I sat alone in the coffee lounge. It was the last hour of my last night as a cop. I was twenty-four years old and had no job. That night there would be no alarm clock to set. I could sleep as long as I wanted. Of course there would be no paychecks coming in either.

I felt both good and apprehensive at the same time. I would have to set that clock the next day. Job-hunting was definitely in my future. I hated the idea of a job. Most of all, I hated the idea of working for straight J ohns. It would be boring, but then it couldn't be worst than a Monday third shift.

My only plan at that moment was to finish my last cup of vending machine coffee, then hit the road one last time. I didn't really have to go back out, everybody knew I was sliding. The definition of sliding is doing as little as possible, so that you don't have to return for court the next month.

I noticed the rather large black bail bondsman come into the lounge, but really paid him no attention. That is, until he came to the table.

"You Mitch Adams?" he asked.

"Yes sir, can I help you?"

"You know who I am don't you?" he asked.

"Sure. Samuel something or other. The bondsman."

He smiled. He was truly a black, black man.

"The something or other is Stovey. Samuel Stovey." He put out his enormous hand.

I shook the hand. I figured better to shake it than get it across the side of the face.

"Well Mr. Stovey, what can I do for you? One of your clients need some help."

"All them no good niggers need some help. No, this is about you. And some about me."

I had no idea what he was talking about. He didn't seem to be in any rush to continue, so I sat quietly. I think he was waiting for me to ask him to continue. I just sat quietly and waited him out. That may have been the only thing of any value I had learned over the past two years. I could wait all day for a person to begin his story.

"I see you are a patient man,"

"I am that. Okay you want me to ask, so I will. What could you possibly say that would concern me."

"I hear from Dill that you are going to be unemployed tonight."

"That much is true. I am also going to be unemployed tomorrow and the day after that."

"You don't seem too concerned."

"Oh I am. It just won't do any good to trouble you with my problems."

"Actually it might. This is kind of a job interview. I need some help these days."

"Are there that many drunks?" That crack was in reference to the number of DWI cases he handled.

"God, those are the easy ones. My problem is that I work in a couple of towns. As soon as I leave Greenpoint my damned cell phone rings. I have to head to some other town to post bail for some low life."

"You don't like your clients?"

"Man, if they was upstanding citizens, they wouldn't be my clients. They are always trying to rip my black ass off."

"So Samuel, what exactly do you want me to do?"

"Well mostly you gonna be my token white boy."

"Hey, I like the sound of that. I mean, I won't actually have to work, will I?"

I noticed his look.

"That didn't exactly come out like I meant it. I'm sorry if I offended you, Samuel."

"For God's sake, call me Sam. Look Mitch, my skin is a whole lot thicker than that. If it wasn't, I couldn't do this kind of work. But to answer your question, yes, you are gonna have to work. This ain't no passenger train I run."

"So what is it I do?"

"You gonna have to take one of these phones. It will ring every time you getting a little. It will ring every time you trying to work on your car. It will ring every time you are in the bathroom. But without it, I ain't got no business."

"I suppose you want me to run to the jail every time it rings, just to bail out some useless prick."

"That's the idea. Oh yeah, there is one more thing. I want you to go with me to pick up those souls who can't find their own way to court."

"I never really understood how the bail bond business worked."

"Simple as pie. You wind up in the pokey and you want out. The Judge, he says one thousand dollars. You ain't got the cash but you got a hundred bucks. You pay me the hundred and I put up the thousand. When you go to trial, I pick up my thousand."

"You must be putting up a lot of thousand dollar bonds to be driving that fancy car of yours."

"I am, but the car I got from a client. He was going up the river for ten years. I paid ten thousand for a thirty thousand dollar car."

"Why didn't he just take it out to the strip and find a dealer to buy it? He could have gotten more for it."

"Because Mitch, they don't put up bonds. I pu t up a ten thousand-dollar bond. He put up the car as collateral. He didn't make the trial. I found his sorry ass and brought him back. That sorry-assed judge wouldn't give me my money. I kept the car. Hell, the client didn't need it anyway. I coul d have sold it, but I kept it to remind me of that fat-assed Judge Sanders."

"You mean Winston, the chicken man?"

I had to laugh. Everybody laughed at Judge Winston. He looked like Colonel Sanders and even dressed like him.

"They say he is a prick but I never met the man."

"That be the one. That prick didn't give my money back because he knew I had the car. He decided that it would be easier for me to sell it than for the county to do without the ten grand. By the way, before you take property as c ollateral these days you have to be careful that the sheriff ain't gonna grab it as ill gotten gains or some such nonsense."

I knew what he was talking about so I just nodded. I was so involved in the conversation that he took me by surprised when he spoke next.

"So you interested or what?"

"I really don't know. How much does it pay?"

"I been thinking about that. I'll give you fifty percent of all you write. In other words, five percent of the bond. If you bring in your own skippers I'll give you t he other five- percent of their bond. Mostly it's drunk drivers and child support skippers, so they ain't no trouble to bring in."

"If I have to help you bring in a bad guy, I keep half the second five percent. If you help me, I'll give you half the second five percent."

"Why would I have to help you?"

