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Authors: Brad Smith

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BOOK: Crow's Landing
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Dusty opened the door to the Ford and stood there, thinking about what to say and how to say it. “This ain't recess in the schoolyard. I'm not here to tell tales.”

Murphy watched as she got into the truck. “All right,” he said. “But whatever he did, he won't do it again.”

FOUR

Pulling away from the marina, Dick Hoffman lit a cigarette while keeping watch in his rearview mirror, thinking that the owner of the wooden boat might decide to follow him. By the time he reached the highway that led back into the city, he was satisfied that he wasn't being pursued. The guy was a hick, but even a hick wouldn't chase after a man who had just shoved a 9mm Glock in his face. Still, there had been something about the guy that had unnerved Hoffman. He was raw and plenty strong-looking and he came right at Hoffman in the parking lot, as if he might take hold of him, which is why Hoffman pulled his piece. The hick stepped back at that point, but he still didn't appear scared, not in the least. Pissed off was more like it, and he probably had reason to be, seeing his boat towed away. Well, fuck him. He had nobody but himself to blame. Hoffman didn't want the goddamn thing. If the hick hadn't chained the cylinder to it, he'd still have his little wooden boat.

He finished the first cigarette and lit a second off the butt. Until he got the call about the cylinder, Hoffman had been having a bad day. He'd gone zero for ten at the track the day before—hadn't even cashed a fucking place ticket—and went to Merton's for dinner, and stuck around long enough afterward to get about three-quarters drunk, and suffered the indignity of his credit card being refused when he attempted to pay his tab. He'd ended up writing a check
that he knew was going to bounce, so that morning at ten o'clock he walked into his bank and demanded a meeting with the loans manager.

It didn't go well.

The manager was a new guy named Ollinger and he looked as if he had just stepped off the cover of some computer geek magazine. Skinny, with rimless glasses, hair carefully mussed with little streaks of blond in it. He regarded Dick Hoffman as if he was a panhandler.

“What can we do for you today?” he asked after they sat down, his eyes shifting to a computer screen in front of him.

“I want to see about a line of credit,” Hoffman had said.

“It shows here that you already have a line of credit.” Loans Manager Ollinger pursed his lips. “And it's been exhausted.”

“Yeah, I'm aware of that,” Hoffman said. “Why you think I'm sitting here? I need a new one.”

“Well … it doesn't work like that,” Ollinger said. “You can't just start a new one.”

“Then extend the one I got.”

“We just can't extend …” Ollinger sighed heavily and hit a few keys on his computer. “You can't use up the line and then solve things by making it bigger. You have an inordinate amount of debt here, Mr. Hoffman.”


Detective
Hoffman. So what do you need—collateral?” Hoffman asked. “I got twenty-nine fucking years serving this city. I got an iron-clad pension waiting. If that isn't secure, then nothing in this world is.”

“That's fine,” Ollinger said. “But what we're looking at right now—well, we can't just keep advancing funds like it's … Monopoly money.”

“Monopoly,” Hoffman snapped. “You think this is funny?”

“No sir.”

Hoffman felt his pulse begin to pound. He felt shitty enough, with a hangover and no breakfast, just a cup of bad coffee from the minimart down the street from his house in Colonie. He forced himself to look away from the geek and out the window to the street below. Traffic was stopped; a dump truck attempting to make a right turn on a narrow side street hadn't made it. The traffic was tight up the truck's ass; the driver couldn't move forward because of a parked car and he couldn't reverse into the traffic behind him. It was a stalemate.

Hoffman turned back to Ollinger, who was still staring at the computer screen, looking a little nervous now. Seemed that kids nowadays spend their whole lives looking at computer screens. Maybe one day this kid will look up and discover that he's fifty-two and broke. Like Hoffman.

“I put my ass on the line for people like you,” Hoffman told him. “For fucking little geeks sitting in their safe little office cubicles. You think you could do what I do? You think you'd last a day out there? No, you never think about it, do you? You never think about where people like you would be without people like me.”

Loans Manager Ollinger finally took his eyes away from the screen. He shook his head apologetically and offered his palms forward to emphasize that there was nothing he could do. “Why don't we go through your assets and see if there's any way—”

Hoffman got to his feet. “Fuck you. Your problem is you think you're in charge. Well, you're gonna find out different. You don't control shit.”

