Book: Mr Majestyk



Mr Majestyk


Mr Majestyk (1974) Leonard, Elmore Unknown publisher (2011)




Mr. Majestyk


Elmore Leonard *


Synopsis:

A Vietnam Veteran And Trained Killer, Vincent Majestyk Finds peace as a farmer , growing melons, until the Mob, seeing him as an easy mark, tries to make him a v ictim in an extortion plot.

Chapter 1.

THIS MORNING they were here for the melons: about sixty of them waitin g p atiently by the two stake trucks and the old blue-painted school bus. Most o f t hem, including the few women here, were Chicano migrants, who had arrived i n t heir old junk cars that were parked in a line behind the trucks. Others, the Valley Agricultural Workers Association had brought out from Phoenix, droppin g t hem off at 5:30 A . M. on the outskirts of Edna, where the state road came out o f t he desert to cross the U. S. highway. The growers and the farm workers called it Junction. There was an Enco gas station on the corner, then a storefront with a b ig V. A. W. A . sign in the window that was the farm labor hiring hall--closed unti l n ext season--and then a cafe-bar with a red neon sign that said beer-wine. Th e r est of the storefronts in the block were empty--dark, gutted structures tha t w ere gradually being destroyed by the desert wind.

The farm workers stood around on the sidewalk waiting to be hired, waiting fo r t he labor contractors to finish their coffee, finish talking to the foremen an d t he waitresses, and come out and point to them and motion them toward the stak e t rucks and the blue-painted school bus.

The dozen or so whites were easy to spot. Most of them were worn-out looking me n i n dirty, worn-out clothes that had once been their own or someone else's goo d c lothes. A tight little group of them was drinking Thunderbird, passing the win e b ottle around in a paper bag. A couple of them were sipping from beer cans. Tw o t eenaged white boys with long hair stood off by themselves, hip-cocked, thei r a rms folded over tight white T-shirts, not seeming to mind the early mornin g c hill. They would look around casually and squint up at the pale sky.

The Chicanos, in their straw hats and baseball caps, plaid shirts, and Levis o r k hakis, with their lunch in paper bags, felt the chill. They would look at th e s ky knowing it was near the end of the season and soon most of them would b e h eading for California, to the Imperial and San Joaquin valleys. Some o f t hem--once in a while for something to do--would shield their faces from the ligh t a nd look in the window of the hiring hall, at the rows of folding chairs, at th e d isplay of old V. A. W. A . strike posters and yellowed newspaper pages with column s m arked in red. They would stare at the photograph of Emiliano Zapata on the wal l b ehind the counter, at the statue of the Virgin Mary on a stand, and try to rea d t he hand-lettered announcements: Todo el mundo esta invitado que venga a l a r esada--

Larry Mendoza came out of the cafe-bar with a carry-out cup of coffee in eac h h and--one black, one cream and sugar--and walked over to the curb, beyond th e f ront of the old blue-painted school bus. Some of the farm workers stared a t h im--a thin, bony-shouldered, weathered-looking Chicano in clean Levis an d h igh-heeled work boots, a Texas straw funneled low over his eyes--and one o f t hem, also a Chicano, said, "Hey, Larry, tell Julio you want me. Tell him writ e m y name down at the top." Larry Mendoza glanced over at the man and nodded, bu t d idn't say anything.

Another one said, "How much you paying, Larry? Buck forty?"

He nodded again and said, "Same as everybody." He felt them watching him becaus e h e was foreman out at Majestyk and could give some of them jobs. He knew ho w t hey felt, hoping each day to get their names on a work list. He had stood o n t his corner himself, waiting for a contractor to point to him. He had started i n t he fields for forty cents an hour. He'd worked for sixty cents, seventy-fiv e c ents. Now he was making eighty dollars a week, all year: he got to drive th e p ickup any time he wanted and his family lived in a house with an inside toilet.

He wished he could hire all of them, assure each man right now that he'd b e w orking today, but he couldn't do that. So he ignored them, looking down th e s idewalk now toward the Enco station where the attendant was pumping gas into a n o ld-model four-wheel-drive pickup that was painted yellow, its high front en d p ointing this way. Larry Mendoza stood like that, his back to the school bus an d t he farm workers, waiting, then began to sip the coffee with cream and sugar.

The Enco gas station attendant, with the name Gil stitched over the pocket o f h is shirt, watched the numbers changing in the window of the pump and began t o s queeze the handle of the nozzle that curved into the gas tank filler, slowing the rotation of the numbers, easing them in line to read three dollars even, an d p ulled the nozzle out of the opening.

When he looked over at the station he saw the guy who owned the pickup steppin g o ut of the Men's Room, coming this way across the pavement--a dark, solemn-face d m an who might have passed for a Chicano except for his name. Vince Majestyk.

Hard-looking guy, but always quiet, the few times he had been there. Vincent Majestyk of majestyk brand melons that was lettered on the doors of the picku p a nd made him sound like a big grower. Shit, he looked more like a picker than a g rower. Maybe a foreman, with his khaki pants and blue shirt. From what th e s tation attendant had heard about him, the guy was scratching to get by an d p robably wouldn't be around very long. Comes in, buys three bucks worth of gas.

Big deal.

He said, "That's all you want?"

The guy, Majestyk, looked over at him as he walked past the front of the pickup.

"If you're not too busy you can wipe the bugs off the windshield," he said, an d k ept going, over toward the school bus and the farm workers crowding around.

The gas station attendant said to himself, Shit. Get up at five in the mornin g t o sell three bucks' worth. Wait around all day and watch the tourists drive by.

Four-thirty sell the migrants each a buck's worth. Shit.

Larry Mendoza handed Majestyk the cup of black coffee and the two of them stoo d w atching as Julio Tamaz, a labor contractor, looked over the waiting groups o f f arm workers, called off names and motioned them to the school bus. There wer e a lready men aboard, seated, their heads showing in the line of windows.

"We're almost ready to go," Mendoza said.

"Good ones?" Majestyk took a sip of coffee.

"The best he's got."

"Bob Santos," the labor contractor called out. "And . . . Anbrocio Verrara."

"They're good," Mendoza said.

"Luis Ortega!"

A frail old man grinned and hurried toward the bus.

"Wait a minute," Mendoza said. "I don't know him. He ever picked before?"

Julio Tamaz, the labor contractor, turned to them with a surprised look. "Luis?

All his life. Man, he was conceived in a melon field." Julio's expressio n b rightened, relaxed in a smile as he looked at Majestyk. "Hey, Vincent, nice t o s ee you."

Mendoza said, "That's thirty. We want any more'n that?"

Majestyk was finishing his coffee. He lowered the cup. "If Julio's got any lik e t o work for nothing."

"Man," Julio said, "you tight with the dollar. Like to squeeze it to death."

"How's my credit?"

"Vincent"--Julio's expression was sad now--"I told you. What do I pay them with?"

"All right, I just wondered if you'd changed your mind." He took a fold of bill s o ut of his pants pocket and handed them to the labor contractor. "Straight buc k f orty an hour, ten hours' work for a crew of thirty comes to four hundred an d t wenty. Don't short anybody."

Julio seemed offended now. "I take my percent. I don't need to cheat them."

"Larry'll ride with you," Majestyk said. "He finds anybody hasn't slippe d h oneydew melons before, they come back with you and we get a refund. Right?"

"Man, I never give you no bums. These people all experts."

Majestyk had already turned away and was walking back to the Enco station.

The attendant with the name Gil on his shirt was standing by the pickup.

"That's three bucks."

Majestyk reached into a back pocket for his wallet this time. He took out a f ive-dollar bill and handed it to the attendant, who looked at the bill and the n a t Majestyk. Without a word he turned and leisurely walked off toward th e s tation. Majestyk watched him for a moment, knowing the guy was going to mak e h im wait. He walked off after the guy and followed him into the station, bu t s till had to wait while the guy fooled around at the cash register, shiftin g b ills around in the cash drawer and breaking open a roll of coins.

"Take your time," Majestyk said.

When the bell rang he turned to see a car pulling into the station: an old-model Ford sedan that was faded blue-purple and rusting out, and needed a muffler. He w atched the people getting out, moving slowly, stretching and looking around.

There seemed to be more of them than the car could hold.

The station attendant was saying, "I'm short of singles. I'll have to give yo u s ome change."

There were five of them, four men in work clothes and a young woman, migrants , looking around, trying to seem at ease. The young woman took a bandana from he r h ead and, raising her face in the sunlight, closing her eyes, shook her hai r f rom side to side, freeing it in the light breeze that came across the highwa y s tirring sand dust. She was a good-looking girl, nice figure in pants and a T-shirt, in her early twenties, or maybe even younger. Very good-looking. No t s elf-conscious now, as though she was alone with whatever was behind her close d e yes. Two of the men went to the pop machine digging coins out of their pockets.

Beyond the girl the blue-painted school bus passed the station and the stat e r oad intersection, moving east down the highway.

"Here you are," the attendant said.

Majestyk held out his hand and the attendant dropped eight quarters into hi s p alm, four at a time.

"Three, that's four and five. Hurry back and see us now."

Majestyk didn't say anything. He gave the guy a little smile. He had enough t o t hink about and wasn't going to let the guy bother him. When he turned to th e d oorway he had to stop short. The girl, holding the bandana, was coming in an d t heir eyes met for a moment--nice eyes, brown--before she looked past him towar d t he attendant.

"Is there a key you have to the Ladies' Room?"

The attendant's eyes moved past her, to the four men outside, and back again.

"No, it's broken, you can't use it. Go down the road someplace."

"Maybe it's all right now," the girl said. "Have you looked at it? Sometime s t hey get all right by themselves."

The attendant was shaking his head now. "I'm telling you it's broken. Take m y w ord for it and go someplace else, all right?"

"What about the other one?" the girl said. "The Men's Room."

"It's broken too. Both of 'em are broken."

"See, we go in separately," the girl went on. "The men, they come out, then I g o i n. So you don't have to call the cops, say we're doing it in there."

"I can call the cops right now." The attendant's voice was louder, irritated.

"I'm telling you both toilets are broken. You got to go someplace else."

"Where do you go?" the girl said. She waited a moment, not looking around bu t k nowing the four men were close to the doorway now, and could hear her.


The attendant said, "I'm warning you--"


And the girl said, "Maybe you never go, uh? That's why you're full of shit."

The migrants grinned, some of them laughed out loud and there were words in Spanish, though the girl continued to stare at the attendant calmly, almos t w ithout expression.

The attendant turned to a counter and came around with a wrench in his hand, hi s j aw set tightly. Majestyk reached over to put a hand on the man's arm.

He said, "When did the toilet break? Since I used it?"

"Listen, I got to do what I'm told." He pulled his arm away from Majestyk an d l owered his voice then, though the tension was still there. "Like anybody else.

The boss says don't let no migrants in the toilets. He says I don't care the y d ancing around like they can taste it, don't let them in the toilets. They go i n t here, mess up the place, piss all over, take a bath in the sink, use all th e t owels, steal the toilet paper, man, it's like a bunch of pigs was in there.

Place is filthy, I got to clean up after."

"Let them use it," Majestyk said.

"I tell you what my boss said. Man, I can't do nothing about it."

"What're they supposed to do?"

"Go out in the bushes, I don't know. Mister, you have any idea how many migrant s s top here?"

"I know what they can do," Majestyk said. He turned from the attendant to th e n ice-looking Chicano girl, noticing now that she was wearing small pear l e arrings.

"He says for all of you to come inside."

"I want them out of here!"

"He says he's sorry the toilets are broken."

"They're always broken," the girl said. "Every place they keep the broke n t oilets locked up so nobody steal them."

Majestyk was looking at her again. "You come here to work?"

"For the melons or whatever time it is. Last month we were over at Yuma."

"You know melons, uh?"

"Melons, onions, lettuce, anything you got."

"You want to work today?"

The girl seemed to think about it and then shrugged and said, "Yeah, well, sinc e w e forgot our golf clubs we might as well, uh?"

"After you go to the bathroom." Majestyk's gaze, with the soft hint of a smile , held on her for another moment.

"First things first," the girl said.

"Listen, I don't say they can't use them," the attendant said now. "You think I own this place? I work here."

"He says he works here," Majestyk said.

The girl nodded. "We believe it."

"And he says since the toilets are broken you can use something else."

Majestyk's gaze moved away, past the attendant and the shelves of lube oil an d t he cash register and the coffee and candy machines, taking in the office.

"What're you doing?" The attendant was frowning, staring at him. "Listen, the y c an't use something else. They got to get out of here."

Majestyk's gaze stopped, held for a moment before coming back to the attendant.

"He says use the wastebasket if you want," and motioned to the migrants with hi s h ands. "Come on. All of you, come on in."

As two of the migrants came in hesitantly behind the girl, grinning, enjoyin g i t, and the other two moved in closer behind her, the attendant said, "Jesus Christ, you're crazy! I'm going to call the police, that's what I'm going t o d o."

"Try and hold on to yourself," Majestyk said to him quietly. "You don't own thi s p lace. You don't have to pay for broken windows or anything. What do you care?"

The phone was on the desk in front of him, but the Enco gas station man with Gi l o ver his shirt pocket, who had never been farther away from this place than Phoenix, hesitated now, afraid to reach for the phone or even look at it. Wha t w ould happen if he did? Christ, what was going on here? He didn't know this guy Vincent Majestyk. Christ, a cold, quiet guy, he didn't know anything about hi m e xcept he grew melons. He'd hardly ever seen him before.

"How do you want it?" Majestyk said to the attendant.

Watching him, the migrants were grinning, beginning to glance at each other , confident of this man for no reason they knew of but feeling it, enjoying it , stained and golden smiles softening dark faces and bringing life to their eyes , expressions that separated them as individuals able to think and feel, each on e a person now, each one beginning to laugh to himself at this gas station man an d h is boss and his wastebasket and his toilets he could keep locked or shove u p h is ass for all they cared. God, it was good; it was going to be something t o t ell about.

"Let them use the toilets," Majestyk said to the attendant. "All right?"

The attendant held on another moment, as if thinking it over, letting them kno w h e was not being forced into anything but was making up his own mind. He s hrugged indifferently then and nodded to two keys that were attached to fla t p ieces of wood and hung from the wall next to the door.

"Keys're right there," the attendant said. "Just don't take all day."

Chapter 2.

THE GIRL RODE with him in the pickup and the four men followed in the Ford seda n t hat needed a paint job and a muffler, heading east on the highway toward th e m orning sun, seeing the flat view of sand and scrub giving way to sweeps o f g reen fields on both sides of the highway, citrus and vegetable farms , irrigation canals and, in the near distance, stands of trees that bordered th e f ields and marked back roads and dry washes. Beyond the trees, in the fa r d istance, a haze of mountains stood low against the sky, forming a horizon tha t w as fifty miles away, in another world.

The girl was at ease, though every once in a while she would turn and loo k t hrough the back window to make sure the car was still following.

Finally Majestyk said, "I'm not going to lose them."

"I'm not worried about that," the girl said. "It's the car. It could quit o n t hem any time, blow a tire or something."

"They relatives of yours?"

"Friends. We worked the same place at Yuma."

"How long you been traveling together?"

The girl looked at him. "What are you trying to find out? If I sleep with them?"

"I'm sorry. I was just curious, I didn't mean to offend you."

When she spoke again her tone was quiet, the hostility gone. "We go to differen t p laces, help organize the farm workers. But we have to stop and work to pay ou r w ay."

"You're with the union?"

"Why? I tell you, yes, then you don't hire us?"

"You sure get on the muscle easy. I don't care if you're union or not, long a s y ou know melons."

"Intimately. I've been in the fields most of my life."

"You sound like you went to school though."

"Couple of years. University of Texas, El Paso. I took English and History and Economics. Psychology 101. I went to the football games, learned all the cheers.

Yeaaa, team--" Her voice trailed off and she added, quietly, "Shit."

"I never went past high school," Majestyk said.

"So you didn't waste any time."

He looked at her again, interested, intrigued. "You haven't told me your name."

"Nancy Chavez. I'm not related to the other Chavez, but I'll tell you something.

I was on the picket line with them at Delano, during the grape strike."

"I believe it."

"I was fifteen."

He glanced at her and waited again, because she seemed deep in thought. Finall y h e said, "Are you from California?"

"Texas. Born in Laredo. We moved to San Antonio when I was little."

"Yeah? I was at Fort Hood for a while. I used to get down to San Antone prett y o ften."

"That's nice," Nancy Chavez said.

He looked at her again, but didn't say anything. Neither of them spoke unti l t hey were passing melon fields and came in sight of the packing shed, a lon g w ooden structure that looked like a warehouse. It was painted yellow, wit h m ajestyk brand melons written across the length of the building in five-foo t b right green letters.

As the pickup slowed down, approaching a dirt road adjacent to the packing shed , the girl said, "That's you, uh?"

"That's me," Majestyk said.

The pickup turned off the highway onto the dirt road and passed the front of th e p acking shed. There were crates stacked on the loading dock, the double door s w ere open; but there was no sign of activity, the shed stood dark and empty.

Next to it was a low frame building with a corrugated metal roof that resemble d a n army barracks. The girl knew what it was, or what it had been--living quarter s f or migrants. It was also empty, some of its windows broken, its white pain t p eeling, fading gray.

The farmhouse was next, another fifty yards down the road, where three smal l c hildren--two boys and a little girl--were standing in the hard-packed yard , watching the pickup drive past, and a woman was hanging wash on a clotheslin e t hat extended out from the side of the house. The children waved and Nancy pu t h er hand out the window to wave back at them.

"Are they yours, too?"

"My foreman, Larry Mendoza's," Majestyk said. "That's my house way down there , by the trees."

She could see the place now, white against the dark stand of woods, a small , one-story farmhouse with a porch, almost identical to the foreman's house. Sh e c ould see the blue school bus standing in the road ahead and, off to the lef t b eyond the ditch, the melon fields, endless rows of green vines that wer e f amiliar to the girl and never changed, hot dusty rows that seemed to reach from Texas to California, and were always waiting to be picked.

"You must have a thousand acres," she said. "More than that."

"A hundred and sixty. The man that owned this land used to have a big operation , but he subdivided when he sold out. This is my second crop year, and if I don't m ake it this time--"

When he stopped, the girl said, "What?"

She turned to see him staring straight ahead through the windshield, at th e s chool bus they were approaching and the men standing in the road. She could se e t he car now, a new model of some kind shining golden in the sunlight, parke d b eyond the bus. Beyond the car was a stake truck. At the same time she was awar e o f the figures out in the melon field, at least twenty or more, stooped figure s d otted among the rows.

She said, "You have two crews working?"

"I only hired one," Majestyk said.

"Then who's out there working?"

He didn't answer her. He pulled up behind the bus and got out without wastin g a ny time, feeling a tenseness now as he walked past the bus, past the faces i n t he windows, and saw Larry Mendoza's serious, concerned expression. His forema n s tood with Julio Tamaz by the front of the bus, both of them watching him , anxious. Only a few of Julio's crew had gotten out. The rest of them were stil l i nside wondering, as he was, what the hell was going on.

He was aware of the two men standing by the gold Dodge Charger that was parke d o n the left side of the road--long hair and Mexican bandit moustaches, one o f t hem wearing sunglasses. A skinny, hipless guy with a big metal belt buckle , bright yellow shirt and cowboy boots, watching him, seeming unconcerned, lounge d a gainst the rear deck of the Charger with his arms folded. There was another gu y h e had never seen before standing by the stake truck that, he noticed now, had a h orn-type speaker mounted on the roof of the cab.

"We get here," Larry Mendoza said, "this guy's already got a crew working."

Julio Tamaz said, "What are we supposed to do, Vincent, go home? Man, what i s t his?"

Majestyk walked over to the ditch, behind the Charger, and stood looking out a t t he field, at the men standing among the rows with long burlap sacks hangin g f rom their shoulders. Only a few of them were working. All of them, he noticed , were white. And all of them, that he could make out clearly, had the sam e w orn-out, seedy look, skid row bums taken from the street and dropped in a melo n f ield.

But not my melon field, Majestyk was saying to himself. He turned to the skinn y d ude with sunglasses lounged against the car.

"I don't think I know you."

He watched the guy straighten with a lazy effort and come off the car extendin g h is hand.

"I'm Bobby Kopas. Come out from Phoenix with some top hand pickers for you."

Majestyk ignored the waiting hand. "I don't think I've ever done business wit h y ou either. What I know for sure is I never will."

Bobby Kopas grinned at him, letting his hand fall. " 'Fore you say anything yo u m ight be sorry about--how does a buck twenty an hour sound to you? Save yoursel f s ome money and they're already hard at it."

"I hire who I want," Majestyk said. "I don't hire a bunch of winos never slippe d m elons before."

Kopas glanced over at the bus, at Larry Mendoza and Julio and Nancy Chavez. "I don't know--you hire all these Latins, no white people. Looks like discriminatio n t o me."

"Call them out and get off my land," Majestyk said.

"These Latins buddies of yours? What do you care who does the job, long as i t g ets done?"

"I just told you, I hire who I want."

"Yeah, well the thing is you want me," Kopas said. "Only it hasn't sunk in you r h ead yet. Because everything is easier and less trouble when you hire my crew.

If you understand what I'm saying to you."

There it was, a little muscle-flexing. Hotshot dude trying to pressure him, sur e o f himself, with two strong-arm guys to back him up. Majestyk stared at him an d t hought about it and finally he said, "Well, you're making sounds like you're a m ean little ass-kicker. Only you haven't convinced me yet it's true. Then again , if you say anything else and I don't like it, I'm liable to take your head off.

So maybe you ought to consider that."

Majestyk stared at him a moment, as Kopas began to say, "Now hang on a minute , dad--" but that was all. Majestyk turned away, ignoring him, looking out at th e f ield again and began yelling at the winos.

"Come on, time to go home! Leave anything you picked or messed up and haul as s o ut, right now! Come on, gents, move it!"

The few that were working stopped, straightened, and now all of the men in th e r ows were looking this way, not sure what to do. Kopas saw them. He had to sto p t hem before they moved. He turned to the guy behind him and nodded toward th e s take truck. The guy took off. The other one, standing by the truck, saw hi m c oming and quickly got into the cab.

"You hear me?" Majestyk yelled out. "Time to go home. Man made a mistake. Yo u c ome to the wrong place." As he began to say, "Come on, move!" his words wer e d rowned out by a blast of rock music, intense hard rock, the sound o f e lectrified, amplified guitars wailing out over the melon fields.

Majestyk looked toward the truck, at the horn speaker mounted on the cab. Hi s g aze shifted to Bobby Kopas. He saw him grinning and saw the grin fade as h e m oved toward him. He saw him get around to the side of the Charger, reach i n t hrough the open window and come out with a pump-action shotgun. Kopas put th e g un under his arm, pointing down slightly, holding it with both hands, and Majestyk stopped.

Nancy Chavez, staring at Bobby Kopas, came away from the bus. She said, "Man , what're you going to do now, shoot us?"

"I'm gonna talk to him and this time he's gonna listen," Kopas said. "That's w hat I'm gonna do."

She was moving toward him, taking her time. "Buck twenty an hour--you going t o s hoot people for that? Man, you need another hit of something."

"He threatened me," Kopas said, "and all your people heard it. But I'll tel l y ou, he ain't gonna threaten me again."

Staring at him, moving toward him, Nancy Chavez said, "I don't know--guy bring s w ine heads out, plays music for them. He must be a little funny."

Majestyk was past the trunk of the car, two strides from the muzzle of th e s hotgun.

"You say you come from Phoenix? What do you do there, roll drunks and hire the m a s pickers?"

Kopas kept his eyes on him, holding onto the shotgun. "I'm telling you, kee p b ack. Stay where you are."

"Mean little ass-kicker like you," Majestyk said. "What do you need a gun for?"

"I'm warning you!"

Majestyk stepped into him as he brought the shotgun up, grabbing the barrel wit h h is left hand, and drove his right fist hard into Bobby Kopas's face, gettin g s ome nose and mouth, staying with him as Kopas went back against the car door , and slammed the fist into him again, getting his sunglasses this time, wipin g t hem from his face, and pulling the shotgun out of his hands as Kopas twiste d a nd his head and shoulders fell into the window opening.

The other one with the hair and heavy moustache who had been with Kopas wa s c oming back from the truck, coming fast, but not in time. He stopped and raise d h is hands, three yards away, as Majestyk put the shotgun on him.

The loud rock music continued, the wailing guitars wailed on, until Majesty k s tepped into the middle of the road, raised the shotgun and blew the hor n s peaker off the top of the stake truck.

The sound stopped. Majestyk looked at the man with his hands half raised. He p umped a shell into the chamber of the shotgun and walked past him to the truck.

When he opened the rightside door he could hear the radio music again, the roc k g uitars. The man sitting behind the wheel stared at him.

"Get those wine heads out of my field," Majestyk said, and slammed the door.

He came back to the Charger, nodded toward Kopas hanging against the door an d s aid to the one with his hands raised, "Put him inside and get out of here." He w aited, seeing the blood coming out of Kopas's nose, staining his yellow shirt , as the guy pulled Kopas around, opened the door and eased him onto the seat.

"You got the key?" When the guy nodded Majestyk said, "Open the trunk."

He had to wait for him again, for the guy to walk back and unlock it. As th e t runk lid swung up, Majestyk stepped over, threw the shotgun inside and slamme d i t closed. He stood one stride away from the guy with the hair and the heav y m oustache who was staring at him and maybe was on the verge of doing something.

Majestyk said, "Make up your mind."

The guy hesitated; but the moment was there and passed. He walked around to th e d river's side and got in the car.

Majestyk walked up on the other side to look at Kopas holding a handkerchief t o h is face. He said, "Hey," and waited for Kopas to lower the handkerchief an d l ook out at him.

"You want my opinion, buddy, I think you're in the wrong business."

Chapter 3.

HE WAS ARRESTED that afternoon.

Nancy Chavez saw it happen. She was crouched in the vines working a row , slipping the ripe honeydew melons off, gently turning the ones that would b e r eady in a day or two, pushing them under the vines so they would not be expose d t o the sun. Her sack, with the rope loop digging into her shoulder, was almos t f ull. A few more melons and she would carry it over to the road and hand it u p t o Vincent Majestyk in the trailer that was hooked to the pickup truck. Mayb e t hey would talk a little bit while he unloaded the sack and she got a drink o f w ater from the canvas bag that hung from the side of the trailer. He had bee n c urious about her, admitting it, and she was curious about him. There wer e q uestions in her mind, though she wasn't sure she could come right out and as k t hem. She wondered if he lived alone or had a wife somewhere. She wondered if h e k new what he was doing, if he could harvest a hundred and sixty acres within th e n ext week, sort and pack the melons and get them to a broker. Even for a lat e c rop he was running out of time.



