It had been a hard night, profitable but hard. I sat alone in the all night diner trying to finish my eggs before exhaustion overcame me. At the moment the little blonde walked into the restaurant, it was a toss up, as to which would occur first. Her entrance seemed to lift my spirits. She seemed awfully familiar but I didn't know her. Hell I didn't know anyone in that town.
I was one of the thousands of other strangers who had descended on the small southern town. Like the others, I came twice a year for the furniture show. Unlike them, I wasn't in the furniture business. My business was strictly vice. Not dope or hookers, I was a gambler. I came to town to sheer the sheep. If the hotel had a decent coffee shop, I would have been asleep. Since I didn't wanted to go to bed hungry, I had been forced to drive to that dump. The choice had been made, simply because it was the only game in town at four in the morning.
The blonde strode directly to my booth. I was surprised, I certainly hadn't shown any interest in her. "You are Gabriel Amos, aren't you?" she asked.
"Some days I am," I answered carefully.
"My name is Evelyn Thomas," she said. I interrupted her before she could continue.
"So how did you know my name?" I asked.
"I paid the desk clerk twenty bucks for it," she said.
"Hell you should have just asked me, I would have told you for ten," I said. She smiled as I had hoped she would. Make them smile and they tend to lower their guard. It was advice from my friend Eddie.
"Anyway Mr. Amos, I would like to ask you some questions," she said.
"Gabe, my friends call me Gabe," I said trying not to respond to her question.
"Okay Gabe, tell me about yourself," she demanded.
"You are going to have to be more specific than that," I replied.
"Okay, how long have you been a professional gambler?" she asked.
"You know Evelyn, I think you have great hair. You should really let it grow out. You are still young enough to allow it to hang down over your shoulders," I said.
"Thank you, but you are ducking my question." she said.
"And that green suit really does wonders for your eyes," I said ignoring her.
"Then you aren't going to answer me?" she asked angrily.
"I'm sorry did you ask a question. I really don't hear very well. The result of too many rock concerts during my misspent youth, no doubt," I said
"How would you like to have the cops raid your little game tonight?" she asked.
"Evelyn, I have no idea what you are talking about," I replied.
"Sure you do." she stated emphatically. "You have been running an illegal poker game during the market for years. Everyone knows it, they just don't bother to arrest you."
"You really must have me confused with someone else," I informed her.
"It might interest you to know that there is no Gabriel Amos in the town you list as home." she said.
"Now how would you know that?" I asked it smiling even thought I wanted to run.
"Because I checked," she said seriously.
"You should have checked more closely. I have lived there almost ten years, but I don't have a listed telephone." I replied.
"The company you claim to represent, doesn't exist." she went on to inform me.
"Strange," I said with an even larger smile. "It did when I left."
"Gabe, or whatever your name is, you are a fraud. So either answer my questions or I am going to the police." she said.
"Exactly why do you want to know?" I asked.
"Because I am a reporter. I want to write a story about you and gambling in general." she said.
"Look Evelyn I do play a little poker, but I am hardly a professional gambler. As a matter of fact, I don't think there are such things outside of Vegas." I said.
"Don't try to be cute with me. I know exactly what you are," she said.
"If you know, that then you don't need me to answer your questions," I replied.
"Oh I can do a piece on gambling during the market without your interview. I will just name you in the piece, then the cops will knock on your door." she said.
"Then I think you better just do that," I suggested.
"How about we compromise, I'll hold the story until you leave town, if you give me the interview." she promised.
"That won't do a lot of good. Your story will put a lot of pressure on the cops to crack down during the next couple of markets. If I were who you think I am, an interview would really be bad for business." I replied.
"It's the best offer I can make. I am going to do the story with or without your interview." she threatened.
"Then I guess it's without," I replied.
She had been standing during the entire exchange. She seated herself after my flat refusal. "Look Gabe or whatever your name is, I need your interview to tie this whole thing together. Without it I have a story, but no real angle on it. Please talk to me." she said.
I looked at her for a few seconds. She was at least five years younger than me. She was also a hell of a lot better looking. She was blessed with a fairly average body, but on her it looked well. I had to be the expensive green suit she wore. The features of her face were regular, except for a chicken pox scar on her forehead she was absolutely perfect.
"How bad do you want the story?" I asked.
"I will do almost anything to get it," she said.
"Would you sleep with me to get it?" I asked.
"Is that a hypothetical question?" she countered.
"Let's say that it isn't. So would you?" I asked.
"No," she said simply.
"Then bring on the cops," I said
"You really mean that don't you?" she asked.
"Absolutely," I replied.
"You'll be in jail within the hour," she said.
"I'm afraid not. You see, you have no proof. I'll go back to my room. take a nap, then just disappear." I informed her.
"Even that is proof of your guilt," she said.
"Not really, it is proof that I finished my business, then left town early. It may look like guilt to you, but to the cops, it will sound reasonable." I said with a really big smile.
"But if I sleep with you, you will tell me everything?" she asked.
"I never said that. I asked how far you would go to get this story." I reminded her.
"So you don't really want to sleep with me?" she asked. Seemingly almost angry that I didn't seem to press the issue.
"I didn't say that either." I replied leaving her to wonder just what the hell I had said.
"This has been an interesting conversation, but I have a rather long day tomorrow," I said as I stood to leave.
"Just a damned minute," she said losing her cool.
I turned back to face her. "Yes?" I asked.
"What did we just decide?" she asked.
"I don't know about you, but I decided to return to my hotel. It is way past my bedtime," I replied.
"I have to admit one thing Amos, you are really slippery," she said.
"Thank you," I replied as I again walked to the door. Once outside, I walked to my ten year old Ford. I had bought the car, then had it's motor completely restored. I didn't touch the faded exterior. Eddie had another rule, never look as though you have too much money. It tends to bring interest from the wrong kinds of people.
"Gabe," Evelyn shouted.
I stopped yet again. "Miss Thomas, I don't want to sound rude, but I really am quite tired." I said.
"I just wanted to warn you, I am going to stay after you to do that interview," she informed me.
"Good luck," I said as I climbed into the Ford. I drove straight to the motel then checked out immediately. By the time she or the police arrived to look for me, I was again in my own bed. The drive had taken five hours, but I wasn't all that bothered by it. I had driven more with even less sleep.
I slept almost twenty four hours. When I finally returned to the land of the functioning humans, I felt great. Of course I hated to have missed the last four days of the show, but it could have been worse. I had worked the first six days, which were the most profitable.
I was sitting under my porch cover with a glass of iced tea when the rusty old one ton truck came around the pond. I had heard it's busted muffler long before I saw it threading it's way between the pot holes in my gravel drive. I watched the noisy beast pull into my yard.
From the cab a very tanned young man emerged from the drivers seat. He was followed shortly by an even younger man, who walked around the front of the rusty old truck. The two of them walked under the porch roof, then seated themselves on a bench.
"Fred you really should let me fill in those pot holes. You are going to break an axle one of these days," the driver said.
"Jerry Lee, I know where everyone of those holes are. If I can avoid them, so can anyone else who wants to talk to me." I paused for a while then asked. "What the hell are you doing here anyway?"
"You know, I am supposed to recover the outside of this coffin. Are you getting senile at age thirty?" he asked.
"Thirty five Jerry Lee, and no I'm not senile. I just thought you were going to wait until you finished that house in Gulf." I commented.
"We finished it yesterday, like I promised there was enough cedar siding left to do this dump." he remarked.
"Jerry Lee, I told you at the diner. I really want the roof fixed." I repeated.
"I know what you said, but the roof is going to look like crap, if I don't do the walls." he said.
"Put the roof on first, then I will decide about the walls. I may not be able to afford the walls," I said.
"Did you have a bad show?" he asked.
"It got cut a little short," I explained. "I sold a few pieces early, but I don't know that I sold enough to pay you."
"Let's just see how it goes," he said looking around. "Howie did a right good job on those footing for the posts."
"If you say so, I have never seen brick columns just sitting against a wall like that." I said.
"That's because you aren't a builder," he explained. He turned his attention to Howie. "Come on Howie let's get started before Fred changes his mind again."
I sat on the porch and watched while they began building a frame on the outside of my trailer. Jerry Lee had precut all the posts before they arrived. It looked like a giant jigsaw puzzle, but thankfully he knew what he was doing. He and Howie manhandled the eight foot post and their accompanying beams onto the piers. When he had them just so, he bolted them to the trailer. The bolts ran through the inside walls, then through the posts where he secured them with giant nuts and washers. When the outside frame was complete, he and Howie removed the rafters from the truck. The roof was a shed type thing. It was two feet higher in the rear than it was in the front. Even the front beam extended six inches above the trailer roof.
By two p.m. they had the bones of the roof assembled. To assemble the roof Jerry Lee had been forced to cut the porch loose from the trailer. When all the bones were in place he reattached it. Before they put the roof deck down, Jerry Lee dumped several bags of ground up newspaper between the old roof and the new one. I am sure that it more than doubled the insulation in the old trailer. By five o'clock the trailer had a new roof, one I hoped wouldn't leak for at least ten years.
"I have to admit Jerry Lee it does look like hell, but then it did before." I said with a down home grin.
"I'm telling you. I can really fix this place up. Hell you can have all the materials from the Evans job at half price. I must have enough crap to cover this thing twice." he said.
"Jerry Lee, I know I am about to get screwed but go ahead." I said reluctantly.
"I'll be back tomorrow," Jerry Lee said with his own country boy grin.
When they arrived the next day, I knew Jerry Lee had known he could talk me into it or he had stayed up all night fitting the wall panels together. He and Howie carried ten foot sections of wall studs to the trailer. They fitted them between the support post, then nailed them to the posts. By lunch the walls were framed. He and Howie rolled fiberglass insulation between the studs in just a couple of hours. It was easy since they to had been precut. Jerry Lee was so good that the window opening were framed when the stud walls arrived. He and Howie had the cedar siding in place by four.
"Fred, we can finish this tonight, that is if you don't mind the sound of hammers until around eight." Jerry Lee said.
"As long as it isn't overtime knock yourself out," I replied.
Eight o'clock came but after the two of them had gone. Jerry Lee promised to return in about a week with storm windows for the newly created cavities between the walls and my old windows. He had framed the ends but even that left a three and a half inch difference between the exterior wall and my windows. I had to admit that the trailer looked more like the fishing cabin I bought, than the trailer I gotten.
After the two of them had gone, I ran up my computer calendar. I found that my next game was still a few days away. The loss of income for a week didn't really bother me. Most of the money I made went into the bank anyway. It was dry cleaned first, but into the bank it went. Eddie had taught me a lesson about unreported income. He had been caught by the IRS for income tax evasion a few years before. The government seized everything he owned, then put him in jail for six months. The day after I heard about his troubles, I set up a dummy company just so I could dry clean the money. To the state and federal tax men, I was a freelance photographer. One who sold art pictures all over the south. If the convention where I played had a vendor area, I rented a small booth to show my pictures. I priced them so high, that I had very few buyers. Most of the time, I dropped the majority of them in a dumpster as I drove home. A few dummy receipts and I was home free.
After I shut down the computer, I turned on the television. Even with a hundred channels from the Satellite disk, I could find nothing to watch. I gave up after an hour's search. I had always found the cool damp air from the river and the pond was the best sleeping pill. I dropped off to sleep without a care in the world.
I awoke the next morning intending to drive into Sanford for breakfast. I needed a few things from the camera store, not to mention I needed to get to the bank. Even after paying Jerry Lee, I had more cash than necessary for my bank. Before I could get ready for the trip, I heard a pounding on my door. I instinctively picked up the .22 magnum derringer. I was pretty sure that no one other than the locals could ever find me, but then again I didn't plan to take any chances.
When I looked out the small window of the door, I saw her standing on the steps. I opened the door then asked, "How the hell did you find me?"
"Come on I'm a reporter. I had a friend at the cops run your plate. Then I had to explain to the girl at the diner, that I was a friend. It helped that I winked at her. She was most helpful with the directions. I didn't know exactly what to tell her so I kept it vague." she said in a rush to get it all out.
"Lady you are a piece of work. I ought to shoot you, and drop your body in the river," I informed her.
"Look Fred," she said with a smile. "I know all about you, but do your neighbors. I got the impression from the waitress that she thinks you are some kind of artist."
"Really, I had no idea," I said.
"Look either you let me do this interview or I am going to tell all these fine people what you really do for a living." she said.
"I don't think they would care," I said honestly.
"Let me come in, so we can talk about this?" she asked.
"I am on my way to town. If you want to come along fine, otherwise I have nothing to say to you," I snapped.
"What are we going to do in town?" she asked.
"I am going to buy some film and pick up some pictures," I replied.
"Then you really are a photographer?" she asked.
"Of course I am," I replied lying just as hard as I could.
"This I have to see," she said walking to the passenger side of my old Ford.
The drive into Sanford takes about twenty minutes. All during that time Evelyn tried to pump me for information. I refused to answer almost all of her questions. It was a battle, since most of them seemed harmless enough. People have a natural tendency to pass along information. I fought hard against it.
Our first stop was the Downtown Café. I passed at least ten different chain restaurants to reach the Downtown. The café was dark and dreary, which is what I liked most about it. There hadn't been a coat of paint or a scrub brush on the walls since the place opened in the fifties. Even though it was dark and dreary it was clean.
"Mista' Fred," the black waitress greeted me. "Who is the woman, you know you ain't supposed to bring no other women in here. I get's mighty jealous you know." The woman looked serious for about a second then burst into laughter. "Don't you worry none honey, I ain't near as bad as Mr. Fred thinks. I just gots to keep him in line."
"Maggie, this isn't a woman, this is a newspaper reporter," I said with a grin.
"What you down with this no account?" she asked Evelyn.
"Just visiting," Evelyn said.
"Don't you be getting' no ideas, Mr. Fred belongs to me." she said with another laugh. It might not have been so funny, if Maggie wasn't about a hundred years old. "You want the usual?" she asked.
"I do," I replied. "I don't know about the lady."
"I just want coffee, I ate at the restaurant near your place," she informed me.
"Be right back with your breakfast, Mr. Fred," Maggie said as she limped away.
"Isn't she a little old to be a waitress?" Evelyn asked.
"She is? I guess that's why she is the owner," I said.
"Oh," Evelyn replied.
During breakfast Evelyn tried to interview me yet again. I did my best to ignore her. Finally I just had enough. "Look, are you going to drive me crazy now that you know where I live?" I asked.
"If you don't allow an interview, I am going to camp on your doorstep." she admitted.
"Then let's see if we can't compromise," I suggested.
"First of all, I will not sit down and allow you to pick my brain. I would just lie to you. Besides you would write some kind of sappy story, or you would make me seem like a crook and a liar. If you agree to certain terms, I will allow you to get a story." I said.
"What terms?" she asked.
"First of all you can't use my name, or any other real information about me. I mean like where I live or the names of the clubs where I play. I demanded.
"I can live with that," she agreed.
"Instead of me telling you bullshot about my life, you come with me on the road for a couple of weeks. You go where I go, you eat what I eat, and you stay in the same motels I stay in." I said.
"God, that is more than I had hoped," she replied excited.
"Now the only way they will let you into some of the games, is if you go as a groupie," I said.
"A what?" she asked.
"I am going to show you all of it. The convention games, you can go into looking like you do now, but the club games are a different thing entirely. You would be spotted as an outsider in a second. You are going to have to dress and act like a tramp. It is the only kind of women who hang out in those clubs. Most of them have a thing for gamblers." I informed her.
"I can probably handle that," she advised me.
"We will see about that. Come on, I hope you brought your credit card you are going to have to buy some clothes." I said.
"Do you mean we are going to start today?" she asked the concern showing on her face.
"I am leaving first thing in the morning, if you want to tag along be at my house at seven. In the mean time, I am going to make sure you look the part. I don't especially want to get killed for taking a ringer into a game." I said. "Make no mistake, the club games are dangerous and sometimes violent. You are going to have to say and do what I tell you, or one of us is going to get hurt."
"Okay, let me make a call just to clear it with my boss," she said.
"Like I said, I have to go to the camera store, so you make your call from there," I ordered. She might as well understand right now who was in charge.
On the way to the camera store, I swung by the bank. I always went inside, since I seldom had my deposit correctly filled out. "Good morning Mister Amos, did you have a good show?" the very attractive and very young teller asked.
"Not as good as I hoped, but not bad either. Here you go Laura," I said placing the thick envelope on the counter.
She counted the money before she entered it into the deposits. "How in the world do you stay in business, you added the cash wrong again." she said with a laugh. It had become a standing joke in the bank. "Do you make these mistakes just so you can stand and talk to me longer. If you do, you can stop and just call me at home," she suggested.
"You know I am too old for you. Your daddy would kill me, and I wouldn't blame him." I said with a grin.
"Are you kidding my daddy would love you. You would be the first guy I ever dated with a decent job," she said with a grin.
"I don't have a job, I have a profession," I said with a grin to match hers.
"Well you have a good day," she said handing me my receipt.
"You too, and tell your daddy I said hey," I replied.
We were in the car when Evelyn asked, "Why all the phony baloney nice guy crap?"
"Like my friend Eddie used to say, 'It cost nothing to be nice to people, their good opinion may save your ass one day'." I replied.
"So who is Eddie?" Evelyn asked.
"You might find out later, but not just now," I replied. "Next stop the camera store."
Inside the old run down camera store, we were greeted by a man about seventy years old. "Well Fred, I see you are back. This time you even brought a beautiful woman with you." he said.
"She is my new assistant," I said with a smile.
"Good, every young man should have an assistant," he said with a wicked smile.
"Did my junk come in?" I asked.
"Of course it came in," he said leading us to the rear of the store. The prints came in last week. I mounted them just like always," he informed me.
I always bought the cheapest poster size prints I could find. Mr. Reams allowed me to have them mailed to his store, where he unpacked and mounted them for me. "These will do just fine," I said. "How many are there this time?"
"Fifteen," he replied.
"Fine toss in a couple of cans of matte spray and give me a bill," I replied.
