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Authors: Brad Smith

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BOOK: Crow's Landing
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Approaching the Woodbine place along the dead-end road, the house appeared deserted. Of course, it had seemed that way a year ago, too. But now there was no Chrysler sedan parked in the drive, and the grass was somewhat overgrown. Virgil parked and got out, and went to the front door and knocked. When nobody answered, he came down off the porch and walked over to the machine shed and slid open the doors. Only the ancient threshing machine remained inside. The Ferguson tractor was gone and so was the Ford coupe and the stake truck.

Virgil walked back outside and closed the doors. As he
was getting into his truck, he heard a vehicle and he turned to see the Chrysler approaching along the gravel road, coming fast. It turned into the lane and went around him and parked by the house and Montgomery Woodbine got out, carrying some takeout from Kentucky Fried Chicken. The old man focused for a few moments on Virgil, clearly not remembering him, and then he looked at the truck; it seemed that he recognized the vehicle.

“You bought my McCormick baler,” he said.

“I did.”

Woodbine chuckled. “I didn't give no warranty, if that's why you're here.”

Virgil walked over to the man. “The baler works fine. I put a thousand bales through it this summer.”

“Well, come on in,” Woodbine said. “I got my lunch here. I go to the Kentucky Fried every Tuesday, when they got their special on. I just got enough for one though, I wasn't expecting company.”

“I ate already,” Virgil said, although he hadn't.

In the kitchen Woodbine made instant coffee for them both and they sat at a paint-chipped harvest table while he ate his chicken and fries. Virgil drank the bitter coffee, adding a lot of milk, and told the old man why he was there.

“I never registered the boat either,” Woodbine said. “Not that I can recall. I don't believe it was required back then.”

“There was a serial number on it,” Virgil said. “On a plate on the dash. I never copied it down though.”

“Guess you weren't planning on it getting stole.” Tearing the meat from a chicken leg, the old man squinted, trying to remember. “I might of got a bill of sale. If I did, I still have it somewhere, probably in that flat-to-the-wall behind you. I never throw anything like that out.”

“Where'd you buy it?”

“From a camp up in the Adirondacks,” Woodbine said. “Pop's Camp, it was called. We used to rent the cabin next door every year, me and the wife, when the kids were just small. One year this camp was selling off their boats cuz they had a new batch coming in. This was about the time everybody was going to aluminum.”

Woodbine finished the chicken and then the old man went into the pine cupboard and began to search for the document. Virgil waited, but he wasn't expecting much; he was going to be surprised if Woodbine came up with a bill of sale for a boat he bought fifty years earlier.

But he did. The receipt listed the boat's serial number and it was signed by the previous owner, a man named Bill Chamberlain.

“I'm not sure what good it's going to do you,” Woodbine said.

“Me, either,” Virgil said. “But if you can give me a bill of sale, I can at least prove chain of title. Then maybe the cops will stop pretending I invented the damn thing.”

Woodbine used the same invoice book he'd used when Virgil bought the baler, and he made out a bill of sale. He was very meticulous with the document, checking and double-checking the serial number before handing Virgil the invoice.

“You got time for a beer?” the old man asked suddenly.

Virgil began to beg off but he hesitated, using a moment to look at his watch to consider. It occurred to him that Woodbine didn't have many visitors and he wondered just how often the old man's children came to see him. Virgil said yes to the beer.

They sat at the kitchen table and drank and talked about farming, which meant that they talked mainly about the
weather. How there was always too much rain, or too little rain, or no rain. But never just enough rain. Woodbine told Virgil he'd raised four kids on the farm, just a hundred acres, and that his wife had never worked out of the home. Those days were gone, he noted, and Virgil agreed. Woodbine said that a man would have to be a fool to try to make a living off a hundred acres nowadays, and Virgil had agreed with that as well. When his beer was finished he got to his feet and said he had to get back to his own farm. He might have mentioned that it was a hundred acres, but he didn't.

The two men walked outside together.

“I didn't know if I'd still find you here,” Virgil said.

“You figure I kicked the bucket?”

