John D MacDonald – Barrier Island

“That island is inside the West Bay County limits, and I tell you there is no way he could have gotten the county and state permits.”

“When they added Bernard to the Gulf Islands National Seashore, then the whole thing about permits became academic, Wade.”

“And this is where I say Aha!”

“I don’t exactly follow you.”

“Just when did Tuck Loomis find out they were going to take over that particular barrier island and add it to the rest of them?”

“When everybody else did, I guess. When it was announced. Last month. When the Park Service began condemnation. That put a stop to all sales and development. That’s when they put seven hundred thousand in escrow as payment for Tuck’s island.”

“When did Tuck start planning the development?”

“Hmmm. Maybe two years ago.”

“Isn’t it worth seventy-seven thousand to make a land scam look a little more legitimate? Hell, we both know what he paid the Campana family for it.”

“Half a million dollars.”

“Ten thousand down and a note for the balance.”

“What are you getting at, Wade, dammit? Look what he paid for all that raw land he turned into Parklands.”

“And look at the amount of money he put into it out there, Bern! He and Colonel Barkis and Fred Pittman. Let me tell you a couple of things they can use to lift our license to do business, Bern. Employing an unlicensed salesman. Who exactly is selling these lots? Collecting an illegal commission.

Did you ever hear of one-and-a-half percent for paperwork? Filing false instruments. Are these legitimate sales, or part of a scam? Conspiracy to defraud. Defraud who? The government?”

Bern jumped up, scowling. “Honest to Christ, Wade. You get to be more of an old lady every year. Riker checked it out. He didn’t bring up any of that stuff. Thanks to Tuck Loomis, we had a damn good year, and we’ll be able to stuff nice money into the Keoghs. And here’s something I haven’t told you. Tuck told me that when it comes time to open up that final five hundred acres at the Parklands, he might let us handle it. Do some of your damn arithmetic on that!”

“When did he tell you that?”

“I don’t know. Last year maybe.”

“Way back when he wrote you the letter asking us to handle the mortgage deeds?”

“I guess so.”

“And that’s what made you so hot to trot. Why did he pick us, Bern?”

“Maybe he likes the way we do business.”

“Tuck likes money, women and bourbon, in that order.”

“Do you think he was kidding me?”

“I think he was encouraging you to not look too close at these Bernard Island mortgage deeds.”

“I’m not some innocent kid!” Bern shouted and sat down again, so hard that his chair rolled back and thumped against the mural of the county map on the wall behind his desk.

“I don’t want some big scuffle about this,” Wade said. “All I want you to do is think about it. And if you decide that maybe, just maybe, our necks are out, and that something might come out at the condemnation proceedings that could hurt us, you write me a detailed letter about why we shouldn’t have gotten into this thing, and I will write you one, seconding your opinion, and those letters will go in the file and we will have something to produce if we have to, something besides a confession of greed.”

“You are worrying too much. It’s over. We did it and collected the money, and no more is coming in, not from that arrangement. It’s over, Wade. So ease up on it, will you?”

“Nothing like that is ever over. Not when it’s in the records. Not when it looks funny. So let’s at least try to cover ourselves with the letters to each other. And put in yours the verbal promise he made about the five hundred acres he’s going to open up at Parklands.”

“No way.”

“I convinced you we ought to get out of the bank and build this building three years ago. And they’ve been bumping the rent at the bank ever since.”

“Mark up one for you.”

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