“Jug Bay,” said Lucas. He checked the Google map he had printed out that morning and pulled over on the shoulder. Up ahead was a driveway of gravel with a posted mailbox at its head.
“Could be it,” said Lucas.
He drove on. A half mile or so up the road, at the end of the tree line, sat an old service station with plywood in its windows and a flat island that had once held two pumps. Lucas pulled in and studied his map.
“All right,” said Lucas. “If Lumley gave me the right information, King and them are staying in a house at the end of that gravel road. I figure the house is due southeast from where we are now. I’ll shoot us an azimuth.”
“Man, you don’t know what the fuck you’re doin’, do you?”
“We’ll find the house.”
They drove down to the Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary and unloaded their recreational gear. Dupree grudgingly changed into Leo’s shorts and took off on Lucas’s bike.
Lucas put his kayak in at the boat ramp and headed out into a freshwater marsh carpeted in cattails, reed and arrowhead. His hand on the paddle felt sure and strong. He saw a great blue heron, turtles and a northern water snake. A front had taken away much of the humidity, and the sky was clear with full sun. It was one of those days that made Lucas believe in something higher. Whether or not there was an afterlife was irrelevant to him. When he witnessed this kind of natural beauty, he knew. This life was no cosmic accident.
Lucas and Dupree met up again in the late afternoon, changed clothes and drove back over to Route 301, where they found a restaurant with wood-panel walls that had salads, baked potatoes and steaks. They ordered no alcohol and told the waitress to take her time. They were waiting for night.
“How’d you like that ride?” said Lucas.
“Your bike’s a little small for me,” said Dupree, cutting into a medium-rare New York strip. “Like those shorts you gave me.”
“You’ll sleep well tonight.”
“How about you?” said Dupree. “How do you sleep?”
“Fine,” said Lucas.
“I don’t have a problem with that either. You believe everything you read, all of us vets wake up in the middle of the night in a full sweat. But I never have nightmares, Luke.”
“So you’re normal, whatever that is. You’re saying the war did nothing to you.”
Dupree swallowed a mouthful of iceberg lettuce covered in blue cheese dressing. He placed his fork on the table. “You ever take those complimentary tickets they give out to veterans? You know, for Wizards and Nationals games?”
“Sure. I’ve sat behind home plate.”
“Me too. The announcer says the soldiers or marines are in the house tonight, and most everyone in the arena or stadium gets up and gives us a round of applause.”
“They’re paying tribute.”
“They mean well. Then they sit back down in their seats, enjoy the game and forget we’re there. A lot of those dudes own businesses. Why don’t they walk over to my seat and talk to me, see what I’m about. See if maybe they can find a spot on their payroll for a veteran who wants to put his back into it. Instead, they clap their hands and think they’ve done something.”
“It’s for them, not us. Those guys who stand up, with their golf shirts on? We did what they couldn’t have done. And they know it.”
“But they don’t know me,” said Dupree. “I’m not a cold-blooded murderer. I’m not a hero. I don’t have PTSD.”
“But you suffer from a touch of depression once in a while, Winston. Tell the truth.”
“I’m just disappointed, man. I want to go to work every day and get treated like everyone else. I don’t need standing ovations. I don’t want sympathy or a thank-you-for-your-service. Offer me a chance at a meaningful job so I can get my life going. Treat me like a man.”
They ate silently for a while. Lucas looked like he was enjoying his meal, but he was thinking hard about his friend.
“This thing we’re about to do,” said Dupree.
“All that hardware we got from Bobby…that’s for show, right? I mean, we gonna go in strapped and scare the shit out of those boys, right?”
“That’s the idea.”
“I don’t want to shoot anyone. I’m done with that.”
“You won’t have to,” said Lucas. “You’ve got my word.”
Billy King came down the stairs of the colonial with a single piece of luggage in hand. In the soft bag was enough clothing for several days and nights, a couple of disposable cells, his portion of the cash he had skimmed from the coin deal and the remaining cash from the previous jobs he had done with Serge Bacalov and Louis Smalls. He intended to return to the house in Croom, but he didn’t want to leave any of his money behind. In the event the house and its occupants became radioactive and he could not come back, he had everything he needed in the bag. And he had wheels. If a man planned correctly and traveled light, he could stay free.
Bacalov sat at the dining room table. He had field-stripped his Glock and was cleaning its barrel with a bore brush and solvent. Smalls was sitting on the overstuffed couch. He had just done a bong hit of hydroponic and was now listening to an old Baroness CD, Blue Record, through his earbuds, the psych-metal crunch of the music causing him to nod his head. He saw King come down the stairs, suitcase in hand, and he felt a drop in his stomach. Smalls pulled his buds out and stood.
“Where you go, eh?” said Bacalov.
“I’m going to visit a lady friend,” said King.
“Always a woman with you.”
“You should try it sometime.”
King had never seen Bacalov with a woman, though he’d seen him watching them in strip joints and on the stroke sites he bookmarked on his laptop. First time they’d met, they’d been in that meat house on Connecticut Avenue, the one with the notoriously ugly dancers. Both of them at the bar, watching, though by rights King should have been home and satisfied. He’d just come from the Wyoming, where he’d banged his latest crinkle bunny to within an inch of her life. King had struck up a conversation with Bacalov and found his chimp-like face, his one eyebrow and his mangling of the English language amusing. Also, he sensed that Bacalov had fire. They soon tired of their surroundings and moved together across the street to the bar of Russia House, a restaurant and lounge. Bacalov said he’d be more comfortable around his people. But the place was filled with Americans, and Bacalov didn’t talk to any women there either. Mainly he boasted about his criminal past and what he was capable of. Told King about a local man he knew, a moolie, who would maim and kill for hire, even gave him the man’s number so he could verify his claim. King thought that most of it was bullshit and alcohol talk. But not all. He saw potential.
“You put women over our business,” said Bacalov.
“I sold the coins,” said King. “I’m working on the paintings.”
“The paintings just sit here.”
“I left word with Lumley. He hasn’t gotten back to me yet. He will.”
“When are you coming back?”
“Couple, three days.”
“Billy?” said Smalls. “Wait up, I’m coming out too.”