Read The Knowland Retribution Online

Authors: Richard Greener

Tags: #mystery, #fiction, #kit, #frazier, #midnight, #ink, #locator, #bones, #spinoff

The Knowland Retribution (21 page)

BOOK: The Knowland Retribution
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St. John

“Some things don't need
no argument,” said Ike. “One thing is an argument, the next don't have no argument attached.”

Back in the shadows, at the other end of the bar, Billy repeated a point he'd made several times to no one in particular: “Too many fucking choices. How am I supposed to know?”

He was, in fact, studying a catalog that pictured and described ice-making machines. He already owned two, one in the back just off the kitchen, and a smaller one in front of him under the bar. The second was on the fritz. Once it was Frogman's, now it was past repair.

“It
is
a goddamn argument,” he insisted. “The argument is between which fucking machine I should buy.” He spoke with frank irritation now.

“How so?” asked Walter, drinking his Diet Coke. He'd not ordered lunch. He expected to have some with Isobel, though he'd not yet mentioned her to Billy or Ike.

“Steak,” Ike said to Walter, preempting Billy. “That's one. You grill it. No argument about that.”

“Unless you're a vegetarian,” Walter said.

“That's no argument,” said Ike. “Vegetarians don't like steak grilled, fried, or any way, so that's no argument.”

Walter said, “People who eat vegetables and people who eat steak. They argue all the time.”

“Could be,” said Ike, smoke emerging from just about everywhere. “But that's an argument about one or the other, not about one. You see? You got nothing in common, you got no argument.”

Walter said, “Ike, every question has at least two answers.”

“Well,” said Ike, “then just answer me this. What you like better, fuckin' pigs or goats?”

Billy looked up from his catalog. “Ike, you're crazier every day.”

“Follow me here. Walter? I tell you I like to fuck a goat better. That's my personal preference. What about you?”

Walter turned to face Ike head on. He made his face as straight as a ruler. “I have never fucked a pig or a goat and don't plan to. Therefore, I have nothing to say on that.”

“Then we ain't got no argument. That's my point exactly.” Ike blew a grand cloud of smoke and waved it toward the outside air.

Billy returned to business, “Walter, one's fourteen hundred dollars. The other's two grand.”

“Same size?” asked Walter.

“Yeah.”

“Any other difference between them?”

“Not that I can see.”

“You want to save six hundred bucks?”

“Yeah.”

“Well?”

“Done,” said Billy.

Ike stood and bowed in all directions, basking in his self-appointed victory, then reached inside his shirt pocket to fish out a bent and gnarly butt and hang it from his lower lip, “No argument at all. Why you even got to ask?” He winked at them both and lit the cigarette.

Billy scurried to the register, mumbling something, grabbed the blue chalk, and wrote:

$1400/$2000/No Argument

And he made the chalk squeak extra loud.

St. John

Isobel jumped off the
ferry in blue shorts and a white cotton top with thin straps. Her open sandals showed ten bright red toenails. She pulled a small black travel case on wheels, and carried a brown coat with a fake fur hem and collar. She spotted Ike across the square. The sign above his head said
Billy's
.

She noticed a man lying in the grass in the middle of the square as she crossed. She wondered if he was homeless, or merely tired, or dead as a doornail.

“Hi,” she said to Ike. “I'm Isobel Gitlin.”

It had been a while since a lovely young woman grinned at him that way. He broadened his smile to present his lemon teeth like a row of golden amethysts.

“I'm Ike.” He held out his long, skinny fingers, nicotine-stained, wrinkled by seventy-odd years in the tropical sun. “My very deep and eternal pleasure.” He quickly stood, waving his pink cap above his head like a semaphore.

Ike felt, for an instant, a good deal younger than he was.

“I'm a friend of Walter's.” Isobel took his hand. “He told me to look for you. He told me I could not miss you.”

“I bet he did too,” said Ike. “You can sit out here with me all day, and I'll do the best I can. Buy you a drink too. But if you want to see Walter, he is over there.” He waved his hat toward the far end of the bar.

She slung her coat over her wheelie. “I'm sure we'll have a chance for a drink. I hope so.” Then Isobel made her way through the people packing Billy's. From what she could see the lunch looked awfully good.

When Walter glimpsed her his face must have changed, because Billy, who was removing his empty Diet Coke bottle, dropped his long, heavy jaw, and said, “Walter?”

“You look great.”

She twirled around for Walter to see. “I changed in St. Thomas.”

“I'm glad to see you, whatever you're wearing.”