"Some neighborhoods won't open their doors when I am standing on the porch. They especially won't tell me anything when I ask about their dear husband or daddy. Then, once in a while there might be so me heavy weight dude. One that needs us both to convince. That is why I said I would help you."

For the most part, I had been passing time until the shift ended. I really had no interest in being a bondsman. I listened then asked.

"So how much we talking about here? I mean all this percentage stuff is interesting, but how much money can I make."

"I generally write a hundred thousand a month."

"Hell, half that ain't but five hundred a month. I can't make it on that."

"I can see you ain't no math wizard. You got your decimal in the wrong place. I take in about ten grand a month. I got some big expenses. Your end should be about three grand a month."

"Thirty a year don't go far these days."

"About as far as twenty five went with the police department?"

"You just told me your hours were worse. I don't think I could do what you want for so little money. Tell you what though, I will think about it."

"I didn't expect you to jump right into it. It's gonna take you a week or so to find out a few things."

"Like what?"

"What your real value is in the straight world. Man, only thing you know about is locking up niggers. By the way, when I say niggers, I don't mean black. I mean the sorry assholes of both races that I deal with. Don't get the id ea you can use that word helter skelter."

"I have to admit, I have used it in the last ten years."

"Who ain't? What I meant was about the only thing you are qualified for is this, and working at a seven eleven. But you go find out."

He handed me a card.

"You call me when you ready to talk. You gonna call, Mitch. You can't do nothing else to stay around the life."

"I don't know nothing about being a bondsman."

"Don't worry, you gonna learn real fast. All you got to do is act like it's your money."

"If I do that I will only bail out preachers."

"Preachers who own their own homes. Most don't and most are as bad as the others."

He had finished his coffee. I watched him turn his broad back on me, then walk away. I dismissed him from my mind, but I saved his card anyway.

I took one day off to sleep late. On the second day I began searching the want ads from two towns. I found nowhere to even apply for a job. I finally gave up and went to the unemployment office. I searched their computer fil es, until I couldn't see. I found a couple of things that interested me. I actually went on a couple of interviews. I expected one of the two to hire me. I was pretty stupid in the ways of the world. What I got was " We will be in touch. "

I returned to the unemployment office after a couple of days to try again. That time I wasn't as choosy. I got offered a job as a security consultant. The job was selling burglar alarms on commission. I turned that one down.

I searched my wallet and found Sam's card. I called him right after the interview with the burglar alarm company.

"Sam, Mitch Adams. Thought I would call and see if I could ride with you on a couple of jail visits."

"Sure kid. Little tougher out there than you thought?"

"Damn sure is."

"Don't worry kid. You done found yourself a home."

"I doubt it, but I'd like to see what it is all about."

"Tell you what, Mitch. Next call I get in Greenpoint I'll call you, then stop by and pick you up."

"Sounds fair. You expect it to be tonight?"

"Probably be some drunk after ten or so. I done been there and bailed out of the wife beaters and child support people."

Sure enough he called. I rode with him around eleven. We went to the county lockup and talked to a middle\_aged black man. Sam had the case file in hand when he spoke to the man.

"I got a copy of your arrest report, Mr. Sims. Says here you was driving while intoxicated."

Sims tried to say something but Sam cut him off.

"No offense intended sir, but I am not your lawyer nor t he cop who arrested you. My only concern is that you called me to post your bail. Now your bail is one thousand dollars. My fee is ten percent or one hundred dollars. Did you have that much when you where arrested?"

"No sir, I sure didn't. I don't get paid until Friday. I will have it then though."

"Mr. Sims, that isn't going to help you tonight. Is there anyone you can call to bring you the money?"

"No sir, there ain't nobody."

"No kids, a wife, or anybody like that?"

"I ain't married no more. The kids, they don't even speak to me."

"Well sir, I'm afraid I can't do anything for you."

"But you a bondsman, you can sign my bond."

"Mr. Sims, I don't own the company."

Sims looked at me. He must have decided that even though I was white, I was too young to own a company.

"Mr. Stovey, I can't stay in jail. I will lose my job."

"Best I can do Mr. Sims, is to let you use my cell phone to call someone."

"Maybe my brother will come down with the money. Will you take a check?"

"No sir, this is a cash only business. Maybe he can go to an ATM for the money."

Sam handed the defeated man his telephone. The man called and talked to his brother. The brother agreed to come up with the money in the morning. Sam and I left the man sitting in the ce ll. Sam promised to return after the brother met him in his tiny office in town. Sam had offices in two different towns. He had a hole in the wall here and a slightly larger hole in Andrews. Since Andrews was only a twenty minute drive, he could affor d to do business both places. Andrews was also larger with more assholes being put in jail.

When we exited the building, Sam handed me a file folder. Inside were half a dozen promissory notes, all blank. One was secured with a car and another secured with real estate.

"Okay Sam, why didn't you take his car rather than insisting that he come up with cash?"

