The Third Brother

Home > Mystery > The Third Brother > Page 12
The Third Brother Page 12

by Andrew Welsh-Huggins

  “You adopted her?”

  “I should have. It would have made everything easier. But I was worried even that process might jeopardize her. You don’t understand the atmosphere we face now.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “How right-wing everything is. The things people say. ‘They might be children now but they’ll take American jobs eventually!’ ‘Build the wall!’—you still hear that, all the time. One day, right after I found out my sister died, a lady at the park yelled at us when Angela was playing with another child. Said we shouldn’t be allowed here. Even though I’ve been here almost twenty-five years! I became so scared I decided to pass her off as my daughter. Got her a fake social security number. Lied on school forms.” She started to cry again. “This country, it was my dream to live here. A place of hope. But now—”

  Theresa said, “Does Angela know?”

  Barbara shook her head.

  “I have to tell her. I was about to. But then—”

  “Someone found out,” I said.

  “That’s right.”


  “I have no idea. An e-mail just popped up one day this spring. The subject line said Angela.”

  “What’s the e-mail address?”

  “A bunch of numbers and letters.”

  “And you think that’s the same person who took her?”

  “It has to be. They’ve warned me.”

  “Warned how?”


  I waited.

  “Threats to expose the truth if I don’t keep telling the police how certain I am that Abdi Mohamed was a secret extremist.”

  OUR FOOD ARRIVED. AS the waitress distributed the plates I contemplated what Barbara was telling me. Someone was blackmailing her to keep up a front that Abdi was a terrorist. They were using supposedly secret information—that her daughter was actually her niece, and here illegally—as a sword to hold over her head. Now the girl had been kidnapped and I was supposed to do something about it without alerting the authorities.

  “How’d they take Angela?” I said when we were alone again.

  “She’d gone for a run. She’s doing cross-country in the fall, so she’s already in training. Normally I don’t worry—you’ve seen our neighborhood. It’s very safe.”

  “And how do you know she’s been kidnapped? As opposed to, I don’t know, just being a teenager and not checking in?” It was an issue Kym faced constantly with Mike, something she was always on me to do something about.

  “Someone texted me this.”

  She retrieved her phone from her purse and showed us a photo. My heart sped up a bit as I looked at a terrified girl with a gag in her mouth.

  “No chance this is a prank? Maybe some friends—”

  “No. Never.”

  “Have they made any demands?”

  “They said they’ll return her unharmed as long as I don’t screw around anymore. That’s their phrase. They mean with people like you.”

  “Did they say when? When they’ll return her?”


  “And that’s it? No other demands?”

  “They said it’s symbolic. A reminder I shouldn’t violate our deal again. But next time it could be worse.”

  “What’s that mean? Violate your deal?”

  “When you knocked on the door the other day. They accused me of calling you.”

  “Do they know who I am?”

  “I don’t know. But they had the date and the time.”

  Which meant someone besides the feds was watching her house. I took a look at the picture again and traded glances with Theresa.

  “We really should call someone in,” I said.

  “I told you no,” Barbara said. “If you can’t help me, I’ll handle things myself.”

  “And if I call someone anyway?”

  “Then you’ve destroyed two lives. Angela’s and mine.”

  “So why contact me?”

  “I don’t trust them to keep their word. That they won’t do something to her. But I also don’t trust the police, and what would happen to Angela once the authorities learn her status. I looked you up, after your visit. I thought you—”

  “Thought what?”

  “Might be able to help me. Because of your reputation.”

  I thought about Helene Paulus. Her description of what she’d learned about me. See what? That you fell down on the job?

  “I appreciate the vote of confidence. But this is extremely—”

  Theresa interrupted. “We need to get their attention. Turn things around.”

  “What do you mean?” Barbara said.

  “Yes,” I said. “Do tell.”

  “They think they’ve got all the cards now. Your niece and the threat to reveal her secret. They’re saying they’ll release her, just not when. So we’ve got to switch that. Get things on our turf.”

  “How?” I said.

  “Trade them something important for Angela.”

  “Something like what?”

  “Something like you, QB,” Theresa said.


  I LOOKED UP AT MARILYN MONROE. I couldn’t read anything in those lonely, yearning eyes. I was guessing the feeling was mutual.


  “They probably think you know too much anyway,” Theresa said. “What better trade for Angela than someone who might screw up whatever it is they’re up to?”

  “I’m not sure. Is it realistic? Would they buy it?”

  “I would betray you in a second,” Barbara said quietly. “I would do anything to help Angela. I’m sorry, but it’s true.”

  “Let’s be clear on one thing first,” I said. “You don’t think Abdi Mohamed is a terrorist?”

  “Absolutely not.”

  “You heard about the firebombing at Mount Shiloh?” I told her what Freddy Cohen had confided in me, that the feds had video of Abdi throwing the Molotov cocktail at the front of the church. About the message board threat.

  “I can’t explain that,” Barbara said. “All I’m telling you is what I know from before he disappeared. And none of that is consistent with what they’re saying now.”

  “Even with what his brother did?”

