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Authors: Linwood Barclay

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Suspense

Lone Wolf (8 page)

BOOK: Lone Wolf
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10

I
T WAS TIME
to set other problems aside temporarily and start tackling the chores at Denny’s Cabins. Helping out around the place was, after all, the initial reason for my decision to hang in, although other things that threatened to keep me here longer seemed to be growing exponentially.

“This is dump day,” Dad informed me.

“Shit,” I said. “I forgot to get you a card.”

“Do you want to help, or do you just want to be a smartass?” Dad asked. It was, I had to admit, a tough question. I believed it was possible, with some effort, to do both. I had been pissed at him ever since Timmy Wickens’s visit for not being creative enough to come up with an excuse to get us out of dinner with people we were trying to find a way to evict.

“You could have said something,” he said accusingly.

“He was inviting you,” I said. “I was just an afterthought.”

We bickered about that for a while, got nowhere, finally decided to move on. “Tell me what needs to be done around here,” I said, which had brought us to the exciting news that it was dump day.

But there was more. “Once you do a run to the dump, there’s grass to cut, fish guts to bury, we need to make sure we’ve got worms, there’s—”

“See if we’ve got worms?”

“Night crawlers, bait, for crying out loud. I keep ’em in a fridge out in the shed.”

I sighed. “And the fish guts?”

“You’ve seen the bucket under the fish-cleaning table down by the docks?”

Who could forget?

“Well, they won’t let us put raw fish guts in the municipal dump, so we have to deal with them ourselves.”

“I’m guessing they won’t flush.”

“You have to take them out to the woods and bury them.”

“Are you kidding?”

“There’s already a hole dug out there. There’s a big board over it. Take the guts up, dump it in the hole, throw some dirt in over it, put the board back over.”

I nodded tiredly. “Okay, you stay here, I’ll get these things done.”

“You know how to drive a garden tractor?” Dad asked. “ ’Cause the grounds are really looking a bit unkempt. I would have done it yesterday if it hadn’t been for all this other shit happening.”

“I think I can figure it out.”

“Because it’s a bit special, this tractor, because—”

“Dad. I can figure it out.”

Dad held up his hands. “Okay, okay, you’re the expert, I don’t know a goddamn thing.”

“Whatever,” I said, heading out the door.

“Yeah, whatever!” Dad shouted as the door slammed shut. I was tempted to go back, say “Good comeback!” but decided someone had to be the mature one. An hour ago, I was a genius and a hero, coming up with the plan to talk to a lawyer about evicting the Wickenses, but now I was an idiot again.

I decided to tackle the garbage run first, loading half a dozen plastic cans jammed with green garbage bags filled to bursting into the back of Dad’s Ford pickup. Leonard Colebert strolled over, hands parked in his front pockets so as to reduce the risk of being asked to lift something.

“So, this is garbage day?” he asked, smiling. I decided Leonard was probably undeserving of a smartass response—although that could change—so I merely nodded. “That was a good time last night,” he said, referring to the party at Dad’s cabin. “I didn’t get a chance to tell you even a fraction of what’s involved in the diaper business, or all the plan for my big resort.”

“Well, it was pretty busy,” I said, loading a can into the back of the truck and making sure the lid was secure.

“You mind if I tag along with you?” he said, one hand already on the passenger door. I couldn’t think of a way to say no, so I motioned for him to hop in.

“I rode with your dad to the dump one day,” he said. “You pass right by the property I’m getting to build my resort on. I’ll show you.”

Oh boy.

When we were on the highway, Leonard said, “God, I love it up here. I could go anywhere, you know, Club Med, you name some fancy place, I could afford it. But there’s nothing like being up here.”

“There a Mrs. Colebert?” I asked.

“Not at the moment, but you never know, that could change,” Leonard said, puffing out his chest. “I’ve had my share of ladies over the years, that’s for sure. But never really found the right one.”

There had to be a girl somewhere, I figured, who wanted to listen to diaper talk all day.

The road took a slight bend to the right when Leonard shouted, “Here! Here’s the spot! Slow down.”

I pulled over onto the shoulder and brought the truck to a halt, leaving it running in drive with my foot planted on the brake. Leonard was pointing into dense forest. The lake was probably no more than a couple hundred yards away, but you couldn’t see it.

