WHAT THE BLIND EYE SAW
My name is name is Elliot James Barnes. Everybody who knows calls me EJ. I guess I got that name because I hated Elliot. When I was young I thought it made me sound like some prep school dork. Now that I am older, I wish I had been a prep school dork.
My father had tried everything he knew to convince me to go to college. Instead I went into the Air Force. Fortunately for me it was between wars. There weren't even any skirmishes during my four years.
I spent the time as a military policeman on a fairly unimportant base. I mostly pulled guard duty, either on the flight line or on the entrance gate. Almost all first hitch airmen do it that way. I answered a few disturbance calls in the on base housing units, but not many. I even worked on a drug sting. I did that exactly once. The four years were pretty much a waste of my time. My father had warned me that they would be a waste. Maybe for the only time in my life I agreed with him.
I tried college when I came home. I found it to be pretty much irrelevant to my world. I had heard all the reason for me to be in school. They just didn't stand up to the reality of what I was doing. I just couldn't figure out the need for me to know the structure of a tree. I had no plans to be a gardener.
I was fed up with school, but had no idea what else to do with my life. I made that discovery about two weeks before the recruiting letter came from the Atlanta police department. They sent them to several of the military policemen after their discharge.
Atlanta is a bitch of a town. Nobody in their right mind wants to be a cop there. The only hope the city father had was to find people like me. People who knew nothing about the town. It helped if they didn't know anything about anything else either. I fit the bill perfectly.
I had a relatively short and unevently stay in Atlanta. I was there for thirteen years. In that time I worked about every assignment in the police department. I was competant at them all. I don't think I excelled at any one thing.
Two things happend during my thirty fifty year on this planet. One my father passed away in the spring. I guess I had that, and maybe other things on my mind a month later when I fell off the top of a building. Actually I didn't fall off the building. I fell into the building. I was chasing a burglar over the roof. He had removed the air vent to gain entry into the drug store. I chased him across the roof then back again. He ran past the vent hole and I ran into it. My fall was slowed by the 'drop in' ceiling or I might have been killed.
My luck, such as it was, ended there. I fell on top of a display of some kind. I am certain of only one thing. It was filled with glass bottles. I landed face down on the display. I took a bottle in my right eye. It broke inside my eye.
I stayed in the hospital for a week while the doctors assessed the damage. They came to the conclusion that I would never see from my right eye again. There wasn't even a way to transplant the damaged eye. The glass had done a number on me
I opted for a half pay medical retirement. It took me exactly two days to sell the things I couldn't get into my old Ford. I left the same night on which the buyers picked up my old furniture.
The drive was long and tedius but I refused to stop until I was back in North Carolina. When I crossed over the state line my heart felt lighter than it had in years. I was headed home. I think I knew then for the first time how much I had really missed home. At the same time, I felt a deep sorrow that my father hadn't lived to see me return home. He had always hoped I would come back to stay.
I left the interstate highway outside of Charlotte. I drove the smaller but less traveled state roads home. It took me a long time to make that drive but I didn't mind. I reveled in the sights and smells of rural North Carolina.
I remember that it was hot that night. I chose to drive with the windows down rather than use the car's air conditioner. I was soaked in sweat within twenty minutes but it was worth it. I breathed the air which was almost clean. Compared to Atlanta it was sanitized. I smelled the sweet smell of vegitation that had been only a memory hours before.
It was hard for me to believe the feelings which ran through my mind and body. I found that I had to fight myself to keep the car at sixty miles per hour. I wanted to fly so that I might reach home sooner. I had planned to spend a few hours in Wilmington before I continued on home. I almost decided not to wait.
I knew that I should. There was little sense in arriving home in the middle of the night. I forced myself to turn toward the much larger city of Wilmington. Wilmington was my second favorite town in the whole world. My smaller home town beat it out, but only by a hair.
I drove into Wilmington over some really fancy bridges. I even passed the Battleship North Carolina. I got a good look at the old lady. She was a marvelous sight even in the dark. Deep shadows hid any defects she might have. I saw the same sight which I am sure many sailors saw from smaller ships. She was shrouded in mystery by the darkness. Just as she would have been during the blackouts of World War II.
I continued on to the intersection leading to Carolina Beach. If I had made the right hand turn I would have found myself there in about thirty minutes. Instead I turned left. The road took me into the heart of Wilmington.
I wanted to drive through the town. I wanted to remark to myself how much the place had changed, since I came here with my high school buddies. I turned right on Market street and headed to Wightsville Island. As I drove the six or so miles, I got to see just how much the town had grown in seventeen years.
The downtown itself hadn't changed all that much, but the areas just outside of the downtown had changed a great deal. New restaurants and small retail stores were everywhere. Some of the old restaurants had changed names and others had just disappeared. It still had the same small town atmosphere at four a.m. It probably would seem different with the tourist running around during the daytime.
It would be different still, in the evenings when they took over the nightspots. My favorite time in Wilmington had always been winter. The tourist were gone after labor day. At least most of them.
After labor day it was locals, fishermen, and high school kids from the nearby towns who supported the businesses. In my days the drinking age had been eighteen. I was lucky enough to possess a fake Id card. All during my senior year of high school, I could be found in one of the clubs in Wilmington. Those were the last of my carefree days.
The drive to the island was too short. I hardly had time to remind myself of those days before I was came upon the draw bridge over the inland waterway. I was forced to stop on the land side while the bridge was up for a merchant ship of some kind. Probably a tug, I thought.
During my wait, I looked down the parallel road by the waterway. I could see a couple of new restaurants built on the land side of the waterway. I could also look across the waterway and see the high rise condominiums. Most were dark at this time of the morning but a few had lights burning. Tourist who never slept probably.
When the bridge returned to its down position, I drove across to Wrightsville Island. It had always been my favorite place in Wilmington. One had to be carefull not to allow the locals to overhear it being referred to as part of Wilmington. The island had it's own town council and police department. They were a totally seperate community. It would always be part of Wilmington in my eyes.
I crossed the bridge, then made a bee line for Johnny Mercer's pier. I found a parking space without any trouble. It wouldn't be that easy later in the day. There would be fishermen, and tourist fighting for these spaces come daylight. The fights would continue till one or two in the morning. By then the palm room would be in full swing.
In the palm room, you could buy only beer. At least, it had been that way seventeen years ago. Now you could probably buy a mixed drink in the bar area. No telling what you could buy in the bathroom.
I passed by a closed restaruant, as I walked to the pier. Once on the pier, I walked into the snack bar which blocked the pier entrance. A sleepy eyed, middle aged woman sat on a stool behing the counter. She looked up when she sensed my entrance. I could see the curious look on her face.
The deep scar and black patch, had that effect on everyone. Especially those I met for the first time. She arose from her stool, went to the cash register, then asked, "Can I help you?"
Her words weren't friendly, but her accent was wonderful. She had to be a life long resident of this area.
"Yes ma'am, I would like a large black coffee." I asked with the sweetest smile I could manage. I found these days, it was the best way to reassure people. Some people said I looked like a pirate with the patch and all. Others say I look like the villian in a bad movie. Either way, I didn't want to scare the woman into an early heart attack.
The smile worked. Or maybe it was my own accent. "So, you aren't a tourist are you?" she asked.
I know how the locals feel about tourist. The prevalent feeling is that they are a necessary evil. An evil, to be relieved of the heavy burden of their cash. Otherwise they are to be avoided like the plague.
"No, Ma'am, I am on my way home. I just thought I would stop for a cup of coffee. Kind of visiting the scene of my misspent youth." I confided in her.
The woman was bored, and I looked like a temporary diversion. "So you don't live her anymore?" she asked.
I smiled again, "To tell you the truth, I didn't yesterday, but I will after today. I have been gone seventeen years, but I am moving back today. I am here killing time till my family wakes up. I didn't want to scare hell out of them in the middle of the night."
"My name is Hally," she said extending her hand to me.
"EJ," I said as I took it. "So, Hally anybody catching any fish tonight." I tried the coffee while I awaited an answer. It was reasonably good coffee. Not the best I had ever had, but far from the worst. "Good coffee," I interjected before she could answer my question.
"Thanks, fishin is only so, so. Sometimes it is good and sometimes it isn't so good. The coffee though is always good." she said with a broad smile.
"Mind if I take this out on the pier?" I asked motioning with the coffee cup.
"Naw, go right ahead." She seemed a little reluctant to see me leave.
I walked the hundred or so yards to the end of the pier. I stood looking out at the ocean for a while. I looked around and found a bench not completely covered with fish scales. Once seated, I looked out toward the ocean. It is strange but I could never keep a practical thought while gazing at the waves rushing toward the shore.
Somehow it just didn't seem right to worry about work, or even women while looking at the vastness of the ocean. My thoughts drifted to my father for a while. My dad had worked on the docks all his life. He didn't even live to retire. He just dropped over dead in his fifty seventh year. I felt both sorry for him and glad that he went so easily. I have seen a lot of men die, going out all at one time like that is the best way I know. It beats the hell our of cancer or some of the other lingering deaths around these days.
My father and I were never really close. It didn't matter any longer, I still missed him. More, I guess, for the things we might have done, more than for anything we did together.
My mind naturally drifted to my mother. Mother had always been the steel backbone of our family. She raised my sister and I. My dad was either working or busy in his shop. He never really knew how to talk to my sister or I. It didn't matter we loved him for his strength. Mama was even stronger. I could only guess how she and Sissy were coping with Daddy's passing.
I smiled when I thought about my first meeting with Mama and Sissy. Both had been told that I had been injured. I had allowed no one to discuss the nature of it with my family. I couldn't bring myself to worry them. Not so soon after daddy's death. My scars and patch were going to be a real surprise to them both. Another reason not to wake them in the middle of the night.
Sissy had written to me, that mama had gone back to work shortly after daddy's funeral. She didn't think mama should have done that. I guess sissy was a little more more upset than mama. Of course, mama knew what she was doing. After all, she knew daddy a hell of a lot better than either sissy or me.
When I looked at my watch, I discovered that I had time for one more large coffee before I continued on home. I strolled back to the snack bar. Hally greeted me with a smile this time.
"More coffee, EJ? she asked.
"Sure, this time give me a cup without a hole in it." She looked at me very seriously for a moment. She finally realized that it was a joke.
"Since that last one had a hole, there is no charge for this one." she said with a grin. I noticed her teeth for the first time. They were crooked and yellowed by cigarette smoke. Her smile didn't do much to make her more attractive.
"I appreciate that, So what is going on down here these days?" I asked. Conversation was going to be the coin of the realm for a while.
"Nothin' much, You wouldn't be looking for a job would you?" She asked.
"Not a chance, I came home to be a beach bum." I answered.
"Good for you. We need more of those around here." she giggled.
"Got a few already?" I asked.
"You bet, so may kids hangin out on the beach, you can't even walk your dog." she said with that toothy smile again.
"I sure as hell ain't no kid. What do you call a middleaged beach bum? I asked.
"We don't. At your age, you would be just a plain old bum." she said again with a grin.
"What kind of work is there around here?" I asked.
"You can be a waiter or you could work in a hop-in." she said getting a little more serious. "Of course with that face of yours, you could be a pirate. No offense?" she asked.
"None taken, I just don't have enough money for a boat. I guess it is the 7-11 for me." I said with a smile.
"I kind of doubt that. You look more like someone who should be a bouncer in a bar." she said grinning again.
"Not me, I hate violence. I think I will go back to the beach bum idea." I said with a smile.
"Just to change the subject, are you married EJ?" she asked.
"No, you lookin for a husband?" I asked.
"Hell no, I done had me two. Neither one was worth the powder to blow his ass up." she smiled but without as much enthusiasm. "How about you. You ever been married?"
"Once, that was enough for me. I don't think, I will be trying that again soon." I said.
"Sure you will. Men ain't no damned good at all without a woman." she said much more seriously.
"You could be right. Then again, my ambition in life is to be no damned good." I chuckled.
"You look like you been that already. Probably time for a change. You look around, you will find yourself a good woman. She will change your mind. God put us women on this earth just to whip you men into shape." she said. I notice her smile, a kind of wise assed smile.
"Well, Hally the conversation has been good, but I got to move on down the road. I'll be back another night." I said.
"You do that EJ. It has been real nice talkin to you." she said extending her hand again.
"Thanks for the coffee," I said as I took her hand.
The drive home took another hour. I probably could have made in half the time, had I not been day dreaming. I tried to cram the first eighteen years of memories into that extra thirty minutes. I of course couldn't.
I had always marked my arrival in town when I passed Simpson's service station. The station no longer belonged to old man Simpson, Not even to his son Andy. These days it was a convience store run by some Yankee company. Almost all the small business had been sold to some yankee chain these days. The old south was being whipped again. This time in commerce.
Sure we have a few giant companies owned by us, but not nearly as many as the carpet baggers. Don't get me wrong, I really don't mind. I don't care who gets the profits from my gasoline purchases. A fact is still a fact. The chain stores has decimated small business in the south. The decendents of families that once turned a small profit, now work for minimum wage in their father's old store. Now, of course, it has a shiney new front and shelves stocked with instant landfill.
I by passed all the burger joints, who now sold biscutts, most of which were inedible. I continued on till I saw the Memphis restaurant. A beautiful old name for a run down old diner. I parked in the small dirt parking lot beside the building. The Memphis had been in existance since before I was born. I could remember my parents dressing my sister and I for a dinner out. We would on those rare occassions, drive the half mile or so to the Memphis. Old Mister Sloan must be dead by now. I hadn't been inside the restaurant in seventeen years.
It was only seven a.m., still the restaurant was packed. I found an unoccupied, small two person booth by the window. I sat myself down and waited. The place was rocking. It took the waitress a few minutes to get to me. When she did it was with a big smile and a menu.
"You need a couple of minutes?" she asked.
"No, I know exactly what I want. I want two eggs over medium, link sausage, and grits?" I said smiling up at her.
"Toast or biscutts honey?" she said with a smile. She didn't seem to notice my scars and patch.
"Biscutts, no honey," I replied.
She gave me another big smile and small laugh. Then she turned to fight her way through the crowd.
While I waited for my breakfast, I looked at the faces around me. I had hoped to spot someone I knew in the sea of humanity. I could see the faces of about half the people. Some even looked vaguely familiar. I wasn't comfortable enough in my recollection to speak to any of them. I knew I would be embarrassed, if they were not people I had known.
Breakfast came with another smile from the waitress. She gently placed the plates on my table then slipped away. The food was good, but not as good as I remembered. It was still a great deal better than the food I had been eating in Atlanta. I never cooked, so I was at the mercy of the chrome and glass monstrosities calling themselves restaurants. Even worse, these days everyone down there had gone to fat substitutes. They might add a couple of years to your life, but the price paid was awful tasting food. Bland beyond words, was the way a restaurant critic had expressed it. She had my vote.
The food here, at least tasted like real food. I could loose my taste for the cardboard food of Atlanta real quick. It is one of the many things about Atlanta I wished to forget. I am not sure there was anything about Atlanta that I wished to remember.
I finished breakfast much too quickly. I had been sitting in restaurants too long. I stood to leave. I dropped a dollar bill on the table, turned toward the cashier's counter, when I heard the voice. It was a woman's voice.
"Ej is that you. It is you. What the hell happened to that beautiful face?" she asked.
The woman was about ten feet from me and advancing steadily. I didn't recognize her immediately. She was around five two, white, blonde shoulder length hair, plain buy not ugly by any means. I know the discription is right off a cop radio. I couldn't help it, I had too damned many years thinking that way. "Lucy, is that you?" I asked stupidly.
"Of course it is me. My God EJ, what did they do to you down there?" she asked.
I was a little embarrassed by her directness. It didn't help any that everyone in the place stopped eating to stare at me. "I had a little accident on the job. Nothing too serious. What the hell are you doing these days?" I asked.
"Me, I work for old Sam Slade. You remember Sam?" She saw that I didn't. "You know the lawyer." she said.
"Oh yeah old Sam," I still couldn't place him. "How is he doing?" I asked pretending to have some idea who she meant.
"Oh, Sam is still alive. That is about the best I can say for him. He has had a couple of heart attacks, but he still comes to the office for an hour or so. We have a couple of new people in the office now. Look EJ, I got to run. Why don't you stop by the office. I think you might enjoy meeting the new lawyer."
"I really don't care much for lawyers. I might stop by, just to let you fill me in on all the dirt." I said with a smile. My smile worked magic even with the scarred face. People had always responded well to my smile.
"You do that, make it soon." she said as she walked out the door.
I paid my bill then left the restaurant immediately. I was still embarrassed by the hard looks of the other patrons. I stood on the porch of the Memphis looking into the parking lot. The lot was filled with shiny cars. All except my ten year old Ford. The paint was faded. In some places it was missing all together. It had more small dents than all the other cars in the lot combined.
I had taken good care of the car. It had served me well over the ten years I had owned it. Now it was time to sell it to some kid. No adult would ever buy a car that looked that bad. It had been the right car for Atlanta. It didn't matter how many people banged it in the parking lot. It didn't matter if some kid ran a key across it, because he had a hard on for cops. It didn't matter how many lousy drivers ran into the rear of it. It was a peice of junk with a good motor. It was a typical city car. It was also part of my past. Another I made a mental note to start looking for a new car tomorrow.
Ten minutes later, I pulled into the driveway of my mother's home. Even when my father was living, it had always been my mother's home. He had bought it for her, and she loved it. There were no tract houses in Pineview. Every house was custom built. Most in the days before that was synonymous with expensive.
Mama's house was two stories tall, with dormers over both the front and rear. It hadn't been new when Daddy bought it. It was so well constructed that even the abuse we showered on it couldn't distroy it. The house was sparkling in the morning sun. It appeared that Mama had painted it since my dad's funeral.
I rang the sometimes working doorbell. I waited but no one came. I knocked just to make sure. Still no one answered the door. I found my door key, turned the lock and stepped into the house. Stepping into the living room was like a step backwards in time. The living room was almost as I remembered it from the day I left for boot camp.
In those days there had been no twenty five inch tv, but almost every other stick of furniture was the same. The sofa wore a different overcoat. I was sure the body was the same. I stood at the foot of the stairs and shouted, "Anybody home?" I walked through Mama's parlor and on into the kitchen. I checked the sink and found one coffee cup and one cereal bowl in the sink. The cereal bowl still had traces of milk. It apeared that Mama had already left for the day.
I used her phone to call Sissy. There was no answer. I guess everyone was at work. I returned to the faded red Ford. I opened the trunk then removed all my bags. I made several trips into the house. Each time I was loaded down with bags or boxes.
With the unloading completed, I returned to the kitchen. I found the coffee pot empty, so I went about refilling it. When it finally brewed, I sat at the kitchen table contemplating my next move. I hated to call either of them at work. I also didn't much care for the idea of going to their workplaces looking like a pirate. I preferred to break it to them at home.
I was also afraid Lucy might call either one or both of them. The news was something they needed to hear from me. My mind was a little foggy from lack of sleep, so I decided to take a nap. It would just have to work itself out.
I climbed the stairs to the three bedrooms. The larger one had been Mom and Dads room. I looked through the door and found it aniseptic clean. Mom had always been like that. Her bed was made and every spec of dust had been banished from the room. As I passed the smaller room, I glanced into the door. This room had once been Sissy's room. It was Mama's storage room now. The ironing board was still up and the sewing machine still open.
At the end of the hall was my old room. It was every bit as large as Mama and Daddy's room. I being the oldest had the larger of the kid's rooms. It was just about as I left it, minus the posters and pictures. The funiture was the same, I think that the bedspread was the same one I had the day I left for the Air Force.
I was tired enough that I just fell on top of the covers. Sleep overtood me in minutes. If I dreamed at all, I didn't remember any of them. When I awoke, I looked at my watch. I saw that it was almost three in the afternoon. The six hours sleep had worked wonders for me. I felt absolutely great.
I showered then dressed for the day. The day may have been more than half over but what the hell. Once down stairs, I turned for the kitchen. Inside the refrigerator I found a plastic container. Upon opening it I found Mama's meatloaf. I didn't think she would mind, so I made myself a sandwich. I washed it down with iced tea from the refigerator. The tastes took me back again to better days. Mama still cooked exactly as she had done in my childhood.
I washed all the dishes including her cereal bowl, before I moved to the large front porch. I sat in a very old oak rocking chair. I can still remember painting those chairs green. I assume they were the same ones. I sat with an ask tray beside me. I rocked and smoke for hours. The only enteruption was from a small brown dog. He tooked at me for a couple of minutes, then took a crap on the lawn. I ignored both him and his land mine.
Mama pulled her Lincoln into the drive shortly after five. I had chosen the porch carefully for our meeting. I wanted her to get a look at my face before she got into the house. She could get a moment to comprehend it all before we had to speak. She sat in the car for a second or two, then walked as quickly as she could up to the porch.
Mama hugged me tight before she spoke. "Elliot, I certainly hope the other boy looks worse than you." It was a remark I would have expected from Daddy.
Tears filled my eyes as I said, "I'm afraid not. He didn't fall through the roof with me."
"How bad is it son?" she asked, her own eyes tearing.
"About as bad as it looks Mom." I said. I didn't need to explain further.
"I guess this means you are through playing cops and robbers?" she asked.
"Looks like," I answered.
She nodded a couple of times then said, "Come on in the house before the neighbors think I am enteraining Long John Silver."
"More likely Silver the horse. I feel like a horse's ass." I said truthfully.
"You are. Not for falling through a roof, but for being there in the first place. You should have gone to college like we wanted." she said. Mama could find some mistake I had made in most anything. Fortunately she forgave me all my sins, even though she remembered every one of them.
"I tried to call Sissy. Nobody answered. I think, I better call her again. She really should hear about the eye from us." I said.
"You go ahead and call her son. She is a big girl now. She can take it." Mama said. "I'm going to change, then start dinner."
I knew she was going into her bedroom to cry. Mama didn't cry in front of people. No one in our family did. Hell nobody in town would do a thing like that. At least no one I knew.
I called from the kitchen phone. It rang three times before she answered. "Sissy this is EJ." I said.
"Where are you EJ."
"At Mama's house." I answered.
"How long can you stay this time?" she asked reproachfully.
"Probably from now on. Maybe not with Mama but at least in town."
"You mean you have come home to live?" she asked.
"Yep, I am here for good. Can you stand having your big brother in the same town?" I asked.
"I think, I can manage it. So what are you going to do now that you are home?" she asked this time seemingly concerned.
"I have no idea. I will do something though. Look Sis I have something to tell you."
Before I could begin she asked, "What?"
"I had a little accident in Atlanta." I began.
"I know Moma told me. You fell or something, right?"
"Yeah, but you should know before you see me. I got cut up a little. I also lost my right eye." I said as flatly as I could.
There was silence for a few seconds, then she began to cry. I didn't try to stop her. There would be no use. "It isn't all that bad," I finally said. "I can be a pirate now."
"Damn you. You make a joke of everything. I am coming right over there." she said hanging up on me.
I couldn't have stopped her even if I had tried. Sissy was just like the rest of my family. Hard headed, these days they had fancier words for it. Words don't make it any better. We are all just mule stubborn.
I returned to the porch after advising Mama that Sissy was on her way. I sat out on that porch for fifteen minutes. Since it was a five minute drive, Sissy must have stopped to cry before she came.
There was no room for her car in the drive, so she parked it on the road. I watched as she walked up the cement walk. She seemed to walk very slowly as if dreading the confrontation with me. She stepped onto the porch, then hugged me as Mama had done.
Sissy stepped back took a long look at my wrecked face. Then said, "That's not too bad. It kind of gives you character. Good knows you needed it." She lighted up the whole outdoors with her smile. She and I shared that one trait. Our smiles could win over almost anyone.
"Thank you honey. I knew that some good comes from everything." I said.
"You been talkin to Mama again. She is the worlds last ethernal optimist." she said.
"I guess," I confirmed.
"Let's go in and see what Mama has to say about this." she suggested.
Once inside the kitchen Mama spoke first, "If you are stayin for dinner Sissy, then get to work." she handed her a house coat. Sissy slipped into the cotton covering. The simple garment would protect her dress from cooking spills.
I sat at the kitchen table smoking. I couldn't help but notice the similiarity between the two of them. Mama of course was in her early fifties and Sissy barely thirty. They both shared the same fine blonde hair. Mama's probably had a rinse but it was a good job. They were both about the same height around five five. Their bodies differed only in age. Sissy's body was more angular but both were thin. Sissy's didn't sag yet, helped I am sure by the fact that she wasn't married. In the south married meant children. Children take a toll on the body. I could almost always tell if a woman had born children. Their bodies had a softer look about them.
We sat at the table. "If you had given me some warning, I could have fixed you a decent dinner." Mama complained.
"Are you kidding, I couldn't have ordered a better dinner." I said.
The meal consisted of fried salmon patties, coleslaw, black eyed peas and biscutts. Mama made the best biscutts. I showed my appreciation for the dinner by eating everything that wasn't tied or painted.
"I see you haven't lost your appetite," Sissy commented.
"Guess not." I agreed.
"So what are you going to do, now that you are home." Sissy asked. Mama would never have done that.
"I haven't decided. I might not do anything. I could just be a beach bum." I answered.
"You are a bum, so I guess moving near the beach would make you a beach bum." Sissy said.
"Don't say that about your brother. He has worked everyday since he turned sixteen. He is definatly not a bum. And you," she turned to face me. "You will definately not become a beach bum. I will just not hear of such a thing."
"I was only kidding Mom. I don't know what I will do. I will do something though. You can count on that. Okay?" I said.
"Let's have no more talk like that," mama demanded.
The conversation switched to gossip about the towns people. Sort of, who did what to who and where they are now. Sissy filled me in on almost everyone she could think of. Which was a lot more people than I knew or cared about.
It appeared that all my old girlfriends had married and some for the second time. I didn't have all that many. The divorce rate was pretty high in town.
Sissy left around seven. Mama and I sat talking for a long while after she had gone. Around ten Mama started up the stairs. She turned about half way up and said, "It's good that you came home son. Now I want all those boxes out of the livingroom before I come down in the morning." Some things never change.
When I awoke at eight the next morning, Mama had already gone off to work. She had worked for twenty years at the county office building. She had been a secretary all those years, but for different bosses. They came and went but Mama stayed on.
Sissy on the other hand, had more jobs than I could count. She was never out of work more than week. For one thing she was beautiful, for another she was probably the best book keeper in town. When she left a company, she didn't even go on job interviews. People just called her on the phone. That I guess was the benefit of living in a small town. Everyone knew everything, good and bad.
That morning Mama made enough coffee so that there was a cup or two left for me. I reheated it in the microwave. She even left me the newspaper on the table. I am sure it was for the classified ads. I read the news first. I just wasn't in as great a hurry as Mama.
I finally got around to the want ads. I read them all but found nothing that struck my fancy. With the paper finished and two cups of coffee under my belt, I drove into town. I wanted to look the place over. The downtown itself hadn't changed much. The building were the same, even though the occupants had changed. The five and dime was now some kind of antigue store. The movie theater was a church of some kind. The department stores had moved to the mall outside of town. The Belk store was now the county office building where my mother worked.
Most of the downtown building were either some type specialty shop or offices. I passed throught the whole downtown in about ten minutes. It would have been sooner had I not been stopped by the one traffic light in town.
As I left the downtown area I drove down the strip of fast food restaurants. I forced myself to stop in one of them for a biscutt. The biscutt was a great deal better than the same chain served in Atlanta. I even asked the manager about the difference. She explained that the company didn't own this restaurant. It was a franchise. The owner after eating one of the company's biscutts declared them unfit for human consumption. He had his own mother write her recipe for his restauants to use.
It was an interesting story, how true I can't say. I sat at a booth while I devoured the biscutt. I looked out the window at my old Ford again. It looked out of place even in this fast food restaurant parking lot. I determined to look into a car the very next thing I did.
Bob's used car lot was the first one I happened upon, after leaving the restaurant. Bob had died years before. The owner hadn't bothered to change the sign. It cost money and no one really cared who sold them their car.
I almost choked on my tongue when he told me the price of a three year old Buick. I hadn't paid that much for the Ford when it was new. I found the prices on all his cars depressing. I left his lot as depressed as I had been when told, I would never see from my right eye again. Not really but it was a close second.
I found my mind wandering as I drove toward the mall. I stopped so quickly that I almost caused the man behind me to run into me. I turned into the parking lot of Sam Evans law office. I waved at the man who passed me. He seemed a tad less than friendly as he shot me the rod. I really didn't blame him.
The law office had once been a service station. These days it was a building more suited for the west Texas. The bay doors had been filled in and the whole damned thing stuccoed. I entered what at one time had been the center bay of the garrage. I found Lucy punching holes in her computer keyboard.
"Lucy, I came to meet your lawyers, remember?" I asked. I don't know why I stopped, since I really didn't like lawyers much.
"Sure, hold on right there." she said as she continued to punch at the keyboard.
When she finished the page she was working on, she looked up and smiled. She immediately stood, then disappered through the right side door leading into what once been a repair bay.
When she returned she was followed by a somewhat familiar face. I couldn't place it but I knew it form somewhere. The voice that came from the female lawyer was warm and thick as honey. "Good to see you again EJ. For the most part you look well."
The woman obviously knew me. I just had no idea who she might be. "Thank you, I must say that you look pretty well yourself." I didn't have to lie. She was tall, thin and tanned. Fortunately she wasn't wearing a wedding band. Her hair was a dark brown and her eyes were almost black. She had a long thin nose ending only slightly over her full mouth.
"You don't remember me do you?" she asked with a smile.
"Actually, I don't. I could kick myself though." I said honestly.
"I am Jennifer Riley. You knew me as Bitsy Thompson. We went to high school together. Actually I was a year behind you." she said.
I still didn't really remember her. "Of course, how are you Bitsy. I see you are a lawyer. Good for you. It's about time someone from this town made something of herself. I guess you are married now. Got any kids."
"One and I'm not married any longer." she said looking me right in the eye.
"Too bad, I mean about the marriage." I didn't know what else to say.
"Not really, he was a jerk. He did leave me with one good thing." she said.
"You mean your child. Is it a boy or a girl?" I asked.
"A girl, She is eight years old now. She is really going to be a heart breaker. You want to see her picture?" she asked.
"Sure," I answered. It was my first lie to her. I had absolutely no interest in someone else's kid. She waved me into her office. Once I had passed the doorway she closed the door behind me. She also pointed me to a chair.
I sat across from her. She handed me the picture of a beautiful blonde child. "She sure has your good looks." I said.
"Unfortunately she also has my disposition. She is a willful little brat. So what brings you here?" she asked.
"Nothing really. I am just moving back home. I bumped into Lucy yesterday. She gave me rather a broad hint. She led me to believe that I would find something interesting about Sam's new partner. I have to admit she was right about that." I said turning on the million dollar smile.
"I'm sorry EJ, I assumed it was business. To tell you the truth, I am snowed under with work." she said. Her hint was even clearer than Lucy's.
I stood to leave. I am sorry you were misled. I assure you it was unintentional. I will be running along now." I don't know what she would have said, if I had waited for her to respond. I didn't. I walked out the office door, then right by Lucy, with no more than a nod.
I made it to the door of the Ford when I heard Lucy shouting at me. I turned to face her.
"EJ get your ass back in here. Sam wants to see you before you leave." she said in voice louder than necessary.
When I entered, Lucy led me into the office of Sam Evans. His office had been the office section of the service station. He stood as I walked into his office. Sam had gotten old. I mean dirt old.
"Looks like those kids in Atlanta play rough," He said looking at my face.
"Sometimes, but this is a stupidity injury. Didn't look where I was going." I said taking his hand. I expected him to ask if I intended to sue somebody.
Instead he asked, "So what you gonna do now that you are back on the farm?"
"I don't have the slightest idea. Why you got something in mind?" I asked.
"As a matter of fact I do. When Lucy mentioned you were back, I remembered a memo. I recieved this." he said waving a piece of paper in front of me. "Form The Great Nothern Insurance Company a couple of months ago. I called this morning to see if they were still looking for an investigator in this area. They are, so you call this number and you go on the payroll by five p.m. Now how's that for a good deal?" he asked.
"Slow down Sam. Why the hell are you doing this for me?" I asked.
"Son, I have been your family's lawyer and friend since before you were born. Your mother helped tend my wife while she was dieing. I got a chance to help you, I damn sure am going to do it. Besides it wasn't anything to it. I do some work for that company once in while. They value my opinion."
"Thanks Sam, but I don't want a job. I want to take it easy for a while. You know kind of get my bearing again." I gave him my sheepish look.
"That my boy is the beauty of this. It isn't a job. They want someone to run erands for them. You know pick up a death certificate, make a couple of pictures of a fire, that kind of thing. It is a contract thing. They call you on the phone ask you to do a job for a certain amount of money. Hell you can probably negotiate the price. As long as it is cheaper for them to send you, than someone from Charlotte they will use you. Of course, we are going to have to set you up as a business. Eventually we are going to probably have to get you an investigators license. You know, just in case they have a need for you to look into something for them. Hell you can probably get a few more clients. That is when you feel like working again. In the mean time call this woman for me please."
