"I was sorry to hear 'bout Maude," Poppa John said.
"Thanks Poppa, Aunt Maude thought a lot of you." I said.
He shook his head, mumbled something in his native tongue. Exactly what tongue it was nobody really knew. Some said he was Greek, some Portuguese but nobody ever asked.
"So you gonna run the Breeze?" he asked.
"It looks like it, at least until the county forcloses for back taxes," I said with a laugh. "I sure got no better offers at the moment."
"I heard about the leg. I'm sorry about that to." he said.
"Oh that's okay, I was tired of playin' cowboys and Indians anyway." I said with a smile I didn't really feel.
"At least you got a pention. When I had to quite shrimpin' all I got was a kick in the butt." he said.
"You seem to have done all right. I have never been in this place when it wasn't at least half full." I said.
"Full would be better," he complained.
"Poppa, you wouldn't be happy without something to bitch about." I said.
"You gonna' be just like me, now that you got the Breeze to run. You gonna' learn to hate the customers, the employees and the government. Everybody wants to rob you when you the owner." he informed me.
"Now I know why you and Maude got along so well. You thought exactly alike. Maude hated everybody." I laughed.
"Everybody 'cept you. She thought the sun rose and set from your asshole," the swarthy little man said.
"You could have fooled me, I thought she just liked the slave labor." I replied.
"Probly a little of that too," he grinned. "Now finish your breakfast and get back to work. You got a lot to do, if you gonna' get that pile of rubble ready for the tourist."
It was my first day as a resident of Holden Beach. I had visited the beach almost every summer until I was eighteen, but I never lived here. I had come down to do maintainance on the Breeze for Aunt Maude. In the early years it had been no more than keeping the parking lot and the pool clean, but as I got older, I began working on the plumbing and even the electrical services. I had pretty much learned to run the place before I joined the Marines.
Even in the Marines, I took my leave with Aunt Maude. She always had a long list of things for me to do during my visits. Later when I was a cop, I took my vacations at the beach. I helped Maude during the day, but played hard during the nights. I had come to think of the Breeze as my second home.
I was surprised to find that Maude had left the Breeze to me. At the time of her death, I was in rehab for a gunshot wound to the knee. I was as surprised as anyone else when the lawyer called. Maude had left me the Breeze lock stock and tax debt.
Maude hated to pay taxes in the best of times, for some reason she had stopped all together a couple of years before her death. Her estate consisted of the Breeze, a jap Jeep type vehicle, and a twenty thousand dollar county tax bill. The county tax office had agreed to a time payment plan for me. I have no idea why, the Breeze was worth ten times the taxes. They could have tried to foreclose on it. I would have raised the money somehow, but the time payments made it easier for me to keep the Motel.
The Breeze is actually the 'Atlantic Breeze Motel'. All the natives just call it the Breeze. I guess I am enough of a native, I always thought of it as simply the Breeze. The building is a two story concrete block monstrosity, which could only be loved by me and Maude. If it weren't for all the doors, it would look like a prison.
The breeze had forty rooms, that are considered efficiency appartments at the beach. That simply means there is a combination sink, stove, and refrigerator in every unit. The units sleep three comfortabley and four if you use the foam pad stored under the bed. Half the rooms have a double bed, sofa, and sleeping pad. The other half have twin beds, sofa and sleeping pad. Maude said it was because half the guests are families and half are fishermen.
"Fishermen don't really like to sleep two in a bed. If they do, they sure as hell ain't doing much fishin'." she explained.
The building was in need of a coat of paint, but everything else seemed to work. Earlier that morning, I had checked out the place. I returned from breakfast to empty Aunt Maude's apartment. Aunt Maude had two rooms in her apartment. One was a combination living room, kitchen, the other was her bedroom. The large closet was filled with her clothes, which my mother had insisted I throw away. The order was explicit, I was not to give them to the good will or anything of the sort. Her Jewelry and family pictures were to be saved for mom. I didn't even try to explain that I was the one to make the decissions about what went to who. With my mother the only thing to do was say yes ma'am. It was also best if you did exactly as she said.
By noon, I had the apartment emptied as directed. I also had the moldy food thrown away. All the windows were open, hoping to clear the smells from the place. I was deep into looking out her kitchen window at the traffic on the beach road, when the door bell rang. I was startled by the sound, especially since I didn't have the sign turned on.
The apartment door opened to the rear of the front desk. When I opened it I saw an old black woman standing across the desk. "Lucy?' I asked.
"Now just who the hell were you expecting?" she said with a laugh.
"How the hell did you know I was here?" I asked.
"You know old Poppa called me as soon as you left the restaurant. It took me this long to get these old bones to move." she said.
"Lucy, I swear it is good to see you. How have you been?" I asked as I limped around the desk.
"I been just fine. Don't look like you been doin' too good." she said.
I looked down at my knee. "Yeah well don't try to stop a .45 slug with your knee." I advised.
She nodded. "I reckon you gonna' be openin' up the Breeze agin."
"Yep, I don't suppose you are lookin' for a job?" I asked. It was too much to hope that Lucy would come out of retirement.
"Not me, I don't ever want to see the inside of them rooms agin. I does have a neice who needs a job." she said. "She's got entirely too much time on her hands. Do her good to get away from the trash she's hangin out with."
"I don't know Lucy," I said.
"You listen to me, you no account white trash. If I tells you I got a neice needs a job, you better hire her. You ain't gonna find no more honest girl on this beach. She got her troubles but she's a hard worker and she don't steal. You can't say that about many people." she ranted good naturedly.
"I see you still got your respect for me." I said.
"How can I respect a man I seen laying in his own puke." she said with a laugh.
"That was just once in twenty years," I informed her.
"Your Aunt Maude woulda killed you, if'n I told her. So you gonna hire my neice or not." she asked.
"She ain't doin drugs is she?" I asked.
"Hell no, I'd kill her myself she be messin with that stuff. No she just a little mixed up the same as others. A little hard work will streighten her right out."
Okay,if I can get some business, I sure will." I said.
"You gonna' get the business all right. Everybody around here wants to help you. Why don't you stop in to see some of the other motel owners. They be more than happy to send you their overflow." she said.
"You know Lucy, I am surprised. You can turn off that jive talk faster than anybody I know." I said.
"I just talk that trash, when I want to make damned sure you white folks listen to me," she laughed.
"Send your Neice by tomarrow, maybe I can use her on the weekends." I said not having much hope that I could.
"Don't worry Mister Johnny, you gonna need her." she said turning to leave. "If'n she don't do good you jest call me. I can still whoop her little tail."
"Take care of yourself Lucy," I said as she closed the door. Lucy had been with my Aunt when I first began coming to the Breeze.
I returned to my cleaning. I stopped around three to go through the rooms again. That time I made a list of which rooms had what funishings. I tried to call Poppa John's to order takeout. That's when I realized, I hadn't had the phone reconnected. It was too late to do it that day, so I locked the door and drove to Poppa John's.
Poppa John sold breakfast, burgers and a hell of a fish sandwich. Poppa was about the only man I trusted to filet a fish. When he cut one, there were absolutely no bones. I loved his fish sandwiches because the fish actually came from the ocean, not the freezer. Poppa also made a cornbread roll which enclosed the fish. I had never even heard of one anywhere else. The fried fish was placed under a patch of shredded lettuce, then topped with a wine vinegar dressing which was his secret. People drove down from Wilmington regualarly for the sandwiches. It was nothing to see a dozen white bags of take out sandwiches sitting on the counter. Poppa was making a killing on the restaurant and everyone knew it.
Even though there was a ton of money laying around in the beatup old cash register, there was never a robbery. It would have been a foolish thing for anyone to do. The Holden Beach Police Department practically had a permenant booth assigned to it. If there wasn't at least one car in the parking lot at any given time, there was sure to be a major crime somewhere on the strip.
Even without the Holden Beach PD, there were a dozen Wilmington Police detectives that hung out in Poppa Johns. Supposedly they were off duty, but I had my doubts. Poppa had sworn to take the cornbread roll and wine vinegar dressing reciepes to the grave with him. The cops hung around to make sure it wouldn't be during their lifetimes. If anyone so much as raised his voice at Poppa, he was likely to be looking down the barrel of at least six police automatics. If a fire fight ever broke out in his restaurant, there were likely to be three cops shot by other cops so thick were they.
I ordered two of the fish sandwiches to go. I sat at the bar drinking a glass of iced tea while I waited. "Johnny, is that you?" a female voice asked.
"Yes ma'am, I said turning to see who was speaking to me. I saw the woman standing about four feet away.
"I heard you were coming back, but nobody said when." the skinny blonde woman said.
"Ruth?" I asked.
"That's right, don't tell me forgot me already?" she asked.
"Actually, I hardly recognized you without the uniform. God you are gorgeous in real clothes." I said.
"I know, everyone looks like a blimp in those polyester pants. So when did you get back?" she asked.
"I rolled in before sunrise this morning." I answered.
"Well bring your sorry ass over and meet my new partner," she ordered.
"Okay, but I'm waiting for a take out. I will say hello though."
When I arrived at the cop booth, Ruth introduced me to a man in plain clothes. I would have spotted him as a cop, even if she hadn't told me. His name was Eddie Lawson.
"Hi Eddie, good to meet you," I said extending my hand.
"So you are Johnny Sims, I have sure heard a lot about you." he said.
"How so, I'm not really from around here." I said.
"Ruth told me all about you. How did it go, hell raiser marine, hell raiser cop, so what's it going to be this time?' he asked.
"Well I'm not a cop any more, I sure as hell ain't a marine, and I'm not in shape to be a hell raiser of any kind. I guess I am going to be an old man." I said with a laugh.
"Don't let him kid you Eddie, if Johnny is back, hell is bound to follow," she said with a grin. "They better lock up the booze and the virgins."
"You know that isn't true. I hardly drink at all and I hate virgins." I said with a grin.
"Are you kidding," Eddie said. "I heard you would do a snake if it held still."
"Ruth, what have you been telling these guys?" I asked.
"Honest Johnny I didn't tell them nothin'." she said with a chuckle.
I saw Poppa motion me to the counter. "Well, you guys keep it quiet. Us businessmen like a quiet town," I said as I limped to the counter.
As I paid the bill, I heard Ruth's version of how I got shot. "He was backing up a rookie cop on New Year's eve. He shouldn't have been there, homicide detectives don't back up bar fight calls. Anyway the rookie walked in on a drunk with a .45 colt. The kid was about to shoot the drunk, when Johnny walks up and takes the gun away from the kid. The colt went off somehow and the slug caught him in the leg."
Her version was close enough to the truth, so I didn't correct her. Actually the drunk was trying to shoot the frozen rookie. I pulled the gun down but it went off. The rookie got a merit badge and I got retired. A pretty good trade, since I was burnt out anyway.
I was in the parking lot when I heard her call my name again. "Ruth, I don't want to let this fish get cold." I said turning to her.
"Are you going to reopen Maude's game?" she asked.
"I don't know. Is it going to be a problem?' I asked.
"Are you kidding, this place has been dull as hell since Maude died. Just let me know if you are going to open it. I want to be invited. Hell, we can play even if you don't open the game."
"You know, I never would have gone out with you, if I had known you were one of those broads who kiss and tell." I said.
"Sure you would, like you said, 'I always wanted to screw a cop. After all, turn about is fair play.'."
"Ruth you are a real piece of work," I said.
"Hey, I calls em like I sees em," she said.
"If not that, at least like you want to see them," I said. I paused then added, "After tomorrow, I will at least have the coffee on. Stop by anytime."
"You can bet I will," she said turning back to the restaurant.
I returned to the Breeze. I ate alone, then sat listening to the radio. I didn't have the cable hooked up so TV was out of the question. I could have gotten Wilmington without cable but I had no antenna. I added cable to my list of calls for the next day, that is if I got a phone by then.
The bell rang around eleven. It was strange to hear the bell, especially on a Monday night. I opened the apartment door, then looked through the safety glass window. Maude had it installed after her one and only robbery.
"Yes," I said into the small opening.
"You got a room for rent?" he asked.
"Sure, I have a Motel full of rooms. How many in your party?" I asked.
"Three, we're down for the fishing. How is it?" he asked.
"I got no idea, I just got down myself. Do you want a room with a double bed or one with twins?" I asked.
"Twins, where's Maude?" he asked.
"Maude passed away a few months ago. I'm her nephew Johnny. I kind of took over for her."
"Too bad about Maude, she was a pistol. So which room you puttin us in?" he asked
"You got a prefference?" I asked.
"Something on the back," he replied.
"Take twenty five then, it's in the middle on the back. The traffic noise shouldn't bother you there." I said.
I checked his registration card carefully, before I gave him the key. "How long you going to be staying?" I asked.
"Just till Friday, You still have that weekday discount don't you." he asked.
"Two hundred bucks for the week. If you are out by ten on Friday." I replied.
"That's the one. Here's my Visa," he said handing it to me.
"Shit another thing I need to do," I thought to myself. I took the card then made the impression. I knew I could take the reciept to the bank. If his card was good, I could get the money. Maude did enough business with the local bank, so that they would check the card for her on the phone. I supposed I could work out the same arrangement.
When I returned to the apartment, I made another entry on my things to do list. I got to bed around midnight. Nobody else rang my bell.
I ordered the phone from Poppa Johns pay phone. It was up and running by noon. I made all the calls on my list, plus a lot more. I called all the big time motels in the area. I simply informed them that the Breeze was open again. The implication was simple, Maude's arrangement held. Anyone they sent to me, got them a ten dollar bill, sent directly to the desk clerk.
The clerk would call me from a motel to make sure I had a vacancy. Actually he was giving me his name, so that I could send him his commission. If the people showed I called to confirm. If not, I called later that evening to tell him he had a no show. The system was based on trust. Since no one else gave them anything, winning their trust was simple.
During the week, I picked up two more fishing parties. I was a little surprised but it was a pleasant surprise. Friday night I got six couples from the referral system. I was glad to see Tish, the neice show up on Saturday. I put her right to work. Shortly after noon, she finished changing the rooms. I got a chance to really talk to her. She promised to find me another girl for the days she didn't want to work. She was actually a student at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. She was in the school of nursing.
I had all but stopped going out for meals. I was needed at the motel to answer questions for the guest. I was sick of the motel business in just one week. Fortunately, I got a call on Sunday.
"Uncle Johnny," the voice said. "It's me Lil, you know Bills daughter."
"Sure Lil," it took me a minute to place her. "So what can I do for you?"
"Mama said, you would be ready to hire some summer help by now." she informed me.
Her mother, my cousin, knew me pretty well. Everyone knew I would be bored with the motel before a week had passed. "Actually I was thinking about hiring someone. What do you have in mind?"
"School is out next month, I was hoping I could come work for you." she said.
"What did you have in mind? I mean pay wise." I asked.
"Daddy said to ask for a room and five dollars an hour." she said hopefully.
"I can do that, as long as you understand it won't be a fourty hour week. Before I agree how old are you?" I asked.
"The hours are fine, I can work as much or as little as you like." she said.
"How old are you honey?" I asked pointedly.
"Eighteen, I'm going to college in the fall." she said.
"This is okay with your dad?' I asked.
"It is now. Mama talked to him. I think he is a little worried about me being on my own, but he is okay with it." she said.
He was probably more worried about her being around me. I didn't have a real good reputation with women. Bill knew I wouldn't touch his daughter but he also knew there were likely to be women in and out of the place at anytime. "Put your dad on the phone," I ordered.
Bill and I talked for a few mintues. He asked that I keep an eye on his daughter. He assured me he wanted her back in the same condition as when she left. I promised I wouldn't let anybody near her. I explained the place would be like a convent. Bill actually laughed, something he seldom did.
During the next week, I made some repairs around the place and rented a few apartments to fishermen or families taking advantage of the off season rates. The big rate hike came toward the end of May only a couple of weeks away. I managed to slip away to Poppa Johns less frequently, as I began preparing the Breeze for the summer crowds I hoped would come.
On that Friday over breakfast, Poppa asked, "So Johnny, when you gonna' start the game?"
"I don't know Poppa, I'm pretty busy right now. I guess in a couple of weeks." I answered, not at all sure that I would start it again.
"You better hurry, my wife is threatening to leave me. She says, we together too much these days." he laughed as he turned to curse the cooks. He cursed them playfully in english, but when he got pissed, he cursed them in his strange language.
Back at the motel, I went into room thirty one. In the motel there was only one room numbered in the thirties. The room was above the office and my apartment.. The room was twice the size of the normal motel rooms. When I unlocked the door, the stench of stale beer and cigarette smoke hung heavy in the air. I had been avoiding the room for two weeks. It was the only room in the motel, I had not checked out.
Room thirty one was occupied only during the weekdays. It was never open from Friday till Monday nights. During those nights Maude decided everyone should be with his or her family. Room thirty one was an illegal bar and gambling club. You couldn't just walk into room thirty one, you had to call ahead and be invited. Aunt Maude ran room thirty one as an exclusive club for the business owners and their guest.
The convience store type cooler held only beer and cokes. No liquor was allowed in room thirty one. The beer sold for two bucks a can, on the honor system. You got the beer and dropped the money in an empty gallon mayonaise jar. The only game allowed at the large round green felt table was five card stud. There were usually too many players for anything fancy.
I found Maude's box fan in the closet of the room, along with the black wooden box of poker chips. I plugged the fan into the wall socket, then sat it in the door. The exhausted air would have knocked anyone passing by for a loop. Fortunately, the balcony in front of room thirty one didn't connect to the main building. The office and room thirty one sat perpendicular to the main building.
I turned on the cooler, then left the room. The cooler and the fan were both running full blast as I returned to the office. I remembered my younger days at the beach. I had lost a lot of money in room thirty one, until Maude taught me to play five card stud. I contined to loose money for a couple of more summers, but not as much or as fast. Somehow when I was seventeen her rules took hold in my mind. I stopped loosing to the other players. Form that time until I owned the Breeze, I never lost again. I don't mean I never lost a hand, and I don't mean I didn't have a bad night occassionally. Hell some nights the laws of average and logic just fly out the window. What I mean is that I never lost over a weeks time. I also learned to recognize the nights when even God couldn't beat the odds. When those nights came, I had the courage to cut my losses and wait for another day.
In Maude's game it was perfectly fine to quite, even if you were winning. I would often sit on a bar stool and watch as some lousy player took pot after pot. Sometimes it just wasn't your night.
As always, I was amazed at how quickly word spread through the small village. If you forget about the tourist, the town had a population of less than five thousand. I began recieving calls about room thirty one within a day of talking to Poppa John. The local police chief came to see me on Sunday. He waited until the weekend checkouts were finished before he approached me. He knew that his job as well as mine depended on the tourist. He didn't want them to overhear our conversation.
"Johnny, I hear you are going to reopen the game." he stated.
It was funny people around town either called it the 'game' or room thirty one. Sometimes both were used.
"I was thinking about it." I stated, neither asking permission nor offering any information.
"Just in case you didn't know, Maude and I had an understanding about the game." I expected a bribe solicitation next. "I allowed her to run the game, as long as there was no trouble. If I get one call to this place because of the game, I will close it." he said.
"I understand," I said.
"Also Johnny, these guys need to work their own businesses over the weekends. No Friday or Saturday night games." he said. I nodded. "The very most important rule is no tourist allowed in room thirty one. If you break that rule, I will personally whip your ass."
"Now chief, we need to have an understanding. The game will not operate Friday Saturday or Sunday nights. I will personally take care of any trouble here, but there has never been any trouble at the game. I will not allow tourist to play here, nor will I allow them to know what goes on in room thirty one, but if you decide to whip my ass, you better bring a lot of help." I said it with a smile. I really didn't care whether he allowed the game or not. I could get by without the money it brought in.
