Who Zapped Chin
I awoke on the sofa soaked in sweat. For a change it was the summer heat rather than a dream. I fought my way through a haze into wakefulness. I had a feeling that there was something I needed to do. I couldn't figure it out till the door bell rang. I remember then hearing it in my dream. I didn't remember the dream, but knew it wasn't one of "those dreams."
I opened the door after looking out the spy hole. "Damn Chief, it is late for you to be visiting isn't it?"
"Just stopped by with some news. Old Chin got zapped a little while ago."
It hit me wrong. I reacted as I shouldn't have. "Well Chief did you check to see if my hood was cold?"
Bart was as angry as me. "Yes I checked. You know I did. It is my job to check. I didn't have to though. The Sheriff's men are on the way to check."
"Of course they are. I hope they check the other three vets in town. I would hate to think I am being singled out."
"Don't worry they were rousted earlier. The only reason the Sheriff isn't here is that he knows we are friends."
"That sure was sweet of him to let you do the dirty work." I stopped talking. We stared at each other a while. "Do you take me in for questioning, or do you rubber hose me here?"
"Come on Linc you know better than that. I had to check. You would have done the same thing."
"Yeah, but I wouldn't have woke the guy up to tell him he was a suspect."
"We don't suspect you. I just had to make sure."
"Okay Bart you are sure. I think you should leave now." A rift had developed between my best friend and me over the last year.
Bart was the chief of police at the time. He had been since his retirement from the Marines. He was a hell of a nice guy. More important he understood the nightmares. He and I had become close while I worked for him.
The job hadn't lasted long. Like most vets I had a hard time with authority. I had trained as a photographer before he talked me into giving the police force a shot. The shot turned out poorly. I had a slight run in with the mayor's kid. At the same time my marriage was breaking up. It seemed like a good time to start a new career. I tried town drunk for a few months, but my stomach couldn't handle it. I began working my part time photo studio full time. I worked it hard. With the help of a temporary pension I managed to get by.
At the time of this story the studio was up and fairly successful. I had kept my friendship with the Chief for many years. Our friendship arrived at a crisis when he sponsored a Vietnamese family.
He and the first Baptist church brought them from a refugee camp in Thailand to our little crease in the world. Chin's family was quiet and didn't bother me. I managed to ignore them right until that day. I wasn't hostile toward them and I never told anyone how I felt. The chief knew though. We had a violent argument about it.
"Chin's family was on our side," Bart would say.
"Like hell, there was no our side you dumb shit," I would say.
"He helped our people a great deal and wound up on the North's hit list because of it."
"Bullshit Chief, did you ever see his name on anybody's list? Besides, that is what happens when you loose a civil war. You wind up on everybody's shit list."
"You don't know anything. Why do you hate him and his family?"
"Good training I suppose." The smart ass in me just couldn't resist.
"Well they are here and there is not one fucking thing you can do about it."
"I will stay out of their way, but you tell that fucking slope to stay the hell away from me. If he needs any photography, tell him to call Helen."
"You are an asshole, Linc."
"Finally we agree on something. Look Bart, I don't care that the rest of these pricks did their Christian duty, but why you?"
"The war is over. That's why."
"The war will never be over Bart. You should know that." I stopped for a few minutes. When he didn't say anything I asked, "By the way, how do you sleep at night these days?"
"Probably the same as you. That just isn't the point. Chin didn't do any of those things."
"Right, let me ask you something. Do you know why I was a hunter/stalker?"
"I have no idea. Probably the same reason I was a lerp."
"I doubt it. I found out real fast that the night was my best friend. The dark, like my daddy used to say about ball games in the rain, favors no man. It is raining on both sides equally and it is just as fucking dark. Any prick wandering around in the dark was the enemy. It made the decision easy. You killed his ass before he killed yours. In the daytime you had to watch your ass. Then you had to worry about who the enemy really was. You know as well as me little old farmer ladies would hand you a grenade. Shit man, every one of them fuckers was trying to kill me."
"No they weren't." The chief couldn't have believed what he said.
"Bart your truth and mine just aren't the same." That's how we left it. Things were just never the same between us again. I still maintained friendly relations with Bart, but we were never family again.
I went out of my way to avoid the Chins. The whole family pitched in to work on a local farm at first. Then somebody got them a job operating the new convenience store built over the ruins of Mike's Amoco station. Mike's station had been destroyed a couple of years before. That's about all I knew or wanted to know about their situation.
I never bought anything from them. The store was out of my way. Even if it wasn't, I would have driven ten miles farther to buy from someone else. I didn't give them any crap but I also didn't give them anything else. I had never spoken to any of the Chins.
I had a hard time getting back to sleep. When I finally did, the dreams returned. It didn't take much to spark 'those' dreams. The night was again filled with fireflies, screams and death. I hadn't been there when our little fire base was over run. I had already been wounded. It must have been my dreams times twenty. Every friend I had left in the Nam was killed that night. I would have been killed with them, if I hadn't already been shot. My wound got me medivaced out before the massacre.
I woke several times during that night. To calm myself I had to get my mind off the nightmares. To do that I worked the mechanism of my ugly little Ricoh range finder camera. The mechanics of the camera along with the math problems I worked in my head finally washed the horror away. I had a stiff drink on each occasion then returned to bed. When the night finally passed my body must not have known. I slept with the sun streaming across my face. Even the bright sunlight didn't wake me. It was the ringing of the phone that did it, in those days phones still rang.
"Picture Man," I said. Lately everyone who didn't know me called me Picture Man. For years the town had been small enough so that everyone knew each other. Since the children of all my friends were growing up, and new families moving in all the time, I hardly knew anyone. The old ones, who I should have known, were almost all strangers. That was thanks to the bullet that saved my life. It managed to wipe out most of my long term memory. With all the things and people I didn't know I was one ignorant prick.
"Picture Man, that's new but I like it. Linc it's Sam. I need to talk to you. Can you come by the office, say around two."
"Sam, I don't know let me find my calendar." I couldn't remember any appointments that day at all. Then again without the calendar I was lost anyway. I found the little leather book on the floor in my pant's pocket. "Sam two isn't good for me. Can't you give me the information over the phone." That is the way it was usually done. He either had an illustration shot for me to make or possibly an accident victim who needed photo's of his or her scars."
"No Linc, this isn't our usual crap. I need you to do me a favor. Come by whenever you get your sorry ass out of bed. I will make the time to see you. It is important."
"Okay Sam, I will take a shower and grab a bite to eat then come in." I looked at my watch it was eleven AM. "I wouldn't do this for anyone else. How about one?"
"Say two," he replied.
"Damn Sam you are a hard master. Okay I will be there at two."
"You could have agreed to begin with and saved us a lot of hassle."
"Where is the fun in that?" I asked it not really expecting an answer.
Sam hung up on me. Sam was my favorite lawyer in town. I hated them all but Sam is the coolest. He also ran the largest practice in our little town. The town was small enough so there weren't to many lawyers. I got all their work. A combination of the school I had attended and the two years I had spent on the police department. I made one hell of a witness, if I were ever called. I had been lucky. I only had to testify a couple of times.
I guess the reason I liked old Sam was that we came from similar backgrounds. Sam's father had worked in the same cotton mill as my dad. Sam got out by being smart as hell. He went to college and became a lawyer. He could probably have joined some large Yankee firm. Instead he came home to practice while taking care of his elderly mother.
By the time his mother passed on Sam had a thriving practice. He handled most of the criminals in the area. About that same time he hired a couple of young guys to take over the civil practice. He hired them because he personally hated that part of the law. As lawyers go old Sam was a warrior. The firm prospered as new businesses came to town. Every one of the new businesses was advised by the county clerk to hire Sam, if they wanted their permits without too much hassle. His civil practice grew in spite of his lack of interest.
He began hiring clerks and paralegals by the dozens. "A good legal secretary can do better work than a young lawyer and is a damned sight cheaper. As a bonus they are much better to look at." That was Sam's stated philosophy. He would never have hired any lawyers, if Paralegals could address the court.
Sam really did believe in hiring beautiful women. When he needed a new secretary, someone always seemed to be getting pregnant in his office, he visited the local tech school. He picked the best built one in the graduating class. "Hell my girls can teach her what she needs to know. I can't train her to be a knock out, but I can teach her to type my briefs." Anytime you went to Sam's office you were sure to enjoy the scenery. He made no bones about it. He hired women for their tits and asses.
All except the female lawyers. Those I'm afraid old Sam had to accept the way they came. The beautiful ones went to big Yankee firms. A Yankee firm to Sam was any firm outside our little town. He had a young lawyer a couple of years before who turned out to have a small character flaw. She was also a part time murderess. The scandal was good for the firm. The criminals who loved Sam anyway thought it was cool. The civil business wasn't hurt since she didn't have any clients of her own.
When someone who knows me gets into trouble, I always suggest Sam. He is extremely expensive. If I needed a criminal lawyer, it would be Sam. Once in a while someone who doesn't know Sam will ask me why I recommend him. I tell everyone Old Sam is ruthless. As an example, I tell them about the time a rookie cop let Sam hold a bag of cocaine. The cocaine was the only evidence in the case.
The rookie made two mistakes, one he let Sam hold the envelope, and two he was in the men's room when he did. Sam dropped it into a toilet which happened to be flushing at the time. Of course the kid hollered and Sam ignored him. There were no real witnesses and the judge was a golfing buddy of Sam's. The district attorney wouldn't even mention it to the judge. He simply dropped the case for lack of evidence. I mean you had to love the guy. I am a big law and order fan, but I love a guy who will screw the system. If he gets the chance, Sam will do that in a heart beat.
I had lunch at the Elms. Jed was working, so I knew I was in for a ration of shit. I wasn't much up to it but I was hungry. The Elms always had the best food in town. I usually sat at the counter to annoy Jed. For some reason that day I chose a booth. I really didn't want any trouble with him. My nerves were raw from the night's sleeplessness.
"Hey Linc, where were you last night?" Jed asked it. I knew it would soon be on.
"Home, Jed where were you?"
"Nobody cares where I was but I bet they been asking you a lot of questions?"
"Now why would they do that?"
"Because the gook got his light put out permanent." Jed was showing his very white teeth in one of those large smiles.
"Really and which gook would that be?"
"There ain't but one in town."
"I didn't think there were any."
"Old man Chin, you know him. He be your cop buddy's pal."
"You mean the Vietnamese gentleman. Seems I did hear about that. Seems I heard they were out rousting brothers for that one. Something about a robbery gone bad."
"No man it weren't no robbery. Somebody cut his throat marine style." Jed was determined to stay at it till I had more nightmares.
"Jed, since you have so much experience why don't you explain that to me. I don't think I am familiar with that term. You know I was in the army."
"You know man." He was embarrassed and wished by then that he hadn't started with me. He continued anyway. "You know man, hold him from behind and slice his throat open."
"Oh you mean close enough that you can smell the fear on him. Then when the knife drags across his arteries the blood flows so fast you can't get away from it. Close enough so that you can smell him when his bowels turn loose. Is that what you call the Marine way."
He looked a little green when he said, "Yeah man that's what."
"I just lost my appetite. You finally found a way to get rid of me Jed, congratulations."
I stopped at the new Mcdonald's for a Big Mac. It was a cardboard burger. I at least didn't have to listen to Jed. I noticed a former bride working behind the counter. I noticed she was pregnant before she had a chance to speak to me. "Okay sweetie, what do you want boy or girl."
"Actually Linc, I only wanted a puppy." I broke into badly needed laughter. I wished I had been allowed to tip her because she had brightened the day a little.
I arrived at Sam's office a couple of minutes before two. One thing about Sam, he knew how I hated to wait. The receptionist paged his personal secretary. I was curious to see who it was that month. Sam went through them like socks.
"Mr. Jefferson please come this way," said a fabulous looking blonde. She was probably five eight or nine. She had a great chest and a body way out of proportion to it. Her waist was tiny and her hips flared slightly but not enough to catch up to her breasts. The face was a secondary consideration with Sam. In her case it matched the body. She had bright blue eyes over an acceptable nose. She also had a gorgeous set of lips. She noticed me appreciating her and smiled.
Too bad most of the families in town were too poor to afford braces for their children's teeth. The poor girl could eat corn off the cob through a picket fence. I smiled pretending not to notice. She must have known that I noticed because her smile was gone in a flash. She turned then led me to the conference room. I pulled an ash tray to me as I lit a cigarette.
I finished the cigarette along with two more before Sam showed. I had been waiting for fifteen minutes. Sam entered moving quickly. "Well Linc my boy how they hanging."
"They were last time I checked but it has frankly been a while. How about loaning me a secretary for a day or two. I got some briefs that need typing."
Sam ignored me. "You and Helen fighting again?"
"Sam if you mean still? The answer is of course yes."
"Why don't you just marry that woman and calm her ass down."
"Didn't work last time. Julie wasn't a bit calmer. I 'bout decided that they are what they are. If you can't take it, run like hell."
"Sounds like good advice and something your daddy might have said."
"Possible, since I don't know where I heard it." I was lost in memories for a second or two.
"Linc, I got a problem that you can help me with."
"What kind of problem? Sam if you've got somebody knocked up, I don't do assassinations."
"Very funny the last time a woman tried to charge me with that, I plead it down to assault with a dead weapon." He stared at his hands for a long minute. "Son, I wish there were someone else I could ask. I also wish there were some easy way to ask."
"Hell just come out with it Sam. There is nothing short of murder I wouldn't do for you. Maybe even that, if I get to chose the victim."
"God boy, you know how to make it tough on a man. Look I have a favor to ask and it is a damned big one. I want you to help Jake out."
I stood and headed for the door. "I wouldn't piss on Jake, if he were on fire."
"Linc hold up. This isn't for Jake. Really it is for me. It is also for a little girl who just lost her daddy. You can relate to that."
"Come on Sam you know I don't get sentimental anymore. It costs to damned much especially around you."
"Please listen to Jake and then talk to the young woman. If you don't want to help, then so be it."
The implied threat was still there but it wouldn't wash. When Jake threatened me two years before, I had been borderline profitable. That day I was well over the borderline. Sam's business was as much a nuisance as it was profitable those days. I had a contract with an insurance company and a bank at the time. I photographed all the new business for the insurance company. The bank ordered photographs of houses for their mortgage department.
Neither paid a lot per house but the volume more than made up for it. The big advantage was that as long as I finished everything within seven calendar days, they didn't care when I did them. In the Williams mall a one hour photo lab had appeared out of nowhere. I was more than happy to give them all the insurance and bank business for a hefty discount. If it wasn't'for the twenty mile drive, I might retire my slide equipment completely.
The point was that Sam's implied threat meant less than nothing to me. I agreed to speak to Jake because Sam was Sam. "Okay Sam, I will talk to him but I want something in return."
"What?" Sam asked.
"I got a small traffic ticket. I want it removed from the court system."
"Can't you call your friend the chief?"
"I got it in the county. You do know that the sheriff isn't a fan. Besides I don't ask the chief for favors anymore."
"I had heard that. I am truly sorry. You two were like brothers."
"Yeah, well you know how families are."
"What is the ticket and when does it come up."
"Driving left of center. It is scheduled for next month." I knew that the ticket was history.
"I'll take care of it tomorrow."
"Sam you horse thief, do it now or no meet. I still don't promise to do anything but listen."
It was a minor ticket. One handed out by an over zealous rookie. I probably could have beaten it. Why bother, if Sam could make a call. He made the call as I had predicted the ticket disappeared.
After the call he pushed his magic buzzer. Jake came in right on cue. "Linc good to see you old son." He put out his hand. I ignored it.
"Save the fertilizer Jake. It is too late to grow anything this year."
"Linc, I don't know what our problems could be these days?"
"Sure you do Jake. You are a rich little prick. Seems I have hated you since high school."
"I couldn't help being born rich any more than you could help being born poor."
"Save the poor little rich boy crap for someone who cares. What the fuck do you need."
"Look," Sam said. "I am going to leave you boys to work this out."
Sam left so as not to witness the murder that might take place any minute. "Okay Linc I won't try to be pleasant. I need a favor."
"Sorry I don't do favors. Like you prick, my time is too valuable."
"Oh I'll pay you. You listen to the problem then name a price."
"Okay I'll listen, but no promises about doing anything for you."
"It really isn't for me."
I cut him off. "Jake everything you do is for you. Cut the shit and tell it straight."
"Fuck you Linc." He took a moment to compose himself then tried again. "Did you hear that Chin Toa was killed last night?"
"Robbery I imagine?" I didn't answer him. "Anyway his daughter works here."
"How the hell did Sam slip up enough to hire a slope?"
"Not everyone feels about the Vietnamese like you do. Please don't use that word in front of Rie."
"If you are going to give me lessons in etiquette then I am leaving."
"I am not lecturing you. I am just reminding you that she lost her father last night."
"So what can I do about it for God's sake. You have two different police organizations looking into it."
"Don't get me wrong Linc when it comes to banging heads and stopping cars we have to fine police departments. When it comes to detailed investigations, they are just not prepared."
"Jake it doesn't matter. It was probably a robbery gone bad. The mooch is more than likely in Atlanta by now. Besides what do you care?"
"Rie is one of our best employees."
"Like I said what do you care?"
"Okay I am seeing her. I may marry her."
"Not till your mamma and daddy die. They will kick your skinny ass, if you marry a slope. You know you can't dilute that fine New York blood."
"Boston damn it, you know grand daddy was from Boston."
"One fucking carpetbagger is the same as another."
"Nonetheless Rie thinks that it was someone in town. Some kind of racial thing. She and her family will move away unless I can prove it isn't."
"Boy did you come to the wrong place. If it looks racial, I am going to be suspect number one."
"I know you have an interest in seeing that the real murderer is caught or at least proved to be a passer by."
"I got no interest in this. I can prove myself innocent. The Chief came to my house last night to try and fit me for a cushion in the chair. It was a lousy match."
"Okay then do it for her. She really needs to find some peace of mind. If she runs, she will be running forever."
"Jake I don't care. Read my lips, I just don't care."
"It may be a government hit Linc. They may have come for him to keep him quiet about his involvement."
"Jake you have brought up about every reason I can think of for me not to get involved."
"Okay then I will try money. I know it doesn't impress you but it does me. I love to see people's reaction when I offer them too much of it."
"Forget it Jake. I can't be bought. I'm not smart enough."