“Okay, this is where you’d drive in, there’d be a big sign here, maybe something like ‘Colebert Lodge,’ I don’t know, and a huge neon fish jumping out of the water, a line coming out of its mouth. Can you picture it? It’d be super vivid, like a Vegas sign, but tasteful, you know?”

“Right,” I said.

“It’d be bright in the daytime, but at night, it would light up the sky, you know? There’s nothing like that around here, let me tell you.”

“You’re right about that.”

“So we take down about two acres’ worth of trees over there to put in some parking, and once we do that, you’ll be able to see right through to the lake, where there’ll be the main hotel, about five stories high, I figure, and restaurants and snack bars, a huge bait shop. Just huge.” He shook his head in wonderment. “Can you imagine it? Huh? Can you?”

“Actually, yes,” I said, doing a very good job of concealing my excitement, and wondering, for the first time, what Leonard, sitting next to me, was wearing under his khakis.

“Come on,” Leonard said, already opening his door. “I’ll show you.”

He was out of the truck before I could say no, so I killed the engine and followed him through the tall grass at the edge of the highway and into the forest. For a short, not particularly fit-looking guy, he was hard to keep up with.

“You think we’re going to need the bear spray?” he called back to me.

“Let’s chance it,” I said.

“Okay,” he said, once we were shrouded in trees. “Okay, hotel over there, maybe a swimming pool over there, although we’ll have lakeside swimming, too. There’s some weedy areas, a bit of marshland along the shore, but we can backfill that in, landscape it, you’d never know there was anything natural there before.”

“Well,” I said.

“Hey, here’s an idea,” Leonard said. “Looks like I’ve already got Bob Spooner talked into working for me, running a charter.”

“I wouldn’t be so—”

“But there’d probably be something here for you, too. You could help me write up press releases, the literature, that kind of thing? Be my PR guy, my media relations officer. Because every big resort, you gotta have one of those. I’d make it worth your while.”

“I don’t think so,” I said.

We were climbing now, the ground gradually sloping upwards. When we got to the top, I instinctively leaned back. We were standing at the edge of a sharp dropoff. It was a good thirty feet down to another section of heavily wooded forest.

“Down there, we clear the trees, that’s where I’m going to put in the children’s playland. I’m thinking of a huge model of a whale, the kids can run through it, pretend they’ve been swallowed by Jonah. And there’ll be a fountain, shooting water out of the blowhole, the water’ll come down the side, like one of those splash pads. Even from out in the middle of the lake you’ll be able to hear the kids laughing and screaming.” He smiled with self-satisfaction. “I’ve got lots of conceptual drawings, if you’d like to see them.”

“Maybe sometime,” I said, turning and heading back to the road. “I’ve got a lot to do, Leonard.”

He came after me. “I’m going to bring Bob out here, win him over. I don’t think he’s quite sold on the idea yet.”

Back in the truck, I let Leonard guide me to the dump, which amounted to an excavation in the middle of the wilderness overseen by an old guy sitting in a small metal shack. Leonard wouldn’t shut up about his dream, the resort, the diaper business, his reality show where a mother and father trick their child into thinking they’re dead. But I had pretty much tuned him out, and merely nodded mechanically every minute or so, like a fake dog in a rear car window.

I was grateful Leonard had decided to go fishing the moment we returned, so once I had the truck parked I was able to head over, alone, to the outbuilding that sat back behind the fourth cabin. A small, open-air garage was attached, and inside were a green lawn tractor, stacks of cottage shutters, wood scraps, old gas cans. Inside, I found a freezer and an old refrigerator. There were a few bottles of beer inside, a couple of cans of Coke, and a plastic container that appeared to be full of dirt.

I hauled it out, set it on top of the freezer, took a deep breath, and then dug my fingers in. As I raised out clumps of dirt, dozens of worms squirmed out between my fingers, slipping back into the bin.

“Okay,” I said. “We got worms. We got more than enough worms.” There was a roll of paper towels hanging from the wall, and I tore off three or four to wipe the dirt from my hands just as Hank Wrigley rapped on the door, wanting a dozen of the little wigglies for his bait can. I counted them out, then wiped my hands off a second time. “Just put it on my tab,” he said. I wished him good luck, then went around to the garage and planted myself into the seat of the lawn tractor.

