John D MacDonald – Barrier Island

“I don’t want to hear fairy stories.”

“Well, life has got some bad stories and bad times hung onto it, and the trick is to take your chances at the right time, and hunch back and wait when the time ain’t ripe.”

“You give me this side meat and grits dialect when you want to settle me down, don’t you?”

“Miz Elizabeth, you are a right purty lady. Just a tetch long in the tooth, but holding in there real good. Nice figger of a woman.”

“Lady is a sexist word. But thanks for the sweet talk. And for the short story. But because of the way Tucker Loomis popped up in the short story, the long story is about him, right?”

“Funny thing, come to think of it. Ol’ Tuck came down here from Ohio too, same as you.”

“I didn’t come down. You brought me down, Mr. Row-ley. But you’re kidding about Tucker Loomis, right?”

“Not so. He is as close to the genuine article as you can get, but he did come down twenty-five or so years ago. Friend of his told me once that Tuck scouted the whole coast from Tallahassee to New Orleans, driving a ratty old van, and he finally decided West Bay offered the kind of opportunity he was looking for. So he moved into a downtown motel and put twenty thousand dollars into the Citizens Bank, and a year later he’d married Thelma Casswell, moved into her old family house with her and started building the Gulf Breeze Marina.”

“What part of Ohio?”

“I have no idea.”

“I hope it wasn’t Columbus. I would hate to have it be Columbus. But anyway, you couldn’t have been moody this evening on account of something that happened to a man named Mr. Jester a thousand years ago, could you?”

“Pretty and smart, like I always said. Great legs. Great cheekbones. Great brain on her.”

So he told her the long story. With interruptions. Kim came home. There was a discussion, not quite an argument, about whether the kids could watch an hour of television violence starting at ten. Tod said that it wasn’t fair that he couldn’t see what he wanted to see because Kim was too young. It was pointed out to him that it wasn’t fair to have all the privileges of his older years, without any exceptions at all. In the end, Tod set the VCR to tape the show so that they could watch it at an earlier hour, and after they had gone to their rooms, Wade and Beth could hear the subterranean thudding of his rock music turned low, like a giant heart beating in a sub-cellar.

When she came out of her bathroom, ready for bed, he put his magazine aside, and hitched over toward the edge of his bed in invitation. She slipped in beside him and he turned the light out.

“That’s almost all of it,” he said. “Bern was upset. I expected him to be. We’ve been a good team. We balance each other.”

“Didn’t he feel at all uneasy about this arrangement?”

“I think so, but he wasn’t going to let it show. And he can accept a dog-eat-dog scenario. Here’s how Bern would look at that Con Jester situation. He would say that Con could have covered himself if he’d been smart enough. He could have set up the loan on an if-needed basis, paid the Walker family a hundred thousand, with the actual closing and title transfer contingent on a zoning change to what he needed for the shopping plaza. So, in essence, Bern would say Con was punished for being dumb. And the dumb get punished in a lot of ways out there on the streets.”

“I have never been really crazy about Bern Gibbs.”

“Which you have made abundantly clear to me, but, thank God, not to him.”

“Or to Nita. I like her a lot. Bern gives her a real hard time.”

“I’m trying to put something into words so that I can understand it a little better. So we both can understand. It isn’t easy. The world has changed in an odd way. Back twenty years ago, this town had an actual power structure you could understand. Locally owned banks. The Daily Press had local ownership just like the Courier Journal still has. We had a fishing fleet and a good-sized boatyard, and some locally owned automobile agencies. The men who owned things and owned big pieces of things, they had clout with city and county government and they served on committees and boards, got the community college started, expanded the hospital, things like that. If you crossed one of them up, you might as well move to Pascagoula because you sure weren’t going to amount to much here.”

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92

Categories: John D MacDonald