John D MacDonald – Barrier Island

“For the seller. And we are not going to willfully conceal any defect we know about in what we sell. We are not in a buyer-beware line of work. We have a public reputation and we have a state license and we are not going to lose either or both. I won’t allow it. Go give them a copy of the analysis or I will.”

That was where it began, with Bern glaring at him, so angry Wade had wondered if Bern was going to use some of that fancy oriental unarmed combat on him. And that was the year Bern bought his first expensive car, the red German one, the Porsche.

No move could have saved the partnership. It was like a marriage gone bad. Mutual respect had slowly eroded. So don’t sweat it. Roll with it. After the Loomis mess is over, make a date for a conference with Rick Riker. It would be a relief to be on his own after these last years of strain. Things were looking up. Beth had agreed with him that the boy was acting a little bit more like himself. He wasn’t whole yet, but the direction was up and that was promising enough for now. And Beth seemed less terrified of the future and the possibility of insecurity.

As he made a turn at the deep end, he saw Beth leading two men out onto the screened patio area. The light was behind them so he did not recognize the larger man until he was quite close. Then he saw that it was another high-school classmate, Chet Fairchild, Deputy Chief of the West Bay police.

“Hey, Chet. What’s going on?”

“Just a little routine. This here is a new man on the city force, Tommy Landrum, Skid Landrum’s middle boy.”

Wade, holding to the side, reached up a wet hand and said, “Glad to meet you, Tommy.”

The plump young man hesitated, looked at Chet. Chet nodded, so the boy shook the wet hand.

Wade frowned and swam to the shallow end and came up the steps, picked up his big towel and dried his head, face and shoulders as he headed for the poolside table and chairs. “Come have a seat. Can we offer you a brew?”

“Maybe when we get this routine done,” Chet said. He sat heavily and looked at Beth and said, “Miz Beth, I’d like for you to stay right here too if you don’t mind.”

“Sure,” she said, and sat down in the fourth chair, looking puzzled.

Chet took out his notebook, opened it to a blank page, tested his ballpoint, and then wrote “Wade Rowley Sept 9 9:15” at the top of the page. “What I want you should tell me is just where you’ve been since noon, and who you were with all that time.”


“It’s better the why comes later. Along with the beer.”

“Okay. It hasn’t been what you’d call a real exciting day. At noon I was in the office. I had correspondence to catch up, so I was in my office dictating to Ellie Service. We both left at the same time, about twelve-thirty, maybe a little before. She went to her car and I walked four blocks toward the center of town and went to Patsy’s for lunch. I had arranged to meet Carry Bowden there. I waited at the bar and he came in at one o’clock, about. He wanted my advice on what’s really a banking problem. It’s a confidential matter so if he says I can tell you about it, I will. You know Carry. He doesn’t like his business affairs talked about all over town. That’s why he deals with me on things that aren’t really in my field. He had two drinks at the bar and then we got a table in the back and we stayed right there solving all the problems of the world until two-thirty, about. The place was nearly empty when we left. Let me see now. Yes, he drove out of his way and dropped me off at Mississippi Title Insurance. I was dropping in on Dudley Hooker in hopes he’d see me, and if he was out or busy, I figured I could get the information I wanted from one of his girls. But he was in and he said if I’d wait ten minutes he could see me. So I was in his office until quarter to four, I would say, talking about some of the closings that we have coming up, and about a little ongoing dispute he’s been having with Rick Riker. That was some dust I wanted to get settled because it was all due to a misunderstanding on Bern’s part, and he’s too stubborn to go smooth it over. I would guess it is about a mile from there back to my office and I walked it as fast as the heat would allow and got there a little after four o’clock. By then Ellie had a lot of the letters typed and so I read them and signed them. Then I dictated the rest of the letters for her to type up tomorrow morning. And from then until I left at five-fifteen or so, I sat in my office and read over the computer reports for last week, and marked some things I wanted to talk to people about. One or two phone calls came in for me, so unimportant I can’t remember who or what. I got home here at five-thirty and read the part of the paper I hadn’t finished this morning, looked at the evening news, had a drink with Beth, and then we had dinner with the kids and I finished Time magazine and then I got into the pool there where you came upon me, Chet.”

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