"I heard you were a bad ass. Well let me tell you, the only reason I'm letting you open the game, is that the businessmen around here want it. I figure, if you run it like your Aunt did, I won't have any trouble. If you fuck up, I will put your ass in jail."
"That's fair,' I said to calm him down.
He suddenly smiled, you will let me know when you open. I like a game of cards once in a while myself. Besides, I figure I can own this place by the time I retire."
"You just might, but I don't think you would like it." I said grinning. I looked forward to winning his police car or at least his badge.
On Monday, I called the beer distributor in Wilmington. I explained who I was, he remembered me from the game. I explained that I would like to buy some beer. He knew instantly that the game was going to be starting up again.
"Just tell me what you want," he said.
"To be honest Frank, I don't know what I want. Why don't you just send someone who is familiar with Maude's game over. He can just stock the cooler and give me a bill."
"No problem but we don't write bills for this kind of thing. It is strickly c.o.d." he said.
"No problem, but you have to come over one night so I can get it back." I laughed.
"If you play like you did when you were a kid, I'll own the Breeze." he said. It was strange how they remembered that I was a lousy poker player as a kid, but forgot how much of their money I had taken sense. Selective memory was a wonderful thing.
I personally cleaned and deodorized the carpet that afternoon. The place smelled a lot better before I went to bed. I was awakened by an early morning fisherman. His party needed a room. There was only two more weeks of the two hundred buck a week specials. There would still be an all weekday special but the price would go to three hundred. At three it was still a bargain for three or four people.
People began to check in and out regularly now. The house still wasn't more than half filled but it was enough to pay the tax lean. I was feeling pretty good about the upcoming season. Word about the game had swept the beach. I was getting twice as many calls about the game than I was about rooms. I decided to start the game as soon as Lil arrived. I actually was sorry I had hired her. I would never be able to keep the game's existance from her. If she was even a little pissed, she would tell her dad. Then I would have a family fight on my hands.
The Monday, of the week Lil was to arrive, Tish talked me into having the motel painted. Her art class needed a place to paint a mural. She knew I needed the building painted, so the two seemed a perfect match. I allowed her to bring a pimply faced kid over with the sketches. His idea was to paint the front as if people were at the beach. The second floor would be the ocean and the sky. He had no plans to paint the rear or the sides of the building. I told him thanks but no thanks.
We haggled and negotiated until I realized how desperate he was to paint something. I found out it would be his summer school grade. The project would comprise kind of a master's thesis. I had him by the short hairs, since no one in Wilmington would allow him to paint on their building.
"Tell you what kid," I suggested. "You spray the sides and rear with that sky blue paint, then toss in a couple of clouds on the top floor of the sides and rear, and I will allow you to paint anything you want on the front."
"You pay for pressure washing the building to get rid of the loose paint, then pay for the materials and you got a deal." he said.
"What kind of money we talkin'?" I asked.
No more than five bills. "I can shoot the rear and sides in a couple of days, but I am not going to paint the trim." he declared.
"Sure you are kid. If you don't paint the trim, then I am going to have it painted red, just to fuck up your master piece."
"Damn you are a hard man," the kid with a face like a pepperoni pizza said.
The kid arranged the pressure wash for that very afternoon. By five I had a building that looked a lot like the surface of the moon. I also had two bills in my hand. One was for a hundred and seventy five bucks for the wash. The other was for two hundred and fifty bucks for paint. Tuesday morning the kid showed up at eight. He brought a couple of flunkies and a paint spattered van.
They taped downstairs windows until noon. After their lunch break at Poppa Johns, where I opened an account for them, they began shooting the downstairs. I didn't even look at the job until six when they had gone. The downstairs of the back and the lower half of each side was a sky blue color. I mean everything was the same color, I had expected it but it was still a shock. The next morning they began on the upper parts of the building. I heard the hum of their compressor and the clanking of aluminum ladders all day. I didn't leave the office.
After I saw their van leave the parking lot, I walked around the bulding. It was hidious. The upper story was a different shade of blue. It looked like crap. I was on the verge of telling them not to return, but a deal is a deal.
The van pulled into the rear again on the third day. I didn't have any idea what further crap they could pull on my poor building, but I left them alone. I paced the office all day, but contained myself. I drove to Poppa John's just to keep from going to the rear of my building,.
"Hey Johnny," Poppa shouted. "You gonna make me rich, if them boys stay a couple more weeks." His laughter told me I was in trouble. I accepted his bill. The nine meals the boys ate ran me almost a hundred and seventy five dollars.
"My god Poppa, you feeding them steak?" I asked playfully.
"No but them kids can put away them fancy burgers. You know the ones I sell to the tourist." he laughed.
I paid up, after all a deals a deal. After my fish sandwich lunch, I returned to the motel. Pimple face was waiting. "Okay Mr. Sims, we are finished with the rear. You want to come take a look?"
"Sure kid," as far as he knew, I had never seen it before. I followed him to the side of the main building. He had on the third day transformed it into a seascape. There were white caps and birds flying between clouds. "Damn kid, you did a fine job on this old wreck."
"Don't sound so surprised Mr. Sims. There are going to be a lot more buildings like this around." he said with obvious pride.
"Kid, seeing this, I have absolutly no doubt about it." I stood marveling at his artistry with a spray gun.
"Mr. Sims, I got a favor to ask. I really hate to do it but I promised the others." he said.
"Okay kid, but I want dinner and a movie first," I said.
"What?" he asked.
"Never mind, what is the favor." I said shaking my head.
"We will be shooting the base coats on the front tomarrow. When we wrap up around five, I won't be having any more help. I would kind of like to take the guys out for pizza and beer. You know as a thank you." he said looking at his paint covered shoes,
"How much?" I asked.
"Sixty bucks should do it," he said.
"Hell kid, you can't have much of a party on sixty bucks." I said handing him a hundred dollars. "Just make sure you are able to work on Monday." I said.
I didn't check anyone into the front that night. I had been checking all the fishermen into the rear, since I didn't think they would mind the paint everywhere.
Bright and early the next morning the three painters began shooting the front of the buildin. I had a front row seat in the office. They actually worked quite well together. First the taped plastic over the windows, then more plastic to the walks. After that it was tape door numbers then spray the hell out of the first floor.. After an expensive lunch on me, it was repeated on the second floor. The bottom of the building was sand brown, the middle sea blue and the top sky blue. The colors ran together. It was a total nightmare. I had seen the final product on the rear, so I wasn't worried.
Lil showed up the next morning. I showed her to her room first thing. I gave her a front room, and time to settle in. She arrive at the office around ten, just as pimple face showed. "Sorry Mr. Sims the party got a little out of hand." he said.
"Are you up to working today?" I asked.
###"Sure, but I don't think I will be able to do more than blend the colors with the spray gun. I'm not steady enough for the brush work yet." he smiled sickly.
"By the way, this is my neice Lil. She is going to be my assistant for the summer. If I'm not here you can leave a message with her." I said.
"Hi," he said extending his paint stained hand. "Bobby Edwards."
"Lil Sims, nice to meet you. Is that really going to be a mural?" she asked.
"Sure just wait, it's going to be beautiful." he said with a shy smile.
The kid backed out of the office, he was embarrassed. I think he was embarrassed by Lil's looks. She had just turned eighteen. She was young and quite beautiful in that soft baby fat way. She was a long way from fat, but her body still carried a very slight puffy look to it. her hair was red, obviously from her mother's side of the family. She was fair skined with big brown eyes. Somewhat uncommon in redheads. The kid was blessed with a great body, that surely didn't come from her anorexic mom.
"So Lil, let me explain how things work," I said. I spent most of the day on Saturday explaining the check in process. I also introduced her to Tish. They almost instantly bonded. Tesh was only a couple of years older than Lil. The two of them rattled on about college, and boys.
"Okay you two, get in the car. I am taking you to lunch," I demanded.
Poppa John's was filled with tourist even though the season didn't officially kick off until the next weekend. Poppa was harrassed and raising hell at everyone in sight. I caught him long enough to introduce him to Tesh and Lil. He smiled at both, then returned to cursing his foreign language. One of the waitresses, brought our food in bags. I showed the girls to the outdoor area reserved for locals. There were three picnic table under a couple of pines in the rear of the restaurant.
"I'll call Poppa this afternoon and set you up an account. I guess I can spring for your meals. That is if you stay away from the tourist menu." I laughed.
"How will I know the tourist menu?' she asked.
"Don't order anything with a fancy name. It is the same food, but without the tourist price. Just order what you would at home." I said with a grin.
"So Tesh, how do you like working for Uncle Johnny?' Lil asked.
"I'll tell you when he isn't around," Tesh said seriously.
"Come on Tesh, it isn't that bad," I suggested.
"I don't want to talk about you with you sitting here," she said with a grin.
"Well, we have to get back anyway," I said hurrying them along.
When we got back to the motel, it looked a little better. Bobby had blended the colors and it looked less like a drunk's nightmare. "God," I said when I saw it.
"Don't worry boss, that Bobby is really talented. You will be proud of it next week." Tesh said.
"I hope you are right. If I saw this place looking like it does now, I would run to another motel as fast as my gimpy old leg would carry me.
Even the few hours until five made a difference. Bobby had added the clouds and waves to the seascape. he had even done some shading to create contours in the sand. It actually looked a little like a real seascape by five. That is if you squinted one eye and stood on one foot.
I left Lil alone for the first time on Sunday, her job for the day was to check out our guest. Mostly it was to accept their keys and wish them a safe trip. While she ran the motel, I drove into Wilmington. I made the stops of the local motels giving them a pep talk and delvering envelopes filled with ten dollar bills.
I was in the motel office by five. I found Lil reading a paperback novel. Some kind of murder mystery. She claimed to have found it in the lost and found box. I wouldn't have been surpirsed, there were plenty of things in it. Most of the items we kept no more than a month. Some which looked valuable, I planned to keep a year or so. I was sitting in my apartment reading the Sunday paper when I heard a female voice ask Lil, "Where is the gimp honey?"
I opened the door to see Ruth standing across the counter. She saw me before I could have closed the door, even if I wanted to close it. "My uncle is resting in his apartment. Could I help you."
"Afraid not honey. You aren't my type. Johnny get you butt out here." she said looking at me.
I stepped from the door. "Don't worry Lil, she is one of the good guys. At least they tell us that. Lil meet Ruth." I said pointing to Ruth.
"Hi," Lil said nervous.
"Hey kid, don't get scared, I'm a cop." Ruth said gently.
"Oh the way you talked I thought you were a longshoreman." Lil said. I broke into laughter. I was joined a moment later by Ruth.
"You have to be related to Johnny. You got that twisted sense of humor." she said. She next turned her attention to me. "Since you got little miss muphet here to take care of the place, you can take me to dinner."
"Ordinarily I would love to, but tonight will be Lil's first night checking in guest. I really have to stay with her."
"Okay, then we send little miss muphet out for chinese. We can all have dinner in your place." she suggested.
One thing about Ruth, she had never taken no for an answer. "Sure why not. Lil would you mind driving into Wilmington?"
"Not if the pig stops calling me little miss muphet." she said. These two were definately not going to get along.
"Okay, now both of you play nice or I'm going to send you home." I said laughing.
"Sorry sweetie," Ruth said to Lil. "Being a wise ass is an occupational hazzard. I will try to play nice."
"Okay, then draw me a map to the chinese restaurant." she suggested.
After Lil left, I asked Ruth, "So what's up?"
"Nothing much, you just pissed the chief off bad." she stated.
"Can you piss him off good?" I asked.
"I don't expect so. He is going to be after your ass." she said.
"I would rather have you after it," I joked.
"That's nice, but I'm serious. If you screw up, he is going to nail you." she said.
"Unfortunately, if he wants to keep his job, he better not fuck with the game. There are too many city councilmen already on the club roles."
"I know, he isn't real happy about that. He would like it better if it were just you and Poppa John."
"Has he got a hard on for Poppa?" I asked.
"Yeah, but he can't touch him either. Everybody loves that old man. Besides he would have a mutany if he tried to close Poppa's." she said.
"I know he don't like wise assed motel owners, but what has he got against Poppa?"
"The chief tried to get Poppa's beer license. Seems one of Poppa's waitresses sold some beer to a customer to take home. One of our rookies told the chief and he arrested the waitress. Poppa was furious. He went to the girl's arraignment with a lawyer. The lawyer demanded that the girl be released since she acted on good faith. If anyone should be arrested it should be the owner, Poppa John. The law was pretty clear that the owner was responsible for his staff's actions."
"Don't tell me the Judge was a friend of Poppa's." I said smiling.
"Worse, he ate in the restaurant every Friday night. I think the thought of missing Poppa's hot shrimp salad turned the case around. The Judge questioned the rookie. When a Judge asks questions, cops get nervous. The rookie was so confused that he admitted he never saw what was in the bag. He actually only heard the girl say six beers comes to twelve dollars plus tax. Then it was well maybe she said six buds."
"Are you sure it wasn't six spuds?" the judge asked. of course the kid wasn't sure anymore. Then the judge asked Poppa if the girls every referred to french fries as spuds. "Sure," Poppa says with a smile. "Case dismissed the judge says."
"I don't see why that would piss off the chief." I said.
"It was the lecture about training rookies that did him in. The judge jumped the chief in open court, then called him to his chambers. He says to the chief, if you got to arrest somebody make it a tourist. Don't you ever clog my court with a horse shit charge like this again."
"So now me and Poppa are on his list?" I asked.
"One and two and I don't know who is on top." Ruth laughed.
"Well if he busts the game, he is going to be lookin' for a job." I said.
"He knows that, but now if you were DWI or had a joint on you, that's another thing. I really came by just to warn you."
"Thanks but I'm so clean I squeek," I said.
"So you never married?' she asked.
"No and I'm not gay." I replied with a laugh.
"I didn't think that, I know better." she said with a secret smile.
During one of my visits to the beach, she and I had been a thing. At the time I had been a patrol officer in my hometown. We had a hell of a two week partgy, but it ended when I left. During my next visit I was informed that she had married a straight john. Some kind of banker or something. Then two years ago Maude informed me they had divorced. Since our time had come and gone, I didn't even call her.
"Do you remember the time we sat on that dune all night. I never talked so much about myself. Women are supposed to listen to men talk." she said wisfully.
"I remember, that was the night before I returned home. It was what six months before you married the straight john." I said catily.
"You can't still hold that against me. After all a girl has to look our for herself. You sure as hell weren't offering to marry me." she said.
"You do have a point there. Then again, I'm still not interested in marriage." I said. "So why the friendly warning.?"
"I'm not interested in marriage either. What I am interested in is a good time. So how about buying a girl a drink?' she said.
"Sure, but tonight I have to stay around to help Lil," I said.
"After we all finish dinner, why don't you and I go up to Thirty one?' she suggested.
"Sure, why not. There is some cold beer up there." I said.
"Good, then there will be some cold beer and a hot broad." she giggled.
Whenever the bell in the office rang, I left Ruth to help Lil. What with the constant interruptions nothing much happened. I did fill a lot of the gaps in Ruth's life story. For instance she told me that she wanted to be the first female Holden Beach chief of police. I figured there was a good possibility, especially since she was already a leutenant at only thirty five. Ruth left shortly after midnight promising to return for the opening of the game.
With my neice pretty well trained in the operation of the motel, I opened the game on Wednesday night. I began my list of calls with the most important people first. I called the mayor on his private line. He was unavailable, but asked to be set for the next Tuesday night. I agreed, then wrote him on the schedule. I allowed only seven players at the game, which did not include me of course. I filled the game with Poppa John and six promenient citizens. As I called, they were allowed to bring either players or non players but I had to know which. Most came alone, some did ask to bring their girlfriends. Only one wanted to bring a player. It was early enough in the scheduling to allow.
I left Lil in charge of the Motel, while I went to play poker with the locals. I opened the room at seven. The players began to arrive around nine. By midnight the table was filled. The game ran until six the next morning. It was tradition, that the game ended at six. When the chips were all cashed, we had three winners of varing degrees and five loosers. Poppa John, I was happy to see was a small winner.
As usual, there were a few good players and a few really awful players. The good ones usually split the lousy player's money. I was one of the good players. That night I won over five hundred dollars.
Aunt Maude had made the rules for the game and I adhered to them even though she was no longer a player. A player could buy in for any amount between one and five hundred dollars. The game was run strickly by table stakes. No one could be forced from a pot because he was short on money. When a player tapped out, he could not buy in again after one hour. It was an imposed cooling off period. The maximum bet was five dollars, but there were no limits on the number of bets. Aunt Maude had never cut a pot, because she was a good poker player. The house player, either Maude or me, either won enough to keep the game going or we carried the game ourselves. This wasn't a casino, it was a friendly game, which is why the cops didn't bother us. Not if they wanted to keep their jobs. On any given night a member of the town council or the mayor was likely to be playing at my table.
Since the game had been closed six months, the number of people wanting to play far exceeded my table size. I was forced to call them to set the games. I knew that in a few weeks, I would have games which ran with less than eight players. I expected that like Maude, there would be nights, I would sit at the bar, drinking beer with Poppa John.
Ruth showed up the next night. Like any cop, she didn't need an invitation. Most of the rookies knew about the game but never came to see it. That is unless their trainers wanted to impress them. I had always expected that some rookie would see Serpico on TV and bust the game, just to be a prick. I wouldn't be at all surprised. Of course he was likely to put the cuffs on a judge.
Ruth hung around till one of the breaks. "So what are you going to do tomarrow?' she asked.
"Probably sleep all day. These games last until sunrise." I informed her.
"Well wake up around six and take me to dinner. I promise, I will be worth the meal?' she winked as she went down the steps.
"Johnny boy, you better watch that one. She has plans for you." Poppa informed me.
"It wouldn't surprise me a bit." I replied.
The second game ended with me a few hundred bucks ahead. Poppa broke about even. I was glad he hadn't lost. He seemed to have mastered the game since my earlier memories of him as a poor player. He and I sat at the bar having our first beers of the night.
"Poppa when did you learn to play poker so well. I remember you as being a less than great player?" I asked.
"Your Aunt Maude gave me lessons on those nights when nobody showed up. She was a really good poker player. I think though, you might be better." he said.
"Nobody was better than Maude. She just got clumbsy playing with you yokels." I laughted.
"Probly some truth in that," he admitted. He stood then walked to the front window. "I see the pimple faced kid is back. When is he going to finish that painting? It looks pretty good to me now."
"I think, about the time Lil goes off to college." I said.
"You probly right, I see them come in and eat together 'bout every day." he said.
"I know, I figure she is safe with him." I said.
"She sure is pretty, I don't know what she sees in that boy. He is always covered in paint." Poppa said.
"I don't know either, but I'm getting one hell of a paint job from it." I laughed.
"People are beginning to use this place as a landmark. I heard one of my girls tell a tourist to go a mile past the funny looking Motel, the fishing pier would be on the left." he laughed.
"Tell me how you do it Poppa? I mean you play cards all night, then go open the restaurant." I asked.
"I don't do much at the restaurant during the week. My wife runs it most of the time now that you opened the game. On weekends I work the hell out if it." he said with a grin.
"Well, I am going to have to run you out. I am not like you, I need some sleep." I said.
"Me too, I guess I'm getting old." he said.
I found Lil asleep on my sofa. I woke her, then sent her home to sleep. She left still dreamy looking. When I checked everything seemed to be running fine, so I lay on the sofa myself. I slept in one and two hour shifts between the check ins.