Walking to his car, Hoffman thought back to the geek's expression when he left the office. No doubt the smug little prick ran around telling his coworkers all about Hoffman's
meltdown the minute he left the building. No, he probably wrote it all out and sent it to everybody in an e-mail. Or put it out on Tweeter or whatever the fuck it was.

Hoffman headed for the station after leaving the bank. Sitting at a light on Madison Avenue, he saw Soup Campbell scurrying along the sidewalk, head down, his pace quick like a man on a mission. Waiting for the light, Soup glanced over to see Hoffman watching him, and right away he did an about-face and beetled into the alley. Hoffman made a U-turn in the intersection and followed. Soup was running now and Hoffman gunned the sedan up beside him and opened the car door, slamming Soup from behind and sending him face-first onto the pavement.

Hoffman got out and walked over to where Soup was writhing on the ground, his knees pulled up to his chest. Soup was skinny as a rail these days, with bad skin and a couple of missing teeth in front. Hoffman lifted him up and pinned him against the hood of the car.

“Dumb fuck. You don't run, I don't chase you.”

“I ain't doing nothin'.”

“You might as well wear a sign says you're holding,” Hoffman said. “Running like a little punk. Let's see what you got.”

Hoffman held Soup with one hand and rifled through his pockets with the other, turning out a half dozen little bags of crack and a small roll of twenties. Hoffman tossed the dope onto the hood and counted the cash. Two hundred and forty. Hoffman stuck it in his coat pocket.

“You dealing now, you little fucker?”

“No way. That my personal shit.”

“You're not smart enough to deal drugs, Soup. You're barely smart enough to use them.” He turned Soup around to face him. “Tell you what you're going to do. You're going to dump
that shit in the storm sewer over there and then I'm going to let you walk. You're lucky I'm feeling generous today.”

Soup glanced down at Hoffman's hands, looking for the cash. “Motherfucker, you just ripping me off.”

Hoffman took a quick look behind him to see they weren't being watched and then turned and drove his fist into Soup's face. Soup went down on one knee and Hoffman pulled him back up. “What did you say?”

Soup put the back of his hand to his lip, which was split and starting to bleed. “Nothin'.”

Hoffman stuck around long enough to watch Soup break open the bags and pour the cocaine into the sewer grate.

“There now,” he said. “Don't you feel better? Now you're a useful member of society. Nobody says you have to be a fuck-up all your life.”

“Up your ass.”

“That attitude could still use a little work,” Hoffman had said before leaving Soup, bleeding and pissed off, in the alley.

Driving into the city now, the confiscated boat in tow behind him, Hoffman thought of how his day had progressed, from bad to good. Life was strange. When he reached the city limits he went to a Home Depot and used some of Soup's cash to buy bolt cutters. He could've gone downtown and picked up a set at the station but he wasn't sure just what his options were yet with regards to the cylinder. He had a growing suspicion, however, that downtown wasn't going to be a part of that picture.

From Home Depot he drove to his house out in Colonie and backed the boat into his garage. Unhooking the trailer from the SUV, he parked the truck outside in the driveway and then, went back inside the garage, closing the door. Using the bolt cutters, he cut the chain that was wrapped through
the handles of the cylinder. The thing was a lot heavier than he anticipated and it wasn't easy getting it out of the boat. He had to stand it on end and tip it over the gunwale, and when he did, he couldn't control it and it tumbled over the side and crashed down onto the concrete. Hoffman jumped back to avoid a broken foot. The cylinder clanged noisily against the cement; luckily the handles prevented it from rolling away and smashing into the door. Hoffman cut a length of rope from the anchor line inside the boat and hooked it through one of the handles of the cylinder and dragged it to the storage locker at the back of his garage, then stood the thing on end and maneuvered it inside and locked the door.

He drove back to the station downtown and parked the SUV in the lot outside. He signed the vehicle in and went inside, sat at his desk, and went through the motions of filling out some reports until five o'clock, and then got into his own car and left.

