A Garden of Vipers

A Garden of Vipers by Jack Kerley Read Free Book Online

Book: A Garden of Vipers by Jack Kerley Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jack Kerley
glass with his phone, stuck it back to his lips.
    â€œHey Dick-tective, stop daydreaming. I’m telling you about my love life. You should be takin’ notes or something.”
    â€œAll I want to know is what you talked about with Taneesha Franklin.”
    â€œWho?” The outsized head grinned like a jack-o’-lantern.
    â€œA reporter. From WTSJ in Mobile. She signed in for a visit a week back. The sheet shows you spent twenty minutes talking to her.”
    Harwood pretended to pout. “Why isn’t the little sweetie coming to see me anymore? You’re cute, Ryder. But she was cuter. A touch plump, but I like cushion when I’m pushin’.” He did the Psycho laugh again.
    â€œShe’s dead, Leland.”
    He froze. The smart-ass attitude fell from the milky eyes, replaced with a glimmer of fear.
    â€œHow’d she die?” No more comedian in his voice.
    â€œRobbery, looks like. She took a bad beating, Leland. Torture, even.”
    Harwood leaned toward the glass. “Torture how?”
    â€œShe had three broken fingers, Leland. That sounds like something an enforcer type might do to get information. Wasn’t that your line of work?”
    â€œI had a lotta lines of work, Ryder. Man’s got to make a liv—” His lip curled. I thought it was a sneer, but it turned into a pained face. He punched his sternum, belched. I swear I could smell it through the glass.
    â€œI’m clean. I been behaving. Taking classes. Working in the library. Being a good boy. First time I get up before the parole board, I’m out.”
    â€œFor about two weeks. I know your type, Leland. You got no other talent than crime.”
    He grinned, a man holding four aces with a backup ace in his shoe.
    â€œI’m set up this time. No more day laborer. I’m made in the shade from here on out.” Harwood caught himself. Winced.
    â€œWhat is it?” I said.
    He belched again, thumped his belly with his fist. “Indigestion. A year of eating the crap they serve in this joint.”
    â€œYou reserved your table here when you killed a man, Leland. Bon appétit.”
    â€œFuck you.” He winced again. “Jeez, I need a fucking tub of Bromo.”
    Another prisoner entered the convict side of the visitors’ room, a man with piercing gray eyes and dark hair falling in unwashed ringlets. His forehead was deeply scarred between both temples, as if an ax blade had been drawn through the flesh like a plow. He was rock-muscled, and I took him for one of those guys with nothing to do but pump iron all day. I’ve never understood why prisons give violent criminals the equipment to turn themselves into weapons. They should give them canasta lessons.
    The guy walked over and sat two chairs down from Harwood, dividers between sections allowing a modicum of privacy. Harwood shot the guy a glance, frowned, looked quickly away.
    The door to the visitors’ side opened. I glanced over and saw a wide-shouldered Caucasian with curly yellow-blond hair, eyes deep-set above high cheekbones. He was dressed in a suit: silk, brown. A gold watch flashed from his wrist. He seemed guided by unseen currents in the room, pausing, turning, evaluating. Then pulling out the chair one booth over, a half dozen feet away. His eyes looked through me, then turned to the man across the Plexiglas. He picked up the phone, started a whispered conversation. A lawyer, I figured.
    I turned back to Harwood. He was spitting on the floor, wiping away saliva with the back of his hand.
    â€œI’m done talking, Ryder. I’m sorry about the little sweetie. She was nice. Sincere, you know. But naive.”
    â€œNaive?”
    â€œIt’s a mean old world, Detective. Little sweetie-tush was too busy playing reporter to understand there are people out there who can…” Harwood paused, swallowed heavily, made a wet noise.
    â€œYou all right, Leland?” I asked.

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