"Did you know that Helen and I are friends. We have dinner once a month or so. These days she has a lot more time."
"Now Jake are you looking to have your dental work done by a man with no Novocain."
"Don't lose your cool it isn't what you think. She talks to me about you. I talk about Rie. Her father didn't like me seeing her. He wanted her to marry one of her own from Greensboro."
"Maybe he wasn't so dumb after all."
"What I am trying to say is that Helen wants to move to Paris. If you want, I will buy her studio and give you the deed. If you pull this off that is."
"If I don't agree?"
"I will buy her out anyway. Then I will hire some tech school grad to run her place."
"If I try and fail?"
"Then I will buy her out and turn her place into an antique store. Either way, if you try you gain something. If you don't try, then you loose Helen and the business goes to someone who will out hustle you."
"That I'm not worried about. What will it take for you not to buy her out at all."
"That isn't an option. I agreed to buy her out before this came up. This just gives me a little leverage."
It took me a few minutes to think it over. I was about to lose Helen either way. It was news I had expected even while dreading it. What I hadn't expected was for Jake to buy her out. He obviously had intended to bring a kid in all along. Jake was a real prick. He was also a man after my own heart. He had taken his time but had found a way to show me he was the top dog.
"Okay Jake, I'll talk to the girl, but I still may not get involved."
"That's the best I could hope for at this point. Let's go."
"You don't think she is at work today do you? We are going to have to go to her house."
"Forget it Jake. I am not going to their house."
"You agreed to talk to them. That is the place to do it."
"Not now it isn't. There will be screaming and crying until they put old Chin in the ground. I'll tell you what. I will go down and see what Bart has. You set up a meet with them away from their house."
"Okay, but I think we should go over and at least pay our respects."
"Jake get one of these women with water wings to go with you. Rie should appreciate that. Just set the meet for a time when everyone can get down to the business at hand. By the way this still isn't a commitment to work on it."
"I understand but thanks for talking to Bart. He won't tell even Sam what is going on."
"Just shows his good sense. Sam will be out signing up any suspects."
I drove my eight year old Toyota wagon to the rear parking lot of the police station. It had been a while since I had parked in the rear. Those days I went there only when it became absolutely necessary. Not at all like the days when Bart and I were like brothers.
"Hello Lou Ann is the chief in?"
"Damn, I never thought I would see you in here again, especially not today." She picked up her phone. "Let me see if he is busy." I waited while she spoke into the phone. "Chief, Linc Jefferson is here to see you. Yes sir I will." she hung up the phone then said, "Linc would you have a seat the chief will be right with you."
"You sure he didn't tell you to check for warrants while I cooled my heels?" Lou Ann laughed, but she didn't deny it.
A couple of minutes later the door to Bart's office opened. I watched as the county sheriff exited. I didn't try to hide but I would have waited in the coffee room, if Lou Ann had seen fit to warn me.
"I hope you don't plan to butt into this case Jefferson."
"I haven't decided yet Sheriff. I promise though that you will be the first to know."
"Decide not to fuck with us this time."
"Right you are Sheriff. No fucking of you from me, I promise."
"Linc get in here," The voice belonged to the Chief. I passed the Sheriff on my way into the office. I sat down without being invited. "What the fuck do you want?"
"You aren't going to like this."
"If it involves you, I know I won't but go ahead."
"I promised Jake I would see where you are. Nothing confidential mind you, just an idea of what your thinking is at the moment."
"My thinking at the moment is why the fuck does Jake want to know?"
"It seems that our boy Jake is playing hide the kosher pickle with Chins daughter. I presume it is the older one. With Jake you never know."
The chief laughed. He didn't like Jake any more than I did. We both had strong suspicions that Jake had at least once paid off the Sheriff. The exact details we never did learn. "You working for Jake again?"
"Again, hell I would rather eat crap without salt than work for that prick."
"Right, but it seems as though you worked for him a couple of years ago."
"Chief you know better than that."
"Yeah I do. You have told me Jake's interest what is yours."
"Helen, or rather her studio."
"How is that?"
"Jake is going to buy her studio. If I prove to Little Miss Siagon Tea, that this was a random hit, I get to own it free and clear. If I can't prove to her satisfaction that it was random, then the studio becomes an antique shop. If on the other hand, I do nothing then he hires a punk kid to operate it. Someone with more ambition than Helen."
"Yeah that sounds like that sneaky assed Jake all right. The old carrot and stick routine.'"
"He learned it at his daddy's knee I hear."
"Are you kidding? Jake's father likes him only slightly more than you do."
"Well Chief enough of this chit chat. The case is half a day old where are you?"
"If I tell you it stays inside this office?"
"We are nowhere."
"No chance that there are a string of robberies along I85?"
"Afraid not, we had hoped for the same thing but no such luck. It may fall to a local hit."
"Any chance it was a government black bag job."
"What makes you ask that?"
"Something the daughter told Jake." I wasn't going to hold back anything at the moment. A time might come for secrets but not while I asked for information. It was a sharing exercise and we both knew it.
"Could be but not likely. Government and Mafia guns hit are a lot alike. Neither has the stomach for a throat cutting. That is more Asian maybe military, or maybe a drug hit."
"It is hard to swallow the robbery theory with his throat cut. That actually sounds more ritual than a hit."
"Either that or someone wants us to think that."
"There is that too. Any physical evidence?"
"Would you like to tell me what it is?"
"Because, you don't give a shit. You are going to walk out of here like nothing happened."
"Maybe Chief but I am here now."
"Linc you are here but it isn't a fire in your gut. When you worked for me last time it was an all consuming thing. You did a hell of a job and everyone knew it. This time you won't have your heart in it. If you even help Jake, you will just be walking through it. I don't want or need you around."
"I'm going to tell you one fucking thing Bart. If I take this job, I will do it with or without your help. It you don't cooperate with me, then believe me I won't cooperate with you. You know fucking well there are things I can do that you can't. I haven't decided to take it yet. If I do, either get on board or stay the fuck out of my way."
"Listen to me you son of a bitch. That is what I am supposed to tell you. You aren't a cop. You aren't even a licensed PI. You fuck with this investigation and I will put your ass under the jail."
"Okay you sanctimonious prick, we have both had our say. Now I am going to do what I have to do. If you don't like it, then toss my ass in jail. That is if you fucking can."
"What does that mean?"
"That means that if I take this on, there will be a whole building full of lawyers working to keep my fat ass out of jail. Everyone seems to have liked that little girl. They seem to think I can do more than you officious assholes."
"Get the fuck out of here before I lose my temper," the chief shouted.
I almost drove straight to Sam's office. Instead I decided to call from the Elms. I needed a cup of coffee. I drank the coffee before I called Sam. Of course Jed tried to give me shit. Once he saw the look on my face he decided, it was not a good day for it. He wasn't nice to me. He just didn't have anything to say.
I was fairly calm by the time I finally got Sam on the phone. "Sam we got a problem."
"What kind of problem could we have? You haven't even agreed to help Rie yet have you?"
"Not yet Sam, I have already been told by Bart that if I interfere he will lock my sorry ass up. I need some kind of legal way to look into this. I can't force him to cooperate, but I don't want to go to jail for asking questions."
"That rotten prick, I always told you cops were not to be trusted."
"Cut the politicking Sam. I need help not lectures. You figure it out and get back to me. I'm at the Elms and will be for a couple of hours."
"Okay but it may take longer than that. I think I will pull something really fancy on their ass."
"Whatever Sam, but do something today. Do it just in case I decide tomorrow. If I do I want to hit the ground running."
I hung up then called Jacob Stein. Jacob ran the county crime lab. I had known him in high school. He was one of the only two blue collar Jews I knew. I mean the local Jewish community was pretty small. I found Jacob on the second call. I had tried the Sheriff's crime lab first then his home. "Jacob, how they hanging boy." Jacob was a year or two older than me.
"Last man that called me boy is still in the hospital. But I ain't heard no complaints on how they were hanging. What's up picture man."
"I see you been reading the paper. I need to have a sit down with you."
"I could loose my job for talking with you. You know the Sheriff hates you."
"I thought he had forgiven me for being smarter than him by now. He forgave you."
"That is only because I convinced him that he figured out who did Julie. He is the only one who thinks he did, but what the hell. It saved my job."
"How about the sit down?"
"I can't go to your house and you can't come here. How about I accidentally run into you somewhere."
"I'm at the Elms."
"Ah, come on Linc not the Elms."
"Why not the Sheriff would never look for you here."
"Okay but you owe me one big time for this."
"I'll buy your dinner."
"No thanks that place is instant heart attack at least."
"Well okay, if you have them bring me a set of the Chin crime scene shots."
"Why? Are you trying to see if you left anything there?"
"What?" I asked it already knowing what he would say.
"You were suspect number one for a while on that one."
"Why because I didn't kiss Chin's ass."
"I guess, but you soon dropped off the list."
"Why is that."
"Your car was cold. Nobody figured you walked ten miles to do the hit then walked back ten miles with your clothes covered in blood. You would also have to have made the return trip in half an hour. Since yours was the first car our men checked."
"Nice to know I have at least been eliminated as a suspect."
"I didn't say that. The Sheriff still figures you did it. He just can't figure out how you did it."
"That figures, the Sheriff is an asshole."
"Maybe, but he is still the high sheriff."
"Just come on down with the photo's. Since you aren't eating I am going to start without you." I had dinner that night alone. At the Elms that wasn't unusual. I feasted on pork chops fried so hard they were like beef jerky. The kind of chops you ate with your hands like fried chicken. It was also necessary to cover them with Texas Pete. The chops along with cole slaw and hush puppies made a meal I had once a week or so. Of course it was a five napkin meal but then most of my dinners at the Elms were at least three napkin meals.
Jacob arrived while I was deep into a bowl of blackberry cobbler.
"Hello, Jacob. Sure you don't want at least some of the cobbler."
"No I'll pass on the extra five pounds as you can see I don't really need it." He said that as he patted his extra thirty pounds. Jacob had lost a few pounds. It was the influence no doubt of his new wife Jo Beth. Formerly the widow Riley.
"So Jacob how is the better half?"
"Jo? she is fine and sends you her best. You know she really was impressed with both you and Sally. I guess she will always have a soft spot in her heart for you."
Jacob didn't need to know the real reason for Jo Beth's soft spot. When I finished the cobbler the table got cleared before Jacob handed me the brown envelope. "I can't let you take these. But I do have a roll of slide film copies of them." He handed me the roll. That is an extra roll so don't worry about returning it.
I knew the slides were his way of giving me the photo's without being traceable to him. There was more than one set of prints around from which I could have made the slides myself.
"Thanks Jacob." I opened the envelope. I began looking at the crime scene.
Chneck. The light colored shirt, probably white, was covered with a dark stain. Black and white photos are much more graphic without being as brutal as color.
Beside his head there was another dark patch indicating a pool of blood. I went to the next shot which was from a distance. It showed Chin and the area around him in disarray. It appeared to be only the area surrounding Chin. The overall shot of the store seemed to show little damage. Chin didn't put up much of a struggle apparently.
"Jacob how much do you know about this Chin?"
"A little why?"
"Was he a soldier in Vietnam?"
"I don't think so. I think he was a college professor or something, why?"
"It doesn't look like he put up much of a fight. I guess he didn't know how."
"And look the body isn't behind the counter it is out front. What do you make of that."
"Nothing, that isn't my job."
I moved on to the next shot. It was another view of the store from a different angle. I noticed the coffee pot on the floor. "Jacob was there a puddle of coffee by this pot here?" I pointed to the broken glass coffee pot on the floor.
"Yeah a hell of a lot of coffee on the floor."
"Was there a stream of coffee leading from the maker to the floor or just the puddle?"
"There was a puddle on the counter but I think we determined that the coffee on the floor came from the pot. It was hard to tell there was coffee everywhere as I remember."
I looked at several more shots none especially helpful. "Jacob how do you reconstruct the incident?"
"Me, I'm a technician not a detective."
"I know, but what do you think happened."
"Okay I think the killer came in and told Chin the coffee was old. Chin came around to make a fresh pot. The killer grabbed him from behind then slit his throat."
"Then you are discounting robbery as a motive?"
"Unless he thought he could open the register after Chin died. Of course he couldn't. The register was still full of money."
"Any indications that he tried to pry, or beat it open."
"None." We sat in silence for a while. I looked at the photo's then handed them back. "Look Linc unless you got something else I need to be going."
I knew he was nervous in the Elms. "No Jacob, that is all I can think of. Thanks for the slide film. I can always use another roll."
"Right, well call me if you need anything. Call me at home though will you. If the sheriff catches me talking to you, I will be out of a job real quick."
"I will and thank you again Jacob. I owe you one, if you need anything call me."
"You don't owe me. I would say though that this makes us even. Next time you will owe me."
I left minutes after Jacob. I drove to my little house. I entered the stuffy house then turned on all the fans. I wanted to exchange the air not cool it. I loved the heat. I don't know what it was but I had made peace with hot air. I enjoyed the feel of sweat on my skin. With all the fans running, I sprawled on the sofa.
I tried to reason out what I knew so far. Not very much I decided. From the crime scene photos it looked like the random robbery motive wouldn't fly. My guess, and probably that of the police, was that our killer was still in town. I wasn't going to be able to help Jake convince Rie that the killer was in Atlanta, or some other distant city. If the motive wasn't robbery, what could it be? To answer that I would need to know a lot more about Mr. Toa. I wasn't at all sure that I wanted to learn anything about the slope. I would have to make that decision the next day. I was way past caring.
I went into the kitchen to fixe myself a serious drink. I was at the point where I usually called Helen. That night I really didn't want to talk to her. I figured it would be only a couple of words before she would hang up on me anyway. So I sat at the kitchen table with one of the photo rags to read. The story was about new equipment that I wouldn't buy.
I was engrossed in an article about filters when the phone rang. "Picture man," I said.
"Linc, Helen. Jake just called me. I'm sorry you had to learn about the sale that way."
"Me to." I waited for her to finish.
"You know I have been waiting for a chance to sell out and move to Paris,"
"This really isn't anything personal?"
"Not on your part, on your part it is stupidity." The sound of the phone hitting the cradle would have deafened me, if I hadn't been prepared. I moved the receiver away before she had time to slam it down. I wasn't over reacting at all. Helen knew that Jake and I hated each other. She also knew that Jake was no photographer. He was buying her out to try and ruin me. If she didn't know that, she was stupid. Helen was many things but she wasn't stupid. It appeared that she was just too damned selfish to care.
I had another drink as I returned to the rag. I finished it then re-read a couple more before I tried to sleep. I had the nightmares again that night. I was up most all night with a drink and a camera in my hand. The camera replaced a lot of pills. I tried to get through another night. It seemed to be about as good a goal as any those days.
The next morning I had breakfast at the Elms. I loved the biscuits that Ezra made. Ezra was Jed's younger brother. He was a fine cook. They both had learned from their mother, who started the Elms using my own mother's recipes. I ate there almost every meal since it was about as close to childhood memories as I had.
I read in the newspaper that Chin was being laid to rest at three. I drove into Williams to the camera shop. I rented a 1000mm lens. They didn't rent the lens too often so I was reasonably sure that it would be available. I called Sam from the camera store. I needed to see if he had worked out anyway to legitimize my investigation.
"Oh don't worry about it son. I have a couple of things working."
"Sam don't BS me. I need to know that I am not going to wind up in jail behind this."
"You haven't agreed to do anything yet. When you do it will be arranged."
"Okay I am going to take your word for it."
I took the lens then returned to my house. I removed the old SLR from the metal cabinet. I fitted the lens to the camera. I spent a few minutes trying to remember where my bean bags were. I finally found them buried in a box at the bottom of another metal cabinet.
I returned a few calls then went to lunch. I was killing time waiting for the funeral. I didn't plan to attend. I had other things on my mind. While I waited, I drank enough coffee to fill that broken pot of Chins. That pot still bothered me. I couldn't put a finger on it but something seemed strange about a broken coffee pot on the floor. It would probably prove to be nothing in the end, just one of those unexplained things.
At three o'clock I drove to the church. There I shot a roll of film from hiding. I recognized most of the faces but there was also a sprinkling of oriental faces. Some of the mourners had come from the Vietnamese community in Greensboro. I photographed everyone. I had two and a half rolls of film shot when the service started. I waited until I was sure there wouldn't be any last minute arrivals before I thought about stopping.
I unloaded the camera then placed all the rolls into an envelope which I sealed. I left immediately for the cemetery. I reloaded the camera then waited. I wanted to keep the two scenes separated. I didn't think it would make any difference but at least I could tell who was at one site and not the other. I had no idea that the information would prove helpful, but then things done without need often proved crucial later.
Did I have a photo of the killer? Who the hell knew. I might, but then I might not. If the motive wasn't robbery then what was it. What did the method of the kill indicate? Usually a knife is a crime of passion, but this time it probably wasn't. It seemed to be either a ritual killing or someone who preferred the knife. It would all depend on the medical examiners report. He might be able to tell if there was any significance in the use of a knife. If in fact the method of the kill indicated a military style execution, the suspects might be few. Of course I would be number one on the list.
Fortunately the mourners arrived to stop my train of thought before I decided that I must have done it myself. I had caught a break in the geography of the cemetery. Julie's grave was fifty yards away but it had a straight line of sight to the curve in the road where Chins mourners would be parking. I sat inside my car with the passenger's window half up. The top of it was covered with a bean bag. My long lens barely protruded through the opening.
I photographed every one of the arrivals in just a few minutes. I even managed a couple of late arrivals. If anyone recognized my wagon, it could be assumed that I was visiting Julie's grave. It would appear unusual only to a couple of people. Those who knew that I never visited anybody's grave. The people I loved never died. They lived in my heart, if not always in my memory. When the cars began to move out, I placed the camera in the rear seat under a blanket. I waited for the cars to pass me.
All the cars passed except one. The chief of police pulled in behind me. I got out of the car so that he wouldn't be tempted to look under the blanket.
"Visiting Julie?" he asked, knowing better.
"Sure, I thought it was about time."
"You know that I was serious about you staying the hell out of this. I don't want you bothering those folks."
"Chief, I respect you. I even thank you for all you have done for me." I stopped right there and waited for him to respond.
"Okay what is the but?"
"The but is that I may not be able to stay out of it."
