"For example?" said the man in the backseat, his tone avid. Mr. Ballantine checked his mirror. The man's eyes were wide with interest.
"For example, you could find some guys in a bar around where you come from, a couple of tough guys, what d'y'call them, good old boys. And you could give them a couple of grand and they'd go do it for you. Assuming they do it at all and not get drunk and fuck it up, it'd take maybe three, four days before they told someone, or the cops traced something they dropped at the scene back to them, and a couple of hours after that, they'd come and arrest you, because those boys'll give you up quicker than shit. On the other hand, you saved all that money."
"I'm not that stupid, Mr. Ballantine," said the man coldly, after a brief silence.
"We don't know that yet. If you're not stupid, either you're going to forget about the job, kiss and make up with this fella, or you're going to give me twenty-five large in assorted unconsecutive currency. Those are the two nonstupid options. Up to you, Jim. I could care less either way."
"I'll have to think about it," said the man, easing across the seat. "Other people are involved in this."
That would be another mistake, thought Mr. Ballantine, but said nothing as the man walked back to his rental. When the car had disappeared, Mr. Ballantine got out into the heat and snapped off the magnetized fake New York plates and tossed them in the trunk, revealing the authentic Jersey plates underneath. Sealing it off.
The voices of children woke her out of a sun-dazed nap and she sat up in the beach chair, checking first of all to see if Lizzie was there, and of course she was, building her sand castle where the sand got damp. There were two boys, about ten years old, both dark-haired and lean, one in a red Speedo suit and one in baggy cutoffs. They were splashing in the shallows of the Sound, playing with something big and black, a truck-tire inner tube? In the distance was an adult, obscure now in the glare and salt haze. A woman.
Rose allowed herself a moment of annoyance. Crab Point was a private beach, although who it actually belonged to just now was a lawyer's guess. But it had been in her family for generations. She had come here as a child, to the big white house on the beach, and she had brought the boys here when they were babies, and now, after a long hiatus, she had brought Lizzie, and who was this woman to come here as if it were a public park, with her two noisy kids and her Dog. The thing was the size of a calf, black, dripping sea spray and slaver, and it was rushing directly at her and Lizzie. Her belly jumped with fear. She started to get to her feet to get between the monster and her little girl, who was kneeling next to her sand castle, her back to the onrushing dog, oblivious.
There came a piercing double whistle and the dog, now not more than three yards from Rose, spun instantly around like a mechanical toy, throwing a gout of sand as it skidded, and immediately began to race back toward the other woman.
Who waved and called, "Sorreeee!"
Rose experienced a rush of anger, at the woman and that animal, but also at herself, for her appalling cowardice. She had never been frightened of dogs before.
"Can I go in, Mom?" asked Lizzie. "It's boiling." She had her little red tube around her waist.
"Sure, honey, I'll come with you." Rose was afraid of the water, too, afraid of letting the girl go in by herself, although Lizzie had been a good swimmer since the age of five. When had she become a coward? As soon as she asked the question, she knew.
From the water, floating on her back, she watched the other woman spread her blanket and set up her backrest, and, with somewhat more interest, her undressing. She wore a small, blue-striped bikini, although she was rather mature for a bikini -- late thirties, early forties, Rose judged. A terrific, lithe body though, obviously one of those disgusting women who could eat anything and went wiry rather than slack with age. Another reason to dislike her. Rose rolled over and began to swim back and forth on the gentle swell. Maybe she could work off a few pounds before Red got here.
Copyright © 2002 by Robert K. Tanenbaum.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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