AN AFFAIR WITH A GAMBLER
The private jet lumbered down the Atlanta runway and staggered into the air . I hate to fly on the best of time, this one definitely wasn't the best of times. The plane was bound from Atlanta to High Point North Carolina. It would be a sad trip, one I would rather not have made .
I admitted to myself that I was nervous. I almost never flew. I hated airplanes. I knew, that you are supposed to be safer in an airplane than in a car. I also knew you can walk away from a car crash. Not too many people have ever walked away from a plane crash, only slightly more have been carried away while still breathing.
I settled in for the ninety-minute flight. I soon found myself remembering why I was taking this trip. Her name was Emma O'Toole. True to her name Emma was an Irish lass. Well, at least two generations back her family had been from the old sod.
When I first met Emma, she was thirty five years old and trying hard to be a serious journalist. She was of course hindered by the fact that she looked more like a model, or hooker than a writer. In fact when I first met her I thought she was a hooker.
The year was 1980 and I was only one year older than Emma. I was sitting in an all night diner in a smallish town having breakfast at four a.m. The diner was about half full. A mixture of cops, truck drivers, hookers and various other misfits. I noticed her when I entered the dump. I immediately pegged her as a high priced hooker.
She was well dressed and her red hair hung down in frizzy strings. Not from neglect, but from an expensive visit to a hair dresser. She had a long thin face, which would have been milk white were it not for the heavy makeup she employed to hide her freckles. Her eyes were green and a little too close together. They sat above a truly magnificent nose. It was long thin and with only the slightest hook. Her lips were overly thick for the fashion of the time. Her chin was a little thin. I know that all this doesn't sound especially flattering, but she was on the whole a striking woman. All the odd little pieces blended into a face not soon forgotten.
Since she was seated in a booth, it was impossible to determine what her body might look like. I did get an impression of trimness, but nothing else at the time. She caught me glancing at her and smiled. I returned her smile, then moved to an empty booth. There were plenty to choose from.
The waitress took my order and walked away with no more than a repeat of the order. This was probably a very friendly town when the furniture market wasn't active. I had to be hard to be friendly at four a.m. even when thing were good. It had to be impossible, with all the obnoxious assholes visitors taking up your space.
She brought the eggs and sausage, I began work to destroy them. I had finished and was drinking coffee, when the red head paid her bill and walked to my booth. I assumed she had pegged me as a market visitor and was going to proposition me. I had a chance to appraise her body for the first time. It was almost magnificent. It would have been, if her breasts were only slightly larger.
"Hi, do you mind if I sit with you a minute?" She asked.
"No, not at all. Would you like another cup of coffee?"
"God no, my teeth are floating now. I won't be able to sleep for a week," she replied.
"I guess it is the perils of working the midnight shift." I suggested.
"I guess. I have been trying to figure out an approach for meeting you," she admitted.
"Really why is that?" I asked.
She ignored the question as she began her explanation . "I have been kind of stalking you. No harm intended, but I have been following you around for the last couple of days."
I was suddenly concerned. In my line of work, one is not followed around by hookers. "Why in the world would you want to follow me."
"At first it was curiosity. I recognized you three nights ago in here."
"Strange, I didn't see you and I usually notice beautiful women."
"Probably not if they are with a couple of cops," she suggested.
"You definitely have a point there. Are you a cop?" I was more than a little curious by that time.
"Heavens no, I am not that bold. I was interviewing them. You know, what it's like to work the midnight shift during the market, that sort of thing."
She paused and I worried. She was a reporter. It was something almost as bad for my business as a cop. "You said that you recognized me, how so?" I asked.
"I have one of your photographs, by the way it is truly lovely," she commented.
She was referring to the hand painted prints. I sold them from time to time. I had to sell them in order to cover my income from the conventions. Uncle Sam doesn't approve of tax evasion, or of gamblers. The IRS will let you declare gambling winnings, but a week later the FBI is sitting on your doorstep. Most states have laws against gambling anywhere except their casinos. I never much liked bucking the house odds, so I never went to a casino.
"I certainly am glad you like my photo. How did you happen to come by it?" I asked.
"I bought it on a visit to Myrtle beech," she replied.
"Oh you're the one," I said with a laugh.
First she laughed. "At the time I wondered how you could sell something that wonderful for the ridiculously low price. I mean, you must have spent hours working on that thing, and I bought it for only two hundred dollars."
"Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time there was a man who sold hay. He bought it for a dollar a bale on one side of the river. Then he rowed it across the river on his boat. He sold it on that side of the river for a dollar a bail. One day a man asked him why it did it. 'I don't make much money,' the man said, 'but I got one hell of a business.' That's how I do it."
"That is what got me curious about you. I mean you were selling those prints way below their value. I wasn't curious at all, till I saw you three nights ago. It was about this time of the morning. You were eating breakfast like a man who had been partying. The only thing is that you were stone cold sober, and your suit jacket still had it's press."
"God you are observant," I said.
"Then, I got to wondering exactly what you were doing here. At first, I thought you might have a booth. I really just planned to stop by the next day to see your display. I thought there might be a story in it. You know, an artist sells to business. Maybe even get an interview about an artist selling out to the mercantile world.
I called around and found that you don't have a space. If you aren't showing, I had to wonder what you are doing. Are you showing somewhere around here?"
"Actually, I am scouting for next year. I am thinking of maybe doing a display somewhere." I said it hoping that she would buy it.
"Damn you are slick. Anyway, I picked you up by accident night before last. You were headed into the Radisson. Since it was around dinner time, I thought you might be heading into the restaurant so I followed. I still thought I might get an interview. I would have believed that bullshit story then. Too bad you didn't go to the restaurant. I watched you give the bell man twenty bucks while the two of you talked."
"Tipping a bell man, isn't really news you know?"
"You are right about that. Of course, you aren't registered in that hotel. You rode the elevator to the tenth floor. When I rode the next elevator up you were not to be found. Would you like to explain that?" She asked.
"Simple explanation, Hooker," I said.
"Sorry, I followed you to breakfast at three last night. There is only one all-night restaurant in town. I sat outside so that I could follow you home. I am not good at following people, you gave me the slip."
I always drove home erratically for that very reason. I never knew when I was being followed. There are people in this world, who are not good losers. If someone like this young lady followed, they would just assume that I was a lousy driver. I worked pretty hard to master the technique of driving like a jerk. You know sudden stops, turns without signals, and various speeds. I could usually spot a tail without him ever knowing that I had been looking.
"Fascinating, but hardly noteworthy. She was a good hooker." I knew that it wouldn't wash, she had done her homework."
"You are slick, but try this one. I followed you again. I waited in the lobby of that hotel all afternoon hiding behind a newspaper."
"Of course, the old hiding behind the newspaper trick," I said with a laugh.
"Low and behold guess who came in around seven?" she asked.
"Edward E. Edwards of course," she informed me.
That is not the name I was born with, of course. That name had been gone so long I almost forgot I ever had it. Under that name, I did a twenty-nine-day stint on a South Carolina work farm. Of course, it was for gambling. Never, but never, take a deputy Sheriff for all his money. That happened before I knew any better. I changed my ways after that little experience.
"Well, Mr. Edwards?" she asked.
"Call me Ed," I said while trying to regroup my thoughts.
"Okay Ed, would you care to explain?" she asked again.
"I like variety in my hookers?" I tried
"Not good enough. I tipped the bell man fifty to tell me what was happening on the eighth floor tonight. It seems there was a rather high stakes poker game on the eight floor."
"Gee, that is a coincidence." I was already making mental plans to head home that next day, there was only a couple of more days left anyway. The true high rollers had already gone home. My take had gone down considerably, since the size of the pots shrank, as the player's moved down the corporate ladder.
"I want to do a piece about gambling during the market. I want an interview," she demanded.
"I'm sorry Miss?" I asked it as a question.
"Emma O'Toole, call me Emma," she replied with a winning smile.
"I'm sorry Emma, but I am leaving just as soon as I finish this cup of coffee," I replied.
