Nick Stone: Mr. Clarinet

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Nick Stone Mr. Clarinet
  • Название:
    Mr. Clarinet
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  • Жанр:
    Полицейский детектив / на английском языке
  • Язык:
    Английский
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Nick Stone


Mr. Clarinet

PROLOGUE

New York City, November 6, 1996 TEN MILLION DOLLARS if he performed a miracle and brought the boy back alive, five million dollars if he came back with just the body and another five million if he dragged the killers in with it-their dead-or-alive status was immaterial, as long as they had the kid's blood on their hands.

Those were the terms and, if he chose to accept them, that was the deal.


***

Max Mingus was an ex-cop turned private investigator. Missing persons were his specialty, finding them his talent. Most people said he was the best in the business-or at least they had until April 17, 1989, the day he'd started a seven-year sentence in Attica for manslaughter and had his license permanently revoked.

The client's name was Allain Carver. His son's name was Charlie. Charlie was missing, presumed kidnapped.

Optimistically, with things going according to plan and ending happily for all concerned, Max was looking at riding off into the sunset a millionaire ten to fifteen times over. There were a lot of things he wouldn't have to worry about again, and he'd been doing a lot of worrying lately, nothing but worrying.

So far, so good, but now for the rest:

The case was based in Haiti.

"Haytee?" Max said as if he'd heard wrong.

"Yes," Carver replied.

Shit.

He knew this about Haiti: voodoo, AIDS, Papa Doc, Baby Doc, boat people, and, recently, an American military invasion called Operation Restore Democracy he'd seen on TV.

He knew-or had known-quite a few Haitians, expats he'd had regular dealings with back when he'd been a cop and worked a case in Little Haiti, Miami. They hadn't had a decent thing to say about their homeland, "bad place" being the most common and kindest.

Nevertheless, he had fond memories of most of the Haitians he'd met. In fact, he'd admired them. They were honest, honorable, hardworking people who'd found themselves in the most unenviable place in America-bottom of the food chain, south of the poverty line, a lot of ground to make up.

That went for most of the Haitians he'd met. When it came to people, there were always plenty of exceptions to every generalization, and he'd come face-to-face with those. They hadn't left him with bad memories so much as the kind of wounds that never really healed, that opened up at the slightest nudge or touch.

The whole thing was already sounding like a bad idea. He'd just come out of one tough spot. Why go to another?

Money. That was why.


***

Charlie had disappeared on September 4, 1994, his third birthday. Nothing had been heard or seen of him since. There had been no ransom demands and there were no witnesses. The Carver family had had to call off its search for the boy after two weeks, because the U.S. Army had invaded the country and put it on lockdown, imposing curfews and travel restrictions on the whole population. The search hadn't resumed until late October, by which time the trail, already cold, had frozen over.

"There's one other thing," Carver said when he'd finished talking. "If you take the job, it's going to be dangerous… Make that very dangerous."

"How so?" Max asked.

"Your predecessors, they…Things didn't turn out too right for them."

"They're dead?"

There was a pause. Carver's face turned grim and his skin lost a little of its color.

"No…not dead," he said finally. "Worse. Much worse."

Part 1

Chapter 1

HONESTY AND STRAIGHTFORWARDNESS weren't always the best options, but Max chose them over bullshit as often as he could. It helped him sleep at night.

"I can't," he told Carver.

"Can't or won't?"

"I won't because I can't. I can't do it. You're asking me to look for a kid who went missing two years ago, in a country that went back to the Stone Age about the same time."

Carver managed a smile so faint it barely registered on his lips yet let Max know he was being considered unsophisticated. It also told Max what kind of rich he was dealing with. Not rich, riche-old money, the worst; connections plugged in at every socket, all the lights on, everybody home-multistory bank vaults, fuck-off stockholdings, high-interest offshore accounts; first-name terms with everybody who's anybody in every walk of life, power to crush you to oblivion. These were people you never said no to, people you never failed.

"You've succeeded at far tougher assignments. You've performed-miracles," Carver said.

"I never raised the dead, Mr. Carver. I only dug 'em up."

"I'm ready for the worst."

"Not if you're talking to me," Max said. He regretted his bluntness. Prison had reformed his erstwhile tact and replaced it with coarseness. "In a way you're right. I've looked for ghosts in hellholes in my time, but they were American hellholes and there was always a bus out. I don't know your country. I've never been there and-no disrespect meant-I've never wanted to go there. Hell, they don't even speak English."

Then Carver told him about the money.


***

Max hadn't made a fortune as a private detective, but he'd done OK-enough to get by and have a little extra to play with. His wife, who was a qualified accountant, had managed the business side of things. She'd put a fair bit of rainy-day money away in their three savings accounts, and they had points in The L Bar, a successful yuppie joint in downtown Miami, run by Frank Nunez, a retired cop friend of Max's. They'd owned their house and two cars outright, taken three vacations every year, and eaten at fancy restaurants once a month.

He'd had few personal expenses. His clothes-suits for work and special occasions, khakis and T-shirts at all other times-were always well cut but rarely expensive. He'd learned his lesson after his second case, when he'd got arterial spray on his five-hundred-dollar suit and had to surrender it to forensics, who later handed it to the DA, who recycled it in court as Exhibit D. He sent his wife flowers every week, bought her lavish presents on her birthday and at Christmas and on their anniversary; he was also generous to his closest friends. He had no addictions. He'd quit cigarettes and reefer when he'd left the force; booze had taken a little longer but that had gone out of his life too. Music was his only real indulgence-jazz, swing, doo-wop, rock 'n' roll, soul, funk, and disco; he had five thousand CDs, vinyl albums, and singles he knew every note and lyric to. The most he'd ever spent was when he'd dropped four hundred bucks at an auction on an autographed original double ten-inch vinyl copy of Frank Sinatra's "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning." He'd framed it and hung it in his study, opposite his desk. When his wife asked, he lied and told her he'd picked it up cheap at a house-repo sale in Orlando.

All in all, it had been a comfortable life, the sort that made you happy and fat and gradually more and more conservative.

And then he'd gone and killed three people in the Bronx, and the wheels had come off and everything had skidded to a loud, ungainly stop.

Postprison, Max still had the house and his car in Miami, plus $9,000 in a savings account. He could live on that for another four or five months tops, then he'd have to sell the house and find a job. That would be hard. Who would employ him? Ex-cop, ex-PI, ex-con-three crosses, no ticks. He was forty-six: too old to learn anything new and too young to give in. What the fuck would he do? Bar work? Kitchen work? Pack shopping bags? Construction? Mall security?

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