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Authors: Bill Crider

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When Old Men Die

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When Old Men Die
 

A Truman Smith Mystery

By Bill Crider

 

 

First Digital Edition published by Crossroad Press

Copyright 2011 by Bill Crider

Copy-edited by Kurt Criscione

Cover Design by David Dodd

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ALSO FROM BILL CRIDER & CROSSROAD PRESS:
 

AS JACK MACLANE:

Blood Dreams

Goodnight
MooM

Just Before Dark

Keepers of the Beast

Rest in Peace

 

AS BILL CRIDER:

A Time for Hanging

Medicine Show

Ryan Rides Back

Nighttime is the Right Time

Dead on the Island

One
 

I
n the winter, the Gulf Coast Pier closes at five in the afternoon, so I figured I had another half hour to fish before I started gathering up my gear.
 
I wouldn't have to worry about taking home any fish, since I hadn't even gotten a nibble.
 
That was all right.
 
I hadn't really expected to.

It was a beautiful January day on Galveston Island, a Saturday, fifty degrees and sunny, with a cloudless sky the color of that soft light blue that General Motors used on a lot of 1957 Buicks.
 
But in spite of the nice weather, there was only one other person on the pier with me, a weather-beaten old man who'd probably been fishing somewhere along the seawall every day for the past thirty years.

The reason the pier was practically deserted was simple:
 
the fish just weren't biting, in spite of the weather.

I got up off the bench where I'd been sitting for most of the afternoon and reading a hardback copy of
Look Homeward, Angel
while occasionally glancing at the tips of my rods in case there was any activity.
 
I asked the old man if he wanted the rest of the bait shrimp in my blue plastic bucket, but he didn't.
 
I poured them over the side of the pier and started reeling in one of my lines.

That was when I looked down toward the entrance to the pier and saw Dino walking toward me.
 
I might have been more surprised to see Jimmy Hoffa, but not much.
 
Dino didn't get out often. And he especially didn't get out over the water.
 
He might have seen the Gulf from his car window recently, but I would've bet he hadn't been on a pier in twenty years.
 
A lot of the natives of the Island like to pretend that they never see the Gulf.
 
Maybe they never do.

"Jesus Christ, Tru," Dino said when he got to my bench.
 
"I had to pay three bucks just to walk out here to talk to you.
 
Why don't you just fish off one of the rock jetties?"

"They don't have benches," I said.

"Yeah.
 
And besides that, I'm missing
Geraldo
.
 
Don't you ever watch TV?"

I stopped reeling and looked at him.
 
"Not as much as you do."

I have my escapes from reality, and Dino has his.
 
For a long time, his involved watching soap operas, but lately he's given them up for talk shows.
 
He watches Sally, Phil, Geraldo, Jerry,
Montel
,
Rolanda
,
Ricki
, Vicki, and some others that I don't even know about.
 
I think he even watches one in Spanish.
 
But he's not watching as much as he's used to.
 
He gets out of the house more.

I reeled in the rest of the line, took the beat-up shrimp off the hook, and tossed it in the Gulf.
 
I wiped my hands on my sweatshirt and started reeling in the other line.
 
Dino didn't mention TV again; he just sat on the bench and watched me.

"Not much luck, huh?" he said when I was finished.

"I threw them all back," I said.
 
"I like to catch 'em, but I don't like to clean 'em."

"Bullshit," the old man said from the next bench.
 
He was reeling in too.
 
"Ain't either one of us caught so much as a little old hardhead all day."

A truthful fisherman.
 
That was all I needed.
 
I ignored him and looked at the seawall to see if I could spot Dino's car.
 
I did, and I thought I could see someone sitting behind the wheel.

"Did Evelyn drive you out here?" I asked.

Evelyn was the mother of Dino's daughter, Sharon.
 
I'd helped him out with a problem involving Sharon a year or so back.
 
Some people had gotten killed, which was too bad.
 
They weren't very good people, maybe, but I'd done some of the killing, and I hadn't liked it.
 
