"Only a dumb city guy would even think of such a thing," I said.
He smiled again. It was a smile that said, Of course I'm superior to you, and both of us know it, but I'm a good guy and am not going to hold it against you.
"You're a detective, you have to ask these questions," he said kindly.
He smiled again. Penny smiled. I smiled back. Weren't we all just dandy. Penny had big eyes, the color of morning glories. Her eyes were nearly as big as Susan's, with thick lashes. Her smile was not superior. It was friendly . . . and maybe a little more.
"Last week, someone made an attempt on Hugger Mugger," Clive went on.
"Yes. His groom, Billy Rice, was in the stall with him, at night. Hugger had been sort of peckish that day and Billy was worried about him. While he was there someone opened the stall door. Billy shined his flashlight, and saw a rifle barrel poking through the open door. When the light came on, the rifle barrel disappeared and there were running footsteps. By the time Billy peeked out around the door, there was nothing."
"Footprints?" I said.
"Could he describe the gun barrel?"
"The gun barrel? What's to describe?"
"Did it have a magazine under the barrel, like a Winchester? Long stock or not? Front sight? Gun barrels are not all the same."
"Oh God," Clive said, "I don't know."
I tried not to smile a smile that said, Of course I'm superior to you, and both of us know it, but I'm a good guy and am not going to hold it against you.
"Cops?" I said.
"Local police," Clive said. "And I have my own security consultant."
"Local police are the Columbia County Sheriff's Department," Penny said. "The deputy's name is Becker."
"I wish to hire you, sir, to put a stop to this," Clive said.
"To prevent the horse from being hurt?"
"Usually I get only one end of the horse," I said.
Clive said, "Excuse me?"
"Daddy," Penny said, "he's saying sometimes he gets a client who's a horse's ass."
"Oh, of course. Guess I'm too worried to have a sense of humor."
"Sure," I said.
"Well, sir, are you interested or not?"
"Tell me a little more of how you see this working," I said. "Am I sleeping on a blanket in the horse's stall, with a knife in my teeth?"
He smiled to show that he really did have a sense of humor even though he was worried.
"No, no," he said. "I have some armed security in place. An agency in Atlanta. I would like you to look at the security and let me know what you think. But, primarily, I want you to find out who is doing this and, ah, arrest them, or shoot them, or whatever is the right thing."
"And what makes you think I'm the man for the job?" I said.
Penny smiled at me again. She thought my modesty was very becoming.
"The horse world is a small one, sir. You were involved in some sort of case over there in Alton a few years back, with Jumper Jack Nelson. I knew of it. I talked with the Alton Police, with someone in the South Carolina State Attorney's Office. My attorney looked into it. We talked with the FBI in Atlanta. We talked with a man named Hugh Dixon with whom I once did some business. We talked to a Massachusetts State Police captain named Healy, and a Boston police captain named Quirk."
"How the hell did you find Hugh Dixon?" I said.
"I have money, sir. My attorneys are resourceful."
"And I'm the man?"
"Yes, sir, you are."
"Fairly expensive," I said.
"What are your fees?" Clive said.
I told him.
"That will not be an issue," he said.
"And who is the outfit in Atlanta that's on the job now?" I said.
Reprinted from Hugger Mugger by Robert B. Parker by permission of Putnam Pub. Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by Robert B. Parker. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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