Authors: David Lyons
Tags: #Horror, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction
“Would you care to come in for a nightcap?” she asked.
“Thank you, no. Perhaps another time. I’ve got a lot to prepare for tomorrow. It’s kind of a make-or-break day for me and your organization. If they don’t like what I give them, it’s au revoir.”
“I think you’ll be with us for a while longer. I’ve put in a good word for you, and I have influence there.” She smiled, leaned forward, and kissed him on the mouth, light but lingering, then drew away. “We’ll have our chance to get to know each other better.”
“I look forward to that.”
At the bottom of her porch he turned. She blew him a kiss before entering and locked the door behind her. It was a short walk to the hotel where he had parked, and where he had begun this delightful evening. He started the ignition on his vehicle and was reaching for the radio to find some jazz.
“Told you she liked you,” Palmetto said. “Where’d she kiss you?”
“On the front porch, you Peeping Tom. I could have you thrown back in jail, you know.”
“You and I are beyond all that now. By the way, I’m sure you realize SEC compliance can be anything but boring.”
“That occurred to me too.”
“So this lady might be an important piece of the puzzle.”
“You were warning me away from her earlier this evening.”
“I just said her meeting you was a pretty strange coincidence. But she seems sincere. I don’t think she’s lying, not that she’s said much yet. Ask her some hard questions. The phone also has a polygraph app.”
“Nope. That one’s going to make its inventor rich, I can tell you. Ask some hard questions.”
“Okay,” Boucher said. Speaking of hard questions, he had one or two of his own and called Malika. He didn’t give a damn if Palmetto was listening, and if that lie-detector thing really worked, well …
Her phone rang and rang. He was just about to hang up. Once again her answer was breathless.
“Have I caught you at a bad time?” he asked.
“Well, I mean no, not really. The phone was in the car and I had to run to catch it.”
“Where are you?”
“Napa Valley. We’re scouting locations. We’d just pulled in to this charming place to do a wine tasting.”
“So you can’t talk.”
He heard her sigh. “What is it, Jock?”
“It’s nothing,” he said. “I shouldn’t have called.”
“It’s just that I’m busy now. I told you that. Can’t this wait till I’m back in New York?”
“Jock, it will have to wait.”
That’s what he missed, he realized. These damned cell phones; clicking them shut was nowhere near as satisfying as slamming down a receiver. Those old phones could really take a beating and were practically indestructible, but these new devices were abysmal failures when it came to relieving one’s anger. He called her right back and planned his speech as he listened to the
of his call ringing through.
he would say,
But the call went unanswered. Jock clicked off his phone, drove home, and took his anger and unresolved issues to bed with him for the night.
OHN PERRY SPENT MOST
evenings in his office, not at home. He got along well enough with his wife—they could spend hours not speaking and thus not annoying each other—but his son drove him nuts. Twenty-two years old, still living at home, and unable to hold a job. Just the sight of him sprawled in front of the TV, unshaven and lethargic, made him want to grab the sloth by the neck and throw him out the back door for good. But Mama defended her boy and berated the father for his insensitivity. “I’m not insensitive, I just can’t stand him,” Perry had told her more than once.
Bert Cantrell had no such domestic problems because he had set a bachelor’s course early in life and had never strayed from his chosen path. He’d spent many a late evening with his business colleague over the years. Many useful ideas, some quite profitable, had come from these sessions. Perry was a big-picture guy, while Bert was all about details. Bert had just explained the gist of the information they’d received from Palmetto.
“So it’s worthwhile?” Perry asked.
“It’s worth a fortune,” Bert responded.
“How long do we keep him around?” Perry asked.
“It depends on what we get next. He’s holding back, that’s obvious; but what he doesn’t know is that I can fill in the gaps. I haven’t exactly been sitting on my hands all these years.”
“I don’t want him around any longer than necessary,” Perry said.
“I don’t like the idea of doing in another judge.”
“They have accidents just like everybody else. Besides, Judge Wundt told me this guy would not be missed.”
“He said that?”
“In so many words,” Perry said. He rose from his desk, taking his empty glass to the bar. He mixed himself a scotch and soda, loosened his tie, and sat on the settee. “Lifetime appointments don’t necessarily guarantee a long life.”