"Good question. I expected you to be sharp and you are. Without the title I would have to go to court. If he owed anything on the car, the finance company would take it rather than let me have it. I wouldn't get a dime. That is, if the judge even let me have the damned judgment. If you are going to take a car, make sure he doesn't owe anything on it. I mean see the title for yourself. Have his w ife, girlfriend, somebody, bring you the title. Then make sure it is the same car listed in the police report. Not some piece of shit up on blocks behind his house. I owned one of those once. Then, get yourself a jailer to witness the signature on the note. Then, make sure you have the next day\rquote s date right. Then, if he don't show with the money, go to the impound lot and get the car. That way you got his note and you got the car. The note has a twenty dollar late fee per day as storage for the car b eing in my lot, plus a towing fee of fifty bucks. You need to make sure he understands all that. Cause when you take him to court to get the car assigned to you, all that is going to come up. Now tell me that cash ain't easier."

"You're right. So how many times have you had to do the recovery bit."

"Not as many as some of the others."

"By the way, you do own the company don't you?"

"Of course I do."

He looked at me curiously, until he remembered Sims.

"Oh that. If he knew I owned the company he would try to screw me even worse."

The phone rang half-way through his sentence. He waited until he finished before he answered it. The conversation was brief. He suddenly swung the car around and headed back to the jail.

"Business good?" I asked.

"Yeah, but this time the brother showed up at the jail. He wants to take Sims home before he loses his job. He has my bread."

I was allowed to see the paperwork that Sam filed with the magistrate. There wasn't a lot to it. Sam had an account with the court. He also had a bond limit set by the company who provided his bond money.

"Some guys," he explained, "actually had the bread to put cash up for the clients."

Sam worked through a large bank out of New York, probably Mafia. They guaranteed som e of his money. He paid a fee just like any short-term borrower. The rates were set by the amount of the loan and length of time it was used. Sam had damned few losses, he informed me. If he did, he had to repay the money himself. He was working towa r d a hundred thousand of his own money but hadn't gotten that far yet. He had about seventy five thousand posted with a local bank which was earmarked for payment of losses. He could write that amount before the bank loan kicked in. Every time a bond wa s posted against his account, it first went to the local funds then to the New York bank. When some mooch forfeited his bond, Sam was charged interest on the money until the mooch came back. He would also lose his own money if he couldn't find the mooch. Somebody had to repay that bank loan.

He explained everything to me so that I wouldn't try to jack up my percentage. The five percent he took from the bonds I would write covered the one percent rate on the loan and the overhead. What overhead I had no idea.

I was surprised that I agreed to work for him after only the one visit. I was also surprised when he told me to be in Andrews the next morning. He was going to give me a day's training, then put me on my own for a couple of days. He had instruc ted me to write no bonds more than two thousand without calling him first.

After the days training, he let me in on his plan. I would write primarily in Greenpoint and handle some of the Andrews work. He would work Andrews - period. The few jumpers we had would first be the responsibility of the person who wrote the bond.

In the first seven-day week, I wrote eighteen one thousand dollar bonds. I wrote only cash bonds. Sam had explained I would have to take the loans on a personal basis. The company c ouldn't do it. I would have to put the money into the till myself. I had an old piece of junk Toyota, so I didn't want to buy another car. Especially one that would cost me more in the long run. If I had the mooch's car, there was a good chance he wou ldn't show for court. He might skip just to get even with me. A lesson I learned from Sam.

For a couple of months things went just fine. Then, of course, the inevitable happened. A mooch didn't show. He was a small time B&E man. He was hardly a man; more like a kid my age. Sam gave me tips on how to find him. I had his picture from the police. The picture wasn't a favor, it cost me five bucks. I checked all his old hangouts. I had no idea whether or not he would recognize me.

I found him in a beer joint drinking at a table. I followed Sam's advice and waited until he went to the bathroom. I followed him in, then waited until he finished zipping his pants. I shoved the .380 automatic into the back of his neck.

"Now be a good boy and put your hands behind you."

He did. I cuffed him, walked him to my car, then belted him into the seat beside me. I drove him to the magistrate\rquote s office. There I had his ass arrested again. That time his bail was ten grand. I was walking past the holding cell w ith my receipt in hand when I heard his voice.

"Hey man, how about doing my bail."

"Fat fucking chance," I answered.

Outside I began to shake. I hadn't been nervous until he was in the cell. I began to think about all the things that could have gone w rong. I finally understood why Sam wanted a white partner. He could never have walked into that bar and taken the kid. He would have had to chase him all over town. That likely would be the case when I had to pick up a black jumper.

You must be wonder ing, why not just call the cops when you locate a jumper? Odds are about fifty-fifty that if you do that, you will still lose your bond. Some judges think if the cops bring in your jumper you should forfeit your money. They wouldn't do that to a family member who turned in his brother in order to save his house.

Sam has a policy and I liked it. If the bond is substantial, ten thousand or more, he wants collateral as well as the fee. The kid\rquote s parent\rquote s house is often put up. If the kid jumps we get th e house. That is, if the bond is forfeit. Most guys think twice about their parent\rquote s home. Of course, some don't.

After a year with Sam, I took a look at my bank balance. I had about twenty grand in my savings. I just didn't get much of a chance to sp end the money I made. I live in a used trailer on a piece of land owned by my parents. I don't date all that much and when I do it isn't any big deal.

When I went to work for Sam, my parents went ape. It was no career for an honorable man. It was just too sleazy for them to accept. I had actually felt the same way myself at first. I had even lied about my job for a while. These days I actually enjoy the expression on the faces of people I meet for the first time. I especially like it when I hand t hem my card. It is usually accompanied by, "Just in case."

