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The Missing Brother

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Sure, I'm Pat Novak. For hire.

That's what then sign out in front of my office says, "Pat Novak, for hire." It's not the kind of line that gets you invited to all the best parties, but down here on the waterfront in San Fransico the best parties aren't anything to write home about. Not unless you've got a mother with a weak heart and a fat life insurance policy. I rent boats and do anything else that doesn't come with a complementary ticket to the gas chamber. Oh, it's alright. If you can find it in you to get out of bed, most days it even beats lying back down on the railroad tracks. And when it doesn't, the odds are better than even the train's running late.

I found that out Monday night, must have been about six o'clock. Nobody'd been in all day and I was just about ready to close up, but the kid who walked in was big enough to be a full day's clientele. From the neck down he could have been a boxer, and chances were that was as far as a lot of people's eyes got. But his face told a different story, unless getting slugged makes a guy prettier these days, and if that were true my date book would be useful for more than swatting flies.

"Mr. Novak, my name is Roman Reigns. I'd like to hire me to find my brother."

"You know there's no guarantees in that racket? You give me a retainer and I give it my best shot. I don't work for reward money."

"I understand. Would a hundred dollars hold you for a week?"

"Sure. That plus expenses. You got a picture of this brother of yours?"

He handed me a photo and five crisp twenties he must have gotten out of the bank for this occasion. Taking money on a missing persons case always feels like selling a sunny day, but I pocketed the cash and looked at the photo. What I expected was another big, handsome, Samoan kid. What I got was three guys holding a big fish and grinning, and the only one who looked like Roman looked exactly like him.

"Either your brother's a twin or I'm seeing a definite lack of family resemblance."

"I don't critique your family photos. Seth's the one with the peroxide on the right. Seth Rollins."

"Look, kid, you ever think that if you can't find a guy with two hair colors then maybe he doesn't want to be found?"

"That's my problem, Mr. Novak. Seeing as you don't work for reward money."

"When and where'd you lose track of him?" He rattled off an address, which I jotted down, and told me he'd last seen Rollins a week ago. "You got any guesses? A girlfriend he might be running off with? Someone he owes money too?"

Reigns ran a nervous hand through his hair. "No. Nothing like that."

"Well, that's one mystery solved already."

"What?"

"Why you're not in pictures. You're a lousy actor, Reigns."

"Just find him, Mr. Novak."

"The odds'll look better if you tell me what you're sweating over."

He gave me a sullen stare, like I was the schoolteacher who'd taken the frog out of his desk before he could drop it down someone's back. When it looked like he didn't have anything to say, I told him, "Play it how you like. It's your hundred bucks and your brother."

Reigns didn't have anything to say to that either, just slunk out looking like a Saint Bermard puppy that couldn't figure why it got kicked. I put on my coat. Might as well run down my one lead tonight. Maybe when that didn't pan out Reigns would remember what kind of trouble his brother was in.

The address was for the Smackdown Hotel. The guy behind the desk was wearing an expensive suit and the kind of look only someone that big expects to get away with, like one of his eyebrows was trying to make a break for his hairline. I pulled out the picture and a buck.

"I'm looking for the one on the right, guy by the name of-"

"It doesn't matter what his name is, The Rock hasn't seen him."

"Anyone else work the desk?"

"No one. Look, jabroni, someone gave you a bum steer."

"I don't think so. Seth Rollins's brother says he was in room 316 as of last Sunday, that ring any bells or does it cost more than a buck?"

"It costs more than your roodipoo candy ass can afford. What are you? Private dick? If you want The Rock's advice you'll let it drop. It's not worth the trouble it'll land you in, if you smell what The Rock is cooking."

"Yeah. Yeah, I smell what you're cooking alright."