When her sack was full and she looked up again, straightening, the squad car , with blue lights flashing, was standing in the road by the pickup truck. She sa w t he two policemen, in khaki uniforms and cowboy hats, talking to Majestyk in th e t railer. When he came down and one of them took him by the arm, he pulled hi s a rm free and the other policeman moved in close with his hand on his holster.

What the hell was going on?

Nancy Chavez dropped the sack and started across the rows. Some of the othe r p ickers were watching now and Larry Mendoza was coming out of the field, not fa r a way from her. She hurried, but by the time she and Mendoza reached the road , Majestyk was in the squad car and it was moving off, blue lights spinning , raising a column of dust that thinned to nothing by the time the squad ca r r eached the highway and turned left, toward Edna.

"What's going on?" Nancy Chavez said. "They arresting him?"

Larry Mendoza shook his head, squinting in the sun glare. "I don't know. But I guess somebody better go find out."

"Is there somebody at his house maybe you better tell?"

"No, there's nobody lives there but him."

"He isn't married?"

"Not anymore."

The squad car was out of sight but Mendoza was still staring in the direction o f t he highway. "Those were sheriff's deputies. Well, I guess I better go fin d o ut."

"If there's anything you want me to do," the girl said, "don't be afraid to tel l m e. Go on, we'll take care of the melons."

The Edna post of the County Sheriff's Department had been remodeled and painte d l ight green. Everything was light green, the cement block walls, the meta l d esks, the chairs, the Formica counter--light green and chrome-trimmed unde r b right fluorescent lights. They took Majestyk into an office, sat him dow n a gainst the wall and left him.

After a while one of the arresting officers came back in with a file folder, sa t d own at a desk where there was a typewriter and began to peck at the keys wit h t wo fingers. The deputy's name was Harold Ritchie. He was built like a runnin g g uard, had served four years in the Marines, including a combat tour in Vietnam , and had a tattoo on his right forearm, a snake coiled around a dagger, with a n i nscription that said Death Before Dishonor.

Looking down at the typewriter, as if reciting the words from memory, he said , "This warrant states that you have been arrested on a charge that constitutes a f elony, assault with a deadly weapon. You may choose to stand mute at this tim e a nd of course you have a right to counsel. You can call a lawyer or anybody yo u w ant. You are allowed one phone call--"

The deputy paused, looking up, as a man in a lightweight summer suit came int o t he office and closed the door behind him.

The man said, "Go on. Don't let me interrupt."

His tone was mild, his appearance slightly rumpled. For some reason he reminded Majestyk of a schoolteacher, a man who had taught high school English or civic s f or at least thirty years, though he knew the man was a policeman.

"After which," Ritchie continued, "you will be released on bond, if you choose , or held here till you're taken to the county seat for your pretria l e xamination."

The deputy looked up, finished. The mild-appearing man came over to the desk , his gaze holding on Majestyk.

"My name is Detective Lieutenant McAllen. Do you understand your rights unde r t he law?"

"I can keep my mouth shut, and that seems about it," Majestyk said.

"You can tell your side of it if you want. Feel free."

"A man I never saw before tried to force me to use a crew I didn't need."

"So you hit him with a shotgun."

"I hit him with a fist."

"The complainant says he was offering you a business proposition. Instead of a s imple no thanks, you assaulted him with a shotgun."

"It was his, not mine," Majestyk said. "Man was trespassing on my land."

"Lieutenant"--the deputy was holding the file folder; he handed it, open, to McAllen--"four years ago in California he got one to five for assault. Served a y ear in Folsom."

McAllen studied the folder a moment before looking up. "Vincent A. Majestyk.

What're you, a Polack?"

Majestyk stared at him in silence. The lieutenant was looking at the folde r a gain.

"He grows melons," the deputy said. "Generally keeps to himself. I mean h e h asn't given us any trouble before this."

"But sometimes you like to mix it up," McAllen said. "You use a gun the time in California?"

"I was in a bar. A man hit me with a beer bottle."

"Sitting there minding your own business, he hit you with a bottle."

"We were arguing about something. He wanted to go outside. I told him to drin k h is beer."

"So he hit you and you hit him back. If it was your first offense, how come the y p ut you away?"

"The guy was in the hospital a while," Majestyk said. "He came to the trial wit h a broken collarbone and his jaw wired up and some buddies of his that said I started it and kicked his face in when he was on the floor."

"But you never did such a thing."

"I've already been tried for it. You want to do it again?"

"Served your time and now making an honest living. You married?"

"I was four years. My wife divorced me while I was in prison."

"Run out on you, huh? How come? Didn't you get along?"

"You want to talk about my marriage? Find out what we did in bed?"

McAllen didn't say anything for a moment. He stared at Majestyk, then turned t o l eave, dropping the folder on the desk.

"I think you better talk to a lawyer."

"Lieutenant, I got a crop of melons to get in." He saw the man hesitate and tur n t o look at him again. "Let me get them picked, I'll come back right after."

McAllen took his time. "That's what you're worried about, melons?"

"I get them in and packed this week or I lose the crop. I'm asking for a fe w d ays, that's all."

"The court'll set a bond on you," McAllen said. "Pay it, you can go out and pic k a ll the melons you want."

"Except if I put up bail I won't have any money left for a crew. And I can't p ick a hundred and sixty acres by myself."

McAllen was thoughtful again, studying him. He said, "I don't know anythin g a bout you but the fact you've been arrested for assault and have a previou s c onviction. So I don't have any reason to feel sorry for you, do I?"

"I give you my word," Majestyk said. "I'll come right back."

"And even if I did feel sorry for you, if for some reason I believed you, th e l aw doesn't happen to make any provision for your word," McAllen said. "That's h ow it is." He turned and walked out.

Larry Mendoza waited three and a half hours on the bench by the main desk , looking up every time one of the deputies came out of an office. They woul d s tand around drinking coffee, not paying any attention to him. Finally they tol d h im no, it was too late to see his friend now, he'd have to come back tomorrow.

They told him the charge was felonious assault and the bond was set at fiv e t housand, which would cost him five hundred, cash, if he wanted to go to th e c ounty seat and get a bondsman to put up the money. Or wait a couple of days fo r t he examination. If the court set a trial date and appointed a lawyer, maybe th e l awyer could get the bond lowered.

Christ, he didn't know anything about bonds or examinations. He didn't know wha t t he hell was going on--how they could arrest a man for throwing somebody off hi s p roperty who didn't belong there. It didn't make sense.

When he got back Julio had already picked up his crew and was gone. He asked hi s w ife, Helen, and Nancy Chavez and the four men who were with her--the group o f t hem sitting on the front steps of his house in the shade--if it made any sense.

Nancy Chavez said, "Cops. Talking to cops is like talking to the wall. The y d on't tell you anything they don't want to."

Of course not, it didn't make sense. Christ almighty, who ever expected cops t o m ake sense? All they could do was keep working, do that much for him while h e w as in jail, then all of them tell at the examination, or whatever it was, wha t h appened and maybe, if the judge listened, he would see it didn't make any sens e a nd Vincent would get off. Maybe.

Helen Mendoza let Nancy use her kitchen and gave her some green beans and beet s t o go with the Franco-American spaghetti she fixed for her friends and herself.

Larry Mendoza said why didn't they stay in Vincent's house while he was in jail.

Vincent wouldn't mind. In fact he'd want them to. Nancy Chavez said all right , for one night. But tomorrow they'd get the migrant quarters in shape, clean u p t he kitchen and a couple of rooms and stay there. They had cots and bedding i n t he car. For a week it wouldn't be so bad. They'd lived in worse places.

Larry Mendoza went back to the Edna Post the next day, Saturday. They searche d h im good and put him in a little closet of a room that had a table, two chair s f acing each other and a metal cabinet. He waited about a half hour before a d eputy brought Majestyk in and closed the door. The deputy waited outside. The y c ould see him through the glass part of the door.

"Are you all right? Christ, it doesn't make any sense."

"I'm fine," Majestyk told him. "Listen, what we got to think about's the crop.

You're here visiting me, you should be working the crew."

"Man, we're worried about you. What if they put you in jail?"

"I'm already in jail."

"In the penitentiary. For something that don't make any sense."

"We're going to court Monday," Majestyk said. "I'll see if I can talk to th e j udge, explain it to him."

"And we'll be there," Mendoza said. "Tell them what happened."

"I'll tell them. You'll be out in the field."

"Vincent, you need all the help you can get. You got to have a lawyer."

"I need pickers more than I do a lawyer," Majestyk said, "and they both cos t m oney."

"The deputy says the court will appoint one."

"Maybe. We'll see what happens. But right now, today and tomorrow, the melon s a re out there, right? And they're not going to wait much longer. You don't ge t t hem in we'll lose a crop, two years in a row."

Mendoza was frowning, confused. "How can something like this happen? It doesn't m ake any sense."

"I don't know," Majestyk said. "If it isn't a drought or a hailstorm it's s omething else. Skinny little dude comes along thinking he's a big shooter--"

"Bobby Kopas," Mendoza said. "This morning Julio says he saw the guy's ca r p arked at a motel."

"Where?"

"Right here, in Edna. He's still hanging around."

"I can't think about him," Majestyk said. "I would sure like to see him agai n s ometime, but I can't think about him. I do--I'm liable to get it in my head t o b ust out of here."

Mendoza reached across the table to touch his arm. "Vincent, don't do anythin g f oolish, all right?"

"I'll try not to," Majestyk said.

Chapter 4.

MONDAY MORNING, early, they brought Majestyk and four other prisoners out of th e j ail area to a tank cell, near the back entrance, that was used for drunks an d o vernighters. There were no bunks in here, only a varnished bench against two o f t he light green cement block walls, a washbasin, and a toilet without a seat.

The fluorescent lights, built into the ceiling and covered with wire mesh , reflected on the benches and waxed tile floor. For a jail the place was clea n a nd bright; that much could be said for it.

The food wasn't too good though. A trusty, with a deputy standing by, slippe d t he trays in under the barred section of wall, next to the door. Five trays, for Majestyk, two Chicanos, a black guy, and a dark-haired, dude-looking guy in a s uit and tinted glasses who hadn't said a word all morning.

One of the Chicanos passed the trays around and went back to sit with the other Chicano, probably a couple of migrants. The black guy was near the corner, wher e t he two benches met. The dark-haired guy looked at his tray and set it on th e b ench next to him, between where he was sitting low against the wall and where Majestyk sat with his tray on his lap.

Stiff-looking fried eggs and dried-up pork sausage, stale bread, no butter, an d l ukewarm coffee. Majestyk ate it, cleaned the tray, because he was hungry. Bu t h e'd have a word for the deputy when he saw him again. The one with the tattoo.

Ask him if they ruined the food on purpose. Christ, it was just as easy to do i t r ight. Where'd they get the idea food had to be stiff and cold?

He looked down at the tray next to him. The guy hadn't touched anything. He sa t w ith his shoulders hunched against the wall, smoking a cigarette. Long dark wav y h air that almost covered his ears and a two-day growth of beard. Striped colla r s ticking out of the rumpled, expensive-looking dark suit. Shirt open, no tie. No e xpression on his face behind the lightly tinted wire-frame glasses.

Looking at him, Majestyk said, "You going to eat your sausage?"

The guy drew on his cigarette. He didn't look at Majestyk. He moved his hand t o t he tray, behind it, and sent it off the bench to hit with a sharp meta l c latter, skidding, spilling over the tile floor.

The two Chicanos and the black guy were poised over their trays, eyes raised , but watching only for a moment before looking down again and continuing to eat.

"You're not going to eat it," Majestyk said, "then nobody does, uh?"

The dark-haired guy was lighting a fresh cigarette from the butt of another, th e p ack still in his hand.

He said, "You want it? Help yourself."

"I guess not," Majestyk said. He looked at the guy as he put the pack o f c igarettes in his coat pocket. "You got an extra one of those?"

The guy didn't say anything. He drew on his cigarette and blew the smoke ou t s lowly.

"I'll pay you back when I get out," Majestyk said. "How'll that be?"

The guy turned now to look at him, and another voice said, "Hey, you want a s moke?"

The black guy was holding up a cigarette package that was almost flat.

Majestyk put his tray on the bench and walked over to him. They both took on e a nd Majestyk sat down next to the black guy to get a light.

"Man, don't you know who that is?"

"Some movie star?"

"That's Frank Renda." The black guy kept his voice low, barely moving his mouth.

"He looks like an accordian player," Majestyk said, "used to be on TV."

"Jesus Christ, I said Frank Renda."

"I don't know--I might've heard of him."

"He's in the rackets. Was a hit man. You know what I'm saying to you? He shoot s p eople, with a gun."

"But they caught him, huh?"

"Been trying to for a long time," the black guy said. "Other night this off-dut y c op pulls up in front of a bar, some place up on the highway. He sees a man com e o ut. Sees Renda get out of his car, walk up to the man, and bust him five time s w ith a thirty-eight."

"Why didn't the cop shoot him?"

"Didn't have to. Renda's gun's empty."

"He doesn't sound too bright. Pulling a dumb thing like that."

"They say he wanted the man bad, couldn't wait."

Majestyk was studying Renda. Maybe he was dumb, but he looked cool, patient , like somebody who moved slowly, without wasted effort. He didn't look like a n a ccordian player now. He looked like some of the guys he had seen in prison, at Folsom. Mean, confident, hard-nosed guys who would give you that look no matte r w hat you said to them. Like who the fuck are you? Don't waste my time. How di d g uys get like that? Always on the muscle.

"They got him this time," the black guy said. "Gonna nail his ass fo r n inety-nine years--you ask him is he gonna eat his sausage."

Because of Renda they brought the five prisoners out the back way to the parkin g a rea, where the gray county bus and the squad cars were waiting. Get them ou t q uick, without attracting a lot of attention. But a crowd of local people ha d a lready gathered, along with the reporters and TV newsmen who had been in Edn a t he past two days and were ready for them. A cameraman with a shoulder-mounte d r ig began shooting as soon as the door opened and the deputies began to brin g t hem out in single file, the two Chicanos first, startled by the camera and th e p eople watching, then the black guy. They held up Renda and Majestyk in th e h allway inside the door, to handcuff them because they were felons. A deput y t old them to put their hands behind their backs; but the deputy named Ritchi e t old him to cuff them in front--it was a long ride, let them sit back and enjo y i t.

When Renda appeared, between two deputies, the TV camera held on him, pannin g w ith him to the bus, and a newsman tried to get in close, extending a hand mike.

"Frank, over here. What do you think your chances are? They got a case agains t y ou or not?"

Renda held his head low, turned away from the camera. A deputy stuck out hi s h and, pushing the mike away, and two more deputies moved in quickly, from th e s teps by the rear door, to stand in the newsman's way and restrain him if the y h ad to. This left Majestyk alone at the top of the steps. He watched them put Renda aboard the bus. Four, five deputies standing now with their backs to him.

He watched the newsman with the mike come around and mount the steps. Th e n ewsman turned, facing the bus, and the TV camera swung toward him.

Majestyk was close enough to hear him and stood listening as the TV newsma n s aid, "Today, Frank Renda is being taken to the county seat for pretria l e xamination on a charge that will undoubtedly be first-degree murder. Renda, a f amiliar name in organized crime, has been arrested nine times without a c onviction. Now, it would appear, his luck has finally run out. The prosecutor's o ffice is convinced Renda will stand trial, be convicted of the murder charge , and spend the rest of his life in prison. This is Ron Malone with TV-Action New s c oming to you from Edna."

Majestyk walked down the steps past the newsman, came up behind the deputie s s tanding by the bus door and said, "Excuse me."

The two deputies nearest him turned, with momentary looks of surprise. One o f t hem took his arm then and said, "Get in there."

He got in, moved past the driver and the deputy standing by him, and took a sea t o n the left side of the bus, in front of the black guy, who leaned forward as h e s at down and said over his shoulder, "You get on TV? Your mama'll be proud t o s ee you."

Renda sat across the aisle, a row ahead of him. The two Chicanos sat together on Renda's side, two rows closer to the front. When the door closed and the bu s b egan to move, circling out of the parking area with a squad car leading an d a nother following, the deputy standing by the driver moved down the aisle t o t ake a seat in the back of the bus. Both he and the driver, Majestyk noticed , were unarmed.

He said to himself, How does that help you? And settled back to stare out th e w indow at the familiar billboards and motels and gas stations, the tacoburge r p lace, the stores that advertised used clothing, Ropa Usada. Railroad tracks ra n p arallel with the highway, beyond a bank of weeds. They passed the warehouse s a nd loading sheds that lined the tracks, platformed old buildings that bore th e n ames of growers and produce companies. They passed the silver water tower tha t s tood against the sky--edna, home of the broncos--and moved out into miles o f f ences and flat green fields, until the irrigation ditches ended and the subdue d l and turned color, reverted to its original state, and became desert country.

Looking out at the land he wondered when he would be coming back. When, or if h e w ould be coming back. He said to himself, What are you doing here? How did i t h appen? Sitting handcuffed in a prison bus. His fields miles behind him. Goin g t o stand trial again. The chance of going to prison again. Could that happen?

No, he said to himself, refusing to believe it. He could not let it happen , because he could not live in prison again, ever. He couldn't think about i t w ithout the feeling of panic coming over him, the feeling of being suffocated , caged, enclosed by iron bars and cement walls and not able to get out. He r emembered reading about a man exploring a cave, hundreds of feet underground , who had crawled into a seam in the rocks and had got wedged there, because o f h is equipment, and was unable to move forward or backward or reach the equipmen t w ith his hands to free it. Majestyk had stopped reading and closed the magazine , because he knew the man had died there.

Prison was for men like Frank Renda--sitting across the aisle with his ow n t houghts, slouched low in his seat, staring straight ahead, off somewhere in hi s m ind. What was he thinking about?

What difference did it make? Majestyk forgot about Frank Renda and did not loo k a t him again until almost a half hour later, when the land outside the bus ha d c hanged again, submitting to signs and gas stations and motels, and the empt y h ighway became a busy street that was taking them through a run-down industria l a rea on the outskirts of the city.

He noticed Renda because Renda was sitting up straighter now, stretching to se e a head, through the windshield, then turning to look out the windows as the bu s m oved along in the steady flow of traffic. The man had seemed half aslee p b efore. Now he was alert, as though he was looking for a particular store o r b uilding, a man looking for an address written on a piece of paper. Or maybe h e h ad lived around here at one time and it was like revisiting the ol d n eighborhood, seeing what had changed. That was the feeling Majestyk had. He wa s c urious about Renda again and continued to watch him and glance off to follo w h is gaze. Through the windshield now--to see the intersection they wer e a pproaching, the green light and the man standing in the middle of the street , caught between the flows of traffic.

Later, he remembered noticing the man moments before it happened. Maybe te n s econds before--seeing the man in bib overalls holding a paper bag by the neck, a f armer who'd come to town for a bottle of whiskey, guy from the sticks wh o d idn't know how to cross a busy street and got trapped. He remembered thinkin g t hat and remembered, vividly, the man in bib overalls waiting for the lead squa d c ar to pass him and then starting across the street, weaving slightly, walkin g d irectly into the path of the bus.

There was a screeching sound as the driver slammed on the brakes and the tire s g rabbed the hot pavement. Majestyk was thrown forward against the seat in fron t o f him, but pushed himself up quickly to see if the man had been hit. No , because the driver was yelling at him. "Goddamn drunk--get out of the way!"

He saw the man's head and shoulders then, past the hood of the bus, the ma n g rinning at the driver.

"Will you get the hell out of the way!"

The deputy who'd been in the rear was coming up the aisle, past Majestyk, an d t he driver was standing now, leaning on the steering wheel.

The man in the overalls, whose name was Eugene Lundy, was still grinning as h e t ook a .44 Colt magnum out of the paper bag, extended it over the front of th e h ood, and fired five times, five holes blossoming on the windshield as th e d river hit against his seat and went out of it and the deputy was slamme d b ackward down the aisle and hit the floor where Majestyk was standing.

Lundy drew a .45 automatic out of his overalls, turned and fired four times a t t he squad car that had come to a stop across the intersection. Then he wa s m oving--as the doors of the squad car swung open--past the front of the bus an d d own the cross street.

Harold Ritchie knocked his hat off getting out of the lead squad car, swingin g o ut of there fast and drawing his big Colt Special. He put it on Lundy, trackin g w ith him, and yelled out for him to halt, concentrating, when he heard hi s p artner call his name.

"Ritch!"

And he looked up to see the panel truck coming like crazy on the wrong side o f t he street, swerving around from behind the bus to take a sweeping right at th e i ntersection. Ritchie jumped back out of the way, though the truck had room t o s pare. He saw one of the rear doors open and the bottle with the lighted rag fo r a wick come flying out and he was moving to the right, running hard, waving a n o ncoming car to keep back when the bottle smashed against the rear deck of th e s quad car and burst into flames. Five seconds later the gas tank exploded an d i nstantly the entire car was on fire, inside and out.

Ritchie was across the street now, waving at the traffic, yelling at cars t o s top where they were. He didn't see his partner or know where he was. From thi s a ngle he could see the second squad car close behind the bus and the driver-sid e d oor swing open.

In the same moment he saw the station wagon coming up fast from behind. He sa w t he shotgun muzzles poke out through the side windows and heard them and sa w t hem go off as the station wagon swerved in, sheared the door off the squad car , and kept coming, beginning a sweeping right turn around the bus.

Ritchie raised his big Colt Special, steadying it beneath the grip with his lef t h and and squeezed off four shots into the station wagon's windshield. The firs t t wo would have been enough, because they hit the driver in the face and th e w agon was already out of control, half through the turn when the driver slumpe d o ver the wheel and the wagon slammed squarely into the burning squad car.

One of the men in the back seat of the wagon tried to get out the left side and Ritchie shot him before he cleared the doorway. But then he had to reload an d t he two who went out the other side of the wagon made it to a line of parke d c ars before Ritchie could put his Colt on them. He still didn't know where hi s p artner was until he got to the station wagon, looked out past the rear end o f i t and saw his partner lying in the street.

Watching from the bus, Majestyk recognized Ritchie, the one with the tattoo wh o l ooked like a pro lineman. He was aiming and firing at two men crouched behind a p arked car--until one of them raised up, let go with a shotgun and they took off , running up the street past a line of storefronts. Ritchie stepped out fro m b ehind the station wagon, fired two shots that shattered two plateglass windows , then lowered his Colt and started after them, waving his arm again, yelling a t t he people on the sidewalk and pressed close to the buildings to get inside, t o g et the hell off the street.

Now there were no police in front of the bus.

The moment Renda moved, Majestyk's gaze was on him, following him up the aisl e p ast the two Chicanos huddled low in their seat. He watched Renda--who did no t b other to look at the dead driver lying on the floor--reach past the steerin g w heel and pull a control level. The door opened. Renda approached it cautiously , looking through the opening and down the cross street a half block to where Eugene Lundy and the panel truck were waiting. He seemed about to step out, the n t wisted away from the opening, dropping to his hands and knees, as two shot s d rilled through the pane of glass in the door panel.

Majestyk's gaze came away and he looked down at the deputy lying in the aisle.

He was sure the man was dead, but he got out of his seat and reached down t o f eel for a pulse. Nothing. God, no, the man had been shot through the chest.

Majestyk was about to rise, then hesitated as he saw the ring of keys hangin g f rom the deputy's belt. He told himself to do it, now, and think about it late r i f he had to. That's what he did, unhooked the ring and slipped the keys int o h is pants pocket. As he rose, turning toward the rear of the bus, he saw th e b lack guy, only a few feet away, staring at him.

Neither of them spoke. The black guy looked away and Majestyk moved down th e a isle to the back windows.

The second squad car was close behind, directly below him. He could see th e d eputy behind the wheel, his face bloody, talking excitedly into the radio mike.

The next moment he was out of the car with his revolver drawn, moving around th e b ack end of it to the sidewalk. Majestyk watched him. The deputy ran in betwee n t wo cars that were facing out of a used car lot, then down behind the row o f g leaming cars with prices painted on the windshields to where his partner wa s c overing the door of the bus from behind the end car in the line.

Majestyk made his way back up the aisle in a crouch, watching the used car lo t t hrough the right-side windows. He saw both deputies raise their revolvers an d f ire.

With the closely spaced reports Renda dropped again away from the door an d b ehind the first row of seats.

Halfway up the aisle Majestyk watched him.

Renda was looking at the two Chicanos now who were also crouched in the aisle , close to each other with their shoulders hunched.

After a moment Renda said, "Come on, let's go. We're getting out of here."

When they realized he was speaking to them the two Chicanos looked at hi m w ide-eyed, frightened to death, and Renda said again, "Come on, move!"

One of the Chicanos said, "We don't want to go nowhere."

"Jesus, you think we're going to talk it over? I said we're going." Renda wa s r eaching for them now, pulling the first one to his feet, then the other one , pushing them past him in the narrow aisleway.

The other Chicano said, "Man, I was drunk driving--I don't run away from that."

And the Chicano who had spoken before was saying, as he was pushed to the front , "Listen, please, they see us coming out they start shooting!"

"That's what we're going to find out," Renda said.

He crowded them, jamming them in the doorway, then put a foot behind the secon d m an--as the man said, "Please, don't! We don't want to go!"--pushed hard and th e t wo Chicanos were out of the bus, stumbling, getting to their feet, starting t o m ake a run for it.

Majestyk watched the two deputies in the used car lot swing their revolvers ove r t o cover them and was sure they were going to fire. But now the two Chicano s w ere running toward them with their hands raised high in the air, screaming , "Don't shoot! Please! Don't shoot!" And the deputies lowered their revolvers an d w aved them into the used car lot.



Renda was watching, crouched by the open door as Majestyk came the rest of th e w ay up the aisle.

"Go out there, you give yourself up or get shot," Majestyk said.

Renda looked over his shoulder at him. He watched Majestyk step over the dea d d river and slip into the seat, lean against the steering wheel and reach wit h b oth hands to turn on the ignition.

"What're you doing?"

Majestyk didn't answer him. He put the bus in gear, began to ease it forward a f ew feet, then braked and shifted into reverse.

