Today's Reading

Maybe I should've called ahead. Because he had no idea who I was. "Jesus. Jay Porter," he finally said after I introduced myself. "What's up the with the lumberjack beard? You been hanging out with Francis Phelan?"

"I don't know who that is."

"You look like fat Elvis."

"Elvis didn't have a beard when he was fat."

"I meant Costello."

"I'm not fat."

"Well, you're bigger than I remember, and that beard..."

"I plan on shaving it. You have a minute?"

"For the little brother of an old friend? I'll make the time." There was no one else in the place. A hollow wind rattled weaker joists. He reached up to pat my shoulder but being so much shorter he ended up awkwardly slapping my flank. "Can I get you anything, Porter?" He motioned at an abandoned desk, one step removed from a folding card table. "Sorry. My secretary has the day off. You want coffee?"

The empty waiting area played like the inside of a Jiffy Lube, down to the pot of coffee that hadn't been descaled since the Bronze Age. Two vinyl chairs leaked stuffing.

"I'm good."

"Please then," he said, guiding me into an office not much bigger than my bathroom. "What can I do for you? Let me guess. DUI? Those fucking Ashton cops—"

"No. Nothing like that. No, I...I mean," I scratched the chin buried beneath my beard, running through the various places to start. They all sounded ridiculous. Hired Russian guns? International assassination plot? I was just a guy who cleared junk from dead people's houses. "I don't know where to start."

Mickey checked the clock on the wall, one of those big, round ones with the plexi-glass protector you find in middle school. "How about you start at the beginning?"

So I told him about the day I stumbled on Owen Eaton's murder, how I knew I'd be blamed, forcing me to leave town and live like a nomad while evading capture. With each word Mickey's expression contorted more, a man fighting the sudden onset of gas, betraying the clusterfuck I'd stepped into.

"How much trouble am I in?" I asked.

Mickey plucked an Altoid from the tin, popping it in his mouth, snapping the lid shut without offering me one. "Depends," he said. "Got five bucks?"

I could see Mickey wasn't crushing it in the Friends Don't Let Friends racket, but I hadn't expected being hit up for money this fast. Whatever. I'd given that angry girl at the coffee shop a dollar for little more than snarling at me. I fished one of the few remaining bills from my pocket.

Mickey snatched it from me, a squirrel on an apple core. "That's my retainer. Which makes me your legal counsel."

"Might want to raise your rates."

Mickey laughed. A high, squeaky laugh, which evoked memories of my parents' kitchen, Mickey, Chris, Adam Lombardi and the rest of the wrestling team hanging out after matches, my mother making fried dough, their girlfriends giggling, me scowling in the corner, jealous.

"Don't worry," he said. "If you need more than a consult, we can renegotiate. This transaction ensures that anything you say in this office will remain confidential. But if you want me to answer your question, I need to know the 'whole' story."

He asked for it. I went back to where it all began and the stolen hard drive seven years ago, how my brother and I, along with my best friend Charlie Finn and that little runt Fisher, discovered Gerry Lombardi was a pedophile, how later after Chris died, we found out Gerry's sons Adam and Michael were bribing judges to lock up teens in order to win public support for their rehab, the Coos County Center. A town-wide conspiracy. I skipped over the third part, my finding the missing Crowder boy because it wasn't pertinent to my current predicament, and no one seemed to give a shit about that one. I told him about the toxic soil; how when I was searching for my then-girlfriend Amy's baby sister, Emily, I learned that the CCC had been built atop a mound of poisonous dirt—and the Lombardis had known all about it. It was all connected, and no one seemed willing to do a thing about it except me.

I was pretty riled when Mickey interrupted the backstory. "They really make that fat fuck Turley sheriff up there in Ashton?"

"Yeah. And then when I tried talking to the Coos County worker widows—"

"Man, I remember that tub of lard high on 'shrooms at Silver Lake and having to drag his fat ass from the freezing-tits water." Mickey pulled a pack of cigarettes from a drawer. Didn't offer one of those either. "Well, good on him. We're all getting older. Can use a little job security." Mickey smoothed a hand through the lingering strands on his pate. "This is all very interesting stuff. But I need to know particulars—where you went. After Owen Eaton was killed. Specifics. Save that needed a break BS for Turley. Who did you talk to?"

"What difference does it make? They got Eaton's killers."

"Then why are you here?"

"Because Turley said I should talk to a lawyer and that the Feds were involved."

This excerpt is from the hardcover edition.

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