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22

IT SEEMED LIKE SEVEN YEARS AGO, in another life, coming out to bright sunlight to see Nolen in a lounge with a beer can resting on his chest, sandals and black socks V-ed as though he was sighting on that tanker bound for Port Everglades.

Moran said, Well, here we are.

Nolen said, squinting through his sunglasses, You want me to go first? All right. I waited in the bar out by Ninety-five all afternoon and Jiggs never called, so I came home. Thats my story and Im sticking to it. Whats yours?

I was wondering, Moran said, if you had any lemons.

Nolen waited for that to make sense to him and decided it didnt matter. Yeah, I got some lemons.

And Ive got a blender, Moran said. You didnt know that, did you? Ill get em when I pick up your trash. But Im not gonna make your bed. He walked off toward the office saying, I dont do beds.

Jerry was behind the counter looking through the mail delivery. Moran came around and pulled a black plastic trash bag from a Hefty box, Jerry saying, Well, look at this. He handed Moran a letter. Notice the postmark. Sosua, Rep. Dom. Is that anybody we know?

Moran put the folded trash bag under his arm and opened the letter with a strange feeling, knowing it was from Luci Palma, the girl who used to run across rooftops one page of ruled paper neatly handwritten, though each line rose on a slight angle, up and away and he thought, She hasnt changed. He read it standing there and put the letter in his shirt pocket when he finished. The letter made him feel good and at another time he would have read it to Jerry. But not now. He said to Jerry, You call de Boyas again?

He still isnt back. Maid says they havent seen him since yesterday. I called the Coral Gables Police, but they wouldnt tell me anything. Kept asking who I was, so I hung up.

They get a lot of calls like that, Moran said. How about that Trans-Am?

Still parked down the street.

Jerry, you dont have to stay around

He said, If I thought coming here was work, George, I wouldnt be doing it. Im your police contact, arent I?

You sure are. You got the number handy?

I know it by heart.

Cause I might only say Jerry but thats what itll mean. Call em quick.

They know my voice, Jerry said. As Moran went out he said, Take her easy now. Dont do nothing dumb.

Moran said, I keep trying not to.

Nolen took a sip of beer, turned his head enough to see Moran come out of the office unfolding a trash bag and go into Number Five with the passkey. Nolen yelled over, In the fridge! Hey, and bring a beer!

Moran came out within a couple minutes, the trash bag hanging weighted now with beer cans and whatnot, the sack of lemons and a cold one he handed Nolen. Nolen took it and popped it open to hold the two cans now on his chest, soothing the erratic action of his heart.

He said, The last time I saw you, George, you stormed out of here, determination flashing in your eyes. I guess you didnt get shot, did you?

Moran said, No, but I bet somebody did. De Boya never came home. Hasnt been seen since he drove off in his Rolls.

Nolen took a drink of beer. With police swarming all over the place.

I thought you didnt talk to Jiggs.

George, if Im inconsistent, whats the difference? Were just gonna lie to each other anyway. He raised his head and took a long sip from the other can.

You drink two at once? You been putting it away lately, Moran said, havent you?

Jesus, you sound like my wife.

Is that right? I didnt know you were married.

Three times. You sound like any one of em, Nolen said. I got to win soon, man, get the fuck outta here. You make me nervous, feel like Im being watched.

Well, there could be truth to that, Moran said. You know that Cuban you say wears sunglasses at night and drives a Donzi?

Nolen squinted in the sunlight, adjusting his own glasses. What about him?

Does he also drive a Trans-Am, black one with the hood flamed red and gold? Hes parked in front of the Nautilus, next door, and if he isnt watching you then hes watching me. Moran half-turned to look toward the beach. Theres another one out there on an army blanket getting a Cuban suntan with all his clothes on. Your pal Jiggs doesnt care for em, but he sure uses em, doesnt he? Like the Mendozas, Rafi. He seems to use everybody he can.

Dont, Nolen said. You played that one to death.

Moran said, Remember the day you came here? We started talking about the D.R. and how some trooper across the Ozama almost killed me with a one-oh-six?

It was the next day, Nolen said. We didnt talk much the first day. I registered and asked you where all your palm trees were. You wouldnt give me a deal on a room.

But I did right after. You were trailing Anita de Boya and the piano player.

