14

Five interminable minutes later.

Big Jim sat in his office chair—sprawled in his office chair—with his tie, put on special for the meeting, pulled down and his shirt unbuttoned. He was massaging his hefty left breast. Beneath it, his heart was still galloping and throwing off arrhythmias, but showed no signs of actually going into cardiac arrest.

Junior left. Rennie thought at first he was going to get Randolph, which would have been a mistake, but he was too breathless to call the boy back. Then he came back on his own, carrying the tarp from the back of the camper. He watched Junior shake it out on the floor—oddly businesslike, as if he had done this a thousand times before. It’s all those R-rated movies they watch now, Big Jim thought. Rubbing the flabby flesh that had once been so firm and so hard.

“I’ll… help,” he wheezed, knowing he could not.

“You’ll sit right there and get your breath.” His son, on his knees, gave him a dark and unreadable look. There might have been love in it—Big Jim certainly hoped there was—but there were other things, too.

Gotcha now? Was Gotcha now part of that look?

Junior rolled Lester onto the tarp. The tarp crackled. Junior studied the body, rolled it a little farther, then flipped the end of the tarp over it. The tarp was green. Big Jim had bought it at Burpee’s. Bought it on sale. He remembered Toby Manning saying, You’re getting a heckuva good deal on that one, Mr. Rennie.

“Bible,” Big Jim said. He was still wheezing, but he felt a little better. Heartbeat slowing, thank God. Who knew the climb would get so steep after fifty? He thought: I have to start working out. Get back in shape. God only gives you one body.

“Right, yeah, good call,” Junior murmured. He grabbed the bloody Bible, wedged it between Coggins’s thighs, and began rolling up the body.

“He broke in, Son. He was crazy.”

“Sure.” Junior did not seem interested in that. What he seemed interested in was rolling the body up… just so.

“It was him or me. You’ll have to—” Another little taradiddle in his chest. Jim gasped, coughed, pounded his breast. His heart settled again. “You’ll have to take him out to Holy Redeemer. When he’s found, there’s a guy… maybe…” It was the Chef he was thinking of, but maybe arranging for Chef to carry the can for this was a bad idea. Chef Bushey knew stuff. Of course, he’d probably resist arrest. In which case he might not be taken alive.

“I’ve got a better place,” Junior said. He sounded serene. “And if you’re talking about hanging it on someone, I’ve got a better idea.

“Who?”

“Dale Fucking Barbara.”

“You know I don’t approve of that language—”

Looking at him over the tarp, eyes glittering, Junior said it again. “Dale… Fucking… Barbara.”

“How?”

“I don’t know yet. But you better wash off that damn gold ball if you mean to keep it. And get rid of the blotter.”

Big Jim got to his feet. He was feeling better now. “You’re a good boy to help your old dad this way, Junior.”

“If you say so,” Junior replied. There was now a big green burrito on the rug. With feet sticking out the end. Junior tucked the tarp over them, but it wouldn’t stay. “I’ll need some duct tape.”

“If you’re not going to take him to the church, then where—”

“Never mind,” Junior said. “It’s safe. The Rev’ll keep until we figure out how to put Barbara in the frame.”

“Got to see what happens tomorrow before we do anything.”

Junior looked at him with an expression of distant contempt Big Jim had never seen before. It came to him that his son now had a great deal of power over him. But surely his own son

“We’ll have to bury your rug. Thank God it’s not the wall-to-wall carpet you used to have in here. And the upside is it caught most of the mess.” Then he lifted the big burrito and bore it down the hall. A few minutes later Rennie heard the camper start up.

Big Jim considered the golden baseball. I should get rid of that, too, he thought, and knew he wouldn’t. It was practically a family heirloom.

And besides, what harm? What harm, if it was clean?

When Junior returned an hour later, the golden baseball was once again gleaming in its Lucite cradle.

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