The First Mike Ramsey Mystery
Mike Ramsey served three tours of duty in Afghanistan without receiving as much as a scratch. Shortly after he returned home, a car crash caused by a drunk driver left him with some ugly scars, a black patch over his right eye, and a large cash settlement. Now he is drifting from day to day, with no clear direction in his life.
With nothing better to do, Mike takes on the task of finding a woman named Emily Bright, who disappeared after being arrested for something few people would consider a crime—kissing another woman in public. Mike soon learns that Emily is being pursued by some very dangerous people.
Eventually, he discovers who Emily really is, and why she ran away. Now he must help her fight for her life against a devious enemy who is willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants.
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FRANCES AMES looked out of place in the Six O’Clock Diner. He was an elegant man, tall and slender, with a hundred dollar haircut and a dark blue suit that probably cost more than all the clothes I owned. The waitress who seated him at my table called him sir. She had called me honey.
“You’re looking good, Mike,” he said as we shook hands.
It was kind of him to say that, but I doubt he believed it. The last time he saw me, I looked like an average thirty-year-old—taller and fitter than most but otherwise unremarkable. Now I had a jagged scar on my forehead and a black patch over my right eye. I looked like a guy you might cross the street to avoid.
“This doesn’t seem like your kind of place,” I said.
He glanced around the room, as if noticing for the first time that he was in a diner and not an upscale restaurant. The walls were decorated with photos of local landmarks—the state Capitol, the racetrack at Saratoga, the Twin Bridges over the Mohawk River. Two TV screens hung on the wall behind the counter, both showing Good Morning America. It was a comfortable, pleasantly noisy place, a good place to start your day.
“I thought this would be convenient,” he said. “I have a meeting at nine a couple of blocks from here.”
The waitress returned to take our orders. She was a heavy-set woman, probably in her late fifties. Being on her feet all day must have been difficult for her.
Ames gave her one of his professional smiles. “What’s good here?” he said.
“Well,” she said, “most people get eggs, but I like the pancakes.”
He thought that over a moment. “I’ll have an English muffin and coffee.”
I already had a cup of coffee. I ordered scrambled eggs, corned beef hash, and whole wheat toast. I had already run five miles that morning, so I thought I deserved a decent helping of fat and calories.
When the waitress left, Ames said, “How are your injuries?”
“Mostly better. I have some ugly scars, besides the one on my forehead, but my eye is really the only thing I’ve lost. My doctor is having a replacement made. She says it will look like the real thing.”
“I’m sorry, Mike.”
A little boy at a table in the corner was staring at me with his mouth open. When his mother saw what he was doing, she said something to him and he looked down at his plate. A few seconds later he stole another glance at me. I had to smile. The kid smiled back and then took a quick look at his mother to see if she was watching.
The waitress brought Ames his coffee and refilled my cup. A man at a table on the other side of the room called out to her in a loud voice. “Can we get some service here?”
He was a big man wearing a sweatshirt with the sleeves cut off to display the garish tattoos on his flabby arms. He was having breakfast with a guy who might have been his brother. Both looked like they needed a shower and a shave. Both were wearing sweat-stained ball caps.
“I’ll be right there,” the waitress said.
When she left, Ames took a sip of coffee and made a face. Apparently the coffee did not meet his standards. I thought it was fine.
“I’d like to offer you a job,” he said.
Now that was a surprise. I thought he had asked to meet me just to see how I was doing.
“I don’t need a job.”
He smiled. “You mean, you don’t need money.”
“That’s right. I won’t need any more money for quite a while.”
“But you need something to do.”
I drank some coffee and gave myself a few seconds to think about the best way to respond. Ames was being presumptuous, but he meant well.
“I’m not ready to make any commitments,” I said.
“I understand. That’s not what I was suggesting. From time to time the firm needs an investigator. We’ve tried a few local agencies, but we haven’t been happy with any of them. We don’t really need a licensed PI. We just need someone to ask a few questions once in a while, turn over some rocks. You’re a lot like your father. You find it easy to talk to all kinds of people. I thought you would be good for the job.”
I thought I understood what Ames was looking for. He and the other lawyers in his firm wanted someone to interview people who might make them uncomfortable. The work sounded interesting, but the word “job” worried me. I wasn’t ready for a job.
“Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.”
He took another sip of coffee. This time he didn’t make a face.
“All right, but there’s a situation right now that we could use some help with. I think you might find it intriguing.”
“What kind of situation?”
“Do you remember the two women who were arrested for kissing in a restaurant?”
That sounded like the set-up line for a joke, but I knew it wasn’t. I had a vague recollection of the story, but I hadn’t paid much attention to it.
“Refresh my memory.”
He leaned over the table and spoke in a quieter voice, as if he didn’t want our neighbors to hear him.
“They were sitting next to each other in a booth. An off-duty cop was sitting at a table near them. The women were laughing and fooling around. They were young women, in their twenties. When they kissed, the cop got up from his table and told them to stop or he would arrest them for disturbing the peace. He said they should be ashamed of themselves, behaving like that in public. They stopped being affectionate with each other for a few minutes, but then they went back to it. The next time they kissed, the cop told them they were under arrest. The women thought he was kidding at first and they just stayed where they were, so he dragged them out of their booth and hauled them in for disturbing the peace and resisting arrest. The charges were eventually dropped, but the women spent two nights in jail. Now they’re suing the city for half a million dollars. A couple of news sites on the internet picked up the story, and it was a big deal for a day or so. I don’t know if that helped or hurt our case.”