I wonder if shes getting much these days.

You were making a halfway honest living.

Not bad. But living by your wits gets tiresome.

Then you met Jiggs Scully. He still as funny as you thought he was?

Nolen stared for several moments. He said, George, the last thing I want is to see you get hurt. Will you do me a favor?

Lets talk about it in the house, Moran said, while I whip up some sours. What do you say? He started to go and looked at Nolen again, taking the letter from his pocket. Guess who I heard from? Here, read it. Moran walked toward his house with the lemons and the trash bags.

Nolen puts his beers down and opened the letter.

Dear George Moran (Cat Chaser!!!):

Was that really you who was in Santo Domingo looking for me? At first I thought it was a lot of far fetch to think you would come here but then I think no it is something the Cat Chaser would do. (I got your address from the hotel) I am married now and have five big childrens going to school. I bet you dont know who I married. He is the one you shot and became wounded on the roof of the building that time. His name is Alejo Valera. He is a salesman of insurance and is also the manager of the Sosua baseball team. After that war he went to the training camp of the Cincinnati Reds but came home to play baseball here. He is very good. He say to tell you he is glad you did not kill him or we would not be married together and have our family. Well I must close this letter. I wish I had seen you but maybe some other time when you come. I tell people I know you and how brave you were in the war. You did not sit behind the barricades. You came to find us. I am very glad I did not shoot you. Do you still like the Rolling Stones? I like the Moody Blues now very much. Please come to see us.

Affectionately,

Luci Palma de Valera

Nolen straddled a stool at the counter, contemplating the foamy pitcher of whiskey sours, wiping froth from his mouth with the back of his hand. Much better in the blender. All the difference in the world, he said and slid his glass toward Moran behind the counter for a refill.

Tangy, isnt it?

Perfect, Nolen said, for getting that morning goatshit taste outta your mouth. How many eggs you put in?

One to a blender, Moran said.

Yeah, four makes it too heavy. I overdid it. Which is nothing new, I guess. I figure Ive got about two years before I land in the weeds and have to join AA. You get to that point your choice is lead a clean life or die.

Why wait, Moran said, if you know its coming?

Im trying to get in all the fun I can.

Yeah, Ive noticed what a good time you been having.

Well, shit, I try. Nolen thought of something as he took a drink and said, Hey, that was a nice letter. Luci sounds like a winner. That part, she thought it was a lot of far fetch. Nolen grinning, nodding, being a regular guy. That was a long time ago, wasnt it? Down there in the D.R. Not knowing shit what was going on. But I had a pretty good time, you know it? Even though I only got laid once and had to take penicillin for it. Come back with a dose and my trusty Forty-five. I used to fire it from up on that grain elevator. For fun, not hit anything.

Moran said, How about if I buy it off you?

George-Nolen took off his sunglasses to look squarely at Moran-now we get down to it. I started to say to you outside, do me a favor. Use your head before its too late. You have de Boyas money? Leave it over there in oceanfront Number One where you got your lady hiding and take off. Get far away from here.

Moran said, Howd you know shes there?

The guy in the Trans-Am, Santos, was into B and E at one time. He snuck around here last night listening at doors. Its my guess if he heard anything it was in Number One and Im right, thats where you got her, isnt it? Nolen seemed proud of himself.

Jiggss coming for sure, uh?

You bet he is.

How much you want for the gun?

Its not for sale. Im telling you-you know all about how to take it and run; well, this time you gotta leave it and run.

Moran opened a drawer on his side of the counter. He brought out a packet of hundred-dollar bills secured with a money strap, a narrow paper band, and placed it in front of Nolen.

Nolen said, Jesus Christ, and seemed afraid to touch it. How much is that?

Ten thousand, Moran said.

Nolens gaze came up, a solemn expression, mouth partly open. You did it, didnt you? Jesus, you really did it.

If that isnt enough

Moran reached into the drawer again, brought out another packet of inch-thick hundreds and laid it on top of the first one.

Hows that?

Youre crazy.

Moran reached to take back the money.

Ill go get the piece, Nolen said.

I already have, Moran said. When I picked up the trash. Its loaded, isnt it? Full clip?

Yeah but George, dont try and be a hero, okay? You wouldnt have a chance. That mans a pro, its what he does.