The two deputies in the used car lot saw it happen. They moved the two Chicano s o ut of the way and returned their attention to the bus--in time to see it star t u p abruptly in reverse and smash its high rear end into the grille of thei r s quad car. The bus moved forward--God almighty--went into reverse and agai n s lammed into the car, cranked its wheels and made a U-turn out of there, leavin g t he radiator of the squad car spewing water and the two deputies watching i t p ick up speed, back the way they had come. They wanted to shoot. They wer e r eady, but at the last moment had to hold their fire because of the people i n c ars and on the sidewalk, on the other side of the street.

Then the two city police cars were approaching the intersection from th e s outh--off to the left--their sirens wailing, and the two deputies ran out to th e s idewalk, waving their arms to flag the cars down.

Majestyk heard the sirens, the sound growing fainter, somewhere behind them. He h eaded west on the street they had taken into town, turned north on a sid e s treet, then west again a few blocks up. Finally he slowed down and eased th e b us into an alley, behind a row of cinderblock industrial buildings tha t a ppeared deserted. He pulled the lever to open the door and looked around at th e b lack guy.

"Here's your stop."

"Man," the black guy said, "you know where you going? If they don't shoot you?"

Renda was in the aisle, moving toward the black guy. "Come on, Sambo, move it.

And take them with you."

Majestyk helped the black guy lift the bodies of the driver and the deputy an d e ase them out through the narrow doorway. Renda told them to hurry up, for Christ sake, but Majestyk paid no attention to him.

As he got behind the wheel again the black guy, standing outside, said, "Man , what did you do?"

Majestyk looked at him. For a moment he seemed about to say something, the n c losed the door in the black guy's face and took off down the alley.

Move out fast and try to get to high country before the police set up roadblock s a nd got their helicopters out. That's what he had to do. Keep to the back roads , working north, get far enough away from the highway and find some good cover.

That's what he did. Found an old sagging feed barn sitting out by itself on a d ried-up section of pasture land, pulled the bus inside, and swung the doubl e d oors shut to enclose them in dim silence.

Majestyk remained by the crack of vertical light that showed between the doors , looking out in the direction they had come, seeing the dust settling in the su n g lare.

Somewhere behind him in the gloom Renda said, "You move, don't you? I figure d y ou for some kind of a local clown, but you move."

Majestyk didn't say anything.

"What'd they bust you for?"

"Assault."

"With what?"

"A shotgun."

"Assault, shit, that's attempted murder. They were going to jam you the same a s m e."

"Maybe," Majestyk said.

"Maybe? What do you think you're going to do about it?"

"I got an idea might work."

"Listen," Renda said, "we get to a phone we're out of the country befor e m orning. Drive to Mexico, get some passports, we're gone."

His back still to Renda, Majestyk pulled the deputy's keys out of his pocket.

He'd almost forgotten about them, hurrying to get out of there, maybe hurryin g t oo fast and not thinking clearly. He would have to slow down a little. No t w aste time, but make sure he wasn't doing anything dumb. He listened to Renda a s h e began to study the keys and select one that would fit his handcuffs.

"I got friends," Renda was saying, "as you noticed, huh? It was set up in a h urry and they blew it. All right, I call some more friends. They get us out o f t he country, someplace no extradition, and wait and see what happens. I go t e nough to live on, I mean high, the rest of my life. It won't be home, shit no , but it won't be in the fucking slam either. I couldn't make that. Couple o f w eeks I'd be sawing my fucking wrists." He paused. "What're you doing?"

Majestyk didn't say anything and Renda came over to him, his face brightening a s h e saw the keys.

"Jesus, it keeps getting better. You not only move, you think. Give me those , hold your hands up." As he tried the keys in Majestyk's handcuffs he said , "Figure if you take a long chance, get me out of there, it'd be worth something , huh? Okay, you do something for me, I do something for you. Maybe fix it so yo u c an go with me."

Renda snapped the handcuffs open. As Majestyk slipped them off Renda handed hi m t he keys and raised his own hands to be unlocked.

"How's that sound?"

"I think you got it ass-backwards," Majestyk said, returning the keys to hi s p ocket. "I'm not going with you, you're going with me."

He found an old hackamore that did the job. Looping it around the link of th e h andcuffs, he could pull Renda along by the length of rope, yank on it when Renda resisted, held back, and the cuffs would dig into his hands.

Leaving the feed barn, hauled out into the sunlight, Renda put up a fight , yelling what the fuck was going on, calling him a crazy insane son of a bitch.

So he belted Renda, gave him a good one right in the mouth that quieted hi m d own, and brought him along. But, God, he didn't like the look in the man's e yes. The man wanted to kill him and would probably try. So his idea had bette r t urn out to be a good one and come off without any hitches.

All afternoon and into the evening he led Renda by the hackamore, forcing him t o k eep up as they moved through the brush country, following dry washes an d a rroyos that gradually began to climb, reaching toward the high slopes.

Majestyk, in his work clothes and heavy work boots, had little trouble; h e s eemed at home here. He seemed to know what he was doing, where he was going.

Renda, in his tailored suit and thin-soled shoes, stumbled along, fallin g s ometimes, getting his sweat-stained face and clothes caked with dust. Majesty k j udged the man's endurance and let him rest when he felt he was near the end o f i t. Then would pull him to his feet again and they would continue on, throug h b rush and pinyon thickets, climbing, angling across high slopes and ope n m eadows.

He brought Renda more than ten miles this way, up into the mountains, and a t d usk when they reached the cabin--a crude one-room structure that was part timbe r a nd part adobe--he had the feeling Renda would not have gone another ten yards.

"We're home," Majestyk said.

Renda looked at the place with a dull, lifeless expression. "Where are we?"

"Place I use sometimes. Mostly in hunting season."

Inside, he found a kitchen match on a shelf, feeling for it in the dark, an d l ighted a kerosene lamp that hung from the overhead.

"We got coffee and canned milk. Probably find some soup or some beans. I haven't b een up here since spring."

Renda was looking around the room, at the two metal bunks with bare mattresses , the wooden table and two chairs, the cupboard with open shelves that showed a f ew cans and cobwebs, but were nearly empty. Renda went to the nearest bunk an d s at down. Majestyk followed him over, taking the keys from his pocket.

"Hold up your hands."

The man sure looked worn out. Renda raised his arms slowly, too tired to move.

But as soon as Majestyk freed one of his hands, Renda came off the bunk , pushing, chopping at Majestyk with hard jabs. It took him by surprise, Renda's f ists stinging his face, and he had to back off and set himself before he coul d g o after Renda, jabbing, feinting, then slamming in a hard right that stunne d h im and dropped him to the bunk. Majestyk put a knee on him and got hi m h andcuffed to the metal frame before he could move again.

It took something out of him. Majestyk had to sit down on the other bunk an d r est, get his breath.

There was silence until Renda said, "All right. What do you call this game?"

Majestyk looked over at him. "You'll find out."

"Tomorrow night," Renda said quietly, "we could be in L. A . Stay at a place I know, get some broads in, booze, anything you want to eat or drink, get some ne w c lothes. A couple of days later we're in Mexico. Get a boat, some more broads. I mean like you never seen before. Cruise around, anything you want, it's on th e h ouse. You ever have it like that? Anything you want?"

"I been to L. A .," Majestyk said. "I been to Mexico and I been laid."

"Okay, what do you want?"

"I want to get a melon crop in. That's what I want to do." Renda gave him a p uzzled look and he added, "I grow melons."

"Hire your work done."

"I hope to. But I got to be there."

"I'll tell you something," Renda said, taking his time. "I've killed seven me n w ith a gun, one with a crowbar, and another guy I threw off a roof. Fiv e s tories. Some people I didn't kill but I had it done. Like I can have it don e f or you, even if I get put away and they let you off. Any way you look at it , you're dead. Unless we go out of here together. Or, we make a deal."

"What kind of deal?"

"Put a price on it. You take the cuffs off, I walk away. What's it cost?" Rend a w atched him closely. "If you think it's going to be hot out there, all right , you'll have dough, you can go anywhere you want." He paused. "Or if you fee l l ike taking a chance, turn yourself in, you can tell them I got away. Serve som e t ime, come out, the dough's waiting. How much?" He paused again. "You don't kno w w hat your price is, do you? Afraid you might be low. All right, I'll tell yo u w hat it is. Twenty-five."

"Twenty-five what?"

"Twenty-five thousand dollars."

It was Majestyk's turn to pause. "How would we work it? I mean how would I ge t t he money?"

"You call a Phoenix number," Renda said. "Say you got a message for Wiley. Yo u s ay where you want the money delivered and where I can be picked up. It's al l y ou have to do."

Majestyk seemed to be thinking about it. He said, "Twenty-five thousand, huh?"

"Tax free."

"Could you go any higher than that?"

Renda grinned. "Getting greedy now. Like what's another five or ten."

"I just wondered."

"Twenty-five," Renda said. "That's your price. A nice round number. Buy yoursel f a tractor, a new pair of overalls. Put the rest away for your retirement." He w aited a moment. "Well, what do you think?"

"You say I call somebody named Wiley," Majestyk said. "What's the number?"

Chapter 5.

THE PAPAGO TRADING POST was a highway novelty store in the desert, about thre e m iles below and east of the hunting cabin. Big red-painted signs on and aroun d t he place advertised AUTHENTIC INDIAN SOUVENIRS . . . ARROWHEADS . . . MOCCASINS. . . HOMEMADE CANDY AND ICE COLD BEER. There was a Coca-Cola sign, an Olympi a s ign, and a Coors sign.

Majestyk came down from the cabin about nine in the morning and approached th e s tore from about three hundred yards up the highway, reading the signs an d l istening for the sounds of oncoming cars. Nobody passed him. He reached th e s tore and went inside.

Beyond the counters displaying the trinkets and souvenirs, the Indian dolls an d b lankets, and sayings carved on varnished pieces of wood--like, "There's only on e t hing money can't buy. Poverty"--he saw the owner of the place sitting at a c ounter that was marble and looked like a soda fountain. The man was abou t s ixty, frail-looking with yellowish gray hair. He was having a beer, drinking i t f rom the can.

Approaching him Majestyk said, "I got a flat tire a couple of miles back. No s pare."

"That's a shame," the owner said.

"I wonder if I could use your phone. Call a friend of mine."

"Where's he live?"

"Down at Edna."

"That's two bits call Edna."

Majestyk watched him raise the wet-glistening beer can to his mouth.

"I don't have a spare. The truth is, I don't have any money on me."

"Have to trust you then, won't I?"

Majestyk smiled at him. "You trust me for a can of that too?"

When he got his Coors, a sixteen-ounce can, he took it over to the wall phon e w ith him, looked up a number in the Edna directory, and dialed it. He kept hi s b ack to the man at the counter. When a voice came on he said, quietly, "I believe you have a Lieutenant McAllen there? . . . Let me speak to him, please."

He waited, looking over at the counter where the owner of the place was watchin g h im, then turned his back to the man and hunched over the phone again.

"This is Vincent Majestyk. You remember we met a few days ago?" He paused , interrupted, then said, "No, I'm downtown in a hotel. Where do you think I am?

Listen, why don't you let me talk for a minute, all right?" But he wa s i nterrupted again. "Listen to me, will you? I got Frank Renda . . . I said I go t h im. . . . You want to listen or you want me to hang up? . . . Okay, I got Rend a a nd you got an assault charge against me. Drop it, tear it up, kick it under th e r ug, and I'll give you Frank Renda."

With the loud sounds coming from the receiver he held the phone away from him , covered the speaker with his hand, and looked over at the owner of the place.

"He's sore cause I took him away from his breakfast." He turned and put th e p hone to his ear again, waiting to break in.

"Yeah, well nothing's free in this world," Majestyk said finally. "You want him , that's the deal. . . . No, I'll deliver him. You come here you're liable to sa y y ou found us. But I bring him in it's me doing it and nobody else. . . . Yeah.

Yeah, well it's nice doing business with you too."

He hung up, took a sip of beer, but didn't move away from the phone. "Pu t a nother call on there, okay?" he said to the store owner. "Phoenix. And maybe a c ouple more beers, to go."

He finished dialing, waited, and as he turned to the wall said, "I got a messag e f or somebody named Wiley. You understand? All right, get a pencil and piece o f p aper and write down what I tell you."

It was a little after twelve, the sun directly above them, when the sports ca r a ppeared on the county road. They had been waiting since eleven-thirty, partwa y u p the slope that was covered with stands of pinyon pine. In that time this wa s t he first car they had seen.

"That's it," Renda said. He started to rise, awkwardly, still handcuffed.

Majestyk motioned to him. "Keep down." He watched the sports car, a white Jaguar XK, go by raising a trail of dust on the gravel road, finally reaching a poin t w here it passed from sight beyond the trees.

"That's the car," Renda said.

Majestyk continued to watch the road, saying nothing until the car appeare d a gain, coming slowly from the other direction.

"All right, let's go."

By the time they reached the road the Jaguar was approaching them and came to a n a brupt stop. An attractive young girl with short blond hair and big roun d s unglasses got out and stood looking at them over the open door.

Majestyk stared, taken by surprise. He hadn't expected a girl. The possibilit y h ad never entered his mind.

"Who's that?"

"That's Wiley," Renda said. He started toward the car and called to the girl , "You got the money?"

"I already gave it to him," the girl said. "God, Frank, you're a mess."

"What do you mean you gave it to him? Come on, for Christ sake, where's th e m oney?"

She was frowning as she raised the sunglasses and placed them on her head. "I was told to stop at the store on the highway and pay the man three dollars an d e ighty-five cents, and that's what I did. It's the only money I was told t o b ring."

Renda turned to Majestyk, who was walking toward the Jaguar now, looking at i t c losely.

"What are you pulling? What kind of shit are you pulling! We made a d eal--twenty-five grand!"

"It doesn't look like you'd fit in the trunk," Majestyk said. "So I guess mayb e y ou better drive, Frank. Keep your hands on something. Wiley can squeeze i n b ehind the seats." He looked at Renda then. "You can get in by yourself, or I can help you in. Either way."

"I must have missed something," Wiley said. "Is it all right if I ask wher e w e're going?"

Majestyk gave her a pleasant smile. "To jail, honey. Where'd you think?"

Wiley was three years out of Northwestern University, drama school; two year s o ut of Universal City, a little television; one year out of a Las Vega s s how-bar, topless; and six months into Frank Renda.

Until recently she had been amazed that life with him could be so--not boring , really--uneventful. Living with a real-life man who killed people had sounde d l ike the trip to end all trips. It turned out to be mostly lying around swimmin g p ools while he talked on the phone. Frank was fun to watch. He was a natura l a ctor and didn't know it. He played roles constantly, from cool dude to spoile d c hild, and looked at himself in the mirror a lot, like almost every actor sh e h ad ever known. It was interesting watching him. Still, it was getting to b e s omething of a drag until, four days ago, when she fingered the guy in the ba r f or him. No, it wasn't exactly a finger job. What she did was sit at the bar , keeping an eye on the guy. When it looked like he was getting ready to pay hi s c heck, she got up and walked out of the place, letting Frank know the guy wa s c oming, giving him a minute or so to get ready. She didn't know what Frank ha d a gainst the guy; she didn't ask him. This was real-life drama. She stood off t o t he side and watched Frank calmly shoot the guy five times. Wow. From about te n f eet away. The guy was a great dier. It was really a show, cinema verite. Unti l t he cop came from out of nowhere and jammed his gun into Frank's back. She go t o ut of there, took a cab back to her apartment and waited, the next four days , close to the phone.

More true-life adventure now, scrunched behind the bucket seats of an XK Jag , driving down a back-country road, her handcuffed boyfriend with both hands o n t he top arc of the steering wheel, and a solemn-faced, farmer-looking gu y s taring at him, watching every move he made.

"Left when you get to the blacktop," Majestyk said. "That'll take us to th e h ighway."

Renda braked. As he began to turn onto the county road he lost his grip and ha d t o grab the steering wheel and crank it hard to keep from going into the ditch.

Wiley was thrown hard against the back of Majestyk's seat. He glanced around a s s he straightened up, holding onto the seat.

"Hey, are you trying to put me through the windshield?"

Renda's eyes raised to the rearview mirror and the reflection of Wiley's face.

Their eyes met briefly before he shifted his gaze to the road again. Perhaps a m inute passed before he glanced at Majestyk.

"All right, you got a new game. What's it cost?"

"Three dollars and eighty-five cents," Majestyk said. "You paid and you're in."

"Come on, cut the bullshit. How much you want?"

"Nothing."

"I explained it as simply as I could," Renda said. "We make a deal or you'r e d ead. I get sent away, you're still dead."

"I've already made a deal."

Renda glanced at him again. "You think the cops can keep you alive? They'd hav e t o live with you the rest of your life. Can you see that? Never knowing whe n i t's going to happen?"

When Majestyk didn't answer, Wiley said, "He's kind of weird, isn't he?"

Renda's eyes raised to the rearview mirror and met Wiley's gaze.

When he looked at the road he saw the curve approaching, waited, started int o t he curve and braked sharply to reduce his speed. Again Wiley was thrown against Majestyk's seat.

"Hey Frank, take it easy, okay?"

He glanced at her reflection. She was ready.

Coming out of the curve and hitting the straightaway, Renda accelerated t o a lmost seventy, held it for a quarter of a mile, then raised his right foot an d m ashed it down on the brake pedal.

Wiley already had her hand on the latch to release the backrest of Majestyk's s eat. It was free as the car braked suddenly and she threw herself hard agains t i t, her weight and the momentum slamming Majestyk into the dashboard.

"Frank, under the seat!" She screamed it.

"Get it, for Christ sake!"

Renda was accelerating with his left foot, bringing his right foot up and ove r t he transmission hump to kick viciously at Majestyk, jammed between the seat an d t he dashboard, as Wiley reached beneath the driver's seat, groped frantically , and came up with a Colt .45 automatic in her left hand.

"Shoot him! Shoot the son of a bitch, will you!"

"I don't know how!"

"Pull the fucking trigger!"

Majestyk pushed against the seat back, lunging at Wiley. Renda hit the brake s a gain, bouncing Majestyk off the dashboard. But he was able to push off from it , twisting around enough to get a hand on the girl's arm just as she fired and th e a utomatic exploded less than a foot from his head.

Renda was kicking at him again. "Christ, shoot him!"

He kicked at Majestyk's ribs, got his heel in hard a couple of times, kicke d a gain and this time his heel hit Majestyk's belt buckle, slipped off and hit th e d oor handle as Wiley pulled her arm free and put the automatic in Majestyk's f ace. The door opened and she saw him going out, fired, saw his expression an d f ired twice again, saw the window of the swung-open door shatter, but he wa s g one, out of the car, and she knew she hadn't hit him.

The XK Jag was two hundred feet up the road before its brake lights flashed on.

The car made a tight turn, backed up on the narrow blacktop, and turned again t o c ome back this way.

Majestyk heard the sound of the engine. He was lying facedown on the shoulder o f t he road, propped on his elbows, dazed, staring at gravel and feeling it cuttin g i nto the palms of his hands. His vision was blurred and when he wiped his eyes , he saw blood on the back of his hand. He heard the engine sound louder, windin g u p, coming toward him. When he raised his head he saw the headlights and th e g rille, low to the ground, the nose swinging toward the gravel shoulder, comin g d irectly at him.

With all of his strength he threw himself to the side, rolling into the ditch , as the Jag swept past. A moment later he heard the tires squealing on th e b lacktop and knew he had to get out of here, pushing himself up now, out of th e w eeds, climbing the bank away from the road and ducking through the wire fence , as the Jag made its tight turn and came back and this time stopped.

Majestyk was running across the open scrub, weaving through the dusty brus h c lumps, by the time Renda got out of the car and began firing at him with th e a utomatic, both hands extended in the handcuffs. Majestyk kept running. Rend a j umped across the ditch, got to the fence, and laid the .45 on the top of a p ost, aimed, and squeezed the trigger three times, but the figure out in th e s crub was too small now and it would have to be a lucky shot to bring him down.

He fired once more and the automatic clicked empty.

Seventy, eighty yards away, Majestyk finally came to a stop, worn out, gettin g h is breath. He turned to look at the man standing by the fence post and, for a w hile, they stared at one another, each knowing who the other man was and wha t h e felt and not having to say anything. Renda crossed the ditch to the Jag and Majestyk watched it drive away.

It seemed easier to get out of jail than it was to get back in.

He got a ride in a feed truck as far as Junction, after walking a couple o f m iles, then sitting down to rest and waiting almost an hour in the sun. When th e d river asked what'd happened to him he said he'd blown a tire and gone off th e r oad and was thrown out when his pickup went into the ditch. The driver said h e w as lucky he wasn't killed and Majestyk agreed.

At Junction he went into the Enco station and asked the attendant, the one named Gil, for the key to the Men's Room. The attendant gave it to him without sayin g a nything, though he had a little smile on his face looking at Majestyk's dirty , beat-up condition. In the Men's Room he saw what a mess he was: blood and dir t c aked on his face, his shirt torn up the back, his hands raw-looking wit h i mbedded gravel.

It was four-thirty that afternoon when he walked into the Edna Post of the County Sheriff's Department and asked the deputy behind the desk if Lieutenant McAllen was around. The deputy, ignoring his face, asked him what it was h e w anted to see the lieutenant about.

"I want to go to jail," Majestyk said.

He waited on the bench thinking, Christ, trying to get back in. He was stil l s itting on the bench twenty minutes later when McAllen walked up to him an d s tood there, not saying anything.

"I had him," Majestyk said.

"Did you?"

"I guess you want to hear what happened."

"I think I can see," McAllen said.

Chapter 6.

GETTING RENDA to Mexico was no problem. A young guy who brought reefer in two o r t hree times a month flew him down in his Cessna, landing on a desert airstri p n ot far from Hermosillo. Renda spent two nights in a motel while the rest of i t w as being worked out. On the morning of the third day an Olds 98 with Californi a p lates and a house trailer attached--with Eugene Lundy behind the wheel and Wile y c urled on the backseat reading a current bestselling novel--pulled up in front o f t he motel. Renda, wearing work clothes and a week's growth of beard, walked ou t o f his room and got in the trailer. The Olds took off and didn't stop agai n u ntil they were on the coast road south of Guaymas and Lundy thought maybe Fran k w ould want to get out and stretch his legs, exercise a little, breathe in th e s alt air, and throw a couple of stones at the Gulf of California. Wiley said t o h im, "You don't know Frank very well, do you?"

He didn't come out of the trailer or bother to look up when the door opened. He w as sitting in back on one of the bunks, smoking a cigarette.

Wiley said, "Hey, do you love it? I think it's great."

Behind her, Lundy said, "Air-conditioned, you got plenty of vodka, scotch , steaks, and beer in the ice box and"--he took an envelope out of his pocket an d h anded it to Renda--"twenty-five hundred cigarette money."

Wiley was opening cabinets and doors. "There's a shower in the john. Even a m agazine rack."

"Tonight we'll be in Mazatlan," Lundy said. "We can stay there or go on down to Acapulco, it's up to you."

Renda looked up at him. "Regular vacation. You having a nice time?"

"Listen, I think I could use a rest. That stunt, hitting the fucking bus, tha t t ook some years off me."

Renda watched him turn to the refrigerator and take out a can of beer.

"Where is he?"

"You want one?"

"I said where is he!"

Lundy, about to pop open the can, looked over at Renda. "The guy? He turne d h imself in. Last I heard they're still holding him at Edna."

Wiley came in to stretch out on the opposite bunk. "Kind of tight fit, but al l t he comforts of home."

"We're not at home," Renda said. "He is."

"He's in jail, Frank." Wiley's tone was soft, approaching him carefully. "You'r e f ree. We can go anywhere you want."

"There's only one thing I want," Renda said. "Him."

Lundy opened the can and took a swig. "He gets out, we can have somebody tak e c are of that."

Renda shook his head. "Not somebody. I said I want him. I want him to see it an d k now it's me. Put the gun in his stomach and look at him. Not say anything, jus t l ook at him and make sure he understands."

"You still have to wait," Lundy said.

Renda didn't say anything. He was still picturing it, putting the gun in th e m elon grower's stomach.

"All right, let me ask you," Lundy said. "What do you do, walk in the jail, as k t hem for a visitor's pass? How do you get close to the guy?"

"You get him out of jail."

"You get him out. How?"

"Find the guy he hit," Renda said. "Tell him to drop the complaint. It was all a m istake, a misunderstanding."

"What if the guy doesn't want to drop it?"

"Jesus, I said tell him, not ask him."

"Maybe pay him something?"

"That's up to you. See what it takes."

"You mean you want me to do it? Go back there?"

"I'm talking to you, aren't I?"

"I just wanted to be sure."

"You're going to go back and set it up," Renda said. "Find the guy made th e c omplaint and get that done. Get some people if you see we need them. Call me, I come up. We go in and get out fast. No bullshit screwing around. Arrange it, I walk up to him, and it's done."

Lundy took a sip of beer, getting the right words ready in his mind. "I keep thinking though, what about the cops? They'll be looking for you, watching you r h ouse, the apartment."

"Christ, you think I'm going to go home? We'll stay someplace else. Call Harry , tell him to arrange it."

"I mean right now, why take a chance?"

"I told you why."

"I'm not against it," Lundy said. "I'm just thinking, we're this far. Why chang e y our mind all of a sudden?"

"I didn't change it. I hadn't made it up yet. But the more I think about it--I know it's what I'm going to do."

"I was going to lie on the beach," Wiley said, "and read my book."

Lundy waited a moment. "You know, Frank, there's a lot of guys'd do it. I mea n g uys the cops aren't waiting to flag."

Renda said, "Hey, Gene, one more time. I said I want him. I never wanted anybod y s o bad and I'm going to do it strictly as a favor to myself. You understand? Am I getting through to you? I'm going to do it, not somebody else. Before I tak e a ny trips or lay on any beach I'm going to walk up to that melon grower son of a b itch, I'm going to look him in the eyes, and I'm going to kill him."

Harold Ritchie was a pallbearer at his partner's funeral. Bob Almont, good gu y t o ride with in a squad car, and goddamn he'd miss him. Shot down in the stree t b y some creepy son of a bitch. Ritchie hoped it was the one he'd shot coming ou t o f the station wagon. He went to Bob Almont's house after the funeral, with Bob's close friends and a few relatives that'd come from Oklahoma. They sa t a round drinking coffee and picking at the casserole dishes some neighbors ha d b rought over, while Evelyn Almont stayed in the kitchen most of the time or sa t w ith her two little tiny kids who didn't know what the hell was going on. Afte r a couple of hours of watching that, it was a relief to get back to the post.

The deputy at the counter tore off a teletype sheet and handed it to him. "Wha t y ou asked for. Just come in."