Mr. Reams shuffled off to find the spray among his selves filled with other junk. When he returned he placed the cans on the counter with the stack of mounted prints. "You want to settle the whole bill?" he asked.
"You know I don't run a balance," I replied.
He began sorting through stacks of paper. "Here it is, your bill from the last mountings. The two of them come to One hundred and thirty seven dollars," he informed me.
"No problem," I said as I wrote the check.
In the car I turned to Evelyn, "I need to make one more stop. It won't take but a minute." I said.
"Tell me why you are doing all this?" she asked.
"Frankly it's for the IRS. I have to have a way to dry clean my money. I don't need a tax evasion rap." I replied honestly.
"So what do you do with the prints?" she asked.
"I actually sell one or two, most of them go into a convenient dumpster somewhere." I admitted.
"Let me get this straight, you take the picture, develop the film, have large prints made, have them mounted, then toss them in the trash?" she asked.
"No I also paint on them, before I trash them. The painting is to relax me." I admitted.
I had been driving while she asked her questions. I pulled into the parking lot of an art supply house. Once inside I went immediately to the craft section. I picked up three different bottles of liquid acrylic paint. Then added several small paint brushes. When I got to the register I was greeted by a white woman in her sixties at least.
"Well Mr. Amos, I see you are back again. When are you going to buy more than ten dollars worth of equipment. You are the worst customer I have," she said just before she broke into a laugh.
"Now Lois, you know I can't afford any more than this," I said smiling at her.
"I sure wish your business would pick up. We sure could use more of your money," she said grinning.
I paid her the five fifty with a check. "Well love, I have to get to work. Not enough time in the day to do all I have to do," I said.
"Then you come back when you can spend more money," she laughed.
Once in the car Evelyn said, "I had no idea you were so charming."
"You come in trying to blackmail me and expect me to be charming?" I asked.
"Let's start over," she suggested. "My editor thinks the piece you suggested would be a block buster. I will try to be nice and follow all your rules, so why don't you try being as nice to me as you are to the little old ladies?" she asked.
"First let's see how you do," I suggested. "Right now, you need to buy yourself some clothes,"
"So where do I go. I don't know any of the stores around here." she said.
"We are going to K Mart, that is where women, like you are going to be shop." I informed her.
I forced her to purchase a pair of too tight jeans, then a knit midriff length top. "Now you pick out the rest of what you need, but keep in mind what you should look like." I said.
"A two bit whore," she said resentfully.
"It's either that or go home," I admitted.
"Don't worry, I won't embarrass you by looking like decent woman," she snapped.
I left her in the ladies wear section while I went outside to smoke a cigar. I had been a cigarette smoker most of my life. I had switched to cigars because they were more acceptable to the convention crowd. Men didn't seem to mind the smell of them in a card room.
At home, the cigars I smoke are long and thin, they cost about a dime each. The ones I smoke at the games are also long and thin but they cost about a buck each. It is all part of the show. I sat in the morning sun with a cigar in one hand and a paper cup full of snack bar iced tea in the other, it was all in all a pleasant wait. When Evelyn returned she was again in her little reporter's fancy suit. I really hadn't expected her to change into real clothes just yet.
"Now what?" she asked.
"Now, I go home and paint, while you go home and write your will. You are going to be traveling in some really dangerous places for the next couple of weeks." I informed her. "If it gets too rough I will bring you home."
"Don't worry about me, I can take care of myself." she said scornfully.
"Whatever," I said.
During the drive back, she tried to pick my brain. I avoided all but the most harmless of her questions. I usually informed her that there was going to be plenty of time to talk on our little trip.
"To make this ruse work, I don't have to sleep with you do I?" she said.
"Yes and no," I admitted.
"I don't think I am going to like this," she said smiling for the first time since buying the clothes.
"You are going to need to be in the same room with me. It isn't likely that anyone will check, but if they do, we have to keep up the cover. I can get rooms with two beds, don't worry I'm a gambler not a rapist." I reminded her.
"I think, I can live with that," she said.
"By the way, I am going to have to change your name. Evelyn just sounds to uptight. How about Eve?" I asked.
"I can live with that. My father used to call me Eve," she replied.
"That's another thing. Try to talk a little more like a waitress or something," I suggested. "There aren't too many college graduates who hang around with gamblers."
"I'll work on it tonight," she promised.
"When you arrive tomorrow be Eve," I demanded.
"Sure, I will be your little slut by tomorrow," she said with a smile in her voice. I think she had finally begun to get into the game.
Just as soon as she left my house I began work on the photographs. I sprayed them with matte spray then began to paint out the backgrounds. The hand painted background were just a novelty, but one which drew a lot of attention. Unfortunately it required three or four different steps to get a good looking print. I finished the first step on all fifteen, before I got too tired to continue. It really didn't matter since I wouldn't be taking them on this trip. I would, but it was only to finish the painting. There would be no shows for the next two weeks. This was a pure gambling trip. No one in the back room of the pool halls and bars gave a damn about art.
She arrived a few minutes before seven. I transferred her bags into the trunk of the Ford. "I hope you didn't bring any of your prissy clothes, if you did they stay in the car." I informed her.
"No, I brought only the slutty looking stuff. I am going to be able to return home to wash them?" she asked.
I took a moment to give her a really close look before I answered. Her blonde hair was bright and shinny. I knew that wouldn't last long in the heat so I didn't say anything. She had worn the jeans I chose for her. Even with the few extra years she had on most of the groupies, the tight jeans made her appear firm. The little knit top was pretty well filled. I made a note to have her remove her bra before we went to the game. All in all, she looked very much like one of the girls. I made another note to tell her to apply more makeup tonight.
"I don't know, but they have places for that near every motel." I explained.
We arrived in Fayetteville shortly after one in the afternoon. I checked us into a motel near the army camp. While I waited for the evening, I painted on the pictures. Eve watched television. I didn't mind, it didn't bother me at all. After a couple of hours, I took a break. I went outside to sit in a metal lawn chair while I smoked my cigar. It would have been nice to have a glass of tea, but then you can't have everything.
I finished the second attempt on about half the pictures before we went to dinner. Dinner was in a self service steak house. It wasn't totally self service but almost cafeteria style. After dinner, I drove to the Trooper Pool Palace. When we walked in the door, the difference between the outdoor light and the total darkness of the pool hall required a few minutes of adjustment for our eyes.
I walked to the bar, followed closely by Eve. She seemed very nervous. "Take it easy," I whispered in her ear. "You are going to be fine." I took a look at her in the dim light. She looked younger, as most women do in the dim light of a bar. The extra makeup I had insisted on, made her resemble all the other women in the place. Some were hookers and some were the wives of deployed soldiers looking for a good time.
I turned my attention to the young female bartender. Places like this usually had a woman tending the bar. Most of the women looked considerably better than the one behind the Trooper's bar. She was stick skinny and her hair was long black and stringy. It matched her long face.
"Hi sweetie, Is Poppa in?" I asked.
"Yeah, who want's to know?" she asked. Obviously I had been away too long.
"Just tell him it's K.C." I said.
I notice the look on Eve's face, but I didn't explain. She knew better than to ask.
"You want a beer while you wait?" the bartender asked.
"No thanks, but my friend here will have one," I said.
She offered no choice in brands. She drew a draft from the tap, then placed it not very carefully onto the bar. Eve wiggled her severely constricted tail onto a bar stool. I stood beside her waiting for Poppa John to arrive.
The very fat man approached from the rear of the pool hall. "K.C. where the hell have you been?" he asked. "You ain't been around in a couple of years."
"I got married Poppa, the old lady wouldn't let me out no more," I said.
"Ain't that the way it happens. Is this your wife?" he asked eyeing Eve hard.
"No man, she is the replacement," I laughed.
"Well, I never saw the wife but this one is a knockout." He turned his attention to Eve. "If this jerk don't treat you right, I always got a job for a pretty woman."
"I'll keep that in mind," Eve said with a little smile. She was scared but she didn't show it.
"You still got a game in the back?" I asked.
"Sure, we even got a seat for you," he said. "That is if you got five hundred to buy in?"
"I can just about manage that," I said seriously.
"Come on honey," Poppa said to Eve. "You want to watch don't you?"
"I sure do," Eve said.
"Then bring your beer and come on," he said as he led us into the small room I remembered well. It might have been the storeroom at one time. It was dirty enough to have been one last week. It hadn't changed a bit in two years. The players even looked the same. I knew they weren't but they looked it.
Poppa and I were the only ones without GI haircuts. I paid my five hundred and received a stack of chips in exchange. Eve sat at the make shift bar with another woman. The second woman was either waiting to pick up a trick or she was with one of the players. Eve would have to figure that one out. I turned my attention to the game.
This was a really hard game. The soldiers who made it inside this little room were all experienced poker players. They were actually much better than the convention players. Their main problem was they drank while they played. A man who is less than a hundred percent will almost always fall victim to a man who knows how to play and is sober.
For the first couple of hours, I just swapped my money for someone else's money. I was almost dead even when I took my first bathroom break. When I returned to the table I had a straight coke from the bar. I sat down for another two hours stretch. At the end of that stretch, I was up a couple of hundred bucks. At two o'clock in the morning, I took another break. I hadn't spoken to Eve all night. I checked to find her engrossed in the other woman. They were whispering back and forth like old friends.
The game was beginning to wind down and everybody knew it. The soldiers were beginning to think about trying to get even. I was thinking about finishing them off. Poppa was thinking just about the same as me. He probably wanted to take a little of my winnings before I left the table.
It wasn't the last hand, but it was close to it. We were playing five card stud. Fortunately as it worked out one of the soldiers was dealing. He gave me an ace in the hole and a ten up. A tall, thin soldier who was about half drunk had the high card. He made a heavy bet which I raised. As long as I had the table beat I intended to jack the pot. It was close to the end and I didn't mind dropping a little of my winnings back into the game.
The next card paired up a really mean looking soldier. It also paired my hole card. I had a pair of aces which none of them knew about. The pair made the heavy bet, I raised him again. If he had been sober he might have figured I had paired the ace. Poppa John figured it and dropped out. A couple of the other soldiers went along for the ride.
Fortunately I drew a second ten on the next card. My showing pair was lower than the bettors so he maxed the bet again. When it came to me I raised it. I had two pair and he had only a pair showing. He might have paired his hole card but it didn't matter since my aces beat anything he had showing. The only way I could loose was if he had three of the queens.
On the last card, I pulled another ten. I had three tens showing and a pair of aces one of which was hidden. I knew I had him beat since his two showing cards were mismatched. He evidently had the third queen. If I had known that I would never have gone as far as I did. Oh I had his ass beat, but I didn't know it until the last card. If I had known, I would have given him the pot much earlier.
It was just him and me when we went into the final round of betting. "Tell you what K.C. I'm going to bet a hundred," the mean looking soldier said.
"Well Sarge, I think you are bluffing. I am going to raise you a hundred. I said.
"Good, then I am going to raise you back," he said.
"This is getting out of hand. I am just going to call you." I said.
"Three ladies," he said with a smile.
Full house, tens over aces," I informed him. I looked him in the eye while I raked the chips over to my side of the table. I had expected trouble from him. Nothing happened except that he got real quiet. "Not a good sign," I thought
We played a couple of more hands, but they were anti climactic. The real gut buster was over. I glanced up to see Eve sleeping with her head on the bar. The mean looking sergeant followed my gaze.
"That whore with you?" he asked.
It was about to start. I knew I hated these games for a reason. "Which whore you mean?" I asked. It seemed a logical question since there were two women.
"Hey man that ain't no whore, that is my girlfriend," the tall skinny one said.
"No offense, I just wanted to make sure I had the right woman before I answered. The blonde is with me," I said. The loud voices woke Eve.
"I still got a hundred bucks, reckon she would blow me for it." the mean looking one asked.
"I doubt it," still hoping to talk my way out of the situation.
"Why don't I just go ask her myself?" He asked. He was talking about Eve but he had his eye on me.
I kept my eyes locked on his when I said, "Poppa cash me out, I think this game is over."
"I think you better stick around K.C. You might enjoy watching your whore work," the mean one said.
Poppa counted furiously. When he handed me a wad of bills I didn't even look. "Eve wait from me outside," I demanded.
"Don't you go nowhere bitch," the Sarge said.
"Eve do as I say. Wait for me in the pool hall." I ordered her in a sharp voice.
"K.C. I'm not going to let you out of here with my money," the sergeant finally admitted his problem.
"I'm going to stand up and I am going to leave. If you try to stop me, it is going to be world war three," I said bluffing them.
I stood then the sergeant stood. From behind me I heard the rack of a pump shotgun. I knew it was Poppa, so I didn't even look back. K. C. you go ahead and leave. Me I'm gonna keep the sergeant her for fifteen minutes, after that I am going to turn him loose. If might be a good idea for you to find another game." Poppa suggested. Not because I had beat the table, but because he didn't want any trouble.
"Sounds about right to me," I said as I backed out the door. When I was clear of the door, I quick stepped to Eve. "Come on, we got to get the hell out of here," I said pulling her to the side door. I hit the emergency bar as I approached the door. It sprang open dumping us into the parking lot. I fired up the Ford, then made tracks to the motel. I parked outside another room.
Once inside the room, I found the bottle of black label bourbon inside my canvas bag. I broke the seal and took a long drink. I noticed for the first time that Eve was shaking hard. I handed her the bottle and watched while she took a long swallow. She gagged slightly as the bourbon burned it's way into her gut. I tried to take the bottle back but she wouldn't allow it. She tipped it up for one more swallow before she released it.
"Are we safe?" she asked.
"I expect so," I answered.
"Does that happen often?" she asked. Before I could answer she went on. "I was so scared, I almost peed in my pants. What happened?"
"First of all, it happens once in a while, second you had a perfect right to be scared, and finally, it happened because he is a lousy poker player and a worse drunk." I said. "Now you lock the door after me," I said as I started to the door.
"Where the hell do you think you are going?" she asked.
"Out to get some cokes, I need a lot more to drink before I am going to be able to sleep," I said.
"Here," she said as she thrust the ice bucket at me. "Get plenty of cokes."
After three of four strong drinks everything got funny. I explained in detail what had happened after Eve left the room. She told me about her conversation with the other woman. "The woman's husband had been sent on maneuvers. She was in the pool hall just for the band," Eve informed me. "When I told her there was no band, the woman shrugged and said, 'So I was misinformed'." That seemed to end the conversation. I knew it hadn't but in Eve's version it was over at that point.
We had a lot more to drink before Eve said, "Thank you for saving my ass,"
"Actually, it wasn't your ass I saved," I said with a smile. Eve giggled then passed out on one of the beds. I finished my drink then passed out on the other bed.
It is hard for most people to sleep with the sun shining, even through the drapes. Me I was pretty much accustomed to it. When the booze wore off, Eve could no longer sleep. I allowed her to move about the room while I continued to sleep. I awoke well after one p.m. I looked about to find Eve napping on the second bed. I staggered into the bathroom. I knew better than to look at myself in the mirror. At least not until I had a shower. I stepped from the shower naked to find Eve brushing her teeth.
"I'm sorry," she said tossing me a towel. I just can't sleep.
"Sleeping while the sun is out takes a little getting used to," I informed her. I left her in the bathroom, to return to the bedroom for my clothes. When I finished dressing I noticed that she had been standing in the bathroom doorway watching me.
"I guess next it is my turn to watch you dress," I suggested with a smile I didn't feel.
"Maybe, how did you get that scar?" she asked softly.
"Which one, I have a couple," I admitted.
"The one on your back." she continued.
"I got that one because the man with the knife could run faster than me," I said with a grin. "Now let's go eat. I am hungry as hell."
Breakfast was in the motel coffee shop. Eve didn't really get awake good all that day. She at least, didn't ask me questions every time she spoke to me.
That night we went to a small bar on the other side of Fayetteville. When we were seated at the bar, I asked, "Hey Sweetie, is Mike around."
"Mike don't own this place anymore," she informed me.
"Oh damn, see what happens when you get married. You loose touch with everything. I don't guess they still have the poker game in back?" I asked.
"You a cop?" she asked.
"Do I look like a cop?" I asked.
"Maybe, but you friend don't," she said with a warm smile aimed at Eve.
"So, do they have the game or not?" I asked.
"They got it but you are a stranger," she said.
"If I had one of those buzz cuts, would I still be a stranger?" I asked.
"I guess not," she admitted.
"So who is the new owner?" I asked.
"Sal, he came down and bought a couple of these clubs." she said keeping an interested eye on Eve.
"Any chance Sal would let me play in the game?" I asked.
"I decide who plays and who stays out," she said. "Sal don't even come down here."
"So how about it?" I asked getting tired of the conversation.
"Sure, if your little friend stays here to keep me company," she said.
"That is up to her," I informed them both.
"I'll stay and talk to her a while, that is if I can come back later." she said firmly.
"God, I love her. She is so butch," the bartender said. "Go on back, press the button when you get to the door. I will spring the lock for you."
I took my coke with me. The game was small but looked reasonably safe. I became the fifth player. I sat quietly after the buy in. I dumped a lot of antes getting a feel for the game. Of the five players two of them obviously worked for Sal. That left only two pigeons to pluck. I played for an hour before I decided to get serious. The house players weren't all that good. I figured to take a little of Sal's money along with the pigeon's.
Eve joined us after a couple of hours. She sat in a stuffed chair behind me while I continued to eat away at the other's money. The game broke up quietly around three. The house men didn't care that they had lost a couple of hundred of Sal's money. I walked out with over six hundred all together. I am sure the house men put it down to just a bad night with the odds. I had to admit, it had been fun beating them at their own game. I knew doing it more than once would cause Sal to take a look at me. I left vowing not to return for another two years.
In the car while driving to the motel I asked. "So how did you get away from the dike?"
"I promised to dump you, then go to her apartment later," Eve said with a wicked smile.
"Ain't that just like a woman. Get a better offer an they sell you down the river." I said.
