Light of the World

Light of the World by James Lee Burke

Book: Light of the World by James Lee Burke Read Free Book Online
Authors: James Lee Burke
lifted out the can of Mace and the expandable baton known as an ASP. “I checked you out today. Miami-Dade PD says you may have been a female badass for the Mob. This is Montana, girl. You don’t do a beatdown on a Missoula County sheriff’s detective. You seriously fucked yourself tonight.” He got up from the couch and turned off the light in the kitchen and the table lamps in the living room. “My van is in back. But just so you know there’re no hard feelings—”
    He leaned down, the heat and the smell in his clothes almost suffocating her. She could taste the tobacco on his tongue when he put it in her mouth.
    T HE ACCIDENT ON the state highway happened a short distance before the turnoff onto the dirt road that led to Albert Hollister’s ranch. A tractor-trailer rig carrying a three-story-high piece of oil field equipment bound for Canada had blown two tires and skidded off the shoulder, toppling the load into a stand of cottonwoods by the creek. The few cars coming off the crest of Lolo Pass had come to a stop, as well as the traffic from the town. Clete and I got out of my pickup truck and started walking toward the accident. There was a trace of purple at the bottom of the sky, the evening star twinkling just above the mountains. A helicopter was hovering directly overhead. I thought it carried a news team from a local television station. I was wrong. The chopper landed on the highway, not in a field but on the highway, and one of the wealthiest men in the United States stepped out of it.
    I had seen him once before, in Lafayette, right after an offshore blowout had killed eleven men on the derrick and strung miles of fecal-colored oil all over the Gulf Coast. If I ever saw a Jacksonian man, it was Love Younger. He was as rough-hewn as carved oak, with the broad forehead and wide-set eyes we associate with theAnglo-Scotch minutemen who fired the first shots at Lexington and Concord. He had grown up in a place in eastern Kentucky I visited once, a wretched community of shacks, some with dirt floors, where the residents drew their water from the same creek their privies were on. Paradoxically, he had not come to Lafayette to talk about the oil well blowout but to establish a scholarship fund based on merit and need at the University of Louisiana.
    I saw Alafair standing by the side of her Honda, looking down at the massive load of machinery that had toppled off the trailer into the edge of the creek, snapping all the boomer chains like string. The stand of cottonwoods it had fallen on had been crushed into the mud. “Was he speeding?” I said, looking up toward Lolo Pass.
    “I heard the driver say his tires blew,” she replied.
    Evidently, that explanation did not work for Love Younger. He was arguing with a highway patrolman, jabbing his finger in the air, motioning at a hilltop on the far side of the highway. The patrolman kept nodding, his mouth a tight seam, raising his eyes only to nod again.
    “That guy’s name is Love?” Clete said.
    “He claims to be a descendant of Cole Younger.”
    Clete wasn’t impressed. “He also smeared a guy with the Silver Star and a Purple Heart.”
    “Have y’all heard from Gretchen?” Alafair said.
    “What about her?” Clete said.
    “We were going to have a drink in Missoula. She doesn’t answer her cell phone.”
    “When’s the last time you talked with her?” Clete said.
    “Six.”
    He checked his cell phone for missed calls. “Did she say where she was going?”
    “She said she had to take care of some personal business.”
    Clete looked at her. “What kind of personal business?”
    “The personal kind,” she said. “She wouldn’t tell me what it was.”
    “Did it have anything to do with those cops who were up on the ridge this morning?” I asked.
    “Maybe. I didn’t think about it at the time. I gave the arrowto a plainclothes detective named Pepper. He made me kind of queasy.”
    “How?” I said.
    “His eyes. They look at you, but

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