Finders keepers by Brian Beatty

Flash Fiction

The Lucky Seven was the kind of nudie bar that relied on two-for-one early bird drinks,
late night bingo and weekend meat raffles to put perverts in the faux leather seats and sell lap dances. The talent wasn’t exactly the draw.

            Hackett only counted himself among this afternoon’s clientele because he had questions for a dancer working under the ironic stage name Feather: questions about a missing boyfriend of hers, most likely without a stage name, unless he was toe-tagged John Doe in some morgue somewhere.

            “Bobby’s my little sweetie,” Feather said, twirling her substantial bare ass at Hackett. “Not a baby daddy or drug dealer, if that’s what you’re thinking. I’m not that kind of girl, mister. He’s always breaking my heart, if I’m honest.”

“You know what they say,” Hackett replied. “Honesty is the best policy. Any idea where he might be?”

Feather turned and pinned back Hackett’s broad shoulders with hands easily the size of his. Flinging her wig hair across his face, she leaned into his ear and whispered, “You’re not a cop, are you? For all I know, you might want to hurt my Bobby. Or worse. Why should I tell you anything?”

 Hackett didn’t have an immediate answer because he was distracted by the breasts that had probably been the surprise of Feather’s audition for this strip club gig. Hackett was ancient enough to remember when you only saw tits like hers in smut magazine centerfolds.

            “You’re right,” he eventually managed. “I’m not the police. I’m not a judge or jury either. Bobby’s worried mama just hired me to find her boy, that’s all. I was hoping you’d be able to help. Otherwise all I’ve got left in terms of leads is a school photo of your Bobby his mama emailed me.”

            Hackett started to reach for his phone, but the girl nodded the direction of the club’s bouncer, who looked part-buffalo, as if to warn of a stampede.

            “Be in the parking lot at six-thirty,” she whispered. “I bet I know where Bobby’s hiding out. Sorry about your boner.”

            Hackett hardly recognized the tomboy in flannel shirt, faded jeans and hiking boots who emerged from The Lucky Seven at exactly half past six. She’d traded her wig for a tattered cap advertising a national park. Feather, real name Maureen, appeared much smaller fully clothed. More small town, too.

She climbed up into his four-by-four’s passenger seat with a hesitant grin.

            “You better not murder me, mister,” the girl said. “Don’t even think about calling me Feather. Or Mo. It’s Maureen. Always.”

Hackett was still registering that he suddenly had a new partner. Half the payday for reporting this boy’s whereabouts would be better than a kick in the pants, but he’d not planned to split his fee.

“In return,” she continued, “I promise I’ll never call you Gramps. Now let’s go find Bobby.”

The girl was good. She didn’t say too much to backfill the missing kid’s situation or hers, but her directions were better than GPS.

After about an hour of driving away from town, down smaller and smaller back roads that deteriorated in quality as they diminished in width, Maureen had Hackett turn his truck into the entrance of a campground that appeared to be full of off-the-grid types not too interested in being found. The place reminded Hackett of the hippie communes of his youth.

“The orange tent back there,” she said. “That’s Bobby’s campsite alright.”

The kid at the campsite resembled the picture on Hackett’s phone, give or take a dinner. The black eye bruise across the left side of his face had faded to that sickly yellow and green, making it a couple weeks old. Hackett recognized a serious black eye when he saw one. He also remembered the mama who hired him crying she’d not seen or heard from her son in three weeks.

            “Why didn’t you call me when you came out here?” Maureen asked the boy after introductions. “I would’ve found a ride. You’re such an ass sometimes.”

            “I can handle this,” the kid replied, shame evident in his voice. “It’s not your problem.”

            “Looks to me like you could use a little help,” Hackett chimed in. “Unless you’re going to say I should see the other guy. Which I’d suspect is bullshit. I’m a professional. Business cards, guns in the desk drawer and glove compartment and everything. Now who’s going to tell me what else I need to know? Before it gets dark, if possible. I go to bed early.”

            “Bobby’s dad is the police chief,” Maureen blurted. “I should’ve said something before.”

            “The one always on TV like he’s running for governor?” Hackett asked.

            The boy nodded. “Not my real dad.”

            “Step dad?” Hackett asked.

            Another nod.

            “I can guess the rest,” Hackett said. “Maureen’s staying here with you. I’ve got business back in town. I’ll see the two of you tomorrow. Early afternoon, if things go according to plan.”

            Both kids looked at him with question marks for faces.

            “I told your mama I’d find you. I didn’t promise to bring you home.”

            The truth was, Hackett had no real plan beyond keeping these two kids out of harm’s way until he could determine his next moves. He tapped an old favorite Willie Nelson CD into the player in his truck’s dashboard as he left the campgrounds.

Maybe some good music and a good night’s sleep would clear his head.

            Then again, maybe not.

            Hackett tossed and turned until he couldn’t toss or turn any more.

In the early morning dark he fixed fresh coffee and sat down at his kitchen table to watch the clock on the stove until it seemed like a reasonable hour to phone his client with news he knew she wasn’t going to enjoy hearing. Hackett felt awful for this poor woman. Or he just felt awful. Did it really matter which it was?

His client answered after just one ring.

“Your son Bobby’s alive and well,” Hackett announced. “And now I know why you didn’t file a missing persons report with the police.”

A choked sob then silence on the other end of the phone. 

“I’m heading downtown later to introduce myself to your husband the chief and discuss Bobby. I want witnesses there. If you want to warn him ahead of time, that’s up to you. Either way, you need to wire me the remainder of my fee. Or else I’ll start talking to reporters too. That might
make it tough for your husband’s future career prospects. You still there, ma’am?”

She was there, but didn’t say a word.

Brian Beatty is the author of the poetry collections Magpies and Crows; Borrowed Trouble;
Dust and Stars: Miniatures
; Brazil, Indiana: A Folk Poem; and Coyotes I Couldn’t See.
Hobo Radio, a spoken-word album of Beatty’s poems featuring original music by Charlie Parr, was released by Corrector Records in January 2021. Beatty’s stories have appeared in Bull, Cowboy Jamboree, Floyd County Moonshine, Hoosier Noir, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Mystery Tribune, Noir Nation, The Quarterly, Seventeen, Shotgun Honey and Thriller Magazine.