He read it as he walked over to Lieutenant McAllen's office, knocked twice, an d w alked in. McAllen was sitting at his desk.

"You're right," Ritchie said, "Phoenix had a sheet on him. Robert L. Kopas , a . K. A . Bobby Kopas, Bobby Curtis. Two arrests, B and E, and extortion. On e c onviction. Served two years in Florence."

"I could feel it," McAllen said. "The guy's up to something."

"Changed his mind and dropped the charge. The way I read it," Ritchie said , "he's decided it'd be more fun to get back at the guy himself."

"Maybe. But is he smart enough? Or dumb enough to try it? However you want t o l ook at it." McAllen paused. "Or did somebody put him up to it?"

Ritchie was nodding. "That's a thought."

"Yes, it is, isn't it?" McAllen said. "You got any more on Majestyk?"

"On my desk. I'll be right back." Ritchie went out and returned within th e m inute with an open file folder in his hands, looking at it.

"Not much. He lived in California most of his life. High school education. Truc k d river, farm laborer. Owned his own place till he went to Folsom on the assaul t c onviction. Here's something. In the army three years, a Ranger instructor at Fort Benning."

McAllen raised his eyebrows. "An instructor."

"Combat adviser in Laos before that," Ritchie went on. "Captured by the Pathet Lao, escaped and brought three enemy prisoners with him. Got a Silver Star."

Looking up at McAllen he said, "Man doesn't fool, does he?"

"Well, he's a different cut than what we usually get."

"Doesn't seem afraid to take chances."

"Doesn't appear to." McAllen was thoughtful a moment. "Let's talk to him an d f ind out."

He said to Majestyk, "You look better than the last time I saw you."

"Thank you, but I'd just as soon wear my own clothes." He was dressed in jai l d enims with white stripes down the sides of the pants. The scrapes and cuts o n h is face were healing and he was clean-shaven. "What I'd like to know whic h n obody'll tell me, is when I'm going to court."

"Why don't you have a seat?" McAllen said.

"I've been sitting for four days."

"So you're used to it," McAllen said. "Sit down."

He watched Majestyk take the chair then picked up a pack of cigarettes an d m atches and leaned over to hand them across the desk.

"Have a smoke."

As Majestyk lighted a cigarette, McAllen said, "I guess what you want most is t o g et out of here."

He waited, but Majestyk, looking at him, said nothing. "Well, I think it migh t b e arranged."

Majestyk continued to wait, not giving McAllen any help.

"The guy you hit, Bobby Kopas?" McAllen said finally. "He dropped the charg e a gainst you."

When Majestyk still waited, McAllen said, "You hear what I said?"

"Why'd he do that?"

"He said he thought it over. It wasn't important enough for him to waste a lo t o f time in court. You think that's the reason?"

"I met him once," Majestyk said. "I can't say I know him or what's in his head."

"He's got a record. Extortion, breaking and entering. Does that tell yo u a nything?"

"You say it, I believe it."

"I'm saying he could have a reason of his own to see you walking around free."

"Well, whatever his reason is, I'll go along with it," Majestyk said. "If i t m eans getting my crop in."

"You can stay if you want," McAllen said.

"Why would I want to?"

"Because Frank Renda's also walking around free."

Majestyk saw him waiting for his reaction and he said, "Why don't you just tel l m e what you're going to anyway, without all the suspense."

McAllen looked over at Ritchie and back again. He said, "The eyeball witness wh o s aw Frank Renda commit murder was an off-duty police officer."

"I heard that."

"He was a member of this department."

Majestyk waited.

"He was killed during Renda's escape. Shot dead. So there's no witness. The gun Renda used--is alleged to have used--can't be traced to him. That means there's n o c ase."

"If you want him so bad," Majestyk said, "why don't you arrest him for th e e scape?"

"Because there's no way to tie him in with the attempt. His lawyer made tha t c lear and the prosecutor had to agree. Technically--and tell me how you lik e t his?--he was kidnapped. We can stick you with that if we want. Or let you go.

Or, we can hold you in protective custody."

"Protective custody against what?"

"Frank Renda. What do you think he's going to do when he finds out you're on th e s treet?"

"I don't know. What?"

"He might've already found out. Though right now we don't know where he is o r w hat he's doing."

Majestyk took a drag on the cigarette and let the smoke out slowly. "Are yo u t rying to tell me my life's in danger?"

"You should know him by now. What do you think?"

"Why would he risk getting arrested again? I mean just to get me."

"Because it's his business. Now you've given him a personal reason to kill,"

McAllen said. "And I can't think of anything that would stop him trying."

"You're that sure."

"He might even think it would be easy. Get careless again, like he did the las t t ime."

"Something's finally starting to get through," Majestyk said. "You'll let me g o i f I'll sit home and act as your bait."

"Something like that."

"Maybe even you'd like him to shoot me, so you can get him for murder."

"That entered my mind," McAllen said, "but we'll settle for attempted."

"Attempted, huh? And if he pulls it off, you try something else then?"

"I believe you're the guy who wanted to make a deal," McAllen said, "so yo u c ould get your melons picked. All right, go pick them."

"And where'll you be?"

"We'll be around."

"He could send somebody else."

"He could." McAllen nodded. "Or he could wait a few months, or a year. Shoot yo u s ome night while you're sleeping. Or wire your truck with dynamite. One morning you get in and turn the key--" McAllen paused. "No, you're right, we don't kno w f or certain he'll try for you himself, just as we can't guarantee we'll be abl e t o stop him if he does. It's a chancy situation any way you look at it. Bu t r emember, you got yourself into it. So, as things stand, it's the best offer I can make."

"Well then"--Majestyk got up from the chair, stubbing out the cigarette--"I gues s t here's no reason for me to hang around, is there?"

Chapter 7.

IT WAS STILL COOL at 6:00 A . M., the vines were wet and darkened the pants leg s o f the pickers as they worked along the rows with their burlap sacks. Somebod y s aid it was insecticide, the wetness, but most of them knew the fields had no t b een sprayed in several days and that moisture had settled during the night.

Their pants and the vines would be hot and dusty dry within an hour. The sun , which they would have all day, faced them from the eastern boundary of th e f ields, above a tangle of willows that lined an arroyo five miles away. The su n s eemed that close to them.

Larry Mendoza stood by the pickup truck counting the stooped, round figures i n t he rows. He had counted them before, but he counted them again and got the sam e n umber. Twelve, including Nancy Chavez and the ones from Yuma--thank God fo r t hem. But he wasn't going to get any crop in with twelve people. Some of the m h ad never picked before--like the two Anglo kids he'd been able to get becaus e n obody else wanted them.

He saw one of them stretching in his white T-shirt, rolling his shoulders t o w ork the ache out of his back, and Mendoza yelled at him, "Hey, how you going t o p ick melons standing up!"

He crossed the ditch and went out into the field, toward the white T-shirt tha t s aid Bronco Athletic Dept. and had a small numeral on it, 22, in a square.

"I was seeing how much I had in the sack," the white Anglo kid said.

"Fill it," Larry Mendoza told him. "That's how much you put in. Then you stan d u p."

"I'm getting used to it already."

A colored guy he had hired that morning, who was working the next row, wa s w atching them. Mendoza said to him, "You need something? You want some help o r s omething?"

The colored guy didn't answer; he turned and stooped over and went back to work.

At least the colored guy had picked before, not melons, but he had picked an d k new what he was doing. The Anglo kid, with his muscular arms and shoulders an d c ut-off pants and tennis shoes--like he was out here on his vacation--couldn't p ick his nose.

"This one"--Mendoza took a honeydew from the Anglo kid's sack--"it's not ready.

Remember I told you, you pick the ripe ones. You loosen the other ones in th e d irt. You don't turn them so the sun hits the underneath, you just loosen them."

"That's what I been doing," the Anglo kid said.

"The ones aren't ready, we come back for later on."

"I thought it was ripe." The Anglo kid stooped to lay the melon among the vin e l eaves.

Larry Mendoza closed his eyes and opened them and adjusted the funneled brim o f h is straw hat. "You going to put it back on the vine? Tie it on? You pick it, i t s tays picked. You got to keep it then. You understand?"

"Sure," the Anglo kid said.

Sure. How do you find them? Mendoza asked himself, turning from the kid wh o m ight last the day but would never be back tomorrow. Walking to the road hi s g aze stopped on another big-shouldered, blond-haired Bronco from Edna and h e y elled at him, "Hey, whitey, where are you, in church? Get off your knees or g o h ome, I get somebody else!" Christ, he wasn't paying them a buck forty an hou r t o rest. He yelled at the guy again, "You hear me? I'll get somebody else!"

"Like it's easy," Nancy Chavez said. She was going over to the trailer with a f ull sack of melons hanging from her shoulder. Pretty girl, thin bu t s trong-looking, with a dark bandana and little pearl earrings.

"I may have to go to Mexico," Mendoza said. "Christ, nobody wants to wor k a nymore. And some of the ones I got don't know how."

"Teach them," the girl said. "Somebody had to teach you."

"Yeah, when I was eight years old." He went over to the pickup truck and got in.

"Now I got to tell Vincent. He don't have enough to worry about."

"Tell him we'll get it done," the girl said. "Somehow."

Majestyk came out through the screen door of his house to wait on the porch.

When he saw the pickup coming he walked out to the road. Larry Mendoza move d o ver and Majestyk got in behind the wheel.

"How'd you sleep?"

"Too long."

"Man, you need it."

Majestyk swung the pickup around in a tight turn. When they were heading bac k t oward the field that was being worked, on their right now, Mendoza said, "I tr y a gain this morning, same thing. Nobody wants to work for us. I talk to Julio Tamaz, some of the others. What's going on? What is this shit? Julio says man, I don't have a crew for you, that's all."

"He can get all he wants," Majestyk said.

"I know it. He turn some away, says they're no good. I hire them and find ou t h e's right."

As they approached the trailer, standing by itself on the side of the road , Mendoza saw the girl with the dark bandana and pearl earrings coming out of th e f ield again with a sack of melons. He glanced at Majestyk and saw him watchin g h er.

"That one," Mendoza said, "Nancy Chavez. She wasn't here, we wouldn't have an y g ood workers at all. She got some more friends drove over from Yuma. She pick s b etter than two men. But we got to have a full crew, soon, or we never get i t d one."

Mendoza got out by the trailer. He slammed the door and said through the window , "I hope you have better luck than me."

"Least I'll find out what's going on," Majestyk said. He could see the girl b y t he trailer, unloading her melon sack. That was something, she was still here.

She didn't know him or owe him anything, but she was still here.

Harold Ritchie was leaning over the fender of the State Highway Departmen t p ickup truck, holding a pair of binoculars to his eyes. He was looking acros s t he highway and across a section of melon field to where the dust column wa s f ollowing Majestyk's yellow truck all the way up the side road.

"It could be him this time," Ritchie said. "Hang on."

He was speaking to another deputy who was sitting inside a tool shed by a p olice-frequency two-way radio. It was hotter than hell inside and the door wa s o pen so he could get some air. The shed hadn't been built for people to sit in , but it was the best they could do. Besides the shed, there was a mobil e g enerator, a tar pot, some grading equipment, a pile of gravel, a portabl e t oilet that looked like a rounded phone booth without windows, wooden barricade s a nd lanterns and a sign that said ROAD CONSTRUCTION 500 FT., though nothing wa s g oing on. The only ones here were Ritchie and the deputy operating the radio , both of them in work clothes.

"Yeah, it's him," Ritchie said now, lowering the glasses and watching Majestyk's p ickup come out of the side road without stopping and swing onto the highway.

"Jesus Christ, I could arrest him for that," Ritchie said. "Tell them he jus t d rove out in his truck, yellow four-wheel-drive pickup, heading toward Edna. I'm g etting on him right now."

Ritchie slid behind the wheel of the State Highway Department truck and took of f a fter him.

Majestyk parked across the highway from the blue school bus and the stake truc k a nd the old junk cars the migrants would return to later in the day. In th e s tillness he could hear the jukebox out on the street. Tammy Wynette, with a t wangy Nashville backup, telling about some boy she loved who was in love wit h s omebody else.

Majestyk followed the sound of the music to the cafe-bar and had the screen doo r o pen when the State Highway Department truck slowed down at the Junctio n i ntersection and came coasting by. He gave the truck a little wave before h e w ent inside.

A waitress was serving Julio Tamaz and another Chicano labor contractor thei r b reakfast. They were sitting at a table, the only customers in the place.

Another woman, wearing a stained white apron, was sweeping the floor, movin g c hairs around, banging them against the formica tables. The two men didn't loo k u p as Majestyk approached them. They were busy with the salt and pepper an d p ouring sugar and cream. Julio was dousing his fried eggs dark brown with Lea & Perrins.

"Julio?"

He looked up then, with a surprised expression he had prepared as Majesty k w alked over.

"Hey, Vincent. They let you out, huh? Good."

Majestyk pulled a chair out but didn't sit down. He stood with his hand on it , as though he had changed his mind.

"How come I can't hire a crew?"

"Man, you been away, in jail."

"Larry Mendoza hasn't. Last two mornings you turned him down. How come?"

"It's the time of the year. I got too much business." He poked at the eggs wit h h is fork, yellow appearing, mixing with the brown. "Other people need crews too.

They ask me first."

"All right," Majestyk said, "I'm asking you right now for thirty people tomorro w m orning. Buck forty."

Julio kept busy with his eggs and didn't look up. "I got crews signed more tha n a week. Vincent, you too late, that's all."

Majestyk watched him begin to eat his eggs before turning his attention to th e o ther man at the table. He was already finishing, wiping the yolk from his plat e w ith a piece of toast.

"How about you?" Majestyk said. "You get me a crew?"

"Me?" With the same helpless tone as Julio's. "Maybe in ten days," the labo r c ontractor said. "I can't promise you nothing right now."

"In ten days my crop will be ruined."

"Like Julio says, other people ask first. We can't help that."

"What is this, stick-up time? You want more money? What?"

"It's not money, Vincent." Julio's tone was sad as well as helpless. "How can w e g et you people if we don't have any?"

Majestyk pulled the chair out a little farther. This time he sat down and leane d o ver the edge of the table on his arms.

He said quietly, "Julio, what's going on?"

"I tole you. I got too much work."

"You'd drive to Mexico if you had to. Come on, somebody pay you, threaten you?

What?"

"Listen," Julio said, intently now, his voice lower, "I got to work for a livin g a nd I can't do it in no goddamn hospital. You understand?"

"I'm beginning to. You could help me though."

"I'm not going to say any more. Man, I've said enough."

Majestyk stared at him a moment. Finally he said, "Okay," got up and walked awa y f rom the table.

Julio called after him, "Vincent, next season, uh?"

The contractor at the table with him, eating his piece of toast, said, "If he's s till around."

Coming out of the place into the sunlight he was aware of the State Highway Department truck parked across the street and the deputy sitting in the cab , watching him. Tell him you're going back home, Majestyk was thinking. Put hi s m ind at ease. He started for the street, through the space between the back o f t he school bus and the stake truck, when the voice stopped him.

"You looking for a crew?"

He saw Bobby Kopas then, leaning against a car with his arms folded, a familia r p ose, a tight lavender shirt; sunglasses and bandit moustache hiding a thin , bony face. The car, an Olds 98, was at the curb in front of the school bus.

Someone else was inside, a big-shouldered man, behind the wheel.

"You want pickers, maybe I can get you some wine heads," Kopas said. He s traightened, unfolding his arms, as Majestyk walked over to him. "You touch me , man, you're back in jail by lunchtime."

Majestyk stared at him, standing there close enough to touch. All he had to d o w as grab the front of that pretty shirt and belt him. It would be easy and i t w ould be pure pleasure. But the deputy was across the street and Majestyk didn't h ave to look over to know he was watching them. He wondered if Kopas knew th e m an in the State Highway Department truck was a cop.

"You dropped the complaint," Majestyk said. "Why? You want to try and pay m e b ack yourself?"

"I do you a favor--Jesus, after you like to broke my nose, you think I'm pullin g s omething." Kopas gave him the hint of a grin. "Man, I'm being a good neighbor , that's all."

"What'd you say to Julio Tamaz and the other contractors? You pay them off o r t hreaten them? How'd you work it?"

The little grin was still there. "Man, I hope nobody's telling stories on me , giving me a bad name."

"They didn't say it was you. I'm saying it."

"Why would I do a thing like that?"

"So I'll lose my crop."

"I think you must be a little mixed up," Kopas said. "Don't know where you r h ead's at. Here you are standing in deep shit and you're worried about a littl e d inky melon crop."

"You've been talking to somebody," Majestyk said.

"Who's that?" Kopas said, giving him the grin.

"I can fix it you'd have a hard time smiling again."

Kopas tensed and the grin vanished. "Listen, I'm not kidding. You even make a f ist, man, you're back in jail."

"Are you working for him?"

"Who's that?"

"He get you to drop the complaint?"

"I think I'm tired of talking to you," Kopas said. He moved to the car door an d o pened it, then looked back at Majestyk.

"I'll tell you one thing though. Somebody's going to set your ass on fire. And I'm going to be there to see it."

The Olds started off as Kopas got in and slammed the door.

Majestyk caught a glimpse of the driver's profile--looking at Kopas, sayin g s omething--and for a moment he thought he knew the man or had seen him before.

But the car was moving away and it was too late to get another look at him an d b e sure. Big shoulders, curly hair. Maybe he was one of the guys who had bee n w ith Kopas a week ago, the day it began. Or a different one. The car wa s d ifferent.

What difference did it make? He had enough people to think about withou t b ringing in new ones. Faces to remember. Frank Renda's. Telling him he was goin g t o kill him. Now Kopas and Renda. The man had already started to make his move.

He didn't waste time. He found Kopas and hired him. That was plain enough. No w t hey were beginning to play a game with him. Let him know they were coming. Giv e h im something to keep him awake nights. He thought of telling the deputy in the State Highway Department truck. Get him after them, quick, before they turne d o ff the highway somewhere. Maybe they would lead him to Renda.

But Renda didn't have any reason to hide. He was free.

And what does the cop do, arrest them? For what?

No, whatever's going to happen is going to happen, Majestyk thought. So go hom e a nd pick your melons.

Chapter 8.

"I'M NOT SHITTIN' YOU," Kopas said. "I was thinking of dropping the complain t a nyway, so I could take care of the son of a bitch myself."

Eugene Lundy wasn't listening to him. He was staring straight ahead, over th e h ood of the Olds 98, at the vacant land of dust-green mesquite and sun glare an d b ugs rising with the airstream and exploding in yellow bursts against th e w indshield. Like somebody was spitting them there.

"Load up the pump gun and wait for him," Kopas said. "Or stick it in his windo w s ome night. See him sittin' on the toilet. Bam. Scatter the motherfucker al l o ver the room."

Lundy was counting the bug stains, more than a dozen of the yellow ones: som e k ind of bug flying along having a nice time and the next thing sucked into th e w ind, coming up fast over the hood and wiped out, the bug not knowing what i n t he name of Christ happened to him. Maybe they had been butterflies. Seeing th e b ugs suddenly, there wasn't time to tell what they were.

"I got to piss," Kopas said.

Lundy looked at the speedometer and up again. He was holding between seventy an d s eventy-five down the country road that rose and dropped through the desert , seeing no other cars, no people, not even signs.

"Man, I'm in pain," Kopas said. "All you got to do is stop the car."

"We're almost there," Lundy said. "I'm not going to stop twice."

"How long you think it's going to take me, an hour? All I want to do is take a p iss."

"Hold it," Lundy said.

Maybe they were all different kinds of bugs, but all bugs were yellow inside.

Like all people were red inside. Maybe. Lundy had never thought about it before.

His gaze held on the stained windshield as he waited for a bug to come up ove r t he hood.

He felt so good his eyes were watering, and kept going like he was never goin g t o stop. Jesus, what a relief. Son of a bitch Lundy made him hold it twent y m inutes, refusing to stop the car. He'd finally pleaded with him. Christ, jus t s low down, he'd piss out the window, but the son of a bitch wouldn't even d o t hat. A very cold son of a bitch who didn't say much, sitting on two piece s u nder his seat, a Colt .45 automatic and a big fucking Colt .44 mag. He ha d a sked the guy if he had been in on the bus job and the guy had looked at him an d s aid, "The bus job. Is that what you call it?" And that was all he'd said.

Bobby Kopas zipped up his fly and walked around to the front of the Olds where Lundy was standing, squinting up at the sky.

"Hurry up and wait," Kopas said. "I never seen a plane come in on time in m y l ife. Not even the airlines, not once I ever went out to the airport. Everybod y s itting around waiting. Go in the cocktail lounge you're smashed by the time th e f ucking plane arrives. You ever seen a plane come in on time?"

Staring at the sky and the flat strip of desert beyond the road, Lundy said , "Why don't you shut your mouth for a while?"

Christ, you couldn't even talk to the guy. Kopas moved around with his hands i n h is pockets, kicking a few stones, looking around for some shade, which ther e w asn't a bit of anywhere, squinting in the hot glare, squinting even with hi s w raparound sunglasses on. The glasses made him sweat and he had to keep wipin g h is eyes. Lundy stood there not moving, like the heat didn't bother him at all.

Big, heavy son of a bitch who should've been lathered with sweat by now, like a h orse.

They heard the plane before they saw it, the faraway droning sound, then a do t i n the sky coming in low, the sun flashing on its windshield. The Cessna passe d o ver them at about a hundred feet. As it banked, descending, coming around in a w ide circle, Lundy finally spoke. He said, "Wait here," and walked out into th e d esert.

Kopas was excited now. He wanted to appear cool and make a good impression. He p ut his hands on his hipbones and cocked one leg, pointing the toe of the boo t o ut a little. Like a gunfighter. So the guy was big time. He'd act cool, savvy , show the guy he wasn't all that impressed.

He watched the plane come to a stop about a hundred yards away. Lundy, going ou t t o meet it, was holding up his arm, waving at the plane. Big jerk.

Renda came out first and then the girl--white slacks and a bright green blouse.

Even at this distance she looked good. Blond, nice slim figure. Now they wer e c oming this way and Lundy was talking to them, gesturing, probably telling Rend a h ow the murder charge against him had been dropped. Renda wouldn't have know n a bout it, though the pilot might have told him. As the plane started its engin e t o take off, the prop wash blew sand at them and they hunched their shoulder s a nd turned away from the stinging blast of air. Lundy was talking again. Rend a s topped and they all stopped. Renda was saying something.

Then Lundy was talking again. As they came up to the road Kopas heard Lundy say , "You could have rode up here bareass on a white horse, nobody would've stoppe d y ou."

"What about the bus thing?" the girl asked him.

She was something. Maybe the best-looking girl Bobby Kopas had ever seen.

"There's nothing they can stick you with," Lundy said. "The bus, nothing. The y t ried to, naturally. There're three cops involved and they don't like that on e b it. But what're they going to stick you with? You didn't shoot the cops. Yo u d idn't take the bus. The guy did, Majestyk. But they don't even jam him fo r t hat. You see what I'm getting at?"

Kopas had never heard Lundy talk so much.

The good-looking girl said, "God, nothing like a little dumb luck."

"Luck, bullshit," Renda said. "Timing. Make it happen. And never run till yo u s ee you're being chased."

"With a fast lawyer available at all times," the girl said. She didn't seem t o b e afraid of him.

"They had to let him go," Renda said. "I could see that right away, the cop s c oming up with this great idea. Don't stick him with the bus, no, let him go so I'll show up and try for him."

"That's the question," Lundy said. "What're the cops doing?"

"No, the question is what's the guy doing? Is he still sitting for it or what?"

"He's around," Lundy said. "We just saw him."

Kopas stepped out of the way as they approached the Olds. He set a grin on hi s f ace and said, "Probably home by now waiting on you, Mr. Renda."

Renda looked at him. Christ, with the coldest look he'd ever gotten from a p erson. Like he was a thing or wasn't even there. Christ, he'd been arrested , he'd been in the can. He wasn't some lightweight who didn't know what he wa s d oing.

He said, "Mr. Renda? I wonder if I could ask you a favor." Renda was looking a t h im again. "I know it's your party, but--after you finish the son of a bitch--yo u m ind if I put a couple of slugs in him?"

Renda said to Lundy, "Who's this asshole?"

"Bobby Kopas. Boy Majestyk hit."

"You pay him to drop it?"

"Five hundred."

"Then what's he doing here?"

"He's working for us," Lundy said, "to see nobody works for Majestyk. So ther e w on't be a crowd hanging around there. He knows the guy's place, back roads , ways in and out. I thought he might come in handy."

Kopas thought he could add to that. He said, "I been watching that Polack melo n p icker since they let him out. He doesn't fart that I don't know about it."

The girl said, probably to Lundy, "Is he for real?"

Kopas wasn't sure what she meant. He kept his eyes on Renda, who was staring a t h im, and tried not to look away.

"You're telling me you know him pretty well?" Renda asked.

"I know he's a stuck-up son of a bitch. Got a two-bit farm and thinks he's a bi g g rower."

"How long's he lived here?"

Kopas grinned. "Not much longer I guess, huh?"

"I ask you a question," Renda said, "you don't seem to want to answer it."

Jesus, that look again. "Well, I'm not sure how long exactly he's been here.

Couple years, I guess. I just got into this labor business recently, when I see n t here was money in it."

"Show me where he lives," Renda said.

"Yes sir, any time you say."

"Right now."

"Frank," Lundy said, "your lawyer got the house, it's all set. Up in th e m ountains, nobody can bother you or know you're there. I thought maybe you'd w ant to go up to the house first, you know, take it easy for a while."

Renda said, "Gene, did I come here to take it easy? I could be home, not at som e p lace in the mountains. But I'm not home."

"I know you're anxious," Lundy began.

"Gene, I want to see the guy's place," Renda said. "I want to see it right now."

The two Anglo kids in the white T-shirts quit at noon and Mendoza paid them off.

That left nine. So Majestyk went out in the field and picked melons all the res t o f the day with Nancy Chavez and her friends from Yuma. Maybe next year he coul d s tand around and watch, or sit in an office like a big melon grower. Sit on th e p orch and drink iced tea. That would be nice.

He wasn't used to this. He could feel the soreness in his back, and each time h e r eached the end of a row it would take him a little longer to straighten up. Al l d ay, dirty and sweaty and thirsty--drinking the lukewarm water in the canvas bag.

Tomorrow he'd get a tub of ice and some pop, cover it with a piece of burlap.

