Jonas smelled the fear. Usually, he either saw it or heard it—how the eyes danced around to avoid direct contact, or how the throat clenched up; sometimes, it was both. Tonight, though, an onion stench of sweat trailed behind the mark as he passed by, completely oblivious that Jonas could have reached out and touched him. No doubt about it, the way he was acting, walking fast like the world was about to end, the man was scared out of his mind.
Earlier tonight, the information received had been short, but concise. Thomas Cantrell: accountant and managing partner of Cantrell and Associates. Residence: 2154 Lakeside Court. Tonight’s e-mail also contained a JPEG file of Cantrell’s photo, taken outdoors, catching the accountant as he walked to a black Cadillac XLR, the same car now sitting in the driveway, its high-gloss paint and chrome trim shimmering under the glare of a security spotlight. While not impressed with what he now saw--a balding man around five-foot-eight, weighing in the neighborhood of one-seventy, maybe one-eighty--Jonas at least appreciated the man’s taste in vehicles.
The last and most important part of the e-mail was the commitment for fifty thousand dollars to be wired to a Banco Del Rio account on Grand Cayman, payable upon proof of services rendered. Looking at the ring on Cantrell’s right hand, Jonas remembered the knife in his pocket and knew right away what proof he would give.
He stepped out of the shadows and followed closely behind. “Evening, Thomas.”
Cantrell spun around. His eyes locked in on Jonas. “Who are you?”
In addition to knowing there was a payoff at the end, Jonas took a small comfort in seeing that it was also justified. Somewhere along the way, Cantrell had blurred the lines, lost sight of the bigger universe; and the beads of sweat, the recognition of real danger in those eyes, served only to condemn him.
Jonas took a deep breath. The brisk air calmed his insides. “I represent Mr. Dawson.”
“Dawson never said anything about someone coming out.”
“They never do.”
Cantrell blinked. “They?”
“My clients.” Jonas waited for the faint light of recognition to play across Cantrell’s face. He smiled. Sure enough, there it was.
“Look,” Cantrell said, “there must be some mistake. I wasn’t stealing Dawson’s money. I only have it so it can be deposited tomorrow. I mean there’re multiple accounts, and they all need to be managed.”
Jonas shook his head. “I’m not paid to know the details.”
Cantrell’s voice cracked. “Oh God, please, surely it doesn’t have to come to this. We can work something out, can’t we?”
Jonas glanced up at the night sky and spotted a thin wisp of cloud that split the orange moon in the east.
“I love this time of year, don’t you?” He looked at Cantrell. “It's so beautifu at night, and you can always see Orion.”
A look of confusion crossed Cantrell’s face. “Pardon?”
“The stars.” Jonas reached underneath the lapel of his jacket and felt the grip of the Ruger tucked away inside its holster. “It’s a nice night for Orion.”
Mack turned his head, bracing for the inevitable as Jimmy took a running leap off the pier, both hands tucked between his legs. Mack cringed at the last mental image he saw before the splash: the crack of Jimmy’s rear end. The impact sent a tidal wave of water in all directions.
A moment later, Jimmy surfaced and shook the water from his hair. “Man, this water’s cold!”
Mack didn’t say a thing.
“Hey, how’d you like that one?”
Jimmy wiped at his eyes. “Hey, what’s got your panties in a wad?”
“We don’t need the noise, Jimmy. There’s no telling if or when the cops’ll come around, and I don’t know about you, but I personally don’t want to be hauled out of the lake with nothing to cover my Johnson but my own two hands.”
Jimmy laughed. “Like that’ll ever happen. They’ll be too busy laughing to notice your shriveled-up peanut.”
“I see, you’re a funny guy now too, that it?”
“C’mon, bro, lighten up. Besides, it was your idea to come down here.”
“I’m just saying--”
The sound of an approaching motor carried through the woods. A moment later, headlights spotted through the trees as a car approached. Almost to the pond, the driver turned his wheels and then braked, the car facing away. White reverse lights cast an ethereal glow across the water then as the driver backed up to the pier and cut the engine. He stepped out, walked to the back of the car and opened the trunk. Mack heard a grunt, and his heart stopped as the man lifted a body out of the car and walked backwards, dragging the body out to the edge of the pier. The man dropped it over and stood for a while, staring at the water. He took a deep breath and almost turned, but stopped. He looked further out and Mack’s stomach turned sour as their eyes met, the man sighing at first and then shaking his head, smiling.
“Well, this is a little awkward. I wasn’t expecting anyone out here in the middle of nowhere this time of night. Don’t you boys have school in the morning?"
Mack shook his head. “Spring Break.”
“And what, you decide to come out here to swim instead of heading south to the beach, some place warmer?”
“Can’t afford to,” Jimmy said. “Besides, our parents would let us anyway.”
The man nodded. “Well, don’t be too glum about it, boys. After all, it’s not as bad you might think.” He reached a hand into his coat and glanced up at the sky. “At least we’ve got Orion to look at, huh?”