Over The Edge: A Short Joe Beck Thriller
by Alastair Brown
I went to Daytona to lay low, to relax and to live, to sit and do nothing but spend the money I had built up lately, and sap up the sun's rays while allowing the bullet hole in my left shoulder I got from the gunshot wound in Las Vegas to heal. I didn't go to Daytona to watch a child get snatched from her mother's arms on the city’s main street or to get caught up in trying to find her before it would surely be too late. But that's exactly what happened.
It was Tuesday morning, nearing late May, a few minutes after eleven o'clock, and a hot ninety degrees. The sky was blue and clear, and the sun was blazing. I was sitting in an open-air, street-side bar on Atlantic Avenue. I was sitting at a table, under a parasol that was open overhead, on a black leather booth enjoying a beer under the soothing cover of the shade. I was wearing a black polo shirt, some navy-blue jeans, and plain black sneakers, and I had a pair of dark sunglasses across my eyes. I could feel the sandy sea breeze brushing on the back of my neck and I could feel the heat in the air licking against my skin. I could watch people walking down the street nearby and I could see the reflection of the sun beyond them, glowing in the windows of the apparel stores across the road. Life was good.
I was sitting alone, tending to a bottle of Bud, watching some sports on a black flat-screen TV that was bolted to a bracket on the stem of the parasol by the bar area to my right. It was a re-run of a football game where the Buccaneers beat the Bengals. It felt good being able to pass the day doing nothing in particular. I drank my beer and casually watched what was going on.
Before long, the brown glass bottle in my hand was nearing empty, the beer inside becoming warmer than you'd like, its level inching toward the bottom edge of the bottle's red label. I killed it with another gulp and gestured to the waiter to send me another.
He was an Italian-looking dude. The only guy who seemed to work there. He was tall and thin with jet-black, gelled hair, and tanned skin. He was dressed in a white long-sleeved shirt and dark pants. He nodded from behind the bar and brought another one out on a round black plastic tray, placing it down on the table in front of me along with a small steel tray that held a white rectangular piece of paper.
“That’s eight forty-five,” he said.
I nodded and pulled my wallet from the pocket of my jeans, slipped a ten from the bill slot, and dropped it onto the little steel plate. “Keep the change,” I said and lifted the fresh bottle of beer, and took a large gulp. It was ice cold and refreshing, soothing on a man's soul. I savored the texture of the bubbles as they swooshed past my tongue.
The waiter nodded his thanks and lifted the steel tray with the cash and the empty bottle from the table and headed off to ring it through the cash register before serving an old guy who was sitting almost inside with his back to me on a stool at the bar.
I took another drink and looked up at the TV screen some more. The Buccs wide receiver danced through the Bengals defensive line and weaved his way to the end zone while a gun-gray Dodge Ram cruised by on the other side out on the street. I caught a glimpse of it in the corner of my left eye and looked over.
There were three young women sitting in the back of the truck. They had blonde hair and white vest tops, sunglasses on their eyes, and bottles of beer in their hands. They had smiles on their faces. One of them flashed me her rack. It wasn't a bad view, a bit like looking at two suntanned cantaloupes bouncing back and forth. She shook them side to side and hollered as they drove past. You've got to love the land of the free.
I grinned and took another drink, and watched them disappear down the road into the collage of people along the sidewalk and into the haze shimmering further along the way down the street as they drove out of sight.
Nothing as spectacular would follow. Just a stream of people in the cars and some footfall along the sidewalk in front of them. People coming and going, heading left and heading right. Men, women, and families. The young and the old, the lazy and the active. Even one woman making heavy work of walking about nine dogs.
As I took another gulp of beer, another woman slowly shuffled into view. She was young-looking and slim, maybe five-four and of average build with tanned skin. She was wearing dark pants over white sandals and a gray sleeveless top over that. Her hair was dark, tied back in a ponytail over her head, a pair of black sunglasses over her eyes. In her arms, she was carrying a baby. It was wearing a pink onesie with a hood up over its head and it was resting against her chest, its little head tucked into her right shoulder.
I presumed it was a little girl, going by the color of the clothes. Other than a brief smile, I never gave them much thought as I lifted my bottle of Bud to neck what was left of my beer and get back to casually watching some football. That is until the minivan screeched in.
It happened in a flash. One moment, the woman was strolling along, carrying her baby in her arms; the next, a black minivan appeared from almost nowhere on the road, its tires screeching to a halt by the edge of the curb. It was all black with tinted windows. Next, its side door swung open and a man emerged from within. For a second, he paused in the doorway, crouched over and dressed head to toe in black, a black ski mask over his head. He quickly jumped out onto the sidewalk in the way of the woman and the child and grabbed the baby from her mother's arms.
