The cab dropped Teddy Folger in front of his bungalow. He went inside, a little tipsy and a lot depressed. The depression segued to a grumpy, simmering, insulted anger. He'd been rudely and abruptly rebuffed by Misty, and now that he'd stocked the Jenny, there was nothing to keep him in Pensacola. It was late, but he could flop into bed and get a few good hours of sleep. Then it was up early to catch the morning tide to a bright new future.
Teddy flipped the light switch in the living room. The two guys in dark suits sitting on his rattan furniture startled him. He squeaked surprise and fear, started backing toward the door.
"Mr. Folger," said the one with the long sideburns. "I represent a party interested in your Joe DiMaggio baseball card."
So that was it. Teddy looked more closely at the two men. The one guy had spoken with a thick accent. "You're not from around here."
"We flew in from Tokyo. My name is Toshi."
Toshi looked lean and wicked and had a hard dark gleam in his eye that might have been a warning not to mess with him if Teddy hadn't been slightly drunk.
Teddy said, "Well, I don't know how they do things in Tokyo, but around here people don't go into each other's homes without an invitation. It's pretty damn rude."
"We're not here to be polite," Toshi said. "We're here for the card."
Good, thought Teddy. Time to drive up the price. "I already have a very good offer. You're going to have to pay top dollar if you want it."
"I don't think you understand." Toshi and his associate stood, advanced toward Teddy.
"What the hell is this?"
They jumped on him, punched him in the stomach. He tried to talk but couldn't catch his breath. Toshi landed a punch to the side of his head. Lights exploded. Teddy's head buzzed. He tried to talk, but he was too rattled.
"Let me be clear," Toshi said. "We want the card, and we're prepared to offer you the bargain price of your life."
Teddy barely heard them, was barely even conscious he was being dragged across the floor.
The alarm went off at midnight. Conner splashed water in his face. Jenny spent ten minutes in the bathroom. They dressed, cleared out of the motel. They pushed the canoe into the deep water, paddled upriver against the weak current.
A thin, clinging fog lay low on the river. It was too dark. Conner hadn't thought to bring a flashlight, but occasional dock lights or flood lamps from a riverfront home kept them on course.
It was silent work, paddling in rhythm with their heavy breathing, muscles just a little sore from yesterday's canoe trip. They didn't want to talk anyway. Conner thought maybe they were finished with each other. They'd gotten what they'd needed from a moment in a certain time and place. There was left only the business of the sailboat.
They turned the canoe into Folger's canal, passed the houses into the dark, deserted stretch, paddled a little faster, and emerged into the fuzzy light spilling from the bungalow's windows across the yard. Conner motioned for Jenny to quit paddling. They glided along the quiet, glass-topped canal, not even the obligatory screech of a night bird.
Which was good because the screech of nearly anything would have scared the shit out of Conner. Conner didn't like any of this. Not one damn bit. He'd never repossessed anything as clumsy and slow as a sailboat. Should he paddle it out like he'd told Jenny, or should he crank the engine and make a run for it? His arms were already too sore from the canoe trip, but he hated the thought of the engine not turning over. He pictured Folger barging out of the bungalow in a bathrobe, a shotgun in his hands. Conner had spent some time with boats. He knew the engine might crank, make a racket, then sputter out.
And Jenny. When Conner made a repo he usually didn't have a sidekick. Worrying about her would only be a distraction.
Jenny leaned close, her hot whisper on his ear. "Why did we stop paddling?"
"I'm thinking how to do it," Conner whispered. "Drop me off, then take the canoe to the Jenny. Tie up the canoe. We'll tow it. I'm going to peek in his windows. If there's nobody home, we'll start the engine and do this the easy way."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Cast off the lines. Be ready to leave in a hurry."
She paddled him to the edge of the canal, and he hoisted himself up and into Folger's backyard. He paused a second to watch Jenny paddle toward the sailboat. What would he do if somebody came out of the house? Jump in the canal maybe. Start swimming. Conner decided not to think about it.