Lil arrived after lunch to fill in while I got some real sleep. By six I was back at the desk. Things began hopping as we checked in guests steadily until nine. During the first break we had Lil drove to Poppa's for sandwiches. I was actually staring into space when Ruth came into the office. She was mad as a hornet. "I thought you were coming to take me to dinner?" she said.
"I thought you were kidding," I answered, not wanting to admit I had forgotten all about her.
If you thought I was kidding, you are as stupid as you look," she said angrily.
"I'm sorry, how about tomorrow instead," I suggested. I promise I will show up on time and even dressed.
"Okay, but this is your last chance buster. If you don't show tomorrow, I come looking for you with a gun." she said finally smiling.
"Look, why don't I call Poppa's. Lil is down there now getting us a sandwich. I can have her pick up something for you."
"Okay, but afterward you and I are going out. The kid can look after the place for you."
"I try to never argue with a cop," I replied.
"Good policy," she admitted.
I made the call to Poppa's while Ruth stood guard over me. Lil returned a short time after. The three of us ate in my small dining area. Even while we ate, a tourist checked in. The season seemed to have begun in earnest. After the shrimp dinners, Ruth and I left Lil. The kid had the cops number and my beeper. I had bought one, when I thought about leaving Lil alone at night. I made it a habit to never leave her alone after ten. She mostly ran the office while I played cards. She was locked into a bullet proof room, with orders to open the door for no one. The panic button sounded a siren to alert everyone even remotely near the Breeze. I was taking no chances with Lil. Her father would kill me if anything happened to her.
Ruth understood that I had to be home by ten. She didn't much like it but she understood. We didn't even move the cars, we simply walked along the beach to the fishing pier. The night was cool and the ocean was still the ocean, dark and myseterious. We talked as we walked along.
"Johnny, now that you are back for good, do you reckon we could see each other on a regular basis? I mean, we really were a good couple." Ruth said.
"Ruth honey, you know I love you, but you are pushing too hard. Right now I am up to my ass with the Breeze. If things work out between us they do, I just can't drop everything right now to persue you." I tried to make it sound true. Ruth knew the difference.
"Well, I'll tell you what. I am going to stop chasing you. When you find the time call me. If I'm not too busy, I might go out with you." she snapped. She also turned around to walk back to her car. I followed after her but didn't even try to talk to her. It would only have gotten me into more trouble.
Ruth didn't even say goodnight, she just got into her car and drove away. I stood in the parking lot until her tail lights disappeared down highway 421. It didn't matter much to me what she didd. I was just too tired of the crap involved with women. Not that I didn't like to have them around. I just didn't need the involvement. There was a good chance that I would meet a few tourist now that the season had begun. Tourist were a lot less trouble, at least in the romance department. In every other department, they were a pain in the ass.
I sent Lil to her room, while I watched TV. I was the one who checked in guest all night long. I even had to turn a few away. It was indeed a remarkable night for me. I had lost a potential lover and gained a motel full of guests. I wasn't quite sure how I felt about that.
The next morning, I was sure that I was worn completely out. I hadn't been able to sleep for more than half an hour at a time until the motel was filled at four. Lil came to wake me at seven. She asked me if she could bring me anything from Poppa's.
"Go, then you come back and run the place. I have to get some sleep. I was up all night." I said.
"Too bad, you could have stayed with your cop slut. At least if you had done that, you would be in a better mood," she said with a laugh.
"If your father hears you talk like that, I am going to get killed," I said with a smile.
"Don't worry, I don't tell them everything," she said as she walked to the door.
I slept till noon, then relieved Lil on the desk. She wanted to hit the beach. Why shouldn't she, she was young and extremely attractive. I watched her go to her room to change. When she returned she was in one of those tiny little bikini swim suits. I wondered how her father let her buy such a thing. At least she wore a beach jacket for some small sense of decency. That swimsuit sure bordered on indecent.
I didn't mention it since it was really none of my business. Besides I got busy with the motels check in and outs. It was turning into a pretty decent summer considering I just reopened the place. I expected a lot of my income to come from room thirty one, but most of it actually came from the motel.
I thought I had it made for at least the summer. Then it happened, something always happens when you think you have your life in order. The woman who checked in on that hot June night was a real beauty, there was absolutely no doubt about that. If it hadn't been a Friday night I wouldn't have been the one to check her into the motel at least not at midnight. On a weeknight I would have still been playing poker.
I seldom paid any attention to the people who check in but she was definately the exception. First of all she was tall, almost equal to my six feet. She was also honey blonde, no doubt from a bottle. If it was a dye job, it was an expensive one. The give away was her eyes, they were brown, but not quite brown either, some really dark color was about all I could tell for sure. She was thin almost but not quite thin enough to being sickly looking. She might have been unattractively thin, had it not been for the cut of her clothes. She had probably paid as much for her off white silk blouse as I did for all the clothes in my closet. Her tan cotton slacks were similiar in color to those I wore, but the sililiarity ended with the color. Her slacks hung almost straight from her waist to her sandles. She was a truly beatiful woman, at least in the model sense of beautiful.
I checked her in and should have forgotten her but I didn't. Something about her lingered in the room. Maybe it was her perfume or a premonistion, either way something kept her on my mind until I went to sleep at four a.m.
It was Tish who delivered the bad news. She came running into the office. She tried to speak but nothing came from her mouth except a low moan. It was the sound an animal makes when it is hurt bad. "Tish, what is it?" I asked trying to calm her down. She tried to speak but didn't have the air.
I went around the counter and held her against my body. "Come on baby, take a deep breath and tell me what is wrong. I can't fix it unless you tell me." I said.
"Room twenty two, the women in there is covered with blood. I think she is dead." she informed me. Twenty two was on the rear of the building away from the traffic noise. I had picked it for the beautiful blonde.
"You sit here and call an ambulance. I am going to take a look," I said lifting her pass Keys. I hurried to the rear of the building. Climbing the step two at a time took the wind right out of me. It had been too long since I had done any real physical theropy. When I reached the long concrete patio, I walked slowly past the other rooms until I reached twenty two. It was next to the end of the building. When I reached the door, I took a deep breath before I opened twrned the lock. The first view was of the dresser which had several small items spread over it. I turned my head slightly to the right to get a glimpse of the woman spread across the bed. She was covered with a blood stained sheet. I walked slowly to stand beside her. I felt for a pulse knowing in advance there would be none. When I touched her body it was cold and clammy. A sure sign that she was dead and had been for sometime.
While I waited for the ambulance, I took a look at the dresser. I found some change piled on a napkin, a key ring filled with about twenty keys, a small purse which appeared to be closed and a wad of cash. The bills were small but there were several of them. I looked around for her luggage, there was none. The clothes she had worn the night before were piled helter skelter on the floor. One leg of her panty hose dangled from the chair beside her bed.
I took a look in the bathroom, no tooth brush was anywhere to be found. She hadn't spent much time in the bathroom, because she hadn't staked out her claim on it yet. I knew from expierence, women tend to stack bottles of this and that on the vanity. It is like a cat marking her territory. This one was as empty as it had been when she checked in.
I stepped out the door looking for the car she had driven to check into the motel. It sat in the parking space near the stairs. I liked the car, though not as much as I had liked the Lady. I locked the door, tthen returned to the office. While Tesh and I waited for the very slow ambulance, I pulled her registration card. I had noticed her last night but hadn't even looked at the card. She listed her name as Mary Amos, and her address as somewhere in Asheville N.C. Her car was describled as a Chevy Lumina. It was a pretty litttle thing, but I didn't know one car from another. She had given a plate number as required by law. I had to doubt it's authanticity. She had written it without checking. Not to many people know their plate number. Most of them guess at it for the registration form. No sense walking back outside just for the plate number. I like all the other motel owners tended to ignore the law on that one. As long as something was in the space, I was happy.
I finally heard the siren approaching. I walked out to the parking lot to direct the attendants. I expected them to have already called the police. I was correct in my assumption because right behind them came an unmarked car. Naturally the car contained Ruth and Eddie. I motioned the ambulance men to follow me. I led them with their gurney in tow, to the rear steps. Tourists began to look out their windows as we passed. This wasn't going to be real good for business, I just knew.
The attendants checked the woman for a pulse then left the room. It was now a crime scene. "Okay Johnny, what do you know about the woman?" Ruth asked.
"Just this, she checked in last night around midnight. Nothing unusual about her." I said handing Ruth the registration card. "Next thing I know Tesh come to the office to tell me we have a corpse in twenty two."
"Was she alone?" Eddie asked.
"As far as I could tell. She took a single room. From her clothes she looked as though she could afford to pay for a double it she had anyone with her." I replied.
"Unless she didn't want you to know she was with anyone, for some other reason." Ruth suggested. I knew what she was saying and why. The room screamed quickie.
"That could be true, I guess." I answered.
"I'm going to call the SBI crime scene crew," Eddie advised Ruth.
"That should take an hour or more. Let's take a quick look around before we seal this place." Ruth suggested. "Eddie why don't you get the camera. It might be nice to make a few shots before the SBI gets here. You know just to be sure we have some before shots."
"Good idea boss," he said trotting down the long porch.
"Did you hear anything?" Ruth asked me.
"Not a sound, any chance we can keep this quiet. It is going to play hell with business as it is." I said.
"You know we are going to do the best we can. Frankly Johnny this happens once in a while down here. More often in Myrtle Beach or in Wilmington, but still it happens." Ruth said.
"Have you had others like this?" I asked.
"Two last year, this is the first this year." she replied.
"Not the same M.O. I hope?" I asked.
"Who knows, I mean a woman comes to the beach to get laid. In addition she gets killed. Who can say whether it was the same man who did them both. Odds are pretty good that it wasn't." she said.
"Do you think this woman had another room somewhere?" I asked the obvious question.
"Probably, also probably complete with a husband." she replied.
"Surely she wouldn't leave her husband at midnight to get laid. That sounds pretty stupid to me." I commented.
"You don't know Wrightsville Island these days. There is just too much money there these days. The rich yuppies bring the family down for the week or a couple of weeks. Those assholes go home to work during the week leaving mommy and the kids to get into all kinds of trouble. She might even be rich enough to have a house up on shell island. Who knows, but we are sure as hell going to find out."
Eddie returned and began shooting pictures of everything in sight. When he finished Ruth put on her surgical gloves before opening the small purse on the dresser. "Not much in this," she said emptying it onto the formica top of the dresser. "Lipstick, face powder, but nothing else."
"Why would there be, her money and keys are on the dresser," I said.
"How about her driver's license and family pictures?" Eddie asked.
"My guess is she left them either at home or in the car. You did know that was her Chevy outside?" I asked.
"I figured as much, first things first though." Ruth said taking a deep breath. She then walked to the bed. "I just hate doing this." She pulled the sheet from the body of the woman being careful not to disturb anything underneath. The only thing which kept her from being totally naked was a dress of pure blood. She had bled like a slaughtered animal. Since her complete torso was covered, it wasn't going to take a genius to recognize multiple stab wound all over her body. I notice right away that she wasn't wearing a wedding band but had the white mark where one had been. The body had a pair of ear rings and a watch so it looked like she removed the wedding band herself before going out on the town.
"Any body parts missisng?" I asked.
"Doesn't look like it," Ruth answered.
"Don't you think we should ask him to leave?" Eddie suggested.
"Why Eddie, I'm not touching anything. Believe me I know the drill." I said shortly.
"Take it easy Johnny, I know you have a lot at stake here." Ruth said in a calming voice.
"Right," I agreed.
Rather than say any more, Eddie began burning film on the body. I walked onto the porch since there was nothing left for me to see. One of the other guest cornered me.
"What happened?" he asked.
"Can't say, the cops are trying to keep it quiet. May have been a suicide. Did you hear anything last night?" I asked. Ruth overheard my question and came to stand inside the door.
"Just the usual grunting sounds of two people making love," the older woman said. Sounded like they were really going at it."
"Really, did you see the man?" Ruth asked.
"No, I just heard the fucking," the older woman said. She seemed to be enjoying the shock value of her words.
"Didn't you hear the woman scream?" Eddie asked.
"Sure, I heard her scream for about an hour, but it wasn't in pain. At least not the kind you mean." she smiled as she spoke.
"Did you hear the man leave?" I asked. Hell it was my motel.
"Nope, I feel asleep to the sound of the bed banging against the wall. Kind of like old times," she admitted. "You know I wasn't born seventy years old."
"I'll bet you banged a couple of headboards yourself," I said.
"You better believe it sonny, and more than just headboards," she said with a teenager's giggle.
"Ma'am was there anyone with you last night?" Eddie asked.
"Why you think I killed her?" the old lady asked.
"Of course not," Ruth quickly added. "We just thought someone else might have heard the man leave."
"My tight assed daughter is with me but she was sound asleep and snoring before I fell asleep." the old lady added.
"Johnny we are going to have to speak to everyone on this side of the building," Ruth advised me.
"Why not, I'll go down and get their bills ready. I expect to see them about five minutes after you talk to them." I said turning to leave. On the way to the office, I began to think. I should have noticed it there were another car following Mary Amos. The killer might have been in the car or he might have met her later. If so how would he have known which room. I close the switchboard at midnight so she didn't make any calls from the room.
I turned to walk back up the steps. "Ruth," I said. "You might look for a cell phone."
"What makes you think she had a cell phone?" Ruth asked.
"Just a hunch," I replied leaving them standing outside the room. I knew Ruth had either called or was about to call for a canvas squad. In about fifteen minutes the place would be crawling with uniformed cops. A death knell for the weekend.
I was surprised how people had changed. I had only one couple check out that morning. Maybe because every motel in the area was filled or maybe people no longer cared about sleeping beside a murder scene. Either way I was just as happy to avoid the mass exodus.
Tesh was pretty upset but she hung in to finish the rooms.
Lil on the other hand seemed to enjoy the excitement. I don't think the murder was any more to her than a TV type entertainment. Which may have been the way my tourist felt about Mary Amos. I knew from expierence that the cops would take most of the day to clear the crime scene. With that in mind, I left Lil in charge while I went to Poppa's for lunch.
###"Hey Johnny who got iced down at your place?" Poppa asked before I even found a seat.
"A female tourist," I answered. "How about one of those Mexican burgers."
"So who was she?" he asked.
"Poppa you know I can't tell you that, besides I don't really know. Just some tourist who checked in late last night."
Poppa slid the burger along the counter as he spoke again, "You know we had a couple of killing down here last year. I wonder if it was the same man?"
"I don't know anything about the others but this one was pretty bad," I said softly.
"They was too, at least that's what Elmer down a the breakers said," Poppa confided.
"Were they both at the breakers?" I asked.
"Yep, two women cut up bad. Cops never even got a sniff of the killer," Poppa said contemptuously.
"Let's hope they solve this one before the word gets out too far afield. It would be really bad for business if the papers up north carried it." Anywhere outside the beach strip was considered up north. The true direction didn't matter all tourist came from up north.
"You got a point there. Don't want to scare them little money spending tourist away," Poppa laughed. Poppa wandered off to talk to other customers while I finished my burger covered with salza and mustard. I expected heartburn within the hour.
When I returned to the Breeze, I sent Lil to lunch, with instruction to take Tesh with her. I sat more or less alone in the office until three. At that time Ruth and Eddie came into the room. "How did you know about the cell phone?" Eddie demanded.
"Not too hard to figure. The bad guy either came in with her and hid inside her car while she checked in, which wouldn't make much sense, I mean the woman would suspect something if she caught him hiding under the seat Or she called him to meet her. She had to give him the room number at least." I answered.
"But why a cell phone?" Eddie continued.
"Because, I switch off the room phones at midnight. She checked in almost exactly at midnight. She wouldn't have had time to make the call from her room. So who did she call or is that confidential." I asked.
"A pay phone outside the K Mart store in Wilmington." Ruth said. Not much chance anyone noticed him at midnight. We might get lucky and some cop drove by but I doubt it. Our man probably wouldn't have done the woman if he thought somebody might have seen him. Ruth admitted.
"Do you know who she is?" I asked.
"Well she ain't Mary Amos," Eddie said beligerently.
"No kidding sport," I said nastily. Eddie was wearing a little thin about that time.
"Her name is Catherine Peterson. She lives in Winston Salem. She and her husband have a house on Shell Island. We called him an hour or so ago. He will be coming down to identify the body. I wouldn't be surprised if he comes to see you." Ruth said.
"Thanks for the warning Ruth. I would hate to refuse to talk to him just because I didn't know who he was." I said aiming the barb at Eddie.
"So you got any ideas?" Ruth asked.
"A couple, do you want to hear them?" I asked.
"You know I do. My motto has always been steal from the best." she admitted.
"Thanks for that," I said sarcastically. "I expect if you show her picture around the Runner and the Holiday someone in the lounges will recognize her. Maybe you can find out if she had a boyfriend or was just on the make." I suggested.
"That's what I planned to do anyway," Ruth stated.
"If the knife from the lab comes back with a surrated rear edge, you might want to try Mercer's pier. A lot of lonely women walk the pier at night." I suggested.
"You thinking fisherman?" Ruth asked.
"No I'm just thinking, she met him somewhere. If she wasn't cruising the upscale lounges she might have just met someone on the pier. Then again she may have been cruising the Tiki or some other tourist trap." I suggested.
"God you are behind the times. The Tiki is now the Hiwaiian Villa," Ruth said with a smile.
"Tiki had a fire I suppose," I said with a smile of my own.
"You know it," she admitted.
It was the classic joke. When a club owner wanted to remodel his place, a fire broke out. The fires were always in the winter and usually just gutted the interior. Doing little or no structural damage. Even in the winter, the bars couldn't afford to be closed too long.
"My bet is on the Runner or Holiday," Eddie said.
"Which do you think Johnny?" Ruth asked.
"The pier," I answered simply.
"Why?" Ruth pressed.
"She called the K Mart store, not one of the lounges. If he met her in a lounge, it would be suspecious for him to ask her to call a pay phone. My guess is the meeting was set sometime in the afternoon." I said.
"So why didn't she meet him until midnight?" Eddie asked.
"Try this," I suggested. Kate stayed home to make sure her husband wouldn't call. When he hadn't called by eleven, which is probably his normal bedtime she took the chance to leave the house. She didn't have her friend come to the house, just in case hubby showed up. If he had shown and waited for her, she took a walk on the beach to think. The phone number was prearranged leaving me to believe the date was made early in the day. My guess is the woman was not a cruiser."
"She just got sweat talked?" Ruth asked.
"You know how the salt air and pounding surf works on women," I reminded her.
"Only on tourist," she replied icily.
"I meant that," I said.
"We will have to check them all, but your version makes pretty good sense to me. You know Hubby could have done it. He had plenty of time to drive home before we called.
"Could be but why the call and why would she remove her ring to meet her Husband?" I asked.
"I'll ask him when I talk to him." Ruth said. "You know she might have forgot to replace it when she washed dishes last night."
"Could be, but my guess is she has skin under her nails and is full of semen. It won't match up to daddy bear." I guessed.
"The ultra violet revealed some on the sheets," Ruth said.
"I expected that," I replied. "So when can I rent the room again?"
"You really are a cold hearted bastard," Eddie commented.
"That's me sport," I replied.
"Don't call me sport," he said. I Ignored him.
"We are through in there now, but give it till tomarrow night." Ruth said.
"No problem, I don't have any others to rent so I am going to take the night off," I replied.
"Johnny don't go messin' in this," Ruth warned. "I take a dim view of outsiders playing cop."
"Not to worry, I don't want to be a hero," I replied.
