Chapter Eight

The Bad Boys Club

Taylor Gatling, Jr., the young founder and CEO of Gatling Security Group, likes to think that no matter how rich he gets, how much wealth and power he accumulates, a man should still empty his own spittoon. Unpleasant as it might be-and the thing has a vile smell, no question-it’s not a job to be delegated. Even if the man happens to have thousands of employees depending on his every whim, some of whom would no doubt consider it an honor to flush away the boss’s effluents, and scour the antique brass receptacle, and return it with a snappy salute and a brisk “Yes, sir! No problem, sir!”

Nope. He’ll handle the spittoon himself, thank you very much. A leader has to take responsibility for certain unpleasant tasks, something his own father never quite learned. And in this case it means he gets to spend a few moments by himself, out on his boathouse deck in New Castle, New Hampshire, overlooking the deep and roiled waters of the Piscataqua River, racing in the moonlight like a band of undulating mercury. Across the broad tidal river, shadowed and stark on its own few acres of island, rises the concrete carcass of the old Portsmouth Naval Prison, now abandoned, a fairy-tale castle with towers and turrets. Beyond that, the spiky tree line of the farther shore, interrupted by the occasional and very tasteful colonial mansions peeking out at the water from behind ancient guardians of spruce and fir. Elegant yachts moored in the cove, masts tick-tocking as hulls absorb the swell. Gatling smiles to himself when he recalls the real estate agent who handled the sale standing in this very spot and saying, “You can’t buy a view like this.” Pure salesman’s babble, and nonsense, because of course that’s exactly what Gatling was doing, he was buying the view. At the time the original century-old boathouse was falling into the mud, and would take half a million or so to restore to the current state of comfortably rustic, his own personal and very unofficial bad boys club. A luxury shack, lovingly restored, where he and his buds gather late into the night, playing poker, drinking and jubilantly spitting dip into their personally inscribed spittoons.

From inside comes a roar of laughter. A filthy joke has been told and celebrated. Gatling upends the spittoon, dumping the noxious contents into the tidal currents that curl around the deck pilings. No doubt in violation of some law of the current nanny state. No spitting in the river. Lift the seat before peeing. Women allowed everywhere. Not here, though. No wives, no girlfriends. Y chromosomes required, no exceptions.

When he steps into the card room, all eyes meet his. Taylor A. Gatling is the alpha wolf in this particular setting, well aware of his status. Thirty-eight years of age and just recently edged over into the billionaire level. Fit and trim, focused and self-contained, confident of his rarely expressed but deeply felt opinions. This is his place, his party, and the endless ribbing and mutual insults are all part of the camaraderie. The world being what it is, he keeps a security detail outside on the grounds, but here in the boathouse he’s just one of the boys, and he’s careful never to play at being the owner, or to show his cards unless called.

“You in?” asks one of his boys, dealing smartly, snapping the cards.

“Next game. I need a refill.”

He puts down the spittoon to mark his seat-that’s become the tradition-and heads over to the bar. Nothing fancy about it. Just a thick mahogany plank, three feet wide-hewn from a single tree, of course-a few wooden stools, a standard bar cooler for beer, a shelf of liquor displayed against a mirrored backing. Mostly high-end vodkas and some ridiculously overpriced bottles, a few oddly shaped, of single malt Scotch. Gatling pours two fingers of Macallan 18 into a fat-bottomed glass, and is about to return to the table-Jake the Snake is calling five card, jacks or better-when Lee Shipley sidles up the bar, puts a hand on his arm, briefly.

Lee, a retired New Castle cop old enough to be his father, keeps his raspy voice low and says, “Something you should know.”

Gatling sips from the glass. “Lay it on me, Chief,” he says, ready to make a joke of it, knowing the old man’s penchant for one-liners.

Lee glances at the table, where the first round of betting is under way-cash is the rule, no effing chips-and says, “I got a call from a brother officer, an old pal of mine who’s still on the job in Cambridge, Taxachusetts, and you’ll never guess who’s just been named in a murder inquiry.”

“No idea,” Gatling responds, playing along. “Mother Teresa? Martha Stewart?”

“This is serious, Taylor,” Lee says. “Randall Shane. They expect to have him in custody any moment.”

Taylor looks blank. “Sorry, Chief, I don’t get it.”

“Shane. That FBI jerk who testified against your dad.”

“That was twenty years ago. Lots of witnesses testified against him.”

“Yeah, but this guy Shane, he was the one got your father convicted. That’s what your dad believed. Told me so himself.”

“Yeah? Well, he never told me. If you recall, we weren’t exactly on speaking terms at the time. I was eighteen that summer-I’d just enlisted with the Marine Corps so I could get away from all that crap.”

Lee looks at him, can’t quite meet his eyes. They both know how it ended for Gatling’s father.

“Just thought you’d want to know.”

“Thanks, Lee. Best forgotten, though. Water under the bridge, or over the dam, or wherever it’s supposed to go.”

“Sorry,” the old man says, shrinking a little, now embarrassed.

“Hey. No need to be sorry. I appreciate your concern. You were his good and loyal friend when times got tough, and I’ll never forget that. Get yourself a glass, we’ll have a little toast.”

Lee Shipley, relieved, pours a splash from the same bottle, raises his glass.

“To the old man,” Taylor says. “May he rest in peace.”

“Amen to that.”

They sit down to play poker, and not another word is said about his late father. But inside, behind his bad boy smile, Gatling is very pleased by the news. Randall Shane, the so-called hero, is down for a count of murder in the first degree, a charge long overdue.

Good.

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