Read Mojo Online

Authors: Tim Tharp

Mojo (8 page)

Randy poked his head around to get into the conversation. “Where’s all the girls?”

“We’re not here for girls,” Nash said. “Girls come later.”

“There’s a couple things I was wondering about,” I said. “You dated Ashton, and it seems like you two stayed friends—how did she get along with her dad?”

“Her dad? You know the story—at the office twelve-hour
days, flying around the country, never there for her recitals, or plays, or anything like that. Bought her everything she wanted, though. You don’t think he had something to do with it, do you?”

“You never know. A lot of times in cases like this it’s the parents or the spouse or something—crimes of passion and all.”

“You really know a lot about this kind of stuff.”

“I do my homework.”

“Well, I’d say her mom caused more problems than her dad.”

“Why’s that?”

“Her mom’s what you might call the nervous type. A real pill popper.”

“Her mom, huh?” I had a hard time picturing her as a suspect. She didn’t look like she could get the lid off a jar of pickles—or a jar of caviar—much less do bodily harm to someone.

“Well, what about that Rowan Adams guy?” Audrey asked. “Didn’t he and Ashton break up a month or so ago?”

“Something like that,” he replied. “But Rowan wouldn’t be involved. I mean, he’s a douche, but he’s still my friend from way back. No, a lot of girls break up with Rowan. He’s used to it.”

That was interesting.
broke up with him. Despite Nash’s opinion, that sounded like a pretty good motive to me.

“Hold on,” Nash said. His turn was up at the pool table. He made one shot and missed one. When he came back, Randy asked him if there was anything to drink around the place, and Nash said they had Vietnamese soda. “It’s weird, but it’s good.”

“Get a couple for me and Audrey,” I told Randy, and he’s like, “Give me some money.”

When Randy left, Nash goes, “What’s that thing on your buddy’s upper lip?”

“He thinks it’s a mustache,” I explained.

“Yeah?” Nash raised an eyebrow. “Well, he’s wrong.”

I had to laugh. It was good to share an inside joke with Nash, even if it was at Randy’s expense. Or maybe
it was at Randy’s expense.

“So anyway,” Nash said, “to tell you the truth, I wasn’t really thinking about someone getting violent with Ashton. You know, killing her or something. I was figuring more along the lines of kidnapping. Something she could come back from safe and sound.”

“But nobody ever said anything about a ransom,” Audrey pointed out.

“There’s still time.”

“That’s true,” I said. “I wonder who might want to kidnap her.”

Nash thought about that for a moment and even looked like he might have an idea, but if he did, he wasn’t sharing anything specific. “Who knows? Anyone who wants a bundle of money the easy way, I guess. You haven’t heard of any real hard evidence that something violent might have happened to her, have you?”

I wanted to mention that blue running shoes didn’t just take themselves off, but he looked too genuinely worried, so I said, “No, I haven’t heard anything like that. Just have to take all the scenarios into consideration, you know? You’re probably right. A ransom note will probably show up, and she’ll get back home just fine.”

“I hope so.”

“But there’s one other thing I was wondering about,” I said.

“What’s up with this Gangland deal? You know anything about that?”

“Gangland? Where did you hear about that?”

“Oh, I hear things. That’s part of my job.”

“Hey, Nash,” his buddy Holt called from the other side of the pool table. “It’s your turn.”

“Already?” Nash stepped over and eyed the remaining balls, then proceeded to run the table.

“Oh yeah,” he roared. “Yeah, baby, yeah, baby.”

I looked around to see if his celebration pissed off the regulars, but no one seemed to care. Huy and Tommy only shook their heads and took out their wallets. I couldn’t see how much money they paid off on the bet, but it wasn’t small change.

“You give us a chance to get some of that money back, right, Nash?” Tommy asked.

Nash slapped him on the back. “You know it.”

I was finishing off my Vietnamese lemon drink when he came back over. It wasn’t bad.

“So, you want to know about Gangland?” he asked. “I’ll do better than tell you about it. I’ll show it to you.”


According to Nash, it wouldn’t take us fifteen minutes—depending on the traffic lights—to get where we were going. “There’s one rule,” he said.

