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Authors: Ron Chudley

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #General, #Suspense, #Mystery & Detective

Act of Evil (8 page)

BOOK: Act of Evil
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Mattie!

With surprise Hal realized that the Trent thing had driven that surprising blast from the past right out of his mind. Yet here she was,
here they both were
, once more knocking at the door of his life. And it didn't take a genius to figure he wouldn't be thinking about it if, on some level, it wasn't important.

What was it about this island? He'd only come here to work, to make a simple little movie, for Christ's sake. Now all hell seemed to be letting loose. As if to emphasize this thought, the loud party erupted into a particularly strident chorus of laughter. Someone rose and, after a remark that caused more mirth, threaded his way toward the interior. His trajectory caused him to pass nearby, and as he did so, Hal's casual glance became more studied.

The man was unusually short, hardly more than five feet, but wiry and strong-looking, with proportionately broad shoulders, like a well-dressed acrobat. His face was narrow, sinewy, with a big mouth but thin lips, and eyes of a blue so pale as to be almost colorless.

White eyes
. The term floated into Hal's mind, not merely as a description but from some remote memory corner. He
knew
that face . . . and, as he realized that, the small man stopped and stared at him. The white eyes blinked, rolled up, then snapped back into focus. The thin-lipped mouth broke into a grin that was almost wolfish. “Goddamn
Hal Bannatyne
!” he breathed, Not a question but a brisk statement.

That did it. Hal recognized the little guy. His name was—wait for it, of course—
Vince Smithson
—an old buddy from Vic High. “Vince?” he blurted.

“You
know
it, man!”

“For crying out loud!”

“For crying out louder!”

“Wow!”

“WOW!”

Thereafter at a loss for words, Hal finally said lamely, “You're looking good.”

Vince grinned. “And you, buddy! Big shot actor now, eh?”

“I've had some success, I guess.”

“Always the modest bastard. I've seen your stuff, man. You're not only famous. You're good.”

Coming from such an old acquaintance, this made Hal feel inordinately pleased. The meeting wasn't all that remarkable, since the city was small and he'd once known a lot of people there, but it certainly was a surprise, especially after such an odd day.

“Thanks,” Hal said. “So . . . what have you been up to?”

Vince gave that grin again that Hal so well remembered. “More than you might imagine, my friend.”

“I can believe it.”

“So . . . what are
you
doing?”

“Well, I've been in Victoria making a—”

“No, I mean,
right now
!'

“Oh! Nothing much. Just stopped in for a bite before heading back to town.”

“So head for my place instead! It's only five minutes away.”

and then he was going to a party. It happened so fast, with such irresistible momentum, that Hal was carried along in spite of himself. He remembered Vince from school as being an extraordinary salesman, a kid who could make anyone do almost anything. Hal, at six feet three, and Vince, more than a foot shorter, had been like a sort of Mutt and Jeff team. Not that Vince needed Hal as a protector. He was far too valuable to intimidate, being an expert procurer: cigarettes, booze, condoms, even drugs—in those days that meant marijuana—for the right price, Vince could get hold of anything. Strangely, his school friendship with Hal had stemmed largely from the fact that he was one of the rare ones who wanted nothing; while Hal admired the guts and imagination of his diminutive buddy.

Three decades later, Vince's powers of persuasion were undiminished. “I've got a little place up on the mountain,” he had said, waving vaguely toward the west. “Near the Aerie Resort, but with ten times the view as those losers. Saturday nights I often throw a bit of a bash. Damn! Tonight you can be the guest of honor.”

Ancient habits die hard, and Hal didn't argue. He didn't have any plans, and a party might take his mind off other matters.

Vince had a sleek Jaguar, into which he packed his dinner guests from the restaurant. With Hal following in his rental car, they headed back toward the Malahat summit, leaving the highway at the Spectacle Lake turnoff. Climbing again, they soon reached Vince's “little place.” This was a futuristic construction of concrete, floating beams, and glass, sprouting like a living thing from the mountainside, with a view encompassing the entire south end of the Island. Getting out of his car, Hal could see Victoria, spread like a carpet of lights in the distance, and beyond, outlined by the last glow of sunset, the crags of the Olympic Mountains in the State of Washington.