He'd forgotten how difficult and painful stooped labor was. Around 5:30, afte r e leven hours of it, the pickers began to straggle out of the field and unloa d t heir last melon sacks at the trailer parked on the road.

Majestyk was finishing a row, finally, when Nancy Chavez crossed through th e v ines and came toward him, a full sack hanging from her shoulder.

She said, "I've been watching you. For a grower you're pretty good."

"Lady, I've picked way more'n I've ever grown." He got up with an effort, tryin g n ot to show it, and the girl smiled at him. As they moved off toward th e t railer, where Mendoza and two of his small sons were emptying the sacks an d s tacking the melons, Majestyk said, "I meant to ask if you ever sorted."

"All the time. It's what I do best."

"Maybe you could start things going in the packing shed tomorrow. If you'd lik e t o."

"Whatever you say."

"We ever get it done, I'd like to pay everybody something extra."

"You worried we won't take it?"

"I just want you to know I appreciate your staying here and all."

"Don't mention it. You're paying, aren't you?"

"Are the quarters all right? They haven't been used in a while. Couple of year s a t least."

"They're okay," the girl said. "We've lived in worse."

They were approaching the trailer and he wanted to say something to her befor e t hey reached it and Mendoza might hear him.

"You want to have supper with me?"

She turned her head to look at him. "Where, your house? Just the two of us, al l a lone?"

"We can go down the highway you want. I don't care."

They were at the trailer now. She handed up her sack to Mendoza before lookin g a t Majestyk again.

"For a man needs a job done, where do you get all this free time? You want t o p ack melons, why don't we start?"

"You mean tonight?"

"Why not?"

"They'd keep working?"

"For money. You make it when you can." She said then, "If you don't want to as k t hem, I'll do it. We'll eat, then go to the packing shed and work another hal f s hift. All right?"

"Lady," Majestyk said, "you swing that I'll marry you and give you a home."

She seemed to be considering it, her expression serious, solemn, before saying , "How about if I settle for a cold beer after work?"

"All you want."

"Maybe a couple."

She gave him a nice look and walked away, up the road toward the migran t q uarters. Both Majestyk and Mendoza, on the trailer, stood watching her.

Mendoza said, "You like a piece of that, huh?" He looked down at Majestyk's d eadpan expression and added quickly, "Hey, I don't mean nothing. Take it easy."

Majestyk handed him his sack. "You hear what she said? They'll start packin g t onight."

Mendoza emptied the sack and came down off the trailer while his sons stacke d t he melons. "You must live right," he said. "Or maybe it's time you had som e g ood luck for a change." He nodded toward the migrant quarters, fishing a c igarette out of his shirt pocket. "Those people, they're twice as good as what Julio brings up. They work hard because they like you. They don't want to se e y ou lose a crop."

"I don't know," Majestyk said. "Maybe we can do it."

"We'll do it, Vincent. Don't get anybody else mad at you, we'll do it."

"We're coming to it now," Kopas said, over his shoulder. "On the right there.

That's his packing shed."

Renda and Wiley were in the back seat. Lundy was driving, slowing down now a s t hey approached the yellow building with majestyk brand melons painted on th e s ide.

"See," Kopas said. "Puts his name up as big as he can get it. Down the end o f t hat road we're coming to the house. Way down, where you see the trees."

Renda was studying the road, then hunching forward to look across the field a t t he road, at the trailer and the figures in the road and the three old car s p arked in front of the migrant living quarters.

He sat back again. "You said nobody was working for him."

"No crews," Kopas said. "He picked up a few migrants, that's all."

"They're people, aren't they?"

"Some claim they are. I don't." Christ, he knew right away he shouldn't hav e s aid it. It slipped out, talking smart again and not answering his questio n d irect. He waited, looking straight ahead, knowing it was coming. But Rend a d idn't say anything for a moment, not until they were passing the sign that sai d r oad construction 500 ft., passing the barricades and equipment, the portabl e t oilet and the State Highway Department pickup truck.

He said then, "Go up to the next road and turn around."

Lundy's eyes raised to the rearview mirror. "You want another look at hi s l ayout? That's all there is, what you saw."

"Gene," Renda said, "turn the fucking car around."

They had to go up about a mile to do it. Coming back, approaching the roa d r epair site again, Renda said, "How long's that been there?"

Kopas wasn't sure what he meant at first and had to twist around to see where h e w as looking.

"That road stuff? I don't know, a few days."

"How long!" Renda's voice drilled into the back of his head and Kopas kep t s taring at the barricades and equipment as they approached, trying to remember , trying to recall quickly how many days.

"They been there as long as I been watching his place. I'm sure of that."

Now they were even with the site, going past it. Kopas was looking out the sid e w indow and saw the guy in khaki work clothes getting into the pickup truck. I t w as a close look at a face he'd seen somewhere before, but only a quick glimpse , and he was turning to look back when Renda's voice hit him in the head again.

"It's cops! Jesus, don't you know a cop when you see one!"

Kopas was turned, trying to see the guy, but it was too late. Looking past Renda, trying not to meet his eyes, he said, "You sure? I thought if there wa s a ny cops around I'd recognize them."

And he remembered as he said it and turned back around to stare at th e w indshield. Christ yes, the guy was a deputy. He'd seen him in Edna, at th e s tation. He'd seen him in the pickup earlier today, across the street, when h e w as talking to Majestyk.

Kopas gave himself a little time, trying to relax and sound natural, before h e s aid, "Well, I figure after a while they get tired waiting, they'll pick up an d l eave."

Nobody said anything.

"Then we can run off those Mexicans he's got. No sweat to that."

There was a silence again before Renda said, "Pull over."

Lundy looked up. "What?"

"Pull over, for Christ sake, and stop the car."

Lundy braked, bringing the Olds to a gradual stop on the shoulder of the road.

They sat in silence, waiting for Renda.

"Hey, asshole. Get out of the car."

"Me?"

Kopas turned enough to look over his shoulder. Renda was staring the way he ha d s tared before--as if not even seeing him--and he knew the man wasn't going to sa y a nything.

"What did you want me to do?"

"Get out," Lundy said. "That's all you have to do."

Kopas grinned. "Is this a joke or something?"

Nobody was laughing. The girl had a book open and was reading, not even payin g a ny attention.

Kopas said to Lundy, "I mean I left my car in Edna, where you picked me up.

That's a six-mile hike just back to Junction."

Lundy didn't say anything.

Kopas waited another moment before he got out and turned to the car to close th e d oor. He saw the window next to Renda lower without a sound.

"Come here," Renda said.

Kopas hunched over to look in the window. The girl was still reading the book.

"You hear me all right?"

"Yes, sir, fine."

"The way you come on," Renda said, "I don't like it. I don't know you a hal f h our you start talking shit out the side of your mouth. I say I don't wan t a nybody working for him, he's got a dozen people living there. The cops set up a f ucking grandstand to watch the show, you don't know they're cops. What I'm s aying, I don't see you're doing me a lot of good."

"Mr. Renda, I been watching, seeing he doesn't run off."

"I'll tell you what," Renda said. "You go home, maybe we'll see you, maybe not.

But listen, if it happens don't ever talk shit to me again, okay? Don't eve r t ell me what I'm going to do."

"I sure didn't mean anything like that, Mr. Renda."

But that was the end of it and he knew it. The window went up, the Olds drov e o ff and Bobby Kopas was left standing there, six miles from Edna, feeling like a d umb shit who'd blown his chance.

Chapter 9.

RENDA'S LAWYER was a senior partner in a firm that represented a number o f b usinessmen and business organizations who shared related or complementar y i nterests. Renda's lawyer looked out for his clients, helping them any way h e c ould, and liked to see them help one another, too. For example, he had a c lient, a mortgage broker, who was spending twelve months in the Federal Penitentiary at Lewisburg for willfully conspiring to defraud the United State s g overnment. All right, the mortgage broker had a hunting lodge-weekend funhous e u p in the mountains that he wasn't using. Frank Renda, he was informed, wante d s ome solitude, a place to rest where no one would bother him. So Renda's lawye r a rranged for Frank to lease the place from the mortgage broker for only si x h undred dollars a week.

That was all right with the lawyer, Frank wanting a place in the mountains. Bu t i t wasn't all right if he was going to sit up there on his ass worrying about a 160-acre melon grower when he should be attending to his commercial affairs: hi s r estaurant linen service, his laundry and dry cleaning supply company, hi s m odeling service, and his string of massage parlors. That's where the money wa s t o be made; not in shooting people.

The lawyer knew Frank Renda very well--his moods, his inclinations--so he knew i t w as sometimes hard to get through to him, once he had made up his mind. He bega n c alling Frank at the mortgage broker's hunting lodge an hour after the Cessn a w as scheduled to drop him in the desert. There was no answer at the place unti l l ate afternoon, and then he had to wait another ten minutes before Renda came t o t he phone.

Wiley handed it to him, the phone and a scotch, and went over to a bearski n c ouch where her reading glasses and her novel were waiting.

Renda stood looking around the room, at the Navajo blankets and mounted heads o f a ntelope and mule deer, the shellacked beams and big wagon-wheel chandelier , antique guns and branding irons. Christ, western shit all over the place. He ha d n ever met the mortgage broker friend of his lawyer, but he could picture the gu y n ow: little Jewboy with a cowboy hat, string tie and high-heeled boots, an d h orn-rimmed glasses and a big fucking cigar.

He said into the phone, "Yeah."

His lawyer's calm, unhurried voice came on. "How are you, Frank? How was th e t rip?"

"Great, and the weather's great if it doesn't rain or snow. Come on, Harry, wha t d o you want?"

"You like the place all right?"

"It looks like a fucking dude ranch."

"I called a few times this afternoon." The tone was still calm, unhurried.

"Where've you been?"

"On the can," Renda said. "I come here to get away, I'm in the fucking place te n m inutes and the phone starts ringing."

"I'm not going to bother you," the lawyer said. "I want to let you know how th e s ituation stands."

"I thought I was clear."

"You are at the moment. Technically you're free on a five-thousand-dollar bond , pending your appearance at an investigation in ten days. It's a formality , something to inconvenience us. Though there is the possibility they'll try t o d ream up a lesser charge."

"No they won't," Renda said. "They don't want to touch me unless it's for th e b ig one."

"I'm glad you understand that," the lawyer said. "So you know this is not th e t ime to do anything"--he paused--"that would bring you under suspicion. Frank , they want you very badly."

"What else is new?"

"You must also have figured out why they released the melon grower."

Renda didn't say anything.

"All right," the lawyer said, "then let me mention that you have busines s m atters that need your attention."

"Anything I was doing can wait."

"And you have business associates," the lawyer went on, "who may not feel lik e w aiting. It's been my experience that the general reaction is one of impatienc e w ith anyone who puts his personal affairs ahead of the . . . common good, if yo u w ill."

"I've got something to do," Renda said. "I think they understand that. If the y d on't, tough shit."

"All right, you're saying you're going to do what you want," the lawyer said. "I want it on record that I'm advising you to wait--"

"You got your machine on?"

"Getting every word. As I was saying, I want it on record that I'm advising yo u t o wait. I'm suggesting that any dealings you might have with the melon growe r w ould be extremely ill-timed."

"Harry," Renda said, "don't fuck with me, okay? I need you, I'll call you."

He hung up.

Wiley rested her book on her lap and looked over the top of her reading glasses.

"What did he want?"

"The usual shit. Lawyers, they talk and talk, they don't say anything."

"I'll bet he told you not to do anything hasty," Wiley said. He didn't answer.

She watched him sit down with his scotch and take a drink, sipping it, thinkin g a bout something.

She tried again. "After all, you pay him for his advice."

He looked over at her. "And you know what I pay you for. So why don't you shu t t he fuck up?"

"You don't pay me."

"It's the same thing."

She was starting to annoy him. Not too much yet, but she was starting. He ha d d umped a wife who had bored the shit out of him, talking all the time, buyin g c lothes and showing them to him, and now he had a girl who was a colleg e g raduate drama major, very bright, who read dirty books. Books she thought wer e d irty. He said to himself, Where are you? What the fuck are you doing?

Five years ago it had been better, simpler. Get a name, do a study on the guy, learn his habits, walk up to him at the right time, and pull the trigger. It wa s d one. Take a vacation, wait for a call, and come back. L. A ., Vegas, whereve r t hey wanted him. Now it was business all the time. The boring meetings , discussions, planning, all the fucking papers to sign and talking on the phone.

Phones all over the place. He used to have one phone. It would ring, he'd sa y h ello, and a voice would give him the name. That was it. He didn't even have t o s ay good-bye. Now he had six phones in his house, four in the apartment. He took Librium and Demerol and Maalox and even smoked reefer sometimes, which he ha d n ever done before in his life or trusted anybody who did. A hundred and fift y g rand plus a year to talk on the phone and sign the papers. He used to take a c ontract for five grand and had got as much as ten when it was tricky or the gu y h ad a name.

That's what he missed. The planning and then pulling the trigger, being ver y s teady, with no wasted motions. Then lying around after, drinking all the scotc h h e wanted for a while and thinking about how he'd pulled the trigger. He wa s g ood then. During the last few days he had caught himself wondering if he wa s s till good and would be good enough to hit the melon grower clean. He hadn't hi t t he guy coming out of the bar very clean and that was probably why it was on hi s m ind. He hadn't hit anybody in a while and had taken the job because he misse d t he action and had talked them into letting him hit the guy, who wasn't anybod y a t all to speak of. But he had been too up, too anxious to pull the trigger an d e xperience the feeling again, and he hadn't blueprinted the job the way h e s hould have. Christ, an off-duty cop sitting there watching. Empty the gun lik e a fucking cowboy and not have any left for the cop. Or not looking around enoug h b eforehand. Not noticing the cop. Like it was his first time or like his fuckin g b rains were in his socks. They could be wondering about him right now. What's t he matter with him? Can't he pull a simple hit anymore?

No, they wouldn't be thinking that. They didn't know enough about it, how yo u m ade it work. They'd think it was dumb luck the cop was there and dumb luck th e c op was killed and couldn't finger him. So the two canceled each other out an d h e was okay.

Except somebody had talked to the lawyer and that's why the lawyer had talked t o h im. It wasn't the lawyer's idea to call--he realized that now without any doubt.

The lawyer wouldn't do anything unless he was getting paid to do it or somebod y h ad told him to. Their lawyer, they, were telling him not to go after the melo n g rower. Because they thought he was wasting time or because it might involv e t hem in some way or because they didn't have anything against the guy. The gu y h ad not done anything to the organization. If he had, sure, hit him. They coul d p ay him to do it and he wouldn't think any more about it. That was th e d ifference. He was thinking about it and this time they couldn't pay him to hi t t he guy. He wouldn't take it. That was the thing. He couldn't get the melo n g rower out of his head he wanted to hit him so bad, and he wasn't sure why. No t b ecause the guy had belted him a couple of times; though that could be reaso n e nough. No, it was the way the guy had looked at him. The way he talked. The wa y h e pulled that cheap cool shit and acted like he couldn't be bought.

How do you explain that to them?

Look, I want to hit the guy. I got to. I want him--listen, I never gave a shi t a bout anybody before in my life, anybody I hit. It was never a personal thin g b efore like this one.

Or try this.

Listen, if nobody gives a bunch of shit about this, if you let me hit him, then I'll give you the next one, anybody you want, free.

He said to himself, For Christ sake, you going to ask permission? You want th e g uy, do it.

And he yelled, "Gene."

Wiley looked up from her book.

Lundy came in from wherever he had been with a can of Coors in his hand.

Renda said to him, "How many we got?"

Lundy wasn't sure at first what he was talking about, if he meant beers or what.

But as he looked at Renda, he understood and said, "You and me for openers. I don't know when we're going, so I don't have anybody here. I thought after w e t alk about it, you know, see what you got in mind, I make a call and we ge t w hatever we need."

"I think we need a truck," Renda said. "Good-size one. I'm not sure, but just i n c ase we got to haul some people."

Lundy nodded. "Bobby Kopas's got one. Stake truck, open in back."

"All right," Renda said, then immediately shook his head. "No. Shit, I don't w ant him around. Get the truck tell him you're going to borrow it you'll brin g i t back, and get . . . four, five guys who know what they're doing."

"For when?"

"Tonight," Renda said. "Let's get it done before the fucking phone start s r inging again."

There was enough light in the packing shed to work by, but it was a dreary , bleak kind of light, like a light in a garage that didn't reach into th e c orners. A string of 100-watt bulbs, hanging beneath tin shades, extended th e l ength of the conveyor that was bringing the melons in from the dock outside.

The sound in the packing shed was the steady hum of the motor that drove th e c onveyor.

Most of the crew were outside, unloading the trailer. Nancy Chavez and Larry Mendoza's wife, Helen, did the sorting and were good at it, their hands deftl y f eeling, rolling the melons on the canvas belt, pulling out the ones that wer e b adly bruised or overripe. Majestyk and Larry Mendoza were at the end of th e l ine, packing the melons in cardboard cartons that bore the majestyk bran d l abel. Two other men in the crew were stacking the cartons, building a wall o f t hem as high as they could reach.

By the time the trailer was unloaded it was almost ten o'clock. There were stil l m elons on the conveyor, but Majestyk shut it down and said that was enough fo r o ne night, more than he'd expected they'd get done.

Mendoza came along the line to where his wife was standing and said, "I don't k now, Vincent, but I think we're going to do it."

Nancy said, "If we can keep the grower working instead of goofing off, layin g a round in jail."

Majestyk was tired, but he felt good. He felt like talking to her and getting t o k now her. He said, "I remember--it seems to me somebody mentioned having a bee r a fter work."

Nancy looked across the conveyor at him. "You still buying?"

"Sure, I'm going to be rich in about a week." He said to Mendoza, "Larry? Ho w a bout you and Helen?"

"No, me and mama got more important things to do," Mendoza said, and slapped hi s w ife on the can, making her jump a little and grin at them. "We're going t o b ed."

Nancy was still looking at Majestyk. "Maybe you'd rather do that." As she sa w h im begin to smile, she added quickly, "I mean if you're tired."

Majestyk said, "Come on, let's go get a couple of cold ones." He was stil l s miling at her.

Harold Ritchie watched the headlights of the pickup approaching the highway an d s aid to the deputy over by the tool shed, "Now where in the hell's he going?"

"If it's him," the deputy said.

"I guess I'm going to have to find out, aren't I?"

Ritchie walked over to the State Highway Department truck, grabbed the doo r h andle and looked around again. " 'Less you want to this time. You been sittin'

all day."

"You can talk plainer than that," the deputy said. "I'm about to go sit again. I think I got me some bad enchiladas or something."

He waited until Ritchie drove off before he went into the tool shed and radioe d t he Edna Post to let them know what was going on--which would be relayed to Lieutenant McAllen probably sitting home reading the paper or watching TV, a n ice, clean, lighted bathroom down the hall from him, empty, nobody even usin g i t.

Walking over to the portable toilet he was thinking, hell, he should've taile d t he pickup this time, probably could've stopped at a gas station somewhere, or a b ar. Unbuckling his belt, the deputy stepped inside the toilet and closed th e d oor.

Less than a hundred yards east of the construction site three pair of headlight s p opped on.

The stake truck came first, followed by the two sedans, picking up speed, th e t ruck reaching forty miles an hour by the time it got to the barricades, swerve d i n and sideswiped the portable toilet, the right front fender glancing off , scraping metal against metal, but the corner of the stake body catching i t s quarely, mashing into the light metal as it tore the structure from its base , carried it with forward momentum almost to the tool shed before it bounced en d o ver end into the ditch. The stake truck kept going and turned into the roa d t hat led to Majestyk's place.

The two sedans, Lundy's Olds 98 and a dark-colored Dodge, came to a stop by th e b arricades, the Olds bathing the battered toilet in its headlight beams.

Renda and Lundy, and a third man with a machine gun under his arm, got out o f t he cars and walked into the beam of light. When Lundy got the twisted door o f t he toilet open, straining to pull it free, the third man aimed his machine gu n i nto the opening. Lundy pushed him aside, reached in with one arm and when h e s traightened again looked at Renda.

"Dead."

"Must've got hit by a truck," Renda said.

Pushing open the screen a little, Mendoza could see the stake truck in front o f t he migrant quarters and hear the low rumble of its engine. Just sitting there.

Nobody had got out of the truck. Nobody had come out of the migrant quarters.

They were all inside or around someplace close by because their cars were there , the three old junk heaps. When the two pair of headlights came down the roa d f rom the highway and passed the migrant quarters, Mendoza moved away from th e d oorway. He was wearing only his jockey shorts--maybe he should hurry up and pu t s ome clothes on. But the cars weren't coming to his place. They kept going.

Behind him his wife whispered, "Who are they? Do you know them?"

He knew. He was pretty sure he knew. But he said to her, "Stay with th e c hildren."

When she stepped into the doorway to look out he pulled her back because of th e s lip she wore as a nightgown. It showed dull white in the moonlight and he wa s a fraid they would see her, even though he knew they were all the way to Vincent's house by now.

She said again, "Who are they?"

"I don't know," Mendoza answered. "But they don't have any business with us an d t hey're not friends I know of. Go to bed."

She lingered, but finally moved away from him. When he heard the springs an d k new she was in bed again, he pushed open the screen door carefully and wen t o utside, holding the door to close it, so it wouldn't make noise. On the step s o f the porch, looking down the road, he could see the headlights of the two car s i n front of Vincent's house. He didn't know if they were waiting or if they ha d g one inside. He said, God, why don't they leave? He's not there, they can se e t hat, so go on, get out of here. Vincent was with a girl, talking, drinkin g b eer. He could be gone for hours, having a good time; stay out late he coul d s till get up early and work. They didn't know him.

He saw them in the headlights for a moment and faintly heard the car doors slam , then went into the house again as the cars came back this way. He was sure the y w ere going to pass his house, leave, and when the cars turned in--coming straigh t a t his house before stopping close to the porch--he couldn't believe it and bega n b acking away from the screen door, but not soon enough. The headlights wer e b linding and he knew they could see him. He could hear the engines idling. Som e m en, three of them, dark shapes were coming up on the porch. When they came int o t he house he still couldn't see them because of the headlights.

One of them walked past him. He heard his wife's voice. "What do you want?"

Frightened. He didn't hear the children.

Renda said, "Where is he?"

Mendoza thought of his wife and three children in the bedrooms, behind him. Wha t w as he? A guy standing in his underwear who just got waked up out of a soun d s leep. How was he supposed to know what was going on?

He said, "I don't know. You mean Vincent Majestyk? Isn't he at home?"

He had never seen Eugene Lundy before and didn't see his features now, only a b ig shape that stepped up close to him. The next thing he knew he was hit in th e m outh with a fist and felt the wall slam against his back. The man reached fo r h im then and held him against the wall so he wouldn't fall down.

"Where is he?" Renda said again.

"I don't know," Mendoza said. "Believe me, I knew I'd tell you."

"He go into town?"

"I don't know," Mendoza said. "Honest to God, I thought he was home in bed."

Renda waited, knowing he was wasting time. The guy was probably telling th e t ruth. He said, "Bring him along. And his wife."

They brought everybody out of the migrant quarters, pushing them to hurry up , making them stand in front of the place, in underwear or just pants, barefoot , squinting in the glare of the truck's headlights. Mendoza and his wife wer e p ushed into the group by the men with guns in their hands who stood out of th e l ight. The migrants waited, everyone too afraid to speak or ask what was goin g o n.

Finally Lundy, who stood with Renda next to the truck, said to them, "We'r e l ooking for the boss. Who wants to tell me where he's at?" Lundy waited, givin g t hem time. In the silence they could hear the crickets in the melon field.

"Nobody knows, huh?" Lundy said then. "Nobody heard where he was going or sa w h im leave?"

Quietly, to Lundy, Renda said, "We got a dead cop and we're running out of time.

Get rid of them."

Renda walked off into the darkness, toward the packing shed. He heard Lundy tel l t hem, "You all've got two minutes to get in your cars and drive away from her e a nd never come back." He heard one of the migrants say, a weak little voice wit h a n accent, "We been working, but we haven't been paid yet. How we suppose to ge t p aid?" And he heard Lundy say, "Keep talking, I'm going to start busting som e h eads. Now you people get the hell out of here. Now."

The doors of the packing shed were open. Renda went up the steps to the loadin g d ock and looked inside. He could make out the conveyor and the melons on th e c anvas belt. He was curious about the place--as if the place might be able t o t ell him something about the man who owned it. Feeling along the wall inside th e d oor, he found the light switch. Outside there was a sound of engines trying t o s tart and finally turning over.

Lundy and the one with the machine gun came in. Renda was staring at the wall o f c artons, the melons that had been sorted and packed that evening.

"Man's been busy," Lundy said.

"I said to him what do you want?" Renda continued to stare at the wall of melo n c artons and Lundy and the one with the machine gun looked over at him. "He said I want to get my melons in," Renda went on. "That's all he wanted. Get hi s m elons in."

Lundy couldn't believe it when he saw Frank pull out his .45 automatic--Chris t a lmighty--and start firing it at the stacked-up melon cases, firing away, makin g a n awful racket in the place, until his gun was empty.

Renda looked at them then. He seemed calm. His voice was, and said, "What're yo u w aiting for?"

Lundy always did what he was told. It didn't have to make sense. He took out hi s b ig magnum and opened up at the cartons. Then the other one with the machine gu n l et go and the din was louder than before. They tore up the cartons, lacing the m w ith bullet holes. Renda took the machine gun from the guy, turned to th e c onveyor, and shot up all the melons left on the canvas belt, blew them apart , scattering pieces all over the shed.

Christ, Lundy thought. He hoped Frank felt better now.

Kopas had been told they'd probably drop his truck off later that night , somewhere near the county road intersection west of Edna, where there was that Enco station on the corner and the cafe. Kopas asked what time. Lundy said, whe n t hey got back. But if they had to take some people somewhere--and Kopas had a h unch he meant the migrants--then he wouldn't get his truck back until morning.

But the migrants had cars. They could run them off in their own cars and no t h ave to take them anywhere. So Kopas was pretty sure the truck would be bac k t onight.

He hung around the cafe-bar that evening, going outside and looking up th e h ighway every once in a while. Being sure they had gone to Majestyk's place, h e w as anxious to know if they had killed him. If they hadn't been able to for som e r eason--and if Renda was with them--he was anxious for Renda to see him again.

Renda might decide he was a handy man to have around after all: he was alert , waited, did what he was told.