At least Dino and Evelyn had gotten together again as a result.
 
And Sharon was doing better.

Dino pointed toward the seawall.
 
"Evelyn's in the car.
 
I sure as hell wasn't going to pay
six
bucks to talk to you."

I sat down beside him on the bench.
 
"You could've waited until the pier closed."

"This is an emergency," he said, looking out over the Gulf.
 
The gray-green swells were gentle, barely white capping as they rolled to such beach as there was.
 
There wasn't much, just a narrow strip of sand in front of the granite blocks that had been put in front of the seawall to keep the Gulf from undercutting it.

"You can tell him what it is," the old man said, gathering up his rods in one hand and his bucket in the other.
 
"I won't be
listenin
'.
 
I'm
goin
' home and fix me a big fish dinner.
 
Tuna fish."

He laughed at his own little joke as he walked past us, and we watched him until he went through the gate at the snack bar.

"What's the emergency?" I asked then.

Dino looked back at the Gulf.
 
"Outside Harry's disappeared," he said.

 

I
hadn't met Outside Harry until a year or so ago when I came back to Galveston to find my sister, Jan.
 
That was my specialty, finding people, but I hadn't found Jan.
 
I never did, not exactly, but in the course of the looking I'd met Harry.

I'd known who he was ever since I was a kid.
 
Practically everyone knew about him.
 
He 'd been on the Island for as long as most people could remember, though as far as anyone knew he didn't have a place to live.
 
Harry had been homeless before homelessness had been cool, living out of the garbage cans behind grocery stores or on whatever money he could beg or borrow from the people he met, wearing several layers of clothing all year round and hauling his worldly goods in a shopping cart.

I'd found that Harry was a surprisingly good source of information about what went on in Galveston.
 
He overheard a lot of things in his wanderings because no one paid him any attention.
 
Often they didn't even notice him, and if they thought of him at all, they thought he was stupid.
 
But they were wrong.
 
He remembered most of what he heard and could repeat it with surprising accuracy.

"How do you know he's missing?" I asked Dino.
 
"I didn't know you kept up with him."

Dino shrugged.
 
"I don't.
 
Not exactly."

The man who ran the snack bar and took up the admissions money was walking in our direction.
 
I figured he wanted to go home.
 
I didn't blame him.
 
He hadn't made much money that day.

"Let's go," I told Dino.
 
"You can tell me the rest in the car."

Dino looked at his watch.
 
"It's not five o'clock yet.
 
I paid three bucks to sit here on this damn bench, and I'm going to get my money's worth."

"We'll be leaving in a minute," I told the man when he reached us.
 
"We have a little business to discuss."

The man was tall and lanky, with a head of thick black hair.
 
"Just as long as you're off by five," he said.

I promised him that we would be gone by then.

Dino waited until the man had walked back to the snack bar.
 
"I been helping Harry out a little now and then ever since that business with Sharon."

That was Dino's way.
 
You help him out, as Harry had done, though only in a small way, and Dino would help you out.
 
That was the way it had been with Dino's uncles, back when Galveston was the leader in illegal gambling on the Gulf Coast and the uncles had practically been running the city, and that was the way it was with Dino now.
 
It was the only way he knew.

"Helping him out how?" I asked.

Dino shrugged.
 
"Giving him a hand-out now and then when he comes by the back door.
 
Giving him a few bucks, too.
 
Hell, Tru, he eats dog food.
 
Did you know that?"

I nodded.
 
"He likes it," I said.

Dino didn't appear convinced.
 
"Yeah.
 
Maybe.
 
Anyway, he wouldn't take much from me.
 
I just gave him as much as I could."

"And now he's missing?"

"That's right.
 
He hasn't been by the house in a couple of weeks, which is longer than usual.
 
So I asked around."

Dino hadn't been a part of the family business, but he still had connections.
 
And while he'd tried to put the past behind him, the past is never behind you on the Island.
 
To some people, the past is more important, and more real, than the present.
 
So everyone remembered the uncles.
 
When Dino "asked around," people responded.

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