Chapter 8


"Lordy, lardy, lardy." Pelvis stared transfixed at Flint's's roving hand.

"You have a car?" "Sir?"

"A car! Do you have one?"

"Yes sir. I mean, I did. 0" Priscilla broke down on me when I was [email protected] back from semng Mr. SmoateL Had to get her towed to the shop."

His eyes followed the @. "Is that ... ... a magic trick or somethinr' Flint had hoped that if he had to take this fool with him Eisley would at least be confined to his own car Then, without warning, @ did the unthinkable thing.

"Mr. M " he said, "that's the damnedest best trick I ever seen"

And he reached out, took Clint's hand in his own, and shook it "Howdy there, pardnerl" Flint Passed out from shock. He couldn't remember anyone ever touching Clint. The sensation of a s hand [email protected] to Clint's was like a buzz saw raked up his spine.

"I men you could go on television with a trick as good as that!"

Eisley continued to pump Clint's arm, oblivious to the danger that coded before him.

Flint gasped for breath and staggered [email protected] contact between Eisley and his brother. Clint's arm bobbing up and down, the htfle hand so cupped "You ... you Words could not convey Flint's indignation. Mama had seen this new development and had skittered away from Flint's legs, bouncing up onto the bed where she mpid-fired barks at the bobbing appendage.

"You ... don't touch me!" Flint said. "Don't you ever dare touch me again!" Eisley was still grinning. This.man, Flint realized, had the power to drive him stark mving insane.

"Get packed," he said, his voice choked. "We're leaven' in five minutes. And that mutt's stayin' here."

"Oh ... Mr. Murtaugh, sir." At last Eisley's face showed genuine concern. "Mama and me go everywhere together."

"Not in my car." He shoved Clint's arm back down inside his shirt, but Clint came out again and kept warching around as if he wanted to continue the hand shaking. "I'm not carryin' a damn mutt in my car!"

"Well, I can't go, then." Pelvis sat down on the bed, his expression petulant, and at once Mama was in his lap, licking his double chins. "I don't go nowhere without Mama."

"Okay, good! Forget it! I'm leaven'!"

Flint had his hand on the doorknob when Pelvis asked, in all innocence, "You want me to call Mr. Smoates and tell him it didn't work out?"

Flint stopped. He squeezed his eyes shut for a few seconds. The rage had leapt up again from where it lived and festered, and it was beating like a dark fist behind the door of his face.

"I'll call him," Pelvis said. "Ain't no use you wastin' the quarter."

Leave the hillbilly jerk, Flint thought To hell with Smoates, too. I don't need him or his lousy job. I don't need anybody.

But his anger began to recede like a bayou tide, and beneath it was the twisted, busted-up truth: he could not go back to the sideshow, and without Smoates, what would he do?

Flint turned toward Pelvis. Mama sat in Pelvis's lap, warily watching Flint. "Do you even know what this job is about?" Flint asked. "Do you have any idea?"

"You mean bounty huntin? Yes sir. It's @ on TV, where-" "Wrong!"

Flint had come close to shoufln it, and Mama stiffened her back and began a low [email protected] Pelvis stroked her a couple of times and she quieted down again. -It's not like on TV. It's dirty and dangerous, and you're out there on your own with nobody to help you if @ up. You can't ask the cops for help, 'cause to them yolere @ you have to walk-or crawl- hellholes you wouldnt even imagine. Most of the time all you're gonna do is spend hours sittin' in a car, waitin'. You're gonna be it*' to Vt infOrmatiOn @ the kind of who'd just as soon be cuttin' your fl" to see your blood rtm."

"'Oh, I can take care of myself," Pelvis --i aint got a gun, but I know how to use one. That was chapter four in the manual."

"Chapter four in the manual." Flint's voice dripped sarcasm.

'Uh-huh. WelL being' a [email protected] in it businessD either get you killed or [email protected] bars. You cimlt use firepower on a"Wy unless it's in self-Mense and yowve got wi , otherwise it's you who's goin' to @ And let me tell you, a bounty hunter in prison would be @ a T-bone fta in a dog pound."

"You mean if the felws runmn, away @ you, you cant shoot him?"

