Chapter 11

"Chad needed to see you as much as you needed to see him." Susan reached into her jeans pocket. "I want you to have this." Her hand emerged with some greenbacks. "I raided the cookie jar before we left the house."

"Put it away," Dan said. "I'm not a charity case."

"This isn't the time to be proud or stupid." She grabbed his hand and slapped the money into it. "I don't know how much cash you've got, but you can use another sixty dollars."

He started to protest, but thought better of it. An extra sixty dollars was, in its own way, a small miracle. "I'll call it a loan."

"Call it whatever you please. Where're you goin' from here?"

"I don't know yet. Maybe I'll head to New Orleans and sign on a freighter. I can still do a day's work."

Susan's face had taken on the grave expression Dan remembered that meant she had something important to say but she was working up to it.

"Listen," she said after a moment, "you mentioned findin' a place to rest. I've been seem' a fella for the past year. He works for an oil company, and we've talked about ... maybe getting' more serious."

"You mean married serious?" He frowned, not exactly sure how he felt about this bolt from the blue. "Well, you picked a fine time to tell me."

"Just hear me out. He's got a cabin in a fishin' camp, down in the bayou country south of Houma. The camp's called Vermilion. Gary's in Houston, he won't be back till next week."

It took a few seconds for what Susan was saying to get through to him. Before Dan could respond, Susan went on.

"Gary's taken Chad and me down there a few weekends. He checks on the oil rigs and we do some fishin'. There's no alarm system. Nothin' much there to steal. The nearest neighbors a mile or so away."

"Bringin' Chad was enough," Dan told her. "You don't have to-" "I want to," she interrupted. "The cabin's two or three miles past the bridge, up a turnoff on the left. It's on the road that's a straight shot out of Vermilion. Painted gray with a screened-in porch.

Wouldn't be hard to get past the screen and break a windowpane."

"What would Gary say about that?"

"I'll explain things. There'll be food in the pantry; you wouldn't have to go out."

Dan grasped the door's handle, but he wasn't yet ready to leave.

The police would be out there, hunting him in the night, and he was going to have to be very, very careful. "I could use a day or two of rest. Figure out what to do next."

He hesitated. "Is this fella ... Gary ... is he good to you?"

"He is. He and Chad get along real well, too."

Dan grunted. It was going to take him some time to digest this news. "Chad needs a father," he said in spite of the pain it caused him. "Somebody who takes him fishin'. Stuff like that."

""I'm sorry," Susan said. "I wish I could do more for you."

"You've done enough. More than enough." He pushed the money into his pocket. "This is my problem, and I'll handle it."

"Stubborn as hell." Her voice had softened. "Always were, always will be."

He opened the station wagon's door. "Well, I guess this is good-"

A flashlight clicked on.

Its dazzling beam hit Dan's eyes and blinded him.

"Freeze, Lambert!" a man's voice ordered.

@e of Fire The shock paralyzed Dan. Susan caught her breath with a harsh psp and spun around to face the intruder.

"Easy, easy," the man behind the flashlight cautioned. He had a whisPery, genteel southern accent. "Don't do anythin' foolish, Lambert.

"I'm armed."

He was standing about twenty feet away. Dan expected to be hit by a second light, and then the policemen would nish in, slam him against the car, and frisk him. He lifted his hands to shield his face from the stabbing white beam. 'I,m not packin' a gun."

"That's good." It was a relief to Flint urt gh t M all , who had crePt up from the edge of the parking lot by keeping the woman's car between himself and the fugitive. He'd been standing there for a couple of minutes in the darkness, listening to their conversation. In his left hand was the flashlight, in his right was a .45 automatic aimed just to Lambert's side. "Put your hands behind your head and lock your fingers."

It's Over, Dan thought. He could run, maybe, but he wouldn't get very far. Where were the other policemen, though? Surely there wasn't just the one. He obeyed the command.

Susan was squinting into the light. She'd talked to the policemen in-charge of the stakeout on her house and to the one who'd followed her to the Holiday Inn; she hadn't heard this man's voice before. "Don't hurt him," she said. "It was self-defense, he's not a cold-blooded killer."

Flint ignored her. "Lambert, walk toward me. Slowly."

Dan paused. Something was wrong; he could feel it in the silence.

Where were the backup policemen? Where were the police cars, the spinning bubble lights and the crackling radios? They should've converged on him by now, if they were even here. "Come on, move it," Flint said. step out of the way."

Lady, Susan thought. The other policemen had addressed her as Mrs. Lambert. "Who are you?"

