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Authors: Brad Smith

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BOOK: Crow's Landing
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“Not that I know of.”

“Not that you know of,” Dusty repeated.

“It does need a few things,” Cheryl Smythe conceded. She was getting a little agitated. “That's why it's going so cheap.”

“Two hundred and thirty thousand is cheap?”

“Nowadays it is. Especially if you want something in a decent neighborhood.” The agent paused a moment, then pushed on, as if she couldn't quite help herself. “I have to say—you don't look like the typical buyer for this area.”

Dusty turned to the woman as Travis came into the room.

“Mom, can I go in the backyard?”

“Yeah. Stay in the yard though.” Dusty waited until he'd gone. “So,” she said, “you don't think I'd be interested in living someplace decent?”

“Now come on,” Cheryl Smythe said. “That's not what I said at all. It's just that you look more … urban. Like you'd be more at home in the city.”

“I thought home was where you hang your hat,” Dusty said.

“I guess it is.”

“Sometimes home is where you hang your head. Right, Cheryl?”

The agent had no answer for that. She did, however, look at her watch, suggesting she had other places to be.

“So, what will they take?” Dusty asked. “Two ten?”

“No,” the agent said. “They might go as low as two and a quarter, but that would be the bottom.” She went into her purse for a business card, which she laid on the kitchen counter. Evidence that she had shown the place. “You do realize, of course, that most banks now require thirty percent down.”

“Yeah. I do realize that.”

“Well, that's a substantial sum of money,” the agent said. She was on her own firm ground again, and she grew condescending. “Even if you were to get it for two hundred and twenty-five thousand, you would still need … well, I'll just tell you what you'd need.”

She pulled a calculator from her purse and began to punch in numbers.

“About sixty-eight grand,” Dusty told her. “That's what I would need.”

The agent shook her head at the interruption and kept punching. She seemed disappointed to learn that Dusty was right. “Well, sixty-eight, five,” she corrected, needing that small victory.

Dusty nodded and looked out the window. Travis was swinging from the lower limb of a red maple tree, his shirt pulled up to reveal his skinny belly.

“And do you have that?” Cheryl Smythe asked.

Dusty turned. “No. Not on me.”


Parson was under the '41 Cadillac ragtop, removing the starter. He'd been searching online for a week, trying to find an NOS starter for the car and finally he'd given up. He would have the old unit rebuilt.

“I can buy the car for twenty grand,” he said as he worked. “The price is right if it's as good as it looks in the pictures. But then I have to ship it from Argentina. Those cabriolets are rare though.”

He wheeled himself from under the car on the creeper, the starter in his hand. The floor was finished concrete, smooth as an ice rink, and heated to a constant sixty degrees year-round. The garage itself was cleaner than most homes, and bigger, covering more than three thousand square feet. It, too, was climate controlled, and featured two hoists and a machine shop for rebuilding engines and transmissions. Parson usually had at least three restorations ongoing, and often as many as six. Right now he had a '67 Shelby ready for paint—the paint bay was in a separate building—and the Barracuda he'd bought a few days earlier up on blocks, with the drive train removed, the transmission on the bench, and the Hemi on an engine stand. Under cover at the far end of the building he had a 1958 Corvette, a '67 Jag, and a '32 Ford three-window coupe that was all original, right down to the factory paint. In fact, the deuce coupe was the rarest of finds—even though it had a few scratches and blemishes,
the fact was that any cosmetic work would actually diminish its worth.

In the front corner of the building was an office of sorts, although there were no walls, just a desk and a couple of chairs, a Mac computer on the desk, along with a half dozen issues of
Hemmings Motor News.
Cherry was sitting there now, reassembling a Browning .45 he'd been cleaning while Parson removed the starter. Cherry wore a snug black T-shirt advertising the gym that carried his name, his huge biceps straining the sleeves. The semiautomatic looked like a toy gun in his hands.

Parson put the starter on the stainless steel workbench that stretched across the end of the building and shrugged out of his coveralls. He still lifted three days a week and he was thick across the chest and shoulders, although not as big as Cherry, and he had to order his coveralls custom made.

“What's it worth done up?” Cherry asked. Meaning the cabriolet.

