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Authors: Claire Matthews

Indirect Route

BOOK: Indirect Route
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INDIRECT ROUTE

by Claire Matthews

 

Copyright 2015, all rights reserved

CHAPTER ONE

JANIE

Janie shook her head and politely declined the cup of coffee offered to her by the blonde receptionist. 

“No thanks, I’m fine.”

“Alright,” Blondie said with a bland smile.  “Mr. Peterson will be with you in just a moment.”

“Thank you.”  Janie picked up a dog-eared copy of
Redbook
, but was unable to concentrate on any of the articles.  Probably because it was
Redbook,
a magazine aimed at the post-menopausal set.  She gave up and dug her phone out of the depths of her black leather tote.  No text from Mia.  If she played her cards right, her co-workers might not even realize she’d taken an extra-long lunch.

After spending ten minutes scanning the Facebook and Instagram feeds on her phone, the mahogany door to her left opened, and a round, balding man in his sixties ambled out.

“Janie, sorry to have kept you waiting.”  He extended his hand as Janie rose to her feet.  Even with flats on, she was a good three inches taller.

“No problem, Mr. Peterson,” she said.

“It’s Jim, please,” he insisted.

“Right.  Jim.”

“Come on in.  Tracy, will you get Janie a drink?”

“Oh, no…she offered, but I’m fine,” Janie murmured.  God, she just wanted to get this over with.  As they sat on opposite sides of Jim Peterson’s substantial desk, Janie wondered for the hundredth time why he had called her into his office.  He was the probate lawyer assigned to her mother’s estate when she passed away six months earlier.  The procedure had gone as smoothly as could be expected.  Janie was an only child, and was, in fact, the sole beneficiary of her mother’s estate.  Papers were signed and filed with the court, and within six weeks she had taken ownership of her mother’s mid-town bungalow, 2007 Honda Civic, and surprisingly large life insurance policy.  Janie was grateful, but would have given it all up for more time with her mom.

“I suppose you’re wondering why I’ve called you in,” Peterson said with a grin.

“Umm, kind of.”  When she was nervous, her manners typically faded.

“Well, there’s been a rather interesting development.  Apparently a creditor was searching for your mother and ended up with my phone number.  They’re looking for a settlement payment on a bad credit card debt from several years ago.”

“But Mom didn’t have any debt.  She only had two credit cards, and she paid them off before she died.”  There must have been some mistake.  Her mother had been scrupulous with her finances.

Mr. Peterson cleared his throat, looking uncomfortable.  “Well, I had my paralegal do some digging, and it turns out that a man in Mobile, Alabama applied for the card twelve years ago and used your mother’s name as a co-signatory.”

“What?  Who would do that?  Was her identity stolen or something?” 

“Her signature and social security number were used fraudulently.  But we have reason to believe that the gentleman who used them was your father.”

Janie felt her stomach drop.  Certainly Peterson was mistaken.

“My father?  No one knows who my father is.  I don’t even know his name.” Janie noticed that her voice sounded high-pitched and thin.  This was ridiculous.

“He listed an Elaine Block as his wife on the credit card application.  He knew her social security number.  Kelsi, my paralegal, made some calls, and found a few people who say they knew him, and your mother, back in the late-80s.”  Peterson’s smile was kind, almost pitying.  It made Janie angry for some reason.

“I’m sorry, but I’m sure you’re wrong.  My mom was never married to my dad.  It was a one-night stand.  He lied about his name.  She was never able to find him after she discovered she was pregnant.” 

“Did she ever live in Mobile?” 

Janie sighed.  “Yes, I was born there.”

“And when was that?”

“When was what?” Her shock made it difficult to follow the conversation.

“When were you born?”

“In 1992.  But my mom was never married.  I’m sure of it.  Check the clerk’s office in Mobile if you don’t believe me.”

“Kelsi did,” Peterson turned his desk chair and retrieved a slim file folder from the credenza behind his desk.  “And there’s no marriage license.  But in 1986, there was a man spending time with an Elaine Block, in Mobile, and he knew her social security number and personal details.  I’m just saying that he could be your father. I thought you’d like to know.  If you don’t want to look for him, that’s entirely up to you.”