“You can’t write about this in your paper.”

“You mean
about it?”

“Well, I don’t care if you mention something vague like that you went to a party, but you can’t say where it is or even mention the word

“Why not?”

“Because it’s special. It won’t be special if everyone knows about it. Besides, it doesn’t have anything to do with Ashton.”

“Okay, sure,” I told him. “I guess that’s fair.” And I really did figure it was fair—as long as he was telling the truth about the connection, or lack thereof, to Ashton Browning.

We rode in his Lexus SUV along with Holt while Audrey and Randy followed us. And I wouldn’t be lying to say this vehicle was
. Black inside and out. Leather seats. A console that looked like it belonged in a flying saucer. I was like,
Who needs a ’69 Mustang? I’m a Lexus man now

Nash had good taste in music, but he blasted it a little too loud. He pulled a half-roasted joint from the ashtray, lit it, and took a deep drag before offering it to me.

“No thanks,” I said. “Have to keep my wits sharp when I’m on a case, you know.”

“Probably all for the best,” he said, then passed the joint back to Holt.

This was unexpected. Somehow you just don’t figure on a rich-kid wide receiver also being a stoner.

“You know,” I said as the weed smoke billowed around me, “I would’ve thought the cops would question you—you being one of the ex-boyfriends and all.”

“Who says they didn’t?”

“This weed has an evergreen-like, almost sweet taste to it,” Holt said. “Not too sweet and not too harsh. A decent pre-party blend.” He sounded like a wine connoisseur.

“You mean the cops did talk to you?” I asked Nash.

“Sure. They talked to a lot of people.”

“What’d they ask?”

“Oh, you know, the usual—
Why did you and Ashton break up? Did she have any enemies? Where were you when she went missing?
That kind of thing.”

Of course, I’d thought of asking him where he was when Ashton disappeared, but I didn’t want to come across as so obvious. My theory was you don’t want people thinking you suspect them of anything. That way they’re likely to be less guarded. But now that he’d mentioned it, I had my opening.

“So, what did you tell them about where you were?”

“The truth—I was at football practice.”

That sounded like a strong alibi to me. Which was a relief. I was starting to really like Nash. I’d never had a cool friend like him, and I didn’t want anything to spoil that—like him being guilty of kidnapping or murder.

A little east of the heart of downtown and north of the
entertainment district, we turned down an alley next to what looked like an abandoned warehouse. You wouldn’t expect an alley like this to be lined by high-dollar luxury cars, but there they were. And more were parked in the small lot by the loading dock at the back of the warehouse. One spot was left open and Nash pulled into it. I mentioned that he was lucky to get the spot, but he said luck had nothing to do with it. The spot was reserved for him. Too bad there was no reserved parking for Audrey and Randy. They had to park a block away and hoof it back to where we waited next to the Lexus.

The warehouse was a solid squat thing made out of red brick. The few small windows had been sealed and painted black, and the metal sliding door on the loading dock was shut. As we stepped onto the dock, Randy’s like, “What the hell are we doing here?”

And Nash goes, “This is it, brother. This is Gangland.”

Next to the big sliding door was a smaller one, also made of metal. Nash banged on it a couple of times and a narrow slot, about at eye level, clicked to the side. A second later the door opened. Nash looked back at us with a smile.
“Après vous,”
he said, which I figured meant something like “Go on in.”

Unlike the pool hall, the inside of the warehouse was way different from the outside. Yes, the inside walls were also red brick, but they’d been polished to a shine. Gold-framed movie posters hung on one wall, all of them from one gangster movie or another—
Juice, Scarface, The Godfather, GoodFellas, American Gangster
, even some from old black-and-white movies like ones I used to watch with my dad—
White Heat, The Roaring Twenties
, and
Little Caesar
. On the opposite wall hung posters of all the great gangsta rappers like Ice-T, Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G., Insidious, and on and on.

The glow of red neon lights hung over everything like the atmosphere of some foreign planet. A mirrored disco ball swayed above a stage at the far end of the spacious warehouse, and on the stage sat a drum kit, keyboards, and a couple of racks with electric guitars in them. No band yet, though. The rest of the room was filled with teenagers, mingling, talking, laughing, apparently from Hollister and maybe some of the other hoity-toity schools in the area. And the biggest difference between Gangland and Trang’s? Loads of girls.

