Friday, June 13, 2008

BIG MONEY, Chapter 45

Bluefish and I smoke Punch Habanas inside a steel-walled dungeon a mile or two from the country club. Golf, booze, leather recliners, and cigars. Next he’ll want to call some girls.

Bluefish, my buddy in unproductive pursuits.

On the outside, this place looked like his Branchtown horse farm’s flat-roofed tack room, recently whitewashed, with two windows facing the big estate’s house and stables. Inside, however, there are no windows. Plus, the gray-metal floor and walls, the way the heavy door clicks like a Federal Reserve bank vault...well, they give this room the utilitarian feel of a steel rabbit trap. A private kill zone that regularly needs hose-downs.

“When the door’s shut and the alarm’s set, electronic devices can’t send, receive, or record signals in here,” Bluefish says. “Like the commercial says, what happens here, stays here.”

Wonder if Ms. Strawberry’s people are really shut out? If so, true privacy facilitates new possibilities for me. “Jerry checked me before we played golf,” I say. “Including my fillings. I’m not wearing any wires.”

“Of course you’re not,” he says. “But I figure in the course of a private and friendly discussion, when I could admit to say, extortion, kidnapping, or even intended murder, why take chances?”

I nod. “Good point.”

“I figure the F.B.I. or that state-cop Chapman could have some kind of miniaturized shit Jerry couldn’t find, something my so-called experts never heard about.”

“I suppose.”

“Not that I’m callin’ you a liar.”

“Of course not.”

“Anyways. In here, I feel free to discuss whatever.”

“But if they did put some kinda miniaturized wire-thing like that on me, wouldn’t they already have heard you and Jerry kill Al?”

Bluefish removes the cigar from his mouth. “You mean that gunshot? You barfing?”

I blink. Is that all Franny’s implant picked up? Maybe also Bluefish saying, Let’s go see? Shit.

“My pal Jerry killed a rabbit,” Bluefish says. “And if they dig up what’s buried in that clearing near the eighteenth hole, a shot-dead rabbit’s exactly what they’ll find. Our former friend Al ran off the eighteenth green instead of paying off his bet. Cheap bastard. We may never see him again.”

I try not to look disappointed, but this means Captain Strawberry still has nothing she can use against Bluefish. Nothing but me. “Why’d you kill him? Not just to frighten me, I hope.”

Bluefish sucks the mid-size Punch. “Like your former coworker Ragsdale, Fat Al is a degenerate gambler. Ran up his debts but couldn’t pay off. He had it coming. Plus, I wanted to remind you that violence is part of my world, not yours.”

He leans back and blows a fine stream of Cuban cigar smoke straight up. Like a volcano. “So what’s it gonna be, Carr? You playing for my team now?”

“Excuse me?”

“You know what I’m asking. Nothing’s changed.”

“Oh, plenty’s changed. You kidnapped my daughter.”

He twists the cigar in his mouth, savoring the smooth wet tobacco. He makes it dirty, like a sex show in Tijuana. “Exactly. Now you have to do business with me.”

God damned bastard. I swear I could beat him to death with a nine-iron. “Beth is all right?”

“She’s fine. Now tell me what you’re going to say to the state grand jury about Mama Bones? What did you already tell Chapman about me?”

I stare into Joseph “Bluefish” Pepperman’s ebony gaze, a look that recalls the glass eyes in that trophy fish over the bookie’s bed. Shiny black marbles. Sightless and dead. Not the kind of man you really want to do business with.

But I think I must. For Beth. And Ms. Strawberry not listening makes my betrayal a whole lot easier.

“Let Beth go, I’ll say whatever you want in front of the grand jury. I give you my word.”

I’m driven back to the golf course and my Camry by Bluefish’s attorney, Jano Johanson, a cosmopolitan Viking with long red hair, a full red beard. He just asked me where I’m going to be later “in case your daughter is located quickly.”

I should lay this redhead out, get his three-thousand-dollar suit dirty with parking lot dust. Officer of the court, my ass. Bluefish’s Norseman raider is more like it. But getting Beth back safely can be my only priority, and rocking the Norseman’s longboat is not a particularly aces idea now that I’ve made a deal with his boss.

“I’m headed back to protective custody,” I say.

“You’re a suspect or a material witness?” Jano says.

“I don’t know.”

He laughs. “Pal, I suggest you get yourself some legal representation.”

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