"Okay Sam, only because my Mama thinks I need a job of some kind. I came home to be a beach bum." I said.
"Hell kid, be both." he laughed. "Look, I would like to spend the day shooting the bull with you but I got a court date in ten minutes. Say 'hey' to your mama for me." He said as he rose from the desk.
I never made it to the mall that day. I drove home to call the insurance lady. She sounded about fifteen on the phone. She took my personal information, then told me to expect the contracts in the mail shortly. Once she recieved the signed contracts she could put me on her list of agents.
"I am not going to sell insurance, am I?" I asked.
"Of course not. We call all our field men agents. Don't worry, the only people you will speak to will be trying to sell you something." she said.
"And what might that be?" I asked.
"A line of B.S. With your background, we may have you investigate a few claims in addition to running erands for us. Sam said, you wouldn't have any trouble getting licensed?" she turned it into a question.
"I shouldn't think so." I said.
"Well how about getting Sam to work on it right now. With your background, we could really use you." she said.
When she hung up I rehashed the conversation. She hadn't promised me anything. I had a good idea it would be, 'Spend your money getting set up, and we will use you when we have to.' In other words not very often. Actually that appealed to me. Not the setup part, the not too often part.
Damn, I was hungry again already. I looked at my watch and knew why. I had been so involved in the call, that I didn't notice it was one p.m. I drove the old Ford to the Memphis diner for a hot dog. When I was a kid, the diner made the best damned hot dogs I had ever eaten. I could only hope they hadn't changed the recipe any.
I was assured by the waitress that the hot dogs were still the best in the state. I was waiting patiently to determine that for myself when a man in a greasy mechanics uniform sat across form me.
"Damn EJ, somebody sure did a number on you." he said.
I came within a hair of climbing over the booth to hug the bear of a man. "Damn Mike, I heard you were up in Norfolk working for the shipyards." I said with a grin.
"I was EJ. The damned Russian's folded and so did my job. We won the cold war but it sure as hell put me out of work. What happened to your eye?" He wasn't the least embarrassed to ask. He shouldn't be we had been friends almost all my life. At least till I went into the service.
"Fell through a roof," I said.
"How far did you fall?" He asked.
"Not far, it wasn't the fall. It was the landing." I remarked.
"Yeah, well landing ain't so good sometimes. So what you doing home? You gonna stay this time or what?" he asked.
"I'm gonna stay. So what you doing these days?"
"You remember Eddie Wilson?" I nodded that I did. "Him and me bought that old garrage out on hwy one. We fix up old cars. You know buy a wreck fix it, then sell it to some sucker." he grinned.
"Any money in it?" I asked.
"Not enough for three, if that is what you are thinking." he responded with another smile.
"I'm not, I just wondered if you were making enough to pay me that five bucks you owe me?" I asked with a smile.
"What five bucks?" he asked seriously.
"The five, I loaned you about a week before I left town. We were at the Palm Room at the time." I answered.
"You know, I am going to have to take your word for that. I was so drunk that night I might have barrowed money from you. They tell me I barrowed from everybody else." Mike laughed out loud at the memory.
"I had a thought, Mike you see that old beat up T'bird in the parking lot?" I asked.
"You mean that old beat up red piece of shit. Is that yours? I thought you cops made some money. That is the worst looking thing in the lot. Hell it is the worst looking thing in town."
"Yes to all your questions. Could you and Eddie fix it up for me. I mean at a reasonable cost. I am after all on a fixed income." I said.
"You aren't old enough to use that excuse on me. That's a old lady's game. Finish your dogs and let's go take a look at it."
Once we were in the parking lot, Mike said, "You know I wouldn't even buy this piece of shit. What's it got two hundred thousand miles on it?"
"Actually it only has eighty thousand. It has just seen some rough times. The motor is fine, the body is a wreck."
"Got that right, This thing needs about everything. New bumpers, new grill, a shit load of body work and of course a paint job. He opened the door to inspect the inside. Damn what did you do in there transport a pit bull. EJ don't ask me to fix this rag up. Let me sell you a car that has only been in one wreck," he said with a grin.
"I know it was on Sunday. Come on Mike what do you really think?" I asked.
"That was what I really think. Okay, we can find the bumpers and grill no problem. The body work and painting will take a while. The interior is pretty good except for the seats. Those are shot. Give me a thousand dollars and a week. Maybe I can steel one like it." he said.
"I am going to need something to drive in the mean time. What can you do for me?" I asked.
"Take mine, I will drive this heap to my garrage. You stayin with your mama?" he asked.
"I am," I responded.
"I'll call you in a couple of months. We should have this thing done by then. That is if it don't blow the garrage up. Now write me the check or let me go back to work. I hated to do it but I wrote him a check.
I left the diner after lunch in his ragged old Honda. It had to be the very first one imported into this country. I thought the Ford was screwed up. This little beast was much worse.
I swung by Sam's office on the way home. I had of course, hoped to see Bitsy. No such luck, she stayed locked in her office. I asked Lucy to order me the information and forms for a P.I. license. She promised to send a fax right away. I should have the information in a week or so.
At home that night, Mama accepted the news without a word. She had known all along that I couldn't stay home. I was destined to be a working man all my life. She smiled at me as she went off to bed that night. She smiled every night, but this one was the knowing smile of a mother.
I finally made it to the mall that next morning. Sam had mentioned making pictures of fire scenes so I went looking for a camera. I found the one camera store to be less than helpful. I explained that I wanted something small but high quality. They tried to sell me on several of there amatuer point and shoot models. I explained that I wanted something a little better. They tried to move me up to the larger and even higher priced models. I didn't buy anything.
I ate lunch at the mall, then drove into Wilmington. I found the much older less visited camera store on Market street. I asked the old man behind the counter to show me something that would give me a high quality 35mm photograph but be small enough to put in my pocket. I explained before he wasted his of our time that I wasn't interested in the crap I had seen so far. I was interested in really good quality camera.
He placed three camera boxes on the counter. "This one is a Nikon point and shoot. Auto focus and everything. It will do what you want. It is also fifteen hundred bucks." He must have seen me shudder. Those cheap cameras at the mall looked better suddenly.
"This one," he said, showing me a camera about the size of a king sized pack of cigarettes. "Is a Minox. It sells for about a thousand dollars. It will probably made as good a pictures as the Nikon maybe a little better. The nice thing about the Minox is that you can add a flash. You also control the light with these rings on the lens. You focus it here." He could tell that even the Minox was more than I wanted to spend.
He opened the third box. The camera appeared to be be the same as the one before it. The color was different. It was kind of an army green. "This is a Kiev 35a," the old man said, "It is the Minox but made by the Russians. The workmanship isn't as good but it does exactly the same thing as the Minox. The price for this one is One hundred and twenty dollars."
He could tell that I was interested. "You got to figure the distance in your head then transfer it to this ring right here. It is scaled in meters so it can be a little tricky."
I took the camera from him and began working it. It seemed a little stiff but the old man told me not to worry, they all did. He explained all the virtues of the the toy camera. I didn't really get them all but then I am no camera nut. I wrote the old man a check then left the store.
I managed to get home this time before mom. I even stopped by a restaurant to pick up seafood for dinner. My mother loved shrimp so I bought her an order of shrimp. I personally preferred fish.
Mama scoulded me for wasting my money, secretly she was happy not to cook dinner. I washed the few dinner dishes. She retired to the living room after supper. I found the TV set on the local news channel. I stayed with her for a few minutes then became bored. I explained to her that I needed a break. I had been hustling all day. I thought I might drive down to Wilmington. I reminded her not to wait up for me, as I walked out the door.
As I drove through Wilmington the smell of the stale sea air filled the little Honda. I loved that smell. It had the smell of both life and death about it. When I got to the pier, I found Hally seated again on her stool.
"Remember me?" I asked.
"No way, I could forget you. Besides it's only been a couple of days. You want coffee?"
"Sure, why not. Looks like you got a pretty good crowd out on the pier." I commented
"Yeah the fishermen are still here tonight. It is early yet. You will have the place to yourself if you come back around midnight."
Instead of going onto the pier I sat at the counter. I waited while the fishermen came and went. About fifteen minutes later Hally came over to talk to me.
"Why don't you go down to the Holiday Inn and get laid while you wait for the fisherment to leave?" she asked.
"What? I don't understand." I said.
"You have been gone a long time. Let me explain about tourists. Most of them are families that come down for a weekend. Some even come for a week, then there are those men who bring their families down for the week. They leave the wife and kiddies here and return home to work during the week. Come the next weekend, they return for the family.
Mostly that happens up on shell island. You know the north part of the island." I nodded. Shell island was a man made extention to the island. The place was littered with half million dollar beach house. "Then again," Hally continued. "It happens some at the Islander. You know that fancy condomenium. Either one it don't matter, both of them are within walking distance of the third drop off point, the Holiday Inn. Every weeknight but expecially toward the end of the weeknights the horny wives out number the available men about four to one. So why don't you go wait down there in the lounge."
I laughed hard, but I also went to the Holiday Inn. I had been to the island a couple of hundred times but had never been inside the Holiday Inn. It was for an older crowd. Of course, I was now the older crowd. I parked in the parking lot overlooking the ocean. I stood for a long time at the edge of the pavement looking out to sea.
"Beautiful isn't it?" the questioning voice belonged to a slightly pudgy redhead. She was wrapped in an expensive london fog type rain coat. The air got cool, even in the summer months, as it blew in from the ocean.
"Actually, I had mysterious in mind," I said as I turned to her. I saw the gasp on her face even though she managed to hide the sound. "Don't let the face fool you. There is actually a pretty decent guy behind it."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to embarrass you. It just came as a bit of a shock. I mean you kind of look..."
"I know like a pirate. I may invest in a hook for halloween. My name is EJ." I said holding out my hand.
"Gwen," she said doing the same.
"Why don't we just look out at the ocean, Gwen." I said.
"I really should be going." I wasn't surprised by her statement. I could tell she was uncomfortable.
"No problem," I said. I guess the disappointment showed in my voice.
"Tell you what EJ, if you don't mind the walk, I would sure like the company. I am staying just a little ways up the beach."
"Sure, I would love to walk a beautiful lady home. Kind of be like old times." I said.
"Oh how is that?" She asked.
"You know, like back when we were kids. The world wasn't so full of cars then. Then we all walked girls home from the school dance. That kind of thing." I said.
"I remember those school dances. I was one of those wall flowers. Nobody ever asked me to dance back then." she said.
At that moment we were outside someones beach house. I could hear the music from their radio. "Well in that case it is defiantely time that someone asked. Dance with me Gwen."
She hesitated only a minute. I held her loosely as we danced a slow waltz on the packed sand. I hated to let her go when the music ended. "You can no longer say that you never danced in the moonlight." I said. We could hardly see each other but the smile was in my voice. We walked on silently for a while. We were by a couple of tall sand dunes when she spoke next.
"You know there is one other thing I have never done, but always wanted to do." Gwen said.
"And what might that be?" I asked. I had a pretty good idea.
"I never went skinny dipping." she said running for the ocean. Her clothes flew off her body as if by magic. First the coat, then the tee shirt, finally her jean shorts. I didn't go in with her. I waited on the shore. After a few minutes in the ocean she walked out of the surf.
"I have done that before," I explained as she walked toward me. I held her clothes in my hands as her naked body came into view. She was plumb but pleasingly so. She led me across the sandy beach and into the equally sandy dune.
Making love in the sand can be extremely painful. I tried to keep us on her raincoat but only partially succeeded. She seemed to enjoy it, but I think that mostly it was the expierence. The sex itself was only adaquate.
Afterward I walked her the few remaining yards to her house. It was of course one of those half million dollar or so monsters, all glass and angles. "EJ," she said, "I would like to see you again, but I can't. You do understand don't you?" she asked.
"Of course, it is better this way. We will always have the dunes kid." I said doing my very poor Bogart.
She giggled, then ran into the house. I walked back to the Holiday Inn parking lot. I didn't bother to go in. I drove to the pier instead. Hally was all smiles as she handed me a cup of coffee. "My, my don't you look relaxed." she said.
"Nothing like a pleasent walk in the moonlight." I said as I turned for the pier. I stayed on the pier till two a.m. I drove straight home. I didn't even notice the surroundings during that drive.
At two the next afternoon, I was sitting on Mama's porch with a glass of her tea in one hand and a cigarette in the other. I almost dropped the cigarette as I fumbled to answer Mama's cordless phone. "Hello," I said.
"EJ, this is Lucy down at Sam's office." she said.
"Sure, what can I do for you?" I asked.
"You can get down her and pick up the information I got for you. Sam is on my ass to get it to you."
"Sure, but how did you get it so fast?" I asked.
"You never heard of a fax machine. Anyway come on down Sam is hot for you to get this paperwork done. Don't even, ask me why."
I didn't ask, but I wondered. This was all moving too damned fast for me. I had only had a couple of days off so far. Well if the state got the application Monday it would take them at least a couple of weeks if not months. In the mean time I could just hang out. I wasn't sure how I felt about that just yet. I had, after all, been hustling around all week.
I drove the Honda to Sam's office. I was still hoping to see Bitsy there. Her door was closed tight when I entered. "Lucy," I said. "What in God's name is all the rush. I haven't even had a full day off yet. Something keeps coming up."
"Don't complain to me, complain to Sam. He is all hot and bothered to get you licensed. Here fill these out for me." she demanded.
"Can't I take these home with me?" I asked.
"Not a chance, Sam made me promise to hold you here till you finished. He even gave me his old army colt to make sure you stayed." She had a big smile so I knew she was kidding, at least about the colt.
I filled in blanks, till my one good eye hurt. I was worn out from all the questions. I got one glimpse of Bitsy as she passed throught the office. After that one glimpse, she barricaded herself inside her office till I left.
Since I was already out, I swing by Mike and Eddie's rebuilding facility. My Ford sat inside the chain link fense but it hadn't been touched. I found Mike under a small Chevy. "Mike?" I asked. "When are you going to start on my bomb."
"I ain't gonna start on it." he said rolling out from under the Chevy. He wiped his hands carefully before he continued. "Buddy you got yourself a rare old bird there. They made those bumper and grills especially for that bomb. Ain't a junk yard in the Carolinas or Georgia got anything like them. I can get you new ones but they gonna cost you two grand. Ain't no sense painting it with those bumpers hanging off it."
"Then you are telling me it is going to be a collector car?" I asked.
"Yeah in about twenty years. In the mean time the parts are going to get even harder to find. I would say junk it except that the engine runs out real strong."
"How about finding a body to drop the mill into?" I asked.
"Wouldn't do you much good. You couldn't put it in a newer body. It wouldn't pass the emissions test. An older body would look as bad as yours probably."
"So, I am just screwed huh?" I asked.
"Looks like. I do have one possibility. Come on around back with me." I followed him to the body shop where Eddie was busy applying bondo to a Mercury.
"EJ, how they hangin brotha'?" he asked.
"They hangin just fine brother Eddie. How you been kid?"
"Been trying to keep your asshole buddy, from givin the shop away." he said with a deep laugh.
"Shut up Eddie, EJ is your friend too."
"Eddie get the vasoline, when you two talk about how good of friends we all are. I know I am about to get screwed," They both laughed.
"That is for you to decide princess." Eddie said. He fell into step with Mike and me. We turned the corner. I got my first look at the folly. It was a grey primered Ford Econoline van.
"What are you suggesting Mike?" I asked.
"This thing has the same V8 as your bird. It of course has been blown by the kid who had it last. Won't even turn over. Probably even got the same transmition in it. That I will have to check. I can drop your engine in this heap, Eddie can pain it, and off you go."
"You got to be kiddin Mike. I don't want a van for Gods sake."
"Take a look inside before you decide." he suggested with a wink.
The van fooled me. It was customized unit. I recognized the folding cushioned loveseat across the rear. I had never seen that one, but I had seen others like it. I knew that it would fold out into an eight inch thick, dense foam matress. It made into a full sized bed. Between the sofa and the drives seat was a fold down table with small streight chair beside it. I noticed that the chair was locked into place by some kind of bolts on the floor. Mike saw me looking at the chair.
"You just lift up on the chair and it comes out of those holders." Under the table is an apartment sized refigerator. runs on either 110 or 12 volts from the battery. Course it don't run at all when the engine is turned off. This bugger is wired for campground current or self contained. Only thing you can't do in it is take a piss. That is the one thing god made easy for men. The walls are paneled and the overhead and floor are carpeted. Needs a little cleaning but it will come up real nice. Got a hell of a tape player in this thing too."
"Okay Mike stop with the used car salesman crap. What kind of deal we talkin here."
"I'll switch the engines, Eddie will do a little body work, and paint it. You sign the tittle over on the bird and give us two hundred more."
"I don't think so. I believe I will take my check, and my car home with me." I said.
"You got me in kind of a jam EJ. I have already spent your money. I mean I thought we could do the job no sweat. I paid the rent on the garrage with it." Mike said.
No wonder he brought Eddie with him. "Let me tell you something Mike, I forgot about the five you barrowed from me. Hell, I even forgot about Nellie Ann . I am going to get my fucking money or I am going to own every one of these God damned wrecks. First though I am going to kick your sorry ass.
Eddie, unless you want a piece of this shit you stay the hell away from it." I turned to warn him. Mike must have thought I was totally blind. I twitched just before the drew back to hit me. I began moving with the twitch. I lowered my head so that his blow struck me on the shoulder. I was already turning into him. I elbowed him sharply in the ribs first. As he bent from that shot, I gave him the same elbow across the nose.
It has been my expierence that when a person either sees his own blood or has his air cut off a fight ends. In this case Mike did both. His nose bled profusely and it affected his ablility to breathe. I was preparing to give him a shot in the mouth when he raise his hands in surrended.
Now Michael, we are going to talk some fucking business. You are going to switch those engines right now, tonight. You are going to sign the tittle to the van and the Honda over to me. You are either going to do these things, or I am going to systematically kick the shit out of you. You will loose a damned sight more money while you are out of work. Your fucking choice.
"When I do, are we square?" he asked.
"We will be. Now go call who ever you have to call. You won't be going home till I drive away in that van. I might add that I will be towing the Honda behind."
Mike put out his hand, "Deal," he said. "We could have saved working up this sweat if you had just told me what you wanted."
I swear, the bastard felt no guilt whatsoever. He also didn't appear to hold a grudge. I walked closely behind him into the office. I opened his desk drawer, before he could get to it. I removed the old .38 wheel gun from the drawer. "Now Michel, you didn't intend to threaten me with this did you. Make the fucking call. I held the pistol on him while I called Mama. I explained that Mike and I would be working on the Ford all night. I would see her sometime the next day.
%%"Either grab a wrench, or get the hell out of here," Mike said to Eddie.
Eddie got a wrench. The two of them pushed the Chevy out of the way then brought the Ford into the work bay. If Mike hadn't gone for the pistol, I would have helped. I just sat in the chair. I sat more or less in comfort while I watched them work. By ten the engine was out of the Ford, by sunup the engine was inside the van. Mike and I went for a test drive. He drove I watched. The van appeared to run fine. Mike and Eddie replaced the hood then hooked the Honda to a tow bar attached to the rear of the van.
It took about twenty mintutes to do all the tittle work. Everything was signed sealed and ready to go by six. I got in the van still holding Mikes pistol. "Gentlemen let this be a lesson to you. Don't fuck with the handicapped. I dumped the shells from the pistol then threw it on the gravel parking lot. The van was a mother to drive. Fortunately there were few cars on the road at six a.m.
I was pretty sure that by the time I arrived home, Mike had made it to the hospital. That nose was swollen pretty badly. I sure did hope that Mike wasn't interested in getting even. If he was then someone was going to get hurt bad. Probably me.
Mama was ready to leave for work when I pulled in front of the house with my little caravan. "Hi ma," I said as I passed her on the porch. She followed me into the house.
"What in the world. You left here with a ragged car and return with a ragged car and a ragged truck. Have you lost your mind. Is that blood on your shirt?" she asked.
"The truck and the car are mine, the blood is not. Everything is fine Mom, don't worry."
She left for work shaking her head. I took a nap. I was pretty sure that Mike wouldn't be up to revenge this morning. He should take at least a couple of days to heal. I couldn't believe Mike had planned to slug me. I guess it was a good thing I had done a lot more fighting over the years than he had.
I slept until four that afternoon. I had to hurry to make it to the paint shop in Wilmington. I found the discount paint shop just before they closed. The man took a good look at the van then told me he would paint it for five hundred bucks. I headed for the door.
I had seen his advertisement, he should have painted it for two hundred bucks. He was kind enough to inform me that only applied to cars. I was good enough not to break his nose.
I was out of the door and almost into the van when a black man came out of the shop. "Mister," I turned to face him. "You want that van painted?" he asked.
"That is why I came here." I said pretty short.
"That manager is a greedy asshole. Tell you what, I get off here at six. You meet me down at Lizzie's diner. I will let you follow me home. It is supposed to be sunny and hot tomarrow, I'll paint it for you in my yard. I do all the painting here anyway."
"So how much do you want?" I asked.
"You was willing to pay two hundred, I'll do you a good job for the two. When you come get it if you ain't satisfied you don't owe me nuthin." he said.
"Okay, why not."
I had glass of tea in the mostly all black diner, while I waited for him to arrive. He was in the place shortly after six. I followed him through the narrow streets until I arrived in front of a small frame house. A couple of snotty nosed kids came out to meet us.
"Just leave it on the street mister, I will move it to the back later. You come back Monday morning before seven and it will be ready for you. Oh and please bring cash. I can't take no credit cards or checks." he said with a grin.
I left the van, walked to the rear, unhooked the Honda then drove away. I made a careful note of the house's location and my route away from it.
The weekend passed slowly, for me. I watched TV and even went to church with Mama. I didn't appreciate the stares from her friends so I determined that it would be my last visit to that church. When we arrived home we found Sissy waiting for us.
We all had dinner together. Mama went up to take her nap. She and daddy had always done that on Sunday. I am not sure in the early years that napping is what went on in their bedroom. I imagine that in the last years napping was indeed what happened behind those closed doors.
Sissy and I sat on the porch. It took her a while to get to it but she did. "I hear you and Mike had a fight."
"You heard wrong Sissy. It wasn't no fight to it." I answered
"The emergency room nurse called me. She said you broke Mike's nose."
"Did I really?" I asked.
"No need to lie to me. What did you two fight about." she stated.
"I didn't lie honey. It takes two to make a fight. Unfortunately Mike didn't know that I don't fight like in the movies. As to what it was about, that is a personal matter. It is over now."
"I certainly hope so. I don't want you putting mama in danger." she explained.
"If I thought there was any danger, I would go kill him. I think it all ended well enough."
"Would you really go murder someone?" Sissy asked.
"If I thought he meant to harm one of us? Sure I would." I said.
The conversation bounced around different subjects for a while. Then I asked, "What is the story on Bitsy Thompson?"
"The lawyer bitch, I don't think there is a story. She moved back here a year or so ago. She stays pretty much to herself. People, around here, think she is kind of snobby. You know she acts like she is better than anyone else. Far as I know. she don't have a friend in town. She is actually pretty but a real bitch. At least, that is what I hear. Why you interested in her." she asked.
"Not really, I just met her at Sam's office." I said.
"What were you doing down there?" she asked shortly. She seemed awfully upset that I had been to Sam's office.
"Lucy invited me to come meet the new lawyer. She seemed to have a real strong interest in me meeting Bitsy. I guess she wanted to get my reaction to her. Sam talked to me for a few minutes. He kind of got me a job, of sorts." I replied.
"Oh," she said.
"Okay Sis what's going on?" I asked.
"Nothing is going on." she answered.
"Come on first old Sam bends over backwards to help me get a job, then you looked terrified when I mention that I saw him. What is going on here?" I asked again.
"I have no idea what you are talking about. Besides I have to go." She hustled her little tail into the house. "Mama, I'm gone." she shouted up the stairs. She even went out the back door so as not to see me again.
It was becoming something of a mystery. I hate mysteries. I put it out of my mind for the evening. The next morning I arrived at the painter's house before seven. I found my van with a new coat of paint. I hadn't specified a color. When asked by the painter, I said surprise me. He had followed my orders exactly. I was surprised by the color. The van wore it's new orange paint in shame. I could understand why. I should have picked a color. At least it looked better than the grey primer.
The painter helped me line up the two vehicles. We got them close enough to attach the tow bar. Driving the two vehicles through the morning traffic was a nightmare. I wished every minute of the drive that I had gotten a ride into town to pick up the van.
I was surprised when I arrived home without any mishaps. They came later in the morning. I drove the Honda into town. I got as far as the Memphis diner. I stopped for coffee there. When I returned to the parking lot the Honda wouldn't start.
I had taken the precaution of installing my fathers old ratchet wrench set in the trunk. I knew the car would have problems. I pulled it out, then removed a spark plug from the engine. It was about all I knew how to do. The plug was fouled beyond belief. It surprised me that the car had ever run.
"I cleaned it as best I could, then pulled the other three doing the same for them. It was embarrassing to be doing this in the parking lot of the diner. Most of the patrons stopped by to give me either advice or consulation. Neither of which helped much.
With the newly cleaned spark plugs the little beast cranked into ragged life. I drove it immediately to the NAPA dealer. I bought new plugs, wires distributor cap and rotor for the beast. I suffered with it all the way home. Once in my own yard I changed everything I could think off, including the oil. It appeared that the beast burned a quart a week. Of course it could have been leaking it since the engine was covered in oil. I actually gave hosing the engine off about two seconds of thought. I decided to leave well enough alone.
When next I tried the ignition the little devil ran like a sewing machine, loud. It seemed to have be resurected for the moment anyway. When I went into the house, I found the mail box filled with letters. One was the contract for the insurance company. It mostly said I agree not to work for any party sueing the insurance company. It also had me agree to pay my own taxes. Those two seemed to be the main considerations. I finished signing it while reaching for the ringing phone.
"EJ, this is Lucy, can you come down her right now. Sam really wants to talk to you."
"Am I in some kind of trouble?" I asked, thinking of Mike's broken nose.
"Nothing like that, Sam wants you to run an erand for him. Just a little something he needs done." she informed me.
"Okay, I will be right with you. Oh by the way can you fax something to The Great Northern Insurance company for me?" I asked.
"Sure bring it with you." she said as she broke the connection.
The Honda started fine. I drove it to Sam's office. I entered Lucy's office to find her sitting behind her desk. "Hello again, we have got to stop meeting like this."
"EJ how about you take me to dinner. I would sure like to hear how you broke that bear's nose." she said with a wicked smile.
"It was more of an accident than anything else." I answered. "I will take you to dinner, if you will tell me how you made that little boy of yours."
"You already know that. I might be convinced to give you a demonstration though." she grinned.
"EJ, get in here, and stop flirting with the help." Sam roared.
"Okay Sam, now what the hell is it, that is so important." I asked.
"I need for you to do me a favor. I have to send Bitsy out to interview a client. I want you to go along. You know just to make sure nothing happens to her." he said.
"What kind of client requires a body guard." I asked.
"An alleged rapist, I am going to defend the son of a bitch even though I think he is guilty as hell." he said.
"Why the hell are you going to defend him if you think he is guilty?" I asked. Whore was the word I didn't say.
"To make damned sure he get convicted. Why do you think?" Sam said.
"Sam, you old buzzard, you are human after all," I said.
"Don't let that get out." he admonished.
"What that you are human?" I asked.
"No that I am going to sell out my client. It might look bad to the future clients. This one needs to be in prison. Anyway, can you ride with Bitsy to the interview?" he asked.
"Sure where is it?" I asked.
"The prick is staying with friends down in Southport. We arranged for a five p.m. interview. That means you have to leave pretty soon."
"Does Bitsy know I am going with her?" I asked.
"Not yet, but she will in about two minutes. Lucy call Bitsy on that damned phone of yours. Tell her to shag her pretty ass back here now."
"She doesn't need to call anyone Sam, I can hear you all the way to the courthouse. I am sure everyone else can too. I have asked you a dozen times to stop making those sexist remarks. By the way, my name is Jennifer." She looked surprised to see me. She must have entered the office sometime after me.
"Well Bitsy, I call a spade a spade and a nice ass a nice ass. Now I want you to go down and take a statement from Freddie Amos. I am sending EJ with you." he said.
"I don't need a body guard." she stated angrily.
"Of course you do. I would take one myself, if I were going into god only knows what. Now you have to leave real soon, so go get your shit together," Sam ordered.
I could tell Bitsy didn't like it, but she went along. "I am going to have to call my mom. I hate to leave Cindy with her past five. Especially with such short notice. Why didn't you have that prick come to the office?" she said.
"I tried, but he said no. We don't want him to win this one on appeal. We have to give him adaquate representation. Now just call your mama and get on the road," Sam ordered.
I stood to follow her out. "EJ, don't let anything happen to that little girl." Sam admonished me.
"I'll give it my best shot." I said.
"You got a pistol, I presume?" he asked.
"I don't believe in them. Don't worry, she will be safe." I said.
"I would feel better if you took this along anyway. Just take it for me." Sam said as he handed me the old World War II colt automatic.
"No thanks Sam, those things will just get someone killed. Probably me and Bitsy." I said.
"What makes you say that?" he said.
"Those things give you a false sense of security. Almost everytime somebody shoots one of those, it is because he was somewhere he shouldn't have been in the first place. If this place looks that dangerous, we will be coming home without the interview. Besides when you realize you need a gun. It is too late to get to it. Don't worry I can take care of her." I tried to reasure Sam. I don't think it did much good.
Bitsy drove her two year old Chevy out of our small town and into the Wilmington traffic. We by passed Wilmington and the traffic eased off. She said her first words to me about ten miles past Wilmington.
"I really don't need your protection you know. I have a black belt in karate." she said.
"I hope it matches one of your outfits." I said.
"Why, do you say that?"
"Because that is what it is good for. Holding up your pants." I said.
"They said men would be threatened by a woman who could take care of herself." Bitsy informed me smuggly.
"I don't have any problem with a woman who can take care of herself. It's not the ability to hurt someone that is important. It is the willingness to do it. If the subject isn't freightened by your shouts, could you kick him in the balls, maybe put out his eye, or actually break his arm. Most people in a civalized world couldn't. It doesn't seem to matter how much self defense they know." I said.
"Trust me I could do it. I would just imagine it was my ex." she actually smiled at me.
"We got another half hour at least, why don't you fill me in on why the town has you pegged as a stuck up bitch." I asked.
"God EJ, you are about as tactful as a baseball bat." she said.
"I know, it is one of my better qualities. Some come on give it up." I demaned.
"When I came back here to live, I didn't want my business known by everybody. In this town if one person knows, then everybody knows. I would just as soon keep my secrets."
"Then for God's sake don't tell me any. Everybody knows what a gossip I am." I smiled but it had no effect on her.
"Look EJ, for some reason Sam has decided that you and I are going to be thrown together a lot. This is one of his plans that won't work. This is going to stay strickly business."
"Okay, but can we at least be civil. I mean it isn't like I asked you to sleep with me or anything." I said.
She laughed, then said, "No, but you will."
"Oh yeah, how do you know that?" I asked.
"You didn't loose your balls in that fall did you. If you are still a man, then you will ask. Hell even some of the women ask." Bitsy said.
"Really, which ones?" I asked with a laugh.
"You will get no gossip from me. Don't even try."
We rode in almost total silence for the next half hour. Just outside Southport, Bitsy tuned onto a county blacktop. She followed her hand written directions to the shack a couple of hundred yards off the road.
The shack was frame with a full front porch, which sagged in the middle. Parked on one end of the porch were two Harley Davidson Motor cycles. The two gas tanks had more paint on them than the entire house.
"Let me do the talking," Bitsy said. I nodded knowing I wouldn't.
We walked onto the rotting porch. Bitsy knocked on the door. "Come in said a male voice from inside the house. We walked throught he door.
"Are you Freddie Amos?" Bitsy asked.
"That's me. You the lawyer?" the kid with long greasy hair asked.
"Jennifer Thompson, I am your attourney in the rape trial." she said. He interrupted her before she could go on.
"Who is the cyclopse?" he asked.
"EJ Barnes, I am Jennifer's associate." I said offering him my hand. He ignored it.
"He a lawyer to," He asked Bitsy.
"No, he is our investigator."
Freddie interrupted her again. "I ain't got nothin to say in front of him. I know he ain't covered by the attourney client priviledge. You and me can go in the back room. He can wait here."
Bitsy didn't know what to say. "Mrs. Riley lets go." I said to Bitsy. "As for you young man, you have been reading too many books. Some of them were pretty good evidently. But with this young ladies help, you may walk on the rape charge. You might do a nickel or dime, but probably that is max. With out her, you are going to ride that needle. You ever see an execution." He shook his head but maintained the smart assed smile. "You want me to tell you how it is. I can, I have seen three of them."
"I don't care man, I ain't talking in front of you."
"Why don't you wait in the car EJ?" Bitsy asked.
"No way, Why don't you two go out and do your interview on the hood of the car. There is still plenty of light. I will just sit on the porch and make sure Freddie here doesn't get any ideas. What do you say Freddie, you want to talk to the lady or do you want to ride the needle."
