Home > Thick as Thieves(7)

Thick as Thieves(7)
Author: Sandra Brown

It was such a chilling, amoral comeback that Ledge had no problem believing it. “Well, count me out. I want no part of your stupid scheme. And no part of you.”

“You would turn down a quarter share of half a million dollars?”

“I am turning down a quarter share.”

“I realize it’s small potatoes. Not like it’s five million, or something. But it’s good pocket change, right? A portable amount. Easily spent on Mickey Mouse stuff a little at a time so nobody notices you’re suddenly flush with cash.”

Into it, he leaned forward. “It’s a good-for-starters amount. A practice run. We’ll see how it goes. Then…?” He bobbed his eyebrows. “We could aim higher.”

“I wouldn’t go in league with you for any amount.”

“Well, that’s just thick-headed, Ledge. Think of all the dope you could buy.”

Ledge gave him a fulminating look.

“Hell, with that kind of money, you could bankroll your own meth lab.”

“Go fuck yourself.” To hell with the rain; he reached for his keys and scooted to the end of the booth.

Rusty said, “After I’ve shared the plan, you don’t really think I’ll let you walk away, do you?”

“Watch me.” He stood.

“You go along, or I burn down your uncle’s crappy redneck bar.”

Ledge froze in place and looked back. Rusty remained smiling and smug. “Well, not me personally, of course. But I know a couple of wetbacks who’d do it for fifty bucks and a bottle of mescal.”

He leaned back against the vinyl of the booth and stared pensively into the middle distance. “That would be such a damn shame, wouldn’t it? Your uncle Henry has been pouring his heart and soul into that place for years, trying to make a better life for you, his poor orphaned nephew. It’s a shithole, but losing it would probably kill him.”

He then refocused on Ledge, who actually felt the skin on his face growing taut as he glared at Rusty with loathing. “He’s not getting any younger, ya know.” After a beat, Rusty said, “Now sit the fuck down.”

Ledge slid back into the booth and leaned across the table. “Why me?”

“I have my reasons.”

“Crystal? Is this about her?”

Rusty snorted. “That whore? Take her. God knows everybody else has.”

Not for an instant did Ledge buy into the dismissive attitude Rusty tried to sell. Crystal had rejected him, and, pure and simple, Rusty couldn’t stand it. But Ledge let it drop this time. “You’ve got your two insiders. I don’t have anything to contribute. You don’t need me.”

Rusty placed his hand over his heart. “But I do, Ledge, I do need you. In case something goes wrong and we get caught, you’ll serve a very useful purpose.” He widened his grin. “I may need a scapegoat, and you’re an established criminal.”

Chapter 4

As Rusty settled more comfortably on the barstool, Ledge greeted him with a mere hitch of his chin.

Don took a swipe at the bar in front of Rusty with his towel and forced a smile. “Name your poison.”

“Nothing, thanks. I’m driving.” He said it unctuously.

“Working late tonight?” Don asked.

“Working late every night. Daytime, too.” He added a wink and gave Ledge a sly grin. “Anyhow, I saw Ledge’s truck outside. Been a while. Thought I’d drop in, say hi, see what he’s up to these days.”

Taking the hint, Don said, “Let me know if you change your mind about that drink.” After shooting an apologetic glance toward Ledge, he moved to the far end of the bar and made himself look busy.

“How’re you getting on, Ledge?”


“Your uncle any better?”

“No worse.”

“Well, I guess that’s good.”

“Not really.”

Rusty’s red hair had been dulled by gray at his temples, but his insufferable, superior attitude hadn’t mellowed a whit. Ledge couldn’t bear to be in his company. He stood up and reached toward his back pocket for his wallet. “I gotta shove off.”

“What’s your hurry?”

“It’s late.”

“Not that late. Sit a spell.” Rusty tipped his head down toward Ledge’s barstool. “I want to talk to you about something.”

He didn’t need to ask Rusty what was on his mind, because he already knew. This confrontation had been inevitable since the day Arden Maxwell had turned up in Penton. He was surprised Rusty hadn’t ambushed him sooner. Now that he had, at least he no longer had to dread it. He sat back down, not in concession, but in order to get the conversation over with as quickly as possible.

