Authors: Steven J Patrick
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery, #Retail, #Suspense, #Thriller
"With partners," I nodded. "But he's worth about four billion, on his own."
"Okay," Jack said, handing the cell phone to Dale. "This is David Pettigrew, my acquisitions guy. He'll arrange an electronic cash transfer and do all the paperwork but here's my deal. I buy the property and assume all debts, sale includes all real property, chattel and cash in reserve. You stay on…are you married?"
"You both stay on at, say, 35 a year, each, and I have first priority on the place. When my people stay here, the partnership pays standard rates. When I'm here, I do the same. Financials will go through my people in Maryland. Local permits, legal work and taxes go through D'Onofrio, Travers and Best in Spokane. You call… No, I'll call Steptoe and cancel his fictitious reservations. Deal?"
"I…I don't know what to say," Dale laughed. "Is this for real?"
"Absolutely," Jack sighed. "I wanted something like this place back when we first talked about my project but I didn't know you were here. Now, if you're selling, I'm buying. Is 85 okay?"
"It's…uh… Yeah, it's fine," Dale chuckled, "and we get to stay?"
"I'll give you two years guaranteed, with mutual options for two-year terms. Look, Dale, I'm getting tired and cranky, so we got a deal?"
"We…um… Yeah," Dale said emphatically. "Deal. Absolutely."
"Talk with David," Jack smiled, shaking Dale's hand and handing him the phone. "We need two good rooms, preferably here in the house."
Dale tossed us each a key.
"6 and 7," he laughed. "Third floor, private baths, both suites."
"Fabulous," Jack signed. "By the way, I'm Jack Bartinelli and he's Truman North."
"Delighted," Dale smiled, taking the phone. "I'll get this back to you when we're done."
"Excellent," Jack smiled.
He passed me a key. We hoisted our luggage and trudged 42 steps up to the third floor.
It was just two suites, big ones with nice bay windows and a small Jacuzzi in each bath. Jack wandered in while I was unpacking and sat on my bed.
He didn't say anything for a few moments. I was pretty sure I knew what was bothering him, so I stayed busy and waited.
"That business in the bar today…" he began.
"Pretty rough going, huh?" I said lightly.
"What was unnerving," Jack said evenly, "was that you weren't. It all played out like it was scripted."
I waited a moment.
"And, it was pretty ugly, wasn't it?" I nodded.
"Yeah, Tru, it was," Jack said, looking me finally in the eye. "As ugly a thing as I've witnessed in a long time. And you and Simmons…it was like a round of golf for you."
"No," I replied deliberately. "It's every bit as ugly for guys like Simmons and me. I'd much rather the poor, simple son of a bitch had kept his seat and kept quiet. But he didn't. And I didn't want to keep glancing over my shoulder the whole time we're here."
"But the injuries…" he said softly.
"The injuries will heal," I replied, "in two to three months. The story will evolve into them getting jumped by 12 bikers and they'll have sexy scars to show off. But the basic message is valuable. If you behave like that, think you're invincible, someday you'll run into somebody who'll hurt you - bad. What I did to them was painful and probably expensive, but not life-threatening and not permanent. I knew exactly what would happen. And Jack, it was going to happen to them eventually, anyway. You know that. Better from me than from somebody who can't control himself and winds up killing one of them."
"Gee, that sounds so plausible," he chuckled nervously, "but it doesn't make it any easier to watch. And, unless I just completely misunderstood what I saw, it was…pretty easy for you."
"It was easy," I shrugged. "The federal government spent five years and untold dollars turning me into something as dangerous as what you saw in the bar. But it's not the sort of unfocused, irrational danger you get from those three. It was a very…precise education. I know what'll happen when I do something and I don't let my emotions take over."
"You weren't angry?" Jack asked.
"Of course, I was angry," I replied. "That sort of shoddy, redneck bravado and unreasoning arrogance offends me. Foul language used around women offends me. Public spectacles offend me. Deliberate stupidity offends me. I was pissed off…no, really just grossly annoyed. But for me to just let fly with no control is like a drunk picking up a loaded gun. Nothing good is gonna happen. Believe me, Jack. That sort of scene, for better or for worse, is part of the job for guys like Simmons and me. Our treating it like a round of golf is like the jokes ambulance drivers tell. It's what makes it possible to face that ugliness and not be eaten alive."
Jack sat quietly for a while, staring out the window. His intelligence and adaptability, as evidenced by his success and diversity, could hardly be questioned. I wasn't worried about him getting past this, but I did worry about how long it might take.
"While we're on the subject," I said casually, "you unnerved me a little bit, too."
"Huh?" Jack said, jolted from his thoughts. "What do you mean?"
"Jack," I sputtered, "how long have you been—to use your phrase—'filthy rich'?"
