John D MacDonald – Barrier Island

He had stripped off his sweaty shirt and locked his gun in the bin under the sink when he heard Fred carrying on. He hurried out to see what was going on. There was old Fred over in the lot, aiming his muzzle at the sky and going AAhOOOO, AAhOOOO. It was like some kind of wolf, and he’d never heard Fred do that before. Maybe he had waited too long to go, and he’d busted something.

Ezra trotted over to the dog and pushed through the brush and stopped abruptly when he saw the shovel and a pair of shiny black shoes and black socks. He knew it was his shovel from the pattern of the worn-off red paint on the handle. The dog kept making the same spooky racket. He pulled a big branch aside and bent over and looked down at a blue-gray face, at eyes bulging, at a death look of strain and agony fixed in place forever, and at the two-way traffic of small red ants going in and out of the corner of the open mouth. His breath huffed out of him. He straightened and the branch snapped back.

Moments later he was running full tilt down Lamarr Street, right down the middle, his leather soles slapping the pavement, a tall scrawny man naked to the waist, all fish belly white except for the forearms and hands and face and nape of neck. He took long strides as he ran down toward the row of tract houses on Pearson. About every half-dozen strides he would jump a little higher and yell, “Hey!” Fred, the dog, ran beside him, tongue lolling, too quickly winded to bark, but enjoying the change.

Wade Rowley’s back had been troubling him lately, giving him sharp twinges in the left leg and making the left foot feel semi-numb as if he were wearing a wet sock on the foot and ankle. Dr. Levering had advised him to swim as often as he could, swim lazy laps and slow turns to keep his back and belly muscles in shape to support the spine. Levering said it was one of the diseases of desk work, of the sedentary civilization.

And so, an hour after dinner, he had donned swim trunks and slid into the pool. As he swam, he went over an dover the split with Bern, wondering how much of it was his own fault. Bern wasn’t overly tricky for a man of his time and place. Do unto others before they do it unto you. There were a lot of greasy little moves that were just this side of the law. At least he had not let Bern talk him into setting up that real estate syndicate thing as a tax shelter to peddle to their more successful friends and acquaintances. The way Bern wanted to do it would have brought on a lot of audits in the future, and alienated a lot of people, including possibly the SEC. Bern wanted to get too big too fast. He wanted to hear people whispering about him when he walked into a room.

Wade decided the split was inevitable. The partners had been alike in their aims for a long time, and then had begun to diverge. No need for any guilt. His own attitudes, compared to Bern’s, were as Bern had told him, old-ladyish. Too careful. Too proper.

The divergence had begun, he guessed, four years ago when Bern’d had a buyer for the Maxwell place on the Hun-gerford Road. All the land had been sold off except for the five acres surrounding the main house. A retired couple from Scranton, Pennsylvania, had made an offer. Bern was writing up the contract. He had told them everything about the house, all the leaks and cracks and the few areas of rot. They loved it.

“Did you tell them about the well?”

“What about the well?”

“The water analysis. The contaminants in the ground-water.”

“It’s up to them to check the water supply.”

“If we had no chemical analysis on file, we would recommend they have the water analyzed. But when we have the analysis on file…”

“Who do you think we’re working for?”

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