He jogged toward the bungalow, keeping low in war-movie crouch. One of Folger's windows glowed from a lamp inside, but the yard was dark, no outside floods. Some houses had lights that kicked on when motion detectors were tripped. Maybe Folger had a dog. A hundred things could go wrong.
Conner let that thought drift away with a shrug. The lights would either blaze or they wouldn't. Dogs would bark or not. Teddy Folger would pepper his ass with buckshot or he wouldn't. Nothing to do now but go for it.
He ran toward the house, ducked and rolled on arrival, landing under the windowsill where the lamp within cast weak yellow light. Deep breaths. He waited, listened. I hate this shit. When he heard nothing, he lifted his head slowly, peered through the window.
Inside. Bare beige walls, fake bamboo furniture, cushions with a tropical pattern. Tile floor. Ceiling fan. Conner thought it looked like his great-aunt's retirement villa in Boca.
Conner watched for a minute. Three minutes. Five. Nothing. Maybe he'd sneak around the front of the house. If the driveway was empty, he could safely assume nobody was home. This wouldn't be so tough after all.
Then a figure wearing a dark suit came into the room. He talked over his shoulder to somebody else out of sight. The man was medium height, black hair, Asian features. Conner watched as the man lit a cigarette, paced with his free hand in his pants pocket. More chatter from the other room. The Asian guy nodded and went to join his accomplice.
Who was he? Not Teddy Folger. Conner looked back at the sailboat, brass fittings shining with moonlight. He strained his eyes to see if he could catch sight of Jenny's silhouette, but the boat was dark, no movement. She should have been aboard by now. He thought about tiptoeing back, telling her they'd have to call it off. Strangers in Folger's house, too many variables.
He wanted more information.
Conner circled the bungalow, found another window lit from within. The kitchen. He looked inside. He blinked at what he saw. His mouth fell open.
The guy tied to the kitchen chair must've been Teddy Folger. He was about the right age and the only white guy in the room. The other two were Asian. Teddy didn't look good. A split lip, a black eye, hair disheveled. Folger's Hawaiian shirt was ripped.
Conner smelled cigarette smoke and realized the window was open. Smoke and sound carried through the screen. Conner froze. He didn't want to sneeze or snap a twig. Whatever the hell was happening to Folger was none of Conner's business.
One of the Asian guys backhanded Folger in the face, and the sharp crack of skin on skin made Conner jump.
"Okay. That's good," said one of the others. "I think maybe Mr. Folger want to cooperate now. That okaydokey with you, Mr. Folger?" The man's accent was heavy. Folger's name came out Mistah Folgah.
Folger nodded. "Water. A drink." Folger spit, a gooey strand of blood and saliva hanging from his chin.
"Get him water," the guy in charge said. The other opened a cabinet, found a glass, and filled it in the sink.
Conner had seen enough. He'd tell Jenny the deal was off, and if she didn't like it, he'd toss her in the canal and paddle the canoe the hell out of there full steam ahead. Conner wasn't interested in getting his ass kung-fu'd.
Conner took a deep breath, tensed for gingerly steps away from the window. All he had to do was sneak away and-
From the backyard, the hot cough of a boat engine startled sleeping birds. It sputtered, rumbled, and petered out. It cranked again, turned over, revved into a high idle.
The Asian guys and Teddy Folger all turned their heads at once.
Conner's heart beat up into his throat. Oh shit oh shit oh shit-
The Asian guy in charge screamed something to his pal, who took off through the kitchen toward the back door. Conner was already running.
He rounded the house and sprinted toward the boat. He heard the back door slam open, footfalls galloping behind him. A flash and gunshots, bullets whizzing. Yelling in a language Conner didn't know.
Ahead of him the Electric Jenny was already under way, slowly gliding through the canal, a Jenny-shaped bulk stirring the darkness in the cockpit. At the first gunshot, the engine revved and moved faster.