What it smelled like to me was "fishy," so I parked myself in the diner across the street and ordered a coffee. It took a couple hours, but my hunch paid off. There, walking out of the hotel Reigns thought he'd left days ago was Seth Rollins. He wasn't a hard guy to recognize. I left the money for the coffee on the counter and followed him at what I thought was a discreet distance for a kid who'd done such a sloppy job covering his trail, but Rollins turned out to be savvier than I thought.

"What's the big idea, following me? Do I know you, mister?"

"No, but I know you. Your brother hired me to find you."

He looked nervous, like a weasel that grabbed more snake than it bargained for. "Which one?"

"Roman Reigns. Look, Rollins, it's none of my business why you're ducking him, but the kid's worried sick about you."

Rollins sighed, a big, relieved number like lightning just struck the house next door. "We'd better talk back at the hotel." I followed Rollins back to the Smackdown Hotel. The desk clerk raised the other eyebrow but didn't make a peep. When we got to Rollins's room, he offered me a drink. I took it.

"You want to tell me the score, or are you just feeling hospitable?"

"Look, Mister... what's your name?"

"Novak."

"You got a card or something?"

"Here."

"Thanks." He looked it over suspiciously, like I'd just handed him a scoripion and he wasn't sure if it was poisonous or not. "Mr. Novak, you've gotta realize, I didn't want my brothers to know where I am. I don't want them getting in trouble, see?"

"So next time bribe the desk clerk to say you checked out without a forwarding address. No one's gonna buy he forgot that hair."

"Hah. I guess not. But, look, Mr. Novak, if Roman hired you... he's really worried?"

"He's really worried. He wouldn't spill what kind of jam you're in, but it was written all over his face he thinks it whatever it was caught up with you."

The kid ran a hand through his hair. "Okay," he said, looking like he was agreeing to a dinner date with Albert Fish, "okay, he's gonna know I'm here anyways, huh? Strength in numbers and all that jazz. Tell him where I am, you got my blessing, Mr. Novak, just give me until tomorrow, okay?"

"Sure."

It had to be the easiest hundered bucks I'd ever earned, but it didn't help me sleep any better than usual. Something about the whole thing stank to high heaven. The racket I woke up to didn't change my mind on that. Someone was pounding on the door like a drummer trying to cover for a lousy band.

"Open up, Novak! Homicide!"

"It's too early for a social call, Hellman."

"Don't play cute, Novak. I've got a hotel room full of blood and your business card at the scene."

"What do I look like, Hellman, Jack the Ripper?"

"You look like the last person to see Seth Rollins alive, at least according to the hotel's owner. What did you do with the body, Novak?"

"You mean you don't have a body? Maybe you played hooky the first day of homicide training, Hellman, but I can fill you in on what you missed. They write it on the blackboard in letters a foot high: no body, no case."

"Oh I've got plenty of case, Novak. I've got your business card in Seth Rollins's room, I've got Mr. Maivia's ID of your photo and his testimony that you were the last one there before housekeeping got a hell of a shock in the morning, I've got your fingerprints on his glassware, and I've got Rollins's blood all over the hotel room."

"How are you so sure it's his?"

"Why? Some of it yours, Novak?"

"Come on, Hellman. Even you know better."

"I know Rollins's dog tags and the Coombs test both say AB-positive. That's not one of the common ones, Novak, any jury'll buy it's Rollins."

"If they're anything like you, Hellman, they'll buy the Golden Gate Bridge if someone's selling. Come back and see me when you've got a body."

"Believe me, Novak, I will."

I knew he'd be back, with or without a corpse, like a half-bright terrier that can't tell a rat from a tennis ball. As soon as he left, I dialed the number Reigns had left with me.

"Hello?"

"It's Pat Novak. I met up with your brother last night."

"Mr. Novak, I don't know how-"

"Don't thank me, kid, this morning homicide showed up at my place. They think your brother's been murdered and they think I did it. They don't have a body but Hellman says they've got a lot of blood and it's probably Rollins's."

"My God. Are they sure it's- that Seth is really-" He broke off, like he couldn't remember a word for dead that wouldn't make it true.