“Why would I need to look for him?  You said you found him in Mobile.”

“No,” Peterson corrected, “I said we found evidence of him in Mobile in the mid-80s.  He seems to have disappeared since then.  We’ve traced him to a construction job in Florida in the late 90s, but then the trail runs dry.”

“But you have his social on the credit card application, right?” Janie asked, suddenly panicked.  If he existed, she wanted to find him. 

“Yes, but there’s no record of it after the Florida lead.  He may have been using a fake name or social security number.  This type of case may require a private detective.  But the information’s here if you want it.”

“I want it,” Janie said sharply. “I mean…yes, please.”

Peterson handed over the file.

“What’s his name?” Janie asked.

“Kenneth Brown.”

Kenneth Brown.  My dad, Kenneth Brown,
Janie thought.  It was a strange idea.

***

“What do you mean, your
father
?” Mia scoffed.  “Your mom didn’t even know his name.  How in the world did her lawyers find him?”

“Through some kind of credit card debt.  But it can’t be him.  My mom wouldn’t have lied.  Would she?  Why would she lie?”  Janie’s life had always revolved around her mom.  The reality of a father never entered the equation.  She’d always felt superior to those fatherless kids who pined for a daddy figure.  She preferred the idea of her and her mom against the world.

“Who knows?  I mean, when you stop to think about it, it is kind of weird that she never bothered to track him down after she realized she was pregnant.”  Janie huffed in frustration, but Mia simply shrugged.  “Well
I
think it’s weird.”

“She didn’t want him involved.  She always said that if he took off on a woman after one night, he’d never have made a good father.”

“Well, if what these lawyers say is true, they were in a relationship.  There are witnesses and everything.”

Janie took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, looking at the ceiling.  She was speechless.  It was like her whole life had been turned upside down in an afternoon.

“So what are you going to do?” Mia asked into the silence of the afternoon.

Janie dropped her head and looked pointedly at her best friend.  “I’m going to find him.”

CHAPTER TWO

AARON

“I need a favor, man.”

Aaron pulled out his ear buds and watched as his business partner entered the office.

“I don’t hack porn sites, Mark.  I’ve told you a dozen times.”

“I’m gonna change your mind on that one day.  But this is a different favor.”  Aaron dipped his chin, signaling him to continue.  “My sister called, and she needs some cyber-sleuthing assistance.”

“Dude, I really don’t want to help Mia stalk any more ex-boyfriends.  It’s creepy.”

“I know, right?” Mark laughed.  “A spurned Mia is a scary-ass thing.  But this is actually for her friend, Janie.  She wants to find her father.”

“Janie?  The roommate?”

“Yeah--roommate, best friend, co-worker.  I can’t believe you’ve never met her.  No, wait, I can believe it, because you’re a Unibomber-caliber hermit.”

“Let’s not start this again,” Aaron groaned, reaching for his ear buds.

“Okay, okay, I’m sorry.  You know I’m only looking out for your mental health.  And your dick, which is gonna shrivel up and fall off if you don’t use it soon.  And by use it, I mean with a woman.  For the sex.”

Aaron shot Mark the middle finger and swiveled his chair back to his desktop.  His personal life was his business, and Mark—no matter how well-intentioned his efforts—needed to shut the fuck up.

“C’mon.”  Aaron felt his chair being turned, and planted his foot on the ground to stop its movement.  “Look at me,” Mark ordered, grabbing the arms of the chair as the two men faced off.  “Forget your sorry-ass social life.  Janie needs help with this.  Missing father, possibly multiple aliases.  She’s never met him, and her mother claims he was a nameless one-night stand.  It’ll be a bitch of a job on her own, she needs your expertise.”

“What does the mother have to offer?” Aaron asked, his interest growing despite his better judgment.

“Nothing, she’s dead.  It was the probate attorney that found the lead.”

Aaron exhaled slowly through pursed lips.  “Where was he last seen?  Does she have any money?  This could involve a lot of time.”

“You officially know as much as I do at this point.  Just give Janie a call.  She’s a good girl, and you’d really be helping her out.”  Mark grabbed Aaron’s cell phone off the edge of the desk and began pressing buttons.  “Here’s her number.  I’ll tell her you’ll be calling.”