"That wouldn't really be a good idea. You see, if you do that, then I will have to inform the vice squad," she threatened.
"Too bad I won't be here for any raids they might plan," I tried to inform her.
"I wasn't thinking about that. You see there are a couple of things they do with known gamblers and hookers. Next year you might find a man on your tail. Anywhere you go would be subject to a real hard look," she said it with a sly smile.
"I guess, I won't be setting up a display here after all. Too bad it seems I have at least one fan here," I replied trying to be upbeat.
"They will also alert your hometown police to keep and eye on you. There is in addition, a list that is sent around, with pictures, to other convention towns. You know how the boys in blue love to keep in touch," she said with a lovely smile.
"So let me understand this, is blackmail we are talking about here?" I asked knowing the answer.
"I don't like that word much. I really prefer coercion," she replied with that warm smile.
"If I give you the interview, I am burned in this town anyway," I tried to explain.
"I won't use your name, but people will know there are card sharks in town, yes."
"Get one thing straight. I am not a card shark. I play the game straight. I see someone cheating I leave the game," I commented angrily.
"Well then, how do you win if you don't cheat?" she asked.
"Let me try to explain. Most of these men play poker once a year. Some play once a week, but even those aren't making a living at it. They play for relaxation. I play for money. I don't care about anyone particular hand. I count out only at the end of the night. I play the odds and human nature. I see a hell of a lot more of both, than any of the players I meet. I win the same way the casinos do. The odds are on my side," I explained.
"How do you figure that?" she asked.
"I haven't agreed to an interview yet, and I certainly don't agree to an interview in a restaurant. We need to set some ground rules before we go on. I figure, I have a couple of more nights of work here. How about this, I finish up this market then I talk to you on the condition that my name not be used. You know who I am, so there isn't much chance that I will skip without settling this with you. Why don't we meet on Thursday at my place around three?"
"Okay make it five, and you got a deal. But remember this, I can get your ass banned from every convention town on the east coast."
"Not banned sweetie, but you can make it awfully inconvenient for me," I admitted.
"The next I saw of Emma was at my travel trailer on Thursday. I answered her knock on the door. "I almost gave up and left without talking to you," I said. "You are late. I had hoped you changed your mind."
"Not a chance, this could be a great story. I am looking for a great story to get me out of here," she admitted.
"Really you don't like small towns?" I asked.
"Hell no, I want to move to New York. That is where the action is," she admitted
"Well I like small town life myself," I commented.
"So where do you live?" she asked.
"First we agree to the terms of the interview. No names of course. You wait a month to publish the story."
"I want a chance for the market people to be gone. I am talking about the vendors. I want to make sure everyone possible is out of town before this thing runs. When I say no
names, I mean no location names and no people's names," I demanded.
"I assume, I can describe the location as long as it is vague. You know like Mr. X lives in a small South Carolina town. That sort of thing."
"Yes, that's fine. I also want it in writing. I want a way to hang your gorgeous ass, if you screw me."
"Done." She wrote a quick agreement on a page of her note pad and signed it. "Now where do you live?"
"A small South Carolina town," I replied.
"Funny," she said.
"Not at all, I'm serious. If you check, you will find that I live in a town about ten miles inland from Myrtle Beach. I actually live in a small mobile home down there," I admitted.
"You're kidding me?" she asked.
"No, I really live in a can. It is not a hell of a lot bigger than this one."
"Why, I mean, you must make plenty of money?" she asked.
"I don't think anyone makes all they want, but I guess I do all right," I admitted.
"So how much do you make?" she asked.
"Do you expect me to answer that honestly?" I asked in return.
"Of course you have nothing to lose by being honest." She was right of course.
"Okay last year, after expenses, I made about eighty grand."
"So you took in something over a hundred thousand dollars and you live in a trailer." she asked.
"That's right. I live in a trailer," I replied shortly.
"So what about all that money. Got it in a Swiss bank account?" she asked.
"Close, but not exactly. I don't have social security. I am saving it for my retirement," I admitted.
"I imagine you plan to live pretty good till then thought?"
"In a trailer, not likely, I do the things I enjoy doing. I make photographs, but that isn't all that expensive. Actually they are a business expense," I explained.
"I told you I have to have and income. You remember the print you bought for two hundred bucks. I probably carried that on my books for two-grand. That is how I show an income that satisfies the government," I admitted.
She was taking notes furiously. She had at first tried to tape me, but I refused to allow it. I could dispute what she wrote from her notes, but not from a tape. "So how did you get started in this business?"
"In the Army, I had a lot of time on my hands. Poker is the game of choice with soldiers. I lost a lot of money before I decided there had to be a better way. I went to the base library. There I found a book on poker strategy. The book had been read maybe a dozen time in its thirty years in the library. It amazed me then, and still does today, that people don't do any research on a subject which is so simple to learn. I took the strategy to heart. I played the way the author told me, and I never lost money again. I might loose on one night when the odds were all to hell. You know like on a full moon or something, but over a week's time I always won money. Not a lot, because there wasn't a lot of money available, but enough." I paused since I had answered her question.
"Okay don't stop there. You learned to play in the Army. So how did you wind up playing at conventions?"
"I mustered out of the army, then enrolled in college on the GI bill. I played poker at night and attended classes in the daytime. I actually went to a pretty expensive school. I needed the extra money to get by. I was older than most of the students so they didn't like losing to me all the time. I soon had to find new opportunities to make money. In the town where I went to college, the school was so small that the town didn't even know it existed. I found a pool hall that ran a back room poker game. I actually played with men who did little else. Of the five men playing at a table, two might play for the house and three would be fish. I managed, even then, to make money every week. The owner of the pool hall finally included me in the house men. I didn't work for him, but from what ever table I played he removed one of the house men. There was no sense spreading the sucker's money too thin. I made more and he made more, since he could move his man to one of the other two tables.
Several times a month there wouldn't be enough fish to fill a table, so we would play each other. I held my own, but not much more. They talked and I listened. Remember I believe in research. I learned from their conversations how to find a game in a strange town. Then how to pick the town. Finally I learned the real business end of running a successful operation from the owner. Fat Charlie was his name. He was more or less retired from the business. He got tired of the lousy food and the long hours, so he bought the pool hall and ran the games."
"Are you hungry?" Emma asked.
"Sure, I haven't eaten since breakfast at four AM. Do you want to go to dinner?"
"Sure, I'll even buy."
"How about this no questions over dinner, you pick the restaurant and I will buy?" I asked.
"Okay, but you should let me pay, I have an expense account," she suggested.
"Not unless you get a story. I'm afraid this is going to be so boring you give up on it," I replied hopefully.
"I doubt that, but you can buy anyway since it fits your macho image . "
"Me, hell honey, I'm a wimp. Everybody, who knows me, knows that."
The interviewing ceased during dinner. I actually found out a few things about her. For instance, she was divorced with no children. She lived alone, without even a cat for company. She was deadly ambitious. She claimed to have trouble dating men. Not getting dates, just getting them to let her go. She didn't want a husband, especially not a small town husband. She planned to move ahead and didn't want to be tired down to anyone. Consequently she didn't date much.
She managed to drag my personal life out of me, even though it wasn't an interview, right. She found, that I had never been married or even engaged. My life style wasn't exactly the type to lend itself to a wife and family. Like her, I found dating too much trouble. I usually wound up with a hooker once a month, or so. It wasn't a very enjoyable experience, but one I didn't find all that bad. I had become used to them in Asia, so sex with a stranger didn't bother me that much.
"Too bad women can't find hookers as easily as men." At first I thought she was putting me on, but a long look convinced me she was serious. "I love the sex, I just don't much like the men." she confided.
Over dinner, I found her witty and honest. Most people who are honest take themselves entirely to seriously. I really enjoyed her humor, though there certainly was nothing self deprecating about it. She held herself in very high esteem, I liked that about her .