It gives me a little more confidence, Moran said, thats all. I dont feel so helpless.

Nolen was looking at the money again, almost in a daze. He said, You really did it, huh? A wistful tone, subdued. Will you tell me something?

Maybe, Moran said.

How much you get? Both suitcases.

No, Im not gonna tell you that, Moran said. It isnt any of your business. It isnt any of mine either, when you get right down to it.

Your lady walked out of the house with it, didnt she? Nolen said, watery eyes showing the pleasure of it. Where can I get me one like her? Walked right out past her husband, Jiggs, everybody. Of course with you there to help.

I didnt do much, Moran said. But Im looking after her best interest now. You understand Im not gonna see anything happen to her. He watched Nolen touch the packets, finally pick them up and feel them, fingers gracefully playing along the edges, riffling the stiff new bills. Nolen?

What?

Whens Jiggs coming?

He said around noon. He said hed set things up then get his eight hours and have a late breakfast. Then hell stop by. Thats how he said it, like its a business call.

Whatre you supposed to do?

Act dumb. Tell you I dont know anything, where Jiggs is or what hes doing, Nolen said. But if you look like youre getting ready to leave Im supposed to tell you he phoned and wants to see you for a minute, have a quiet talk.

What do you do when he comes?

Exit. Hes on then.

Nolen?

What?

Wheres de Boya?

Nolen took a sip of whiskey sour and said without looking at Moran, Hes dead. Sos Corky. Nolens gaze came up slowly now. Jiggs made them take their clothes off and get in the shower, both at once. Then he shot them.

Because they didnt have the money?

He didnt even know it till after. He was so sure.

Were you there?

When he did it? No, I came later.

Wherere they now?

Still in the shower. Place west of Lauderdale, out in the country.

You dont suppose hes looking to make a deal, Moran said, when he says he wants to talk.

No, thats not Jiggs, Nolen said. But he does have to talk to you, find out for sure you have the money and where it is. After that hell kill you. Thats why Im saying leave it, forget the whole thing. You run with the money-it wouldnt work, Im telling you. Nolen was emphatic now. A woman like Mary de Boya, wheres she gonna hide? The cops, once they find her husband, theyll be looking for her anyway. You see what I mean? It doesnt matter where she goes Jiggsll be hanging around, threaten her till she pays up. So get it over with now, leave it. Nolen looked at his watch. Weve got lessn an hour.

Moran said, You on our side now?

Nolen said, George, come on. You know where I am. Nowhere. The idea, score off a guy like de Boya, it sounded great, worth the risk. But I saw him in that shower, man I got sick and you know what Jiggs did? He patted my back while I threw up on two guns down in the toilet, telling me hed take care of me. I wanted, today, I wanted to look like I was helping him but tell you to get out and then disappear, go to L.A. and get lost among the weirdos and hope to Christ I never make a name for myself. You said it the other day, George, Im in a no-win deal.

Moran said, What if we call the cops?

And what? Nolen said. He sees cops he waits. The only way, youd have to have em hiding in the closet when he takes his gun out and then pray theyre quick.

Moran thought about it, picturing Jiggs standing in the living room. He sure likes to talk, doesnt he? Goes on and on.

He puts you half-asleep, Nolen said, telling you stories. Like a fucking spell he puts over you.

No, he never rushes into it, Moran said, he gives you time to think.

Thiss the first time in my life, Nolen said, Im gonna suggest we leave whats in the blender and get the hell out.

Moran said, Stay there, walked around the counter and said, Mary?

She came out of the bedroom, her expression composed, eyes moving to Nolen to see him getting off the stool, surprised. She said, Can you tell me exactly where Andres is?

Nolen said, I thought you were over in Number One. Youve been right here all the time?

I wanted you to feel free to talk, be yourself, Moran said. You said the place was west of Lauderdale.

Yeah, like a farmhouse. Off Eighty-four.

Mary nodded, almost to herself. I think I know where it is. Near the airport.

Moran said, Lets wait a little while before we tell the police.

But if you cant deal with him, Mary said, showing concern now as she looked at Nolen. Isnt that right?

Nolen shook his head. I wouldnt even think about it.

I just want to ask him something, Moran said. Alone.


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