Chapter 6


"Eisley's stayin' at the 0" Plantation Motel out by the airport."

Smoates fished for his notepad on the cluttered desktop. "Room Number Twenty-three," he said when he'd found it.

"We work alone," Flint repeated, a little more forcibly.

"Uh-huh. That may be, but I want you to take Eisley along this time."

Flint shifted uneasily in his chair. A small terror had begun building within him. "I don't ... I don't allow anyone else into my car."

"Are you jivin' me?" Smoates scowled across the desk, and his scowl was not pretty. "I've seen that bucket of bolts.

Nothin' special about it."

"I know, but ... I'm particular about who I ride with."

"Well, Eisley ain't a nigger, if that's what bothers you."

"No, that's not it. I just ... Clint and me ... we'd rather work alone."

"Yeah, you already said that. But you're elected. Billy Lee's in Arkansas on a job, Dwayne's still laid up with the flu, and I ain't heard from Tiny Boy in two weeks. Figure he must've gone back to the sideshow, so we need some fresh blood 'round here. Eisley might work out just fine."

Flint choked. He lived alone-if a man whose brother was trapped inside his body in a wicked twist of genetics could ever be truly alone-and preferred it that way.

Having to deal with another person at close quarters might drive him right up the wall. "What's wrong with him?"

"Who?"

"Eisley," Flint said, speaking slowly and carefully.

"Somethin' must be wrong with him, or you wouldn't want to hire him on."

Smoates drew on his cheroot and tapped ashes to the floor. "I like his personality," he said at last. "Reminds me of a fella I used to think real highly of."

"But he's a freak, right? You don't hire anybody but freaks."

"Now, that ain't exactly correct. I hire-" He paused, mulling it over. "Special talents," he decided. "People who impress me, for one reason or 'mother. Take Billy Lee, for instance. He don't have to say a word, all he has to do is stand there and show his stuff, and he gets the job done. Am I right?"

Flint didn't answer. Billy Lee Klaggens was a six-foot-sixinch-tall black man who had paid his dues on the freak-show circuit under the name of Popeye. Klaggens, a fearsome visage, could stand there and stare at you and the only thing moving about him would be his eyeballs as blood pressure slowly squeezed them almost out of his skull. Faced with such a sight, the skins KIMens hunted became as hypnotized as rabbits watching a cobra flare its hood-and then Klaggens sprayed a burst of Mace in their eyes, snapped on the handcuffs, and that was all she wrote. Klaggens had worked for Smoates for over ten years, and he had taught Flint the ropes.

"Eisley's got a special talent, if that's what you're getting' at."

A little thread of smoke leaked from the gap between his front teeth.

"He's a born communicator. I think he could make the fuckin' sphim talk. He knows how to work people.

Used to be in show business."

"Didn't we all," Flint said.

"Yeah, but Eisley's got the gift of pb. You and him, you'll make a good team."

"I'll take him out on a trainin' run, but I'm not teamin'up with him. Or with anybody.

"Okay, okay." Smoates grinned, but on his face it looked more like a sneer. "Flint, you gotta loosen up, boy! You gotta get over this antisocial problem, you'll be a lot happier-" The telephone half buried beneath file folders rang, and Smoates snatched up the receiver.

"Dixie Bail Bonds and Collections ... well, you took your sweet fuckin' time, didn't you? Let's have the story." He tossed Flint the notepad and a ballpoint pen. "Daniel Lewis Lambert ...

Vietnam veteran ... unemployed carpenter. . ." He snorted smoke through his nostrils. "Shit, m%an, gimme something' I can use!" He listened, the cheroot at a jaunty angle in his mouth. "Cops think he's left town. Armed and dangerous. Ex-wife and son in Alexandria.

What's the address?" He relayed it to Flint, who wrote it down. "No other relatives in state? Sumbitches are gonna be waitin' for him to show up in Alexandria then, right? Hell, they gone get him 'fore I even send my boy out. But gimme the license number and a description of his truck anyhow-, we might get lucky." Flint wrote that down as well.

"What's Lambert look like?" was the next question, and Lambert's description went on the notepad's page. "Anythin' else? Okay, then.

Yeah, yeah, you'll get your money this week. You hear that they've picked Lambert up, you gimme a call pronto. I'll be home.

Yeah, same to you." He hung up. "Cops figure he might be on his way to Alexandria. They'll have the house staked out, for sure."

"Doesn't sound to me like I've got a snowball's chance in Hell of grabbin' him." Flint tore off the page and folded it "Too many cops in the picture."

"It's worth a shot. Fifteen thousand smacks ain't hay. If you're lucky, you might catch him 'fore he gets to the house."

"I'd agree with you if I didn't have to haul freight."

