John D MacDonald – Barrier Island

When Wade got out he said, “What went on here yesterday?”

“What went on here? I come back from work and found me a dead man over in the lot and I reported it in. That’s what went on.”

“Isn’t there more than that?”

“If there was, I wouldn’t talk to you about it. The last time I talked to you, you told me that damn lie about ten thousand dollars. You think I wouldn’t remember that? You made a fool of me. If I was ten years younger, I’d be hammering on you right now.”

“If anybody made a fool of you, Ezra, it was Tuck Loomis.”

“I don’t see that.”

“He had you sign papers that didn’t mean anything. The papers were lies that could get you into trouble with the law.”

“I worked for him and did like he said.”

“The police know you’re leaving?”

“They didn’t ask and I didn’t tell them.”

“Why are you leaving?”

Feeney pulled a flat can out of his pocket, took a thick pinch of shredded tobacco and tucked it deftly behind his lower lip. The sun’s first rays shone on the truck and the trailer and the sitting dog. It shone on the beard stubble on the side of Feeney’s face.

“I wasn’t born yesterday. I’ve got a lot of miles on me, mister. I can tell when I got fair-weather friends, smiling around, bringing booze, making up to me, setting me up for trouble. Yes sir. I figure this place was bad luck for my daddy and I am leaving before it turns into the same kind of bad luck for me.”

“You expect to get killed here?”

“I wouldn’t put it past.”

“Past who?”

“I’m not going any further than that, mister.”

“Let me ask you one thing.”

“Why should I?”

“I don’t know. I’ll ask it and you can decide if you want to answer. Should I be worried about myself? Was I in any danger yesterday? Can I be in any danger in the future?”

“Maybe there was a little something going on. Maybe on account of you tried to mess into Mr. Tuck’s business affairs somebody could have wanted to bump you around a little. Sort of quiet you down. I mean it could have been like that.”

“And they bumped Mr. Gibbs around instead?”

“I didn’t say anything like that. Look, I meant to be on the road by sunrise, mister. I want six hundred miles of road between here and wherever by night time. I don’t want to be around here in case somebody thinks I figured out more than I should.”

He got in and slammed the door, started the motor. He whistled and Fred jumped down and trotted around to the passenger door. Feeney reached and opened it for him and closed it after he was in. The dog sat on the seat, his head on the same level as Feeney’s. They both looked at Wade through the driver’s window, and he thought there was much the same expression in each pair of eyes a weary, road-worn hostility, an habitual suspicion.

The trailer rocked and lumbered down to the drive. Feeney got out, uprooted his mailbox and put it in the trailer bed next to the chicken wire. He got back in and drove away, turning up Lamarr toward the state highway and the Interstate.

At nine-thirty Chet Fairchild and Wade Rowley and Detective Lieutenant Al Himmer were in Bern Gibbs’ office, going through the drawers and the files in a search that seemed to Wade to be aimless, as were the questions they asked him. “And she won’t be in at all?” Chet asked. “I don’t know. She’s at Helen Yoder’s apartment. When Helen left she was sleeping. The girl is worn out. This was a big shock to her.”

“You know if he tried to break off with her?” “He promised the girl he would marry her.” Chet sighed. “Well, that’s Bern for sure. I guess he always promises that. Eternal love and devotion. For my money, it’s one hell of a cheap way to get into a woman’s pants.” “I didn’t know his hobby attracted that much attention.” “Well, it sort of came out a few years back when the Waters woman cut her wrists. She made a statement. No action to be taken on anything like that. Maybe some kind of civil suit, but that’s out of my territory. She moved away somewheres.”

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