyman turned back to Dana.

She nodded. "At first, at first I thought that there was no way it could be true. All they had was his coat and I ... I just couldn't bring myself to believe it. Then the lake froze over and I told myself that if he was really dead, they'd find the body in the spring. I spent that whole winter dreading the thaw. But every day I expected to hear from him-to tell me he was OK, to explain why he'd done it. I looked for him at the grocery store and expected him to around every street corner. I thought he was following me around, waiting for a chance to talk to me without anyone finding out. So I went to empty parks and went to movies alone and waited for him. But he never came.

"Then the spring finally arrived and the police looked for a body again, but they didn't find anything. They gave up."

"Did you?"

She shook her head, keeping her eyes fixed on the center of the table. "I started to think that maybe he was being held against his will. That it wasn't him that had faked his death, that someone else had faked it and was holding him for some reason. That ... that was a pretty stupid thing to believe. I never had a reason to think that, but I did. Until one night I was over to dinner with Henry and Ellen and May and I said something about Jake being alive. May got really mad. I said that there was still a chance and that the police had abandoned Jake.

"Ellen started crying and May stormed out. Henry pulled me aside afterward and told me that I needed to start coming to terms with what Jake had done. He told me that we all loved Jake, but that what he'd done was selfish, the most selfish thing he could have done. And pretending that he was the victim of some conspiracy was just plain wrong."

Dana stopped and reached into her purse for a tissue. She touched at her nose and kept going. "I started to come to terms with the fact that Jake was really gone. And I'm glad I did, too, because I think I was starting to affect Ellen. It wasn't too much later that she was in the accident, and I hope she stopped blaming herself by then.  Henry was really scared there for awhile ... that maybe she crashed the car intentionally," Dana choked off the last word and grabbed for her tissues again.

Kelly put an awkward hand on her shoulder and said, "During the first snow that year Mrs. Diamond was driving at night. She skidded off the 35W and rolled her car down the embankment several times. She was dead by the time first responders got to the scene," he told Beautyman. "The police found some tire marks on the road and some paint chips on the driver's side of the car. It turned out that another car had slid into hers and knocked her off the road. The police eventually ruled it as a hit-and-run, but that wasn't until weeks later. It was devastating for the family, but made worse because there was also a chance that Ellen had committed suicide."

Dana had recovered well enough that Beautyman turned his attention back to her. "What about in these last few days, Ms. Foster? Did you hear from Jake?"

She shook her head, her eyes squeezed tightly together.

"Now that you know he had been alive for those three years, is there any place you think he might have gone? Someplace he really loved?"

Dana was quiet as she thought. "Jake ... he liked extremes. He would just as likely have been in the wilderness of the Yukon or in the middle of New York City."

"Is there any place in particular he liked to go?"

"He always wanted be an actor. California maybe? L.A.? I don't really know, I'm sorry."

Beautyman nodded his understanding, but his mind had suddenly returned to his old home in Studio City, a home he hadn't seen in nearly six months. He caught himself thinking that of course Jake would want to go to L.A.-that was where he wanted to be, too.

"Ms. Foster," he continued, shaking himself out of his thoughts, "was there anything unusual going on right before Jake disappeared? Was he scared of anything? Was he stressed?"

"Dana had to answer all these questions three years ago," Kelly interrupted.

"But knowing he was still alive might change the answers," Beautyman shot back.

"I don't know about scared," Dana said, as if nothing had just happened. "Stressed, definitely. Henry was raising money to start the restaurant. It had been his dream for so long and he felt like he was getting close-everyone did, I suppose. It's crazy to me that it took another three years. And Jake wanted to help out. He kept telling Henry that he could be the marketer for the restaurant. He'd majored in communications so ... he thought he could do anything," Dana smiled softly. It was beautiful. If she were a movie star, the audience would have smiled back at her. "He named the restaurant, you know."

Beautyman nodded and smiled back.

"Jake didn't take a job after college, he just spent all his time working on the restaurant. He was having meetings all the time. I never understood what they were for, but he was always running out somewhere, and he was so excited that I just never bothered to really find out what he was doing. I just knew it was for the restaurant."

"This might sound like an odd question, Dana, but did he ever take you to Dromio's?"

Dana let out a short laugh and her eyes were suddenly alive. "That is an odd question. Yes, we went there often." She smiled at some memory and then looked up at Beautyman, "What makes you ask?"

"Just following up a lead. I heard he'd liked it." Beautyman said. He was ready to wrap up the interview, and started to rise.

