John D MacDonald – Barrier Island

“Hello!” someone called. “Hello! Anybody home?”

She moved back from him, face flushed, eyes wide, lipstick smeared. “Coming!” she called. “Coming!”

He waited while she showed two women through the house. It took about fifteen minutes. While he waited he thought of a dozen ways to tell her he did not want to get involved.

They sat in the flawless living room. “Saved by the bell,” she said, with rueful smile.

“Saved by the hello.”

“One of them is coming back to show it to her husband. I say it is about a six on a one to ten scale. Wade, damn it, I’m sorry. I fastened onto you like a leech. What you told me upset me. And I reacted.”

“It wouldn’t be a great idea. You and me.”

“You don’t have to tell me that.”

“But I can’t help thinking of ways we could try to work it out somehow. And that’s dumb.”

“That’s dumb, yes. But flattering. So thank you for that.”

“I better go, Helen. Good luck with the project here.”

She walked him to the door. They smiled at each other, each knowing all the unsaid things, each aware of the wanting. They shook hands ceremoniously. “There’s something I’ll probably do about Tuck.”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Something I should do. I don’t want to talk about it. If I do it, you’ll hear about it.”


On Wednesday in the late afternoon, Tucker Loomis sat on a faded blue wooden box three feet square and fifteen feet long. It had been built for little children to crawl through. He had hired carpenters to build the box and put up some other playground toys he had found in a book about suitable outdoor toys for the young. The private playground was in a flat area where his property sloped down to the bank of the Alden River. A hurricane fence had been erected to keep the toddler grandchildren from falling into the river currents. There were swings and a slide and a little whirlygig.

Mike Wasser sat on the bottom of the slide, his shoes in the sand where children had landed. They had talked for a long time. Tucker felt lethargic and depressed, and Wasser seemed sour and defensive.

“The way I see it,” Mike said, “there was no choice at all. I mean every day he was getting jumpier. He was going to crack. He just couldn’t handle it. He was going to have to talk about it. We did the only thing we could do. I keep telling myself that.”

“Can we go over some of it again?” Tuck asked.

“I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

“I want to make sure there’s no loose ends.”

“There’s no loose ends. He’s chain-wrapped to concrete blocks out south of West Ship in sixty feet of water where the dredges don’t work. He killed Gibbs. He’s dead. You wanted his mouth shut, it’s shut. I never got into anything this heavy before. I feel sick when I think about it. What you better do, Tuck, you pray for my good health.”

“Because you probably wrote it all down and put it in a safe place?”

“You guess pretty good. I get rid of Jack, so who gets rid of me?”

“Nobody. It never entered my mind.”

Mike Wasser stood up and looked down at Tucker Loomis. “We’re buddies for life, Tuck. We’re stuck with each other. You come on like a smiling shit-kicking good of’ country boy. But I know what you’re like on the inside and you know what I’m like. What you should want to do from here on in is keep me fat and happy.”

“If I happen to feel like it.”

“I want you to feel like it.”

“I know. I know. But where’s your leverage?”

“I might think of something.”

“First thing you think of, find me a new dockmaster, tell him that with those two boys Jack hired, he can keep them or fire them. It’ll be his option. But if he wants to hire any, it has to be with your approval. Try to find a better man than we had before. I got complaints about him taking stuff off the boats. Mostly booze.”

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