“No, but you were selling the equipment last year, thought maybe you sold the farm too. I had a look in the shed, I see you sold the Ferguson, and the old Ford.”

“I sold the tractor,” Woodbine said. “I gave the Ford away.”

“Gave it away?”

“Not on purpose. Some guy came up from the city to look at it, right around the time you were here, I believe. Showed up with a big pickup truck and a fancy trailer. Looked the car over for maybe two minutes and wrote me a check for ten thousand dollars. Now, as a rule, I wouldn't take a check but everything looked on the up-and-up. He didn't appear to be a deadbeat, the truck and trailer had to be worth five times that. It was a Friday and he said he couldn't get to the bank until Monday and he had the trailer here and all. So I took the check.”

“And it bounced.”

“Like an Indian rubber ball. But I got nobody but myself to blame. I ain't hurting for money, but it galls me that I let it happen. Same with you and your boat, I guess.”

“Yeah.”

“Maybe I'll run into the sonofabitch someday,” Woodbine said. “I won't forget him. Big colored guy, with a shaved head like a bowling ball.”

Virgil opened the truck door and got in. “Thanks for the receipt.”

“I hope you get your boat back,” Woodbine said.

“So do I,” Virgil said, and he drove off.

NINE

After thinking about it overnight, Hoffman drove to the airport early the next morning with the cylinder in the back of the car. Pulling up to the no-parking zone, he flashed his badge to a skycap and told him to load the thing onto a luggage cart. The cap looked at the badge unhappily but did as he was told, getting another porter to help him with the cylinder when he discovered how heavy it was.

Hoffman thanked the cap and said he would take it from there himself. He pushed the cart into departures and over to the first luggage drop he saw. He had to show his badge three more times before a security guard finally led him and the cart to the office of a man named Cowan, who was apparently the head honcho. Cowan was tall and lean, maybe sixty, with a hawk's eyes and a brush cut cropped close. He had a faded tattoo on his forearm that suggested he'd been a marine.

“So what is this?” he asked, looking at the cylinder.

“We seized it last night,” Hoffman told him. “In the trunk of a rented Lincoln from Canada full of ragheads. We don't know what's in it and we want to X-ray it to find out. You know, before we cut it open.”

“What's that got to do with us?” Cowan asked. “Get your drug squad to do it.”

“They got two machines and they're both down,” Hoffman said. “MIFC.”

“What does that mean?” Cowan asked.

“Made In Fucking China.”

If Hoffman thought that he might get a chuckle out of Cowan over that, he was mistaken. “So you're under the impression that we're here to provide you with this kind of service?” Cowan asked.

“I'm under the impression that you have an interest in our nation's security,” Hoffman said. “Did I mention the rental car full of ragheads?”

Cowan took a moment to think it over. There really wasn't any way for him to say no. He turned to the guard. “Go ahead. We'll accommodate the detective.” He looked at Hoffman, like a falcon eyeing a mouse. “But we won't make a habit of it.”

 * * *

When he left the airport, Hoffman went back downtown, parked in an alley near the intersection of South Pearl and Alexander, and waited. He didn't know where he might find his man, but he knew he was in the right neighborhood. After a fidgety twenty minutes or so, he got out of the car and walked over to the Quik Mart tucked between two tenements and bought a
USA Today
and a pack of Camels. He continued down the block and picked up a pint bottle of bourbon at the package store on the corner. Thus fortified, he went back to the SUV and waited.

He spotted Soup wandering down Alexander shortly after eleven, blinking into the bright sunlight while he fumbled in his pants for his shades. He'd obviously just gotten up, and emerged from whatever rathole he'd inhabited for the night. He stood on the corner for a time, taking in the day, before starting out north along Morton.

Hoffman had another nip of the mash and got out of the SUV and started walking, catching up to Soup at the corner.
He grabbed the skinny man by the forearm and muscled him into the wall of the building there.

“Hey, Soup. Where you heading?”

Soup turned a bad eye Hoffman's way and tried to wriggle free. “Get me some breakfast, it any of your business. I'm clean as a hound's tooth, you best let me be.”