"I guess on that note we will be leaving you," Ruth said.
"Ruth have the husband take a look around the house. See if Kate bought anything new since his last trip down." Ruth nodded. She knew the drill.
You don't forget an murder easily, especially one which happens in your motel. The remainder of Saturday was answering questions from the other guest and dodging newswhores. Sunday morning bight and early a rather ugly BMW pulled up outside the office. On Sunday the fishermen start arriving, the man who stepped from the BMW didn't look like a fisherman. I had never seen a fisherman in a thousand dollar suit. I watched as he walked into the office.
"You the owner," he asked nastily.
"Yes sir, can I help you?" I asked knowing I didn't want to hear the answer.
"I think you have done quite enough for me already." he almost screamed. "I am Edward Peterson and I am going to sue your ass off."
I turned cold at his attitude. "Mr. Peterson, I expected you to come asking me what happened. I expected that you would be upset, but why do you want to sue me?" I asked.
"Because you run the kind of place where a stranger can walk into a room, then rape and murder an innocent woman."
"Did the cops tell you it happened that way?" I asked.
"They didn't have to. It couldn't have been any other way." he snapped.
"Mr. Sims, I don't think it happened that way and neither do the police. As a matter of fact I imagine we are both suspects at the moment." I said calmly.
"That's bullshit my wife was raped and murdered. You are just trying to prevent me sueing." he shouted.
"Tell you what, you go get yourself a lawyer and let him take a look at the facts, then if he feels it appropriate let him file his action." I said knowing I had obeyed all the laws and that he couldn't find a lawyer who would take a case he was almost certain to loose.
"I don't need a lawyer, I am a lawyer. I am going down to file the papers tomarrow." he said.
I was quickly loosing my temper. I knew he was hurting but I didn't feel like taking his abuse. On the other hand no one could predict how a jury would see things. "You know what I really want to do is throw your ass out of here but instead I am going to try one more time to reason with you. I checked you wife in legally, the door was not broken, she opened it to the man who killed her. I don't see how you can find any fault with me?" I asked.
"Have you ever lost a key to that room?" he asked.
"I have not," I replied. I knew where he was heading and I didn't like it.
"I understand you took over a couple of months ago. Did you have all the locks changed?" he asked.
"Why should I the place had been vacant for six months?" I replied.
"To prevent this kind of thing from happening." he said. "I am going to hang your ass. As a matter of fact I may just kick the shit out of you right now."
I limped around the counter to face him. I looked him hard in the eyes. "You may sue me and you may wind up owning this place, but you damned sure ain't gonna kick my ass. What you are going to do is get the hell out of my office." I said.
"You will be recieving the paper next week. As a matter of fact, I am going to see that they are served tomarrow." he said as he turned to leave.
"Good, I look forward to the formal apology I am going to demand," I said leaving out the part about his slut wife.
After he had gone, I tried to call Ruth at her office. When I didn't reach her I tried her home. "Hello," she answered.
"Ruth this is Johnny, what the hell did you tell Ed Peterson. He just came over here to tell me I was the cause of his wife being raped and murdered. The son of a bitch is going to sue me."
"You may have to take a number. He threatened Eddie with harrassment, when he asked his wear abouts Friday night. To answer your question we tried to tell him our theory but he didn't want to hear it. His wife was as pure as the driven snow, according to him anyway." she said.
I took a deep breath, then said the words I swore I would never say. "Well it looks like we are going to have to prove his wife met a lover here. To do that to his satisfaction we are going to have to have the man." I said.
"I'm sorry Johnny but there ain't gonna be no we shit. You are a civilian." she informed me.
"One who may loose everything if you don't come up with the killer before he rushes this into court. I figure we got a month but no more." I said.
"You can hire a lawyer and drag this out for years," Ruth suggested.
"I can't afford a lawyer," I said.
"Sure you can, call Bunny," she insisted.
"Just who the hell is Bunny?" I asked.
"My old roommate. You remember Bunny, she roomed with me during the summer while she was in college."
"The ugly kid with the thick glasses and stringy hair. You mean to tell me she is a lawyer now?" I asked.
"You didn't expect her to be a Las Vegas showgirl did you?" she countered.
"Actually, I expected her to be a vet." I laughed.
"Anyway she has and office in Wilmington. I expect she could use the business. You know how those new firms are?" she asked.
"About as poor as a small motel owner, I suspect," I agreed. "If we don't find the guy before the first court date, I will pay her a few bucks to get it continued."
"Good, because we got nothing." Ruth informed me.
"What do you mean you got nothing?' I asked. "There is always something."
"Sure you find us the man and we can match his DNA. Too bad we don't have a DNA data base in this country."
"How about prints?" I asked.
"Thousands of them," she informed me. I should have known that in a motel there would be prints surviving from almost every guest who ever stayed in the room. We even have a rubber glove print."
"God I hope that belongs to Tesh," I said.
"Me too, if our man wore gloves then none of the thousand prints will be his." Ruth suggested.
"Did you get anything on the canvas?' I asked.
"Are you kidding at midnight on Friday, everyone was either sleeping or out drinking. We got nothing but the seventy year old woman's story." Ruth answered.
"How about the clubs and the pier?" I asked.
"No one remembers her at all. Too bad I thought we were on to something with that fisherman idea. I really don't see her as the bar type. Too much chance for that asshole husband of hers to find out. You know how people love to talk." Ruth suggested.
"I'd bet my last dollar she met him somewhere that morning for the first time," I said.
"What makes you think they weren't long time lovers," she asked.
"Call it a hunch based on some pretty thin assumptions," I said not wanting her to laugh at my reasoning.
"Well you have been a hundred percent wrong so far," Ruth admonished.
"Yeah, so I have to be right sometime," I suggested.
"Not you Johnny, you can be wrong a hundred percent of the time. Look at me, you could have been married to me all these years." she said with a chuckle.
"Ruth, please try to find someone who can trace her steps Friday for us," I almost begged.
"We are trying but she has no neighbors up there, at least none who are there now. Before you asked I checked and there were none last week either. Nobody much knows her."
"Did Edward notice anything new around the place?" I asked.
"We didn't get a chance to ask. He got pissed at Eddie and tossed us out." she informed me.
"What did your boy do? Pick his nose?" I asked.
"No Mr. Peterson thought Eddie was implying he might have done his wife. He told us to come back with a warrent, if we wanted to accuse him of anything. We have the Winston Salem police looking into his wearbouts on Friday." she said.
"Have them look for a girlfriend," I suggested.
"Why? do you know something I don't?" Ruth asked.
"Not really, he just strikes me as the type."
"He does at that," Ruth agreed. "A little to outraged you mean?"
"I guess," I admitted. "That and I just don't like him period."
"I know, I didn't think he acted just right either. I expect we are going to have to drive up to Winston to talk to his neighbors. I really hate road trips." she admitted.
"Maybe you can eliminate him from here. If the Winston Salem Police come up with the girlfriend for you."
"You think he was with another woman while his wife was getting herself laid, and murdered?" she asked.
"That's exactly what I think. I really think he is on a guilt trip but not for killing his wife," I admitted.
"I know with a beautiful house up on shell island, why would they go to dump like yours to screw?' she asked with that nasty chuckle again.
"Thanks for the opinion, but I didn't ask for it." I replied. "Why don't you call a tame judge and get a search warrent for the house. There might be something in there to give a clue where she met her killer." I couldn't get over the idea that she had met him while shopping. I don't know why I had it in my mind except that it is what women do at the beach when they aren't sunning themselves. She could have met him on the beach, except shell island is a private community. He wouldn't likely be hanging around the beach up there. Unless he was a resident, in which case why would they bother to come here. Of course he might have his wife and kiddies down, but then why would he kill her. It all pointed to a killer who just picked her as a victem. I had a really bad feeling about the whole thing.
Monday was a pretty routine day until the process server showed up. According to the papers, I had a month to show cause why there should not be a trial. I ignored the papers as best I could. It didn't work too well, I almost lost money in the nightly poker game.
The conversation at the game centered around the dead woman. Everybody had a theory and each was as bad as the other. The one that scared hell out of me, was that last year's two murders were connected to my murder. The reason it scared me was that serial killer are hard as hell to catch. Not only that, every police force in the country tried to deny that they had one until it was shoved down their throat. I sure didn't want to be the one to even mention it. Mainly because it played into the lawsuit's hand. Not too many serial killers seduce their victems. Mostly they target them, then just go kill them. I didn't want it to be a serial killer. I wanted it to be a local man who left a trail a mile and a half wide. Damn I hated who dun its most every cop did. I smiled to myself. I wasn't a cop and didn't even want to be one again.
I slept through a lot of Tuesday. When I awoke I found Lori behind the counter. "Lori it's time we had a talk," I said.
"What about Uncle Johnny?" she asked. She looked a little worried. "You aren't going to send me home because of that murder are you?"
"Not unless you are freightened," I replied.
"I'm not freightened, I am just not talking to strangers," she said seriously.
"That is a good policy anytime, but right now I can't say extra precautions aren't in order. What I wanted to talk to you about is running the Breeze. I'm afraid I have a lot on my mind right now. I may have to take off now and again. I mean even more than I have been."
"So you want me to work more hours?' she asked.
"That wouldn't be fair. You are working more now that I anticipated. I was thinking about getting you some more help. How would you feel about another person helping out around here?" I asked.
"Who did you have in mind?' she asked.
"Actually I didn't have anyone in mind. I thought I might try to pirate somebody from Poppa or one of the other motels." I said.
"How about hiring Bobby, he needs a job," she informed me.
"Bobby who?" I asked.
"Bobby the boy who painted the motel. He needs a job until the fall." she said.
"And he wants to be near you?" I asked.
"That too," she admitted.
"Okay but have him get rid of the paint on his hands and tell him no jeans and tee shirts. He also has to wear socks. Lil one more thing, he is not be within twenty feet of your room." I said seriously.
"I think we can live with those rules," she said posesively.
"So tell him he has the night shift three nights a week and on call all the other nights. Lil, he is not to know what goes on in thirty one." I ordered.
"I don't really know what goes on in thirty one but I have a pretty good idea." she smiled.
"You probably have the wrong idea, but it doesn't matter as long as you don't talk about it to anyone, not even your father." I informed her.
"So are you going to find the murderer?" she asked.
"What in the world makes you think I could find the murderer easier than the cops?" I asked.
Poppa says you are. He told me that the devil couldn't hide from you in hell. You would just reach down there and pull him out by his forked tail." she laughed.
"I think you made that up," I said.
"Oh no, that is the word around here. It seems that Maude told everyone you were a genius." she said smiling at me. "So are you going to find him?"
"No but I may go looking for him," I admitted. "Chances are real good that I won't find him. It's not even fifty fifty that the cops will right now. Their best bet is the tip line. If Kate was trying to hide her movements then they will probably come up with nothing."
"It sounds so hopeless, what do you think you can do?" she asked.
"Nothing, if I had a place to start it would be a lot easier." I admitted.
"You know they ran a color picture of her in the Sunday paper?" Lil asked.
"Yeah I saw it, I even cut it out," I admitted.
"Well Bobby read it because it happened here. Anyway, he thought he had seen her before." Lil said almost shyly.
"Really where?' I asked not really expecting a coincedence like that to mean anything.
"At one of the arts festivals during the spring. You know Bobby is a memeber of the artist league." Lil said proudly.
"That doesn't surprise me at all. The kid is talented. So call Bobby and tell him to get his skinny ass down here. I need to talk to him."
Bobby showed around four, just a couple of hours before I usually opened thrity one. "So Bobby I said before he even got seated. Tell me about Mrs. Peterson," I demanded.
"I'm not real sure it was her, but the woman I met looked a lot like the picture." he admitted.
"So tell me how you met her?" I asked.
"It was at the spring festival by the river. I had a couple of paintings and she was looking for something in particular. I offered to paint it for her but she wasn't interested in commissioning anything. She didn't give me her name but I'm pretty sure it was her," he said.
"So how can you be sure?" I asked.
"I saw her another time at one of the walk through the park exhibit," he said.
"What the hell is the walk through the park?" I asked.
"The city lets local artist set up easles in the park one weekend a month. A bunch of us try to sell a few paintings there. I am pretty sure she came through a couple of months ago. She talked to several of the artist but didn't buy anything." he informed me. "At least I think it was her."
"Bobby are you sure about all this?" I asked.
"Pretty sure," he said.
"Close enough," I said walking away from he and Lil. I went into the office to call Ruth.
###"Ruth, why didn't you tell me Kate Peterson spent most of her time at the beach house?' I asked angrily.
"Because I didn't know that she did. Are you sure?" she asked.
`"Tell you what, get the electric bills for the house. I expect there was a sudden jump either last year or this year. They should have remained pretty consistant over the last few months." I said.
"Give me about an hour and I will call you?" she said. "Better yet, I'll come by the game tonight."
"Well don't keep me in suspense too long. You know I have a lot riding on this investigation." I said.
"Tell you what, just to be on the safe side, I am going to bring Bunny to the game tonight." she informed me.
"That might not be a good idea," I suggested.
"She knows about the game. Everybody who ever lived on this beach knows about it. Don't worry she will be cool." Ruth promised.
"Alright but don't sign me up for anything yet. I still have my money on you. Any word on the warrent to search the house?" I asked.
"If this pans out I will have a lot better chance. Sims is a lawyer you know. Judges don't like to pick on lawyers. If I can show he has withheld material information, I might have a chance.
"You can fill me in tonight at the game." I suggested.
"Right," she said hanging up with saying goodbye.
The game started early since we had enough to fill the table by eight. Nothing like a murder to bring in the business, I thought.
I was able to loose myself in the cards as I had not been able to do the night before. I was up a couple of hundred bucks when Ruth arrived. She had in tow a woman who was rather plain but somehow attractive. Bunny still had her freckels but had lost the thick glasses. She had the bright red hair, I remembered but not the twenty extra pounds. These days she was almost too thin. She dressed well enough to hide her lack of a figure. Bunny would never be a knock out, but she was in her own way attractive. Those days everyone was trying for the starved, urchin look.
I left the game and room thirty one so that Ruth and I could talk. Bunny followed. "So?" I asked Ruth.
"The light bills went up in February and haven't gone down since," Ruth acknowledged. "So how did you know?"
"I found someone who has seen her on a couple of different occassions since February." I admitted.
"So who is this mysterious witness?" Ruth asked.
"Nothing mysterious about him. The kid who painted the motel is an artist. He saw her at a couple of sidewallk shows." I admitted.
"So where is this kid?" Ruth asked.
"I expect he is still in the office fawning over Lil," I said.
"I almost enjoy my job sometimes. I am going down to seperated them so that I can talk to the kid. Am I going to need a crowbar?" Ruth asked.
"If you do, I am going to need a bullet proof vest when my cousin finds out," I said.
"You stay here and tell Bunny all your problems," Ruth suggested mostly to keep me from the interview.
"So Bunny you have certainly changed," I said as Ruth walked away.
"It's called growing up," she said sharply. She paused a minute, before apologising. "I'm sorry Johnny. I can't believe I said that. I didn't mean to infer that you hadn't grown up."
"Of course you did, and rightly so. I mean you come in to see me sitting at a poker table just like it was ten years ago." I answered.
"I have heard a lot about you over the last few years." she admitted.
"Don't believe it. It is all malicious gossip," I said smiling warmly.
"Damn, I must have missed the good parts," she said it with an equally warm smile. "What I heard was flattering."
"In that case it was all true," I said. We talked for a few more minutes before Ruth returned. Bunny proved to be witty and smart as hell. A combination I usually tried to avoid like the plague. Give me a dull, dumb woman everytime.
When Ruth returned it was to inform me that she wasn't sure about Bobby. "He just doesn't seem positive enough." she said.
"Well it seemed like he knew enough to get up looking at the utility bills," I said.
"Yes but it may have been a coincidence," Ruth said.
"Well, I am going back to the game, you do what you want." I turned to Bunny and said, "You come on back to the game anytime, and I may be calling you about the suit. That is if Super Slueth doesn't solve this in a couple of more weeks." It was a lousy crack but I felt lousy.
Tthe game continued until four. After the game Poppa and I sat talking. "So are you going to look for the woman's killer?" he asked.
"I'm going to look, but the cops will be the ones to find him. That is if he is ever found," I replied.
"You don't have much faith that he will be?" Poppa asked.
"Not unless the autopsy reveals he carved his name and address in her ass." I said.
"I think you will find him. You have more to loose than the cops. You know the judge down here he don't know you like he knows me. You just might loose this place." he said.
"It's a possibility, but that is a few weeks off, at least." I replied.
After Poppa left, I went to the office. I woke Bobby up and told him to go home. Just as he reached the door I had a thought. "Bobby, tell me something," I demanded. "Was there any other artist she talked to at those show?" I asked.
"You mean the Peterson woman?' he asked sleepily.
"Yes the Peterson woman," I repeated.
"She seemed real interested in Jake McAllister's work." he said.
"Where can I find this Jake McAllister?" I asked.
"He has a studio downtown, but he might not want to see you. He is a strange cuss." Bobby said.
"In what way?" I asked.
"Jake is a con-artist," he informed me as though I should understand.
"You mean like a swindler?" I asked not quite sure I had it right.
"No like in a man who learned to paint in jail. Quite a few good artist learned to paint while doing time. They called it rehabilitation." Bobby said. "Couple of them like Jake actually had some talent. The others are better copy painters than original artist."
"So what was Jake in for?" I asked.
"I don't know he don't talk about it much," Bobby informed me.
"You go on home and get some real sleep. Come back around six tonight." I ordered.
"Okay, but I am going to have breakfast first," he said as Lil entered the office.
"I'll cover until you get back," I informed Lil.
She nodded as the two of them walked from the office. So what should I do with the information, I wondered. If I gave it to the cops, they wouldn't allow me to sit in on the interview. If I tried to talk to Jake without a badge, he was just as likely to tell me to go piss up a rope. A comprimise seemed in order. I called Ruth at the station.
"What is the word on the search warrent?" I asked.
"Two this afternoon, we are going to surprise Edward Peterson," she said with a laugh.
"So can I come along?' I asked.
"You know better than to even ask," Ruth admonished me.
"What if I give you a hot lead, can I come then?" I asked.
"No but if you withhold evidence the chief will have your ass on a platter, with potatoes." she warned.
"I at least want to be a spectator when you serve the warrent, and I want to go with you when you question my hot lead." I said stubbornly.
"We do have a ride along polocy. I guess you could ride along with me and Eddie," she admitted.
"Do we have to take Eddie?" I asked.
"If you are going to ride along we do," she was adament.
"Okay, pull a rap sheet then come get me," I ordered.
Whose rap sheet do I pull?' she asked.
"One Jake McAllister, he is supposed to be a con artist," I said hoping she didn't know the term either.
"Why would a confidence man be involved in a murder?' she asked.
"Not that kind of con artist. A convict artist, of course he is out now, probably on parole. I just want to know why he was in the joint. If I could do it myself, I might no have even invited you along." I said with a chuckle.
"Sure you would, who else would listen to all this bullshit?" she asked.
"You got a point, how long will it take?" I asked.
"About an hour at Poppa's. You might as well buy my breakfast." she ordered.
"Done," I agreed.
I locked the office fortyfive minutes later. Lil hadn't returned. I found her at Poppa still drinking coffee. "Young lady, you have work to do," I suggested. "And as for you Bobby, you need to be gone in about ten minutes. The cops are on the way and I don't want you around when they show." I said.
"You aren't really mad that I took so long for breakfast are you Uncle Johnny," Lil asked.