"About 12 years," he replied. "What does that…"
"I think you may have lost track of the fact that most of us would equate the impulse purchase of a motel with bungee jumping or Russian roulette. Nearly $1,000 for a couple pairs of boots, $70 thousand per annum in salary commitment, $100 million down the road…it's not as ugly as an ass-kickin' but it's just as shocking."
"Okay," he smiled. "Point taken. Behind all of my shock, I guess, is the knowledge that I could never do that."
"You're not trained to," I chuckled. "And, believe me, you're better off doing what you do."
"Oh, I have no complaints," he laughed, "but…I was always a physical guy and I'm not taking it well that I'm not the specimen I was when I played ball."
"You played basketball? At Maryland?" I asked, surprised.
"Football," Jack smiled, "until I blew my knee out."
It was like tumblers falling into place in a lock
"Holy shit," I sputtered. "You're Black Bart!"
"Was," Jack sighed.
"I was watching that game," I muttered. "I thought you dislocated your knee."
"I did," he nodded. "They popped that back in on the field. It was all the ligaments to the knee. They could have knit me back together and I could have limped into the N.F.L. combines but…well, I had other plans, anyway."
"Black Bart" was one of the most celebrated players in A.C.C. history. A fearless, flame-throwing lefty, he could sling the ball 60 yards, flat and straight as a rope. I once saw him throw it 74 yards on the fly, laying it into the receiver's hands like an egg. He had great speed and slipped blitzes like a greased pig.
He would have gone number one in the N.F.L. draft, except for that kamikaze Clemson safety who punched himself over a blocker to slam into the side of Jack's knee with the approximate force of a sledgehammer.
I followed Maryland's football fortunes sporadically, at best, but I loved watching Jack play. When he went down, I drank a few more beers than usual and spent the next three days in a wretched, vicarious funk.
"Jesus," I grinned. "I'm ridin' around with a fucking celebrity."
"Well," Jack laughed, "I'm ridin' around with a war hero. Makes us even."
We drove into Colville and had dinner at a log cabin converted into a pricey steakhouse. The food was excellent and we found a bottle of '97 Sassacaia on their tiny cellar list. Steak, great wine, and football talk—my perfect evening, despite the absence of female companionship.
Colville seemed like such a low-key, almost sleepy little place. As I looked all around, on the drive back, I remembered how lovely and pastoral those fog-shrouded hills in Laos had seemed, and how the view changed as the shadows came alive and muzzle flashes burst like angry fireflies in the last gasp of sunset.
"Joe, you're freaking out over nothing," the voice sighed over the phone. "You're making this too complicated."
Joe's molars ground sharply, once. The person on the other end knew the sound and knew what it meant. She wasn't surprised at the icicle of fear that shimmied up her spine.
"I'm sorry," she sighed. "I'm tired and irritable. Of course, you're not freaking out."
"You say stuff to me sometimes that's worse than you think it is."
"I apologized already," she growled. "don't push it."
They were both silent for a moment.
"Did you think about maybe, like, poisoning the groundwater or something like that. Some ecological problem? They're big on that shit in the Northwest," she mused.
"Y'know," Joe sighed, "on T.V., I see these guys like me who have contacts and resources in every city on earth. It makes me laugh out loud. Guys like me only keep on working if we don't make contacts. There is no way for me to lay hands on a barrel of P.C.B.'s, arsenic, mercury, or anything else that would foul the groundwater without leaving a trail of some kind. Mail to a blind box can still be traced. I can't pick anything up because I'll be seen. I can't steal the shit—even if I knew where to steal it—without a serious risk of being caught or leaving a stray clue. I have exactly three resources and two of those are on the phone right now."
"Look," she said wearily. "You're probably not going to find a perfect solution. Your objective is too restrictive. You've got…what is it? A spa?"
"A resort development," he rumbled. "Huge deal, lotsa rich tourists, layout that covers about 20 square miles."
"You want to keep that house," she sighed. "Why not just move?"
"Because I like this place," he snapped. "It's perfect. It gives me…I dunno, peace…in my mind. I don't know. I just know that it's the only place I've ever thought of as home."
"Listen to yourself," she said urgently. "I don't know where this is coming from, but it's not your head."
"I've come to think, lately, that maybe my head's not all that matters. Maybe…there's something more."
She was quiet for a moment. When she spoke again, Joe could hear the resignation in her voice.
"Okay," she breathed. "So, what now?"
"I wish I had never heard him out in the first place," Joe mumbled.
"You called him," she said simply. "How could you not? It's your oldest habit."
"You never liked him."
"Shit," she snorted. "Was it a secret? I told him that on the phone."
"He always said that he and I, if you looked at us separately, we're barely acceptable human beings," Joe mused.