When Majestyk and the girl arrived, he was in the Men's Room of the cafe-bar. He c ame back into the room that was about half full of Chicanos and spotted Majestyk and the girl right away, sitting in a booth along the wall. He didn't s ee the two deputies at the bar--Ritchie and a deputy who had met him here--didn't n otice them because they were in work clothes, and all Kopas was thinking abou t w as getting out of there before Majestyk looked over. He glanced at the boot h a gain as he went out the door--leaving the light and the smoke and the lou d c ountry steel-guitar beat inside--and saw Majestyk listening to something th e g irl was saying, giving her his full attention. Good.

He was more excited now than earlier in the day when he was out in the desert , the plane was taking off, and he was waiting to meet the famous Frank Renda. He s aw Majestyk's pickup, parked a short way down from the cafe. He had a though t a nd began looking at the other cars, on both sides of the highway, and there i t w as, the State Highway Department truck. It was parked at the Enco station b y t he pumps; the station closed for the night.

Kopas started putting things together in his mind. They hadn't gotten Majesty k b ecause Majestyk was inside. Also a cop was in there, or around someplace. He w as more anxious now than ever. He went across the highway and across the count y r oad to wait there at the intersection, moving around, wanting them to hurry u p a nd come before the guy left. About fifteen minutes passed. He was so anxiou s f or them to come that, when he saw the three pair of headlights approaching, h e k new it was them and couldn't be anyone else. The thing now was he had to ac t c ool and hold down his excitement.

Lundy, slowing down for the intersection, saw the figure on the corner. He r ecognized the shirt, bright in the headlights, and the sunglasses and th e c urled-brim Texas hat. He said to Renda, next to him, "There's Bobby. He look s l ike he's got to take a leak or something."

Kopas was there as the car came to a stop, hunched down to look in the sid e w indow. He said, as calmly as he could, "Mr. Renda . . . man you want's insid e t hat place over there, having a beer."

Renda said, "Alone?"

"With a girl. One works for him."

"Where's the cop sitting?" Renda said.

The good feeling was there and it was gone as he felt his confidence begin t o d rain out of him. Kopas straightened and, with a squinting, serious expression , looked over toward the State Highway Department truck parked at the gas station.

He said, "I'm not exactly sure yet, Mr. Renda. But you want me to, I'll fin d o ut."

He was not aware of the country music or the two deputies at the bar or th e o ther people in the place. Not right now. His hand was on the bottle of beer , but he was not drinking it. He was looking at the girl's eyes, at the pear l e arrings and the way her dark hair was parted on the side, without the bandana , and had a silver clip holding it back, away from her face.

Nancy said, "Do you mind my asking about her?"

"No, it's all right." Majestyk paused. "I don't know, I guess people change. Or e lse it turns out they're somebody else all the time and you didn't realize it.

Do you think it's hard to know people?"

"Not always," Nancy said. "Was she blond, with blue eyes?"

"Most of the time blond. You put your hair up in rollers? You have very prett y h air."

"Once in a while I have. Why?"

"I picture my wife, I see her with rollers. She was always fooling with he r h air, or washing it."

"You have any kids?"

"Little girl, seven."

"And you miss her."

"I guess I do. I haven't seen either of them in two years. They moved to Los Angeles."

A silence began to lengthen and Nancy said, "Are you thinking about them?"

"No, not really."

"What are you thinking about?"

"I'm thinking I'd like to know you better."

"Well, I'll fill out a personnel form," Nancy said. "Read it over, see if I pass."

"Always a little bit on the muscle." He was staring at her as he said, "You'r e v ery pretty."

"No, not very. But I suppose not bad-looking either. Not somebody you'd kick ou t o f bed, huh, if that's what you've got in mind."

"Why don't you try and relax a little," Majestyk said, "and be yourself. Fin d o ut what it's like."

"You want to go to bed with me. Why don't you say it?"

"I'd like to hold you."

"See how close we can get?"

"Sometimes, hard as you try, you can't get close enough," he said. "You kno w t hat?" She didn't answer, but he knew by her expression, the soft smile, she wa s a ware of the feeling. Wanting to lie very close to someone, holding each other , not saying anything, because they wouldn't have to use words to say it.

He said, "Let's go home, all right? Go to my house."

There was no need to make him wait. Or, as he said, to be on the muscle. She wa s a ware that they knew each other, each other's feelings. She knew she could rela x w ith him and be herself. Still she hesitated, she supposed out of habit, befor e s aying to him, "All right, your house." She smiled then as he smiled. "But first I'll go to the Ladies'--if it isn't locked."

"If it is," he said, "I'll kick it open."

He watched her cross the room--and the men looking up at her as she passed thei r t ables--to the little hall that led back to the kitchen and the rest rooms.

He saw a man come away from the jukebox and turn into the hallway and knew, eve n b efore the man with the hat and the sunglasses looked over his shoulder an d g rinned at him, it was Bobby Kopas. Majestyk started to slide out of the booth , rising. Then stopped, and sat down again as he felt the pressure of the hand o n h is shoulder.

"How you doing, buddy?"

Majestyk looked up, then past Renda toward the bar. "There're two cops sittin g o ver there."

Renda took his time. He slid into the seat where Nancy had been and looked at Majestyk before saying, "If there weren't, you'd already be dead."

Majestyk's eyes went to the hallway again. Kopas was still there, watching.

"Leave the girl alone, all right? She doesn't have anything to do with this."

"I don't give a shit about the girl," Renda said. "As long as she stays in th e c an, out of the way. I got something to tell you. You probably already know it , but I want to make sure you do. I'm going to kill you."

"When?" Majestyk said.

"I don't know. It could be tomorrow. It could be next week." Renda spoke in a n ormal tone, quietly, without the sound of a threat in his voice. "You coul d h ide in the basement of the police station, but I'm going to get you and yo u k now it."

Majestyk raised the beer bottle and took a drink. Putting it down again his han d r emained on the bottle and he seemed to study it thoughtfully before looking at Renda again.

"Can I ask you why?"

"I told you why. We make a deal or you're dead. The fact I got off has go t n othing to do with it. You jammed me. You tried to, and nobody does that."

"I don't guess I can talk you out of it then, huh?"

"Jesus Christ--"

"Or there's anything I can do about it?"

"You can run," Renda said. "I'll find you. You can live at the police station.

But you got to come out some time. There's no statute of limitations on thi s o ne. Whether I kill you tonight or a year from tonight, you're still going to b e d ead."

Majestyk nodded and was thoughtful again, fooling with the beer bottle. He said , "Well, I guess I got nothing to lose, have I?"

He raised the bottle in his left hand, but it was the right fist that did th e j ob, hooked into Renda's face, in the moment he was distracted by the bottle , and slammed him back against the partition. There was no purpose in hitting hi m a gain or hitting him with the bottle. There was little satisfaction in it; bu t h e was letting the guy know he wasn't a goat tied to a post. If Renda wanted hi m h e was going to have to work for it.

The people at the next tables saw the blood and look of pure astonishment on Renda's face. They saw the expression begin to change as he touched his face, a d ead expression that told nothing, but stared at Vincent Majestyk as he got u p f rom the table.

They heard Majestyk lean over, his hands on the table, and say to the man he ha d h it, "Why don't you call the cops?" They watched him walk away as the man sa t t here.

Bobby Kopas didn't like it at all, what was happening now. Majestyk comin g t oward him. Renda, in the booth, who could stand up any second and star t b lasting the guy. The two cops at the bar, trying to see past the people at th e t ables who were standing now.

But nothing happened. Kopas stepped back as Majestyk came into the hallway an d w ent past him--didn't even look at him--to the Ladies' Room. He didn't d o a nything. Renda didn't. Nobody did. Majestyk pushed open the door to the Ladies'

Room and said to the girl who was standing there, "Let's go home."

It could have been a good night. Then there was no chance of it being even a p retty good night. They got back to the place to find no one there. Not even Mendoza and his family. Majestyk saw the flares and the flashing lights acros s t he field, on the highway. The lights were there for some time before he wen t o ver and found out a deputy had been killed. Hit and run it looked like.

Harold Ritchie blew up when he saw Majestyk. He said, "Goddamn it, you're th e o ne started this!"

Majestyk said to him, "Listen, an hour ago I had fourteen people at my plac e c ounting my foreman and his family. Now everybody's gone, chased off whil e y ou're sitting in a bar drinking beer."

"And a man was killed and we don't know who done it because I had to watch you!"

Ritchie yelled at him.

There was no point standing on the highway arguing with a sheriff's deputy i n t he pink-red flickering light of the flares that had been set around the area.

Majestyk went home. He told Nancy what had happened, then told her to sleep i n t he bedroom, he'd sleep on the couch in the living room. When she objected h e s aid, "I'm not going to argue with you. You're sleeping in there."

She didn't say any more and he didn't either. It wasn't until the next mornin g t hey found out what had been done inside the packing shed.

Chapter 10.

WHEN NANCY came into the shed, Majestyk was opening the cartons that wer e s titched with bullet holes and stained where juice from the melons had seepe d o ut. She looked at the open cartons scattered about the floor, at the chunks o f m elon, yellow fragments, on the conveyor line.

"If he can't have you, he'll take your melons," the girl said. "How does i t l ook?"

"Some are all right."

He walked past her, out to the loading dock, and stared at his empty fields an d t he pale morning sky. Some were all right. Spend a half day to sort them, mayb e h ave one load to deliver to the broker. Most of the crop was still on the vines.

If he could get it in he would at least break even and be able to try it agai n n ext year. If he could get the crop in. If he could get a crew. And if Rend a w ould forget the whole thing and leave him alone.

But that was not going to happen, so he'd sit here and wait and watch the cro p r ot in the field.

Unless you could finish it somehow, Majestyk thought, and had a strange feelin g a s he thought it. Instead of waiting, what if there was something he could do t o g et it over with?

When he saw the figure walking in from the highway he knew it was Larry Mendoza--the slow, easy way he moved--and went down to the road to meet him. As Mendoza approached he held up his hand, as if to hold Majestyk off, knowing wha t w as in his mind.

"Don't say nothing, Vincent. I live here, I work here. I took my wife and kid s t o her mother's, so they'd be out of the way. Now, what are we doing?"

"They hurt you," Majestyk said, staring at Mendoza's bruised, swollen mouth.

"I'm sorry, Larry. I should have been here."

"No." Mendoza shook his head. "Getting that beer was the best thing you eve r d id."

"They asked you where I was and you wouldn't tell them," Majestyk said. "So the y r oughed you up."

"Not much. I only got hit once. Nobody else was hurt."

"You don't know if Frank Renda was one of them?"

"No, I never seen him, picture or nothing."

"Did you talk to the police?"

"Sure, a cop stop me in town, take me in. They ask some questions, but what do I tell them? Some men come, I don't even know who they are. I don't even see them.

They tell us leave or get our heads busted. That's all. Come on, Vincent, we go t s ome work, let's do it."

"If you'll do one thing for me, Larry," Majestyk said. "I think we got enoug h g ood melons for a load. Take the trailer into the warehouse and leave it there.

You can come back later sometime, and get your personal things, your clothes an d s tuff."

Mendoza frowned. "What the hell are you talking about? I'll bring the traile r b ack, we'll pick melons and load it again. You retiring already, or what?"

"I can't ask you to stay here," Majestyk said.

"Then don't ask. I'll get the trailer."

As he started away Majestyk said to him, "Larry . . . it's good to see you."

When he returned to the packing shed Nancy had already begun the sorting , separating the undamaged melons and placing them in fresh cartons. She looked u p a s he came in.

"Lots of them are still good, Vincent. More than I thought."

"Larry's going to take a load in," Majestyk said. "He'll drop you off in town."

"What am I going to town for?"

He realized, by her expression, he was taking her by surprise. "To get a bus,"

Majestyk said. God, he sounded cold and impersonal, but went on with it.

"There's no reason now for you to stay. I'll pay you, give you money for th e o thers in case you run into them." She came to her feet slowly, as he spoke.

"Last night you want to hold me," Nancy said, "see how close we can get. Toda y y ou want me to leave."

"Last night--that seems like a long time ago." He still didn't like his tone, bu t d idn't know what to do about it. "I must've been nuts, or dreaming," he said , "believe the man'd sit and wait for me to get my crop in."

"All right, if you feel he's going to come back," the girl said, "then why don't w e both leave?"

"Run and hide somewhere? He'd find me, sooner or later."

"So face it and get it over with, huh?" There was a sound of weariness in he r t one. "Big brave man, has to stand alone and fight, no matter what. Where'd yo u l earn to think like that?"

"You're not going to be here, so don't worry about it."

"Now you're mad."

"I don't have time to worry about it."

She said then, "I'll tell you something, Vincent. I've been in a car that wa s s hot at and the man sitting next to me killed. Another time, a truck chased a b unch of us down a road, trying to run us over. And once I was in a union hal l w hen they threw in a fire bomb and shot the place up. I don't need anybod y l ooking out for me. But if you want me to leave, if you don't want me here , that's something else."

He had to say it right away, without hesitating. "All right, I don't want yo u h ere."

"I don't believe you."

She was holding him with her eyes, trying to make him tell what he felt.

"I said Larry'll drop you off. Get your bag and be ready when he leaves." He s tared at her, fought her eyes, until finally she walked past him, out of th e s hed.

They were lifting the battered portable toilet onto a flatbed truck with a hois t w hen Lieutenant McAllen arrived. He had them set the toilet back on the groun d a nd looked at it, not touching it or saying anything until he turned to Harold Ritchie.

"How's it written up? Hit and run?"

"That's about all we can call it for the time being," Ritchie said.

McAllen nodded. "What're they going to do with it?"

"Scrap it, I guess. 'Less the road people want to bump it out."

"You think maybe it ought to be dusted first?"

"Well, we could. But there's people been handling it."

"I'm interested in the door," McAllen said. "Like maybe someone pulled it open , at the time I mean, to see if the man was alive or dead. There could be som e p rints along the inside edge."

"I guess there could be at that," Ritchie said.

"Let's bring it in and do it at home," McAllen said. "I think that'd be bette r t han having a lot of people hanging around here, don't you?"

Ritchie was looking past McAllen, squinting a little in the glare. "Here come s h is truck." As McAllen turned, Ritchie raised his binoculars. "Pulling a t railerload of melons. Going to market, like he didn't have a goddamn trouble i n t he world. No, it ain't him," Ritchie said then, as the truck reached th e h ighway. "It's his hired man, Larry Mendoza, and looks like . . . some Mexica n b road."

Mendoza paid attention to his driving, concentrating on it, and would keep bus y l ooking at the trailerload of melons through the rearview mirror, because h e d idn't know what to say. The girl, Nancy, didn't say anything either--staring ou t t he side window, her suitcase on the seat between them--but he was aware of her , could feel her there, and wished she would start talking about something.

He tried a couple of times to get it going, asking her if she thought she would run into her friends. She said probably, sooner or later. He asked her if sh e t hought all the migrant farm workers would ever be organized and paid a livin g w age. She said again probably, someday.

It was too hard to make up something, to avoid thinking about Vincent and wha t w as going on. So Mendoza didn't say any more until they crossed the state roa d i ntersection and he pulled to a stop opposite the cafe-bar.

He said then, "You don't mind waiting?"

"No, it's all right. I can get something to eat," she said, opening the door an d p utting a hand on her suitcase.

"Sure, get a beer, something to eat. The bus always stops there, so don't worr y a bout missing it."

She said, "Thanks, Larry, and good luck."

"Good luck to you, too."

She closed the door and walked around the front of the truck. As she starte d a cross the highway, Mendoza said, "Nancy--"

She paused to look back at him.

"If he didn't have this trouble going on--"

"I know," she said.

"Come back and see us, all right?"

She nodded this time--maybe it was a nod, Mendoza wasn't sure. He watched he r r each the sidewalk and go in the cafe-bar.

He drove on, into Edna, thinking about the girl and Vincent, the kind of girl Vincent ought to have. Especially Vincent. He didn't refer to Chicanos as Latin s o r look down at them in any way. It was easy to tell when someone looked down , even when he pretended to be sincere and friendly. Mendoza didn't busy himsel f w ith the trailerload of melons now, looking through the rearview mirror. He thought about Vincent and the trouble he was in, wondering what was going t o h appen. He didn't notice the Oldsmobile 98 following him.

Just past the water tower that said EDNA, HOME OF THE BRONCOS, Mendoza turne d o ff the highway, crossed the railroad tracks, and drove along the line o f p roduce warehouses and packing sheds. At a loading dock, where a man was sittin g e ating a sandwich, his lunch pail next to him, Mendoza came to a stop and sai d o ut the side window, "Where's your boss? Man, I got a load of top-grade melons."

The man on the loading dock wasn't in any hurry. He took a bite of his sandwic h a nd chewed it before saying, "He's out to lunch. You'll have to wait till h e g ets back."

"What if I unload while I'm waiting?"

"You know he's got to check them first," the man on the dock said. "Go sit dow n s omewhere, take it easy."

Well, if he had to. But he wasn't going to wait in the hot sun, or in the picku p t hat would get like an oven. And he wasn't going to sit with the guy on the doc k a nd have to talk to him--he could tell the guy had it against Chicanos. So Mendoza got out of the truck and walked around the corner of the warehouse wher e t here was a strip of shade about five feet wide along the wall.

He sat down with his back to it, tilted his straw hat down over his eyes an d s ettled into a reasonably comfortable position. He pictured himself there a s s omeone might come along and see him. Goddamn Mexican sleeping in the shade.

Make him wait and then call him a lazy Mex something or other. He yawned. He wa s t ired because he had gotten only about four hours sleep last night at Helen's m other's house, all of them crowded in there, two of the kids in bed with them.

He wouldn't mind taking a nap for about a half hour, till the broker got bac k f rom his lunch.

His eyes were closed. Maybe he had been asleep, he wasn't sure. But when h e o pened his eyes he saw the front end of the Olds 98 rolling toward him--creeping , like it was sneaking up on him--from about thirty feet away.

Mendoza got up so fast his hat fell off. What the hell was going on? The whol e w all empty and a car coming directly at where he was standing. Like some kind o f j oke. Somebody trying to scare him.

But he knew it wasn't a joke when he saw Bobby Kopas, the skinny , hunch-shouldered hotshot guy, coming along the wall toward him. He knew ther e w ould be another guy coming from the other side. Mendoza turned enough to loo k o ver his shoulder and there he was. It was too late to run. The car kept comin g a nd didn't stop until it was only about three feet from him. Kopas and the gu y o n the other side came up to stand by the front fenders. He could smell th e e ngine in the afternoon heat.

Kopas said, "Larry, I believe you were told to shag ass and don't come back.

Ain't that right?"

"I was just helping out my friend a little bit, deliver some melons," Mendoz a s aid.

"We give you a chance to run, you don't even take it."

"No, listen. I'm just doing this as a favor. I get rid of the load I'm gone, yo u n ever see me again."

"Larry," Kopas said, "don't bullshit me, okay?"

"Honest to God, I'm going to drop the melons and keep going."

"In the Polack's truck?"

"No, I told him I leave it here, so he can pick it up."

"Is that a fact? When's he coming?"

"I don't know. Sometime. Maybe tomorrow."

"How's he supposed to get here?"

"Hitchhike, I guess. He don't worry about that."

"Larry, you're shittin' me, aren't you?"

"Honest to God, ask the man in the warehouse, around on the dock. Come on, let's a sk him. He'll tell you."

"You aren't going nowhere," Kopas said. "You had your chance, Larry, you ble w i t."

The man behind the wheel of the Olds 98 hit the accelerator a couple of times , revving the engine. Mendoza looked at the car and at Kopas again quickly.

"Listen--what did I do to you? I worked for the guy that's all."

He saw Kopas step away and knew the car was coming as he stood with his bac k a gainst the wall and no room, no direction, in which to run. He had to d o s omething and jumped up, trying to raise his legs, but the car lunged into him , the bumper catching his legs and flattening him against the wall, holding hi m a gainst it as he screamed and fell against the hood and then to the ground a s t he car went abruptly into reverse. He remembered thinking--the last thing as h e t ensed, squeezing his eyes closed--now the wheels were going to get him.

The hospital in Edna had an emergency room and eighteen beds, but it was more a n o utpatient clinic than a hospital and looked even more like a contemporar y y ellow-brick grade school.

For almost a year Majestyk had thought it was a school. He had never been in th e h ospital before today--before the squad car picked him up and delivered him, blu e l ights flashing, to the emergency entrance where an ambulance and another squa d c ar were waiting. Inside, the first person he saw was Harold Ritchie, the deput y c oming toward him from the desk where a nurse's aide sat typing.

"Where's Larry?"

"Round the corner. I'll show you."

"What'd they do to him?"

"Guy at the warehouse--there was only one guy anywhere near where i t h appened--didn't see a thing. Not even the car."

"What'd they do to him?"

"Broke his legs," Ritchie said.

He was lying on a stretcher bed covered with a sheet, his wife with him, a c urtain drawn, separating them from the next bed where a little boy was crying.

A nurse, with a tray of test tubes and syringes, was drawing a blood sample from Mendoza's arm. Majestyk waited. Helen saw him then and came over and he put hi s a rms around her.

"Helen . . . how is he?"

He could feel her head nod against his chest. Her voice, muffled, said, "Th e d octor say he's going to be all right. Vincent, you know what they did?"

He held her gently, patting her shoulder. "I know." He held her patientl y b ecause she needed his comfort, letting her relax and feel him close to her an d k now she was not alone. He heard Mendoza say, "Vincent?" and went over to th e b ed.

"Larry--God, I'm sorry."

"Vincent, I left the melons there."

"Don't worry about the melons."

"That's what I was going to say to you. Staying alive is more important tha n m elons. Did you know that?" He seemed half asleep, his eyes closing and openin g s lowly.

Majestyk leaned in close to him. "Larry, who were they? You know them?"

"I think the same car as last night, the same people. And your friend, Bobby Kopas, he was there. Vincent, they not kidding. They do this to me, they goin g t o kill you." Mendoza's face tightened as he held his breath, then let it ou t s lowly before relaxing again. "Jesus, the pain when it comes--I never fel t n othing like it."

"You want the nurse?"

"No, they already gave me something. They getting ready, going to set my legs."

"Larry, you're going to be all right. The doctor said so."

"I believe him."

"You go to sleep and wake up, it's done. You'll feel better."

Mendoza kept his eyes open, staring at Majestyk. He said, "You want me to fee l b etter, Vincent? Tell me you'll go away. Hide somewhere. There's nothing wron g d oing that. Or, sure as hell, you going to be dead."

Harold Ritchie was in the waiting room, arms folded, leaning against the wall.

He came alive when he saw Majestyk going past, heading for the door.

"Hey, what'd he say? He tell you anything?"

Majestyk kept going, pushing through the door.

Outside, he saw Lieutenant McAllen getting out of a squad car. He heard McAlle n s ay, "Wait a minute!" And heard himself say, "Bullshit," not looking at the ma n o r slowing down until McAllen said, "If you will, please. Just for a minute."

He waited for McAllen to come to him.

"Where you going?"

"Pick up my equipment."

"We'll drive you."

"I can walk."

McAllen paused. "I'm sorry about your hired man."

"He wasn't my hired man. He was my friend."

"All right, he was your friend." McAllen's tone changed as he said it, becam e d ry, official. "I believe you know a deputy was killed last night, run over o r b eaten to death possibly, about the same time your migrants left. We'd like t o l ocate them, talk to them."

"Why don't you talk to Frank Renda instead?"

"Because if we brought him in for questioning he'd be out in an hour, and w e w ouldn't be any farther ahead."

"Where does he live? I'll talk to him."

"You would, wouldn't you?"

"Right now. Soon as I get a gun."

"We'll handle that," McAllen said. "The Phoenix police are watching both of hi s p laces, his house, his apartment. So far he hasn't been to either."

Majestyk stared at him. "You mean you don't know where he is? Christ, I wa s s itting with him last night. So were two of your deputies."

"They had to stay with you," McAllen said. "They radioed the post, but by th e t ime a car got there Renda was gone. We know somebody's given him a place t o s tay. Probably in the mountains. But who, or where the place is, we don't kno w t hat yet."

"You don't know much of anything, do you?"

"I know I have a warrant with your name on it, and I can put you back in jail i f y ou're tired of this."

"Or I can sit home and go broke," Majestyk said. "Why don't you just keep th e h ell out of the way for a while?"

"We pull out, you know what'll happen."

Majestyk nodded, as though he was thinking about it. "Well, let's see now. So f ar he's run off my crew, shot up a week's crop of melons and broke my friend's l egs. So please don't give me any shit about police protection. Keep you r h otshots and their flashing lights away from my property and maybe we can ge t t his thing done and I can go back to work."

McAllen paused, studying Majestyk, as if trying to see into his mind, t o u nderstand him. He said, "Still worried about your melons. You're not going t o g et them picked if you're dead."

"And if I'm dead it won't matter, will it?"

"You want to bet your life against a melon crop--" McAllen paused again. "Al l r ight, you're on your own."

"I have been," Majestyk said, "from the beginning."

McAllen watched him walk off, down the drive toward the main street. He wa s t hinking. The man seems simple, but he's not. He's easy to misjudge. He know s w hat he wants. He's willing to take risks. And he could already be plannin g s omething you haven't thought of yet. Mr. Majestyk, he was thinking, I'd like t o k now you better.

Ritchie had been waiting a few yards off to the side. He walked over now.

"We pulling out?"

"Let's let him think so," McAllen said, "and see what happens."

Chapter 11.

THE BROKER ACTED like he was doing him a favor, buying the trailerload of melon s a nd waiting around after quitting time while Majestyk unloaded the cases himsel f b ecause the warehousemen had gone home. He asked Majestyk how his hired man was.

Majestyk told him Larry Mendoza was his friend, not his hired man. The broke r s aid it must've been an accident. Mexican sleeping there in the shade, car come s a long doesn't see him, rolls over his legs. Those people were always gettin g h urt with broken beer bottles and knives, the broker said. Now they were gettin g h urt while they slept. Majestyk didn't say anything. It was hard not to, but h e h eld on and finally the broker went into his office. Later, when he picked u p t he check, he didn't say anything either. It was getting dark by the time he go t o ut of there, heading home with the empty trailer.

Home. Nobody there now. A dark house at the end of a dirt road.

As he turned off the highway onto the road he looked at the rearview mirror , then out the side window to see the car that had been following him for severa l m iles continue on. An Oldsmobile, it looked like.

He could hear crickets already in the settling darkness, nothing around t o b other them. The packing shed was empty, Mendoza's house, the melo n f ields--driving past slowly, looking out at the dim fields the way he had looke d a t fields and rice paddies from the front seat of a jeep a dozen years before , feeling something then, expecting the unexpected and, for some reason, beginnin g t o feel it again, now.