After dinner we drove her car back to the travel trailer. She had refused to ride in my pick up truck. "It was far to much like small town behavior for her," she explained. She was really hung up on getting to the big city. She had been born and raised in this town and wanted desperately to get out of it. She saw me as one of the never ended stories that would get her the attention, she so desperately wanted. None of the others had done it, but maybe this one would. I felt sorry for her, so told her more than I otherwise would have.
"So what did you do after college?" she asked.
"I majored in art at school. I wanted to be a painter, but found out real quick I didn't have any talent in that direction. I did have one professor, a woman, who took a special interest in me. She recognized that I understood composition, and even color. I just lacked the creative fire that makes a great painter. Rather than toss me onto the junk heap, or worse yet give me false hope, she introduced me to photography. By the time I graduated, I was an adequate photographer with a pretty fair portfolio."
I moved into a small garage apartment near the campus. I tried several different things for a couple of years. On the weekends I still played cards at the pool hall. I wasn't doing all that bad, but I wanted freedom so I quit my job with a school picture outfit. I immediately opened a photo studio in the town. I must have done pretty good, because it took me three years to go broke.
I didn't go broke exactly, I just balanced the books and realized that I had made more money on the weekends at the pool hall, than I did in the studio working five days and dealing with customers. I probably would have stayed with it anyway, except that in those three years I learned to hate my customers.
Fat Charlie helped me set up the list of conventions. He also taught me how to find the games. After a while, I figured out better ways to find conventions, also better ways to get accepted at them. What I did was simply set up dummy companies, then I joined a bunch of trade associations. I got invited to their conventions, then set about finding the games. I even organized a couple the first few years."
"How do you set up a dummy company?" Emma asked.
"All you have to do is to buy a state privilege license. Pay the fifty bucks a year and don't do any business. It really isn't all that hard. Once you get to be a member of the trade association, you can even drop the license."
"Now that I know the mechanic of it, tell me about High Point. How did you get dealer certifications?"
"I set up a dummy wholesale company. It was established a few years ago and was supposed to buy furniture wholesale, then resell it through catalogues. Of course there never was a business. It was never more than a hundred sheets of letterhead stationary, and a business license. I joined a couple of trade groups, then got myself invited to their hospitality suites. I never even bothered to join the market association. After a while, I discovered that the cover wasn't all that necessary. Most of the times I found the games through the hospitality suites. The companies, who run them, aren't all that particular who comes in as long as they have a name tag. Those are easy to find laying around, or if necessary to swipe.
There is even a game at a local country club that I attend once during every market. There is too much money at the game to risk burning it by working it more than once a year. Some of the players even remember me from year to year. They try to force me to play again, so they can get their money back. I never do. Once a year is enough."
"Are there a lot of games during the market?" Emma asked.
"Enough that I have never missed playing a night, when I wanted to play."
"How much money do you usually win at the market?" she asked. A little over a couple of grand average. I have lost some too. Not over the long haul but on an occasional night."
"What is the most you ever won?"
"You are talking gross here, not what I actually collected?"
"Wait a minute. You don't collect all you win?"
"Lord no. Sometimes I have to take paper. Often when the fish gets home he decides he doesn't have to pay the check. These guys get a little drunk and think they are better players than they are. They lose all their cash, but think 'Just one more grand and I will win it all back'. Of course, since we are all honorable men we take their checks. I wind up with most of them at the end of the evening. Some of them go through my dummy account, no problem, but some of them don't. Now there is no way to collect on a gambling account, so I have them written for a print of mine, at a ridiculous price. When I get home, I mail them the print. If the check clears no problem. If they stop payment then I take a loss, but their problems are just beginning . I sell the checks to a collection agency. One who specializes in my type business. You know casinos and people like that. I'm afraid their collection agents are a bit on the rough side. Since the mooch intended to screw me, I have never lost any sleep over using the collection agency. Fortunately, I have never run into any of them a second time. The interview pretty much ended there. She asked me a few more questions, but nothing of real important. I gave her a little atmosphere about the games themselves, then it was over. We had a drink together after the interview had ended. She told me more about her upbringing, even some things about her marriage. We talked until the early morning, then she left. It hadn't been strictly business, but there had been no monkey business either.
The next morning ,after about six hours sleep, I secured the inside of the trailer. Then I hooked it up and left for home. I arrived home and forgot about Emma for six weeks. I didn't really forget about her, but I also didn't give her any conscious thought either. She kind of lingered in the back of my head.
After a month and a half I received a copy of her article in the mail. It was about seventy percent accurate and thirty percent bullshit. It turned out to be more a profile of me than a news story. I found it interesting in an offbeat way. She described me as a dark and handsome man. That was pure bullshit. At my very best, I am average. Average height average weight and dark. I could pass for half the men in the country. I liked it that way. I wanted to wear my hair long and have a beard, but those things stick out in a person's mind. I wanted more to be quickly forgotten by the trout.
Emma gradually slipped from my mind over the next year. I found myself back in High Point for the next market. I called her newspaper to speak to her. I had to call her beeper to leave my number. Since I was in a pay phone, I called back to the paper and left a message with her unit's secretary. "I'm back and will be in the usual place at the usual time. E. E. Edwards." The message read.
I worked for a couple of nights before she showed. I actually didn't think she would but sure enough she was sitting in Alex's restaurant waiting for me. "Is this seat taken?" I asked.
"I'm waiting for someone, but he is late so go ahead and sit down sailor," she said with a smile.
We talked for a couple of hours. She filled me in on how her story had been received. The big city publishers had allowed her to write some Sunday supplement pieces after my article, and she had enjoyed it. She still had hopes of moving on to bigger and better things.
I returned with her to her apartment, we made love that night. I saw her a couple of more times before the market ended. Neither of us made any pretense about writing or calling . It just wasn't necessary. A good thing had come to an end, so be it.
I received a note from her six months later. She was giving me her new address. She had finally gotten a job on a large metropolitan newspaper. She had moved to Jacksonville Florida. The next I heard was a couple of months later, when I returned from dinner at a local restaurant. She was sitting on my doorstep with her bags around her. She had two weeks between her new job in Washington D .C. and her old one. She hoped I didn't mind if she spent them with me. She rushed on to promise that she wouldn't be any trouble.
"Where did you get this neat place? When you said you lived in a trailer I thought it would be in one of those depressing little parks. The taxi driver had to really search for this place."
"Where else I won it in a poker game," I admitted.
"It isn't really a trailer is it?" she asked.
"Come on inside and see for yourself."
"Damn it is a trailer," she said as she entered the little box .
"Of course it is, I never lie to a beautiful lady," I replied.
"But the outside looks like a fishing cabin," she commented.
"The man who lost it had a wooden shell built around the trailer. It has a shed roof and walls of cedar paneling."
"I don't know anything about that, but it looks like a small rustic cabin. God I'm glad I came. I have really missed you." she said.
She was good as her word she wasn't any trouble at all. The first night we didn't leave the trailer. The second, after a day in bed we drove to a fishing pier. We sat on one of the weathered benches and drank coffee. We talked about everything from her job, to my sort of work.
Over that first weekend I ran a booth at an art show. I wanted to cancel but Emma wouldn't hear of it. She forced me to continue with my normal schedule.
"Besides, I have never sat all day at an art show. It should be interesting. I might even get an article out of it." she admitted.
At night we walked the beach. We did it hand in hand like kids. We talked and she told me of her dreams. She wanted so badly to be a big time journalist. I wanted it for her, because I wanted her to be happy. We made love in the shadows that night. The second day of the show she got bored and went shopping. The only thing she bought during her eight hours shopping was a tee shirt. The shirt read, "I may be a slut but I ain't lonely." She was anything but a slut. I loved her. I thought at the time that she loved me.
We went from an art show at the beach, to hanging around my trailer again . Every night after dinner we drove to the fishing pier. We sat talking early into the next morning. The second weekend, I drove her to a convention. I worked most all night at the tables. When I arrived home, I forced her out of bed to join me for breakfast. When we returned to the hotel, we made love then fell asleep. She would wake me up at three in the afternoon by crawling back into the bed. She would then force me to hold her. It is a fine way to sleep with a woman in your arms. It is also a fine way to wake up.