I have been with Sam on a couple of jumpers that got a little hairy. One had actually taken a shot at us. I tried to get Sam to wait and take him on the street, but he would have none of it. We went to his home. He heard us push past his wife. He got a pistol from somewhere and tried to shoot us. I managed to push his arm aside while Sam knocked the pure hell out of him with a water pipe filled with flashlight batteries. Those things are th e best damned clubs, and legal to boot. His wife screamed the whole time. It didn't make much difference to her that he was under the bond for beating her in the first place.

At the end of the first year, Sam asked if I wanted to become a partner. I explained to him that I was already a partner. He dropped it. He knew I had all the benefits without the cost.

Then the big shit hit the fan. Sam wrote a bond on a safe burglar. Twenty-five thousand. The dude was facing twenty-five years. The judge figu red a grand a year was about right. Sam took him because he had a house almost paid off. What nobody told Sam was that the mooch took out a second mortgage on the house just before he was arrested. The papers hadn't been filed with the clerk when Sam w rote the bond. The second mortgage put Sam in third place on the house. If it was sold, the other two had to be paid off first.

The mooch jumped. Sam had the bond and a worthless piece of paper for collateral. Not only did he jump, but he took the fami ly with him. Judge Chicken Man set the forfeiture hearing for ninety days from the date of his first scheduled court appearance. Sam and I checked on him everywhere we could for a month. I was about ready to call it quits when I called his kid\rquote s dentist. I was playing concerned neighbor. The girl told me not to worry, the family hadn't been murdered. At least not little Billy. She had mailed his dental records out a week before.

I didn't even bother to ask her where she mailed them. I knew she woul dn't tell me anyway. Instead I called Sam, who called a tame judge. We had a court order for the address that afternoon. It was all more or less legal. We had been appointed officers of the court by the same judge.

The files had gone to Biloxi, Miss issippi. We couldn't both leave the business. Since the man was white, I went. I found his dentist's office. Of course, the receptionist didn't want to tell me anything. I checked with the power company using his name. I wanted to find out if he had p ower. He did, and under his own name. What a jerk. I stopped in the local police station with my copies of all the papers. The Sheriff's men were pretty easy to work with. They agreed to ride with me to pick up the mooch. Of course, if they arrested him I had miles of red tape to deal with. It would be better, I explained, if I picked him up. I gave them a copy of the Supreme Court ruling allowing me to cross and re\_ cross state lines with the fugitive. I had a hell of a lot more flexibility in that kind of thing. I caught the mooch mowing his lawn. He had no idea who I was, so the arrest was easy. I just jammed the .380 in his back and cuffed him. I didn't even let him say good\_bye to his wife and kids.

I got him back after driving all night. I explained to him it would be to his advantage if I didn't fall asleep at the wheel. He kept me awake complaining about my treatment of him.

When we got to Andrews, I dumped his ass in county lockup after getting my receipt. I drove to Sam's office in time to catch him before he left for the day. He was glad to see me, especially when I explained the mooch was in jail and we had our receipt.

"You know, Mitch, you got a talent for this kind of thing. Why don't you go into the jumper business? You know, kinda on the side."

"Why? I already work for you. You trying to tell me something?"

"No man, I want you to keep on working for me. It's just that you can make a good lick now and again, picking up these dudes. Hell, most of them are either here, Greenpoint or Greensboro. Some of these other old farts are losing their ass on jumpers. The big shit is secured usually, but the thousand and two thousand isn't. You can hunt them down in your spare time and then split the recovery with the bondsman. You just take the ones they are gonna loose anyway."

"I doubt they would pay us to chase their people. Surely they have people to do that."

"Some do, some don't. Even those that got somebody loose money because he is either black or white. I'm telling you, we can do this."

"So now it's "we" . Okay Sam, you set it up and we will try it."

If the mooch wasn't violent, we charged thirty percent. If he was, it was fifty percent - period. The non-violent ones were the ones we chased most often. Usually a pistol in the back of the neck was sufficient. Once in a while we had to fight one. The steel pipe flashlight usually brought those to an early end.

At the end of the second year, I had fifty-five grand and change in the bank. Man, it was like a license to steal.

Then, it came crashing down on us. Sam had a stroke. I did what I could to keep up the business, but it was just too much for me. Sam decided to sell out his business. In all fairness, he offered to sell it to me first. It would hav e taken all I had plus a bank loan to swing it. The business was also too big for me to run. I had to pass on it.

What I did wind up with was the jumper business. I also could write up to fifty thousand in bonds. I stayed with the drunks while I built up my cash. The bond money rolled every two months more or less, which meant I made about two grand a month from the bonds. I also picked up a jumper a couple of times a month. At minimum of three hundred each, I was on my way to building up enough cas h to write more and therefore make more. I didn't even take promissory notes. It meant I could write fewer bonds. Those I left to the other bondsmen.

I got bruised up once in a while, but nothing too serious. I hated the thoughts of what would happen if I met a really bad dude. I figured one of us would die. The bond business was going along pretty good; I figured I would be dropping the jumper business any time.

Like always when things got too good, something came along to screw them up. I had esta blished a pretty good rep for finding people. I had a few good informants who I paid well for information. Of course, there were some mooches who just couldn't be found. The cops had a big interest in finding some of them, even they couldn't do it.