“Minimum seventy-five grand,” Parson said. “I could hotrod it and go crazy with the power train, but I'd keep it stock if it hasn't been messed with.”

“Argentina,” Cherry said. He put the barrel onto the Browning, then he smiled. “Any way you could route it through Colombia?”

“I've thought about it,” Parson said. “Argentina's not exactly next door, but it might be close enough. There was a time when I could have made something work. Not sure about it these days.”

Parson fitted a socket to a ratchet and began to remove the end plate from the starter. He wanted to have a look at the armature before taking it for the rebuild. The phone rang and he reached for the portable on the bench, tucked it under
his chin while he worked. “Empire Restorations,” he said into the receiver.

“I'm looking for Parson,” a man's voice said.

“You got him.”

“I need to talk to you.”

“You're doing it,” Parson said, working the ratchet. “Who is this?”

“Dick Hoffman.”

Parson hesitated a moment, and then he frowned, glancing across the garage to Cherry. “Well, well …
que paso,
Detective? Been awhile. You still ass-fucking crack whores down in Jefferson Park?”

“You're a funny man,” Hoffman said.

“Really? I wasn't trying to be. What can I do for you?” Parson laughed. “I mean, really—what could I possibly do for someone like you?”

“I have your property.”

“You have my property?” Parson said. “No. I don't see how that could be. I think maybe you dialed the wrong number, Detective.”

“Maybe I did,” Hoffman said. “Maybe it was somebody else who tossed a cylinder full of cocaine into the river seven years ago.”

Parson glanced toward Cherry again. He wondered at the likelihood that the call was being recorded. But for what? “I'm pretty sure I have no idea what you're talking about, Detective,” he said.

“I've got your coke,” Hoffman said. “The good news is—I haven't decided what I'm going to do with it yet.”

Parson laid the ratchet down and walked over to the open door of the garage, where he looked at the rear of his house. Built in 1923, the place backed down to the river, a master-work
of fieldstone and brick, copper roofs and leaded windows. It had allegedly belonged to the city's top bootlegger of the Prohibition period. The man had made a fortune running rye and gin across the lake from Canada. Rumor had it that his rivals had forced him into retirement in 1928, although his body was never found.

The pool guy had arrived a half hour earlier and now he was kneeling on the flagstone patio, preparing to drain the pool. Parson had had enough of chemicals and algae. He was making the switch to salt water.

“Sounds to me like you're suggesting that I am involved in the illegal drug trade, Detective,” Parson said into the phone. “And nothing could be further from the truth. I restore antique cars for a living.” Now Parson turned and walked directly toward Cherry, raising his voice slightly. “I know nothing about cylinders of cocaine dumped in the river. Sounds like something out of a movie.”

That got Cherry's attention and he set the Browning aside.

“There's nobody recording this,” Hoffman said. “If that's what you're worried about. I think you're all caught up in the fact that I'm a police officer.”

“I'm not worried about anything,” Parson said. “I don't remember you being much of a cop anyway. As far as I'm concerned, this is a crank phone call. You might as well be asking me if I have Prince Albert in a can.”


“It's an old joke, Detective,” Parson said.

Hoffman didn't say anything for a few moments, as if he was regrouping. “All right,” he said. “Look at it this way, Parson. I'm a private citizen with a large amount of cocaine for sale. If you don't buy it, somebody else will.”

“Good luck with it then.”

Hoffman hesitated again and Parson smiled, sensing the man's frustration. “You're not interested? It's your dope.”

“You're telling me you're trying to sell me something I already own?” Parson asked. “Where is your moral fiber, Detective?”

“Hey, we can play it that way,” Hoffman said. “Let's say, hypothetically, that it does belong to you. Then I'll just hand it over.” He paused for effect. “Of course, I suppose there would be a recovery fee. For retrieving the thing to begin with.”

“What kind of fee?”

“I'm not a greedy man, Parson. Five hundred thousand.”

Parson laughed. “Like I said, good luck with it. If you even have the thing.”

“I'm looking at it right this minute.”

Parson moved back to the workbench. “Why would it turn up now? How would it turn up now?”