The day she flew out from Charlotte N.C., I drove her to a jewelry store. I would have bought her a ring but I knew she wouldn't accept it. Instead I bought her a string of pearls that cost a quarter of what I had won at the convention.
The convention had been a Realtor's regional meeting. It had been held at the coliseum in Charlotte. The game was in a motel room across the street. I returned to the game the night she left. I thought I would have lost my ass, since I wasn't concentrating but it must have been my lucky day. I made enough to pay for our trip and even the pearl necklace I had bought her. The truth is, she wasn't any trouble at all. At least not until she left. I realized then that something had been missing from my life. It took my two weeks with Emma to show me what was missing..
Something had developed during those two weeks. I had an overwhelming desire to call her. I fought it successfully for a week, but finally gave in one lonely night . "Em, it's Ed how are you?" I got it out, before I realized I was talking to an answering machine. I started again and left a message. "Hi Em, its me Ed. I just called to let you know that I miss you and you are welcome here anytime." She never returned the call, so I forgot her again. At least as much as anyone could ever forget Em.
The next year, she just showed up on my doorstep again. We talked long into the night. She was all excited about her job and the good work they were finally letting her do. She brought me clippings to read. I read them, then we talked about her stories until the sun came up.
"You know Ed, you are causing me a problem," she stated flatly.
"How so, I thought I was giving you plenty of space. Whatever the hell that means." I replied.
"You are, but every time I go out with a man. I compare him to you. Frankly the ones I have met so far haven't done very well. They either don't measure up in the obvious ways, like looks and manners, or they fail in the confidence department. You have no idea how insecure most men are. I am having a hard time finding anyone to go out with. D.C. is such a party town, I need an escort almost every night."
"Well I'm glad you can't find anyone like me. I always thought I was one of a kind."
"I actually found one guy I thought would match up. I made the mistake of going to bed with him. God what a disaster. Not only was he a lousy lover, but he wouldn't leave me alone afterward."
"You poor baby, that will teach you to sleep with strange men," I said half jokingly.
"You sure choose the right word for him. He was a strange duck," she admitted.
"We made love, or just walked on the beach for those two weeks. The fishermen missed her on the pier. She always spoke and was so beautiful, I know she must have brightened their long nights.
When she left, I was tempted to call her again but fought the urge. I let her be and returned to my own life. Of course my life wasn't the same when she wasn't in my little shack. After she left I began having problems of my own. The new anti-drug laws were pinching me. Any transaction over ten-grand cash, had to be reported to the government. It was a nee. I had been sending money to my south seas account for years. Now I had to send it in smaller amounts. The government finally put a computer system in that traced the sender ofountry. I began stockpiling cash in a safety deposit box. It was a lousy way to handle money, but I had no real choice.
I would on occasion drive up to see Fat Charlie. On one of those occasions I lamented the amount of cash laying in a safety deposit box. He suggested that I buy wholesale diamonds with the money. They at least would keep pace with inflation, where as the cash wouldn't. He gave me the name of a reputable merchant in New York, I filed it away never intending to use it.
Six months later, I got a note from Emma she had moved on to the big apple. Those were her words, the big apple, more bullshit. I let her settle in for a couple of months then called her. It took three days, but I finally got her to answer her phone. Actually she picked up during my third message. I had never told her why I was calling. I don't like my business recorded.
"Well you do actually exist. I thought for a while you were a figment of my imagination," I said with a small laugh.
"Of course I exist, I just have to be careful who I talk to these days. Now what is an old country boy like you doing calling into Sin City?" she asked.
"Actually I am going to do more than call. I am going to come for a visit. I hoped you might recommend a good hotel for me," I suggested.
"Sure how about the hotel Emma. When are you coming? I can't take any vacation, but we can spend the evenings together. That is, if you aren't on business," she said.
"Actually I am on business, but not the usual kind. I'll explain when I arrive. I plan to leave on Wednesday and return on Sunday, if that isn't too long?" I asked,
Emma sounded excited when she said, "Are you kidding, I might not let you go home at all. I think you will love the city. You may even want to stay. Besides I have reached the top. I can afford the baggage of a roommate for as long as you want to stay."
"Well, I guess I will see you on Wednesday." I was impatient for Wednesday to arrive. I drove to the bank on Tuesday. There I removed the cash for my diamond purchase. I left twenty-five thousand in the box for a bankroll. I took the remaining seventy-seven thousand with me in a gym bag.
Wednesday morning, I packed seventy thousand inside a money belt, strapped it on, then drove my old Ford pickup to the airport. I boarded the plane a little after noon. I was a nervous wreck all the way to New York. I took a cab from the airport to Emma's apartment.
The door man recognized me from Emma's description and led me to her apartment. The apartment was small, but she didn't need much room. I found a coffee pot and coffee on the kitchen counter. I had the pot made and drank twice before she arrived home at seven. She rushed into my arms. We kissed for a long time. That time, like never before, her kiss sucked the air from my lungs. Then the kiss sucked the air from the whole apartment. When we broke the kiss we were both gasping for breath.
We never made it out of her apartment that night. I knew then that I really did care about this woman. Over the past few years we had spent very little time together, but I knew I could love her if I gave in to it. I fought it as hard as possible and succeeded in leaving Sunday with a pocket full of diamonds. I left New York alone and hated it. She didn't want me to go. It was the very first time she had ever clung to me. I asked her to come with me, but she asked me to stay. I couldn't and she wouldn't so we parted.
For the next three years, she took vacation twice a year. On her vacations she would visit me. Over that time we tried to change each other's mind. She, of course, had the most convincing argument. She had lived in a small town, but I had never given the city a chance. I explained that I had never given cancer a try either, but was pretty sure I wouldn't like it.
To compound her argument she brought with her, a check from a New York art dealer. The check was for five thousand dollars. Three years before, as an excuse for the trip and to write it off my taxes, I had taken some prints to a gallery. I left them with the manager on consignment. Everyone once in a while I would send more, and she would send me a check. Emma took care of the business in New York for me. It was the excuse we both needed for semi-regular phone calls.
Since Emma knew I didn't need the money, she allowed the manager to stockpile the sales till she came to visit. The owner of the gallery in effect got an interest free six month loan. Emma got the opportunity to bring me large checks every six months.
I had never returned to New York after that one and only trip. The diamond merchant and I worked out a deal. I would mail him a money order for five thousand and he would send me stones worth that much. I had them appraised in Charlotte to make sure I wasn't getting screwed to badly. As long as the price offered me by the diamond stores was at least what I paid for the stones, I never complained. Once I had been offered less at a diamond merchant in Charlotte. I took the stones across town and was offered five percent over my investment for them. I didn't sell of course, I also never returned to the first dealer again.
Even with the cash I allowed to accumulate in the safety deposit box. I had still accumulated over a hundred grand worth of stones. I had no idea of their actual value. I had paid over a hundred for them.
A few years ago I got a call from Emma. She was on the move again, that time to Atlanta. She was going to take over editing a smaller newspaper. She was looking forward to the editing job. She gave me her new address. She then insisted I come to visit her. I waited a month for her to settle in, then went to visit. My visit coincided with a convention of home builders.
I rang her bell. I was shocked when a man answered. I explained that I must have the wrong apartment. He assured me that if I were looking for Emma O'Toole, I had the right one. He invited me inside. Rather than look like a fool, I went in. I had driven but hadn't bothered to bring the camper. I had expected to spend my time with Em.
"I see you haven't checked into a motel yet. May I suggest the Riviera. It isn't too far and actually is quite nice," the man suggested.
"Excuse me, but who the hell are you?" I asked.
"I'm so sorry," He wasn't of course. "I am Winthrop Morton, Emma's fiancee," he informed me with a smug smile.
"When did all this happen and where is Emma?" I snapped.
"It happened a couple of days ago, and Em is at work. She should be home in an hour or so. You of course may wait," he said.
"Is this your apartment Winnie?" It was definitely a step up from the hole in the wall place Emma had occupied in New York.