Suc h was the case with Mattie Simpson. Mattie was on the run from a charge of embezzlement. She had borrowed half a mil from her boss. Since she didn't ask first, he had her arrested. One of the larger companies put up her bail. The bail just happened t o be half a million.

The bondsman had taken a bunch of different relative's property as collateral on the bond. He could reasonably expect to recover about four hundred thousand on the collateral. He would rather have his half a million. He didn't eve n bother to look for her. He just showed up in my office with ten different people in tow.

"Mitch, I need to talk to you. You know I got the Mattie Simpson bond."

"Yeah, everybody knows you got bit on the ass."

"I need your help. Actually these people need your help."

"Ed, let\rquote s me and you talk outside. You folks need to excuse us a minute."

Once we were out of their hearing I said, "Ed, you know I am going to charge your ass off for this one. You might come out better to sell off the houses."

"B est I could do would be four. I need to get it all back. On top of everything else, the money is tied up and I can't write much. If I can't turn it soon I am going to loose my ass. I need for you to bring that bitch back here quick. Selling those hou ses would take too long, even if I could get a clear title right away."

"Do you know where she is?"

"No, but I'll bet one of those people in there does. I brought them along so you could scare hell out of them."

"Ed, I am going to charge you fifty if I find her from the relatives\rquote information. If not, I am not even going to try. She could be anywhere by now. I understand she left her husband and kids. A woman running that hard is going to be a bitch to find. Of course, these people might already know where she is."

"Go in there and scare them into telling you. The fifty is steep but I can do it."

"Ed, I want you to sign a note for the money."

"Hey, I always paid you before."

"Yeah, three or four hundred. This is fifty big ones we are talking about here."

"Okay, but nothing if you don't bring her in."

"Ed, you got somebody else looking for her?"

"No. I mean, if the cops bring her in I pay nothing."

"Fair enough. Remember this, if the cops bring her in you probably get nothing."

We went back inside and began the interrogation of the family.

"Let me explain the law to you," I began. "You each signed a promissory note for the half million dollars my friend put up. He is entitled, the minute the bail is forfeit, to collect on those notes. I know, because it is the same note we all use. Now, if you think he won't, or can't do it, then you better see a lawyer."

I heard the protest begin. They were the ones you would expect. I listen for a few minutes then cut everybody off.

"First of a ll, I know you aren't criminals. You are good- hearted people. Unless I can find this woman and bring her home, you are all likely to loose your homes. If your homes aren't enough to satisfy the bill, Ed can go after your cars, your kid's college funds and anything else of value you own. So let's cut to the chase. One or all of you know where to look for Mattie. Somebody better come up with an answer or buy an awfully big tent."

A woman, probably in her thirties, was the first to speak.

"I told my husband not to sign her bond, but he wouldn't listen. If I knew, I would certainly tell you."

"Then you better ask your husband, lady, because it isn't going to make any difference who signed; your house is gone."

"Look, Mattie is related to all of us. It is hard for us to send a bounty hunter after her."

"Fine, then you are going to loose everything. I can only say this, then I am through trying to talk sense to you. She knew what would happen to your homes and property. It was very carefully explain ed to her by Ed. She didn't have that much loyalty to you guys. You do what you think is right."

Mattie's mother rose to her feet.

"Mr. Adams, it would be easier for us if we knew you weren't going to hurt her."

"Ma'am, it is like this. I am not going to use any more force than is necessary to bring her back, but I am going to bring her back if I can find her."

"I believe you. I also believe that she will be caught eventually. By then, my other children's homes will be gone."

She turned from me to the group.

"If any of you know where Mattie is, please tell Mr. Adams. We need to save this family. We can do more for Mattie if she is with us."

"I know," a younger woman said. "She called me to find out how her children were taking her leaving. She is in Puerto Rico."

So much for that. I could never get her on a plane home.

"No she's not. She is in Denver. She called me a couple of days ago," her brother stated.

"No, she is in Canada," swore a younger woman. A sister or sister in law, no doubt.

"Let me get this straight. She has called all of you, and stated she was in a different place?"

They nodded their heads.

}\pard \li720\nowidctlpar\adjustright {\fs24 "Great. Just great. Is one of you the husband?"

"I am," said a meek looking man a couple of years older than me.

"Has she called you?"

"No, but she has called the children. She told them she was in Mexico."

"Okay, forget the calls. Do any of you have any idea at all where she might have gone?"

There were mumbles but no answers.

"She always said she would like to live in New Orleans," said a kid of about nineteen.

"And you are?" I asked.

"Johnny. I'm her nephew. She told me many times she would like to live in New Orleans."

"Well Johnny, do you think she actually went there?"

"Could be. I mean, she wouldn't expect anyone to listen to me."

"You have a good point there, son."

I turned from Johnny to the group at large.

"How often does she call any of you?"

Nobody answered so I went on.

"Did she ever call any of you on a cell phone."

"Sure, she called me," said one of the women. "I list my cell phone number on the answering machine. She called me a couple of weeks ago on it."

"Have you gotten a bill since the call?"

"Why, no."

"Which company is your phone with?"