"Flint Murtaugh. Pleased to meet you. Lambert, come on."

"Wait, Dan." Susan stepped in front of him to take the full force of the light. 'Show me your badge."

Flint clenched his teeth. His patience was already stretched tinn from the hellish drive with Pelvis Eisley and Mama. He was in no mood for complications. Flint had never cared to know the names of all the characters Elvis Presley had played in his wretched movies. Trying to @ Eisley cease jabbering about Presley was as futile as trying to make that dsamn mutt stop pawing at fleas. Flint was @ and his sharkskin suit was damp with sweat, Clint was agitated by the beat and kept twitching, and it was long past time for a cold shower and a glass of lemon juice.

"I'd @ to see your badge," Susan repeated, the man's hesitation [email protected] her doubt. Flint Murtaugh, he'd said.

Why hadn't he said Offiw Murtaugh?

"Listen, I'm not plannin' on a long relationship with YOU people, so let's cut the chatter." Flint had taken a sidestep so the light hit Lambert's face again. Susan moved to shield her ex-husband once more.

"Lady, I told you to step out of the way.1% "Do you have a badge, or not?tl Flint's composure was fast unraveling. He wanted Lambert to come to him because he didn't want to have to Pass the woman; if she grabbed for the flashlight or the gun, things could get messy. He wished he'd circled around the other side and crept up on Lambert from behind to keep the woman from being between them. It was Eisley's fault, he decided, for screwing up his concentration. Flint had a small spray can of Mace in his inside coat pocket, and he suspected that he might have to use it.

"Lady," he replied, "that man standin' there is worth fifteen thousand dollars to me. I've come from Shreveport to find him, and I've had a hard night. You really don't want to get yourself involved in this."

"He's not a policeman," Dan said to Susan. "He's a bounty hunter.

You workin' for the bank?"

"Independent contract. Keep your fingers locked, now, let's don't cause anymore trouble."

"You mind if I ask how you found me?"

"Time for that when we're drivin'. Come on, real slow and easy."

It had been a lucky break, actually. Flint had driven along Jackson Avenue and had seen the police surveillance teams, one at either end of the block. Held parked two streets away and sat beside a hedge in someone's Yard, watching the house to see what developed. Then the woman had pulled out of her garage, followed by another policeman in an unmarked car, and Flint had decided to tag along at a distance. At the Holiday Inn he'd been on the verge of calling it quits when her watchdog had rushed off, obviously answering a radio summons, but then the woman had emerged again and Flint had smelled an opportunity.

"Don't do it," Susan said before Dan could move. "if he doesn't work for the state of Louisiana, he doesn't have any right to take you in."

"I've got a gun!" Flint was about ready to snort steam.

"You understand me?"

"I know a gun's not a badge. You're not gonna be shootin' an unarmed man."

"Mom?" Chad called from the car. "You need some help?"

"No! Just stay where you are!" Susan directed her attention at the bounty hunter again. She took two steps toward him.

"Susan!" Dan said. "You'd better keep-"

"Hush. Ixt somebody help you, for God's sake." She advanced another step on Flint. "You're a vulture, aren't you? Swoopin' in on whatever meat you can snatch.

"Lady, you're tryin' to make me forget MY manners.

You ready to shoot a woman, too? You and Dan could share the same cell." She moved forward two more paces, and Flint retreated one.

"Dan?" Susan said calmly. "He's not takin' you anywhere. Get in your car and go."

"No! No, goddamn it!" Flint shouted. "Lambert, don't you move!

I won't kill you, but I'll sure as hell put some hurt on you!"

"He's empty talk, Dan." Susan had decided what needed to be done, and she was getting herself into position to do it.

She took one more step toward the bounty hunter. "Go on, get in the car and drive away."

Flint hollered, "No, you don't!" It was time to put i I Lambert on the ground. Flint jammed the automatic into his waistband and plucked the small red can of Mace from inside his coat. He popped the cap off with his thumb and put his index finger on the nozzle. The concentrated spray had a range of fifteen feet, and Flint realized he was going to have to shove the woman aside to get a clear shot at Lambert. He was so enraged he almost fired a burst into her eyes, but he'd never Maced a woman and he wasn't going to start now. He stalked toward her and was amazed when she stood her ground. "To hell with this!" he snarled, and he jabbed an elbow at her shoulder to drive her out of the @e of fire.

But suddenly she was moving. I She was moving very, very fast.

She clamped a wiry hand to his right wrist, stepped into him with her own shoulder, and pivoted, her elbow thunking upward into FUnt's chin and rattling his brains.

