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Their friendship turns into something more.
Behind this was parked an even stretchier Lincoln Navigator limo, looking like it was about to swallow the ranch's limo. And standing at the door of this one was the bruiser who had tried to hook me up with Arcardi back in Chicago. A back window of the Navigator was rolled down a third of the way, and I could see that Arcardi was already in there. So much for the mystery of where Arcardi was headed.
I walked up to the Big O Ranch limousine and started to say something to Little Sandy, but another, big-muscled guy standing next to him interjected himself and said, "You Folsom?"
I looked at him and determined right away that he was the authority figure of this outing. He was a no-nonsense type of guy. Crew cut, yet another tattooed retired Marine clone, and wearing ranch work clothes. He had been handsome once, but he'd been in probably three too many equal-strength fights.
At my nod, he said, "I'm Butch," to which I thought, "I'm sure you are."
He added, "I'm the foreman of the Big O. Get on in the car. Sit on a jump seat. We're waiting for a couple of paying customers before we can pull out."
Before I could do as he said-being quite willing to do so, Arcardi's bruiser walked over and said, "He connected to the ranch, Butch?"
"Yep. A new hand; gonna be a 'T' wrangler if he vets out," Butch answered. I was impressed that the bruiser was on first-name basis with the Big O's foreman. When I thought about it I wasn't all that surprised, though. I'd been told that Arcardi was a regular at the ranch, which is why our guys had tried so hard to dissuade Jason Jenks from going there. And at the time, I'd thought it was an unfortunate coincidence if Jenks was going to hide out in the very den of the man he should be avoiding-which was how it was panning out. But then Kahn had reminded me that Jenks wouldn't admit he was in any trouble at all and that it stood to reason he'd come in contact with Arcardi before if he'd put an Arcardi character in one of his books.
"Mr. Arcardi would like Folsom to ride to the ranch with him, please," the bruiser said.
I didn't have a chance to say how much I didn't like that idea. Butch stood his ground while pushing at my shoulder. I got the hint and folded myself down and entered the back of the limo and listened to the rest of the short exchange from the relative safety of the jump seat.
"That's against the ranch rules, Tony. I'm sorry. But this guy ain't been signed in yet at the ranch. Mr. Arcardi and you guys can get a crack at him once vetting is done and contracts have been signed and all. Sorry, but that's just the way it is. The way you do it, you'll be glad the liability is all worked out beforehand."
"I'll ride in the other car," I heard a squeaky voice say, and I looked out onto the pavement to be sure that it had been Little Sandy who said it. "You said we'd maybe be crowded in this car if all the customers showed up you were expecting."
"I don't know if that's a good idea, Jess. You maybe don't know how-" Butch started to say. But then the bruiser had a say of his own.
"Mr. Arcardi's gonna be disappointed and keyed up, I think. It might be best if I ask him what he wants."
"Well, OK, Tony. But make it snappy. I see what looks like the others I expect on this run claiming their baggage and headed this way. We'll see you out at the ranch. We have a stop to make a pickup at the Denver Swim Club of another new hand."
Ten minutes later, Little Sandy-who apparently I should now be calling Jess-was gone to the other limo, and three men in suits-two upper middle age and one not so old, all looking quite prosperous-and all giving me the eye-were stretched along the back wall of the limo on the comfortable seat and facing me in one of the jump seats.