Dana nodded. "It was one of Jake's favorite Italian places. A pasta sauce like you wouldn't believe. We'd gone a few weeks before he disappeared. After that ... I couldn't bring myself to go back. I didn't even go near the place for a few years, and then one time I was riding the light rail to the airport and I realized it was gone-torn down to make room for the station."

Beautyman was already half-standing when he froze.

"It's gone?" He asked. "But I've seen it, I saw it today."

"Well, there's two of them. Like in the play."

Beautyman blinked.

"Sorry, I wouldn't have known either if Jake hadn't told me. Dromio is the name of a set of twins in a Shakespeare play. And the owners are twins. One ran Dromio's of Minneapolis, just north of downtown, and the other ran Dromio's of Minnehaha, by Minnehaha Park.

"The one in the warehouse district is still there but the other was in the way of the tracks, right where they wanted to put a station. I wish I'd known it was going to be torn down," she said, sighing. "Even though it would have been hard, I would like to have gone back. It was our place, you know? I didn't realize it then, but now all I want is to be able to sit in one of their ratty old booths with a big plate of pasta and a glass of wine, just to say goodbye to Jake."

 

 

Chapter 5

 

Beautyman opened the door to his mother's home, his mind full of things to do. Where to start, though?

Ruth was at the kitchen table, papers strewn across it.

"I need some signatures from you, Arthur," she said, not looking up from her paperwork.

He sat down and she slid a form over to him, tapping her finger on the bottom. Beautyman signed and then looked at the top of the form. He groaned. "Is this really necessary?"

"You need to be licensed, Arthur. Otherwise no one's going to take you seriously." Ruth took back the Minnesota state application to be a licensed private investigator. She passed him another piece of paper.

"What's this one?"

"Business license. Just sign the bottom."

"You don't know how to fill this out, Mom."

"Don't worry about that. Betty's son Matt-you remember Betty from the bridge group  last month, right?-well, Matt is going to come by and help me with the forms tomorrow. He owns his own business, you know."

Beautyman didn't know Betty, let alone Matt. He signed the form and pushed it back to her.

Ruth started gathering up the papers. "Now, tell me about your interview with Dana Foster."

"I'll tell you over dinner," Beautyman said, rising from the table. "We're going out for Italian. My treat." A low rumble in his stomach had made him decide that of all the possible things he needed to do right now, dinner was high on the list. And an early dinner at Dromio's with his mother might just be the perfect way to check the place out.  "Just give me a few minutes to take care of a little business first."

 

Beautyman found an email waiting from Brad's anonymous email account. "Aftermath" had apparently come through. Beautyman found a link to a zipped file on a secure server. He reviewed the code briefly and smiled. He'd asked for a kludge-hacker speak for a quick-and-dirty, seat-of-the-pants solution-but the code looked surprisingly elegant.

The few hundred lines of code represented a Trojan horse. Embedded in the code of a document, if the file were opened, Beautyman would gain immediate access to that machine and-possibly, thanks to the added help from Aftermath-an entire server.

Beautyman checked his phone: 4:33 on a Friday afternoon. Time enough to see whether Detective Holst was in. Dialing the police department, he asked for Ed Holst. After a short pause, he heard "Holst."

Beautyman clicked send, and the corrupted document was off.

"Detective, my name is Arthur Beautyman, I'm a retired detective with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, though I've since moved to Minneapolis."

"What can I do for you, Detective?"

It was the first time in months that Beautyman could remember being addressed by that title. He was suddenly filled with nostalgia for his old life in Los Angeles. He pushed the feeling down and continued, "Well, I'm in an awkward place and I thought the best course of action was to call you and explain myself. My mother's closest friend in the world is Julie Diamond, and yesterday she asked me for my help."

"Ah."

"Specifically, she asked me to help find out where her grandson has been these last three years. I know that's not exactly the same thing you're investigating, but it's close enough that I thought I should call."

"Close as Siamese twins." Holst took a breath. "You got a license in Minnesota?"

"Well, that's why I'm calling. I'm sure you're aware of Ms. Diamond's condition ..."

"Cancer is a shitty excuse for not having a license, Detective," Holst cut in. "We don't give exemptions for people fulfilling someone's dying wish."

"I understand. My license application is in the mail and I've just emailed you a copy of my résumé. I think if you'll look at it you'll see I have experience and discretion."

There was a rustling on the other end of the phone and Beautyman heard Holst mutter, "Goddamn email warnings. Just let me open the goddamn file." Then there was silence.

