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Authors: Brad Smith

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BOOK: Crow's Landing
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“Why did you hit him that night?”

“He'd sailed into the Hudson that morning and he was going to be in Albany the next day. We didn't know where he was going to dock. We couldn't risk losing him. That night was our chance. And then we blew it.”

“How?”

“Parson got shit lucky, that's how. Two in the morning and we're just a few hundred yards away, running silent, oars and paddles. And all of a sudden he comes out on the deck. Maybe he heard a fish jump, who knows? But he makes us. Another five minutes and he was toast.”

“So him and the cylinder go overboard?”

“Yup.”

“What about the woman?”

“She stayed with the boat. Maybe she couldn't swim.”

Hoffman finished his drink and signaled for another. “She went to jail though. What for?”

“The boat was in her name. We found a few ounces of coke on board, some grass too. Recreational. She took the
fall for that. She wouldn't give Parson up, wouldn't admit to even knowing him. Everybody was pissed about losing the big score so they came down hard on the woman, made it trafficking and made it stick. She got a raw deal, tell you the truth. Did two, three years, if I recall.”

Mick picked up his beer and glanced at the TV as he drank. A red-haired man with the rubbery features of a cartoon character was standing in front of a screen that showed the temperature for the coming days. Apparently the heat wave would continue.

“We sent divers down, but they couldn't find it,” Mick said. “That water out there is deep and murky. We were fucked the minute Parson tossed the thing. McGarry should have let the feds take him down. But then there'd be no newspaper headlines for McGarry.”

The waitress brought the round. Mick told her to put it on his tab and Hoffman didn't argue.

“So Parson gets away and now he's retired?”

“Yeah, he's retired,” Mick said. “And the moon is made of cheese. What are you going to do with it?”

“How do you know I'm not going to turn it in?”

“Because you would have done it already. Instead you called me.”

Hoffman fell silent and sipped at his drink. If he had known Mick was going to pay for the round, he'd have ordered a double.

“You know there's a story that the thing is booby-trapped, right?” Mick asked.

Hoffman set his glass down. “No. Where'd that come from?”

“The snitch,” Mick said. “Said that Parson wired it up in the islands. To discourage anybody from fucking with it.”

Hoffman considered the unlikely nature of this for a moment. “Sounds like bullshit to me.”

“Me too,” Mick said. “Have to be pretty sophisticated stuff. But it wouldn't cost a dime to invent the story.” He took a long drink of beer. “But who knows?”

Hoffman reached for his cigarettes and hesitated, had a look around to see if it was allowed. There was a guy at the bar pulling on a nonfilter while he pumped coins into the poker machine so Hoffman lit up. He inhaled deeply and let it out.

“What should I do, Mick? We're talking, what, a couple million dollars here.”

Mick turned away. Hoffman knew that there was a time when he wouldn't have had the nerve to suggest to Mick Wright that he do anything but turn the cylinder over to the drug squad. But the Mick who was a gung-ho cop with two working legs was a different man from the Mick in the wheelchair. The shooting that put him there had happened one night, in an instant, but really it had never stopped happening.

“So you think she's wearing panties?” Mick asked, looking at the waitress, who was now behind the counter, talking to a young guy in a Yankees cap. “You know what I think? I think she just says shit like that to get guys like Bobby Simmons all worked up. Cuz she knows that none of them is ever gonna get close to her. She's just doing it to make them crazy. Maybe they give her bigger tips, thinking it's going to get them something.”

Hoffman never so much as glanced over at the waitress, he just kept his eyes on Mick. Waiting for Mick to look back his way.

“Fuck 'em,” Mick finally said. “People will say you have to
do what's right but I gave that department my fucking legs and now they tell me they're going to cut my disability benefits. I have to go to court to fight them for it. You going to tell me that's right? What good's it going to do to turn it in? There's no way to connect it to Parson or anybody else. So keep it. Sell it. It's the lottery.”

“Who do I sell it to?” Hoffman asked.

“Chrissakes,” Mick said. “Who do you think?”