"And it is typical that a man would leave his girlfriend with a dike, just to go off playing cards." she said with a smile.
Since things had been so quiet at the game, we stopped for breakfast before returning to the motel. We were both too tired to carry on much of a conversation over our eggs. Once we were in the motel room, I flopped onto the bed and immediately fell asleep. Exhaustion kept Eve sleeping until three in the afternoon. I likewise stayed unconscious until I heard her moving about. I pretended to remain asleep until I got a look at her naked body. She actually had a very pleasant little body. She was a bit to short for my taste, but otherwise she was pretty well blessed.
I waited until she was dressed before I began to stir. "Good morning," I said.
"Good morning yourself," she replied. "Now get out of the bed and get dressed. I am hungry and I don't want to drive your car," she said.
"Okay," I grumbled as I staggered to the bathroom in my shorts. I stood under the shower a long time. It took me more than a few minutes to get my head clear. "What day is it?" I asked.
"It's Friday why?" she asked.
"Because we need to be in Jacksonville tomorrow night," I said.
"Why?" she asked.
"I know a really good club there," I informed her.
"One like last night, or like the night before?" she asked.
"Let's put it this way, we need to pick up a bottle of liquor before the game," I said.
"Couldn't we just skip that one?" she asked.
"Hey, you are the one who wanted to know all about the life," I reminded her.
"Do we leave now or in the morning?" she asked.
"We have another perfectly good night here. We are going to hit one more club before we head out," I replied.
We ate Lunch in a cafeteria. It was one of a regional chain, but the food was still home style. A lot of it came from a can, but some of it was really cooked in the restaurant. It was just a matter of choosing carefully.
When we returned to the motel, I painted the second coat on the half I hadn't finished the day before. I was going to need a steadier hand for the final touch up. With a little luck, I might be able to do it on Sunday. While I painted Eve punched keys on her laptop computer. Just before eight, I warned her that we would be leaving in a few minutes. She quickly disconnected the phone, then connected her computer to it. She dialed the newspaper number and sent the story to them. I didn't need to read it to know it would be better than anything I could have told her.
At nine we pulled into the parking lot of the Oasis. The Oasis was a run down club on the outskirts of Fayetteville. Inside it was as dark and dingy as either of the other clubs we had been. The only thing about the Oasis which sat it apart from the others was that the waitresses were topless. Along with the waitresses, there were dances who were also topless. I was interested for about ten minutes, which was always the case when I played the Oasis.
"Hi Mary," I said to the bartender.
"My God, K.C. where the hell have you been?" she asked.
"Married, I want you to meet Eve. She is the reason I'm no longer married," I said.
"Eve, I'm glad to meet you. I do appreciate you bringing my wayward friend back. So you come to ogle the girls or play cards?" she asked.
"Play cards, if you still have a game?" I asked.
"Oh the game is still going on, but under new management. I just run the club now," she informed me.
"When did all this happen?" I asked.
"Last year a dude came down with enough money to convince me to sell him the game. I got no complaints either. I never did like running that damned game. I get to go home now at one." she informed me.
I didn't even bother to ask who was running the game. I had a pretty good idea. "So will they let an old country boy play?" I asked.
"Sure, if you are a regular, or a soldier they let you in no problem," she said. I watched as she removed a phone from under the bar. She said few words then turned to me. "Just go on back K.C. Eve you can go on back, or you can stay and talk to me. With a body like yours, I might be able to offer you a job," she said.
"Maybe I will come back later. I really want to go watch the game for a while," she said.
"No problem, I always got a place for a classy girl like you," Mary said.
I led the way to the back room. The door was one of those electronic lock gizmos. I knocked and the door first buzzed then opened. I entered another small smoky room. The table was set for seven players, but had only six. I sat down and began to play. I gave them my ante for a while. It was a similar setup to the one across town. Two of the players worked for the house. At least this time there were four players to fleece.
During the night, I hovered around five hundred bucks ahead. After two, thing began to get a little more interesting. The lambs were drinking and the house men weren't. I had drank a lot of coke, so I went to the bathroom. When I returned we began to play seriously. I had no problem with giving them part of my winnings, so I dodged a couple of hands. The house men would have been fine if they hadn't got greedy.
One of the pots close to the end of the game started to grow. I had a reasonably good hand before the draw. These jerks were playing draw poker seven handed. It made for some mighty poor hands. Nonetheless I had three eights going into the draw. I noticed that I was the only one drawing two cars. Most of the lambs drew three. One of the house men drew one. I had to figure him for either a straight or two pairs. From his betting I figured him for two pair.
When I picked up the forth eight, I knew I had a lock. I let the house men and the lambs run the pot up. The lambs were trying to recover some of their lost money and the house men were just plain greedy. The lambs began to tap out. According to the rules betting stopped when a man tapped out. I was about to call it quits when one of the house man asked, "How about a little side bet K. C.?"
"What do you have in mind?" I asked.
"I figure me and you play for a five hundred dollar side bet," he suggested. Now ordinarily when a house man offers me a deal like that, I run screaming from the room. Since I had watched and listened carefully to his deal, I figured I had about a fifty fifty chance that he was on the square. If he was, then I had his ass. If he wasn't, then things might well get interesting.
"Sure why not," I said raking off the five hundred. If I lost everything I would still only be down a few bucks. If I won, I was going home well over a grand ahead.
"What you got," the house man asked the lambs. The highest hand was two pairs. "How about you," he said looking at me. He just didn't look as bored as he should have.
I tossed the four eights on the table, without saying a word.
"Son of a bitch, you are good," he said. "Mikey told me you were good and he wasn't kidding." the man said.
"Who is Mikey," I asked.
"He runs the game at the Jumper. You know, where you were last night. He told me to keep an eye out for you. I wasn't supposed to allow you in the game, but I had to see how good you really are," he said.
"Then you won't mind, if I take my money and go home?" I asked.
"Not at all," he said.
"In that case, let's play some more cards," I said with a grin. I began to loose steadily for a while. Finally the game broke with me ahead only eight hundred bucks.
"It was nice of you to give us some of the money back. At least Sal won't be raising too much hell at us," the second house man said.
"I didn't give you anything, I just lost." I said.
"Since you have been so decent, I will give you some advice. Sal has four clubs here and is trying to get them all. If I were you, I would bypass Fayetteville from now on. Sal, as they say, is no gentleman." the first house man said.
"Since I am a peace loving man, I appreciate that," I said.
I was a little distant during the drive to the motel. We again stopped at the all night breakfast house. I was silent through breakfast. When we got to the room, Eve asked, "What's wrong?"
"You heard that player at the game tonight. Somebody named Sal is trying to lock up all the poker games in Fayetteville," I said.
"So what, you don't play these game anymore," she said.
"You're right of course. It was just nice to know the games were here if I wanted to play in them. I wonder if Sal is trying the same thing in Jacksonville." I mused.
"We will know soon enough won't we?" she asked.
"I guess we will at that," I admitted. "Look I'm going to get a couple of hours sleep. If you wake up before me, then wake me around noon," I ordered.
"Yes master," Eve said a little peeved.
We were on the road by one, Even with the stop for lunch we still arrived before five. The motel was the one I used almost all the time. I was recognized immediately, "Mickey, where the hell have you been keeping yourself," the small bald man asked.
"Mr. Sims, I want you to meet my wife. Eve this is Mr. Sims, one of the nicest men you will ever meet." I said. Eve was of course bewildered. She held up well enough to shake Mr. Sims hand.
"So Mickey you in town for the race?" he asked.
"You bet, it has been too long since I saw a good one." I said. "I am hoping that Eve will like it enough to let me come back."
"Just get her some earplugs, and she will be fine. Them damned cars will make you deaf," he informed anyone who would listen.
"What's that?" I asked.
He was about to repeat himself when he caught on. "Mickey you are something else, what I don't quite know." he said turning to hand me a key. "So how long you staying," he asked.
"I really don't know this time. Maybe a couple of days, maybe less." I said.
"Maybe more I hope," he said with a great smile.
"Maybe," I said as I walked to the office door.
When we were inside the room, Eve asked, "What was the wife thing?"
"Mr. Sims is married to a high mucky muck in the Baptist church. If I told him you were just a friend, he wouldn't have let you stay in the same room with me." I said.
"You know, I don't wear any rings," she said.
"He knows you aren't my wife, he just doesn't want to know it." I said with a smile.
"Oh," Eve said as it dawned on her.
After dinner, I drove to the Camel's den. It was a small strip bar just outside of Jacksonville. Eve and I actually watched one of the dancers for a while. I planned to ask the bartender about the game. Before I got around to it, I felt a hand on my shoulder.
"You come in my club and you don't even say hello," the voice said very harshly.
"Pete you old thief, I'm surprised you are even here," I said.
"Why would you be surprised," he said.
"I hear somebody is buying up all the clubs like yours," I said.
"There are no other clubs like mine. However I have been approached about selling out. Actually it was a good offer," he said.
"Then you are going to do it?" I asked.
"Hell no, you know this place is just a hobby. I keep it just so I can check out the dancers. Most of my money comes from the Atlanta stuff," he said.
"You do seem to do pretty good in Atlanta," I suggested.
"Why don't you and me combine our games," he suggested sitting a little too close to Eve.
"Man, I don't want no partners, I just want to come take your money," I said.
"My money hell, if there weren't so much money from the lambs, I would clean your fucking clock." he said.
"Well tonight is your big chance, I came to play in your little club," I said.
"Most of the players are here but we won't get started for a few more minutes," I want them to have time for a couple of more drinks before we begin," he said with a grin.
"No sense giving them an even break," I agreed.
The game started at nine. Eve wandered in and out of the room, since this one didn't have the electric locks. She went into the club, presumably to talk to the employees. Of course she might have liked strippers. If things held true to the past few days, someone would be offering her money to take her clothes off.
That particular card room was at the end of a small hallway. On either side of the hall between the card room and the main lounge were located the bathrooms. At one time or another everyone at the table went to the bathroom. It was after the club closed when I felt mother nature call for the tenth time. Eve had been gone for sometime. I expected she was in the lounge listening to a waitress spill her guts about now. I went to the bathroom. It took me considerably longer than usual since the bar-be-qued pork had a mind of it's own.
When I returned to the game, all I saw was blood and bodies everywhere. The first thing I felt was my knees give way. I staggered back against the wall. I noticed Pete sitting slumped forward along with the other lambs. The others had been thrown all over by the slugs striking there bodies. I walked to flip Pete over. I could see why he hadn't been tossed by the slobs. Pete's throat had been cut from one ear to the other. I had to fight the urge to throw up. I noticed the bank box lying empty on the table. It might have looked like a knock off, if Pete hadn't been so brutally killed, and if I had heard the gunfire. This was a hit and nothing less.
It must have been the shock, I hadn't even thought of Eve until I heard her scream behind me. I turned to the sound before I recognized it. I had the little .22 magnum derringer out before I recognized the woman, I had just spent the last four days with. I almost shot her but I managed to stop my trembling hand before I did anything too stupid.
"My God Fred, what happened?" she asked.
"I don't know but we have to get out of here," I said.
"I can't go. I saw them," she said.
"What do you mean you saw them?" I asked.
"I was in the lounge talking to one of the dancers. When they kicked in the front door, she pulled me under the table. We both saw them as they went down the hall. I have to tell the police," she said.
"What we have to do is get the hell out of here. At least until we figure this whole thing out," I said.
"No, I have to wait for the police. Alisha is calling them now," she said.
I ran into the lounge, then pulled the phone from the stripper's hand. She hadn't made the connection at the time. Eve followed me into the lounge. "What the hell are you doing," she asked.
"Listen carefully both of you, this wasn't a robbery. It was a hit. Odds are some pretty bad boys are involved in this. Now if you go running off half cocked, you are going to get all of us killed. Let's just go somewhere and talk this over." I suggested.
"I don't won't to call nobody," the stripper said. "Your girlfriend, she made me call the cops. That's why I didn't have them on the line, I didn't want to do it." Alisha said.
"Okay Alisha, you get in your car and follow me to our motel. We need to figure out what to do," I demanded.
"I know what to do," Eve said.
"If you call the cops before we talk this out, you are likely to get yourself and Alisha killed. If you don't care about yourself think of her. Let's at least work out a cover story to keep these guys off her ass," I said.
"Please Eve, let's talk about it before you do anything," Alisha begged.
"Okay you two get the cars started, I will make a quick phone call from here," I suggested. I heard car motors running before I made the 911 call. I dropped the phone as soon as I heard the operator answer. I ran out the broken front door and slid inside the open door of my Ford.
We didn't stop to eat on the way to the motel. Instead when we arrived, I went for cokes and ice. Each of us had a drink in or hands for sometime before anyone said a word. I poured myself a second strong drink before anyone said a word. Finally I broke the silence. "Tell me exactly what you saw?" I asked Eve.
"Two men in jeans and sweatshirts broke the door. They rushed straight back to the card room. I heard bodies falling around and then Pete begging. The men rushed out the front door a few minutes later." she said.
"Could you recognize them again?" I asked.
"Yes," she said simply.
"How about you Alisha?" I asked.
"The same, maybe a little less, I was hiding most of the time. I did see them come through the door." she admitted.
"That's all there is to it then, we have to go to the police," Eve said.
I shook my head sadly. "Alisha how long have you been in the business?" I asked.
"Five years, I started when I was sixteen," she said.
"How many clubs have you worked in over the years?" I asked.
"A couple of dozen," she replied.
"Any of them run by the mob?" I asked.
"Sure a couple," she replied.
"Then tell Eve what is going to happen if she goes to the cops?" I demanded.
"She, we, are going to be the only witnesses. They are going to kill us for sure," Alisha said.
"No they won't, the cops will protect us," Eve said.
I didn't have to laugh, Alisha did it for me. "Are you kidding, even if they do, it means moving somewhere else and being something else. I know strippin' ain't much, but it pays better than workin' in some factory on the Mexican border." Alisha said.
"So we say nothing, then they get away with it," Eve said.
"I don't know what we do, but I know I ain't ready to die just yet," Alisha said.
"First thing we do is assess the threat to us. If those guys counted cars when they went in there they knew they didn't kill enough people." I said.
"If they had known there were more people inside, why didn't they come after the rest of us." Eve asked.
"Did anybody notice how many cars were in the lot when we left?" I asked. No one had noticed. If a couple of them road in together, then maybe the number matched." I suggested.
"You know that some of those players were marines, the FBI is going to be called in," Eve suggested.
"Alisha is going to be the easiest one for the killers to find. She worked at the club. You and I are pretty much free and clear," I suggested to Eve.
"That doesn't surprise me, I am always the one caught in the middle," Alisha said.
"She can go back and pretend nothing happened. Just show up for work, like any other day." I suggested.
"Not really," Eve said.
"Why not?" I asked, not really wanting to know.
"Somebody the cops or Sal is going to start asking questions. They are going to be looking for witnesses. Somebody is going to remember me and Alisha staying after the place closed. It's going to be Alisha and that girl who came in with Mickey." Eve said looking hard at me.
"Alisha did anyone recognize me," I asked.
"The bartender knew who you were, and that you were a player. She is the one who introduced me to Eve," Alisha said.
"Well the three of us are pretty well screwed." I said.
"Then like I said, let's go to the cops and get some protection." Eve suggested again.
"You have to be kidding," Alisha said. "Those guys will find us."
"No they won't," Eve said.
"You have to be kidding Eve, all we can give them is a couple of mob shooters. Nobody is going to give us first class protection for that. But Sal or whoever is pulling the strings is going to go all out to keep us quiet. The shooters might roll over, if they think they are going to do big time. Sal will have to kill us to make sure the shooters don't go to trial. No sweetie Alisha is right. We are going to bite the bullet on this one." I said.
"So what is our alternative?" Eve asked.
"We can run," Alisha suggested.
"She has a point," I admitted. "Even if they know who Alisha is, they aren't going to know who we are, at least not for a while. We can get to my money, then get the hell out of Dodge," I suggested.
"How far could we get on your money?" Alisha asked.
"Pretty far," I informed her.
"What about me, I have a life you know," she said. "You two may be gypsies, but I have a life. I don't want to loose it."
"Honey, that's what you are talking about, losing your life." Alisha said.
"Eve you saw the card room, they killed five people so as not to leave any witnesses to the assignation of the sixth. You don't stand a chance," I informed her.
"I admit I am terrified, but we have to do something," she demanded.
"Let's figure out how much they can learn and how fast they can learn it. After that we will just have to come to some kind of decision." I suggested.
"They can for sure tie Alisha to the scene, if they tie her, then they tie me." Eve said. "Then they are going to tie me to you."
"That much we already know," Alisha said.
"What she is really saying Alisha is once they tie her to me, then they have to work on who I really am. So how do they do it?" I asked.
"Good old Mr. Sims," Eve stated flatly. "They know your name, so they call around to the motels until they find where we are right now. By hook or crook they get the registration card. With the card they can get on the computer and find your name and address."
"How do you know all that," Alisha asked.
"Because that's how she found me," I said.
"Can they get back to you, from me?" I asked.
"Maybe, I told the waitress at the café who I was. Not all of it but enough," Eve said.
"Well with enough time, they are going to know who each of us is," I said.
"Then it's run or fight," Eve said.
"We have to decide real soon. If Alisha doesn't show up for work tonight, then we are out of the guessing stage. Everyone is going to start on the trail for sure," I suggested.
"If we run, how long do we have before we have to begin," Eve asked.
"Sometime today or tonight they are going to have Alisha. Maybe they won't get to this motel before Monday. After that, a couple of hours and they will have me. Another day and they will have Eve." I said.
"To be on the safe side, we need to check out of her right now," Eve said.
"Let's wait until ten, we don't want to make anything stick in Mr. Sims' mind." I suggested.
"Okay but we should really try to steal the registration card from him," Alisha suggested. She might have been a country girl, but it didn't make her stupid. "At least that would buy us some time."
"Good idea, now how the hell do we do that?" I asked.
"He keeps the cards on the tall board behind him. If you can distract him, I can get our card," Eve suggested.