“St. Thomas is not very pretty. Not like I expected.” She hopped onto the barstool beside him, the one where Tom Maloney had been a couple of months before.

“I thought it was supposed to be some kind of paradise. I guess there may be resorts somewhere.”

“On the other side of the island,” said Walter.

“The cab driver told me I was on the wrong side of the island. To me it looks like Brooklyn. No charm at all. Anyway, I'm starving. They don't feed you on airplanes anymore, do they?”

“Except in first class,” Walter said.

“It was full. I couldn't get in even at full fare.”

Last night's sensation returned; she was definitely . . . different. Unsettled and unsettling. At first, when she turned around for him, she seemed flirtatious. Now, to his disappointment, she was not. She was just nervous.

Isobel ordered a club sandwich and fries. He did too. He watched her gobble it as he picked at his own.

“Anyway, the weather is nice here.” She spoke as she ate.

“How is New York?”

“Miserable. Windy. Cold. Really. Just . . . fucking . . . miserable.”

“You ever miss Fiji?”

“A lot. Sometimes. I miss London too. And Paris a little. I'm half French, but I was never
French
, exactly.”

“How so?”

She went at the sandwich again.

“My mother had this thing about France. I think she really hated it. I bet something terrible happened there but she's never said what. I like to think it may have involved her mother. Not a very nice woman. I'll bet that's why mom went to Fiji. That's why she was so glad about my father. She was a nurse. She worked in Fiji although she didn't have to. She's retired now. We had a house in Paris. I spent some time there when I was little. Americans think the French don't like them. That is certainly true. But it's the English they really despise.”

“You always liked London better than Paris?”

“Indeed, sir. I did and still do.” No village sing-song there. She spoke her father's English.

“And Fiji most of all?”

“Fiji is heaven. The politics are rotten, of course. Where aren't they? But Walter, the Pacific—it's blue and clean and endless, not like this dirty shithole Atlantic, filthy and polluted to the bottom. Not here, I mean,” she said, seeing the hurt in his face. “It's beautiful here. But the North Atlantic doesn't compare. There's no better place in the world than Fiji. No fucking better place.”

Her expression changed in mid-sentence. She put her food down.

“I met him.”

“I know. You told me last night.”

She nodded.

“Tell me everything,” he said.

“I will. It's very complicated. He sent me another letter telling me—”

“Not here. Finish up and let's go.”

Billy leaned over the bar. He watched Walter and Isobel leave. Then he waved to get Ike's attention, but Ike only shrugged his shoulders and turned to see the two walk out of sight.

Billy shook his head and picked up a bar rag for which he had no particular use.

St. John

When cold weather comes
to Connecticut, Grosse Pointe, or Georgetown, some pack up and head for St. John. Having tried it once, they may do so again. If they rent the same house two or three winters in a row, they are very likely to buy, and thus become one kind of local—the kind who maintain a northern home as well. The other locals live on St. John all year. Walter's Chicago apartment did not disqualify him admission to the second group.

Naturally, Ike belonged to the latter class: not rich like some of the full-time retirees, former snowbirds from here and there. But not by any means poor. He'd always been a worker, an entrepreneur and a saver like everyone in his extended clan. He didn't care at all what he looked like, but Ike watched his balances closely, with eyes like magnifying glasses.

Despite the moderate temperatures, Ike disliked this time of year because of the crowds. They turned Billy's into a madhouse. Billy's first-rate kitchen did not help. Nor did his well-stocked bar. The tourists wanted Billy's signature drink. It was called the “Bushwacker,” a word locals also used in place of “tourist”
to indicate the absence of respect and affection.

Except for lunchtime, when he preferred to sit outside and sneer at the Bushwhackers' colorful get-ups, the staff knew to keep Ike's table free even while he was out stretching his legs—a few yards this way, a few yards that—or in the back relieving himself, which could be a prolonged affair. His table was his until he announced that he was gone for the day. He didn't drive anymore, not at his age, and he couldn't walk very far. But one of his many grandsons was always somewhere around, ready to take him wherever he wanted. Grandson Roosevelt drove him most often, but today he was on another island attending to family business. Walter and Billy were never sure they knew all of Ike's family businesses. Ike himself was long since retired. Grandson Kennedy picked him up at Billy's soon after Walter and Isobel left. When Billy first arrived on St. John, he asked Walter if Ike's whole family had been named after dead Presidents. “Not the girls,” Walter said.

