The Third Brother

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The Third Brother Page 3

by Andrew Welsh-Huggins

  She shook her head.

  “His friends?”

  “They saw him at school that day. They don’t know anything.”

  “Which school?”

  “Maple Ridge. It was the second-to-last day of classes. It makes no sense.”

  I’d heard of the city school on the northeast side but didn’t know much about it. “He worked at Kroger. Is that right?”

  Farah nodded. “He had a shift that afternoon. He never showed up.”

  I took a moment to frame my next question. “The Facebook posts. Those were out of character?”

  “Completely,” Farah said. “Most of the time he put up pictures of himself or his friends. Or stuff about the Crew. He was soccer crazy. The Crew and Juventus FC. It was almost like it was someone else posting.”

  “Could his account have been hacked?”

  “I have no idea.” She paused. “Hassan posted similar things, right before he left. But for him, it made more sense. He was very angry. And of course—”

  When she didn’t finish, I said, “Hassan changed, if I’m not mistaken. But Abdi didn’t.”

  “That’s right. That’s what makes this so difficult to understand.”

  “What was Hassan so angry about, if I may ask?”

  “Everything. He had a hard time finding a job. He said he was always being picked on for being Muslim. He said America was never held accountable for the things it did to other countries. That American soldiers were killing Muslims.”

  “Was that true? That he was picked on?”

  “Probably. We all are, to some degree. You get used to it, after a while. It’s just something you expect to happen now and then. The stares and the whispers. Or like those two men and Kaltun, who you helped. People shouting ‘Go home!’ even if you were born here. We try to ignore it, or report it to the police if it feels dangerous. But Hassan was thin-skinned. He had a real problem with it.”

  “Hard to blame him.”

  “I suppose. But he didn’t lose his job because he was a Muslim. He lost it because he came late every day.” She spoke with bitterness, glancing at her parents.

  “Abdi wasn’t like that?”

  “No, absolutely not. He loves America. And he loves Columbus.” For just a moment the worry in her face disappeared and she permitted herself a smile. “If people said something cruel to him he’d laugh it off. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. And he had no reason to disappear. His life was ahead of him. He’d already figured out who his roommate at Ohio State was. They were trading messages.”

  Farah stopped and spoke to her parents. They nodded in assent.

  “Is it possible he’s just holed up with a friend?”

  “No. We’ve checked with everyone we know of.”

  “The school?”

  “They say everything was normal.”

  “Freddy—Mr. Cohen—said the FBI was here. What did they say?”

  “They were very rude,” Farah said. Framed by the purple scarf, her pretty face hardened. “They accused Abdi of many things. They refused to believe anything we said. They threatened us, told us we could be held responsible. We could lose our refugee status.”

  “It’s a common tactic,” Cohen interjected. “Especially now, with everything going on in Washington. But in my opinion they don’t have anything to go on, other than some completely uncharacteristic Facebook posts and a few tweets and of course the disappearance right after Hassan’s death. On the surface, it’s reasonable they’d ask questions. But there’s nothing concrete. I’ve told them as much.”

  “How’d they respond?”

  He waved dismissively. “They reminded me they have to bat a thousand percent every time and a terrorist has to succeed only once. They can’t take any chances. Which means a kid who ran away is suddenly a dangerous extremist.”

  “He didn’t run away!” Farah said.

  “I didn’t mean—”

  “Hang on,” I interrupted. I knew it was no use pointing out to Cohen, or Farah, for that matter, that the FBI had a damn good point. That, plus the fact Abdi’s brother had been a bona fide radical didn’t help matters. I had a bigger issue to bring up.

  “I wonder if I’m the best person for the job.”

  “What do you mean?” Farah said. She was sitting on the edge of the couch, mug of tea in her hands, watching me closely. She had arresting eyes the color of melted caramel that seemed full of wisdom and something more painful, far beyond a woman of her years—which couldn’t be much past midtwenties.

  “It’s a complicated case. I don’t speak Somali, obviously.”