"Actually it is and the name is Winthrop," he said on the edge of anger.
"Tell you what Winnie. I think I will be moving on. Nice to have met you." We had been like a couple of male dogs circling each other from the start. I drove my truck to the Georgian Terrace Hotel and checked in. I had heard about the hotel on TV. It was the same hotel which accommodated the movie stars stayed during the premier of Gone With the Wind. I enjoyed the idea of sleeping under the same roof as Vivian Leigh and of course Clark Gable. I knew it was hokey but I found it rather nostalgic.
I called Emma's office the next day and spoke to her. "Emma, I met your fiancee last night. I wish you had told me about him before I knocked on your door." I said.
"I didn't expect you to just show up at my door," she countered.
"Why not, you show up at mine all the time," I said angrily.
"Well you don't, that's all. I understand you and Winthrop had a nice conversation," she said.
"Is that what Winnie said?" I asked.
"Well not exactly, his comment was more like, I certainly had some obnoxious friends."
"At least he is smarter than I thought," I replied.
"Oh yes, he can recognize a rude person when he sees one. Come have lunch with me anyway," she demanded in an almost girlish voice.
"Sure why not." I met her for lunch at her private club. It wasn't, thank goodness, Winnie's club. We laughed at poor Winnie 's expense for a couple of hours.
"He really is a dear," she said.
"I never heard you describe anyone that way. Either you have changed your speech habits for Winnie, or that is a nice way of saying he is a jerk," I commented.
"Oh no, he isn't a jerk. He is just rather inbred." I couldn't help it. I spit my water all over her as I laughed.
"I'm glad to know there is a difference. Please explain the difference to a poor county boy from the back woods of South Carolina?" I begged.
"A couple of million-bucks and three newspapers darling," she said.
"Oh he doesn't by any chance play poker does he. I am not having my best year."
"Oh, he has a rather wonderful card club. Strictly for gentlemen you know. I'm afraid you could never hope to play there," she teased.
"The club's loss, I assure you. They might like to take some of my money. You know, show the bumpkin from the wilds, how a gentleman's game is played."
"I'm sure, but I don't think I shall tell him, that you are even remotely familiar with the game of poker," she said seriously.
"Shame, if I can play him for six hours, I will own the three papers," I said.
"That would be even worse. I would for sure not be able to get any work done then," she replied.
"How you do compliment me," I said. "Of course, in the past you never had any problem leaving me to work."
"I know, but you know what an awfully selfish bitch I am," she said.
"You know I always loved you, because you call a spade a shovel," I said with a warm smile.
"Thank you Ed. God I am going to miss you," she said.
"You really going to marry this jerk?" I asked.
"Yes, I am going to marry that inbred, blue blood. I will wind up running at least one of his papers. I want that more than anything. I am over forty, Ed. I want to be married and I want children. Of course, I also want to be the big boss of the paper," she said with a confident smile.
"With Winnie you get at least part of it," I said.
"Right, with you I get none of it," she commented sadly.
"Just the fun, none of the material goodies," I admitted.
"Well walks on the beach. coffee on the fishing pier, and great sex everywhere, is vastly over rated," she said.
"If you believe that, then I should be invited to your wedding," I said as a joke.
"No way, I am not going to subject Winnie to seeing me with a better man," she said smiling at me.
"God, I am going to miss you," I admitted.
"Not all that much, I may still take my vacations in Myrtle Beach," she said with a smile I didn't recognize.
"You wouldn't dare," I guessed.
"Of course I would. Winnie is such a child, he will never know. Besides I slept with you longer than I have Winnie. I dare say more often along with it."
"Well I really can't help it I know this is a tacky question," I began with a large wicked smile.
"Don't ask, you are," she said.
"And what do you tell Winnie?" I asked.
"The same thing, why Winnie dear, you know you are the best," she said with a schoolgirls giggle.
"God you are a bitch," I observed.
"Guilty, now do your thing, then call me at the office before you leave. Where are you staying by the way?" she asked.
"The Terrace of course," I admitted.
"That God awful place. The only reason it is still standing, is because the cast of Gone with the Wind once stayed there," she informed me.
"I know, ain't it cool," I said.
"God you are a bumpkin. I will try to call you some afternoon before you go," she promised.
"Good, not before three though," I reminded her.
"I remember. I remember being in your arms till three in the afternoon. The sun so hot that we were both soaked in sweat. God, get out of here before I decide not to marry Winnie."
"If I asked you not to, what would you say?" I asked.
"Good-bye love, don't ask." she demanded.
The two of them were married that summer. I wasn't invited, but I could imagine that it was a big event in Atlanta. She sent me a clipping on two. I wish she hadn't. I wasn't real thrilled with the wedding.
True to her word, she came at least once a year to visit me. She had a baby the first year they were married. A little girl, I was never allowed to see. Even after the child was born she visited me once or twice a year.
I turned forty-nine a few days before the call. It came on a Wednesday. I remember it, because I was packing up for an art show on the beach. It was a dreary day. The weather seemed to all ready know what I was about to learn.
"Hello Ed, this is Winthrop Morton. I'm afraid I have some rather bad news for you." His voice was breaking with every word. I knew, I knew from his voice and the fact that he had even called. "Emma is gone?"
I forced him to say it. "Gone, you mean she has left you?"
"No, she is dead," He had a hard time going on. I had to prompt him. I was shaken and had to sit, but I still needed to hear it all.
"She was killed in a robbery the night before last." His voice fell apart and I waited till he composed himself.
"Winthrop I know this is hard, but I need to know. Was it a street crime or what."
"They broke into our home and robbed us. They raped and murdered her. Is that enough detail for you?" he asked angrily.
"Okay Winthrop calm down. When did this happen?" I asked.
"Night before last, around eight. We were leaving to meet friends for a dinner, when they burst into the house," he admitted.
"Is Sarah all right?" I asked.
"She is very upset, of course, but she is fine. She was staying with friends, since her mother and I were going out for the evening, he informed me.
"That's something to be thankful for at least . What can I do Winthrop?" I knew there was some reason he had called me. We weren't friends. I doubted he would ever have called me, if he hadn't been forced.
"I have been going through Emma's personal effects, I found a letter to you. Actually it was inside a letter to me. I am holding it for you. Emma in her letter to me, asks that we both accompany her body to High Point for burial."
I really didn't understand, but if she wanted me to accompany her home, then of course I would. "When does the plane leave Winthrop?"
"Tomorrow at one," he replied.
"I'll meet you at the airport in Atlanta. Give me the flight information." I didn't want to attend her funeral. It would be full of people I didn't know. The funeral was for her friends and family. The internment was supposed to be for me, and I guess Winthrop.
I spent the evening visiting with Jack Daniels. He and I reminisced about my encounters with the beautiful newspaper woman. I had been there to see her rise from obscurity, to managing editor of an Atlanta paper. Even though she had married the boss, I supposed she had done a good job. I knew she had, if she hadn't, she would have fired herself.
I drank myself to sleep that night . The next morning I awoke feeling pretty rough. I didn't have time to pamper the headache. I tossed a bag with a spare suit into the truck then headed for Atlanta.
I arrived at the airport at noon. I checked in, just to make sure the flight was on time. I paid for my ticket, then left my suitcase. I went to the coffee shop for food and coffee. The coffee, I needed most. Emma's death was still working its way through the layers of my brain. I had felt the loss of a dear friend last night, and mourned her passing. In the coffee shop I mourned the passing of a lover. As the loss sank deeper into my brain, I began to realize that I had lost much more than a friend and lover. I had lost another of the tenuous contacts I had with the real world.
I was three different people, and all three were frauds. I played artist on occasion, I pretended to be an upright businessman when I played cards. Emma was the only one who knew the real me. And even that was a fraud. I had wanted desperately to posses her but never tried. I was afraid I couldn't sustain a relationship, and feared the loss of her. Of course, I lost her anyway.
