The night was clear but the moon was an ill-lit curve. Patch frowned, because he loved the moonlight on the bay, on the sands, on the high grasses. It silvered the world, made it lovely as a dream. Tonight was too dark. He and Thuy walked down the long path, a line of gravel threading through the salt grass, down to a small curve of beach. The blackjack oaks were gnarled and bent from the constant wind from St Leo Bay. He and Thuy slipped off their shoes – boots and socks for him, espadrilles for her – and they walked to the edge of the surf, the summer- warm water tickling their toes.

‘The Milky Way.’ Thuy pointed at the wash of stars. ‘We call it vai ngan ha.’

‘What do you call kissing?’

‘Hon nhau.’ She ran a finger down his spine and he grinned at her. ‘I counted those same stars as a little girl. I wanted to know exactly how many there were. I wanted them all. Like most children I was a little greedy.’

‘I’m greedy for you,’ Patch said.

They kissed, and she leaned into him, the surf wetting the cuffs on his jeans. He was sliding a worn hand under the silk of her blouse when he heard a motor rev steadily, then purr and die. He leaned back from her.

‘Patch?’

‘Listen.’

He heard it again, a truck motor, the engine rumbling, a door slamming, down the beach and over to the west, deep in the grasslands, in a thick growth of oaks, from the southern end of Black Jack Point.

‘Goddamn it,’ he said.

‘What is it?’

‘Kids joyriding on my land.’ He walked up the beach, smacked sand off the bottom of his feet, hopped, pulled on socks, yanked on his cowboy boots.

‘Let them be. Let’s count the stars.’

‘They’re trespassing,’ he said. ‘Digging ruts in my land.’

‘Maybe they’re looking for a makeout spot.’

‘Not here. This is our spot.’

‘Just call the police,’ she said.

‘Naw. I’m gonna go talk to them. You go on back to the house.’

‘No.’ She slipped on her flats. ‘I’ll go with you.’

‘Might be snakes out there.’

‘I’m not afraid.’ She took his hand. ‘I’ll show you how to lecture kids.’

They walked up the beach, into the grasslands, into the darkness.

2

As Stoney Vaughn wiped the smear of blood and brains from his hands, a sick fluttering twist in his guts announced: You just screwed up your life for ever, buddy. It was an unusual feeling. Failure. Shock. The loss of control that flooded his heart. He glanced up at Jimmy Bird, loading the newly boxed coins into the dark hollow of the storage unit. Intent on his work, Jimmy wasn’t looking at him, or at Alex either. Alex was watching along the corridor of storage units, a gun in his hand, making sure that no one saw them. The only light was from the truck’s headlights.

Stoney wadded up the hand wipe Alex had thoughtfully offered, threw it on the floor, reconsidered the wisdom of that act, and tucked the bloody wipe into his backpack. Against the hard heavy lump of stone he kept wrapped inside. He had to be careful now. He swallowed the dryness in his throat, kept the shudder out of his voice. ‘Alex. This changes everything.’

Alex Black didn’t even glance his way. ‘Not really. I planned for this.’

‘How, exactly, did you do that?’

‘We lay low for a while. We can’t buy the land right away, obviously.’

‘Obviously.’

‘So we wait a bit. One of those nieces will be wanting to sell soon, and then you can unfold the wallet and play your little get-famous game.’ Alex stepped back inside the storage unit, unclipped a flashlight from his belt, played it over the boxes. ‘Which one’s got the Eye?’

‘There. Small box on the top,’ Jimmy Bird said.

Stoney forgot to breathe. He felt the heavy weight of the emerald in his knapsack, feeling bigger than a fist, bigger than a heart. Oh, Jesus, Alex would kill him. Alex pried open the box, played the light over the big fake green chunk of rock Stoney had slipped into the emerald’s place. He’d been so careful, going through the loot, finding the stone first, replacing it with the fake before the others even spotted the emerald. He waited, watched Alex glance over the stone.

Then Alex shut the box.

‘Gentlemen,’ he said, his head down, his round wire-rim glasses catching the glow from his flashlight, ‘here’s the plan. We double lock the doors. Stoney, you got the key to one lock, I got the key to the other. Alibis, those are your own problem. But none of us knows the others, none of us ever heard the others’ names.’ He glanced over at Jimmy. ‘You come with me. We’ll clean up your truck, get rid of the evidence.’

‘The bodies-’ Stoney started.

‘Aren’t going to be found for a long time,’ Alex said. ‘If ever.’

‘I knew him. The cops’ll come talk to me,’ Jimmy Bird said. His voice was hoarse, trembling.

‘Maybe not.’

‘I don’t want to sit around. I want my cut now.’

Alex stared at him.

‘I’m just asking for what’s fair,’ Jimmy Bird said.

‘Sure. I understand. But first, man, we got to get your truck cleaned up. We’ll give you your cut tomorrow, help you redeem it for cash, get you out of the country.’

‘Thanks. I just want what’s fair.’

‘Fine.’

After the three men stepped out of the storage unit, Alex slid down the door, fastened a lock onto one side. Stoney, his hands steadier than he thought possible, fastened the other. Click. Click. Locked.

‘Now,’ Alex said. ‘Mr Bird. Mr Vaughn. I know you’ll both behave. Now that you’re accessories.’ He turned the flashlight’s beam up into his boyish face.

‘Don’t threaten me, Alex,’ Stoney said. ‘You don’t have a dig without me. You wouldn’t have any of this without me.’

‘That’s right, Stone Man,’ Alex said. ‘I also killed two people for you tonight. So maybe you owe me more than I owe you right now.’

Stoney kept his mouth shut.

‘Let’s go, Jimmy. Stoney, we’ll talk in a week. Not before. Calm down. I just made all your wishes come true.’ Alex smiled, slapped him hard on the shoulder. ‘Go home, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite.’

Stoney forced a smile. He watched Alex and Jimmy Bird climb into the winch truck. Stoney got into his Porsche. He followed the truck out of the storage lot; it turned right, heading south back to Port Leo. Stoney turned left, heading up toward Copano Flats and the comfortable sprawl of his bayside mansion. He jabbed at the radio and head banger rock – Nirvana, great, he thought, the voice of a dead guy – turned up too loud, blasted the car.

He kept one hand on the steering wheel, the other hand in the knapsack where he’d placed the emerald. It felt hot in his hand, which was crazy; buried in the ground for nearly two hundred years, it should be cool.

You just stole a couple million dollars from a homicidal maniac, he thought.

Stoney Vaughn made it a half mile down the road before he had to pull over and throw up.

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