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Authors: Jude Hardin

A Time for Dying (3 page)

BOOK: A Time for Dying
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“What?”

“Never mind.”

I didn’t have time for any more cops, and I didn’t want her calling Rutherford and telling him I was coming. I wanted it to be a surprise.

I used a pillowcase to gag her and some lamp cords to bind her wrists and ankles. If things went my way, I planned to come back and make her rich before the day was over.

Before climbing into my car and heading for the lake, I walked out to the yard and pulled the real estate sign out of the ground.

Open house was cancelled.

5

It was almost four o’clock by the time I made it out to Arrowhead.

I had less than eight hours to live.

On the way out there, I’d reflected on some of the remarkable things that had happened during my lifetime.

JFK.

First man on the moon.

9/11.

The war.

Chairman L.

At one point, I started thinking that maybe a hundred years was enough. I could remember a time when hardly anyone lived that long, and those who did were often in pretty bad shape by the time they finally let go. I’d thought about turning around and spending my last few hours with Brenda, the way we’d planned. Dinner at our favorite restaurant, champagne, nice hotel room with a view of the river. We would make love one last time, and then we would hold each other until the end. I would insist that she remarry, and she would lie and say that there would never be another.

Or maybe it wouldn’t be a lie. Maybe she would believe the words as she said them, but there would be others, at least one more, and that was how it should be. Our baby girl should have someone to call daddy, even if it wasn’t me.

We’d had it all planned, but something happened to me when Chairman L made the big announcement last night. One hundred years was not enough. I wanted more. I wanted every minute I could possible grab, every second. I’d been such an idiot, thinking that an hour wouldn’t matter. It did. Every heartbeat mattered, and now one hour had turned into twenty-five years. I wanted it back. I wanted all of it. I wanted to live, and I wasn’t going to let a two-bit shyster like William B. Rutherford—or anyone else, for that matter—cheat me out of any part of it ever again.

There was a guard shack and a barrier arm at the entrance to the Del Ray marina. Members only. Bren and I had driven by there a million times on our way to other areas of the park, places where regular folks like us were allowed to hang out. The picnic grounds, the beach, the pier, the public boat ramp.

But wealth had its privileges, even in 2060, even after everything the world had been through. I guessed some things would never change.

I pulled off to the shoulder about a hundred feet past the security hut, opened the hood and slid a handwritten note under one of the wiper blades.

ENGINE TROUBLE—GONE TO FIND A PHONE

Maybe the county wouldn’t tow the car. I hoped they wouldn’t. I planned on living long enough to need it for the drive back home.

I slid my Rambo knife onto my belt and started hoofing it back toward Del Ray, careful to veer off into the woods well before reaching the turnoff to the gated entrance.

There was a barbed wire fence guarding the perimeter. I touched it quickly with the tip of my finger to make sure it wasn’t electrified. It was a stupid thing to do, but I didn’t happen to have a voltmeter in pocket at the time. If there had been a charge, enough of one, it probably would have cooked my goose right then and there. As it turned out, there wasn’t any current running through the wire. It was just a plain old fence. I took my jacket off and draped it over the top strand and scissored on over to the other side.

I stayed hidden in the woods, crunching through the dead leaves and dry underbrush until I made it down to the shoreline. From there I could see the marina—the gas pumps and the store and the clubhouse and the rows of slips. From what I’d heard, it could cost as much as four grand a month to park a boat at Del Ray. I wondered how many drunk drivers Rutherford had gotten off the hook to pay for such an extravagant lifestyle. Plenty, I imagined, especially since he’d forked over ten million to me as though it was pocket change.

It was difficult for a paycheck-to-paycheck guy like me to even fathom that much money. I knew it was in my account, I’d seen the balance, but it still didn’t seem real. More like some kind of wild dream. Maybe that’s why so many lottery winners go belly up after a few years. The dream come true morphs into some kind of surreal fantasy. Fast cars and big houses and fabulous trips to exotic places, and before you know it you wake up broke. I was determined not to let it happen to me.

If I got to keep the money.

