John D MacDonald – Barrier Island


“You’re not supposed to sit there and say So. You are supposed to say that this whole thing is Bern Gibbs’ idea and you fought him on it but he insisted and he went ahead because it’s nice money.”

“I’ll just say that we discussed it and went ahead with it.”

“Bern has changed a lot the last few years.”

“We all have.”

“Look, you’re talking to Brud Barnes, your old buddy from way way back. Why the defenses?”

“I’m talking to a newspaper, aren’t I? I don’t want to read something that says Wade Rowley, half owner of the Rowley/Gibbs real estate agency, said yesterday that he opposed Bernard Gibbs’ arrangement with Tucker Loomis for processing the deeds for the Bernard Island Corporation.”

“Okay, off the record. Even though I think it would be a good thing if something like that went in the paper. That’s true, right?”

“True enough, off the record. And off the record about Bern, he has changed. He’s got some kind of inflated image of himself as a hustler. And he’s doing a lot of womanizing, and he’s spending too much on booze and boats and cars and women. Nita doesn’t know anything for sure, but we Beth and I think she suspects. And she is one unhappy lady. We had another squabble today about the Bernard Island thing. We get over seventy-five thousand for doing a little bit of clerical work. Tuck doesn’t give away money without a reason. He’s using us as part of his front, trying to look respectable while he’s running a land scam. I don’t like it. We may split up over it. And over other things. I don’t know yet.”

“What I’ll maybe do is get back to you one of these days and find out if you want this conversation on the record.” He looked at his watch and stood up. “I’ve got somebody to see.”

“Come around oftener. Maybe some fishing?”

“Maybe. Sure.” He started toward the door and then turned back to the desk. “This is off the record too. Walk very lightly and carefully, Wade. Look behind every bush. Cover yourself. The F, B and I is taking an interest in this whole thing.”


On that Monday evening after Wade and Beth Row-ley came back from the Bayway Mall with their two children, there was still some daylight left. Tod had studying to do. Kim went next door to play with her best friend. After he had helped her put away the groceries, Wade and Beth went out onto the screened patio behind the house. She turned on the lights ‘in the pool, and began watering some of the patio plantings, complaining about the lack of rain.

He had been staring out into the backyard and he suddenly realized she was standing in front of him, fists on her hips, head tilted.

“I realize you aren’t ever real talkative, Mr. Rowley, but this evening you’re setting some kind of new record.”

“Sorry, honey.”

“What is it?”

“A long story.”

She sat beside him on the couch. “Tell me a story then.”

He took her hand and examined it thoughtfully, as if it were a rare and curious object. “Well, I’ll tell you a short story first, okay. Then maybe the long one.”

“Nice to hear your voice.”

“A long long time ago, back when I was still in high school, there was a man about fifty years old here named Conrad Jester. Con was a hustler and he made out pretty well, but he was always on the fringes, never in the big action. He was always looking for the big one and never found it. He was a friend of my dad’s. He built some little tract houses, and he bought and sold raw land, and I think he had a little transit mix cement business for a while. Anyway, he got advance news that they were going to build Bay Drive, after talking about it for years. And there was a tract of land there, sixty acres on the west side of town, that was in the Walker family. They had been holding on to it with the idea that someday they could get at least five thousand dollars an acre for it. That is peanuts compared to today’s prices. Con Jester struck a deal with them. He would give the Walkers five thousand dollars nonreturnable option money against fifty-six hundred dollars an acre cash money, three hundred and thirty-six thousand. The Walkers wouldn’t take any paper. He got to the Walker family a split second before several other parties did. The value of that land once Bay Drive was built was obvious.”

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