Now Ike was back. He liked to walk in on his own, so Kennedy dropped him off to the side of the square. Ike shuffled into Billy's with the slow, elegant step that seemed to most a matter of choice. Jenna, a nineteen-year-old waitress from Indianapolis who'd been at Billy's almost a year now, said, “Hey,” and looked toward his table, agreeably free of colonists.

“Seen Walter?”

“No.” She had Ike's usual in hand, and set it onto one of Billy's fancy new bevel-edged coasters.

“Billy,” he called out. “Where's Walter?”

“Beats me.” Billy was boisterous with the huge success of the lunchtime shift. “Where's Jimmy Hoffa, Judge whatshisname, or the guys who really killed OJ's wife? They ain't here neither, in case you need to know.”

Ike exchanged sympathetic glances with Jenna. He raised his glass to her and she smiled before moving on to other more profitable
duties.

Ike saw Billy sending him a long, significant glance across the room. It said, “I make it a hundred to one they been fucking their brains out all day long.” It also said, “What do you think?”

Ike fixed his mouth to turn his smile down at the sides. He did this to reinforce the silent message he sent back to Billy. The message was this: “More chance you fucked three different goats during lunchtime!”

In this kind of situation, Billy accepted Ike's “no argument” rule. These small subtleties mystified Billy, but Ike always seemed to get them straight.

At that moment Walter and Isobel were dissecting Isobel's meeting with Leonard Martin. In terms of method, they picked up where they'd left off in New York. That process exhilarated Isobel. It was what she'd tasted in Oxford, savored in Annapolis, quickly given up on at the
New York Times
: a truly pure collaboration; a protracted scientific conversation in words; an authentic treasure hunt of the mind—unencumbered by emotion; tightly disciplined. That was the word: “disciplined.” This time, of course, there was an added element, a kind of secret. But it was metaphysical to the issue; strictly a preface to the play, nothing to do with the action; nothing to do with who, where, what. It was, in fact, about herself, nothing to do with, not precisely about, the business at hand. Certainly not the kind of thing to throw in the mix just now. Isobel kept her secret secret.

The magic was in the rhythm of the thing. Each led until it was time to switch; both knew exactly when that time arrived. As Isobel had the new information, Walter led with questions most of the time. When something came up that gave her a sense of direction, she led for as long as that lasted. Most of what they said was questions and answers, or back-and-forth construction of ideas. Parallel issues and brainstorm items got noted, or just remembered, and put to the side, then brought into play when a line of discussion had run its course. Things used to go that way with her father until he lost patience or interest. There were times she thought the Moose had potential.

Walter's focus was single-minded; he wanted clues to help him find Leonard. If he could not see how a fact or a thought would get him there, he put it aside for later discussion, if Isobel wished, but not for immediate scrutiny. Isobel could only report that Leonard had refused to talk about the past two years. He only wanted to lay out his case. They spent some time on that. They went over the four targets Leonard had named for Isobel, and his brief against each. They went over and over each one. But Walter said he was suspicious; for all they knew, Leonard had mixed in details designed to mislead. His purpose was to not get caught—or help Isobel prevent another crime. All Leonard had to do was give details after the fact, as he'd already done in letter two, which saved Harlan Jennings. Walter wasn't sure why Leonard wanted to meet her at all. Leonard knew she would publish the points he wanted made. He'd already given her journalistic presence. Why should Leonard doubt that she'd continue to serve? He had other ways to plead his case for preventing false convictions: via e-mail, snail-mail, telephone, throwaway cell phone—many safer ways. Why risk a meeting at all? It baffled him. And why the blindfold? Why refuse to acknowledge his identity absolutely? Leonard's lawyerly explanation did not sell with Walter. When he asked Isobel, she shook her head, returned his searching look, proclaimed with her eyes that she only wished she could offer an explanation.

Ganga Roy's complete report was on the disc Leonard gave Isobel, together with her notes and written comments about the rancorous, ominous meeting in Nathan Stein's office. They printed out two copies and each of them worked from their own. What Leonard told Isobel about Ganga Roy's revelations, what they could plainly read for themselves, and what Tom Maloney confided in Walter did not jibe. They spent an hour on those points of difference, talked about Ganga Roy's notes—her presentation and observations—and speculated briefly on the inner struggle that very likely ended in suicide. Walter never assumed that Tom Maloney had been fully truthful. He allowed as much for every client. The Roy materials helped him draw a more confident picture of where Tom lied. What else had been a lie? Walter kept thinking about Maloney saying, “How do I make the check out, Sister?”