"Why the hell not. You hated Chin without knowing him. You hate Jake."
"Chief, I hate everybody. If I refused to work for everybody I hate, I would starve."
"You're telling me that you are going to work for Jake to stop the competition?"
"No. someday someone will open a studio here, even if it isn't in Helen's place. I may do it because it needs doing."
"The Sheriff can handle this."
"If you believe that then you are crazier than I thought. Be that as it may, we need an antique shop here."
"Well if you do this thing, we are finished for good."
"Why does it bother you that I might look into this?"
"Because you wouldn't accept Chin when he was alive. You will however try to profit from his death. I never knew you to do a thing like that."
"It isn't personal Bart. It is like a wedding photo shoot. I don't have to sleep with the bride to do a good job."
"Dammit, it ain't the same and you know it. You are going to be no more than a parasite feeding off Chin's body."
"Okay Bart, what if I am the one who solves the whodunit. Will I still be on your shit list."
"I have all ready told you. We will solve this without your help."
"Well knock yourself out then. I had about decided that I couldn't do anything for Jake. Now I don't know."
"What do you mean?"
"Jake wanted me to reassure Rie that the killer had taken off after the failed robbery. If she truly believed that it was a random event, Jake felt he could keep her here."
"You don't think it was a robbery attempt?"
"That is the prevailing theory."
"That is crap and you know it. The dumb assed Sheriff might not but you do."
"Stay out of it Linc. This is one you need to walk away from."
"Well, that is two of you telling me to stay out of it. I wonder why everyone suddenly wants me to mind my own business. With the Sheriff it is a terminal case of dumb ass. What is it with you?"
"That family knows about you Linc. I don't want them humiliated by you. They are decent people and they have gone through enough."
"I'm sorry, I don't buy that for a minute. You know I don't like slopes, but I am certainly not going to piss on their living room floor."
"I have warned you. Don't let me find you messing around this case. If I do, I am going to lock your ass up."
"Do your fucking best then Bart." I turned my back on him and walked to my car. It didn't look as though we would ever be friends again. With Bart not talking to me, and with Helen moving away, it most likely was going to be a lonely summer.
It was too late to return the lens so I drove straight home. I fixed a frozen dinner to eat. I would rather have eaten at the Elms but I wanted to start on the slides right away. I didn't finish with the six rolls until after my bedtime. I left them to dry while I crawled into my bed.
I awoke the next morning after a full nights uninterrupted sleep. It was a complete novelty. It also left me feeling really good. So good in fact that I left the film hanging in the dryer while I went to the Toyota. I had planned to drive to the Elms for breakfast. I got into the car only to find that I had locked my keys in the house. It was something I did on a regular basis.
I took the spare key from under the flower pot on the rear steps. The pot hadn't had a flower since my mother passed away. I thought I could remember seeing flowers in it while growing up, but I wasn't quite sure. Once inside I found the keys but thought what the hell. I stayed home and mounted the slides instead of going to breakfast.
It was lunch time when I went to the Toyota again. By that time I had finished the slides. I planned to double up on my lunch order at the Elms. I found the door standing open on the Toyota. I had only meant to run into the house for my keys so had left it open. I noticed that the overhead light was not burning. It meant simply the battery was as dead as old Chin. I tried the switch just to make sure but nothing happened. I should have bought a new battery over a month before. The car had become hard to start even then.
I went back into the house to called the downtown service station. I explained it all to Matt the owner. He made me a deal. If I would buy the fifty buck battery, he would send Jerome out to install it free. Since the service call, for a jump-start, was ten bucks I figured it brought the cost of the battery down to a reasonable price.
Jerome was a nice enough kid so when he arrived I gave him a glass of iced tea before he installed the new battery. I handed him my keys so that he could check it out when he finished. I went into the bathroom to take another shower. I had soaked my clothes just mounting the slides and cursing the car.
Suddenly the house shook and the glass flew. Involuntarily I shouted, "Incoming" as I dived for the floor. I waited for another explosion none came. The release of tension caused me to be sick. I didn't have any food in my stomach so the only thing I threw up was bile. When I stopped shaking, I walked outside. I had no idea what had happened for a moment. Even as my eyes focused on the burning Toyota, it took a moment longer for the recognition to sink in.
Part of poor Jerome was in the car and part of him was on the ground outside the car. The Toyota was all over my yard. A big piece of the frame had survived the explosion. It was where part of Jerome still sat. He was of course burning. I was stunned for a second. I ran back into the house to call the local police and fire departments. Each had a separate number at that time.
They all seemed to arrive at the same time. The police cars blocked off the street and the fire trucks pulled up to begin pumping water on the burning car. My little house had some severe damaged but hadn't caught fire or collapsed thank god. All the window glass was blown out both in the house and the studio. There might not be any glass left on the whole street.
I was in a bit of a daze. It was the kind of thing that hadn't happened to me in well over ten years. I was almost on the verge of loosing it again when Bart asked, "What happened here?"
"Beats the shit out of me. I left the door open on the Toy while I went into the house. I forgot about it. I stayed inside about three hours. My battery was weak. When the car wouldn't start, I called Matt down at the station. He sold me a battery. Jerome brought it over to install. I gave Jerome the keys, while I stayed inside to take a shower. Next thing I know hell breaks loose."
"Do you think the battery might have exploded then got the gas tank."
"No, there was only one explosion."
"Are you sure."
"Damn it Bart, I can count rounds. If I heard only one, then there was just the one." He didn't comment.
I know he was hoping for an accidental gas tank explosion. I was probably wishing for one harder than he was. If it wasn't an accident someone was hunting me. Someone with enough savvy to plant bombs was not the kind of man to have after your ass.
Bart came inside to wait for a damage report. He also called the crime lab. Ordinarily the chief would have one of his men or a fireman collect evidence. It looked as though this one might prove too much for them to handle. I didn't want anything overlooked. I was pleased that I didn't have to make the request for Bart to call Jacob.
From that point on I stayed out of the crime scene. I ran an iced tea station until I ran out of ice. The chief sent Ed to the closest quick stop for ice. It was hot as hell on the firemen and investigators. The iced tea ran out often. I kept a pot boiling all that afternoon. The chief was even nice enough to have Ed make a sandwich run. I hadn't eaten all day and I had no car. Needless to say I was grateful.
Jacob came in after a couple of hours. "Chief we need to tow all this junk to an impound yard, every bit and piece of it."
"Jacob," I asked, "What was it?"
"Don't know about the explosive, but it was definitely a bomb. It was probably on the gas tank. I found a couple of strands of wire used for the blasting cap."
"Do me a favor Jacob find out how sophisticated this thing was?"
"If it was a stick of dynamite it might be a pissed off customer, but anything more and it might be something more serious. Who ever it was didn't mean this as a warning. I am supposed to be dead."
"Okay Linc, who have you pissed off lately?" Bart asked.
"Besides you and the Sheriff no one."
"You aren't implying that it was either of us are you?"
"I'm not implying anything. I am simply stating a fact. Not to many customers get pissed enough to blow up my car."
"Well it isn't unheard of is it?"
"Are you people never going to forget the one time I got shot at. For god's sake that was five years ago."
"Maybe he has a long memory," Bart stated.
"Sure he works in a supermarket. They have lots of bomb making material on aisle four." I stopped and thought about practical matters for a while. I called the handyman who worked for me occasionally.
"Pete this is Linc, can you get over here. I need some work done. Stuff I don't have time to do myself. Oh some window glass replaced that kind of thing. Sure I'll wait, if you are really on the way. With you Pete, I'm on the way could be two hours."
Pete arrived after the tow truck hauled the Toy away. My insurance agent had been so curious that he rushed right over to see the damage. Nothing this big had happened in our little town since Mike's garage was blown up two years before. I had been involved in that one too.
We assessed the damage so that Pete would deliver his bill to the insurance company. I checked the studio and found other than broken glass nothing was damaged. Pete went to work while I got on the phone trying to find a car in a hurry. There were no rental agencies in out little town.
Eddy Joe, at the Ford dealer, was the only one in town who would rent me a car. He wasn't all that happy about it, since I had just had one blown up. He agreed but the price was so steep that a couple of days was all I could afford.
I left Pete working while I took a cab to the dealership. "Eddy Joe, how they hanging."
"Better'n your's I imagine."
"Got that right. Mine are pulled so far inside me that they ain't hanging at all," I said.
"I told Stan to find you the oldest ugliest trade in we had back there. I ain't about to send you out in anything we might be able to sell."
"That isn't Stan the animal is it Eddy Joe."
"Not hardly, this kid is so young you don't even know all of his brothers and sisters."
"Good, but Eddy Joe there isn't much chance of a second bomb. You don't have to give me the worst piece of shit on the lot."
"The bomb threat has nothing to do with it. Everyone in town knows you are the worst driver around here."
"I have never been charged with an accident."
"No, but you caused plenty of them. That Toyota didn't have a scratch till you got it. It looked like a relief map of the moon last time I saw it."
"Actually it looks worse than that right now."
Eddy Joe stopped to think about that one. "Got any idea who tried to orbit you."
"None, hell I ain't been involved in anything lately."
"Is Helen pissed at you again?"
"Yeah, but she is always pissed at me."
"That's the gospel. I don't know why you two don't stop seeing each other all together."
"We probably will. Look Eddy Joe, what you got for me to drive."
He turned his head and shouted. "Stan, That piece of shit ready?"
"Yeah boss it's ready. I'll bring it around."
What came pulling from the service area was a postal mail jeep. It wasn't painted like a mail jeep but it was right hand drive.
"What the fuck is this Eddy Joe a joke."
"No Joke, old man Sams retired from the post office. He traded this piece of shit in on a new Thurnderbird. It has been sitting in the back lot till this morning. When you called I figured it was the only thing I didn't mind loosing."
"You truly are a prick Eddie Joe."
"That is the only thing I will rent you. Take it or leave it." I took it.
Getting used to the right hand drive was a pure bitch. I hit about half the curbs in town before I could maneuver the piece of shit jeep.
I had two stops to make that afternoon. First I drove the ugly jeep to the mall in Williams. I found my way into the home depot there. I found just what I wanted in the electrical section of the store. I added a few additional items just to make everything work. After that stop I drove to the home of Jerome's mother.
I found a large crowd both on the front lawn and inside the small frame house. I lived in a two bedroom house myself. I knew just how small one of the boxes is. I wasn't at all surprised to see the men standing on the lawn. The women were not to be seen. Obviously they were inside the house comforting the victim's'mother.
I passed through the men on the lawn. I knew every one of them more or less. I said a few words to each of them. I was obligated, since they all knew Jerome took the hit for me. I was surprised, as I always was, that the dead seem to become smarter, nicer and better looking, simply because they were dead. Jerome was a jerk. He was almost a gnome. I mean he was ugly, mean spirited, and lazy. I mean the kid worked as errand boy for a gas station.
Look, pumping gas didn't make him a lesser man. Dying didn't make him a rocket scientist either. I was extremely sorry that he took my place in that car, but frankly I was glad that it wasn't me in there. I didn't volunteer it but if someone had asked, I would have admitted it. His mother understandably thought her son was wonderful. Every mother thinks that she has the best son in the world. Nobody agreed with Jerome's mother until that day.
I found her sitting on the sofa crying. I wouldn't have been surprised, if she had cursed me or ordered me out of her house. She did neither. She led me into a rear bedroom. I was surprised at how old she looked. I had seen her around town a few times. She had never looked so old before. It could have been the shock of Jerome's death or the manner of it.
"Linc," she said to me. "You are going to find the person responsible for my Jerome's death ain't you." I simply nodded. "Promise me that when you do you will kill them. I don't want a trial. They can't walk free because my son was a nobody. I want them to pay same as they would, if his name was Adams. Promise me Linc."
"Oh yeah." It was all I could say. She hadn't raised her voice when she asked for the death of another human being. It was in her mind the way things should be, an eye for an eye. I was sorry to admit that I wanted to kill whoever it was for a more selfish reason. I wanted to go on living. It appeared as though if that person lived, I wouldn't. Jerome's mother seemed to feel better after I agreed. I left her in the living room accepting the words of sympathy from her neighbors.
I drove the ugly little jeep to the Elms for dinner. That night Jed didn't give me a hard time. I had my head buried in a bowl of chili flavored pinto beans with onions when Jed came over to the booth. "Man, I want you to know I am sorry about that kid. I know you are mighty pissed off about it all. I just want you to know. I give you hell, but I don't want nothin'' like that to happen."
"I know Jed and thanks."
"You gonna be all right man?"
"Tomorrow," I said. I stood and left a buck on the counter for the beans. I got into the jeep. Then I drove it home.
It was after five when I arrived. I parked the jeep close to the rear of the house. I removed the hardware items. I immediately began building my alarm. It was based on the premise that no one would try the same thing twice, but better safe than sorry. The first thing I did was place the rather large six volt lantern battery under the wheel well. I then wired the mercury filled switch from a household thermostate to one of the jeeps two horns. I balanced the switch on a pencil to make a trembler. Anyone moving the jeep would set off the horn. All I had to do was to remember to disconnect the alarm before I tried to enter the jeep.
I went into the house to check my messages. I had a message from Jake and one from Sam. Jake advised me that the meeting with the family was scheduled for two PM the next afternoon. Sam's message was that he wanted to see me before the meeting at one thirty in his office. I listened to all the others. I even returned one or two. I got in touch with a prospective bride. I was forced to apologize for the lateness of the call. I was about to give her a bullshit excuse when she cut me off.
"I heard the news on the TV after I made the call. Linc I thought you would be too upset to return my call at all."
I evaded her curiosity as I gave her my speel. We agreed to meet at my studio the next evening after five. I tried in vain to call another customer. There was no answer at the number she had left for me. I sat down to a drink and my photo magazines. Photography had become more than my occupation. It had become my salvation. I spent most of my time with either a camera or a magazine about cameras in my hands. I had developed into a very narrow person. I was at least, for the most part, a sane one. Without that burning interest I probably would have gone mad.
I managed to make it through another night without the nightmares. I awoke feeling really good. Just waking up made it a better day than Jerome was going to have. I had a couple of cups of coffee then slipped into the shower.
After the shower I went to the ugly little jeep. I looked it over completely. I checked the grass around the little box. I noted that the grass was still standing from the night before. I checked the Mercury switch and it was still in the same location. I set off the horn when I tried to disconnect the battery. I had accidentally shaken the jeep when I reached for the battery to unhook the spring clip. I checked the hood for signs of tampering then raised it to look underneath. Thankfully the jeep had very few parts and lots of room under the hood. I spotted the starter and starter relay quickly. All the wires looked old and dirty. Everything appeared normal to me.
I gave Ezra pretty much the whole bombing story over my breakfast. He was concerned, but since we liked each other it wasn't unexpected. He also offered to help me in anyway he could. It was a nice gesture but I had already gotten one man killed. I thought I might just tough this one out alone.
My first stop after breakfast was the service station. I had Matt put the jeep on his lift. He was rather upset about Jerome. He talked about Jerome constantly. During the conversation he managed to check out the jeep. He could find nothing wrong with it. Maybe a little wear on the tie rods but not enough to bother with at the moment he assured me.
I left the station fifty five bucks poorer. Matt charged me five for the check up and fifty for the battery that got blown up. I would have argued, if I hadn't listened to fifteen minutes of how much he was going to miss poor ole Jerome.
I drove the jeep to the Ford dealership. I parked it right beside the front door. I parked it in the fire lane beside the door. Anyone entering the showroom would have to walk around it. "Sir you can't park that vehicle there."
"I know," I said it walking toward the rear office. When I arrived at Eddie Joe's door I said, "You damned thief that is the worst thing you have ever done to me. I mean kicking the shit out of me at high school football practice was nothing compared to saddling me with that sorry piece of shit you call a car."
"Good morning to you too Linc," Eddie grinned.
"Don't good morning me you crook. I am not going to rent that thing anymore. I want a decent car for my twenty bucks a day."
"I told you yesterday that I would not rent you a sellable car. Now take your jeep and get out." He was laughing so hard that tears streamed down his face.
"I'm not kidding Eddie Joe. I will not pay rent for that piece of crap."
"Well then Linc you are going to have to buy a car from me." Eddie wasn't angry he was having a hell of a good time.
A crowd of employees had gathered. They tried to hide the fact that they were listening. Most of them were new since the time I bought the Toyota wagon from Eddie. There is a lot of turn over in the car business.
"I'll tell you what you worn out old man. I will buy that piece of crap from you. Just so that I can drive it to Williams. When I get there I am gonna' trade it on a Chevrolet."
"Okay you broken down, no talent, piece of shit photographer give me a grand and it is yours."
"Grand what, you can't mean money for that piece of crap out there. I will take if off your hands for a hundred bucks. You are getting off cheap at that. The junk yard would charge you to haul it off."
"Look Linc we been friends for a lot of years. I know you don't mean that. Because of our long friendship, I will take eight hundred for that fine automobile."
"It ain't an automobile. It is a fucking mail jeep for god's sake. On top of everything else it is ugly."
"Right," he said, "Like that urine yellow Toyota wasn't ugly."
"Might I remind you that you told me what a beautiful color it was when you sold it to me."
"You are right. I feel guilty about that to. So I will let you have the wonderful little jeep for six hundred."
"You must mean six hundred pennies. You can't mean dollars. I'll tell you what. Call me a brain damaged ass but I will give you five."
"Everyone knows you are brain damaged. I always felt sorry for you. Okay, I will take the five but you pay the tax and registration fees."
I took out my check book, the one in the plastic imitation leather cover. I wrote him a check for four hundred dollars. "Here you have a hundred dollars of my money so this should square us."
"No way, You have a days rental at twenty bucks and the tax and transfer fee will be another thirty."
I put my hand inside my pants and removed twenty-five dollars. "Okay you money hungry pig. I am going to spit the fees with you. Take that just so you will shut up." I threw the money on his desk.
"Fine," he shouted. "Thanks for your business." Then we both broke into laughter.
Eddy Joe looked at the stunned faces of the employees. They had stopped pretending not to be eavesdropping. "Now that people is how you sell a car that should be on the junk heap. I'll have Stan run down to the impound and get your tags off the Toyota."
"I would call first. There may not be any tags to pick up."
"Good idea, I'll have the papers ready this afternoon."
"If I don't make it tonight, I will be by tomorrow sometime."