She gave me the name. I looked up the number a nd dialed it. It took ten minutes but we finally got the billing records. She copied every number of every incoming call. When she penned down the date we found the number that Mattie had called from. For a while it looked as though I were going to ha ve to physically restrain them from calling the number.

I called the operator and found the call wasn't from either of the places she claimed to be hiding, nor was it from New Orleans. The number was actually a coastal North Carolina town.

"Okay, which one of you wants to listen in for a voice on the other end of the line?"

I had half a dozen volunteers. They all decided that her husband would be the best to recognize her voice. I vetoed that one. Her sister listened while I dialed the number.

I expected it to be a pay phone. I wasn't a bit surprised when it turned out to be on a fishing pier in Wilmington.

"Now you know where she is," Johnny said.

"No, kid. I know where she was two weeks ago. The first thing I need for you all to do is forget that phone number. If I don't get her, you guys stand to loose everything. Please don't anybody warn her."

I picked up the phone and called Ed. He was back in his office by that time.

"Ed, I got a lead. It is skimpy but I can follow it up. You are going to have to pick up the tab in advance or I won't even try to find your woman."

He agreed since the tab was only going to be a couple of hundred for the expenses and two more for the loss of business while I chased her down. It would all be deducted from my fee should I find her.

"Ed, send Shirley over with the note before I leave. I will be ready in an hour."

Since that day was a Monday, I wouldn't miss too much bond business. I wrote bonds mostly on the weekends. Friday and Saturday of course , but some even on Sundays. I personally loved it when they did those DWI roadblocks. Our Sheriff was famous nationwide for them. I just loved him.

Shirley, Ed's secretary, brought the note and a check for four hundred bucks. I had used the time waiti ng for her well. I scanned Mattie's picture into the computer and used it to change her hair color several times, then to add glasses and even a scarf. That damned computer had cost me plenty, but it was great for jumpers who tried to hide by altering t heir appearance. It had taken me a year to learn how to use it.

I was armed with twenty-five different versions of Mattie and a check for four hundred bucks when I left the parking lot. Unlike Sam, I drove a ragged old jeep or my Toyota. I had the jeep that day. I wasn't even tempted to go home for either a change of cars or clothes. I kept a gym bag in both vehicles for just that type thing.

Five hours later I pulled into the parking lot of Johnny Mercer's pier in Wilmington. Mercer's was a nice lit tle family fishing pier. It was surrounded by arcades and restaurants. There was even a beer joint on the same block. A parking lot separated it from a motel.

The pier itself had a diner on the land end. After passing through the diner, it was a lon g walk to the end of the pier. I walked it just to make sure Mattie wasn't sitting looking at the ocean. Spreading money around would really be stupid if some waitress said "Sure, she is sitting right out there." That would be about the same time as sh e pocketed my twenty bucks. It was also a couple of hours before the time Mattie had made the call. It would be most likely that the people who might have seen her would be working about the same time.

I killed the two hours working on my tan. I had my eyes closed half asleep when my watch beeped. I looked and found it to be 9:00 P.M. - the time of the previous call. I first went to the diner where the phone was located. There wasn't much of a crowd. It was pretty easy to get the one counter girl to look at the assortment of Mattie pictures.

"Sure, this woman came in for a while. She got change from me a couple of times to use the phone. What did she do anyway?"

"Killed her kids."

The more horrendous the story, the more likely to get a positive response.

"Really?" she asked.

I simply nodded.

"You never know, do you? She looked like such a nice lady."

"They all look nice. So when was the last time she was in?"

"Couple of days ago. You know she didn't come in every night or anything. Maybe three times a week. Had a cup of coffee, used the phone, then walked on the pier for a while."

"I don't suppose you know where she was staying?"

"If I did, would it be worth money?"

"A couple of bucks from the tip line."

"How many is a couple? Do you know?" she asked.

"Twenty, if she is gone. One hundred if she is still there," I said but thought, fat chance. The twenty is all she would ever see.

"Okay, across the street. She was staying there."

I gave her the twenty, then asked, "Any chance she is still there?"

"I don't know. I just saw her go into one of the rooms once."

"Thanks. I'll be back with the rest of your money if she is still there."

I walked across the parking lot to the motel. It was a nice one, even if it was six stories tall. It even had its own parking garage. The desk clerk appeared to be a fag, but I really didn't care.

"Hi there," I said.

"Good evening sir, would you like a room?"

"Sure," I said.

I began to fill out the forms. I couldn't drive back that night anyway. I placed the stack of photos on his desk.

"Is this woman still here?"

The little prick didn't even look at them. "I'm sorry sir, I can't give you that information."

"I need to call the city police then. Could I use your phone?"

"Surely." He looked a little nervous.

"It is simple, son. I call the cops or I bribe you. Either way, I get the information."

"Are you a police officer."

"Next best thing. A bounty hunter with a court order for the return of the little lady."

"God, what did she do?"

"Killed half a dozen gay men. Picked them up in bars then stabbed them. She is some kind of Southern Baptist nut case."

He picked up the photos.

"You're right, she was here. Let me see if she still is. You know, I thought she had a funny look about her. I checked her in. She registered under the name Lavern Lawrence. See, here is her registration card."

He showed me the card. It didn't tell me much except that she was driving a rental car. I wrote the license number in my small notebook. It would help me only if I had a place to look for her.

