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Authors: Ted Wood

Fool's Gold

BOOK: Fool's Gold
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Fool's Gold
A Reid Bennett Mystery

Ted Wood

 

 

For my son Ted, who taught Reid Bennett how to fight

 

 

 

1

 

 

It looked like your standard domestic argument. A large him holding a smaller her at arm's length by the hair, while she swore and kicked and swung at him. I was four hundred miles from home, pulling my car into the parking lot of a motel. But I'm still a policeman, so I stopped with my headlights focussed on them and got out, hissing for Sam, my German shepherd, to follow.
 

There were about half a dozen men standing around them, mostly laughing, all dressed alike, rough heavy jackets and baseball caps. Miners, I figured, from the new gold mine twenty-five miles up the Trans-Canada Highway. And today was the thirtieth of the month. Payday. They were celebrating with a few drinks and some commercial female company that had driven into town for the occasion, probably in the recreational vehicle I could see at the end of the lot, which meant that this scuffle might not be a routine domestic. Anyway, I watched.
 

She was shouting, "You lousy sonofabitch. Gimme my money," and writhing like a snake as she kicked and flailed at him. He was laughing. He probably laughed at most attempts to hurt him, right before he tore the arms and legs off whoever tried it. He was six-foot-three and had the square-as-a-door build of the lifelong manual worker. He looked and sounded mean.
 

"That was my goddamn money, bitch. You think I'd spend fifty bucks for a piece of ass?" he roared. Not domestic, I decided, the world's oldest professional argument.
 

I could see that the woman was thirtyish, slim, and blond. And she was spittingly, helplessly angry. When he let her go, I thought, he had better watch what she did with her feet. For the moment, though, he was in charge and he was enjoying himself. "You had a good time," he told her, and his circle all laughed. I guessed he was the camp bully. There's one on most sites and most men avoid trouble by Uncle Tomming him to death.
 

He grinned at the woman. "You shoulda heard yourself. You was nearly outta your mind. How long's it been since you had a real man?"
 

She flailed another useless hand at him and railed. "Real man? You limp-dick wimp." And that was when he hit her. Holding her aloft by her hair he slapped a cracking right hand across her face hard enough to make her body jump in the air, as if she had dropped to the end of a rope. Then he let go and she fell in a heap at his feet. He made a production of brushing his hands clean on his pant legs, looking down at her as if she was something he had just stepped in.
 

She pulled herself up on one elbow, shocked and stunned, hardly able to move. I went and squatted down next to her, making sure I had a clear view of the big guy. There was blood in her mouth.
 

The big man said, "You wan' her? Help yourself. On me." He laughed and one or two of the others laughed until I stood up and moved a step closer to him.
 

"Sounds like you ripped her off," I said evenly.

He stopped wiping his hands and looked at me, surprised, squinting through the beam of my headlights that lit up his big square face. "You her pimp?" he sneered.
 

"No. I thought you were. Only guys ever slap whores around are pimps and queers/' I said. "Either way I could be right."

He was as dumb as he was big. He roared and charged me, head down like a bull. I sidestepped and kicked his right foot behind his left ankle as he passed. It sent him sprawling, face first, full length, scraping his hands flat out on the gravel. Behind me a man said in French, "Hey, he's fighting Carl, let's get him." I told Sam "Speak" and he sprang into action, stiff legged, moving out, barking at the menace as I went sideways so the light wasn't blinding me as the other guy got up, wiping his hands again. The woman was flapping away on hands and knees like an injured sea gull.
 

I watched the man, listening to Sam's working snarl behind me as he kept the others out of reach. Slowly the man reached behind him and I knew what was coming. He had a knife. "Bring that thing out and my dog'll have your balls," I warned him. "You wanna fight, forget the knife."
 

"I don't need no knife to cut shit like you," he said. He was calm now, with the first move made. He came toward me more slowly, arms half circled out to grab me if I tried to sidestep.
 

I didn't. Instead I dropped into a crouch and shot out a straight left that hit him square on the end of his nose, bursting it like a tomato. He howled and covered his face and I stepped in and sank a heavy right into his gut. He grunted but didn't fold and then grabbed me, both arms around me like a bear as he tried to sink his teeth into my face. I could hear his friends cheering above the metronomic barking of my dog and the sobbing breath of the woman who was standing up now, on the fringe of the tunnel of light, all of this in the moment before I head-smashed him on his damaged nose and scraped my boot down his shin and ground it into his instep. He was wearing work boots, but I hurt him enough that he yelled and let go. This time I made my fingers into a chisel and dug them two knuckles deep into his solar plexus. He collapsed writhing, and I spun to face the crowd. "Who's next?" I shouted in French. "Who feels lucky?"
 

I wanted an encore about as badly as I wanted a case of herpes, but nothing discourages violence like the appearance of being crazy. I played it to the hilt, running toward them and shouting as they scattered in all directions, Sam snapping and barking at their heels.
 

