Stress by Loren D. Estleman

Book: Stress by Loren D. Estleman Read Free Book Online
Authors: Loren D. Estleman
Tags: Historical
allowed to drive it until he finished school, whereupon Dwight Littlejohn had presented him with the title as a reward for not flunking out. Russell had invested his first two weeks’ wages from the marina in an eight-track tape player and four Panasonic speakers, and as he tooled down East Jefferson with the piss-poor vacuum wipers twitching at the granulated snow that collected on the windshield, he bobbed his afroed head to the throb and thrum of “All Along the Watchtower”: Saint Jimi riding the music out as far as it would take him, only it wasn’t far enough, not by half, and so he went the rest of the way on Horse, away out there beyond the Big Dipper where the Man couldn’t follow. He was a constellation now, a halo of stars with a Mongol beard, comets in his eyes.
    The lake was chalk-colored, Jess so in the middle where the river current prevented the surface from freezing in all but the most severe winters, and the wind skinned away crystals of ice and serpentined them across the asphalt ahead, where they made dusty white S’s in the doldrums. From time to time a brawny gust took the top-heavy Ford in its teeth and shook it, once nearly twisting the wheel out of Russell’s hands. He enjoyed the fight for control. He pretended he was the captain of an ore carrier, or better yet the master of a square-rigged schooner, piloting his fragile craft through the storms of January, defying Nature to pop her stays. Memorizing The Diary of Che Guevara , The Autobiography of Malcolm X , and Mao’s little red book had not entirely lifted the young man away from the boy who had nursed on the thirteen-inch image of Errol Flynn sticking it to the King’s pigs on Bill Kennedy’s Million-Dollar Movie , so many Sunday afternoons ago.
    At length, Captain Peter Blood steered his six-cylindered man-of-war into the parking lot in front of Pinky’s Marina and Snowmobile Rental, where Pinky was waiting for him when he got inside.
    A large, florid man of sixty, with a bald head dented all over and anchors tattooed on his forearms—exposed by the white T-shirt he wore in all seasons—Stan Pinicus was trying to clear the nozzle of a spray gun with a ten penny nail. He had served with the navy through two wars and had owned marinas in Santa Monica and Corpus Christi before moving to Michigan to be near his daughter and grandchildren. Some of Russell’s fellow employees referred to him as the Commodore, not entirely behind his back nor, Russell suspected, without his approval. Today he wore the expression of a chief petty officer who had discovered a poorly tied bosun’s knot in a net containing valuable cargo.
    “You’re almost late,” he said.
    “I call that on time.” Russell shed his Pistons warm-up jacket and hung it on the broken, trident in Neptune’s hand, part of an antique carved wooden figurehead that went with the room’s runaway nautical theme. He bet Pinky wore Popeye pajamas and sang his grandchildren to sleep with bawdy sea chanteys.
    “There’s propane tanks need filling out on the dock and them boxes in the storeroom ain’t going to sprout legs and walk out to the dumpster. Don’t put your coat back on yet. That big window’s so dirty I can’t tell if I’m looking out at the lake or the Mojave Desert. It’s all on this side.”
    Russell stretched himself over the service counter and scooped a sea sponge and a bottle of Lestoil off the under-side shelf. “Wish to hell we had us a squeegee.”
    “Use newspapers. We got stacks of them in the back too, going back to Custer I think. Cops was here,” Pinky added without pausing.
    Russell looked at him. His employer was testing the spray-gun, squirting jets of paint-tinted air into a stained rag in his other hand. “What kind of cops, coasties?”
    “Detroit. Just one, a black guy. Plainclothes.”
    “A little while ago. He said he’d be back.”
    “He ask about me?”
    “Not at first.”
    Jesus. Like pulling teeth with his toes.

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