Conner angled, ran an intercept course, hit the edge of the canal, and launched himself. He landed on the bow, tumbled, rolled onto the anchor, and howled bloody murder.
His pursuer leapt too, landed on his feet near Conner, and pulled a pistol from his jacket. Conner didn't wait for him to take aim or get his sea legs. He kicked out as hard as he could, slammed his heel into the guy's ankle. The guy didn't make a sound, but he tilted left and hit the deck, the pistol clattering over the side. Conner struggled to his feet, took up a boxer's stance.
The Asian guy sprang up, seemed to be unhurt. Conner threw an overhand punch, but the guy wasn't there. Conner felt a punch to the ribs, something hit his face. He threw another punch just to feel involved, but nobody paid any attention.
Another rapid series of blows to Conner's ribs took his breath away. A hit on the ear. A bloody lip. Conner was getting his ass kicked by a blur.
His world tilted, a streak of moonlight and a slam to the back as he hit the deck. He blinked his eyes open. He was flat on his back, the Asian kneeling over him, preparing to deliver a killer blow to Conner's throat.
Then the sound of glass shattering. The Asian fell across Conner, lay there without moving. The smell of rum.
Long seconds. Nobody moved.
A voice. "Conner." Jenny.
Conner rolled the guy off him, stretching, groaning. Conner didn't have enough hands to rub all the places that hurt. He looked at Jenny. She came into focus. She held the broken end of a Captain Morgan's bottle.
"I had to get him off you," she said.
She bent over, looked the guy up and down. "Who the hell is this?"
"Who's driving the boat?" Conner asked.
"Hell." She ran back to the cockpit, took the wheel.
They were into the main part of the river now. Jenny had been smart enough not to turn on the running lights. Or maybe she just hadn't thought of it.
"I need a flashlight," Conner said.
Jenny found one under the pilot's seat, gave it to Conner. He flipped it on, used it to sort through the items in the Asian guy's pocket. He found a passport. Japanese.
"Dump him over the side," Jenny called from the cockpit.
Conner ignored her, examined the guy's head and pulse. He'd be okay, but he'd also be out for a while.
Conner remembered Jenny had started the boat, nearly got him killed. "Why the hell didn't you wait for me?"
"I wanted Teddy to know he was getting his boat taken away," she said. "I wanted to see the stunned look on that fat fucker's face."
Conner didn't say anything, but he remembered Folger's split lip and black eye, wondered if that would be stunned enough to satisfy the former Mrs. Folger.
Neither Conner nor Jenny was eager for the Japanese guy to wake up and resume his whirlwind frenzy of karate death. Jenny's suggestion to dump the guy over the side was surprisingly cold-blooded. Then again, the guy had been trying to beat Conner's brains out.
Still, it just wasn't Conner's style.
They put him in the canoe and set him adrift. Without the paddle.
Conner would make up some lie for the canoe rental place. You could blame rowdy teenagers for almost anything nowadays.
Conner took the helm, kept the boat slow ahead and in the middle of the river. Without the running lights, they could run up on a sandbar or plow into a cluster of downed trees if he hugged the shoreline too closely. As soon as Conner had the wheel in his hands, Jenny disappeared belowdecks. Within ten seconds he heard cabinet doors slamming, the sounds of an angry woman rummaging for loot.
Conner gripped the wheel so tight his knuckles turned white. He eased up, took deep gulps of night air into his lungs, held them, and then exhaled raggedly. He had been shot at. Actually, it wasn't the first time, but somehow this was different. Scary.
The adrenaline rush melted away, and the pain seeped in, face and limbs sore and raw from the pasting the little Japanese guy had given him. Conner's ear throbbed hot, the corner of his mouth was sticky with dried blood. He didn't even want to think about the pounding his ribs had taken.
Conner replayed the scene in Folger's kitchen. Folger was in deep shit with more than just his wife. Seemed like he was pissing off people on an international level. Maybe that would work to Conner's advantage. Folger had bigger worries than a missing sailboat.