He met Mickey Wright in Dunnett's on Western Avenue. Hoffman had called Mick earlier, on the drive north from the marina. Mick had his own table at Dunnett's, or at least it was a table that the regulars vacated for him whenever he showed up, which was pretty much every day for the last five years. The table was just inside the door leading to the back alley, the entrance that featured the handicapped ramp that had been installed, originally anyway, for Mickey Wright.

Mick was at the table when Hoffman walked in, his wheelchair angled so he could see the big-screen TV in the corner, although when Hoffman arrived Mick wasn't watching TV, he was reading a newspaper. In fact, he read the newspaper out loud to Hoffman as he sat down across from him.

“Under the conditions of the plea bargain, the twenty-two-year-old admitted to shooting the woman but claimed
it was in self-defense as she had threatened him with a knife. Although the police failed to turn up the knife in question, he was sentenced to time served plus a day in jail.” Mick tossed the paper aside and had a drink of beer before he said anything else. “A fucking joke. This whole country has become one big fucking punch line.”

“Think I don't know it?” Hoffman said.

The waitress came over and Hoffman ordered a rye and seven, and another beer for Mick. After a while Mick would switch to Scotch but he wasn't there yet.

“So where is it?” Mick asked.

“Stashed.”

“What is it?”

“Huh? You know what it is.”

“I never saw it though. What does it look like?”

“I don't know. It's about four feet long.” Hoffman held his hands up, fingers spread. “This big around. Got two handles, like loops, welded to it. And heavy. Unbelievably fucking heavy. Strained my guts getting it out of the goddamn boat.”

“What boat?”

“Long story. The dummy who found it, I had to seize his boat.”

“It's got a lid of some kind?”

“Nothing. Welded shut, tight as a nun's snatch.”

The waitress brought the drinks and Mick checked out her legs while she put them down. She was wearing a short red skirt and a white dress shirt, with the sleeves rolled up and the top couple buttons undone to show some cleavage even though she didn't have much to show.

“You think she's wearing panties?” Mick asked, watching her walk away. “Bobby Simmons says sometimes she doesn't wear panties when she works.”

“How would Bobby Simmons know?”

“Good question. She wouldn't let him anywhere near her little cooch.”

Hoffman took a drink of rye. He wanted to get back to the subject at hand. He never remembered Mick as a guy who talked about sex much, not before the shooting that put him in the chair. Now he did it all the time. Hoffman suspected it was because talking about it was all he could do nowadays.

“So does that sound like it?”

“Maybe,” Mick said. “I told you—I never saw the thing. It was pitch dark that night, that's how Parson gave us the slip. He tossed the thing and followed it overboard. Shit, night like that, dark as coal, how you going to see a nigger in the water?”

Mick finished one beer and started on the other.

“And this was where?” Hoffman asked. “Because apparently this hick fisherman is saying he hooked it out from Kimball's Point. Just above Athens.”

“It was near Coxsackie,” Mick said. “Deep water.”

“Then how did it get to Kimball's Point?”

“The current. Been seven years, right? Give it enough time and the thing would've ended up in Yonkers.”

“It's too heavy. Maybe this is the wrong cylinder.”

“You figure the Hudson River's full of them?” Mick asked. “Moving water is a powerful thing. You ever see those tsunami pictures? Besides, you'll know soon enough, once you cut it open.”

“And what's supposed to be in there?”

“According to the snitch, a hundred pounds of pure coke. Straight from Colombia.”

“Snitches lie all the time.”

“Yeah, they do. But whatever it was, it was enough for Parson to haul it all the way from the islands and when things
got hot, to dive into some deep fucking waters and swim for shore in the middle of the night. So I'm thinking it wasn't piña colada mix he was transporting.”

“Who was the snitch?”

“Some semirespectable businessman-slash-dealer, a real tough guy who folded like a tent in the wind when we found pictures of naked little boys on his home computer. He had all the details. The dope went from Colombia to the Bahamas and up the intercoastal. On a boat called
Down Along Coast
. McGarry was running the department at the time and he wanted the bust. He could've informed the feds and they could've busted Parson anyway between here and Florida. But McGarry kept it quiet, let them sail right up the river.”

BOOK: Crow's Landing
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