The waitress brought our food. I took a bite of hash. Hot and salty, just the way I like it.
“That’s quite a story,” I said. “What was the cop thinking? What year did he think this is?”
“He said he was concerned that children in the restaurant might be frightened to see women kissing.”
“Maybe he said confused. In any case, it’s obvious he made a mistake.”
“Yes, it is. Still, I’m surprised your firm would take on such a controversial case.”
“We’re not as conservative as we used to be. Things have changed since your father died.”
My father, who had died the year before, was a friend and law partner of Ames. He would have found everything about this case distasteful.
“So why do you need my help?”
Ames fiddled with his coffee cup. “It seems one of the young women has disappeared. No one has seen her in more than two weeks. We need someone to find her.”
My first inclination was to say no, but then I thought, why not? Ames was right. I had nothing in particular to do, and looking for a missing woman might actually be interesting.
My thoughts were interrupted by my loud-mouthed fellow diner, the guy with flabby tattooed arms, yelling at the waitress. “I said I wanted sausage with my eggs, not bacon, you fat cow. What are you, stupid?”
“I’m sorry, sir,” she said. “I’ll get your sausage right away.”
She hurried off. I wondered how many obnoxious jerks she had to put up with in the course of a typical day.
“Don’t,” Ames said as I got up from my seat.
I ignored him. The loudmouth and his friend looked surprised when I approached their table.
“What are you, some kind of pirate?” the loudmouth said.
Close up, I could see that the tattoo on his left arm was some sort of fanciful serpent, or maybe a dragon. I could smell his stale body odor from a yard away. His friend laughed, and the loudmouth grinned, proud of his witty remark. They both had yellow, rotten-looking teeth.
“You shouldn’t talk to someone the way you talked to that waitress,” I said. “It’s not polite.”
“I can say whatever I want.”
“Yes, you can, but when you say insulting things like that it just makes you sound like an ignorant bully.”
His grin changed to a scowl. “You’d better go back to your table and mind your own business, pirate.”
“I will. But I don’t want to hear you talking to that waitress like that again.”
I returned to our table and sat down.
“Were you really prepared to fight those two clowns?” Ames said.
“I couldn’t just sit here and do nothing after the way they treated that waitress.”
The loudmouth didn’t wait for his sausage. He and his partner got up and left without paying their check. They both gave me evil looks on their way out. I thought about trying to stop them, but I decided that would just cause more trouble for the waitress and the restaurant than it was worth.
I turned my attention back to Ames.
“All right, I’ll do it.”
He smiled in a self-satisfied way, as if he knew I would come around.
“Good. Let’s discuss your fee.”
I thought about that a moment. “Why don’t I do this on a contingency basis? If I find the woman, you can pay me what you think is appropriate.”
Ames shook his head. “You drive a hard bargain.”
“Those are my terms.”
“I guess I’ll have to accept them. Call my secretary. She can give you the details.” He glanced at his watch. “I have to run. Let me give you some money for the check.”
“No, that’s all right. I think I can cover it.”
He looked like he might object, but then he just nodded and said, “It was good to see you, Mike. Take care of yourself.”
The waitress stopped by my table shortly after Ames left. “Can I get you anything else?”
“Just the check.”
She handed me the check in a black plastic folder and I gave her my credit card. While I waited for her to run it, I thought about what my father would have said about the case Ames was working on. My father was a kind, generous man, but he would have been more at home in an earlier century. He felt uncomfortable with many elements of modern life, especially anything that had to do with sex. The spectacle of two women kissing in public would have made him cringe.
The waitress returned with the black plastic folder and told me to have a nice day. I wished her the same.
When she left, I opened the folder. On the line for the tip, I wrote $100.
THE LOUD-MOUTHED JERK and his pal were waiting for me in the parking lot. I wasn’t surprised. They couldn’t let me get away with calling them out for their crude behavior. They were both fat and sloppy. They were probably slow too, but I didn’t want to underestimate them.
“We’ve been waiting for you, pirate,” the loudmouth said.
His partner was smoking a cigarette. He flicked it away and grinned. He had yet to say anything. The strong silent type.
A woman and a young girl were approaching the entrance to the diner. The woman seemed to sense that something dangerous was about to happen. She hurried the girl inside.
“Did you want to continue our conversation?” I said.
But the loudmouth was done talking. He rushed toward me. I could see the cords in his neck tighten as he got ready to aim a punch at my face. When he was a few feet away, before he could raise his fist, I took a quick step forward and hit him in the face with an elbow. I was aiming for his nose but I hit him on the cheek. When I lost my eye, I also lost my depth perception. I was never sure exactly where things were.
My blow to his face stunned him long enough for me to aim a kick at his left knee. I hit him with the sole of my shoe on the side of his knee, hard enough to hobble him but not hard enough to do any permanent damage. I hoped.
He howled in pain and staggered toward me. I kicked him hard between the legs. He groaned and collapsed on the pavement.
His partner looked at me with a stunned expression. He was probably not accustomed to seeing the loudmouth lose a fight.
“Are we done?” I said.
He nodded. I got in my car and drove away.
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