John D MacDonald – Barrier Island

After a silence he said, “Helen, if I am such a good honest man, how come you don’t want to be married to me anymore?”

“That has nothing to do with it.”

“You’re going to drive me… complete out of ”

“Don’t you start crying again, dammit! Say goodbye.”

“Goodbye, honey bun

“Goodbye to you, Buddy.”

Wade had a junk-food lunch a few blocks from the office on Thursday at noon, and when it was time to return he went to a pay phone and called Ellie Service and told her that something had come up and he wouldn’t be able to get back to the office. He could not remember lying to her before for no reason at all. She reminded him of an appointment and he told her to switch it to Friday or Monday, whatever.

Beth’s Toyota was in the carport when he drove in and Tod’s ten-speed was there too, locked to the ring he had screwed to the wall. Summer school had ended and the regular session would begin on Monday. When he walked in through the kitchen he could hear the muted thump of the music from Tod’s room. The kid spent a lot of nice afternoons indoors lately.

Beth had changed to a blue halter and shorts and she was at the living-room desk bringing her sales records up-to-date, biting her lip, glasses halfway down her nose, hair tousled.

She took her glasses off and turned and looked at him, eyebrows raised in question. “Have you left the agency already, dear?”

“Hey, come on.”

“It’s a legitimate question. I think I have a right to know. I mean I wasn’t allowed any input on whether or not you should decide to break up with Bern. I’d just like to know when it happens.”

“It doesn’t happen like this when it happens. There’ll be conferences with the lawyers and negotiations and all kinds of crap.”

“But once the decision is made, what’s the point of hanging around? If something is over it’s over, isn’t it?”

“As yet we don’t know who’ll get the agency.”

“What in the world is going to keep Bern from getting it?”

He sat on the far side of the room. “I wouldn’t know. I told you last night we aren’t going to discuss it until the Bernard Island thing is over. And that’s on the docket for a week from today at ten in the morning.”

“Don’t use that tired draggy voice when you talk about it to me, Wade. This is my life too. I’m not some chattel.”

“What I tried to tell you last night, and you wouldn’t listen, is that this has been coming on for a long time, this split. Tuck’s scam is what lit the fuse. If it hadn’t been Bernard Island it would have been something else.”

“Maybe it was what you did. Maybe you… incited it. Ever think of that?”

“Will you listen?”

“Of course! Go right ahead.”

“I did not like Bern’s getting us tied up with Tuck Loomis in the way it was done. It made us a part of his conspiracy to defraud. Bern wouldn’t listen to my bitching. He wanted easy money and we got it. So when I found out that some of the deeds were improper, I made contact with Hammond from the Park Service and gave him the information. He said he would pass it along to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Somebody in that office evidently passed the information back to Loomis. He chewed Bern out and gave orders to delete those four deeds from our records, and he even got the records at the court house changed. I would imagine that’s a crime, but I don’t know what to call it. Bern thinks I’ve conspired against him.”

“Haven’t you?”

“A squall comes up and your engine quits and you start drifting into trouble. So you throw out a sea anchor and it hauls your bow around into the wind and you ride it out. I smelled trouble. I threw out a sea anchor. If they ever impanel a grand jury to dig into this whole mess, Gordon Hammond is going to be able to testify as to exactly what I did and what I said, and what he did with my information.”

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