“What do you care,” Hoffman said. “Maybe some dumb fisherman from Kimball's Point found it. Maybe I was able to make a deal with him on it. But apparently I'm not going to be able to do the same with you.”

“Guess not,” Parson said. “You're on your own.”

Hoffman's disappointment in the negotiation was tangible, even over the line. “All right then,” he said. “Oh, one more thing. This story about the thing being booby-trapped. That's bullshit.”

“Is it?”

“It's not feasible.”

“Why not? All you need is some plastic explosive and a coded lock.”

“Battery operated?”

“You see an extension cord running out of it? You really don't have to be very smart to be a cop nowadays, do you?”

“The batteries would be dead by now,” Hoffman said, choosing to ignore the shot about his intelligence. “Seven years, the batteries would be dead.”

“Would they?” Parson asked. “Batteries go dead from use, not from time. You ever see that little Energizer bunny, Detective?”

“I don't believe it.”

“Then cut it open. You'll have sixty seconds to punch in the code. I can't wait to read about you in the paper tomorrow morning. Half-wit cop gets blown to pieces.”

“Fuck you, Parson,” Hoffman said and the line went dead.

Parson clicked the phone off and set it on the workbench. He turned to Cherry, sitting at the desk.

“Up jumped the devil,” Cherry said.


“You figure he's really got it?”

“He's got it,” Parson said. “Or he knows who does. To make this up would require a lot more imagination than a moron like Hoffman could ever manage.”

“Why is he calling you?” Cherry asked. “Does he think you're going to cop to it, the dumb fuck?”

“He's looking for a buyer.”

“You're shitting me.”

Parson picked up the ratchet. “Sounds like Detective Hoffman is looking to expand his earning potential. Not exactly a surprise. He's so crooked he has to screw his shorts on in the morning.”

“What's he looking for?”

“Five hundred large.”

“Shit. He's living in a fantasy world.”

“Yeah, he is.” Parson removed the plate from the starter and slid the armature out. He looked at the windings without seeing them, his mind on Hoffman.

“How did it show up?” Cherry asked.

“Says a fisherman hooked on to the thing. Down by Kimball's Point.”

Cherry finished assembling the .45 now and he slipped a full clip into the gun, racked the action. “You want me to drive out there?”

Parson turned to look at Cherry, with his bulging arms and his dyed black hair, his salon tan and his gold jewelry. After some consideration, Parson shook his head. “I can't see you fitting in out there, Cherry. Asking questions. The locals would be suspicious, and maybe a little intimidated.” Parson paused to think. “No, I need somebody who would blend in. Somebody who knows the area.”

“Like who?”

“I don't know. Maybe somebody who was there, back in the day.”

It took Cherry a minute. “Really?”

“Find her,” Parson said.

 * * *

Virgil didn't know if Montgomery Woodbine would still be at the farm. After all, he'd been selling everything off the last Virgil had seen him, almost a year earlier. By now he might have sold the property as well and moved on, to an apartment in the city or a double-wide in Florida or Arizona.

Virgil wasn't sure what it might accomplish anyway, trying to register the boat now, after it had been stolen. But Buddy Townes had said it might be a good idea and Buddy, for all his rough edges, seemed to know what he was talking about.

Claire had called last night, just as Virgil had come in from doing the chores. It was midnight in France and she was calling on her cell phone, from a bar where she said she and a couple of her cousins had stopped for a glass of wine. Virgil suspected in short order that there were multiple glasses of wine involved. They talked for ten minutes or so. She told Virgil that she missed him, and that she was sorry for pushing him that day on the river. Virgil had replied that he required a good push occasionally. While he was saying it, he was trying to decide whether or not to bring up the matter of his boat. He didn't know what to tell her because he himself didn't know what the hell had happened exactly, whether the cop had been real or phony, or what was in the cylinder, or anything else for that matter. Claire, as a cop of twenty years, would tell him to leave it alone until she got home and could look into it. Virgil didn't feel like leaving it alone. Not only that, but he wasn't sure he wanted to burden her with something as insignificant as a missing boat while she was on vacation. While he was still deliberating, the connection began to break up and Claire shouted goodbye, as if shouting might help the link, and then the line went dead. Virgil was excused from any decision making.

BOOK: Crow's Landing
11.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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