But he was given little time to ogle scenery. The Jag's occupants emerged, and Vince grabbed his arm, hustling him inside. Already there were a lot of people present, chatting and drinking, with a couple of waiters hovering about. Evidently, the party had started without the host.

The interior of the house was spectacular; glass walls on the sides that faced the view, marble slabs covered with tapestries and bright wool hangings where the building nosed into the mountain. For the second time that day, Hal had happened into a dwelling that was the expression of great wealth. But this made the house by the lake seem almost modest, and—unlike his unhappy brother—Vince Smithson was undoubtedly the owner.

As evidence of this fact, after fetching them drinks, his host took Hal by the arm and dragged him from room to room, making introductions at machine gun speed, but with flawless recall, to his guests. Befitting the surroundings, there was much wealth here: expensively dressed young men with glittering girl friends; older fellows with trophy wives; bankers,
CEO
s, smart women executives; politicians, local personalities, and a few individuals who looked a little dangerous. Everyone was on a first name basis with their host—little Vince who'd once been the fixer in high school—and Hal could see why: his old friend was dynamic, the magical mover of the old days now in full flower.
God
, Hal thought,
if this guy was my agent, by now I'd be a superstar
.

The only thing that was unclear was what Vince actually
did
. Everyone else seemed to know. Oblique references were made to this project, that concern, or such-and-such initiative, but little of it made much sense to Hal. Just one thing was clear: whatever Vince did involved a lot of money and probably a good deal of power. In this pond, and likely well beyond, Vince Smithson was a very big fish indeed.

After chatting a while and having been recognized by several people—the rich were as fascinated by showbiz as anyone—Hal once more felt Vince's hand on his arm. He was led away from the throng, out onto a side balcony. When they were alone, Vince said, “God, that's better. Sometimes these circuses of mine depress the hell out of me.”

Hal laughed. “Really? Seemed like you were having a ball. All those fat cats eating out of your hand.”

The small man grinned, “Yeah—well—you know, I've always liked to run the show, and I guess I'm good at it. But—I dunno—meeting you after all this time . . . It's got to be thirty years, right?”

“That's what I figured.”

“It made me realize just how quick the time passes. Suddenly, for a minute there, I actually got to feeling old.”

Hal looked out into the night, where the stars and the far-off city formed a continuous pattern of light. “My guess is that ‘old' for you is how most people feel on their best day. Doesn't seem like you've slowed down one bit since school. But—tell me . . .”

“What, buddy?”

“You're obviously well off, with a lot of influential friends who seem to hang on your every word. So—I've been trying to figure—just what is that you
do.

“Not living here any more, I guess you
would
wonder that. Okay—come on, I'll show you.”

Vince led the way to the opposite end of the balcony, where there was another door. He entered and a light went on, revealing a medium sized room. Hal followed inside as Vince put on more lights. There was a desk, a sofa, a couple of easy chairs, and two walls lined with books and file cabinets. Evidently Vince's study, the place actually
smelled
rich: wood, leather, and cigar smoke. Not a sound of the party made it through the paneled walls. The single window had curtains, which Vince carefully closed. He went to the desk and from a drawer produced a bag of white powder, a portion of which he expertly arranged in two lines on the desktop. Producing a straw, he inhaled a quantity into each nostril, following this with a long-drawn sigh of satisfaction.

Hal gave an astonished laugh. “
This
is what you do? You're a drug dealer?”

Vince broke from his moment of bliss to stare. “What? Drug dealer?
Fuck no!
Man, you can't be serious! This is strictly recreation! Speaking of which . . .” He indicated the cocaine. “Y'wanna bite?”

“Ah—no, thanks. Bad for the voice, I've found.”