“Breakfast at fucking noon,” Hoffman said, relaxing his grip but just slightly. “The life of Riley.”

“I don't know no Riley.”

Hoffman looked down the block and saw a diner with specials plastered on white placards on the plate glass window in front. He pulled Soup along. “Come on, I'll buy you lunch.”

“Pass on that.”

“You don't get to pass on anything,” Hoffman said.

Inside the diner they sat at a booth against the back wall, Hoffman joking and smiling, trying to be a regular guy, while Soup was sullen and suspicious, waiting to see what this was about. Hoffman didn't get into it until after their meals had arrived.

“I need the name of a dealer,” he said when the waitress was gone. “And I don't mean one of your baggy-assed homeboys selling that stepped-on shit in the alley. I need a real guy. With real coin. You understand?”

Soup had ordered a cheeseburger and fries. He was spreading ketchup on the burger as he listened. Now he put the bottle aside and stared over at Hoffman.

“I understand,” he said. “I understand you out of your fucking mind. Even if I know a dude like that, I give him up to you and my black ass be in the cemetery by morning. So fuck you and your I-need-a-name shit.”

Hoffman, watching as Soup took a bite out of his cheese-burger,
glanced around quickly. “It's not like that. This is a business proposition.”

Soup chewed and swallowed. “It's a dyin' proposition for me, what I'm saying here. What the fuck you think you get, buying somebody lunch?”

Hoffman leaned forward over the table and dropped his voice. “Listen up, you little shit,” he snapped. “This is
not
a police thing, Soup. I have some serious weight to move. And you're going to help me move it.”

“No chance, Hoffman. You settin' me up.”

“Funny you should mention that,” Hoffman said. He leaned back and smiled across the table, stirring a couple of heaping tablespoons of sugar into his coffee before continuing. “Because that's exactly what I'm going to do if you
don't
sign up for this. I'll plant about a pound of this shit on your skinny fucking person and haul you in. That makes it trafficking, and if my memory's right, that makes you a three-time loser, Soup. So you tell me what you're going to be today—a dumb fucking crackhead on his way back to stir or a savvy businessman?”

Soup sat staring at his fries for a long moment. “You a motherfucker, Hoffman.”

“That's me. Now find me a guy and set up a meet. Use your brain and this could work out for you. This guy is going to be extremely grateful, trust me. He's going to
owe
you. You know?”

“All I know—ain't no such thing as a free cheeseburger these days.”

 * * *

By quitting time Monday afternoon, Dusty was on the common roof of the town houses, nailing the plywood sheeting to the trusses. At five o'clock she still had a few sheets to go
and so, rather than quit and haul the hoses back up the next morning, she stayed an extra half hour and finished the job.

She was the last to leave the site and, walking across the street to the parking lot, she pulled out her phone and checked her messages. She'd called the day camp at four-thirty to say she'd be running late. There was always someone there until six. Approaching her truck, she put her cell back in her pocket and looked up to see a vintage Camaro—'67 or '68, she guessed—parked by the fence at the back of the lot. The car was cherry red, gleaming in the fading sun, with dark tinted windows concealing anyone inside. Dusty considered that the mud parking lot was an odd place for that particular car to be, but she didn't give it much thought beyond that. She put her nailer in the back of the truck and as she did, she heard the rumble of the Camaro starting up and then approaching. She turned as it rolled to a stop a few feet away. The driver killed the engine and then sat there for a moment, obscured behind the tinted glass.

The door opened and Parson got out.

Dusty felt her heart rise into her throat. He was smiling, moving loose and easy, walking toward her. He didn't look a day older. He was like a big cat, both lazy and dangerous at the same time, his muscular arms encased in a black T-shirt with
Empire Restorations
scripted above a caricature of a screaming hot rod.

“Hello, Dusty.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Why, looking for you.”

“I can't imagine why,” Dusty told him.

“Maybe I missed you.”

“Goodbye.” Dusty unslung the tool belt from her shoulder and dropped it in the box of the truck.

BOOK: Crow's Landing
10.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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