Thirty-Six and a Half Motives Page 28

He didn’t appear to be under anyone’s heel at the moment, but I didn’t want to ask anything that would get him to shut down again. “Did Scooter resent people being mean to him?”

He chuckled. “Have you ever met Scooter?”

“No.”

A smile spread across his face. “Scooter’s special. Not a mean bone in his body.” He took a breath. “He wasn’t born quite right. The cord was wrapped around his neck, and our mother said he came out looking like a ripe blueberry. That’s why she named him Blue.”

I blinked. “Wait. His name isn’t Scooter?”

“It’s his nickname.”

My mouth dropped open. “So what’s your given name?”

His smile dropped, and he studied me for a moment. “James.”

“I had no idea . . .”

He laughed as he reached across the table and grabbed his coffee cup from my hands. “You think I was born with this name?”

The way he spat out the statement told me he hated it. “How’d you get saddled with Skeeter?”

He took a sip of his coffee. “My daddy was a mean ol’ cuss. He beat my momma. He beat Scooter and me. I tried my best to spare my momma and Scooter from it, but one night . . .” His face darkened, and he looked down at the table. “He was drunk and he’d lost a shit ton of money on the horses, so he came home and took it out on us.”

My chest tightened, and part of me wanted to show him sympathy, but I knew he didn’t want it. He’d stop his story if I said anything or so much as touched him.

“He could hardly stand upright, but he was still beating the shit out of my mother with that damned bootstrap.” His face tensed. “I grabbed his arm to stop him, but he was still strong enough to shake me off. He looked down at me, his eyes full of hate, and said, ‘Boy, you ain’t near strong enough to stop me. Yer nothing but a blood-suckin’ skeeter the way you feed off me.’ Then a fire lit his eyes, and he turned to Scooter and said, ‘And you ain’t got a lick of sense in your head. Yer as dumb as a damn scooter.’” He put down his cup. “Well, Scooter would have given his soul to get our father’s attention. He took that stupid nickname to heart, telling everyone in creation that his name was now Scooter and I was Skeeter and they were all supposed to call us that from now on.”

“How old were you?”

“Eight.”

I couldn’t imagine an eight-year-old having to defend his mother. But by the time I was eight, I’d been pretty beaten down by my mother. Violet, who wasn’t much older, had stepped forward to defend me. “Why didn’t you put a stop to it?”

He released a bitter laugh. “Oh, I could’ve if I’d wanted to. I didn’t take shit from anybody, even back then. But I kept it.”

“Why?”

His eyes glittered with dark emotion. “As a reminder.”

“A reminder of what?”

“Of my failure.” He refilled his cup, then set the empty carafe on the table and flagged down the waitress, who’d had the sense to keep her distance. “We need more coffee.”

“Of course, Mr. Malcolm.”

I flashed Skeeter a look, surprised the waitress knew him by name, but then all the pieces clicked together. We were having a private conversation in a public place—a public place that remained open despite the fact it was infamous for having hardly any customers. “You own this place, don’t you?”

He shrugged and gave me a grin. “I own a lot of places.” His grin spread. “You’d be surprised. I make far more money from my legitimate businesses than my illegal ones.”

Obviously this place was one of his less profitable enterprises. “So why do it?”

He turned his grin on the waitress when she came over with a fresh carafe of coffee. “Sandra, this is Rose.”

“Nice to meet you, Miss Rose.”

“Oh, just Rose,” I said with a smile.

“It’s nice to see James with a lady friend,” she said, beaming at him. “He’s so focused on his business he says he doesn’t have time for a girlfriend.”

My eyes widened, but she walked away before I could explain we were just friends. “She knows your given name,” I observed.

He shrugged. “She knew me growing up.”

“So why did she call you Mr. Malcolm before?”

He grimaced. “She insists.” He took a sip of coffee. “Before we started this stroll down memory lane, we were debating the possibility of Kate Simmons being behind your kidnapping. Did you hear anything else to corroborate it?”

“Yeah,” I said, trying to switch gears. It was hard to associate the man I saw in this place with Skeeter Malcolm, crime boss. But it made sense that he wouldn’t want any of this to get out for fear of tarnishing his reputation. Which meant he trusted me. I wanted to thank him for that, but Skeeter didn’t respond to pretty words. He responded to action.

He lifted an eyebrow, waiting for me to continue.

“They said the woman who hired them also put up my bail money. And she’s not happy she doesn’t have it back yet.”

“That was poor planning on her part . . . or maybe not. If you were dead, the charges would be dropped. She could get her money back nice and quiet.”

“She must really hate Joe to bail me out with a million dollars just to have me killed.”

“It’s all sport for the Simmons family, although I confess that Joe seems to have been skipped over by the scheming gene. But his sister sure wasn’t. Looks like she’s all grown up and playing in the big leagues.” He looked into my eyes. “The question is what do you want to do about it?”

“What are you suggesting?”

“Rose, the woman tried to have you killed in a horrific way. You think we’re just going to let her get away with it?”

“We don’t know that for certain,” I protested. “Someone ran me off the road before she even got back into town.”

He snorted. “You think she just started tuning in when she showed up in town?” He shook his head. “Hell, if it’s revenge she wants, I guarantee you she’s been watching her brother since she left, or at least had someone doing it for her.”

“She had photos of me from last summer. Outside the courthouse with Joe and Mason. I figured she was photographing Mason because all the files on her table were about him.”

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