FIVE

Virgil went home and did the chores that afternoon and afterward he sat on the porch and drank a beer while he tried to make sense of what had happened at the marina. It wasn't an easy thing to do, given that he'd been left completely in the dark by the cop who had taken his boat. And while it didn't take a genius to figure out that the cop had really been after the cylinder, the fact remained that he had taken the boat.

Virgil had picked up the old cedar strip the previous fall, at a run-down farm east of Rhinebeck. Virgil had been in the market for a hay baler and he'd found one advertised on the bulletin board at the local co-op. Virgil's baler—the one that had belonged to Tom Stempler for decades—was on its last legs, having been welded and straightened and repaired so many times that it was no longer practical to keep fixing it. The old-style balers were cheap nowadays; nearly everybody in the feed business had gone to the large round bales. They required less manual labor, and the bales could remain outside, which meant that it wasn't necessary to send anyone into a sweltering hay mow in the dog days of summer. Virgil was old-school though; he didn't mind the time in the hay mow, and besides, he couldn't afford one of the expensive round balers even if he wanted one.

The ad on the bulletin board offered, along with the baler, all kinds of other equipment, including a Ferguson tractor, a three-ton grain truck, and an “old Ford car.” It was on a piece
of coffee-stained foolscap, scrawled in pencil, in the handwriting of either a toddler or an unsteady senior citizen. The latter turned out to be true. The farm was on a dead-end road and the owner was as beaten down as the place itself, his years somewhere north of eighty, Virgil guessed, his face puffy, his hair lank and gray under a sweat-stained John Deere cap. The farmhouse was neglected, a stucco two-story now covered by aluminum siding, the siding falling away here and there to reveal the brown pebbly stone beneath. There was a fairly new Chrysler sedan parked beside the house.

The farmer was a talker, in the manner of a guy who didn't get much company, and he introduced himself as Montgomery Woodbine. He admitted that he was now a farmer in name only; he'd been born in the house, he told Virgil, and he'd worked the land his entire life. Now he rented the acreage out to a local cash cropper and he was finally pushing sentimentality aside and going through the process of selling off his remaining equipment.

“I don't know what any of it is worth,” he told Virgil. “These days I don't know what a hundred dollars is worth. Not much.”

They were standing in the gravel driveway of the house. Virgil had called earlier to say he was coming and the old man had obviously been watching for him. He was out the front door, pulling on his denim jacket, before Virgil got out of his truck. He came down the steps cautiously, on rickety knees, and met Virgil in the drive.

The baler was a McCormick Model 45 and it was stored in a dusty and cobwebbed machine shed off to the side of a bank barn. It was at least forty years old, although it looked as if it hadn't been used for thirty of those years. Montgomery Woodbine opened the sliding doors at both ends of the dark
shed so that Virgil could take a better look at the machine. It was in very good shape; the tires had plenty of tread and even the drive chains looked almost new. All the U-joints and bearings were dry of grease from years of sitting, but they didn't appear worn at all.

“What's your price?” Virgil asked.

Woodbine removed his hat and gave his scalp an energetic scratching with the tips of his fingers. “You're a farmer yourself?”

“Yeah.”

“Would you give two hundred dollars for it?”

Virgil said that he would. “But I think a scrap dealer might offer you more than that.”

“A scrap dealer did. That's why I asked if you were a farmer. It's still a good baler. I'd rather not sell it to somebody who's just going to melt it down for the steel.”

After they made the deal, Virgil took a walk around the shed and had a look at what was left. There was a threshing machine that really
was
suitable for a scrap dealer, or maybe a museum. The stake truck was rusted badly and nearly worthless. The old Ford mentioned in the ad was a three-window coupe from the early thirties, tucked away in the corner of the shed. One of the shed's ceiling joists had splintered and fallen and was resting on the roof of the car. The black paint was faded through to the metal in places, but the car appeared to be intact and complete. It had Ohio plates from 1959.

“What year is this?” Virgil asked.

“Nineteen thirty-two,” Montgomery Woodbine said. “First year for the V-8.”

“Right out of a gangster movie.”

“Funny you should say that.” The old man moved toward the car. “Lookit here.” He wiped the heavy dust away from the
paint to reveal a bullet hole in the panel a few inches behind the passenger-side window. “My father used to tell a story about this car. He said it came from around Steubenville, Ohio, and that Pretty Boy Floyd stole it and was driving it when the cops spotted him. They put this bullet hole here chasing him.”