His black wingtips left the pavement. His trapped wrist was turned in on itself, pain shooting up his arm. Somewhere in midair he lost both the flashlight and the Mace. As he went over the woman's hip, one word blazed in Flint's consciousness: sucker. Then the ground came up fast and hard and he slammed down on his back with a force that whooshed the Line of Fire breath from his lungs and made stars and comets pinwheel through his skull. Susan stepped back from the fallen man and scooped up the flashlight. "Way to go, Mom!" Chad yelled, leaning out of the Toyota's window.

"Damn" was all Dan could think to say. It had happened so quickly that his hands were Stan locked behind his head.

"How did you-" "Tar kwon do," Susan said. She wasn't even breathing hard. "I've got a brown belt."

. Now Dan understood why Susan hadn't been afraid to meet him. He lowered his hands and walked to her side, where he looked down the @light's beam at the bounty hunters pained and pallid face. A comma of white-streaked hair hung over Flint Murtaugh's sweat-glistening forehead, and he'd curled up on his side and was clutching his right wrist.

Dan saw the automatic and freed it from the man's waistband.

"Brown belt or not, that was a damn fool thing to do. You could've gotten yourself killed." He removed the, bullet clip, threw it in one direction and the gun in another.

"He had something' in his other hand." Susan shone the light around. "I couldn't tell what it was, but I heard him drop it." She steadied the beam on Murtaugh again. "I can't figure out where he came from. I thought I made sure nobody was follow-" She stopped speaking.

Then, her voice tight: "Dan. What is that?"

He looked. The front of the man's white shirt was twitching, as if his heart were about to beat through his chest. Dan stared at it, transfixed, and then he reached down to touch it.

"Mr. Murtaugh! Mr. Murtaugh, you all right?"

Dan straightened up. Another man was out there in the dark. Both Dan and Susan had the eerie sensation that they recognized the voice's deep, snarly resonance, but neither one of them could place it. A dog began to yap again, and on the pavement Flint gave a muffled half-groan, half e.

tti Susan switched the light off. "You'd better hit it. Ge n' kind of crowded around here."

Dan hurried to the station wagon and Susan followed him, and so neither of them saw the slim, pale third arm push free from Flint Murtaugh's shirt and flail angrily in the air. Dan got behind the wheel, started the engine, and turned on the headlights.

Susan reached in and grasped his shoulder. "Good luck," she said over the engine's rumbling.

"Thanks for everything."

"I did love you," she told him.

"I know you did." He put his hand over hers and squeezed it.

"Take care of Chad."

"I will. And you take care of yourself."

"So long," Dan said, and he put the station wagon in reverse and backed away past the bounty hunter. Flint pulled himself up to his knees, pain stabbing through his lower back and his right wrist surely sprained. Clint's was thrashing around, the hand clenched in a fighting fist.

Through a dreamlike haze Flint watched the fifteenthousand-dollar skin twist the station wagon around and drive across the parking lot.

Flint tried to summon up a yell but a hoarse rasp emerged: "Eisley!

He's comin' at you!"

In another moment Dan had to stomp on the brake. He feared he must be losing his mind, because right there in front of the pickup stood a big-bellied, pompadour-haired -up black Cadillac behind him blocking Elvis Presley, a beat the road. Elvis-a credible impersonator for sure-was holding on to a squirming little bulldog. "Where's Mr.

Murtaugh?" Elvis shouted in that husky Memphis drawl.

"What'cha done to him?"

Dan had seen everything now. He hit the gas pedal taking the station wagon up over the curb onto the park's grass. The rear tires fislrtailed and threw up clods of earth.

Elvis scrambled out of the way, bellowing for Mr. Murtaugh.

Flint had gotten to his feet and was hobbling in the dion of the Cadillac. His left shoe hit something that clattered and rolled away: the can of Mace. "Eisley, stop him!" he hollered as he paused to retrieve the spray can, the bruised muscles of his back stiffening.

"Don't let him get-awwwww, shit!" He'd seen the station wagon maneuvering around the Caddy, and he watched with helpless it"

as it bumped over the curb again onto the road, something underneath the vehicle banging with a noise like a dropped washtub.

Then the skin war, picking up speed and at the park's entrance turned right with a shriek of flayed rubber onto the street.

"Mr. Murtaugh!" Pelvis cried out with relief as Flint reached him.