Smoates drew on his cheroot and released a ragged smoke ring that floated toward the ceiling. "Flint," he said, "you been with me-what?-six years, goin' on seven? You're one of the best trackers I ever had. You're smart, you can think ahead. But you got this attitude problem, boy. YOU forget who pulled you out of that sideshow and who pays your bills."

"No, I don't," Flint answered crisply. "You won't let me."

Smoates was silent for a few seconds, during which he stared without blinking at Flint through a haze of smoke.

"You tired of this job?" he asked. "If you are, you can quit anytime you please. Go on and find yourself some other line of work.

I ain't stoppin' you."

Flint's mouth was dry. He held Smoates's haughty stare as long as he could, and then he looked away.

"You work for me, you follow my orders," Smoates continued. "You do what I say, you draw a paycheck. That make sense to you?"

"Yeah," Flint managed to say.

"Maybe you can grab Lambert, maybe you can't. I think Eisley's got potential, and I want to see what he's made of.

Only way to do that is to send him out on a run with somebody, and I say that somebody is you. So go get him and hit the road. You're wastin' my time and money."

Flint took the box of crackers and stood up. He pushed his brother's arm down under his shirt and held it there. Now that he'd been fed, Clint would be asleep in a few minutes; unless he was called upon, all he basically did was eat and sleep. Flint's eyes found the three-armed monkey in the curio cabinet, and the same surge of anger that had made him break Junior's fingers swelled up in him and almost spilled out.

"I'll give Eisley a call and tell him you're on the way," Smoates said. "Check in with me from the motel."

I'm not an anima4 Flint thought. Blood pulsed in his face.

He felt Clint's bones twitch within him like the movement of someone trapped in a very bad dream.

"Standin' there ain't gonna get you nowhere," Smoates told him.

Flint turned away from the three-armed monkey and the bald-headed man behind the desk. When the door had closed at Flint's back, Smoates released a harsh little hiccup of a laugh. His belly shook. He crushed his cheroot out in the plate of grease and bones, and it perished with a bubbly hiss. His laughter gurgled and swelled.

Flint Murtaugh was on his way to meet the Pelvis.

-7 A Ways to Go Three hours after shooting a man to death, Dan Lambert found himself sitting on a screened porch, a ceiling fan creaking overhead, with a glass of honeysuckle tea in his hand and a black woman offering him a refill from a purple pitcher.

"No ma'am, thank you," he said.

"Lemme get on back to the kitchen, then." Lavinia Gwinn put the pitcher down on the wicker table between Dan and Reverend Gwinn.

"Terrence and Amelia oughta be here 'bout another half hour."

"I hope you don't mind me stayin'. I didn't know your son was comin' over when your husband invited me."

"Oh, don't you worry, we gots plenty. Always cook up a feast on Thursday nights." She left the porch, and Dan sipped his tea and listened to the cicadas droning in the green woods around the reverend's white clapboard house.

The sun was sinking lower, the shadows growing between the trees.

Reverend Gwinn occupied a wicker rocking chair, his fingers laced around his tea glass and his face set with the expression of a man who is calm and comfortable with life.

"You have a nice house," Dan said.

"We like it. Had a place in the city once, but it was like livin' in an alarm clock. Lavinia and me don't need much to get by [email protected] "I used to have a house. In Alexandria. My ex-wife and son still live there."

"Is that where you're headed, then?"

Dan took a moment to think about his answer. It seemed to him now that all along he'd known the house on Jackson Avenue was his destination. The police would be waiting for him there, of course.

But he had to see Chad, had to tell his son that it had been an accident, a terrible collision of time and circumstance, and that he wasn't the cold-blooded killer the newspapers were going to make him out to be.

"Yes," he said. "I believe I am."

"Good for a man to know where he's goin'. Helps you figure out where you've been."

"That's for damn sure." Dan caught himself. "lib ...

sorry.

"Oh, I don't think the Lord minds a little rough language now and again, long as you keep His commandments."

Dan said nothing. Thou shalt not kill, he was thinking.

"Tell me about your son," Gwinn said. "How old is her "Seventeen.

His name's Chad. He's... a mighty good boy.

"You see a lot of him?"

"No, I don't. His mother thought it was for the best."

Owinn grunted thoughtfully. "Boy needs a father, I'd "Maybe so. But I'm not the father Chad needs."

"How's that, Mr. Farrow?"

"I messed up some things," Dan said, but he didn't care to elaborate.

A moment passed during which the smell of frying chicken drifted out onto the porch and made the hunger pangs sharpen in Dan's belly.

Then Reverend Gwinn said, "Mr. Farrow, excuse me for sayin' so, but you look @ a man who's seen some trouble."

"Yes sir." Dan nodded. "That's about right."

"You care to unburden it?"

Dan looked into the reverend's face. "I wish I could. I wish I could tell you everythin' I've been through, in Vietnam and after I left that damned place, but that's no excuse for what I did today." He looked away again, shamed by Gwinn's compassion.