"We are going to have to get him out of the office for that." I suggested.
"I can take care of that," Alisha said. "I feel like a nude swim in his pool. When he comes out to run me off, You take the card. I will get into my car and meet you down the road."
"Damn it works for me," Eve said. She had given up too easily. I had a feeling something was going on deep inside her little head.
"Do you know that Union truck stop about five miles west on sixty four," I asked.
"Sure, I should be there right after you," she said.
"No you will beat us, Fred is the slowest driver in the world." Eve said.
"Speaking of that, no matter how nervous you get don't speed. There will be a bulletin out on you and your car pretty soon. We will leave it in the truck stop," I suggested.
For the first time Alisha smiled. "Good, it's a fucking lease and I hate it anyway."
Eve and I loaded our car, then walked slowly to the office. I found Mr. Sims napping on the sofa. "Mr. Sims, I am afraid I am going to have to head home. Trouble at the plant," I informed him.
"Gee I'm sorry," he said moving sleepily behind the counter. He rummaged around until he found our card. "Let's see that will be thirty eight twenty," he said.
I placed two twenties on the counter, at the same time Eve said, "Come look Mickey, there is a nude woman in the pool."
Not only did I go look, so did Mr. Sims. He took a quick look, then ran past Eve. I lifted the card and pulled Eve after me through the side door. We both heard Sims screaming at Alisha to get out of the pool. When Alisha saw Eve and I walk to our car, she climbed out of the pool wrapped herself in Eve's house coat and walked calmly to her own car. I saw her walk half way across the parking lot before I drove away.
Fifteen minutes later I was sitting in the truck stop eating breakfast. Neither of the women seemed to have much of an appetite. They both sat in the booth across from me. I got a good look at them. Eve was blonde and petite, whereas Alisha was tall, with a pretty good body. The startling things about her was her long, jet black hair, her very gray eyes, her pale complexion and her large ruby red lips. I had been just to busy worrying before to notice how strange she looked. She had dressed in the bathroom, so she again wore the tight black dress from the club.
"What is your stage name," I asked.
"Vampira, what else?" she asked with a smile. I noticed she had very white but irregular teeth.
God, I was about to take it on the lamb with a blonde reporter and a Vampire. I wasn't going to be noticeable or anything. "Well Alisha you are going to have to change your image when we get to my place. We can stop and buy hair dye and scissors. As for the dress, give Eve your sizes and she can buy you something a little less attention getting." I said. Alisha nodded her understanding.
We drove until five, before reaching Sanford. Alisha and I waited in the car while Eve went into the Kmart store. When she returned, she had her arms filled with bags. I didn't even ask, I just opened the trunk. We reached the fishing cabin/trailer shortly after eight. We had stopped for a steak in one of the chain restaurants.
I slept in the one bed while the two women worked on Alisha's hair. I slept until the next morning. When I awoke it was to find Eve on the sofa and Alisha in my bed. It didn't matter, I had way too much on my mind.
"Okay everybody up and moving," I said as I rushed to the bathroom. I took a ten minute shower, then dressed in clean cotton slacks and a cotton shirt. It was going to be a long hot trip. I gave the women orders to finish in no more than one hour. I was surprised when they were finished in forty five minutes.
I drove us to Sanford, the first thing I did was to go to the bank. I withdrew all my money. I went to the main branch, since I assumed they would be more likely to have seventy thousand dollars in cash. The bank manager didn't like it much, but he paid me. I half expected the cops to show any minute. It didn't matter, I figured I had bought at least one more day be stealing the registration card. The cops never showed, instead I left the bank with a briefcase filled with money.
From the bank we drove to a restaurant for breakfast. While we ate I said to Eve, "Before we do anything else, you need to call your boss. Tell him you are going to be out of touch for a week. Also tell him not to tell anyone who you are with."
"As I agreed before, he doesn't know who I am with," Evelyn explained.
"Good, then just so he won't be looking for you, tell him we are going on another road trip." Eve nodded.
With a mouth full of eggs I asked, "So where do you ladies want to go?"
Neither of the women had a clue, "The first thing we have to do it to dump this car," Eve suggested.
"Not really, we are going to sanitize it. At least until we get some new papers," I said. "Then we are going to sell it. If we dumped it now, we would be forced to buy a new one in our own names." I explained.
"But they maybe looking for you. The cops will surely have a description of this car." Eve said.
"I'm counting on it," I said.
Alisha had been quiet during this conversation. She finally gave her opinion in a quiet voice. "Look you two, I don't know as much about this as either of you. All I know is I want to live. Eve have you ever been on the run?" she asked.
"No," Eve answered.
"Fred, the best I can tell you have been using phony names for years. Why don't we just let Fred get us lost." Alisha stated firmly.
"Sure, but I just want to know how he is going to do it." Eve suggested.
"The first thing we are going to do is drive to another state. You are going to get a drivers license in your own name. I am going to transfer ownership of the Ford to you." I said.
"I get it, we left my car so the cops won't be expecting me to have a car. They will still be concentrating on your car. At least for a month or so." Eve said.
"Exactly, we need about three days to get it done." I said.
"So how do we get the new title. We sure as hell can't wait around a month for it." Eve said. She seemed to know a little about everything.
"We rent one of those commercial mail boxes. We can have the owner forward our mail anywhere we want with a simple phone call. Hopefully, we will have new identities by the time the title is ready. Then we sell the Ford and buy a new car." I suggested.
"Why don't we just dump the car?" Eve asked.
"Because money is going to be hard to come by on the road. Alisha can't dance, because they will be expecting her to do that. I can't play cards for the same reason. You might be able to write some, but it is going to be hard to disguise your writing. In other words we are going to need all our money."
"Where can we go, so that the three of us living together won't cause a lot of talk?" Alisha asked.
"That, my dear is a really good question. We need to decide on a place now, so that we can at least head in that direction." I admitted.
"San Francisco," Eve suggested.
"Too expensive," Alisha said. "I lived there once, no matter how much money we had, it would run out too soon."
"Well I am not going to live in the wilds of Montana," Eve stated emphatically.
"It has to be somewhere across the Mississippi River," I said.
"Why," Eve asked.
"Even I know that," Alisha said. "These guys have territories just like cops. I don't know where Sal's ends, but I know it won't be farther than the east coast."
"Exactly," I confirmed. "If we error, let's do it on the side of caution."
"This is all too much, I want to go home." Eve said. "I'm going to go back and just forget this ever happened."
"That's up to you," I said tired of arguing with her. "You can even go to the cops if you want. Alisha and I will be long gone before anything happens."
"Will you drive me back to my car?" she asked.
"Not a chance, but I will call you a cab," I said.
Thirty minutes later Eve was gone. "Will they find her?" Alisha asked.
"Probably not unless she goes to the cops, but she will." I said.
"Too much conscience," Alisha agreed.
"Don't you have a shorter name?" I asked.
She actually laughed for the first time since I met her. "I guess you could call me by my real name. I was born Anna Mills," she said.
"Okay, Anna it is. We better start moving. I think we can at least get the car changed to your name before Eve gives them everything," I said.
"So you think she is going to talk?" Anna asked.
"I think it will be in tomorrow's paper," I said.
We left the restaurant and drove straight through to a small town outside Little Rock Arkansas. There I rented a box in a little business called 'Mail is Us'. Anna and I checked into a small motel, hopefully one not likely to be the first one checked, by either the cops or Sal.
Anna turned out to be intelligent though poorly educated. Fortunately the drivers test wasn't required for a new license. She gave the Motel as her address. With the new license, we drove to the Arkansas DMV office. I transferred ownership of the Ford to her. With the new plates on the car, we began our drive southwest. We stayed off the interstate only because I didn't like busy roads. Since we were legal, I didn't worry much about the cops.
Anna and I stayed in the same motel rooms but did not sleep together. At first it was because we were exhausted every night. After that, it just never seemed to happen. Neither of us was in the mood. I know they say that when your life is in danger people tend to cling to each other. That may be true in most cases, but for Anna and I, we were both insulated from normal emotions by years of living on our wits. We were just too tired and too worried all the time.
When we reached Texas, some days later, I found a cemetery in a town outside Dallas. We walked through it until I found a tombstone for a child. One who had died at birth. The girl had died the same year Anna had been born. I copied her name and date of birth into a small notebook. The most dangerous part was in getting the birth certificate. Chances were about fifty, fifty that the clerk would ask for some ID. We really had no choice. I might have written for the documents had I been able to provide an address. As it was, we just walked into the Registrar of Deeds office. Anna tried to get me to stay behind but I refused. We were in this together.
Anna explained that she was going to enroll in the University of Texas an needed her birth certificate. When Anna gave the clerk the name from the tombstone as her own, I had two equal fears. That the clerk would ask for her drivers license, or that the clerk would have known the mother of the child. Fortunately neither happened. I paid the five bucks for the certified copy and away we went. We had an elaborate story for the clerk at the social security office, but it wasn't necessary since the middle aged lady didn't give a damn. The paper work was complete so she issued the card. The problem was, she needed a mailing address. I quickly made up an address and she was satisfied.
"What are we going to do about a card. The bitch is going to mail it to that phony address?" Anna asked.
"When we light somewhere, you go to the local Social Security office and get a duplicate. Tell them you lost your original one." I said with a smile.
"How many times have you done this?" Anna asked.
"A few, but I hope this will be the last one," I said.
Deeper into Texas we repeated the process for me. When we arrived in New Mexico, we each had a new birth certificate and name. Anna became Sally Mae Williams, and I became Thomas, call me Tom, Allen Pippin.
We drove through Taos thinking we might settle there. The town was just filled with too many tourist. Sally Mae and I did like the area, so we found a cross roads town about fifteen miles to the north. Sadie's Gulch, was named for the whorehouse which had once stood in the crossroads. In the days we lived there, the only things left of Sadie's were the memories of the old-timers.
In the cross roads there was a combination service station, and diner. There was also a motel. The land all around the Motel was nothing but desert. It was actually quite beautiful in it's emptiness. Anna and I agreed to stay around a while.
With staying in mind, we checked in with our new names. I faked the license number on the form just in case anyone ever checked, though I couldn't imagine that anyone would. Sally Mae and I slept the whole day away. She woke me at ten p.m. She insisted I come take a walk through the desert with her. We walked for hours never losing sight of the motel's lights. I had to admit it was even more beautiful at night. After the first hour, Sally took my hand. We walked as if lovers for a long time. As if we had mutually agreed, without a word being spoken, we turned back to the motel.
The next morning I drove us into Taos. I picked up a book on the driving regulations from the highway patrol office. That night we crammed like hell for the test. The next day I took the test for my learners permits. My BS story was, I had gone into the army straight out of high school. I had just left the military during the latest down sizing. I just never had a civilian drivers license.
The bureaucrat never even questioned the story. I gave him the fake birth certificate. Not only gave me the written test, but he allowed me to take the driver's test in the Ford. Sally stood by with her real drivers license from Alabama just in case. With the New Mexico license in hand, I drove Sally Mae to the examiner in a smaller town twenty five miles away. She did pretty much the same thing. Her story was that she had stayed home tending a sick mother until she passed away. She never had need for a license until now. With her looks and grace of movements, I had doubts about her story holding up, but the examiner just didn't care. Sally Mae produced the birth certificate, then the examiner gave her the written test.
Two days later, she took the driver's test from the same examiner. He was more than willing to issue her a license. He also asked for her phone number. She was flattered as any woman would be. She gave him the number we had agreed to use for the time being. It was the number for the Taos dial a prayer. Several places in Taos got that number over the next few days. Including the used car lot where we almost gave the Ford away a week later. The salesman called it a trade, but I called it robbery. Anna signed over the newly arrived title with her old name, I took delivery of the new piece of crap under my new name.
Since the new federal law requires dealers to report anyone who pays more than ten thousand in cash, we were forced to buy a cheap car. Actually I would have anyway. We still needed to conserve our money. At least until we found a way to make more.
What we bought was a very old, very ugly International Scout. It was really cheap and it was four wheel drive. It also burned oil and the gears made a slight grinding sound. I would never have bought it, if I hadn't seen several of the old dogs on the road around Taos. I assumed parts were still available for the dog.
The old dog marked the end of our old life. Sally and I began looking for a place to live. The morning after the purchase of the old dog, we explained to the woman who ran the motel that we had decided to settle somewhere near Sadie's Gulch. We asked her help in finding a place to live. She offered us a monthly rental price on our rooms, but I chose not to stay. I explained that the traffic just made too much noise. Actually there was a lot of traffic at the intersection.
"I hate to loose you," she said. "But there is an old cabin for sale up the road a piece. I am supposed to be lookin' for a buyer."
"So how about letting us take a look at it?" I asked.
The old woman wrote the directions on the back of a Motel note pad. Her hand shook as she wrote. I couldn't make any sense of them at all. Sally Mae nodded as the old woman wrote and talked. I had to assume Sally understood the directions.
When we got outside I asked. "Do you have any idea where we are going?"
"Sure, didn't you understand?" she asked.
"Not a word or line of her scribbling," I admitted.
"I guess it was all those years with my invalid mother, I understood her perfectly," she laughed.
"Well let's take a look," I suggested.
The drive was no more than twenty minutes. The cabin was off the main road and in the desert. The directions were really hard to follow since they used landmarks rather than signs. It was the only way to give directions since there were no signs.
My first look at the assortment of buildings made me want to turn around immediately. "Well this was a wasted trip," I said.
"No wait, we are here, lets take a look," Sally insisted.
"What's the use, this place is about to fall down," I said.
"Come on, let's just look at it," she insisted. I reluctantly agreed.
There were three separate building, each on the verge of collapse. By agreement we started with the smallest building. It was also the farthest from what must have been the house. Each of the buildings looked as though they were mud huts. Not quite adobe, just plain mud. We passed by a rust water tower as we moved about. Since there were no pipes going up to it, I assumed it was to catch the rain water. The smallest hut was cool even though the afternoon sun beat down on it. It must have been the two foot thick walls and heavy shutters on the windows. The hut was completely empty.
After a quick look inside we moved on the larger of the outbuildings. That building was about twenty by ten. It was constructed exactly the same as the other one. It too was empty. Leaving me little hope for the cabin.
The cabin looked a lot like a mud railroad car, with a giant onion growing out the top. I imagine it was constructed long and thin due to a shortage of timber for interior supports. It like the huts was just one long thin room. The ceiling was no ceiling at all. There were trees stretched across from rear to front walls. The roof sat on those walls. In the middle of the room the ceiling was about three feet higher then the rest of the roof. I could see daylight coming through holes in the onion. I had absolutely no idea what the hell the purpose of the onion was.
A rather large bed occupied one end of the long room. On the other end was a kind of kitchen bathroom combination. I guess you would call it that since it had a bathtub, with no pipes, sitting in the middle of the floor. At least, it was a large bathtub, a sheet of plywood covered it. I supposed it was the dining room table.
I noticed kerosene lanterns sitting on small shelves attached to the walls here and there throughout the room. There was obviously no electricity. An iron hand pump was attacked to the sink. When I tried it nothing happened. The cabin had both a fireplace and a propane cook stove. I had seen the gas bottle sitting behind the house as we explored the huts. There was no toilet at all.
Between the two ends of the house were scattered the remnants of someone's cast off furniture. Everything was completely worn-out. I knew my first instinct had been correct, 'Run just as fast as I could from the place'.
"You know Tom, this place is really dusty. I'll bet the owner has been trying to sell it for a long time," Sally said.
"I expect he will be trying a lot longer," I said.
"I like it," Sally said firmly.
"You like what?" I asked going on before she could answer. "It has no water, no electricity, the furniture is a joke, it has no toilet, the place has absolutely nothing to recommend it."
"You said we needed to drop out completely for six months at least." she said. I nodded. You said we couldn't keep spending our money without it running out," she said. I nodded again. "Then tell me where we could live cheaper and less noticed than here?"
"But this will be miserable for you," I suggested.
"Are you kidding, it will be like summer camp," she said.
"I think you are overlooking a few things. Things like refrigeration, air conditioning, television, and let's not forget water," I said angrily.
"We can learn to do without those things, at least for a few months." she said. "Besides we can always check into the motel for a day or two every now and again."
"Sally, I will not buy this place," I said firmly.
"But, would you rent it?" she asked.
"I might agree to that," I said just to make her happy. Why not there was no chance the old lady would rent the cabin. After all she was being paid to sell it.
We drove back to the Motel. "Now you go on to the room and rest," Sally said. "I will take care of the cabin."
"What ever you say," I said knowing she was wasting her time.
When two hardheaded women get together, you just can't rely on logic. Sally was gone three hours. When she returned she said, "I need a hundred bucks,"
"What for?" I asked reaching into my pants pocket.
"The first month's rent," she said with a smirk.
"That's about twenty nine more days longer than you will be able to stand that place," I said with a knowing smile. "What are we going to do about water?" I asked.
"I told you, I will take care of all that," she said doing a dancer's move as she turned to leave the room.
I got the details when she returned. The old lady had rented her the cabin on a month to month basis, with the understanding it would be sold to the first person who paid the price. We might be asked to vacate with no more than a weeks notice. That suited me just fine.
Sally had arranged for a chemical toilet to be delivered the very next day. The delivery service would exchange it for a clean one every two weeks. The service station across the street sold the gas for the cook stove. It also had a water trailer we could barrow to take water to the cabin. The water was free, since it came directly from the counties pumping station. The county tax paid for it. The trailer rent wasn't free, but it was minimal.
I paid twenty five a trip for the replacement toilet, and ten for the rent on the trailer half a day. The propane tank was filled at a cost of forty bucks. It appeared that I would have no more than a additional hundred a month in the place. It would be inconvenient but for two hundred a month, it was a deal. That is, if Sally could truly take the Spartan lifestyle.
Sally had become important to me, even though we weren't lovers. She was like a little girl dependent on me for her survival. It was really heady stuff. I was happy to have both her and the responsibility. Otherwise I might have made a stupid mistake. Knowing I had her life on the line, made me doubly cautious.
