John D MacDonald – Barrier Island

Chet sighed, closed the notebook, put the pen away. “You understand that it’s pure routine I got to check this out with Carry and Dudley and Ellie Service, but I know you well enough to know I believe you did exactly what you say you did.”

“What the hell is going on, Chet?”

“Let’s start with the beer.”

“Coming up,” Beth said. While she was gone, they talked about what a hot dry year it had been, and how maybe a big whirly would come up out of the Gulf and soak the landscape.

She brought three chilled mugs from the freezer and three bottles of dark Pauli Girl. Chet poured, quaffed, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and thumped the mug down. All eyes were on him.

“Bern Gibbs has been killed dead,” he said.

Beth clapped her hand over her mouth and closed her eyes, shutting out the world of bloody surprise.

Wade said, “I was going to ask if it was in that damn car, but from what you’ve been asking me, it was some other kind of death.”

“Murdered by person or persons unknown.”

“Does Nita know?” Beth asked quickly.

“She had to I.D. the body about an hour ago. Her mother and her sister and her girl, they’re at her house with her, so I guess she’s being cared for. The doctor gave her mother some pills for her. Now I don’t want you, Wade, or you, Miz Beth, to get the wrong idea about Nita. But the reason I came here right off was on account of she told me that Bern and you are on the outs, and Bern was so mad at you the other night he told Nita he wanted to kill you. She said she never saw him so mad. And I’ve heard it around town, can’t remember where, that you two weren’t getting on real fine. That right?”

“Damn her!” Beth said.

“It’s okay,” Wade said. “She told the truth. He swung on me the other day and I ducked and he hit me right here over the ear. I saw stars. He thought he’d broke his hand.”

“You hit back?”

“I was too surprised to get mad, Chet. He was hopping around, hugging his hand, and I wanted to laugh, but if I’d laughed he’d have had to try to kill me. Where did it happen?”

“A weird old boy named Ezra Feeney reported it in by phone at eleven minutes before seven tonight. He came off work and let his dog out and his dog found the body in the bushes of the lot just west of his, over on the dirt extension of Eighteenth Avenue off Lamarr. He had to run down to Lamarr to borrow the use of a phone. There’ll be an autopsy,

but the doc says it looks to him like the cause of death was his getting hit right here in the goozle with a hard object with an edge on it. It mashed the gristle and so on in his throat so as he couldn’t breathe and so he strangled to death. Terrible look on his face. Sorry, Miz Beth. Wade, what are you looking funny about?”

“I know Feeney. I was out at his travel trailer back in July. Bern arranged for our firm to process some deeds based on sales on Bernard Island made by Tucker Loomis and company. I wondered if everybody on the list could afford hundred-and-fifty-thousand-dollar lots way out there, and Feeney was the only one I checked on personally. I did a credit check and found three others who couldn’t afford that kind of land either. They all worked for Loomis. Feeney is a gate guard out at Parklands. I thought some of those deeds were kinky, and they went through our office, so I was checking.”

“You tell Feeney why you were checking?”

“No. I made up some kind of a cover story. He gave me a beer. He certainly didn’t seem like any kind of a killer.”

“Did Bern carry much cash around with him?”

“Usually two or three hundred.”

“He had three ones in a side pocket and some change. He either went out there or he was taken out there. You know any reason why he’d go out to see Feeney?”

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