"Fair enough," Eddy Joe said. We shook hands before I left. It was a game we played every four or five years. Since the employees changed so often, it always got the same reaction.
I stopped at the Elms for a burger before my appointment with Sam. That day it was Ezra's turn to handle the lunch crowd. He came to my table with the burger. He put it down and stood over me. Things were hopping so he didn't have time to sit. "Linc I heard something last night at church. I think you should know."
"What's that Ezra?"
"You know that the church runs a soup kitchen down in the End." The End was a section of town designated that because it was the end of the line for both the town and the residents of the area. "Word is down there someone is looking to hire a man to kill you."
I was surprised and more than a little worried. I wanted to ask who was doing the hiring. I didn't because I knew Ezra would tell me, if he knew.
"Any takers?" I asked instead.
"Shit no, them that don't like you is scared to death of you. You know somebody gonna need a drink or a fix bad enough to try though."
"I guess the man ain't offered enough money yet?"
"Well he might have by now. You best be watchin' yourself man." He paused as if embarrassed.
"Is there more E?"
"I hate to tell you this. I know it sounds ignorant but Miss Lizzie, the woman who runs the kitchen, put a hex on the man what's tryin' to hire a brother to hit you."
"I don't think that is ignorant. Hell E, thank her for me. I need all the help I can get."
"That's what she says." He broke into a smile.
After lunch instead of driving to Sam's office I drove home. I picked up my old army colt. It had been a gift from the Chief a couple of years ago when we were tight. Those days I expected him to ask for it back any minute. Carrying it concealed was a misdemeanor. Getting killed for the lack of it seemed like it might be a terminal felony. I had it concealed in my waist band under the photographers vest. It was of course going to show when I sat down.
I stood while I waited for Sam's secretary to come for me. That time she led me into his office. I sat across the big mahogany desk. I waited while the older and larger man finished reading a paper. I am sure he did it for effect. Sam did most things for effect.
"Linc, I solved your problem. I wanted to explain it before you meet with the family."
"How did you do it Sam?" I was curious about what Sam had been able to arrange. I wasn't expecting more than some legal shenanigans.
"This morning the governor announced that he was appointing a special prosecutor for this murder."
"He called it a hate crime that required special attention."
"Ah, seeking the minority vote again?"
"Probably, but that isn't any concern to us. I am that special prosecutor. I am appointing you my special investigator. When you leave here run by the clerks office and get sworn in."
"Why you Sam? You have spent your life on the other side?" I looked at him hard. He didn't answer right away. "Shit, Sam are you going into politics? You are. You are going to run for some office. This is going to be your stepping stone. Sam I don't like this at all."
"You don't have to like it Linc. From what I hear you are already in it up to your ass anyway."
"Yeah, but I can get out of it. All I have to do is let it be known that I changed my mind. Tell them I decided to not get involved."
"Maybe but you won't. You are a man hunter. It is what you do best. You are going to hunt whoever killed Jerome because it was supposed to be you. You need information to hunt him. I can get it for you. If you come to work for me, you will have full access to the police and sheriff's files. They won't be able to spit without you knowing it."
"Bullshit Sam, you don't know cops. Those guys will just stop writing reports. You can't pry information from a man's mind."
"They aren't going to stonewall me. This is my chance to be the next governor. I damned well intend to have someone sitting in the gas chamber for these two murders."
"Then you think they are related?"
"Come on don't try to bull shit me. Once assassination and then a bombing, you bet your ass I thing they are related and so do you."
"Well add one more little piece of information. Someone is going through the end looking to hire a hit man."
"My god, who do they want hit?" Sam asked it with more than simple curiosity.
"You? shit you better take the job. I can get you a carry permit in an hour."
"You can also defend me, if I don't bother." I laid the heavy Colt on his desk."
"Let's get to the bottom line. What do you want to work for me?"
"I want my deal with Jake in writing. I can't give him one of the things he wanted, but I did try. I am going to try to give him the other, but I want it all written down. From you Sam I want to share in the reward, if I help catch this son of a bitch."
"The deal with Jake is no problem. The other I will agree to only, if you don't kill him before trial. I have to make a show to get what I want."
"I can't promise that he will live for a trial, but I will try."
"No trial no reward."
"Fair enough, in that case I will give you a bill based on my hourly rate no matter the outcome. You will of course pay that bill, or I will make this conversation public."
"Sure your word against mine."
"Not exactly," I said removing the cassette recorder from my vest pocket.
Sam could have reacted several ways. He broke into a large laugh. "Okay you win. I should have known you would do that. Hell, the word is you record almost everything."
"I have for years." I stood. Sam buzzed for his secretary. She led me into the conference room. There was a crowd waiting for me.
Jake sat at the head of the long table. The widow Toa sat on his right. A young oriental woman sat on his left. I assumed she was the girlfriend Rie. Next to the widow was another oriental man approximately her age. Beside Rie sat the brother. He looked about the same age as Rie. The women were both dressed in black. The older man wore a dark suit and looked uncomfortable in it. The younger male Toa wore a white shirt and black slacks. Everyone was in black. The oriental faces sitting on top of black clothes made a chill run down my spine.
That was the look of my enemy. I had fought the war before the enemy wore the NVA uniform. In my war the enemy was these people dressed in black. I suppressed my desire to run from the room. "Jake, if you don't mind I would like to sit there." He minded all right, but he moved anyway.
He sat next to the younger female Toa. "Linc this is the widow Toa." He said pointing to her. "This is Chins daughter Rie and his son Jip." The older man was Chin's brother To Toa. Most of the names are pronounced in burst of sounds that don't come easy to a westerners tongue.
I was happy when the boy informed me that he was called Jay. He spoke pretty good English and I was glad. The widow spoke no English. Mrs Chin's brother spoke almost no English. Rie spoke almost flawless English.
I took over before Jake could bore us all to death. "My name is Linc. I am going to try to help the police find your father's killer." The old lady began to jibber jabber for what seemed like a couple of minutes. "What did she say?" I asked Rie.
She shook her head but Jay answered. "Mama says you are the ghost. That you will not help us. She says she is afraid of you. She wishes to leave."
"Why does she think I am a ghost."
"Not a ghost, the ghost," Rie said. "My father described you that way to her. We all know who you are Mr. Jefferson. The police chief used to drink often with my father. He warned my father to stay away from you. Father in turn warned mother and the children. The chief says you never really came all the way home. You still fight the war, he said."
"I guess he meant the nightmares. Tell your mother that I might not have helped her once, but now the same person is trying to kill me. I will do what I can to find him." I waited while the four of them jibber jabbered some more.
"So what is the verdict," I asked during a break in the noise.
"My uncle says you are a man with the eyes of a man killer. He says we should tell you everything then listen to you. In the end we must decide for ourselves what is best for our family."
"That is, as it should be." I said. "Tell me who you think might have killed your husband." I addressed the words to the widow even though I knew she did not understand. Jay translated the words before his sister could speak.
"My mother says she thinks it was someone in the town who hates us. She would probably have named you, if you were not sitting here."
I nodded. "Anyone else come to mind?"
The son answered again. "No one in particular."
"Did your father receive any threats recently. You know any hate messages of any kind."
"No more than the usual social snubs by your people."
"Look Jay, let's get one thing straight right now. I don't have any people. I am a citizen of the world son. I hate everybody equally, ask Jake."
"He is right Jay. Linc believes in treating everybody equally. He hates us all. That is probably why he will be able to do this when no one else can."
I looked at Jake. It was far from a compliment, but it was as close as he would come. "Now do any of them stand out as different from the rest." Nothing was mentioned.
"Okay Mr. Toa, who do you think killed your brother?"
"My uncle says it was north Vietnamese terrorist." He looked down as if embarrassed.
"I see you don't think so?"
"No," Jay said, "The war is over and we are forgotten."
"Ask your uncle why the North Vietnamese would bother to come for his brother?"
"He says that my father was a brave fighter for freedom. He helped the Americans. He was on the gangsters hit list before he escaped to Thailand. Uncle believes they have followed him here."
"Rie, who do you think might have done this thing?"
"I don't know. At first I thought it was a robbery, but now I just don't know."
"If it weren't a robbery, can you think of anyone who might want to kill your father?"
"No not really."
"If not really means there might be someone, then tell me please."
"The niggers who live near the highway hated my father. He kept a close eye on them and often caught them stealing from him." Her harsh words surprised me. Especially her use of the word nigger. I would have expected more tolerance from a slope. I guess every race has to feel superior to some other race.
"How about you Jay. Do you have any ideas."
"Your government killed my father, but you will never prove it."
"Why would the government kill your father?"
"I don't know, but I know the CIA had something to do with it. They always were involved in our lives."
"How so kid?"
"I'm not a kid." He was angry. I don't guess I could blame him. "They got us out of the country and into the camp in Thailand. While others lived on a handful of rice a day, we got food packages. Then we suddenly moved to the top of the list for immigration to this country. I think pop had something on them. They killed him to keep him quiet."
There was a different flaw in each of their theories. I had listened to each of them. None made much sense at all. I had no idea where to begin.
I sat in the conference room after the Toa family was ushered out by Jake. I waited trying to sort it out before I made my next move. I had a plan but only for about ten minutes. I planned to go to the clerk's office to get sworn in. I looked up as Sam and Jake entered the room.
"So where are we?" Sam asked.
"We are in the information collection stage. Nothing they told me seems to hold up. Then again I don't have any other ideas right now. I need to get a look at the police reports and the medical examiners report."
Sam opened his manila folder. He pushed a copy of the official sheriff's incident report. It was the first in a long stream of reports which would accumulate on an open investigation. The reports wouldn't stop until the case was closed. There would be about twenty percent of the known facts listed on the report. The other eighty percent were in the investigator's head.
I skipped right to the bottom of the report. I might have caught a break. The investigator assigned to the case was none other than my old friend Jasper. Jasper was a tall lean man, with an average mind. Best of all in my case was that Jasper and I sat on the football bench together during high school. Jasper lacked the size and speed to play. I am told that I lacked the aggressive nature. My how times do change.
"Sam do you think Jasper will cooperate with us?"
"No reason he wouldn't. The sheriff is under orders to make his people available to us."
"How about Bart? Is he under the same orders."
"Sure, the mayor is a friend of mine and an admirer of yours."
"Betty Sims, she is hardly and admirer."
"Betty Allen Sims, she is a very great admirer of yours. She got married while you were gone, but she remembers you from before. Of course you weren't the same man in those days. I think she likes the new one better."
"Sorry, I don't remember her, but I'll take your word for it. Have you got the medical examiner's report in there." He pushed another piece of paper toward me. "I don't suppose there are any interview reports?"
"None at all. I know they have talked to people but there are no reports."
"There won't be any until they have a suspect. If there are no reports, there can be no criticism of the interviews. The ones necessary to make the case will eventually show up in the file, but not till the end. I am going to need to talk to Jasper. How about you setting that up Sam." Sam nodded while making a note.
"I am also going to need some kind of ID to flash at the locals." Sam pushed a leather case to me. I opened it and found an ID signed by the governor. It needed a photo but that is what I did. I didn't see any problem there. "I'm going to the clerks office to get sworn in. Just to make all this kosher. Call me at either the house or the Elms, when you arrange for Jasper to meet with me. I have a five o'clock appointment at the house."
The swearing in took about twenty seconds. When I got home I talked to the bride. I also pressed her into service to shoot the polaroid I D picture. She was happy to oblige. We signed a contract for her wedding. I gave her ten bucks off for shooting the picture for me. I sat at my desk and carefully read the reports after she had gone.
Unfortunately I didn't learn anything from either the incident report or the autopsy report. I could tell from the pictures that the wound was massive. The bruising around the neck indicated a powerful person held him from behind while slashing his throat. The verification was nice but I had either known or guessed all that previously.
I removed a blank paper from the desk drawer. I wrote all the possible motives I could think of so far. I even included the ones from the family. Then I wrote beside each one, facts that made it unlikely. There were three things I worked on when trying to solve a whodunit, Motive, means, and opportunity. When I could figure those I generally had my man. The right person or persons would have all of them. I had read in one of the FBI homicide manuals that if you find the motive you can usually find your killer. Often you worked on the others first. In this case the means ruled out all the known women, and most of the known men being the actual hitter.
Of course with women having at least half the wealth in this country a hitter could be hired. Even that tended to rule out a whole lot of people. Not too many women around town had the kind of money needed to hire an assassin. Not one who could do that to a man anyway. Most of the killers around here would have used a shotgun. That brought me back to a ritual hit. A knife at close rang is a pretty nasty way to make a hit. It was both physically and mentally dirty business. Then of course there was the bomb in my car. If Ezra's friends had their story straight, someone was out trying to hire another hit on me. Why didn't the same man come for me again? Because, he had already left town. Maybe he had been hired for the one hit then gone. When it looked like I would be dirtying the water, the person who hired him found someone else to take a crack at me. Then that person was gone before the need for a new hitter was known. It didn't wash. Too many people, conspiracies don't work that way. One person may hire another person to do a hit, but they don't keep hiring people. It is dangerous to hire people one after another. You don't just look in the yellow pages. You cant just go to "Hits are us." You have to get out there and meet the hitter. Nothing made sense.
I was at that point when I heard my door bell. I have an extension bell in the studio for my house doorbell. I also have one in the house for my studio bell. I am usually in the wrong building when customers come looking for me. Since I was in the studio and the house bell rang, I walked around the side of the house to see who was at the door.
The black man on my porch holding the shotgun had expected me to open the front door. He was as surprised as I was. He hadn't expected me to walk around the corner of the house. I hadn't expected a man with a gun to be waiting for me.
He raised the shotgun while I jumped back behind the corner wall. I struggled to remove the Colt from my waist band. I was lucky I didn't shoot myself in the ass. When I had the colt out, I rounded the corner of the house on my belly. I no longer saw the man.
There were two equally crappy possibilities. One, he had taken off around the house to get me from the rear. Two, he had jumped behind the porch foundation and was waiting for me to come get him.
I figured my best chance was to get in the jeep and drive around the house. I might, with a little luck, be able to keep from being shot in the process. Fortunately, the jeep was parked on my side of the house. Unfortunately, it was right hand drive. It would leave me exposed while I backed it out front. I had to chance the relationship to the house. I wanted to keep as much metal as possible between me and the shooter.
The jeep was noisy as hell. Once it started, I revved the hell out the engine then popped the clutch. I held the wheel in my left hand and the .45 in my right as I tore off in reverse. I couldn't stop in time to avoid the small tree in the yard. It was small enough that I mowed it down with the surging jeep. I swung the jeep around so that at least some of it was between me and the house. I pulled even with the porch quickly.
I saw the flash at the same time that I fired the Colt. I pumped four heavy slugs in the direction of the flash then I felt the pain. I wanted to pass out but I fought it hard. The black man stood and tried to run on the broken leg. I ran him down with the jeep. I hit him at about twenty miles per hour. I could hear the crunch of bones. Then I saw the body fly off the hood toward the street. He landed about ten feet away but I didn't know it. I was already unconscious when the jeep hit the tree and stalled. Fortunately when I passed out, my foot lifted from the accelerator. The jeep had geared itself down to a few miles per hour when it struck the tree.
I rode in an ambulance for the first time that evening. I don't remember it at all. I had gone into shock. It was the first time I had been shot at since the Nam. And definitely the first time I had been hit.
The first person I saw when I opened my eyes was Helen. She waited until she was sure I was wide awake before she spoke. I hadn't taken my eyes off her.
"You dumb ass, I can't leave you alone for a minute. What have you gotten yourself into this time."
"God Helen, I thought I had died and you were an angel. One sent to would guide me into heaven."
"Fat chance, when you die there will be a man with horns waiting for you."
"Linc you okay?" I looked at Jasper who had asked the question.
"Jasper now isn't the best time for our meeting, but I will try to manage." Darkness closed over me again.
The next time I awoke there was an overweight nurse standing by the bed. "You sure gave everyone a scare."
She ignored me. "Do you know where you are?" I looked around and recognized it as a hospital. I nodded. "Where then."
My mouth was dry. "Water," I mumbled. The nurse held a glass with a straw in it. I swallowed a couple of times before she pulled it away.
"Not too much. Now where are you?"
"In a hospital, I would guess Williams. How long have I been here."
"Since last night. You scared the hell out of your friends. The injuries were pretty minor as shotgun blast go. You were doing fine. Then you had a seizure right in front of your girl friend. She fainted and the cop visiting you almost puked."
"Yeah, I hear they can be pretty nasty."
"I got to call the resident. You hang in there." He came in a few minutes. I explained about the old head wound. He told me that the seizure was probably a fluke. I had taken a couple of number two duck shot in the shoulder and three in the side. I was lucky that more hadn't struck me. I was sure the jeep would be full of holes. He wanted to keep me a couple of days for observation. I didn't respond. I knew I would be gone when he turned his back.
I had survived the damage. I was adorned with a bandage on my left arm and another one on my side. I didn't seem to be in all that much pain. I was pumped full of pain killers but I didn't feel too stiff or anything. I asked the nurse to bring any visitors I had back into the room.
They both had gone she informed me. I was tired so I figured, I would take a nap then check out when I awoke. I must have slept a long time because when I woke there was another familiar face sitting in the bedside chair.
The mass of short honey blond hair perched atop the smooth face of the amazon SBI agent was all too familiar. "Sally what the devil are you doing here?" I asked.
"I came to protect you," she said.
"I don't need anyone to protect me."
"That's how it looks to me too. I guess I will tell the governor that you like being shot."
"The governor? What has he got to do with this?"
"It isn't often that we get an assistant to the special state prosecutor shot two hours after he is sworn in. The Governor takes that sort of thing seriously. You know it shows a definite lack of respect for his authority."
"I'm not an assistant special prosecutor. I'm a fucking photographer."
"I know. I tried to tell him you weren't worth saving, but he didn't agree so here I am. I would have kissed you hello, but I am afraid you would go into another convulsion,"
"Thank you for thinking of me. Now what are you really doing here?"
"I told you. You know I am a member of the special protection unit. When the call came in I volunteered. I figured to mix a little business with pleasure."
"Okay then it's business first. I hear this is a second attempt. By the way aren't you curious about the hitter."
"Not really, let me try to tell you. He was a poor street dude. He had no known ties to me whatsoever, and he was using a shotgun with duck shot, hardly a pro. He is also, I assume, no longer among the living."