For an answer, I got to see him stand and walk out the front door. They walked to the hood of the car. I sat in a metal chair on the porch to watch. I also listened but not to them. I listened for sounds coming from the house. First I heard a door being opened deep inside the house. Then I heard someone trying to walk quietly to the front door. I forced myself out of the chair. I moved to stand beside the door.
First the long blue black pipe eased out of the open door. I waited until about a foot of it was outside the door. I grabbed the barrel of the shot gun. First, I yanked it down and out. The gun fired making a nasty hole in the wooden porch. As quickly as I could I pushed the burning barrel hard backwards. I was rewarded by the sound of air rushing from the second man's lungs. The first yank had pulled him into the open door. The forcing of the gun rearward. had struck him in the chest with the stock. He was at least off balence, if not going down. I pulled the shot gun free of him. Even though the hot barrel burned like hell, I held firm. I knew that the pellets would have hurt a lot worse.
When the shotgun was free of his hands, I struck him as hard as I could in the face with the stock. His face disolved into a mass of bloody flesh. Unlike Mike, I got his jaw as well as his nose. The whole thing took less time than the telling. I raised the shotgun and pointed it toward Freddie. While I had been tussling with the second man Freddie had gotten behind Bitsy. He was now holding a knife to her throat.
I took a deep breath, then began walking toward them. I heard the nervous voice of Freddie, "Drop the shotgun or I am going to cut her fucking throat."
"Then what Freddie?" I asked calmly. "What exactly do you think I am going to do to you after she is dead?" I waited a second for that to sink in. "No better still, let me tell you. I am going to shoot you in the right knee. I am going to let you lay around screaming for a while. Then I am going to shoot you in the left knee. After a while I am going to gut shoot you. Then if you are still alive after a half hour or so, I am going to put the barrel of this shotgun in your mouth and I am going to pull the trigger. In other words Freddie, if anything happens to that woman, I am going to kill you just as many times as I can."
I looked into Bitsy dancing eyes. "Now Freddie, either let her go or kiss my black belted ass because I am coming for you." I'll give Bitsy this, she was terrified but she made the right move. She grabbed his arm, then rolled into it. Her move actually moved the knife in front of her eyes as she spun away from Freddie. She stood a couple of feet away and Freddie stood in front of the shotgun barrel.
He tossed the knife quickly to the ground. "You are a big man with that shotgun. Why don't you put it down. If you do, we will see how big you are one eye."
I walked up to Freddie lowered the shotgun for a second, then brought the stock around and struck him as hard as I could on the side of the head. He went down to his knees. I raised it to hit him again but he sank to the ground before I got the chance to strike him again.
"Bitsy, you about finished here?" I asked as calmly as I could. I put the shotgun in the rear of her car as she nodded her head. "Don't forget your briefcase." I reminded her. I drove us out of the drive and toward home.
"God EJ, you scared the hell out of me. How did you know he would fall for your bluff?" she asked.
"Exactly what bluff is that?" I asked with a grin.
"You mean you would have let him kill me?" she asked.
"Tell me what I could have done to stop him. You surely don't think giving him my shotgun would have saved either of us do you?" I asked.
"Maybe," she said quietly.
"Lady you are from a different planet. All that would have happened is he would have killed us both." I answered.
"Would you have really killed him?" she asked.
"Exactly like I discribed it to him. Just as many times as I could." I said.
"I guess I would have had to settle for justice."
"It wouldn't have been justice. It would have been revenge, pure and simple. Are you up to driving now. I don't see all that well at night. I think it must be the lights."
"Sure I can drive." She took over the wheel after a short stop.
I could have driven fine, I just wanted her to get her mind off how close she had come to dying.
"You know." she said. "I might not have been willing to kill that pig, but all those lessons paid off after all."
"You mean the karate?" I asked.
"Yeah those," she answered.
"If you say so." I answered.
"What is that supposed to mean?" she asked.
"It mean, Freddie should never have gotten behind you in the first place. You didn't learn much, if you allowed that to happen," I explained.
"God EJ, you are kind of tough on me aren't you?" she said.
"A little, but maybe you learned more tonight than you did during all those lessons.," I suggested.
"And what would that be.?" she asked.
"If you want to live, you have to take some chances sometimes. You know, bite the bullet and do what has to be done," I replied.
"Do you mean what happened out there, or in my life in general?" she asked.
"I don't know about anything, except what happened down there. Maybe you can work out the rest of it. You are after all, a lot smarter than me," I admitted.
She didn't skip a beat. Her mind moved with the spead of a stiking snake. "So what are we going to do about Freddie and his friend?" she asked.
"What do you want to do?" I asked.
"I want to see their ass in jail, but I don't want to see you in the next cell." she said.
"Let it go. If they bring charges, which I doubt, it will be those two slim balls against us. You are a respected attourney. I am a decorated cop. Not much question who the jury will believe," I admitted.
"Should we call them an ambulance?" she asked.
"Sure, they are an ambulance. I don't know what good that did, but if it makes you feel better." she actually laughed.
"To tell the truth, I hope they both die. One more question before I let it go. How did you know there was a second man?" she asked.
"I didn't, but I also didn't think Freddie rode both those hogs. If there was a second man, I wanted him to come to me. I most certainly didn't want to go to him. That is why I made you meet with Freddie outside." I explained.
"But," she began.
I interrupted her. "That was your one question." I said.
When we arrived back a the office Bitsy said, "If it weren't so late, I would invite you home to meet my daughter."
"I couldn't go anyway, I have to go home and change my pants." I laughted.
"I doubt that," Bitsy said.
The next morning I was in the shower when Lucy called me, yet again. This time the message from Sam was to get my ass down to the office and bring my check book. Lucy had no idea what it was about. She also told me she couldn't say even if she did. Sam loved surprises.
When I was dressed, I drove the beast down to Sam's office. Lucy led me right into his small office. I found Sam behind his desk and Bitsy in a chair beside him. Sam motioned me to the chair across from them.
"Okay EJ, it's time you made some decissions. Do you want to be an investigator or not. I have pulled and pushed you as far as I can. It is time for you to make the decission."
"Why Sam? What's the hurry?" I asked.
"Because, if you intend to do this right, it is time you spent some serious money. If you want to play at it, then I don't have time for you anymore." He sounded angry.
"I have actually been giving this some thought. I'll make a deal with you Sam. You tell me why you are going to all this trouble for me, and I will make a decission on the spot. I want to know what you plan to do to me frankly." I explained.%%
"I don't plan to do anything except help you get established." He said angrily.
"Why Sam, why go to all this trouble?" I asked again.
"I'm going to tell you why just this once. I don't ever want you to ask me again. Okay?" he asked.
"If you tell me the truth, there won't be any need for me to ask again." I answered.
"Okay, before you were born, my wife came down with cancer. In those days there wasn't a hell of a lot they could do for her. She wanted to be home, so I had a nurse stay with her in the mornings. The nurse left at three. Your Mama was still in school, but she came to sit with Mattie every day at three. She stayed till I got home from work. I couldn't have paid her enough for what she did for Mattie. She was her friend even on the days where Mattie was a mess. I promised that someday, I would repay your mother. You are my chance. Now I have told you the truth do you want to go on with this or not?" Sam's asked.
It didn't ring quite true, but it was probably how he remembered it. After all Sam was over seventy. "Okay Sam, I don't imagine there will be a lot of business in this small town. I can still get in my laying on the beach time. I want to do it. Why did you want me to bring my check book?" I asked.
"Because you owe me five hundred bucks, that's why." He said.
"How come?" I asked. He handed me a fax copy of a Private Invesitgators license. I read it over then asked, "How the hell did you do this. I expected it to take a month or more."
"Actually it takes about six weeks," Bitsy answered for Sam. "That is, if there isn't a Democratic sitting Governor. Sam has been giving money to those guys for years. When he asks a favor, they usually do it. The attourney general issued you a probabionary license on Sam's reccomendation. If you keep your nose clean for six months then it is permenant. At least as permanent as those things can be."
"Now EJ," Sam said. "You need to buy a lot of things. You need to have an office ready to go yesterday. Bitsy there has a list. She is going to help you get started. You do have enough money to cover the purchases don't you?" Sam asked.
"I guess. Hell how much are we talking about?" I asked Bitsy.
"Five or six thousand at the absolute most." she said.
"Damn, what an I doing equiping a police force?" I asked.
"No just a modern office." she replied.
"Okay, it's doable, But who is going to teach me to run this modern office. I had trouble with the electric typewriter at the police station."
"Not to worry, Lucy or I can keep you streight. I wouldn't bother to ask Sam, he know nothing about computers."
"You mean, I have to have a computer?" I asked.
"And a lot of other modern shit," Sam said. "Now you two get going. Bitsy has to be in court this afternoon. Oh I almost forgot, Here EJ." Sam said handing me a check.
"What is this for?" I asked.
"You worked for me yesterday. It is payment, your first I might add."
"Sam, I did that as a favor. I wasn't expecting payment." I said.
"EJ, that was business. You don't do favors in business. Now take the check." He ordered.
"Well thanks, I appreciate it." I said.
"That is nothing, you wait till word gets around about last night. You are going to be one busy boy." Sam said as he buried his head in the folder before him.
Bitsy motioned me out of the room. "Well, I don't have much time. Lucy and I have
made you a list of things you need. We need to hurry. I have to get back by the three o'clock court session." Bitsy admonished.
She drove her Chevy again. She, after all, knew where we were going. I had no idea at all. She drove us to a office supply discount store. From them she forced me almost at gunpoint to purchase a laptop computer. I couldn't believe the cost of the thing. Almost two grand for a gadget the size of a volume from an encyclopedia.
The salesman did toss in a modeum. At the time I had no idea what he was talking about. It could have been Greek as far as I knew. Another four hundred went for a printer. "Might as well get the best one," Bitsy told the clerk.
Bitsy added a flat bed scanner to the order. "You might want to copy documents on the competer. This will keep you from having to buy a copy machine. It is a lot more versitile than a plain old copy machine."
I had to trust her since I, at the time, had no idea what so ever. I was totally lost in the high tech enviornment. She even bought an inexpensive digital camera.
"You might want to take some pictures that shouldn't be seen by the lab people."
Bitsy said with a wink.
She picked out a couple of programs not included with the computer. Then she purchases me a cell phone with a monthly contract. The company was practically giving the phones away with the years service. They must be making a bundle on the service.
When she finished my bill was three grand and change. As we followed the smiling clerk to her car I asked, "Are you absolutely sure, I need all that." I was more frieghtened by the machines than I had been of the shotgun last night.
"Not to worry, you will be a pro in a couple of months," she promised. I had my doubts but I kept them to myself.
"I have to get back to the office. You need to go buy yourself a couple of real cameras. Get them with really long telephoto lenses. You might as well get them zoom while you are at it. You need at least a thousand millimeters on the still and about twenty power or more on the video. Get a couple of VCRs while you are doing it."
"Are you reserving me a spot in the poor house?" I asked.
Bitsy laughed, then said, "You can afford it."
"How do you know that?" I asked kidding more than anything else.
"Sam told me, you got a huge settlement from the City of Atlanta." she said. She saw my reaction then asked, "Was that supposed to be a secret?"
"Not really, I just wonder how Sam knew that. I haven't told anyone outside the family."
"Oh, he probably assumed as much. You know we do deal in personal injuries. He probably just assumed you got a large settlement."
"Well, It wasn't large enough to go shopping with you. At least, not more than once more." I laughed at my own poor joke.
When we reached Sam's office, I transferred all the purchases into my Honda. They filled the car beyound it's capacity. We had all the seats filled as well as the trunk. There would have been no way for me to transport a full sized computer in the little beast.
By the time I unloaded the car it was too late to drive into Wilmington for the camera purchases. I waited for mom, than droves us both to dinner in her Lincoln. After dinner she dropped me at the house. It seemed she had a church circle meeting, women only.
I watched the lousy TV for a while. "When I became bored, I went to bed. I got probably my best and longest nights sleep in months. Something about being home and in my childhood bed lulled me to sleep.
Mama woke me the next morning. %% I looked at my watch and found that it was only six a.m. I struggled down the stairs. "Mom what in the world made you think I wanted to wake up at six in the morning?" I asked.
"First, tell me what all those computer boxes are for?" she asked.
"I am going into business. I was told, I needed all those things." I answered.
"What kind of business are you going into. The kind that gets blood on two different shirts on two different nights?" she asked.
"Those were accidents. That kind of thing won't happen again for ten years. I am going to open a private investigator office." I said.
"First, you are a policeman, now you are going to be a private investigator. Why don't you go back to school. Become a lawyer if you want to stay in that kind of work?" she asked.
"Because Ma, I am good at this. I would be a lousy lawyer." I replied patiently.
"You certainly aren't planning to open the office in my house are you?" she asked.
"Actually, I hadn't given it any thought. You have got a point. I can hardly operate from your kitchen."
"Damned right you can't. I will not have thugs and the like, in my house." Mama said.
"I don't blame you there. I will find a place in a couple of days. I promise I won't do any business until I have an office, Okay?"
"I don't like this, but you are a grown man. If you must play cowboys and indians then you must." She said. Mama still wasn't thrilled, but she did kiss me on the cheek as she left the house.
"Son of a bitch," I thought. "Now I have to have an office. This may prove to be too damned expensive for a hobby. I might actually have to work to pay the overhead." I kicked at the ottaman as I headed upstairs to shower.%%
Even with the time I killed at the Memphis, I was still too early for the Wilmington Camera Store. I waited till the old man entered the parking lot. He recognized me as I walked to the door with him.
"You do know, there was no quarentee with that camera?" He asked.
"I haven't even used it yet. I don't want to return it, I am here to buy another camera." I said.
"In that case you can come in," he said with a smile.
Once inside, I handed him the spec sheet Bitsy had typed. He read it then mumbled something to himself. I watched as he wandered into the store room. He was burdened with several boxes when he returned. He piled the boxes on the glass showcase.
"Now," he said. "You got yourself lots of choices.
For the next half hour I examined camera's and haggled with the old man. In the end I spent almost eight hundred bucks but he assured me that I had what I needed. I had to take his word for it since I had no idea what all the crap would do or what possible use I would ever make of it all.
Most of the junk was off brand equipment, since I flatly refused to pay for Nikons. Even the brands I did buy were too damned expensive but what are you going to do. When you are told by people who are going to employ you that you need the crap, then you buy the crap.
I locked the cameras inside the trunk of the beast, then drove to one of those appliance discount stores. I got talked into a Cannon eight millimeter camcorder, then into two VCRs. One very expensive and one not so expensive. This salesman was in a generous mood, I took a long time thinging over the purchases so he tossed in a couple of tapes. some patch cords, a cheap tape rewinder, and an extra battery for the Cannon. That stalling thing worked pretty well. I would have to remember to use it in the future.
Shortly after one p.m. I arrived home loaded down with even more boxes. I dumped them beside the others in Mama's parlor. I still hadn't opened any of them. I waited to decide what, if anything, I would do about an office. No sense repacking them, I thought. I guess I was actually stalling.
The phone rang while I was stalling. "Hello,"
"Mr. Barnes?" the woman's voice asked.
"My name is Edna, I am with Great Northern, I was wondering if you could run a small errand for me. I need someone to run into Shallotte and verify a death. All you have to do is talk to the doctor and pick up a death certificate. I can fax you the forms."
"I will be happy to do it but I don't have my fax connected at the moment." I said. I acutually hoped she would forget the whole thing."
"I can fax it to Sam's office for now. Get us the number when you get you fax connected. By the way the job pays seventy five dollars. Should take you more than an hour or so once you get there. You ought to call the doctor before you go down. You know, just to make sure he is going to be in. Just fax us your report. You can mail the death certificate." She proceeded to give me the address to use for all my mailings.
I wrote it down on a scrap of paper. I could see why the computer would come in handy. Lucy called me half hour later to advise me she had the Fax. I agreed to come right down for it.
When I had the fax in my hand, I called the doctor for an appointment. His receptionist agreed to set up a meet for me. I should be at the office the next day at eleven am. While I was on the phone, Bitsy came into the room. She smiled at me then returned to her office.
I hung up the phone, then turned for the door. "Ej, would you come in here a moment please?" Bitsy asked.
"Sure," I said as I entered the room.
"Have you found a place for your office yet?" How could she know that I had been ordered out of Mama's house. At least the business had been.
"I haven't had a chance to look for one yet. You got any ideas."
"Actually, I have. Do you remember the old pool hall on main. You know across from the convience store."
"You mean the one that is actually outside of the downtown. Sure I kind of remember it."
"It has been up for sale for about two years. The man who owns it is a client of ours," she informed me.
"I don't want to buy a pool hall. I don't even want to buy and office building. I don't want to buy anything at all."
"I know but he will rent you the upstairs for almost nothing. He would like to have someone in the building until it is sold. Odds are real good that it will never be sold. At least not for a long time."
I had this strange feeling that someone was trying to orchestrate my life. Probably Sam, for whatever reason, I could only ponder.
"If you want, I could call him to meet you there this afternoon?" Bitsy suggested.
"Sure, why not?" I said. I still had a strange feeling about all of this.
Two hours later I found myself standing the the filthiest room I had ever been inside. It was the upstairs storeroom for the pool hall. At least it had been five years ago, when there was a pool room.
"Like I was saying Mr. Barnes, I really do need someone to occupy this space while I try to sell the building. I don't want to rent out the downstairs, I really want to sell the building. How about I rent this whole upstairs to your for three hundred a month."
"Mr. Aaron, I really need room for a desk, nothing more. This is way too much space for me. I'm sorry I wasted your time. It is a nice space. I am sure you can find someone to rent it. It it is just not what I am looking for."
I drove home that afternoon a little depressed. I had Mama's parlor filled with boxes. II had no idea when I could clear them out. She had been pissed this morning. She would go into fits, when I told her I had no place to move them at the moment. When I confided in her that I was going to spend the whole day driving to Shallote for seventy five bucks she would have a heart attack.
It struck me like a bolt from the blue. Mama didn't care about the boxes or the business. She wanted me to move out of the house totally. She had gotten used to things her own way. I was interferring with her. That had to be it.
I went into the house, then called Bitsy. It had also occurred to me that she had known that the office space would be too large for me. She was somehow in this up to her pretty ass. I hung up the phone before it was answered. It wouldn't do any good to confront Bitsy. She was a lawyer. She would never give up the information. Besides it didn't matter anyway. Now that I finally understood, it was simply a matter of finding a place to move.
When mom came home, I explained about the today and the next one. I promised her that I would take the whole day Friday to look for a place. I also asked, if she would be upset if I tried to find a house where I could live and operate the business. I went on quickly to explain that I thought a thirty five year old man should have a place of his own.
I wasn't a bit surprised, by how fast she agreed. I knew something had been disturbed in her household. I wasn't quite what it might be. She obviously didn't need or want my help around the house. She definately didn't need taking care of.
I explained to her that I would be late getting home from Shallote the next evening. She assured me that she would be fine home alone. I went to bed early that night.
The next morning I left at eight for the two hour drive to Shallote. The drive time was the same as to Southport even though Shallote was a bit farther way. The difference was that Shallote was right on the highway where as Southport was at the end of a secondary road.
I stopped along the way to buy a miniture cassette recorder. Everyone had forgotten that I would need it to conduct a proper interview. The interview with the doctor went fine. He explained that the deceased had been his patient. He assured me that their was absolutely no indication of foul play. They man had died from a heart attack pure and simple.
I drove to the mortuary to pick up a copy of the death certificate. As long as I was there I interviewed the embalmer. He concurred with the doctor. It appeared to be a simple heart attack. I paid five bucks for the death certificate then headed for home. I got outside Wilmington and decided to hell with it. I would just stay in Wilmington for a while. I stopped at a pancake house on Market Street to drink coffee and write the report.
I drank three cups of coffee while I wrote a couple of paragraphs on each of the five questions asked by the insurance company. They were mostly B.S. questions anyway. When I finished it was still way to early to go either to the pier or the Holiday Inn. I stopped instead at the palm room.
It would have been like old times, if the crowd hadn't reminded me that I was no longer young. I left after only one beer. I left my car in the parking lot, then walked onto the beach. The wind was blowing but I didn't mind. It was a warm wind. At least I thought so at first.
I had walked all the way to the Blockade Runner before I began feeling the chill. I decided to go inside the Runner for a cup of coffee. I knew that the lounge had the best view. I would be the only one drinking coffee, but I didn't mind.
I sat at one of the tables for two, placed directly in front of the window overlooking the ocean. I was so comfortable that I stayed there drinking coffee till the evening crowd began to assemble.
True to Hally's prediction there were at least three women to every man in the place. With the eye patch, I stood out like a sore thumb. I had dressed in a sports coat for the interview with the doctor but had left it in the car. I might not have looked so unsavory if I had brought it with me. I expected my scar and patch to be a hinderance in my quest for a woman.
I don't know if the women were intrigued or just horny as hell. For what ever reason, I was able to strick up a conversation with several of them. I stayed at the tables till I was sure there was no hope of getting them to take me home. Then I simply moved to another table. Around midnight I noticed that the crowd had thinned considerably. The men had all gone home leaving me and about five women. Each of the women seemed to be sitting alone. I had one more chance at a woman. I picked the woman least likely to have been hit on that evening. She was probably thirty or so, with mousy brown hair. She would have been fairly attactive had it not been for her thick glasses and freckles. Still you could have gotten past that if she had a nice body. She didn't, she was thin as a rail with hardly any breasts at all.
If I can't make it with her, then I am going to go sit on the pier. Coffee might be a nice change after all that beer. I almost changed my mind about going to sit with her. In the end my hormones won.
"Hi," I said standing over her. "Would you mind if I sit down. I absolutely hate to drink alone." I gave her the most pleasent smile I could muster this late in the evening.
Instead of answering me she motioned for me to be seated. I sat down, then turned my attenetion to the ocean. I actually was getting lost in it. I had already given up on getting a woman tonight.
"You a tourist," I heard a voice ask me.
"Actually no, I live in a small town up the road a piece." I answered. "How about you?"
"I live here," she said.
"You can't be a native with that New York accent." I said.
"No, I teach over at the University. How about you?" she asked.
I didn't want to tell her anything about me. "I am retired. Had a bit of an accident." That was the obvious answer and pretty much true.
"I'm sorry, what did you do before the accident?" she asked.
"Cop, what do you teach." I tried to change the subject.
"Biology, how did it happen. The accident I mean." she asked.
"I got stupid. So what is it like being a teacher." I asked trying again to change the subject.
"Boring, what was it like being a cop?" she asked.
"Boredom, punctuated by paralizing fear." I answered. I couldn't seem to keep the subject changed. We spend the next thirty minutes sparing with words.
"Tell you what, my car is parked down at Mercer's pier. Would you like to walk on the beach. I could pick it up then bring you back here for your car." I suggested.
"To be perfectly honest with you EJ, I never liked screwing on the beach. Why don't I drive you to your car, then you follow me home." she said without batting an eye.
"Sounds like a plan to me." I said.
We did just that. Hilda proved to be a nice woman and pretty good in bed. That last part may have been an illusion since she said she didn't do this often. She could have just been enthusiastic rather than expierenced.
I got home at three a.m. Mama was already in bed. I didn't wake her, I slipped quietly into my room, then died on the bed.
The next morning, I convinced Lucy to type the report on her computer then fax it to Great Northern. She demanded that I hook up my own computer and fax before Monday. I had my work cut out for me.
I called around all day Friday. Everything I found was either too small or to expensive. I was about to give up for the day when Mr. Aaron called me.
"EJ, I know that space is too large for you but I wanted to give you one more chance. I actually called hoping you had changed your mind." God everybody was reading my mind lately. I hadn't thought about Aaron, but he seemed like the easy solution.
"Aaron, how much do you want for that sorry old building?" I asked.
"You mean you want to buy it?" he asked.
"I don't know how much do you want for it?" I countered.
"Fifty thousand and it is your." he said.
I didn't have fifty thousand, not any longer. I might have had almost that much before Bitsy took me on the buying spree. "Tell you what Aaron, I'll give you twenty, if you will carry the note for the difference."
"How long to I have to carry the note?" he asked.
"How about ten years or less." It was a gambol but what the hell, life is like that. The payments on thirty thousand over ten years would eat a chunk of my pention check. A bigger chunk than I could afford.
"Done," he said. "Meet me at Sam's office on Monday and we will do the paperwork."
"First you meet me right now with the keys. I want to see what I need to do to the place."
I found that the roof didn't leak and the plumbing worked. It wasn't a dream come true, more like a nightmare come true. It was still as dirty as I remembered. I explained to Mama about the building that very night. She didn't say I was crazy, so she really did want me out of the house.
Friday afternoon, I made another trip into Wilmington. This time it was to purchase painting equipment. I bought as much power equipment as I could. Unfortunately unless I wanted to spray it was simply a power brush and roller kit.
Saturday morning bright and early, I began scrubbing walls. The walls seemed to grow larger as I worked. I stopped to answer the knock on my door. There in all her beauty stood a real dream girl.
Sissy stood on the wooden deck outside my door. She was dressed in old clothes holding a scrub bucket and sponge. "I hear someone here is looking for a cleaning lady?" she asked.
"God honey, you are the prettiest sight I have seen since I came home. Come on in I have plenty of walls and floors." I said.
"Fine, but I warn you, I don't do windows," she said with a smile.
We went to work with a vengence. We were almost finished with one of the three forty foot walls when another knock came on the door. I opened it to find Lucy. She too was dressed in jeans. "I came to see if you could use an extra pair of hands." she said.
"You bet, come on in. You know my sister don't you?" I asked.
"Sure, I see he got you too. How is it going Lavern?" she asked.
"Not bad, but these walls have never been washed before. Grab a rag, start anywhere you like."
"Okay, I need the exercise anyway. I'm getting those dreaded secretary hips," She said as she joined Lavern on the wall. I took my bucket and began on the rear wall. I was about half through with it when the knocking started again. "Now who in the hell could that be?" I asked. "Everyone I know is already here."
I opened the door to find Bitsy in faded jeans and holding a plastic bucket. "Somebody told me there was a party here," she said.
I was shocked beyound belief. "If you have come to help, there are plenty of diry walls to work on." I said.
"Good, I sure didn't come for the company. Hi there Lucy, Lavern, I see he got every woman he knows."
"Not really, if he had put out a call, we would be falling all over ourselves." she said.
"What is that supposed to mean?" I asked.
"Better that you don't know honey," Sissy said. The other two women laughed.
I went back to work. The four of us made short work of the walls. Each of the women had brought a mop. After a quick trip to their cars, we all mopped the floor together.
We were sitting in the vacant pool hall waiting for the floors to dry upstairs. "Look, why don't I run out and get us some food. I am getting a little hungry and it is the least I can do for all your help." I suggested.
"I really wouldn't do that, if I were you." Sissy said.
"Why not." I asked more than a little bewilered.
"Because Mama will be here with lunch in about ten minutes."
"She wasn't expecting all of us. I still better run out for chicken or something."
"You ass," Sissy said. "Moma will have enough food for a dozen dock workers. Have you ever known her to cook too little food. Besides I called her on your cell phone.
She knows how many people to bring food for."
"Not to change the subject, but what are you going to do with this space down here?" Bitsy asked.
"Rent it if I can find some fool to take it." I said.
"Do you remember Seth Timmons?" Lucy asked.
"Not really," I answered.
"It don't matter none," Lucy said. "Seth runs a tee shirt business out of a stall on Carolina Beach. He has been looking for a place to store and do that thing. You know where they put those pictures on them shirts."
"You mean., air brush them?" I asked. I sure as hell didn't want paint fumes in the place. It was probably a fire hazard already.
"No they iron them on. Maybe do a little silk screening nothing more than that though," Bitsy piped in. I can call him Monday after you sign the deal on this building. By the way you really shouldn't be doing all this work till the paper work is done on the building."
"You mean Aaron may back out?" I asked.
"No jack the price if the building looks too good. But not to worry, I took care of it. I had him sign a letter of intent this morning on my way over." Everyone else seemed to approve, so I kep my mouth shut. I still felt strange, all these people planning my future for me. I am not used to people taking care of me.%%
Mama brought fried chicken, potatoe salad and biscutts for lunch. She also brought a couple of gallons of iced tea. I walked across the street to the convience store for ice and the forgotten cups. Mama went upstairs and pronounced it clean enough to paint. At the word paint they began to scatter.
I was alone when I began to paint the large room. It took me all the rest of that day and Sunday to finish it. I met Aaron on Monday morning to sign the papers. By Monday afternoon Seth Timmons had rented the downstairs for the exact amount of my payments on the building. If he stayed the whole ten years I was in fat city.
The plumber came on Tuesday to install a metal shower stall for me. While he was there he switched the janitors sink for a kitchen sink, complete with metal cabinet. He was followed by the electrician who ran me a few new circutts upstairs. One for the microwave and refrigerator. Another for the computer and othere electrical appliances.
At Mama's insistantance, I had a carpenter come up and build me some japanese type screens. His were built from plywood then covered with wall paper. He also knocked me together a couple of eight foot long, two foot wide tables. The half sheets of plywood were nailed to saw horses. They would be used to store the computer and video equipment. I absolutely refused to have shelves on my walls.
The furniture came form everyone in town's garrage or attic. I asked around and pretty soon had filled the place with early American junk. Not much of anything matched. I liked it that way. By Friday of that same week I was able to move into my new place. I was too tired to enjoy any feeling of accomplishment until the middle of the next week.
True to her word, Bitsy had come over on the Sunday after I moved in. She hooked up all the computers for me. She even spent a couple of hours showing me more or less how they worked. She backed up all the data on the computer, then told me to play with it till I felt comfortable. She advised me not to worry either she or Lucy could fix anything I screwed up. She also left me the home phone numbers for both Lucy and herself.
I spent that whole week either monkeying with the computer or reading the camera manuels. I am not all that bright. The book thankfully were written for even simpler minds than mine. I worked the cameras and the computers all week. I didn't have time to get depressed because no work had come in. Actually, I kind of enjoyed the week off.
I didn't even go into Wilmington that week. I spent my time with the equipment. I was beginning to understand a little about it when my first fax came in on Friday. Edna called first to make sure I could recieve the fax. I turned on the computer and called for the fax program. It worked just like it was supposed to work.
I printed it out then read it. According to the fax, their investigator in Charlotte had turned up a lead that one of their clients on disability had returned to work under a different name. Great Northern wanted me to follow their client and to photograph him working if possible. I was to bill them at fifty dollars per hour for the investigation and thirty dollars per hour for the write up time. They even sent me a picture of the man. It had transmitted reasonally well.
The job was simple and I completed in in just two days. I only spent a few of hours each day on it. I picked him up the first day then followed him to the paint shop where he worked. It happened to be raining that day so he went home. I videoed him going into the paint company office then leaving it. I didn't bother to follow him home. The next day I waited at the paint shop for him. He showed up right on time. I followed the paint crew to a water tower. The mooch climbed the tower a couple of times that day. I had him each time on the video.
As directed I sent the original film and the copy to the insurance company along with my report and bill. I billed them three hundred dollars. I kept in mind what Sam had said. I kept the price lower than two nights in the motel and expenses would have been for their own investigator.
Everything settled down for a while. I did a little work for Sam, and a little for the Great Northern insurance company. I did just about enough work to cover my overhead with a few bucks to live on. I even began replacing the money I had used for the equipment.
When labor day came and went, the tourists stopped crowding Wrightsville Island. There were still a few but the pier for the most part were reasonably empty anytime I went. The down side of that was that there were no horny wives to prey on. I resorted to calling the professor. She and I worked out an unspoken system. I would call her on one of the two nights I drove into Wilmington. I would invite her to the pier to talk.
If she accepted, we met on the pier, then talked till midnight. If on the other hand she suggested I come to her place, then we made love till midnight. Either way I was headed home by midnight. Her passions had a perdictable cycle. She would feel the urge to make love about once every two weeks. Once shortly after her period and once as it neared. The odd weeks we just talked on the pier. I really didn't mind. I used the second night each week to prowl the local's night spots.
Even with the tourist gone there were plenty of locals to prey on. Don't get me wrong, I never injured the women either mentally or physically. I just knew that I would never see them again. I had enough women in my life on a permenent basis. The women I picked up in the bars were just a temporary distraction. I tried to make sure they understood that going in. I think most of them did.
In mid October Edna from the Great Northern called. She advised me that she would be driving in from Charlotte to talk to me. It was actually a combination business trip and a family fishing expedition. She, her husband, and son were headed for Top Sail to fish for a week. She had a job for me that would take a little explaining. I didn't even try to pry it out of her over the phone. I just made a note on my calendar that she would be arriving on Friday afternoon.
Up until Friday at four, the week proved to be a momumental bore. Just the way I liked my work weeks. A couple of photographs for Sam and a trip into Wilmington to interview a claimant for the Great Northern. All in all, a real drag of a week.
All that began to look good to me when Edna and her family arrived. Actually, I only met Edna. She sent the others to have dinner in a fast food joint while we talked. Edna was a fairly attractive middle aged woman. She was tall for a woman, only a couple of inches short of my six feet. She had redish hair, not so red as you would get with a dye job but red enough to be recognizable in the sunlight which streamed through my large front windows. Her face was attractive in a down home way. Her body had softened through the years. It still had the remnants of having been a knock out at one time. She was a harsh speaking woman which I knew already.