Still, Conner didn't want to get taken by surprise. He did a little math in his head. This caused a dull ache behind his eyes. He switched from math to half-assed guesses. It would take somebody driving fast at least thirty minutes to get from Folger's bungalow to the swing-out bridge. The road didn't run alongside the river, so no chance he could be spotted that way. And there wasn't anyplace to rent a boat at this hour, so nobody could follow him on the water. As long as he found a branch or an inlet and stashed the Jenny before sunup, Conner figured he was in the clear.
The boat glided over the dark water, and with the danger behind them, Conner indulged a brief fantasy. The helm felt good in his hands. He could go places with a vessel like this, maybe follow Florida 's Gulf curve down to the Keys. Tyranny. He could take her, leave everything behind, the repossession gig, Tyranny's husband. It was all new and possible over the distant sea-green horizon.
Could he convince her to leave Professor Dan? She was too used to nice things, and her husband had been hot shit in the art community in the late eighties. A big Dutch corporation had paid him a two-million-dollar commission for a steel and glass sculpture that decorated the lobby of the corporate headquarters. The sculpture had put him into the international spotlight and three more quick commissions followed, all in the seven-figure range. Now in the cool autumn of his career, he coasted on his past reputation and lived easy in his big house by the bay, a cushy professorship supplying him with coeds.
Until Tyranny. He'd married her. Conner might have been able to stomach a quick affair. For some reason women like Tyranny always had to dabble with older men. What was it? Some kind of Freudian father thing? Just kicks? But it wasn't a quick fling. It was a wedding.
Conner shouldn't have been surprised. Professor Dan could give her what she wanted. He was plugged into the art scene. He knew the chic, important people in New York or LA or Mars or wherever. He could talk the talk and walk the walk of the cultured and educated. Conner knew a good place to get oysters. On a good day, he could hit a curveball. It wasn't the same.
What would Conner do for money, to be somebody important, to have whatever he wanted at his fingertips? Conner felt a fleeting kinship with Teddy Folger.
The cabin hatch slid open and white light blinded him.
"Jesus," barked Conner. "Put that lamp out!"
"Sorry." Jenny switched off the lamp, and everything went back to dark.
Conner had lost his night vision, blinked until the spots were gone from his eyes. Soon the moon and stars came back into focus. "What were you doing down there?"
"No." Fatigue in her voice, or maybe just a pout.
"You're going to have to go forward with the flashlight," Conner said. "I think there might be a place up here we can put her out of sight, but it's too dark. Don't turn on the light until I tell you."
"Right." She took the flashlight, felt her way the length of the boat until she was leaning over the bow.
Conner throttled the Electric Jenny back just short of stalling as he approached the riverbank. Several likely places turned out to be too narrow or obscured by low-hanging branches. Jenny snapped the flashlight on or off whenever Conner signaled. On one attempt, they tangled badly in low-hanging cypress branches. It took both Conner and Jenny to shove free, but the effort was painful. Conner felt something pull along his bruised ribs.
Finally, they passed a narrow gap in the trees. They'd already motored halfway past when Conner caught a glimpse of moonlight on water. He reversed the boat, told Jenny to scan the water with a flashlight. He hadn't come this far only to hang the boat up on a submerged log.
"It's clear," Jenny said.
"Hold on," Conner said. "This'll be tight."
The screech of tree branches on fiberglass launched a shriek of flapping swamp birds. Once through the branches, the passage opened up a little and doglegged left. Conner eased the boat in as far as he could. It was well hidden but not completely. Somebody sailing within twenty feet might catch a glimpse of the stern, but the vessel was more or less out of sight.
Once Conner had snugged the boat in as tight as possible, he and Jenny tied it off. They went below, made sure all the ports were covered, curtains drawn before switching on the galley lights over the sink.
