Prodigal Son (Orphan X #6) - Gregg Andrew Hurwitz Page 0,1

Five to fifteen kids on perennial rotation, graduating to trade school or jail or jobs involving wrenches and name-patch coveralls. The choices are few, the outcomes predetermined, the tracks laid pointing to a dismal future. That is what is so intriguing about the Mystery Man and his gold watch, no matter how awful his intentions may be. He does not belong to this world, to these city blocks. He represents not just a new brand of danger but a new road to a new place, and any route out of East Baltimore is a good one.

Van Sciver says, “I talked to Eddie in Paco’s garage who talked to his cousin who said the Mystery Man takes kids and turns them into something.”

Turns them into something. But what? The only point of reference Evan has for this comes from the army recruiting office across from the arcade in the mall. In between rounds checking the video-game change slots for forgotten quarters, he and Tyrell watch the slouchy teenagers go through that glass door bearing the decal of the American flag. They always come out a little straighter.

They come out men.

Ramón’s voice cuts through Evan’s reverie. “Turns them into sex-slave dicksuckers,” he says, and a few kids risk snickers.

But Van Sciver continues, undeterred. “Eddie’s cousin? He said he knew a guy came up in a Westside home—New Beginnings?—and that guy said the Mystery Man picked another kid, the best kid, out of the group. The tallest. The fastest. The strongest. And that kid? One day he just vanished.” He draws out the pause, the boys huddling closer, still breathing audibly from their dash across the street. Now it’s no longer a story but an urban legend, a campfire ghost story, and somehow that makes it more real. Evan senses some dark truth in the spaces between the lies. Van Sciver has let the cliffhanger linger long enough. Conspiratorially, he looks left, right, then back at the group. “Four years later he came back. For a day.”

A block or two over, a car is blaring Run-DMC with the bass cranked up high. The sound fades. Tyrell’s sneaker scrapes the asphalt as he leans in even closer. “And?”

“He was built,” Van Sciver says. “Muscles like this. And badass. Had a scar across his cheek. And a Porsche.”

The details are delicious, tantalizing. Evan’s stomach pitches with excitement, as if he’s in roller-coaster free fall.

A wino shuffles by tangentially, and Van Sciver shoots him a hostile glare. “Get the fuck outta here, Horace.” Back to his captive crowd. “This guy, he said he went to a house—best house ever. A real home. Hot meals three times a day and Nintendo and a pool. You get your own room. Said they trained him.”

“To do what?” Evan asks.

Van Sciver has to look down to meet his eyes. “No one knows.”

2

Serious Business

Sixty-five motherfucking dollars.

That’s all it costs to jar your life off track. No—not just off track. Pile-driven into the side of a mountain like a locomotive blasted off the rails.

That’s why Andrew Duran was here working the midnight shift at an impound lot on the East Side, crammed into a booth not much bigger than a doghouse, breathing in the overpowering scent of Old Spice deodorant from Juan, who worked the shift before him. Minimum wage put Duran at $420 a week, but by the time federal, state, Social Security, Medicare, and wage garnishment took a bite outta him, it looked more like $300 out the back end. Which was about $500 less than what he needed to pay for child support and food and a roof over his head, but then again he could be a broke-ass beggar selling smoked-down cigarette butts in Calcutta, so he tried not to complain.

Perspective.

That’s what they talked about on all them self-help podcasts. That’s what they talked about in the meetings, too. There but for the grace of God. One day at a time. Nothing’s so bad a drink won’t make it worse.

Clichés, sure, but he’d lost enough already not heeding them. He’d lost everything.

He sighed and stared through the grease-smudged window, king of all he surveyed. Which at the moment was a labyrinth of smashed-to-hell impound vehicles—rusting VW Bugs, wrecked Ferraris, twisted American muscle. Some had blood spatter on the headrests. Others had claw marks scouring the paint jobs at the trunks where the drug dogs got after it. A few, missing wheels, had been hauled in here on the back of a trailer and left for dead.

Duran’s job was

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