With her passing, I felt desperately alone. She had somehow been my lifeline to the real world. Without her, I might well drift off into one of the impersonations, never to join the world of real people again. I might become a man without an identity. The one Emma saw was the closest to a real person. Without her to keep it alive, I might be lost.
My mourning took on a personal note. Everybody mourns loved ones, by judging their death's effect on them. We try not to, because we see it as selfish, but everybody does it . Most just never admit it, even them themselves.
My grief was interrupted when Winthrop called my name. I shook his hand, something I had never done before. He handed me the letter with a sad expression on his face.
"There has been a change in plans. I chartered a plane to fly us up to High Point. I really didn't want to be around strangers today. I just don't think I could stand it."
The plane hit a down draft and seemed to fall from the sky. It caught the wind again and lifted itself back to level flight. The sudden violent movement shocked me from my walk down memory lane. I looked down at the letter I held in my hand. It was addressed to me in the same sloppy handwriting I had seen on dozens of good-bye notes I had at home. Emma lived by the written word. She always left me a note hidden in the cabin, to be found after she had gone. I actually had saved them all. I dreaded this one, but I tore the envelope and read.
"Dear Ed, Since you are reading this, I am dead. God that sounds so permanent, and so very sad. Not for me, my pain will have ended. Yours and Winthrop's will just be starting. There are things that I can not say in this letter, since I can not be assured that it will not be read by someone else. They are things that you must discover on your own, if you wish.
Ed, Winthrop is not as strong as you. I beg you to help him through this. Obviously I don't know what will take my life, but whatever it is Winthrop can not cope alone. If he will allow it, I beg that you help him. I also beg you to see Sarah, when the time is right, tell her about me. It is important that she not follow the path I followed. I waited too long and missed too much for the sake of a job. Please make sure she doesn't do the same.
Finally, I must tell you this, even if it is read by others. I loved you. I loved you from the moment I saw you in that diner. I had wonderful times with you and couldn't have wished for a better or more attentive lover, or friend. You gave me the one thing I wanted, but didn't need. You gave me the room to succeed. I did and lost everything in the process. If it hadn't been for Sarah, I would have come to live in that fishing cabin after I found out how empty my dream was. I had it all and I had nothing.
Enough of this crying over spilled milk. I wish you to take my body back to my home. To the place where we met and where I was the happiest. I wish to rest beside my parents and far from Atlanta. I don't want my daughter tied to a grave. I want my grave so far away, that she must think of the living, not the dead. I want to rest beside my mother and father, for they aside from you were the only ones I ever loved.
Do what you can for Winnie and Sarah, but most of all take care of yourself. I have asked that I be buried in the jewelry you gave me. I do not wish any other on me. Please see to it. I especially do not wish to wear Winthrop's wedding ring for eternity. It was hard enough to wear it in life. I loved him in my way, but not as I should have. Em."
I thought about her statements for a long time then said to Winthrop, " Winthrop she asked in the letter that I make sure her wedding rings were saved for Sarah, that they not be buried with her. She wanted Sarah to have them."
"I know, she asked that of me. I conceded to her wishes, though they were not my own. She left me detailed instructions as to what she should wear and in what jewelry she was to be buried. It was a bit strange, it was all jewelry she had purchased before we were married. She wanted everything I gave her to go to Sarah. Her letter to me stated she wanted Sarah to enjoy them as much as she had." he broke into tears.
"Take it easy Winthrop, we will get through this," I declared.
"You know, you aren't near as bad as I imagined all these years," he said.
"Yes I am Winthrop. This is just not the day for being a prick." He nodded and I knew that he was trying hard to be real today. Hell I know I was.
A hearse from the local funeral home met the plane. Along side it was the family car. We rode to the downtown High Point cemetery in almost total silence. The grave side service took only a few minutes. Winthrop was a wreck and wanted to leave immediately. I insisted that he return with his jet right away. I wanted to stay a while. I agreed to meet him in Atlanta. I still had a ticket on the commercial flight. The driver of the Limo agreed to take him to the airport then return for me.
I sat by the open grave and ran each of my encounters with Emma over in my mind, yet again. I knew I had loved her and she loved me. I hadn't realized how deeply I had loved her. I had no indication, that she had regretted her decision to marry Winthrop. I guess by the time she knew, Sarah had been born. My life was certainly no life for a child.
When I had run our lives through to the end, I looked up to see the backhoe sitting with it's driver about fifty yards away. He was waiting for me to leave, so that he could close the grave. I walked to him.
"I want to stay till the grave is closed so please continue." I don't think he much liked the audience, but he drove the monster to the grave and began filling it. I stayed by her side till the hole was filled. I said good-bye one last time, then walked to the waiting limo.
"Would you drive me to 'Alex's house' on the way to the airport please." He looked like he might refuse, but I guess people are pretty kind to grieving relatives and friends. He parked across the street in the lot of a vacant building. I looked into the restaurant for the last time. I mentally removed the furniture market from my list of events. Being here again, would be just too painful.
At the airport I explained the tickets not being used from Atlanta. The woman was kind enough to take it back and give me another ticket . I boarded the next flight which left an hour later. I steered clear of the lounge. I went to the coffee shop and waited for the flight to leave. The flight was quick and comfortable.
When I entered the terminal, I noticed a Limo driver holding a sign with my name. Winthrop had sent his driver for me. The Limo was actually nothing more than a Ford Crown Victoria. One of those business car service jobs. The car took me to Winthrop's little town house. It was probably twelve rooms on the outskirts of Atlanta.
Winthrop met me at the door. "Ed, please come in."
I entered the house, it was indeed beautiful. The entry hall had fancy wallpaper and a black and white marble floor. I followed Winthrop down the hall to his study. He seated himself on a sofa. I sat in an overstuffed chair covered in a cordovan colored leather.
"Nice house you have here." He nodded and I paused. This was terribly uncomfortable for both of us. "Look Winthrop, this is hard on both of us. If you don't mind I would like to see Sarah, then I will be going."
"Ordinarily I would tell you to go to hell, but Emma expressly told me in her letter that she wanted Sarah to meet you. She said you would take care of Sarah, if I couldn't. Of course, that will never be necessary. I can take care of my daughter."
"Of course you can Winthrop." This was no time to pick a fight with him. As a matter of fact, I would never have to see him again. The trick now was to just get through this. "I'm sure she didn't mean it the way you took it. Every mother thinks of thousands of possibilities, we could never imagine. I'm sure, she was just imagining the absolute worst possibilities that could ever happen."
"I'm sure you are right," I could tell he wasn't sure at all. "I'll go get her. I won't be a minute."
I sat alone in the room full of books. Three of the walls had shelves to the ceiling each filled with books. It was only natural to wonder how many were decorations, and how many had actually been read.
The little girl of five entered the room. I spoke to her before Winthrop had the chance. I knelt on the floor so that I would be her height. "Hi, you must be Sarah." I appraised her while I waited for her answer. She had Emma red hair but it was curlier. Her face was a little more rounded than Emma's. The dead give away was her almost black eyes. Since Emma's were green and Winthrop's were blue the almost black eyes were both dazzling and out of place. I had seen parts of this face in the mirror, for most of my forty nine years. Of course there would never be a way to know for sure, but I wasnt sure Sarah was my daughter .
"Are you Mr. Edwards?" she asked in a tiny little voice.
"Yes I am honey." I looked at her because I didn't dare look up at Winthrop.
"Mommy told me you were a nice man. She told me that if I ever needed anything done, I should call you. She even wrote your number in my diary."
"Well honey your Mommy was right. You can call me anytime, even if it is just to talk."
"Mr. Edwards, do you know what happened to my Mommy?"
"A little honey," I said it fighting back the tears.
"Daddy said she has gone to be with the angels," Sarah said.
"Your daddy is definitely right about that honey," I agreed.
"I heard the men, who came to talk with daddy, say some bad men hurt mommy. Is that true?" she asked.
"I don't know about that honey. I wasn't here when the men talked to your daddy," I said trying to duck her question.