Majestyk drove up to within fifty yards of his house at the end of the road , stopped, turned the key off, put it in his pocket and waited a few moments , listening. When he got out he reached into the pickup bed for a wrench and use d i t to free the trailer hitch, crouched down between the pickup and the traile r w here he could inch his gaze over the melon rows and study the dark mass o f t rees beyond his house. Pine trees. He didn't know what kind of trees he ha d w atched twelve years ago, lying in the weeds not far from a Pathet Lao villag e a fter the H-34 helicopter had gone down, killing the pilot, the mechanic, an d t he ten Laotian soldiers. No, the trees were different. Only the feeling insid e h im, then and now, was the same.

Lundy cut his lights as he turned off the highway, hoping to hell he didn't ge t h ung up on a stump or something. Once the road got into the trees it was al l r ight. It was so narrow brush and tree limbs scraped the car on both sides, an d t he ruts were deep enough that he could feel his way along in the darkness an d n ot worry about going off the road. He came up next to the Dodge parked in th e s mall clearing, got out, and moved through the trees to where Bobby Kopas wa s w atching the house.

Hearing him, Kopas looked over his shoulder. "He just come home."

"Who do you think I been following?" Lundy said. "Where is he?"

"By the truck. See him?"

It was about forty yards across a pasture to the house with its dark windows , and about the same distance again down the road to the pickup truck and trailer.

Lundy held his gaze on the front end of the truck.

"I don't see him."

"Unhitching the trailer. He was."

"Well, where's he now?"

"Goddamn it, he was there a minute ago."

"He go in the house?"

"I'd have seen him."

Lundy looked around, getting an uneasy feeling. "Where're the others?"

Kopas pointed with his thumb. "Down there in the trees. So's to watch the sid e a nd back of the place."

"Later on," Lundy said, "we'll bring some more people in, seal him up." He l ooked at Kopas. "If he's still here."

"He's here. We can't see him is all. Down in behind the truck."

"I hope so," Lundy said. "You imagine what Frank would do to you if the ma n s lipped out?"

He moved through the melon rows to the irrigation ditch and again, smelling th e d amp earth close to his face, experienced a feeling from the time before. It wa s e asier this time because he wasn't carrying the M-15 and the sack of grenades.

He wouldn't mind having the M-15 now, or the .30.30 Marlin in the house or the 12-gauge Remington. The shotgun would be best, at night, at close range. He ha d t hought of the gun when he thought of scouting the house and decided against it.

He could be caught in the open too easily. It was better to look around first , make sure, and not approach the house until it was full dark. He reached the en d o f the irrigation ditch and came up behind the pump housing. From here, in th e d eep shadows, he was able to walk into the trees.

It had been midsummer when the pesticide tank truck came in through the bac k r oad to spray his outlying fields. Studying the trees he had remembered th e r oad. It was a point to reach and follow, to help him keep his sense o f d irection. He remembered the clearing, too, and approached it through the dens e t rees and scrub as he had approached the village, smelling the wood smoke from a h undred meters away. He stopped when he heard the voice.

"I mean the man's got to be around, hasn't he? His truck's here. How's he goin g t o go anyplace 'less he's in his truck?"

He knew the voice. There was another voice then, lower, and the sound of a ca r d oor slamming.

"Hey, I forgot to tell you--this afternoon, right after I got back--"

The familiar voice was drowned out by the car engine starting. Majestyk move d b ack into the trees. He waited. When the Olds 98 rolled past him he was clos e e nough to touch it.

The deputy at the road repair site, sitting by the radio in the tool shed, sai d t o the Edna Post, "His truck's still over there. Haven't seen nothing or heard a s ound, so I judge he's home safely."

"Harold's about to leave," the voice coming over the radio said. "He wants t o k now what you want on your hamburgers."

"Mustard and relish," the deputy said.

"Mustard and relish, out."

"Out," the deputy said and flicked the switch off.

He heard the car coming and waited until it passed before stepping outside wit h t he binoculars. So he saw only the tail-lights of the Olds, the lights becomin g l ittle red dots before they disappeared. He raised the binoculars putting the m o n Majestyk's house, inching them over to the trees and back again. It was to o d ark to see anything. Dark already, the melon grower was probably in bed, an d h ere he hadn't even had his supper yet.

There were five of them watching the house. He came on them one at a time as h e c ircled through the trees, passing them, seeing dark silhouettes, hearing a m uffled cough. The last man was looking out of the trees toward the equipmen t s hed and past it, across the yard, to the back of the house. Majestyk knew h e c ould take the man from behind if he had to, with his hands. But he told himsel f n o, as he had told himself the time before, circling the perimeter of the Pathet Lao village and almost running into the sentry--a young man or a boy who wore a c ap with a short visor and held a Chicom machine gun across his skinny knees. He r emembered the profile of the boy's face in the moonlight, the delicat e f eatures, and remembered wondering what the boy was thinking, if he was afraid , alone in the darkness. He could have shot him, cut his throat or broken his nec k w ith his forearms. But he backtracked into the rain forest and waded for mile s t hrough a delta swamp so he wouldn't have to kill the boy. Maybe he had lost to o m uch time and it was the reason they captured him the next morning as he slept , opening his eyes to see the muzzle of the Chicom in his face. He wasn't sure i t w as the reason he was caught; so he told himself it wasn't. They were on patro l a nd had stumbled across him.

There had been five of them then, as there were five now. They tied his arm s b ehind him with hemp and looped it around his neck, to lead him back to th e v illage or to another village. He was filthy and smelled from wading through th e s wamp. At a river he remembered was the Nam Lec, he asked if he could was h h imself. One of them untied him and took him, with his Chicom, to the edge o f t he water. The rest sat on the bank ten yards away and began rolling cigarettes , leaning in toward the match one of them held, and the one guarding him wa s t urned to watch them. Almost in one motion he grabbed the man by his collar , pulling him into the river, chopped him across the face with the side of hi s h and, took the Chicom away from him and shot two of the Pathet Lao with a singl e b urst as they scrambled to raise their weapons. The three that were left h e b rought with him, thirty miles to the fire post at Hien Heup.

They gave him a Silver Star and a seventy-two-hour pass, which he spent in th e b ar at the Hotel Constellation in Vientiane. He told the story to a friend o f h is, another combat adviser sergeant, saying it didn't make sense, did it? Fal l a sleep and have to work your ass off to get out of a bad situation and they giv e y ou a medal. He remembered his friend saying, "You think people set out to wi n m edals? They're just guys who fuck up and get lucky, that's all."

He was still glad, when he thought about it, he had not killed the sentry.

The one here, watching the back of the house, was nothing to worry about.

Majestyk came out of the trees fifty yards down from the man, crossed at a n a ngle so that the equipment shed would give him cover, and reached the side o f t he house without being seen. Then over the rail to the porch, where he waited a g ood minute, listening, before going in through the screen door.

In the dark he moved across the room to the cabinet where he kept his deer rifl e a nd automatic shotgun, placed them on a long table behind the sofa that face d t he front door, and went back to the cabinet for shells and cartridges. He bega n l oading the shotgun first, thinking, You could go out the same way and take the m o ne at a time. Except Bobby Kopas would be last and he'd run. Get them al l t ogether somehow. And Frank Renda, get him out there. That would be too much t o a sk, to have Renda waiting for him in the woods and not see him coming.

The sound was faint, the squeak of a floorboard, but clear in the silence. He c ame around with the shotgun at his hip, almost in the same moment he heard th e s ound, and put it squarely on the figure in the bedroom doorway.

"Don't shoot me, Vincent."

Nancy. He knew it before she spoke, seeing her size and shape against the ligh t f rom the bedroom window, though not able to see her face. Her voice sounde d c alm.

"How'd you get here?"

"On the bus. It was going by--I went up to the driver and told him to stop. I told him I forgot something."

"You must've forgot your head. You know what you walked into?"

She didn't say anything. She had never heard this tone in his voice. Not loud , quiet, but God there was a cold edge to it, colder than it had been when he tol d h er to leave.

"There are five men out there," Majestyk said. "With guns. They're not going t o l et me leave and they're not going to let you leave either. You got nothing t o d o with this, but now you're in it."

She said to him quietly, "So I guess you're stuck with me, Vincent."

After a moment, when he came over to her and put his hand on her shoulder , turning her in the doorway so that the light showed part of her face, she kne w h is tone would be different.

"Why did you come back?"

"I don't know," she said, and that was partly true. "Maybe see what it's like t o b e on the same side as the grower. That's a funny thing, Vincent. All my life I've been fighting against the growers. Now, this is different."

"You like to fight?" He kept watching her, making up his mind.

"You don't know me yet," Nancy said. "I like to do a lot of things."

He raised the barrel of the shotgun. "You know how to use this?"

"Show me and I will."

"How about a deer rifle?"

"Aim it and pull the trigger. Isn't that all you do?" She waited, looking up a t h im.

"I don't want you to be here," he said then, "but I'm glad you are. Yo u u nderstand what I mean?"

"You don't have to say anything. If I didn't know how you feel I wouldn't b e h ere."

"You're that sure?"

She hesitated. "I hope so."

"You do have to leave yourself open, don't you? Take a chance."

"That's what it's all about."

"We'll have to talk about it again, when we have more time."

"Sure, it can wait." She smiled at him, even more sure of herself now.

"I'm going outside," he said. "Bring the truck up closer to the house--case the y g et it in mind to pull some wires."

"Are we going to make a run?"

"I don't know what we're going to do yet. First thing, I'll show you how to wor k t he rifle." She followed him to the table and watched him as he began to loa d t he Marlin. "If anybody tries to come in," he said, "shoot him. Don't say, 'Pu t u p your hands' or anything like that, shoot him."

"All right, Vincent."

He handed her the rifle and picked up the shotgun again. "But make sure it isn't m e."

Wiley was on the bearskin couch with her book. She looked up, over her readin g g lasses, at Lundy and said, "Gene's here."

Renda didn't pay any attention to her. He was on the phone again. Lundy ha d n ever seen a guy who was on the phone as much as Frank. The first time he eve r m et him--after doing seven on the armed robbery conviction and getting out an d g oing to see him with the note his cellmate had given him--Frank was on th e p hone. It seemed like he had been on it ever since.

Right now he was listening, standing by the bar making a drink, the phone wedge d i n between his shoulder and his jaw. He put the scotch bottle down, picked u p h is drink, took some of it, then put the glass down hard and said, "What th e f uck you talking about--I got back yesterday. Where's the wasted time? What if I was still in Mexico? You going to tell me everything would stop? Shit no." He l istened again, moving about impatiently. "Look, it's a personal matter--you sai d s o yourself. It's got nothing to do with the organization. I get it done and w e g et back to business. Not before."

He slammed the phone down and picked up his drink again. "Fucking lawyers. Yo u d on't know if they're working for you or you're working for them."

Wiley said, "I think your friends are worried you might get them involved."

"That's what I need, some more opinions."

She went back to her book as he turned to Lundy.

"What's he doing?"

"He picked up his trailer," Lundy said, "and went right home."

"Alone?"

"He was. But Bobby says there's a girl there. Come before he got back. I don't k now," Lundy said, "man's waiting to get shot he's got some tail with him."

Put yourself in his place, Renda was thinking, and said, "The cops could've tol d h im don't worry and he feels safe. Thinks, with all that's happened, I won't c ome for him right away."

"Whenever we do it," Lundy said, "we can't just walk in. The cops could be ther e w aiting."

"You see any?"

"No, but they could've slipped in when it got dark. Be all over the place."

"I don't have time to fool around," Renda said. "They're starting to pressur e m e, give me some shit, tell me forget about the guy or hire it done."

Lundy agreed with them 100 percent, but he said, "You want to hit him yoursel f y ou got to wait for the right time, that's all."

"I don't have time! Can't you get that in your head?" He took a drink of scotc h a nd calmed down a little. "How many guys you got there?"

"Five. In the trees by his place. There's a back road takes you in there." He w atched Frank put his glass down and go over to a window that looked out on a d ark patio and swimming pool.

When Renda turned to him again he said, "If it can take you in, nobody sees you , it can take him out, can't it?"

"If there's no cops in his house."

"All right, you watch his place. He tries to move during the night, stop him. We s ee who comes out in the morning. We don't see any cops around we grab him, pu t h im in a car, take him out in the desert."

"What about the girl?" Lundy said.

"What girl?"

"The one with him."

"If she's with him she goes too."

Looking at the page in her book, Wiley wondered what the girl looked like. Sh e w ondered if the girl knew she might get killed. Or if the melon grower knew it.

Yes, he'd know it, but she wasn't sure about the girl.

Lundy was gone. Frank was at the bar again making another drink. He was drinkin g t oo much, taking more pills than he ever had before.

Wiley said, "Do you ever worry about--that you could get caught by the police? Or s hot? Or killed?"

"Are you going to give me some more opinions?"

"I was just curious. Is that all right?" He didn't answer her and she said, "Th e g uy really didn't mess you up that much, did he? I mean is it worth it? All th e t rouble?"

He turned from the bar with a fresh scotch.

"Is your book any good?"

"It's different."

"Good and dirty?"

"Dirty enough."

"Then why don't you read it?"

"And shut the fuck up."

"Right," Renda said, "and shut the fuck up."

For several minutes Majestyk stood by the screen door, holding it open a fe w i nches, looking down the road toward the migrant quarters and the packing shed.

He thought he had heard a car, not an engine sound but a squeak of spring s r olling slowly over ruts. Now all he heard were the crickets. He looked out a t h is fields, past the pickup, that was parked about twenty feet from the porc h n ow, facing the dirt road and the highway at the end of it. With his shotgun h e m oved to a side window and looked out at the dark mass of trees. There was n o m ovement, no sound. He left the window.

From the bedroom doorway he could see the girl's profile against the window an d t he barrel of the Marlin.

"Anything?"

She shook her head. "I have trouble concentrating, Vincent. What I'd like t o m ore than anything is straighten this place up."

"How can you see it in the dark?"

"When I came it was light. I never saw so much stuff not put away. Don't yo u h ang anything up?"

"I haven't had much time for housekeeping. With one thing or another."

"What's that, on the other side of the bed?"

"Don't you know a deep-freeze when you see one? I got it secondhand fo r t wenty-five bucks. Keep deer meat in it."

"I mean what's it doing in here?"

"What's the difference? You got to put it somewhere."

"You need help, Vincent. Well, maybe it's good you have it. They come, we ca n h ide in it."

"They come shooting," he said, "we won't get a chance to hide. But if they don't c ome, soon, I lose a crop. I been thinking. He can wait a week, a year, long a s h e wants. But I can't wait anymore. So, I figure, I better get it done myself."

"Like turn it around?" She sounded interested.


"If I could spot him, bring him out--"


"Call him up," Nancy said. "Ask him to meet you someplace." There was enoug h l ight that she could see his expression, the smile beginning to form, and sh e s aid then, "I'm just kidding. I don't mean really do it. Come on, don't. You'r e j ust crazy enough to try."

"If he's watching us," Majestyk said, "I don't have to call him. And if h e d oesn't come tonight--" He paused. "I've got a half-assed idea that might b e w orth trying."

"God, you are going to turn it around, aren't you? Go after him instead of hi m a fter you."

"It's a thought, isn't it? Something he might not expect."

"God, Vincent, sometimes you scare me."

He smiled at her again, feeling pretty good considering everything, and wen t b ack into the living room.

Chapter 12.

BOBBY KOPAS SAID, "We got him for you, Mr. Renda. Sure'n hell he's in there an d t here ain't no way he can get out."

Renda stared at the house, at the early morning sun shining on the windows , waiting for some sign of life, wondering what the man was doing, if he was i n t here. The place looked deserted, worn out and left to rot. He was thinking tha t i t would be getting hot in there. The guy should open a window, let in some air.

The guy should be doing something, open the door, take the garbage out , something.

"He tries to go out the road," Lundy said, "we got two people down there in th e p acking shed. Another boy's over behind that trailer, see it? Case he tries t o t ake off through the melon patch. Two more round the back. We cut his phon e w ire. I'd say all we got to do is walk up to the door and ring the bell."

"If he's there," Renda said. He looked at Kopas. "You seen him this morning?"

Bobby Kopas had been up all night, but he wasn't even tired. He'd been doing a j ob and hadn't made any mistakes. He said, "I figure he's locked himself in th e t oilet. Else he's hiding under the bed."

"I still have trouble, don't I," Renda said, "asking you a question?"

"What I meant, Mr. Renda, no, we haven't seen him yet, but he's in the house.

His truck's right there. There's no place else he could be."

"And nobody's come by?"

"The girl," Lundy said, "yesterday. She's the only one."

Renda was staring at the house again. It wasn't Sunday. It wasn't a day off. Th e g uy wasn't sleeping in. He should have come out by now. He should have been ou t a n hour ago, working, doing something. So if he was in there he knew what wa s g oing on. He felt it or smelled it or had seen somebody.

"I don't like it," Renda said.

Eugene Lundy didn't like it either, not a bit; but it was a living that pai d g ood money and gave him plenty of time to get drunk in between jobs. The thin g t o do was not think about it too much and just get the job over with. He said , "Well, we can stand here with our finger up our ass or we can go pull the son o f a bitch out of there and get it done."

It was good to have people like Gene Lundy, they were hard to find. "That's wha t w e're going to do," Renda said, "but I don't want any fucking surprises. I don't n eed surprises. Gene, what have we got? What it looks like we've got. The guy i n t he house. He's got a girl with him. One, maybe two cops over on the highway.

Are there more cops somewhere? You say no. All right, then what are the cop s d oing? Maybe they pulled out. Maybe they said fuck him. Maybe they don't give a s hit about the guy and they don't care what happens to him. Except there's stil l a cop over on the highway. Gene, you're sure, right?"

Lundy nodded. "I saw him go in the tool shed. He's got a radio in there."

"All right," Renda said, "they know I'm going to hit him, they're hanging round.

But they're not hanging around very close, are they? What're they doing?"

"Maybe," Lundy said, "they don't give a shit about the guy as you say. I don't k now. Maybe they figure you were here, you're not going to come right back, the y g ot a little time. I don't know how they think, fucking cops, but maybe that's w hat they think."

Renda took a minute, staring at the house. He nodded then and said, "Okay, we'l l b ring him out. We'll be quiet, go in and bring him out. Walk him back here t o t he car. And the girl. We'll have to take the girl."

Bobby Kopas had started to think about it too, the actual doing it, and he said , "Mr. Renda, what if he's got a gun?"

"He does, we take it away from him," Renda said. "He tries to use it, then w e g ot no choice." He looked at Lundy. "Do it in the house and get out." He looke d a t Kopas then. "What I think we'll do--you walk up to the door first, we'll com e i n behind you."

Bobby Kopas heard it but didn't believe it. He said holy shit to himself an d g rinned because, Christ, he had never been in this kind of a set-up before an d h e didn't know how to act, what kind of a pose or anything. He felt like a dum b s hit grinning, but what else was he going to do? He said, "Mr. Renda, I neve r d one anything like this before. You know what I mean? I mean I might not be an y g ood at it." Still grinning.

Renda said, "You walk up to the door, we come in behind you."

Majestyk put the two suitcases by the front door and looked at Nancy.

"You ready?"

"I guess so."

"Both bags go in the back of the truck. Save you time, and we might need the on e s ooner than I'd like."

"All right."

"Once you start, put your foot on it. Don't stop or slow down. Somebody gets in your way, run him over. Five or six miles down the highway you'll see the Enc o s ign on the corner. The cafe's right past it."


"Vincent--"


"Listen to me. You get out, take your suitcase, and walk over to the cafe."

"Vincent, please, you can't do it alone. You need someone."

"Think about what you have to do," he said. "That's enough. More than I have a r ight to ask."

"Please take me with you."

"I'm not going to argue with you," Majestyk said. "We've discussed it. I'm no t g oing to change my mind now. You get off and I keep going and that's the wa y i t's going to be."

"All right," Nancy said, "but you feel something, Vincent, the same as I do. Yo u c an't tell me you don't."

He opened the door and stepped back from it, out of the way. He said, "It's tim e t o go."

They watched her come out with the suitcases and swing them, one at a time, int o t he back of the pickup. When she got in behind the wheel Lundy said, surprised , "She's taking off in his truck."

"Two suitcases," Renda said. He had to make up his mind right now. Stop her o r l et her go. The guy could be making her leave, getting her out of the way. Or t he guy could be pulling something. He said to Kopas, "She have a suitcas e y esterday?"

"Hey, that's right," Kopas said. "She did."

"How many?"

"Just one. Yeah, walked all the way across the field with it."

They heard her voice as she called something to the house. Her arm came out o f t he window and waved. As the truck started to roll away from the house Lund y s aid, "She's leaving him there. You believe it?"

Right now, Renda was thinking. Stop her. Yell to the guy behind the trailer.

Yell at him to stop her, pull her out of the truck. But even as he made up hi s m ind and screamed it, "Get her! Stop the truck!" it was too late.

Majestyk was out of the house, running, chasing the pickup, catching th e t ailgate with his hands and rolling over it into the box as the truck roare d o ff, raising a trail of dust.

Nancy caught only a glimpse of the one by the melon trailer. He was steppin g i nto the road, raising a gun, then jumping aside, away from the front fender , and she was past him, her hands tight on the vibrating wheel, wondering if Vincent was being bounced to death on the metal floor of the box. She wanted t o l ook around, but she kept her eyes on the road, doing fifty now and suddenl y s eeing the car coming out from the side of the packing shed, coming fast an d b raking, skidding a little as it reached the narrow road and sat there blockin g t he way. Nancy cranked the wheel hard to the right, swerved around the front o f t he car, in and out of the ditch and back onto the road. In the rearview mirro r s he saw the car back up and make a tight turn to come after her. She wa s a pproaching the highway now and would have to slow down.

Turn left and race the five or six miles to Edna. Get out at the cafe and tak e h er suitcase while he jumped in behind the wheel and before she could sa y a nything he would be gone, leading them up into the mountains somewhere and sh e w ould never see him again.

He couldn't do it alone. He needed her. The two of them might have a chance, bu t h e was stubborn and wouldn't listen to her. So she could be meek and do what sh e w as told and never see him after he got in the truck and she walked across th e s treet to wait for the bus. Or--she could forget his instructions, everything h e h ad said, and help him, whether he wanted her to or not. It was simple, alread y d ecided. When she reached the highway she turned right instead of left.

He was pounding on the window, yelling at her, "It's the other way! Where in th e h ell are you going?"

She looked over her shoulder and gave him a nice smile, mashed the accelerator , and saw him fall off balance, away from the window.

The deputy at the road construction site saw him raise up again, just as th e p ickup was going by, and press against the truck's cab, by the back window. Th e d eputy knew it was Majestyk. But he didn't get a good look at who was driving.

He thought it was the girl, but he couldn't be sure. The truck went by s o f ast--west, away from Edna. He was on the radio when the car came out of th e r oad--dark green Dodge, two-door model--squealed out, turning hard, and ther e w asn't any question in his mind somebody was after somebody.

Thirty seconds later Harold Ritchie was in McAllen's office.

"Renda or some of his people are hot after him. Going east on the highway."

"Now you're talking," McAllen said. "Let's put everything we got on it."

He knew what she was doing now, and knew what he had to do. Lying on his side i n t he pickup bed he opened his suitcase, took out the stock and barrel of the Remington 12-gauge, got them fitted together and shoved in five loads. It wasn't e asy; it took him longer than usual, because of the metal vibrating beneath hi m a nd the sway of the truck and the wind. It was hard to keep his balance, proppe d o n an elbow, hard to keep the shotgun steady and the shells in one place.

The crazy girl was having it her way. He saw her face a couple of times, lookin g o ver her shoulder through the window, seeing if he was ready.

He needed more time to get the Marlin put together and loaded.

But the dark green car was coming up on them fast. The truck could do mayb e e ighty, the car a hundred and twenty probably, or more. It wouldn't be lon g b efore it was running up their rear end. He looked back again, as they reache d t he lower end of a grade, and now saw two more cars behind the green one , closing in from about a half to a quarter of a mile away.

Nancy's eyes moved from the outside rearview mirror to the road ahead, th e n arrow blacktop racing at her, a straight line pointing through scrub an d p asture land. On the left side of the road was a stock fence, miles of wire an d p osts and up ahead, finally, there it was, a side road. Higher posts marked th e r oad. And a closed gate hung across the entrance.

There wouldn't be time to stop and open the gate. She knew that.

There wouldn't be time to load the Marlin. Majestyk realized that now. He put i t d own quickly, across the open suitcase, and picked up the shotgun again. He ha d t o get turned around, face the tailgate.

He was moving, keeping low, on his elbows and knees--and was thrown hard agains t t he side of the pickup box as the truck left the road and its hig h f our-wheel-drive front end smashed through the wooden gate, exploded through i t w ith the sound of boards splitting, ripped apart by the high metal bumper.

By the time Renda's three cars were through the gate and had come to a sudde n s top, the truck was bounding across the desert pasture, making its own trail , running free where the cars couldn't follow.

No one had to say it. The rocks and holes, steep-banked washes and scrub, woul d r ip the underbody of an automobile, tear out the suspension. They sat staring a t t he dust settling and the yellow speck out there in the open sunlight--Renda i n t he front seat with Lundy, Kopas in back.

"There's a road over there," Renda said finally. "They got to be headed fo r s omething."

"Taking a shortcut," Lundy said.

"There is one," Kopas said, "if I remember correctly. About a mile, county roa d c uts through there, goes up in the mountains."

The three cars turned in a tight circle and went out through the gate the wa y t hey had come in, the dark green Dodge leading off.

Within five miles the county blacktop began to wind and climb, making its way u p i nto high country.

Majestyk felt better now. He had a little time to breathe and knew what he wa s g oing to do. The girl had set it up for him, given him the time. She had said h e n eeded her and she was right. When he signaled to her and she stopped, he go t o ut of the box and came up on her side.

"I guess there's no way to get rid of you, is there?"

"I told you before, Vincent, you're stuck with me."

She was the one to have along all right, but he couldn't think about her now. He t old her to hold it about thirty-five, let them catch up again. He got back int o t he rear end and that was the last thing he said to her for a while.

There were a few new melon cartons in the pickup bed, flat pieces of cardboar d h e put under him for some cushion, soften the damn skid strips on the floor.

Then he put the two suitcases at the back end of the pickup box, against th e t ailgate, and rested the shotgun on them. Lying belly down they were just abou t t he right height. He reached up and pulled the latch open on one side of th e t ailgate. The other one would hold the gate closed until he was ready.