"They are but I'm not. Look, Reigns, if you know what kind of jam your brother was in, now's the time to tell me."

"The McMahon-Helmsley Agency."

I knew the name. If you wanted a mom-and-pop answer to the Pinkertons, then they were the head-smashers for you. "You boys union?"

"...Trying to be. Or we were. God. Seth."

"Hey, hey, don't fall to pieces now, kid. So your boss hires the McMahon goons to put a stop to it, huh? Any reason they would go after him and not you?"

"I don't know. I was worried about him, worried the reason he'd disappeared was he was going to do something crazy and didn't want anyone else involved. But it wasn't like him, Mr. Novak, I still can't believe he wouldn't have told us."

"Alright. You willing to tell homicide what you told me?"

"I guess. Do you think there's a chance Seth could be alive, Mr. Novak?"

"Sure. Sure, there's a chance."

I called Hellman and told him to look at the McMahon-Helmsley agency and that Roman Reigns would back that story up. He was still stuck on me like gum the underside of a church pew. So I looked up the only honest guy I know, an ex-doctor and a boozer by the name of Jocko Madigan. Oh, he's a good guy, and he was a smart one too, until he decided if he wasn't going to be a lawyer he might as well stop trying to pass the bar. I found him holed up at Sandman's, making cow eyes at a bartender who looked like Theda Bara if she was on her fifth husband and owned stock in the arsenic company.

"What are you doing here, Patsy? Don't you realize this is no time for me to be seen with my disreputable friends?"

"You'll never get invited into the parlor, Jocko, you're not a rich enough fly."

"That kind of cynical outlook on life is the reason you'll never be happy, Patsy."

"Alright, Jocko."

"You wrap yourself up in all the evils of the world like a little child in a favorite blanket, and when something good comes along you hide your head until it's gone."

"Jocko, will you listen to me?"

"And while you're all bundled up, you wonder why nothing nice ever comes your way, never realizing that it's right in front of you if you'd just dare to take a chance."

"Look, Jocko, I'm in trouble."

"Bad?"

"Bad enough to buy me a one way trip to death row. Hellman's got a missing union agitator by the name of Seth Rollins and a blood-soaked hotel room and he wants to pin them both on me."

"Did you try singing him a few bars of 'Solidarity Forever?' Maybe that would help convince him you didn't bear the deceased any ill will."

"One of the other organizers, Roman Reigns, says the McMahons were on their tail. It's funny though."

"What about it? I could use a good chuckle."

"Why leave the blood and not the body? I can see making a guy disappear, and I can see leaving a mess to send a message, but what's the point of this?"

"Harder to prosecute? Though I wouldn't expect the McMahons to worry about that."

"Me neither."

"What are you planning to do?"

"I don't know. Jocko, I want you to dig up every scrap of dope you can on what the McMahon goons have been up to lately."

"And what will you be doing, while I'm risking life and limb spying on a bunch of ruthless mercenaries?"

"I need to talk to Reigns again. Look, Jocko, you know as well as I do Hellman'd rather go after me than the McMahons given half a chance. If I don't hand it to him with a bow around it, my goose is cooked, what am I supposed to do?"

"How about a nice cranberry sauce? Goodnight, lover."

Well, as soon as I left Jocko, I headed straight back to my office, meaning to call Reigns. The kid who was waiting there for me wasn't anyone I knew, but I'd seen his face before. He looked like he'd missed a lot of sleep since he'd taken that picture with Reigns and Rollins.

"Are you Pat Novak?"

"That's what it says on the door." I'd barely closed my mouth by the time the kid slugged me in the jaw. I'd like to say I held my own but, well, he was tough and he was mad, like an alley cat that thought I stole its fishbone. I took a nap.

When I came to he was standing over me and glaring.

"Where's Seth, Novak? What the hell did you do to him?"

"Nothing. You're barking up the wrong tree, kid, Reigns hired me to find him, I found him, and then someone else did."