"Correct on all counts. How did you know he was dead. Did you take his pulse before you passed out."
"No, but I heard the crunch of bone as he tried to fly away."
"Did they tell you that in addition to the shots, you got a nasty crack on the head."
"They aren't going to let you drive for two weeks. They are afraid you might have another seizure. Looks like I am your new chauffeur. At least for the next two weeks I am."
"Bullshit, I got things to do. I can't drag your skinny ass around all that time."
"Look you dumb ass, you might remember that I don't need dragging around. I do damned near everything better than you."
"I'm glad you put damned near in. I thought for a minute you were going to tell me that you were superior to me in everything."
"No asshole," she said with her voice high and loud. "You can piss off the side of a moving train."
We were both laughing when the knock came at the door. I noticed her move quickly between me and the door. "Come in," I said when she nodded.
Sally replaced the pistol, which she had hidden behind her leg, when Helen entered. She had never met Helen. I introduced them and watched them circle each other like cats about to do battle.
"I brought you some flowers Linc," Helen said.
"Thank you honey, I appreciate the thought. You might as well take them home though. I am leaving here in a couple of hours."
She began to cry and ran from the room. "What the fuck was that all about," Sally asked. I shrugged.
"Women who can figure them out?" She asked.
I raised an eyebrow but changed the subject. "Hand me the phone will you. I need to talk to Jasper."
"That tall drink of water we had to hold back last time."
"Yeah, he is the Sheriff's investigator on this thing."
"God they do need you."
"Need or not they got me now. They will probably want to close this case. You know the man who tried to kill me is dead so the case is closed."
"How many homeless guys you know can rig a car bomb."
"They try that?" I nodded. "Damn, this is serious."
"That's how I figure it."
"Any idea who?"
"Not yet but I'm trying. Actually I just started. It is strange that they would start this before I even got close. I mean why bother. If the cops don't worry them why would I?"
"Something about you that is different from the cops. Let's see. You are smart but for all I know they are too. You served in the Nam, but then why would that be significant. I mean sure Toa was a slope, but so what it was a big country. You didn't know him did you?" I shook my head. "I can't figure out anything else, but I don't see it."
"I don't either. Maybe it will come when we work out Toa."
"There is no we paleface. I am here strictly to keep you alive while you figure it out."
"Then hand me the phone and let me call Jasper." I dialed the sheriff's number. I was told that Jasper was unavailable. I didn't feel up to flexing the new muscle yet so I told her to have him call.
Instead of a call half hour later he was in the room. "We need to talk," he said. He was motioning with his head for Sally to leave. I convinced her that Jasper would stay while she went for dinner. She was to bring me something when she returned in half an hour.
"We got a problem. The sheriff wants to close this case."
"Which case Jasper."
"Both them, Willie Lee the man you shot, then ran over, had a big old buck knife on him. It tested positive for Chin's blood."
"What possible motive could Willie Lee have for killing Chin, then me."
"Don't need none according to the Sheriff. He just wants to close this one quick, since the state is into it. Gonna call it the acts of a crazy street person."
"Give the sheriff this message for me. If he closes this case I am going to make him eat crap, when I find the real killer. Last time I let him have the credit for landing the broad, but this time he can't take the credit, if the case is closed."
"I'll tell him. He won't dare close it, till he is sure you can't solve it. For the record I don't think that Willie Lee could rig a bomb. They tell me his hands shake so bad that he could hardly hold his wine bottle."
"I can't imagine Chen letting that kind of person get behind him either. Especially, if he felt about blacks like his daughter."
"Oh he did all right. The word I hear is that there was no mourning in the black community for Mr. Toa."
"Did you hear anything during your interviews about maybe this being a political hit?" I asked.
"Not a word. Is it?"
"I don't know. I just heard rumblings from the family. You talked to them. Didn't they mention it to you."
"Not a word, they were sticking with the robbery angle. You know not an enemy in the world."
"Well, he had at least one."
"Got that right. I'll tell the Sheriff what you said. If he goes along, I will get back with you."
Jasper stayed until Sally returned, even though I told him it wasn't necessary. I called Sam, even before I ate the sandwich. I explained what I had learned and what I thought. He told me not to worry no one was going to close this investigation before he had his trial.
"By the way try not to kill the next one will you?"
"No promises, but I will do my best." I explained it to Sally while eating. She grasped it all quickly.
"You mean to tell me that you are alive due to a series of accidents and nothing more." I nodded while I ate. "Hell, I thought you were good."
"I'd rather be lucky any day," I said.
"Both is better." I had to agree with that.
We discussed the case in as much detail as I knew. She agreed that the body in the morgue was hardly up to bruising Chen's neck while slashing it. The secret was in the bruise not the slash. It took a powerful man to do that. It also took someone that Chen didn't fear. He had allowed his killer to get behind him. Of course we had no idea who such a man might have been.
"You know the obvious person, after you, is Bart. He knew Chen and he certainly knows how to kill with a knife."
"No motive, and I saw him shortly after he had come from there. He didn't have a drop of blood on him. He could have done it but why would he. He also didn't need to bomb me. He could have killed me anytime he wanted. No, I think it was someone Chen knew. Had to be someone I didn't know. Chen could be killed without much fuss, because he trusted the man who did him. I on the other hand, either didn't know, or didn't trust the killer."
"Try this, he tried the bomb because he didn't want to go up against you. He hired the black man for the same reason. Either he wasn't sure he could take you, or he was afraid he might let something slip. Either way he knew you would be on guard when you saw him. Hey it works for me." Sally had said it all thoughtfully.
"You know Sally, we may be looking in the wrong place. Suppose it is a slope. A slope wouldn't necessarily frighten Chen. God knows plenty of them can kill with a knife."
"Good Linc, but why come after you."
"You got me there. I have no connection with Chen." We both could come up with a person for one hit, but not both of them.
"Tell you what Sally lets work on the one we know about. We have a leg up on the Sheriff let's use it."
I checked myself out of the hospital. The doctor tried at first to make me stay. He switched to forcing anti-seizure medication and pain killers on me. I agreed to take it. I also agreed to avoid blows to the head. That last one was easy to promise. I certainly didn't intent to literally hit my head against a brick wall.
I had Sally drive me to the Elms. She insisted we have dinner since we were already in the restaurant. We sat in a booth and devoured the stew beef with large hunks of cornbread. "God that is good," Sally said.
"It should be. It is my mother's family recipe."
"No wonder you are a lard ass."
"Sally you do have a way with words. Anyone who isn't anorexic is a lard ass to you body builders."
I motioned for Jed to come over. "Well Linc, I see you finally are traveling with some class people."
"Thank you Jed, I need some information."
"I don't sell information. I sell food."
"And good food it is," added Sally.
"This one is easy Jed. You know Willie Lee tried to shotgun me."
"Looks like he did a pretty good job to me."
"Not all that good. Willie Lee is less than living at the moment. Some idiot hired him. That person is the one who got Willie Lee killed. I want to know who it was."
"Can't help you. Wouldn't if I could."
I was almost out of the booth when Sally took my hand across the table. "Allow me," she turned her attention to Jed when I sat down heavily. "Jed there are about six black men in here right now. How would you like to have them see you get your ass kicked my a white woman?"
"You don't scare me woman," Jed said it before he saw her eyes. He looked real hard into them.
"Your call friend." Sally actually looked happy about it all.
"Let me warn you Jed, the woman can kick my ass."
"Linc, you a friend of my family. I guess I should help you. It ain't cause I'm scared of that bitch. What you want to know?"
"Where does Miss Lizzie stay these days?"
"Down to the End with her daughter. You know on centennial street, the blue house behind the barber shop."
"I can find it thanks Jed. You may have just helped keep some people alive."
I left a ten dollar bill on the table as Sally and I stood to leave.
"That was a nice thing letting him save face as we left," Sally said.
"Well I figured he could use his balls back, since you took them away."
"You men are so damned peculiar about balls."
"Just a man thing I guess." Sally drove us down to the End in her state Ford. We found the house and it had indeed once been blue. It was more weathered gray that day. I wasn't sure I would recognize Miss Lizzie. When I saw her on the porch I knew exactly who she was.
"Miss Lizzie, I'm Linc Jefferson."
"I knowed you when you got out of the car Mr. Linc. I knowed you for a long time but you forgot Miss Lizzie. That's okay baby. I hear you forgot a lot of things."
"Yes ma'am, I remembered you when I saw you on the porch. I remember you just that way." I turned to speak to Sally.
"Miss Lizzie used to make the best lemonade. I can remember how it tasted in the summer time. I used to play softball over there." I pointed to a field overgrown with grass.
"Mista Fred used to coach the boys club soft ball team right over there. Course Linc there was the onliest white boy on the team. He used to run over here for lemonade. Now the onliest thing played over there is the devil's games, smokin' pot and such."
"Miss Lizzie, I come to tell you how sorry I was to have hurt Willie Lee."
"Don't be. Willie Lee was a no account nigger. He was always drunk and taking the Lord's name in vain. He shouldn't have died though. If he hadn't been so bad after that bottle, he never would a took that man's money. He didn't mean no harm Mr. Linc. He just couldn't help himself."
"I know Miss Lizzie. The bottle it will do that to a man. I wouldn't have killed him, if there had been any other way."
"I know baby. He come to your house with that nasty old shotgun. You just did what any other man worth a damn would have done. I warned all them men down at the kitchen not to go a chasin' after you. I told them the ground be full of them, if'n they went for you. Willie Lee he listened to that bottle instead of Miss Lizzie. "
"Yes ma'am, he sure should have listened. I had your magic lookin' after me. I came to thank you for that."
"Boy, you know that I gonna look after what's right. The lord done told me that one day our people gonna get along. Maybe they won't love each other, but we all gonna be like you and Mista Fred. Now son there was a man. I watched him take old Mathew Johnson behind that there house for doing things with a child a grown man oughtn't do.
He talked to Mathew, till Mathew cried like a baby. Mista Fred wasn't scared of old Mathew even though Mathew was bigger. He talked because it would do more good than a whoppin would. God we all respected Mista Fred. I don't know if it was love, but it was respect. He always respected us down here. He never bad mouthed us, nor tried to treat us like children. White folks do that now a days. I ain't no child."
"I can still remember him drivin' down here on the weekends. Him takin' some of the bigger boys off to work on them houses he was always building on Saturdays. Him and Mista Hillard, they paid them boys good money. Same as he paid you I expect."
"You mean them boys got paid? I never did."
Lizzie just laughed at that. She could see my dad walking across that field with a softball and bat. You know he paid you for that work. "Mista Fred wouldn't a done that." She was grinning ear to ear.
"Miss Lizzie, you done so much for me. I hate to ask you this. Could you please answer a question for me."
"You don't have to ask Mista Linc. I don't know who the man was hired Willie Lee. Willie Lee he be drunk. The man give him ten dollars tell him he give him a hundred, if he kills you. Willie Lee, he not to bright. He don't know you can't spend money in hell."
"How do you know this Miss Lizzie. Did you talk to Willie Lee before he came to my house?"
"No suh, I didn't talk to him. That no account James. He was there when the car come up and offered them the money. The car comes after dark. It pulls into the alley over by the barber shop. They offers James or Willie Lee money. They done offered the money to a whole bunch of drunk niggers."
"Didn't anybody see the man?"
"No suh just a black car with black windows. Nobody see nuthin' else."
"Okay thank you Miss Lizzie. I would like for you to do me one more favor?"
"What is that baby."
"I want you to pray for me. I don't much want to die right now. I know your prayin' will help me. I'm not to sure my prayin' will help as much as yours. You know my own mama can't pray for me no more."
"I know baby. You know I will keep your name in my prayers."
I handed her a twenty dollar bill. "For the plate at church," I told her.
"Do all the old people around here love you? While all the young ones hate you?" Sally asked.
"No some of the old ones hate me too. Miss Lizzie, she loved my daddy though. Hell half the black women in this town had a crush on daddy. He was a mean old bastard. Like me though he treated everybody the same way... mean."
"How about we go to your place now?" Sally asked.
"Sure, I need to see how bad my jeep is tore up."
"Not to mention your tree."
"How do you know about my tree."
"Do you think that word of your driving hasn't gotten around. Everyone keeps asking me how you could run into a tree, in your own yard, while doing ten miles an hour."
"What do you say?"
"I tell them it took practice."
I didn't want to know the punch line. She drove the Ford to my house. I checked the damage in the last minutes of full daylight. I had knocked down a small tree which Helen had planted during one of those earth day things. The tree that had stopped the Jeep was scratched up pretty bad but otherwise seemed none the worse for wear. I made a mental note to put some pitch on it, to keep the insects from going after the easy access. I would probably never get around to it, but I had good intentions.
Jasper had the jeep pushed behind the house. There was a rather large bend in the steel bumper but otherwise the jeep looked fine. I opened the hood then climbed in to start it. I closed my eyes and turned the switch. The engine caught on the first try. I put the Jeep in gear and she moved just fine back and forth in the driveway.
I joined Sally who had already gone into the house. She handed me a glass of my own tea. "Tell you what big boy. I am going to take a shower. Will you be all right till I get out?"
"Of course." I began going through the photo journals while I tried to let the case cook in my mind. I heard the knock at the door. I knew Sally was going to be pissed but I answered it anyway. I looked out and recognized Jasper.
"Come on in Jasper. What the hell you doin' in the poor part of town?"
"Came to see you. I talked to the sheriff. He also had a call from Sam. Looks like we are going to keep looking for Chen's killer. We are going to stay at the bombing to. The sheriff now seems to think that Willie Lee was just damned unlucky. He got taken out on his first job."
"Yeah lack of training."
"That Sally in the shower?" he asked.
"She sure is a fine looking woman. She is really big but sexy as hell."
"Come on in the kitchen and let's wait for her then talk." Jasper and I drank tea until Sally came into the kitchen. She had heard the voices and was more than a little upset. She didn't like it that I had answered the door, especially without the colt.
I asked Jasper what had happened to my colt. He explained that it would be held in evidence until the inquest on the following Monday.
For the first time I realized that it was Friday. Hell I had a wedding the next day.
"I am going to have to leave you two alone for a few minutes. I have to start some batteries chargeing. We have a wedding tomorrow." I said it to Sally.
The wedding on Saturday turned out to be a nightmare. My shoulder hurt and loading the Leicas was not only painful but haphazard at best. It was slow and had to be double checked each time. Sally was absolutely no help. She lacked the patience to be good with people. It finally ended. I am always happy when a wedding is over but that one absolutely thrilled me when complete.
On the drive home I asked Sally to ride with me to visit the Toa family. She wasn't thrilled. She did inform me that just like Ruth from the bible, she went where I went till her job was finished.
Rie met us at the door. I explained that I would like to talk to the family again but this time without the uncle or Jake. Since neither of them was inside the house it seemed like a good time. I was informed that the older son was clerking at the market that night. I could speak with Rie and her mother.
The two younger Toa children were in the house but Chen's wife sent them to bed or somewhere anyway. Those two were the result of Chen's second marriage after his first wife had died in a Cong mortar attack.
Once inside where the light was better, I saw the sparks fly from Rie and Sally's eyes. So far, I had introduced Sally to two of the women I knew. Both had hated her instantly. I didn't have any idea why. I did find it an interesting phenomenon. In Helen's case I could understand a little. Rie had absolutely no reason to hate Sally.
The Toa house on the outside was in need of paint. It seemed a little shabby. Inside it was immaculate. The bare floors were scrubbed to a deep shine. The kitchen floor tiles reflected the overhead light in an almost blinding glare. One or both of the women worked hard on the inside of the house. With both men working long hours I guessed the outside just didn't get the same care.
I asked that we all sit at the kitchen table. I wanted to see their faces as much as listen to their thoughts. When the four of us were seated, I began.
"Rie please ask your mother if she has had any more thoughts about her husbands death." There followed a long gibberish conversation between them.
"My mother says that she has told you everything she knows. I explained to her that a nigger had tried to kill you. I asked her to think again about the customers at the store. She still thinks it was one of the white neighbors."
"What do you think? Do you think it was still one of the customers?"
"How many other Vietnamese families are there in this area?"
"None in town."
"Are there any in the surrounding towns?"
"There are eight families in Greensboro and I think seven more in Winston."
"Did your father have contact with any of them?"
"Yes, he knew all of them. In Vietnam my father taught English at the University. When we arrived here there was a need for someone to write letters to your government on behalf of our people. He would often stay up into the evening composing letters for one or another of our people."
"Could your father have learned something from one of these people to put his life at risk?"
"You mean could one of our people have done this awful thing? I don't think so. What could he have learned. He wrote of immigration problems or about property purchases that kind of thing. Hardly the kinds of things to get one killed. I had lately begun to take over much of the letter writing, especially on legal matters."
"Were any of the other Vietnamese from the same camp as your father?"
"Yes a few from Greensboro arrived from our camp. The came after we arrived. I don't think my father knew any of them in the camp."
"Can you think of any of your father's friends or associates that might have wanted to harm him."
"None, everyone loved my father."
"Not quite everyone," I said. I tried to judge her reaction to my statement. There was no reaction.
"I have a question," Sally said, "Why does your mother look at Mr. Jefferson so strangely?"
"Because she thinks he is the devil."
"My father warned us to never go near Mr. Jefferson. We were always told that he would kill us, if we approached him."
"Who told your father that?"
"The chief of police told father that Mr. Jefferson had been a hunter of our people. He said it was possible that he might begin to hunt us again. My mother remembers those stories and is afraid. She is also confused since Mr. Jefferson has obviously put his life in danger for my family. I too am confused as to why you have done this Mr. Jefferson."
"Just plain stupid," I answered. When no one contradicted me, I rose to leave. Sally and I walked out the door. I took a really good look around the yard, then around the fields and driveway.
The house had once been a tenant house for a farm. The land had been split between so many kids it was hard to say who the owner might really be. The small house at first had been rented to the Toa family and later sold. The house came with a small pack barn Somewhat larger than a garage. The barn was sided with metal sheets. The roof was also metal. The house and barn set dead in the middle of soybean fields. The closest woods were at least a quarter mile away.
"Mr. Jefferson could I speak with you a moment." The voice from my back was Rie.
