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MAC SAID, BUDDY? Whad we stop here for? Here was the road along the periphery of Monroe Halls estate. Everything to the left of the road belonged to Hall. The guardshack entrance was about a mile and a half behind them. Buddy had pulled off where the shoulder was wide, and across the way was the end of the former tomato farm, now reverted to weeds, with the untouched woods just starting to its right.

Buddy said, Look at that place. Not a gate around. You could just walk in there.

The wire, Mac said.

Buddy, sounding bedeviled, said, I know, I know.

As usual, Buddy drove, Mac in back. Now Ace, beside Buddy, frowned at him and said, Buddy? You got an idea?

I dont know. Buddy glared at the peaceful empty field over there as though trying to read too-small print. The wires are too close together, he said.

Mac said, We know that.

We dont have a plane, Buddy said, and nodded. And we cant get one, I know that.

Good, Mac said.

Buddy said, Could we pole-vault over it?

Not me, Ace said.

Mac said, Buddy, did you do pole vault in high school?

I dont think we had pole vault, Buddy admitted.

Mac said, You wanna try to learn pole vault now, at your weight

Whadaya mean, my weight?

You know what I mean. Any of our weight, but youre the one wants to pole-vault. You figure youll get over that electric wire and not fly into it three feet off the ground like the Wright brothers

I could train, Buddy said. We could all train.

Tonto go home now, Ace said.

Mac said, I could hold your coat, Buddy. And I could take you to the emergency room after you land.

Buddy, exasperated, said, Now, who the hell is this?

Its me, Buddy, Mac, your friend, and Im trying to

No, this little white car behind us.

So Mac twisted around, and behind them, just off the road, had parked a little white two-seater Porsche. As Mac focused on it, both doors opened, and Mark and Os stepped out, dressed in their usual suits and sunglasses and supercilious expressions. Hey, its Harvard, he said.

Buddy said, I still say Dartmouth.

Anyway, Mac said, as their two alleged co-conspirators approached their Taurus, we know theyre not Oklahoma Normal.

This time, without an invitation, Mark and Os simply joined them, opening both rear doors, Mark sliding in on Macs right, Os on his left. Fortunately, the new arrivals were both slender, so it wasnt too crowded back there. Weve had a thought, Mark said, by way of greeting.

Weve had a lot of thoughts, Mac told him.

Oh, really?

We were here now goin over the last of them. Pole vault.

Ah, Mark said. We considered that one, as well. But its not so good on the follow-through.


Let us say, Mark suggested, that one of us, or for that matter all of us, are athletic enough to pole-vault over the fence, landing in absolute safety on the far side. Do you know what happens next?

Something bad we didnt think about, Mac guessed.

Os said, The pole keeps going. It hits the fence. It breaks the wire.

Mark shook his head. No way to stop it.

Ace said, How do you like that, Mac? Your catapult idea was better after all.

Catapult? Surprised, Mark said, No, thats one we didnt think of. On the other hand, youd hit the ground at rather an unacceptable speed, wouldnt you?

We rejected it already, Mac said.

Quite sensibly. In fact, Mark said, weve noticed that you havent come up with anything consistently except to keep very close tabs on our friend the personal trainer.

Mac said, Youve noticed?

Excited, Buddy said, Ive seen that white car, Mac! They been following us.

In reality, Mark said, unruffled, weve all been following the personal trainer, at a loss for anything else to do. You three have been in his home so often you ought to pay rent. Weve all searched his car. Through sources I cant reveal, weve gone into his background and found nothing useful to blackmail him with.

Same with us, Mac said. Through sources we cant reveal, we came up with the same nothing.

So we now, Mark said, have a suggestion.

Sounding suspicious, the way he always did, Ace said, Yeah? What?

The approach direct, Mark said.

| The Road to Ruin | c