The night before we made the move to the cabin, I drove us into Taos for dinner. After dinner at a local Mexican restaurant, I drove to a large discount department store. I bought a pump shotgun, a box of shells for it and a box of .22 mag cartridges for the derringer. I also loaded up on film. Other than a few clothes, my old Nikon was the only thing I brought from home. Sally bought more clothes, clothes more in line with her new lifestyle. I approved of the fit anyway.
We walked the streets after locking the purchases in the Scout. Sally and I passed tourist after tourist. Most of them were carrying packages of one sort or another. Many of them carried wrapped packages which could only be painting. The sight of them all during dinner had been the impetus for me buying the film.
"You know, before we go to the cabin, we should call Eve," I said. "We may not need to hide out after all."
"Aren't you worried that someone will trace the call?" she asked.
"I think, I will call her at work. I don't expect they will have a trace on there." I suggested.
"Whatever you think is best," she said skeptically. I though it had more to do with moving to the cabin than it did our security. She was afraid that we wouldn't need to be on the run after all. If I could return her home safely, I would be happy to do so. I hoped, not so secretly, that we would be able to return home. The cabin held no thrill for me whatsoever.
I made the call the next morning before we checked out of the motel. I called from the pay phone in the parking lot. It took a lot of change but I finally got through. I asked the receptionist for Evelyn. I was surprised when a man answered the phone. "Fred is that you?" he asked.
"Where is Eve," I asked quickly.
"Evelyn is dead. She was killed three days after she talked to the police. Everyone is looking for you." he said.
I immediately broke the connection. I figured I had been on the phone no more than a couple of minutes. Unless the cops were tracing every incoming call, they had only had a few seconds to run the trace. I felt pretty safe. Nonetheless, I explained it all to Sally. I left the decision whether to run up to her.
"Tom, that phone is used by a lot of people who pass through here. Even if they trace it, they may not be able to find us. Let's take a chance, I need a break from motel beds and restaurant food," she admitted.
We moved into the cabin. I was surprised by many things there. First of all the holes in the roof were to create a constant gentle breeze in the cabin. The house stayed cool during the day and got absolutely chilly at night. My second surprise was that Sally was a very good cook. Not only was she good, she enjoyed cooking. Once she learned the Mexican dishes filled mostly with dried beans, she was really able to keep food on the table without a refrigerator.
On the second say Sally said to me, "I need a bath, why don't you fill the tub with water from the outside tank. She meant the rainwater tank. I carried bucket after bucket from the tank. I was surprise that it had any water at all until I realized that for years no one had tapped the supply. Since the water sat in the sun for months on end it was tippet.
When the tub was full Sally said, "You can either wait outside or join me. What you can not do is stand around watching," she said with a girlish giggle.
"You know Sally, that is a hard decision to make. I mean, part of the reason we get along so well is that we are just friends. If I get in that tub with you, things might change forever," I said.
"Then for now, why don't you wait outside. I kind of like things the way they are," she said. "I never had a brother, and you are the closest thing to one."
"Thank you I feel that way too, but I will use the water after you." I said with a smile.
After that encounter, we managed to sleep in the same bed without too much trouble. Oh I had thoughts about her, but I successfully fought back the urges. In her case, I have no idea what she thought.
While Sally puttered around the house, I drove into the desert to shoot pictures. I had a plan. I found a dirt cheep mail out service for the film. It took a week but I was in no hurry. When the first of the prints arrived, I picked a half dozen to be enlarged to poster size. The negatives went back into the mail for another two weeks.
Before the first large prints arrived we celebrated our first month in the cabin. I had actually begun to enjoy the cabin. As for Sally she was thrilled with it. When she wasn't cooking, she took long walks in the desert. She also began to read a great deal. We had visited a flea market where she forced me to buy about fifty pound of used paperback novels. They were all the soft core porn women love so much. I didn't mind, since I stayed busy with my desert drives to shoot pictures.
At night Sally would talk about her childhood in South Carolina. She had been the middle daughter of a poor family. College was never an option, so she didn't pay much attention to school. Her body developed young, too young. She had boys hanging around her at age twelve. Eventually one of them convinced her to sleep with him. From that time on she became the school slut. In her story, she was sixteen when she ran way from home. She danced topless in the clubs for a while, then a friend taught her how to really dance. The friend turned her into a first class stripper. The Vampira thing started as a joke, but was so popular that she adopted it as her trade mark.
After the first large prints arrived, I turned the larger of the outbuildings into a painting studio. I painted and repainted the prints there, Sally and I had been in the cabin a year when I was finally ready to show the prints. The photographs were of the desert but with the aid of a little liquid acrylic paint, they became even more dramatic shots. The shots were daylight but I painted the skies black. I even tossed in a couple of stars here and there. The combination of the daylight scene with a dark sky, made the prints appear to be completely painted. I added a couple of touches from a spray can to complete the illusion.
I left a couple of the pictures at the restaurant Sally and I frequented, as well as a consignment gallery in town. I kept producing them because they were cheep and time consuming. At the rate Sally and I spent money, my seventy grand would out live Sal. Nonetheless, I would have liked to have a little income.
It was tough, but I forced myself to wait an entire month before checking on my prints. I had sold two at one fifty each. The lady at the consignment gallery informed me that she could have sold another one if it had been framed. I drove home with slightly over two hundred dollars after I paid the sales fees.
The next day I visited a local woodworker. He was no carpenter, he was a furniture maker who did everything by hand. He did not own a power tool of any kind. He hesitantly agreed to allow me to help out around the shop in exchange for lessons in woodworking. I had only one thing in mind, so it took me only a few weeks to learn what I needed to know.
Sally and I had been living in the cabin six months when I finally made enough money from my pictures to pay a full months expenses. Of course I had been selling them for four months. Nonetheless it called for a celebration. Sally didn't want to go into town, so she cooked a large meal and we drank bourbon late into the night.
"You know Tom, these have been the happiest months of my life," she said.
"I hate to admit it Sally, but I feel the same way. I thought I had to be constantly on the move to be happy. I realize now how wrong I was, I have enjoyed every minute of our life together." I said.
"Even the running when we first met?" she asked.
"Hell yes, even that was fun." I admitted. "It was kind of challenging."
"I know, I love being Sally May Wilson," she said. "You know, being able to invent a childhood I like better than my own. Not having to admit I was a stripper."
"Well I guess I don't really mind losing Fred Amos all that much." I admitted.
"I have a plan," Sally Mae said.
"Really, what kind of plan?" I asked.
"Now that you have a beard and dress in those old army clothes, you don't look a thing like you did before, and now that the dye has grown out of my hair, I don't either. So why don't we buy this place and just settle here?" she asked.
"God honey, the thought of living here the rest of my life is a little depressing. I mean it is like living two hundred years ago." I said.
We were both pretty drunk or she would have taken offense. "Come on, you know you can be happy here. I mean we even have a shower," she said.
I had rigged a shower from a garden hose hooked to the rainwater tower, and a wooden pallet used to load machinery. "That is true but I have to hide in the house whenever you use it." I said reminding her that I hadn't bothered to enclose it.
"If you buy the place for me, then you can stay outside and look. You still can't touch, but you can look." she said with her little girl giggle.
"Hell in that case, I'll buy it tomorrow," I said drunkenly.
I gave the old woman at the motel two thousand dollars for the place, even though it was worth about five hundred. I went home that afternoon feeling right proud of myself. I took a look around the property which I now owned. I had made one more purchase before I returned to the cabin. I had bought some cheap lumber which I used to build a frame around the shower head. I had also bought a couple of plastic shower curtains which I hung from the two by fours.
When Sally returned from her afternoon walk, she saw the enclosure and burst into tears. "What's wrong Honey," I asked.
"You are really a piece of work Tom Pippin. Either you don't want to see me naked, or you are the nicest man I ever met by a long shot." she cried.
"It must be the last one, because I damned sure would like to see you naked," I said with a smile.
"Then tomorrow at noon, you and I are going to take a shower together," she demanded.
"That's why I made the enclosure so large," I said with a broad smile.
That one shower was the closest I ever got to Sally. She withdrew from me again right after, even though she seemed content to be my sister. I have to tell you, Sally had a marvelous body. Her long walks had allowed her to keep that dancer's muscle tone. It may have been just once but I would never be able to forget how truly beautiful she was.
Our relationship was on the verge of becoming more than brother and sister when they came. There were four of them in a large sedan. The trail into our cabin was so difficult to cross, they made enough noise to wake the dead. It didn't fail to wake both Sally and me. I hoped they would be cops, but I knew when they left the car with pistols drawn they were hit men. I had no idea at the time, that Sal had risen in the mob. He was high enough up by that time, not to want to go to jail. Even more significant, he was high enough to get the help he needed to avoid it. One of the gangs in the southwest had found us for him. At the time I had no idea how, and I didn't really care. I was more interested in staying alive.
As they approached I put almost a full load of buckshot into one of them at thirty yards. Buying the long barreled pump goose gun proved to have been a good move. Before they could seek cover, I shot a second one in the legs. He was down and screaming when the other two cut trail and ran. They didn't even bother to take their friends with them.
From the cover of their car they began to pour as much fire power as possible into the two foot thick walls. If I hadn't been so frightened, I would have laughed at them. Hardly a single shot made it through the windows.
I glanced over my shoulder to check on Sally. She was laying in a lifeless heap on the floor. One of those few bullets had struck her in the throat. I checked her body just to be certain, but I knew she was dead. I was still too frightened to feel anything else. That would come later. I returned to my window. Even in the dark, I saw him as one tried to run for the water tower. He was trying to flank me. I fired the pump gun as quickly as possible. I hit him on the third shot. The heavy buckshot, even at that distance, caused him to be thrown back in mid stride. When I turned my attention to the car, I saw it backing away. The last of the would be killers tried to turn around on the narrow road. As I knew he would, he became trapped in the loose sand. I moved as quickly as possible to get near the car before he abandoned it. He never saw me, so intent was he on cursing and spinning the wheels. I took out the window, a lot of the door, and most of his head with the three rounds I pumped into him.
I returned to the others. Only one of them was alive. He was the one who I had hit in the legs. He was unconscious, he didn't even know when his life ended. I went into the cabin. I placed Alisha, Anna, and Sally Mae all on the bed together. I stood in the doorway and cried for them all. I wanted to stay longer but I knew I had to run.
My mind was gripped by fear, I must have begun running on auto pilot. I went to the cabinet where I kept the cash. I took the brief case, then loaded my clothes and my single camera into the back of the scout. I remembered at the last moment to return for my old ID. Tom Pippin was going to be blown, just as soon as the buzzards began to circle. Well maybe not for a day or two. I decided then to burn the cabin. I emptied the kerosene lamps onto the interior of the cabin. I tossed a match as I walked out the door. I was too far away to hear the propane tank explode, though I'm sure it did.
Since all the real witnesses were dead, Sal had beat the murder rap. I knew and I didn't much care. I pointed the scout east. I knew that the truck had to be disposed of soon, but I figured I had at least a day to take care of it. The scout settled the issue for me, it threw a rod about a hundred miles from the cabin.
The junkyard where I had it, and me towed, had a car for sale, as almost all of them do. It was one in which they had swapped out the motors. I paid five hundred bucks for it. If it got me a thousand miles I would be thrilled.
It did better than that, it got me all the way home. During that drive I should have been making plans, I didn't. My mind was still numb. Somewhere on the second day, the realization that both the women I had become fond of had died at Sal's hands hit me. I mourned them all the next day. Even in the motel where I got roaring drunk, I couldn't get them off my mind. I must have known from the first what I was going to do. I had instinctively been heading home the whole time.
I pulled the old Dodge into my cabin's drive. The place looked pretty much the same on the outside. On the inside it was a wreck. Someone had searched it pretty well wrecking it in the process. I didn't bother to clean anything, I simple fell exhausted into the bed. I slept for twelve hours, then returned to sleep for ten more.
When I awoke I was starved. I found a couple of cans of food still in the cabinet. I opened the refrigerator and was literally assaulted by the smell. I closed it quickly. I ate the food straight from the can. So far, I had been lucky. I had survived the shoot out in the desert and had arrived home unnoticed. It was time to do some serious thinking.
The only way I would be free, was if Sal were dead. It would be a double dip, since I would be avenging Eve and Anna while securing my own safety. It was a no brainer, Sal had to die, preferably as painfully as possible.
I needed information and I needed it bad, so I turned to my old friend Eddie. I drove into Sanford to make the call. I caught him at his club, The Corner Pocket. The bartender got him on the phone without even knowing who I was.
"Yeah," Eddie growled.
"It's me, I got a problem," I said quickly into the phone.
"You sure as hell do. Don't ever call me here again. You know I don't do business from the club." he said slamming the phone down.
It wasn't as rude as it sounded. Eddie had some trouble with the IRS a few years before. He and I arranged a code to talk, just in case they tapped his phone. The I don't do business at the club meant to call him at a pay phone a couple of miles away. I waited fifteen minutes then dialed the pay phone.
"Fred where the hell you been?" he asked immediately after picking up the phone.
"I was holed up in New Mexico until I got a visit," I said.
"I knew they were looking, but I didn't think they would find you," he said. "Where did you slip up?"
"Man I got no idea, we were so far under, the sun didn't even shine on us," I said.
"We, who the hell were you with?" he asked.
"The other woman from the shooting," I said.
"Alisha the stripper?" he asked.
"That's right why," I said.
"I don't know, but you know that you should never have gone under with anyone, let alone a woman," he said.
"I know, but I had no choice." I replied.
"So what you going to do now, go under again?" he asked.
"Something like that, but first I need to find out about Sal. I mean all about him." I said.
"Wait a minute, you are talking about getting us both killed," Eddie said.
"Come on Eddie, you can't live forever," I said chuckling.
"I would like to live a little longer." He paused to think it over. "Do you want the whole package?" he asked.
"No just his address and his movements," I said.
"That much is easy, Sal lives in Greensboro. His whole name is Salvador Riccie. He isn't in the phone book, but I know where he lives." Eddie said.
"So spill it," I demanded.
"He has the top floor of the old Towers apartment building. If I were you, I would disappear for a while." Eddie said.
"Why is that?" I asked.
"They have you pegged as a hard man," he said.
"Why would they think that?" I asked.
"You killed four really good hit men out in the desert. Sal figures you are going to come for him. What you need to do is lay low for about another six months, then come for him. He will have given up on you by then. Hell, you might even give up on him," Eddie suggested.
"Not a chance, I want my life back." I said.
"Well without Sal to pay the shooters, there won't be any shooters," Eddie suggested.
"That's about how I figure it," I agreed.
"Then get out of town for about six more months." Eddie suggested again. "While you are gone, I will take a hard look at Mr. Riccie." Eddie promised.
"Okay Eddie, maybe you are right," I said.
Besides, I thought what is six more months. I actually had begun to enjoy doing nothing. I headed the dying Dodge south. I decided to try Mississippi. I had read a lot about the Gulf of Mexico coast. I could probably find a quiet little place around there. I bypassed the Air Force base in Buloxi. I was almost certain that the mob would be operating games somewhere outside the base, if not the casino. I decided my best bet was farther along toward Florida. I settled into a small town named St. Maria. It was even smaller than my home town. The entire downtown consisted of a few old dilapidated buildings. All the real business had moved out to the Coastal Mall ten miles away.
The only occupied building left in town were the small city hall, a country store, a service station, and an old fashioned café. The café seemed almost a copy of the Downtown Café in Sanford. It too was operated by an old black woman. The difference was in the accent. This woman's accent was so thick, I had a hard time understanding her.
Along the drive to Mississippi, I had picked up a new identity and another old car. In Mississippi, I was to be known as John, call me Johnny, Peterson. The car was a faded gray Honda civic, so old it appeared to be falling apart. The motor burned so much old that it fouled the plugs every five or six hundred miles. Since they were easy enough to change, I just kept a set in the car, along with the tools to change them.
I managed to convey to the old woman that I was looking for an apartment. "Something not inside a complex," I informed her. She tried three times to tell me about an apartment but I never quite got it all. Finally she took me outside, then pointed to the vacant building across the street. At first I thought she didn't understand.
"Not a business, and apartment," I said slowly.
She laughed then pointed to the top floor of the building. When I looked harder I could see the windows were different from the lower ones. Also there was a small deck on the side of the building. The metal stairs and deck must be the entrance to the apartment, I decided.
When I asked who to see about looking at the apartment, she handed me a key. I walked across the hot dusty street, then up the metal stairs. The blast of heat from the apartment as I opened the door almost knocked me off the metal landing.
I braced myself then entered the apartment. The first thing I noted was an absence of walls. The apartment had a lot in common with the cabin in New Mexico. The appliances occupied the rear wall of the apartment. A small bathroom occupied a corner beside the kitchen area. Exactly in the same position on the other side of the small kitchen was a large walk in closet. Other than that the room was empty, except for a gas heater set in the middle of the room. The room had the half the dimensions as the store below. There evidently was an apartment on the other side of the community wall. The dimensions of both would probably be fifty by twenty. Much more room than I needed.
I returned to the café. "So how much is it?" I asked.
"One hundred and seventy five dollars a month," the old woman said very slowly.
"Sounds about right," I said stripping that amount from the roll in my pants pocket.
"One hundred more security," she said carefully.
I removed another hundred dollar bill from my roll, being very careful not to let her see it's size. "How do I get the water and electric on?" I asked.
"I will call them for you," she said. "The power and the water, it will be on by five."
Since it was already one, I had my doubts but I didn't say anything. I nodded then left with my receipt. I followed the signs to the new mall. As I expected I found a discount store beside the mall. From it I bought one of the new air beds. I also bought a folding card table and two chairs. They were the only pieces of furniture I could get up the stairs alone.
Even though there was no water of power, I returned to the apartment. I opened all the windows hoping for some air from the Gulf only a half mile away. Nothing seemed to stir. I waited about as long as I could stand it, then drove back to the store for a couple of fans. I also bought a few feet of screen wire. All the window screens had rips in them.