"EJ, we have been very impressed with the thoroughness of your investigations so far." She said.
"Thank you, I do what I think needs doing," I answered.
"I have a problem down in Southport. I would like for you to take a crack at it. This one I am giving you not to save money for the comapany, but because I think you are the best man for the job."
"I appreciate the kind words. What exactly is the problem?" I asked.
"A lousy police investigation. I don't want to poison your mind with our internal investigation so far." She handed me a sheath of papers. "I want you to read the police reports, then send me a reccomendation for further actions. Take your time. Bill us thirty five dollars an hour for the review. When you finish it, we will decide on our next action."
"No problem, I will have it finished before you finish your vacation." I said.
"Not good enough, I promised my boss we would make a decission on this by Monday afternoon. Can you finish the reports by then?" she asked.
"Sure, I got nothing on right now. How do I get my report to you?" I asked.
"I will come here Monday morning, say around ten. We can go over it, before I fax it to the office. That is if you will let me use your fax machine?"
"No problem, I will add it to the bill."
The agreement was struck so we changed the subject. She asked me if I fished. I explained that I hadn't in years. She suggested I give it a try. It would relax me according to her. I explained that I found sex much better than fishing.
"I'll bet you get a lot of opportunities. That is once the women get past that scar and patch. I mean that as a compliment by the way." She paused to guage my reaction before proceeding. "I mean you look threatening till you turn on that charm. Once you get talking the scar and patch become really attractive. You know kind of attractive in a dangerous way."
"I am going to take that as a compliment. I don't get all that many so I will cherish it." I said with a grin.
Her husband honked his horn about that time. Edna left reminding me that she would return on Monday morning around ten.
The reports detailed a badly botched investigation. They were factual but gave nothing of the investigator's reasoning. The first thing I did was write a time line. It was essential in organizing my thoughts.%%
At 4am on May 30th of this year, a patrol officer was dispatched to the home of John and Wilma Lester.
The officer found the body of John Lester in the Kitchen. The body was on the kitchen floor in a pool of his own blood.
According to Wilma Lester she found the body when she arose to prepare breakfast for her husband.
Mrs. Lester stated that she had heard nothing during the night. When asked if she had heard her husband get up, she stated that they slept in different bedrooms. Not all that uncommon in a older couple. Mister Lester according to the report was fifty five.
A trail of blood was found leading into Mr. Lester's bedroom. A bedroom he shared with his fifteen year old daughter. I found that interesting.
The daughter of course was awake and waiting on the porch. Mrs. Lester held the large German Shepherd dog while the patrol officer observed the scene. The dog according to Mrs. Lester always slept in the room with her husband and daughter. Another fact I found interesting. Mrs. Lester when asked stated, "The dog didn't make a sound not even a whimper."
The patrol officer called the station. He was advised that the town's one detective was at a FBI conferrance and wouldn't be back till Monday. He then requested an ambulance to transport the victem to the hospital for an autopsy.
He advised the wife to clean up the blood, including the kitchen knife used in the killing. I found that unbeliveable. No photographs were taken of the scene and the knife was not checked for fingerprints.
The officer did not conduct interviews with the daughter, or any of the other siblings that had begun to appear on the scene. The report pretty much ended with the very sloppy crime scene.
On the afternoon of May 30th, the body of John Lester was autopsied. It was reported by the coroner that Lester had died from a single stab wound to the heart. No other injuries were found by the coroner. He stated he felt Lester was stabbed from behind. Obviously Murder.
The next attached report was a supplimental report by the same coroner. He indicated the same wound but changed his opinion to suicide. A self inflicted knife wound to the heart. I couldn't believe the coroner would reverse himself the same day. He hadn't just tossed the first report, he had written an amendment to it on the same day. At least that is howhe both were dated May 30th.
The next series of reports were dated June 3rd and 4th. The town's detective had returned. His reports were detailed interviews with the family members.
John Jr. stated, "I know of nothing my father was depressed about. The restaurant he owned was doing well and he had no large financial obligations. As far as I know he and Mom's realtionship was unchanged over the last few years. I know of no reason he would have killed himself."
"Sally Ann, the married daughter, "Daddy didn't really get along with anyone. He was kind of a quiet man. He kept to himself. If he had any problems, we wouldn't have known about them anyway.
Wilma Lester, "I don't know why he killed himself. All I know was that if a stranger had come into the house the dog would have at least barked. I found John on the kitchen floor there is not anything I can add to that.
Michele Lester the fifteen year old daughter, "I went to the restaurant around eleven and fixed Daddy a roast beef sandwich. I brought it and the kitchen knife home for him. He ate the sandwich at the kitchen table. I went to bed and woke up only when I heard Mama scream. I don't know anything else."
The final paragraph of the detective's report called the case an apparent suicide. Of course there was no note. That in itself meant nothing. Often people who kill themselves on the spur of the moment, leave no note.
After the summery, I listed my thoughts.
Possibilities 1) Lester was murdered by either the wife, the daughter, the son, the married daughter or a combination of the them. REASONING: They would cover for each other, but not a stranger. The dog didn't bark. The child and mother claim to have heard nothing.
2) Lester committed suicide in a manner to appear as murder. REASONING: To strike out at his family from the grave, not a likely reason, or to leave family insurace which might on might have a suicide clause.
If your policy had a suicide clause, you obviouly would accept the coroner's report so I must assume you did not have such a clause. If Lester knew there was no such clause then there is almost no reason for him to have commited suicide in such an unusual manner. I would suggest a thorough investigation. At the very least to determine what, if any, reasons there were for Lester to committ suicide. Without the details of the policy I can make no other reccomendations.
I finished the report on Saturday. I figured my bill. I was surprised at how long it had taken me to analize the reports. I billed the insurance company for six hours. I ran the report off on my 'handy dandy' printer. I had it all ready on Saturday afternoon.
I spent a lot of Sunday, the same way I spend most every Sunday, with my mother and Sissy. We had lunch together then sat around the house talking about their problems. I couldn't add much since I didn't really have any problems. Of course, Bitsy came into the conversation, as she always seems to.
"So, what is the latest on Bitsy?" Sissy asked.
"There is no latest, just as there is no former. Bitsy is just a business associate." I stated hoping to end the conversation.
"Sure, there are so many business associates who scrub walls on their days off. Come on give us the dirt?" she begged.
"There is no dirt. Bitsy and I work together period." I told her.
"Well, it would be nice if you found a nice girl. I would like at least one grandchild." Mama said pointedly.
"See what you have done Sissy. Now you have Mama on both our cases." I said.
"Don't worry Mama, I am going to get married. Just as soon as I find a man who doesn't want me to support him." Sissy said. Everybody laughted and the conversation turned to other things. I left Mama's house around six.
On the way home my cell phone rang. "Hello," I said after finally working out the combination of keys to answer it.
"EJ, Edna, Did you finish your report?" she asked.
"Sure, so how is the fishing?" I asked.
"The boys are having a great time. I am fished out already and I still have a week to go. I was hoping there was some emergency that required me to help you finish the report." she said.
"There is, if you want there to be." I said non commitally.
"That's what I thought. Let me write the boys a note. I should be there in half an hour." She said. She also broke the connection before I could object.
I arrived home in time to streighten up the mess before Edna arrived. I noticed that her face was sunburned but otherwise she looked about the same.
"Have you got anything here to drink?" she asked.
"Just about anything you want. Name it and I probably have it." I answered.
"Scotch, streight up with an ice water back." She demanded.
"I can do that," I said moving to the cabinets around the sink. Those cabinets had been removed from a house before it was demolished. Everything in my place had been somewhere or something else.
"You know," she said as she accepted the glasses. "This place really suits you. I mean it is a real mixed bag. You know, a little of this and a little of that. I like it."
"Thank you, here is the report." I handed her the papers.
She read them twice then said, "I see you caught the same things our people did. What do you think happened?"
"I have no idea. I mean it could have been a rookie cop, who just made a bunch of mistakes. They do tend to mushroom on you. Or it could have been a cover up."
"Explain the last part."
"John Lester may have been one of those people who needed killing. I have heard of cops white washing a crime scene," I replied.
"Do you think, it could have been a suicide?" she asked.
"Could be, but they sure don't give enough evidence to convince me. There may be enough evidence down in Southport but the cops didn't write it down. At least not enough to convince me of it."
She nodded then said, "Let me lay this out for you? John Lester and his son were buying that restaurant. They somehow convinced our agent that it was necessary that they have key man insurance on the business. I'm afraid our agent went overboard. He wrote a term life keyman policy naming the beneficiary as the son. That one was for a half million bucks."
"You said that like there were more polocies." I said.%%
"Oh yeah, he also wrote one for John that names his wife as beneficiary. That one was another half million. Of course, he got John Jr. for another half million. They were all term polocies so the premiums weren't too much for the father or son to handle."
"Did you have a suicide clause in the policy?" I asked
"Sure one year. The policies are fourteen months old. We are going to bite the bullet for the million even if that ruling stands up."
"Come on the money goes to somebody regardless," I said.
"Sure, but it would go to the little girl, if mama popped poppa."
"What do you care who gets the money. I mean a million is a million no matter where it goes."
"I see you think like an insurance man. It wouldn't really matter much to us except that this one stinks so bad that the insurance commissioner will have a shit fit when he audits our claims. We are supposed to be a public trust. We should have an interest in our clients. I mean he will claim we didn't care that the old man was killed for the insurance money. We have to save a little face here." she explained.
"So what exactly do you want?" I asked.
"Go down there ask a few questions. Get answers that will satisfy our commisioner, should he take a look at this file. Like you said, we don't care who did it, so long as the questions, we all have, get answered. Find out for us why he killed himself or find out who did it."
"Sounds simple when you say it." I answered.
"I know it does. We expect it will cost a couple of bucks. If you find out that someone else did it then we can probably write off the charges against the settlement. That is if it was the
son or mother. Either way it doesn't matter it is just a cost of doing business."
I refilled her glass while I thought it over. "At two hundred a day plus expenses, this could get expensive," I said as I walked back to the living area."
"Let me fax this to the boss. If he approves it will be for a weeks work first. If you have anything at the end of the week we may continue. If not, don't feel bad when he pulls you off it. He will have fulfilled his obligation to the insurance commission. It is just business." she explained.
"Don't worry, I am not the crusader type." I said.
"I know, that is why we like your work. You just report the facts and don't get involved like so many of our investigators do. They are all frustrated cops," she said.
"I know the type. Me I am a frustrated beach bum," I said.
"You know that fits you pretty well." She looked up at me from her seat on my old sofa. "I have to stop drinking. I can't drive home with alcohol on my breath. It will take a couple of hours for the effects of these drinks to wear off. You got any ideas what we can do till then?" She asked bluntly.
"Monopoly?" I asked.
It wasn't Monopoly that filled the two hours. She left with a big smile and a promise of even more work. So that is what they mean, by screwing your way to the top. I had to smile at the thought.
Edna was back at ten the next morning, by noon I had the go ahead for the investigation with a weeks time limit. I spent the afternooon packing for the trip. I didn't really spend more than a couple of hours at it. The rest of the time, I entertained Edna.
I timed my arrival in Southport for around 11a.m. I wanted to hit the restaurant before the lunch crowd. I found a seat in the upscale restaurant. It was a well dressed restaurant, I had to admit. I didn't see how they made any money, once I viewed the menu. The prices were high enough, actually too high for the locals. When the tourist left a month ago surely all their business went with them.
It took most of the meal in the empty restaurant before the waitress decided I wasn't a serial killer. I finally got her to talk when I showed her my Great Northern ID. I made it simple of her by first asking for John Jr. He wasn't in the restaurant at the moment. I considered that a break. I could find him most anytime. I really wanted to talk to the waitress.
"No problem," I said. "I can come back. Maybe you could help me though. I am headed for the police department next. Can you give me directions."
"Sure it is down the street about two blocks. It will be on your left side. The building looks a lot like an old house. It is also the town hall. You can't miss it, the police department is upstairs. There is an outside entrance on the back that leads right into the station."
"Thanks," I said only half paying attention. "Tell me, how did the help get along with the late Mr. Lester?"
"I don't know," there was a thing in her voice that told me she wasn't going to say anything bad, but would have liked to. "He was alright, I guess. I mean he treated me okay."
"Really, " I took a chance. "I had heard, from our last man down here, that he was a S.O.B. to work for?" I turned it into a question with my inflection.
"Well he wasn't the easiest man I ever worked for, but he did pay me. I mean there are some bosses that cheat hell our of a girl."
"I have heard that. I guess he wasn't too tough on you girls then?"
"No," she paused for several seconds then added. "He had a nasty temper, but it was all bark. A lot of girls couldn't take the shouting so we had a lot of turn over."
"How about now with John Jr. Are things better now?" I asked.
"I guess, John doesn't shout like his dad did. He kind of whines a lot. I can take that okay. Hell I can take anything as long as they don't screw with my pay."
"Let me ask you one more question. Do you know why the old man would off himself?"
"I got no idea. I mean I saw him that night. He was his same old self when he left here."
"No phone calls or anything that would have upset him?" I asked.
"Nothing, he left here in the same mood as every other night." she said.
"What kind of mood was that?" I asked.
"Tired and ready to get out of here. Just like everybody else." she replied.
"What time did you all leave?" I asked.
"We close here at ten, it takes us about an hour to clean the place up. That would make it around eleven."
"One last thing, did his daughter often come in after you closed." I saw her curious look. "I mean to make her dad a snack."
"I have no idea what happens after I leave." she said.
The mention of the daughter spooked her. I had a feeling she knew more. If not facts then gossip. "Okay just one more question on a totally different subject. I am going to be here a couple of days, where should I stay and where can a guy get a drink around here."
"You on an expense account?" she asked. I nodded. "Then the lighthouse is the best place in town. They are on their winter rates so your boss won't kill you. As for a drink, I always go to Sid's" she replied.
"Sounds good to me. I hope I see you there?" I again turned it into a question.
"If you come there tonight you will for sure." she said with a smile as she left me to wait on her other customers. I left her a five dollar tip. Any less and I would have been rude. Anymore and she might have thought I was trying to buy information.
From the restaurant I drove to the police station. The woman receptionist flinched when she looked up to see me standing over her. I decided that I wanted to put her at ease quickly.
"Don't worry ma'am the face looks like a serial killer, but I assure you I am not." I persented my license with my best possible smile.
"I'm sorry," she looked at the ID for my name. "Mr. Barnes, I'm afraid you startled me. I didn't hear you come in."
"No problem, I need to speak to the man in charge." I asked humbly.
"The man in charge today happens to be a woman." She turned her head and shouted for Lieutenant Sims. The Lieutenant came out of one of the two offices at the rear of the squad room.
"Yes?" she said to the receptionist.
"Insurance man to see you." she motioned to me with a wave of her head.
"What can I do for you sir?" she asked of me.
"Could we speak in your office Lieutenant. It is a little bit private." I said. I smiled at her to soften the look of my face.
"I guess, I mean sure come on back." She said as she pushed at the door built into the counter. I followed along behind her. Every female policeman I had ever seen looked about twenty pounds over weight in the blue uniforms. Even the ones who where just plain sticks outside them. She was no exception.
Once inside her office she motioned me to a chair. I opened my briefcase. I removed the stack of reports before either of us spoke.
"Now, what exactly is it that I can do for you?" she asked.
"I am looking into the Lester case for the Great Northern Insurance Company." I watched the smile disappear from her face. She knew the investigation her department had run was a crock. "I would like to speak to the officers who were involved."
"You are going to need the chief's permission for that." she advised.
"Okay, how do I get that?" I asked.
"Right now you can't." She saw the look on my face change to a scowl. "He is off for the day. You can ask him tomarrow. I don't know how much good it will do though."
"Why is that?" I asked.
"Frankly, we would all rather forget that case."
"Really, why would you want to do that?" I asked. I knew why I would if I had been the investigating officer.
"We took a lot of heat on it from the DA. He didn't think we had done all we should have." she admitted.
"What do you think?" I asked.
"I think you are interviewing me, and I am not supposed to talk without the chief's permission." she said with a smile.
"As you can see, I have all the reports. I just have a couple of questions but they can wait for the chief." I stood as if to leave. "I am missing one report though. I wonder if you might provide us with a copy of the internal investigation?" I asked.
"The what?" she asked.
"Your department did do an internal investigation didn't you. I mean surely someone complained about the initial investigation. You did say, the district attourney gave you grief about it. It is usual for a police department to do an internal, when someone questions the first investigation. Surely there is a report of the findings." I said.
"You know Mr. Barnes, you are a little bit pushy. Yes, there was a report prepared but it is for internal use only." she replied.
"I am sorry Leutenant Sims, I thought all those reports were in the public domain. I guess I will have to call our lawyer to see who is correct on that one. Good day," I said as I turned to leave.
"Mr. Barnes, you don't need to call anyone. The report is open to the public. I just remembered, we provided a copy to your company. It must have gotten lost in the mail. Let me make you a copy."
I left the station ten minutes and five bucks later. I drove to the Lighthouse Motel just south of town. I checked in, then called the Great Northern office. Edna had given me a contact name. Gerome, my contact, explained that no report of an internal investigation had ever been requested. There was absolutely no indication that the company even knew one existed. I thanked him, then sat down to read the report. It detailed the interviews with the officers involved with the origninal report.
The conclusions were that the investigation was flawed by not so badly that it altered the conclusions. What a crock, I went back over it. The follow up investigation didn't explain shit. There was no excuse offered, as to why the officer told the victem's wife to clean up the blood and the weapon. I had a lot of questions to ask.
Since I couldn't talk to the cops today, I decided to give the family a try. I chose to start with the least likely suspect first. The married daughter Sally Anne was the only one without a motive.
I drove to her house. Actually I went just to locate it. I didn't expect anyone to be home at two in the afternoon. The wooden door was open and there was a car in the drive. I still didn't know if it would be Sally Anne or the husband. I checked for his name before I knocked. Mike his name was Mike Russ.
I knocked and a young man in his late twenties answered the door. I was just as glad that he had. I probably would have freightened Sally Anne. "Yes?" he said.
I showed him my ID before I spoke a word. "My name is EJ Barnes. I am an investigator for the Great Northern Insurance company." I explained with my good smile. "So?" he asked. The kid had an attitude already.
"I have a few questions for you and your wife." I explained still holding my temper.
"About her father's death I assume." he said.
"That's right. Is your wife home?" I asked.
"Sure, but we got nothin to say," he said.
"Okay by me friend. The insurance company wants to settle this claim, but they can't till I get some questions answered." I explained.
"Got nothin to do with us." He said about to close the door on me.
"Look, just take my card. I am staying at the lighthouse. Talk to Sally's family and see if they want her to talk to me. I really do need to speak with her." I explained yet again.
"I told you mister, she don't know nuthin'." he said.
"Fine, would you at least tell her I came by?" I asked.
"I'll tell her, but I know she hasn't got anything to say to you." He slammed the door in my face.
"You have a nice day now," I said as I got into my car. What a screwball I thought.
I knew the brother would be busy at the restaurant till late so I chose to try the mother next. I drove to her house but found no one home. I didn't wait. I didn't want to interview the teenaged daughter without her mother being present.
It was only three and I didn't have any more leads to follow so I drove to the library. The nice old lady who worked at the information desk found me the back issues of the paper. I read them all. Mr. Lester wasn't really a prominant citizen so the papers pretty much followed the police line. There was almost nothing in them more than the police report. I couldn't even get a slant on the stories.
"Reading about the Lester killing?" the old lady asked. I had no idea how long she had been standing behind me. It was an uncomfortable feeling having an eighty year old woman sneak up on me.
"As a matter of fact I have. You know anything about it?" I asked.
"No more than is in the papers." she replied sitting in a chair across from me.
"Did you know Lester?" I asked.
"I ate in his restaurant a couple of times. No more than that." I could sense she wanted to tell me something. She was waiting for me to ask.
"How about the wife, you know her?" I treid.
"I met her a few times. You going to write a book about the case?" Obviously she was hoping I would.
"I might, What did you think of the widow Lester? I haven't met her yet." I explained.
"When you going to meet her?" the librarian asked.
"I thought I might try her later tonight." I suggested.
"Won't do you no good to try tonight. Mrs. Lester, will be at the church tonight. Her circle is meeting tonight." she informed me.
"I thought you didn't know her?" I asked.
"Don't have to know her, to know she goes to circle on Tuesdays. Mrs. Lester is what we down here call a church lady. She goes to all the Lutheran church meetings. Tonight the ladies circle meets. She will be there. Probably be best to call her after nine to make an appointment to see her tomarrow." she suggested.
"I think I will do just that. Now tell me what you think of the Widow Lester?" I asked.
"Well, the times I met her. I thought she was a sad woman. I hear she is feeling a mite more cheerful these days." she suggested.
"You mean to say, she might not be all that sad that Mr. Lester killed himself?" I asked.
"I mean to say, just what I said. I hear Mr. Lester was a hard man to live with." she replied.
"So what is the gossip around town? I mean do people really thing the old man stabbed himself in the heart?" I asked.
"Young man, I don't gossip." She said but not really offended. "But those that do, say Mr. Lester was a foul man who died and good riddence." She stood then walked away without another word.
I left the library, with dinner in mind. I chose a family steak house. I chose it not to save money, it was about the only thing in town. I guess I could have gone back to Lester's, but I wanted my first meeting with the son to be on neutral turf. The food was adaquate which is about all I cared about anyway.
After dinner, I returned to the motel. I could, I suppose, try the neighbors of the Widow Lester. I really wanted to save that for Saturday. I would rather she didn't find out I was talking to her neighbors till after I interviewed her. In a town this small, I was sure the neighbors would be on the phone to her before I cleared the drive.
Since I had nothing else to do, I wrote out my list of unanswered questions for each of the family members. I reread them, then matched them with the file information. Each list contained a couple of question, to which I knew the answer. Might as well see if they had changed their stories.%%
At nine thirty, I requested directions to Sid's place. I found it from the directions. Sid's place was a simple beer joint, frequented by the locals. It looked pretty much like any other beer joint. One bar on the right, with several square tables scattered around. It also had the required fisherman's net hanging from the ceiling.
It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the dark. It was dark outside but it was darker still inside Sid's place. I finally spotted my waitress sitting with another woman. The place was still pretty empty thank God.
"Hello there," I said as I approached the table. "We meet again."
"I knew we would," the waitress said. "I brought Ginny with me. She used to work for old Mr. Lester. I figured you had some questions for her."
"That is fine, May I sit down?" I asked.
"Sure," the waitress said. "My name is June and like I said this here is Ginny."
"Hi Ginny, and of couse you too June. So how goes it with the working class?" I asked.
"Rough my kid needs a new pair of shoes, and Ginny needs her car worked on." June said.
"Exactly how much is all that going to cost?" I asked.
"A hundred bucks each," she said.
"If it were up to me, that wouldn't be a problem. Like I told you before, I work for an insurance company. I am going to have something from you guys to justify the cost." I removed the mini recorder from my coat. "Recorded statements to begin with. Then the information you provide me has to be of some benefit in settling this claim on way or another." I informed them both.
"I didn't know, we are going to have to talk this over." Ginny spoke for the first time. She was another middle aged woman probably a divorcee. No rings and not quite the old maid type.
"Why don't I get us a drink while you decide." I stood, went to the bar, there I picked up three draft beers. I stalled to give them time to talk.
When I returned June asked, "Are you going to play the tapes for John Jr.?"
"Probably not, but I can't promise that I won't. So what's it going to be?" I asked.
"Okay, but if you play those tapes, I will loose my job." June said.
"Then maybe you better not make the statement. I am not able to promise you anything. I will try to keep you out of it, but if push comes to shove you may wind up on the stand in a trial. I just don't know, till I hear from you. I don't even know that you have anything worth a hundred bucks each." I admitted.
"If we tell you first, then you might not pay us the money." June said.
"I can't buy, unless I know what it is you are selling." I said.
"Look, just promise me that if the information helps you that you will pay. Otherwise I have wasted my time coming here. I don't like to waste my time." the harder looking Ginny said.
"I can tell you this, it isn't my money, but I decide how to spend it. I can pay, if your information is worth the money."
"Okay," Ginny said. "I overheard John jr fighting with his dad. They were going at it for a while, then the old man started to cry. It was the damnest fight I ever heard. John accused the old man of getting it on with some teenaged chick. I couldn't get the name of the girl. Anyway John Jr. said it would kill his mother to find out that the old man was up to it again. Then he said something like, daddy I am not going to let you hurt her again."
"Did he mean his Mama?" I asked.
"I don't know who he meant. I do know I got canned the night before the old man got killed. I think John Jr. killed him." she said.
"Did you tell your story to the police?" I asked.
"I told them. Nothing ever came of it though," she replied.
I stopped talking, turned off the tape recorder, then played it over in my mind. I didn't want to jump to any conclusions, but it looked bad for John jr. "Okay, June what are you selling."
"I didn't hear that fight but I heard the old man fighting with someone over the phone a couple of days before his death. He was giving somebody hell as usual. Then he suddenly turned white as a ghost and got real quiet. He didn't say another word. Somebody scared the hell out of him."
"You reckon it was John Jr.?" I asked.
"Nope, John jr was in the restaurant that night. He was talking to somebody else on the phone." June said.
"Any idea who it might have been?" I asked.
"Don't know, but my guess is somebody in the family. They are about the only ones he ever called from the restaurant. He went into his office for anyone else." she said.
"So you are pretty sure it was a family member, but don't know which one." She nodded. "Do you have any idea who it might have been. A guess even?"
"Not a clue. Besides, that is your job." she said.
I gave them each a hundred dollar bill. "If you come up with anything else call me. I think you owe me some change. Neither of you has given me anything that is definate."
They rolled their eyes then looked down into their beer. I left them sitting at the table while I returned to the Motel. It was after eleven so I didn't bother to return my one message. Sally Anne had called. She wanted me to return her call either tonight or first thing in the morning.
I waited till morning. I called Sally Anne at home around nine. After the usual pleasantries she asked, Mr. Barnes is the company going to pay off on my father's polocy. My mom and brother really do need the money. Daddy left a lot of debts."
"I think the company wants to pay. There are just a lot of questions that I need answered. Once those are answered, no matter what the answer, I think the company will settle. You husband refused to talk to me yesterday. I have to reinterview everyone the police talked to. That includes your husband, mother brother, sister and the police. Once that is done, then I am pretty much going to close the investigation." It was a bald faced lie, but then she didn't know that.
"I can almost assure you, that we will all cooperate. I am going to call mama right now." she said.
"You call me back on my cell phone." I gave her the number. "Just let them all know, that I am going to be calling either today or tomarrow. I need to speak to each of them, and you, alone and in person."
"I don't know about the alone part. Our lawyer may want to be with us." Sally Anne said.
"Oh, you have a lawyer?" I asked.
"Yes, we need one don't we." Sally Anne asked.
"I'm no cop, but if he think you need him, then you do. Just call me when you have spoken to everybody you need to talk to."
I broke the connection, then drove to the police station. This time the receptionist wasn't surprised by my face. "Hi there, remember me?" I asked.
"Sure, this time you want to see the chief?" she asked.
"I do indeed. Is he in?" I asked.
"Sure, let me call." she spoke into her telephone. I turned my back to read the bulletin board.
"Can I help you," I recognized the voice from yesterday.
"Leutenant Sims?" I asked. Looking first at the receptionist and then Sims.
"Yeah, they made me chief last night. Chief Robbins resigned."
"Oh, did he give a reason?" I asked.
"Health," she said flatly.
"His?" I asked.
"I presume," she said, "Now what can I do for you?" she asked.
"The same thing as yesterday. I want to interview the patrol officer and the Detective who worked on the Lester case." I asked.
"That is my call today, I guess I am going to have to refuse your request." she said.
"I can't believe you said that. Why on earth would you refuse?" I asked.
"Because the case has not been closed. We do not comment on active police investigations."
"It was my understanding that the case was closed yesterday." I said.
"That may have been your understanding, but the case is most definately not closed."
"Really, exactly what do you intend to do next. I mean since your people cleared everyone. Are you looking for someone new, or are you going to try to rebuild the crime screne from the patrolman's memory."
"That was a nasty crack." she said.
"I know. Look Sims, let's take off the gloves just for a minute." She nodded but didn't look all that happy about it. "Your patrolman, at least, screwed up. He had the wife distroy all the physical evidence. There isn't much chance, short of a confession, you are going to clear this one. That is unless you have some plan I don't know about."
"I have a plan. I am going to ask them all to submit to a polygraph. You can even help me." she suggested.
"Exactly how could a lowly insurance man help you?" I asked.
"Make it known that you won't pay until I declare the case closed. If they want the million, they are going to have to take the poly."
"That will only work for the brother and mother. Those are the only two on the polocy."
"If we get them the others will come around." Sims said. "I would consider it a personal favor."
"Enough of a favor to let me talk to the patrolman?" I asked.
"I really would rather you didn't interview him. It wouldn't look all that good, since we may also reopen the internal investigation."
"Why is he related to the Widow Lester?" I asked.
"I don't think so," she said.
"Come on you can't hide patrolman Adkins from me. You know I can find him at home, if I really want to bother. I was hoping, I could interview him with your blessing. With or without it, I still have to talk to him." I said.
"It will be without my blessing, I am afraid," she said.
"Have it your way, but I would think you would want it where you can at least have some control. I will agree to either you or the department lawyer sitting in on the interview. Hell I will even agree to his lawyer, If he has one." I said.
"Oh, he has one all right." she admitted.
I could tell from the look she gave me, she wasn't all that happy that her own man had lawyered up. "Well bring them all. I really don't care. What he won't answer will tell me almost as much as what he will." I said.
"Tell you what, let me call him. He might not even want to talk to you. If that is the case, we can forget the whole thing without causing hard feelings," she said. I nodded and she picked up her hand held radio. "Southport one calling Southport fourteen." she said into the radio. The answer was so quick he might have been expecting the call. "Please call me on a land line?' she requested. Only a few seconds passed before he called. He must have had one of the many cell phones.
The chief explained to him all his options, then put me on the phone. I asked for an interview under any terms what so ever. He refused my request. I didn't even bother to try any tricks on him. Hell, I could tell from his voice that he was no rookie. That answered one of my questions. He had known better than to give the woman the advice he had given her. His refusal now was probably based on self interest. The suicide had taken on a life of it's own. He had probably been advised that the department was looking into another investigation. I couldn't blame him for refusing.
I handed the phone to the chief. She said a few words to Adkins,. then hung up.She didn't even bother to say she was sorry. She actually almost gloated because she had been correct. If she knew all that I planned, she might not have been so pleased with herself.
I found Adkins' address from the town librarian. I drove to the motel. It was a little early for lunch so I used the motel phone to call the coroner's office. The receptionist put me through to the doctor.
"Doctor Habib, my names is Barnes. I work for the Great Northern Insurance company. My company carried the polocy on John Lester. I have a few question which need answering. Could you make time for me this afternoon?"
He answered me in English, but with a foreigh sing song accent. "I would be happy to meet with you sir. I will answer any questions you might have, but I am afraid it will be of no use to you. If you have my autopsy report, I can add nothing to it." he said.
I didn't want to freighten him so I said, "I know that Doctor. I just need to hear you say the words. If you do, then the boss will be satisfied." That crap wouldn't have worked on me.
Then again I am not a doctor. It has been my expierence that doctors do not expect anyone to question their actions. That seemed to the the case with Habib.
"Very well, if it is just a formality then come right over. I will be here most all afternoon. I am doing, as you say, paperwork." he said.
I drove the twenty miles to the neighboring town in half an hour. I found the hospital parking lot without any trouble. I was walking toward the building when my cell phone rang. "Hello," I said after pushing about a half dozen keys.
"Mr. Barnes?" the voice asked.
"Yes," I answered.
"This is Sally Anne Russ. I spoke to mama and John Jr. They both agreed to meet with you. They wanted you to call their laywer before the meeting."
"No problem, give me his name and number." I demanded. I wasn't all that happy but I tried no to let it sneak into my voice. She reeled off a name and a phone number. I wrote it in my notebook. "I am in the middle of something right now Sally Ann. I will call him later on this afternoon." She agreed and rang off.
I found the morgue in the basement of the hospital. They always seemed to be in the basement. Habib's office was actually a desk surrounded by glass. I intoduced myself then began asking question. The first ones were harmless. I kind of got his medical background. It was the kind of questions I had heard in court many times. I didn't rush but finally had to begin the real questions.
"Doctor Habib, exactly what was it that made you change your mind about the knife wound to Mister Lester." I asked it without any sepcial emphasis.
He consulted his file before he answered. "It was pointed out to me that there could not have been a killer in the house. That it could not have happened as I assumed. I gave it some more thought and determined that it could have been self inflicted."
"As I understand in the original report, You said, "The angel of entry was downward. Suggesting a military style execution." What is it that made you think Lester stabbed himself. I mean what fact about the knifing was more consistant with self inflicted after you were told no one else was in the house."
