Читать онлайн "What of Terry Conniston?" автора Garfield Brian - RuLit - Страница 9


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Oakley recalled that time with unhappy vividness. Louise had called him at midnight tearfully to plead with him to fly down immediately: they had just received word of the boy’s death and Conniston was falling apart. Oakley had held Conniston’s hand for almost a week. He had lied steadfastly in a grim attempt to convince Conniston the boy’s death wasn’t his fault. In fact if anybody was to blame it was Conniston. Earle Jr. had strangled himself at a pot party with a girl’s stocking.

Not amazing, in the cold glare of statistics: suicide was the second most common cause of death among college students in the United States. The boy’s father, now barking heartily on the telephone, had never finished college—the football injury in his sophomore year had killed his scholarship. Thirty-seven years later Conniston had done what so many of them did: expected too much of his son, put too much pressure on him. Earle Jr. had never had time to relax and find himself. He’d been railroaded through prep academies and an ivy university and he’d killed himself, one year ago last month.

He was aware, suddenly, that Conniston was no longer talking; Conniston was standing at his elbow.

“Sorry,” Oakley said. “Reveries, I guess. How are you, Earle?”

“Fine, fine. I keep fit.” Conniston even took moralistic credit for his health; it was like him. In fact, near sixty, he looked closer to forty, as robust and hearty as he had been a quarter-century ago. His eyes, the color of rusty iron, slid past Oakley—a casual trick to mask his quick but careful scrutiny. The eyes traveled on by to give the sky half a second’s uninterested inspection: “Beautiful day.”

“Uh-huh. I wasn’t looking at the weather.” Oakley smiled around his unlit cigar.

“Terry? Stunning.”

“Dazzling enough to make me wish I was twenty years younger.”

“Might not matter,” Conniston said. “She’s ripe for somebody’s bait. Desperately looking for love and doesn’t even know what it is. You want to try, I won’t stand in your way. Snappish little bitch, though. That outfit she’s wearing, not much more than a little titty rag and a diaper. Adams said when she bought it they wrapped it in the price tag.”

“Adams who?”

“Frankie Adams. House guest—one of Louise’s charities. You didn’t bump into him? You will.” Conniston’s face, expressionless, revealed his opinion of the unseen Frankie Adams. He added abstractedly, “Comedian. Does imitations. Impressions, he calls them—does a pretty good Nixon.”

Conniston went back to his chair, indicating the pleasantries were over; Oakley stirred, went around the desk and sat. Without preamble he said, “You’ve got a feeder herd of five thousand head close to proper weight and grade. They’ve got to go to market within the next three months. Beef prices are pretty volatile right now—God knows if you’ll even cover costs.”


“So I think it’s time to start rounding them up.”

“It’s only August, Carl.”

“Right. You can get a jump on the market.”

“And what if market goes up?”

“What if it goes down? You know I’m not a nervous Nellie but I don’t like the smell of it. The stock market’s been drifting down and I expect commodities to start leveling off pretty quick.”

“Better put a few more pounds on them, take the gamble.”

“That could be a quarter-million-dollar gamble, Earle.”

“Peanuts. I’ll take risk. Anything else?”

“When you liquidated your big board fund you asked me to scout around for a capital investment. Have you still got that cash free?”

“Most of it. Come up with something?”

“Half a mile of beach front on St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. The developers are getting thirty thousand per half acre for choice spots on St. Thomas and the boom will hit St. Croix next—you might recall Will Rogers’ advice, buy land because they’re not making any more of it.”

“Will Rogers wasn’t a businessman. You scouted St. Croix?”

“Of course.”

“All right. Buy it.”

That was settled; not even a handshake was needed. Oakley smiled briefly. “That’s all at my end.” He clamped his jaws on a cigar and sat back, ready to learn why Conniston had summoned him today.

Conniston’s eyelids drooped, covering his thoughts. The reddish eyelashes were so pale they seemed hairless. “You talk to Louise?”

“A little. Storm signals are up, it appears.”

“She tell you her pet project of month?”

“No. She only complained about feeling neglected and abandoned.”

“Trying to teach her a lesson,” Conniston said. The delivery—as if he were dictating a telegram—was the same as usual; the tone was gruffer than ordinary. “Orozco got her ear,” he said.

“Oh-oh. And she bought it?”

“God save us from eastern liberal women without brains. She bought it.”

“What do you want me to do about it?”

“Talk to Orozco. Your friend, not mine—won’t listen to me.”

Oakley said uncertainly, “Orozco’s a damned good snoop, the best in the state. I’d hate to lose him.”

“Private detectives are dime-a-dozen. Rather lose him than have him on my back all the time. Now he’s put the bug in my wife’s ear—I hear it all day long. Carl, you’ve got to inform fat pest I won’t have any more of it.”

Oakley couldn’t help smiling—that a fat Mexican private detective and a 120-pound woman could cause Earle Conniston such discomfiture was absurd and comical.

Oakley said, “On the face of it Orozco’s people have a real grievance.”

“Then let them take it up with courts and OEO and civil rights people. Carl, I’ve given up on it. I can’t seem to get it into heads of these silly chicanos that I own this place. Damn chicanos just can’t adjust to the times. Fantastic land-grant pipe-dream can’t change fact that I’m in possession with clean, clear title to land.”

“They don’t see it that way. The Mexicans claim this land is theirs by bequest from Ferdinand and Isabella.”

Conniston snorted.

Oakley said, “The viceroys of New Spain deeded the Tierra Roja land grant to the Spanish settlers. After the Mexican War the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 guaranteed the American government would protect the property rights of Mexican landowners with legitimate deeds. Now the chicanos claim the gringos came in and destroyed the old Spanish documents in the Mexican archives and got the chicanos’ land claims struck down by fraud in rigged Anglo courts.”

“Not bad. You memorize that for delivery on TV or what? You working for the chicanos now, Carl?”

“No. But I’ve listened to them and looked up some law. The chicanos have got a pretty persuasive case.”

“Aagh,” Conniston said in disgust. “Those Spanish charters—scraps of paper signed in Madrid three hundred years ago. Worthless. Those and a few guns took land away from Indians. So what? Tell chicanos to go argue with Papago Indians, not with me. I’ve got possession. Nine tenths of law, right?”

“Nothing’s that simple any more. Look at the reparations the Alaska tribes got from the government.”

“Then tell the chicanos go argue with government. Look, Carl, I don’t want big federal case here. All I want is to get Diego Orozco off my wife’s back so my wife will get off mine. Read me?”

Without waiting an answer Conniston got up and turned his back to scowl out through the window. Oakley brooded at his wide back. It looked taut, as if awaiting an expected stabbing. Conniston was too agitated; now, thinking back over the past year, Oakley recalled things—little things—which he had put out of his mind at the time because they had seemed inconsequential. Added together they began to form a disquieting picture. I should have seen it before. Conniston had started his fitful, furtive retreat when his son had killed himself; ever since, the overreactions had become more and more frequent, almost paranoid. Conniston was on the downhill slope—things had begun to go by too fast for him. Once, in June, he had disclosed dark suspicions that someone was trying to wrest his empire from him by secret maneuver—vague remarks about corporate raiders, fears of proxy fights. He had recovered the next day—“Forget that, forget that; I get moods sometimes, never mind”—but now Oakley recalled the incident and his mind jumped the straight track of all the years of conditioned thinking.



2011 - 2018