….I walked around to where Puss still sat on the sawhorse. She looked up at me.
With a small frown she said, "My heart bled for you the way you went reeling around in shock, McGee. You really took it hard. Your dear old buddy has gone to the big marina in the sky. The hard way. Came to get your bilge pump! God's sake, Travis!"
I sat on my heels and squinted up at her. Dark red hair and disapproval, outlined against a blue December sky.
"Win a few, lose a few, honey," I said.
"What are you?" she asked.
I stood up and put my hands on her upper arms, near the shoulders and plucked her up off the saw horse and held her. Maybe I was smiling at her. I wouldn't know. What I was saying seemed to come from a strange direction, as if I were standing several feet behind myself. I said some nonsense about smelling these things out, about sensing the quickest way to open people up, and so you do it, because if you don't, then maybe you miss one little piece of something you should know, and then you go join the long long line of the dead ones, because you were careless.
"And," I heard myself say, "Tush killed himself but not with that damned engine block. He killed himself with something he said, or something he did, and he didn't know he was killing himself. Maybe he didn't listen very good, or catch on soon enough. I listen very good. I catch on. And when I add up this tab and name the price, I'm going to look at some nice gray skin, honey. Gray and pale, oily and guilty as hell, and some eyes shifting around looking for some way out of it. But every damned door will be nailed shut."
I came out of it and realized she was making little hiccupy sobs and looking down and to the side, and her cheeks were wet, and she was saying, "Please, please."
I released her and turned on my heel and walked away from her. I went a little way up the road. I leaned against the trunk of an Australian pine and emptied my lungs a few times. A jay yammered at me. There were tree toads in a swamp somewhere nearby. Puss came walking very slowly up the road. She came over to me and with a quick, shy smile leaned her face into my neck and chest.
"Sorry" she whispered.
She exhaled. "I don't know. I asked you what you were. Maybe I found out, sort of."
"Whatever it is, I don't let it show, Puss. Ten more minutes and I would have been kindly Trav forevermore."
She pushed herself a few inches away and looked up at me. "Just smile with your eyes like kindly ol' McGee, dear, to kind of erase that other ... that other look."
"Was it that bad?"
"They could bottle it and use it to poison pit vipers."
Pale Gray for Guilt by John D. MacDonald
I finished John D. MacDonald's 1979 novel The Green Ripper last week. I did not care for it; MacDonald gave his hero a moral get-out-of-jail-free card for every vigilante action he took, then allowed Travis McGee to feel all sad and weighed-down by the terrible things he knew he was justified in doing.
Ten years previous to The Green Ripper, Pale Gray for Guilt has McGee trying to figure out the death not of a paramour, but of old school chum Tush Bannon. Tush got himself athwart desperate movers and shakers in a big land speculation deal, the most sacrosanct of all deals or activities to be found in Florida.
MacDonald and McGee loathe consequences of the world they live in. Cars, consumerism, road construction, death by dollars. When a sheriff is aghast at antics of local hippie dropouts, McGee
admits: "....I can't lay too big a knock on them, you know. In another sense I'm a dropout. I don't pay for my tickets. I jump over the turnstile."
A lot of ethical turnstile-jumpers emerge as McGee stirs up trouble around Tush's killing. A desperate and over-extended real estate small fry named Preston LaFrance is either on the verge of a million dollar deal or destitution. Gary Santo is definitely a big wheeler-dealer when it comes to land speculation, but his vulnerability is that he is too big to risk any hint of failing. Sheriff's Deputy Freddy Hazzard, marginal to the economic villains, is a typical thug cop who likes wielding a black leather sap. When folks give him trouble, he just gives them a tunk on the skull and they go to sleep.
As McGee uncovers the rogues responsible for Tush's death, he works with his comrade-in-arms Meyer to sting them the perpetrators, using proceeds to fund a life and future for Tush's wife and children.
Pale Gray for Guilt is richly satisfying. Much superior to The Green Ripper: plenty of fat targets for McGee's brand of salvage, and a bloody-bones denouement with plenty of tunking all round.
18 April 2018