The kid didn't look like he believed me, but before he had a chance to let his fists ask again there was a knock at the door.

"Mr. Novak?"

"Roman?" I figured the kid wasn't used beating up guys in their own apartments, since he took his eye off me when he threw the door open. Still, the throb in my jaw said he wasn't half bad for a beginner.

"Come on in, Reigns, your pal's already making himself comfortable."

"Dean, what's going on?"

"What's going on is your boy bought the line that I killed Rollins and came here for a little revenge, isn't that right?"

"Yeah, that's about the size of it. You haven't given me a lot of reason to think I'm wrong, Novak."

Reigns laid a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Dean, I just came from the factory. All the boys who've been talking union with us got the boot this morning."

I felt a little bad for the kid then, the way all the blood drained from his face. If I could lend him some of the extra that was swelling my eye shut, between the two of us we might look alright. He leaned against Reigns, like he'd had five drinks too many and the last four had just caught up with him.

"Oh God."

There was no use being tactful, it would be like putting a cold steak on a severed leg to keep the swelling down. "You think they got those names from Rollins the hard way?"

Reigns didn't say a word, just looked at me with big, wet eyes and nodded. It still didn't figure. Oh, I didn't imagine the McMahon-Hemsley Agency was above finding out just how far some unlucky wobbly's solidarity would stretch before it snapped, but with the McMahons you either disappeared or you got found. In style.

"Sorry for slugging you, Novak. I just thought- that homicide cop, Hellman, said you were the last one to see Seth alive. He's- was my brother."

"I've been slugged before."

He closed his eyes, stood up a little straighter, then looked at me and stuck out his hand. I shook it. "Dean Ambrose. I want to get the bastards, Mr. Novak. I want justice. Will you help us?"

"Justice is in short supply around here, Ambrose, I don't know if I got the points for it. What I want is Hellman off my back, but as far as finding the real killers goes we're on the same page." It was then that the phone rang.

"Yeah."

"Hello, Patsy, this is Jocko."

"What did you find out?"

"An interesting gang of murderers you've got me watching, Patsy. Very amiable bunch. As a matter of fact, I've been drinking all afternoon with a couple of young hopefuls named Jamie and Joey, and I must say we've had an interesting conversation."

"Did they say they tortured Seth Rollins to death for union names?"

"Oh dear. Is that what happened?"

"That's what it looks like."

"Well, in that case I doubt these two were involved. They don't seem like the type of stone cold killers to spend a night re-enacting the Spanish Inquisiton and then make smalltalk complaining about the ennui of their morning shopping assignment. It did strike me as odd, though I suppose it makes sense in hindsight."

"Oh?"

"Their boss sent them out to fill a couple suitcases with clothes and pick up a train ticket for tonight. They were very put out. Said they didn't take a sucurity job to shop for someone else's Christmas vacation to Iowa. I think they might have taken it better if it were Hawaii, but Iowa just added insult to injury."

"You think it's to get whoever did the deed out of town for a while?"

"That would be my guess. You might want to hurry if you want to meet whoever it is at the station and ask, though. The ticket they bought was for seven o'clock."

"Jocko, call Hellman and have him meet me at the station. And thanks."

"I'll let him think you're skipping town. He'll be so excited he'll probably beat you there."

Hellman didn't beat us there, but only because the Ambrose kid drove like he was drag racing the devil. We got to the platform not knowing who we were looking for, just hoping it would break our way, like kids ice-fishing in April.

We were in luck. It was Ambrose who saw him first, and he froze like a bad clutch on an old car. But it didn't take long to catch what he was staring at. That hair was hard to miss.

"Seth." Reigns spoke first, and like the first bird in spring he sounded like he didn't quite know if he was the right one for the job. Rollins turned at the sound of his name and flinched back when he saw Ambrose and Reigns. He looked like a rat caught in a peanut-butter jar, but only he and I knew it.