He didn't much like that. "I just said that I thought it could have been self inflicted." he said shortly.
"No Doctor, what you said is that, "I am now of the opinion that John Lester committed suicide. I want to know and the D A is going to want to know, why you thought that three hours after the autopsy." I saw his look of surprise. "Yes doctor, there is going to be yet another investigation into this death." I looked but could tell he wasn't going to say anything else. "If I were you Doctor, I would tell someone the truth. It will look a lot better, than if I find out somewhere else."
I waited him out. I could see the wheels turning in his head. He went through several thoughts I could tell. He finally said, "I didn't do anything wrong. I didn't falsify reports or anything. I was just asked, if it could have been a self inflicted wound. I agreed that anything was possible. I was asked to write an ammendment to my report saying just that. I shouldn't have done it that way. The officer suggested that I write it as my opinion. I have to get along with these people. After all it could have been."
"What do you really think?" I asked.
"I don't know. It really could have gone either way."
"Thank you doctor. Now would you tell me who asked you to write that addendum."
He looked at me for a long time. I could see the question in his eye. He thought that someone else had already copped to it. "Why the chief of course. I would never have done it for anyone else."
I had him on tape. I could actually walk away from the sorry mess at that point. The only problem was that proof of a cover up didn't help me a damned bit. I needed to know if one of his family iced John Lester.
I called the police station from the parking lot. I spoke to the chief. "The cover up is beginning to unravel. I'll show you mine if you show me yours." I suggested.
"I got nothing to show. I doubt that you do either." she stated.
"Chief, I have a very interesting interview tape. I'll play it for you, if you tell me what is going on with the investigating officer."
"No deals. I'll get around to who ever you talked to soon enough." she said.
"Not before he get's his story lined up." I said. I was hoping I could convince her to cooperate.
"Let me think about it. Gvie me your number?" she demanded.
I read it off to her. We broke the connection immediately. I drove my car back to the motel. I planned to call the Lester's attourney from the motel phone. I was inside the city limits of southport when I was pulled over. I wasn't all that surprised. I am a lousy driver, also I figured some cop or other would want to talk to me.
"Sir," the forty pound over weight officer said, "Would you please step out of the car?" It sounds like a question, but I knew it was an order. I had one thing going for me. It was daylight and we were on a busy street.%%
I opened the door on the tiny Honda. "Sure, no problem." I waited for him to explain the stop. I had absolutely no intention of asking.
"Could I see your driver's license please?" he demanded.
I handed over my driver's license. He took a long look at it then said, "Would you get into my car please?"
"I don't think so officer." I looked at this name tag. "Officer Jefferson, I am conducting an investigation involving police conduct. I don't think I want to get into the car with a police officer under those circumstances."
He thought about it a minute, then said. "I guess you got a point Mr. Barnes. Tell you what, why don't you follow me to the Waffle House. I am about ready for a break. We can have a cup of coffee and talk."
I had to think about it, but not for long. "Sure but I am going to have to make a call on the way. I want to let my lawyer know where I am going to be," I informed him.
He actually laughted. "Don't trust cops much do you?"
"Used to be one." I answered.
"'nough said," he explained as he got into this car.
I followed the police car way out of town. He stopped at the chain breakfast restaurant on the highway. I let him enter first. I followed a moment or so later. The waitress was already at the booth. In her hand she carried two cups of coffee. I sat across from the policeman.
"Where were you a cop?" He asked.
"Atlanta." I answered. I kept it short. I still didn't know the reason for the conversation.
"You get that in the line?" he motioned with his coffee cup to my face.
"Accident," I said.
"Insurance work pay good?" he asked.
"Not nearly enough." I had finally tired of the talk. "So officer Jefferson, what exactly is it that I can do for you."
"Nothing for me. I would like to help a friend though." he said.
"Which friend are we talking about?" I asked.
"Adkins," he said simply.
"Does Adkins need help?" I asked.
"Depends," he admitted.
"On what?" I asked.
"Who you really are." he answered.
"I am who you think I am." It wouldn't hurt to be as mysterious as he was.
"I thing you are SBI or a fed." he said without a smile.
"Sorry, they don't hire the handicapped." I said with a smile. This one was a colder one than my 'make friends' smile.
"Why the hell would an insurance company care wether Ed fucked up or not?" he asked.
"They don't really give a hoot in hell about your friend. The company doesn't want it to get out that murder for the insurance money is acceptable. It might cause they claim rate to go up."
"What if the victim is an asshole. Somebody that needs killing." he said.
"If that is the case, the killer shouldn't file for the insurance. It is really bad form." I said.
"Got me there. It does look bad. Ed wasn't thinking about the insurance when he botched the investigation."
"I can believe that. Tell me why he did it." Jefferson didn't really make a move to talk. "Look you and I both know this conversation isn't going to wind up in court. If anything, I might have to use it to pry information from the chief. If you give me the information I need, nobody has to know."
He thought about it a minute, then said. "What if somebody told you Ed went to the house and listened to the witness stories. What if Ed concluded that the old man was doing his teenaged daughter. What if Ed decided, fuck it the old man needed killing. What would you say then." he asked.
"I would ask if Ed knew for sure the old was doing the girl. I would ask him how he knew. I would ask him, if he knew who did the old man and how he knew. If it wasn't one of the beneficiaries I would try to close this bitch and go home. I would have to be really convinced. I don't think Ed could do that." I said.
"If you guys take the heat off, this might go away." the cop replied.
"Why are the chief's nuts in a wringer?" I asked.
"Word is he made a couple of calls to help Ed." he said.
"He made the calls, but I'm not sure who it was to help." I said. The officer gave me a look of respect.
"I suppose you can prove that?" he said.
"Oh yeah," I said.
"What we got to do to get you to leave us alone?" he asked.
"Everybody tell me the truth, or kill me." I said looking hard at Jefferson.
"Then it's tell you the truth. I don't like Ed enough to go into the joint. I got one wife I don't need another named Leroy." he said. He wasn't laughing and neither was I.
I left him to pay for the coffee. I drove immediately to the motel. I had a fist full of messages. I began to return them. I started with the lawyer for the family Lester.
"We arranged for a meeting the next day. Everyone would be in his office. I found his plan to interview them all together unacceptable. He threatened to call the insurance commissioner. I suggested that he make the call, then call me back. It was a tug of war but we finally comprimised. He could hold the meeting in his office but I would speak to them one at a time.
The meetings were to begin at ten the next morning. I had no idea who would be first and I didn't care. I awoke in time for breakfast long before the meeting. When I returned to the motel to kill time till the meeting, I found a note on my door. I was to call Officer Adkins on his cell phone. He would come to see me.
I called and he came immediately. I opened the door for him. Adkins was a spit and polish cop. He had done a stint in the corp no doubt. He was probably a few years older than me, but in much better shape. I figured if push came to shove, her would kick my ass all over the room.
"What can I do for you officer?" I asked.
"Jeff told me we needed to be straight with each other. He told me you didn't come to hang me."
"I came to find out what happened to Lester. I have no interest in how the investigation was handled. As far as I am concerned your motives and actions are between you and god. I am not going to judge you, but I do need to know what you did and why you did it." It was as close to a speech as I ever came.
"You ask and I will answer." Adkins said.
"I know you had a reason to tell the Lester woman to clean up. Was it to distroy the evidence?"
"Man. you don't beat around the bush. Yeah, I told her to clean the place up. She explained the sleeping arrangements to me. I got the impression the old man was doing his daughter. I didn't care who did it. That is if anyone did. You know he really might have killed himself."
"How many suicides you work where the guy used a knife. Not a very efficient way to do it." I suggested.
"Yeah, I know that now. If somebody had shot him, it would have been easier to sell."
"I would say. What made you think the old man was doin the kid?" I asked.
"I don't know, her sleepin' in his room I guess. I don't know what, but there must have been more. I just got the feeling that his wife knew what was going on." he informed me.
"Did you ask her?"
"She wouldn't have told me the truth. Naw, I didn't ask," he replied.
"Your report says there was a trail of blood from his room to the kitchen. Could you tell where in his room he got it?"
"Not in the bed. The blood began at the foot of his little girl's bed. Big puddle there, then a few drops to the kitchen where I found him layiing in a bigger puddle."
"Any blood on the girls bed?" I asked.
"Yeah, on the very foot of it. Looked to me like he was standing there when he did it."
"If he did it." I said. I wasn't about to let him off the hook that easy.
"Yeah, that too."
"How did the dog look?" I asked.
"He looked like he wanted to take my arm off. The old woman had to lock him in her room."
"Did you search the house?"
"Everywhere but in her room. That big mother dog was in that room."
"Any strange cars at the house?"
"The son was there when I arrived. Nobody else."
"You mean to tell me the kid was already there?" I asked.
"Yeah, the old lady called him before she called me."
"Do you know how long he had been there?" I asked.
"Not really," he replied.
"Did you check the hood of his car?" I asked unbelievingly.
"Like I told you, I didn't care. I figured the old man got less than he desirved." Adkins said.
"I guess that is all for now. If I think of anything else, I will call." I said standing. I wanted to let him know the interview was over.
"I did a stupid thing, I know that now. You think they will arrest me?" he asked.
"I don't know Ed. They won't on anything you told me. I would be carefull what I said and to who I said it. I personally have a lousy memory." I shook his hand as he stood.
"I don't suppose either the mother or son had any blood on them?" I asked as he walked out the door.
"None, I couldn't have ignored that." He said as he left the room.
I felt like Ed had told me most of the truth. If any of it had sounded like excuses then I might have doubted him. The things he told me could get his ass jailed. He did it because he hoped I would leave town sooner. The sooner I left, the sooner they could bury this whole incident.
"Hello," I said into the phone. I almost didn't answer, since I was going to be late for the meeting with the family.
"EJ, it's me Edna. How is it going down there?" she asked.
"I am headed out to a meeting with the family right this minute. It was pretty much like we thought. There is a coverup going on down here. They fired the chief yesterday. It's getting pretty wierd. I don't think it will take much to wrap this up. The covers are coming off as we speak."
"I have a feeling you need help." she said.
"I'm doing fine." I said.
"I'm not talking about an investigator. I think you need someone to help you with that mass of paperwork you are accumulating.
"What?" I asked.
"I am going to leave here in an hour. I will be at the motel late this afternoon. Reserve me a room." I waited and she didn't speak for a few minutes. "I know you can handle it but we are in a hurry on this one. Don't worry about my vacation. I can take another one later. Besides these guys don't need a car."
Edna broke the connection. I had no idea what the hell was going on. I assumed that her husband was listening as she spoke. I would be glad to see her if she kept her nose out of the investigation.
The attourny proved to be a jerk named Skip. He looked and acted exactly like his name implied. God what a dork. The first interview was with the brother John Jr. I waited till he was seated. I looked at him for a few seconds without asking a question. When he looked nervous enough, I asked. "John which teen aged girl was your dad screwing."
Skip jumped to his feet. "What the hell are you saying Mr. Barnes. If these are the kinds of question you intend to ask, then I suggest we end this interview right now. I know a bluff when I hear one."
I stood, packed my briefcase and started for the door. "You can always answer to the police. I understand they are going to reopen the investigation. I don't think they pay their informants as well as I do. I am, like any good citizen, going to turn over my interviews to them. That is if you refuse to answer my questions. Good day gentlemen." I made it all the way to the reception room.
"Mr. Barnes," Skip said. "Come on back in." When I got closer he whispered. "Please take it a little easier on John."
I whispered my answer. "The cops aren't going to. All this shit may come out. Everybody wants this to be swept under the rug. I agree. I just have to know." He nodded.
"John, let's try this again. I know you and your dad had a hell of a fight before he died. The fight was about his screwing a teenaged girl. Who was the girl?"
"My sister," he said bursting into tears. I waited till her recovered.
"Is that why you killed him?" I asked.
"I didn't kill him. Mama called me from the house. She told me she found daddy on the kitchen floor. I think the shame of what he did finally got too much for him."
"John, I don't think you should say any more," Skip advised him. As a matter of fact maybe this would be a good time to take a break.
"Skip, we just got started." I complained.
"Could I see you outside," he motioned me into the hall. "Look Mr. Barnes, I can't let you accuse my client of murder." he was angry.
"Okay, Skip. We can do it this way. I will ask the questions without any comment. I will take down what they all say then draw my own conclusions. They will probably be wrong since I won't be able to clerify the answers. I know you don't need to know the truth but I do. You pick it counselor."
"Just don't make accusations. If you don't think you have a truthful answer just go about it without accussing my clients."
"Skip old boy, one of your clients is guilty of murder. You and I both know it. Which one and why I don't know and I hope you don't."
"Is that some kind of threat?" he asked.
"Why, does it sound like one. I don't know about you, but I couldn't sleep knowing I was helping a murderer escape justice."
"Sure you could Barnes. You don't give a rats ass who did it. You just want to clear this so you can collect your fee.
"That was the case before you pissed me off Skip. Now I am going to find out. You know why?"
"No why?" he asked.
"Because they killed him for the money. I control the reason they killed him. One or all of them conned the cop into covering for them, but I am not going to be conned."
"I think the interviews with the family are finished." Skip said.
"Tell that to those money hungry assholes, and you will probably not be representing them any longer."
"I'm going to call the insurance commissioner. You can't come in here accusing people of murder. Not to save the company a couple of bucks."
"I thought you were smarter than that Skip. I, like you, am an officer of the court. If I find out a fact pertinent to a criminal investigation, I am required by law to report it. The commissoner knows Great Northern has to pay. They are simply trying to make sure they don't pay off to a murderer. If you call them complaining that I am investigating this homicide your people are going to look even more guilty. Get a grip." I said. I was disgusted with them all.
"Get the hell out of here." he demanded.
"I'm going to tell you something else. Just as long as I have your attention. I'm not sure that the old man was doing the daughter. I think they made that up for the tight assed cop. I think they planned it and then almost got away with it. I am also going to prove it asshole." I whispered. I didn't particularly want anyone overhearing our conversation.
"Get out," he shouted.
Since John could hear us, I shouted back. "You are going to make sure nobody gets paid except you, aren't you counselor." That I threw in just for fun. "Tell them to line up for the polygraph, or no one is ever going to see a dime of the insurance. The cover up is gone. We will not pay off till this case is closed."
I tried to run it back through my head during the drive to my motel. I had either screwed up the insurance company's reputation or put a large bee in everyone's bonnet. I wanted to wait for Edna before I got any farther into the hole. I would have except that John drove into the parking lot not long after me.
"Mr. Barnes, could I talk to you please?" he asked. "Skip is really my mother's lawyer and he is an ass."
Since we agreed on at least one thing I allowed him into the motel room. "I understand that just fine. John let me warn you right now, Skip has just about fucked this up so bad that I am going to have to go to the cops. I am at the point where I am going to let the chips fall where they may." I paused while he digested that much. "You probably can figure out by now that I have a lot more information than the cops. They are more concerned about the cover up than the murder. I can prove without a doubt that you and your father had a violent arguement.
I can also prove that the teenaged girl was not your sister." That one was a shot in the dark.
"You spoke to Millie," I didn't answer. "You must have."
"Why don't you tell me about it. John, make it the truth this time."
"Mille is only eighteen. She works at the restaurant. She got involved with my dad. God only knows why. I guess she just likes older men. Anyway, I found out from one of the other waitresses. I jumped Dad in the kitchen. He swore he would stop. That's all there was to it. I know it looks bad for me but I swear I was home when Daddy died."
"John, who did kill him?" I asked.
"I don't know. I didn't ask. Mommy called me and I rushed over there. I was waiting when that marine cop showed up. Mama talked to him for a while. I think she gave him the impression that daddy was sleeping with Michele. I didn't correct it."
"John, why was your sister sleeping in the room with your dad?" I asked.
"I don't know. He may have been bothering Michele."
"Come on John, even if he was, he gave a different reason. I know he didn't admit it."
"They lived in two bedroom house. There was one bedroom with a double bed that mom and dad used. The second bedroom had a set of twin beds. That was Michele's room. Daddy moved out of mama's room after the last time she found out about a woman. He moved in with Michele. Michele couldn't stand mama's snoring. She has a sinus condition. Michele just stayed in the room with Daddy. I don't know anything else. I believed them, because I wanted to believe them." He was almost in tears.
"Okay John, that is about all I have for you now. Why don't you go home."
"I got to open the restaurant. I am going to tell them all to talk to you. We need to get this settled soon or I am going to loose the restaurant." Any sympathy I had for him suddenly left. He wanted me to solve the crime but not for his father. He wanted the money, even though it meant a member of his family was probably going to jail.
He had been gone an hour when I heard a knock on my door. I knew it was too soon for Edna. I opened the door to the chief of police. "Come on in chief," I said.
"I should be taking your ass to jail." she stated flatly.
"Why would you want to do that."
"You are interferring with a police investigation." she said..
"Oh, how am I doing that?" I asked.
"Running all over hell telling everyone that the cover up is unravelling. I have never seen so many people trying to get their stories streight. They have all been warned." she said angrily.
"Tit for tat," I said.
"What does that mean," she shouted.
"It means, I tried to work with you, but you told me to fuck off. Now I am doing it my way. You wanted to use me. Well lady I am sorry, I am an investigator not a whore."
She suddenly broke into laughter. "Okay," she said after she stopped laughing. "Why don't we try to work together. I mean we do want the same thing."
"Okay, you tell me what you have first. I am not going to spill my guts for nothing." I insisted.
"Oh no, we do it together. You tell me something and I will tell you something." she suggested.
"The family Lester has started to turn on itself," I said. "John told me some interesting things. That is once I seperated him for his asshole lawyer." I stopped and motioned for her to talk.
"The autopsy report was influenced by the chief." she said.
"I knew that and you knew that I did. That's what all the hell raising was about." I said showing my disappointment in her.
"Okay, how about this. Momma refused to take the poly. When the others heard they all did."
"Ask John again. He wants to clear himself so that he can collect the insurance. He will take it. He will also come out clean. Be sure they ask him conspiracy questions. I don't think he does, but he may know who did the deed. Don't mention that, till you get him hooked up."
"You really think so?" she asked.
"A half hour ago he would do anything. I expect he still will." I said. "Your turn chief."
"Adkins screwed up the crime scene intentionally. He thought the old man was boinking the daughter." she informed me.
"Old news, I talked to two different cops about that. He was stupid and probably guilty of some crime, but not much of one. I don't think any jury is going to put him away." I suggested.
"I agree. Okay how about this. The old man owed some really bad guys some heavy money. He barrowed it for the restaurant. They may have been getting impatient."
"Not much, but in exchange John Sr. was doing the horizontal Mombo with Millie. Some teenaged sex pot that worked for him."
"I will be damned Millie the slut. I would have thought he had more sense." she said. "Okay, the chief was just trying to cover for his man. He had nothing to do with the crime scene. As a matter of fact, he told me to fire Adkins immediately. The DA told me to keep him so they could find him, if they decided to charge him."
"I figued that one out, but I didn't know about the firing. Okay, John and his old man had a hell of a fight the night before the killing. I still don't think he did it, but he may have let his mother know about Millie the slut. Which would give her a motive." I suggested.
"The old man might really have been doing his kid. That would give her a motive." the chief said.
"It looks like one of them. Try to get the kid on the machine." I said.
"Not a chance in hell. She is a minor."
"Just to keep my company happy, hook up John Jr. so we can settle his claim." I said.
"Which on of them do you think did it?" she asked.
"Mama is a good bet. I don't know if the kid could have managed it. I mean it had to be pretty messy."
"You never know about kids." the chief said.
"Well for sure either mama did it or she knows who did. There were only the two of them and the man eating dog."
"Have you told me everything?" she asked.
"Have you told me everything?" I asked.
"Okay, so we don't know what each other knows. What are your plans?"
"My boss is coming in for a consultation. I am going to try to get a shower before she gets here. After that I am going out to dinner with her, then I am going to come back her and try to screw her brains out." I smiled my most charming smile.
"Sure you are. Why don't the two of you come by my office around nine. I think we might be able to work out an agreement to cooperate." the chief suggested.
"If you insist." I agreed reluctiantly.
I finished the shower before Edna arrived. I finished Edna before we went for the meet. The first fifteen minutes were spent with the two of them circling each other like dogs. Somehow they settled their differences in a non verbal way. Edna arranged an agreement that I would cooperate with the local police, as long as I was included in their investigation.
Back in the motel room she said, "You know, I don't think any of our investigators has ever been offered a chance to sit in on a police interrogation. I don't know whether it is because you are good at this or because she has the hots for you."
"Who cares, the results are the same." I said.
"Maybe, but you watch yourself. Great Northern does not trade sex for information."
"Has anybody ever offered that deal to one of your investigators?" I asked.
"Yeah, me. I wasn't always a supervisor." she said.
"So, I should follow in your foot steps?" I asked.
"God no, I should have said Great Northern no longer trades sex for information." she laughed. She left me the next day at noon. She found it necessary to return to her fishing family. I returned to the police station.
"So what's our next move chief?" I asked.
"I am thinking of inviting the widow Lester down for a talk." she said.
"I wouldn't do that just yet." I suggested.
"Oh, how would you handle it?" she asked.
"I would start on the fringes and work in." I suggested.
"Exactly which fringes?" the chief asked.
"Mike Russ," I said.
"Why him first. I don't think he can tell us anything. He was in bed when it all happened." she said.
"I know, but we have to start making them nervous. Any crack will help. We got John to cooperate. Now let's get another one. Besides, I don't think he is lawyered up yet. Why should he be. There is no money for him and no threat to him. Why don't we get some family history from him."
"Not a bad idea at that." She went to the door. "Jefferson," she said. "Go pick up that no good Russ character."
Russ was a no account according to everyone in town. He couldn't keep a job and he was a first class prick to boot. My new friend officer Jefferson brought Russ in about an hour later. He had to go looking for Russ. Russ had been out shopping for a new truck. Not exactly a new one. He had been looking at the only used car lot in town. The car lot was actually just outside town.
When the chief, Russ, and I were seated in the interview room, he said, "I ain't takin with him in the room."
"Let me explain the city's polocy." the chief said. "I can't be alone in the interview room with the member of the oposite sex. I have to have a chaperone. He is the only one available right now. He won't be asking any questions. You can sit here till the shift changes in a couple of hours it you want?" He reluctantly agreed to talk.
"Now Mr. Russ, I want you to understand you do have the right to an attourney. You have the right to have him present during this interview. If you can't afford one the state will appoint one for you. I want you to know that anything you say can and will be used against you. You do understand all that don't you?" the chief asked.
"Sure, I just got nothing to say that could possibly hurt me. I don't know nothing. I was asleep in my bed when old man Lester killed himself." he said. He looked a little nervous but nothing more.
I let the chief do the questioning. I wanted him to relax a little. She got from him that he had gone to bed with his wife at eleven. Sometime during the night his mother in law had called. His wife talked to her. The daughter then told Russ she couldn't sleep. She went into the kitchen to make coffee. Russ went back to sleep. That is all he knew.
The chief took him over it a dozen times. She also got some background on his relationship with the old man. According to Russ he got along pretty well with the senior Mr. Lester. I knew he was lying. No father is going to care for a dead beat son in law.
"You know Mr. Russ," I said. "I can produce a dozen people who will testify under oath that you and Mr. Lester fought constantly. Number one will be John Jr. Why don't you start telling us the truth."
He answered before he realized our deal had been broken. "We argued some sure. I got along with him though."
"No you didn't," the chief jumped in. "You and the old man fought everytime you got near each other." She had taken my lead so I sat back to watch.
"Like I said, we fought some sure. I didn't have anything to do with his death. I was home in bed. Ask my wife."
"Husbands and wives make lousy alibis Russ." the chief said. "Maybe you didn't do him. I think you know who did. Why don't you tell me son. It is all about to come out. If you talk now you might save yourself a conspiracy charge later."
I watched as Russ visibly wrestled with himself. In the end he said, "I told you. I was asleep."
"What time did your mother in law call," I asked.
"I don't know, sometime during the night is all I know." he said.
It really wasn't important except maybe to fix the exact time of death. "You mean to tell us that you didn't look at the clock." the chief asked.
"Don't have no clock in the bedroom." he said sheepishly.
"Russ, John Jr. is going to take a polygraph on Monday. Are you sure there is nothing you want to add to your fairy tale." the chief said.
"I think next time, I am going to bring a lawyer." he said.
"That would probably be a good idea. I think the next time we talk, I will be charging you with conspiracy after the fact, if not before the fact. You can go now Mr. Russ." the chief said.
"How am I going to get back to my car?" he asked.
"I can drive you," I volunteered.
"No thanks, I think I would rather call Sally Anne." he said.
"You don't want to disturb Sally Anne. I can take you home." I said again.
"No, I will call Sally." He made it real clear he wouldn't ride with me.
After he had gone the chief said, "What was that all about. I mean, the drive you home thing. You weren't trying to get him alone to beat a confession out of him were you."
"Hell no chief," I said seriously. "I just thought I might get him in a more relaxed mood."
"Too bad," the chief smiled.
"So chief, who do we intimidate next?" I asked.
"Who do you suggest. Everybody else has a lawyer." she said.
"Everybody else has Skip." I corrected her.
"He is close enough to a lawyer to be a prick." she added.
"Let's start making everybody's life hell. Call them in one every hour or so. Get Skip dragging his ass down her every few minutes. You let them start thinking about their legal expenses. If they have nothing to hide they will want to keep their bills down."
"That's a nasty trick. I love it. How about we start with Sally? She seems to be a fringe player." the chief suggested.
"Sounds good to me. How about lunch first. Give them time to think a little before we pop her." I suggested. "I'll even buy."
"You bet you will. I don't have an expense account." she said.
Over lunch I found that she had a husband and a couple of kids. Her husband owned a home improvement and siding company. The kids were both in high school.
"Aren't you afraid you might have to arrest your husband? I hear those companies aren't always on the up and up?" I asked.
"I wish," she said. "He and I don't live together. We stay married because divorce is too much trouble. He lives in Holden beach. Before you ask, I don't know or care, who he is living with this week." She seemed more angry than her words alone conveyed.
"I won't ask any more questions about him. How about the kids? How are they taking the breakup?" I asked.
"I don't understand that. He never spent a minute with either of them. Of course now he is their best friend. You know, 'How could you do this to us Mom.' That kind of crap."
"You know chief, you could use that anger when you interview Sally Anne. You know give her the old 'men are such pigs routine'. She might eat it up, since her husband is a real pig."
"EJ, you have to be the most devious son of a bitch I ever met." she answered with a smile.
"I have two different responses to that. One you haven't met many cops. Two, thank you ma'am."
Lunch was a hamburger with iced tea. We ate in silence through the burgers. Afterward I paid the bill, keeping the reciept. We walked the two blocks back to the old mansion used as a police station and town hall. I found from her that a wealthy ship owner had built the house after the civil war. He was a yankee carpet bagger, but one of the better ones. He wanted the settlement to become a town so he donated his house as town hall. The town still used it. These days there were satellite offices in other buildings around town.
Sally Anne arrived around two. This time I stayed in the observation room. Skip would have a fit, if he saw me. The chief dispensed with her rights since she had Skippo.
%%The chief went through all the background stuff with her. Her version of life in the Lester house was only slightly different from her husbands. He had evidently told her about his interview. She admitted that her father and brother hated Russ. She said they argued, but that her husband had been in bed asleep when the senior Lester died."
"Leutenant Sims," Skip said, "We have been over this time and time again. Either charge my client or this interview is over."
"It's chief Sims, Skip" the chief said. "If you want to take your client. Then please do so, but do not threaten me again. I would like nothing better than to save this interview tape for a grand jury. Especially the part about her husband argueing with her father. Then the part about knowing her mother called at five a.m. I think her words were, "I know because I looked at the clock radio by the bed. Skip, her husband told me about an hour ago that there is no clock in the bedroom. I think you should take Sally Anne out before I begin asking her a lot of tought questions. You wouldn't want her to answer them. It might make her look innocent."
The tirade was a show for Sally Ann. I thought she did a hell of a job. It was going to be tough to charge her with anything on the evidence we had at this time. The best I could figure was that hubby didn't want to tell us what time Mama called because, if he told the same time story he would be lying to us. I don't think he wanted to do that.
If Mama called earlier than five then Daddy died earlier than five. Why would they wait. Adkins said the place was covered with blood so they didn't clean it up. What did they do after Lester was dead?
I jerked my attention back to the interview room when I heard the chief ask, "Sally Anne, why didn't you go to the house when you were told about you Father's death."
"That's all chief. You are through unless you charge Sally with something." Skip put his arm around Sally then led her away.
"Well, I didn't do too well. I wish I could have gotten at her longer." the chief said.
"Not to worry, I don't have the same rules you do." I said. "You did find out something interesting."
"What was that?" she asked.
"There was a clock in the bedroom. Mr. Russ knows what time the call came. He is lying to avoid telling us. That means the call came in before five. If it came before five? What was Mrs. Russ and her other daughter doing before they called the cops."
"They weren't hiding the evidence that is for sure." the chief said.
"Not all of it. They may have been hiding some of it." I stopped to let what I had said sink in. "At least you have more information for John Jr.s poly. I think we should get Mama in. I would wait a couple of hours to give Skip time to get involved in something else before we reinterview Mama."
"Good idea, I have some paperwork I need to be doing anyway. Why don't you walk down to the dock. You might find the open air invigorating." she suggested. She had almost insisted.
The docks were no more than a block from the town hall. I walked along the small dock checking out the shirmp boats. To my great surprise, I saw Russ unloading a shrimp boat.
"Russ, what the hell you doing here." I asked.
"I come down everyday to help unload the boats. That is, when I ain't working at something else." he said.
I tried to be friendly. Russ what kind of work do you normally do?" I asked.
"I install vinyl siding." he said. He was very explansive.
I continued to talk friendly. "You ever work for the chief's husband?" I asked.
"Sure, he owns about the only real company in the area. He does a lot of work on beach house over in Holden Beach." He was lossening up at the thought that I was checking out the chief.
"I would have thought you would be busy as hell this time of the year?" I suggested.
"Usually am," he said. "The chief's husband ain't payin a lot of attention to the business at the moment. If you get my drift."
I continued to play along. I figured I would keep him talking the slip a question in. "Really exactly what is he paying attention to?" I asked.
"The correct question would be who. I think this week it might be his secretary. If he don't get back to business soon, we all gonna go broke." He talked as he unloaded the wooden crates of shrimp.
"Russ, you seem like a nice enough guy," I can lie with the best of them. "I am going to let you in on a secret. One I shouldn't." I admitted.
He was curious but skeptical. "Want's that?"
"You are going to probably be going before a grand jury. You may wind up on the wrong side of a conspiracy charge." I said sadly. Method acting is taught at the Atlanta police academy. If not there, then on the streets of Atlanta.
"Why? I haven't done anything." he said angrily.
"Actually you are the victem of circumstances. Sims wants to hang that cop Adkins. She is going to claim a giant conspiracy. Starting with you."
"Why me?" he asked. I couldn't read him at that moment.
"Well Russ, you told the first lie. I mean chronillogically. She we know that your mother in law called before five. What we don't know is the exact time."
"I don't know what time she called." he said.
"Sure you do. You looked at the clock radio. You know and don't want to lie. You were doing fine, till you said there was no clock in the bedroom. We know there was a clock radio in there. You are going to bite the bullet for the lie." I suggested.
"I didn't," he began.
I cut him off before he could lie again. "Russ don't worry, Skip will figure out something."
"That asshole, I told everybody he was a jerk. To tell you the truth Mr. Barnes."
"EJ, Russ, call me EJ." I said.
"To tell you the truth, EJ," he said. "I could never figure out why Skip told me to lie. I don't know what difference it make when the old bat called. If it was three or five, who cares. Sally was in the kitchen drinking coffee. Me I was asleep so what the hell difference does it make to us." Mike said.
"About a quarter of a million dollars Russ." I answered.
"Huh?" was his only reply.
"Follow me Russ, Great Northern has to pay somebody. Our only concern is that we don't pay the killer. If Mama Lester did Poppa Lester she can't collect. My guess is that Sally and her sister would collect the money."
"You mean Skip is trying to make sure I don't get none of the money?" he asked.
"I don't know Russ, but if Moma has the money and Sally Anne takes a hike you get zilch. If Sally Anne has the money and she divorces you. I would think that community property laws would apply. In other words half of her share would be yours." A hundred and twenty five grand is a pretty good incentive to keep moma out of jail."
"Sally Anne wouldn't do that." he stated without much conviction.
"I guess, I'll tell you one thing. If my choices were a conspiracy charge or a hundred grand plus, I wouldn't have any problem choosing. Well Russ, I got to be going. The chief is going to take a crack at Mama in a few minutes." I turned to leave.
"Wait a minute, EJ. Do you think I should tell the chief what I know?" he asked.
"Yeah, but Russ, don't make anything up. This is all going to come out after John Jr. takes that polygraph on Monday. The absolute truth is your best bet." I lied.
"Can I walk with you. I think I need to talk to the chief." he said.
"Sure, I'll wait till you are finished here." I did wait. It took him about twenty minutes to finish. I was afraid he might have a heart attack he worked so fast.
