O is for Outlaw Page 117

"Duffy?" I called.

The lights were on in his makeshift tent, but there was no sign of him. His shoes were missing and the blanket I'd laid over him was now crumpled on the floor. A cheap saucepan sat on the hot plate filled with a beige sludge that looked like refried beans. A plastic packet of flour tortillas sat, unopened, on the unused burner. The pan still felt warm so maybe he'd stepped out to take a leak. I heard the BMW skid to a halt.

"Duffy! "

I checked the top of the orange crate. Duncan Oaks's press pass, his dog tags, and the snapshot were still lying where I'd left them. Outside, I heard the car door slam, the sound of someone thumping in my direction. I gathered Duncan's things in haste, looking for a place to hide them before Bethel appeared. Quickly, I considered and discarded the idea of hiding the items in Duffy's clothes. The shed itself was crude, with little in the way of furniture and no nooks or crannies. In the absence of insulation, I was looking at bare studs, not so much as a toolbox where I could stash the stuff. I shoved the items in my back pocket just as Mark appeared in the doorway, a gun in his hand.

"Oh, shit," I said.

"I'd appreciate your handing me the tape recorder and the tape."

"No problem," I said. I reached in my shoulder bag, took out the tape recorder, and held it out to him. While I watched, he tucked the tape recorder up against his body, pressed the EJECT button with his free hand, and extracted the cassette. He dropped the tape recorder on the dirt floor and crushed it with his foot. Behind him, I caught a flicker of movement. Duffy appeared in the doorway and then eased back out of sight.

"I don't get it," I said. I focused on Mark, making sure I didn't telegraph Duffy's presence with my eyes.

"Get what?" Mark was distracted. He tried to keep his eyes pinned on me while he held the gun and cassette in one hand and unraveled the tape with the other, pulling off the reel. Loops of thin, shiny ribbon were tangled in his fingers, trailing to the floor in places.

"I don't understand what you're so worried about. There's nothing on there that would incriminate you."

"I can't be sure what Laddie said before I showed." "She was the soul of discretion," I said dryly.

Mark smiled in spite of himself. "What a champ."

"Why'd you kill Benny?"

"To get him off my back. What'd you think?"

"Because he knew you killed Duncan?"

"Because he saw me do it."

"Just like that?"

"Just like that. Call it a flash of inspiration. Six of us were loaded with the body bags. Duncan was pissing and moaning, but I could tell he wasn't hurt bad. Fuckin' baby. Before we could lift off, the medic was killed by machine-gun fire. Benny seemed to be out of it. I'd been shot in the leg, and I'd taken a load of shrapnel in my back and side. Up we went. I remember the chopper shuddering, and I didn't think we'd makeit under all the small arms fire. The minute we were airborne, I crawled over to Duncan, stripped him of his ID, ripped the tags off his neck, and tossed 'ern aside. All the time the chopper lurched and vibrated like a crazy man was shaking it back and forth. Duncan lay there looking at me, but I don't think he fully understood what I was doing until I hoisted him out. Benny saw me, the shit. He pretended he'd passed out, but he saw the whole deal. By then, I was light-headed and rolled over on my side, sick with sweat. That's when Benny took the tags and hid 'ern. . .

"I take it he pressed you too hard."

"Hey, I did what I could for him. In the end, I killed him as much for being dumb as trying to screw me over when he should have left well enough alone."

"And Mickey?"

"Let's cut the chitchat and get on with this." He snapped his fingers, pointing to the bag.

"I don't have a gun."

"It's Duncan's tags I want."

"I left the stuff sitting on the orange crate. Duffy must have taken it."

Mark snapped his fingers, gesturing for me to hand him the bag.

"I lied about the snapshot."


I passed him my shoulder bag and watched while he searched. His holding the gun necessitated working with the bag clamped against his chest. This made it tricky to inspect the interior while he kept an eye on me. Impatiently, he tipped the bag upside down, dumping out the contents. Somewhere nearby, I heard the low rumble of heavy equipment and I found myself praying, Please, please, please.

Mark heard it too. He tossed the bag to one side and motioned with the gun, indicating I should leave before him. I was suddenly afraid. While we talked, while we stood face-to-face, I didn't believe he'd kill me because I didn't think he'd have the nerve. My own fate had seemed curiously out of my hands. What mattered at that point was knowing the truth, finding out what had happened to Duncan and Benny and Mick. Now the act of turning my back was almost more than I could bear.

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