When he saw the three cars coming again, they were on a good stretch of road , straight and climbing, a pinyon slope rising above them on the right and a stee p b ank of shale and scrub that fell off to the left, dropping fifty or more fee t i nto dense growth, dusty stands of mesquite.

Now he would have to keep down and rely on Nancy. In the window he saw her loo k b ack at him and nod. That meant they were coming up fast. He could hear the car.

Nancy was watching it in the rearview mirror--catching glimpses of the other tw o c ars behind it--letting them come, watching the first car closely to see what i t w as going to do and trying to hold the truck steady on the narrow road. The ca r w as fifty, forty feet away, crawling up on the truck, overtaking it an d b eginning to pull out, as if to pass. She held up two fingers in the rea r w indow, a peace sign.

Majestyk was ready. He reached for the tailgate latch, pulled the chain off. Th e g ate dropped, clanged open and there was the dark green Dodge charging at him, a l ittle off to the right. At twenty feet Majestyk put his face to the shotgun , fired three times and saw the windshield explode and the car go out of control.

It swerved across the road, sweeping past the tailgate, hit the bank on th e r ight side and came back again--as the two cars behind, suddenly close, brake d a nd fishtailed to keep from piling into the Dodge. The car veered sharply to th e l eft, jumped the shoulder, and dived into the brush fifty feet below.

He fired twice at the second car, the Olds 98, but it was swerving to avoi d h itting the bank. The shot raked its side and caught part of the third car , taking out a headlight, as the car rammed into the left rear fender of the Olds , kicked it sideways and both cars came to a hard abrupt stop.

Majestyk gave Nancy the sign, felt the pickup lurch as it shifted and took off , leaving the two cars piled up in the road.

The first thing Lundy did, he went over to the shoulder to look down at the Dodge, at the rear end of it sticking out of the brush. There was no sign of th e t wo guys. They were probably still inside. He couldn't see how they could b e a live, but it was possible. Lundy was starting down the bank when Renda calle d h im.

"Gene, come on." Renda was walking away from the rear of the Olds. The other ca r w as slowly backing up. He said, "We're okay. Let's go."

Lundy began to say, "I was thinking we ought to--don't you think we should take a l ook?"

"We're going to get in the car, Gene, and not waste any more time. Now come on."

"They could be alive. Hurt pretty bad, caught in there."

"I don't give a shit what they are. We got something to do, right now, before h e g ets someplace and hides."

Renda didn't say any more until they were in the car, following the road u p t hrough the pinyon, looking at side trails, openings in the trees where he coul d h ave turned off. But there wasn't any way to tell.

"That goddamn truck of his, he can go anywhere," Renda said. "He knows thi s c ountry. He told me, he comes up here hunting."

"If he knows it and we don't," Lundy said, "it changes things."

"I don't know, is he running or what? The son of a bitch."

"If he's still on this road," Lundy said, "we'll catch him. Otherwise I don't k now either."

There was a game trail nearby where he had sat with the Marlin across his la p a nd waited for deer: meat for the winter, to be stored in his twenty-five-dolla r d eep-freeze. He wondered if he would go hunting this fall. If the girl woul d s till be here. If either of them would be here.

He sat with the Marlin now as he had sat before, this time looking down th e s lope, through the pine trees to the road, the narrow black winding line fa r b elow. The cabin was less than a mile from here. He wondered if Renda woul d t hink of it and remember how to find it. No, he wouldn't have picked ou t l andmarks and memorized them. He was from a world that didn't use landmarks.

He said to the girl, "Did you ever shoot a deer?"

"I don't think I could."

"What if you were hungry?"

"I still couldn't."

"You eat beef."

"But I don't have to kill it."

"All right, I'll make you a deal. I'll shoot it, you cook it."

"When are we going to do that, Vincent?"

"In a couple of months. We'll have plenty of time. Sit around, drink beer, watch TV. Maybe take some trips."

"Where do you want to go?"

"I don't care. Anyplace."

"We going to get married first?"

"Yeah, you want to?"

"I guess we might as well, Vincent. Soon as we get some time."

Looking down the slope he said, "Here come a couple of friends of ours."

They watched the two cars pass below them on the winding road.

"Now what, Vincent?"

"Now we give them a kick in the ass," Majestyk said.

Renda's three men in the second car, following the Olds, were in genera l a greement that riding around in the mountains was a bunch of shit. That Frank Renda ought to take care of his own hit, if he wanted the guy so bad. That mayb e t hey should stop on the way back--if they ever got out of this fucking place--an d s ee about the two guys who went over the side. Though they must be dead; nobod y h ad yelled for help. They were looking out the windows, up and down the slopes , but if the guy wasn't still on the road they knew they weren't going to fin d h im. How could they get to him?

The one in the back seat said, "There shouldn't be nothing to it. Wait for th e r ight time you can set the fucking guy on fire, do it any way you want. Thi s h urry-up shit doesn't make any sense."

"You know what the trouble is?" the driver said. "The guy, the farmer, h e d oesn't know what he's doing. He shouldn't even still be around."

"That's it," the one in the back seat said. "If he knew anything he'd kno w e nough not to be here. It's like some clown never been in the ring before. He's s o clumsy, does so many wrong things, you can't hit the son of a bitch."

"Fighting a southpaw," the driver said. "You ever fight a southpaw?"

"You get used to that," the one in the back seat said. "I'm talking about a c lown. Hayseed, doesn't even own a cup."

"So you know where to hit him," the driver said.

"Shit, try and get to the guy."

Talking about nothing, passing the time. The one in the back seat looked out th e s ide window at the dun-colored slopes and rock formations. They were gettin g p retty high, moving along a hogback, the spine of a slope. He half turned t o l ook out the back window and said, "Jesus!" loud enough to bring the driver's e yes to the rearview mirror and the man next to him around on the seat.

The high front end of Majestyk's pickup was on top of them, headlights an d y ellow sheetmetal framed in the back window, the guy behind the wheel lookin g r ight at them, saying something, and the girl next to him ducking down.

Majestyk pressed down on the gas, caught up and drove the high bumper into th e c ar's rear deck. He saw the car beginning to pull away, pressed the gas peda l a ll the way to the floor and caught the rear end again, stayed with it thi s t ime, fighting the wheel to keep the car solidly in front of him, ramming it , bulldozing it down the narrow grade, hitting a shoulder and raising dust , hanging with it, seeing sky above the car and knowing what was coming, foo t p ressed hard on the gas for another five seconds before he raised it and mashe d i t down on the brake pedal.

The car almost made the turn. It skidded sideways, power-sliding, hit th e s houlder, and went through the guardrail turned onced in the air and exploded i n f lames five hundred feet below.

Majestyk was through the turn, saw the Olds 98 on the road three switchback s b elow him, came to an abrupt stop, turned around, and headed back the way the y h ad come, aware of the smoke now billowing up out of the canyon. He was sure Renda heard the explosion and would be coming back. So he'd go up into the pine s a gain and work out the next step.

In the quiet of the cab he heard Nancy say, "I hope you never get mad at me , Vincent."

The Olds 98 came to a stop in the shadow of a high, seamed outcropping of rock.

The shadow covered the road that continued in dimness, reaching a wall of roc k a nd brush before bearing in a sharp curve to the right.

Lundy got the map out of the glove box and spread it open over the steerin g w heel. It was quiet in the car, except for the sound of Lundy straightening th e m ap, smoothing the folds.

Renda stared straight ahead, through the windshield. We haven't been out here a n h our, he was thinking, and he's killing us. Do you know what he's doing? Do yo u s ee it now?

Bobby Kopas fidgeted in the back seat, looking out the window on one side an d t hen the other, bending down to see the crest of the high rocks. It was s o q uiet. Sunlight up there and shade down here. Nothing moving.

"His hunting country," Renda said. "He brought us here."

"I see where we're at," Lundy said. "The lodge is only about six, eight mile s w est of here, but roundabout to get to. 'Less we want to go all the way back t o t he highway, which I don't think is a good idea."

Renda wasn't listening to him. He was picturing a man in work clothes an d s cuffed lace-up boots, a farmer, a man who lived by himself and grew melons an d d idn't say much.

"He set us up," Renda said. "The farmboy knew what he was doing all the time an d h e set . . . us . . . up."

Lundy said, "What do you want to do? Go back to the lodge? I don't see any sens e i n messing around here." He waited, watching Renda stare out the window. "Frank , what do you want to do?"

He didn't know. He realized now he didn't know anything about the man. It wa s l ike meeting him, out here, for the first time. He should have known there wa s s omeone else, another person, inside the farmer. The stunt the guy pulled wit h t he bus and trying to take him in, make a deal. That wasn't a farmer. He ha d b een too anxious to get the guy and had not taken time to think about him, stud y h im and find out who he was inside.

Lundy said, "There's no sense sitting here."

Renda continued to stare at the wall of rock ahead of them, where the roa d c urved, thinking of the man, trying to remember the things he had said, tryin g t o out-think him now, before it was too late. He didn't see the figure standin g o n the crest of the rocks, not at first. And when he saw him he was a shado w t hat moved, a dark figure silhouetted against the sky a hundred yards away , holding something, raising it.

"Get out of here!"

Renda screamed it, Lundy looked up and the rifle shot drilled through th e w indshield and into the seat between them with a high whining sound that wa s o utside, far away. The second shot tore through the glass two inches from th e f irst and Renda screamed it again, "Get out of here!"

Majestyk put four more .3030's into the car before it got around the bend an d w as out of sight. He might have hit one of them but he doubted it. He shoul d h ave taken a little more time on the second shot, corrected and placed it ove r t o the left more. That's what you get, you don't hunt in a year you forget ho w y our weapons act.

He walked away from the crest, back into the pines where Nancy was waiting b y t he truck, shaking his head as he approached her.

"Missed. Now I got to bird-dog him."

"Now?" She seemed a little surprised. "How can you catch up with him?"

"I can cross-country, he can't."

"You're really going after him?"

"We're this far," he said and watched her cock her head, then look up throug h t he pine branches.

"I think I hear a plane," she said. "You hear it?"

He heard it. Walking back from the crest into the trees he had heard it. "You'l l s ee it in about a minute," he said. "Only it's not a plane, it's a helicopter."

Harold Ritchie had radioed ahead to cars patrolling the main roads as far a s t hirty miles east of Edna. They reported, during the next half hour, no sign o f a yellow four-wheel-drive pickup, with or without anybody chasing it.

So he must have taken them up in the mountains, Lieutenant McAllen decided, an d c alled the Phoenix Police for a helicopter. Get more ground covered in an hou r t han they could in a week.

It didn't even take that long. McAllen and Ritchie had been cruising the highwa y a nd some of the back roads. They were at the road repair site when the choppe r r adioed in. There was static and the sound of the rotor beating the air, but th e p ilot's voice was clear enough.

"Three-four Bravo, this is three-four Bravo. I believe we got him. Yellow picku p t ruck heading south, in the general direction of county road 201, just west of Santos Rim, God almighty, or else it's a mountain goat. I thought he was on a t rail, but there ain't anything there. He's bouncing over the rocks, flying.

Heading down through a wash now like it's a chute-the-chute. Look at that son o f a bitch go!"

McAllen and Ritchie looked at one another. They didn't say anything.

"On 201 now heading west," the pilot's voice said. There was a pause. "Hey, w e g ot something else. Looks like . . . an Oldsmobile or a Buick, late model, dar k b lue . . . about a half mile out in front of the pickup, going like hell. Let m e g et down closer. This is three-four Bravo out."

Lieutenant McAllen looked up in the sunlight, toward the mountains, then at Harold Ritchie. "You don't suppose--"

"I'd more likely suppose it than not," Ritchie said.

They heard the radio crackle and the helicopter pilot's voice came on again.

"This is three-four Bravo. Looks like they pulled a disappearing act on us. I don't see either one of them now. They must've turned off on a trail through th e t imber. Hang on I'll give you some coordinates."

"About how far away are we talking about?" McAllen asked Ritchie. "The genera l a rea."

"Not far. Take us twenty, thirty minutes, depending on the coordinates he give s u s."

"Then we'd still have to find them," McAllen said.

"We get enough cars up there," Ritchie said, "we can do it."

"But can we do it in time?"

Ritchie wasn't sure what he meant. "In time for what?"

"In time to keep him from killing himself," McAllen said.

Chapter 13.

WILEY WAS BORED. She had finished her book. There wasn't anything else to rea d i n the place but business and banking magazines and a few old Playboys. It was a l ittle too cold to go in the pool--which wasn't much of a thrill even when it wa s w arm. She was tired of lying in the sun but not tired enough to take a nap. Th e w hole thing, lying around swimming pools, waiting, was getting to be a bi g g oddamn bore.

And the ice in her iced tea had melted. She put the glass on the cement next t o t he lounge chair, snapped her orange bikini bottom a little higher on her can a s s he got up and went into the lodge, or whatever it was, that Frank said looke d l ike a dude ranch.

It did look like a dude ranch. All those Indian blankets and animals looking ou t o f the wall. She turned the hi-fi on, got some rock music she liked but didn't r ecognize and was patting her bare thighs gently, keeping time, when Frank cam e i n the front door. Frank and Gene and the new one, the little smartass carryin g a shotgun. She hadn't heard the car drive up.

"Well, hey. What's going on?"

The three of them were at the front windows, not paying any attention to her.

"I never seem to catch the beginning," Wiley said. "Will somebody tell me what's g oing on?"

She moved over a little, her hips keeping time with the music, to be able t o l ook out the window, past Frank and across the open yard to where the lon g d riveway came in through the trees. She didn't see the Olds; then she did--ove r t o the side a little at the edge of the trees, as if hidden there. They wer e w aiting for someone to come up the drive and as she realized this her hip s s topped keeping time and she thought of the police.

"You think," Wiley said, "I should start packing or what?"

"He's in the trees," Renda said.

"He could be," Lundy said, "if he saw us turn. But maybe he didn't."

Renda looked over his shoulder at Wiley. "Give me the glasses. Over on th e t able."

"Would you mind telling me something?"

"Give me the glasses."

He raised the window and got down on his knees, took the binoculars as sh e h anded them to him and rested his elbows on the sill. The trees were close t o h im now, dark in there but clearly defined as he adjusted the focus, scanne d s lowly toward the drive, held for a while, trying to see down the length of th e d irt road, then back again, slowly. He stopped. From the side of a tree abou t t wenty feet into the woods, Majestyk was aiming a rifle at him.

With the sound of the shot, the glass above his head shattered. Renda droppe d b elow the sill to his hands and knees, in a crouch. There was a silence befor e h e heard the man's voice, coming from the trees.

"Frank, let's finish it. Come on, I got work to do."

Wiley watched Frank crawl from beneath the window and stand up, turning to pu t h is back against the wall. She expected him to yell something at the guy, answe r h im, but he didn't. He was looking at her with a thoughtful sort of please d e xpression; not really happy, but relaxed as he drew a .45 automatic fro m u nderneath his jacket. She still didn't know what was going on.

Majestyk handed Nancy the rifle and picked up the shotgun, leaning against a t ree, as he saw the front door open.

Wiley came out in her orange bikini. She seemed at ease, even though she wa s l ooking around, more curious than afraid. Coming across the lawn she said , "Where are you?"

"Over here," Majestyk said. He saw her gaze turn this way, but was sure sh e c ouldn't see him yet.

"Frank's not home," Wiley said. "You want to come in and wait?" He didn't answe r n ow and she turned to go. "Well, it was nice talking to you."

"Wiley--"

She stopped and looked back. "Yeah?"

"Come here."

"I don't know where you are."

"Over here. That's right."

He waited until she was in the trees, more cautious now, and finally saw wher e t hey were standing. "What's he doing?" Majestyk said. "He want you to point t o m e so he can shoot?"

"I told you, he's not home."

"The car's over there."

"It belongs to somebody else."

"Wiley, tell Frank the cops are on the way. Tell him if he wants to settle it h e h asn't got much time."

She hesitated. "Police, huh. Listen, this really hasn't got anything to do wit h m e. I just happen to stop by."

"Who else is in there? How many?"

She hesitated again. "Just Frank . . . and two others. God, he's going to kil l m e."

Majestyk turned to Nancy. "Put her in the truck. Drive back to the road and wai t f or me there."

Wiley said to Nancy, "I really don't know what's going on. I don't have an y c lothes or anything."

"Don't worry, I'll give you a nice outfit," Nancy said, and looked at Majesty k a gain. "Vincent, wait for the police, all right?"

"If they come," he said, "but right now it's still up to him."

They couldn't see her now. There had been a spot of orange in the trees, but no w t hat was gone. "Where'd she go?" Kopas said. He didn't like it at all. Fiv e p eople dead, the man out there waiting for them. The man must be crazy, all he'd d one.

"He grabbed her," Lundy said. He was holding his big magnum, resting it on th e w indowsill.

Why would he? Kopas was thinking and said, "Maybe they left. He sees we got him , so he took her and cut out."

"He's there," Renda said, sure of it now, since he had begun to know the man , understand him. "Son of a bitch, we got to suck him out. Or go in after him."

Kopas said, "You mean walk out there?"

Renda looked at him. "If I tell you to."

Majestyk came up to the Olds 98 through the trees, keeping low, and there wa s n othing to it. The next part he'd have to do and not worry about and if the y s potted him and fired he'd have to back off and think of something else. He o pened the front door on the passenger side, waited a moment, then slid i n h eadfirst over the seat and pulled the key out of the ignition. Coming out h e l ooked at the backrest of the seat cushion, at the two bullet holes that wer e h ardly noticeable. Just a little more to the left. He wished he'd taken a coupl e m ore seconds. It would have saved him a lot of trouble.

They could still come out the front while he worked around through the trees t o t he back, but it wouldn't do them any good now. They weren't going anywhere , unless on foot, and then it would be even easier.

That's what he did: cut across the open to the blind side of the house an d s tayed close to it as he made his way around to the patio.

It could work because they wouldn't expect him. Get up to a window or the glass door underneath the sundeck, shove the pump gun in, and wait for somebody t o t urn around. He moved past the lounge chair Wiley had been using a little whil e b efore, his eyes on the window. Even if he had looked down then he might no t h ave seen the iced tea glass, it was so close to the chair. By the time he di d s ee it he had kicked it over--hearing it like a window breaking--and all he sa w w ere the broken fragments and a piece of lemon on the wet cement.

Renda turned from the front window. He stood listening, holding the .45

automatic at his side, then raised it as he started across the room toward th e p atio door. Lundy followed him.

Kopas waited. He wasn't sure he wanted to go over there. He watched Renda pres s a gainst the glass panes to look out, trying to see down the outside wall of th e h ouse. Kopas knew he'd have to open the door and stick his head out to se e a nything. He wondered if Renda would open the door, if he'd go out. Christ, i t w ould take guts.

He heard Renda say to Lundy, "You stay here. I'm going up on the sundeck. I spo t h im I'll yell to you."

Lundy nodded, holding the big mag, and moved in close to the door as Renda cam e b ack across the room. Kopas still didn't know what to do. He was sure, though , he didn't like being here with the guy right outside, the guy maybe poking a gu n i n a window any minute.

That is why he followed Renda to the front hall and up the stairs. The gu y c ouldn't poke a gun into a second-floor window.

Renda went into a bedroom and over to the sliding glass door that opened on th e s undeck. He glanced at Kopas as he went out, noticing him, but didn't sa y a nything--like other times, looking through him as if he wasn't there.

Kopas said, "What you want me to do, Mr. Renda?"

Maybe Renda hadn't heard him. He was out on the sundeck now, looking over th e r ailing at the patio. Kopas raised his shotgun and moved to the open doorway. He d idn't go out. He could see most of the patio and the swimming pool, the su n r eflecting on the clear green water. He watched Renda go to his hands and knees , trying to see down through the narrow spaces between the deck boards. Rend a c rawled along this way, coming back to the door before he got to his feet again.

"Son of a bitch, he's under there," Renda said.

But where? Kopas was thinking. The deck was about thirty feet long. He could b e r ight underneath them or he could be down a ways or hiding behind something. He w atched Renda move to the rail again, then look over to the left, to where th e p atio door would be, where Lundy was waiting. He watched Renda lean over th e r ail and point the .45 straight down--and couldn't believe it when Renda suddenl y y elled out.

"Gene, he's going around the side! Get him!"

Majestyk's eyes were raised to the sundeck above his head, his shotgun pointin g s traight up to where he was pretty sure Renda was standing--where he had hear d t he movement and where the glints of sunlight between the boards were blotte d o ut.

He didn't know it was Renda, not until he heard Renda's voice, his words clear , startling. And heard something else. A door. Quick footsteps on cement.

He had time--at least three seconds, before Lundy, running alongside the swimmin g p ool, saw him, came to a stop and swung the magnum at him--time to swing th e s hotgun down and fire and pump and fire again and see Gene Lundy blown off hi s f eet into the swimming pool.

Renda saw that much and knew where the man was down below, knew close enough , and began firing the .45 automatic straight down at the deck boards , concentrating on a small area only a few feet to his left, fired and fired , splintering, gouging the stained wood, and kept firing until the automatic wa s e mpty.

He stood listening then. When the gunfire ringing in his ears began to fade, h e c ould hear, very faintly, the sound of hi-fi rock music coming from the mai n r oom. That was all. He stepped into the bedroom to reload the .45, stil l l istening, watching the patio--pulling out the clip and throwing it aside, takin g a nother clip from his jacket pocket and smacking it with his palm into the grip.

"Go take a look," Renda said.

Kopas had backed away from the glass doors until the bed stopped him and he fel t i t against his legs. "Mr. Renda--" He stopped and started over. "The man wasn't r unning around the side. I was looking, I didn't see him. You told Gene that--yo u u sed Gene to spot the guy."

Kopas saw him turn and saw his eyes, not looking through him this time but righ t a t him.

"Go downstairs," Renda said, "look out the door. If he's laying there, walk ou t o n the patio. If he isn't laying there, stay where you are."

"I'm sorry," Bobby Kopas said. "I mean I don't even know what I'm doing here. I don't give a shit about the guy. Really, it's none of my business. I think I better just--split. You know?" He had to get out, that's all. Just get the hel l o ut of here, though not make it look like he was scared or running. He said , "I'll leave this in case you need it," and dropped the shotgun on the bed as h e g ot around the foot of it and headed for the door.

Renda said, "Bobby--"

Kopas kept going.

He was almost to the stairway when Renda came out into the hall.

"Bobby!"

His hand was on the stair rail. Below him was the open front door and sunlight.

He didn't hear his name again. He didn't care if he did. He didn't care now if Renda thought he was running. Just get out, that's all.

He got halfway down.

Renda shot him from the top of the stairs, hitting him squarely in the back , twice. Lowering the .45 he saw Kopas lying face-down in the front hall, a fe w f eet from the door, and was aware of the hi-fi music again--a slow roc k i nstrumental--coming from the main room.

All right, he'd go down, go through the room to the patio. Look outside.

Or he could go out the front door and walk around. If the guy was alive h e w ouldn't know which way he'd be coming from, wouldn't know where to look.

But the guy was probably dead. Or at least hit. He must have hit him. So i t d idn't matter. Renda moved down the stairs, holding his gaze on the archwa y b elow and to the right, that led into the main room. He was at the bottom, i n t he front hall, about to step over Bobby Kopas's legs, when the hi-fi musi c s topped. It stopped abruptly, in the middle of the rock number.

Renda waited.

There was no sound from the room. Animal heads looking down in silence at--what?

Where would he be? Behind something. Renda could see only part of the room fro m w here he was standing, the windows along the front wall. He would have to wal k t hrough the archway to see the rest, not knowing where the guy was. He had neve r d one it like this before, walked in, the guy knowing he was coming. Guy waitin g w ith a shotgun. There was a shotgun upstairs. But if he went up the guy coul d m ove again and he wouldn't know where. He knew the guy was in the room. But i t w as a big room. Or he could be outside again, with the shotgun sticking in th e w indow.

He said to himself, This isn't a fucking game. Get out.

Renda went through the doorway, ran across the grass to the Olds 98 and got t o i t, pulled the door open and started to slide in.

The key wasn't in the ignition.

The fucking key wasn't in the ignition! Lundy had it. No, or it was on the floor . . . or on the dash . . . or on the sun visor. Somewhere!

"Frank?"

Renda came out slowly, turning a little to look over the top of the open door.

Majestyk was standing on the front steps of the house, the shotgun cradled i n t he crook of his left arm.

"You hear it?" Majestyk said.

Renda turned a little more, keeping the car door in front of him. He could hea r i t now, the faint sound of a police siren.

Majestyk waited.

Behind the door, below the window ledge, Renda shifted the .45 automatic in hi s l eft hand. He knew he could do it, hit the guy before he moved. Farmboy standin g t here not knowing it was over. He said, "You want to think about it?"

Majestyk shook his head. "Last chance, Frank."

Renda brought up the .45 automatic, at arm's length out past the edge of th e d oor and fired, trying to aim now as he fired again.

Majestyk swung the shotgun on him and blew out the window in the door, watched Renda stagger out from behind it, still holding the .45 extended, and shot hi m a gain, the 12-gauge charge slamming Renda against the side of the car and takin g o ut the rear-door window. Renda went down to his knees, hung there a moment an d f ell face-down.

Majestyk was sitting on the front steps with the shotgun across his knees. He w atched the three squad cars come barreling in through the trees, watched the m p ull to nose-diving stops and the doors swing open and the deputies come pilin g o ut with riot guns and drawn revolvers. They stopped when they saw him and stoo d t here looking around. Lieutenant McAllen walked over.

"You were right," Majestyk said. "That man was trying to kill me."

McAllen looked at him. He didn't say anything. He kept going and walked over t o w here Renda was lying, stooped down and felt his throat for a pulse. He looke d o ver at Majestyk again.

But Majestyk was walking away, over toward the pickup that had come in behin d t he squad cars, where the girl was standing.

McAllen watched him put his hand on the girl's shoulder as he opened the doo r a nd heard him say, "We'll get us a couple of six-packs on the way home. Right?"

And he heard the girl say, "Right." He watched Majestyk's hand slide down to th e g irl's can as she climbed into the cab and heard her say, "Hey, watch it!" He d idn't hear what Majestyk said to her as he slammed the door, but he heard th e g irl's laughter.

Then Majestyk was walking around the pickup to the driver's side. He looked ove r a nd gave McAllen a little wave.

McAllen didn't wave back or say a word. He heard the girl laugh again an d w atched the pickup drive off through the trees.


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