Hey, I know this guy, I reminded myself. He owes me a favor. Trying to collect it at that moment didn’t seem like the wisest of actions. Instead, I slid silently back into the kitchen, out of sight of the porch, opened the basement door, and descended the staircase. I was moving quickly. I figured Margot was sexy enough to distract anyone who might be watching my house—male or female—especially in that yellow swimsuit. Only I had no idea how much time I had before someone caught on and said, “Hey, wait a minute …” ’Course, knowing it was Wilson made me feel better about the ruse. Seven months earlier I had helped him and an ATF agent named Bullert bust a gunrunning operation. He liked attractive women.
I rolled back a rug and removed four reinforced tiles. Beneath the tiles was a safe. I spun the combination too quickly and had to try again before it would open. I started pulling out items. First my handguns. There were three—a Heckler & Koch 9 mm, a Beretta 9 mm, and a Beretta .380. Then I dug out all the paper I had stashed in there—my last three tax returns, investment reports, mortgage information on my house and lake property, titles to the Jeep Cherokee and my boat, a life insurance policy, my last will and testament, passport, birth certificate, and $19,200 in cash in twenties and fifties. The money was what was left of $25,000 I had hoarded after I collected the price on Teachwell—that was the name of the embezzler I had captured.
“Mad money,” I had called it.
“If you don’t put it in a bank, you are nuts,” my dad told me.
Only I sometimes had expenses that didn’t bear scrutiny.
I returned the weapons to the safe. If I was going to shoot an FBI agent, it sure as hell wasn’t going to be with my own guns. I found a shoe box on a shelf in my workroom and stuffed the paper inside it. I also added my wallet and cell phone. It all fit easily, my entire life, I thought past, present, and future. Cremate me, and you could probably also find room for my ashes. I flashed first on an old Peggy Lee tune—Is that all there is?—and then on a line my father used to recite.
You don’t deserve to own anything that you can’t take care of.
For no particular reason except habit, I checked my voice mail while I was in the basement. It had recorded a message from Ivy Flynn.
“Mr. McKenzie, I am so sorry about Mr. Mosley. If there is anything I can do … I’m calling because I presume you wanted me to continue checking soil samples. I discovered that the Sevin XLR Plus originated just west of the property where the man shot at me. It’s being used to control crop pests in a grove of hybrid poplar trees. Apparently, wind currents carried it to some nearby flowers favored by honeybees. That is how Mr. Mosley’s hives were contaminated. Please call me and I will tell you more. I hope this helps.”
I couldn’t believe it. All this because of some poplar trees? Mr. Mosley dead, Susan Tillman raped, me on the run because some jerk was sloppy in spraying his goddamn poplar trees? It seemed so pointless. But it’s not because of the trees, is it? I told myself. It’s something else. Something worse.
I erased the message and crept back upstairs.
“Officer,” I heard Margot say.
“Special Agent,” Wilson corrected her.
“Special Agent Wilson—I like the way that sounds.” Wilson smiled as if he did, too. “Special Agent Wilson, I don’t know how many ways I can tell you the same thing. McKenzie called early this morning. He said he was leaving town for a while. He asked me to collect his newspapers and mail until he came back. He didn’t say where he was going, and he didn’t say how long he would be away. That’s all I can tell you.”
I took one last look around. It was a big house. I had eight rooms not including bathrooms and the basement, but only four were furnished—my bedroom, my dad’s old bedroom, the kitchen stocked with every culinary gadget available to civilized man, and what my father called “the family room.” That’s where I kept my PC, a big-screen TV, VHS and DVD players, my CD player, and about a thousand books, some of them even stacked on the shelves. Would I miss my house? I wondered. Would I be upset if I never saw it again? And the pond? And the ducks? And Nina and Margot and Bobby? What if I never saw Shelby again?
From the porch, I heard Wilson say, “If you hear from Mr. McKenzie, please contact me.”
“Of course, Special Agent.”
Get out, I screamed to myself. Get out while you still can.