  “All his friends speak English,” Farah said.

  “I’m just not sure where I would start.”

  “I thought you said this was arranged?” Farah said, looking at Cohen.

  “I warned you. He can be difficult.”

  “I’m not being difficult. I just—”

  Abdi’s father interrupted, saying something in Somali. He spoke for nearly a minute. Farah said something else, then Abdulkadir, then Abdi’s mother. Abdi’s father replied in turn. I sipped my tea while I waited.

  Farah said, “There’s the school, here. His teachers. Maybe they know something. Something they might tell you and not us.”

  “Isn’t school over for the year?”

  “That’s why we need your help,” Farah said, frustrated. “To work those things out.”

  “I’m still not sure—”

  “You were sure about Kaltun Hirsi. In the parking lot.”

  “That was different.”

  “Different how?”

  Good question. Helping the beleaguered woman was part of a pattern in my life of rushing in first and asking questions later. How many times had a coach threatened to bench me for tearing up the plan at the last second and play-calling on my own from the line of scrimmage? The fact that my choice was often the better one was of little consequence in a rule-bound sport bulging with sideline egos. I also hated bullies, since you often despise that which you yourself have been. It had worked out OK in Kaltun’s case. But was I any more a hero than the person who’d called 911 as the pickup truck peeled out of the parking lot?

  “I was just trying to help,” I said.

  “Like nobody else did,” Farah said.

  “I’m not sure that’s true—”

  “We think it is.”

  I took a sip of tea to buy some time. I thought about the family’s situation. I considered what it had cost Cohen to agree to their request. Saying we had a history was like noting that summer storm clouds are black.

  “I’ll do what I can,” I said at last, meeting Farah’s caramel eyes, which were bright with indignation. “I can’t make any promises.”

  “Thank you. I understand.”

  “Thank you very much, Mr. Andy Hayes,” Abdulkadir said, clapping his hands as he stood.

  “Yes, thank you, Andy,” Cohen said, rising with difficulty. I moved out of instinct to offer a hand, but withdrew at the sight of his frown. “Thank you so much for everything.”


  CREDIBLE EVIDENCE INDICATES THAT Hassan Mohamed died May 27 on the outskirts of Aleppo. He appears to have left his home in Columbus, Ohio, two months prior and made his way first to Turkey, then into Syria. Preventing extremist recruiting of youth is a top priority for the U.S. government.

  I stared at my computer screen an hour later, sitting at my kitchen table. I clicked here and there for more, but there wasn’t any. That was it. The sum total of the official government reaction to Hassan’s death. Three sentences summarizing a young life consumed by the combustion of modern warfare and ideology masquerading as theology. Of the pain in his parents’ eyes and the passion on his sister’s face as she pleaded for help involving a second potential tragedy in the family, there was nothing.

  I moved on to Abdi. Googling his name in combination with Maple Ridge High got me a few hits involving soccer games, including last year’s state semifinals, when he’d scored three goals in an ultimat
ely losing effort that still won him plaudits all around, including from the other team’s coach. I searched for his Facebook page and Twitter account, but they were long gone. Knowing I had no choice, I called the one person I knew who might be able to help find them. Bonnie Deckard picked up on the third ring. I heard yelling and a whistle in the background. I told her what I was looking for.

  “If the accounts have been deleted, it could be pretty hard. There might be some posts left on friends’ sites, if they’re public. How soon do you need it?”

  “Sooner the better, I guess, since he’s missing.” I told her about the threatening posts and the purported images of the Islamic State flag and suicide bomber videos.

  “I can’t do it until tomorrow. I’m at practice right now. We’re just on a break.” Bonnie played for the Arch City Rollers, the city’s roller derby team, when she wasn’t running her own website development company and bailing me out of technological problems beyond my capability, which was often.

  “One thing?” she said.


  “You still, um, owe me for the last job. It’s not much, like a hundred bucks,” she added apologetically. “But—”

  “Right. I’m sorry about that. I’ll stick it in the mail right now. Or I could drop it by.”