But Rusty seemed in no hurry to commence. He swiveled around toward the group of young men who’d wrapped up their tournament and were counting out currency to the winner.

Rusty called out, “You boys having fun over there?”

They ceased what they were doing, but none answered.

Rusty homed in on one of them. “Well, lookee who we’ve got here. Hawkins. I thought you were in Huntsville. Dogfighting, wasn’t it?”

“Got screwed over by the system.”

“The system, huh?”

“Lousy public defender made me take a plea bargain. I got two years.”

“You’re already out?”

“Paroled for good behavior.”

“Good behavior, my ass,” Rusty said. “Won’t last. You’ll go back.”

Before the young man could retort, one of his buddies grabbed him by the arm and towed him out, the others hot on their heels.

As the door shut behind them, Rusty came back around on his stool, chuckling. “He ran a chickenshit operation out of an old barn belonging to his twin brothers. Whole tribe of white trash. Probably inbred. Name of Hawkins. Know them?”


“Well, anyway, Dwayne there was born to be wild. Reminds me of somebody else I know.”

Ledge said nothing and kept his gaze forward, but out of the corner of his eye, he could see Rusty’s deliberately provoking grin as he called to Don, “Maybe I’ll have a Dr Pepper after all. And be generous with the ice.”

With smug amusement, he continued to stare at Ledge’s rigid profile while his drink was being poured. Don delivered it but didn’t tarry. Rusty discarded the straw and drank directly from the glass.

He emitted a honking burp without covering it. “Well? What about it?”

Ledge didn’t say anything.

“Don’t play dumb. You know what, or rather who, I’m talking about.” He leaned toward Ledge and lowered his voice. “They’re baaaaack. At least one of them is. Unfortunately, it’s not the old man.”

Rusty leaned in a little closer. Ledge recognized the transparent attempt to intimidate him and didn’t move a muscle. “What do you think about her coming back here to roost?”

“Not a damn thing.”

“No?” Rusty angled back and took another drink of his Dr Pepper, eyeing Ledge over the rim of the glass. When he lowered it, he said, “I find that hard to believe.”

“Believe whatever the hell you like. It’s a free country.”

Rusty barked a cynical laugh. “Nothing comes free. Who would know that better than a war hero?”

Ledge glanced down the bar toward Don, who’d been polishing the same highball glass for the past several minutes, shooting furtive, worried glances in their direction.

“Must say,” Rusty continued as his finger drew a trail in the condensation on the outside of his glass, “that was quite a scene she created in the supermarket.”

Ledge looked at Rusty with repugnance. “She created? She didn’t choose the timing or the place to lose her baby.”

“You know what I mean. It was a scene.” He proceeded to describe it to Ledge. When he finished, he nudged Ledge’s arm with his elbow. “I have the nitty gritty, all the details, on good authority. But even if someone hadn’t reported it straight to me, word of it spread faster than the clap.”

“You would know,” Ledge muttered.

Rusty grinned, took another drink, and with see-through casualness checked a loose cuticle on his thumb. “Her big sister showed up at the hospital later that evening. Did you know that?”


“Oh, yeah. Ordering everybody around. Pushy bitch. Just like she always was.”

“I didn’t really know her.”

“No, guess not. Y’all didn’t run in the same crowd.” Rusty made a point of taking a look around the bar, ending on the strand of colored Christmas lights draped along the back of the bar. “Around town, Lisa Maxwell was always a golden girl.” He paused. “You, by contrast, were raised in the back room of this pool hall.”

This was the type of goading at which Rusty Dyle excelled. Ledge had expected it, but he was damned if he’d let Rusty get a rise out of him.

Instead, he looked at his wristwatch. “I’m off.”

“Hold on.” Rusty clamped his hand around Ledge’s forearm. Ledge looked down at the restraining hand and kept looking at it until it was removed. But his silent warning didn’t dissuade Rusty, who hissed, “We need to talk about this.”

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