“Excuse me, Mr. Vaughn. May I have a word?”
A slight man in an open-collared pink polo shirt and khakis stepped into Gibson’s line of sight. One of those men who had somehow gone through life without developing a single muscle and looked like he’d been made on a taffy puller. Gibson looked him over. Boat shoes— check. Whale belt—check. Requisite pair of Ray-Bans hanging from the V-neck of his shirt—check. Half man, half preppie flamingo. Gibson took a step to his left to keep the restroom in view.
“Can I help you with something?” Gibson said, making no effort to mask his irritation.
“Mr. Vaughn, my name is Christopher Birk. I was hoping for a minute.” The Flamingo looked to be in his early thirties, although his thinning blond hair had mostly surrendered the fight and retired to the barbershop floor.
“Are you serious right now with this? I’m at a game with my kid.”
“I’m aware, and I sincerely apologize for the intrusion. It couldn’t wait.”
“Maybe you’ve heard of e-mail? It’s pretty snappy these days. Faster than following a guy to a baseball game.”
“We’d prefer to keep this off the record.”
Gibson gave the man a sidelong glance. “Now I’m really not interested. Enjoy the game.”
A second man stepped aggressively into the conversation. Gibson had seen him earlier but hadn’t connected the two men on the busy concourse because, apart from both being white, they could not have been more different. The second man was an inch or two shorter but looked hard where the Flamingo was soft, contemptuous where the Flamingo was conciliatory. He looked quick and wiry strong—a fighter. His DNA was missing the gene for growing an actual beard, but, undeterred, he had let a patchwork scruff grow in that gave him a trashy, feral look. A swirling tattoo emerged from his black T-shirt, ran up his neck, and disappeared behind his left ear. He looked like a broken shard from a shattered glass, the one you missed after sweeping up and found only with your bare feet in the dark on the way to somewhere else. Not a man that Gibson wanted around Ellie, and he hoped to be done with these two before she finished her business in the restroom.
“Just give this prick the envelope,” the Shard said.
“Let me handle it.”
“So handle it.”
“I would if you’d let me.”
The Shard shook his head and rolled his eyes but held his tongue. The Flamingo pretended not to notice and turned back to Gibson.
“Would you take a look? I think it will clarify things.”
Gibson looked at the envelope in the Flamingo’s hand. “What is it?”
“Just read the damn thing,” the Shard said.
“Who are you exactly? His secretary?” The Shard locked eyes with him, head cocked to the right, arms hanging away from his sides, as he inflated the way small men did before a fight. “Yeah, I’m his secretary, bitch. Now read it before I feed it to you.”
Gibson would lay money that the man had done time. Not for anything major. Enough to get thrown in with the hard cases but not enough to earn their respect. He’d had to fight to earn that. Gibson knew the type, had known them in jail and in the Marines. Man-boys with the simmering fury of someone with nothing to prove except how few fucks they gave about anything. As if not caring itself were an accomplishment.
“Cool it,” the Flamingo told his partner.
“Where’d you do your bid?” Gibson asked the Shard.
“Buckingham,” he replied with the same pride that another man might announce his alma mater.
Gibson’s eyes went to the bathroom door, but Ellie still hadn’t emerged. Good.
Buckingham was a level-three prison west of Richmond. Not a nice place, and now he really didn’t want his daughter anywhere near these men. When it had looked like his trial would end in a conviction, Gibson had passed the time educating himself about Virginia state prisons. To give a name to the nightmares that plagued him at night in his jail cell. It hadn’t helped.
The Flamingo held out the envelope to Gibson. “Please.”
Gibson looked each man in the eyes before snatching it away. Not because he cared what it said; they had followed him to a baseball game, and he wanted to know why. He glanced down at the pale-blue envelope and felt a jot. He had a stack just like it bound with a thick rubber band back at his apartment. It had been seven or eight years since the last one had arrived, but he would’ve recognized the monogram anywhere: “HBD”—the B twice the size of the other letters. Gibson slipped a single sheet of stationery from the envelope and read the familiar, ornate handwriting. It was signed Hammond Birk.
Gibson glanced up at the two men. “What did you say your name was?”
“Christopher Birk,” said the Flamingo.
The Shard smirked at the question.
“Nephew,” the Flamingo answered.
Ellie ran up and grabbed his hand. “Daddy, I’m hungry.”
“Just a minute, El. Go pick out a hat, okay?” He pointed to a nearby stand. “I’ll be right there.” Gibson turned to Christopher Birk. “Where?”
“Back of the letter.”
Gibson flipped it over. It was an address near Charlottesville.
“Can you come tomorrow?” asked Birk. “It’s time sensitive.”
Gibson shook his head. “I have a thing tomorrow.”
“What thing?” the Shard demanded.
“A none-of-your-damn-business thing.”
The Shard stepped forward, but Birk put a cautioning hand on his shoulder. “The judge would be very grateful,” he said to Gibson.
Gibson knew he should say no—everything about this felt wrong— but he also knew no wasn’t an option. Some debts you paid when they came due. He’d have a few days after he passed the polygraph before work started; he’d drive down to Charlottesville and talk to Hammond Birk. See what he wanted. It was the least that he owed the man.
“Maybe I can come out on Tuesday?” Gibson said, making it a question, not a promise, although that was exactly what it was.
“That would be terrific. Thank you.”
“Cute kid,” the Shard said. It was Gibson’s turn to lock eyes with him. “Don’t. I’m only going to tell you the once.”
The Shard laughed. “What? You gonna start something here in front of all these nice people?”
“Yeah. Right here in front of them if you talk about my kid again.”
The Shard moved his jaw soundlessly, testing a reply, but smiled instead. “Relax, Pops. Just saying.”
“Get him away from me,” Gibson said to Birk.
“Of course. Thank you for your time.” Birk tried to lead his companion away, but the Shard twisted back to Gibson.
“See you Tuesday.”
Excerpted from POISONFEATHER © Copyright 2016 by Matthew FitzSimmons. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
Gibson Vaughn, hero of the bestselling novel The Short Drop, returns in a smoldering thriller.
When jailed billionaire Charles Merrick hints publicly that he has stashed a fortune in an offshore cache, a school of sharks converges upon his release from federal prison.
Among his swindled victims is Judge Hammond Birk, the man who saved Gibson Vaughn’s life when he was a troubled teenager. Now Gibson intends to repay that debt by recovering Merrick’s victims’ money.
But Gibson isn’t the only one on the trail of the hidden fortune.
The promise of billions has drawn a horde of ruthless treasure hunters, including an edgy ex-con, a female bartender with a mysterious history, a Chinese spy with a passion for fly-fishing, and a veritable army of hardened mercenaries. To stay ahead of the sharks and win justice for his mentor, Gibson will need all his formidable skills. But at the end of the road, he’ll still have to face “Poisonfeather”—a geopolitical secret that just might get Gibson killed…or worse.
Matthew FitzSimmons is the author of the bestselling first novel in the Gibson Vaughn series, The Short Drop. Born in Illinois and raised in London, England, he now lives in Washington, DC, where he taught English literature and theater at a private high school for over a decade. Poisonfeather is his second novel.