Thinking fast, relying on instinct, the woman put up a fight. She screamed and yelled for help and tried to grab the man by his black sweater. He pushed her to the ground and, holding the baby tight in his arms, jumped back into the minivan before the woman had even hit the deck. Then, the door was pulled shut behind him and the vehicle got off its mark. With another hellish screech, it sped off down the street.
"What the fuck," I yelled as it all went down. I laid the beer bottle down on the table and stood up from the booth but they were gone by the time I was on my feet. I tried to get a read on its license plate, but it was gone too quickly and my view was blocked by somebody standing between me and the minivan’s rear. I rushed over to the woman's aid as she lay wailing on the scorching-hot sidewalk.
"Hey, Ma'am," I yelled and leaned over toward her. "Are you hurt?"
She shook her head, visibly in shock, tears streaming down her face from behind her dark shades. She removed her sunglasses and wiped some tears from her bulging, sad eyes.
A couple of passers-by had stopped where they were, looking around, pointing at her, pointing at me, pointing down the road.
“Don’t just stand there,” I yelled. “Somebody call nine-one-one. And help this woman up, for fuck sake.”
The people jumped into action and moved closer toward her.
I looked down the road at the minivan speeding off in the distance, breathing hard from what had just happened. I turned around and saw the woman now up on her feet, an old woman by her side.
The mother of the taken child was shaking with shock and crying with grief. "My baby! My baby. They just took my baby!" she cried. “They just took my baby. Please, help. Somebody, please, help me.”
Down the street, I saw the minivan make a sharp left at what looked like an intersection with another road and negotiate the traffic to turn off somewhere to the left and disappear from sight. I shook my head.
The woman was still wailing where she was stood. "My beautiful little baby. They've taken my little girl."
I walked over and put my palm on her bare left shoulder. Her skin felt warm to the touch. “We’re going to get your baby back,” I said to her.
She just shook her head and cried.
I looked at the others around her. “Has somebody called the cops?”
“They’re on the way, man,” a male voice said.
I nodded and looked into the bar I was sitting in. The waiter was looking over. I made eye contact with the guy and waved him over.
He dashed toward us.
I gestured toward the woman. “Get her a seat and get her glass of water. Try to reassure her until the police arrive.”
The guy nodded. “Absolutely.”
I looked back at the woman and frowned. She was in hysterics. I raised my sunglasses and placed my hands on her shoulders and looked her in her grieving eyes. "Listen to me," I said. "My name is Joe Beck. I'm a private detective. I saw what just happened and I'm going to do what I can to get your daughter back, you hear?"
She just looked at me and cried, managing a brief nod.
"I'm going to help you out," I said to her. "But first, I need you to take a seat in this bar until the cops arrive." I gestured toward the waiter. "This man will get you a seat. Sit tight until the police come. OK?”
She nodded once more, wiping the tears from her eyes.
I looked at the waiter and smiled my thanks. Then, I fished my wallet from my pocket and drew my card from one of the slots. It was the one with my name and number that I give out for people to be able to give me a call. "Here's my card," I said to him. "When she calms down, give this to her. Tell her to use it to contact me with her name and address."
The guy nodded and took it from my hand. Then, gently, one hand on her back and the other gesturing the way to walk, he began to show the grieving woman to a seat next to the booth I had been sitting at.
“It’s going to be all right," I said, offering the woman some reassurance, before turning around to take off down the street.
I lowered my sunglasses back over my eyes and jogged along the sidewalk, passing the windows of the stores nearby, looking left and right, up at the space above their awnings where their signs met their buildings' roofs. I was looking for cameras, anything that might have picked up what had just taken place.
As I jogged along the sun-drenched path, people turned their heads to look. They were useless bystanders, either lacking the initiative to take an active role in what was having to be done or lacking in the empathy to care and give a shit that the woman’s life had just been turned on its head and realize that she was in need of a serious hand.
Further along the road, I saw an exterior camera on the wall of a building across the street, above the sign for the lingerie store that the place housed. I crossed the road between the traffic and ducked under the awning above its entrance, away from the sun, and stepped in through the door.
Copyright © Alastair Brown, 2021
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Over The Edge: A Short Joe Beck Thriller is held copyright © by Alastair Brown as at its respective creation date. All rights reserved. It, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any form without permission. Anyone who displays, reproduces, copies, creates derivative works, or sells textual, photographic, video, audiovisual programs or other content related to this creative work/publication for commercial or non-commercial purposes without permission violates intellectual property laws and is liable for infringement of intellectual property rights.
Over The Edge: A Short Joe Beck Thriller is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents either are a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, actual business establishments, actual events, or actual locales is entirely coincidental. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products, brands, establishments, and institutions referenced within this creative work/publication.