Beautyman looked at his own screen. The document was open. He was in.

"I just wanted you to know that I wouldn't be a bother."

"I'm not inclined to give anyone a pass," Holst said, "but if you don't get in my way, and send me everything you find, I've got no problem with you."

"Thank you, Detective. Can you provide any information about his disappearance three years ago?"

"This sharing thing is going to be a one-way street, Detective. Go work your own case." Holst hung up the phone and Beautyman laughed out loud. The good detective might not be willing to tell him anything, but Holst had nonetheless opened the entirety of his case files to Beautyman.

He started a download of all the files he could reach from Holst's computer and flipped off his monitor, ready for his dinner.

 

"Thank you, Arthur, this was such a good idea. It's such a treat to see you so full of life again." Ruth raised her glass of Chianti at him and then sipped it. "Although there are some perfectly fine Italian restaurants near the house ..."

"I saw a good review online," Beautyman said.

Ruth looked around at the interior of Dromio's of Minneapolis. It wasn't much to look at. What could have been old-world charm had faded into the mustiness of dim fixtures and dark corners. A dented chair rail separated paneling from a faded arabesque wallpaper that showed every seam. The wood furniture creaked with any motion. And the tablecloths were the color of a smoker's smile.

"Must be the food," Ruth concluded.

Across the empty restaurant were the only other diners-two men sharing a small table, and both digging into plates of noodles and red sauce. "They seem to be enjoying it," Beautyman said.

"I guess so." Ruth was quiet. She looked at the two men and then back to her son. "Did you want to talk about the case?"

Beautyman shrugged. "Not much to say right now. Dana didn't really know anything."

"Tell me what happens next."

"I'm not sure exactly. Jake's brother Nathan supposedly got into town today, so I'll want to talk to him soon. And I might want to tail Dana. I still don't know that I believe her when she says she hadn't heard from Jake."

"You thought she was lying today?"

Beautyman thought about the way she'd squinched up her face when he asked her. She seemed to be totally honest, but it just didn't make sense that Jake would be able to help himself from telling her he was still alive. I wouldn't be able to.

"I don't know yet. I suppose I have no reason to. But tomorrow I'll probably just spend a lot of time in the basement reading and looking things up online. There's a lot I need to find out." Beautyman thought of the files his computer was downloading from the police department server and wondered how long he was going to have to spend at home going through it.

"I don't want you hanging around down there if you're working. It's not sociable."

"Who am I supposed to be sociable with?"

"I don't like that you just disappear down there for hours on end. You should be up in the light with people, not cowering in the basement."

"Cowering?"

"It feels like you're hiding down there."

No matter how old I am, she'll always think of me as a 15-year-old with a dirty magazine under the bed.

"I'm going to be reading, Mom. It's not like I'd be much fun if I were upstairs."

"I just want to be a part of it. We are partners, after all."

Beautyman was going to respond but their food arrived and he didn't want to keep arguing in front of the waiter. His was a simple dish-angel hair pasta with a dark red meat sauce and a single large meatball balanced in the middle. And yet Beautyman thought it might have been one of the single best dishes of pasta he'd ever had. The sauce was almost as thick as gravy, filled with basil and other spices Beautyman couldn't recognize, but only appreciate.

He and Ruth ate with relish, their argument forgotten. When he finally took a break from eating, Beautyman found himself asking about his late father for the first time in years. Ruth was only too happy to talk about him, and for the rest of their dinner she told stories Beautyman had heard years before and many times over, but appreciated just the same.

 

As they walked to the car, Ruth held Beautyman's arm on the pretense of not wanting to slip on any icy patches. The first snow had mostly melted away and Beautyman didn't see much ice but he was happy to oblige.

They were only a few steps from their car when Beautyman heard a crunch of icy snow behind him. Beautyman's senses suddenly went on high alert. No one had been near them a moment ago, but now-

He glanced over his shoulder, but all he saw was a dark mass approaching his head. He registered the smell of rubber, leather, and dirty snow before the boot connected with his temple and he crumpled to the ground.

 

 

Chapter 6

 

Beautyman woke up in the passenger seat of Ruth's car. She was behind the wheel, driving, and seemed to be in mid-sentence. "... and then he looked at me like I was just crazy, but I guess I spooked him somehow because he ran off."

"What?"

"He ran off."

"What did he look like?"

Ruth looked over, her eyes suspicious. "You just asked me that, Arthur."

"I don't remember anything except a boot. And then I was right here."

