For Whom the Minivan Rolls: An Aaron Tucker Mystery

Prologue

Eeeeuuuuurrrppp!

The noise—wherever it was coming from—woke Madlyn Beckwirth, and she nudged Gary, who was snoring beside her. Every few seconds, eeeuuurrrp!

If she just lay there and listened, it was enough to drive Madlyn crazy. That’s the way things are at two in the morning. So she got out of bed and went downstairs to investigate.

Madlyn carefully checked the living room and the kitchen, but no one was there. She realized now the noise was coming from somewhere outside the house.

Nothing else to do. Madlyn took the chain off the front door, checking to make sure she had unlocked both the dead bolt and the lock in the doorknob. The last thing she needed was to be locked out of her own house. Especially with a man upstairs who wouldn’t wake up if you bounced him out of bed and screamed at him through a bullhorn.

Nothing on the doorstep, nothing on the lawn. Where the hell was that sound coming from? A-ha! There at the curb. Madlyn let the air out of her lungs, just now realizing she had been holding her breath.

Somebody’s car had lost a hubcap while riding past her house. When the stupid thing had stopped rolling, it had come to rest on a sewer grate, and wedged itself there. Every time the wind blew, it made a metallic scraping sound—eeeeuuuuurrrppp!—trying to break free.

She’d never get back to sleep with that racket going on. So, resigned to venturing even farther outside the house dressed in her bedclothes, Madlyn headed toward the curb and reached down. Even with both hands, she couldn’t pull the hubcap out—it was stuck too tight.

Madlyn looked up the street. All the usual cars were parked in front of their owners’ homes, though a blue minivan she didn’t recognize was parked a couple of houses down, in front of Diane and Bill’s.

Well, she couldn’t bear that noise anymore, so she decided on a new strategy. She picked up a stick lying near the curb, wedged it in under the hubcap, and pried. Sure enough, after a few tries, the hubcap came loose, but the Herculean effort caused her to stagger backward a few steps into the street.

It was at that moment that the blue minivan, its headlights now on, started down the street with a squealing of brakes and the smell of burning rubber. Madlyn didn’t realize at first that it was headed directly at her, and by the time she did, it was too late to even put up her hands or scream.

Part One: Searching

Chapter 1

“Do you like mysteries?”

Milt Ladowski sat behind what must have been, for him, his cheap desk. For me, the real-wood monster with five drawers would have been an unaffordable luxury, but Milt is a high-priced attorney, accustomed to private practice extravagance. In his part-time position as borough counsel for Midland Heights, New Jersey, however, he had to accept an office in nondescript Borough Hall, and the government-issued desk that came with it. To serve his community, in effect, he had to go slumming. Many are called. Few are chosen. Or was it the other way around?

“Yeah,” I told him. “I love mysteries. I just got done reading the latest Janet Evanovich. Why, do you want me to write one?”

“No. I want you to solve one.”

Well, that was a mystery in itself. You want somebody to solve a mystery, you generally don’t go to a freelance writer. Nine times out of ten, you might want to consult, say, a private detective. Or a cop. Freelancers are more likely to be consulted when your goal is to publish a thousand-word feature about