"If bad men hurt my mommy, can you punish them. Mommy said you could do anything. Can you punish them?" She began to cry and fell into my arms. I cried along with her. We were locked in that strange embrace for a long time. When she had cried out, Winthrop took her back upstairs to her nanny.
"I guess you will want to be going now?" Winthrop said upon his return.
"Winthrop, I know you are a powerful man in this town. I think I want to read the police reports on this incident. Could you arrange that for me?"
"I suppose I could, but frankly Ed I would rather you left town," he said. It was possible her knew more than I had given him credit for knowing.
"I understand that, but I don't think I am quite ready. I need to understand this and until I do, I am not leaving. Now you want me gone and I frankly want to get home. The easiest way for both of us to get what we want is for you to authorize me access to the police reports. If you do, there is no reason to believe you will ever see me again."
"That is pretty much what I want, so sure I will call a friend. Wait here." He was gone a few minutes then returned with a strange look on his face. "They refused. It seems that I am a suspect, they wouldn't release the information to an agent of mine until the investigation is complete." He paused and paced the floor. "For God's sake, how can I be a suspect. I mean I loved my wife and she was brutally murdered not to mention the other. How can they think I had anything to do with that."
"Calm down Winthrop. The husband is always a suspect until the thing is cleared," I explained.
"Maybe, but I am not going to take this lying down," he snapped.
"You should do two things right now. One, call your lawyer for some advice. The other is to tell me everything so that I can understand. When I do, I will leave you alone. The cops won't tell me, so you are going to have to tell it again."
He was lost in thought. I don't have any idea how fast his mind works usually, but it was slow today. He paused for a long moment. "Call me Win, everyone does."
"Win get with it, call your lawyer and get some advice you trust. You certainly don't trust me," I said.
"Actually I do, but you are right. I think I will call him first." He left the room without excusing himself this time. He returned ten minutes later, "Martin the family attorney is on his way over. I think we should wait for him. If I have to tell it again, I only want to do it once.
It was a very long twenty minutes before Martin rang the bell. As with me, Win answered the door himself. They stayed outside in the hall mumbling or for at least ten more minutes. When Martin entered the room, I was surprised to find him younger than either Win or I. He held out his hand and I shook the cold mackerel.
"Win has explained your interest in this incident, but I personally don't understand," he said.
My fuse is always short, but today I had run way past the limit to my patience. "Look Win, I assume this man works for you?" Win nodded. "Then the decision is yours. I am not going to explain my interest to this man. Either you talk to me, or you are wasting my time. I would rather hear the story from you, but believe me I will damned sure find out what happened here that night. Frankly it doesn't make you look too good, being afraid to talk to me."
"Who is this man Win?" the shyster asked.
"Councilor, no one rattled your chain, so sit the fuck down," I demanded.
"I will not," he declared.
"Then counselor, I will give you a couple of minutes to phone your dentist, because you are damned sure going to need some work. Now why dont you shut your fucking mouth." He saw the blood in my eye so he shut up. If he had threatened to call the cops, I would have kicked his arienced.
"Now Win, either talk to me or tell me to leave, because we are wasting time and I have things I want to do," I demanded.
"Okay, but please stop threatening people. I am just as upset as you," he informed me.
"Win, let's get this over with so that I can get away from you and your friends."
"Four nights ago, around eight, Emma and I were preparing to leave for a dinner party. They must have been waiting for us, or they just happened to be on the porch when we opened the door. There were two of them and they pushed us back into the house. They each had a pistol of some kind. The herded us to this very study. They tied me with that silver tape, then forced Emma to open the safe. They sorted through the safe taking the cash and some securities. Of course, they took some of Emma's jewelry. She had much of it stored in the bank vault. Most of the jewelry wasn't terribly expensive, but it had some value. When they had the contents of the safe Emma demanded that they leave. One of them slapped her, she fell. They raped her in front of me." I could see him coming apart, so I allowed him a pause to collect himself. "On the way out the door one of them turned and shot her. They fled and I remained taped to that chair over there for a long time. I had to stare at her body for what seemed like hours until I came to my senses. I knocked the phone off the hook and pressed the emergency call button with my nose. The alarm company came first, then the police."
He stopped as if he thought he were through. Not by a long shot was he through. I noticed the lawyer taking notes. "I need a sheet of that paper counselor." He handed me one, but it was obvious he would rather have cut my hand off. "Now, Win I need to ask you some questions. I know the cops probably asked you the same ones, but I need to know. Who knew you were going to be leaving for dinner at that time of night? I asked."
"Anyone who knew we were going to the dinner could have guessed when we would leave. No one could have known exactly," he informed me.
"Not good enough Win. No one in their right mind would hang around on your porch for a half hour while you two got ready to leave. How would they know exactly when you were going out the door."
"I don't know."
"Okay take it easy, go back over exactly what you did that night. After you were both dressed."
"Well, since I was driving, I got my car keys, then waited for Em in the hall. When she came out, we went straight to the door. Then it began." He started to get lost again so I quickly interrupted his thoughts.
"You didn't set your alarm before you opened the door. Why is that?"
"The alarm is set from the outside after the door is closed. It can be set from the inside, but Emma constantly forgot things and had to run back in. the timer delay is just a pain in the ass."
I could agree with that. I don't own an alarm, but I know about them. "Something warned those men that you were on your way out. Do you turn off lights when you leave or turn on the outside lights."
"Of course the drive lights. I have those small knee high, low watt lights that line the drive. I turn them on as I open the outside door. The switch is by the door."
"Okay they hide in the bushes by the porch, when the lights come on they climb onto the porch to wait for you. When the door opens, they push you back into the house. That works, but who knew that you would be alone in the house." He looked like I had lost him so I asked. "Do you have servants that stay in the house at night."
"Oh, I see what you mean. No they all leave after dinner, around seven. All except the nanny. She has Monday nights off. It is her regular night off."
"Okay, so far we have someone who knew that the nanny was off on Mondays, and someone who knew you would be going out for the evening. Which I assume you wouldn't ordinarily do on the nanny's night off?" I asked.
"Never, as a matter of fact, we weren't even planning on this dinner until the Simmons family invited Sarah for a sleep over."
I made a note about the Simmons family. I added it to my Nanny note. "The drive lights could have been a stake out observation. Have you noticed any strangers or strange cars hanging around?" I asked. He shook his head. He wouldn't have noticed. People like Win are not suspicious by nature. "Win, when they forced you into the study did they know where the safe was located or did you point it out to them?" I asked.
"They knew. I don't know how, but they knew," he said.
"Did you give the police a list of your household staff? I asked.
"Yes," he replied.
"Did you include anyone who might have been fired recently?" I continued.
"Yes, is the safe significant?" He asked in return.
"Probably, I assume not too many people knew its location?" I asked.
"Probably all the servants. Maybe a handful of business associates," he replied.
"You gave the police their names I assume?"
"Yes I did," Win replied.
"Have there been any strangers in the house? You know, termite people, inspectors of any kind, gas or electric company people?"
"None," Win said.
"Would you know if there had been?"
"Maybe not, I can ask the house keeper. She is the one here during the daytime," Win suggested.
"Would you do that now please?"
When he had gone, Martin said, "Mr. Edwards, we got off to a bad start, and I am sorry. I am surprised that you know so much about this. Are you an investigator?" he asked.
"No, I just know a lot of crooks. I know how they think," I replied.
"The housekeeper says that she hasn't seen anyone." Win said as he came through the door.
"Okay is there an alarm on the safe?"
"Yes, but it is tied to the house alarm, since we had never set the house alarm the safe alarm was never turned on," he admitted.
"Has anyone from the alarm company been around recently? You know to check or service the system?"
"No, I would have been told about that, and there hasn't been."
I closed the study door. "Win, my guess is that knowingly or unknowingly, you, Emma or someone on your staff gave the men information. They needed a lot of information for the robbery. They knew too much, not to have been informed. Only one thing makes it look bad for you."
"What is that?" Martin asked.
"Winthrop is still alive. If they killed Em so she couldn't identify them, then Win should be dead. If killing Em was part of the plan, then Win is a natural suspect."
