John D MacDonald – Barrier Island

She stared at him, her eyes narrowing. “Oh dear God! And all the time I was thinking this was some kind of sentimental journey. Kind of a sweet idea, on account of the real good times we used to have together. Tuck, you miserable son of a bitch! You are the worst!”

“I guess you could call it an impulse.”

“If it was all planned out, it’s some funny kind of impulse. Tell me about it.”

“What I thought I’d do, I was going to tell Mike Wasser to come along.”

“Who’s he?”

“He works for me. Big fella. Hell of a linebacker at State. Anyway, I hadn’t phoned him yet to show up at the club, and I was sitting there at the corner of the bar and you came walking by in your blue dress and I thought you’d be a lot more fun than Mike. And you were, up until just now when you started fussing.”

He watched her decide how she was going to react. He remembered those two deep little vertical lines which appeared between her brows when she was selecting the right part to play. She laughed and shook her head. “You are something,” she said. “You are really rotten. Okay. What do I do?”

“You can keep right on doing what you’re doing until the seaplane lands, which won’t be long now. I’m going to leave this hatch door open so he can see right down into here and see it’s empty. I want you all scrunched up at the foot end of this port bunk, all the way out of sight. Not a sound out of you. And sooner or later I’ll call to you and then you come on up on deck. Smile sweet at him. His name is Wilbur Barley and he works for the government, and he is going to be a little bit pissed. Just play it by ear from there on in. You’re a smart lady, and I’m glad it’s you on board instead of Mike.”

He heard the seaplane before he saw it. The sun was above the horizon and the mist was burned away. The sea was the color of lead, hinting of blue to come. A flurry of bait sparkled in the sunshine as something made a pass at it, scaring it into the air. He waved as the aircraft circled the boat, then moved away and turned and came toward him, skimming, touching, landing, taxiing close. Tuck was amused to see that the I.D. numbers on the plane were covered with tape. Barley was cautious.

Barley climbed down onto the port pontoon. Tuck threw him a line and they pulled the two vessels close enough for Barley to step onto the platform and climb onto the transom and jump down into the cockpit. The aircraft pulled away and the pilot cut the engine, making the morning a lot quieter.

“How you been?” Tuck asked.

“You bring it?” Wilbur Barley asked. He was a pale puffy man in his thirties, with blonde hair combed forward, a small blonde mustache, glasses with thin gold rims. This was the third time Loomis had seen the man. The other two times, in Biloxi, Wilbur Barley had worn a pale gray three-piece suit, white shirt, blue tie, shiny black moccasins with brass buckles. Now he looked unlikely in his white slacks and running shoes, in his green short-sleeved shirt with a gator on the left breast out of sync in time and space, like a piece of miscasting in an amateur play.

Loomis stuck his hand out and, grinning, left it there until Barley had to take it. Tuck shook the soft white hand and said “Hey, you set yourself down, man. Right here. Let me get these swim pants out of the way. We’re not in all that big a hurry, are we?”

“Listen, I don’t want to be seen here, Mr. Loomis. You can understand that.”

“By who? That there gull? Or a fish maybe. The charter boys won t be starting out until about now, so it’ll be a half hour anyway before we see one heading this way ”

“Mr. Loomis, are you stalling because you weren’t able to bring it?”

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Categories: John D MacDonald