"Not at all, no one will be coming to the office for another hour at least, but just the same you need to get back." I watched as Lil paid the bill. Bobby hadn't been paid yet. "Bobby," I called, then motioned him over. I slipped the kid a hundred bucks. I had a good night at the game. "Call this an advance against your wages." I said.
"Thanks," he said. I nodded as he left the restaurant. I waited another thirty minutes for Ruth and Eddie. "You guys are late," I said.
"Computer was down." Ruth explained.
"So what did our bad assed painter do?' I asked.
"Aggrivated assault on a female," she said with a large smile.
"Very interesting," I agreed.
"So how did he know the Sims woman?" Eddie asked.
"For sure he talked to her at a couple of art shows, but I don't know that he really knew her. I know that he talked to her on occassion. I just thought he might be worth a look."
"Everybody is worth a look right now," Ruth admitted. The pressure is beginning to build.
"Is the autopsy report in yet?" I asked.
"By three or I am going to drive to the lab myself," Eddie said angrily.
The waitress came to take our orders. The converstion died until after we had finished eating. "So?" Ruth asked. "What your take on Jake?"
"I never met the man. I kind of wanted a little pull when I talked to him," I admitted.
"You are just an observer, remember?" Eddie reminded me.
"Sure, you don't mind if I suggest questions if you don't ask the right ones?" I asked pleasantly. They both knew it was anything but a pleasent comment.
"You keep your mouth shut period," Eddie said.
"Sure you just remember where the lead came from in the first place," I suggested.
We left after breakfast, them in their squad car and me in my Jap Jeep. We arrived at the Wilmington address around ten. The address turned out to be an old cotton warehouse. That is at least in the eighteen hundreds it had been a cotton warehouse. That day it served as galleries for various artist and other small business people. The city had waved half a dozen residence requirements to allow them to occupy the galleries as homes as well as retail space. We found eight mail boxes for the four floors. The door had an electric secruity lock which gave way quickly under Ruth's lock picks. Entering the public lobby and stairway wasn't an invasion of anyone's privacy she needlessly explained. Jake McAllister occupied one of the third floor lofts. My aching knee wished it had been on the first floor, but I climbed the stairs almost as fast as Ruth. Eddie of course beat us both to the door.
I could just tell he wanted to kick the door. Since we really didn't have any reason to do that, he successfully fought back the urge. Ruth knocked instead. At first there was no answer, she kept pounding until a voice came from inside. "Go away, I'm working." the voice actually sounded sleep drugged to me. Ruth pounded some more, finally Jake came to the door in his underware. "This better be damned important," he said before he recognized the badges. "What the hell do you want?" he asked.
Eddie pushed past him so Ruth and I followed. "Jake McAllister?' Ruth asked in an authoritative voice.
"Yeah so what? I ain't done nothing." he said.
"That's not what your P.O. said. He told me I could bring your ass in for violation if I wanted." Ruth informed him.
"Okay I missed a couple of appointments with her. I have been busy working. You guys should cut an artist a little slack." he suggested.
"You were a con before you were an artist," Eddie said in his nasty tone.
Eddie opened his mouth to speak but Ruth cut him off.### "Do you know this woman?' she asked showing Eddie a photograph of Catherine Peterson."
"Oh no you don't, I had nothing to do with that." he said showing his frieght.
"Then you do know her?' Eddie asked.
"I seen her around a few times this spring. She came to all the shows. I thought she might buy something but she never did. That's all I know about her." Jake said. I think everyone believed him but the questions went on for a long time. Jake hadn't see Kate for a month and then only at the shows in the park.
"Jake if you are lieing to us, you are going to do that time you have left." Eddie said. It looked as though they were finished.
"Jake, tell me something?" I demanded. "We are going to search her house this afternoon. What are you going to say if we come up with your phone number in her address book." It was a bluff but nobody knew it but me. Everybody thought I knew more than I was telling.
"She might have had my number. I gave her a card everytime I saw her." he said.
"Jake, did you ever have lunch with her. I mean they did have a food booth at the park things didn't they?" I asked.
"I might have had a hot dog with her, I really don't know." he said looking guilty as hell.
"One more thing Jake, Kate was into screwing artists. Were you one of them?" I asked.
"Hell no, she was so skinny, it would have been like screwing a man." he said.
"If you weren't give me the names of a couple who were. If you don't these two are going to run you through the mill." I said honestly.
"Man who the hell told you all this about Kate?" he asked.
"We ask the questions," Eddie snapped. "Name some names asshole."
"Okay, Mike Thomas and George Weaver are the only ones I know. There may have been others but those are the only ones who would admit it." he said.
"You know that if they give us your name, we are going to be right back here." Ruth said.
"They won't, like I told you she was too damned skinny and stuck up for me." he said.
Eddie almost followed that one up but Ruth shook her head. It was something to come back at him with at a latter date. "Okay Jake, we will be going now, but don't be surprised if we show up again.
Once we were on the street Ruth said to Eddie, "We need to get him into interrogation. Let's see if we can get anything on him or the others before we wind his ass in,"
We were in the car driving toward the beach when Ruth asked, "How did you know she was screwing the local artists?"
"I didn't, I suspected there was something more than Jake was telling. It was a guess pure and simple." I admitted.
"I don't believe him. He knows something he isn't telling us," Eddie snapped.
"You know at least as much as I do. I am going to be interested in seeing what art works Kate had in her house. I am expecially going to enjoy going through the trash. I would really like to see the last four of five checks she wrote."
"I am finally ahead of you. She wrote only one check on the day of her death. It was to her bank for three hundred and fifty bucks cash. Nothing on the credit card." Ruth stated pleased with herself.
"And how much money did she have when you found the body?" I asked.
"About seventy bucks," she said.
"I'll bet you she wrote the check for cash to buy a painting or sculture," I said.
"That seems pretty reasonable. The big question who did she buy it from?" Eddie asked.
"I don't have a clue, but maybe we can find it in the house. You might want to canvas the galleries and gift shops. She might have bought it from one of them." I suggested.
"So how would that help us?" Ruth asked.
"I think out girl Kate liked a memory to go with her art. If she bought it from a gallery she might have arranged the date to make the memory." I suggested.
"Let's have lunch and talk. We need to kill a couple of hours before the local cops meet us to serve the warrent." Ruth suggested.
"Sure, is Edward still down here?" I asked.
"Strangest thing about that, he left last night. I plan to call him from inside the house." Ruth smiled as she spoke
"You are devious," I said meaning it.
"Remember that the next time you stand me up," she reminded me. Evidently she didn't care that Eddie knew about her affairs, or in this case lack of affairs.
"During lunch we made a lot of wild guesses and some pretty good ones, at least I thought so. After lunch Ruth and I smoked over our iced tea while Eddie glared at us. I kind of enjoyed his discomfort. For anyone else I would have gone outside to smoke.
"So do you think one of her former lovers offed her?" Ruth asked me.
"Do you?" I asked in return.
"Not likely, she was done for the fun of it. It if had been a former lover, he would have done her the first time. Who ever did her got his jolly from the killing not the sex." Ruth guessed.
"I agree but we may be able to establish a pattern, one that will lead us in the right direction." I suggested. "I really wish she had neighbors. There is nothing better than one nosy neighbor."
"I agree, as a matter of fact we are contacting all her neighbors to find out when they last saw her. While we are at it, I think I will ask them a few questions about the boyfriends and of course hubby," Ruth stated.
"Have you heard about Edward's girlfriend situation yet?" I asked.
"The Winston PD is going to look at it for us. That is when they have time. When things stall here, I am going up to talk to his friends." Ruth admitted.
"Things are never going to stall with Johnny leading us down blind alleys," Eddie suggested.
"You really should be nicer to the citizentry, after all we solve most of the cases for you," I said.
"Ruth, I just had a thought, did our boy take anything from her?" I asked as harmlessly as possible.
"You mean like a souveneer?" she said.
"Caught me," I said. "Well did he?"
"Actually we never did find her wedding ring," she admitted. "That is just between you and me."
"Okay, I hate to ask the next question," I said.
"Don't, we are taking this one as a single case. At least for a while. The chief said give it a week then we start running the data base." she said.
"Oh no, not the dreaded data base," I laughed.
"I know, I want to solve this one before we get the FBI and every other person in the country with an initial in here." Ruth said.
"If you don't, you won't be running the investigation." I agreed.
"So what does the search warrent cover?" I asked.
"Any and all evidence which may lead to the identification of her killer." Ruth quoted.
"I suppose her husband's hair brush is high on the list?" I guessed.
"Yes but it isn't like to be of any use. The TV shows have it all wrongd. DNA isn't quite as easy to come by as you might think." she informed me.
"But you did get some good DNA at the crimescene?' I asked.
"I'll let you know when we get the autopsy results this afternoon. We are going to want a blood sample from you by the way," Eddie informed me.
"No problem, why don't you give one too Eddie. She might have been a cop groupie as well as an artist groupie." I said.
"Funny," was his only comment.
Enough time passed so that we drove to the beach house to await the local cops. When they arrived it was in two cars two men to a car. Rather than pay for a lock, Ruth picked the front door lock. "You guys did tell the alarm company we were going into the house?" Ruth asked.
"Sure but they will probably send a car anyway. You can guess how their insurance company will be." the local sargent said.
"Search warrent, anybody home," Ruth shouted again when we were inside the house. "I guess not."
The search lasted three hours and turned up an address book and five painting which looked as though they might have been originals. "Any chance our boy did one of those?' Ruth asked me.
"About fifty fifty, I would guess."
"Me too," she said putting them by the door. "Eddie get a polaroid of those paintings. I think we need to visit a couple of local artists." Ruth suggested.
"How about the address book? Is McAllister in it?" I asked.
"Nope but the two names he gave us are. Along with about half a dozen other local numbers." Ruth said.
"You guys about through?" asked the local sargent.
"Unless Johnny has any suggestions," she said.
"Did you check the Garbage?' I asked.
"Nothing in the garbage cans inside or out. It looks like hubby threw everything away." Eddie said less belligerently.
"Let me think just one more minute before we leave. Kate wasn't expecting to get iced, so she had no reason to hide anything. She might not have wanted hubby to know about the other men. Actually my whole theory depends on it. So is there anything that she might have had laying around that would connect her to an itenerary for Friday?" I asked.
"We are still working on the theory that she had a planned date for midnight?" Ruth asked.
"The only person who believes she checked into a motel for any other reason is that idiot husband of hers." I repeated.
"You know, I write myself notes of things to do, before I leave home. I wonder," Ruth said as she returned to the kitchen. She found the blank notepad in the built in desk drawer. I think maybe I should let the SBI lab take a look at this." she said.
"I can get it done for you right now,' the Wilmington Sargent suggested. Our lab is first rate." he said.
"Then let's do it." Rutth suggested.
I took a good look around before leaving the room. There appeared to be nothing special about the upscale kitchen. "I suppose you looked in the refrigerator?' I asked.
"Sure," Eddie said. Not much in it though.
I opened the door, just to make sure. Sure as hell there was nothing in the refrigerator worth mentioning. I checked the freezer and found it just as empty. I found a box of frozen greenbean and nothing else except Ice trays. I picked up the beans more to handle them than to look at them. I noticed the box end was bent. Probably dropped, I thought. I opened the box anyway. To my surprise the Greenbean box was filled with computer disks. No one was looking, I was tempted to put them back. Instead I said, "Ruth, you might want to take a look at Kate's dinner plans."
"My God, this just gets more and more wierd," she said.
"So what could be on those disks, What was it Kate had to hide in the freezer," she asked.
"Got me but if you can find her computer, we can find out," I suggested.
"There is no computer in the house," the Wilmington sargent advised us. "We have about twenty of them at the station though."
"Okay, I get the point you are curious. Let's go to your station so you can see what we have," Ruth said with a smile.
I followed along behind the Detectives car, which followed one of the Wilminton patrol cars. The drive took about fifteen minutes. It actually took longer to go from the parking lot to the crime lab.
"John," the sargent said to the lab attendant. "We need a little interdepartmental cooperation here."
"Really," the slightly oriental looking man asked.
"Yes we need you to take a look at a couple of things for us." Ruth stated flatly.
"What kind of things," John Woo asked.
"This pad for one thing. I would like to know what the last note said," Ruth suggested.
Woo took the pad to first a desk lampm, then to an ultra violate lamp. "The last message was a grocery list." he said firmly.
"That's strange, there was very little food in the house. What items are on the list?" Ruth asked.
"Let's see, rice, beans, flour and cheeze," he said.
"That is a recipe," Ruth said.
"Could be," Woo admitted. "Hell it could be anything those are just the words on the paper."
"Okay try the disks," Ruth said handing him the six computer disks.
The technician put one of the disks into the computer. I watched as he punched keys ant the screen magically changed for one thing to another. When the thing finally settled down he said. "This one is a word processer program. It is titled, 'Things'."
"Can you open it?" Eddie asked.
" Can try," he said while punching more keys and doing this and that to the computer. "Sorry it has somekind of password program in it. To open it you are going to have to put it in a computer with the same program and then give it the password."
"So we can't get into the file?" Ruth asked.
"I can't but the FBI can," John Woo said. "They have all the hardware and software to crack any code. Woo tried several more disks but could open none of them.
"So what do you think Johnny?" Rutth asked.
"Too much secrecy for a loves list. I hope it is also too many disks to be lovers. My guess it that it is something from her husband's office. It might still be a motive for murder though. Then again she might not have known the disks were in the green beans," I suggested.
"Another question within a question. Don't you have any answers?" Eddie asked.
"Sure either her husband did her or a one night stand. That is my personal opinion." I said.
"All opinions are personal," John Woo said. Everybody turned to look at him. He simply smiled, then turned back to his work.
Outside in the parking lot I said, "Well guys you have lots of leads to follow and I have to get some sleep. Tell me if there is anything else I can do for you."
I returned home to get a few hour sleep before the game. That night at the game Ruth and Bunny both showed but not together. Ruth took me outside for a talk. Things had been popping according to her. The autopsy showed what everyone expected. Catherine Sims died from multiple stab wounds several of which could have been the fatal wound. Her toxicalogy screen showed traces of alcohol but no illegal drugs. The medical examiner did remove samples of semen hair and fibers from her body. She also had skin and blood under her nails. It appeared that she had marked our man. I explained to Ruth that the marks might be on his back. According to the old woman next door, they had a pretty loud sexual encounter before the killer did her.
Ruth left after twenty minutes, I returned to the game. I was up a few bucks but the night was very young. Bunny came to the game around ten. The game had dwendled some but was still going strong. "Do you want to talk to me?" I asked.
"Actually I want to play cards," she said.
"Sit down then, we could use some fresh money in the game," one of the regulars said.
By midnight he was sorry he had said it. She had a good deal of the money on the table. She didn't have mine but she had some of about everyone elses. After two a.m. the came came down to three of us. Bunny, Poppa and me, we all were pretty good players. Poppa was the weakest. When he realized he was overmatched he gave up. He was still a winner but considerably less than he would have been without Bunny in the game.
"Where did you learn to play poker?" He asked her.
"In college, I liked hanging around the boys dorm. That's about all they did." she said with a not so shy smile.
"Well, you learned pretty good," Poppa said moving to sit at the bar.
"Do you really want to play two handed?" I asked.
`"Sure if I win the motel, you won't loose it in court." she said.
"No, but for me the results will be the same." I said.
"I don't know, I doubt Edward Peterson will give you a job. I would though." she said.
"What am I going to do with a law practice?" I asked.
"You can hire me," she said with a grin.
Fortunately it didn't come to that. She quite when she began to loose. She actually won the same amount of times, there just was no money in her pots when she won. I was able to take money from her. Her winnings shrunk to less than two hundred so she quit.
"So you are a better poker player than me. I am still a better lawyer than you." she said with a fake pout.
Everyone else had gone, so she, Poppa and I watched the sun come up. "You know I am going to regret this around three this afternoon," she said.
"I don't doubt that. Most of us can't miss a whole nights sleep. I mean at least not after we reach a certain age." I said.
"What the hell are you talking about. I am at least ten year younger than you." she informed me in a mock huff.
"I guess you are at that," I admitted. "Why don't we all go down to Poppa's for breakfast."
"You know it may be the only way I can get my money back,' he said with a grin.
"You didn't loose anything tonight," I informed him.
"No but I could have shared some of the other's money with you. I guess it was wortth it though. Bunny here is a good player. I would just as soon this be her last game." Poppa said with a smile.
"Not a chance," Bunny replied. "I am going to leave earlier next time."
Each of us drove a different car to the restaurant. The day shift people were all busy prepairing for the days crowd when we arrived. The three of us sat in a booth while the day shift people fixed breakfast for us. Bunny bypassed the eggs and bacon for fruit and cereal. I was not really surprised. I wouldn't be surprised if Bunny dieted continually.
After breakfast Bunny and I walked to the parking lot. "Johnny you may have to start taking this lawsuit thing seriously." she said. "I took a look at your papers last night before I came to the game. You are required to give him the name of your attourney so that a deposition can be arranged. So give me a dollar," she demanded.
"Why should I give you a dollar?' I asked with a smile.
"So that I can represent you," she explained.
"I don't need a lawyer. The cops are going to find out who did it. When they do, Peterson is going to find that Kate opened the door for her attacker." I said.
"In the meantime you have to comply with the court orders. If you don't comply they are going to hold you in contempt."
"I can't afford an attourney, I am going to ignore his whole thing until Ruth breaks this." I said.
"I am going to have to write to the judge requesting a delay until that happens. Look I'll tell you what, You pay me just for the time it takes to write that letter. If it is successful, you shouldn't need me afterward." she suggested.
"So how much to write the letter?' I asked.
"That's not the best way to do this. give me two hundred and I'll let you know when it is gone." she demanded.
"Why so much?" I asked.
"Because Peterson is going to be sending more crap along. Most of it you can ignore but some of it is going to have to be answered. If I am your attourney, he sends it to me and I will decide what you need to answer."
"Okay, but let me know when the two hundred runs out because that will probably be all I can afford." I replied.
"You are a pretty good liar but you are still a liar. I happen to know what you can afford. I did a little checking on you." she admitted.
"Why in the world would you bother doing that?" I asked.
"I always check out men I intend to go out with," she said before quickly turning to walk away.
"You should wait to be asked," I shouted at her.
"You are going to ask so why should I have to rush the checks," she said it with a wide but sleepy smile.
I watched her clear the parking lot before I fired up the Jap Jeep. I drove the short distance to the motel yawning all the way. I was tired and thankful that Lil would be working the day shift so that I could get some sleep. When I arrived I packed Bobby off for home, then wiated for Lil. Once she arrived, I locked myself into my small apartment, and slept. I probably would have slept longer had not the pounding on my door woke me.
"Open up Johnny we have to talk," Ruth said through the door..
I pulled on last nights pants, then staggered to the door. "Take it easy Ruth,' I said. "What the hell is so important you have to wake me up?" I asked.
"God damned Feds, that's what's the matter. They came rolling in right after lunch today. Just too fuck over my case. They pretty much told me to go play in the traffic." she screamed.
"Why are you shouting at me? I had nothing to do with it," I asked.
"Sure you did, you and them god damned computer disks. I sent them to the regional office one day and the next the FBI is taking over my case." she snapped.
"So what was on the tapes?' I asked.
"You don't think the FBI would tell a peon like me do you?" she asked angrily.
"So what's the big deal?" I asked. "Are they looking into the tapes or the murder,"
"Both, they are looking into the murder, but they are also playing somekind of game with the disks." she informed me.
