Conner Samson bounced a check for a dollar draft in Salty's Saloon and decided it was time to get serious about looking for work.

Sid, the eternally bald and surly bartender, set the draft beer at Conner's elbow and handed him the phone from behind the bar. Sid took Conner's check and frowned at it before crumpling it into a tight wad and tossing it over his shoulder. He wiped the length of the bar with an old rag, muttering in his amiable cranky way.

"Thanks, Sid."

"Yeah, yeah."

Conner looked up again at the TV hanging over the bar to see if the nightmare was true. Maybe the whole thing had been a bad hallucination. The score: Atlanta 6, St. Louis 7, and Chip Carey telling everyone about the outfielder's error, which had cost Conner five hundred bucks.


Salty's Saloon was old and dark and filled with quiet regulars who wanted to watch sports, nurse drinks, and be left alone. Conner's kind of place. Salty's had been through a few transformations: a disco, a Chinese takeout place, a pool hall. A wooden cricket bat still hung on the wall from the brief period Salty's had masqueraded as an English pub. Conner liked the current incarnation. Neon beer signs, a jukebox nobody played, a TV with a ball game always on, and cheap suds. And Sid. A crusty retired Marine, but a good guy who knew the names and life stories of all his regulars.

Sid glanced at the television, shook his head. "You got the worst luck of anybody I've ever known." He was still shaking his head as he stacked clean glasses behind the bar.

Conner drank his beer and looked at the phone.

He didn't want to make the calls yet, so he stalled, paged through the Wall Street Journal. DesertTech was up three points. A friend of a pal of a guy somebody knew had suggested the stock a week ago. Conner kept tabs. The stock was going up and up. That would have been great, except Conner hadn't bought any. He'd been trying to put some bets together, get a stake so he could buy a hundred shares. Then the stupid fucking Atlanta Braves...

"I guess you ain't a millionaire yet," Sid said.

"Would I be in this dump if I were a millionaire?"

"Yeah, I sorta think you would," Sid said. "My sister owns an alpaca farm in California. Says it's the latest thing."

"No animals."

"They always need guys on the offshore oil rigs."

"I want my money to work for me. Not the other way around."

"Yeah, but it takes money to make money."

"That's clever," Conner said. "I'm going write that down."

"Oh, blow it out your ass."

Conner couldn't stall anymore. He dialed Harvey Sterling at Sterling 's Bail Bonds. Harvey sometimes paid well whenever he sent one of his guys to chase down a skip. Conner didn't consider himself a tough guy or anything like that, but he was tall and had some shoulders, and sometimes just the sight of a big guy standing there would keep somebody from running or putting up a fight. Harvey didn't have any work for him. Conner left his number in case anything changed.

Next, Conner dialed Ed Odeski at Gulf Coast Collections. He really didn't want to, but repossessing cars for Odeski was usually worth a couple of bucks. Last time, Conner had to hot-wire a Jaguar. The delinquent owner had caught him in the middle of the job. He hit Conner, and it hurt a lot. Conner hit him back a few times, but it didn't seem to bother the guy. They went on like that for a little while. By the end, Conner had managed to get away with the car. What he got paid for the repo almost covered the cost of his stitches.

" Gulf Coast Collections," said the secretary.

"Tell Ed it's Conner Samson."

"Hold please."

Conner held.

Ed's gutter ball voice came on the line. "You must need work, Samson."

"What? A guy can't call up an old buddy?"


"Okay, so I need work."

"Ain't got none."

"Come on."


"Awwwwwww, come on." Sometimes just being pathetic was the best way to get a job out of Ed. He liked to save most of his repo work for a squat little hunk of meat he called his kid brother. "I'm not picky here, buddy. I just need some folding money."

"No. You always bust up the cars. Bring them back all banged." He was from Albania or Lithuania or some kind of ania. Conner always forgot where, but Odeski's accent was thick with spit.

"It was only that one time," Conner said.

"All headlights smashed real good."

"The guy had a tire iron. He was trying to cave in my skull."

"So you hit him with a car."

"The light was green."

"Then you back over him," Ed said. "Smash up taillights and bend the bumper."

