29

Howell was in gear, now, with Lurton Pitts’s autobiography. He had outlined a book which was close to the order in which Pitts had placed things in his tape recordings, and he could sit for three or four hours at a time, marshalling all the skills that his newspaper career had earned him, typing words into the word processor as fast as he could think them. It would be a short book, he reckoned; no more than a hundred and fifty or sixty pages when set in type, an ideal length, Howell thought. It was bad enough feeling the hack; he would have felt a criminal if he had needlessly prolonged the agony of a reader who, for whatever reason, felt he had to get through the book.

He stopped for a moment and searched his mind for a reference. Unable to come up with it, he flipped through the boxes of tape for the reel onto which he had dictated his original notes. He threaded the tape and fast-forwarded half way through it, then listened. To his surprise, not his own voice, but that of Bo Scully came out, talking about the O’Coineens, of having received a letter from Joyce, written for her by Kathleen. He remembered that he had been using the recorder in its voice-activated mode on the day of that visit from Bo. He listened to Bo’s story again, then stopped the tape and rewound it. He wasn’t sure why, but he thought it might be a good idea to hang onto that recording.

He heard Scotty’s car outside, and shortly, she bustled in. “What’s for dinner? Anything left to eat around here?”

“I went to the grocery store this morning,” Howell said, filing the tape away. “We’ve got everything.”

“Terrific. I’m starved.”

“The down side is, you have to cook. I’m bushed. Been working like a dog all afternoon.”

“Drink?”

“Sure, bourbon. I deserve it.”

“Come on,” she said, handing him his drink, “I can’t believe you’ve been working to hard.”

“Oh, not just the book. I’ve been at the deduction game today, too. I’ve figured some things out, I think.” He opened a desk drawer and got out the sheets copied from Bo’s schedule.

“What you got?”

“Before I tell you, I think you ought to know I had lunch with Bo today and blew whatever little cover you might have left.”

Scotty stared at him. “You did what?”

“I told him everything. How you were a silly little cub reporter who, when her paper wouldn’t go along with her, left her job – got canned, actually – to work on an unsubstantiated rumor; how you beat your brains out and found nothing; how you’ll probably cave in before long and go back to Atlanta with your tail between your legs.”

“The hell I will.”

“Yeah, but I’d rather Bo thinks you will. It might help keep you… both of us, alive.”

Scotty’s eyebrows went up. “I see, I see. Good move. What can it hurt?”

“Us, if you get cocky. I’m not at all sure Bo bought it. The best thing we can do for ourselves is act as though he didn’t.”

“I get your point. Now, what did you deduce today?”

“Actually, I got lucky. There wasn’t much deduction to it.” Howell spread out the ledger sheets. “I figured out what LSCA is.”

Scotty hunched over his shoulder. “What? What?”

“Well, SCA is Sutherland County Airport.”

“What? I didn’t even know there was a Sutherland County Airport.”

“There almost isn’t. It’s a grass strip less than a mile from here, just past the Kelly place. There are a couple of light aircraft up there that don’t look much used. There’s a disused shack – apparently there used to be a local flying club – a wind sock, and – most important – runway lights.”

“Landing, Sutherland County Airport,” Scotty read out, looking at the sheets. “LSCA”.

“What else?”

“And we know what day and what time,” she shouted, gleefully.

“We do, unless it’s changed,“ Howell said. That’s why I told all to Bo; I don’t want him getting nervous and making new arrangements. Still, you better keep a sharp eye on the teletype, okay?”

“Sure thing. And I want to go up there and take a look at this landing field.”

“Absolutely not. I don’t want you anywhere near the place. We don’t know who’s in this with Bo. He might have the place staked out for days ahead of time. I only hope nobody saw me poking around.”

Scotty nodded. “I see what you mean. Well, do we have enough to go to the GBI or the Feds, now?”

“Yeah, we might have, but I don’t think we’d better do that just yet.”

“How come? We’re going to need a stakeout at the airfield on the night. I don’t much fancy trying to arrest Bo ourselves; like you say, we don’t know how many others are involved.”

“Don’t worry, we’re not going to try that. But I don’t think we can just telephone the law, either. Bo’s getting his schedule on a statewide, law enforcement teletype. His messages could be coming from any state, county, local, or federal office hooked up to it. If we yell cop now, there’s no telling who might hear us. If somebody cancels the landing, then what have we got?”

“A phony passport charge. Apart from that, zip.”

“Right. So I think our best bet is to go up to the landing strip on the night and get some substantiation of our charges. If we can prove it’s happening and, maybe, place Bo there, then the law will have to move on it. Certainly the newspaper will.”

“Oh, yeah,” Scotty crowed, “they’ll jump a mile high when I come in with this.”

“Well, if you want them to jump that high, you’d better come in with some pictures, I think. You’ve got a camera up here, haven’t you?”

“A Nikon and five lenses.”

“Good. I called a fellow I know, and he’s sending us half a dozen rolls of some extremely light-sensitive film. We’ll be able to get faces and numbers on an aircraft in nothing more than starlight.” Howell turned and pulled her around to face him. “Now look, Scotty, we’ve only got a few days to go. Don’t get too eager around the office, okay? If we blow this, somebody could get hurt, and it would almost certainly be us.”

“I’ll be cool, I promise,” she said.

“And I want the gun. Now.”

Scotty pulled back. “I don’t know…”

“Listen, the heat’s off with Bo. You can only get yourself into trouble with that gun.”

She turned her eyes to the floor for a moment and thought. “Oh, shit, all right,” she said, finally. She went to her handbag and fished out the little revolver.

Howell unloaded it and put it and the bullets in his desk drawer. He felt better, now, but they only had three days, and he had the feeling that if he didn’t resolve the O’Coineen question by that time, he might never have the chance again. He had a lot to do in the meantime.

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