It was hot time consuming work, especially without a fan, but I spent the time lacing patches onto the screens. I just happened to look up a little before five and noted that one of the two overhead lights was burning. I turned on the fans as quickly as possible. I at least wasn't quite so miserable as I finished lacing the patches onto the screens.
I got my first surprise when I walked across the street to have dinner at the café. It was closed. From the small sign, I learned that it opened only for breakfast and lunch. The doors were locked at two thirty. It wasn't all that unusual an arrangement with old restaurants. Those seemed to be the only two meals people ate in old restaurants. If one a date, or just taking the family out for dinner, they tended to prefer the chrome and glass places. I never even tried to figure that one out.
I drove to the mall for a burger. When I returned the sun was setting quietly behind my building. I was surprised to find the evening cool but heavy with humidity. I spent the evening laying on my air bed reading a paper back book. I stopped to check on the water, I had forgotten about. I found it running rusty, but still running. After five minutes the water cleared up enough to drink. The problem was I had no glass. I decided to make ice for the morning, then I discovered I had no ice trays.
"To hell with it," I said to no one. I drove the smoking little Honda to the convenience store on the highway. I bought a tube of plastic cups and a bag of ice. I decided on a whim to go back in and buy a jar of instant iced tea mix.
When I arrived home, I spent the remainder of the evening drinking bad iced tea, from a clear plastic cup. I wasn't doing real well, I told myself. Not only was I alone, hot, tired and on the run, I was also bored silly. I realized for maybe the first time how much Alisha had meant to me. It was love all right, but not in that man woman sense most people think of when they say love. It was a true feeling of concern and pure joy at having her around. For the first time, my mind was empty enough to truly begin missing her.
I tried taking the Honda for a drive, but it didn't help. Even walking on the man made beach didn't help. I was actually miserable, and the emotion was new to me. I would like to think there was some guilt about the men I had murdered, but there really wasn't. It didn't even try to justify it as a kill or be killed situation. I had actually enjoyed killing them. It was a little frightening to come to that realization. The only thing separating me from them, was that they came looking for me.
I returned home, then tried to sleep again. I was almost out when the music began to blare from the apartment next door. Obviously the wall was made of newspaper. I felt like I was listening to the music in my own apartment. I don't really appreciate music, so I couldn't tell it if were good or bad. I could only tell that it was loud. I tried to ignore it for a while, then I gave up. I descended the stairs for a quick walk around the building. I found another set of stairs just like mine. I climbed the to the landing then knocked on the door. I waited a few minutes then knocked louder. I waited a few more minutes then pounded on it. Finally a woman slightly under forty opened the door.
"Could you turn the music down?" I asked.
"What, I can't hear you the music is too loud. Wait a minute, I will turn it down." The door closed. I heard the lock turn.
I stayed on the landing for sometime. The seconds turned into minutes with the music no lower than it was before I came. I was just about to start pounding again when the music suddenly lowered. I waited but she did not return to the door. I was halfway down the steps when I heard her voice above me.
"I'm sorry, please do come back. I was rude but it was my favorite song," she said as if that would make it all right.
"Look, I just came to ask you to turn down the music. I am having a devil of a time falling asleep," I explained.
"Oh, did you move in next door?" she asked.
"As a matter of fact I did," I said.
"Oh my God, I would never have played the music so loud had I known anyone was living there. I am so sorry," she said.
"No problem, if you didn't know then you didn't know," I said as I continued down the steps.
"How about coming in for a drink?" she invited.
"Maybe another time, I am really tired." I said. Now why did I say that? I asked myself.
"Sure, I will be seeing you around," she said obviously not happy with my refusal.
Within minutes of returning to my apartment, I fell sound asleep. I didn't even dream that night. I guess I was too tired to relive my last few months.
The next morning I awoke early. I showered then went to the café for breakfast. I noticed a middle-aged woman sitting in a booth all alone. I felt pretty sure she was my neighbor but not sure enough to speak to her.
"Hey you," the woman said. "Come sit here, since we are neighbors we might as well get to know one another."
I moved to sit across from her in the booth. "Good morning," I said lifting the menu.
"Hi, my name is Doris," she said extending her hand over the empty table.
"Johnny," I said taking her hand. I returned to the menu.
"Not much of a talker huh?" she asked.
"Not really, how about you?" I asked knowing the answer.
"Me, I love to talk. As a matter of fact, some people say I talk too much," she admitted.
"You don't say," I replied trying to find some way to ignore her.
"So what brings you to our little corner of heaven?" she asked.
"Looking for work," I said.
"With that accent, you must be from somewhere around Maryland?" It was a question.
"West Virginia," I said.
"So what kind of work do you do?" she asked.
"I haven't decided yet," I replied without a smile.
"So what did you do last," she asked.
"Painter," I replied.
"Then you should go over to the Air Base. They always need workers." she said with a bright smile.
"Not that kind of painter. I was kind of an artist for a while. I couldn't make a living at it so I am looking for something else to do." I explained.
"I hope I didn't insult you?" she asked.
"Lord no, house painting is an honest profession. It just doesn't happen to be mine." I said.
"Well, if I can help let me know," she said embarrassed by the conversation.
"Sure, what do you do?" I asked just to be polite.
"Me, I'm sort of a cop," she said.
My blood ran cold, but I fought not to show it. "Really what does a sort of cop do?" I asked already planning to get the hell out of town.
"I work in the lab. I'm not a sworn officer or anything. I just process the crime scenes." she informed me.
I knew that taking off would arouse suspicion, so I decided to stay at least a month. I could avoid her for that amount of time. I knew one thing, I wouldn't be complaining about the loud music again.
"That must be interesting work," I suggested.
"Not really, I imagine it is only slightly less boring than being a house painter," she smiled.
The woman had a nice personality. She needed it because she was no beauty. Her hair was cut short probably because it had the texture of straw. Her face was plain and hidden by large thick glasses. Even through the thick glass I could tell her eyes were a light brown which matched the color of her hair. Her nose was too small and her mouth too large. All in all she wasn't one bit attractive. I took a good look at her body when she rose to get a salt shaker from another table. She had the classic boyish figure of a preteen. At forty it would have to be called shapeless. The only time she looked at all attractive was when she smiled. She must have known it because she smiled often. Her smile was infectious, she had won me over by the end of breakfast.
"Well Mr. Johnny Peterson, I have to go catch the bad guys," she said standing to leave. I allowed her to pick up her on breakfast tab. I wanted her to think I was broke.
"Well have a good day, I guess I'll hear you tonight," I remarked.
"Honest, I will try to be a little less noisy tonight," she said.
"I really would appreciate it. I have a hard day ahead looking for work an all," I said with a smile.
She returned my smile as she left the restaurant. I spent the day hanging around the beach. I enjoyed watching the young women in there swimsuits. It was actually quite enjoyable seeing them bounce around. I even had a hot-dog for lunch. One served from a push cart rolling up and down the beach.
By three the heat drove me away from the beach. I went grocery shopping before I returned home. I had no idea what to buy since someone else had always done my cooking, all except breakfast anyway. I settled for mostly frozen and caned meals which Alisha had fixed in the desert. I found my mind drifting to her more often than it should. Everything seemed to remind me of her.
Around nine, I found myself reading another book. I seemed to do a lot of that lately. I had never been much of a reader before, but these days it helped to pass the time. Also I was learning a lot about things I wanted to know more about.
I heard her voice through the open front window. "Hey neighbor, you home?" the voice asked.
"Sure, where else would I be. I have no money and I know no one here." I said laughing at my own comment.
"Well come on over, I have a couple of bottles of cheap wine and I need someone to help me drink them." her voice said.
"I don't know Doris, I hate to impose," I said.
"Don't be silly, come on over," she insisted.
I made the short walk trying to find some reason not to go. I think my reluctance stemmed from my new awareness of Alisha. I felt like I was somehow betraying her. I knew it was stupid, but I felt that way regardless.
Doris must have heard me climb the stairs, because she had the door open before I reached the top. Her hair was just as wild as it had been before she went to work. "Come on in before the mosquitoes find me," she said with a laugh.
Her apartment was as full as mine was empty. There were tables, bookcases, a rather large bed, and a very nice sofa and chair, all sitting about in some kind of order I'm sure. I just couldn't figure out what it was. "Nice place," I said.
"Thank you, I did it myself, it is kind of a junk on junk motif," she informed me with a very nice laugh. "I do hope you like red wine."
"Sure," I said taking the glass from her shaking hand. She apparently had been at the bottle for some time already.
She moved to the kitchen to replace the bottle into the refrigerator, then returned. I had taken a seat in the one stuffed chair across from the sofa. She wrinkled her nose as she saw me. She moved to take a seat on the sofa. "So, tell me what are you going to do, since there aren't too many jobs for painters around here?" she asked.
"To tell you the truth, I really haven't given it much thought. I mean I am in a slight panic at not working, but I haven't been able to figure out what I want to do." I said.
"And you really don't want to paint anymore?" she asked.
"No, I really don't want to paint anymore," I replied as seriously as I thought she expected me to respond.
"So, are you married?" she asked.
I don't know why I said it but I answered, "Not anymore."
"Ah so, you are on the run from the wife and kiddies," she said with a smile.
"Afraid not, my wife died a few months back." I looked at her questioning gaze. I knew I had screwed up. I had to have a better answer than that. "Cancer," I said.
"God, I'm sorry. I could cut my tongue out," she said.
"Why should you be sorry, it wasn't your fault. It just kind of happened," I said.
"I know, just a random event. Sometimes life just makes no fuckin' sense at all," she said.
"I'll drink to that," I said finishing the glass of wine.
"Here let me get you another," she suggested.
"I think I should be running along," I said standing to leave.
"Like hell you will. You need somebody to talk with. I told you, I am a hell of a conversationalist. Now sit your as down, while I get you another glass of wine." she insisted.
When she returned with the glass I said, "Thanks." I also made up my mind that this would be the last glass. I had begun to lie randomly. I always planned my lies well in advance. I didn't much like winging it. Lies are too hard to keep straight, if they stray from the cover story.
"We are going to have to find you a job," she said opening the paper. "It's a good thing I kept the Sunday paper. It has all the best job listed."
"Okay, read me anything you think I might be interested in," I suggested.
"Well, I don't suppose you are a registered nurse?" she asked with a impish grin.
"No," I said taking her lightly.
"Charter boat captain?" she asked.
"Can't even swim," I answered.
"Man did you come to the wrong place," she said.
"Maybe," I said with a smile.
"Well I guess you are just going to have to paint again," she said.
"Not that, anything but that," I said faking a horrified expression.
"Then you are just going to have to find some way to make a living from the tourist."
"Why is that?" I asked.
"Tourists and Soldiers are our only natural resources here," she informed me.
"In that case, I will give the tourist some thought," I said. I watched as she stood to return to the kitchen area for more wine. I noted that she was getting pretty tipsy.
"I know what," she said. "You could write porno."
I broke into laughter because I thought it was a joke. I realized that I was the only one laughing. "You were kidding right?" I asked.
"Not at all, well maybe a little. Our biggest industry other than tourist and soldiers is porn. At least written porn. One of the country's largest publishers of smut is right here in town." she said.
"I haven't seen anything like a publishing plant here?" I said.
"The plant is outside town about ten miles. I know one of the editors. You give it a try and I will get her to read it for you." Doris said.
"Come on this is a gag, right?" I asked.
"No it's not a gag. I tried it once but I'm not any good at it." she admitted. "Anyway Madge tell me, you never know whether you can do it until you try. Just sit down, knock out twenty five thousand words or so, and I will have her take a look. Painting on paper can't be much different from painting on canvas."
"I don't know," I said.
"Hell give it a try, you have nothing better to do right now." Doris said. "If you need some inspiration maybe I can help." She quickly added, "I have a thousand stories about my friends."
"Okay, I'll try anything once," I said mostly to change the subject.
"Don't move," she said as she got to her feet. She walked on wobbly legs to the walk in closet. When she returned she carried a cardboard box slightly larger than two shoes boxes laid side by side. She handed it to me then said, "Take this, I never did get much use out of it. If Madge buys your story, you can buy it from me."
"What is it," I asked.
"A word processor, like I said, I didn't have the knack for writing." she informed me.
"Look, I really can't take this," I said.
"Sure you can, I sure as hell ain't usin' it. If you don't like what you write, bring it back." she suggested. "But if you sell the piece, I want two hundred bucks for that piece of crap."
I thanked her then sat quietly for a few more minutes while she drank. "God I am drunk," she said. "I think you better either go home or prepare to be raped."
"I think, I would rather wait for you to be sober. I don't want you to wake up tomorrow and be sorry," I said standing to leave.
"Yeah, you are right," she said obviously not serious.
When I got home I placed the box on the floor and tried to ignore it. After a couple of glasses of iced tea, the male thing kicked in. The one that won't allow a man to leave anything mechanical or electronic alone. I unpacked the box and found the word processor to be a small Cannon. From the instruction, which I read only because I had no intention of using the machine, I learned that it was an ink jet printer as well as a word processor. The processor stored the information on a disk just like a computer. As a matter of fact the disk supposedly could be read by a computer.
Understanding how it worked was more than enough. I replaced it and the book back into the box, then went to bed. The next morning I again went to the Café for breakfast. I met Doris there again. "We have to stop meeting like this or people will start to talk," she said. She looked surprisingly well for a woman who was so drunk the night before.
"I know," I said.
"Johnny, I want you to know that I was serious last night about writing the story. You could use the money and Madge really is desperate for books. They go through them like mad out there." she said lightly.
"Okay, I'll give it a shot, but don't expect much. I probably won't even finish one." I said.
"Just give it a try. You sure as hell have nothing to loose." she said.
After breakfast I returned to my stuffy apartment. I turned on the fans, then removed the processor from the box. I rambled around looking for a beginning to a story, any story. In the end I happened on a pretty good story line. I continued with it for a few pages. When I hit seven thousand words the story just kind of ended. I found a box of disks in the larger processor box. I saved the story on one of them.
That night I didn't hear from my neighbor and was just as glad. I went to bed early, just because I was too bored to do anything else. I had a hard time sleeping because my mind had been on sex all afternoon. I was tempted to go next door, but I fought back the urge.
At the café the next morning, Doris caught me just as I entered. "So how is the writing going?" she asked.
"When I finish, you can tell me," I suggested.
"I would love to," she admitted. "Look I am going to leave you alone until you finish, but I want to be the first one to read it. I mean I might be able to help with the editing or something."
"I thought that's what your friend did," I said.
"Well she does, but she won't even read a piece unless it is almost press ready. I can do that, I just have no imagination." she said.
"This is going to be more than a little embarrassing," I admitted.
"Don't worry, I know the difference between fantasy and reality. God knows I am old enough to know," she said. "So how far have you gotten?"
"I have seven thousand words but I am stumped at the moment. Don't worry I'll figure it out." I said.
Instead of figuring it out, I moved on to another story with the same cast of characters. From that one I squeezed twelve thousand words, in a single long day. I fell into bed exhausted at the end of the story.
I missed Doris at breakfast the next morning. I was told in a very heavy accented voice that Doris didn't come into the café unless she had the day shift. She seemed to sleep in on her days off or on either of the other two shifts.
I worked on a third story based again on the same six characters. When I finished I had another twelve thousand words. I glanced out the window to see Doris' little red Olds still in the same place it had been that morning. Doris, it seemed, hadn't left her house all day.
After breakfast the next day, I began the rewrites. It took me all day to do them. I added a few lines here and there to tie it all together, then called it quits. I finished with it early so I drove to the mall. I went to a steak house to celebrate the ending of the book such as it was. I stopped in an office supply store to purchase and ink cartridge for the cannon and a ream of paper.
When I returned home, I printed fifty five pages of filth. With the book printed I went to bed early. I decided that tomorrow I would give it to Doris to do with what she wished. I slept a sleep I hadn't had for a long time. It was filled with erotic dreams, some from the book but others from somewhere in my past. Starting this, might not have been a good idea I decided the next morning. I almost trashed the pages, but for some reason I didn't.
Doris must have been working the midnight shift because she drove up just as I descended the stairs. "Well, did you have a good night?" I asked.
"Not really, how is the book coming?" she asked.
"Now that you mention it, I have finished with it." I said.
"God, go get it. I want to read myself to sleep," she said.
I returned to my apartment, then went down the stairs again with the pages in hand. "Now don't expect too much," I said.
"Don't worry, I might lie to you, but Madge is brutal when it comes to cutting up a book," Doris said.
I felt my heart sink. I realized then that I had less than a ten percent chance of selling the book. I left her alone in the parking lot as I walked to the Café. I ate breakfast but my heart wasn't really in it. I left for the beach immediately after I finished breakfast. I didn't want to discuss the book and I didn't want to wait around all day get Doris' opinion.
When I got home I found Doris' car still parked in the same space. It dawned on me then that she had worked all night. She probably hadn't even started the book. I began to read a much better book than mine. I was laying on my air bed when the knock came on my door. I had two different thoughts. First I thought, they are here again, then I though it was probably Doris returning the book on her way to work. I check through the spy hole before I opened the door to Doris.
"Where the hell did you get this stuff?" she asked.
I really didn't know what to say. "That bad huh?" I asked.
"Are you kidding, I am going to have to mark hell out of it for punctuation and some other things, but this thing is dynamite. How about you and I come to some kind of agreement about me being your agent." she said.
"Exactly what does that mean?" I asked.
"It means, I will do the corrections and sell the book for you. That is for a percentage of the sale." she said quickly.
"What kind of percentage?" I asked.
"Twenty percent is normal but I would like twenty five since I am going to be doing some of the work on the book," she said giving me a careful look.
I had a pretty good idea she would have taken twenty. "Okay but I have some ground rules," I agreed.
"Like what?" she said.
"You do all the dealing with the publisher. I just want the check. Other than that, I don't even want them to know my name." I said.
"Why?" she asked curiously.