"Don't you want a description of them?"
"Not unless you know where to find them? Atlanta has several million people. The cops are better equipped to handle this?" I admitted.
I stood and shook Winthrop's hand. I held it in both of mine, then I looked him in the eyes. I hope you aren't involved in this because I would hate to kill Sarah's father."
He surprised me by understanding. "I'm not, but I'm glad you loved her that much, because she loved you that much." I broke the hold and headed for the door.
"Ed, I'll have the driver meet you in the front." I waved over my shoulder and went out the door. I looked at the bushes as I waited for the driver. They were thick and tall enough to conceal two people.
I only had a moment to think about the implications before the driver pulled the big Ford into the drive. I climbed into the rear. He had me at the airport as the sun began to set. I checked my truck out of the long term parking lot. I then began the long drive home.
During the next six hours, I alternately cried and cursed. I cried at the memory of Emma and cursed my stupidity for not having forced the issue between us on a hundred different occasions. I though occasionally about Sarah, but tried not to dwell on her. She would grow up a rich pampered child. One, who would never know any want. There was no need for it to be any other way.
I made it home after midnight. I fell into bed and slept solidly for nine hours. The time was well after two p.m. when I awoke. I ate a late lunch, then thought about all that had happened for yet another few hours. It was bedtime again. It seemed that I had done no more than think of Emma and Sarah for the last two days.
Things returned to normal as much as possible during the next couple of weeks. I received a clipping in the mail which informed me, the grandson of Emma's house keeper had been charged with the murder of Emma. He had killed Emma because of some slight she had given the boy. It seemed the kid had some kind of an emotional problem. He had actually been the trigger man. His friend was as disturbed as he. They both were junkies of course.
It took over a year for them to come to trial. After a few weeks of evidence, including some from a couple of psychiatrist, one was found not quietly by reason of insanity. The other was found guilty of second degree murder. Of course the trigger man was the one found not guilty by reason of insanity. The other junkie was given twenty five years to life.
The junkie was sent to the state hospital. He would be reviewed every six months until he was judged sane. At that time he would be released back into the community. The verdict drove me nuts. I couldn't believe that someday that shit would walk the streets and Emma would still be dead.
Then a month before by fifty-fifth birthday I was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. It had been five years since Emma's death. I refused all treatment for the rapidly progressing disease. I got a note for Win along with a clipping showing the asshole who killed Emma on an field trip from the hospital.
I called Win immediately. "Win can you find out when that asshole is going to be on another of his outing?" I asked.
"I suppose, why?" he asked.
"You don't want to know. Just do it, but do it so that it can't be traced back to you," I advised.
"Ed, you aren't going to do anything foolish are you?" he asked.
"It won't be foolish, believe me," I advised him.
I drove to Atlanta on a Friday night. I drove straight to Win's house. I dropped a box with him for Sarah. Then I drove on to a small town fifty miles south of Atlanta. I waited outside the hospital until the bus left the gates. I followed it until it turned toward the state park. The minimum security inmates were headed for a picnic on the state park grounds. I passed the bus and arrived at the camp grounds before it. I hiked with the suitcase up the trail to a spot overlooking the picnic shelter to be used by the hospital.
When they arrived I was so out of breath that I hacked and coughed a long time before I could settle into the scope. Through the scope I watched him move among the other patients. He was easy to spot, he was half a foot taller than any of the others. I assembled the dear rifle and waited for a clear shot. It didn't take long, my target moved into the open with a hot dog in his hands. I aimed carefully took a deep breath and fired. I worked the bolt quickly and settled the scope on the spot where he had stood. I saw him sprawled on the ground and fired into his body again. I shot him five times with the powerful deer rifle. I left the rifle on the ground, then walked to my truck. No one stopped me, they didn't seem to care.
Before I left my home, I had converted a handful of the diamonds to cash. I used the cash to purchase a ticket to South America. The doctors in the hospital here tell me that it won't be more than a couple of weeks. I wanted you to have this to open when you open the box. Call this a kind of graduation present. Your dad will hold it for you until that time. I never knew you Sarah, but I loved you because I loved your mother. Since you were a part of her, it was easy.
I only met you the once, but I promised you something and I never lie to a beautiful lady. Not once in my whole life. Inside the box you will find some stones, and some letters your mother wrote me once upon a time. Be careful how you convert the stones to cash. Save the letters, someday you will understand, maybe not at first but someday.
I close my eyes even now and I see her sitting on that crummy old pier. I see the ocean breeze blowing red hair into her face, and my eye's fill with tears. I can feel her touch on my skin and hear her voice on the breeze. I loved you mother, and now I love you.
I wish for you the same things your mother would have wished for you. I wish that you find true love, and that you not turn your back on it while searching for dreams that are no more than ashes. Read your mother's letters and search for that kind of love.
Ed. E. Edwards.
PS. Emma's letters were not dated, so I have numbered them in the order she wrote them. I am sorry they are so soiled, but I have read them many times before you.
Thanks for a lovely time. I know I am lousy about writing so I am going to leave this under your pillow. I hate to leave you but the new job calls. I have to go out into the world and make my mark. (Ha) I wish I could stay in this wonderful place with you, but I promised myself I would make it to the top. Love ya. Em.
I love your beach and I love you, but I can't stay I wish I could. I can't find anyone like you. Especially not in that phony land by the Potomac. God when we make love, I am more real than I ever could be in Washington. I want to stay with you, but I have this force driving me on to do wonderful things. I love you. I have to run the cab is here. Love ya. Em.
Why can I only write to you as I am leaving. I hate that about myself. I think it is that once I leave here, I dare not admit how much I love you. I know you don't want me to go, but I must. I would go crazy in this beautiful place. I have worked so hard and my dreams are so close. My only regret is that our dreams are so different. Hell our lives are so different. I am sorry but I must go. I do love you. Em.
Iv into your bag. I love you. Em.
Damn you, why won't you come back to New York with me. I know you love me. I know that you would be happy there with me. You know I won't come here to stay, so why shouldn't you come to New York. I promise I will make you happy just come to New York. Please come stay with me. I wake up nights longing for the touch of your body. Hell I even long to hear you snore. I love you, You are always welcome in New York, so please come. Love Em.
I finally have begun to understand way you won't leave this beautiful place. Why should you come to New York with the dirt and slime when you have heaven here. I loved the ocean as I always do. I love the rum and cokes on the pier. I love the walks on the beach. I even love being covered with sweat. God what a wonderful place you have here. I only wish I could be satisfied. Something seems to be driving me toward a fate I can only guess. I expect someday to be Ted Turner. You know, own the news world. I love you, but the cab is here. Love ya. Em.
As usual I lack the courage to tell you anything face to face. I am going to slip this into your suitcase before you leave here. I know you are hurt by my upcoming marriage to Winnie. He is a good man and at least I get a lot of what I want from him. That wasn't fair. You gave me everything I would take. I just want a different life than the one you live. Winnie can give me the best of that life. I promised I would still come see you and I will. You have to believe me, I have not stopped loving you. I could never stop any more than I could stop breathing. I just need the things that Winnie can give me. I hope you understand if not today, then before my next vacation. Love ya. Em.
Sarah, I am sealing the last few letters in this envelope. These are the notes your mother wrote to me after she married your dad. I think maybe they are too private for you just now. Someday you should read them. She talks a lot about you in them, but wait till you can understand your mom. Ed E. Edwards.
The plane from South America landed at the airport terminal a few miles from High Point Two people stepped from the long black limousine. One was a tall thin man with grey hair. He stood tall and straight. Those who witnessed the event would have described him as distinguished looking. Beside him stood a girl about ten or twelve.
A sealed metal casket was removed from the cargo hold of the airplane, then carried to the rear of a hearse not be six men, but by a forklift. The driver was guided by the driver of the hearse as together they worked the metal box into the shiny black hearse.
"Be careful with that," the older man said.
"Daddy, who is in the casket?" the girl asked.
"A most remarkable friend," the man said.