"I think you have a concussion."

"What did he look like?"

"He was a Hmong. Short, small. Barely dressed for the cold, except for those boots."

"Hmong?"

"It's like a race. Like Chinese or Japanese."

"How do you know that?"

"How can I not? There's a bunch of them in the Cities. They came over and became Americans after Vietnam."

"I mean, how do you know he was Hmong?"

"The same way I can tell the difference between someone who's Chinese and Japanese." Ruth looked at him again, biting her lower lip. "How are you feeling?"

"What happened?"

"He kicked you and you just collapsed. He was going to kick you again but I stepped in front of you. He looked like he was going to kick me too, but I guess he decided he wouldn't hit an old lady. So he turned and ran away."

"You really did that?"

"I was holding out my purse. I thought I could get him to just take it and leave. But he didn't even look at it. When he left it took you about a minute to come to. You were staggering a bit, but I got you to the car."

Beautyman closed his eyes. "Thanks, Mom."

 

He was on a hospital bed, a doctor shining a light in his eye. Beautyman flinched.

"How long have I been here?"

"Just a few minutes," the doctor answered. "I'm Dr. Carter."

"I don't remember ... "

"You took a blow on the temple. Attempted mugging according to your mother here."

Beautyman was about to contradict but then decided against it. He thought she'd just told him that it wasn't a mugging. But he couldn't be sure of anything right now. She was sitting on a small chair and he looked at her curiously over the shoulder of the doctor.

"It's a concussion?" he asked.

"That's right. You're going to need to stay awake for the next 24 hours. We can arrange for supervision here or you can watch him if you'd like, Mrs. Beautyman."

"I can do it," she answered.

"He can rest a bit tonight, but not longer than an hour. You'll have to wake him."

"How long since it happened?" Beautyman asked.

Ruth checked her small gold watch. "Almost two hours now."

"I'm still feeling pretty fuzzy."

"Just take it easy," Carter told him. "But not too easy. Your mom's going to be keeping an eye on you, but if she falls asleep she's not going to be able to do that. So you'll have to keep an eye on her, too."

 

Beautyman didn't black out again, but his head was pounding by the time he and Ruth got home.

"Why did you tell them it was a mugging?"

"You told me to."

Beautyman thought about that, but couldn't remember that at all. "I did?"

"In the waiting room."

"Did I say why?"

"You said you would later."

"Well now I don't remember."

Ruth sat him down in the kitchen and kissed his forehead. "Can I make you some coffee or tea?"

"Tea, thank you."

Ruth filled a teakettle with water and put it on the stove. "You told me that it obviously wasn't a mugging but that we shouldn't tell the police that. Do you remember why?"

Beautyman didn't remember what he'd said, but he had already figured out his own reasoning. "The Hmong had something to do with the Diamond case."

"How can you know that?"

"Because of where he attacked us. Dromio's was a favorite restaurant of Jake, and the owner of it is blackmailing Diamond."

"Arthur! You didn't tell me any of that." Ruth crossed her arms and gave her son with the disappointed look he associated with Cs on his report card.

"I know. I'm sorry, Mom. With what happened tonight ... I don't know what would have happened if you hadn't been there. I'd never considered that you'd be in a situation like that. I know it wouldn't have helped or anything, but if you're going to take a risk like that, then you deserve to know everything I know. I won't keep anything from you again."

"So we were there to check the place out?"

"Yeah. The owner's blackmailing Diamond over something that Jake supposedly did. Diamond wants me to find out if there's anything to it."

"He doesn't know?"

Beautyman shook his head. "Claims not to."

"Is that the man's name? Dromio?"

"No, his name's Luca Alcamo."

Ruth's eyes widened. "That sounds like a ... well, you know. Do you think that he's ... "

"Mafia?" Beautyman finished her sentence for her. He wondered if she thought all Italians were in la cosa nostra. He instantly chided himself. Hadn't he just told her the guy was blackmailing Diamond? It wasn't that crazy.

"Is it possible?" Ruth asked.

"I don't know. Anything's possible. But I doubt it. You've lived here for awhile, have you heard anything about an Italian Mafia in Minneapolis?"

"Nothing." Ruth looked relieved.

"But that doesn't mean he's a nice guy. He's blackmailing Diamond, and there might be something much worse going on. It seems likely he sent the Hmong after me."

"What are we going to do now?"

"All I want to do now is sleep. But since I have a hunch you're not going to let me do that, then I suppose I'll get a jump on the reading I intended to do tomorrow."