“Yeah, right!” Vince grinned. “Still old Holy Hal, eh? Seems I never
could
tempt you into anything. Okay, more power to you, bud. But the reason I closed the curtains wasn't this.” He put the bag away and crossed the room to the bookshelf, pulling out a map that came down like a blind. “It was
this!

“This” was a large scale rendition of Victoria and surrounding suburbs. Apart from the size, the only thing unusual was a number of blocks of color: red, blue, and yellow, sprinkled over the map like confetti. “You see,” Vince said, making no attempt to keep the pride from his voice, “red areas are projects completed, blue are work in progress, and yellow are ones I'm negotiating, or have my eye on. A lot of assholes—competitors and speculators—would give anything to know about those little yellow babies, and some of them are right here in this house . . . which is the reason for the secrecy.”

“I see . . . but
projects
? What exactly to you mean?”

Vince raised his eyebrows. “Man, you always were in a world of your own. Okay, I'll spell it out. This is real estate, Hal. I'm a property developer, for chrissake!”

Hal laughed. “Ah!”

“Not so exciting as being a Don of the Medellin Cartel, but a lot safer, I'd guess.”

Hal moved closer to the map. The little colored blocks ran to the dozens. “All this is yours?”

“Nah—some I own, or co-own, or lease, or have an interest in. But
all
of them I had a major hand in developing. That's what really intrigues me—the building bit. You understand?”

“Actually, I think I do—it's like rehearsals.”

“Come again?”

“When I'm working in the theater, the thing I get the most kick out of is rehearsals: opening night is great, and a few performances, but then it starts to get boring.”

Vince nodded vigorously, indicating the map. “That's it!” When a project's finished, I'm happy, but it's a yawn.” He indicated a blue area. “These are what keep me occupied most days. But
these
 . . .” His hand seemed almost to caress one of the yellow dots. “. . . These are what I
dream
about. I guess it's like when you guys get to act Hamlet or something.”

Hal chuckled. “Point taken.”

“It's the new projects that really get under my skin. When they're working out—when the property is coming under my control and I'm winning, I feel like the king of goddamn creation. But when I'm taking shit, being crossed up; when I can't get my parcels together, or I'm having other problems . . . well, what can I say? Life ain't quite so sweet.”

For the merest moment, Vince's expression was surprisingly grim, then he grinned, snapping the map so that it rolled back up and vanished. “You asked what I do, so now you know. Sorry, buddy!”

“What for?”

“For hustling you away from your quiet supper to come to my circus.”

“You kidding? Vince, it's been cool. What you're doing is quite something.”

“Yeah? I guess you're about the last guy I've got left to impress.” He laughed. “Running into you like that, I just couldn't resist the opportunity. How much longer are you going to be in town?”

“Not long—a couple of days.”

Their youthful friendship had been a product of circumstance, created by their differences from the herd rather than in any real affinity for each other. So Hal was neither surprised nor disappointed when, without further ceremony he was ushered back to the party. Almost immediately a man approached and took Vince by the elbow. The newcomer was a fit-looking fifty-year-old who seemed somewhat out of place amongst the classy guests. He had the physique and appearance of a tough outdoorsman, this image enhanced by a U-shaped scar high on his forehead. But his voice and manner were unobtrusive. After a few muted words, Vince turned back to his old schoolmate.

“Hal, this is my associate, Lyall Penney. He always seems to need to talk business just when I'm having fun.” He clapped Hal on the back and it was as if their short time of intimacy had never happened. “Parties are okay, but they're just grease for the old wheels of commerce, eh? Enjoy, old bud: eat, drink, and all that shit. You've got some admirers here, I'll bet. Maybe you can find one who
really
wants your autograph—if you catch my drift? See you later.”

Vince winked and, already deep in conversation with Penney, vanished into the crowd. Hal finished his drink but declined another. He stayed a while, chatting easily but in no mood for adventures. He didn't catch sight of his host again. Before 10:00
PM
he was heading back down the mountain.

BOOK: Act of Evil
5.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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