John D MacDonald – Barrier Island

“No,” she said hesitantly. “We certainly don’t want that.”

Jack Simms and Mike Wasser were inside Feeney’s travel trailer by three o’clock, with the white pickup parked outside, and the dog pacing back and forth in its chicken-wire run, growling. An orange power cord ran from the box on the light pole to the outdoor plug on the side of the trailer. The overhead air conditioner whined and sent down a barely perceptible curtain of cool air. They sat under it, Wasser on the bunk and Simms on a blue wooden chair.

“I’d just as soon you don’t smoke,” Mike said. “It stinks bad enough in here already. Ez isn’t real neat.”

“Okay,” Jack said, grinding the butt out on the vinyl floor. “You’re into health, huh? You do weights?”

“Every day.”

“Jesus, you look it. I keep thinking I ought to get in better shape.” He slapped his belly. “Take off twenty right here.”

“Up until about seven years ago I worked on my dad’s oyster boat. Then the oysters give out. Coming back now but too late for my old man. He lost the boat, and he lost his feet on account of diabetes. He lives with my aunt over at Galveston. Anyway, we worked the reef shallows with tongs, White House and Pass Christian, like that. You work the tongs all day in twelve feet, you get muscles on your muscles.”

“When I used to charter I’d see those boys working the tongs. It didn’t look like anything I wanted to try.”

“It was the dredges cleaned out the oysters and put us out of business. Now they’re seeding the flats from barges and coming back real good, keeping the dredges out of water less than fourteen feet.”

“I heard you played football.”

“At State. Linebacker. But too slow to get any kind of pro offer. There’s too many of those big fast blacks signing up.”

“How do you think we ought to do this, with Rowley?”

“I say we let him come right to the door there and knock. It opens in. So I’ll open it about six inches and reach out and grab the front of his clothes and yank him inside and pound on him quickly so we don’t give him too good a look at us. Suit you?”

“Like Mr. Tuck said, you’re in charge. I guess you’ve done stuff like this for him before.”

“If I had, Simms, I wouldn’t talk about it.”


“The way I see it, you won’t have to do much of anything.”

“Suits me. I’m not mad at anybody.”

“The way it is, Jack, it’s better I do it myself because I know what to do and how much of it to do. I’ve done it enough times, not for Tuck but for other people. And you take somebody who like you isn’t experienced, they can hurt somebody more than they want to.”


They waited in an uncomfortable silence. Several times Jack Simms thought he heard a car and he stood and looked out the small window but there was nothing there. Finally when he stood up and looked, he said in a low voice, “BMW four-door coming in, Mike. Parking behind the pickup.”

Mike got up, flexed his arms, rolled his shoulders, took a deep breath and huffed it out, and positioned himself near the door. Jack pushed the blue chair out of the way and backed up into the galley alcove to give Mike Wasser room.

When the rap came on the door, Mike pulled it open quickly, reached and snatched the blue sports shirt of the man standing on the step and yanked him in, spinning as he did so to bang the door shut with his shoulder. The man clamped his forearms across the back of Mike’s hand and bent forward very quickly, the pain and pressure bringing Mike down to his knees. The man straightened, releasing the pinned right hand, and kicked Mike solidly in the solar plexus. The bigger man collapsed, groaning. One of those, Jack thought, and he stepped forward and hit the man solidly on the side of the jaw with a swinging right hand, knocking him back against the closed door. The man kicked Jack in the kneecap. Mike was sufficiently recovered to reach out and grab the man’s ankles and yank his feet out from under him. The man fell heavily and Jack Simms, yelling in pain and anger, stepped forward and tried to stomp the man in the face, but the man was trying to elude the kick and it caught him in the throat. The man scuttled backward and sat up, leaning against the door. He put both hands to his throat. He made a single ragged breathy noise. His eyes bulged and his mouth opened wide. His face darkened slowly as his chest heaved in an effort to breathe. The staring eyes looked through them and beyond them. His hands fell away from his throat. He slid slowly over onto his left side and lay still.

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