"So they are going after Peterson," I guessed. I would be very pleased to have him as suspect number one, though I doubted him guilty of his wife's murder.
I don't know what they think. All I know is they have taken over the murder investigation, and I am not going to have it. God damn it I am the investigating officer not some FBI clown." Ruth ranted.
"What can you do?" I asked.
"I can take a leave of absence for thirty days. I have the time accumulated and I am going to ask for a stress leave. The chief will be happy to have me gone. Especially after the scene I made at the station." she answered.
"So what are you going to do while on your leave?' I asked not wanting to know the answer.
"Not me but rather we," she said with her first smile of the day. "We are going to find the murderer."
"You obviously have me mistaken for a cop," I said seriously.
"Come on you were one of the best homicide investigators in the state. Let's get this prick," she begged.
"I think I would just as soon see them nail the husband. All I want is to have him drop his lawsuit against me." I admitted.
"Come on Johnny you and I both know it wasn't the hubby. While they try to tie a can to his ass, we can find the real killer," she begged again.
"Why should I waste my time on an investigation we can't finish. The cops have all the manpower and equipment. We would just be running around chasing our own asses." I explained.
"Maybe, but they don't have you," Rutth said.
"And exactly what is that supposed to mean?" I asked.
"Maude and I got drunk together just before I got married. She told me about you. How you know things," Ruth said.
"I don't know things, that was Maude's fantasey." I explained.
"How many homicides did you investigate in Greenpoint?' she asked.
"I have no idea?" I replied.
"Well I called personel up there before I walked out of the station. You did twenty one who dun its. You solved all of them. Nobody goes twenty one for twenty one, not unless they know things the rest of us don't." Ruth exclaimed.
Not true, look how many blind ends I have sent you down so far." I said.
"No you haven't each one of those things we did moved us along to a point where we were headed in the right direction." Ruth stated.
"Well the fibies will come to the same conclusion," I pointed out.
"No they won't. They want it to be Sims. They want to use it as leverage for some reason of their own." she said.
"So you want to solve this one all by yourself, so you can shove it up their collectives asses," I stated the obvious.
"Exactly, so how about it?" she asked.
I am a little nuts. I mean if they pen it on Edward , I get to keep the motel. Okay, you got yourself a deal. But we still need help inside the department. Will Eddie help us from the inside?" I asked.
"Not a chance, he is going to be too busy sucking up to the big shots from the FBI." she said. "I do however have a plan."
I liked the smug smile on her face. "Is it one that will get us jailed?" I asked.
"Only if we get caught." she replied with a smile. "You wait right here. I will be back.'
When she returned she was carrying a brief case. She put it on my metal kitchen table, then removed a laptop computer. It was larger than most of the laptops I had seen. "This mother has everything," she informed me. "Plus I have all the codes and phone numbers to the police and NCIC computers. We can run anything we want to run."
"Do you have copies of those polaroids, the ones of Kate's paintings?' I asked.
"As a matter of fact I do. So who do we talk to first?" she asked.
"No one, we go get a bite to eat, then we come back and open the game. While the game runs we try to think." I said. "First lesson, always think at least two moves ahead."
We spent the next two hours at Poppa's eating and talking. The conversation centered around Kate and her paintings. I wanted to know who the artists were. We had the names of two of them but not the others. I also wanted to know from the artist if they all slept with Kate and if so how many times. It was important information. I hoped to get it easily but I wasn't expecting it to happen.
When we returned to the motel Bobby was waiting. I showed him the polariods. He recognized Michael Thomas and George Weaver right off. It would have been hard not to recognize those two pictures. They were absolute horrors at least in my opinion. Of the other three he recognized only one. He had seen it hanging in the Surfside Gallery on the strand. It had been painted by a black artist name Jerome Edwards. Ruth wrote the name in her book.
"How about the other two bobby?' I asked.
"I don't recognize them. I have no idea who painted them. I sure haven't seen them in any of the local shows. They could be from the gallery. If not the Surfside then maybe one of the others." he admitted.
"So give us the Galery names, all the names," I insisted. He kept Ruth busy writing for another few minutes.
Ruth and I walked toward room thirty one. "Ruth, those galleries should be open until nine. You have two more hours, why don't you go ask some questions." I suggested.
"You are going to play poker while I bust my ass?" she asked indignantly.
"Exactly, I personally have nothing to gain in this. You are going to have to do most of the leg work." I stated emphatically.
She turned witthout a word and stormed away. It the breeze had a concrete drive, she would have laid tire prints she left so fast. As it was she threw up a plume of fine gravel as she pulled from the lot.
I opened the room and waited for my customers to appear. They wandered in over the next three hours. When we finally had enough for a game, we began. I was into the game when Ruth arrived. She sat at the small bar drinking a beer while I played. She was waiting for me to ask and I was waiting for her to demand that I leave the game to listen to her. I outlasted her.
"Would you please take a break so that we can talk," she whispered in my ear.
"Sure," I said aloud. "Gentlemen, I am going to take a walk with this lovely lady. Please continue without me." Since there was no one waiting for a seat,. I left my chips on the table. On the landing over the office Ruth filled me in. She had visiting all the galleries and found only one more artist's name. Timmy Carter, he had painted the sunflower picture.
"Good work," why don't you go down to the apartment and fire up that handy dandy computer of yours. We need the address on all those people. If we aren't too far behind the FBI maybe we can rattle some cages tomorrow." I suggested. "When you get the information, why don't you go home and get some rest. Tomorrow may be a long day for you."
"How about you? Are you going to play all night then try to help me tomorrow?" she asked.
"Yes and no, I am going to play all night and help you some tomorrow. Some of the time you are going to be on your own." I admitted.
"Okay, but just don't leave me hanging out to dry." she pleaded.
"Not a chance, I still have to take you to dinner.' I said with a smile.
After the game, poppa and I sat alone at the bar. "So Johnny, who are you going to be looking at for the woman in your room." he asked.
"I haven't told Ruth this but I don't really have any idea who it might be. The real problem is we haven't been able to find anyone who knew what she was like down here. I know for a fact that she let her killer into the room. I am pretty sure it was the first time she had been with him. The problem is that if it were a tourist, he is long gone. Nobody would know they ever met." I said.
"So it's fifty fifty?" he asked.
"Best I can figure," I said. "So who you going to look at around here?"
"Some local artist. I think Kate was an artist groupie." I admitted.
"So you do have an idea?" he asked.
"Just barely," I said honestly.
"You'll get him. Maude said you could see things no one else could see," he said.
"That's twice I have heard that today. Maude had an active imagination." I said.
"Maude had no imagination," Poppa replied seriously. "Come with me. We go check the sorry help I have at the restaurant. Then we have a good breakfast and go to bed." He paused then added, "But not together." We both laughed.
I got exactly three hours sleep when Ruth barged into the apartment. I hadn't bothered to lock the door. There would be no reason to do so. Ruth would have either picked the lock or banged until I opened it.
She threw open the drapes and shouted, "Get your ass out of bed. We have things to do and people to screw,"
"God you are too damned cheerful,' I said as I staggered to the shower. I didn't even bother to put on my pants. Ruth had seen me naked before. The hot and then cold shower helped me get moving again. The coffee Ruth reheated for me did even more for me.
"Okay, so who do we see first?" I asked.
"How about Jerome Edwards, he has a rap sheet. Nothing violent but he still has a record." Ruth said.
"Anything worth mentioning?' I asked.
"Grand theft auto was the largest and that was ten years ago," she admitted.
"The others must really be clean if he is the worst of the lot," I said.
"Yeah well most who dun it murders are committed by squeeky clean guys," she said.
"So let's go talk to our not so squeeky clean suspect," I suggested.
"You still got that little stainless steel derringer?' she asked.
"Sure," I said.
"Then bring it along. You can never have too many toys or guns," she said with a grin.
I rode with Ruth in her jap econo box, to the house of Jerome Edwards. His house was in a little community called Monkey Junction. Why I had no idea. The house was no more than a run down shack. Jerome was outside working on his old ford when we drove into the drive.
"Jerome Edwards. I am leutenant Miller and this is my partner," I noticed she didn't give him my name. "We have a few questions to ask you about Catherine Peterson."
"I figured you would be around. I guess I expected it when I heard she got iced. I mean I am a black man and she was a white woman. I would naturally be a suspect." he snarled at Ruth.
"Actually, you aren't really a suspect," I countered in a sweet voice. "If we put every artist she slept with ont the list of suspects we wouldn't have room for the others." I said. "What we are looking for is information about her life style."
"What life, all that bitch did was shop and fuck," he said.
"Anybody in paticular?' Ruth asked.
"If you mean steady, I wouldn't know. She came to my exhibit about ten times before she finally bought anything. When she did buy a painting, she came on to me. She was pretty good looking old broad so I made it with her once. She was so good, I tried to tap her again but she told me she only screwed men once. After all she was a married woman." He laughed nastily.
"I hate to do this, but I need the details." I said.
"You want a blow by blow?" he asked with a grin.
"No just how you two set up the date and where you went?' I clearified.
"Weren't no date man, she called me from a Motel when she was ready. Told me where to meet her. I went, we did our thing and she left me there. Just got up and walked away." He said.
"When was this?" Ruth asked.
"Couple of months ago, I saw her a few times at the sidewalk shows but she ignored me. Wouldn't even come in the booth." he said bitterly.
"Show him the last picture," I said to Ruth.
Ruth opened her purse took out the polariod and asked, "Do you know who painted this picture.
"Don't know the dude, but I seen the picture," he said.
"Where did you see it?' I asked.
"At some show or other. It was over in Wilmington, that much I remember. It will come back to me." he said confidently.
Ruth gave him a card. If you remember, call me. Both my numbers are on the card. Don't talk to anyone but me." Ruth admonished him.
"Well the details are right,' Ruth said as we walked away.
"Yep, but it still doesn't tell us who the last one was." I commented.
"It could have been Jerome. He might have gotten pissed because she wouldn't see him again." Ruth said.
"Maybe," I said skeptically.
"I know Kate was all excited about this one. Hardly the actions of a woman frieghtened." Ruth said.
"My thinking exactly. What we need to do is find the last one," I said. "How about we see another one?"
"Timmy Carter lives pretty close, let's give him a try." Ruth suggested.
Timmy lived in an upscale house owned by his parents. When we arrived his mother was the only one home. She didn't seem too happy to see us.
"Why do you want to talk to my son?" she asked.
"One of his painting was found in the house of a murder victem. We would like to get some information about the victem from Timmy. He is not a suspect, we just need to talk to him." Ruth confided woman to woman.
"Then he isn't in any trouble?" the mother asked.
"Of course not, we just need to see if he can point us in the right direction," Ruth said in a soothing voice.
"In that case, he is painting down at the Carolina Beach Marina," she said. "The tourist like boat pictures."
"That seems pretty reasonable to me." Ruth admitted. "So I guess I will just run down there."
"If you miss him I will have him call you," his mother said.
We were about to leave when I asked, "Does Timmy have a cell phone?"
"Yes he does," the mother answered.
"Could you call, just to get his exact location for us?" I asked.
"Sure" she said returning to the house but pointedly not inviting us in.
###"What are you thinking?" Ruth asked in a whisper.
"That mama is going to call him anyway. We might as well find out what the story is before we drive all the way down there."
"Timmy didn't answer, he must have it turned off. I'm sure you will be able to find him without any trouble." the mother said.
"Then we will be running along," I said.
When we cleared the driveway headed toward the beach, I said. "Turn around and go back. Stop where we can see the entrance to the driveway."
"You think the mother lied?" Ruth asked.
"I have a feeling that she did. Unless I miss my guess, Timmy is on his way home to pick up some clothes and money. Then he is going to be making tracks." I said.
"Then he is our man?" she asked.
"Hell, I don't know." I answered honestly.
Twenty minutes passed. Ruth was beginning to doubt me when the small white pickup pulled into the drive. The boy driving couldn't have been much older than Bobby. Ruth allowed him into the drive before she pulled in behind blocking him. The kid was trying to unload his paint kit or Ruth would never have caught him. There was absolutely no chance that could have caught up to him. Not on my gimpy knee.
"What are you doing," Mama shouted from the door.
"I am about to arrest your son." Ruth said.
"Why he hasn't done anything?" she said.
"He just assaulted a police officer." Ruth said turning to me for verification.
"I'm afraid she is right Mrs. Carter. We came to ask Timmy for help and it appears now that he may be a suspect in the Peterson woman's death." I said.
"No," Timmy said. "I don't know anything about that."
"Then why did you run from me?" Ruth asked.
"You scared me that's all." he said.
"Now why would a woman scare you?" Ruth asked.
"Because I," he gave up then.
"Look Timmy we are homicide cops, we don't care if you have a car full of grass. All we want to know is when you last saw Catherine Sims." she said.
"Mom go on back in the house, I can handle this." he said.
Timmy maybe I should call uncle Jim." she said.
"I don't need Uncle Jim. I can handle this, just go on back into the house." he said exasperated. When she had gone Timmy said, "Look I slept with the old lady one time. She bought one of my painting. She said she wanted to talk about it but I knew what she wanted. I didn't mind, I mean she was old but she was rich."
"Where did you meet her for this date," I asked.
"Some Motel in Holden Beach. I was with her about two hours then I left. So help me it is the truth." he said.
"How long ago was that?" Ruth continued.
"A month or six weeks ago." he answered.
Ruth reached into her purse to removed the polaroid. "You ever see this picture before?" she asked.
"No never," he said giving it a good look.
"Whatever you got in that car, get rid of it." Ruth suggested.
When we were again on the road, Ruth asked. "Why do you think he was about to run?"
"The kids a junkie, he was afraid you were going to bust him for dope." I said with a sigh.
"How do you know that?" she asked.
"It's in the eyes." I answered simply with on other explaination.
"Let's try to get through all the known painters today." she suggested.
Mike Thomas lived in an appartment over a garrage downtown. It was a ratty little place and he was a ratty little man. He told the same story as the others. He must have fit somewhere between the two we already knew about. Kate had bought a painting from him in the park. She explained she wanted to talk about it, but he knew what she really wanted. He also had never seen the painting by the unknown artist.
Since neither Ruth not I knew anything about the art world, or Wrightsville Island addresses, it was purely by accident that we had saved George Weaver for last. George was by far the most prosperous of the artist. He lived alone in a condo high above the beach. Unfortunabtely his view was on the inland waterway. That had to take twenty grand off the value of his condo.
He was a much better conversationalist that any of the others. He went into great detail about Kate. Actually a lot more than either Ruth and I wanted to know. After boiling down the story it amounted to the same as the others. He had been with Kate only two weeks before her death. She had bought his painting from the Odesa Gallery in Wilmington. She called him on the phone before she purchased it. After she met and slept with him, she returned to the gallery to buy the painting. That appeared to be the only thing different about her encounter. Even though he had a prefectly good condo, she had insisted they meet at a motel in Holden Beach.
The Holden beach connection kept popping up. I don't know if it nagged at Ruth but it did me. Here were two people who lived no more than two miles apart, but who went to Holden Beach for their tryst. It was at least something for me to consider.
As Ruth drove me home for some much needed sleep, I took the opportunity to ask her, "Tell me about those murders last summer?'
"Why they weren't conneceted to each other or this one. The only thing they have in common is that we didn't solve them." Ruth said reluctantly.
"Then just humor me," I suggested.
"The first one happened in the early summer like this one. They were both women but they were much younger. Neither of them was raped. The first one was a blunt instrument trama and the second was drowned in her motel bathroom. The second one was over two months after the first.
The blunt instrument might have been a quarrel but the bathrub drowning?" I asked.
"I know it was a bit parculiar. The girl was having troubles at home. She came down with a boyfriend for a week. He was on a fishing boat at the time of her death. We never even had a clue. I expect a tourist staying in the motel did her. We were just never able to find the right one. Never could pin down a motive either."
"So what was the motive in the first killing?" I asked.
"I really can't say for sure. Maybe she picked up a man, then decided not to play. Some guys get really pissed when you say no." Ruth informed me.
"Did you find the weapon?' I asked.
"No the M.E. couldn't give us any idea what it might be. Just something reasonably small and metal." she said.
"Like a tire iron?" I suggested.
"I suppose it could have been, or a piece of lead pipe." she admitted.
"Not lead, they don't make that any more, besides the M.E.would have found traces of lead in her scalp. Can you get me the case files on both of them?" I asked.
"Sure they are in the computer, but why?" Ruth asked.
"Three women killed in less than two seasons, strickes me as too much of a coincidence." I replied.
"Don't do this to me Johnny. If you find a link then the FBI is going to toss their serial killer unit on it." she said.
"So what they are already here anyway," I said.
"The unit here is from organized crime. They are here solely to tie a can to Edward Peterson's ass. Those disks had some interesting information on them. I don't know what but the FBI sure as hell knows. All they want to do is tie Edward to his wife's murder so they can turn him. If they have to they will make up the evidence as they go along." she said.
"So we stay with just the evidence we had before they entered the case. Speaking of which, what kind of knife are we looking for?" I asked.
"Long thin, like a fisherman's boning knife. There must be about a million of those at the beach." she answered.
"Is that something an artist might have in his car?" I asked.
"Hell I don't know, why don't we ask your resident artist." Ruth suggested. We had reached the breeze and were siting in the parking lot by that time.
"I will but first I am going back to sleep. Why don't you come by tonight. I might have some more thoughts by then. If you think of anything feel free to follow it up," I said with a smile.
"Gee thanks boss," she said sarcasticly
I left her sitting in the parking lot while I went inside the motel. Lil was behind the counter. "Johnny there was a man here looking for you. I think he was a cop," she said.
"What makes you think that?" I asked.
"He was wearing a suit. Who else would wear a suit at the beach?" she asked. "By the way," she said to my back as I entered the appartment. "He is coming back around five."
"Good then I can get two whole hours sleep," I said as I locked my door. I took a quick shower then crashed. It seemed only seconds later when the pounding bagan. I forced myself from the wide sofa where I slept during the daylight hours. I stuffed my naked body into a pair of cut off cotton slacks and a grease stained white shirt before acknowledging the pounding.
When I opened the door it was to a couple of men in tropical weight blue suits. They looked pretty uncomfortable. They immediately thrusts their ID cards into my face. The slightly heavier, slightly older one spoke. "Martin Evan FBI," he said to my back as he walked into the room.
I didn't even listen as I walked to the refrigerator. I picked up a more or less clean glass from the drainer, into it I dumped several cubes of ice and a few onces of tea from a plastic milk jug provided by Poppa John. The tea was in exchange for a couple of beers I bought him every night. With the iced tea in hand I removed the sheet from the sofa, wadded it into a ball, then tossed it in the corner of the room.
"So what is it I can do for the FBI?" I asked.
"You are the owner of this motel?" Evans asked.
"Me and the county, that is until I repay a tax lein," I said.
"I believe you told the local police you checked a Mrs. Catherine Sims into the Motel last Firday night shortly before Midnight." he said.
"I never told them that," I said.
"Oh, what did you tell them," the slimmer younger agent asked.
"I told them I checked in a Mary Amos, they told me her name was Catherine Sims," I explained patiently.
"You found the body?" the agent asked.
"As I told the police, the maid found the body. I simply went to make sure she hadn't imagined the whole thing." I said.
"Did you really think she would make something like that up?" the older one asked.
"No, but people do get excited." I explained.
"Most anyone would in a slaugter house." The younger one said. "I saw the photographs."
"But you obviously never saw a slaughter house," I said.
"And you have?" he asked.
"More than one, and more than one kind." I answered.
"That's right you were a cop in some little burg inland," the older agent said.