They went over and over Isobel's “kidnap” and interview. She repeated the story twice from beginning to end, printout in hand, original notebook next to her. Isobel told Walter how she told Leonard Martin she knew who he was—even repeating her assertion that she couldn't see him—and of his refusal to admit his identity. Despite that, they spoke of details exclusive to Leonard's experience. There was no doubt in her mind that she met with and spoke to Leonard Martin. When Isobel described her pique at being felt up by the driver, something seemed to flash in Walter's eyes. Something boyish . . . jealousy? That did not seem right, anyway, not enough. “Do you
know
who that guy
was
?” she asked again.

Walter did not respond. Given the rhythm they'd established, his hesitation signaled a moment. She felt it. Probably he did too. “Do you know who Kermit is?” she said.

“Maybe.” Walter said.

She gave him what she intended to be a curious, dissatisfied look. Then a series of unconnected thoughts brought Laticia's voice to mind and she knew
that
must be leading somewhere.

“The b-bloody canyon!” she squeaked.

“Canyon?” His face made it clear that he knew she had something. She had the thrilling sensation of something approaching a boil.

“I think we should look at the guns. It's something we know, something we actually have. Jennings was a shooter. So is Leonard. They have to use a firing range. Laticia said you can't shoot off guns wherever you please.”

Walter picked it up. “Some of Leonard's rifles have a range of fifteen hundred yards or more. He killed Hopman from four hundred fifty yards. Who knows how far out on Lake Mead he was?”

“Locate the ranges. We narrow the whole thing down. Ranges or wherever else he could practice undetected.”

“You can buy those weapons on the net. They're expensive. The Holland & Holland double rifle goes for about twenty-seven thousand dollars,” said Walter.

“The other stuff, the equipment he left for me, it's all top of the line, six, eight, ten thousand dollars apiece. How do you get things like that? If people see things like that they remember. We work it from the guns, where they came from, where they went. Can we find that?”

Walter said, “They're not as hard to get as you might think, but he's not walking in and buying this sort of equipment over the counter.
He must have a shipping point, a drop, maybe even a dummy name. Wherever that is, that's where you'll find the firing range. Unless—”

“Unless what?”

“Unless he's been using his own range. Unless he's got open space. He bought that hut in Jamaica. Maybe that isn't the only place he bought.”

“You mean someplace where he's been living?”

Walter was nodding, trying as hard as he knew how to rid himself of a nagging doubt. “Everyone has to live somewhere,” he said quickly, adding, “you have to avoid making judgments, Isobel, coming to conclusions based on speculation. Speculation is good, but only if it leads you in one direction or another. Eventually there has to be evidence. Physical evidence. Something you can see and touch. Something real. Work with what you know, not what you think you know. You never get everything right all the time. Errors happen, but if you have a starting point that's beyond question—you go back and take another turn. And what do we have that's beyond question? The guns. We have the guns. Begin with the guns. Nice going.” Walter leaned back in his chair, a visible sense of relaxation having come over him. Isobel saw
it. She imagined this to be the work product of a man who's been through this very process many times. The effect on her was exactly the opposite. She was exhilarated.

“Now tell me about the other thing,” she said, her excitement spilling out with her words. “Kermit.”

“I already did. I only said maybe.”

“Are you going to make me guess? I'm the one who got abused.” She tried to work up some indignation but couldn't quite bring it off. She tried a smile, but Walter was serious now.

“It's just the way I work,” Walter said. “Some things I keep to myself.”

“I tell you everything I know.” Her eyes grew wide, implying hurt. She hadn't forgotten about her secret, but she had convinced herself it didn't count.

“I tell you too,” he said. He meant that he shared everything he
knew
, and that was true, but not everything he
thought
.

Like Sherlock Holmes, whom he read soon after getting into this business, often behind warehouse crates, Walter made a practice of drawing no conclusions, and certainly sharing no half-baked ones, until he had sufficient facts in hand. The revelation that Sherlock Holmes observed this rule lent grandeur to what had been a chafing, sometimes desperate need. Walter had left Vietnam, but had Vietnam left him? His mother saw the root of it as soon as he got back. Or maybe she heard the screaming in his head. She demonstrated her love by keeping her distance; allowing him to do the same. His work—finding people—eased his troubles.

His clients craved privacy, but Walter craved it even more. His work not only gave him a living, it allowed him to hold on to his secrets. And when he finally found whoever it was he was looking for, everything was all right again. No one held the secrets against him because he'd helped; he'd done the work.

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