“Hey, Wade! Sure glad you can spare me some time.”
“Not very much time. And I’m not going to shake hands with you.”
“Isn’t that a kind of chicken-shit attitude?” Tucker asked, grinning, lowering his hand.
“We going to stand by the door? Come on. Let’s sit. I’ve got some things to say. I want to clear the air.”
Wade led him back to Bern’s office, sat at Bern’s big slab desk and waved Tucker Loomis into the straight chair at the end of the desk.
“This isn’t easy,” Tucker said.
“Don’t expect me to make it easier.”
“What’s the worst thing you’re holding against me, Wade?”
“Sucking Bern into your swindle. I guess that’s what really got him killed. Because I owned half the business, it put me in business with you, and I don’t like that feeling at all.”
Loomis jumped up and began to pace back and forth in front of the desk. He had shoved the tweed cap to the back of his skull. “Let’s get right down to that word you used. Swindle. I was talking to somebody a while back, and he said the same kind of thing, but not the way you just said it. And I told him and I’m telling you that the thing I wanted to do most was develop Bernard Island into the finest private resort community anywhere on the Gulf of Mexico.”
He stopped in front of the desk and frowned at Wade. “I went out there to the island more than a year ago one fine day, all alone. And I walked to the top of that biggest dune there on the southeast. We’d just done some preliminary drawings, and from the top of that dune I could see the whole island, and I could see where everything would be, the clubs, the boat basin, the landing pad and all the big houses. One of them was going to be mine, and it was going to be a million-dollar house, maybe designed by somebody like that I. M. Pei fellow. I could see the plantings and the beaches and I stood up there and I tell you for sure, and I’m not funnin’ you, I felt like the king of that island. That’s what I wanted to do.”
“Bullshit, Tuck. You knew then you could never get all the permissions you’d have to have. You knew then that every few years storm surges go right over those islands out there. And you knew then that sooner or later the Park Service was going to buy that island. You knew from your contacts it was on their priority list.”
Tuck leaned both fists on the desk. “Now just who the hell are you to say bullshit to me? If all my life I listened to every wimp that told me something couldn’t be done, I’d still be piddling around building shacky little houses one at a time.
I could get the permissions. Structures can be built to withstand storm surges and hurricane winds. Want to guess how many people told me Parklands would be a failure?”
“Maybe you’re just one of those people who can make themselves believe whatever is convenient at the time. Whatever you say or I say, we both know the swindle worked. But maybe you’ll lose on appeal.”
Loomis sighed and went back to the chair. “Not a chance. We’ll have the complete transcript. We made our case and they’ll pay us.”
“If your idea was so wonderful, why did you have to sign up fake purchasers, and order Bern to screw up our office records here? Why did you have to set somebody on me to beat me up?”
“Who said that?”
“A man named Feeney.”
For long seconds there was no expression on Tucker’s face. Then he gave a quick shrug and said, “Let’s get down to that. Word come back to me that somebody had given copies of the four mortgage deeds to the Park Service, which gave them to the U.S. Attorney. First I had to find out it wasn’t any of my people doing it, and it wasn’t. Strange as it may seem to you, Rowley, I get a lot of loyalty from my people and from the people I do business with. And I did some loud bitching about the leak and about you, because by then I knew and Bern knew it had to be you holding our nuts over the fire. So I figured out later that somebody that works for me, trying to do me a favor, they tried to lure you to Feeney’s place and work you over. And they got Bern instead.”