  “Maybe just do quick pay, with your bank? I’m pretty busy the next couple of days. And I sort of need the money.”

  “No problem. No problem at all. I’ll do it right now.”

  “Thanks. And I’ll take a look at your guy tomorrow. Just e-mail me the details.”

  “By the way, it’s a national security case. Be careful about, you know . . .”

  “Covering my tracks?”

  “Something like that.”

  “Thanks for the warning.”

  FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER, SWEATING a bit from the uphill climb from my house, I walked inside Jury of Their Pours at Mound and High. Despite my lobbying over the years, the courthouse watering hole had never deigned to stock Black Label. There’s no accounting for taste. I settled for a draft Yuengling and a bowl of bar nuts instead. I drained the shoulders off the beer and munched some nuts. I needed to clear my head. Owing Bonnie money like that was embarrassing. It wasn’t that I didn’t have it, especially since Cohen had just written me a fat retainer check. It’s just that I didn’t have a whole lot to spare. And losing eighty bucks in groceries is not a small deal in the world I live in, bracketed by hefty child support payments and a cash-flow ledger that looks like a seismograph machine on a bad day in fracking country.

  I looked around the bar as if hoping to find solace in the display of framed newspaper clippings of some of the great trials of the century. “Not Guilty” screamed the headline in the Dispatch the day after O.J. walked free. Below that front page, which hung on the opposite wall, sat a female defense attorney I’d seen here and there. She was chatting with an assistant male prosecutor I knew just well enough to say hi to. We nodded our hellos. They were doing a decent job of pretending to talk shop in an oh-so-professional-way, but their body language wasn’t fooling anyone. I drank my beer and munched some nuts and enjoyed the floor show. A few minutes later the door opened and another customer walked in.

  “Moose around?” the newcomer said, seating himself with one bar stool between us.

  The bartender shook his head.

  “Any idea where he is?”

  “Went to see his mom, over in Martins Ferry.”

  “Is she OK?”

  “I don’t think so. Something about hospice.”

  “Sorry to hear that.” He ordered a Coke. He was black, light-skinned, with blue eyes and a look of preoccupation. He pulled out his phone and made a couple of calls. One was to someone named Buck, the other to an acquaintance who apparently went by Big Dog. He left voicemails both times. He didn’t sound happy about it. He sighed and looked at his watch and took a gulp of his drink and glanced around. He settled on me with a look of surprise.

  “Woody Hayes. I’ll be damned.”

  I almost turned away. I still get called by my old nickname a lot and normally want nothing to do with it. But there was something about those blue eyes.

  “I go by Andy now.”


  “That’s right.”


  “It’s my name.”

  “Huh.” He checked his phone as if hoping against hope that someone had returned his call in the fifteen seconds since he’d last checked it. He returned his attention to me.

  “Michigan State, your sophomore year, third and thirteen, forty-two yard line, three minutes on the clock, up by twenty points. Snap’s fumbled, you recover, drop back another five yards, roll left, scramble, juke this lineman who wasn’t much wider than a double-wide beer cooler, look into the eyes of that guy’s bigger cousin, and just as he nails you, you fire a perfect spiral and hit Drew Wade for the first down.”

  I stared at him.

  “What?” he said.

  “Other than the fact you’d probably make a hell of a good Jeopardy contestant, that’s pathetic, if you don’t mind me saying so. Who remembers that kind of shit? Especially a play that didn’t matter.”

  “It mattered to you. And for the record, I remember that shit. Don’t tell me you went by Andy then.”

  I gave him another stare. On the TV above the bottles of hard liquor the Indians were losing the first game of an afternoon doubleheader. At the end of the bar warm laughter indicated that final deliberations were underway for the two lawyers. Someplace in East Lansing, a baby was crying.

  “OK,” I said. I stuck out my hand. “Woody Hayes.”

  “That’s more like it,” he said, accepting with a firm grip. “Otto Mulligan.”

  “Buy you a drink?”

