Authors: George V. Higgins
FIRST VINTAGE CRIME/BLACK LIZARD EBOOK EDITION, SEPTEMBER 2012
Copyright © 1989 by George V. Higgins
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in the United States by Kensington Publishing Corp., New York, in 1990.
Vintage Crime is a registered trademark and Vintage Crime/Black Lizard and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Cover design by Cardon Phillip Webb
George V. Higgins was the author of more than twenty novels, including the bestsellers
The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Cogan’s Trade, The Rat on Fire
The Digger’s Game
. He was a reporter for the
and the Associated Press before obtaining a law degree from Boston College Law School in 1967. He was an Assistant Attorney General and then an Assistant United States Attorney in Boston from 1969 to 1973. He later taught Creative Writing at Boston University. He died in 1999.
ALSO BY GEORGE V. HIGGINS
The Friends of Eddie Coyle
A City on a Hill
The Friends of Richard Nixon
The Judgment of Deke Hunter
A Year or So with Edgar
Kennedy for the Defense
The Rat on Fire
The Patriot Game
A Choice of Enemies
Style Versus Substance
Penance for Jerry Kennedy
The Sins of the Fathers
Wonderful Years, Wonderful Years
The Progress of the Seasons
The Mandeville Talent
Defending Billy Ryan
Swan Boats at Four
Sandra Nichols Found Dead
A Change of Gravity
At End of Day
The third Saturday in July was the fourth day of a heat spell caused by a low-pressure warm front stalled over southern New England by a ridge of high pressure near the Canadian border. The temperature recorded at 3:00
at Theodore Francis Green Airport in Warwick, Rhode Island, was a record of 96 degrees.
Earl Beale had left Boston at 1:30
He had taken the afternoon off. His boss, Roy Fritchie, had not been pleased. “This,” he had said, “this is not gonna make Waldo happy. When I tell him.”
“So don’t tell him,” Earl had said. “Then he’ll never know. He’s out on his goddamned destroyer there, whatever he calls the damned thing. You ever know Waldo, stay away from the place, there was a snowball’s chance in hell some dumb asshole’d come in and buy a car? No, you never did. Because if Waldo thought there was, he’d be in here himself, and he’d scoop the sale right out from under you, save himself commission. If Waldo ain’t here, it’s because Waldo knows nobody in his right mind’ll come in.”
“You should’ve told him yourself,” Fritchie had
said. “You should’ve gone in and told him yourself, before he left last night.”
“Well,” Earl had said, “I didn’t
about it last night. That I hadda. When I left here. The call, I didn’t get the call until I got back the apartment. It was almost eleven, for Christ sake, time I had something to eat and got home. The hell could I tell him, then? Call him at home? You know how Waldo is. Bastard’s in bed by nine. I’d’ve gotten him outta bed, he’d’ve come up my place, beaten the shit out of me.”
“Yeah,” Fritchie had said. “Well, I just wish to God I knew what the guy called you’s got on you, make you jump like this. What’s
paying you? More’n Waldo is?”
body pays me more’n Waldo does,” Earl had said. “Now just stop giving me a lotta crap, all right? I got, it’s some personal business, I got to take care of. Just personal business, is all.”
“Yeah,” Fritchie had said. “I just didn’t realize, is all, Broons’re still playing hockey. Seems kind of warm for that now.”
“The Bruins,” Earl had said.
“Yeah, the Broons,” Fritchie had said. “I assume they got to be, either Islanders or Rangers, and Penny’s down New York again. And that’s what your business is. Picking Penny up.”
“Go fuck yourself,” Earl had said. “I’ll see you on Monday.”
The air conditioner in Penny’s black Dodge convertible needed a Freon recharge. He put the top down before he left her apartment in Somerville. He was late getting into Lafayette, Rhode Island, just after four o’clock, because he had been delayed. He had made
good time on Interstate 95 south, but he had begun to feel light-headed in the heat. Just south of the Providence-Cranston line he finally had to pull over onto the shoulder and put up the top. He had trouble with it.
There was a long plateau to the west, cut by a deep, grassy trench ditched down twenty feet about fifty yards west of the shoulder, the steep inclines mowed very short. On the other side there was a chain-link fence topped with three strands of barbed wire that extended as far as he could see down the road behind him, and as far as he could see along the road ahead. Off to the west, a quarter of a mile or more on the other side of the fence, several large buildings surrounded a tall smokestack. Semitrailers rolled by at illegal speeds on the interstate, their roaring close to his ears; their slipstreams raised strong eddies of sand and small, sharp stones around his shins.