"We say up north down here," I informed him.
"Right," he agreed. "So what are you doing down here?"
"You either know the answer to that or you are too stupid to be heading this investigation. Either asked me something about this investigation or I am going back to sleep." I demanded.
"Try this one, I hear there is some off duty cop running around asking questions. She seems to have a burnt out gimp tagging along." the younger one said.
"Is there a question in there somewhere?" I asked.
"No but there is some advice coming. Stay the hell out of a bureau investigation." the older one said.
"To bad vaudville is dead. You guys would have had a great career. You do a real nice song and dance." I said.
"You think this is funny?' The young one asked as he assumed a threatening possition.
"What I think is that if you try what you are thinking about trying, I am going to whip your ass." I said.
He hesitated before he reached me. "That would get your ass about three years behind bars." he said.
I pointed to the dummy TV camera in the ceiling. "You do remember Rodney King?' I asked.
He saw the dummy camera but didn't know it was a cardboard box. "You really are a piece of work," he said.
"Coming from you, I am going to take that as a compliment." I stated evenly. "Now, you have delivered your message so get the hell out of my house."
"You did know that gambling is illegal?" the older one asked.
"I understand that, I also understand it is not a federal crime unless it crosses state lines. Now like I said, Get out."
They left quietly, before I got the shakes. It always happened immediately after a confrontation. It took me a few minutes to calm down. The first call I made was to Poppa John, then to a couple more of the regulars. I explained I had to lay low till the FBI left the area. Since it was again Friday, I would let them know when I could again open thirty one.
"So Johnny now you pissed off the FBI," Poppa said. "Maybe you should go back to the motel business." he laughed at his own joke.
"Poppa, I should definately go back to the Motel business." I said. When I had completed all the calls, I fell back on the sofa. I slept until Ruth arrived. I hadn't bothered to relock the door, so I awoke to her sitting on the edge of the sofa.
"Hi there, I hear you had company today?" she asked.
"Sure, how about you?" I asked.
The FBI doesn't hassle local cops anymore. It is part of this new kinder gentler FBI shit," she informed me. The chief called me. He told me officially, I shouldn't be wasting my off duty time. Then he told me to watch my ass. I expect he is hoping I will fail. You know the woman after my job jealousy." she said.
"God Ruth, all I asked was did the FBI come to see you. A simple no would have done," I said playfully.
"Prick," she snapped as she went to my refrigerator.
"Nice talk from my partner," I said walking naked to the shower. The shower took all of ten minutes. When I returned it was in cotton slacks and a clean white shirt. "How about you and I go to dinner?" I asked.
"Deal, but not to Poppa's. I want to go to the Denver Steak House," she said.
"Sure but why?" I asked.
"Because, I got Catherines credit card list. She didn't make any purchases on the day of her death but she did pay for a meal at one p.m.," she said smugly.
"Let me guess, she had the giant salad bar at the Denver Steak House," I said.
"She even had soup. My god how that woman could eat." Ruth said with a chuckle.
"We are likely to be eating with the FBI," I said.
"Not really they have already been there. The woman who waited on Catherine told them everything. At least she thought she did. You and I are going to find out whether she did or not." Ruth said with a grin.
"So let's get a move on," I suggested.
"The Denver steakhouse was supposted to be called the Denver Stockyard Restaurant but a market reasearch outfit found that people had a negative reaction to stockyard so it was changed to steakhouse. A bit of usless information I thought I would just throw in free," I said to Ruth as we entered.
"You are just full of useless or next to useless information," she informed me.
Ruth got us seated in the section of the waitress who waited on Kate that last day. The waiterss was named Wanda. Ruth did the introductions as I expected her to.
"I was told not to talk to anyone else," Wanda said.
"They meant reporters," Ruth said simply.
"Oh, I guess that is what they meant." she said.
"I know you told the Agents everything but have you remembered anything since then?' Ruth asked.
"I really haven't had much time to think about it." she stated.
"Well did Mrs Peterson eat here often?" Ruth asked.
"A couple of times a week. She would like go shopping then come in for a salad. I guess you would call her pretty much a regular." she said.
"Did she have packages with her that Friday?' Ruth asked.
"I'm sure she did, she always had packages." Wanda informed us.
"Do you remember the names on any of the bags?" Ruth asked.
"You mean from Friday?" she asked.
"Actually from anytime," Ruth asked.
"Not really but they were all from those fancy little shops at the Mall." Wanda said.
"Then Mrs Peterman shopped at the mall often," I jumped in before Ruth could leave the subject..
"Like I said a couple of times a week," Wanda said.
"You don't happen to remember if she had a large thin packaged. You know something that would have required her to place in a chair?" I asked.
"You mean the painting. Sure I remember it. She told me to be careful not to spill anything on it. She said it was a very valuable painting. I didn't pay any atttention. I couldn't have spilled anything on it anyway. She had it pulled back from the table. So far in fact that it blocked the aisle. I would have mentioned it but we were pretty slow by the time she came in." Wanda said.
"Thank you Wanda," Ruth said dismissing her.
"So is there a gallery in the mall?" I asked.
"Hell this is Wilmington, I have no eathly idea." Ruth admitted.
During dinner Ruth asked, "Did you think of anything on the two unsolveds?"
"Yeah, they have nothing to do with this one. Look for a motel employee, someone who worked there last summer and is gone now." I said.
"We checked them all out, nobody come up wong," she said.
"When this is over, check them again. Both men and women." I suggested. "While you are at it check their husbands and wives and even their kids. The conection is the motel."
"We ran it that way but had to give up," she said.
"But love, time has passed. Check the people who have gone since the murders. Not right after them but the ones who left at the end of the summer." I said smugly.
We were on our after dinner cigarettes when of all people Bunny walked into the restaurant. She spotted us.
"Well hello there, I have been expecting you to call," she said to me.
"I have been busy, I figured that if the case was going badly you would call me." I said. I knew what she meant but ignored it.
`"Why don't you sit with us?' Ruth asked.
"We are finished but we can wait a few mintues for you. We are going to the mall from here. Do you want to come along. We could probably find a movie or something." I suggested.
"Sure, it is Friday night and I have nothing to do." Bunny agreed.
"I would have expected you to have a date," Ruth said.
"I see you have one," Bunny said to my surprise she seemed pleased.
"Not at all. Johnny and I are working on something," Ruth said nervously.
"Well if that something includes a good movie, you can count me in for sure." Bunny said.
I had been away from the game a long time, but not so long that I missed the large blue Buick which followed us from the restaurant parking lot. When we arrived at the mall I asked the two women to go inside. I explained to Ruth in a whisper. She didn't want to leave me, but she understood the need to get Bunny out of the way without alarming her. After the women left, I stood by the car waiting. The occupants of the Buick either saw their big chance or recognized they had been made. Either way it approched me. The rear door opened quickly, a man in another suit jumped from the car.
"Mr. Sims, why don't we take a ride?" the young man said holding the door open for me.
"Why not, I have been expecting you," I said as I climbed into the car.
The young man climbed into the front seat after I was seated in the rear. I sat beside a man no more than ten years older than me. The car began to move through the parking lot before he spoke. "Mr. Sims, forgive me for not introducing myself to you. My name would mean nothing to you." I nodded my understanding. I was nervous but knew I was in no immediate danger. "I wish to have a little talk with you." he said
"Sure, I don't mind talking to friends," I said.
"That's good. I hope we can remain friends. I see no reason why we shouldn't." he said.
"I don't either," I admitted.
I have done some checking on you. They tell me you are an excellent investigator." he said.
"Thank you," I replied.
"I have a problem which you appear to be involved with at the moment." he suggested.
"The Peterson murder?" I asked.
"I see you are well informed. Needless to say it is to my advantage if the government can not pin that particular murder on her husband." he said.
"Needless to say," I agreed.
"I understand you are making some progress in another direction?" he asked.
"I don't know but there is definately a difference of opinion between me and the police on this matter." I said.
"Not all the police it seems," he commented.
"No not the locals." I admitted.
"I have a friend who tells me it may not be in your best interest to clear Mr. Peterson. I just wanted you to hear it from me. There will be no lawsuit, regardless of the outcome of your investigation. So don't let that interfer with you search for the truth." he said clamly.
"I appreciate that, but frankly it wouldn't have swayed my decission." I replied.
"If you need anything," he said handing me his card.
"Thank you, it is possible that I may. I just don't know yet." I replied.
"Call me anytime." he said. "Jerry drop Mr. Sims at the entrance."
I left the car, then joined the two women in the food court. "So who was the mysterious man in the car." Ruth asked.
"He didn't say and I didn't ask," I said. "He just wanted to wish us well."
"I can imagine he did." she said knowing the occupant of the car as I had known him. Of course I had his card and she didn't.
"So ladies, I am going to sit right here while you visit all the dress shops in the mall." I said with a smile.
"Wait a minute," Bunny said. "I am not going to begin snooping around for you. I might have to defend you for one reason or another. I can't be actively involved in this."
"Right and I need you with me. You seem to be able to ask just the right questions." Ruth commented.
"So what do we do?' I asked.
"Bunny can wait outside the shops while we talk to the managers," Ruth suggested.
"Is that okay with you Bunny?" I asked.
"Sure it will be fun hanging around the mall with the other teenagers," she said sarcasticly.
"Come on Bunny," Ruth said. "It beats watching Lucy reruns on TV."
The directory convienced me there were no Galleries in the mall. I hadn't expected any. The rent was much too expensive for a Gallery. Especially one carrying local artist's work. Ruth and I began the time consuming interview process. We found a couple of women who recognized the picture of Mrs. Sims. No one seemed to know anything about her, other than she had money and good taste. It happened after one expecially long interview.
"So that woman knew her?" Bunny asked. It was one of those flashes Maude told everyone about. I knew for a fact at that moment that Bunny knew Kate Sims. How the two knew each other was still unclear, but they diffinately knew each other. I debated whether to confront her in front of Ruth or not. Not won out in the end.
The three of us found a movie which we all could live with. It was the first movie I had seen in a theater in years. Two hours after we entered we left the theater together. When we reached their two cars in the parking lot Ruth asked, "Bunny can you give Johnny a ride home. I need to see a man."
"Anyone in particular?" I asked.
"Yes and no, an old boyfriend who might be able to help us. At least tell us where the FBI is headed." she said. She didn't have to say any more. I knew it was Eddie and so did Bunny.
On the drive to the Beach bunny asked, "Do you have to get back right away?"
"Not really, I actually was hoping we could have a talk." I suggested.
"Good, I know a really nice spot to talk," Bunny said lightly.
The spot was behind a sea wall built by the corp of engineers. We sat listening to the pounding of the surf for a long time. "You know I love the ocean, even though it make me feel small everytime I see it." Bunny said.
"I know, there is something about it's power. They say it strikes some kind of animal chord in us all." I agreed.
"Well do you want make out or talk," she suggested.
"Talk first, then who knows," I said.
"That sound ominous," Bunny laughed.
"Why didn't you tell me you knew Mrs. Sims?" I asked.
"Where did that come from?" she asked trying to regroup.
"Please don't tell me you didn't know her. I will be very disappointed in you." I suggested.
"Sure I knew her. She came to me about a divorce, but that's all I knew about her. I couldn't tell you because of the client attourney thing." she said.
"Do you know anything about her personal life?' I asked. I also watched her eyes while she spoke.
"Nothing at all," she said. "I don't think she was a plaster saint, if that's what you mean. I just don't know the details."
"That sounds right," I said.
"Good then how about kissing me," she suggested.
I didn't talk to her anymore for a long time. When I did it was just before we left the rocky coast line. "I think we should either take this indoors or quite for the night," I said.
"Indoors, get's my vote." she said.
I had expected Bobby to be asleep on the sofa when I arrive home at five. I wasn't disappointed. I unlocked the door and was standing beside him when he finally awoke. I let him return to life slowly before I asked, "Bobby, if I wanted to buy a painting, and I didn't like anything at the park show or the gallery, where could I get one?" I asked.
"Johnny, I don't know. Maybe from an art student or a flea market. Maybe even from a side walk festival." he said.
"Sidewalk festival, what the hell is that?" I asked.
"That's where some promoter organizes and art show for a couple of days. Usually over a weekend. They do a couple a year at the river walk." he informed me.
"Did they have one last week?' I asked.
"I don't know. I never go to those shows too commercial for me." he said.
"How do I find out?" I asked.
"I guess you could find it in a back copy of last weeks paper. All the art stuff is in a column published on Friday." he suggested.
"Are these just traveling shows or do the artist run their own displays?" I asked.
"The artist are with their displays. They are the ones who actually sell the pictures." he informed me.
"Thanks Bobby you have been a great help, now go home and get some sleep," I suggested. With five hours to kill before the library opened, I stretched out on the same sofa where Bobby had slept. I didn't get anywhere near the five hours sleep. Lil came at eight to releave Bobby. Instead she releaved me. I drove down to Poppa's for breakfast.
I didn't mention the morning work to Poppa. He didn't need to know that I was closing in on the killer. I called Ruth as soon as I returned to the Motel. She didn't like being awakened at eight since she had spent the night doing god only knows what. She did agree to be at the motel by nine thirty. I spent the next hour and a half going over it all in my mind. I was pretty sure we were about to find the artist. It would be a matter of time until we got him into an interrogation room. With his DNA samples, he was sure to fry.
Ruth arrived at nine fifteen. She demanded to tell me the latest from the FBI. The agents were holding Edward peterson in some upstate jail. Probably Winston Salem since it was where they would have picked him up. He hadn't been charged with the murder yet. His DNA samples had been sent for testing. It would take a while for the results to be reported.
Meanwhile they were offering him deal after deal. He hadn't broken so far. The tax charges they were holding him on were peanuts. A good lawyer could probably get them dismissed. Edwards problem was that he dare not make bail. If he did, the mob would ice him for sure. If he couldn't testify against them, they would be happy. If they were happy Edward was dead. His only hope was that the FBI couldn't pin the murder to his tail. If they couldn't then he could go back to business as usual. That at least was the plan.
Meanwhile the FBI was moving heaven and earth to put him in the murderer's shoes. Since they controlled most of the evidence, it was a fair bet he was going to be charged eventually. Ruth was angry that the real killer would walk, just to get Edward to talk about the mob.
"Now, I have heard what they are up to, how about this?" I asked. "I think we can find the artist who sold Kate that last picture."
"How did you do that?" Ruth asked excited.
"I haven't done it yet. We are going to do it today. At least we are going to be hot on his ass after today," I informed her. "Now let's go to the Wilmington Library."
"Why the hell would we want to do that?" she asked.
"Because we are about to begin running the asshole to earth," I said.
I found the back newspapers and even found the column about the upcoming art shows for the weekend of Kates murder. There were no river walk shows that weekend. There was however a mall show. I had never been a big mall fan, so I had no idea artist were allowd to set up shows in the common spaces of the mall.
Ruth and I drove to the mall. We found the mall office closed. The sign informed us the office would be closed until Monday morning. "Let me make a call," Ruth suggested. She found out quickly that the Wilmington Police required more than her assurance that she was on the job, before giving out information on the mall manager. They respectfully asked us to stop at the station for that information.
Ten minutes later we pulled into the parking lot for the second time in a week. Ruth and I walked to the desk sargent for the information. Once he saw her badge, he was willing to cooperate. We left five minutes later with the manager's name and address.
Finding the mall manager at home was just a lucky break. Five minutes later and she would have been on a picnic with her husband and two daughters. I had been afraid she would need to return to the mall for the name of the shows promoter. She gave us both his name and phone number from her computer files. She maintained two copies of the file, she explained. One at the mall and one at home. She often made calls at night to people on mall business.
With the name and number firmly in hand, Ruth and I drove out to lunch. Unfortunately we went to lunch because it was all we could do. The promoter was a company from Raleigh. It was called Mall Productions Inc. Ruth tried the number from her cell phone from the managers parking lot. The message informed us the office would be closed until Monday.
"So how do we fill the rest of the weekend?" Ruth asked.
"We go back to the mall and ask the people there if they recognize the picture. We didn't do that before because we didn't know it was ever in the mall. We might catch a break." I suggested.
"God that is the longest long shot I ever heard of." she said.
After lunch we tried and she was absolutely correct. None of the Mall employees had paid any attention to the paintings. By five we gave up. We were almost to the motel when she pulled over to the side of the highway. "You know who else we never showed the picture to?" she asked.
"I have no idea," I replied.
"Jake the snake," she said.
"Talk about your long shots," I said.
"Well I spent three hours on yours, at least give me a half hour on mine," she demanded.
"Okay, we go rattle Jakes cage again." I said.
Jake opened the door and got half way through a sentence before he realized we weren't who he expected. Not only was his mouth slack with surprise, it held a joint. "Jake, Jake, Jake, that is going to put you right back in the joint." I said.
"Man come on, it's just a little weed,' he said.
"Don't worry too much Jake. You tell us what we want to know and I didn't see a thing. If not," I let the sentance tail off.
"What do you want this time. I told you all I know." he said desperately.
"Then you better make up something good," I said. Something about Jake had bothered me the last time and it still did. I suddenly remembered. "The last time we talked you told me that Kate was too skinny and she was stuck up. You hit on her didn't you. She turned you and your painting down, didn't she?" I asked.
"You're nuts," he said. "I wouldn't have anything to do with her and that's why she wouldn't buy my paintings.
I turned to Ruth. "You know I'll bet we can take old Jake in on the weed charge, then go to the park and find someone who saw them argue or at least find someone who hates Jake enough to say he saw them argue. With that we can pin the tail to his ass, then this thing will be closed. That's all I care about anyway." I said.
"Okay, okay, I hit on the bitch. She said my work wasn't good enough. Which was her way of saying she didn't want to screw me." Jake admitted.
"How did that make you feel?" Ruth asked.
"Hey don't get the wrong idea. I was pissed sure but I didn't kill her." he said.
"Did you go to the mall show that weekend?" I asked.
"I was at the park Saturday and Sunday, you can check. But yeah, I went there on Friday just to check out the competition. There really wasn't much." he said.
"Did you see Catherine?" Ruth asked.
"No, was she there?" he asked.
"Did you see this painting?" Ruth asked.
"Sure I saw that piece of crap. Don't tell me that rich bitch bought that junk." he said.
"Do you know who painted it?" I asked.
"Sure I know, some hack from Linville. Let me see, his name was Edgar Stokes. Yeah Edgar Stokes from Linville, you know up in the mountains. He comes down here to sell his crap because there is nobody up there who would buy such garbage."
"Well Jake, I think you just got yourself a buy on the weed," I said turning to go.
"Jake, you better get your ass straight," Ruth said as we left the loft.
In the parking lot Ruth asked, "Well do you need to pack or can we leave now for Linville?"
"Are you kidding, that is an eight hour drive, at least. We won't get there until two in the morning. There is nothing we can do at two a.m. Go home get a little sleep, then meet me at the motel about four a.m. We can be there around noon tomarrow. We should be able to talk to our boy, have his ass arrested, then transfered here before nightfall." I suggested.
"No way, we can't bust him until I talk to the chief," she said. "All we can do is question him." she said.
"Then why bother. We have her M.O and he fits right into it. We can place him at the mall with that painting on Friday morning. We can put her with it at lunch. We found it hanging on her wall. We know her past history with artist. I would say it is pretty much a lock." I said.
"Still I have to inform the chief if we are going to make an arrest. If I inform him the FBI is going to be all over it and us." she informed me.
"So what do you suggest?" I asked disgusted by all the politics.
"I suggest we go to Linville. If we can prove he is out man, we call the chief. If he won't go for it we can always give the locals a shot at him."