Back at the station, Russ corrected his statement. He told the chief that the time had been closer to three than five. He also told her that Skip had instructed Sally Anne to have him change the time. Chief Sims was a happy camper. She had good old Skip for suborning perjury in a murder case. His balls were in her pocket.
The widow Lester arrived around four. Skip arrived about four thirty. Mrs Lester was scrupulously ignored till Skip arrived. He came in full of bluster and hot air. Sims let him rant and rave till her was over it. How she resisted dropping the bomb on him I have no idea. In the end she got Mrs. Lester inside the room. She started out by stating that John Jr. would be on the polygraph Monday morning. She offered her a chance to take one at the same time. Mama refused, as expected. She gave the excuse that Skip advised against it. I expected the bomb to fall at that point, No bomb.
"Mrs. Lester the reason I called you in again wasn't for the polygraph. It was to inform you that I have evidence that the call you placed to your daughter the night of you husbands death, was made close to three. That puts it two hours before you claim you discovered his body. That is going to need some explaining."
She waited for the woman to answer. "We need some time to discuss this." Skip said. "I am going to suggest that my client not answer any more questions today."
"Right Skip, you are going to need to go back to your little office, so that you can tell her what lie she needs to tell next." the chief almost shouted.
"I am going to file a suit against you for liable. I have never told a client to lie. That would be not only unethical but criminal." he shouted.
The chief, god bless her, tossed a written copy of Russ's statement on the table. I knew that his statements about Skip were highlighted. "If you still want to take me to court Skip, I look forward to it." She walked out of the room. She entered the observation room.
Skip didn't say a word, he simply led the widow out of the room. The chief looked at me then said, "So what do you think happened between three and five?"
"I have no earthly idea. The two hour window the coroner gave could be filled by either a three or five killing. If he was dead at three what did they do till five. If he was alive at three, why would Mama call Sally Anne?" I asked.
"Let's go out to dinner. We can try to figure it out then." the chief suggested.
"How about your kids?" I asked.
"They are spending the week with daddy. You aren't afraid of me are you EJ?" she asked with a woman's smile.
"Oh course I am. You are a woman aren't you?" I said.
"Yes, but I sometimes forget. Come on we can drive out to the highway. There is actually a fairly nice restaurant there."
"No way, I want to eat at Lester's. You know kind of help him with his financial problems." I said with a smile.
"We probably shouldn't. I don't know why,it just doesn't seem like a good idea."
"Sure it does. We will just have a nice meal, and if John comes over we will tell him he is doing the right thing. Of course we won't go into great detail about the case. I might ask him what time his mama called him but nothing else."
"Be carefull EJ. Skip can make a pretty good case that you are acting as an agent of the police."
"Are you kidding, Skip is going to be too busy covering up his own tracks to worry about any of them." I said.
We were seated in the restaurant before she asked the giant question. "Okay you aren't going to explain,so I am just going to ask. How did you get Russ to tell the truth?"
"Greed, pure and simple. If he knew more, he would have told us that too. He wants to make sure Sally Anne doesn't screw him out of his cut of the insurance."
"Sally Anne doesn't get a cut." she said.
"Sure she does. If Mama goes down for the killing then Sally Ann and her sister get the money. By the way, how close is Sally Anne to her mother?" I asked.
"Too close to try to use the money as a wedge. If you split those two, it will be with something a lot stronger than money."
"How about murder. Do you think Sally Anne would cover for her mother, if she thought Moma killed Poppa?" I asked.
"Hard to say," the chief answered. "I expect so."
"Me too, especially if she thought the old man needed it." I said.
"EJ, do you think John Senior was doing his daughter?"
"I sure as hell wish I knew." I said.
"Maybe there is a way to find out. Why don't I petition the court to have her examined by a physciatrist."
"Wouldn't you have to have her in custody. I mean we can't even prove there has been a crime." I said skeptically.
"I could, if she were declared a ward of the state." the chief said.
"And exactly how would you go about it."
"How about an anonymous tip. You know that she is being abused."
"Wouldn't work. She is no longer being abused. If she ever was." I said.
"What if we lied. I mean the caller lied." she suggested.
"I wouldn't work, but it might scare the hell out of someone. Do you have the number for social services." I asked.
"If is going to take too long that way. How about a call to the local police on the 911. We say the girl is in danger. She needs help right now."
"No way, 911 is recorded. A voice match will put me in jail. I think I am not all that interested in shaking up the mama." I admitted.
"Just a thought." the chief smiled.
"Just keep on thinking." I suggested.
The food arrived on a tray carried by 'Millie the slut'. The food was very good, but the service was slow. Millie it seemed didn't want to spend much time at our table. "You know chief, we really need to talk to Millie. She is acting like we both have Aids."
"I noticed that too. Do you think we should run her over used ass in." She smiled.
"No, I think we can do it right here." I suggested.
"I don't think that would be a good idea. She is going to say what John wants her to, at least if she is here. I will have her picked up at home tomarrow." She didn't speak for a long while then said, "I have to admit. Things have really picked up since you got to town."
"Thank you," I said.
"That wasn't a compliment." she said smiling.
"Didn't think it was." I smiled back at her.
The chief was able to resist my charm so I returned to the motel alone. It was after ten when I picked up my messages. I had only two. Edna reminded me that I had just two more days before the company would reevaluate the case. I might well be pulled at that time.
The other message was from Skip. He gave me his home phone number to call anytime. I turned the message over in my mind a couple of times. I considered tossing it away but finally made the call.
"Mr. Barnes, I know the chief is listening to you. I would like for you to inform her that Russ can't be believed. He has a monitary interest in the outcome of the case. He is trying to frame his mother in law. Sally Anne asked him why he was lying and he told her."
"Skip, that is between you and the chief. I have nothing to do with it. Just between you and me, Russ will be taking the poly with John on Monday." Lying to a lawyer is easy for me. "If he passes, I think the chief is going to the grand jury about you. If I were you, I would try a better approach than the one you just took with me. They probably can't try you, but Great Northern is going to push for disbarment."
"Why would they do that?" he asked in a panic.
"You are involved in an insurance fraud. We want to throw the insurance commissoner a bone. Something he can use for publicity. There are elections soon you know." If he did, he knew more than me. I had no idea what I was saying. I was just hoping to scare hell out of him. It must have worked.
"Okay Barnes, I did suggest that it would be better for his wife if the time were five instead of three. I didn't tell him to lie."
"Sure you did Skip. The only question is did you know that Mrs. Lester had already killed her husband?" I asked.
"She swears to me that she didn't kill him?" he said.
"Then who did she say knifed him?" I asked.
"I didn't ask, because I didn't want to know. Even if she had told me it would be privileged."
"So it would counselor. Skip, I can't help you. If you pointed me in the right direction, I might put in a good word for you. Not tell me anything, just suggest where I might want to look."
"Try the men he owed money to." he suggested.
"Won't wash Skip. That dog would have eaten them up. It was Mama or the daughter. If not one of them, then they know who did it. The dog either knew the killer or was restrained by one of the women in the house."
"I can't give you a client," he said.
"Skip you are going to need to do something. If you know who did it you can't hide behind that client, attourney shit. You are going to have to plead them out. This thing is beginning to unravel. Let me give you one piece of advice." I said.
"What advice?" he asked hopefully.
"It is harder to plead self defence, if the cops come get you. It is a damned sight easier, if you go to the cops with your story first. Now I have to go." I said.
I expected Skip to start pressuring someone to come up with a self defense plea. The pressure would begin either right this very minute, or first thing tomorrow. I gave him five minutes then called his number again. I got a busy signal. I went to bed smiling.
I half expected to find one of the women copping a plea, when I arrive at the police station. No such luck, I did find 'Millie the slut'. "You're late," the chief said. I was about to start without you. This time you get to sit in the room."
"I had no idea you needed a chaperone with girls. No wonder I couldn't convince you to come home with me last night."
"You didn't ask me." she said with a smile.
"Millie," she said to the teenager. "Come this way."
Millie and I followed the chief into the small room. "You do know why you are here don't you?" the chief asked.
"It's about old man Lester I guess." she said. I noticed right away that she wasn't imtimidated. If anything she was excited about the chance to tell her story.
"That's right Millie. I want to know if you were seeing him?" the chief asked.
"Sure, I went out with him. He was old, but he spent a lot of money on me." she said without any regret in her voice. There was also no idication that she was crushed by the Lester killing.
"How long had you been seeing him?" the chief asked.
"Ever since I went to work there. It was about six months ago." she said.
"How come it took John Jr. so long to find out?" I asked.
"You don't see nothing you don't want to see." she answered.
"If he didn't want to see it how did he find out?" the chief asked.
"I told him." Millie said.
"Now why would you do that?" I asked.
"John Jr. was giving me the shit jobs all the time. I told him that I would tell his daddy." she admitted.
"So what happened when you did that?" the chief asked.
"Nothing, I had to spell it out for the goof ball. After that he and his father had a fight. Then the old man got killed. I think John Jr. killed him."
"Because of you?" I asked.
"Sure, John Jr. has never said anything, but I think he wanted me for himself." she said smugly.
"What do you know about Lester's daughter?" I asked.
"Sally Anne, she wasn't exactly a daddy's girl. John hated that they didn't get along all that well. We never really talked much about it. We never really talked all that much about anything." she admitted.
"I actually had the younger daughter in mind." I said.
"Oh her, I heard there is a rumor that told man was screwing her. Well don't believe it. My old man did me when I was a kid. Before my mama tossed his sorry ass out. Old man Lester wasn't nothing like my old man. He wouldn't have been messin with that kid of his. Besides he had me. He didn't need her."
After she left the chief asked, "So what do you think."
"I think that was a waste of out time. If you learned anything you got me beat." I said.
"Do you think Lester was sleeping with his daughter?" she asked.
"In the room for sure. As for the other, who knows?" I asked.
"The girl and her mother." the chief said.
"And getting it from them will never happen." I said.
"Well something is going to happen. There are too many things going on at the same time for nothing to shake loose."
"If it doesn't happen today or tomarrow I may miss it." I said. I found that my voice had a little regret in it.
"Why?" the chief asked.
"Great Northern will probably pull the plug. I mean your investigation is picking up. They would just as soon save the money while you do the work." I said.
"That would be a shame. You have really been a great help."
The day was spent doing not much of anything. We talked to a few more people but nothing happened. I was frustrated at five when the chief called it a week. I knew that nothing was going to happen to solve this case before tomarrow.
I had yet another message to call Skip. I called.
"EJ, can you meet me in my office around eight. I have someone I want you to talk to." he said.
"Skip, I really don't have time for this crap. I am leaving tomarrow and I want to spend a little time thinking tonight. I want to try to make some sense of this all for my report."
"What you learn at my office should make your report easier." he said.
The time passed slowly until eight. I drove to Skips small storefront office. When I entered there were four of them waiting for me. Skip, of course, surrounded my Mama Lester and her two daughters."
I raised an eye at skip. "You wanted to interview them so I am giving you the chance. You wanted to know it all so ask away."
"Why are you doing this now?" I asked.
"That's simple, the family wants Great Northern to settle the claim immediately. I convinced them that telling you the truth would do it. Just listen to it all before you start asking questions that piss people off." he whispered to me.
We all moved into the conference room. "Ask your questions EJ."
I knew there was a catch to it but what the hell. I had absolutely nothing to loose. "Mrs Lester," I began with the mother. "What time did you call your daughter at her home?"
"Around three," the older woman said.
"Was your husband dead at the time." I noticed her look to Skip who nodded to her.
"No he was alive but pretty drunk." she said.
"There was no mention of any blood alcohol test in the autopsy," I said to Skip.
"They didn't do one." He saw my look. "Don't ask me why. I have no idea."
"Why did you call your daughter?" I asked the older woman.
"She could usually handle her father. They fought like cats and dogs but she could talk sense to him."
"Did she?" I ask.
"She tried, but he wouldn't listen." I waited but she didn't elaborate.
"Mrs. Lester, what was your husband doing that caused you to kill him."
"He came at me with the knife. He was so drunk that I took it away from him. I didn't mean to stab him. He ran into the knife. He bled all over the place. He stumbled into the kitchen then died."
"I called Johnny who came over. He made me call the police." she said.
"I have to admit Skip it is a nice try. I think she is going to need a little more coaching. It wouldn't hurt to get her a better story." I said.
"What do you mean," Skip asked. He wasn't indignant. He spoke to me more like a co-conspiritor."
"For one thing, that ran into the knife story isn't going to make it. Lester was stabbed in a downward angle. If he ran into it. the stab would have been streight in. It would also have been in the abdomine rather than the heart. Your client is too short to have stabbed him accidentally in the heart. There was also enough force used to bruise the tissue around the wound. Which ever one of you did it, it was no accident." I waited for the expected outrage. It never came. They seemed to be listening to me as though I were a college professor.
"Look, If you don't want to tell me the truth then at least dream up better lies." I stood to leave.
"Wait a minute, EJ." Skip begged. "We need your help. First I have to get your promise that this won't get back to the chief."
"Sure it will Skip. I am not working for her but Great Northern is going to send her a copy of my report. You know that. You want my report to follow your bullshit." He was about to object. "Skip, I don't care. I just want a story that will fly. You guys aren't giving me one that my company can buy, let alone the cops. The chief may be a woman, but she knows the ring of truth."
"Okay EJ, what is it going to take?" Skip asked.
"Everybody tell me the truth. Let me finish it for you. You have to have the truth as a start."
"Okay ask your questions. I think I can help the family with the answers." He just admitted that he was going to suggest purjury. I ignored it. Like I said I didn't care.
"Okay," I turned to the younger Miss Lester. "Miss Lester, did your father molest you?"
She hung her head, then mumbled, "Yes." I had no idea, if she were telling the truth or not.
"Mrs. Russ did your father molest you as a girl." She glared at me for a long time. Everybody held their breaths.
"Yes, unitl I was seventeen. I married my husband just to get away from him."
"Mrs. Lester, why did you allow that to happen?" I asked.
"I didn't know. If I had I would have stopped him." she said indignantly.
"You almost had me convinced till then. You couldn't have not known. Maybe not Sally Anne, but you knew about your younger daughter. Hell your husband moved into her room." I decided to give her a break.
"Mrs. Lester did your husband beat you?" she jumped on the chance.
"Yes, he beat me that's why I couldn't stop it. John had a violent temper when he drank."
"But he wasn't drinking that night was he?" I asked.
"No," she said. She was search for help from one of us.
"Did you wake up around three and hear him molesting your younger daughter." I asked.
"Yes that's it. I woke up to go to the bathroom. I heard Mary crying. I opened the door a crack and saw him."
"Why didn't you stop him?" I asked.
"I don't know." she said. I looked at Skip. I couldn't keep feeding her the answers.
"Were you afraid, Mrs. Lester?" Skip finally asked. "Were you afraid he would beat you again."
"I must have been," she said hopefully.
"Is that the reason you called your daughter on the phone?" I asked.
"Yes, that's why I called." she said.
It was all crap so far. I had gotten to the point where I wanted to be. "Sally Anne what did you do after your mother called."
She looked at me and she knew. She knew that I knew. From that point on the truth came. "I told my husband to go back to sleep." she said in a dream like voice. I drove to Mama's house. Daddy had finished with Mary when I got there. I tried to talk to him but he didn't want to talk. He actually tried to attack me. He had me pressed against the sink. I pulled the kitchen knife from the sink and I stabbed him. I would have stabbed him again but he ran into the bedroom. He braced himself against Mary's bed. As he began to fall he stumbled back into the kitchen. He begged Mama to call an ambulance. He fell on the floor, then died."%%
I waited a couple of minutes for her to come out of her trance. When she didn't, I broke in on her. "Where were you when the cop came?" I asked.
"I had blood spots on my clothes. I stayed in Mama's room. She put the dog in with me after the cop came. He looked all around, but didn't come in the room to check it. He was afraid of the dog."
"Did John Jr.know any of this.?" I asked.
"No, he left before I came out. When I got home around eight, my husband was still asleep. I threw the blouse away."
I thought for a long time then said, "True or not, the story you just told me will play. There are two things you need to do now. One go right now and tell John the whole story. Including the abuses by your father. Two, get yourself a first rate criminal lawyer. My company will settle as soon as Sally Anne is indited. If not, then not long after. Any lawyer will defend her, if he knows you are going to have the money. I think Skip will be the first to admit this is out of his league." I could tell from his look that he didn't want to share the fee but he nodded.
"Why do I have to tell John?" Sally asked.
"Because he is going to take a polygraph. If he backs out it will look bad. If he knows about the abuse, he will react correctly to the questions."
"What is going to happen to me?" Sally Anne asked.
"Not a lot. I imagine that you can plead this down to involuntary manslaughter. You may do very little time. Maybe none at all. Just remember why you did it. To save your sister. That is why you did it isn't it?"
"That and I kind of flashed back to when I was little. I could finally defend myself." she said simply.
They were all gone, leaving me and Skip in the office alone. "Maybe it did happen that way," he said.
"Maybe there really are chocolate cows for chocolate milk," I answered.
"Thanks anyway. I would have hated to take that group to court." he said.
"No problem, but Skip." I paused to look hard at him. "I want that tape."
"Skip if I have to take it from you, you are going to look like hell tomarrow." I said with my dangerous smile.
He grinned sheepishly as he removed a cassette tape from the machine hidden in an end table. I took a hard look at it. "I have a player in the car. If this isn't the right one, I will be back in five minutes to kick your ass all over this room."
He went back to the machine to remove a second tape from the machine. "Two heads," he explained.
I listened to both tapes in the car. The second one held our interview. The first one was a blank. The prick had tried to switch them on me. I didn't sleep very well that night. I was sure I knew who killed the old man. I wasn't at all sure I knew why. I wasn't sure that I cared either. That bothered me a little.
The next morning. I began working on my report. I should have waited till I reached home but I wanted to be handy when Skip took his clients into the police station. I had expected Chief Sims to call when she interviewed the suspects. She didn't. She called me after the fact. After she called to tell me that it was all over, I was sorry that I had participated in Skip's rehearsal. Sims wasn't being all that helpful either. I would have felt badly, if I had been involved in the interrogation. It would have seemed a lot like decieving the chief. I guess she actually did me a favor by icing me out.
I left town immediately after the call from the chief. I decided, I wanted to write the report at home. I drove an hour with a reasonably empty mind. I certainly didn't worry about the Lester family. Since the insurance company had to pay anyway, nobody much cared what actually happened that morning.
When I saw the signs for Wilmington, I debated staying in town tonight. I don't know who won the debate, but I know I stopped in Wilmington. I had coffee on Mercer's pier then took a walk on the beach. By four in the afternoon I was lonely and miserable. I used my cell phone to call from the beach.
"Chief this is E.J. Barnes," I said. "You about wrapped up with the Lester family?"
"I finished with them about an hour ago. What do you know about an early morning meeting with the attourney?" she asked.
"Not much, why?" I asked innocently.
"It seems there was a meeting of the clan, at their lawyer's office. Everyone got a sudden desire to change their stories. All except John Jr."
"I knew they were talking to you before I left town. I didn't know about a meeting in the lawyer's office." I said.
"Sally Anne tells it differently. She tells it you were there." the chief kind of left it open. She was hoping I would fill in the blanks for her.
"I don't think I remember a meeting. Tell you what though, I will give it some more thought. If you drive up to Wilmington to have dinner with me? I might remember everything."
"You've got a lot of nerve, inviting me to dinner. I mean I should have your ass arrested." she was smiling I could tell.
"You could. but wouldn't you rather interogate me in a restaurant rather than that cramped little room.?" I asked lightly.
"Where and when?" she asked.
"The Bridgetender, you decide on the time. I am about a mile away from it now."
"Seven thirty, I'll see you then." she said.
"You can recognize me by the pirate patch." I said with a laugh.
I sat in the parking lot from seven o'clock until she arrived. The chief was late but I expected it. I walked to her car. "Chief there is just one thing before we go in. I am not going to call you chief or Mrs. Sims all evening. You can choose any name you like but I insist on a first name." I said with my charming smile.
"How about Nikki, I always wanted to be called Nikki." she said returning my smile.
"Why is that?" I asked.
"Because it is my name, stupid." she said with a throaty laugh.
I managed to order before she asked the inevitable question. "So did you help the Lester's with their stories?"
"Did anyone ever tell you, that you have a suspecious nature. I did not advise the Lesters to do anything except tell the truth."
" EJ, I think you twisted the events to do the least harm to Sally Anne. I don't think it happened like she says at all."
"If that is true there should be plenty of evidence to support your conviction." I said with another charming smile.%%
"The evidence, that would be the same evidence Adkins had mama Lester distroy." she said.
"Oh, then Sally Anne's version is the only one you have. Look Nikki, I hate to be the one to spoil your professional career, but you got the investigation closed. You got a killer and you saved the embarrassment of a prosecution."
"I know, there is less chance than a prayer in hell that we could convict Charles Manson on that evidence. It's lucky for us the girl decided to cop to it at all."
"Greed," I said.
"What about greed?"
"She copped to it so that her mother could get her hands on the insurance money." I said.
"Why did Skip let her. He knew we could never prove anything."
"He wasn't sure, that little suborning perjury charge was the clencher," I replied.
"You mean he sold his client out to save his ass?" Nikki asked.
"What else?" I asked.%%
"So we shouldn't care about what really happened in that house?"
"As far as I am concerned it could have been suicide. The only reason, I got involved was that the suicide story stank so bad Great Northern wouldn't buy it. Actually they would have bought it. They were afraid that the insurance commission wouldn't. It was all to satisfy some fat old man. Great Northern wanted to prove they actually had their client's interest at heart."
"So as long as you made it all believable you were happy?" Nikki asked.
"Exactly," I agreed.
"You are a cold bastard EJ." She said.
"I perfer to say I am a realist. I lost any illusions about right and wrong years ago." I admitted.
"Before you lost your eye?" she asked.
"Long before," I answered. "Now, I have answered your questions, it is time to eat dinner and forget all about those people. At least for one night, forget that you are the chief of police." I suggested.
"Fine, but you are going to have to get us a motel room. I intend to have a lot more wine than I should."
"One room, ocean front at the Holiday Inn it is." I said smiling.
The chief was as good as her word. We drank so much that her virtue stayed in tact. Neither of us planned it that way. I more or less passed out while she was changing for bed. She didn't seem all that upset at the time. I of course was upset the next day. I found a note on my pillow.
"Sorry, I have to run home. Thanks for a more or less good time." Nikki.
Not one of my better performances. I arrived home around noon that day. On Sunday, I always have dinner with my mom. She and Sissy always fix dinner together and they always fight. I sit in the livingroom with the football game trying to ignore them.
That Sunday was no different from any of the other Sundays. I was seated at my mother's kitchen table when Sissy brought up Bitsy.
"Why don't you ask Bitsy out?"
"What in the world makes you think she would go out with me?" I asked.
"I don't know, she has been saying some awfully nice things about you." Sissy said.
"And exactly since when have you been a Bitsy fan. Last I heard you called her a stuck up bitch."
"I haven't talked to her, but I have been talking to Lucy lately. It is Lucy's opinion that Bitsy would go out with you."
"Let me tell you something Sissy. Bitsy is a lawyer, I am a beach bum. What in the name of God do we have in common?" I asked.
"You are not a beach bum EJ." My mother demanded. "You are an investigator."
"No mama, I am a beach bum playing at investigations. I am not, nor do I intend to be a serious investigator. I am doing it just to please everyone else. If I had my way, I would go lay on the beach till my money ran out."
"Well, you don't have your way. You father would turn in his grave if he thought you were a bum. Don't ever let me hear you say that again." she said rising from the table.
"Mama, I don't mean to upset you. Look I am doing what you all wanted. I am making a living. The work is lousy and boring. but I am sticking with it. I know you don't want to tell everyone you kid is a bum."
"You know better than that. If it was all you could be then fine. That isn't the case. You can do more and you are doing more. I refuse to allow you to feel sorry for yourself, or for anyone else to feel sorry for you. You are too much a man for that. You are like your father. You will work everyday of your life." She had said the final words on the subject.
I noted that Sissy hadn't said a word. "Well Sis don't you have anything to add?" I asked.
"Actually I do," Moma looked at her with a strange look. She seemed to be almost demanding Sissy to shut up. "There is a town picnic at the park on Saturday. I think you should invite Bitsy."
"If it will shut you all up, I will. She will probably say no, but I will ask." The picnic was an excellent idea. I hadn't even known there would be one. I really didn't pay much attention to such things.
The event was kind of a festival. Everyone brought there own food but the town sponsered it. Which meant there was no charge for the use of a picnic table on that one day. Almost everyone went to the thing. Although most everyone stayed within their own family group, it did seem somehow to promote a kind of unity in the town. The picnics were held once a year toward the end of the summer. The town fathers would all pray for a cool dry day. I really didn't care myself. Most of the tables were covered from the rain and I loved the heat of summer.
After Lunch, I returned home to finish my report. By midnight the work was complete. I faxed it to Great Northern even though it was the middle of the night. The next week turned out to be filled with crap jobs. I made a few pictures for Sam. I even ran a few erands for Great Northern.
I invited Bitsy and her daughter to the picnic on Saturday. As I perdicted she refused. Her excuse was that she had to go into Wilmington shopping on Saturday. Lucy told me the truth the next day. I had waited too long. Bitsy had a boyfriend. A lawyer from Wilmington. I was more disappointed than I had imagined I would be. It took me a whole thirty minutes to get her off my mind. Even then she would slip back unexpectedly.
To drive Bitsy from my mind, I called the college professor. I spent Thursday night with her. She was as usual, a pleasant diversion. We didn't go out, instead we stayed in her apartment the whole evening. We even got around to discussing current events. Not thhat I had any special interest in the subjects. She, for some reason felt the need to talk. I begged off almost every subject. She on the other hand had strong feelings about everything.
Those conversations were probably the reason she and I never did much more than make love. We did on occasion sit on the peir, but we seldom spoke. It was mostly a case of each of us being lost in our own heads.
I actually had a message when I returned home. The message had to be left after five the previous evening. The message directed me to call Great Northern first thing in the morning. That would be in about three hours. I needed sleep more than I needed additional work. I ignored the message. Eveidently Great Northern was not to be ignored for long.
Edna called me at nine that same morning. I had to explain why I sounded half asleep. I told her I was out doing survelience till three. A small lie unless you consider watching the professor's movements survelience.
"Can you come to Charlotte today?" Edna asked.
"No, I have things I need to do here. What is so important that I need to come to Charlotte?" I asked.
"If I could tell you over the phone, I wouldn't be asking you to drive over here, would I?" she stated.
"I don't know what you are capable of Edna. You could be up to no good at all." I knew that the phones might be recorded. If I hadn't been suspecious, I would have made a much more increminating statement.
"I might be up to no good, but you really do need to come up here right away." she said.
"Is it something I have done wrong, if it is then just fire me by fax." I said. I almost hoped they had firing me in mind. I really wanted to sit by the sea. There would only be a couple of more days with good enough weather to sit by the shore.
"It's not bad as a matter of fact it is good. Just get in your car and drive up here please," she sounded exasperated.
"If I left in an hour it would be at least five by the time I got there. Why don't I drive over tonight. I can be there when you open in the morning." I said as a comprimise.
"If that is the best you can do," she said sadly.
"It is. I will check into a motel in Charlotte tonight. Give me the name of one near your office."
"The Ramada is a couple of blocks away. Stay there." she said.
"I don't suppose I can bill you for the room?" I asked.
"Sure why not." she answered.
I didn't like that at all. The Great Northern Insurance company was not known for it's generousity. "What the hell is up Edna? You guy's don't pay for motel rooms. I have to fight to get reimbursed for a two dollar hamburger."
"Don't look a gift horse in the mouth. Just be here at nine sharp." she hung up before I could ask her any more questions.
I called Sam but he had no idea why the urgent call. I did learn from Lucy that Bitsy was trying to reach me. At least she should be about now. It seems that Bitsy needed a favor.
"EJ can you do a background check on someone for me?" she asked.
"Bitsy those things are expensive, if I go into detail. They aren't worth a damn if I don't. I hope your client is prepared for the bill. I had a hell of an arguement on the last one."
"I'm the client and I can afford it." she said simply.
"And who might the subject be?" I asked.
"It might be Michael Gaston. I will have a folder ready when you get here. It contains all I know about him." she said.
"Is Mike the lawyer/boyfriend?" I asked.
"Yes, there is something wrong. I can't figure it out. He is just awfully interested in Sam's practice." she said.
"Maybe he wants to buy Sam out? You know Sam is going to have to retire someday." I said.
"I am going to buy Sam out. No, there is something more about him. Like I said, I can't put my finger on it."
"Why don't you just stop seeing him?" I asked.
"That is none of your business." She sounded snippy.
"Then to hell with it. I plan to drive to Charlotte tonight, then spend the rest of the week laying on the beach." I didn't need her shit.
"Okay, he has asked me to marry him. I made one mistake. I don't want to make another." she said.
"If you think it might be a mistake, then it is." I said philosopically.
"Spare me please. Will you take a look at him for me?" she asked.
"Sure Bitsy, get the file ready. I'll pick it up this afternoon. I can read it in the motel tonight."
"Thank you EJ." she said breaking the connection.
The folder turned out to be six double spaced pages. It contained about all the information I needed to get started on Michael Gaston. It even had a couple of pictures inside the pages. I didn't bother to read it until I had checked into the Ramada Inn.
The drive to Charlotte was boring beyound belief. I arrived at the Ramada around eight. I checked for messages but found none. Edna intended to keep me in the dark about the next days meeting.
Once in the room I read the Michael Gaston file. It gave me the barebones about the man. Where he went to school, his last few addresses and his family history such as it was. Mostly it was names of his parents, siblings, and their addresses. I noted that he had once been a associate with a Charlotte Law firm. Since I was here, I added it to my list of things to do. He had resided in a large apartment complex while living in Charlotte. Not much chance anyone would remember him there. I added it to the list anyway.
There were in all three firms, where he had worked. The one in Charlotte and one in Greensboro. Of course the firm he was now employed with. I was a little surprised. Lawyers don't usually jump around every couple of years. That may have been the flag in Bitsy's mind. That and all the questions about Sam's practice.
The file bored me to sleep. I awoke to the sound of the phone ringing. It was six a.m. well before my seven o'clock wake up. "Hello," I muttered.
"Get your sorry ass out of bed. You don't want to be late for our appointment." Edna's voice ran over the wires and into my sleep soaked brain.
"God Edna it is six in the morning. What is so important about this meeting?" I asked.
"That my dear EJ is a secret. Just don't be late. Oh yeah, if you have a tie wear it." She didn't even say good-bye.
I got out of bed showered then dressed. I didn't bother to wear the tie. I didn't wear one when I worked, and I would be damned if I was going to wear one today. 'Besides which I didn't bring a tie. As I left the motel for breakfast, I noted that it was a chilly morning in Charlotte. I almost returned to the room for my wool jacket. Instead I suffered the chill.
I lingered over breakfast and coffee till almost nine. I had eaten in the restaurant adjacent to the motel so I walked to my car. The two block drive took only a couple of minutes. The infamous traffic wasn't to bad since the motel and the office were both on the same side of the street.
The receptionist pointed me to Edna's office. She looked up as I entered. "Okay so now what is this mysterious meeting all about?" I asked.
"Hold your horses. You will know in a couple of minutes." she said with a smile. She also rang a in house number on the phone. "He's here." Listened some then said, "Right away." Come on hot dog, I got somebody for you to meet."
I followed her to an even larger office, where we were greeted by two men. Edna made the intoductions. The taller of the two was the district manager in who's office we stood. The shorter man, I do mean shorter, was introduced as Jerry Eaves. He it seems was from the home office. Some kind of Vice President.
"Mr. Barnes, I have been looking forward to this meeting all week." Eaves said shaking my hand. Since I didn't know what to say I simply nodded in response.
"I'm sorry about all the secrecy, but I wanted to be the one to talk to you." Eaves went on.
"What about Mr. Eaves?" I asked.
"Two things actually. First of all I wanted to offer you a job." he said pausing to assess my answer.
"I appreciate that sir, but I really am not looking for work. I mean I have about all the work I want."
"Really, I was led to believe you were only working part time." he said.
"That's right sir. Even that is more than I had originally wanted. My one ambition is to be a beach bum." I noted with satisfaction that they all blanched.
"Well, I must say that is a little surprising. I mean you did such a bang up job on that Lester thing."
"There wasn't that much to it. The local police chief actually did all the work." I answered.
"That is not the way Chief Sims tells it. Her story is that without your help the whole thing might still be lingering. She went so far as to write us a letter of appreciation."
"How the hell did you get a letter so quickly," I asked.
"Fax," Edna said.
"Yes Fax, we even faxed it to the insurance commissioner. He was very impressed." Eaves said.
"I'm glad, since that was the purpose of the whole thing anyway." I admitted.
"Yes, well back to the subject. Maybe when you hear what the job offer is you will think more favorably about it." I wanted to say fat chance but I didn't. I might have, if I hadn't seen the warning in Edna's eyes.
"I will be happy to listen but I doubt it will change my mind." I admitted.
