John D MacDonald – Barrier Island

“For a little while, I think. Back before she married Buddy. Not long after Cordell got himself killed. What are you getting at?” Wade asked.

“I don’t know. Bill said it was kind of a sneaky scene.”

Wade shrugged. “They’re grown-up people. Buddy and Helen are separated. Tuck is a stud. He and Helen probably ran into each other at that Thursday night benefit at the Parklands Yacht Club, had a couple of drinks and took a boat ride.”

Bern sighed and said, “If it wasn’t, like they say, too close to the flagpole, I’d like to get me some of that. The young kids are too jumpy. Ol’ Helen looks like she’d settle right down to it. A real worker.” Bern stared at Wade and then shook his head and laughed. “I talk like that and you always get that look on your face. You some kind of prude, partner?”

“Only when it comes down to the people working for us.”

“So pardon me all to hell.”

“Who was it came up with the plan to get Mrs. Karp out of that condo?”

“ToVn Hatchuk told me it was Joyce’s idea. Everybody has been trying to solve the woman’s problem. Mrs. Karp’s deal is one of the reasons we fired Chuck. He shoved her in there way over her head. So Joyce said maybe Freedom Federal would deal. She owed eighty on it. Tom went to Al Wescowitz at Freedom and asked him what he’d take in cash to get out of it, and dickered him down to sixty-eight thousand, with a cancellation of the back interest. Then Tom went to Mr. Knight, told him he had a good tenant lined up, told him the new price, and Knight bought it on spec for seventy-five cash money. Freedom got paid off and Mrs. Karp got off the hook. Because this agency got her into that mess, we swallowed the commission.”

“Tom too?”

“One thousand for creative thinking. Plus he makes a little off the rental. But if it’s okay with you, I want to give Joyce Kindred a little bonus for a good idea.”

“I think we should.”

“You know, Wade, these Monday meetings make me kind of uneasy.”

“You keep telling me that.”

“I don’t want to stop them. They keep everybody in touch with what the others are doing. A lot of good ideas get bounced around. But you never handle the meeting.”

“You’re good at it.”

“Okay, pal, we each own half the stock in this here Chapter S corporation, and here I am with the big corner office, and I handle the meeting and I sign the paychecks.”

“And it works fine, doesn’t it?”

“Sometimes I get a little pissed. You sit over there in the corner and keep your mouth shut, and when somebody brings something up they’re not sure they should, they beat around the bush and they keep glancing over at you to see how you’re taking it. If you start frowning they back off, and if you give one of those little nods of yours, then they charge ahead. I mean I’m handling the meeting but I’m not in charge.”

“We’re both in charge, Bern. Sometimes I veto you and sometimes you veto me. That’s why it works out okay.”

“That’s why it used to work out.”

This, Wade knew, was uncomfortable ground, to be traversed with great care. “I think we’ve both been a little bit tense lately.”

“Just tell me one time when I vetoed you.”

“On the Bernard Island deal.”

“That was over a year ago.”

“And I still think we made a mistake.”

“It was a nice little gold mine while it lasted. Tell me what’s wrong.”

“Yesterday morning early I went out with Tod in the Whaler after specs. Flat calm. We worked the grass flats out near Petit Bois and did pretty good, and then as the sun got higher and the tide changed, they stopped biting.”

“How’s Tod doing?”

“He’s enjoying being sixteen. Says it is a lot older than fifteen. And he’s catching up okay in summer school. Anyway, I decided we could take a look at Bernard Island. We pulled the Whaler up on the sand at the west end and we waded all the way around the island. Well, not all the way. It drops off pretty deep out there at the southeast by the old high dunes, so we went ashore and walked by that part. We found a lot of the stakes Tuck’s surveyors put in. Galvanized pipe with a red ribbon streamer on the top, and lot numbers in black paint on the side of the pipe. Lot of bugs out there, Bern. And a lot of lonesome. So quiet all you could hear was all those bugs and peepers shrilling away. How many lots were actually deeded?”

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