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Authors: Brad Smith

Crow's Landing

BOOK: Crow's Landing
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Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Acknowledgments

ONE

The boat was moored out near the middle of the river, a few miles north of the town of Athens, at a point where the stream swept around a wide bend, the channel flowing southeastward for a half mile or so before swinging back to the south. They had anchored just before dark, having made a hundred and twenty miles that day.

Parson had been watching the sonar for the last hour and when they came to a drop-off that read sixty-one feet, he cut the engines and lowered the anchors, fore and aft. The sun was fading fast, slipping down into the pine forest to the west, and the light that remained filtered through the tree line, casting the surface of the water in orange and red hues. The banks on both sides of the river were largely deserted along that stretch. There were a couple of ramshackle cabins visible on the east shore, and a farmhouse on a hill set farther back. A herd of Holsteins grazed on the slope beside the house, the white on their hides also colored an odd hue of orange by the descending sun.

A man in an aluminum boat was trolling along the western bank, moving south with the current. The man wore a fedora and was smoking a pipe. He had one hand on the tiller and when Parson waved to him, he lifted the pipe briefly above his head in reply. He continued downriver, the outboard putt-putting quietly across the heavy night air, and soon disappeared around the bend.

Parson fired the barbecue and cooked steaks that they'd bought earlier that day while fueling up at a marina in Peekskill. The woman had been reading in the cabin all afternoon, some novel she'd picked up in Charleston when they'd stopped there for a day on their way north. The book was about a slave woman who'd escaped from her owner in the middle of the Civil War and made her way north to Boston. Parson knew what the book was about because she kept telling him about it, insisting that he should read it when she was finished. She told him that she thought it would resonate with him, even more than it had with her. She'd actually used the word
resonate.
Parson didn't much care about his history, how his ancestors had gotten from wherever they had been to where he was now. It didn't matter to him, and even if it did it wouldn't make any difference, not to somebody living in the present. In all probability his ancestors
had
been slaves, but what did that have to do with him? Besides, Parson didn't read much, and when he did, he didn't read fiction. What did he care about some story some writer made up?

She came up from the cabin while the steaks were sizzling, smoking a joint and carrying a bottle of Chardonnay she'd just opened. She handed the joint to Parson and poured wine for both of them before sitting down on the padded bench on the rear deck of the Chris-Craft. She wore a bikini top and a bloodred sarong, her blond hair tucked beneath a cotton baseball cap. She was deeply tanned, both from the trip and the two weeks earlier in the Bahamas.

She'd made a salad earlier and they ate that and the steaks, sitting at the pull-out table on the deck, finishing in near darkness. It was very quiet on the river; from time to time they would hear a gull, and once a pair of mallards flew directly overheard, quacking in that anxious manner that
ducks seemed to possess. They finished the wine with the meal and afterward she took the dishes down to the galley to wash them.

They had been on the water since seven that morning and at ten o'clock she announced she was going to bed. Parson followed shortly after, first checking the bilge pump and the marker lights. He would have preferred to leave the lights off, but then they would run the risk of a tugboat or trawler ramming them in the dark. The sky was clouding over as he went below, huge puffy clouds pushing in from the west, floating in front of the rising moon like ships at sea.

When he woke, it was five minutes to two. The wind was up and the boat was riding the waves, the bow making soft slapping noises on the water. Parson wondered if that was what had awakened him. He lay there quietly for a time. Beside him, the woman was sound asleep, naked beneath the cotton sheets. Faint light showed through the window beside her. Parson could see the panther inked on her shoulder, and it looked as if the cat too was asleep, its head resting on her upper arm, its body tucked into the covers below.

After a while he rose, pulled on his pants, and went up top. The moon was still visible, but smudged now beneath gray cloud cover. Looking at the outline of the riverbank to the east, it seemed to Parson that they had drifted with the current. He checked the sonar; it still read sixty-one feet so it must have been his imagination. The anchor ropes were tight and secure.

He walked to the side of the boat to take a leak before going back below and that's when he heard the sound. It was very faint, a soft splash on the surface like someone skipping a stone, and he thought at first it might have been a fish jumping. Then the clouds shifted and the moon shone
through for a few moments. There was a boat maybe two hundred yards away, coming silently toward him, as if adrift.