Conner had to look twice at Jenny. In the unforgiving wash of fluorescent light, she looked haggard, dark circles under the eyes, hair limp and matted. It had been a long night. She'd been through the wringer. They both had.
Conner went into the cramped head, squinted at his reflection in the small mirror over the toilet. He looked worse than Jenny. Swollen lip, a shiner under his left eye. The weight of the world sank into his bones. He leaned against the sink, splashed cold water on his face. His heart sank at the sudden knowledge they had no way to get back to the little riverfront motel. They'd set the canoe adrift with the Japanese guy. He started laughing uncontrollably. It was so ridiculous. The whole night. What was he doing here?
He thought about Teddy Folger tied to a kitchen chair and stopped laughing.
Back in the main cabin, he found a mess. Contents spilled from cabinets. Drawers left open, clothes tossed and scattered. He heard Jenny in the master sleeping cabin, presumably searching in the same haphazard manner. Conner didn't know how to feel about her, didn't have the energy to care. As soon as he found a way back to his Plymouth Fury, he'd take something from the boat back to Derrick James, prove he'd successfully made the repossession. Maybe he could find the Jenny's registration.
He opened the galley's little refrigerator and was delighted to find a six-pack of Tecate. But the fridge was off, the beer warm. Instead, Conner found a new bottle of Maker's Mark. He broke the seal and swallowed; it burned a hot trail down his throat and set his gut on fire. The egg salad sandwich seemed like a long, long time ago. He heard broken glass and cursing from the forward cabin. He shook his head, took another hit of whiskey. How did Jenny still have the energy?
He cast about the cabin, took in the interior of the boat. She was a good craft, sloppy now from Jenny's search, but a good vessel, new, nice upholstery. The framed print over the dining table stood out for being so ugly. Seabirds gliding over a beach landscape. It looked like something from the lobby of a cheap beachfront motel. Conner supposed having lots of money didn't automatically confer good taste. Conner was no kind of art expert, but he knew ugly when he saw it. Tyranny would have been able to articulate why the painting sucked in highbrow art-class jargon.
Conner thought about Tyranny again, frowned, decided he was unhappy, and took two big gulps of the Maker's Mark.
Jenny returned, slid into one of the bench seats at the dining table. She put her elbows on the table, rested her chin in her hands. "There's nothing," she said. "He must have all his money stashed in the bungalow. Damn. I wanted to clean him out sooooo badly. I wanted him to fucking squirm."
Jenny's petty revenge didn't interest Conner. "We don't have the canoe anymore."
"So what?" She reached across the table, took the bottle out of Conner's hands. She tipped it back, swallowed. She sputtered, coughed, wiped her chin.
"How are we supposed to get back?"
Her eyes widened, mouth lolling open. "Oh, shit."
She snapped her fingers, face brightening. "There's an inflatable dinghy in the forward storage area."
"If you tell me I have to blow it up, I'll cry."
When Jenny fetched the box with the canvas hanging over the sides, Conner was relieved to see it came with a foot pump. There was also a two-stroke outboard motor with a pull-cord starter. It was small, resembled an overgrown blender with a tiny propeller at the end of a long, rusty shaft. No amount of coaxing could make the thing turn over. Conner shook his head over the worthless chunk of machinery. "Can't catch a break."
They pumped up the dinghy and lowered it over the side. It was a tight fit for the two of them and precarious. They settled in and began paddling, arms moving in numb routine. Keep stroking, Conner told himself. Just keep going. Breathe in, breathe out. Get back and you can go home and collapse into bed.
"Only thing I don't get," Jenny said. "Who the heck were those Jap guys? Teddy has a lot of goofy friends but nobody like that."
And Conner realized she didn't know. Why should she? She hadn't seen into Teddy's kitchen, didn't know what kind of hot water he was in. What would her reaction be? Conner didn't say anything, not a word. He dipped the paddle into the water, put his back into it, pointed the little boat toward home, and kept his mouth shut.