I turned and walked back to the porch. Sally sensing the woman wanted to talk to me alone got into her car, but kept a close eye on us. When I reached the porch I spoke first. "You might as well call me Linc everyone does."
"Linc, do you think it was one of our people?"
"Not really, I am just kicking ideas around right now. Sometimes when I do that things sort themselves out. Why? did you think of someone."
"No, I was just curious. What I really wanted to ask was why you were doing this for us. I know you hate us, so why?"
"I am being paid to do it."
"No that isn't it. I know you are being paid, but that isn't why you do this."
"Okay, at first I didn't think I would do it. If I did, it would be just long enough to convince you that you were safe in our community."
"Why is that important to you."
"It isn't. It is important to Jake. You should know that."
She ignored my reference to Jake. "So why have you taken such a strong interest in my father's death."
"I don't much cotton to the idea of someone blowing hell out of my car. Especially when they expect me to be inside it. Then of course there was Willie Lee, I don't much like killing people these days. I want to know who sent Willie out to get his ass blown away."
"Do you mean if these two things had not occurred you would have done no more than tell Jake to fuck off?"
Her language shocked me and she noticed. "Well, that is exactly the words I would have used."
"Then I am glad you decided to stay with it. I believe you will find my father's killer."
"I'm going to try."
"I know you will succeed. Jake tells me you have a wonderful mind. He told me the night my father died that he would get the best man he ever met on the job. I was a little concerned when I found out he meant you. I am not concerned anymore. I know you will help us."
"Thanks, like I said I am going to try."
"One more thing, I know Jake fucked your wife. If you find the man who killed my father, I am going to let you fuck Jake's girlfriend."
I was again shocked by her language and a little by what she was suggesting. It did have its appeal of course. "Careful I might hold you to that."
"I hope so."
I walked away. I got into the car with Sally. Sally and I were on the road heading home when I asked. "Sally are all women crazy, or am I just lucky enough to meet all the crazy ones."
"You are kidding right? You are not kidding. How the hell would I know. I do know this. You seem to attract them like moths to a candle."
When we arrived at my house it was almost eleven. We sat at the kitchen table. She found my bourbon then set the bottle on the table. "You have a drink. I am going to lock down the perimeter." When she returned, she sat with me at the table. Neither of us touched the liquor.
"Sally, did you notice anything odd about that place tonight."
"Not really except it smelled of incense. You reckon they were smoking a little weed?"
"Hell I don't know. I'm talking about the yard especially the drive."
"No should I?"
"Maybe, follow me here. Let's say that for some reason the kid Jay does his old man." I looked to see that she was concentrating but not judging.
"Okay then say that Jake tells Rie not to worry he doesn't think the sheriff can catch a cold in the rain. But he is going to hire the best man hunter he knows. Of course that is me. Jay has heard of his pops stories. Those provided by the Chief while he and the old man shared the bottle. Jay gets worried so at four in the morning he wires my Toyota. As luck would have it I am not in the car. Now he is really worried. He goes down to the End and hires Willie Lee. It works pretty good."
"Why?" she asked.
"Why hire a drunk?"
"Okay Jay doesn't know how Willie will do it or even if he will. Hell he may have passed out fifty ten dollar bills then night. He figures I would be less likely to shoot Willie Lee on sight than I would him. He had no idea I would be in the studio and come at Willie from the side. Hell it surprised me as much as Willie. Now the bonus is that if Willie gets caught no harm done the drunk just saw a black car with black windows. If he gets killed, he can't talk at all. Maybe the sheriff will pin everything on Willie so he can close the case. The kid has nothing to loose."
"Hell that could work for anyone. Just change the kid to anyone you like and the rest works."
"I guess. Anyway the connection to the drive is this. There are tire tracks leading to the barn. There was a red Honda blocking the drive probably the girl's. The kid presumably has his car out at the market. So who's car was in the barn and was it black with tinted windows."
"How do you know there is a car in the barn."
"The tracks going to it don't look like it is used every day."
"So someone parks his car in there occasionally."
"Would you get out of your car close, then padlock, the doors after you had removed the car. No there is a car in the barn all right. Of course it may not be the one we want."
"We could never get a search warrant on that hunch." Sally informed me.
"We could ask but then we would tip our hand, if the barn has no car," I suggested .
"We don't want anyone to know who we suspect right?" She asked.
"Right, Now agent Rierson what do you think we should do."
"Definitely not what we are going to do."
"That is the only correct answer to the question. Why don't we go change then take a little walk."
"Are you up to it. You are still hurt maybe I should go alone."@
"Not a chance. I can't let you go out alone remember last time."
"Just let me get shot one time and I never hear the end of it." She smiled at me.
"Come on at least let me watch you change."
Inside the bedroom she made sure the drapes were pulled before she turned on the light. I got to watch her change all right. She stripped completely before putting on her black suit. Once she was completely naked she turned to me.
"You do remember this don't you."
I stared at her body until she turned to cover it with the tailored night suit. I wasn't so fortunate. I struggled into a pair of navy work pants and a navy long sleeved tee shirt. Sally carried a black ski mask to hide her blonde hair and fair skin. I searched through my closet and found a black knit cap to hide my prematurely gray hair.
When we were dressed for our walk we walked through the kitchen. I stopped to removed two fishing corks from my tackle box. It rested inside the storage room off the kitchen. On the rear porch I stuck a fork into each one then set fire to it. I placed them both into a sandwich bag. Sally drove during our return drive to the Toa farm.
It was three am when we pulled the car onto the shoulder of the road. Sally tied a white cloth to the radio antenna. It was there in case the Toa kid came home late and took notice of the car. We walked without speaking along the edge of the woods. It took us twenty minutes to reach the spot a quarter of a mile from the barn. From that point on we would be in the open. On the plus side there was no moon and there were no outside lights in the yard. Also the house set at the foot of a gentle hill. We wouldn't be outlined against the sky for very long.
There was little chance that our voices would carry but Sally still whispered into my ear as she asked. "What now? If we go through that field we are going to leave a path of bent branches."
She was right the beans were about knee high by the end of June. I had been eating pain pills like candy all day. I was in no shape to crawl far.
I tuned her head to me then whispered into her ear, "These farmers spray their fields. Let's look for a tractor's wheel path."
She handed me her little cricket. "You look that way," She pointed ahead. I knew without asking that she was going to retrace our steps and check behind us. She would be looking for the wheel path. What was more important to her, she would also be making sure we weren't being followed. It was standard operating procedure but from a time long ago and far away. Twenty yards ahead I found the wheel path. I clicked my cricket and waited for her to arrive. I sensed her before I either saw or heard her. I was still amazed at how good she was.
Sally was a few years younger, a few pounds lighter and kept herself in much better shape. I on the other hand had more experience.. I had also begun practicing again after our last little adventure. It was a craft probably useless, but I found it relaxing in those days. In general we were pretty much equal in our creeping ability.
While she waited for her breathing to return to normal, I started down the wheel path. To keep below the tree line I had to move crouched and very slowly. She watched for any other movement while I moved. I went about twenty yards then stopped. I clicked the cricket and waited for her to join me. I knelt so that my head was barely above the bean vines. I watched carefully for any movement. It was so black that coarse movements were the only things that would be discernible. Nothing moved until Sally took shape five yards away. Her breathing was only slightly audible. Still we waited for it to return to normal. The next time we moved, she moved first. I waited for the barely audible click.
I moved forward concentrating on my breathing. I tried to keep the volume low by moving slowly. It took me longer than it had Sally for that reason. It took us four relays to get close enough to the barn to really get a good look at the exterior. We sat in the beans twenty-five yards or so above the barn and watched it. If an insertion got blown, it usually happened at that point. Making the final move too quickly did it. That one would have been no different. After fifteen minutes of watching I heard the voices. I looked to Sally and she nodded. We tried but could not make out any words. After ten more minutes I wasn't even sure where they were coming from. Sounds do funny things in the still night air. I finally decided they were either coming from inside the closed barn, or from the back porch of the house. They were both in the same line.
We were in a lousy situation. The wheel path would lead to the farm track. The farm track led between the house and barn. If we tried to move down it we would be in sight of the back porch. If we went across the bean field we would leave a path of trampled vines. I listened harder trying to determine exactly what the voices were up to. Sally figured it out first. She whispered into my ear, "Somebody somewhere down there is screwing." I shook my head. "That is what those giggles and groans are." I listened again and sure enough she was right.
I pulled her ear to my mouth. "I am going out to the road to see where they are. If you hear the click come on, if not wait. I will be back." She nodded. I moved forward on hands and knees. There was a fire burning in my shoulder after only a few yards. I had to fight to keep my mind on what I was doing. The pain wanted to take control. I didn't want to slip into a spaced out world from the pain. It happened anyway. I ran on pure instinct. I could only hope that it was good enough. When I reached the edge of the field I went down to my belly and inched my way out to the farm road. It was too dark to see anything so I returned to the wheel path. I clicked the cricket and waited for Sally. When she arrived I explained that unless someone was watching with a night scope we would be invisible. We crawled the last twenty yards to the barn with our breathing as quiet as possible. That Hollywood bullshit where people crawl right under guards is just that, bullshit. The risk is seldom equal to the gain. We didn't see the lovers. I hadn't noticed any great increase in volume, so I assumed they were nearer to the house.
Sally and I reached the rear of the barn then began looking for a way into it. A way that would be quiet enough to use. Sally pulled my head to her and said, "Let me look I have a new toy." I wasn't sure I heard her correctly, but I stood watch while she prowled the back two sides of the barn. She found what she was searching for. I heard the cricket sound and went to join her. She handed me a tiny television screen. I mean real Dick Tracy small. It was attached to a long thin wire. Sally's arm was barely visible partly from the dark, and partly because it was inside a folded back piece of metal panel. I was amazed that I could see inside the barn. Now that was a neat toy, I thought. She twisted and turned the light amplifying camera. I saw what she had seen earlier. The barn held a tractor and nothing else. I pulled her close and said, "Let's get the hell out of here."
We retraced our steps using more or less the same methods. Our stages were longer on the way out. We only broke the field into two stages instead of four. The clicker was barely audible at all. I had to listen very closely for it. Once back at the car, I used a baby wipe to get at least some of the burnt cork off my face and arms. I used a half dozen of the little papers.
Sally drove and I cleaned. Neither of us spoke. Once we were home we went directly to the bedroom. We were worn out but oddly excited. I got that way almost every time I practiced the creeping. Sally pulled the mattress onto the floor. Believe it or not that was the safest place. Shots coming through the window would be far too high. Dynamite was another thing, but you couldn't guard against everything. The yard both front and back had been mined with sound mines. Instead of exploding these set off a beeping. When she had referred to securing the perimeter, the mines were part of what she meant. She had twenty of the flat little devices around the house. Anyone throwing dynamite would be better off to throw it from the road. It would surely be a long toss. Truck bombs were another thing that couldn't be guarded against, neither could atom bombs. Sally took the simplest precautions and I concurred with them.
Sally curled against me and pulled my arms around her. My hands found their way to her breasts, one in each hand. I was excited by the night not by Sally. I fell asleep with an erection anyway.
When I awoke the next morning Sally was kneeling by the mattress, a cup of coffee in her hand. "Time to wake up Lincoln old man. I know you don't bounce back as fast at your age but you have slept over six hours you should be functioning now."
"I am not that much older than you. How long have you been up?"
"An hour or so. Go take a shower and let's make a break for lunch."
"Lunch how about breakfast?"
"You slept through that. Now get a move on I'm hungry."
An hour later we were sitting in the Elms. I was pretty much awake. My brain had just about made it into gear. "Sally what did we learn last night."
"We learned that your logic is shit. We worked that place just to find a tractor."
"That's true but who was making all the whoopi noises. I doubt that it was mama, though she must have heard them. It was too dark to make out any cars from that distance. Even so I don't think there were more than two."
"My guess is your good friend Jake paid little Miss Siagon Tea a visit."
"It doesn't much matter who the lovers were. I doubt it had anything to do with the killings."
"Linc, how are the sheriff's deputies doing with their investigation. Surely they are following up on something."
"I have been pretty much letting them do their thing. They should be telling us something by now though. I think it is time to call Jasper."
"Let's call that cute Stein guy too."
"Hey, I like chubby guys. That is what attracted me to you."
"Gee thanks. When we get back we need to call a meeting and see where we are."
We had to stop talking while I ate my breakfast. As usual the food was delicious. I fought off the urge to order more biscuits. The chubby crack had bothered me more than I let on. Everybody gains a few pounds going into middle age, I told myself.
We arrived home around one. I made the calls immediately. I invited Bart and the sheriff to the meeting. The sheriff flatly refused. He almost told me I couldn't have the meeting with his people. I sensed it before he objected. "You know sheriff we could do this in your office. I could parade in there and show my credentials. Hell, I could just take over a room in the courthouse. I just thought that it would look less like you had lost control, if I kept it really low profile."
He slammed the phone down, but didn't refuse to allow me the meeting. Bart on the other hand agreed to come. I was more than a little surprised since he definitely hadn't wanted me involved in the investigation. It was possible that the sheriff wasn't briefing him to the extent he felt necessary. Who knew with Bart those days. I called the meeting for three.
Everyone was in place by three fifteen. Sally and I made sure there was plenty of coffee on hand. Everyone was seated around my kitchen table. I stood pacing in front of them.
I had moved an easel from the studio. I had also installed a large flip book on it. "Guy let's see what we know about the killer. First of all can we assume for now at least that the same person who killed Chen, killed Jerome." The first disagreement broke out there. Other than the timing there was nothing to really tie them together. They were very different in nature. The attempt by Willie Lee was different still.
"Okay then let's break them apart and consider each separately. I personally feel that solving either will solve them both, but let's not worry about that right now. Okay let's work on Chen. What do we know?"
"The autopsy indicates he was about the same height as Chen." Jacob stated.
"Not really Jacob. The autopsy indicates he was at least as tall as Chen. The killer may have been taller," the chief corrected.
"Right Chief," Jacob said.
"And strong Jasper added. Those bruises were pretty big."
"Jacob did they find anything in his fingernail scrapings?" I asked.
"No finger nails, Chen was a nail biter. Nothing to scratch with."
"Were there any defensive wounds."
"Actually there were none. That in itself is unusual. It is almost like he stood there and accepted his fate."
"You know that isn't likely to have been the way it happened. Chen would have fought back I am sure." the chief said.
"Okay then following that reasoning why didn't he or how did he fight back?"
"The killer was too fast for him. He turned and slashed him all in one motion?" Sally asked.
"There wouldn't have been any bruising. The bruising indicates that Chen struggled at least a few seconds before the slash," Jacob stated.
"He struggled but there were no defense wounds so how did he struggle. Did he hit him with the coffee pot." I asked.
"No," Jacob stated emphatically. "The coffee pot broke when it hit the floor and there was no sign of blood or tissue on the glass. It would have broken if he had fit anyone with it."
"How about he poured coffee in his face trying to break the killer's grip." Sally asked.
"If he did, it wasn't very effective." I said.
We tried using an empty tea pot as a weapon. We tried different combinations of people and positions. If Chen tried to use the pot, it was futile. He couldn't have gotten the pot high enough to strike his assailant. The liquid would have gone over his shoulder, or at best down the neck of the killer. Neither would require treatment in a hospital, so it would be of little use to us."
"Jasper what did you guys find on the canvas of shack town?"
"Nothing, the sheriff didn't think it would do any good so we never canvassed."
"What?" the chief asked. "You didn't canvas the area where most of the regular customers of the store live. What the hell is wrong with the Sheriff. Didn't anyone tell him that the only leads may come from there?"
"Hey, I don't always agree with the boss, but the boss is always the boss."
"Okay Jasper, I will take care of the sheriff. He can't fire me, and he already hates me so I have nothing to loose."
"What else can we do Linc?" the chief asked. I was surprised he almost sounded like his old self.
"I am going to talk to Sam tomorrow about a reward for information leading to. You know the drill. It will be a bitch following all the crap leads, but we really have no choice."
"Chief what do you know about Chen from Vietnam?" Sally asked. I had wanted to ask but didn't want to bring it up.
"Because, I think it may have been someone outside our little community. His brother thinks it is North Vietnamese terrorist. I think it may be a grudge. Maybe even our government somehow," I added.
"Chen was a college professor, that is all I know about him," the chief said.
"During all those evenings of drinking, he never told you anything about his life or the camps."
"Nothing, I just told you that," the chief said. I didn't like his answer and from the look on Sally's face she agreed.
"Okay then, I am going to have to go to Greensboro and Winston to interview the Vietnamese there." I waited a few minutes. "I need to ask one more thing. It is kind of a guidance thing. I have a pretty good idea, but I want your input."
I waited till I had their attention. "Okay let's assume you want someone killed. You either don't know how to find a pro or you don't want to use a pro. Who would you try to hire."
"Why wouldn't I want a pro?" the chief asked.
"If it went badly you would be hoping the hitter would take the rap alone."
"Well in that case I would try to hire someone who hated the victim. That way it would look more like a revenge killing than a hit," Jacob said.
"Everybody agree with that?" They all did.
"I happen to agree. If the person who hated our boy refused, then who would you go to?"
"God I get it. You go to someone who is supposed to be a little whacked out anyway. Someone that might not be expected to be doing a contract hit," Jasper said.
"Okay how many people do you think our man had to talk to before someone decided to give it a try."
"More than one that is for sure. I mean those types aren't all that reliable," the chief said.
"Chief, I know how you feel about this. The whole town knows, but we need for your men to question the homeless ones down at the End."
"You got it Linc. By the way nobody knows how I feel."
"Okay, I am going to be checking on the person who I would hire to hit me."
"Stan?" the chief asked.
"Stan," I said.
"You better let some of us go with you. He is running with a couple of others these days," Jasper said.
"I think Sally and I can handle it, but I do appreciate the offer."
They all stood to leave. I caught the chief's arm. I motioned for him to stay. When the others had gone, Sally went to the bedroom to prepare for out road trip.
"Chief how many tours did you do in the Nam."
"No reason I was just wondering." The chief left with a curious look on his face.
Sally returned dressed in jeans and western shirt. She didn't have a purse. "Sally you might have need for a pistol to protect yourself."
"I won't, but if I do I have one."
"Really where?" She reached under the shirt and pulled the pistol from her waist band over her hips. The same place that some men and no women carried theirs. I took a look at the nasty little nine millimeter. "I thought you all traded those for the larger ten millimeter."