"Thank the Lord! I thought that killer had done-I, "Shut up and get in the car!" Flint shouted. "Move your fat ass!" Flint flung himself behind the wheel, started the engine, and as he jammed down on the gas pedal Pelvis anaged to heave his bulk and Mama into the passenger side- Flint got the Cadillac turned around with a necktwisting spin in the parking lot, the single headlight's beam grazing Past the woman who stood beside her car. He had an instant to see that her son had reached out for her and their hands were clasped.

Then Flint, his face a perfect picture of [email protected] rage, took the Cadillac roaring out of Basile Park in pursuit.

"I thought sure he'd done killed you!" Pelvis hollered gh ca rozen over the hot wind whipping throu the r. His f pompadour was immobile. Mama had slipped from his grasp and was wildly bounding from backseat to front and back again, her high-pitched barks like hot nails being driven into the base of Flint's skull.

Clint's arm was still thrashing, angry as a stomped cobra. Pelvis shouted, "You see that fella try to run me down? If I'd've been a step slower, I'd be lookin' like a big al' waffle 'bout now! But I foxed him, 'cause when I jigged to one side he jagged to the other and I just kept on jiggin'. You saw it, didn't you? When that fella tried to run me-I, Flint pressed his right fist against Pelvis's lips. Momma seized Flint's sleeve between her teeth, her eyes wide and wet and a guttural growl rumbling in her throat. "I swear to Jesus," Flint seithed, "if you don't shut that mouth I'm puttin' you out right here!"

"It's shut." Pelvis caught Mama and pulled her against him.

Reluctantly, she let go of Flint's sleeve. Flint returned both hands to the steering wheel, the speedometer's needle trembling toward sixty. He saw the station wagon's taillights a quarter-mile ahead.

"You want me to shut up," Pelvis said with an air of wounded dignity, "all you have to do is ask me kindly. No need to jump down my throat jus' 'cause I was tellin' you how I stared Death square in the face and-" "Eisley. " Tears of frustration sprang to Flint's eyes, which utterly amazed him; he couldn't remember the last time he'd shed a tear. His nerves were jangling like fire alarms, and he felt a hair away from a rubber room.

The speedometers needle was passing sixty-five, the Cadillac's aged frame starting to shudder. But they were gaining on the station wagon, and in another few seconds they'd be right up on its rear fender.

Dan had the gas pedal pressed to the floor, but he couldn't kick any more power out of the engine. The thing was making an unearthly metallic roar as if on the verge of blowing its cylinders. He saw in his rearview mirror the one-eyed Cadillac speeding up on his tail, and he braced for collision. There was a blinking caution light ahead, marking an intersection. Dan had no time to think about it; he twisted the wheel violently to the left. As the station wagon sluggishly obeyed, its worn tires skidding across the pavement, the Cadillac hit him, a grazing blow from behind, and sparks shot between their crumpled fenders. Then, as Dan fought the wheel to keep from sliding over the curb into somebody's front yard, the Cadillac zoomed past the intersection.

"Hold on!" Flint shouted, his foot jamming the brake pedal. The Eldorado was heavy, and would not slow down without screaming, smoking protest from the tires. Pelvis clung to Mama, who was trying her damnedest to jump into the backseat. Flint reversed to the intersection, the bitter smoke of burned rubber swirling through the windows, and turned left onto a winding street bordered by brick homes with manicured lawns and honest-to-God white picket fences. He sped after Lambert, but there was no sign of the station wagon's taillights.

Other streets veered off on either side, and it became clear after a few seconds that Lambert had turned onto one of them.

"I'll find you, you bastard!" Flint said between clenched teeth, and he whipped the car to the right at the next street.

It, too, was dark.

"He's done gone," Pelvis said.

"Shut up! Hear me? Just shut your mouth!"

"Statin' a fact,' Pelvis said.

Flint took the Cadillac roaring to the next intersection and turned left. His palms were wet on the wheel, sweat clinging to his face.

Clint's hand came up and stroked his chin, and Flint cuffed his brother aside. Flint took the next right, the tires squealing. He was in a mazelike residential area, the streets going in all directions. Anger throbbed like drumbeats at his temples, pain lancing his lower back He tasted panic like cold copper in his mouth. Then he turned right onto another street and his heart kicked.

Three blocks away was a pair of red taillights.

Flint hit the accelerator so hard the Cadillac leapt forward like a scalded dog. He roared up behind Lambert's car, intending to swerve around him and cut him off. But in the next instant Flint's triumph shriveled into terror. The Cadillac's headlight revealed the car was not a rust-eaten old station wagon but a new Chevrolet Caprice. Across its fast-approaching rear end was silver lettering that spelled Out [email protected] POLICE.

