Nobody appeared. The dog sat again. In the mild breeze from the north, Wade could hear distant truck traffic on Interstate 10. He looked at his watch and decided he would give this Feeney twenty minutes. He sat behind the wheel and read an office copy of the contract between the Bernard Island Corporation and Ezra Feeney. Boob Davis had signed for the corporation as secretary and treasurer, and someone had penciled the book number and page number of the recording of the deed on the top right corner of the first page. For a mortgage deed it had some special exceptions Wade had never seen before. Of course now it was scrap paper. The federal government owned the land the deed was intended to transfer. Feeney’s signature looked carefully drawn, the tongue-in-the-corner-of-the-mouth calligraphy of the unlettered. The contract acknowledged the receipt of five thousand dollars against a price of ninety-five thousand dollars for lot number 106.
Just as he reached for the ignition key an old white pickup truck drove in. It swung around and parked ahead of him.
The tires were bald and it was rusted out. A lean stooped man got out. He had a long face, thin red hair going gray. He wore neatly pressed dark blue trousers and a white shirt. He wore a dark pistol belt with a buttoned holster.
“Mr. Feeney, I’m Wade Rowley and I ”
“Hold it a minute,” the man said. He went and unlatched the wire door to the dog run and held it open. The big dog trotted off into the empty lot next door, into the tall brush.
The man shook his head. “I tried to make it big enough, he could empty his self in some corner of it, but the damned fool, he won’t go where he lives. Has to hold it all day until I get home, and that can’t be easy because he ain’t a young dog anymore. His name is Fred. He’s one good old dog. Who’d you say you are?”
“Wade Rowley. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions about this deed to the land you bought on Bernard Island.”
“I guess I’m not going to get that land after all. That’s what they say. You like a cold beer?”
“I sure would.”
“Let me get Fred his supper first.”
They sat at a bench beside a table next to the trailer and drank out of the bottles. Ezra Feeney looked at the deed and handed it back. “That’s it,” he said. “What is there to ask about? Over, isn’t it?”
“That’s hard to say for sure, Mr. Feeney. Let’s say you had a certain amount of disappointment in not getting to buy the land. Mental anguish maybe. So when the government pays up, maybe they ought to pay for that too.”
“Well, that would be a nice thing, wouldn’t it? But shit, man, I never could have bought that land. Mr. Tuck knew it and I knew it. He said he’d give me time on it, but he could have give me three ordinary lifetimes and I couldn’t have kept up with the interest. He said I was to be real sincere about buying it and owning it, and I was, until all of a sudden the government took it over.”
“I keep thinking I’ve seen you before.”
“I used to live here in West Bay. I came back maybe a year ago. I was gone from here ever since I was seventeen. My daddy used to work at Foley’s boatyard, that’s now Gulf Breeze Marina. When they launched the biggest boat they ever built in that yard, it was just thirty years ago this past spring, they waited on a high tide to slide it on down the ways. You come from here?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Then maybe you heard of it, heard somebody talk about it. It got jammed on one of the blocks and my daddy ran to sledge it out of there and he’d been drinking to celebrate and he tripped and fell forward and that big old boat it plain mashed him flat on the way down. He screamed one time. I heard that. Over all the other noise, I heard that. I was there learning the business. And I left that same week and never came back until I guess it was a year ago. I never had anything to do with building boats, not again in my life, not since then.”