At that moment, Perry’s desk phone rang. He stood up. Walked to his desk and answered his private line. “Hello. . . . You are? . . . That’s great. Good work. Get to know him. Find out whatever you can about him. We’ll discuss it tomorrow. . . . No, my cell phone is in my desk drawer and turned off. I don’t want my wife calling me. Thanks. You too. ’Bye.
“That was Dawn. She’s having dinner with Judge Boucher. That could be useful.”
Perry stood at his desk. It looked like he was staring at a spot on the far wall. “It’s time to fish or cut bait,” he said.
“Meaning I’ve made up my mind. I’ve spent millions over the years bribing regulators and politicians. Just when I’ve got everything set, we get an oil spill, they reacted in their typical knee-jerk fashion and put a moratorium on offshore exploration. Now they’re limiting new leases while they continue to study the cause and effect of the oil spill. That could take years, especially on the East Coast. And now we’ve got this windfall from Palmetto. Well, damn it, I’m not
going to wait any longer. We’re going ahead—over the two-hundred-mile limit, in international waters. I don’t want to make a lot of noise about this. We just do it. I don’t want some damn judge hanging around here and talking about ‘international protocols’ or some shit no one could enforce anyway. We get what he’s got, then he’s gone.”
Bert went to the bar, mixed a drink, and they raised their glasses in a toast. “I’ve been waiting for this for more than twenty years,” he said. “We are about to advance the science of energy exploration more than any company that has ever existed, and we’re going to do it on our own terms.”
Perry raised his glass. Theirs were two egos on a collision course with reality.
Boucher woke early, did a half hour’s worth of calisthenics, fixed himself a pot of coffee, and flipped between CNN and Fox to get their widely varied interpretations of the day’s events. He printed out the latest from Palmetto, showered, dressed, and headed for the office. Dawn was waiting for him. Her smile seemed a little brighter, her welcome a little warmer.
“I enjoyed the evening,” she said.
“Me too.” He walked into his office and remembered what Palmetto had asked him to do. “Dawn, could we get someone in here to move this desk closer to the door? It gets a little too much sun for me where it is now.”
He gave her the file he had brought and she took it down the hall to Cantrell’s office. She was there for some time, and in the interim two men came and moved his desk to his requested spot. He was now a few feet from the door, less than twenty feet from Dawn’s desk, and closer to both Cantrell’s and Perry’s offices. He sat down and his
cell phone vibrated almost immediately. He took it from his pocket, reluctant to answer it. He had a text message. Palmetto approved the new desk location.
Dawn was seated across from Perry’s desk. Bert stood behind him. If they were expecting any scintillating revelations, she thought, they would be disappointed.
“We had drinks, then we went to dinner at Commander’s Palace. He walked me home and that was it. We talked about antiques and stately homes. His house is in the National Registry just like mine.”
“Wasn’t he suspicious that you just bumped into each other?” Bert asked.
“I’m sure he was, at least at first. But I wasn’t lying to him about where I had been, because that’s what happened. He was in my neighborhood, I was on my way home and stopped into a local bar for a drink. There really was a gallery opening, if he cared to check. It was all perfectly natural.”
“Do you think he’ll go out with you again?”
“I think he will,” she said.
“Good,” Perry said. “I want to know what his real agenda is here. Find out.” She was excused.
“Well?” Perry said when she had gone. “What have we got from him this morning?”
“Good stuff. Palmetto’s been busy all these years,” Cantrell said. “He’s filled in some holes in our research, that’s for sure. But I’m thinking with what he’s given us and what we already have, we’re ready. If we’re going to start extraction in international waters, you’re right. We don’t want that judge hanging around our offices.”
Perry said, “Then it’s time to plan the endgame.”
“Let’s get him to the lab,” Cantrell said. “Invite him to observe our testing. A lot of things can happen in a laboratory.”
“That’s an excellent suggestion.”
“I’ll need a little time to get things ready.”
Perry looked at his desk calendar. “How about Friday?”
“Fine. Let me go and talk with him,” Cantrell said. “He’s waiting for me.”