  “Even more so. Abdi was devastated by Hassan’s actions. I got several e-mails from him, about how upset he was. But he was also furious. He saw it as a complete waste, not to mention a betrayal of America.”

  I relayed the cryptic comments Henry Fielding had made about Abdi having gang ties. I told her what Mike Parsell, Abdi’s soccer teammate, told me about Abdi joshing around with a supposed Agler Road Crip. DaQuan someone.

  The counselor nodded. “JaQuan Williams. Talk about a complete waste. But in his case there’s no doubt. We had many problems with him before he dropped out.”

  “Any chance what the Columbus detective is saying is true?”

  “No. You have to believe me. Abdi never met a stranger. But he didn’t have anything to do with JaQuan outside of school.”

  “Any idea where JaQuan is?”

  “None. I told the police as much, when they came looking for him. Not long after Abdi disappeared.”

  I leaned back in the booth and drank some coffee. “And you don’t know who would want you to perpetuate this lie about Abdi to the authorities?”

  She shook her head. Her eyes brimmed with tears again.

  “Get with the program, QB,” Theresa chastised. “That kid Abdi don’t matter right now. Neither does some gangbanger. What matters is Angela.”

  “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

  “So what are you going to do?” Barbara said.

  “We’re going to need a plan,” I said. “And we’re going to need some help.”

  “Help?” she said nervously.

  “Some more muscle. If I’m the target, we need someone who’s got my back.”

  “What about me?” Theresa said indignantly.

  “I’ve got another idea for you.”

  I looked at my watc
h. It was past 2:30. We had a little time, but not much. I excused myself, went outside, and fished around in my wallet. I found the card I was looking for and called Otto Mulligan.

  “That’s some serious shit, Woody,” he said when I finished explaining what I had in mind. “And it sounds like it could go wrong in about seven different directions.”

  “Just like the job you dragged me along on the other day.”

  “No hard feelings, I hope. How’s the eye, by the way?”

  “It’s been upgraded to medium rare. What do you say?”

  “I say I guess I owe you one.”

  “That’s what I was thinking.”

  I went back inside the diner.

  “All right,” I said, sliding back into the booth. “I’ve got an extra set of hands on board. And I think I’ve got a plan.”

  “What is it?” Theresa said.

  “Here’s what we’re going to do.”


  WE SPLIT UP OUTSIDE FITZY’S. THERESA drove Barbara back to the airport with plans to park her own car and return to the counselor’s house hidden in the backseat of Barbara’s car. I had to assume Barbara would be followed from her house tonight, and I didn’t want her by herself. Short of ballistic missiles being fired, I was pretty sure Theresa could handle her own in that regard.

  Mulligan and I were in place by eight o’clock. The warehouse we’d chosen for the operation sat by itself at the end of a light industrial park off Refugee Road on the southeast side, not more than twenty minutes from Barbara’s house. The street the building sat on, cleverly named Industrial Park Road, looped around back onto Refugee, meaning we had a different way out than in if needed. The warehouse held components used in the manufacturing of conveyor belts for recycling facilities. I felt better about the environment already. Mulligan knew a guy who knew a guy who was happy to get a paid night off that came with a bonus in an envelope and a promise the components would be well guarded even without his vigilant presence. To judge by the bottle of Jack Daniel’s and the box of condoms we found in a drawer in a desk in the small security office, we might have been doing the company a favor.

  The setup was basic. I instructed Barbara to text her contact to say she’d caught me following her. That she’d confronted me in a Walmart parking lot. That she’d finally agreed to meet with me where I moonlighted as a warehouse security guard just to get me off her back. That she didn’t care what happened to me as long as they returned Angela safely. Me for Angela. She promised she’d stay out of the way and would keep her mouth shut. She’d done it so far, hadn’t she?

  Closed-circuit TVs in the guard’s office broadcast the view from cameras positioned on four sides of the building. We watched as night fell and the pictures changed from boring scenes observed in the shadows of dusk to even more boring scenes caught in the harsh glare of streetlamps, as if we were looking at old-fashioned film negatives. Based on the timeline we’d established, there wasn’t much to do besides wait. I read Dreamland and wondered idly if Helene Paulus and I would ever discuss the book again. Mulligan played Words with Friends while balancing a shotgun on his lap, as you do.

  At quarter to ten a stray cat walked past the front of the building. For a moment it seemed to glance straight at the camera.

  “‘The fog comes on little cat feet,’” Mulligan said.

  “Carl Sandburg. I’m impressed.”

  “Don’t be. It’s on a coffee mug somebody brought me back from Chicago.”

  At five minutes after ten the cat trotted back across the asphalt parking lot with something small struggling in its mouth.

  “‘If cats looked like frogs we’d realize what nasty, cruel little bastards they are,’” Mulligan said.

  “Another coffee mug?”

  “Terry Pratchett. And it’s hard to disagree with him.”

  Twenty minutes later we saw Barbara’s car pull into the parking lot. She turned the engine off but didn’t get out. I assumed she was texting Angela’s captors to let them know she’d arrived.

  “My guess is they’re sitting a quarter mile up, waiting for you to come outside,” Mulligan said.

  “So it’s now or never.”

  “Good luck, Woody.”