Virgil stepped forward to have a look. He stuck his forefinger in the bullet hole, and he nodded, not wanting to step on the old man's tale. “You figure that really happened?”

Woodbine laughed. “I know damn well it never. I put that hole there myself. I was target shooting at an elm tree outside here, missed the tree, and the bullet went through the plank wall and hit the car.” The old man shook his head. “My father liked to pull your leg if you let him. There's people around here who still tell about the time he fought Jack Dempsey to a draw.”

“Never happened?”

“No, sir.” Woodbine rubbed more dust from the car. “I got a fella coming out from the city today to look at this. I'm told these things are popular nowadays. People paint 'em up and put new motors in them and hydraulic brakes and whatever. I told the fella on the phone I wanted ten thousand dollars, figured that might turn him sour on it, but he never backed off an inch.”

Virgil bent forward to look inside the car. The upholstery was torn in places and it appeared that mice had made off with some of the stuffing. Otherwise the car was in remarkably good condition. “Well, if I had ten thousand dollars, I might just make you an offer. But with my luck, the cops might mistake me for Pretty Boy Floyd.”

“Oh hell, he's been dead for years,” Woodbine said seriously.

“I still don't have ten thousand dollars,” Virgil said. “I mentioned I'm a farmer?”

The old man laughed like he knew exactly what Virgil was talking about, and Virgil turned away and that's when he spotted the cedar strip runabout, tucked in the other rear corner of the machine shed, under some disintegrating canvas tarp and about a half inch of dust and swallow droppings. It was a sixteen-foot Peterborough, built in the Ontario town of the name, which meant that someone probably had crossed Lake Ontario with it at some point. The boat had a hole the size of a man's head in the bow, and the ribs inside were rotted, although the cedar planking itself was intact. There was a twenty-horse Johnson outboard hanging loosely on the transom. Virgil walked over for a closer look.

“I bought that for my son,” Woodbine said. “Him and a couple of his dunderhead pals ran it up on some rocks in Lake Katrine one night, knocked that hole in the bow. They said it was high winds that did it, but I always figured it was too many Miller High Lifes and too few brains. We towed it home the next day and it's been sitting here ever since.”

Virgil did another turn around the boat. There was some writing beneath the grime on the transom and he wiped the dust away to read it.

POP'S CAMP
CROW'S LANDING, N.Y.

“What will you take for it?” Virgil asked.

“Why would you want it?”

Virgil shrugged. “My grandfather had pretty much the same boat. Had a cottage up in Quebec. I could use a winter project.”

“Make me an offer.”

“A hundred dollars?”

“I'll take fifty.”

“You're a hard man to do business with, Montgomery Woodbine,” Virgil said.

They went into the house, where the old man rummaged through a pine hutch and found the original bill of sale for the baler, and the service records for it—when it had been greased, what parts had been replaced, and all the rest. Virgil paid the man in cash and towed the baler away that day. Later in the week he returned, pumped up the tires on the trailer, and took the boat home.

He spent the winter restoring the cedar strip. Once his corn was harvested and the fall plowing was done, the workload relinquished somewhat heading into December. The cattle and calves still required feeding morning and night, and the ever-fluctuating herd of rescued horses needed the same. And there was always firewood to cut. Still, Virgil knew he would have some time on his hands in the winter, which was why he bought the boat.

It had been years since the garage beside the house had seen a vehicle inside and Virgil had converted it into a workshop of sorts. He installed a woodstove in the corner and gathered all the tools from the four corners of the farm—chisels, saws, wood bits, drills, planes—as well as a Beaver table saw that had somehow ended up in the milk house at some point in the past. He bought cedar planking to fix the hole in the boat's hull from a man on the Irish Line who made birdhouses, and white oak for the ribs from a horse farmer who'd purchased a couple thousand board feet of the stuff for fencing before deciding to go with the electric ribbon now favored by equestrian types, or at least equestrian types with the money to afford it.

BOOK: Crow's Landing
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