If I lived to see another day.

I had no idea which boat belonged to Rutherford, and I was afraid someone would want to see my membership card if I walked into the store and started asking questions. So I just stood there on the shore and leaned against a tree for a while. Thinking, watching the time tick away on a big round clock, an antique thing with Roman numerals and iron fittings, an anachronism rising from a post attached to one of the docks. I checked it against my wristwatch, surprised to see that it still kept perfect time.

There was a large yacht on the other side of the clock, a boat that probably cost more than Brenda and I made in five years. There was something written near the stern, the name of the vessel I supposed, but I couldn’t quite make it out. Three or four words, red paint, fancy script. It was in the background, blurred like the limited depth of field on a camera lens, but as I stared at the hands of the clock and contemplated the end of my existence as an organism on the planet, I suddenly realized that the last word, the one furthest aft, was
jive
.

We’re there for you and that’s no jive, Monday through Saturday nine to five
.

The docks were deserted, the water glassy and calm. It was February, after all. Not a lot of fishing or skiing going on. All that would change in a couple of months, but right now the marina was as quiet as the dark side of Mars.

I edged closer, the gentle tide lapping icily onto my sneakers, the letters coming into focus as I approached a graveled embankment that led to the ramp.

AND THAT’S NO JIVE

It was a funny name for a boat, but there was no doubt about who owned the craft.

Rutherford.

I scrambled up the embankment and crossed the treaded concrete ramp to the docks.

I looked around.

Nobody in sight.

I knew that Rutherford wouldn’t welcome me aboard his boat, that if I shouted his name he wouldn’t come portside and lower the gangplank for me. In fact, if I shouted his name, he would probably call security and have me escorted out of the park.

That being the case, I figured the best way for me to board the yacht—the only way—was to leap from the dock and grab the bow rail and climb onto the foredeck like some kind of pirate.

So that’s what I did.

There was no way to do it quietly. I grunted my way over the rail and rolled onto the deck with a heavy thud, stood and hurried toward the hatch and the ladder that led below.

It was dark and quiet down there, which didn’t make much sense at five o’clock in the afternoon, especially considering the racket I’d made stomping around on the upper deck. I had my hand on my knife, ready to draw it out of its sheath if I needed to, expecting Rutherford to greet me with a weapon of his own. Handguns and assault rifles had been banned back in ’36, but rich people could still get whatever they wanted. He could have had a bazooka on board for all I knew.

Silence.

As I stood there at the bottom of the ladder and listened, I started thinking that maybe he wasn’t even on the boat. Maybe he was over at the clubhouse having a cocktail. Or maybe he’d gone somewhere else for the evening. A hotel or something. He could have been anywhere.

I edged forward, feeling my way through the galley and into the forepeak, two small portholes dimly lighting the way.

And there the scumbag was, resting peacefully in bed.

I figured he must have been wearing earplugs. Otherwise, he would have heard me boarding the vessel. I pulled my knife out with my right hand and reached over to shake him awake with my left, and then something that felt an awful lot like a tree trunk slammed into the back of my head and put me on the floor.

6

I woke up with the worst headache of my life. I rolled to my left and started coughing, every exhalation another dagger in my skull. I tried to reach up and wipe the spittle from the side of my mouth, but my hands were tied behind my back.

“Sorry I had to hit you,” a female voice said.

“Who are you? Where am I?”

Then I remembered. I was aboard the good ship
AND THAT’S NO JIVE
, and I was going to die at eleven-thirty p.m.

Which, according to the little clock on the shelf beside the bed, was only fifteen minutes away.

“My name is Barbara,” the woman said. “I’m Mr. Rutherford’s wife.”

“Then you probably already know who I am.”

“Yes. I checked your wallet while you were unconscious. We’ve already given you your money, Mr. Lockhart. I double checked the transfer, and it’s all there. You had no reason to come here and bother us.”

