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The Double
  • August 29, 2013 : 23:08
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“I am not hurt,” said Bacalov, but now there was a quiver in his voice.

Lucas concentrated. The Beretta’s mag held 15. He struggled to remember how many rounds he’d fired.

Recharge.

“I am not afraid,” said Bacalov.

Yes you are, thought Lucas. So am I.

Lucas released the partially spent magazine and slipped it into his vest. From the same pouch he took a full-load magazine and palmed it home. He readied the gun and chambered a round.

“You are pussy,” said Bacalov.

Lucas stood and fired. The dining room table splintered and Bacalov came up out of his crouch and squeezed off a round. ­Lucas felt a bullet crease the air as he walked forward, focused, firing his weapon, and through the smoke and ejecting shells he saw ­Bacalov dance backward as blood misted from his chest. He dropped his Glock and fell to the floor.

Lucas kept his gun arm steady and aimed. He stepped to Bacalov, stood over him. Watched as he struggled for breath, saw his shirt flutter about the chest wound, listened to the rattle of his filling lungs. His eyes crossed and saw nothing. Lucas shot him twice more and walked away.

He went out to the porch and checked on Smalls, now conscious, his eyes frightened, his wrists raw from struggle. There were no sirens in the distance, no headlights coming up the gravel road. Only the sound of crickets and a faint ringing in Lucas’s ears.

He reentered the house and went up the stairs. He went bedroom to bedroom until he found the laptop on Bacalov’s bed. The size of the shirts hung in the closet told him it was the little man’s room. He’d corresponded with Bacalov via e-mail, and there’d be a record. He took the laptop off the bed.

Downstairs he went straight to the wrapped objects leaning against the wall. He tore off the brown wrapping of the top one and put it aside. He found what he was looking for when he unwrapped the second painting. Two men, bare-chested, one middle aged, one young, just as Grace had described. In the right-hand corner was the artist’s name: L. Browning. The Double.

He went back out to the porch, got his duct tape and returned to the living room, where he rewrapped Grace Kinkaid’s painting. He then went around the room collecting ejected casings and shells, slipping them into his vest. He did the best he could.

He made two more trips outside and back again, carrying his shotgun, the painting and the laptop to the edge of the woods. He left those items there and found his bolt cutters and a bottle of water in the bag. He was still wearing the .38 and nine on his holster belt when he stepped back onto the porch.

“Serge is dead,” said Lucas. “You can be dead too. Blink hard if you understand.”

Louis Smalls closed his eyes, paused and opened them.

“I’m gonna free your hands and turn you over.”

Lucas used the cutters to liberate Smalls’s hands. He removed the duct tape from his face, put him on his back, helped him sit up, then took him by the arm and moved him so that he was in a sitting position against the porch wall. He was still bound at the ankles. Lucas stood before him.

Smalls rubbed at his raw wrists and watched Lucas as he drank deeply from the plastic water bottle. Lucas capped the bottle and tossed it to Smalls. He had a long drink.

Lucas picked up the wallet off the floor, opened it and examined the Maryland driver’s license inside. The name said ­Louis McGinty. The photo matched, but the license’s graphics were smudged and not quite right.

“What’s your real name?”

“Louis Smalls.”

“Billy’s?”

“Billy King.”

“Where is he?”

“With a woman.”

“Where?”

“I don’t know. I don’t even know if he’s coming back.”

Lucas believed him. “How deep are you in with these guys?”

“Deep.”

“Why?”

“I got no one else,” said Smalls.

“You can do better.”

Smalls looked down at his hands. “What’s gonna happen to me?”

“I’m giving you a chance. That depends on you.” Lucas dropped the wallet in ­Smalls’s lap. “Take the envelope with you too.”

Lucas crouched down and cut the flex-cuffs from Smalls’s ankles.

“Why?” said Smalls.

“I got what I came for. It’s done.”

Smalls stood and gathered his things. He took the keys out of the door lock where they dangled.

“I need to get some things out of my room,” he said.

“No. Keep the car keys and give me the key to the house. Get in your car and drive.”

Smalls removed the house key from the ring and handed it to Lucas. Without further comment Smalls went to his car, fired up the ignition and drove away.

Lucas locked the front door of the house. If King did come back, he’d find Bacalov rotting and ripe.

Lucas knew he’d never be able to carry his guns, gear, the painting and the laptop back through the woods. He jogged the half mile to his truck unencumbered and drove the Jeep back to the house, where he loaded everything into its cargo area. He went down the gravel road with his headlights off, navigating by the light of the moon.

Lucas rode back to D.C. in quiet, with the radio off and the windows down. He thought of Bacalov and their battle, and he saw him dead on the living room floor.

He would have killed me.

Lucas stared coolly at the road ahead.


Excerpted from The Double by George Pelecanos, forthcoming from Little, Brown and Co.

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read more: entertainment, magazine, fiction, issue september 2013

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