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Minor in Possession
It was ten to eleven, almost time for lights-out. Mad as hell and far too wound up to sleep, I lay in the October chilled darkness of my authentically rustic cabin listening to a new squall of rain drum a wild tattoo on the noisy tin roof. Sunny Arizona my ass!
Sunny Arizona. That's what my attorney, Ralph Ames, had told me when he was extolling the virtues of Ironwood Ranch, a posh drug and alcohol rehab establishment that had risen from the ashes of a failed dude ranch outside a small, god-forsaken town called Wickenburg in the wilds of central Arizona.
I, Detective J.P. Beaumont, a Washington boy born and bred, had never set foot in the state of Arizona until the day I came to Ironwood Ranch. Driving north from Phoenix's urban sprawl in my rented Grand AM and passing through a forest of grotesque three-and five-armed cactus, I felt like the Alaska Airlines MD-80 had taken a wrong turn and dumped me on some alien planet. I was overwhelmed as much by the empty desolation of the desert as by my reason for being there. And that was before I got a look at Ironwood Ranch itself, before it had rained for three solid days and nights, and before I had met my roommate—Joseph (Joey) Rothman. The little shit.
I was lying there on the bed, leaning against my lumpy wagon-wheel-motif headboard, and waiting for Joey to come home for the night so I could pin his ears to the back of his head. My whole body ached to get with the program.
Roommate selection in rehab places is pretty much like that in jails or families—you're stuck with what ever you get for the duration. The luck of the draw had deposited me in adrafty cabin along with an arrogant nineteen-year-old punk whose attorney had plea-bargained a drunk-driving offense down to a minor-in-possession charge. According to the plea agreement, Rothman's MIP would be worked off by a six-week stay at Ironwood Ranch with the entire hefty fee payable by the carrier of Joey's daddy's health insurance.
I didn't know any of that in the beginning. What I will say is that our introductory conversation didn't exactly get us off to a flying start. Fresh out of the detox wing and still relatively shaky, I was busy unpacking my lone suitcase and trying to settle in when a young man bounded into the cabin, shedding a wet bathing suit as he went and leaving it in a puddle in the middle of the worn hardwood floor. (Ironwood Ranch's pool, stables, tennis courts, and shuffleboard courts are all holdovers from the old golden days of dude ranching, while the five-man hot tub is an upscale concession calculated to keep the place current with prevailing social practices.
"I'm your roommate, Joseph Rothman," he announced casually. "Joey for short." He stood in the middle of the room, pulling on first a pair of boxer shorts and then a heavy terry-cloth robe. "You must be the cop," he added, disappearing into the bathroom. His parting remark left me with a sudden lurch in my gut regarding Ironwood Ranch's ongoing commitment to patient confidentiality.
"That's right" I replied.
A moment later he reappeared carrying a comb—my tapered barber comb. I regarded his presuming to use my property as a fundamental breach of roommate etiquette. It also violated one of my mother's fundamental edicts about never sharing combs or brushes with anybody. When I reached out to take it from him, he blithely handed it over, feigning surprise, as though he had picked it up by accident and failed to notice that it wasn't his.
"Sorry about that," he said. "I musta left mine up in the dressing room. What's your name?"
"Beaumont," I answered. "J. P. Beaumont. People call me Beau."
Joseph Rothman was a little less than six feet tall, with the tanned good looks and sun-bleached blond hair of a well-heeled California surfer. Expansive shoulders and a muscled chest topped the narrow waist and hips of a dedicated body builder. My first impression was that he was probably in his mid twenties Later I was shocked to discover that he was still one month shy of his twentieth birthday.
"Where from?" he asked, settling easily onto one of the two monkishly narrow beds that stood against opposite walls. The action spared me having to ask him which bed was mine.
The frankly appraising look he turned on me was equal parts derision and curiosity, as though I were some kind of laughable old relic that had turned up on a dusty museum shelf. Nothing in either his question or his attitude inspired me to volunteer any extra information.
"Seattle," I said tersely.
The grunted one-word answer kept a lid on a growing urge to explain that I was a homicide cop who had been busting punks like him since well before he was born. Instead, I concentrated all my attention on sorting a tangle of hastily packed socks into matching pairs. Almost. I ended up with two extras, one blue and one black, that didn't match anything.
Joey Rothman leaned against the wall, still watching me and making me painfully aware of the slight but uncontrollable trembling in my hands. The detox nurse had told me the shakes might last for several more days. I held onto the edge of the drawer, hoping the involuntary quiver wasn't too noticeable.
"What are you in for, booze or drugs?" he asked.
"Booze," I answered carefully. "What about you?"
Joey Rothman gave me an insolent, half-assed grin—a braggart's grin. "Me," he said. "Man, I do it all."
Right that minute, I could cheerfully have murdered Ralph Ames for convincing me to check into Ironwood Ranch in the first place. He was the one who had forced me to take my doctor's diagnosis of liver damage seriously.
But at that precise moment, with Joey Rothman sitting there on the edge of his bed smirking at me, for two lousy cents I would have shit-canned the whole idea, signed myself right back out, gotten into that little rented Grand AM down in the parking lot, and driven off into the sunset. Unfortunately, I'm a stubborn man. I pride myself in never starting some thing unless I plan to finish it. No matter what. Including having to put up with nosy punk kids. Minor in Possession. Copyright © by J. Jance. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.