Chapter 22


Flint didn't have time to concern himself with Eisley's situation.

He knew something like this was bound to happen sooner or later. But the important thing was that Daniel Lewis Lambert was standing right in front of him, and the derringer was loaded and cocked. "Did he hurt you, Miss Halliday?"

"No."

"You were lucky, then. You know he's murdered two people, don't you?"

"I know he killed a man at a bank in Shreveport. He told me about that. But he said he didn't kill the man in Alexandria, and I believe him."

"You believe him?" He darted another glance at her. "I thought he took you as a hostage."

'No," Arden said, "that's not how it was at all. I came, with him of my own ri-re will."

Either she was crazy, Flint fipred, or somehow Lambert had brainwashed her. But she wasn't his concern, either. He kept the gun's barrel jammed into Lambert's ribs. "Well, you ran me a good chase, I'll give you that."

Dan didn't answer. His heart had stopped pounding, and now there was ice in his blood. He was looking at a closed door about ten feet away. Maybe beyond it was a bathroom with a window, and if he could get in there and lock the door to buy himself a few seconds, he might still get away.

"Face the bar and put your hands flat on top of it."

Dan obeyed, but his attention was still fixed on the door.

If he could get out a window into the swamp, then he could ...

Could what?he asked himself He was dead tired, hungry, and thirsty. His strength was gone. He doubted if he'd had the energy to trade a punch or two with Cal, much less swim through 'ptor-infested water. As Flint quickly frisked him, wanting to attract as little notice as possible and helped in this regard by the loud and raucous attention being thrown at Pelvis, Dan realized that cold reality had just slapped him across the face. He had come to his senses as if awakening from a fever dream.

There was nowhere else to go. His run was over.

"YOu @ your pink Cadillac, Elvis?"

"Hell, get up there and sing something'!"

"Yeah, and it better be damn good, too! Pelvis had [email protected] rough rooms before, where the drunks with burning eyes would boll up out of their seats, wanting to either grab the microphone away from him or show their girlfriends that the King bled crimson. This room right down there with the worst of them, and Pelvis tried to pay no mind to the jeering, but the shouts began [email protected] his pride.

"You ain't no Elvis, you fat shit!"

"What'cha got in your arms there, Elvis? Your girlfriend?" TIW was followed by a barrage of barking and laughter that *owned out the struggling musicians.

Flint saw the situation going out of control, but any man who wanted to look and talk like a dead hillbilly had to take his licks. He @ kept his focus on Lambert, who-he was surprised to [email protected] no weapons, not even a "Empty your pockets.

.'What're you go* do?" Arden asked. "Rob him?"

"No. Lambert, *u must have a way with the women.

First Your ex-wife stands up for you, now her. She doesn't know the real you, Om shet' Dan Put his wa* On top of the bar, then a few will doffu bills and son* change. He found the y k picture Chad had given @, wrmued up by the swamp water.

"Howd you find Oler, Font fhPPed tOe wallet open and felt for judden men blader.. "I heard @our ex-wife tell you about the cabin.

I've been waitin' for you all day." Flint picked up the damp picture and looked at it. "Your son?

SIY if re.

"See, that's where you up. you should never have gone to that pari If you'd steered clear of Alexandria, you G01rE SO(ITH wouldn't be lookin'at a double murder conviction.' He slid Dan's wallet and the money into his coat, which was still buttoned to hide Clint's occasional muscle twitches under his shirt. "You can keep the picture."

Dan returned it to his pocket. "That man was alive when I left the motel. His wife killed him, and she's blamin' it on me.

"Nice try. Tell it to the police and see what they think."

"He already has," Arden spoke up. "He called the Alexandria police while we were in Lafayette. He told 'em to check the shotgun for his fingerprints."

"Uh-huh. He tell you he did that?"

saw him do it."

"And he was probably talkin' to a dial tone, or a recorded message, or he had his finger on the cutoff switch. Lambert, put your hands down in front of you and grip.'em together."

"You don't need to cuff me," Dan said flatly. "I'm not goin' anywhere."

"Just shut up and do it."

"I'd like to eat my gumbo and drink a beer. You want to feed me?"

He turned around and stared into the bounty huntet's chilly blue eyes.

Murtaugh looked as worn-out as Dan felt, his face gaunt, his dark hair with its lightningwhite streak oily and uncombed. A dozen mosquito bites splotched his @ed cheeks and chin, and he had to scratch two of them even as he kept the derringer pressed into Dan's side. "I won't run," Dan said. "I'm too tired, and there's no use in it." He read the distrust in the tight crimp of Murtaugh's thin-lipped mouth. "I give you my word. All I want to do is eat some dinner and rest."