Bert Cantrell bounded into Boucher’s office. He reached his long arm over the desk, offering a handshake.
“We have a deal,” he said, grabbing Boucher’s hand. “Perry has approved your payment and the first installment will be wired today. We’re ready to begin. I’m going to organize some lab tests; test some of the data we’ve received from you. Why don’t you join us? I’m sure you’ll find it interesting.”
“I’m sure I would,” Boucher said. “I’m not finding enough to occupy myself with here, other than moving furniture around.”
“You don’t really have to hang around here, you know. Why don’t you take Miss Fallon to lunch? Celebrate our deal.”
“Talk about an offer I can’t refuse,” Boucher said.
“Great. You two enjoy the afternoon. By the way, John and I will be out of the office tomorrow, so there’s no need for you to come in then either. Friday we’ll show you our lab.”
Cantrell gave him a good ol’ boy slap on the back, which Boucher detested, and returned to his office. Dawn stuck her head in the door.
“Did I overhear him saying that we’ve got the afternoon off?”
“That’s what he said. What’s your pleasure?”
“Lunch wherever you like, then dinner and a movie; my place.”
Boucher looked at his watch. “I’ve got to pick up a couple things,” he fibbed. “Why don’t you meet me in front of the building in half an hour? I drive a gray Ford pickup truck.”
She smiled. “I’ll be waiting.”
He quickly left the office tower. His phone rang as he walked to the parking lot.
“I’m wondering what kind of testing they’re going to show you,” Palmetto said. “Might be our chance to see what they’ve come up with on their own.”
“I’m not going just to satisfy your curiosity,” Boucher said.
“I know. It’s just that . . . oh, never mind. So you’ve got a hot date? A little ‘afternoon delight’? Just remember to ask her some intelligent questions.”
“I’m going to try. But it’s only lunch, not a sworn deposition.”
Dawn was waiting for him in front of the building, attracting the attention of every man walking by. He pulled to the curb and several men stole sideways glances as she folded her long legs into the cab of the truck. She ignored them and closed the door.
“A man’s choice of transportation says a lot about him,” she said as they pulled away.
“What does a used pickup say?”
“Well, first off, a Ford F-150 is not just a pickup. Anyone knows that. It says you look for performance and you want your money’s worth. This is a popular model and has good resale value. But a pickup as your personal vehicle also says you are utilitarian. This is not just transportation. It serves other purposes. I’m trying to guess what use a federal judge with an historic home in the French Quarter would have for a truck. Do you have a garden?”
“Vestiges of one,” he said. “At one time the house was known for its garden. It’s mostly courtyard now, and I have someone who takes care of it. I just decided that I don’t need a backseat and I do sometimes need to haul stuff around. Pretty simple, really; I don’t think it reveals much about me.”
“Give a girl a break. I’m trying to get to know you and I can’t ask about the law or being a judge because you’d lose me in a minute.”
“I’ve got an idea,” Boucher said. “It’s a little early for lunch. Let’s go to my place first, have some coffee in the courtyard, then walk to a restaurant. You have to promise me, though, whatever you think my home reveals about my character, you have to share it. There’s a piece of folk art that I can’t figure out why I bought. Maybe it says something about me.”
Her laugh fluttered in the compartment they shared, a perfect counterpart to the smooth jazz selection playing on the radio. The sun was out and warming the cab enough to invite lowering windows and letting the fullness of the delta air roll over them. In minutes, they were pulling into the driveway of Boucher’s home. Dawn got out and stared.
“I’ve known this house since I was a little girl. This is one of the most beautiful homes in the Quarter.” She turned to face him. “Jock, it’s precious.”
“Precious? What does that say about me?” He smiled and walked from the driver’s side to stand next to her. He saw a familiar car driving slowly past, as Dawn stared at the home’s façade. He walked her up to the porch and was not surprised to hear the phone ringing inside.
“Let me get that,” he said, leaving her standing on the porch.
“How’s it going?” Fitch asked. “Pretty well would be my guess. I didn’t want to call you over to the car and get her curiosity up. It might have spoiled the mood. Considerate of me, don’t you think?”