Randy’s like, “Wow, this place has more perfect female bodies than a mannequin factory.”

“You can put your tongue back in your mouth now,” Audrey told him. “You’re starting to drool.”

As we made our way along the gangster-movie wall, Nash goes, “Pretty cool place, huh?”

And I’m like, “Yeah, this is the greatest. Who owns it?”

“Rowan Adams and I. Well, we don’t actually own it—we just run it. Rowan’s dad owns the warehouse. He owns property all over the city, but real estate being what it is these days, he’s just holding on to it till he can get a better price. Meantime, he let us fix it up for our extracurricular activities.”

“Must be nice,” I said. “What’s with the name

“Just a little game we have going. Over the summer Rowan and I were kicking around ideas about how to make our senior year monumental, and we decided to start our own gangs.”

“Your own

“Yeah. He’s the godfather of one and I’m the godfather of the other. Only instead of having turf battles and drug wars and whatnot, we have these different contests, and the gang that loses the most by the end of the school year has to pay for the biggest graduation party in the history of graduation parties.”

“And Gangland is your headquarters?”

“Something like that. We call it our ‘rec hall.’ That’s what we tell our parents, anyway.”

“So what kind of contests do you have?”

“Oh, a little of this, a little of that. Crazy stuff, that’s all. Like this battle-of-the-bands thing we have going. Tonight, Rowan has a band competing against the one I hired last week.” He stopped walking and looked me in the eye. “Remember, this is completely confidential. I’m just telling you because you seem like a really good guy, and you’re helping out with Ashton and everything.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “All I’m interested in is writing about the case.” I couldn’t help regretting the confidentiality clause, though. I mean, the kids at my high school would eat up a story about something like Gangland, even if they never would get to be a part of the gangs. But what could I do? I was a journalist, and journalists were supposed to have ethics about this kind of thing. Plus, I’d never get invited back.

Just then, a spotlight shone down on the stage, and a tall thin guy stepped into it. I recognized him immediately from his Facebook photos, mostly because of the red blazer he was wearing—Rowan Adams.

In addition to the blazer, he wore a mauve shirt with ruffles down the button line and these crazy green-and-yellow-striped pants. His face was long and lean, and his brown hair fell down over his ears and swooped over one eyebrow in front. To top off the look, he waved a cigarette in one of those long black cigarette holders in his right hand. Altogether, he looked like some kind of fairy-tale duke.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said into a handheld microphone. “Welcome once again to Gangland, where all of your
foulest dreams can come true. As you remember, last week our poor unfortunate and most terrible wide receiver almost-friend Nash Pierce attempted to introduce us to what he thought was a memorable band—the totally unworthy Rat Finks.”

The crowd seemed about evenly split between those who cheered the Rat Finks and those who jeered.

“Yes, it was a pathetic attempt, Nash. But tonight, it’s my turn to invigorate your musical senses, so without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Colonoscopy!”

With that, the band scrambled onto the stage, took up their instruments, and began thrashing away. It was nothing but noise, and not good noise. Those guys looked like eighth- or ninth-grade fake juvenile delinquents. The bassist and lead guitarist even had tattoos that had obviously been drawn on with Magic Markers. The keyboardist twisted his face into a snarl, but you could tell, by day, he was really a band nerd. Still, the crowd cheered as if the all-time greatest dead rock stars had risen from their graves just to play a gig at Gangland.

“Hey, I like these guys,” said Randy, and Audrey’s like, “Are you kidding me? They’re the most terrible band that ever existed.”

“Damn, you’re right,” Nash said, thoughtfully rubbing his chin. “They are the most terrible band ever. That Rowan has one-upped me again.”

Audrey pulled her camera out of her bag, but Nash clamped his hand on her arm. “No pictures,” he said.

“Why not?” she asked.

“You know I like you,” Nash said. “But we’re trying to keep this place on the down-low.”

Audrey looked at the crowd. Several people were taking pictures of the band with their cell-phone cameras. “What about them?”

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