"Yeah, I know what your word is worth." Flint started to reach into his pocket for the handcuffs, but he hesitated.

Lambert had no weapon, and he did look exhausted(L This time, at least, there was no woman between them who knew taste kwan do. Flint said, "I swear to God, if [email protected] get away, I'll put a bullet through your kn let the lawyers sort it out. Understand?"

Dan nodded, convinced that Mur he promised.

then. t."

A skinny man in a OSP cap and overalls Pelvis's arm. "Hey, You!" he said. Pelvis saw the man was missing most of his front teeth. His eyer, were red and heavy-lidded, and the'reek of beer and gumbo on his breath was enough to make Mama whimper. "I knew Elvis," the man [email protected] "Elvis was a ri-en' a mine. And you big or turd, you sure as hell ain't no Elvist" Pelvis felt the hot blood [email protected] his jowls. Hoots and @ter were flying at him like jagged spears. He waumd to the blond woman with the birthmark on her face and said in an anger-tensed voice, "Excuse me, would you hold my dog,"

he said. "Would you hold her for just two or three minutes?" He pushed Mama into her arms.

"[email protected]' Flint snapped. "What're you doinr' "I've got my pride.

They want a song, I'm gonna give'em a "No, you're'qot!" But Pelvis was already walking toward the [email protected] @mving the intoxicated jeers and "Eisleyl" Flint shouted. "come back here!"

The [email protected] played their Cajun stomp as Pelvis aped,*nd then the whoops and honers ncocheted off the tm *E Burt had come back down the bar, and he yelled at [email protected]"Your friend ain't gonna need a burial plott Ain't gonna be nothin' left to bury!"

"He's a fool is what he is!" Flint seethed, still holding the gun low in @ Dan's ribs, but in the dim and smoky light Burt didn't see it. Wink Arden held on to the bulldog, the though* of what Angle had told her battering around in her men4 Dan took his first bite of gumbo and in it almost set his tongue on Dog,r, Pelvis asked the band.

He got three heads to smvel. "How 'bout'I Got a Woman'?

'[email protected] Hotel'? 'A Big Hunk o' L4Dye"?" There were negative reactions to all those. Pelvis felt sweat [email protected] around his coria. "Do you know any Elvis songsr' the hot fire.

$GYOU "All we play is zydeco," the accordionist said. "You know. Like 'My Toot-Toot' and 'Diggy Liggy Lo.' "Oh, Lord," Pelvis breathed.

"Don't just stand there, Elvis!" a shout swelled up from the others. "You ain't dead, are you?"

Pelvis turned to face his audience. Sweat was running down under his arms, his heart starting to pound. He lifted his hands to quiet the jeering, and about half of it stopped.

"I have to tell you fellas I usually accomp'ny myself on the git-tar. Anybody got agit-tar I can use?"

"This ain't fuckin' Nashville, you asshole!" came a reply.

"Either start singin' or you're gonna go swimmin'!"

Pelvis looked over at Flint, who just shook his head with pity and averted his gaze. Then Pelvis stared out at the roughnecks, the butterflies of fear swarming in his stomach.

"Start croakin', you big fat frog!" somebody else hollered. A drop of sweat rolled into Pelvis's left eye and burned it shut for a couple of seconds. Suddenly a bowl of gumbo came flying up from one of the tables and it splashed all over the front of his muddy trousers. A wave of laughter followed, then somebody began to bray like a donkey.

Pelvis stared down at his mud ted brown sueo'shoes, and he thought of how those men in there didn't [email protected] the many hours he'd spent watching Elvis movies, lear*ing the King's walk and talk and sneer-, they didn't kno* how many nights he'd listened to Elvis records in ah little room, catching every phrase and nuance of that voice, that voice of the American soul. They didn't know how much he loved Elvis, how he worshipped at the shrine of Gmceland and how his wife had called him a stupid fat loser and run off with all his money and a truck driver named Boomer.

They didn't know how he had suffered for his art.

His public was calling for him. Ranting at him, to tell the truth. Pelvis squared his shoulders, tucked his chins, and turned away from the audience. He said to the piano pounder, "Yc)u miad if I sit there?" and he slid onto the chair when it was gladly vacated. Pelvis cracked his knuckles, looked at the dirty keyboard with its sad and broken ivories, and then he put his fingers down and began to play.

k A strain of classical music came from the rickey-tick piano. The room was shocked silent, and no one was shocked more than Flint. But only Flint recognized the music: it was the stately opening chords of Chopin's Prelude Number Nine in E major, one of the soul-soothing pieces he Hstened to daily on his car's cassette player.