"Right. You nail somebody in the back and he die% it's your neck in the noose. So you have to ure your wits and be a good poker player."

Clsir?tl "You've 80t to know how to Muk the deck in yDur favor,Mnt exphfted. "I've got my own tricks. At close range I use a can of Mace. Know what that is?,' "Yes sir. It's that spray Mff that burns your sidn. "The kind I use can [email protected] a man for about thn-ty second By that time you ought to have the cuffs on him and he's on the ground, We as a little imb."

,well, ru bet-, Pelvis said. -mr. smoates told me you were @ be a @ty @ teacher.' Flint had to endure another wave of nW, he lowered hen head and waited it out. "Eisley," he said, "you know what a loan shark is?"

"Yes sir, I do."

"That's what Smoates is. He owns five or six loan companies in Louisiana and Arkansas and ninety percent of the work he'll expect you to do is collectin' money. And that's not pretty work either, I promise you, 'cause you have to shut your eyes to people's misfortunes and either scare the cash out of them or get rough, if it comes to that. The bounty-huntin'thing is just kind of a sideline. You can some good money out of it if the reward's high enough, but it's no game. Every time you go out after a skin, you're riskin'your life.

I've been shot at, swung on with knives and billy clubs, I've had a Doberman set on me, and one @ even tried to take my head off with a samurai sword. You don't get a lot of second chances in this business, Eisley.

And I don't care how many mail-order detective courses you took, if you're not cold-blooded enough, you'll never survive your first skin hunt." Flint watched the other man's eyes to see if his message was getting through, but all he saw was dumb admiration. "You know anydiin' about the skin we're supposed to collect?"

"No sir."

"His name's Lambert. He's a Vietnam veteran. Killed a man at a bank this afternoon. He's probably half crazy and armed to the teeth.

I wouldn't care to meet him if there wasn't a chance of some big money in it. And if I were you, I'd just go call Smoates and tell him you've thought this thing over and you've decided to pass."

Pelvis nodded. From the glint in Pelvs eye, Flint could tell that a spark had fired in the man's brain like a bolt of lightning over Lonely Street.

"Is that what you're gonna do, then?"

"Well, I just figured it out," PL-Ivis said. "That ain't no trick, is it? You really do have three arms, don't YOU?"

The better to strangle you with, Flint thought. "That's right-I, "I never saw such a thing before! I swear, I thought it was a trick at first, but then I got to lookin' at it and I could tell it was real! What does your wife have to say about it?"

"I've never been married." Why did I tell him that? Flint asked himself. There was no reason for me to tell him about myself! "Listen to me, Eisley. You don't want to go with me after this skin. Believe me, you don't."

"Yes sir, I do," Pelvis answered firmly. "I want to learn everythin' I can. Mr. Smoates said you was the best bounty hunter there is, and I was to listen to you like you was God hisself. You say jump, I'll ask how high. And don't you worry about Mama, she don't have accidents in the car.

When she wants to pee or dookie, she lets out a howl." He shook his head, awestruck. "Three arms. Now I've seen it all. Ain't we, Mama? Ain't we seen it all now?"

Flint drew a long breath and let it out. Time was wasting.

"Get up," he said, and those were two of the hardest words he'd ever uttered. "Pack enough for two nights."

"Yes sir, yes sir" Pelvis fairly jumped up from the bed.

He started throwing clothes into a brown suitcase covered with Graceland, Memphis, and Las Veps stickers. Mama had sensed Pelvis's excitement, and she began running in circles around the room. For the first time, Flint saw that Pelvis was wearing a pair of honest-to-god blue suede shoes that were run down at the heels.

"I can't believe I'm doin' this," he muttered. "I must be out of my mind."

"Don't you worry, I'll do whatever you say," Pelvis promised.

Underwear, socks, and gaudy shirts were flying into the suitcase.

"I'll be so quiet, you'll hardly know I'm there!"

"I'll bet."

"Whatever you say, that's my command. Uh ... you mind if I load up some groceries? I get kinda hungry when I travel."

"Just do it in a hurry."

Pelvis stuffed another grocery sack with @ dough nuts, peanut butter crackers, Oreos, and dog biscuits. He smiled broadly, his idol sneering at Flint over his shoulder.