"I don't want you disappearing into the basement," Ruth said. "If you need to read something, then print it out and bring it up here. I need to keep an eye on you."

Beautyman thought about the Minneapolis Police Department server he'd tapped and wondered if there was a way to explain what he'd done. Maybe he could just share the information and be a little vague about how he'd gotten it.

"That's fair," he said, rising from the table. "It'll take me an hour or so to print everything out, but I'll bring it back up when I'm done."

"You're not going to drift off while you're down there are you?"

Beautyman kissed Ruth's forehead. "Thanks for worrying, Mom. When the tea's ready you can bring it down as an excuse to come check on me. How's that?"

 

The kludge built by Aftermath had been devastatingly effective. Beautyman had left his computer on to slowly copy files off the police department's servers. A small but steady stream, he hoped the data leak wouldn't be noticed. In case it was, he used an IP proxy that would mask his destination. If it was discovered it would be traced to a cybercafé in Shanghai where the trail would stop dead-in Beautyman's experience Chinese hackers were as close to the perfect fall-guy as you could find. You couldn't do anything about it, and you didn't question their motives. A Chinese hacker got into our network? Patch the problem and move on. A guy across town got into our network? Now that's worth looking into.

Reviewing what had been downloaded before, Beautyman was pleasantly surprised to see how much had been stored from Jake's disappearance three years before. Detective reports, photographs, and transcripts of interviews. It would take hours to go through it all.

From the current investigation, Beautyman found an autopsy report for Jake and a transcript of an interview with Henry Diamond. Not much to go on-no photos, no results from neighborhood canvassing, and no reports from Holst himself. Still too early to find much on the computer, Beautyman figured. Holst didn't seem like the kind of guy who was quick to update his notes.

Beautyman loaded paper into the printer and began filling up the queue.

 

Counting the photos from the earlier investigation, Beautyman had generated about 150 loose pages. He set the stack on the coffee table between him and his mother.

"That was certainly nice of the detectives to let you do this research," Ruth said, looking at the top sheet.

"I told them about my history with the L.A. County Sheriff and let them know my license was under review by the state."

"But it's not yet, Arthur! Matt won't be by until tomorrow to help me finish the applications."

"A little white lie, Mom. No harm done. Anyway, Detective Holst let me have access, but he broke a lot of rules to do it. So we can't tell anyone we have it. Especially-"

"I know, I know, especially Julie."

"I'm sorry, Mom."

"Don't apologize. You told me the rules. Now what are we looking at here?"

"A lot of different things actually. A big part of a police investigation is paperwork. When a detective is called to the witness stand, he wants to have good documentation for what he's saying. Or if a case goes a long time, another detective can take over and go through everything with fresh eyes.

"So we have a lot of documentation of Jake's disappearance three years ago, and only a few pieces of what they're working on now. I'll try to separate it all out. Detective's notes, interrogation transcripts, photos, forensic reports-"

"Forensics ... like crime scene stuff?"

"Fingerprints and fibers. DNA, ballistic reports, stuff like that. The little bits of evidence that can tie someone to a crime scene. I don't know that we'll find a lot of that. It's expensive, so a lot of departments only use it on homicides. We probably won't have much from Jake's disappearance."

"So do we just start?"

"You read half, I'll read the other half, and then we'll switch."

It was slow reading. He didn't black out, but he found he had to stare at a sentence a few times before its meaning finally clicked. Eventually a portrait of Jake Diamond began to emerge in Beautyman's mind. Bright, but aimless. Funny and gregarious, he could be the life of a party. But he was also prone to bouts of depression.

To Beautyman's mind, no obvious leads presented themselves, which seemed to be about all Holst had come away with as well. Uniformed officers who had canvassed the apartments and offices that looked over Lake Calhoun turned up nothing. And Holst had put out some trial balloons looking for evidence of Jake's disappearance, but nothing came of it. As far as the world was concerned, Jake Diamond had died three years ago.

"These autopsy reports are grisly reading, Arthur," Ruth said.

"You don't have to read it, Mom. There's other stuff."

"And I don't know what half these words mean."

"I can take over."

"If I let you take over, then I wouldn't get to tell you that I've found our first clue."

Beautyman sat up with a start, and instantly regretted it. Holding his head, he asked, "And what clue is that?"

"Based on the stomach contents, Jake Diamond's last meal on this earth was a full plate of spaghetti topped with marinara sauce. Where do you suppose he got that from?"

 

 

 

 

 ... continued ...

 

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