I watched them go, then went back to my car and got in, feeling dirtied as I always do after fights, wishing it could have been avoided. I pulled along to a parking spot against the motel wall, got out, and whistled for Sam. He came to me while I got my bag from the trunk and I fussed him and set him to "keep" the area around my car—that way nobody was going to prove how big and tough they were by taking a knife to my tires. Then I opened the rear window and put him inside the car to sleep. He's an outdoor dog and the overnight chill wouldn't bother him any.
 

When I had Sam settled comfortably, I went around to the office. In the light from the little neon sign over the door I could see the woman bending over Carl as he sprawled on the gravel. I guessed she was getting her money back. I ignored her and went inside.
 

There was a woman behind the desk, working on something that she slipped out of sight under the counter as I came in. She was a dish, by my standards, handsome rather than pretty, but her face was unlined and her hair was set in a mass of curls that God hadn't given her. She was around five-two, one-twenty-five, built on a scale that my father, who was a Brit, used to call "bonny." She was in her thirties, probably a year or two younger than me.
 

"Hi," she said, and frowned. "What did you do to your head?" I reached up automatically and checked my forehead. It was wet with the other guy's blood.
 

There were tissues on the counter top. I took a couple and wiped the blood off. "Sony about that. I ran into some kind of tribal rite in the parking lot. That better?"
 

"Good," she said, frowning up again like a mother checking her boy's face for jam. "Yes, that's fine." She gestured to the door. "Another fight, was it? God! I hate paydays." I noticed a smear of color on her hand.
 

"You smudged your burnt umber," I told her, and she looked down at her hands and blushed, then looked up, surprised.

"You're not an artist?"

I didn't look like one. I was wearing the combat jacket I brought home from Nam and a heavy plaid shirt and jeans. I figured I looked like the rest of the guys she saw. But maybe that's how artists look these days, I've never met any. "No. But I owned a paint box when I was a kid," I told her, and she grinned. She had a nice grin, showing white, even teeth.
 

"Who was doing the brawling?" she asked, reaching for her box of check-in cards.

"An oversized rounder by the name of Carl. He was slapping a woman around and I objected."

"That bastard," she said passionately. "I hope you clobbered him." Then she gave a little laugh. "I guess you must have, you're here, unhurt, no marks. Good. I'm glad."
 

"It's nice to be needed," I said, just to keep the conversation perking along. I liked it a lot more than brawling in the parking lot.
 

She smiled again. "You're needed, believe me. He pulls this same stunt every payday. He generally picks on little guys. The police must have taken him in half a dozen times, nothing does any good."
 

There was no modest reply, so instead of shuffling my feet, I picked up the pen and started filling out one of her cards. Reid Bennett, Murphy's Harbour, Ontario. Company—I debated this one with myself. I'm still the police chief at the Harbour, but right now nobody needed to know. Finally I lied and wrote down "Prudential Assurance" and handed her the card.

She read it and laughed. "You're the damndest piece of the Rock I ever saw."

"It's a living." I tried to look sincere. The reason I was here was business, right enough, but not business I wanted known in the local pool hall. I figured insurance would cover me. Nobody would ask questions for fear of being sold a policy.
 

"How long are you staying?" She had blue eyes the color of Wedgwood china, and I noticed that her hands were free of hardware. Divorced, I guessed. No way a woman this attractive would have stayed single for thirty-odd years in what had been a logging town until somebody found gold just up the highway.
 

"I'm not sure, a couple or three days anyway. You got lots of space?"

"No," she said honestly, reaching for a key. "Since the gold strike at Chaudiere we've been crazy. Prospectors, chopper pilots, then the construction people setting up the new mine. These are boom times in Olympia. You're lucky we've got a room tonight, the Darvon people just phoned from the mine and cancelled their reservation." She waved the hand with the key in it. "They keep one all the time."
 

"My lucky night." I took the key. "Is the dining room still open?"

She nodded. "Be advised, have the lake trout, it's the only thing the chef can handle."

I raised the key in salute. "Thanks for the friendly advice and good luck with the artwork." I went off down the corridor between yellow-painted walls of concrete block, more cheerful than I had been since my ex-wife came to me for help. Maybe things would turn out well. Maybe I could go home in a week with the news that the police had been wrong, the body they had found in the bush with its head gnawed away by bears hadn't belonged to Jim Prudhomme, the husband of her old college roomie. I hoped so.
 

The room was down the end of the corridor and on the way I passed half a dozen open doors. Men, mostly in their shorts, were drinking and laughing and hoping that Miss America would wander by and fall in love with them and force her attentions upon them. It's crazy, but living in a bunkhouse will do that for a man.
 

The room was as I'd expected, walls of the same painted concrete block, two beds, a TV that drew its pictures from a dish receiver they had on the roof. Great. If Miss America didn't show, I could always watch "Gilligan's Island."
 

I freshened up and put on a sweater instead of my combat jacket and walked out across the lot to the two-story building all the rock music was pouring out of.
 

I looked around me as I went into the lot, but there was nobody there. Carl's friends must have taken him home to the mine site. Good. I was over quota for fights. I went to the car and spoke to Sam, who was curled in the backseat. "Good boy," I told him. "I'll bring you a burger on my way back."
 

BOOK: Fool's Gold
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