"I have a mother and father in West Virginia. I don't want them to ever be embarrassed by this crap." I said.
"Okay, but you are going to have to meet Madge at least once. After she reads this she is going to insist on it." Doris said.
"So how much is this thing worth?" I asked.
"I think I can get five grand for it," she said joyously.
"That much," I said.
"Yeah well, it is awfully dirty, and it has a really good plot, something most of these books don't have," She said. "Johnny, I am going to chain you to that typewriter. You are going to get me out of the lab."
"Don't go spending the money until it is in your hand.," I suggested.
"I know, I have to do the rewrite, then print it out in the right format, but baby this think is going to be great," she said kissing me hard before she rushed off to work. The next morning she took the word processor home to correct, then print the manuscript.
I actually missed not having the processor around. I also missed Doris, I didn't see her again for two days. When I did it was early in the morning again. I didn't try to arrange to see her, but I was glad I did. "So how is the rewrite coming?" I asked.
"I finished the rewrite yesterday. I am going to print it out today, then take it to Madge. I am off for the next couple of days so I can sleep after I finish." she said looking pretty tired.
"You look like you need to sleep first. Don't worry about the story, it isn't going anywhere without you," I suggested.
"I know, I just want to get it finished and pitch it to Madge. Tell you what, I think I will take a nap first," she said.
"Good idea, I'm going to the beach after breakfast," I said.
"Johnny, I need to tell you Madge is going to cut this thing apart. Not only that, it is going to take her a week to do it," Doris informed me. She definitely wasn't bubbly this morning.
"Not a problem," I said, not really knowing how I would feel about the criticism.
Doris must have slept all the first day of her break. She caught me on the second day. "Come on, we are both going to the beach. I delivered our manuscript yesterday and I am going nuts from the waiting." she admitted.
"Sure why not," I agreed.
Doris looked pretty good in a bikini only because she was so straight. She had almost no breasts but she did have a flat stomach and small hips. I had to admit she looked better in the tiny strips of cloth than most of the women who wore them. There were a few however who made my head spin.
"You know Johnny, we need to go get roaring drunk," Doris informed me. "I know just the place."
"Come on neither of us can afford a DUI ticket." I said.
"That's true but this particular bar is in the basement of the Holiday Inn. We can go to dinner at the Ranch House then get totally blown away in the basement, then just stay there." she suggested.
Maybe it was the tension of running, maybe it was waiting to hear from her friend, or maybe it was the book itself, what ever the reason I agreed willingly. "Why not, win or loose we can use the time off. If the book sells we call it a celebration. If not, we can call it drowning our sorrows." I commented.
"I'll drive," she said. "I doubt your old car will make it ten miles."
"Nice talk," I commented with a small laugh.
When we returned home Doris had a message to call Madge. "Damn," she commented. "We are still on for tonight no matter what this bitch says, right?"
"Right," I replied. "I am going back to my place to shower and change. Come on over when you finish talking to her," I said. I left quickly since I couldn't stand the suspense.
I showered then dressed in clean tan cotton slacks and a navy blue military style shirt. I waited for Doris to arrive. She actually arrived only a few minutes after I sat down at the folding table with a glass of instant iced tea.
I opened the door to her knock. I couldn't read anything in her face as she walked into my empty apartment. "Is it so bad, you don't want to tell me?" I asked.
"It isn't real good, the bitch only offered us three thousand for it." she said jumping up and down.
I was just as excited as Doris. She grabbed me in a bear hug. I didn't object. "So you sold it to her?" I asked.
"Hell no, I told her the price was five grand or I would take it somewhere else," Doris said.
"Damn Doris, where else are we going to take it?" I asked.
"Hell I don't know. That isn't important, because I got the five." she said with a grin on her oversized mouth that seemed to be so wide that it spread past the edge of her face. "We are going to have one hell of a celebration tonight because tomorrow you begin the rewrite. Madge said they were minor, but who knows what minor is to that bitch," Doris informed me.
"To hell with that, let's go get a steak, then get drunk," I said.
"What's keeping you, I am already gone," she said turning to the door.
The Ranch House was an average restaurant, with average food, but it was still wonderful since we were flying from the sale of the book. We spent about an hour in the place before we moved on to the basement bar in the Holiday Inn. I have never tasted beer so cold, nor have I seen so many beautiful women sitting around in one place.
Doris caught me looking at them. "Put your eyes back in, you are with me." she said jokingly.
"Hey, it's a good thing I'm not blind. If I were, I would have to feel them up," I said.
"I'll drink to feeling up," she said.
We drank to a hell of a lot more than that before the lounge closed. I personally was ready for the night to end. Doris and I went to the room we had checked into earlier in the evening. I had signed the register when it became obvious that we were going to stay way past the point of being able to drive home. I'm not real sure who had the most to drink, but I know who passed out first. I fell into a dead sleep when she went to the bathroom to remove her clothes.
I awoke the next morning with a terrible headache. Doris was curled up beside and on top of me. She was also naked even though I still had all my clothes on. I tried to move without waking her, but was unable to. She looked up at me, tried to move then said, "God my head. What the hell were we drinking?" she asked.
"Beer so cold it made my teeth hurt, now it has made my headache worse than yours," I said.
"Bullshot, unless you are inside my head, you couldn't possibly know how I feel," she said.
It was slow going in the bathroom that morning. Neither of us could seem to get going. We finally gave up and drove to the café. I managed to eat breakfast, but Doris had only coffee and aspirin.
As we walked across the street Doris asked, "You want to come to my place?"
"No offense, but I have to get some sleep. I am not up to company right now," I commented.
"God I'm glad you said that. Maybe we can get together later." she suggested.
"Sure why not?" I said.
Once in my apartment, I dropped on the bed like a stone. I feel asleep on the way down to the bed. When I awoke ten hours later, I was soaked with my own sweat. I showered then made myself a glass of tea. Once I finally got awake, I realized I was hungry. I found a can of stew in the cabinet. I ate it with a cold slice of bread. After I washed the bowl, I sat at the folding table without a thought in my head. It wasn't quite dark, but the sun was almost down. The apartment was cooling dramatically.
I heard a light knock on my door after twenty minutes of staring at the wall. I opened the door to Doris and another woman. The second woman was as different from Doris as day and night. For one thing she wasn't as tall or as masculine looking. She was actually a knock out.
"Johnny, this is Madge," Doris said watching me closely for a reaction.
"Nice to meet you, come on in both of you," I said holding the door open for them.
It was hard to believe the harsh voice came from such a beautiful body. "Look Johnny, I don't mince words. I talk real plain so there is no mistaking what I mean." she said in a very severe tone.
"Fine, then you won't mind if I do the same," I suggested.
"I wish you would," she said. "Now Man Eater is sold, so lets get on to the mechanics of it." She tossed a cardboard box on my folding table before she went on. "In that box is your manuscript with the rewrites I want made. I don't want to hear any artistic bullshot, I just want those changes made."
"If you pay the price, then you get what you want," I said.
"Good, I have a question for you," she informed me.
"Shoot," I said.
"Can you do that again," she said looking at the box.
"I expect so," I said honestly.
"Can you do it in three weeks?" she asked.
"I expect so," I answered not knowing if it were true or not.
"This question may seem a little personal and none of my business, but I am going to ask it anyway," she said. "When was the last time you got laid?"
I looked from Doris to Madge. "If this has all been some sick joke that the two of you dreamed up. I am not amused." I said.
"I never joke about business," Madge snapped. "Something like this," she said nodding toward the box. "Usually comes from a man who hasn't been laid in a while. What you wrote is pure testosterone at work." Madge said.
"Okay, it has been a while," I said.
"Well keep it that way," she demand. Then she turned to Doris. "Don't you go fucking up a good thing."
"I think I could do this even if I had been laid last night," I said defensively.
"Maybe, but I am just warning you. I am only buying first class fuck books. Don't even try to pass anything else off on me. Now I want those rewrites in three days." She turned to Doris, "Come on Doris, we need to talk about a contract." she said leading Doris away.
Doris turned back to shrug her shoulder at me. I flipped through the pages of the manuscript. I found about a dozen hand written notes in the margins. Each was scribbled in red ink. Without the word processor all I could do was to think out the changes. I knew I could finish my part of the rewrite in a day. I waited until Madge's car was gone from the lot, before I went to Doris' apartment. She met me at the door with a strange look in her eye.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
"Sure, that bitch just makes me so mad," she admitted.
"She definitely has a way with words," I admitted. "Look, I just came to pick up the processor. If we plan to keep this partnership going, I guess I better buy one of my own." I said.
"As far as I am concerned you can have this one, I will buy one for myself tomorrow," she said.
"Okay then give me the bill and I will pay you for it," I offered.
"In that case you can have the new one. Look Johnny, I am awfully tired. Would you mind if we cut this short?"
"Not at all," I said taking the processor and leaving immediately.
When I returned home I couldn't sleep so I started on the rewrites. I found that I remembered the plots well enough to finish the rewrites before the sun came up. I went to breakfast before I fell into the bed. Doris was again on the day shift. I joined her in her booth.
"Since you are working, do you want me to pick up the processor?" I asked.
"Sure, do whatever you want," she said shortly.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" I asked.
"It's nothing you have done. It's just that bitch Madge. She gave me a big lecture on staying away from you. She informed me quite plainly, that if I screwed you up she would be really pissed."
"So what is she going to do?" I asked.
"Hell I don't know, but she scared hell out of me," Doris admitted.
"Then to hell with her, we sell her this book and never do another one," I suggested.
"That would be the worst thing. She would blame me for the failure. No you have to keep writing," Doris said really worried.
"Okay, but we stay friends and you are still my partner?" I asked.
"Sure, we just can't be anything else," she said sadly.
"Don't worry Doris, this will work itself out," I said not feeling near as confident as I sounded. Something was on Doris' mind. She just wouldn't tell me about it.
Doris and I wrote three more books before I saw Madge again. Since Doris was the conduit, I had no reason to ever see her. Madge showed up at my door on a night when Doris was working the four till midnight shift. It was around eight o'clock when I opened the door to her.
"I brought you the rewrites for the last book," she said.
"Fine," I said knowing there was more.
"You have been writing for me what, three months now?" she asked.
"That seems about right," I agreed.
"With this book, I will have paid you twenty grand," she said. "I would think for that kind of money you would get a phone." She had a smile even though the words were gruff.
"Too much of a distraction," I informed her.
"It might be at that," she said. She looked around the still empty apartment. "Would furniture be a distraction?"
"Who knows, I might spend all my time sitting in a stuffed chair and never get anything done," I replied.
"I guess," she said absent mindedly.
"So why did you really come here?" I asked.
"I am leaving Bedtime Press. I want you to work for me," she said.
"What would bedtime say about that?" I asked.
"They won't know," she offered.
"When I stop giving them books they will know," I stated assuredly.
"True, but they won't notice that your books are a week late," she said knowingly.
"I can't write you a book in a week," I informed her.
She moved to sit in my only other chair. "God this is uncomfortable, how do you work in this thing?"
"Like I said, I don't want to get too comfortable," I said. I was waiting her out and she knew it.
"Here is the deal, I have begun buying and distributing amateur porn videos. Frankly they are pretty bad. Still I sell a few. The problem is the story lines, they are non existent. If it were all fucking it wouldn't be so bad, but they try to weave a story into the tape." she said.
"It sounds like you need a tape editor not a writer," I suggested.
"The deal is, I have four different groups that are pretty much willing to do anything. I just need to tell them in detail what to do. For that I need a short story for them to work from." she said. "Maybe three thousand words?"
"So you want me to write a scenario for you?" I asked.
"Exactly," she said.
"So what are you paying?" I asked.
"A thousand for any script I use," she said.
"That sounds fair," I said.
"But Doris is not to know about it," Madge added.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because she is going to be dealing with Bedtime, I don't want her to let anything slip out there. Those are some bad boys," she commented.
"You know that without Doris the scenarios are going to be really rough?" I asked.
"I figured as much, but I can clean them up myself," she said.
"So what are the mechanics?" I asked.
"I give you a tape of each group, you can use it to make your story fit the actors. When you finish a story, bring it to my office." Madge said.
"So where is your office going to be," I asked.
"Right down stairs, I rented the space below you and Doris." she saw the shadow cross my face. "It is a natural, we can't be neighbors without our bumping into each other. If you drove half way across town to deliver me a story, someone would eventually notice. All you have to do is make sure Doris is at work when you visit." she said.
"You friends at Bedtime are going to know where you are," I said.
"Yes but as far as they know, I am just a tape distributor. They don't have to know that I am supplying the actors with ideas." she said.
"One question before I agree. How bad are the guys at bedtime?" I asked.
"Like I said, they are never going to know," she said.
"That isn't what I asked," I demanded.
"About as bad as you can imagine," she said.
I knew at that moment that it was time to move on. "In that case, let's keep this real quiet," I suggested.
"You know it," she said. "So I will bring you a TV and VCR next week."
"Sure, not a problem," I said. It wasn't a problem because I wouldn't be home when she brought it.
I finished the rewrites on the last book in a couple of days. Doris typed the changes and I received the money from the book a couple of days later. I was loading the car when Madge caught me.
"What the hell are you doing,." she asked.
"Frankly I am leaving town. Without you and Doris to run interference it is just too dangerous for me here," I said.
"What do you mean too dangerous," she asked.
"Frankly there are some people looking for me. I don't care to have them find me." I said.
"What about me?" she asked.
"You don't really need me to write your stories. Anyone of your other writers can do it," I said.
"Not like you, come on Johnny help me out here," she begged in her gruff voice.
"Okay, I'll tell you what, you give me your tapes and a card. I will review them and write you a script. You send my check to a bank and in a name I will give you later. When I get the cash, I will send you another story," I said. "In exchange you forget what I told you."
"Done, but if I don't receive a story in two weeks, I will have a talk with the guys at bedtime." she said.
"Are you going to admit you tried to pirate me?" I asked.
"I don't have to tell them that part of it," she informed me.
"Right,:" I said. "So I'm off."
Madge rushed quickly into her office to bring me the demo tapes. I tossed them carelessly into the rear seat of the Honda. I had been prepared for the move that time. I already had the next identify ready. I had a minimum of three more months to go before I contacted Eddie. I was absolutely sure he would have the information ready for me when I called.
I drove the Honda half way to North Carolina before it died. I had been expecting it so I wasn't really upset at all. I bought another junk yard car, then moved on. The ten year old Olds was still running when I arrived in Elizabeth City North Carolina. The town was so small I was sure there would be no reason for the mob to be in it. I stayed in a tourist cabin until I found a trailer for rent on the river. For the next two months I wrote stories which were later turned into amateur porn videos and I fished. It was actually a very good life. I even made peace with the ghosts of Alisha and Eve. I really didn't want to leave. I did only because I had promised the ghosts that I would take care of Sal for them. I think that is why they had left me alone from those months.
When I first arrived in Elizabeth City I bought myself a fiberglass crossbow. I practiced with it daily. At the end of the two months, I was very proficient in its use. I could think of nothing more I needed to do.
On a Friday night almost two years after the slaughter at the Camel, I called Eddie. After his song and dance I called the phone booth fifteen minutes later.
"So how's it been going Fred?" he asked.
"It's been going," I said. "Have you got my information?"
"You aren't going to like this," Eddie said.
"Come on Eddie let's have it," I demanded.
"You couldn't get to Sal right now with an army. He is holed up in his apartment and almost never comes out. Hell he bought the whole floor, just to make sure nobody gets near him." Eddie said,
"He's not Howard Hughes, he must come out sometime," I said.
"He comes out about once a week. When he does he has about twenty men around him," Eddie said. "Sal is in the middle of a turf battle. Somebody wants his operation. Maybe you will get lucky and somebody else will do him."
"I don't want somebody else to do him. I want to do him myself. So you are telling me I can't get to him?" I asked.
"Not until this thing blows over. Stay down a few more months and things might be different," Eddie suggested. "Hell there is a rumor that the government is going to bring some kind of charges against Sal."
I thought quickly about all of it. If the government brought charges against Sal, then I might be able to get him at the courthouse. I decided to give it some time. Eddie had always given me good advice before. "Okay Eddie, I'll give him a few more months, but you keep you eye and ears open for me." I demanded.
"Not a problem for me, but you be damned careful. There is still a contract out on you."
"They have to find me, to kill me," I said.
"Don't get too cocky they found you once," he said. "At least they found Alisha."
"What does that mean?" I asked.
"It mean Alisha called her mother from Taos." he said.
"I wondered how they found us. Well she paid for her mistake," I said.
"You almost paid yourself, be careful who you hang around with," Eddie advised.
"I'm going to do that. Well I guess I better make a break," I said.
"Yeah, I have sheep to shear myself," Eddie said breaking the connection.
I was tired of being on vacation. It had been a wonderful time and I hated to give it up, but it was time to move on. I had planned to move on Sal immediately, so I had everything I owned in the car. I just decided not to return to Elizabeth City. Instead I drove to Charlotte to empty the account in which I had been stockpiling Madge's money.
I was in and out of the bank in moments. I arranged for the money to be deposited in a checking account in the future. I gave a post office box in Elizabeth City as an address. I was informed my new checks would arrive in a couple of weeks. Since I had paid the box up for another four months, I could swing by there anytime. I guessed that after a couple of months anyone watching the box would get discouraged and move on to better leads.
My next stop was Wilmington. I searched the town for a couple of days, while staying in a motel. I found myself a garage apartment behind an old frame house. The house had long since been converted to a duplex. I imagine it was done about the same time the area over the storage building had been converted to an apartment. The apartment was small, with only three little rooms. The kitchen held only appliances and a tiny little breakfast bar for eating.
The bedroom was just large enough for my air bed and a small table, I had found in the storage room below. The living room was the only decent sized room in the apartment. I had found an old discarded sofa in the storage room. Fortunately it was one of those really lightweight things. I had been able to wrestle it into the living room. There was no matching chair but there was a stuffed chair with one leg missing. A brick matched the height of the other three legs pretty well. I bought another folding table and two chairs to use as my writing desk.