"I was going back to see if he was okay. It wasn't my fault, man."

Ed sighed, the sound of a hippo sitting on a beach ball. "You wait. Stay on phone."

Conner waited again, wished for the tenth time he had a cell phone.

Sid brought another draft. Conner waved the checkbook, arched his eyebrows into a question.

"Yeah, right," Sid said. "Don't make me laugh."

Conner mouthed "thanks" at him.

Ed came back on the line. "Okay, I got something. Maybe good for you. You got a pencil?"

Conner reached over the bar for a pen, spread a napkin to write on. "Go ahead."

Odeski told him a phone number. "This man might have work for you, Samson. You call. His name is Derrick James. Okay. You call. Okay?"


"You call," Ed said. "Tell him my name. Ed Odeski."

"I'll tell him," Conner said. "Thanks, Ed."

"Is nothing." He hung up.

Conner called Derrick James next. He had a business in Mobile, boats and marine supplies, etc. James said to drive out and see him the sooner the better.

Conner said he was on his way.

James Boat & Nautical Supply was tucked away at the grimy end of the industrial shipyards in Mobile. Traffic was light, and Conner made the trip on I-10 over the Bay Bridge in just under an hour. James had an office in back of the big, warehouse-size shop. The girl behind the counter directed Conner down an aisle of big nets and winch equipment. He found the door all the way back and knocked.

"Come in."

Conner went in.

"You must be Samson," he said.

"That's me."

"Derrick James." They shook hands, and James motioned Conner to a chair across his sad little desk. The office on the whole looked dark and uninteresting, a five-hundred-year-old computer buzzing its tale of obsolescence. A nautical chart of the Gulf Coast on the wall behind him, yellowing at the edges.

James was so tan and crusty, his face looked like a catcher's mitt. Well-groomed salt-and-pepper hair. Big white horse teeth. He was trim, tall, wore khaki shorts and a Hawaiian shirt with too many buttons undone. He sported a nifty shark-tooth necklace. Somehow, he was making believe he wasn't at the tail end of his forties, maybe fifty.

Conner became aware he might be looking at himself in twenty years. Conner was just as tall, not quite as tan but almost. He'd picked a few strands of premature gray out of his black hair just two days ago. He ran a hand along his angular jaw and frowned. James had shaved more recently than he had.

"I know Ed Odeski pretty well," James said. "I trust his judgment." He opened his top desk drawer and fished out a manila folder. "He said you were the man for the job."

"I'm your man."

James opened the folder and slid a color picture of a sailboat across his desk. It wasn't a real picture. Printed on computer paper, but it was clear, and Conner could see the boat fine. A nice sloop, maybe five years old, thirty-six feet, one mast and a spinnaker. Nice lines. An athletic blonde sat in the cockpit and waved, a bright and happy Sunday sailor. She had nice lines too. Conner tossed the picture back on the desk.

"That's the Electric Jenny," James said. "Good-looking vessel, huh?"

Conner agreed she was a good-looking vessel.

"And she's got the works," he said. "New radar, GPS, depth finders. Hell, she's even got that new state-of-the-art air-conditioning. You know how hard it is to keep a boat's air-conditioning up and running with the salt air and everything?"

"I know."

"Sleeps seven, no problem."

"Nice." Get on with it.

He shuffled papers again, came out with a statement, columns of numbers. "I held the note on fifty-eight thousand dollars. He bought the Jenny in March, made five payments but missed his last one August first."

"He's only late on one payment?"

James said, "I took the boat as collateral on a shitload of equipment for some guys who were starting a marina. They went belly-up, and I got stuck with her. I was glad to hold the note as long as somebody was making payments. But I ain't the Federal Reserve. I want my money on time. I got my own bills."

James shoved a stack of papers to one side, revealing an expensive-looking cherrywood humidor. He flipped it open and grabbed a cigar. A Macanudo. He bit off the end and spit it in the trash can, stuck the cigar into his mouth without removing the band. He lit it with a disposable lighter. Conner raised an eyebrow.

James nudged the humidor toward Conner. "Want one?"