"Whatever you did, it can be forgiven."

"Not by me. Not by the law, either." He lifted the cool glass and pressed it against his forehead for a few seconds, his eyes closed.

"I wish I could go back and make everythin' right. I wish I could wake up and it'd be mornin'again, and I could have another chance." He opened his eyes. "That's not how life works though, is it?"

"No," Gwinn said. "Not this life, at least."

"I'm not much of a religious man. Maybe I saw too many young boys get blasted to pieces you couldn't have recognized as part of anythin' human. Maybe I heard too many cries for God that went unanswered."

Dan swigged down the rest of his tea and set the glass aside. "That might sound cynical to you, Reverend, but to me it's a fact."

"Seems to me no one's life is easy," Gwinn said, a frown settling over his features. "Not the richest nor the poorest."

He rocked gently back and forth, the runners creaking. "You say you've broken the law, Mr. Farrow?"

"Yes."

"Can you tell me what you've done?"

Dan took a long breath and let it go slowly. The cicadas trilled in the woods, two of them in close harmony. "I killed a man today," he answered, and he noted that Gwinn ceased his rocking. "A man at a bank in Shreveport. I didn't mean to. it just happened in a second. It was . . . like a bad dream, and I wanted to get out of it but I couldn't. Hell, I was never even a very good shot. One bullet was all it took, and he was gone. I knew it, soon as I saw where I'd hit him."

"What had this man done to you?"

Dan had the sudden realization that he was confessing to a stranger, but Gwinn's sincere tone of voice urged him on.

"Nothin', really. I mean ... the bank was repossessin' my pickup.

I snapped. Just like that. I started tearin' up his office. Then all of a sudden a guard was there, and when he pulled a gun on me I got it away from him. Blanchard-the man I shot-brought a pistol out of his desk and aimed it at me. I heard the hammer of his gun click. Then I pulled the trigger." Dan's fingers gripped the armrests, his )muckles white.

"I tried to stop the bleedin', but there wasn't much I could do. I'd cut an artery in his neck. I heard on the radio that he was dead on arrival at the hospital. I figure the police are gonna catch me sooner or later, but I've got to see my son first. There are some things I need to tell him." "Lord have mercy," Gwinn said very quietly.

"Oh, I'm not deservin' of mercy," Dan told him. "I'd just like some time, that's all" "Time," the reverend repeated. He took the silver watch from his pocket, snapped it open, and looked at the numerals.

"If you don't want me sittin' at your table," E)an said, I can tmrstand."

Gwinn's watch was returned to the pocket. "My son," he said, "will be here any minute now. You didn't ask what kinda work Terrence does."

"Never thought to."

"My son is a deputy sheriff in Mansfield," Gwinn said, and those words caused the flesh to tighten at the back of Dan's neck. "Your description on the radio?" ac "Yes."

"Terrence might not have heard about it. Then again, he might've."

Gwinn held Dan's gaze with his dark, intense eyes- "Is what you've told me the truth, Mr. FamvO" "It is. Except my name's not Farrow.

It's Lambert."

" Fair enough. I believe you." Gwinn stood up, leaving the chair rocldng. He went into the house, calling for his wife.

Dan left his chair as well, his heart beating hard. He hmm the reverend say, "Yeah, Mr. FarrovVs got a ways to go and he's not gonna be stayin' for dinner after all."

"Oh, that's a shame," lavinia answered. 11IMe [email protected] all done!"

"Mr. Farrow?" There was just a trace of tension in Gwinn's voice- "You care to take some chicken for the roadt' "Yes sir," Dan said from the front door. "I sure would." The reverend returned carrying a paper bag with some grease stains on the bottom. fris wife was following behind him. "What's your hurry, Mr. Farrow.? Our boy oughta be here directly!"

"Mr. Farrow can't stay." Gwinn pushed the paper bag into Dan's hand. "He's gotta get to ... New Orleans, didn't you say, Mr.

Farrow?"

"I believe I might have," Dan said as he accepted the fried chicken.

"Well, I'm awful sorry you're not gonna be joinin' us at the table," Lavinia told him. "You gots family waitin' for Your, "Yes, he does," Gwinn said. "Come on, Dan, I'll walk you to your truck."

"You take care on that road now," Lavinia continued, but she didn't leave the porch. "Crazy things can happen out there.

"Yes ma'am, I will. Thank you." When he and the reverend had reached the pickup and Lavinia had gone back inside, Dan asked, "Why are you helpin' me like this?"

"You wanted some time, didn't you? I'm givin' you a little bit.

You better get on in there."

Dan slid into the driver's seat and started the engine. He realized that some of Blanchard's dried blood still streaked the steering wheel. "You could've waited. Just turned me in when your son got here."

