Chapter 36

JL HE HOUSE WAS IN THE BEND OF AN OLD, SHADY STREET, and as they approached it Mark instinctively slid downward in the seat until only his eyes and the top of his head were visible in the window. He was wearing a black-and-gold Saints cap Reggie had bought him at a Wal-Mart along with a pair of jeans and two sweatshirts. A street map was folded badly and stuffed beside the hand brake.

"It's a big house," he said from under the cap as they drove through the bend without the slightest decrease in speed. Reggie saw as much as she could, but she was driving on a strange street and trying desperately not to appear suspicious. It was 3 P. M., hours before dark, and they could drive and look for the rest of the afternoon if they wished. She, too, -wore a Saints cap, solid black, and it covered her short gray hair. Her eyes hid behind large sunglasses. • She held her breath as they passed the mailbox with the name Clifford on the side in small gold stick-on lettering. It certainly was a big house, but nothing spectacular for this neighborhood. It was of English Tudor design, with dark wood and dark brick, and ivy covering all of one side and most of the front. It was not particularly pretty, she thought as she remembered the newspaper article in which Clifford was described as a divorced father of one. It was obvious, to her at least, that the house did not have the advantage of a woman living in it. Though she could glance at it only as she made the bend and cut her eyes in all directions, looking at once for neighbors, cops, thugs, the garage, and the house, she noticed there were no flowers in the beds and the hedges needed trimming. The windows were covered with dark, drab curtains.

It was not pretty, but it was certainly peaceful. It sat in the center of a large lot with dozens of heavy oaks around it. The driveway ran along a thick hedge and disappeared somewhere around back. Though Clifford had been dead for five days, the grass was neady trimmed. There was no clue that the house was now uninhabited. There was no hint of any suspicion. Perhaps it was the perfect place to hide a body.

"There's the garage," Mark said, peeking now. It was a separate structure, fifty or so feet from the house, obviously built much later. A small sidewalk led to the house. A red Triumph Spitfire was on blocks next to the garage.

Mark jerked and stared at the house through the rear window as they eased down the street. "What do you think, Reggie?" "Looks awfully quiet, doesn't it?" "Yeah." "Is it what you expected?" she asked.

"I don't know. I watch all those cop shows, you know, and for some reason I could just see Romey's house with yellow police line tape strung all over the place." "Why? No crime was committed there. It's just the home of a man who committed suicide. Why would the cops be interested?" The house was out of sight, and Mark turned around and sat straight in the seat. "Do you think they've searched it?" he asked.

"Probably. I'm sure they got a search warrant for his house and office, but what could they find? He carried his little secret with him." They stopped at an intersection, then continued their tour of the neighborhood.

"What happens to his house?" Mark asked.

"I'm sure he had a will. His heirs will get the house and his assets." "Yeah. You know, Reggie, I guess I need a will. With everybody after me and all. What do you think?" "What, exactly, do you own?" "Well, now that I'm famous and all, I figure the Hollywood people will be knocking on my door. I realize we don't have a door at the present time, but something's gotta happen about that, Reggie, don't you think? I mean, we gotta have a door of some sort? Anyway, they'll want to do this big movie about the kid who knew too much, and, I hate to say this for obvious reasons, but if these goons put me away, then the movie will be huge and Mom and Ricky will be on easy street. Follow me?" "I think so. You want a will so Dianne and Ricky will get the movie rights to your life story?" "Exactly." "You don't need one." "Why not?" "They'll get all your assets anyway." "Just as well. Saves me attorney's fees." "Could we talk about something other than wills and death?" He shut up and watched the houses on his side of the street. He'd slept most of the night in the backseat, then napped for five hours in the motel room. She, on the other hand, had driven all night and napped less than two hours. She was tired, scared, and beginning to snap at him.

They zigzagged at a leisurely pace through the tree-lined streets. The weather was warm and clear. At every house, people were either mowing grass or pulling weeds or painting shutters. Spanish moss hung from stately oaks. It was Reggie's first tour of New Orleans, and she wished the circumstances were better.

"Are you getting tired of me, Reggie?" he asked without looking at her.