There was a floor-mounted gearshift in front of me, a throttle lever on a panel under the steering wheel, and a single, tiny key inserted in the ignition. I guess Dad wasn’t too worried about tractor thefts up in these here parts.

I turned the key and the tractor roared to life. It was fitted with a variety of switches and levers for lowering the housing that enclosed the lawn-cutting blades, but before dropping it down, I wanted to drive over to where I was going to be doing the cutting. The area where the camp first came into view when you rounded the last bend as you came in from the highway was looking pretty shaggy, I’d noticed.

I grasped the throttle lever and shoved it ahead.

It had never occurred to me that a lawn tractor might benefit from a headrest. It was not the sort of vehicle that one would expect capable of inflicting whiplash.

The tractor shot ahead like a launched pinball. My body flung backward as my left hand lost grip of the wheel. The tractor became an unguided missile, coming out of the garage like the Batmobile emerging from its secret underground exit. It took a moment for me to struggle against the g-forces and lean forward enough to resume my hold of the wheel.

Dad was watching from the window as I shot past, my face no doubt frozen in terror. I had, for reasons I find totally reasonable, expected a lawn tractor to behave like a lawn tractor, and not a Ferrari.

I shoved the throttle back down, stomped on the brake pedal. Once the tractor was no longer moving, I turned the key to shut down the motor.

Dad approached on crutches.

“I can see why you didn’t want any advice,” he said. “Looks like you were born to drive one of these babies.”

I was still catching my breath. Finally, I said, “When did they start installing turbochargers in these fucking things?”

“It’s a bit modified,” Dad said casually. “I did most of the modifications myself.” He beamed with pride. “They do lawn tractor racing up here. At the fall fair. And it still cuts the grass pretty good besides.”

I swung my right leg over the wheel, and got off. “I think I’ll do the fish bucket instead,” I said.

“If my ankle doesn’t heal up before the fair,” Dad said, “maybe you’d like to race it for me. I wouldn’t be able to put much pressure on the brake.”

“Why not just install a parachute on the back?” I said, heading for the lake and not looking back.

This was terrific. Not only was I doing the camp chores and assisting my father in finding a way to save him from his whacko tenants, but I was now expected to sub for him in a race in which all the entrants employed John Deere emblems as protective headgear.

The garbage pail under the fish-cleaning table hadn’t been emptied since I’d seen it the day before, and it was as disgusting a bucket of anything as I could ever recall witnessing. Fins and scales and guts and heads and eyeballs, all swimming in an ooze that gave off a stench that made me want to lose the fried egg sandwich Lana had been good enough to make for me earlier that day.

I grabbed the gut-splattered handle gingerly and carried the pail as far from my body as possible, not eager for it to brush up against my pants. On my way back from the lake I saw a police car parked near the tractor, and Chief Orville Thorne engaged in conversation with Dad, who’d propped his crutches up against the tractor hood and dragged himself into the seat.

“Chief,” I said.

Thorne touched the brim of his hat, like he intended to tip it but ran out of gas. He glanced at the bucket. “Whatcha got there?”

“I heard you were coming so I made lunch,” I said.

“Orville here says he’s got a couple people rounded up to hunt down that bear and kill it,” Dad said.

“That so,” I said. I pictured Orville and others with skills equal to his roaming the woods, armed to the teeth. Put the ambulance on standby now, I thought.

“Your dad says you might be questioning whether that’s really necessary,” Orville said, a hint of a smirk on his lips. I wanted to take his hat and subject the top of his head to a noogie attack. “And I heard you had a few words with Dr. Heath. He’s not very happy with you.”

“Look, he’s a nice man,” I said, “but I don’t think he conducted a very thorough autopsy on Morton Dewart. Betty Wrigley doesn’t think it was a bear killed him. But it might have been dogs.”

Orville rolled his eyes. “And what’s she, a nurse or something?’

“Yes,” I said.

That caught him off guard, so he adjusted his hat while he figured out what to say next. “Well, if I listen to you, and do nothing, and it turns out you’re wrong, and that bear kills again, then I’m gonna end up with egg on my face.”

“Do what you want,” I said. “Just let me know when you and your friends are combing these woods so I can run into town and get fitted for a Kevlar vest.”

BOOK: Lone Wolf
12.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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