"What? And scare Lavinia half to death? Take a chance on my boy getting' hurt? Nosir. Anyhow, seems like you've had enough trouble today without me makin' more for you. But you listen to me now: the sensible thing to do is turn yourself in after you see your son. The police ain't savages; they'll give an ear to your story. All runnin's gonna do is make things worse."

"I know that."

"One more thing," Gwinn said, his hand on the window frame.

"Maybe you're not a religious man, but I'll tell you something' true: God can take a man along many roads and through many mansions. It's not where you are that's important; it's where you're goin' that counts. Hear what I'm sayin'?"

"I think so."

"Well, you keep it to heart. Go on now, and good luck to YOU. "

"Thanks." I'll need it, he thought. He put the Chevy into reverse.

"So Ion" Gwinn let go of the truck and stepped back.

"The Lord be with you."

Dan nodded and reversed the truck along the dn-t drive that led from the reverend's house to the cracked concrete of Highway 175.

Gwinn ftW watching him go as Dan backed onto the road and then put the truck's gearr, into first. The reverend lifted his hand in a farewell and Dan drove away, hWM southbound again but @s soon @ bs head clear and for the moment ri-re of pain and a paper bag full of fried chicken on the seat beside him. He had driven perhaps a mile from Gwinn's house when a car came around the bend and passed him, going north, and he saw a young black man at the wheel and a black woman on the side. Then he was around the curve hunself, and he gave the truck a little more gas.

The Lord be with yo,4 he thint. BW where had the Lord been at three o'clock @s afternoon?

Dan reached into the bag and found a drumstick, and he chewed on it as he followed the curvy country road deeper into the Loumm h d. As the sun continued to @ in the west and the miles clicked off, Dan f hu thoughts on what lay ahead of him. If he mM east and got on the freeway apm he would reach Alexandria in about an hour. If he @ stayed on this slower route, it would take double that- The sun would be gone in another five minutes or so.

The police would surely be watching out the house on J Avenue, and those prowl cars had mighty strong still He couldn't even risk driving past the house. How long would it take before the police decked off their surve ?

He might @ about giving lumself up after he'd @ to @ but he wasn't going to let the boy see him handcuffs. So the question was: how was he going to set to Chad without the police jumping all over him first?

South of a small hamlet called Behnont, @ pard into a Texaco station, bought five dollars worth of gas, a Buffalo Rock ginger ale to wash down the excellent fried chicken, and a Louisiana roadmap. The gray-haired woman who took his money was too interested in her Soap Opera Digest to pay him much attention. In the steamy blue evening Dan switched on the pickup's headlights and followed Highway 175 as it connected with Highway 171 and became a little smoother. At the town of Leesville, where he found himself stopped at a traffic light right in front of the police station, he took a left onto Highway 28 East, which was a straight shot into Alexandria. He had about thirty miles to go.

Fear started clawing at him again. The dull throbbing in his head returned. Full dark had fallen, a sickle moon rising over the trees.

Traffic was sparse on the road, but every set of headlights in his rearview mirror stretched Dan's nerves.

The nearer he got to Alexandria, the more he doubted this mission could be accomplished. But he had to try; if he didn't at least try, he wouldn't be worth a damn.

He passed a sign that said AuxANDm i8 Nu.

The police are gonna be there, he told himself. They'll get me before I can walk up the front steps. Would they have the telephone tapped, too? If I called Susan, would she put Chad on the phone or would she hang up?

He decided he couldn't drive up to the house. There had to be another way. But he couldn't drive around in circles, either.

NDRm io im. the next sign said.

He didn't know what to do. He could see the glow of Alexandria's lights on the horizon. Two more miles reeled off the odometer. And then he saw a blinking sign through the trm on his right-HIDEAWAY M TOR coRT-and he lifted his foot from the accelerator. Dan slowed down as the turnoff to the motor court approached. He had another instant of indecision, but then he turned off I-lighway 28 and guided the pickup along a dirt road bordered by scraggly pines and palmettos. The headlights revealed gin-en-painted cottages tucked back amid the trees.

A red wooden arrow with oFncE on it pointed in the dimdion he was going. Dan saw no lights in any of the cottages, and a couple of them looked as if their roofs were an ill wind away from collapse.

The grounds were weeded-up and forlorn, a swing set rusted and drooping next to an area of decaying picnic tables. Then the driveway stopped at a house painted the same shade of vomito green as the cottages, a rust-splotched station wagon parked alongside. A yellow buglight burned on the front porch, and other lights showed in the windows. The ledeaway, it appeared, was open for business.

As Dan cut the engine, he saw a figure peer through a window at him, then withdraw. He'd just gotten out when he heard a screen door's hinges skreek.

P/S: Copyright -->www_novelfreereadonline_Com

***