They let him play about ten seconds of it before they regained their senses. Then a second bowl of gumbo hit the piano and a half of a hamburger flew past Pelvis's head and a roar of dissatisfaction went up like a nuclear bwa. "We don't want that damn shit!" yelled a man with a face as mean as a scarred fist. "Play us something' with a tune!"

"Hold your horses!" Pelvis shouted back "I'm just limberin' up my fingers!" He was as ready as he would ever be. "All right, this here's called 'A Big Hunk o' L4Dye'." And then his hands slammed down on the keyboard and the piano made a noise like a locomotive howling through a tunnel in red-hot, demon-infested, [email protected], and godforsaken Hades. His fingers suttered up and down the keys in a blur of motion, the sound's power kicking all the jeers and hollers right out the swinging doors. Pelvis threw his head back, sweat shinii4on his face, his mouth opened, and he started bellowing [email protected] asidng his baby for a bigga bigga jaw had dropped in mimic Elvis, but different; though rockabflly Memphis in a rusty chain saw that and unearthly more akin to the ison- Watching Eisley beat that Jerry Lee Lewis and beaning and then rumble the floorboards onstage Eisley was a lousy ruby was a lousy diamond.

Though Flint hated that kind of redneck thunder, though it made the skin crawl on the back of his neck and made him long for a good set of earplugs, it was clear that Pelvis Eisley bigga hunka love.

Flint's mouth was amazement. Eisley's: his singing voice was there were husky ton it, there was also the suddenly broke mt( high-bigga hunka operatic wail of Roy piano to pieces like a his voice mttle the ceiling again, Flint realized Elvis, but that was In was no imitator of a dead star. The man, whether he knew it or not, was an honest-to-God original fireball.

Dan followed a spoonful of the spicy gumbo with a drink of beer, and he regarded the Presley clone flailing at the piano. Hunka, hunka big ouill'love, the man was growling.

Mwmugh's gun had pulled a few inches away from Dan's ribs. The bounty hunter's focus was riveted on his companion. It flashed through Dan's mind that if he was quick enough, he could bring the beer mug down across the side of Murtaugh's head and run for the back door.

Do it, he told himself. Hit the bastard and run while there's still time.

He took another swallow of the bitter brew and held the mug ready to strike. On his foreum the ropy muscles tensed, making the tattooed snake undulate.

Silent Shadow Asecond passed.

Do it! he thai Murtaugh's skull t A third and fou No.

It was a strong N No, Dan deci misery. There'U be Murtaugh's head suddenly swiveled, and the pale blue eyes fixed on him.

Dan lifted the mug to his lips and drank the rest of his beer.

"Your friend's not half bad."

Flint looked at the glass mug and then his gaze returned to Dan's eyes. He had the fearing that danger had just slid past like a silent shadow. "You're not thinkin'of doin'something' stupid, are you?"

"Nope."

"If you don't want to wear the bracelets, you'd better not be. I want to keep this as quiet and clean as I can."

Dan had wondered why Murtaugh was doing his best to hold the gun out of sight, and why he hadn't told the bartender who he was. "You afraid somebody else'll snatch me away from you if they find out about the money?" "People hear what I do for a livin', they don't usually welcome me with hearts and flowers."

stared at the place on the blow.

by.

of reason.

and I've caused enough Al "Listen, I didn't mean to kill Blanchard," Dan said. "He drew a gun on me. I had the guard's pistol in my hand, and "Do us both a favor," Flint interrupted. "Save it for the judge."

Pelvis finished the song with a wail and a series of chords that threatened to demolish the piano. As the last notes were dying, another thunderous noise rose up: the whooping and applause of his audience. Pelvis blinked out at them, stunned by the response. Though he used to play piano in a blues band when he was a lanky boy with a heedful of wavy hair and big ideas, he was accustomed to standing behind an electric guitar, which he couldn't play very well but after all it was the King's instrument. He was used to hearing club managers telling him he needed to rein his voice in and keep it snarly because those high tenor notes didn't sound like Elvis at all, that's what the customers were paying for, and if he wanted to be a decent Elvis impersonator, he was way off the mark.

Here, though, it was obvious they were starved for entertainment and they didn't care that he wasn't twanging an electric guitar or that his voice wasn't as earthy as the King's. They started shouting for another song, some of them beating on their tables with their fists and beer mugs.