“Can’t I just text her?”  Aaron heard the whine in his own voice, and stared self-consciously at his lap.

“No.  Call her.  Engage in a two-sided conversation.  I promise you’ll live to tell the tale.”  Mark handed back the phone, knocked twice on the surface of Aaron’s desk and left with a grin, his good deed for the day complete.  Afterwards, Aaron swiveled back and forth nervously on his seat, staring blankly at his computer screen. 

He had to call a woman.

***

Later that evening, Aaron was in his apartment, eating leftover Kung Pao chicken out of the carton and putting off the inevitable.  He knew that Mark had a point.  Since college, he’d been woefully deficient in the socialization department.  After Katy had dumped him for an Engineering graduate assistant in senior year, his heart, along with his confidence, had been shattered. 

Two years later, things had only gotten worse.  His job as a software engineer afforded him plenty of money, and too many hours alone in front of a pixilated screen.  His work environment was almost entirely male-oriented, to the point where farts and boobs were regular parts of the workplace vernacular.  His friends were young, socially awkward nerds.  And he fit in depressingly well. 

Oh well, it had to be done.  Aaron leaned forward and grabbed his phone from the coffee table. Before he had the chance to change his mind, he found Janie’s number and pressed “send”.

“Hello?”  Her voice was soft, and sounded timid.  He could work with timid.

“Is this Janie?”

“Yes, who’s calling?”

“Janie…I mean, no, it’s Aaron.  You’re Janie.”
God.

“Yes, I am.”  He heard the smile in her voice and considered hanging up.  “You must be Mark’s friend.  He said you’d be in touch.  Thanks for calling.”

“Umm, yes.  Mark said…” He paused, not sure what to say next.  Did she want to talk about her father?  Her dead mother?  How was he supposed to approach this?  “I mean…”

“I need help finding my dad,” Janie interrupted.  “I’ve never met him.  His name may or may not be Kenneth Brown, and he’s apparently using a bogus social security number.  He lived in Mobile, Alabama in the 1980s, and could have been there through the late nineties.  That about all I know.  Except for that he doesn’t pay his credit card bills.”

There was silence on the line.  Then, “So, do you think you can help me?”

“Sure,” he replied, not sure of any such thing.  “I’ll just, you know…need whatever documents you have.”

“I don’t have much, but it’s all yours.  Let’s get together and I’ll hand it over.”

Aaron sat up quickly.  “I was thinking you could just email me whatever you have.”  He looked down at his dirty jeans, wrinkled shirt, and bare feet.  A meeting was not what he had in mind. 

“Oh, sorry, I don’t have access to a scanner, and all my stuff is hard copy.  I can come to you—I certainly don’t want to put you out—“

“No…no, no, no, that’s okay.”  Aaron’s gaze took in the dirty dishes and stacks of newspapers and gaming magazines.  A house visit was out of the question.  “Let’s meet somewhere.  How about the Grind and Go?  Over by the college?”

“Sure, I love that place,” Janie said.  God, she sounded so
nice
.  Alarmingly nice.  “Does six o’clock tomorrow work for you?”

“Okay, but I usually jog first thing in the morning, so I may be a few minutes late.”  He heard laughter at the other end of the line, and wondered what he’d said that was so funny.  Was jogging no longer an acceptable activity?  Boy, he
was
out of touch.

“I meant six in the evening.  My God, you’d have to call an ambulance to get me out of the house that early.” 

Aaron blushed, grateful that she couldn’t see his embarrassment.  Of course she wanted to meet in the evening.  Only psychopaths and social misfits were up and functioning at six in the morning.

“Yes, of course,” he mumbled.  “Six tomorrow night is fine.”

“Great.  I really appreciate this, Aaron.  I have money, I can pay whatever you think is fair.”

“Let’s not worry about money,” he said.  “You’re a friend of Mia’s.  I want to help.”

“Wow, you’re so nice,” she said, sounding as if it surprised her. 

“So are you,” he said, before he could think of anything better to say.  “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“I’ll wear a red shirt and sit near the back, so you know who I am,” she said.  “Bye!”

She was chipper.  Aaron wondered how he’d survive their meeting.  Chipper wasn’t his thing.

BOOK: Indirect Route
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