John D MacDonald – Barrier Island

“So far I would guess it will be okay.”

“Better than that. Better than okay. The tension is gone. Don’t you feel it?”

“I’ve been too busy to feel much of anything.”

“Let me tell you that the flavor is good. People are kind of smiling to themselves, you know? We’re all going to be a hell of a team. You wait and see.”

“I hope so.”

“It was a dumb dreary way for Bern to get himself killed. So pointless.”

“Maybe there was some kind of a point to it.” He didn’t know he was going to say it until he said it.

She tilted her head and said, “What do you mean?”

“Forget it.”

“No. Come on. I am part of the ball club, friend. I travel with the team. What do you mean there was a point to it? I’ve been thinking about it too, you know. You wished Miss Tits Marino on me last Tuesday night, remember. And she had a weird story about Bern keeping an appointment for you out at Feeney’s trailer.”

He leaned against a countertop. There had been no one to tell, no one to kick it around with, no one who would understand. It had been boiling inside him, seeking outlet. And so as she listened with great intensity, he told her. Matching up Dawn’s story and Ezra Feeney’s story. And how he had reported the false deeds, and Bern’s account of how furious Tucker Loomis had been.

She was standing closer, frowning at him. “So it was Tuck’s idea?”

“I’m not saying that. I know you’re a friend of his. I don’t think he’d be that crude. Besides, it would be an unacceptable risk, wouldn’t it? He had everything going his way. I think it was some of his people. He bitched about me so much that some of his people thought they ought to work me over as a favor to him.”

“Listen, I know the man. I know him well. He doesn’t encourage anybody to go ahead and act on their own. He likes his thumb in every pie. He likes to run things, right down to the last inch.”

“He wouldn’t have expected me to die, you know. Just a physical beating. Enough to make me mind my own business and stop minding his.”

“If it had happened that way, would it have worked?”

“On me? No. At least I don’t think so. I think I would have gotten a lot more involved. But maybe that’s just my picture of myself. Wade Rowley, fearless hero. I’ve been beat up. But it was so long ago it’s hard to remember how I felt, I mean except for feeling sore and sick.”

“You haven’t told anybody else this whole thing?”


“Not even Beth?”

“Especially not Beth. She wouldn’t handle it very well, thinking people were out to maim her husband.”

“Do you think they’ll come after you again?”

“I wouldn’t think so, but who knows.”

She reached over and put her empty wine glass on the counter he was leaning against. She moved closer, looked up into his eyes. She was frowning with great concern. “How awful for you,” she said in a husky whisper. “How really awful for you!” She pressed her mouth against his, her arms sliding around him. He put one hand on her waist. It was like touching the housing of some curious engine, a dynamo giving off a throbbing vibration. He felt the long warm weight of her body against him. He held his wine glass in his free hand, with the almost superstitious feeling that all would be well if he did not put it down and put both hands on the woman. The kiss was hungry, and he began to want her very badly indeed, with little pictures of her running through the back of his mind, pictures of her walking away from him, walking past his open office door, getting into her van, laughing, making her strong gestures, tilting her head to toss her hair back.

Suddenly he remembered that first driving lesson when he was fourteen, when his father took him out to a deserted back road and had him get behind the wheel of the Stude-baker. The engine was running and he could feel the powerful vibration. He knew how to put it into gear and release the clutch pedal. He was filled with a kind of sick excitement, afraid to drive it and afraid not to.

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