"At least take a few days to think it over," Edna said. It was a way out. One she wanted me to take.
"The job is investigations manager for the region." Eves said.
"You mean Edna's job?" I asked.
"Actually, Edna's boss. She is the District Claims investigations Manager," he said.
"To tell you the truth, I am flattered. I will think it over, but I really don't think at this time that I could do it." I was going to elaborate but I noticed the subtle shake of Edna's head.
"Just think about it. The other reason we wanted you to come down may be more to your liking." From the table he took a letter sized envelope, then handed it to me.
I found two checks inside. One was attached to my invoice and the other was for two thousand dollars with no invoice. "Why the second check?" I asked.
"Call it a bonus for the Lester job. I do have a favor to ask of you." Eaves said.
"What might that be?" I asked cautiously.
"We have called a news conference for this afternoon. I would like you to be present to answer questions from the press. I had hoped to announce that you would be taking over our investigations, but that can wait." he said.
I almost said no, I again caught the look in Edna's eyes. "Sure if it won't take too long. I have a little business to take care of in Charlotte. So what time is the press conference?" I asked.
"Not until two," he replied. He was still smiling, though I knew I was testing his good humor.
"No problem, I should be through with my other business by then. If not I will just cut it short. Do I meet you here."
"I don't imagine there will be too many reporters. I think we can do it in the conference room." the manager said. He hadn't spoken at all during the meeting.
On the walk down the hall Edna said, "God EJ, you can't talk to the vice president that way. He can cut off any work we have for you."
"Like I told him, I want to be a beach bum. If he wants to cut the work, that would be fine with me."
"Bullshit, you could never lay around on the beach. You would get bored the first day."
We parted company as she entered her office. I went to the parking lot to try and find Gaston's old law firm. The firm was large enough to have an office manager. I spoke with her. According to her Michael's work had been satisfactory. She didn't want to elaborate until I explained that I wasn't doing a job application investigation. I explained that Michaels fiancee had hired me to check out his past. I just wanted to make sure she got her money's worth.
Once the office manager determined that she would not be in the middle of a lawsuit, she spilled the dirt. Not that their was much of it. Michael had indeed been an fair employee. She let me see his evaluations. Mostly they criticized his preparations of cases. In the large firm that had been his job. He prepared the case work for the other more senior lawyers. The senior lawyers wrote that his preparations were adaquate but not inspiring. He left the firm after being denied his yearly raise.
"Did Michael have any close friends at the firm. You know someone I could talk to about his personal life." The question fit with my purpose so the office manager arranged for me to speak with another associate. Her name was Jill something or other.
"Sure, I knew Mike," she said with a sour look.
"From the look, I have to assume something less than perfect happened."
"Not really, Mike was lazy then. I did a lot of his prep work. I thought he might be planning to marry me. I went out with him often enough. When he got passed over for the raise he split. I never heard from him again. He was just using me to help with the casework." She was almost in tears by the time she finished.
"Did Mike have any other girlfriends?" I asked.
"None that I knew of. I would have known. We spent a lot of time together, if you get my drift."
"Well thank you. I appreciate your candor." I said.
"Tell his fiance to look for a motive before she marries Mike. He is probably trying to get something besides her ass," she said angrily.
I decided right at that moment to make the two hour drive to Greensboro after the press conference. I would have to spend one more night on the road but so be it. I stopped on the way to the office for a sandwich. I killed as much time as I could at the coffee shop.
I had expected a couple of reporters at the dull news conference. When I got to the conference room I found a half dozen. It must have been a really slow news day in Charlotte.
Eaves spoke first. He explained how the insurance company's payments work. He explained that the company has it's clients foremost on it's mind. He told how the unusual death claim was handled. In the end when the company couldn't come to a decission based on the facts in the police report, they had dispatched their best investigator. What a crock. Eaves could tell a story, I grant him that. The true life murder mystery had the reporter's attention. He stopped the story when he reached the point of my entry into the case. At that point he indicated I was to continue.
"Well like Mr. Eves said, "The case wasn't exactly open and closed. I went to Southport to reinterview the people involved. Somewhere along the line the lady who stabbed Mr. Lester confessed. The local police chief deserves the credit. She did an excellent job with the second investigation."
Eves almost pushed me aside so that he could toot his own horn. In the end I was pretty much unnecessary. That is till the questions started to fly. These guys were pretty good. At least a couple of them were."
"Mr. Barnes," a young woman asked. "What made you suspect foul play."
"I guess I didn't really know what happened. It just seemed kind of hard to believe that a man would stab himself in the heart. You know it's kinda like the old Sherriff who found a body in the river. The body had thirty pounds of log chain wrapped around it. The man had been stabbed twenty times. The Sherriff looked at his deputy and said, 'Damnedest case of suicide I ever saw.' I felt kinda like that. If Lester had stabbed himself, it would have been the damnedest case of suicide I ever saw."
"Mr. Barnes, there aren't many details about the case. From what I could find out, there had to be a conspiracy. I mean some kind of cover up?"
"What I think happened was that a decent man, in a cop uniform, thought he was doing the right thing. It looks like after that, a lot of decent men tried to do the right thing. They just let the fact they were cops slip into the back of their mind for a while. They all did the right thing in the end."
"Mr. Barnes, the word coming out of Southport is that there might have been child abuse involved."
"And your question is?" I asked.
"Do you think there was?" the reporter asked.
"What I think don't matter a spite. What the judge down there thinks is all that counts. He is a local man and he will know what's what."
"Mr. Barnes, from the hand out, I gather you were a decorated Atlanta cop. Is that true." another reporter asked.
"Not really, I collected a bunch of commendations, but they were pretty much for not kicking little old ladies." I replied.
"Did you get a commendation when you lost your eye?" the young woman who had begun the guestioning asked.
"No ma'am, I got a pention for loosing the eye. Which will buy a hell of a lot more than a commentation." I didn't mean to sound angry. I might have.
"So what do you plan to do next?" a man asked.
"I had hoped to spend the summer laying on the beach. It's too late for that now. I think I might spend the winter reading war and peace."
"Not if we have anything to do with it." Jerry Eaves said. "It is our hope to keep Mr. Barnes busy. There are lots of other cases we need looked at hard. Eaves took over the spotlight while I tried to slip away. I got caught at the door.
"Mr. Barnes," the same young woman asked. "I wonder if I could speak with you a couple of minutes."
"Well I am on my way out of town," I said.
"One of those things that pompous ass has you working on." she said.
"You noticed, no I am going to Greensboro on a different matter." I said.
"Perfect, I will ride with you." she said.
"In the first place, I didn't invite you. In the second place, I am not coming back this way." I said.
"I am good company on a boring drive, and I can rent a car in Greensboro."
"Now why would you want to go to all that trouble. You know all there is to know about the Lester thing." I said.
"Actually, I am not a reporter. I mean I do sell articles to the newpaper, but I am a novelist."
"Really, what exactly have you written? I might have read some of your books." I asked.
"I didn't write War and Peace. I write mystery novels based on real crimes. There aren't that many interesting ones around here. I was hoping I could con you into telling me all about this one."
I suppose you will want to tape it?" I asked.
"The conversation, sure. That is if you don't mind?"
"Does the name Mark Furman mean anything to you?" I asked.
"I see your point. Okay how about I just listen. I have a pretty good memory." she said.
"I don't think so. Look ask Chief Sims down there. She can tell you everything."
"Not what you were thinking. Come on I promise I will play nice." she said with a smile.
"You are wearing me down, but I am going to spend the night in Greensboro. You can ride up with me, but then you turn your pretty ass around and drive back to Charlotte." I demaned.
"Fair enough," she said with a smile.
I led her to my orange van. I opened the door for her to enter."
"My God, what is thing a pimp wagon?" she asked.
"You know you aren't making any friends here." I stated. "By the way, what is your name."
"Trudy, Trudy Dorn." she said extending her hand.
"I hope that is a pen name. It just sounds too damned phony to be your real name." I suggested.
"I'm going to tell my mama you said that. Mrs. Edgar Dorn will not be amused," she said with a smile.
She pestered me with questions all the way to Greensboro. I answered them as vaguely as I could. I also put the best possible spin on the cops of Southport. I doubted they would come off very well even then.
We were within five miles of Greensboro when she asked, "So, do you really think she did it?"
"She says she did, and her story fits the facts of the case. Why shouldn't I believe her?"
"It just all seems too pat somehow. You know like something a cop would dream up."
I knew, she knew. I wasn't about to admit to anything even without a tape recorder. So what do you think happened. I mean since you were there and all." I said sarcastically.
"I think mama killed him for the insurance," she said.
"Really, why do you think that?" I asked.
"Because it will make a better ending. I can have the mother and daughter talking about how they fooled the great investigator." she said.
"That's fiction, you can end the book anyway you want." I said.
"Right, well I know enough from you to start. I am going to have to go to Southport for the rest of the story. How about I get a ride home with you. I can rent a car there to drive to Southport."
I was really beginning to regret meeting her. "You can ride with me, but you can't come with me for the things I have to do tomarrow." I stated impatically.
"No problem, I can stay in the motel. I need to write down my notes before I forget what you said."
"I didn't say anything." I suggested.
"I know, but I have to write down what you didn't say." she admitted.
I checked us into a Red Roof Inn just off the highway. She arranged her own room. I wasn't a bit disappointed. She was attractive enough, with her red hair and green eyes. She was even pretty enough. I was just afraid to say anything to her. It would probably wind up in her book. I was especially afraid to sleep with her. I wouldn't want the whole world to know what a lousy lover I am.
I found the smaller law firm the next morning. I was ushered into the senior partner and owner's office slightly before ten. I explained my interest to him.
He listened patiently then said, "You understand that I will not discuss the details of Michaels work. I'm sure we can agree on that."
"No problem, I have only a few questions." The way he had spoken led me to believe there was information to be had. That is, if I asked the right questions in the right way. "Mr. Jenson, was Michael a diligent employee."
"Without going into details, I found Michael barely adaquate." he replied.
"Did he come to work everyday?" I asked. It was a harmless question to fill the time while I thought.
"He missed a few days work." the man said. His tone told me to probe deeper.
"He didn't by chance have a grandmother who died more than once?" It was a joke and it got a response.
"I think you pretty much have the answer to that one." Jenson said.
"Did Michael have a lot of car trouble. You know to make him late in the mornings."
"There seems to have been a lot of that sort of thing with Michael,"
"Did you by chance suspect that Michael wasn't doing all his own work. I mean at his former employer there were rumors." I suggested.
"We don't discuss that kind of thing. You know how it is." The answer was obviously yes.
"You wouldn't know, who it was who made Michael late for work, would you?" I asked.
"No, but you might want to ask Ellie, our paralegal. I think she might have a pretty good idea." he said. He also rose extending his hand. "It has been a pleasure," he said dismissing me.
At first Ellie didn't want to talk. I finally wore her down. She and Michael spent a lot of time together. At first anyway. During the last year he had begun seeing another lawyer. The one he saw was not from Jenson's firm. Ellie was more than happy to provide me with the name.
I drove to the woman's one person office. It was a small office in a much larger building. I found her receptionist willing to talk. Mary Simmons, the lawyer was in court. The lawyer spent most of her time in court. She ran what is commonly called a divorce mill. She handled anywhere from eight to ten each court day. Business was booming the receptionist assured me. I explained who and what I was to her. I wanted an appointment to see Mary.
I didn't need one, Jane the older receptionist was happy to fill me in. Mary had dated Michael until he moved away. "I watched that prick try to take over Mary's business. He wanted to join her in the practice. She would have let him too. That is if her father hadn't talked some sense into her. He explained that the business wouldn't support two lawyers. She could handle the work just fine. He explained, that with Michael's income from his job, they would have almost double her income at the time. He advised her not to join up with Michael. He pointed out to her, that Michael would be bringing nothing into the business. Nothing but a stiff dick."
"Did her father really say that to her? I mean the stiff dick part." I asked
"No that was my addition. Mary was coming into the office late everyday. I kept the place going until Michael moved away. I know for a fact he stayed at her to join the firm until the day he left. I also know for a fact that she wrote about half his briefs." she said.
"How do you know that?" I asked.
"Because I typed some of them. I mean he couldn't get the women at his firm to type them from Mary's handwriting. It would look real suspecious. That prick was just dirt lazy. I don't know he might have been dumb to."
"Well I appreciate your information. By the way does Mary still miss him."
"She sure does. I don't know what he had, but it must have been something special."
"Thank you again Jane." I said as I stood to leave.
"If the woman he is engaged to now is a lawyer, tell her to run like hell." she said.
"I'll tell her that." I said.
I drove the pimp wagon back to the motel. Trudy was waiting for me. I got her loaded before I checked out of the motel. We drove a little over five hours before we arrived home. I showed her the twenty or so building downtown then dropped her at Mike's garrage. Mike had a car to rent her. I made sure she was fixed up, before I returned to my apartment.
I tried to decide what to do about Bitsy's boyfriend. She must have had an inkling about him. After all not only did she hire me, she warned me that he had too much interest in Sam's practice. Michael was looking for a new home. I expected he would be moving again soon. Just in case Bitsy thought I was prejusticed against her boyfriend, I included a list of phone numbers in my report. I pretty much had it in the word processer when the phone rang.
"Hello," I answered.
"Mr. Barnes?" the man's voice asked.
"Yes." I answered.
"My name is Michael Gaston. I think we need to talk." he said.
"I don't know you sir. Unless you have business with me, then we don't need to talk at all." I was surprised to find the anger in my voice.
"If you have been asking questions about me, then we damned sure are going to talk."
"Well I have been asking questions. I learned that you are a lazy asshole bordering on stupid. I can't prove the stupid yet. If you come here to see me, then the stupid will be confirmed." I said.
"And why is that?" he asked.
"Because I have always wanted to kick a lawyer's ass." I said simply. My anger was deep and I had no idea why. I just knew I hated this prick.
"Your kind really gets off on that violence trip don't you?" he asked all puffed up.
"It works just fine for me." I said.
` "Don't you at least want to hear my side?" he asked.
"Not in the fucking least. I have my report finished. It will be delivered in the morning." I replied.
"Who is your client?" he demanded.
"Use your imagination," I said as I slammed the phone down.
I knew now, Michael was both a lazy opportunist, and a dumb ass. He had just verified everything said about him. A man with nothing to hide doesn't make threats.
I finished the report, then fixed myself a microwave dinner. I was half way through when the phone rang again. I expected Michael again. It was Bitsy.
"How could you?" she asked.
"How could I what?" I asked.
"How could you try to blackmail Michael?" she asked.
"Are you on dope, or is he just a dope." I asked. I was actually amuzed.
"Did you or did you not call Michael?" she asked.
"He called me. One of his old flames must have called to warn him. My guess is that it was a Greensboro lawyer. One Mary Simmons I expect."
"I know all about her. Michael told me about their brief love affair," she said.
"In Michael's version how did it end?" I asked.
"What do you mean Michael's version?"
"The way I heard it Michael split when his firm got ready to fire him. He left Mary because she wouldn't take him into her firm. Now how does Mr. Gaston tell it?"
"I don't believe I will tell you." she said still angry.
"Bitsy, if you aren't going to believe the report, then there is no sense in giving it to you."
"I'm certainly not going to believe lies and half truths. That is what you deal in isn't it?" she asked.
"Now what does that mean?" I asked.
"You specialize in making the story fits the facts. In this case, I think it might be make the facts fit the story." she suggested.
"If you don't want the report. that's one thing. You should at least admit that you have doubts. If you hadn't you would never have called me." I said angrily.
"I might have believed you, if you hadn't asked Michael for money. Money to keep that phony report from me." she said.
"If you really believe I would do that, then we have nothing to discuss, Goodnight," I said as I slammed down the phone. I had never in my life gone looking for a fight, but I was considered making Michael Gaston the exception. Instead I printed out the report. Sam would be interested even if Bitsy wasn't. Michael would also be moving to someone else when he found Sam had withdrawn his offer to Bitsy. With no lucrative practice as a dowery, Bitsy would be just another beautiful woman. Not Michael's style, I assumed.
I showed Sam the report the next morning. I also replayed the conversation with Bitsy. Sam was furious. First at Michael then at Bitsy.
"Son, I'm going to pay you for this report." he said removing his large checkbook from the desk drawer.
"No Sam, I didn't come here for money. I came to make sure Bitsy doesn't make a mistake." I said.
"I know but you did the work, you ought to get paid." he said.
"Make a lot of noise about Bitsy not getting the practice, and I will consider my bill paid in full. I just don't want that prick to screw her up." I admitted.
Sam looked at me a long time then said, "She might hate you for this. You know women don't make a lot of sense. Not when it come to men."
"I'd rather have her hate me, than run to me in a couple of years. I don't want her using me to follow that prick. I know damned well that if he gets his hands on your practice he will screw over Bitsy."
"It sure looks like it. You know I could loose her. I mean she is not going to like me pulling my offer to sell. She will probably move on" Sam admitted.
"Sam that's up to you. I would just hate to see her get screwed up with this Gaston asshole." I said.
"You can't save the world you know." He paused a long moment. "I don't suppose you would consider going to law school?" he asked.
"Not even for a minute. I am much to nice a guy to be a lawyer." I grinned when I said it.
"Yeah, me too." he said. He took a long look out the window then sighed. I'm going to show this report to Bitsy. I am going to make her call those people, then I am going to let her decide. I think I will suggest we tell everyone she is not going to be offered the practice. If Michael is who we think he is, she will shortly be available again. If not then she will marry the bastard."
"Sounds like a plan. That is if she will go along." I said.
"Lucy has got a few things for you to do. Get out of here and let me think." Sam said.
"God Sam, will you give me a break. You have had me hopping ever since I got home." I complained.
"Keeps you off the streets," he said with a grin.
Lucy indeed had things for me to do. None of them took more than a few minutes. Mostly it was pick up papers then deliver them to other lawyer's offices. Hardly fifty dollar and hour work. I finished all of it within a couple of hours.
When I returned home, I found my answering machine blinking like mad. The first call was from Chief Sims. "Thanks for sticking that writer on me. She is a pain in the ass."
The next was from the pain in the ass. "Would you call the chief for me. I would like for her to cooperate more. Thanks." I ignored that one completely.
"EJ you are a prick and I never want to see you again." Bitsy's metalic voice said.
"Nice," I thought.
"EJ, Edna, thanks for not blowing it with Eaves. Just forget the job offer, he will never bring it up again. Thanks again honey." That one was not to bad, I mean somebody actually had something nice to say.
"Barnes you son of a bitch. I am going to get you for this." No name but I knew the voice. Michael Gaston had succomb to threatening me. This should at least be fun. I played the final message from Sissy. She was reminding me of Mom's birthday. When I finished the message from Sissy, I removed the tape. I placed it in an envelope then into a drawer of my desk. It might be interesting to have later on.
I debated driving to Wilmington, then decided to get one more good nights sleep instead. I was already in bed and sound asleep when the knock came. I almost opened the door without looking out first. Gaston's threat made me just a little more cautious than usual. I saw Trudy Dorn standing on my fire escape.
"Just a minute, let me put on some pants." I said as I went back to my bedroom area. I slipped into yesterdays pants. I returned then asked as I opened the door, "What the hell are you doing her at." I stopped long enought to look at my watch. "Three in the morning."
"Good to see you too," she said pushing past me. "Why didn't you tell me there is no motel in this town?"
"Because Miss Dorn, you are supposed to be either in Southport or Charlotte." I answered.
"Well I'm not, am I?" she asked angrily.
"You most certainly are not. Exactly what are you doing at my door?" I asked.
"I need a place to sleep. I was hoping you would have a sofa vacant." she said.
"I don't have a sofa vacant or otherwise." I said exasperated.
"I noticed." she said with a smile.
"I guess you expect me to direct you somewhere at three in the morning. If there were a small town motel, it would be closed at three. There isn't even an all night diner."
"In that case, I am staying here."
"You have a truly nasty habit of not waiting to be invited." I said.
"I know, trouble is your type never invites anyone." she said.
"I don't even want to know what type I am. There are blankets and sheets in that cabinet over there," I said pointing to one of the carpenter make cabinets. "Help yourself. If you can find a clear spot on the floor, you are welcome to it. I am going to return to bed." I said as I walked to my bedroom area.
"You sir, have a nasty disposition." she said with a smile.
"I get like that at three a.m."
It was several moments later that I felt her press into the bed. I moved over to give her room. She was just lucky that I don't get turned on after midnight. I had now slept in the same bed with two different women without touching either of them. I might have worried if the professor hadn't been in the picture.
She was gone when I awoke the next morning. Evidently women don't need as much sleep as men. I was drinking a cup of her weak coffee when she returned.
"God, how do you stand it in this small town. I couldn't even find a bagel. Here I brought us some animal fat on a biscutt."
"Thanks, " I said unwrapping the biscutt. "What brought you back to town. I thought you would be done in Southport playing detective for at least a couple of days."
"I got nothing down there. The trial hasn't been set yet. Everyone has dummied up."
"You must not have spoken with the Lester's lawyer."
"You mean Skip? I spoke to him, he just didn't speak to me. His associate, the criminal lawyer must have told him to keep his mouth shut. I could tell he was dying to impress me. He just fought it off."
"Too bad, old Skipper could give you the real facts in the case. If anyone knows them it is probably Skipper. You should have stayed at his house last night." I suggested.
"His wife wouldn't let me stay there." she said with a smirk.
"Some women are just to closed minded." I remarked.
"I got enough. I met all the players and I can discribe them."
"That's true the facts don't much matter anyway." I said.
"Not as long as they fit the story," she finished. I couldn't help but be reminded of Bitsy. She had said almost the exact same thing.
"So I guess you will be heading back to Charlotte?" I asked.
"Actually I thought I might write the book here. I mean it is close enough to the crime so that I could run down if I needed to."
"Interesting, where exactly do you plan to stay? Wilmington?" I asked.
"No I thought I might stay with you. I could sort of get to know you. You are after all going to be in the book."
"Exactly how long will all this take?" I asked.
"Two weeks max."
"Surely someone will miss you in Charlotte?" I asked.
"Not a soul. Look EJ this is really important to me." she said.
"Come on we will take Mike's car back. No sense paying rent on his car. You can drive the pimp wagon."
"Thanks EJ you are a doll." she said.
"Don't worry you will change your mind about that pretty quick." I assured her.
Trudy proved to be an excellent roommate. She spent all her time pounding away at her laptop. All except when she cooked. She might or might not be a good writer, but she was definately a good cook. She kept the home fires burning while I went out to work.
Trudy met Mama and Sissy that next Sunday. Since neither of them knew about the professor they asumed she was my first woman since I moved back. They of course read more into it than there was. Trudy and I had begun sleeping together, but there was no more love with her than there had been with the professor.
I had been to Sam's office a couple of times since giving him the report. Lucy had been my only contact. Sam was spending a lot more time home these days. Bitsy of course wasn't talking to me. She pointedly closed her door at the sound of my voice. I didn't bother to press it. The Monday after Trudy's introduction to my family, I was summoned to Sam's office. Lucy pointed to Sam's office. The door was closed but Lucy indicated that I should go in anyway.
I found both Sam and Bitsy waiting for me inside. "EJ, I wanted you here when I explained my decission to Bitsy. First of all Bitsy, I read EJ's report. I also took into consideration that you might doubt his motives. I made a couple of calls. Michael's bosses talked to me since I knew at least one of them. The other talked to me out of professional courtesy. Honey everything in EJ's report is true. Actually there is a lot more they wouldn't tell him. The woman Mary Simmons, I didn't know her, but she cried on the phone just like I was her father. Your friend Michael had her doing his work at night. He was also planning to take over her firm. I should say he planned to join it. I don't think there is any doubt what he had in mind. He wanted to sit on his ass while she worked hers off for him."
"I don't believe it Sam. Somehow EJ rigged it all." she said.
"Come on Bitsy, you know better than that." I added.
"Bitsy the fact is that I have decided that I will not let that man anywhere near my practice. I am going to be forced to place my offer in abayance for the time being. The situation will just be placed on hold, till this thing sorts itself out. I have changed my will, Ej has been named as executor. He will decide what becomes of the practice, should I die before this thing gets settled."
"Wait a minute Sam, I'm no lawyer, I can't own a law practice." I said.
"I don't expect you to run it EJ. I just expect you to sell it to someone reputable. The money is to go into the estate. My will explains the disposition of the money. Everything is taken care of. All you have to do is make sure the practice winds up in good hands."%%
"Fine, if that is what you want Sam," she said standing. "I may have to leave this firm. I can make more money in Wilmington." she said storming out the door.
"My guess it that you are going to be looking for a new partner." I said.
"Maybe, but I will not have that son of a bitch, Michael in this office. You know he is a liar as well as just plain dirt lazy. He might have been disbarred if he had been handling the case."
"Some widow up in Charlotte was sueing the company where her husband worked. Michael didn't do his homework so he wasn't prepared for a question during her deposition. He told some far out lie to the opposing counsel. If his boss hadn't streightened it out he would have been in the deep shit. That was the incident that got his ass fired. I spoke to Jenson too. It seems Michael left his firm because he couldn't keep his work up to date. There were even some mentions made of esgrow accounts being paid late. Jenson gave him the benefit of the doubt. Michael said he had just forgotten to write the checks. Who knows what really happened."
"Sam I don't much like you making me the executor of your estate." I said.
"EJ without Bitsy to do it, I have no one else. Come on son, I am going to outlive you. After all I don't smoke." he said with a laugh.
Trudy had one more Sunday dinner at my house before she finished the draft of her book. When the draft was competed, Trudy and were too. Trudy left on a Friday, I spent the weekend bored and lonely. I was actually lonely for the first time since moving home. I had gotten used to having another person in the house. I was pretty lost and miserable over the weekend. I gave in to my need for companionship on Sunday. After lunch with Sissy and mama, I drove into Wilmington. I sat on Mercer's pier drinking coffee unitl late in the evening. I didn't call the professor , instead I went to the Holiday Inn lounge. Since the tourist days were long gone, I had the place pretty much to myself. There were three of four couples but no single women.
I left the Inn to return to the pier. I was lonely but not ready to start seeing the professor again. She deserved better than my sad face hanging around her. I had forgotten until Trudy how nice it was to have someone around the house. I mean for more than a couple of hours.
Things returned to normal over the next week or so. At least for me they did. Bitsy and Sam were at each other daily. At least that's the way Lucy told it. Lucy and Sissy were still close enough so that whatever dirt I missed directly from Lucy, I got at Sunday dinner from Sissy.
Fortunately Sam didn't die before the situation resolved itself. A week or so after Michael discovered that Bitsy was looking for a new home, the relationship ended. On what terms I never found out. I suspect it wasn't a pretty sight.
It had been almost three months since Trudy left. I hadn't heard a word from her. She simply showed up on my doorstep. I answered the impatient knock to find her standing outside the door in a very cold rain.
"Let me in damn it. It is cold out here." she said through the half opened door.
I was miffed at her for not at least calling during all that time. I couldn't help myself, I hugged her anyway. When we finally broke the embrace I asked, "So where the hell have you been?"
"Working my ass off. I finished the book in just over a month. The damned thing actually wrote itself." she said.
"So what have you been doing the other two months. I mean you could have called or something." I said.
"I told you when I left EJ. I probably wouldn't ever call or write. I would just show up one day. Today is the day. Don't give me a hard time I have good news."
"Your being here is pretty good news to me," I said.
"Me too, but this is even better. I sold the book." she said.
"Good for you. Let's go to bed." I answered.
"Not so fast. Don't you want to know about the book?" she asked.
"I know all about the Lester incident. Why would I want to know anymore?" I asked. Something about the way she asked put my on guard.
"The book is more about your involvement that the killings." she said.
"My involvement? I had nothing to do with it." I said.
"Don't be so modest. The people in Southport give you most of the credit for solving the sticky little problem." she said.
"That's a crock." I replied.
"Maybe, but that's how I wrote it." she admitted.
"Well since nobody much reads anymore anyway, I guess it doesn't matter," I said trying to put a good face on it.
"There is one more little thing. I sold the book for a TV movie." she said sheepishly.
"You what?" I asked.
"I sold it for a TV movie."
"I hope you at least disguised the people and places." I said hopefully.
"I couldn't it's based on fact." she said.
"It's based on bullshit, if you have me doing anything at all." I said. I was beginning to loose my temper. "Did you even think about asking, if I wanted you to use my name."
"You come off in a pretty good light." she said.
"What the hell do you mean pretty good light?" I asked.
"It's like you told me, your only interest was in closing the file, making the stories fit the facts."
"You didn't say that did you?" I asked.
"Sure, why not. It's what you told me." she said trying to look innocent. She wasn't making it.
"I never said those things to be quoted. Damn it Trudy, this is going to loose me my biggest client." I said.
"I can't help that, I wrote what I knew."
"No damn it. You wrote what you thought would sell your lousy book." I snapped.
"What do you care? You wanted to be a beach bum anyway." she snapped back,
She had me there. "That may be true, but I would have liked to decide for myself when I became a bum. Damn it Trudy, it was a lousy thing to do to me."
"I'm sorry you feel that way. I wrote what I knew to be the truth." she said.
"Like I said before that is bull shit. You wrote what you thought would sell. Have you got a copy of that thing?" I asked.
"That thing is my book. I have you one of the advanced copies. Here," she said throwing it at me.
"Thank you. At least maybe I can try to salvage something." I said.
"I think I am going to go now." she said.
"That is probably a good idea." I said. I had lost any desire for Trudy. It took a couple of more days before I realized that she had been using me. She was the female version of Michael.
The book wasn't too bad. Once you could get past the bull shit. I came off as more of a pirate than an investigator. It really shouldn't have bothered me. I really didn't want to be an investigator anyway.
After I calmed down I decided to just forget the whole thing. It was my plan that should anybody from Great Northern read the book I would just deny everything. I didn't after all expect to see anything in print for several months.
Life went on in an uneasy manner. I waited for the other shoe to fall, while Bitsy and Sam worked on patching up their differences. It took a couple of more months but everything eventually returned to normal. That seemed to be the way things went in a small town. Nothing much seems to be important enough to change your life.
Spring arrived renewing my desire to lay around doing nothing. I was seeing the professer again but nothing had changed. She and I settled into a routine of sex twice a month and converstions on the pier twice a month. Neither us expected it to be a long term relationship. Just a momentary convience till someone else came along. The someone else turned out to be a graduate student. She dumped me to have a really mature relationship with him. It didn't last over two months, but I never started up with her again. It was after all almost tourist season.
I began hanging out at Mercer's pier a couple of nights a week. I enjoyed the fishermen. I spent hours talking to the lonely men and women sitting over their rods. The time passed without anything of major interest coming my way.
In May the Tee Shirt Man found a building closer to the beach. I put everybody I knew on alert. I needed a replacement for him, the sooner the better. The replacement came after only a month's lost rent.
Her name was Magda Reece. She was the oldest of the Reece children. The space was actually rented as a studio/gallery. It seems that Magda had been working in New York as a painter for years. She had a rather small but rich following.
Her move from New York was prompted by some incedent which no one wished to discuss. Whatever the reason she had decided to return home to paint. She explained to me that she could still sell her work in New York. It was her hope to be able to sell some work to the tourist around Wilmington. According to her, there were plenty of summer shows she could attend. I had to take her word for it since I knew nothing about such things.
Her father, Ed. Reece, approached me about the building. Magda had seen it before the Tee Shirt Man moved out. She wanted to look around. I agreed without a moments hesitation. I needed to rent it badly.
"EJ," he said. "My daughter doesn't want to live at home and I can't blame her. She wants to live where she works. You know kind of like in Paris."
"Ed, I don't know anything about artist. I just need to rent that space downstairs. You tell me what she needs and if I can do it, I will."
"What she really needs EJ, is a place like yours. You know a shower, and kitchen area. Nothing fancy just about like you have up here."
"Ed, I can't go to that expense. I mean no offense but she might move after six months. She hasn't even seen the place empty."
"I know, but she will be moving down next month. I promised to have her a place ready. Come on EJ, can't we work out something."
"Ed, why don't you fix the place the way you think she wants. If she stays fine. If not I get to keep the repairs."
"How about this instead. I'll pay the repairs and you agree not to rasie the rent as long as she wants to stay."
"You know I can't do that, Ed. How about a five year lease. One she can break anytime but I can't."
"That sounds fair enough. I'll have a crew over here tomarrow."
It helped that Ed. built houses. Within a week the place was cleaned painted and renovated. It had a nicer shower than my place. It also sported a larger kitchen than mine. Unlike my place her appliances and fixture were more house type than recreational vehicle type.
Another week passed before Magda arrived. She arrived in a small jap car. Behind her was a moving van. I was surprised to find that it contain very little. She evidently traveled light. Almost to the point of not owning anything. Most of what the movers brought out was art equipment. She did own a small bed and a childs sized dresser. There were several boxes of what I presumed to be clothing. I waited until the movers departed before I walked down my stairs.
"Hello, you must be Magda," I said to the woman. She was barely a woman. I mean her jet black hair was cut shorter than mine. Her face was long and thin with no make up. Her body was long and thin like her face. She was dressed in jeans which hung on her. She had no shape unless you counted the shape of a sapling in winter. She also wore the thickest glasses I have ever seen.