Flint stood on the brake pedal. A thousand cries for God, Jesus, and Mother Mary rang @ crazy bells in his brain. As the Cadillac's tires left a quarter-inch of black rubber on the pavement, the prowl cars driver punched it and the Caprice shot forward to avoid the crash.

The Caddy stewed to one side before it stopped, the engine rattled and died, and the police cruiser's bubble lights started spinning. It backed up, halting a couple of feet from Flint's busted bumper. A spotlight on the drivers side swiveled around and into Flint's face @ an angry Cyclopean eye.

"Well," Pelvis drawled, "now we've done shit and stepped in it."

Over nearer the intersection with the flashing caution light, Dan started the station wagon's engine and backed out of the driveway he'd pulled into. He eased onto the street, his headlights still off. The black Cadillac had sped past about two minutes before, and Dan had expected it to come flying back at any second. As the saying went, it was time to git while the gittin' was good. He switched on his lights and at the caution sipal took a left toward Interstate 49 and the route south. There were no cars ahead of him, nor any in his rearview mirror. But it was going to be a long night, and a long drive yet before he could rest. He breathed a good-bye to Alexandria, and a good riddance to the bounty hunters.

Flint, still stunned by the sudden turn of events, was watching the red and blue lights spin around. "Eisley, you're a jinx," he said hoarsely. "That's what you are. A jinx." Two policemen were getting out of the car. Flint pushed the can of Mace under his seat. Clint's arm resisted him, but he forced it inside his shirt and buttoned his coat. The two officers both had young, rawboned faces, and they didn't appear happy. Before they reached the Cadillac, Flint dug his wallet out and presed his left arm over his chest to pin Clint down. "Keep your mouth zipped," he told Pelvis. "I'll do all the talkin'."

The policeman who walked up on Flint's side of the car had a fresh crew cut and a jaw that looked as if it could chop wood. He shone a flashlight into Flint's eyes. "You near 'bout broke our necks, you know that? Look what you did to my cap." He held up a crushed and formless thing.

"I'm awful sorry, sir." Flint's voice was a masterpiece of studied remorse. "I'm not from around here, and I'm lost. I guess I panicked, 'cause I couldn't find my way out."

"Uh-huh. You had to be goin' at least sixty. Sign back there says fifteen miles an hour. This is a residential zone."

"I didn't see the sign-', "Well, you seen the houses, didn't you?

You seen our car in front of you. Seems to me you're either drunk, crazy, or mighty stupid." He shifted the light, and its beam fell upon Pelvis. "Lordy, Walt! Look what we've got here!"

"How you fellas doin'?" Pelvis asked, grinning. In his arms Mama had begun a low, menacing growl.

"I bet this'll be a real interestin' story," the policeman with the light said. "Let's see a driver's license. Your ID, too, Mr. Presley sir."

Flint fumbled to remove the license from his eelskin wallet and hold Clint immobile at the same time. His wrist was still hurting @ hell. Eisley produced a battered wallet that had the face of Elvis on it in brightly colored Indian beads. "I never did believe he was dead, did you, Randy?, Walt said with [email protected] mirth. He was taller than his partner and not quite as husky. "I always knew it was a wax body in that coffin!"

"Yeah, we might get ourselves on Geraldo Riviera for this," Randy said. "This is better'n seem' green men from Mars, ain't it? Call the tag in." Walt walked around back to write it down and then returned to the cruiser. Randy inspected the licenws under the light. ,@t M From Monroe, huh? What're you doin'here in the middle of the night?"

"Uh . . . well, I'm . . . Flint's mind went blank. He tried to pull up something, anything- "I'm ... that is to say . . ."Officer, sir?" Pelvis spoke up, and Flint winced. "We're tryin' to find the Holiday Inn. I believe we must've took the wrong turn."

The "light settled on Pelvis's face. "The Holiday Inn's over toward the interstate. The sign's lit up; it's hard to miss."

"I reckon we did, though I Randy spent a moment examining Pelvis's license. Clint gave a twitch under Flint's shirt, and Flint felt sweat dripping from his armpits. "Pelvis Eisley," Randy said.

"That can't be your born name. "No sir, but it's my legal name."

"What's your born name?

"Uh ... well, sir, I go by the name that's written dovm right-"

"Pelvis ain't a name, it's a bone. What name did your mama and daddy give you? Or was you hatched?"

. Flint didn't care for the nasty edge in the policeman's voice.

"Hey, I don't think there's any call to be- "Hush up. I'll come back to you, don't you worry about it.

I asked for your born name, sir."

"Cecil," came the quiet reply. "Cecil Eisley."

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