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42

Wylie Branch always stood with one hip cocked and arms akimbo and head back, eyes slightly lidded, as though about to go for a quick draw; except that the holster on his right hip contained a walkie-talkie instead of a six-gun. He held that stance now, neat enough in his tan chief of security uniform, and looked out the picture window of cottage number one at the Battle-Lake, where tourists stood around with their mouths open, imitating the fish in the water, and watched one another throw perfectly good coins into the lakes shallow depths. Well, he said, Earl Radburn may have his brains in his hindquarters, but hes right about that effin lake.

Behind him, Brandon Camberbridge had been roving restlessly around the cottage, fussy and picky, not only a nellie but a nervous nellie, his reflection flickering across the glass in front of Wylie like the ghost of Franklin Pangborn, but now he came forward to present his fretful profile to Wylie as he also looked out at the lake. Oh, Wylie, he said. We cant disturb the lake.

Its a dang security nightmare, Wylie told him.

But its so beautiful, Brandon said. Its a perfect part of paradise.

Sooner or later, Wylie said, its gonna have to get shut down for a while anyhows, drained, cleaned out, spiffed up. So why not do it now? Anybody asks, its just regular maintenance.

Thursday, Brandon said, counting days on his fingers, starting with today, progressing from there, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday. The big cheese isnt going to get here for four more days, Wylie. You want that beautiful lake turned into a dry quagmire for a week?

Quagmires arent dry, Wylie said.

You know what I mean.

You mean you want everything pretty, Wylie accused him. You mean you dont care if the head cheese, or whatever you call him

Big cheese, Wylie, please.

You dont care if the big boss comes here and gets robbed or wounded or worse, just sos your little kingdom stays pretty.

Thats unfair, Wylie, Brandon said, and he looked briefly as though he might cry. You know Im doing everything in my power to see to it the big cheese is protected, but I do not see how draining our beautiful lake is going to do one single thing to help in that way at all.

Wylie sighed, and shifted position, to stand with the other hip cocked. Earl Radburn, head of security for the entire TUI and a tightass pain in the butt if there ever lived one, had been and come and gone and went, leaving Wylie in charge of security for Max Fairbankss upcoming visit. Hed also left beefed-up security behind him, in the form of a bunch of beefed-up security guards, extra ones from other parts of the TUI empire, now temporarily under Wylies orders, so that Wylie knew for sure and certain, if anything did happen to go wrong during the Fairbanks stay, it would be his own head that would roll as a result and not Earl Radburns, and certainly not this goddam faggot next to him.

Wylie didnt particularly want his head to roll. He liked it here. He liked his job, he liked the authority he held over other employees, he liked the first-rate salary he hauled in, he liked banging the bosss wifethat Nell, whenever she wasnt away on one of her eternal shopping and shagging trips all over these United States of America, was a real tigress in Wylies rack, not getting much by way of satisfaction from the pansy shed married in a moment of inattentionand he didnt want to have to give it all up just so this self-same pansy could go on gazing at his goddam fake lake.

But it wasnt an argument Wylie was going to win, he could see that now, so the hell with it, theyd just have to line the goddam lake with beefy security men the whole time Fairbanks was here, whether Brandon Camberbridge liked it or not, and hope for the best. In the meantime, there was no point pressing the issue any more, so Wylie shut his trap and squinted out at the tourists, imagining them all as armed desperadoes in disguise. Hmmmmm; some of those were awfully damn good disguises.

Wait a second. Wylie squinted more narrowly, this time for real. That fella there ...

He did his quick draw after all, bringing up the walkie-talkie, thumbing Send, saying, One to Base. One to Base.

Brandon, jumpy as a schoolgirl at a Hells Angels picnic, said, Wylie? Whats wrong?

Base. Whats up, Wylie?

Thayer, Wylie said, recognizing the voice through the walkie-talkies distortion, we got a doubtful on the east walk, just south of the lake, before the cottages.

Wide-eyed, Brandon whispered, Wylie? Is it him? Which one is it?

More importantly, the walkie-talkie said, in Thayers voice, I got two guys right near there. What are they lookin for?

Midforties, Wylie said, observing that lurker out there. Six foot, one-eighty, Caucasian, light blue shirt, wrinkled gray pants. Hands in pockets. Hangdog look.

Got it.

Ten-four, Wylie said, and holstered the walkie-talkie with one smooth motion of his arm.

Brandon, meanwhile, whod picked out the object of Wylies attention from the description, was now staring at the lurker, who continued to lurk. Wylie? That fellow? You dont think hes the one were looking for, do you?

Not for a second, Wylie assured him. No. What I think that fella is is a dip.

Oh, come on, Wylie, Brandon said. You see criminals everywhere. That out there is just your normal depressed family man, thats all.

Then wheres his family?

In the pool, maybe.

Hes hangin around this same area, Ive been watchin him twenty minutes, Wylie said. He isnt with nobody else. He is not a vacationer. He isnt a homeless, because he doesnt look at the money in the lake.

None of that, Brandon said, makes him a pickpocket.

Hes a undesirable, Wylie said, lets just put it that way. And he nodded in satisfaction as the two beefy security men appeared, bracketing the lurker without appearing to notice him at all. So well just move him along, Wylie said.

Brandon, frowning at the fellow out there on the curving sloping walk, surrounded by all the open-mouthed families in their gaudy vacation finery, sighed at last and nodded his concurrence. He doesnt, he admitted, look much like a customer.


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