"Of course not. Are you tired of me?" "No, Reggie. Right now, you're my only friend in the entire world. I just hope I'm not bugging you." "I promise." Reggie had studied the street map for two hours. She completed a wide loop, and now they were on Romey's street again. They eased by the house without slowing, both gawking at the double garage with a pitched gable above the retractable doors. It needed painting. The concrete drive stopped twenty feet from the doors and turned to the rear of the house. A ragged hedgerow over six feet high ran along one side of the garage and blocked the view of the nearest house, which was at least a hundred feet away. Behind the garage, the small rear lawn stopped at a chain-link fence, and beyond the fence was a heavily wooded area.

They said nothing during the second viewing of Romey's house. The black Accord wandered aimlessly through the neighborhood and stopped near a tennis court in an open area called West Park. Reggie unfolded the street map, and twisted and flipped it until it covered most of the front seat. Mark watched two heavy housewives engage in truly horrible tennis. But they were cute, with their pink and green socks and matching sun visors. A biker approached on a narrow asphalt trail, then disappeared deep into the woods.

Once again, Reggie attempted to fold the map. "This is the place," she said.

"Do you want to chicken out?" he asked.

"Sort of. What about you?" "I don't know. We've come this far. Seems kinda silly to run away now. The garage looked harmless to me." She was still folding the map. "I guess we can try, and if we get spooked, we'll just run back here." "Where are we now?" She opened her door. "Let's go for a walk." The bike trail ran beside a soccer field, then cut through a dense section of woods. The branches of the trees met above it, giving a tunnel-like darkness. The bright sunlight flickered through intermittently. An occasional biker forced them from the asphalt for a few seconds.

The walk was refreshing. After three days in the hospital, two days in jail, seven hours in the car, and six hours in the motel, Mark could barely restrain himself as they rambled through the woods. He missed his bike, and he thought how nice it would be if he and Ricky were here on this trail, racing through the trees without a worry in the world. Just kids again. He missed the crowded streets of the trailer park with kids running everywhere and games of all sorts materializing without a moment's notice. He missed the private little trails of his own woods around Tucker Wheel Estates and the long, solitary walks he had enjoyed all his life. And, strange as it seemed, he missed his hiding places under his own personal trees and beside creeks that belonged to him where he could sit and think, and, yes, sneak a cigarette or two. He hadn't touched one since Monday.

"What am I doing here?" he asked, barely audible.

"It was your idea," she said, hands stuck deep in her new jeans, also from Wal-Mart.

"It's been my favorite question this week-'What am I doing here?' I've asked it everywhere, the hospital, the jail, the courtroom. Everywhere." "You want to go home, Mark?" "What's home?" "Memphis. I'll take you back to your mother." "Yeah, but I won't stay with her, will I? In fact, we probably wouldn't even make it to Ricky's room before they grabbed me, and off I'd go, back to jail, back to court, back' to see Harry, who'd really be ticked, wouldn't he?" "Yeah, but I can work on Harry." Nobody worked on Harry, Mark had decided. He could see himself sitting in court trying to explain why he'd escaped. Harry would send him back to the detention center, where his sweetheart Doreen would be a different person. No pizza. No television. They'd probably put leg chains on him and throw him in solitary.

"I can't go back, Reggie. Not now." They had discussed their various options until both were tired of the subject. Nothing had been settled. Each new idea immediately raised a dozen probGtUSHAM lems. Each course of action ran in all directions and eventually led to disaster. They had both reached, through different routes, the unmistakable conclusion that there was no simple solution. There was no reasonable thing to do. There was no plan even remotely attractive.

But neither believed they would actually dig for the body of Boyd Boyette. Something would happen along the way to spook them, and they'd run back to Memphis. This was yet to be admitted by either.

Reggie stopped at the half-mile marker. To the left was an open grassy area with a pavilion in the center for picnics. To the right, a small foot trail ventured deeper into the trees. "Let's try this," she said, and they left the bike route.

He followed close behind. "Do you know where you're going?" "No. But follow me anyway." The trail widened a bit, then suddenly gave out and disappeared. Empty beer bottles and chip bags littered the ground. They wove through trees and brush until they found a small clearing. The sun was suddenly bright. Reggie shielded her eyes with her hand and looked at a straight row of trees stretching before them.