She looked at me a long time before she answered. "You must be EJ Barnes." I nodded. "The person who owns this miserable building." she said with a smile.
"That would be me. I hope you like what you dad has done with the place."
"It's fine. I just need a place to sleep and paint. Anything would have done. I'm afraid daddy when a little overboard. Fathers seem to be like that." she said.
"He probably wanted a little more, than the hovel I had before." I said.
"I actually liked the hovel. I saw it over Christmas when I visited."
"Where you thinking of moving then?" I asked.
"Maybe a little. I actually made up my mind after New Years." she admitted.
"Well, I'll let you get back to work. If you need anything let me know." I suggested.
"Thanks, but I think I will be all right. No offense EJ, but I hope you aren't one of those drop in type people. I hate to be disturbed when I work."
"I'm not, but I'm not like that either. I love to be disturbed. If you want to come visit, just feel free to walk up and knock on the door. Otherwise I will leave you alone to paint." I said.
"That sounds like a plan to me. Well, I better start unpacking."
During the remainer of the day she came and went several times. On at least one occassion she returned with a paper bag. The bag looked like take out food from our one drive through restaurant. I pretty much kept an eye on her. I didn't want her to move out the first day.
I answered the ringing phone around seven. "So what's she like," the voice of my sister demanded.
"What's who like?" I asked knowing full well who she meant.
"Your new neighbor of course. Word around town is that she is a dike." she said. "Sissy, that is nonsense. She is simply New York sheek." I said.
"What the hell does that mean?" she asked.
"I have no idea. I just think she is a nice enough woman, who wants to be left alone to work. So don't get any ideas about a friendly visit. She has already warned me that she doesn't want visitors."
"A stuck up bitch, huh?" she asked.
"No, just a no nonsense worker. One like I should be." I said.
"Bull shit, you wouldn't know how to be a real worker."
"Anyway, I have a report to write. Why don't you just let the woman be. When she is ready she will reveal all to you." I suggested.
"Just to change the subject, what is the latest with you and Bitsy?" she asked.
"There was no earliest and there is no latest. She still hates my guts." I said.
"Why, because you saved her from that leach?" Sissy asked.
"You would be surprised how many people aren't thankful, when you save them from what they want to do. Now give me a break. I really do have a report to type." I repeated.
During the first week, I saw Magda about a dozen times. On each occassion she was either coming or going. After that week I saw very little of her. I was tempted to stop just to satisfy myself that she was indeed alive. I really couldn't have used that excuse, I heard her kicking things around too often.
Spring passed into the tourist season. With the tourist season came weekday widows. I was having a hell of a good time that summer. Of course, all good things must end. In this case it wasn't the end of the tourist season that lost me my weekday fun. It was my one time friend Trudy. Not exactly her, it was the book she had written.
Somebody had read the serial version of it. That same somebody, with an IQ of less than that of a cabage, decided it would make a hell of a movie for tv. Quite a few of them are made in Wilmington, so it was being shot there. The locations were being done right in Southport of all places. The move was about to start filming when I got the call.
"Mr. Barnes, my name is Mike Desalva. I am going to be making your movie." the voice on the phone said.
"Mr. Desalva I had no idea I had a movie." I said. I knew but hoped I was mistaken.
"Not yours exactly, just your story."
"Oh that, no offense sir but that is a great deal of bull shit. I would just as soon you didn't make the film." I said.
"That's what Trudy said when I suggested you be our technical adviser."
"I suppose you are looking for a little free publicity. Don't worry it is no big deal. I just don't want any part of it." I said.
"The job pays pretty good. You could maybe point us in the right direction."
"Mr. Desalva," I began.
"Mike, call me Mike."
"Okay Mike, the right direction would be to forget the whole thing. Trudy's book is as full of crap as my twenty year old septic tank." I informed him.
"Frankly EJ, you don't mind if I call you EJ do you." He didn't wait for me to tell him that I actually did mind. "Anyway EJ, I decided to do a major rewrite on the story. I thought you might want to come down to make sure we got it right."
"Mike, to tell you the truth, I don't give a damn what you guys say about me. I have never seen a movie studio, so I will come down for a tour." I said.
"How about tomarrow, I would really like to meet you. I have to warn you. I intend to talk you into at least reading the script."
"Buy me lunch and you got a deal. Not to read the script, but to visit the studio." I conceded.
I didn't tell Sissy, she would have demanded that I take her along. I called Sam first thing that next morning. I wanted to alert him to the possibility that I might be sueing Trudy and the movie studio. With all the warnings made I left for Wilmington.
Truthfully the studio wasn't much to look at. Just a very large plain building. It was a bustling place at the time of my visit. I met Mike first, then the writers. I had a quick tour hosted by Mike then lunch with the writers and of course Mike.
"So Sam tell EJ about the differences between the book and the movie." Mike ordered.
"The big difference is that we don't even mention that your motives might have been less than pure. We are going to do it as a pure murder mystery. You know stranger comes to town to set things right. Kind of High Noon." He said.
"You look kind of young Sam to have seen High Noon," I remarked.
"Yeah well you get the idea." he said defensively.
"I don't really. The only ones who came to town in high noon were the bad guys. Am I a bad guy in your version?"
"Hell no, you are the hero. We don't have soiled heros in TV movies." he said.
So far at least Mike was wearing a smile. He seemed to be enjoying his head writers discomfort. "Actually Sam, I like your version better. I didn't much care for Trudy's to tell the truth. She made me out to be a rather cynical person."
"Oh, you are still cynical but in the end you get redeemed."
"I do hope it was by the police chief." I said.
"Is that how it happened," Mike asked.
I knew a setup when I saw one. "No, but I always hoped it would be the chief who redeemed me." I said with a smile.%%
"In our version it is the local reporter. The one who helps you run down the history on the family." Sam said.
"So the old librarian is now a young beautiful reporter?" I asked.
"That's right," Sam answered defensively again.
"When does this epic start to shoot?" I asked.
"Two weeks, how about coming down to watch." Mike asked. It was his way of trying again to get me to take the job.
"God Mike, you don't need the truth. You have Trudy's book and Sam here. With those two to make up the truth, you got it all."
"That's why it's called fiction," Sam said.
"You are absolutely right Sam. No one in his right mind would buy the truth. So what pretty boy actor is playing me?"
"Eddie Markum," Mike said.
"I don't suppose Eddie is going to let you give him a scar face and eye patch?" I asked.
"Patch yes, scar no," Mike explained.
"I didn't figure he would care to look like a serial killer. It would damn sure ruin the image you guys are working on."
"Actually, Eddie is the reason I want you to come work on the picture. He wants to study you. Kind of find the character," Mike said.
"That would take about ten boreing minutes. I appreciate the offer but no thanks." I said. "I really can't spare the time."
"How about I have Eddie come follow you around for a couple of days?" Mike suggested.
"Don't think so." I said.
"How much do you charge a day?" Mike asked.
"Three hundred plus expenses, but I choose my clients," I admitted.
"A thousand a day for two days. Of course you pick up your own expenses." Mike said.
"You know, I hate to admit it but you found my price. That is my price for letting actors follow me around." The lunch and meeting ended. Mike and I returned to his office where he wrote me the check. I agreed that Eddie could follow me for two complete days.
I stopped by Sam's office on the way home. I explained to Sam about Eddie Markum. I saw his eyes light up. "Sam what ever you are thinking forget it."
"Me, I wasn't thinking anything. Oh. maybe I was hoping you could get me an autographed picture or something."
"Bullshit Sam, I don't want you trying to bullshit this kid."
"Well, maybe I can get Bitsy a date with him. She has been mighty low since her last boyfriend." he said.
"Sam, why don't you leave Bitsy's personal life alone. She made a simple mistake. At least she was smart enough to have him checked out."
"But not smart enough to listen to her own report." he said sadly.
"I have to go. I have to go talk to a farmer in Tomahawk," I said.
"You ain't involed in that nonsense are you?" Sam asked disgustedly.
"Great Northern had a polocy on that piece of nonsense. It seems that the aliens got a prized bull this time."
"Cattle mutilations, what a load of crap." Sam said. "You gonna find that damned bull was impotent," he laughed.
"That is what I expect. I also expect to make two hundred bucks for finding that out." I said.
"Get out of here you thief. I can tell them it is fraud for a lot less than two hundred bucks." Sam suggested.%% "Yeah, but Sam you ain't a famous private eye." I laughed as I walked out the door.
I stopped by the office/apartment to pick up my van. Tomahawk was a little farther than I liked to drive the Honda. I barely made it out of my car when Magda opened her side door.
"EJ," she said angrily. "You and me need to talk."
"Nice," I said. "The first time you speak to me in weeks and it's to raise hell. Woman you need to work on your personality." I was kidding. It took her a moment to realize it.
"Very funny, How about doing something about those damned kids. They use our parking lot to turn around. We get every fucking cruiser in the area." she said.
"I know but after all they are just kids." I said.
"They maybe kids, but they make so much noise I can't work." she argued.
"How about I shoot them for you. I could maybe use a silencer so I wouldn't disturb your work." I suggested.
She finally broke into a smile. "I actually had a chain over the entrance in mind."%% "That would be fine for you, but I do go out once in a while."
"I mean just at night. When you and I are both in for the evening."
"Sure, why not. Have your daddy send a crew over. I can probably pay for a couple of post and a few feet of chain."
"Good, the crew will be here tomarrow," she said.
"Glad you asked me before I ran into a locked chain tonight." I said sarcastically.
"What are neighbors for?" she asked as she returned to her studio. "Prick," she said under her breath as she entered the studio.
"At least the bitch pays her rent on time," I mumbled as I climbed the stairs to my office.
The drive to Tomahawk took thirty five minutes. I arrived around three. I planed to talk to some of the bull's owner's neighbors before I headed home.
The owner of course had no idea how the bull had been killed. There was no meat missing from him. He was just cut up like a surgeon might have done. No chain saw massacre, this was a real doctor," according to the owner. He of course had a nice Death By Mischief clause in his polocy on the bull.
I got to the vet's office before it closed. The vet turned out to be a woman. She had examined and photographed the dead bull. From her I got copies of her diagnosis and pictures of the bull. It was her opinion that the bull had died from electrical shot. He was then autopsied by a professional Veterinarian. Her opinion was based on the fact that there were no mistakes in the cutting. "A people doctor wouldn't know where to look for the organs," she explained.
On a whim I asked, "Were all the pieces still there?" Now I really have no idea why I asked that since I didn't give a damn.
"Actually the testicals were missing. Along with the heart and lungs. Why do you ask?"
"I don't know. Weren't you curious when you found them missing?" I asked.
"Not really, I admit I thought it strange, but when I mentioned it to the Sheriff he didn't seen interested." she said.
"He didn't, what does he think happened?" I asked.
"Actually, I don't think he cares one way or another." she said.
"So doc, what do you think happened to Toro?" I asked.
"Me, I think someone electrocuted him. I mean there was no lightning that night." she said.
"The sheriff wants to call it a lightening strike?" I guessed.
"That's what he told me." she said.
"Doc, do you store the frozen sperm for the owner?" I asked.
"Sure, it about the most profitable of the things I do."
"How much of old Toro's sperm to you have on hand?" I asked.
"Not a lot. Maybe a hundred doses. That isn't a lot."
"What is it worth," I asked.
"Job, the bull, was a champion. Jacobson, the owner, probably got five hundred to a thousand a shot. That is if it took." she said.
"Did it fail to take often?" I asked.
"Not really, Job was about average as bulls go." she said. "I know what you are driving at, let me tell you right now. Job was worth a lot more to Jacobson that any insurance money. Aside from the fact that he had about ten years left in him, it was a pride thing with Jacobson. He had the champion bull in this area. He would rather have had his wife cut up than that bull."
"Wouldn't we all?" I laughed.
"I'd damned sure put my husband up for getting his nuts cut off before I would my dog." she said with a laugh of her own.
I left her office wishing she were a few years older. I would have taken her to dinner husband or no husband. After all she could have been a weekday widow as far as I was concerned.
I had it figured that something had happened to the Bull to cause him to be of no more value to Jacobson. With no more sperm, coming in so to speak, the bull would be worth more dead than alive. I spoke to a couple of his neighbors and found that they all considered him a model citizen. One not capable of insurance fraud. That was about what I expected. Both because Jacobson seemed like a streight shooter and nobody blames a person for ripping off the insurance companies of this world. Everybody figured they steal enough to cover it. I'm sure they do.
I spoke to the Sheriff on the way out of town. He informed me that as far as he was concerned the case would never be solved. He wanted to call it an act of God. When asked about the mutilation he said, "Swamp bears."
Lightening and bears didn't fly in my mind. I just didn't know what else to do. I was in the sheriff's parking lot ready to leave when I remembered a bit on the TV news. Something about rhino horns. I sat behind the wheel of my van for a long time until I remembered it all. It probably had nothing to do with my bull, but who knows. You have to check everything in my business.
I went back into the station. "Sheriff?" I asked throught his door. "Are there any oriental families in the area."
"No families, but old man Williams hires some slants to work his farm. Why do you as?"
"Why don't we take a ride out to their place. I expect we might find the missing bull parts there." It was a wild assed guess, but no wilder than lightening and bears. I had to explain about the Rhinos before he would take me seriously.
The oriental interviews were a nightmare. In the end they confessed. They had killed the bull for it's organs. They were at the moment drying in the sun. A few days later they would have been on their way to an oriental medicine man. The family would have recieved less than Jacobson did for one shot of the bull sperm. The waste bothered me all the way home. It had something to do with values.
I almost ran over the chain when I arrived home. I had forgotten how fast daddy moved when Magda snapped the whip. The chain sported a padlock for which I had no key. I parked the van on the street while I went to Magda's door. I knocked then waited for her to come.
"Yes?" she asked throught the closed door.
"It's Ej Magda, I need the key so that I can get my van into the lot," I snapped.
"Just a minute," she said.
A couple of minutes later she opened the door. She no longer wore her trademark baggy jeans and sweatshirt. She had a terrycloth robe pulled tight around her. "I didn't mean to get you out of the shower. I just need a key so that I can get my truck off the street." I said.
"Sure just a minute." she said going into her studio for the key. I noticed that her hair wasn't wet. Neither was the robe.
"Here," she said thrusting the key at me.
I took the key as she closed the door. I had a wicked thought. No, she couldn't be painting in the nude. Then again her jeans never had paint stains on them. It dawned on me that was exactly what she did. Another reason she didn't like to be disturbed. The image of the stick figured Magda's body covered in paint, surprisingly, turned me on. I almost knocked again to ask. I changed my mind. I unlocked the chain instead.
I spent a lot of the next day writing the faxing my report to the company. I also made a couple of photo's for Bitsy. As usual she called to place the order, but had Lucy collect them at the end of the day. Bitsy and I were going to have to have this out one day. I was tired of being blamed for her poor taste in men.
Eddie Markum arrived a couple of days later. He parked his porsha in my gravel lot. I had more or less been told to expect him sometime this week. I answered his knock on my door. I recognized the man who had starred in over twenty five tv movies. He hadn't made more than a couple of theater movies but he was big box office on the small screen.
"EJ Barnes, I presume," he said extending his hand.
"How many other one eyed men do you think live here?" I asked shortly.
"They told me you were a prick. Hey, don't change for me, I can use it." he said smiling.
"If you were serious we are going to have a couple of rough days together. If not then we might just get along after all." I said.
"Getting along certainly has my vote." He said with a chuckle. "So what do we do first?"
"First we drink a cup of coffee. Then we check our schedule from yesterday. What ever we didn't do yesterday, we have to do today." I said sarcastically.
"I would take offense at that but Mike told me you hate everybody." he said.
"Mike is smarter than I thought, but then if he dresses himself he is smarter than I thought."
Eddie actually broke into laughter. "God that is good. I am going to remember that one. So what is on for today."
"Some real exciting stuff left from yesterday. We have to make a picture of a house, then drive into Wilmington for some film. This is just going to be a fun day for you." I said with a wicked smile.
"That's cool, I can ask you some questions. That's about the most I could hope for anyway." Eddie said. I took a look at him sitting across from me. He was a couple of inches shorter than me and a couple of pounds lighter. His face wasn't nearly as wrinkled either. I imagine he has a lot less stress, I thought.
The phone rang. Just to include him in all my boring shit, I put it on the speaker. "Hello?" I asked
"EJ, Sam here. Ev down to the diner told me that he saw a shiny new sports car pull into your parking lot. Does that mean Eddie Markum showed up finally."
"Yes it does Sam, Do you actually have work for me or are you just star struck?" I asked.
"Oh, I got something for you all right. I been saving it till Eddie came to town." Sam said with an old man's giggle.
"Sam, that might not be a good idea. If it is something nasty, you might want to hold it till Eddie leaves." I suggested. I still remembered Bitsy's first interview with me present.
"Nothing to this one. It will just give you a chance to show the kid around a little." Sam said. "Stop by here before noon." he demanded then hung up.
"So who is Sam," Eddie asked.
"Sam is a simi-retired lawyer. He has a practice here in town. I do a lot of shit work for him. His associate is a nice lady. You will probably get to meet her. I can't imagine her missing a chance to meet such a big star." I said.
"I assume that was a joke. You know, I could really dislike you." he said with a different smile.
"Tell you what Eddie, you go ahead and dislike me. I found that it works just fine for me." I said. "Let's get to it kid."
Eddie followed me out the door. "You know I am only a couple of years younger than you." he said closing the door.
"In dog years maybe." I heard him laugh again.
"You know, I am really enjoying this. I have never heard so many sarcastic remarks in such a short time."
"I live to entertain," I remarked as I walked to the honda.
"Can't we take my car?" he asked.
"Not unless we want me to learn how you live?" I said.
"Good point," he said.
"Just a damned minute," I heard Magda's voice over my shoulder.
"Eddie Markum, meet Magda Riley. Magda is an artist." I explained.
She ignored his outstretched hand. You aren't going to leave that kraut car in the parking lot are you." she asked. "I had planned to, since it is my parking lot," I informed her.
"Hell no you don't. Everybody in town will be coming by here trying to find Markum. I won't be able to get a thing done. Park it somewhere else." she demaned.
"Say please," I demanded in return.
"Okay EJ, Please move that that pretensious piece of kraut shit out of the parking lot."
"That's better, see how much farther you can get with a pleasant attitude. Eddie please drive your fine machine to Sam's office. Lucy will watch over it for you. She will be thrilled by the attention.
Eddie followed me to Sam's converted service station. I waited till Eddie parked the car then went inside with him hot on my heels. "Hello Lucy, I want you to meet the famous Eddie Markum. Why don't you entertain him while I talk to Sam." I suggested.
"Sure EJ, what exactly is it that you do Mr. Markum?" she asked deadpan.
"EJ, I'm coming with you. I paid for the whole two days. You are not hiding me out with a secretary. No offense Lucy," he said.
She simply shook her head as she sat back down. I opened Sam's door. "Sam what is it that you have for me?" I asked.
"Let me shake this young man's hand first. Well, Well, imagine a big movie star like this in my office. I just loved you in Sunday morning." Sam said.
"I wasn't in Sunday morning sir. That Al Pachino." he tried to continue but Sam stopped him by saying. "Whatever,"
"EJ, I want you to go out and pick up Tommy Mathers," Sam said to me.
"Like hell I will. I'm not a deputy sheriff. Call the sheriff to get Mathers." I said.
"Who is Mathers," Eddie asked.
Sam and I both ignored him. He runs from them every time they go for him. If he don't show in court tomarrow they are going to take his mama's farm. We can't let that happen." Sam the great humanitarian said.
"Sam, you have known about Mathers since his prelim. Everybody knew that retard would never show up for the trial. Why are you waiting till today. You are doing this just to entertain Eddie. Sam you are a wicked old man."
"I am not. I am just looking out for you. The bondsman will pay three grand to get Tommy back in the fold so to speak."
"Who's Tommy?" Eddie asked really frustrated.
I ignored him. "Sam, I can't take the kid out there. He is liable to get hurt. You know damned well, if I go out there Tommy is going to want to fight." I said.
"I don't think so EJ. You can talk him into surrendering. I know you can boy. Remember the old lady's farm is at stake."
"Who the hell is Tommy Mathers," Eddie shouted.
"Tommy Mathers is a retard who has been bound over in multiple assault cases. He went on a spree a few months back. He whipped everybody in Lim's bar. He then whipped the two deputies sent to arrest him. It took four of them to finally get his ass to jail. Some asshole judge let him out on bond. Tommy of course didn't show for his trial. I got a continuance till tomarrow. If he don't show tomorrow the bond will be revoked. His mama put her farm up for the bond."
"So why is a bondsman going to pay EJ three grand to bring this Tommy in?" Eddie asked.
"Because," I said. "The court don't take farms. The bondsman put up cash using the farm as security. His fee was probably five grand for the bond. He don't want the farm he wants his half million back."
"Half a million for a fight?" Eddie asked.
"The judge takes a dim view when his nephew is killed in a bar fight." Sam explained.
"Okay Sam, I'll go for Tommy but Eddie stays here with you." I said.
"Like hell, I got a black belt in karate," Eddie said.
"I hope it holds your pants up," said the female voice over our shoulder.
"Bitsy, meet Eddie Markum." I said.
"Nice to meet you. Now don't let Sam talk you into going out to the Mather's place. You will sure as hell get hurt."
"I can take care of myself," Eddie said.
I didn't say a word, I just watched her eye him. Mr. Markum, if you go out there and get in EJ's way. If he gets hurt because of you, I will personally make you eat that black belt, without mustard." She turned and walked out before he could answer.
"Who the hell was that," Eddie asked.
"That was my partner, Bitsy." Sam said to Eddie. He turned next to me. "You reckon that means she forgives you finally?"
"I doubt it. It probably means she has some crap job for me tomarrow." I said. "Sam I have a couple of errands to run today. I will pick up Tommy tonight."
"I knew you wouldn't let a widow lady down," Sam said.
"How can she call herself that. Everyone in the county knows she killed her husband." I said. "Come on Eddie we got a house to look at."
We shot the house then had lunch. After lunch I drove into Wilmington for film. Eddie wanted to stop at the studio, so I dropped him while I went for the film. When I returned the gate guard asked me to wait in Mike's office.
"What's this I hear about you taking Eddie to pick up a dangerous felon." Mike shouted.
"Not my idea, I suggested he stay behind but he has a black belt in karate." I said with a smile.
"I am going to regret sending him to you. I just know," Mike said.
"Why shouldn't you. I already regret it." I answered. "I told you it was a lousy idea."
"Please don't let him get hurt. I have a movie starting on Monday. I can't afford to lose him." Mike said.
Eddie walked into the room at that moment. I continued the conversation. "If Eddie wants to come with me, then he is in. If he gets hurt, that is between the two of you. I have told him to stay out of it. He should do just that, but I can't be responsible for his actions. He is, I presume, a grown man."
We left together and headed over the bridge when he said, "You meant that in there didn't you. I can help if I want?"
"You are the victem of my infinate dislike for Mike. Sure, come along but please stay the hell out of the way. Tommy don't know you got a black belt." I said with a smile.
"Why do you and that Bitsy woman make fun of my black belt?" he asked.
"Eddie, I am about to tell you a secret. One which Bitsy already knows. All that work in the gym is good to keep you in shape, and even give you a feeling of security. The truth is that crap ain't worth a damn in a street fight. Not with a retard like Tommy. The fight is going to be up close and personal. You try to throw his ass and Tommy is likely to gut you. Tommy has been a bad boy for a long time. The other thing about that marshal arts crap is that it doesn't give you the will to use it. You get out there and face a real man intent on kicking your ass and you are likely to freeze just for a second. When you thaw, you find you are hamburger."
"I want to go along. I still think I can help." He said.
"Okay kid, but let me remind you Bitsy will kick your ass if you get me hurt." I said with a laugh.
With Eddie along, I decided to go for Tommy before dark. I didn't want Eddie hitting me instead of Tommy. As we drove the van toward the Mather's place, Eddie asked. "Why don't we spray him with pepper gas."
"Believe me I would, except that's what the first two deputies tried on the night of the fight. Tommy took it away from them. I think he took if home for his mama's stew." I smiled as I watched Eddie start to get nervous. "Eddie way don't you stay in the van. I can handle Tommy," I said without much conviction. I didn't want Eddie to get hurt. Especially when I didn't think he would be of any help.
I blocked Tommy's car in with my van. I walked to his porch with Eddie a step behind me. He had strict orders from me to stay the hell out of the way. I let him tag along, so he could feel the fear when Tommy came out. I knew Tommy would come out smoking. Tommy and I had known each other in school.
"Tommy, it's EJ Barnes. I have come to give you a ride to the sheriff's office." The first thing I knew Tommy came out the door like a bull in heat. I barely had time to side step him. Unforturnately Eddie had backup into a karate stance. He never even got set. Tommy ran right over him. Tommy turned to charge me again. This time he had his arms spread to encircle me. He came more slowly this time. Eddie was down and dazed.
"Tommy you don't want to do this." I said.
"I been wantin' to do this for twenty years." he said.
"Okay, but I have to warn you. I am going to hurt you real bad." I said.
He stood streight up so that I could see him grin. I kicked him in the balls as hard as I could. He bellowed like a bull, then charged me. I hadn't stopped him but I sure pissed him off. The best thing that could have happened was that he would have fallen like a tree from the kick. The second best was that he would rush me mindlessly. I tuned away from him as quickly as I could. He brushed me as he past. I was enough off balence that the sap I swung at him glanced off his head. A five ounce lead slug swung with all the force I could manage should have dropped him like a stone, even with a glancing blow. He began to bleed but it didn't stop him. It might have slowed him a bit but he was ready for another charge at me. If that mother ever got me in a bear hug it was broken ribs for sure.
Instead of charging this time he began to circle me like an animal. I waited for him to close. I only had one more trick up my sleeve. He rushed me, as he did Eddie tripped him. Eddie had come out of his daze enough to realize that I was going to get my ass kicked. The trip was all I needed. Hell it was about the only break I could expect. I hit Tommy in the neck with my tazer. I didn't know how many volts that mother threws, but it is enough to make grown men piss in their pants. It stunned Tommy but he still didn't go down. He looked at me, the way a cow in a slaughter house must look. The damn Tazer would be usless till I recharged it. I almost hated to do it but I hated to get my ass kicked worse. I hit him three sharp blows with the sap. He still wasn't out but between the tazer and the blows he was stunned. I quickly put the large cuffs on him. I double locked them then Eddie and I dragged his fat ass to the van. "Eddie either you drive or you ride back there with him." I offered.
"I'll drive, but you keep that monster off of me." he looked freightened even now. He should have been. Tommy was one bad assed dude. He would think nothing of killing both of us.
Everytime Tommy looked like he might be coming around, I kicked him in the head. Hey, I never said I played fair. If you want John Wayne buy a ticket to the movies.
I delivered Tommy to the deputies who came out to remove him from my van. "So you brought Tommy back to us. Thanks Ej," he said.
"I'm going to be looking for Slim the spade," I said.
"Slim is over at the magistrates right this minute." the jailer said.
"Come on Eddie, we need to go make a collection." I said.
"I really don't like you calling that man a spade." he said quietly.
"Oh you don't. Look kid you helped me out, but don't go buttin into things you don't know about." I let the way to the magistrates office. We found two men sitting in the office. Neither was sitting behind the one desk.
One was black and the other white. The black man spoke. "Damn EJ, you look like you been in a fight. Who's your friend?"
"This is my new partner Eddie, Eddie that afro American gentleman is the magistrate Martin Temple. No relation to Shirley Temple Black. The other gentleman is the one we came to see. That is Sam the spade. Sam you owe me three grand." I said.
"Why is that EJ?" he said.
"You know damned well Sam. Your buddy, the other Sam, had be pick up Tommy Mather's for you." I said.
"Oh that is why you look so beat up. Tommy give you a hard time?" he asked.
"Not as hard at the one Eddie gave him." I said with a streight face. Eddie here is a black belt in Karate. You should have seen him tossing old Tommy around. I think he is going to make one fine partner. Now if you don't mind, I would like my three large."
"I really don't have it with me EJ," the spade said.
"Tell you what spade, give me the keys to your caddy. I'll just hold on to it, till you bring me the money. You know like the old lady's farm."
"Judge, you ain't gonna let him do that are you?" Spade asked playfully.
"Spade, them men brought in Tommy by themselves. I imagine they don't give a fuck what I say." he grinned.
"Okay, maybe I do got a little of it." Spade said.
"Eddie, did you ever hold a man upside down to see what falls out of his pockets." "No EJ, but there is a first for everything." he said.
"I think it is about time I took a coffee break," the magistrate said with a grin.
"Hold it a minute you two," Spade said. "Here take the money. I guess you earned it."
"We did and it's a pleasure doing business with you." I said as we left the room.
We were in the parking lot when Eddie asked. Why do they call him the spade if he isn't black."
"His business partner is black." I said simply. I wasn't going to draw him a map."Here take this," I said handing him a thousand dollars. "You earned it."
"Hell no, are you kidding I owe you a bonus for taking care of me. What was all that about me bringing in Tommy?" he asked.
"Hell, we need to keep them guessing. Spread a few rumors like that round and there won't be anyone giving you shit. That was our last job of the day, you want to go to the beach?" I asked.
"Damn right, Let me pick up my car though. I am staying at the Holiday Inn on Wrightsville Island."
"Damn," I laughed. He had no idea what was so funny. We started on the pier. I introduced him as my new partner to a few of the regulars. Nobody recognized him.
"EJ, would these people be as nicer to me, if they knew I was a movie star," he asked.
"They would treat you different. Maybe better, I don't know. You want to tell them?" I asked.
"Hell no, I think it might be a step down the ladder," he laughed.
"Tell you what Eddie, let's go to the Lounge in your motel. I got something interesting to show you." I said with a grin.
It was nine when we arrived. The apex of the evening crowd. Some of the less horny women would be heading off to bed within the next hour. "You mean to tell me that I can have any woman in here?" he asked. "Even if I'm not a movie star."
"Most any of them. Some of the women really came to have a drink. Others came to see what is available. Don't go telling your movie friends about this. This is kind of a secret gold mine. It belongs to the townies. It is their bonus for putting up with the tourist." I said with a smile.
Eddie stayed in the hotel and I returned home that night. I was sound asleep the next morning when I heard the knock and his voice shouting. "EJ get up. It's time we got to work."
I drag assed to the door. "Don't take the partner thing too seriously." I said.
"What have you got on for today?' he asked.
"Nothing, at least not so far. My largest plan for today is to make a pot of coffee. Have a seat while I begin my big case. I boiled the water while he rambled on about how alive he felt.
I gave him a cup of the fresh coffee. "Look kid, I know that last night was a rush. There is nothing like waking up the next morning to find that you are still alive. It is a great feeling, but I been there too many times. I am going to finish this coffee, then I am going to kick Sam's old ass. After that I have nothing planned for the day. You can follow me around while I do not one fucking thing." I said.
"Great, it will give me a chance to ask you about the Southport Murder." He said.
"Sure, but I warn you, I am going to lie."
"That's fine as long as it matches the facts." he said with a knowing smile. He had indeed read the book.
After a couple of hours of his questions, I needed a break. I drove us to Sam's office in the Honda. I didn't even stop at Lucy's desk. I went streight into Sam's empty office. I turned back to Lucy who simply smiled. "Sam took a couple of days off. He went fishing I think."
"He knew I would be coming to kick his old ass. 'Tommy is a good boy, he wants to come back to the fold'. He damned near killed me. If Eddie here hadn't saved me, I would be planted out there somewhere." I ranted.
"Come on you two, Lucy has work to do. You can take me to lunch. I will listen to your macho story for Sam." Bitsy said with a broad smile. The smile was aimed at Eddie. I was jealouse, but didn't let it show. "EJ told that same bullshit story when he saved my ass. Eddie, I expect you to tell me the truth. EJ sure as hell won't.
The two of them were having a fine time during lunch. They actually fought over which one of them was the most frieghtened at their near death encounter. I would have won if they had asked me to join in the conversation.
"Well gentlemen this has been fun but I have work to do. I bid you both a fond fairwell." she said.
"Sounds like you are going to Hawaii," I said.
"Kiss my ass EJ," she said with a smile as she left.
"You two got something going?" Eddie asked.
"Not a chance, I'm not her type." I said.
"Do you mind, if I call her?" he asked.
I found myself minding very much, but I said, "Not at all." Eddie might be an actor but he was a lousy judge of character.
"Thanks," he said.
By five Eddie had all he had paid for. "EJ, I know I shouldn't ask, but tell me is your life always this way. I mean, one day you are fighting Tommy, the next you spend the whole day doing nothing."
"Eddie, I came here after my accident to become a beach bum. Every day was supposed to be like today." I said meaning every word of it.
Nine months later the movie hit TV. I found out something really interesting. Probably a hundred thousand people read the book, in which I was a villian, but a few million saw the movie in which I was a hero. Even some of the people who read the book were convinced that I was a truth seeker. In the end it was all just crap anyway.