"Not me, the ten is too big to hide in your waist band." I didn't mention it again. I really didn't want her to explain further.
Sally drove us to the road house outside town. "Linc do you feel up to this? I mean you do still have stitches in your side and shoulder."
"I have been popping those pills all day and I don't feel anything. This is the ideal time just in case Stan feels tough with his new friends around. Now don't get trigger happy. It might get a little hairy, but I don't think we need to kill anyone."
"Okay boss, but I haven't killed anybody all month. I am going to miss my quota."
We waited in the little hall till our eyes grew accustomed to the gloom. I spotted Stan right away. He was sitting at a table in the middle of the mostly empty room. It was early and the partiers hadn't started to arrive yet. Unfortunately the table where he sat wasn't completely empty.
"That big ugly mother with the long greasy hair is Stan. You ready?"
"Oh yeah," Sally answered.
"Hi Stan we need to talk." The look in Stan's eyes told me he was hinky. It appeared that talk wasn't what was going to happen. He tried to get up, but I didn't let him. I pushed him over backwards, then dived on top of him. He was too big to duke it out with. This called for more direct action. I did something no self respecting man would do. I grabbed a hand full of his balls and squeezed as hard as I could. Stan screamed and began to vomit. Fortunately he turned his head to the side. Stan didn't have any fight left in him. I turned from my seat on Stan's legs to see if Sally needed help. One of the other two was on the floor with a bloody nose. He didn't look too much like he wanted to try her again. The two of them were out of commission so fast the third was still trying to get the chair out of the way to get to Sally.
He pushed the chair toward Sally. She guided it out of her face and off to the side. He took a step toward her. She kicked him in the knee. I heard it pop and knew it was either broken or at least going to feel like it for a while. I was amazed, in less than half a minute three of the meanest dudes in town were either lying in their own blood or vomit. I think I failed to mention that Sally broke the third man's nose as he started on his one way trip to the floor.
"Nothing like a little blood in the nose to take the fight out of a man." She was right. One of the first things I learned was that a man who can't breath doesn't really want to continue fighting. I saw the bartender make a move toward the far end of the bar. He was reaching under the counter. "Sally!" I shouted.
She saw him a split second later. The nine millimeter was coming out before she acquired the target. She had him beat by a quarter second. He looked up at the sound of my voice and saw the blur of movement. He never brought the gun or what ever he was after out.
"Now mother fucker you move back to the other end of the bar and stand real quiet. If you do you might live to talk about this."
I didn't wait. I trusted her so much that while she handled the bartender I pulled and pushed Stan back into his chair. I removed the Buck knife from the case on his belt as I pushed him into the chair. I reached over and pulled his greasy hair till he was looking into my face.
"Stan me and you are going to talk. The way this works is simple. I am going to ask you a question, every time you lie to me I am going to cut off a piece of your finger."
"Don't listen to him Stan," said one of his friends.
"Shut him up Sally." I heard her kick him in the head. I didn't see it but I knew what had happened. "Now Stan somebody hired you to make me an organ donor. Stan listen to me. I don't like that. Now when did they talk to you."
"Man I don't know what you are talking about." I didn't wait. I pulled up his hand then cut off the very tip of his pinky finger, not the bone just the skin at the end. The blood flowed. I reached on the floor and picked it up. I faked putting it into my mouth and swallowing it. Stan fainted.
I let Sally see it fall to the floor but not the other two. They just stared. "So what does it taste like?" Sally asked. I told her the same thing I always told the chief when he asked me.
"Chicken." I turned to Stan and slapped him back to reality. "One more time you low life son of a bitch. When did the man talk to you."
"Three nights ago out in the parking lot." Once he started I couldn't shut him up. "He drove up in one of those fancy black cars. You know a Mercedes. He rolled the window down an inch or two and talked through it. He offered me five bills to off you. I told him no. I said it would be worth a lot more to risk fuckin' with you. He gave me the five and said there would be five more when you was dead. I never planned to do it, honest."
"Stan you piece of shit, if you try it, I will personally gut you. While you are still alive. I can tie you to a tree and gut you so that it take a couple of days for you to die. Stan I never lied to you so you better believe me. If by some chance you do get me, take a good look at your friends over there. Remember this, I know some down right nasty people. You do understand don't you."
"Yeah, I understand."
"Okay, now tell me about the man."
"I didn't see him." I lifted his hand. Instead of resisting he whined, "Honest Mr. Jefferson I didn't see him, but he was a gook."
"How do you know? if you didn't see him."
"His voice was just like the old man who runs that station over by the interstate."
"Stan did you off the old slope by the interstate?"
"God no, I had nothing to do with that. I met the man after it happened. I swear."
"Stan, I am going to send Jasper over to talk to you. If you give him any shit, I am going to come back and neuter you. "
"What's that Linc?"
"He is going to cut off your balls asshole. I am going to make ear rings out of them," Sally said. She paused then began again. "As for you slick," She said it to the bartender. "You saw nothing, right?"
"Right ma'am I didn't see nothing."
"Good, then we are through here," I said.
"Come on Linc you promised I could kill one of them. How about this slimy little fucker here," She said kicking the man with the possibly broken knee.
"Next time darlin'," I replied.
"That's what you said last time. Okay, but I am going to hold you to that next time."
I walked out of the bar. Sally backed out behind me. "God that was fun," she said kissing me. "I have so damned much fun with you. And everybody wondered why I volunteered for this assignment. Shit let's go fuck up another bar." Sally was on a roll.
"Calm down Gracie. Enough for tonight. Hell you should have been a drug enforcer."
"Don't think I haven't had offers. If you fuck with me, I may be the one after your ass."
"If that were the case I would have to kill you."
"One of us would for sure. I think I would rather go home and screw though."
After breakfast at the Elms, Sally drove me to the courthouse. Our town is smaller than Williams, but for some reason we are the county seat. I'm not sure that any of the court employees actually lived in Carbonton. Most I think like Judge Sanders, whose real name is Winston, commute to work. Judge Winston, who looked exactly like the colonel, was presiding over the inquest into the death of Willie Lee. After some preliminary court business the inquest started around ten. I was called, then the chief of police testified, and the judge ruled justifiable homicide. He ordered my Colt returned.
I walked down the stairs to the clerk's office with Bart who still had the Colt. He gave the clerk the judge's order, I signed a receipt and the gun was returned to me, all nice and legal. I carried it in my hand to the car. Once inside the state Ford I loaded it then placed it in the waist band of my slacks. My photographers vest would cover it so long as I didn't sit down, if the chair had a back it still wouldn't be visible.
Once in the car Sally asked, "Where to now?"
"It's too late to do much. How about we go to Greensboro to meet the interpreter. We might be able to talk to a couple of people." We stopped along the way for lunch in a burger joint. The food was satisfactory but not like the Elms. The drive took almost two hours when the lunch was added in.
We met with the interpreter at the First Lutheran Church. The church had sponsored several of the families. They had an on going ministry office in the basement. We found the small woman behind a desk so littered with papers, that she wasn't even visible at first. If it hadn't been for the sing song voice speaking in Vietnamese, and the papers flying everywhere we wouldn't have known she was in the office.
"Miss Li," I called from the door. Her head popped up above the papers.
"My name is Lincoln Jefferson. The Chief of the Carbonton Police was supposed to have called you."
"Oh yes, please come in." She busied herself moving papers from her two chairs. "Forgive the mess but your government runs on miles of paperwork."
"That is quite all right ma'am I understand." I paused while she continued sorting the papers into sloppy piles. "Did you know Chen Toa?"
"Oh yes, he is responsible for some of this paper." I looked a little surprised. "Mr. Toa understood your government. He knew what things were available to our people. He would help prepare the forms. Now that he is dead, I am the only one. I am covered up. Mr. Toa began many of the programs for our people. He was a very intelligent man. It is a shame that such a man was reduced to operating a convenience store."
"Yes ma'am, then I assume that Chen was well liked among his people."
She gave that a lot of thought, too much for her answer. "Mr. Chen was a highly respected member of our community," she answered carefully.
"Miss Li, I am investigating Mr. Toa's murder. I know this is hard on you, but I have reason to believe that Mr. Toa was killed by one of his own people. So I must return to my original question, was Mr. Toa liked by the members of his community?"
"Mr. Jefferson, I am trying to give you an accurate description of our community's feeling about Mr. Toa. Everyone respected Mr. Toa. Most considered themselves his friends. As in every community some had different opinions of Mr. Toa. Some resented his success in dealing with the American government and some held grudges."
"Grudges for what Miss Li."
"From the days of the camps."
She didn't seem to want to discuss the camps. "What reasons did they have?"
"Mr. Toa and his family it is said received special treatment. It is said, they received extra food when others starved. It is said, they were moved up the list for immigration."
"And some of your people resented that."
"Yes, I am afraid so."
"Why did they receive these special privileges?" I asked.
"Some say Toa was an informer."
"What is there in a camp to inform about?"
"You never lived in a camp I see. In those camps to be a communist was instantly to be removed and questioned by the Thai police. The Thais were worried about the communist since they were almost completely surrounded by them. Your government had run out on Southeast Asia. The Thais were frightened that the camps were being used to smuggle in communist agents. There were many executions but few trials. People just disappeared in the night. Many arguments were settled by the disappearance of innocent people. Then of course there was also the petty crimes of the camp residents. Most of those were not death penalty punishments but beatings were common. Some felt that Toa was responsible for some of the beatings and disappearances."
"Tell me about Toa and the camp. Was a family as large as the Toa's unusual for the camps. I would have thought it hard to get whole families out of Vietnam in those days."
"It was very hard. Most of the families were separated. Toa arrived with this two children. If there had been more they would probably not have all made it."
"When did his wife and the younger two children join him?"
"Chen's wife was dead and there were only the two children at first. He married Mapi in the camp. She had two children by an American soldier. Toa escaped because the communist were persecuting the educated people of South Vietnam. Mapi escaped because the communist would have killed her two children because they were half American. She and Mr. Toa married in the camp very soon after her arrival."
I spent a few minutes processing the information. Then I asked to meet with some of the people who had known Toa in the camps. I especially wanted to meet anyone who might have disliked Mr. Toa. Miss Li agreed but needed a day to schedule it and to clear her desk. We agreed to meet the next morning at the church to begin the interviews. Some would probably be at the church but others would be in the homes of those we wished to interview. Miss Li advised us to plan on a full day and even into the evening. She could not personally accompany us but would arrange for another interpreter.
Sally and I had most of the afternoon left so we drove back to Carbonton. I was much more comfortable when we arrived. I felt lost in the bigger cities. I hated to leave my little town. The downtown only covered six blocks and that suited me just fine. When I was younger the downtown had been even smaller. There were two streets with three blocks each of businesses. From that point on it became mostly specialty shops mixed among old residences. Some like the Gold studio were in the old houses.
Our downtown hadn't died like the other cities around us. That was due mostly to the fact that shopping centers and malls tended to head for the larger towns. Hell we weren't even big enough for a Mcdonald's. Of course all that was on the verge of changing. With the coming of more small businesses the town would likely begin to grow. I hated the thought of it. I would probably make more money, but then I would lose the comfort of being able to get anywhere I wanted in ten minutes. The traffic in Greensboro was enough in itself to discourage growth to any right thinking person. Hell we had the best lifestyle in the state. We paid a price sure, but it was worth it to me.
I was so glad to be home that I had Sally take me to the Elms for coffee. It meant a confrontation with Jed, but it seemed worth it at the time. After we found a booth by the front window, Sally asked, "What now boss?"
"First, I'm not your boss. Second, I need a minute to think." Lucille brought the coffee without an order.
She set it on the table. She and Sally looked at each other. Lucille with open curiosity and Sally with a look I didn't recognize. Then men will never be able to understand the silent communications between women. Women have a way of understanding each other without speaking. "Mr. Linc, that Jew boy called you," Lucille said.
"Which one Lucille?"
"The high sheriff's Jew," she answered.
"Thanks honey, I'll call him now. I'll be right back Sally."
I heard the two of them in a mumbling conversation as I walked to the pay phone. I called and caught Jacob in the lab for a change. "Jacob what can I do for you?"
"Where are you? We need to talk."
"I'm at the Elms. You want me to wait for you here?"
"God, I hate that place but yeah i'm on my way." When I returned to the table Lucille walked away smiling. "Okay what have you two been cooking up?" I asked Sally.
"Nothing at all, Lucille was just filling me in on you. It seems you don't bring any women in here."
"Most of the women I know would be terrified in this place."
"You could protect them." It was a statement not a question. I liked that, but didn't want to get anything started.
"Jacob is on his way. It sounded important but who knows?" Sally and I had two cups of coffee each before Jacob finally showed.
True to his nature, he started talking immediately without any forward at all. "Linc, I just got the report on the bomb fragments from the FBI."
"Well there must have been something unusual to bring you down here?"
"There was. The trigger was a timer."
"It couldn't have been a timer Jacob. It went off when Jerome started the car."
"I know but the FBI found fragments of a quartz timer. Actually a digital timer used for coffee pots. You know the kind that you can start the coffee before you wake up."
"I know but it doesn't make any sense. Do those things have twelve or twenty four hour clocks?"
"Twenty four hours I think. Why?"
"Just curious find out for me will you?"
"Sure no sweat."
"You find anything else?"
"Nothing the explosive was dynamite just like we thought." We finished our coffee. I paid the bill for all three then we left. Jacob went back to work. Sally and I returned to my house to check the machine. I returned a couple of calls. We waited while a store manager came by to have a shot made for the store's bulletin board. He didn't care about the pose, so I would choose the one for the eight by ten.
Sally didn't much like it but she drove me to the one hour lab to have the film developed. The lab was in a shopping center near Williams. She wanted to stay with the case, but I still had a business to run. Since I still couldn't drive she was my chauffeur. We waited while the film was developed then I picked one with a magnifying glass. I chose one of the frames with his eyes open and a smile on his face. It was no different from a couple of the others. I ordered an eight by ten. The print would have to be sent out but it was still significantly faster than the pro lab. Instead of the five days at the pro lab it would take two days. I also paid to have it mailed to the customer in Carbonton. I had his money and now his print was on the way to him. The lab would hold the negatives until my next visit.
Sally and I drove back to my house. I wanted time to organize my thoughts. We sat at the kitchen table.
"Sally, you know I may have this all wrong. It may not be an old grudge being settled. It may be something new that Toa was into. In his letter writing campaign he may have discovered something that someone wanted to stay hidden."
"Could be, didn't that woman today say she had his correspondence now. Why don't we ask her to let us know, if she finds anything odd in it."
"Yeah but she probably won't. We need to see how the canvas went with Jasper." I dialed the sheriff's office from the kitchen extension. I asked the woman who answered to have Jasper call me. We continued to discuss the case without any new ideas coming forward. She wasn't really an investigator. Her only job in the SBI was witness protection. But she wasn't stupid either.
Jasper didn't call he just knocked on the front door. Sally checked before she put away her nasty little automatic. She opened the door and Jasper came in. I stayed in the kitchen watching the rear door until I knew it was Jasper. There is nothing like people trying to kill you to make you cautious.
"Well did you learn anything today from Shack town?" I asked.
"Not very much. Like you suggested after we got all we could from each one we asked about the big blacked out Mercedes. A few people had seen it, but weren't sure about the night of the murder."
"Anybody mention drugs?"
"No, do you think there might be a drug connection?"
"Don't know. What do you think?"
"Hell Linc, of course I thought about it. The hit on Chen was a nasty piece of work. Something that would send a message all right."
"Did you do anything about it?"
"What is there to do. We don't have a vice squad. There is no information from our sources. I just don't know where to turn."
"Okay Jasper try this, call the Greensboro police department. They do have a vice squad and there are lots of Vietnamese there. I am sure they would know if anyone is bringing dope into the country."
"Okay I can give that a try."
"Sally why don't you call your people. They might know something." She nodded and went into the bedroom to make the call. Jasper and I enjoyed our iced tea while she checked things out.
Ten minutes passed before she returned. "I sure hope you called them collect?" I said.
"Hell no you can pay for this since I have been driving you around in a state car." She paused waiting for me to respond. I didn't so she continued. "Guy's this may be were it's at. There is an new importing outfit bringing in drugs. The drugs are definitely coming in from the Golden Triangle. So the importer could be Vietnamese. They have never been traced. Our people picked up a load coming in but couldn't trace it past the docks. Word must have slipped out because no one picked them up."
"Maybe Chen was mixed up in this. He could have been stealing from the big boys and got whacked for it."
"That's possible. He may have refused to play ball and got whacked. There are just to many possibilities. We need to start eliminating some of them."
"How?" Jasper asked.
"I don't know let me think about it a while."
"Well I am going to keep plugging. By the way the tip line is installed and the phone has started to ring. I am going to be checking out phony tips forever."
"I know but somebody knows something. It will eventually work out."
Jasper had been gone for a few minutes when Sally said, "You do know that he isn't going to find out shit. He is a nice enough guy but he doesn't have any street smarts. He is simply a small town boy."
"So am I. Don't under estimate us."
"I'm not talking about you. I've read your background file. You don't really qualify as a small town boy."
"Are you kidding? I never lived anywhere else. I am the original small town boy."
"That is true, but you also attended the FBI academy. You took all their courses either in person or correspondence. How the hell did you cram all that into two years."
"After I got out of the hospital I had to keep my mind occupied. If not, I would drift into some pretty bizarre thoughts. I worked on those courses every hour I wasn't on duty. I guess some of it stuck with me."
"You mean you studied every minute you weren't working or screwing Julie."
"Yeah something like that."
"Do you have a photographic memory?"
"God no, my memory is like Swiss cheese."
"No it isn't. Your mind works in six directions at once."
"That isn't memory. That is a quirk. I wasn't always like that. I had a one track mind once. These days it tares off in any direction it wants to go."
"It sure is a devious little thing. I never saw anybody with so many theories working at one time."
"There are more than you know even. I have one where you are the murderer. You did it all just so you could come back and take care of me."
She laughed. "See I knew you were crazy. Why the fuck would I want to come back to this burg."
"I have been asking myself that one. You are the one who volunteered to come keep me alive."
"Well that was sentiment."
"It's dinner time. Lets go eat." I said changing the subject.