"I think that's the creek," she said.

"What creek?" "According to the map, Clifford's street borders West Park, and there's a little green line that appears to be a creek or bayou or something running behind his house." "It's nothing but trees." She shuffled side-ways for a few feet, then stopped and pointed. "Look, there are roofs on the other side of those trees. I think it's Clifford's street." Mark stood beside her and strained on tiptoes. "I see them." "Follow me," she said, and they headed for the row of trees.

It was a beautiful day. They were out for a stroll in the park. This was public property. Nothing to be afraid of.

The creek was nothing but a dry bed of sand and litter. They picked their way down through the vines and brush, and stood where the water once ran many years before. Even the mud had dried. They climbed the opposite bank, a much steeper one but with more vines and saplings to grab on to.

Reggie was breathing hard-when they stopped on the other side of the creek bed. "Are you scared?" she asked.

"No. Are you?" "Of course, and you are too. Do you want to keep going?" "Sure, and I'm not afraid. We're just out for a hike, that's all." He was terrified and wanted to run, but they had made it this far without incident. And there was a certain thrill in sneaking through the jungle like this. He'd done it a thousand times around the trailer park. He knew to watch for snakes and poison ivy. He'd learned how to line up three trees ahead of him to keep from getting lost. He'd played hide-and-seek in rougher terrain than this. He suddenly crouched low and darted ahead. "Follow me." "This is not a game," she said.

"Just follow me, unless, of course, you're scared." "I'm terrified. I'm fifty-two years old, Mark. Now slow down." The first fence they saw was made of cedar, and -Jt)HN~ GRISH AM they stayed in the trees and moved behind the houses. A dog barked in their general direction, but they could not be seen from the house. Then a chain-link fence, but it was not Clifford's. The woods and underbrush thickened, but from nowhere came a small trail that ran parallel to the fence row.

Then they saw it. On the other side of a chain-link fence, the red Triumph Spitfire sat alone and abandoned next to Romey's garage. The edge of the woods stopped less than twenty feet from the fence, and between it and the rear wall of the garage a dozen or so oaks and elms with Spanish moss shaded the backyard.

Not surprisingly, Romey was a slob. He had piled boards and bricks, buckets and rakes, all sorts of debris behind the garage and out of sight of the street.

There was a small gate in the chain-link fence. The garage had a window and a door in the rear wall. Sacks of unused and ruined fertilizer were stacked against it. An old lawn mower with the handles off was parked by the door. On the whole, the yard was overgrown and had been for some time. Weeds along the fence were knee-high.

They squatted in the trees and stared at the garage. They would get no closer. The neighbor's patio and charcoal grill were a stone's throw away.

Reggie tried to catch her breath, but it •was not possible. She clutched Mark's hand, and found it impossible to believe that the body of a United States senator was buried less than a hundred feet from where she was now hiding.

"Are we gonna go in there?" Mark asked. It was almost a challenge, though she detected a trace of fear. Good, she thought, he is scared.

She caught her breath long enough to whisper. "No. We've come far enough." He hesitated for a long time, then said, "It'll be easy." "It's a big garage," she said.

"I know exactly where it is." "Well, I haven't pressed you on this, but don't you think it's time to share it with me?" "It's under the boat." "He told you this?" "Yes. He was very specific. It's buried under the boat." "What if there's no boat?" "Then we haul ass." He was finally sweating and breathing hard. She'd seen enough. She stayed low and began backing away. "I'm leaving now," she said.

K. O. LEWIS NEVER LEFT THE PLANE. MCTHUNE AND COMpany were waiting when it landed, and they rushed aboard as it refueled. Thirty minutes later, they left for New Orleans, where Larry Trumann now waited anxiously.

Lewis didn't like it. What the hell was he supposed to do in New Orleans? It was a big city. They had no idea what she was driving. In fact, they didn't know if Reggie and Mark had driven, flown, or taken a bus or a train. It was a tourist and convention city with thousands of hotel rooms and crowded streets. Until they made a mistake, it would be impossible to find them.

But Director Voyles wanted him. on the scene, and so off he went to New Orleans. Find the kid and make him talk-those were his instructions. Promise him anything.