Page 220 of The New Iberia Blues (Dave Robicheaux 22)

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“Don’t tempt the devil.”

“The devil wouldn’t let you clean his chamber pot.”

He butt-stroked me with his rifle, knocking me to the ground. He pointed the muzzle into my face. “Kiss it.”

“Fuck you.”

I had to keep him talking. Once he was gone, Alafair would be gone also, probably forever. Where are you, Bailey? Where are you, Helen? I held my holy medal, my eyes shut. I was completely powerless and knew that whatever happened next was out of my hands.

I heard Wexler walk away. When I opened my eyes, I saw him step off a small dock onto a boarding plank that hung from the entry port of the cabin cruiser. The hull was dipping deeply into the waves, rocking and hitting the dock and the cypress knees along the bank. He clicked on the cabin light and pulled Alafair from the deck and held her so I could see her face. Blood was leaking from her hair.

I got up from the ground and began limping toward the dock as though half of me had melted. I thought I heard a helicopter droning over water, and I wondered if I had gone back in time to Southeast Asia and the sounds and images from which I had never freed myself. The thropping of the blades was unmistakable.

“You’re not going anywhere, bub,” I said.

“I’m honoring your war record,” he said. “Be humble enough to recognize and accept an act of clemency by a brother-in-arms.”

“You taped Bella Delahoussaye’s eyes because you couldn’t look her in the face while you killed her, you yellow-bellied, sorry sack of shit.”

He knotted Alafair’s hair in his fist. Her wrists were handcuffed behind her back. I was within fifteen feet of the cruiser now. The waves were bursting against the dock, drenching my hat and face. I saw lights coming in low over the surf in the distance.

“Hear that sound?” I said. “That’s the cavalry. They’re going to spike your cannon, Wexler. And after they do that, I’m going to kick it up your ass.”

“You won’t be here to see it. Neither will she.”

Alafair’s face was white with exhaustion or shock or blood loss; she looked like she had been beaten. Her bottom lip was cut and puffed, her hair matted with blood. I bet she had fought back. No, I knew she had fought back. And I was determined to be no less brave than she. Then, just to the south of the cabin cruiser, I saw a shadow moving through the trees, humped, off balance, leviathan, and unstoppable in its course and purpose.

“Pop me if you want,” I said. “I’m no big loss. But before I check out, tell me one thing, will you?”

“I’d be delighted,” he replied.

“How’d you get the information about Bailey Ribbons’s background?”

“I worked for three government intelligence agencies. But maybe I porked her a couple of times, too. Take your pick.”

I came closer and closer to him. He was standing just outside the cabin hatch, holding Alafair by the hair, his rifle butt propped on his hip, the waves swelling under the hull. The boarding plank was hooked to the stern, pulling loose from the bank, half underwater.

“Look at me,” I said.

“What for?”

“Sheriff Soileau is in that chopper. She doesn’t take prisoners. Make the smart choice. Give me back my daughter and beat feet.”

He pulled her to him and kissed the top of her hair. “I might do that. Not tonight. But some night. She’ll come around. You’ll see. The victors write the history books.”

He dropped her and pulled the anchor, sliding it covered with mud over the bow, dropping it hard on the deck. He went back into the cabin and started the engine, looking at me through the glass. My left leg was giving out, my foot squishing inside my shoe. I started toward the boarding plank, although I knew I would not make it. Then I saw Clete Purcel come lumbering out of the trees, the holes in his shoulders or chest draining down his shirt, my cut-down twelve-gauge pump in one hand.

Wexler either didn’t care about the boarding plank or had forgotten about it; he was concentrating on backing the cruiser at an angle that prevented the waves from smacking it into the dock or onto the cypress knees.

The aluminum plank bent under Clete’s weight, and his shoes clanked on the metal, and the waves sloshed over his ankles as he stumbled up the plank and through the entry port onto the stern.

Wexler turned, at first shocked, then smiling. “You still hanging around? How about another one in the brisket?”

I had seen the two bloody holes in Clete’s windbreaker, but I had not realized how badly he was hurt. His left arm hung from the socket like a twisted water-soaked towel. He was trying to lift the cut-down with his right, and having no luck, as though his gy

roscope were broken, his mojo gone, his motors in full meltdown. But he kept coming, like a dedicated drunk careening toward the bar, seeking one final sip of his nemesis.

Wexler raised his rifle. “Good try, blimpo. I hope you find a shady place.”

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