"We're ready!"

"One very, very important rule." Flint stepped toward Pelvis and stared at him face-to-face. "You're not to touch me. Understand? And if that dog touches me, I'm throwin' it out the window. Hear!?"

"Yes sir, loud and clear." Pelvis's breath made Flint Big 0"

Frog wince; it smelled of buttermilk.

Flint turned away, pushed Clint's arm under his shirt, and stalked out of the wretched room. Pelvis hafted the suitcase and the groceries, and with a stubby, wagging to, Mama followed her king.

Dan pushed a quarter into the pay phone's slot outside an Amoco gas station on Highway 28, less than seven miles west of Alexandria.

It was twenty minutes after eleven, and the gas station was closed. He pressed the 0 and told the operator his name was Daniel Lewis and he wanted to make a collect call to Susan Lambert at 1219 Jackson Avenue in Alexandria.

He waited while the number clicked through. Pain thrummed in his skull, and when he licked his rips his tonpe scraped,like sandpaper.

One ring. Two. Three. Four.

TheYre not home, he thought. They're gone, because Susan knew Id want to seeFive rings. Six.

"Hello?" Her voice was as tight as barbed wire.

"I have a collect call for Susan Lambert from Daniel @s," the operator said. "Will you accept the charges?"

Silence.

"Ma'am?" the operator urged.

The silence stretched. Dan heard his heartbeat pounding.

Then: "Yes, I'll accept the charges."

"[email protected] you," Dan said when the operator had hung up.

"The police are here. They're waitin' to see if you'll show."

"I knew they would be. Are they listenin' in?"

"Not from in here. They asked me if I thought you'd can and I said no, we hadn't talked for years. It has been years, you know."

"I know." He paused, listening for clicks on the line. He heard none, and he'd have to take the risk that the police had not gone through the process of tapping the wires.

"How's Chad?"

"How would you think he is, to find out his father's shot a man dead?"

That one hurt. Dan said, "I don't know what you've heard, but would you like to hear my side of it?"

Again she was silent. Susan had always had a way of making silence feel like a chunk of granite pressed down on your skull. At least she hadn't hung up yet. "The bank fired Mr. Jarrett, their loan manager," he began. "They hired a new man, and he was gonna repossess my truck. He said some bad things to me, Susan. I know that's no excuse, but-I' "You're right about that," she interrupted.

"I just went crazy for a minute. I started tearin' his office up.

AB I could think of was that without my truck I was one more step down the hole. A guard came in and he pulled a gun on me. I got it away from him, and then all of a sudden Blanchard had a pistol too and I knew he was gonna shoot me. I swear I didn't mean to kill him.

Everythin' was happenin' so fast, it was like falhn' off a train. No matter what the TV or radio says, I didn't go to that bank lookin'to kill somebody. Do you believe me?"

No answer.

"We've had our troubles," Dan said. His knuckles were aching, he was gripping the receiver so tightly. "I know ...

you got afraid of me, and I can't blame you. I should've gotten help a long time ago, but I was afraid to. I didn't know what was wrong with me, I thought I was losin' my mind. I had a lot to work through. Maybe you won't believe me, but. I never Red to you, did I?"

"No," she replied. "You never lied to me."

.411M not lyin' now. When I saw the gun in Blanchard's hand, I didn't have time to think. It was either him or me.

After it waS done, I ran because I knew I'd killed him. I swear to God that's how it happened."

"Oh, Jesus," Susan said in a pained voice. "Where are your Here was the question Dan had known she would ask.

Did he trust her that the police were not listening? Wouldn't she have had to sign forms or something to permit them to mn a tap? They were no longer man and wife and had a troubled history, so why would the police assume she wouldn't tell them if he called? "Are you going to tell them?" he asked.

"They said if I heard from you, I was to let them know."

"Are you?"

"They told me you'd be armed and dangerous. They said you might be out of your mind, and you'd probably want money from me."

"not's a crock of bullshit. I'm not carryin' a gun, and I didn't call you for money."

"Why did you call me, Dan?"

"I ... I'd like to see Chad."

"No," she said at once. "Absolutely not."

"I know you don't care much for me. I don't blame you.

But please believe me, Susan. I don't want to hurt anybody.