“Your husband hoodwinked me,” I said. “He bought an hour of my life, knowing that Chairman L’s announcement would come later that night, knowing that he would get to live another twenty-five years while—”

“You’re a big boy,” Barbara Rutherford said. “You signed the contract, and the funds were deposited into your account. It was everything we had, by the way. We’re flat broke now. You drive a hard bargain, Mr. Lockhart.”

I laughed. “Well, old Billy boy is going to have plenty of time to chase some more ambulances now, though, isn’t he? The two of you will be living it up while I’m rotting in my grave.”

“He’s dead.”

“Pardon me?”

“My husband’s dead. His time expired this morning. He bought the hour for me. I was the client he told you about.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “He bought it for you?” I said.

“My husband and I were born twelve hours apart. He was scheduled to die at eleven-thirty this morning, and I was scheduled to die at eleven-thirty tonight. Bill had quite a few political connections, and when he heard about Chairman L’s Valentine’s Day gift to the world, he knew there might be a chance for me. It was his last gesture as a human being, and he did it selflessly. He did it with love.”

“Well, excuse me, lady, but I’m not quite feeling the love over here, if you know what I mean. In ten minutes, the microchip in my wrist is going to squirt poison into my bloodstream, and my heart is going to stop beating. Instantly. Just like that. If your dear departed husband hadn’t sent me that letter, I would be home in bed with my wife right now, looking forward to the birth of our daughter.”

“Your wife is pregnant?”

“Yeah. My little girl is going to have to grow up without her daddy, all because of you and the lowlife con artist you married. So how do you feel about that?”

“Terrible, actually, but there’s nothing I can do about it. At least your wife and daughter won’t have to worry about money.”

“Come off it,” I said. “You’re not broke. What about the house?”

“Mortgaged to the hilt. I’ll be lucky to break even on it.”

“The boat?”

“This? We’ve been leasing it. It’s paid through the end of the month, and then I’ll be on the street. Bill told me he would do whatever it took to make sure I got in on the twenty-five-year bonus, and he kept his word. He liquidated everything, sold most of our furniture at bargain basement prices. Everything is gone, Mr. Lockhart. Bill wasn’t a con artist. He was a good man, and a loving husband.”

“But I’m going to die.”

As the words left my mouth, something suddenly occurred to me. Something I should have thought of sooner.

“Yes,” Mrs. Rutherford said. “You’re going to die. But you were going to die anyway. Look, I really wish there was a way—”

“Maybe there is,” I said. “We have five minutes. Is there a phone on the boat?”

“Yes, but I don’t understand. Surely you’re not suggesting that I reverse the transaction.”

“I’ll give you five million dollars for half an hour,” I said. “That’ll put us both at twelve o’clock.”

“But that would mean—”

“Exactly. Either we both live, or we both die. We won’t know until the stroke of midnight. It’s a gamble, but it’ll give you some of your money back, which you desperately need, and it’ll give me a chance to watch my daughter grow up.”

She hesitated. “I don’t know. I need time to think about it.”

“There’s no time to think about it, Mrs. Rutherford. It’s eleven twenty-six. In four minutes, I’ll be dead. The money in my bank account will go to my wife, and in two weeks you’ll be homeless. Just make the call. Please.”

With tears rolling down her cheeks, she stood and walked toward the galley. I heard her making the call and punching in the account numbers. When she came back, she used my survival knife to cut the duct tape off my wrists.

“We might as well be friends now,” she said. “Either now, or twenty-five years from now, we’re going to die at exactly the same time.”

I reset the countdown on my watch to midnight. Barbara made me a drink and one for herself, and she spent the next thirty minutes talking about everything she wished she’d done, and everything she wished she’d done differently. The time went fast.

10…

9…

8…

Barbara Rutherford sat on the floor, put her arms around me and cried as the remaining seconds ticked away.

7

That October, on a warm, crisp, sunny Saturday, Bren and I took the baby out to Arrowhead for a picnic. When we drove past the turnoff to Del Ray, I started thinking about that night on the yacht with Mrs. Rutherford.

“You think she’s still living on that boat?” Brenda said.

“I don’t know. I haven’t heard from her in months.”

“We can join the marina if you want to, you know. We have enough money now.”

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