",M ank you, thank you kindly!" Pelvis said. "Well, I'll d . o you another one, then. This here's'it's Your Baby, You Rock It'." He launched off on another display of honky-tonkin' fireworks, and though his hands were stiff and he knew he was hitting a lot of chims, all his training was coming back to him. The fiddler picked up the chords and began sewing them together, and then the accordion player added ajumpy squeal and squawk.

"Hey!" Burt shouted at Flint over the music. "He done any rt=r?"

"Not that I know of."

"Well, he ought to! He don't sound much like Elvis, but a fella plays a piano and sing like that, he oughta- doings . be some records! Make himself a lotta money that *.W!"

"Tell me," Flint said, "how do we get out of here? Back to a road, I mean?"

"Like I told him"-Burt nodded at Dan-"supply boat from Grand Isle'll be here tomorrow afternoon. That's the only way out."

"Tomorrow eternoon? I've got to get this man to-" He paused and [email protected]@ it again. "We need to get to Shreveport as soon as we can." @ "You'll have [email protected] for the supply boat. They'll take you to Grand Isle, b4t that's still a hell of a long way from Shreveport. See, @re ain't no roads 'round here for miles."

"I can't stay here\all night! Christ almighty! We've got to get back to-"[email protected], he almost said, but he decided it wouldn't be wise. "Shreveport," he finished.

"Sorry. I've got a radio-telephone in the back, if you need to let anybody know where you are."

Smoates needed to know, Flint thought. Smoates needed to hear.

that the skin was caught and on his way back.

Smoates would be asleep right now, but he wouldn't mind being awakened to hear- Hold it, he told himself. Just one damn minute. y should he be in such a rush to call that freak-lovin' bastard?

Right now he, Flint, was in control. He didn't have to run and call Smoates like some teenager afraid of his father's paddle. Anyway, if Smoates hadn't weighed him down with Eisley, he would have finished this thing yesterday. So to hell with him.

Flint said, "No, I don't need to call anybody. But what are we supposed to do? Stay here until the boat comes?" He didn't know if he could stand smelling his own body odor that long, and Lambert wasn't a sweet peach either. "Isn't there someplace I can get a shower and some sleep?"

"Well, this ain't exactly a tropical resort." Burt's cigar stub had gone cold, but he still kept it gripped between his teeth. Now he took it out and looked at the ashy tip, trying to decide if it was worth another match. "You talkin' about one place for all of you? Or you want something' separate for the lady?"

"I'm not sleepin' in a room with them!" Arden was still dazed and heartsick by what she'd heard about the Bright Girl. In her arms the little bulldog longingly watched Pelvis.

"I'd rather sit in here all night!"

. "How much money you got?" Burt asked Flint, and raised his eyebrows.

"Not much."

"You got a hundred dollars?"

"Maybe."

"Okay, here's the deal," Burt said. "The big boys-the execs-keep a couple of cabins to stay in when they come visit down here. They don't want to get dirty stayin' in the barracks with the workin' crews, see. I know who can pick the locks. Fifty dollars apiece, you can have 'em for the night. They ain't much, but they've got clean cots and they're private."

"There's fifty dollars in my wallet," Dan offered. Sleep on a cot-clean or dirty, he didn't care-sounded fine to him.

It occurred to him that this was the last night he'd sleep without bars next to his mattress. "I'll pay for her cabin."

"Yeah, it's a deal." Flint brought out Dan's wallet and his own and paid the money.

"Fine. Wait a minute, lemme listen to this here song," Pelvis had started a slow country-western teaderker called "Anything That's Part of You." His audience sat in rapt, respectful silence as the broody piano chords thumped and, Pelvis's voice soared up in a lament that was painful enough to wet the eyes of hardcase roughnecks and bayou trash prostitutes. "I swear," Burt said, "that fella don't need to try to be Elvis. You his manager?" He looked at Flint.

.'No. "

"HelL I'll be his mqnager, then. Get out of this damn swamp and get rich, I won't never look back."

"Arden?" Dan had seen the corners of her mouth quivering, her eyes glassy with shock. It was going to be tough on her, he knew. She'd put so much blind faith into finding the Bright Girl, she'd sacrificed everything, and now it was over.

"You all right?"

She didn't answer. She couldn't.

Shadow "You mind ?" he asked Flint, and the bounty hunter obvious distress and moved from between Dan stood close to her. His heart ached for her, and he to put his arm around her shoulders but he didn't what comfort he could give. "I'm sorry," he said. "I wish could've found what you wanted."