But it wasn't adrift. There were men in the boat, and the noise he'd heard was an oar hitting the water.

Parson made for the bench at the rear of the Chris-Craft, pulled the cushions from it, and opened the lid. Inside there was a false bottom of stained plywood. He pulled it out and tossed it aside. The stainless steel cylinder was underneath, wrapped in blankets to keep it from rolling around. Parson grabbed one of the handles and, heaving the heavy cylinder out of the hiding place, dragged it to the transom and threw it overboard.

He turned back and once again caught a glimpse of the approaching boat before the cloud cover returned, this time obscuring the moon completely. Parson walked quickly to the bow and dove into the cold water. He stayed beneath the surface as long as his breath would allow, came up for air, and went under again. When he was certain he couldn't be seen from the boat, he settled into a breast stroke and swam for shore.

He could hear voices behind him, floating across the water. Excited voices, shouting, cursing. Looking back, he saw lights on the Chris-Craft, and on the smaller boat now tied to the big vessel.

The last thing he heard was the woman calling his name.

TWO

Seven years later—

On Friday afternoon, Virgil delivered a couple of yearling steers to the abattoir outside of Saugerties and on the way home he stopped at Slim's Roadhouse for a pitcher of beer and an order of chicken wings. It had been sweltering the past few days and the stockyard at the slaughterhouse was like an oven; the place was in a hollow where there was no breeze at all, just a couple dozen steers standing in the steaming lot, the manure almost liquid in the air, flies hovering by the thousands. Virgil had released his steers into the lot and headed for town.

He was at a table near the front windows, working on the beer while he waited for his order, when Mudcat McClusky came through the kitchen and into the bar carrying a large Styrofoam cooler, which he propped on the counter and opened to reveal a half dozen striped bass inside. The fish were still alive, flopping in the tepid water, gasping for breath. They were of a nice size for eating, five- and six-pounders, the colors bright, eyes clear. Mudcat said he caught them out in the Hudson, off Kimball's Point, a village just north of Athens. If there were two truths to be known about Mudcat, one was that he was as lazy as a pet coon and the other was that he was full of shit. Nobody in the bar believed that he'd caught the fish now on display in the Styrofoam cooler.
He may have bought them from whoever did catch them (unlikely, as Mudcat was both cheap and chronically broke), or he may have stolen them out of somebody's boat, or he may even have just borrowed the fish for half an hour for the sole purpose of bringing them into the bar to brag. The latter scenario grew more plausible; when the cook from Slim's came out of the kitchen, sharpening a filleting knife, Mudcat quickly put the top on the cooler and headed out the front door.

It didn't matter to Virgil whether it was Mudcat or somebody else who caught the stripers. The fact remained that somebody had caught them and by the time Virgil finished his beer and his wings, he'd decided he would play hooky the next day and head out to try his own luck. He hadn't been out in his boat much since earlier in the spring, when the striped bass began their run, despite promising himself he would use it regularly. But by April the new calves were coming, and May was planting time and most of June was spent haying. Now it was nearly July and his wheat was just about ready for harvest, but according to Mudcat McClusky, the stripers were biting again off Kimball's Point. Virgil could use a day off.

He usually launched at Brownie's Marina, in a cove just north of the town. The place was a local hangout, he'd discovered. There was the boat dock, and the marina, which sold bait and angling gear and a few things like soda and chips and sandwiches. Adjacent to the marina parking lot was a roadhouse called Scallywags, the standard dockside venue, a beer and wings joint that sold better than average food and had two pool tables in the back. Virgil usually stopped in at Scallywags for a cold draft or two after he'd been out on the boat. He got to know some of the locals, including Mudcat
McClusky, and occasionally he played some eight ball with them.

The “Brownie” who owned the marina was a fat slug named Gordon Brown. Virgil learned that he'd been a cop in Albany for thirty years, a sergeant for the last ten, before cashing in his pension and buying the marina. Virgil knew Brownie as well as he wanted to. The man was a barely functioning drunk and a gossip who appeared friendly on the surface until it became obvious that he didn't have a good word to say about anybody who wasn't within earshot. Virgil had never been a fan of cops in general—the luscious Claire Marchand notwithstanding—and he had no trouble disliking Brownie at first sight.

BOOK: Crow's Landing
2.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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