  “See you in a few.”

  We walked out of the office and parted ways. I turned left and headed to the front of the building. Mulligan went right in the direction of the side entrance, which would put him outside, out of view of anyone up front. His security guard acquaintance had deactivated the alarms for the night to facilitate this kind of movement, though that had taken a couple extra bills in the envelope. I turned the lock at the main doors and stepped out. I eyed Barbara and gave her a little nod for show. She opened her door but didn’t get out, as we’d discussed. As Mulligan predicted, a pair of headlights blinked on just down the street, and a moment later a van pulled slowly up, stopping directly behind the counselor’s car. I stared at the two people inside. This was not what I’d been expecting.


  BOTH THE DRIVER AND THE PASSENGER were wearing Guy Fawkes masks. The disguise—black slashes of eyebrows and mouth and Van Dyke beard against white-as-snow skin—had been immortalized in the movie V for Vendetta and later as the go-to concealment for everyone from online hackers to the most extreme participants in the Occupy Wall Street movement. There was a reason they’d become so popular, I realized. They were downright creepy in a hide-the-kids-scary-clown kind of way.

  The newcomers opened their doors and got out at the same time Barbara stepped out of her car.

  “What the hell?” I said. Given the masks, feigning surprise wasn’t much of a stretch.

  “Where’s Angela?” Barbara said. The urgency in her voice made it clear she at least wasn’t playacting. “You’ve got what you want. You’ve got him.” A dismissive nod in my direction. “Let me see her.”

  “What’s going on?” I said, taking a step backwards.

  The driver took a couple of corresponding steps toward me. He wore black jeans, a black button-down dress shirt and carried a gun in a black holster at his side. He looked like a waiter at an anarchist café.

  “What exactly are you up to?” he said through the mask, his language oddly formal.

  “I’m not up to anything. What is this?”

  “Why are you bothering this lady?”

  “I’m not bothering her. I’m trying to help.”

  Where the hell was Mulligan, I thought.

  “Who are you working for?”

  “I work for myself.”

  “Nonsense. You’ve been asking her about the terrorist, haven’t you?”

  “Abdi Mohammed? What about him?”

  The person beside him, the van passenger, unholstered his own gun and pointed it just above my solar plexus.

  “You’re not asking the questions here, dipshit,” he said, in decidedly informal fashion.

  Now would be good, Otto, I thought. This particular moment would be just fine.

  “I’m not answering jack. I don’t know who the hell you are, but you need to leave this lady alone. And while you’re at it, put the gun down.”

  At that we all glanced at Barbara. She was shaking so hard she was holding the car door with her right hand to steady herself.

  “You have him,” she said. “Just give me Angela. Please.”

  “Just as soon as we get a little more information,” the driver said. He nodded at the other guy, who raised the gun and took a couple of steps toward me.

  Otto, I thought. What the—

  The rear passenger door of Barbara’s car flew open just then and a scream pierced the warm summer night, like a car alarm that goes off in the street just as you’re finally dropping into REM sleep. An object I recognized dimly as Theresa Sullivan hurtled out of the car and leaped onto the back of the driver, her hands clawing at his mask, yelling like a banshee who’s caught Mr. Banshee with another ghoul. The man shouted something in surprise and began spinning around as if he were trying to control a firehos
e, reaching in vain behind him to grab Theresa. His partner turned and watched the scene unfold, his gun hand dipping a centimeter or three. I didn’t hesitate. I hurled myself onto him from the side, knocking him hard against the hood of Barbara’s car. He grunted in pain and we rolled off the hood and hit the pavement and rolled around a couple more times. When we came to a stop I grabbed his gun hand and smashed it one-two-three times against an extruding nut on the front hubcap until he yelped in pain and dropped the weapon, which spun away under the front of the car. I used my free hand to grab his mask and I had it partway off when his left fist smashed into my medium-rare eye and I yelped myself, and not quietly. I raised my hands and warded off a second blow and then heaved myself toward him, tackling him by the waist. He started scrabbling forward, toward his gun.

  “Don’t move.”

  I stopped. I turned my head. The driver stood above me, his gun out of his holster and jammed up against Theresa’s jaw. His mask was still on. He had his left arm around her head in a half nelson that was making her grimace with pain and me roil in anger at the expression on her face. She looked terrified but also furious. Theresa didn’t like losing control of situations. One of the things I liked about her—and was a little scared by at times.

  “Release him,” the driver said, the comment directed at me, his voice slightly distorted by the mask. I looked at his gun and at Theresa’s expression and reluctantly let go.

  “Get the gun,” the driver said, and the passenger started to crawl toward his long-lost weapon.

  Where the hell—?

  “Don’t move.”

  Same words, but a new voice and with a touch more urgency. I snuck a glance to my right. Mulligan was standing behind the driver, the barrel of his shotgun pressed against the back of his head. Speaking of little cat feet. Or nasty bastards.

  “Let her go,” Mulligan said.

  “I will not—”

  Mulligan racked a shell into the shotgun chamber. It’s a sound, like the first robin of spring or a baby’s giggle as Grandma scoops her onto her lap, that never fails to inspire.


‹ Prev