"Seth, what happened? Are you alright?" Ambrose stepped forward, arms out. Rollins stepped back.

"Go ahead, Rollins. Tell him." There was a bandage on his forehead but other than that and a certain fishlike complexion that had just come on suddenly he looked alright. Unlike Ambrose, he looked like he'd been sleeping just fine lately. Guess it helps when you've got some dough to stuff the matress. "Tell him about your side-job, moonlighting for the McMahon-Helmsley Agency."

"I don't know what you're talking about, Novak." His eyes didn't match his sneer, darting around looking for a way out.

"Looks like a swell deal from here, out of state vacation packages, all expenses paid for."

"Dean, Roman, you know he's lying. I'd never sell you out. You know I wouldn't."

"Seth. What's going on, brother? Please." Reigns was all heart, all right. Destined to get laid out on a butcher's slab and sold at a bargain price.

Instead of answering, Rollins turned and bolted. Right into Hellman's waiting arms. "Is this the guy, Novak?"

"It's your missing body, Hellman. I know they're not really your department when they're still warm."

"You're Seth Rollins?"

Rollins had more fire with Hellman than he did with his fellow travelers. "That's me. You gonna charge me, officer? If you're not, I got a train to catch."

Hellman glowered like a mean dog behind a chain link fence.

"I didn't do anything illegal, did I? I was paid up with Rocky, I just checked out early. It's a free country."

"I could book you for wasting police time."

"For what? Leaving dirty laundry? So I cut myself shaving, is that a crime now? You wanna waste department money on it, you let me know and I'll call Mr. Helmsley right now and he'll call up the best lawyer money can buy. See if David Otunga's left for his Christmas cruise yet."

Making a face like he'd just discovered his sandwich would do more good in a burn ward than a deli, Hellman dropped Rollins's arms. "Tread carefully, Rollins." He turned to walk away, shaking his head.

"You still charging me with his murder, Hellman?"

"How about you quit while you're ahead, Novak?"

Reigns and Ambrose were still staring like a couple of small town boys on their first day in the city who'd just walked into the seediest joint on the waterfront. A little hope, but mostly dismay. When Rollins turned and started towards the train, that was it for hope. Ambrose lunged at him like a good dog gone rabid.

"How could you, Seth?"

Reigns grabbed him around the waist. It was lucky he had as much weight as he did on Ambrose, or he'd never have held him.

Rollins's face twisted up like a used tissue. "We were never going to make it the way we were going. I did what I had to do."

"You had to let us think you were dead, are you kidding me, Seth?" Reigns still kept hold of Ambrose as he spoke.

"If you'd just left it alone, I wouldn't have had to do that. I was just going to disappear." He lifted his head. "But I wasn't going to let you two kill me when it came out I who I was working for. I was protecting myself, Roman."

"I wouldn't have!" Ambrose wasn't fighting Reigns anymore, but he was crying like a kid with toothache. "I know you're talking about me and I would never have. I loved you, Seth! We both loved you and you betrayed us. And for what?"

"Shut up, Dean!"

"What kind of a Christmas bonus did Helmsley give you, twenty pieces of silver?"

Rollins didn't answer, just turned away and boarded the train. And why not? No one was going to stop him.

There wasn't anything to prosecute, but Hellman pieced most of the story together anyways. Reigns, Ambrose, and Rollins had been union agitators, alright, until Rollins turned stooge for the McMahon-Helmsley agency. The plan had been for him to pass on the dope on the union sympathizers and then fall off the map for a while until things cooled down. But his brothers were more worried than he bargained for and, when I caught up with him, he panicked. Gave himself a harmless but bloody headwound to make it look like he'd been rubbed out by parties unknown and called his boss to arrange a ticket out of town earlier than planned.

Well, Hellman asked only one question. Three guys with different last names who didn't look any more like each other than any other joe on the street, were they really brothers like they said? Sure. There's nobody can hurt you like that but family.