John D MacDonald – Barrier Island

“I did hear about it. That must have been a terrible thing.”

Ezra Feeney finished his bottle of beer. “It was a long time ago. And I’ve been so many places, you know, I can’t remember much what he looked like. His name was Fred. Every dog I’ve ever had, I named him Fred. What’d you want to ask me?”

“What kind of work do you do? Bank guard?”

“Hell no. I don’t think I could come up with the references to get a job like that. I’m a gate guard up at Parklands, Mr. Tuck’s place out there on the river. For a while, anyway. I get itchy and then me and Fred, we move along. Never have no trouble finding something to do. You just keep asking until you get something.”

“Well, what do you think your mental anguish is worth, being deprived of the land you wanted to buy and build on?”

“You kidding me?”

“Name a figure.”

“Oh, I’d say in the neighborhood of ten thousand. And that’s a nice neighborhood.” He laughed and hit himself on the thigh.

“You were just pretending to be a buyer?”

Feeney looked at him, lips pursed. “If you’re working on this for Mr. Tuck, then you know what the deal was. And if you’re not, what are you trying to do? You wouldn’t be government, would you?”

“I’m half of Rowley/Gibbs real estate. This contract was printed in our offices.”

“I’ve seen your signs around. Okay. I have to watch myself. I talk too much. Always have. Always will. My tongue gets out ahead of my thinking.”

“I guess I saw you at Parklands, on the gate. We don’t live there but I get out there now and then. I guess I was about eight years old when you left town. I remember everybody talking about the man who got killed at the launching.”

“It was the biggest boat ever built there. There were lots of people around. It was all over the paper next morning.”

Wade stood up. “Thanks for your help.”

“Where do I go for my ten thousand?” the man asked, grinning. His teeth were in sorry shape.

“Somebody will tell you. I’ve got a list of names of other people I have to contact, with the addresses. You know any of them?”

He handed the typed list to Ezra Feeney. “Just this here one, Jack Simms. He’s a drinking buddy of mine. He’s the dockmaster out at Parklands. He’s got alimony eating him up. He couldn’t buy land any more than old Fred dog here can. Or me either.”

Wade Rowley met with Gordon Hammond at two o’clock on Sunday afternoon in the lobby of the Holiday Inn on Route 49 about ten minutes from the Gulfport Municipal Airport.

Wade recognized the man from having met him at a public hearing in West Bay when the Barrier Island National Seashore concept was being discussed. Hammond was a rangy rawboned graying man in a khaki business suit and blue running shoes. He had the tan of a life spent out of doors, shaggy gray eyebrows, deep lines across his forehead and bracketing his mouth, and a nose askew from an old break.

“Rowley?” Hammond said, peering at him with intense interest. “You were the one kept bringing up the salt marsh pollution problem. I asked about you. Didn’t sound to me like a real estate salesman.”

“The better the environment, the easier it is to sell the very best property. I appreciate your flying down.”

“Pretty mysterious phone call.”

They went into the coffee shop, to a corner booth. Hammond listened without comment or change of expression as Wade’ Rowley told him of his agency’s connection with Tucker Loomis and the Bernard Island Corporation. He told him of the thirty-nine mortgage deeds they had processed before the Park Service had shut Loomis down by taking over the island and putting the seven hundred thousand dollars aside for the purchase.

“Here, Mr. Hammond, are copies of our office copies of four of the deeds we processed and recorded. I’ve talked to just one of the buyers, Mr. Ezra Feeney. He admits that he would be unable to buy land that expensive. I made a confidential credit check on these other three, Simms, Stanfield and Phipps, and they are in the same position. All four of them work for Tucker Loomis. So these agreements to buy land are essentially fraudulent.”

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