Thirty-Six and a Half Motives Page 27

“I took care of it.”

I had a hard time picturing Skeeter doing his own dirty work. But I decided against asking for more details. I probably didn’t want to know. “How’s Merv?”

His good mood vanished. “He’s been better.”

“He’s okay?”

He lifted his shoulder in a half-shrug, but I saw through his nonchalance. He was worried. “He got away and someone’s lookin’ after him.”

Which meant he wasn’t in a hospital. “Shouldn’t you be with him?”

He stole a piece of my bacon and took a bite, his eyes lifting to mine in a challenge. “Do I look like a damn nurse to you?”

“No, but—”

“Merv doesn’t want me there holdin’ his hand. He wants me to catch the bastards who shot him.” He dropped the bacon back on my plate, his mood even darker. “Tell me what you know.”

“Teagen’s friend’s name is Marshal. They were both hired by a woman, but they ultimately answer to J.R. They kept saying she wouldn’t be happy, but they sounded a heck of a lot more scared when they talked about Simmons.”

“They damn well should be scared. J.R. Simmons does not suffer fools gladly.”

“Marshal told Teagen that he should have killed me like he was supposed to, but Teagen said his job was just to snatch me and then go kill Mason.”

Skeeter’s scowl deepened and he nodded.

“The files in that shack were the same ones I saw in Kate’s apartment. I think this proves she’s been working for her father all along.”

The waitress walked up and set a plate of food in front of Skeeter. “Here ya go, sugar.”

Skeeter waited until she was out of sight before reaching for the syrup. “Kate never seemed interested in the family business before. She was a rebel, always challenging her father, but she was always a schemer. It could be that she realized working for Daddy was too lucrative to pass up.”

I thought about it for a second. “What I don’t understand is why she wanted me to get back with Joe if she was just gonna have me killed.”

“It would make a lot of sense if she holds a grudge against him.” He leaned forward. “Think about it. J.R. waited until I had everything I’d been working toward before he struck out at me. Maybe Kate Simmons was trying to do the same thing with Joe.”

“But I wouldn’t go back to him. So why go through with it?”

“She must have decided it would have to be enough. Why else have the video of your death sent to Deveraux while he was in Joe’s office? And Kate was there to watch, don’t forget.”

I sat back in my seat, feeling lightheaded. “Oh, my word. How can someone be so cold?”

“They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” he said as he poured syrup over his pancakes.

The bitterness in his voice told me there was a story there. I decided to worm it out of him. “Scooter’s your brother. He’s friends with Bruce Wayne.”

He looked up at me in surprise. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Seems to me that you know a whole lot more about me than I know about you.”

He turned his attention back to his plate. “And that’s how it’s supposed to be.”

“Not if we’re partners.”

He sawed through his fried egg. “You turned that down.”

“We may not be partners in your business, but we’re partners in this mess.”

He shook his head. “Not by a long shot.”

He reached for his cup of coffee, but I snatched it before he could get to it.

“Skeeter, how can you say that?” I searched his eyes, trying not to let my temper get the best of me. “We’re in this together. Do you consider me your underling?”

He remained silent, but his clenched jaw told me I was getting to him.

“Look, I know you’re used to barkin’ orders at people, but I’m sick to death of takin’ orders, and you damn well know it. Now we’re either partners in this, or I’m taking what I know and going home.” I pointed my finger in his face. “And I’ll send Jed and whoever else you assign to watch over me away.”

The veins in his temples throbbed, but I held my ground, refusing to be the first to cave in our staring contest.

Five seconds later, he dropped his gaze and attacked his pancakes.

We stayed like that for a good minute or two, Skeeter eating like he was getting paid to do it while I crunched on the last of my bacon and cradled his coffee in my hand.

I studied him as he ignored me—except I realized that wasn’t quite true. He was fully aware of what I was doing, just like he was aware of the waitress, the short order cook, and the man at the counter. He was even aware of the door, despite the fact that his back was to it. He’d suggested this place because there was a mirror on the wall behind me, giving him a view of the entire room.

Skeeter Malcolm was no fool.

But his personal life was also as well-guarded as Fort Knox. Jed seemed to be the only one who had access, and that was only granted because they shared a past. No, Skeeter wasn’t ignoring me—he was fortifying his walls.

But then he surprised the bejiggers out of me. “Scooter’s my younger brother. Not by much though.” He kept his gaze on his plate. “Growing up, people always thought we were twins. They said I got all the brains and the brawn, and Scooter got the leftovers.”

“Why would people say something so cruel?”

His gaze lifted to mine. “Why would your mother lock you in a closet?” He paused. “I learned very early on that it’s human nature to be cruel. To attack the weak. I studied people. How they worked. Why they did what they did. And after I faced my father’s bootstrap more times than I could count, I decided I’d never be under anyone’s heel again.”

“That’s why you went to work for J.R. You saw it as your ticket out.”

“I was tired of being dirt poor. I was known around here as one of the dirty Malcolm boys. I never stood a chance at being anything more. Unless I made it happen myself. So I left and never planned on coming back.”

“Until J.R. made you.”

He nodded. “Turns out I was still under someone’s heel after all.” He released a short laugh. “But I realized that everyone’s under someone’s heel. It’s just a matter of how tolerable it is.”

Prev Next