"I-I can't belie she's dead. I just can't." Her eyes suddenly glistened just as quickly she blinked them away. The hi her chin. "I can't believe it.

Jupiter wouldn't h wrong. "

"Listen to me," Dan said firmly. "Startin' from this minute, here and now, you're gonna have to go back to reality. That means back to Fort Worth and getting' on with your life. However bad things look, they've got to get better." "I don't think so' "You don't know what tomorro's gonna bring. Or next week, or next month. You've gotta go day by day, and that's how you get through the rough spots. Beheve me, I've been 'there."

Arden nodded, but the Bright Girl was a candle she could not bear to extinguish. It struck her how selfish she'd been, consumed by her own wishes. From the moment the man in the dark suit had set foot into this cafe, Dan had been on his way to prison. "Are you all right?"

she asked.

"I beheve I am." He offered her a faint, brave smile when inside he felt as if he'd been hit by a tractor-trailer truck "Yeah, I'm all right. This was gonna happen sooner or later." His smile faded. "I saw my son, I said what I needed to say without bars between us.

That's the important thing."

He shrugged. "At least where I'm goin' I'll have a roof over my head and hot food.' Won't be much worse than the V.A.

hospital, I guess. Anyhow-" His voice cracked, and he had to pause to summon the strength to continue. "Like I said, you go day by day. That's how you get through the rough spots."

"Miss?" Burt put his elbows on the bar and leaned toward her.

Pelvis had finished the slow, sad number and was getting up from the piano to take his bows, sweat dripping from schins."Iknowwhocouldtellyouiftherewasever anybody livin' on Goat Island or not. Cajun fella they call Little Tmin. He was born 'round here. Sometimes he takes the execs huntin' and fishin'. Sells us fish and game for the cafe, too, so he gets all 'round the swamp.

If anybody would know, it'd be him."

"Arden?" Dan's voice was quiet. "Give it up. Please."

She wanted to. She really did. But she was desperate and afraid.

This would be her @ chance, and she would never come this way again.

Even finding the Bright Girl's grave would be an answer, though not the one she wished for. She said, "Where is he?"

"Lives on a houseboat, anchored 'bout a mile south of here. Keeps to himself, mostly." He stared at her birthmark, his gaze following its ragged edges. "I've got a motorboat, and I'm off shift at six A.M.

I need to run down there to see him anyhow, put in an order for some catfish and turtle meat. If you want to go, you're welcome. And I can carry two people, if you want to go along." He was speaking to Dan.

Dan saw the need in Arden's eyes; it was a painful thing to witness, because he knew she stood at the very edge of sanity. He had to turn away from her, and when he heard her say "I'll go alone," it was clear to him that she'd placed one foot over the precipice.

"Okay, then. Whatever suits you. Hey, fella!" He grinned at Pelvis, who was making his way to the bar through a knot of backslappers. "You 'bout knocked hell outta that piano, didn't you?"

Pelvis said, "Thank you, ma'am" as he took Mama back into his arms, and Mama trembled with love and attacked his face with her tongue. He was breathing hard, and he felt a little dizzy, but otherwise he was okay. Sweat was pouring off him in rivers. "Can I have some water, please?"

"Comin' right up!"

"Mr. Murtaugh?" Pelvis smiled broadly. "I think they like me."

"You were all right. If you care for that kind of music.

Here, wipe your face." He pulled a handftd of paper napkins out 0 were hoflerin'?"

"Uh-huh. Well, step down offyour pedestal and listen: we can't get out of here till tomorrow afternoon. We have to wait for a supply boat from Grand -Isle. How the hell we're supposed to get back to the car I don't know, but that's how things are. ti "At least we got [email protected] didn't we?" Pelvis nodded toward Dan, who'd gone back to eating his gumbo.

We, my ass, Flint was about to say, but Burt stuck his bearded face over the bar again. "You play betteen you look, if you don't mind me sayin'."

I.Sir?ll "You know. The Elvis thing, with the judo moves and all.

That's what I expected."

"Well, all them songs I sang were ones Elvis done," Pelvis explained. "And I do them moves in my show, but I couldn't cause I was sittin'at the piano. Like I said, I usually play the git-tar."

"You want my advice? I'm gonna give it to you anyway.

Don't hide behind Elvis. You don't need it, a fella can pound them @ and sing like, you do. Hell, you oughta go to Nashville and show 'em what you can do."

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