John D MacDonald – Barrier Island

“How about the girl?”

“It’s hard to tell. Lois has always been a strange person. When she was little she was daddy’s darling. And then about three years ago when she was fourteen she and Bern began to battle. Only child. Love-hate relationship, I guess. I saw her for just a few minutes. She came in from school and changed and went out again, saying she’d be home late. She didn’t ask if she could, or tell where she’d be. I wouldn’t take that from a kid. Ever.”

“Bern was saying lately she’s out of control. He said it in a funny way. Almost as if he was proud of her, as if he encouraged it.”

“Tod seems a lot better, don’t you think?”

“I haven’t seen much of him. Glad to hear it.”

“He was good with Lois at the funeral, sitting with her.”

“How did he get home?”

“They walked.”

“Hell of a long walk.”

“Did you set a time for him to get back tonight?”

“No. It’s dead calm. He’s good with boats. Responsible. And trolling by moonlight is the kind of fishing he likes best. If he gets into a good run he might be pretty late. I think that right now trying to restrict him isn’t too great an idea. He wants to be treated like a grown-up because he thinks he’s got grown-up problems. And maybe he has. But he’s working things out.”

“Are you going to get rid of Dawn Marino?”

“I don’t know. She came in today and she was a lot of help with Bern’s filing system. I think I’ll assign her to Bruce Halliday. He’s beginning to bring in a hell of a lot of business. As much as Helen and Tom.”

“That woman will be trouble wherever she works.”

“Right now we need her. She knows the routines. I may let her go after all the hassle is over, but not until I have a replacement lined up.”

“What about your own income?”

“I don’t have to worry. I have a working wife.”

“Seriously. I was wondering.”

“I’ve felt for a long time we were taking too much out of the business. But I had to take what Bern took. We need a lot of things down there. We need another terminal and I want to tie in to a couple of real estate networks. I want to turn Bern’s office into two offices. There aren’t enough places to have a private conversation. People don’t want to sit out in the bull pen and talk dollars. And I want to give some thought to setting up a branch, maybe in Ocean Springs, maybe in Gulfport. So, for maybe a year, Bern’s take will be plowed back in, and I’ll stay the same.”

“Are you going to change the name?”

“Not right away.”


They had made a nest in the bow of the Whaler, forward of the control pedestal, using a blanket, a tarp, life belts and seat cushions. Tod had anchored in the shallows a hundred yards northwest of the big lagoon on Horn Island, anchored where a sand bar shelved upward and created an area free of any boat traffic so that he would not have to use the anchor light, yet far enough out from the island so that the gentle breeze from the northwest kept the mosquitoes and gnats at bay.

The sunset had ended two hours before, with the last rosy line across the western horizon. It was a night of great clarity and space. The moonlight rested upon them and upon the water. They had watched the blaze of stars, had seen them muted by the increasing moonlight, had seen the quick scoot of three meteors across the night sky. They had talked and talked and talked. She had wept, many times. They had made pledges to each other, and promises about what life would be like for them, what they would keep and what they would discard. He had showed her the incredible color and richness of the acres of yellow blossoms at four o’clock that afternoon, and they had been together ever since, talking and loving, wanting and giving, knowing that at last in this time and place the two of them had created a single entity that was wiser and warmer and more calm than either of them had ever been when they were alone in what now seemed like some kind of prior existence, barren and pointless.

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