"I don't suppose you know where she went when she left here?"

"As a matter of fact I do. It is not often that we would have such information. It is just dumb luck that she left some things in the room. She called and we sent them to her at the Winston."

"What or where is the Winston?"

"It is a residential motel. Around here, anything that rents by the month is called a residential motel. She is in room 104. At least, she was a week ago."

I put a twenty on the counter.

"Here you go buy yourself a cup of coffee on me."

"That isn't necessary," he said.

"I know that, but I am on an expense account. You might as well take it. If you don't, I will just steal it anyway."

He laughed and said, "One more thing. If she isn't in her room, try the closest bar. She has a drinking problem."


"She used to hang out at the Palm Room. Came home every night drunk. Usually with a different man each time, a real drunken slut."

"I'll make a note of that." I said it as I left.

"I thought you wanted a room?"

"I think I will stay at the Winston, you know?"

I had included him into the job with just a word. It made him feel important and it cost me nothing.

"Oh yeah, get near the bitch."

"Right. I want to be around close. I want to watch her."

"Makes sense. Of course, I am not supposed to mention your being here."

"Right. You may read about this in the papers next week. Then you can tell all your friends that she stayed here."

I got to Holden Beach at eleven. I had to stop at an all night grocery and tee shirt stand to get directions to the Winston. When I finally drove into the lot, it turned out to be a fisherman's motel. It was late and I needed sleep, so I just checked in. I d idn't ask any questions. I was afraid to ask. If she were still there someone might tip her off. Putting the best face on it, it could be by accident or the clerk could just call and warn her hoping for a few bucks. If that happened while I slept she w ould be miles away.

I had seen a bar in the parking lot of the motel. It was called "The Brass Monkey" . After I dropped off my gym bag, I walked into the bar. I was surprised to see her sitting on a barstool. She didn't appear to have a care in the world. Maybe my luck had changed, I thought.

The bar was pretty much empty that late at night. I walked up to the bar and took a stool a couple of seats away from her. I sat down and ordered a beer. When it came I was pleasantly surprised. The mug was co ld and the beer was like ice water. It was so cold it had almost no taste.

I looked at Mattie in the mirror. She was a trim thing. I have to admit that. She was tall and thin. If she had any breasts at all, they were hidden inside the sloppy shirt sh e wore. If the shirt had hidden her hips I wouldn't have known she was thin. Her hips were about the size of my leg. She had dyed her hair. She looked exactly like the picture I had of her as a redhead. That damned computer had earned enough that nigh t to more than pay for itself.

"Excuse me, miss," I said as I turned to her. "I see your glass is about empty. Would you allow me to buy you a drink?"

"I buy my own drinks, and I choose who I talk to."

At that point I should have just grabbed her. I w ould have had I not been too tired to drive home that night. I knew it would be better if I got her first thing the next morning. I wanted her to be alone when I took her, so I needed to keep her busy.

"No problem. I actually was offering just because I like looking at you. I just hoped to keep you here for a while longer. I have been driving all day to get here. I am a little tired but can't sleep. I came in to unwind. I'm talking too much. I'm sorry."

I shut up, hoping I had made a good impression. I wanted to be just a man looking for something to pass the time."

"Okay, no problem. I still buy my own drinks though."

"Please, buy one more at least. I don't get to see many beautiful women where I come from."

"There are beautiful women everywhere."

"If you say so."

"Okay, I'll bite. Where are you from."\tab

"Montreal, I am the advanced scout for the Canadian "Snow Bird" invasion."

"Oh yeah? Why do you have a southern accent?" she asked cautiously.

"Damn, I thought that was gone by now. I am originally from Dekalb County, Georgia. I've been living up in Canada for a couple of years."

"It takes more than a couple of years to loose that accent. I don't believe you are from Canada. Let me see your driver\rquote s license."

"Okay, you caught me. I am from Guthrie, Georgia. A town of about a thousand people. The Canada thing was just to make me sound more interesting."

She laughed. "Okay, what do you do in Guthrie?"

"Shit, I hate to tell you. I grow soybeans."

"A farmer, just my luck." she laughed.

"Would it help to know I grew five hundred tons last year?"

"Is that a lot?"

"I guess."

"Then it helps. What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be home watering all those beans? Even I know it is the middle of growing season."

"Actually, my daddy owns the farm. Him and my brother Ed are taking care of it. I needed a break, so I just drove off and left them working their little hearts out."

"I know that feeling."

"You a farmer's wife?"

"Not hardly. I just got tired of being anybody's wife."

"My name is Mitch, by the way. What is yours?"

"Lavern. Glad to meet you, Mitch."

"Same here. To tell you the truth Lavern, I left a wife and kid at home. I shouldn't be telling a beautiful girl that, but it kind of bothers me. I mean, she ain't near as pretty as you, but I did marry her."

"Why'd you leave her?" she asked. She was high, but still sober enough to catch what was happening.

"I was eighteen when we got married. I just ain't seen or done enough yet. I guess I should be satisfied with the same old thing day after day. I guess I just wanted to know what I missed. You know?"

"God yes. I been doing the same thing, seems like, everyday of my life."

"I'm going back to her someday. But not just yet."