I'm not dangerous. I made a mistake. Hell, I've made a lot of mistakes.' "You can fix this one," she said. "You can give yourself up and plead self-defense."

"Who's gonna listen to me? Hell, that guard's gonna say I had the gun stashed in my clothes. The bank'll stand behind him, 'cause they sure won't admit a sick old vet could get a pistol away from-" "Sick?

What do you mean, sick?"

He hadn't wanted this thing to come up, because he needed no sympathy. "I've got leukemia," he said. "From the Agent Orange, I think. The doctors say I can last maybe two years. Three at the most."

Susan didn't respond, but he could hear her breathing.

"If the police take me, I'll die in prison," he went on. "I can't spend the last two years of my LIFE witherin' away behind bars. I just can't."

"You ... you damn fool!" she suddenly exploded. "My God! Why didn't you let me know?"

"It's not your concern."

"I could've given you some money! We could've worked something' out if you were in trouble! Why'd you keep sendin' the money for Chad every month?"

"Because he's my son. Because I owe you. Because I owe him. "

"You were always too stubborn to ask for help! That was always your problem! Why in the name of God couldn't you"-her voice cracked, a sound of emotion that astonished Dan-"couldn't you break down just a little bit and call me?"

"I'm callin' you now," Dan said. "Is it too late?"

She was silent. Dan waited. Only when he heard her sniffle and clear her throat did he realize she was weeping.

"I'll put Chad on," she said.

"Please," he said before she could leave, "can't I see him?

Just for five minutes? Before I called I thought it'd be enough to hear his voice, but I need to see him, Susan. Isn't there some way?"

"No. The police told me they're gonna watch the house all night-"

"Are they out front? Could I slip in the back?"

"I don't know where they are or how many. All I've got is a phone number they gave me. I figure it's to a mobile phone, and they're sittin' in a car somewhere on the street."

"The thing is," Dan said, "I'd like to see both of you.

After tonight I'm hitting the road. Maybe I can get out of the country if I'm lucky."

"Your name and picture's all over the news. How long do you think it'll be before somebody recognizes you and the law either tracks you down or shoots you down? You do know about the reward, don't you?"

"What reward?"

"The president of that banics put fifteen thousand dollars on your head."

Dan couldn't hold back an edgy laugh. "Hell, all I was askin' for was a week's extension. Now they're ready to spend fifteen thousand dollars on me? No wonder the economy's so screwed up."

"You think this is funny'.?" Susan snapped, and again her voice was thick with emotion. "It's not a damn bit funny!

Your son's gonna always know his father was a killer! You think that's funny, too?"

"No, I don't. But that's why I want to see him. I want to expltin things. I want to see his face, and I want him to see mine.

"There's no way, unless you want to give yourself up Dan."

"Listen ... maybe there is," he said, his shoulder pressed against a wall of rough bricks. "If you're willing, I mean. It depends on you."

A few seconds passed in which Susan made, no response.

"You want to hear the idea?" he urged.

"I can't make any promises."

"Just hear me out. When I hang up, dial that number and tell 'em I called."

"What?"

"Tell 'em they were right. I've got two or three guns and I sound like I'm out of my head. Tell 'em I said I was comin' over to see you as soon as I could get there. Then tell 'em you're afraid to stay in the house and you want to spend the night at a motel."

", "That won't work. They'll know I'm lyin.

"Why will they? They're not watchin' you, they're watching the house. They already believe I'm carrying a load of guns and I'm ravin' mad, so they'll want you to get out.

They'll probably clear the whole block."

"They'd follow me, Dan. No, it wouldn't work."

"It's worth a try. They might send a man to follow you to the motel and make sure you get checked in, but likely as not he won't stay around very long. The only thing is, you've got to make 'em believe you're scared to death of me."

"That used to be true," she said.

"You're not still scared of me, are YOU?"

"No, not anymore."

"All I'm askin' for is five minutes," Dan said. "Then I'm gone."

She paused, and Dan knew he'd said all he could. At last she sighed heavily. "I'll need some time to get a suitcase packed. You want me to call you when we get settled?"

"No, I shouldn't stay where I am and I don't have a phone in my room. Can we meet somewhere?"

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