"Please." Conner plucked one out of the humidor between thumb and forefinger, bit the end, clamped the cigar gently between his teeth. James lit it, and Conner puffed it to life. Oh, baby. Conner's budget had him on Swisher Sweets, the Pabst Blue Ribbon of cigars.

"Thanks," Conner said, and meant it.

James waved away the gratitude. "I probably wouldn't be so hot to sic a repo man on the guy, but circumstances make me think we need to act fast."

"How so?" Puff-puff.

"Believe you me, I'd much rather have Folger just pay on time than go through the hassle of taking the boat back. So I had my girl out front call him. A friendly reminder."

"What did he say?"

"He didn't say anything," James said. "That's the trouble. My girl calls him at home, but the number's disconnected. Then she tries the work number. Same story. Now I'm starting to wonder."

"Uh-huh." Man, this cigar is good. Smooth. Conner rolled it on his tongue, sucked smoke deep into his lungs.

"So I call around," James said, "and find out his business has gone under. Okay, so the guy has hit the skids. A repossessed boat is the least of his worries, right? He rents a slip at a marina in Gulf Shores. I go down there with a padlock and a photocopy of the finance agreement. I hate to do it to the guy, but I can read the writing on the wall. If he's belly-up, I'll have to take the boat back."

"But when you got to the marina, the boat wasn't there."

"You've heard this story before."

"Variations on a theme."

"I've called disconnected numbers, sent angry letters, and I'm still short one sailboat."

Enter Conner Samson, repo dude, cigar aficionado, washed-up left fielder, and all-around swell guy.

"So here's the deal," James said. "You bring back the boat, and I can pay you four thousand dollars. Call it a bounty or reward or whatever. I've done some arithmetic, and I'm confident I can make that back when I turn around and sell the boat again."

Okay. Here's the tough part. Conner cleared his throat. "I'm going to need half up front."

"Screw that."

"I've done this kind of work before, Mr. James. If it were just a matter of sneaking into some guy's yard and stealing a Chevy with the spare key, that would be one thing, but you don't know where the sloop is. You don't know where Folger is. All you know for sure is that you got a big, expensive, missing boat."

"I know this already."

"It'll cost to look for the boat. Expenses. I need something up front."

"I gave you a cigar."

"That won't fill my gas tank." The fumes left in Conner's Plymouth Fury wouldn't even get him back over the bridge.

James sighed, leaned in his seat, and pulled a wallet from his back pocket. He fished out five hundred-dollar bills and gave them to Conner like he was handing over a testicle.

"That's not half," Conner pointed out.

"That's what you get."

"Deal." Conner shoved the bills into his pants pocket before James could change his mind.

"You get thirty-five hundred more when you bring in the Jenny. And I mean in one piece."

"I understand."

"I hope you do. I don't fork over five bills to every Tom, Dick, and Harry. Only because I know Ed Odeski."

Yeah, Ed's church folk. "Can your girl photocopy Folger's file for me? It'll help."

"Sure. Sit tight. Hands off the cigars."

Conner pulled into his shabby apartment complex and spotted Fat Otis's banana yellow 1979 Lincoln Continental parked outside of his building. He turned around quick and left. Fat Otis was a four-hundred-pound, six-five black man with a shaved head and a talent for turning strong, healthy men into little, mashed-up heaps of bone and flesh.

Otis wouldn't do that to me. Not yet anyway. He was a collector for Rocky Big, Pensacola 's premier bookie, fence, badass, and superpimp. The fact that Otis had parked in plain sight meant Conner was still within the grace period. Otis had come to collect but not to bust kneecaps. Conner wasn't too worried. He and Otis went back a long way, but Conner wasn't really in the mood to explain himself or fork over the money James had given him.

Note to self: The Atlanta Braves suck.

So Conner headed up Scenic Highway with the idea he'd stop in to see Tyranny. It had been a few days, and he conjured her image in his head. It was early afternoon. Maybe he'd catch her out by the pool-taut, thin body stretched in a lounge chair, string bikini. She'd smile that crooked smile at him from behind her starlet sunglasses. Conner was never sure what to expect from Tyranny. She was a mystery. But he wanted to see her, and maybe today would be the day something good happened.

But only if her husband wasn't home.

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