"Me, I ain't never going back. I done found a new life and I like it."

"Good for you. Maybe I will find one someday."

"You got any money, Mitch?"

"I got a little. Why? Are you a hooker?"

Far from being embarrassed she laughed.

"Hell no. I was thinking how expensive it is to run away. I mean, you can run away for a week or two on a couple hundred bucks. It you really want to run away, you need lots of money."

"I guess I can stay gone about a month," I laughed.

"Last call," the bartender said.

"Hey pardner," I said. "Can I buy a six pack to go?"

"Sure, at two bucks each."

"That's fine. I just ain't quite drunk enough to sleep just yet."

I was careful that it wasn't an invitation to Lavern/Mattie.

"Billy, make it ten."

She turned to me.

"I am enjoying this conversation. Let's take it to the pool. It ain't the ocean, but then again we don't have to drive to get there."

"Billy, you heard the lady," I said.

I took the brown bag and walked to the fenced pool. I found a chaise lounge and sat my worn out ass down in it.

"Hey Lavern, you ever wanted to just get in a car and drive? Don't make no difference where, just drive until you got tired?"

"No, I hate to drive. I don't mind riding though."

"Me, I love to drive. One day I am going to chuck that damned farm and just take off."

"Seems to me you already have."

"I guess that's true enough. Course, I should go back for harvest. I drive the combine for the farm. My daddy, he can't take the long hours and my brother, he is about half useless."

"You know we drank about half the beer. I am a little drunk," she admitted.

"Well hell Lavern, you started sooner than me."

"Don't matter none. I am going skinny dippin'."

"You got to be kidding. What if someone comes along?"

I really didn't mind at all. I was just playing the part of a farm boy. God, women love farm boys.

"So what? I got a couple of kids at home, but I still got a good body."

As if to prove her point, she began to unbutton her over- sized shirt. I watched her closely as the white cotton shirt fell from her shoulders. I saw her standing in the moonlight in a red lacy bra and blue jean shorts. She was a sight to behold. Tall and thin with her body clearly outlined by the moonlight. Then she reached behind herself to unhook her red bra. It too, fell to the concrete apron of the pool. Her breasts were those of a woman who had nursed children. They were a little larger than her frame would have ordinarily indicated. They also sagged some.

"Not too bad, huh?" she asked, cupping one of her breasts.

"Are you kidding, you are wonderful."

I don't know if I meant it or not, but it was the right thing to say.

In one deft move her shorts and panties were gone. She posed for me only a second, then dived into the pool. She was a little drunk but the dive was a thing of beauty. She swam the length of the pool, paused for a few deep breaths, then returned. When she reached the deep end where I sat, she folded her arms onto the edge.

"Well country boy, surely you have done this before?"

I hadn't really planned on things taking that particular turn, but then I had a lot of beer myself. I stood, stripped off my clothes, then jumped into the pool. I lacked her grace, but the clumsy dive got the job done. I am not a great swimmer, but I can avoid d rowning. I managed to make it to the apron of the pool. I rested my arms beside hers. She took off in a backstroke and I watched her beautiful body move along the water. I swam to the shallow end of the pool so that I could rest my feet on the bottom.

Moments later I felt her body pressing against mine from the rear. I imagined I could feel her hard nipples on my back. I turned and kissed her. Since we both had been drinking beer, I could taste nothing. The kiss lasted long enough so that our bodie s began moving against each other.

When she broke the kiss she said, "We need to get inside or they are going to arrest us for more than swimming nude."

I could only nod my agreement.

"Come to my room." she suggested. "I have some cold beer in the frig."

She climbed from the pool and walked to her clothes. I got another marvelous view of her body. Even with the slightly sagging breasts, she had a great body. She struggled into the shirt. She carried the remainder of her clothes in her arms. As I struggled from the pool, she stood watching me ascend into the chilled night air.

"Not the biggest I ever saw, but it should be adequate," she said, watching me try to put my wet skin into the slacks.

I, like her, carried my clothes as I followed her to her room. We drank and talked for another hour. That time the punctuation marks were deep wet kisses.

I was so drunk that by the time we went to bed, sleep was the only thing I could manage. I don't know if she fell asleep with me or not, but I know I was asleep only minutes after I lay down.

The next morning, she made love to me. I know she took her pleasure, but I also know she gave me a great deal. I fell back asleep afterwards. I awoke to find her entering the room with a bag.

"Good morning, sleepy head. I went out for breakfast while you were sleeping. I have biscuits and coffee."

I drank her coffee and ate her biscuits.

After I finished, I said, "Wait here just a minute. I have a present for you. Just let me run to my room for it."

I returned five minutes later with handcuffs. I put them on her. She probably thought it was a kinky game. If she hadn't been fully dressed, it might have been.

I forced her into the car, then drove her all the way to Greenpoint. During the six hour drive, I listened to her call me about every name I had ever heard. I hated to do it, but a deal is a deal. Ed needed to end this right now. So did her family. Even hung over listening to her call me names, I knew it could just as easily have wound up with me running beside her. Sometimes I wish I had waited a couple of more days. Then again, I wonder if I could have brought her in at all after a couple of more days.

Probably not. She was, after all, the best lover I have ever known. Those thoughts haunt me even now.

The end