We were back in the Elms. I had noticed that Jed no longer gave me hell. The last few visits he had ignored me. I didn't know which I preferred but it was annoying. I wondered if he knew something I should know. I passed it off and wolfed down the steak smothered in gravy. "You do know that you are headed for a heart attack, don't you?"
"Of course, I am praying it gets me before the lung cancer." I answered her only half kidding.
That time she changed the subject. So, who do you think will be the next one to try?"
"Try to turn you into an organ donor as you so aptly put it."
"I think it will be someone from the man himself."
"Me too, when Jasper's call gets back to him and it will, then he is going to send someone with some experience to do the job. His little tricks didn't work, so now it is going to get serious. If it is drug people that is."
"We will know either tonight or tomorrow night. If they come with pros this time, we can eliminate the revenge theory. It never did fit the facts all that well anyway."
"It fit as good as the robbery motive."
"Exactly, I expect a frontal assault by the enemy this time. Before they wanted to kill me if possible, mislead me if not. If it is drugs they will be out to stop me before I get any closer."
"Agreed, I think tonight we should sleep somewhere else."
"I know you had to say that but it ain't gonna' happen. We have to know for sure. If we are gone, then it won't happen and we won't know."
"Okay how do we ambush the ambushers."
"Tool shed" I replied.
"Tool shed?" she asked.
"Yeah they may bomb the house. They may even bomb the studio. They will not waste a bomb on the ten by ten metal tool shed."
"I assume it is full of tools and that we can't move them."
"Right, it is going to be an uncomfortable night."
"Damn, you take me to the nicest places."
"I know ain't it great?"
Since it was summer it wouldn't be dark for a couple of more hours. We drove out to look at the crime scene. "You know the one thing this place has Sally?"
"What fountain cokes?" she asked.
"That to but it has great access to the highway. It is open all night. Strange cars come and go all the time. They wouldn't raise suspicion like at a house or warehouse."
"You thinking distribution."
"Pick up and delivery."
"Maybe but then again maybe not. There are two possibilities for wanting me dead. One, that I will find the killer of Chen, not all that great by the way. Two, that I will stumble on the distribution chain while looking for Chen's killer, only a little more likely."
"Linc, I have been trying to avoid this for a couple of days. We have to consider the Chief in this."
"I know, but I think I have his part in it figured. It will come down sometime, but not just this minute."
"Well if you don't want to discuss that, we need to get home to prepare for the evening." I agreed so we drove to the house. I watched her set out her sound mines. I didn't know how effective they would be, but they couldn't hurt. While she set everything up around the house I went into the studio. I removed my Leicas from the cabinet. I packed them in the camera case. Then I carried them into the tool shed. I moved a few things around to give us a place to stand or sit. There would be no room to lie down, but some sacrifices had to be made. I could have removed some of the tools but it might have given us away. Better to be uncomfortable than have someone decide the tool shed deserved a bomb. If the bad guys hit the studio and house at the same time, there was a good chance we could slip out of the shed and do some damage.
We spent a miserable night in the shed and no one came looking for me. I hadn't expected it to be that night so I wasn't disappointed. Sally had known that the odds of a visit were slim. She was disappointed. I think she longed for the action.
We drove to Greensboro with grit in our eyes. We spoke with Miss Li at the church who introduced us to our interpreter a young man who called himself Mike. I am sure he had another name but Mike is how I addressed him. We spent the day interviewing people from the camps. Sometimes a person was thrown in who had met Chen in this country Most either known him or known of him from the camps.
I asked them all about drugs not so much expecting information as trying to spread some. I also asked about the black Mercedes. I wanted plenty of rumors flying. No one admitted to owning or knowing anyone who owned a similar car.
The interpreter stayed with us even after dinner. We went to a club frequented by the Vietnamese refugees. There were plenty of Americans there but a good number of the patrons were slopes. More than a few looked like they had an instant dislike for us. Since it was what I wanted I tried to make sure that everyone did before I left. I pushed threatened and generally gave them shit. The interpreter even hated me till we left the club. I explained to him that I had been sending a signal and not to take it personal. I am sure he didn't believe me. I couldn't hide my real feelings all that well.
Sally and I arrived home only a few minutes before dark. She placed her sound mines and I returned my cameras to the tool shed for the night. We went into the house and had a pot of coffee. She dressed in her night suit and me in my navy blue pants and shirt. Neither of us bothered with the face or hand coverings. There was enough light from the street lights for us to be seen no matter what we did. The dark clothing might give us a second advantage nothing more. In addition to her nasty little automatic she had an M16 rifle. "You know the other protectors laughed when I packed this thing. They don't know you."
"Wonderful, try not to shoot me will you." I carried the old .30 cal M1 carbine with me as I walked quietly to the shed. There would be almost no conversation from that point onward.
Sally was on watch. I was trying to sleep sitting up when they came. Our first indication of trouble was the piercing whine of the sound mine. Almost immediately the night was filled with explosions, small ones from machine gun fire and larger ones from grenades. As I jerk to wakefulness I had to hold Sally back. I made her wait until they came to the rear, if they did. They might jump in their car and take off. That would be fine. I had the information I wanted anyway.
I also tossed my cookies while I waited for the bad guys next move. The firing in the front died down. Suddenly there were shots inside the house. They were trying to make sure we were dead. "Now," I whispered into Sally's ear. We slipped from the shed and took a position behind a pile of dirt left over from a yard project years before. We waited till they turned their attention to the studio. Three of them walked toward the studio with the ugly little machine pistols in their hands.
I would have simply shot them in the back but Sally shouted for them to drop their guns. When they turned toward us I opened fire on them. Sally joined in a second later and all three fell. She tried to stand but I held her down. Instead I worked my way backward and left her there to guard my rear. I moved quietly around the house toward the front.
A siren began to wail in the night heading this way no doubt. A figure burst from the house and ran toward the street. He set off one or more of the sound mines. I fired twice at him but missed both times. He hurled himself into the car and began to drive away. I stood and emptied the carbine into the rear of the car. It exploded as I hit the gas tank. The car was a fireball rolling slowly to a stop. Real estate values were definitely going down in my neighborhood.
I walked carefully down the side of my house. When I reached the corner I shouted, "Sally, it is me don't shoot." I walked to check the men on the ground. They were all very dead. Sally came up behind me.
"What happened out front."
"Lousy drivers these slopes."
Sally shone a pin light on the faces of our corpses. "All these guys were in that bar tonight."
"Yeah I know."
"Do you know who killed Chen yet, or do we just kill all the Vietnamese."
"Take it easy Sally. Sit down you are as white as a sheet."
"Killing people does that to me. I never like that part of the job. Especially not ambushing them."
"They were trying to kill us remember?"
"Yeah, but we are the good guys. You didn't even give them a chance to surrender. You might as well have shot them in the back."
"Frankly that was my intention. If you hadn't shouted for them to drop their guns, that is exactly what I would have done. I don't take kindly to people who try to kill me."
"Do you know who killed Chen yet?"
"No, but I know who does know. Well not that exactly either, but I will know soon. We just need to lay one more little ambush."
"Am I going to have to kill anybody else?"
"No, next time I'll do the killing."
We spent the night working on reports with the city police and the sheriff's deputies. We went over it several times. Sally and I had expected it so we had worked our stories out the day before. Our story, which was the only one told that night, was that we had heard the car drive up and had headed to the back door with our rifles. The mine sounded and the shooting started as we ran for the back. We hid out till they came around the house then we had to protect ourselves.
They bought the story. Everything would have been peachy keen, if they hadn't wrecked my house. Not only had they shot the place up but they had tossed a couple of grenades into the house. Fortunately the heating oil tank hadn't gone up or the house would have been burned to the ground. As it was, the interior and parts of the roof were wrecked. The structure itself was probably so damaged that it might not be repairable at all.
I was in a daze when I saw the damage to my parents house. I was so upset that Sally almost had to lead me out of the house. She drove me to the small motel in Williams. We checked into the same room. We were both depressed but for different reasons. I hated the loss of what childhood memories I had of that house. Sally was depressed about the killings.
I slept most of the next day. Sally went out for food. We didn't leave the room otherwise. Sally and I began talking to each other around four. She explained that the other things had been kind of like a movie.
"You know, I get to be the really tough guy. The killing was too real. It hadn't been fun at all. Those were actually the first people I have ever killed."
I explained to her that it would never get any easier, if she couldn't live with it then she had better find a new line of work. Someday she would be called on to do it again. Her specialty wasn't like regular police work. Most cops go their whole career without pulling their gun. In her job the odds were greater that she would need to use her weapon.
When she asked about me. I explained about the house and it's connection with my memories. "Sometimes I can feel my childhood there. It is the only connection I have to it. I can hardly remember what my parents looked like. There I could feel them if not remember them. You know when Miss Lizzie talked about my dad. It was kinda like she was talking about a stranger. I remembered a little after she told me, but not all of it by any means. I hate being this disconnected from things. It's like I don't really belong anywhere. I wish I were like other people, but I'm not.
Tn the end. You can't keep ducking someone determined to hit you.
I had Sally drive me to the police department then go out shopping or something. She agreed that I would be safe in the chief's office so she left me there alone. I entered the rear door and walked to the chief's office. His secretary showed me in.
"I see they missed you again." The chief said.
"Yeah but they are getting closer. That's why I came chief. I need your help but you aren't going to like what I want you to do."
"What is it?"
"I need you to tell a couple of lies for me. Big ones. They aren't going to help your reputation for a while."
"I need for you to tell Jip and Rie that I am tired of being shot at. I want to make a peace with the shooter. I want to sit down to work out a way to stop the killing. Then I want to turn the attention onto someone else."
"What the fuck are you talking about?"
"Chief, I don't know, if you knew or not. You certainly should have, but maybe you didn't want to see. One or both of them is involved in drugs. Not taking them but trafficking. One or both of them knows who the killer is. Once I know which one, then I can work out the rest of it."
"You know this is going to make me look dirty to that whole family?" the chief said.
"I know but it can't be helped."
"What makes you think I will go along with it?"
"Call it a down payment. For the last year or so I felt really bad that we weren't friends anymore, now I'm glad. This would be a lot harder, if we were still brothers."
"All of it, I promised to kill you but I can't. I don't mind using you though. Make the story good and believable. You know like we have both been dirty for years. They don't have to know the truth. Maybe they won't tell the widow Toa, but I'd bet they can't wait."
"Then you do know?"
"Of course I know. You managed to keep us all apart for a long time, but you couldn't do it forever. I would have eventually known anyway. You should have just told me Bart. It would have saved us all some grief."
"What are you going to do about it."
"Nothing, for one thing it is none of my business. It never was and I would never have let it be. The other will go down with the killer. You and I know, but no one else needs to know." I stopped to let it all sink in. "Tell me Bart the timer was set for midnight wasn't it?"
"Yes, you got to know I didn't plan for you to get hurt. I just thought I would scare you off. After all you didn't really cared who popped Chen. The car would have just gone up in the driveway the next night. When you killed the battery, you killed the timer clock. When Jermone installed the new battery, the clock restarted at midnight. He must have just gotten into the car when it hit midnight plus five minutes. I never meant for anyone to get hurt."
"That is a problem. Remember poor ole Jerome." I waited for the magnitude of what he had done to sink in. "Does your wife know?"
"Of course not, If she did I could have told you. That would have been the end of it."
"Did the CIA help you get them over."
"Of course not, I don't know anyone in the CIA. An old army buddy found them in the Thai camp for me. He found Chen too. He got them married so that Chen could look after them. Then he made sure they didn't starve. He got them all moved to the top of the immigration list. Chen was smart. I knew he could provide for the kids in exchange for getting a quick visa. I got the church here to sponsor a family. Making sure it was my family wasn't a problem."
"How about the older kids? Are they going to believe you about the dirty cop bit?"
"They should. They hate me enough. Everyone believed the extras were because their father was an informer. They hated him and then hated me."
"How did you manage to sleep with their mother Saturday night right under Rie's nose?"
"I didn't. I haven't slept with her since the Nam. "
"Shit, I guessed all this with faulty information. Damn Bart, if it wasn't you then who was it."
"Maybe it was Jake?"
"I don't think so. Do you think the widow would tell you what is going on out there."
"I doubt it. She isn't real happy with me since I wouldn't divorce my wife to marry her."
"Do you think she is having an affair with her husband less than a week dead."
"No, I think she came to love the old bastard."
"Well then it is back to plan A. Be convincing Bart. I don't want to think you are trying to fuck me again."
"Don't threaten me. I am still a better killer than you."
"I have had more practice lately. Even so, I really don't want to find out."
I didn't wait for an answer. I walked out the door then down to the parking lot. Sally pulled the car to the door. We drove off.
"So what is going to happen?" she asked.
"Bart knows those kids. He is going to spread a vicious rumor for me. Oil up your pistol. We are going to have a sit-down with our killer."
"Are you out of your mind. He will never believe you are going to roll over."
"Sure he will, when he believes I am scared and want to be bought off. This war can't be good for business. Finding good help can't be easy when the employee pool is so small."
The call found us at the house. I had a tarp over the hole in the roof courtesy of Pete the handy man. That time he boarded up the windows. Say what you want about the Bell system. They had my phones working the very first day.
"Mr. Jefferson?" the oriental voice asked.
"I understand you wish to talk."
"That's right I wish to talk."
"I will not meet with you myself. You are a dangerous man. I would prefer that you not be tempted to remove the threat more directly."
"I am not about to walk into a room full of your underlings. I will meet with only one person and that must be someone I recognize."
"That can be arranged. You must not bring the amazon girlfriend either."
"She stays near by. You understand she is my bodyguard. I am sure you have body guards."
"She may be close by, but not close enough to overhear what is said."
"Agreed, I hope you have a proposal in mind. I don't plan to negotiate more than this once."
"I think you will find it most agreeable. You can direct the special prosecutor away from me."
"Send someone who can speak for you. I do not like telephones."
"Very wise, I assume you would like to name the place."
"Of course, the Elms restaurant parking lot tonight at midnight. And my girlfriend will be around somewhere."
"I'm sure she will. I shall have someone there to meet with you. You will recognize the proxie. Good day sir."
I arranged with Jed, who surprised me by agreeing without a hassle for Sally to wait inside. She was in there from nine till midnight. She sat in the dark with the sheriff's Startron waiting for the meeting to begin. I sat on the steps only a millisecond from the concrete flower pots on either side of the steps. They made for the best cover. The rear parking lot and approaches to the back were covered with the sound mines.
At midnight I saw the black Mercedes pull into the lot. I sat on the steps a target for anyone in the car. The person in the car had to know that Sally would kill them, if they tried for me. The car stopped several yards from me. The rear door opened.
Jip stepped from the car. He walked toward me. I stood and walked to him. We met five or six yards from the steps. I really wasn't surprised that it was Jip. "Well kid, I see you kissed and made up with the man."
"What do you mean baby killer?" He was trying to piss me off but had taken the wrong tact.
"Kid they got a word for kids who kill their parents. I don't remember it right now but there is a word. Why don't you ask your sister. I'm sure she knows all about it."
"You leave Rie out of this. I am here to do business with you. She knows nothing."
"Sure she does kid. Ask her to step out of the car and we can all talk."
"You are crazy..." He began. He stopped at the sound of the car door.
"Shut up Jip. Jake was right you are one smart fucker. If I wanted, I could have killed you a dozen times."
"Of course you could, but it makes more sense to deal with me. I can make your life miserable or easy. It is up to you."
"The man said to make you an offer," Jip began.
"Shut the fuck up Jip. There is no man. There is a woman. Actually a child." I waited for someone to correct me and when no one did I knew I had it right. "What happened Rie? did Daddy get in the way? Did he refuse to play along, or did he catch on to your plans."
"Actually neither, he just became inconvenient. I had no idea anyone would go past the robbery gone bad motive."
"Well, if you hadn't done the Betty Davis thing so well, they never would have. You frightened Jake into thinking you might really leave town. He didn't know that you would never leave here. You guys have the dope distribution concession for whoever is running the show. Why would you leave? I'll bet he is pissed by all the attention. Anyway he had nothing to do with any of this. Why would he? This is a distribution problem not an import problem."
"Okay we know you are smart and have figured it out. What do you want to shift the investigation back to robbery?" Jip asked.
"Did you bring the piggy bank kid?"
"I want to rebuild my house for starters. Then I want someone to hand over for the killing. I also want a lump some of fifty grand."
"That is all reasonable."
From his voice I knew it wasn't reasonable at all. They were planning something and I knew it. I decided to force the action. "Kid, I want you for the murders."
"You are nuts," he said.
As quickly as I could, I pulled the colt and put it into his gaping mouth. "You are smart. Then all you slopes are. I am taking you for the murder. Rie you can go. Come back with the money, or I take him in dead."
"I don't think so. I have a sniper by that tree over there. He will kill you the moment I gesture to him."
"Then I guess we are all going to die. Cause big brother here is going to come with me or die trying."
The sniper fired, I fired, and Sally fired. I felt the pain and the black overcome me. "God, they had to know Sally was around," was my last thought.
"It was pure suicide Sally. don't blame yourself. Everybody here knew that once the firing started everyone would die. Damn what a mess. This whole town is beginning to look like Lebanon," Jacob said.
"I can't believe it. I just never thought they would risk everybody's life. I mean they had to know Linc would pull that trigger. They also had to know that I was around close by."
"The sniper did. She figured to get you before you could get her. She might have, if you hadn't had our scope, or if Linc hadn't pulled the trigger. There would have been just too many things going on for you to have concentrated on her. There was also a good chance that without the scope you would have missed her. She was left handed and you probably would have fired on the wrong side of the muzzle flash. It probably worked for her plenty in Vietnam. My guess is that during the war she had been a Cong sniper. Of course the kids meant nothing to her they weren't hers.
"Linc doing the kid gave you time to do the old woman then the girl as she drew her pistol. You deserve a commendation for this."
"What commendation I might well have lost my man. Instead of nursing sore ribs he could be dead. That new Kevlar vest is the only thing that saved his life. Even then he had to know that the odds were dead even she would put it in his head rather than his chest."
"You know Linc, he ain't afraid of dying." Jasper said.
"No just being bored to death."
"What happened to the chief?"
"They tortured him before they killed him. He must have stayed with his story because they didn't come in with guns blazing."
"Or he gave it up so they set their own trap."
"I guess. Who knows."