  “No thanks. I stick to the soft stuff.”

  “Another one of those, then.”

  He shook his head. “Can’t stay. I’m working. Supposed to be working.”

  “What do you do?”

  “Bail bonds. Got a shop around the corner.” He gestured out the door with his thumb. He took a card out of his wallet and handed it to me. It said:

  Get Otto Here!

  24-Hour Bail Bonds. Flexible Payment Plan.

  Same Day Service.

  Otto Mulligan, Licensed Bail Agent

  “Are you new? I haven’t seen you around.”

  “I’m old as dirt. Been out of town a few years. Came back because my dad was passing. Think I’m back for good now.”

  “Sorry about your dad.”

  “Thanks. You and half of Columbus, it turns out.”

  “Really? Who was he, if I may ask?”

  “Patrick Mulligan.”

  “Judge Mulligan?”

  “One and the same.”

  Half of Columbus made sense. Mulligan was a legendary common pleas judge and pillar of the local Democratic Party who’d served forty years on the bench. His death had warranted a front-page news article in the Dispatch. As Irish as they came. Unlike the man sitting on a bar stool beside me.


  “Ever heard of Joyce Brown?”

  I shook my head.

  “Jazz singer, out on the east side. Most beautiful voice you’d ever want to hear. Little whispery now, but she’s still got it.”

  “And she—?”

  “She’s my mom. And yes, black is beautiful.”

  “Your mom—but not Judge Mulligan’s wife.”

  “No indeed.”

  “Does Mrs. Mulligan know?”

  “She does now,” he said, bemusement in his eyes. “He wanted me in the hospital with him. Insisted on it.”

  I pondered this. After a moment I raised my glass.

  “To complicated histories.”

  “Sláinte,” Mulligan replied.

  I fingered his business card. “OK if I keep this?”

  “Be my guest.”

  I handed him my card in turn.

  “Private eye, huh? You any good?”

  “I hold my own.”

  “Do any security?”

  “Like what?”

  “Like personal protection. The bodyguard routine.”

  “From time to time. But I don’t carry.”

  “Don’t, or won’t?”

  “Can’t. There were limits to my plea deal, despite how generous it was.”

  “Right. The point shaving. How quickly we forget. So, doing anything right now?”


  “Need a hand with something, and my usuals aren’t picking up.”

  “Moose, Buck, and Big Dog?”

  “They’re sweet guys once you get to know them.”

  “Sweet as pie, I’m guessing. So what’s the deal?”

  “Minor little job. Guy on a bad check warrant missed his arraignment. It’s a felony because he had the bright idea of writing one for a thousand bucks. Think I found him in a house off Weber Road.”

  “Weber east or west of 71?”

  “East. But it’s no big deal. He’s a shrimpy guy. We’d be in and out in five.”

  “If it’s no big deal why do you need help?”

  “Two heads better than one, is my philosophy. What do you say? Two hundred bucks and I’ll buy you a drink when we get back.” He paused. “I might even spring for a burger and fries.”

  I thought about Bonnie and my bank account and the low-balance alerts that kept clogging up the screen of my phone like globs on bird crap on a windshield.

  I said, “Two-fifty, since it’s east of 71. And make it sweet potato fries.”

  He reached out and shook my hand again. “Dig it,” he said.


  THE ONE-STORY RENTAL HALFWAY DOWN the block was the color of puke left in the sun for a week. The blinds were drawn and duct tape covered a crack in the bottom right corner of the front window. The chewed-up lawn looked like a family of woodchucks had spent the night excavating it. What appeared to be an actual sapling was growing out of the front gutter, which sagged in the middle like a mocking smile.

  “Good thing is, we don’t have to worry about some prissy home-and-garden editor interrupting us while we work,” Mulligan said, eyeing the property from where we’d parked along the street two houses up. He drove a battered Chevy Suburban that looked like it was motored new off the lot around the time Jimmy Carter was putting solar panels on the White House roof. “You go around back, watch the rear door, just in case.”


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