"It's sure as hell not my idea of an ideal plan but I guess it will have to do," I suggested.
"Okay, then I'll see you at four a.m." Ruth replied.
I met Bobby when I entered the lobby. "So Bobby is anything going on?"
"Nothing except the place is full," he informed me. "I couldn't find the switch for the no vacancy sign."
I pointed it out to him, then suggested he go on home. I slept until four when Ruth arrived to wake me. I left a note on the door for Lil, then joined Ruth for the long drive to the North Carloina mountains. ###
I fell asleep ten minutes after we passed Wilmington. I stayed asleep until we arrived at a truck stop outside Linville. While we ate an especially greasy burger, Ruth got directions to the local Sheriff's sub station. After Ruth showed the local deputy her badge, we got direction to Edgar Stokes' home.
When we arrived at the unpainted farm house, we found an old ford pickup truck parked in the yard. A woman answered our knock.
"Yes?" the woman asked.
"Hi, we are looking for Edgar," Ruth stated evenly.
"Edgar isn't here," the woman replied. She seemed concerned but not panicy. "What do you want with Edgar."
"Are you Mrs Stokes?" I asked.
"I'm Edgar's sister," she replied.
"Does Edgar live with you?" I asked.
"No, Edgar lives in his own cabin. What is it you want with Edgar?" she asked.
"I would really prefer to discuss it with Edgar. It's a private matter." Ruth suggested.
"Well I don't know when he will be back," the sister informed us.
"Well then how do we get to his cabin?" I asked.
"I don't think I should tell you that," she replied cautiously.
"Lady, I'm a cop," Ruth snapped. "Now where does you brother live."
"I want to see your badge," the sister demanded.
Ruth showed it to her. While she did I said, "Ma'am we need to talk to Edgar because he sold a painting to a woman in Wilmington last week. The woman was later killed. We are trying to determine what time she bought the painting. That is the only reason we need to talk to Edgar."
"Well why didn't you say so. There was no need to be so secretive about that." she stated angrily. She had been looking hard at Ruth while she said it.
"I'm sorry we just don't like to say to much. You know you might have been Edgar's wife and didn't know where he was last weekend," I said it with a large grin.
"Edgar isn't married and he wouldn't lie even if he were. Edgar is a real Christian man." she informed me more kindly.
"Since he is such a fine man, there is no reason for you not to give us directions to his house," it was Ruth who said it.
"No reason at all," she replied looking at me. Just take the little farm road at the end of my drive. It winds around about half a mile until you come to a little cabin on the right. It is real small."
"Thank you ma'am," I replied. Any idea when he will be home?"
Her look made it clear that she wasn't giving the information to Ruth. "Edgar should be home sometime after midnight."
"Why so late," Ruth asked.
"He is doing a show in Charlotte. If he closes the show at five, he won't make it home until after midnight." she said still looking directly into my eyes.
"When you see him in the morning, tell him we'll be by around lunch," I suggested. Ruth didn't argue with me at all. That was to her credit.
We were in the car and half a mile away when Ruth asked, "Are we really going to wait until noon tomorrow to talk to Edgar?"
"No but if he calls home, I want it to sound like a minor thing. I gave her enough B S so that maybe she won't put him on alert.
"In the meantime what do we do?" she asked.
"Go back to the truck stop and drink lots of bad coffee. Did you ever check to see if Edger had a record?" I asked it as an after thought.
"Yeah, he is as clean as an eagle scout," she suggested. "Instead of bad coffee how about a picnic we have more than enough time for one."
"That and about anything else you can think of," I agreed.
"Did that mean you would do anything I wanted?" she asked.
"That depends on what you want." I answered.
"First the picnic then we will see what esle I can come up with," she suggested with an evil glint in her eye.
"The only restaurant in town was a fried chicken joint so we had that for our picnic. After the rather uninspired lunch we went to an afternoon movie. The theater itself was old and the movie was too. I shouldn't make it sound like it was from the thirties as the theater was. The movie was no more than six months old, but even in those days it had hit pay per view.
After the movie we finally made it to the truck stop for a couple of hours of bad coffee. The waitress tried to engage us in conversation but it was no use. Ruth was in no mood to talk to anyone except me. When she spoke to me it was in a shakey voice. She was concerned about her future. If Edgar wasn't the killer her future looked pretty bleak. She had pretty much burnt her bridges with the politically motivated chief. The more she talked the more her anxeity built. By eleven thirty she could contain herself no longer. I was forced to follow her to the car. I did convince her to allow me to buy four large cups of coffee. They would be cold in a short order but it didn't matter. The caffine was the appeal, not the taste or heat.
Ruth parked on the road leading to the Stokes drive. The sister would surely notice us pull through her drive but maybe not our being parked on the road within sight of it. Three hours in a stakeout car is a long time. Especially if you have spent the whole day with the second person. We had already discussed everything of interest. By three we had both grown quiet. I had to look at her face in the dark to determine that she hadn't fallen asleep.
At three fourteen Edgar Stokes arrived. His new Ford pickup truck passed us then pulled into the drive. Ruth pulled slowly forward without her lights so that we could watch the truck's lights move throught he field then disappear in the woods behind it.
Ruth pulled as quietly as possible into the drive. She drove slowly since she was trying to make it down the farm road without her lights. She almost got stuck a couple of times but managed to make it without the lights. Fortunately the road broke the tree a pretty good distance from the cabin. It didn't matter the noise of her engine in the still night air gave us away.
Edgar was waiting with a shotgun. Ruth showed him her badge from several yards away. I had moved so that edgar couldn't get us both at the same time. One of us should have a chance to avenge the other.
Edgar put down the shotgun before he asked, "What the hell you doing sneaking around this time of the night?"
"Because you just got home," Ruth replied.
"Why are you here anyway. I haven't done anything." he replied.
"Why don't we talk about it inside where there is some light," Ruth suggested.
"Sure, let me finish unpacking the truck first," he countered. "Why don't you two go on in and wait?"
"I think we will just stay here with you," Ruth said.
"Sure but you don't have to. I'm not going to run away or anything." Edgar said.
I went into the cabin leaving the two of them outside in the warm night air. The cabin was one large room. It was devided into areas by the furniture groups. Obviously quite a bit of the cabin was taken by Edgar's occupation or hobby which ever it was.
I snooped about quickly but found nothing of interest. Of course I didn't really expect to find anything incriminating in the cabin. Only a complete fool would leave anything lying about. I found a shelf in his living area filled with magazines. It would have been better if they had been porno but they were just art show rags. I could imagine the appeal to Edgar would be the names and details of art shows in the southeast area. No matter how hard I looked there was just nothing to indicate that Edgar was someone who could stab a woman forty or so times.
Edgar came through the door with a load of paintings. It was his second load of painting along with a couple of loads of eisles. "Would you guys like a cup of tea before we begin?" he asked.
"None for me thanks," I replied. Ruth just shook her head.
"Okay," he said moving to the kitchen area. He put the tea pot on the turned toward Ruth. "So, what is it I can do for the Holden Beach police?"
"You were in Holden Beach Friday night a week ago weren't you?" she asked.
"I know I was in Wilmington, then somewhere south of there. It could have been Holden Beach, Why?"
"Have you ever seen this woman?" Ruth asked handing him a picture we had taken from her Kate's house.
"Sure that's Kate Peterson." It took him a second to get his mind in gear. "Has something happened to her?"
Ruth might not but I knew he was for real. At five six or seven and thin as a corpse, he just didn't look like someone who could murder a woman. Even if the woman were his own size. Edgar actually looked too gentle to live let alone harm anyone. He looked so gentle I had to wonder if he could have been the source of Mrs. Perterson's moans."
"What do you know about Kate Peterson?" Ruth asked.
"Come on surely she isn't saying anything about me. Hell it was her idea." he said angrily.
"What was her idea?" Ruth asked.
"My meeting her in that dump on the beach. She thought it was great fun to 'slum'. That's how she put it anyway."
Ruth winked at me when he said slum. "So what happened at your meeting?" Ruth continued.
"I met her at midnight what do you think happened."
"You tell me, I'm not good at guessing games," Ruth demanded.
"We made love for a long time then I left. If she says she wasn't willing it's a damned lie." Edgar stated.
"Who left first?" I asked.
"I did. She remarked that I was the only one who didn't fall asleep after. I don't think she meant it as a compliment. Anyway I left and drove back to my own motel in Wilmington."
"Why didn't you two use your motel?" I asked.
"I don't know, she liked to play James Bondage I suppose," he replied.
"Was she into bondage?" Ruth asked.
"No, that was just a joke. The sex was rather ordinary," he replied. "What \b is\b0 this about?"
"Someone killed Kate Peterson in that motel room. As far as I can tell you were the last one to see her alive," Ruth commented.
"Oh no," he said a little shocky. Then he suddenly began to cry.
"Did you kill her?" Ruth asked.
"Of course not, I couldn't kill anyone."
Ruth looked at me and I shrugged. I couldn't tell for sure but he seemed to be telling the truth.
Ruth made the decission and I was greatful that I didn't have to do it. "Tell you what Edgar, I believe you. We are going to drive back to Holden Beach. I'll discuss this with my chief of police but I don't expect you will be hearing for us again. At last not unless it is to testify at the killer's trial."
Edgar was shook up that he just nodded. It was better than the sniviling act I expected from him. We were back on the county road when I asked, "So what are you really going to do."
"I'm going to buck it to the chief first thing in the morning. In the meantime I am going to find a Motel. I am dead beat."
"The cheif isn't going to make a decission. The FBI is going to be sitting on your man within an hour of your call."
"So what do you suggest?" she asked.
"I suggest that we take a nap, then go back and try to either shake his storey or get a lead from him. If he was the last one to see her alive, he has to know something. Maybe she told him something or maybe he saw something as he left."
"How about the little twerp isn't the one who made he scream," Ruth suggested.
"You mean the sweat little thing couldn't do it for her so she brought in someone after him?" Ruth asked.
"Or someone with him," she guessed.
"Now there is an interesting idea. If Edgar is gay could he be afraid to tell us the whole truth?" I asked.
"Could he have had a boyfriend with the show. It's the only way he would have gotten anyone on short notice." Ruth suggested.
"Maybe not, the second may wouldn't have had to be gay. He might have been bisexual though." I suggested looking hard at Ruth.
She suddenly smiled. "Jake the snake>"
"It sure does sound right to me," I replied. "He could probably put the fear of god into Edgar. After Edgar left Jake could have cut her up. I don't think he liked her very much."
"I expect I need to have a little talk with Edgar," Ruth suggested.
"Don't put words in his mouth now," I demanded.
Ruth and I slept in the same bed but we were so exhausted that sleep was the only thing going on in the room. I was surprised that my snoring didn't bother her. That is until I remembered that Ruth snored as much as me.
After a pretty ordinary breakfast at the truckstop beside our motel, Ruth and I drove to Edgar's cabin. When he opened the door it was obvious that he had been asleep. Ruth questioned him while the water boiled for tea. Ruth went at him hard but he wouldn't cop to a second person in the room. He did however suggest that Kate was not a verbal lover.
Ruth and I walked outside the cabin for a conference. "Okay, if the twerp was followed by someone else who might it be?" she asked.
"He wasn't followed. She was enjoying the sex according to the neighbor so it wasn't forced."
"The banging bedstead could have been forced sex. She might have been screaming in pain." Ruth suggested.
"The old lady sounded like she knew what she was talking about. Who the hell would she have called?" I asked no one.
"If she wasn't getting it from the painters on a regular basis who was she doing the deed with regularly?" Ruth asked.
"Maybe no one," I suggested.
"If she enjoyed it as much as the old bat said, then she was doing it more often that every month or so. I'm going back in there and try again." Ruth suggested.
"Take a rubber hose," I suggested.
After two more hours of intense questioning he admitted that she had laughed at him. He didn't admit to the killing instead he claimed to have left the room in tears. It sounded both far fetched and reasonable at the same time.
"Ruth?" I asked during out last break. "The Kmart call was the only one on her cell phone?"
"Absolutely," she replied.
"Then if he isn't our man it was someone who had a later date with her."
"That is bullshit," Ruth Suggested.
"I know so it has to be Edgar," I said loud enough for him to hear.
"What are you saying?" he asked.
"I'm going to level with you Edgar. If you didn't kill her how did anyone else know she was alone. The motel switchboard was closed and there is no reacord of her calling anyone else on her cell phone."
"Wait when I came out of the bathroom after the sex with her, she was on the cell phone. I almost left her on it except that I discovered that she was on my phone."
"You mean she called someone from your cell phone," Ruth asked.
"Sure," he replied. "They looked just alike. She must have gotten mine by mistake. Anyway I had to wait until she got through with the call."
"Why didn't you tell us this last night?" I asked.
"Or at least two hour ago," Ruth demanded.
"I don't know, I guess I was so upset I forgot until just now," he admitted.
"So do you have the number?" Ruth asked quickly.
"No my bill doesn't come for a couple of weeks," Edgar replied.
"Let me have your last bill." Ruth demanded.
After Edgar found it for her she made the call. She intentionally turned her back to me as she scribbled the number on a page of her notebook.
"Let's go," Ruth said.
"So who's number is it?" I asked.
"I don't know. We have to get back so that I can check it out. I want to be sure before I say anything."
When we entered Holden Beach it was after midnight. We stopped at the motel so that I could check on everything. Ruth came in with me. The no vacancy light was lit so I expected that Bobby had gone home. There wouldn't have been any need for him to hang around if there were no rooms to rent. Being full on Monday was unusual. I checked the key board and found it still had a dozen or so keys.
"Damn kid," I said. If Bobby hadn't come in. I had to wonder why Lil hadn't stayed. If it hadn't been so late I would have called to ask her. While I had been ranting about the office being closed Ruth had been making her calls.
"Johnny, I don't know what this means but I think you better call your neice," Ruth suggested.
"Why?" I asked.
"The call on Edgar's phone was to a dorm room at the University."
"Oh hell," I said taking off for Lil's room. I knocked on the door several times before I opened it with my pass key. Lil was nowhere to be seen. I looked about closely since the room was a mess. I wanted to make sure her body wasn't hidden under the junk. Lil wasn't home at one in the morning. I was furious. Either something had happened to her or she was totally irresponsible. Mostly I was worried sick.
Ruth and I returned to the office where I paced the floor while she tried to think. "Maybe she is out with someone else," Ruth suggested.
"Then send someone to pick up Bobby at his dorm," I suggested.
"I can't be sure it is even Bobby's dorm," Ruth said.
"Call the Chief and give him everything. Maybe he can get the Wilmington PD to go check out the dorm. Sinces it's Summer there may not be too many people around."
This is not something I want to do," She informed me.
"I know but I have to find Lil," I replied.
Ruth was just about to call when Lil came walking up from the beach. "Where the hell have you been?" I asked in a voice almost at scream level.
"I couldn't sleep so I went for a walk on the beach. Where is Bobby?" she asked.
"I don't know was he here when you went for your walk?" Ruth asked.
"Yeah, he is the reason I went for a walk. We had been making out and it got a little too intense for me. I took a walk to cool off. So where is Bobby?" she asked again.
"I don't know, his van is gone," I replied.
"Maybe he went for a drive," Ruth suggested.
"Did he seem angry when you walked out?" I asked.
"No, you know how guys are. He seemed a little disappointed but nothing more."
"Okay Lil, why don't you sleep in my room tonight. I am going to sleep out here," I suggested.
"Why?" she asked.
"It's a long story so just humor me please," I begged. Lil nodded her agreement.
"If everything here is okay, I am going to make a few inquiries. I'll call you in the morning," she suggested.
"Like hell, you call me just as soon as you know anything at all," I demanded.
"Okay but don't wait up for a call. It is going to be tomorrow before I can get any real information. Once I get our man picked up, I am going to sweat him at the station. It looks pretty much like we know who it is now."
I felt like hell even after the breakfast that Lil brought me. Even so I couldn't sleep while I waited to hear from Ruth. She called at ten.
"We have your little friend at the station. I would invite you down but you know how the chief feels about you. I will give you a call as soon as I break the kid."
"You do that. I feel better just knowing that you have him. I am not going to feel good until he confesses."
"Give me and my hose an hour or two," Ruth said lightheartedly.
Rather than call back she was standing in my office two hours later. "Bad news Johnny, I need to talk to Lil."
"Why," I asked.
"Bobby swears he was with her the night Kate was killed."
"Kate was killed after midnight and Lil was in her room," I replied.
"Yeah, that's what the kid says. He said he sneaked back into her room that evening. According to him they were together all night."
I walked to my room behind the desk. "Lil," I shouted through the door. It took another shout before she answered me. When she finally came into the office with sleep still very much fogging her brain Ruth asked. "Lil, was Bobby with you the night that woman was killed?"
"Did Bobby tell you that?" she asked.
Ruth nodded. "He said he was with you all night. According to him he didn't leave until just befor sun up."
"Why would he tell?" Lil asked.
"Because he is a murder suspect," I answered.
"He didn't kill that woman. He was with me," she said difiantly.
"If he was with you all night what was the fight last night really about?" I asked.
"It's real personal,' Lil said.
"You can tell Ruth, but you have to tell one of us," I replied angrily.
"You leave and I'll tell her," Lil said.
I went into my apartment to start the coffee. Ruth entered leaving Lil in the office. "Bobby didn't want to play the games she likes. He is a little square according to Lil."
"What the hell kind of world is this?" I asked not really expecting an answer.
"It's the same kind of world for her that it was for you the first time," she answered with a knowing smile. "By the way this wasn't her first time. Hell Johnny these kids today do it at the drop of a hat. Kids begin playing around with sex before they even reach their teens. Men with women, women with women and men with men. Hell these kids have done it all before they are twenty."
"Do you know who Kate called at the University?" I asked.
"Not yet but we will know in the next hour or so. The school is giving us a list of names. When we begin interviewing the girls someone will have answered that phone. She will know who she called to the phone in the middle of the night."
"Oh hell," I said.
"What?" Ruth asked.
"Nothing, God I hope I'm wrong."
"Wrong about what?" Ruth asked.
"If we could get hold of Edward Peterson, I could get a better idea," I admitted.
"Well you can't so what would you ask him. I would ask if his wife went both ways," I said seriously.
"Why would you want to know that?" Ruth asked.
"Because I don't like accidents. I figure she knew or at least had heard of the Breeze before that night. I don't know why I feel that way but I do. If she went both ways it would make sense."
"What would make sense?" Ruth asked.
"When you get that list of students take a close look to see if there is a connection to the motel."
Ruth left, then returned an hour later with two uniformed patrol officers. They came into the office then went around back where they picked up Tish. Ruth walked into the office a couple of minutes after the marked patrol car left my lot. "Why didn't you just tell me this morning."
"I wasn't sure. Are you sure now?"
"We will be when the DNA under her nails is matched. Tish has a couple of scratches on her arms. She will break before that though."
"Let me know why would you?" I asked.
"Sure but I already know. It was a lover's spat to the enth degree."
"I'm really surprised by it all," I said.
"Why?" Ruth asked. "Surely the idea of a gay murder doesn't surprise you."
"No, I just thought it was someone else," I said.
"Who Bobby?" she asked. I shook my head. "Then Edgar?"
"No nor did I think it was Jake the Snake," I replied.
"Then who for God's sake?" she asked. "Surely not the husband?"
"Not the husband, look I don't want to name names but you should reopen those two murders from last year. Find out how often they ate at Poppy Johns."
"Are you saying?" she began.
"I'm not saying anything, I'm just giving you some advice," I replied.
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