"He was trying to recruit you," she grumbled. "Stupid ass. He's the one who can't function in society. If he weren't loaded and able to build a wall around himself, he'd fold like an umbrella. You're different. You can function but you don't want to."
"No," Joe replied, "I don't. I want nothing more than to live right up on this ridge and never speak to another human being again, with the possible exception of you."
"Well, if a 'possible exception' is all I can be, I'll take it," she chuckled. "Y'know, there is that one thing that makes sense."
"You get rid of the thing by making it too much trouble."
"But that's what I just told you I can't do," he sighed.
"Well," she murmured, "there's all kinds of trouble."
"Huh?" he snorted. "What does that mean?"
"What are you good at, Joe?" she chuckled dryly. "Mixing it up with the E.P.A.? Stealing chemicals? To my knowledge, Joseph, there is one brand of trouble at which you are a world-class expert."
There was an electric silence across the faint crackle of the satellite connection.
"Go on," Joe said softly.
The sun was just beginning to seep through the pines when he finally looked up from the computer screen. Threads of pale gold lit the blue-grey of the pre-dawn mists as Joe wandered out onto his porch, yawning and stretching and gulping in huge lungfuls of the moist, clean morning air. Even after pulling an all-nighter, the mountain dawn made him feel alert, invigorated…happy. For most people with regular emotions, Joe's feelings of bliss at moments like these would probably register as mild satisfaction. In Joe's universe, such a sensation was tantamount to ecstasy. He had never known happiness in his formative years, so it was an awkward emotion to handle. He clamped down fiercely on the first whispers of it and finally lost the reflex altogether.
Now, on mornings like these, the feelings were a revelation. No job well done, no bank account, no sexual dalliance had ever evoked such stirrings and he craved it, devoured it and was consumed by it.
He pulled the satellite phone from its carry-belt and flipped it on. He touched 1, the only number in his speed dial. Where she lived he calculated quickly, it would be much later in the day.
"Hello," she said, in her usual chipper manner.
"I know what I'm going to do," Joe offered without preamble. "I'll need some help."
"You got it," she replied.
He could hear the smile distinctly, over all the hours and miles.
"The way the council works is unanimous agreement. I never liked that, really, because it means an awful lot of stuff doesn't even get tried out, but it does what old Chief Redpath wanted. What does get done is our best idea and everybody is on board."
Lucille Greenway, in the foggy morning light, was like a graceful statute come to life. At almost 80, she was tall, colorful, a little salty, had the sort of posture you only see in films of kings and presidents, and showed unmistakable evidence of what must have been, in her youth, an almost intimidating beauty.
"Now," she began again, after a thoughtful pause, "I'll grant you my mind isn't everything it once was but I'll be god-damned if I forget stuff like casting a vote for a resort and casino."
"So you don't think this project is a good idea?" I asked. Jack sat stone-faced, listening to every word and making notes in his palm pilot.
"Shit, I think it's a great idea," she chuckled dryly. "Tons of money, couple hundred new jobs. What's not to like? If I'd seen the paperwork, I'm pretty sure I'da voted for it. But, as it stands, without that unanimous vote, it's just against the law, our law, that is, the reservation's laws."
"So, how did it get out of the council in the first place?" I asked.
"They's nine on the council," Lucille responded. "We're not perfect, of course. What group of people is? There are factions…hell, I'm the ringleader of one of 'em, the older people. Hap Gilyard is the brains of the other one, the young'uns. There's three of them, four of us geezers, and two who drift back and forth. That'd be Harley George and Rita Brightfeather."
"Now, I should say, before you get the wrong idea, these are all good folks. I never have to worry that someone's voting their own self-interest over the common good, mainly because we all know that the common good
our self-interest. Small a nation as we are and as tightly-knit, it's almost like the communist ideal, in a way. Share the income generated by the tribe, so what's good for me is, by definition, what's good for you…It's just that we sometimes disagree radically about what that should be."
"So they're telling you, you voted for the land use?" Jack finally asked.
"Well, they've got my signature on the ballot, and it by-god is my signature. Same with Marcus Ramey. Marcus is older than me and he does forget stuff, now and again, and that's what everybody's saying. The two old coots signed off and forgot about it. Hell, it even sounds about true to me…except that it isn't."
"With all due respect, Ms. Greenway, if you had signed and you forgot…how would you know?" I asked.
She pulled a day planner off the roll-top desk to her left.
"Each two-page spread is a month," she smiled. "Start at January."
I turned to January and saw half a dozen small neat notations in red ink.
"Ready?" she asked pleasantly.
"Ready. .for what…I..," I began.
, Jolie, 7 years old. January 13
, Tommy, 13. January 14
, Juanita, 43. January 22
, Bert, 64. January 29
, Kelley, 11. February. February 10
, Jackson, 9 years old. February 17
, Wilson, 16. February 20
, William Tanner, 51. March…"