Earl hated stopping for reasons of his own comfort when he had some distance to cover and a scheduled arrival time. He also disliked the particular reason that interrupted him this time. It was not just that he resented feeling dizzy. “I like the heat myself,” he would say, when a brief late-January afternoon brought some sun and a southwesterly breeze, and in a linen sport coat he escorted an overcoated customer through the lot. “It’s the winter, bothers me.” It seemed to him that when you stopped and put up the top in the middle of a sunny summer weekend afternoon, you were just asking for it—more snow, more grief, no car sales, and heating bills.
“Also,” Earl explained to the young state cop with the bodybuilder’s muscles testing the strength of the
buttons of his gray uniform shirt, “sooner or later, and I don’t care who makes it, every single one of these things gets just a little bit out of line. It goes down all right, goes down like a charm. But when you go to put it up again,” he said, hitting the front rail of the top with the heel of his right hand to align the locking pins with the holes on the top of the windshield frame, “you got to jigger it around and,
, almost force it, you know?” The pins rested on the left edges of the chromium receivers, and he shoved at the side rail with his left hand until they skidded slightly to the right and dropped in. He braced his left arm on the top, holding it in place, and reached with his right hand inside the car, groping above the steering wheel until he located the locking lever and clamped it closed. “Ahh,” he said. He stepped away from the car.
The cop cleared his throat. He was about six two, an inch or so shorter than Earl, and the set of the expression of his mouth showed he did not like that. His eyes were invisible behind his aviator Ray Bans; Earl imagined them blue, and cold and mean. The cop’s head was covered by his charcoal gray, nylon-mesh cavalry hat, but his brown hair was cut short around his ears and temples, and Earl knew it was military short under the hat. “I’m still going to have to see your license and registration, sir,” he said, at parade rest.
Earl nodded, as though the request had been made a long time ago, and he had meant to comply with it but had been distracted by some other, inconvenient chore. He reached into the back pocket of his gray chino pants, took out his wallet, and without taking his attention from the car, handed the wallet still folded to the cop.
The cop shook his head. “Not the whole wallet, sir,” he said. “Just the license and registration.”
Earl shifted his gaze to the cop. “Oh,” he said, “yeah. I forgot.” He opened the wallet and extracted the plasticized card with his mug shot and the tiny print wrapping up his whole life in a small, unalterable package. He handed the license to the cop.
“And the registration, too, please,” the cop said.
“Yeah,” Earl said. “Well, I got to get that from the glove compartment, okay? See, this’s Penny’s car. My girlfriend’s car. And that’s where she keeps it, I think. I just borrowed it for the day. I
that’s where she keeps it, at least. That okay, I do that?”
“Do what?” the cop said.
“Go around the other side there, and get it from the glove box,” Earl said.
“Fine,” the cop said. Earl stepped away from the car and walked around the rear. He heard the cop unsnap the safety strap on his holster, and the sound of his booted feet as he shifted position on the gravel of the shoulder. Earl opened the passenger door and leaned into the car. He could see the cop’s torso from the third shirt button down, the Sam Browne belt linked to the black holster belt, the cop’s right thumb casually resting on the top of the belt, the fingertips just brushing the checkered walnut grip of the stainless steel Magnum. Earl unlatched the glove box and reached into it, rummaging blindly among a small box of Tampax tampons, a small cellophane package of Kleenex, two partial, crushed packages of Newport hundred-millimeter cigarettes, and a dog-eared Mobil map of New England. “There should be a flashlight in here someplace,” he said apologetically. “She’s supposed
to keep a flashlight in here. I dunno how many times I told her that. ‘S’pose you’re out onna road at night. Something goes wrong. Whaddaya do, you don’t have a light? The hell’re you gonna do?’ ” The cop did not say anything. Earl found the chrome flashlight. “Ah, here it is,” he said. He worked the switch. The bulb did not light. “
,” he said. “Battery’s dead. The hell good is that, when you need a light, the goddamned battery’s dead?”
He put the flashlight on the seat and used both hands to take everything else from the box. He piled it on the seat. He sorted through it until he found first the owner’s manual and then a small manila envelope addressed to Mary P. Slate, Apt. 4E, 117 Maynard St., Brighton, MA 02135. He put the manual down and backed out of the car. He opened the envelope and removed a thick insurance policy and the small, pale blue stub of a punch card describing the car and stating its plate number. “Ah,” Earl said, “here it is.” He walked around the car again, watching the cop relax slightly, and diffidently handed the card to him.
The cop studied the registration. “Mary P. Slate,” he said. “This is your girlfriend’s car?”
“Well, yeah,” Earl said.
“I thought you called her ‘Penny,’ ” the cop said.
“Well,” Earl said. “I did. Penny’s what she goes by. Her middle name’s Pauline, and I dunno, I guess her brothers or somebody got ‘Penny’ out of that. It was when she was a kid.”