I hadn't written anything in a week, so I sat at the word processor and began striking the keys furiously. I worked until three in the afternoon when I stopped to buy groceries. I began again around five and wrote late into the night. I printed it out before going to bed.
The next morning I awoke only because the sun was shining in my eyes. Once my mind comprehended the reason for my waking, I could not return to sleep. I staggered around the place doing my morning things for a while. When I finally was dressed, I drove out to find a place for breakfast.
I found it in a long since bypassed business district. The small three building commercial pocket was old and needed a cleaning badly. Tucked between a furniture store and a TV repair shop was a little café. I walked into the small place and knew right away that I was unwelcome. About a dozen black men looked up at me. Most looked in sympathy, since obviously a tourist had lost his way. Only a couple looked in open hostility which was probably average among the black community.
I spotted an empty booth half way down the line of booths. I picked it. When the very young black woman came to take my order she was visibly nervous. I ordered my usual artery clogging breakfast. Most of the conversations picked up after only a brief time. I ignored the others, as I am sure most ignored me. I knew I wasn't welcome, but I frankly didn't give a damn.
Everything was cooked wrong, it was the owner's way of telling me not to return. I got the point. I paid for the less than adequate breakfast, then drove away. I scratched the Bluebird Café from my list of places to eat.
After breakfast I returned to the house to finish the story. It took me several hours but I had it complete before I stopped for dinner. On the way to search for a restaurant a little more friendly, I dropped the envelope into the mailbox at a branch post office. I got a lucky break when the post office stopped stamping the name of the mailing towns. Otherwise I would have had to use a mail drop system.
With the story in the mail, I found a rather unimposing restaurant for dinner. The only problem was that it was still a tourist restaurant with tourist prices. I vowed to find a real local place with down to earth food and prices.
After dinner I drove to the beach. The seven mile trip took about fifteen minutes. Even though the days were getting longer it was still almost dark when I arrived at Johnny Mercer's pier. I parked the fifteen year old junk yard Pontiac Grand Am in a metered space, then walked onto the pier. There was a chilly wind blowing from the ocean. I stayed a half hour even though I wasn't dress for the cold. When I left the house, it had been a cool but not cold evening. Those few miles had made a great deal of difference in the temperature.
I had been on Wrightsville Island several times in my past life. The tourist usually like a good game of cards now and again. I gave up on the place several years earlier because it was just too hard to find a game. The money was good but there were just too many nights without a full table. The Holiday Inn on the Cape Fear River held a few conventions, but there were just too many other distractions for the conventioneers.
Tourist season hadn't quite arrived so I felt comfortable in stopping for coffee at the Holiday Inn on Wrightsville Island. I found their restaurant closed but the lounge had a coffee pot. I sat alone at the bar. There were only a few people in the lounge, most of them were scattered so as to make the place look even more empty.
"So, you staying at the Inn?" the very attractive young bartender asked.
"No ma'am, I just passing through. I moved into Wilmington a couple of days ago. I came to look at the ocean, I just didn't realize how cold it was down here." I replied.
"It's at least ten degrees colder on the island," she agreed.
"It must be twenty on the pier," I said.
"With that wind, it probably is," she agreed.
"So stranger what do you do for a living?" she asked with a professional smile.
"Me, I'm between jobs right now," I said.
"Well there won't be many jobs until the tourist season starts in a couple of months. Then we won't be able to find enough people to fill all the jobs," she said.
"I have enough money to last until tourist season, " I said.
"So what kind of work do you do?" she asked.
"Me, I'm a gigolo," I said with a smile.
At first she laughed then she said, "Well you are really going to have to wait for the tourist. You came to the right place though. If you need a manager, I can steer you plenty of business."
"Really?" I asked.
"Well, I don't know that any of them would pay, but there are about five women for every man in here. I mean during the week. On the weekends it is pretty much couples only." she informed me.
"I don't think I understand," I said.
"We had a terrible problem filling the Inn during the weekdays. Sure we did okay on weekends and maybe Fridays, but Monday through Thursday we were pretty empty. A few years ago the manager came up with an idea. He set aside half the rooms to be used for a special deal. He began advertising in the inland papers. Two weekends and one week at a pretty good discount." she tried to explain.
"I still don't get it," I said.
"It works like this, poppa brings the family down on Saturday morning. He stays with them as long as he can, usually until Sunday, then he goes home leaving mom and the kids at the beach for a week. He comes back on Saturday the next week and they leave Sunday afternoon." she explained.
"And that caught on?" I asked.
"You bet it did. About Wednesday night this place if full of weekday widows. It starts on Tuesday but on Wednesday and Thursday the Inn provides free baby-sitters." she said.
"Well if most of them are married, I can't imagine there would be many men hanging around." I said.
"Hell, most of the men don't even know about this place. They come in here on the weekends when the lounge is filled with couples." she said.
"That isn't exactly what I meant." I said with a wicked smile.
"Oh you mean are the women willing?" she asked. I nodded. "Just like everywhere else, some are some aren't," she said. "But I can tell which ones are willing."
"So what you are saying is, I need you to save me some time," I laughed.
"Yeah, but like I said, I doubt any of them would pay. By the time they get desperate, hubby is back." she laughed.
"In that case, are you rich?" I asked with a grin.
"No, and I don't do it for fun either," she said with a smile.
"Well I've had my coffee and the conversation was great, so how much do I owe you?" I asked.
"Not a thing, I enjoyed the conversation," she said. I dropped a five on the bar anyway. It was way too much but I had gotten an interesting idea for a story.
I drove home slowly trying to come up with a simi convincing story base on what the bartender had told me. I had it pretty well worked out when I arrived. The way I wrote the crap was simple, I just began and let the story wander where it would
I tried to turn on the word processor but nothing happened. I tried different plugs and different ways, but nothing happened. I finally banged the cannon on the table so had the table almost collapsed, nothing happened with the processor. It had just quit. Since I had only paid two hundred bucks for it at a discount house in Mississippi, and I had made several thousand dollars with it, I decided to give it a decent burial. Before I changed my mind, I carried it down to the trash can. I dropped it on top.
The next morning, after a biscuit at a fast food restaurant, I drove to an equivalent of the discount house where I had purchased the original word processor. I almost bought another Cannon exactly like the one in my trash can. The salesman talked me out of it. According to him I had been lucky that the built in printer didn't go before the processor. He suggested I give a thought to a laptop computer with a separate printer.
Ordinarily I would have dismissed the idea immediately Besides being computer illiterate the price was one hell of a lot more. I listened to him a little too long. He assured me that the computer would last ten times longer than the word processor and I could do a hell of a lot more with it. That part didn't impress me, I didn't plan to do anymore with it.
He almost forced me around the corner to the computer displays. He had all kinds of laptops, one he assured me would fit my needs perfectly. He began with the top of the line laptop. I had no idea what he was saying until he reached, "It's only four thousand one hundred dollars." I understood that well enough to know he was out of his mind.
"Look son, I came in for something to type letters on, not make coffee," I explained.
He saw my mind drifting. "Tell you what sir, how about this one," he said walking to the far end of the display counter. He began telling me all the things that one didn't have.
"How about telling me what I can do with it," I asked.
"Well it has a word processor, and a lot more in that particular program. You can do a lot with the word processor you couldn't with the cannon." Where upon he began explaining all the neat things the computer would do for me. I could see where some of them would come in handy, but most of it went over my head.
"How much?" I asked.
"Eleven hundred," he said confidently.
"That's a lot more than I was planning to spend," I said.
"How much would you spend?" he asked.
"Maybe twice what the cannon cost," I said.
"You aren't going to get a computer for six hundred bucks," he informed me. At least not a laptop.
"Well then, I guess it is back to the Cannon," I said.
"Mike," another voice behind me said. "Can I see you a minute." The man speaking was evidently Mike's boss.
"Excuse me sir," Mike said as he went to conference with his boss. I had no idea about what. I didn't pay any attention son I had absolutely no interest in their conversation.
"Sir the boss asked me if you would be interested in a return?" He asked.
"What is a return," I asked.
"This particular return was of this model. When the man got it home, he discovered it wouldn't do the things he wanted so he brought it back. Frankly if we send it back to the factory we get a credit but nothing else. If you buy it we would sell it a hundred bucks over cost. At least we wouldn't loose the shipping cost and we would make a hundred bucks." he said.
"So what price are we talking about?" I asked.
"Seven hundred plus tax," he said.
"How about the warrantee?" I asked.
"Afraid not, the man who bought it sent the card in. He has the warrantee but not the computer." he said. He judged the look on my face, then said. "Frankly computers either work or they don't. I will personally check this one out with you watching."
"Well, let me at least look at it," I said.
I watched as if I had some idea what the hell was going on. I stood like a dummy shaking my head as he punched keys and spun a marble on the pad. After a while, he closed the case and said, "This one works just fine," he announced to me and the cashier who stood watching.
"So are you going to come to my house and show me how to work it?" I asked with a grin.
"No, but the instruction manual should give you all the information you need." he said.
"Okay, I'll take it, but I am going to need a way to print the pages?" I said.
"No problem I got printers from a hundred to a thousand dollars." he said.
"Guess which one I want?" I asked.
"Okay, there are two you might be interested in," he said walking back to the sales floor.
I settled on a small Cannon black and white printer. The cost was only a hundred bucks since the sales man was selling them out. I couldn't believe the size of the boxes. Each box was at least three times bigger than the item inside. I had a hell of a time fitting them into the rear seat of the old beat up Grand Am.
I spent the next two days playing with my new computer. I lost half the story I was working on when I pressed the wrong key. I rewrote it after finding out what I had done wrong. The sales man was right, there were a lot more things I could do with the computer. The word processor held a bunch more information. Unlike the cannon I could save all the files onto the hard drive. I never even bothered to buy disks until I lost a complete story the next week. I purchased a large box of disks and began backing up everything.
I also spent as much time at the beach as I could. One day around noon, I was standing at the very end of Mercer's pier eating a hot-dog when I saw a shrimp boat fishing about a half mile out. I got into my head that I wanted to begin making pictures again. I knew just from looking at the boat that my normal lens just wouldn't do.
I actually forgot about the pictures because I got so involved in the computer. I broke down and spent a hundred and a half for a modem and fax. I made myself a phony cover sheet then faxed my next story to Madge. It was a damned sight easier than mailing it. I printed out stories only for rewrites. Then only after I called the bank and found Madge had made her usual deposit.
I read in an article that communications over the internet were untraceable. Or at least were to all but a handful of computer nerds, none of which were cops or gangsters. I bought a service the very next day. I set it up over the next two days. In doing so, I had to take the computer to the store to have the useless programs removed. I backed them all up so that if I should decide to work them, they could be reinstalled. When the kid finished cleaning my drive I had only the fax program, the word processor, the on line program, and the operating system left. He also left me with a hundred megs of hard drive memory.
On my next story, I sent my E mail address to Madge. I was surprised to receive a note from her the next day.
"Glad you finally came into the twentieth century. I am planning to publish a few books this year, would you be interested??? M."
"Sure, are you going to do the editing this time???" J.
"If I can save a buck, you bet!!!!M."
"How many words????J."
"Can you do fifty thousand?????M."
"I can try, J."
"Send something to me with the next story, by the way I have a couple of new groups. I will give you a description of them later, M."
The back and forth communications took a week. I began to work on both projects in earnest. I was about half way through a story set in Mississippi, when I finally met my neighbors. I met them because someone broke into the right side of the duplex. All of a sudden there were cop cars everywhere. I panicked at first. When I realized they were checking out the duplex, I calmed down. I still waited until the cops left before I ventured outside.
I walked to the front of the duplex, I had seen the neighbors but had never spoken to them. The older woman who lived with her equally old husband was standing on the porch. "Hi, I'm Ed, I live in the garage," I said with a smile.
"Emma," she said. "Me and my husband live here. I have seen you around, we just never seem to be outside at the same time," she said trying to explain her lack of neighborliness.
"I know," I said smiling to show I had no hard feelings. "So what happened?" I asked.
"My Marty got drunk and went into the wrong apartment," she said. I could tell there was more to the story but I had heard enough. Since the cops had a culprit, they wouldn't be around asking questions.
"Well in that case, I will go back to work," I said.
"What do you do Ed, I mean I see the lights on way into the night?" she asked.
"I am trying to write a book," I said honestly. Just as I finished my answer the door to the second duplex opened. A woman somewhere in her thirties burst onto the porch.
"You keep that pervert away from me," she shouted.
"Martin is not a pervert, he just got mixed up," Emma said quietly.
"Like hell," the woman said. She saw me and jumped dead in my shit. "What the hell are you looking at?" she demanded.
"I'm not real sure at the moment," I answered.
"Why don't you just go back to your nest," she shouted.
"You got it lady," I said walking down the drive to my rear apartment. God what a bitch, I thought. I climbed the wooden stairs to my porch. I couldn't help looking back at the duplex in front. The younger woman was standing in her kitchen staring up at me. Screw you very much, I thought as I entered my apartment. I returned to the computer and began punching keys. I alternated between the book and the scenarios. I had the story pretty well in hand when I heard the knock on my door. As I always did, I went to the door with my little derringer behind my leg. I looked out the glass panel in the door and recognized the younger woman who had not half an hour before been all over me.
"Yes?" I asked as I opened the door.
"Hi, I came to apologize. The only excuse I can give is that I was upset," she explained.
"I can understand that," I said not following it with, I didn't do anything.
"So you forgive me?" she asked.
"Nothing to forgive," I said.
"Good, I have a favor to ask," she said.
"Feel free to ask," I said.
"I can't stay in my apartment until the door is repaired. Would you mind terribly if I slept on your sofa?" she asked with an innocent smile.
"I guess that would be all right," I said not really wanting the company. I mean she was attractive enough in a cheap kind of way. I just didn't need the aggravation. I allowed her to enter as she passed I took a minute to appraise her. She was average height with very blonde hair obviously from a bottle. She was also the owner of a very well maintained body, large on top and small on the bottom. Even in her jeans and sweat shirt there was no doubt about the body.
"So my name is Ed," I said.
"I'm Amy," she responded extending her hand to me. "So Ed, Emma tells me you are a writer."
"So you two made up?" I asked.
"I was never pissed at her, it was that no account husband of hers," Amy said. "So are you a writer?"
"Maybe someday, right now I am a hack still trying to get something published," I lied.
"Don't give up, the world needs dreamers," she said with a shy smile.
"So what do you do?" I asked.
"Me, I'm kind of a therapist," she answered with a strange little laugh.
"That must be interesting?" I suggested.
"Sometimes, I guess," she answered.
"What are you writing now?" she asked.
"A book about the vanishing wetland birds," I said knowing she would loose interest in my writing immediately. Actually she was the inspiration for the lie. She had called my home in the air a nest.
"Oh," was the only reply she gave. At least she didn't add, how boring.
I walked back to the computer to save my work before she asked to see it. I punched all the right keys then closed the lid on the laptop.
"I am still kind of shook up, I don't suppose you have a drink around?" she asked.
"A little bourbon and some ginger ale," I said.
"The bourbon is fine, straight if you don't mind," she said. I brought her a plastic cup and the bottle. "Aren't you going to have one?"
"I think, I will work on the book a little more tonight. I really do much better when I am sober," I replied. I stood watching as she downed the drink and poured herself another. "Well, let me just move this into the bedroom," I said as I lifted the laptop from the folding table.
"I don't like being so much trouble, but frankly I am afraid that pervert will come back," Amy said.
"It's no trouble at all," I said as I moved the table into the bedroom. It actually was very little trouble since I had everything up and running in five minutes. When I returned for the table she was on her third drink.
"There is a sheet and blanket in the closet there," I said pointing to a door cut in the living room. "If you don't need me for anything,. I think I will go back to work." I said.
"Tell me something Ed," she demanded. "Are you gay?"
I laughed strongly then said, "I don't think so."
"I just wondered, I mean you live alone and you write books on birds. It does strike me as a bit odd," she said.
"I live alone, because I don't like people much. I write about birds because my manager tells me, he knows a publisher who a book about wetland birds." I explained.
"I just wondered, I have seen you around but you never go out. At least not with women." she said.
"Or men either," I informed her forcefully.
"Right, you are always cooped up in here writing. Don't you ever feel the need to be with a woman?" she asked.
I admit I got a little angry. Probably because I was afraid to be with a woman. Not for the writing, but because they might find out that I was a fraud. "Do me a favor Amy, save the therapy for the office," I snapped.
"I see you aren't always calm and cool after all," she said. I reached over and took the bottle from her. "Why did you do that?"
"Because you are a mean drunk," I said just to hurt her. "Now I am going to work, I don't give a damn what you do."
I went into the bedroom and began to write. I had no idea how other people wrote but I wrote a chapter in the book using her as a character. I had closed and locked the bedroom door before returning to the book. When she knocked, I closed the file before opening the door.
"Yes?" I asked.
"I'm sorry about prying earlier. I guess I can be a real bitch at times," she suggested.
"If you are looking for an argument, you came to the wrong place," I said but I said it with a smile.
"So how's it going," she asked.
"I just shut down the computer for tonight," I said.
"Well I just wanted to apologize before I fell asleep. I imagine I will be gone before you wake up tomorrow," she said.
I didn't know what to say, so I just said, "Well good night then. Come back anytime."
"Goodnight and you are a very nice man." she said standing on her tip toes to kiss me on the cheek. Even kissing me on the cheek forced her to press her breasts against me. It was an erotic moment. It might not have been for anyone else, but I had been celibate for over two years.
Sure enough she was gone when I awoke the next morning. I went out to the fast food restaurant for a biscuit, then went on to the camera store. I had dreamed about a shrimp boat the night before. Since I couldn't find any sexual meaning in the boat, I decided to take a look around for a long lens.
I had never been in the store, but I recognized the owner immediately. Not personally but he just had the air of a man in charge. I by passed the salesmen and went right to him. "Hi there," I said extending my hand.
"Young man," the older man said. "If you are selling, I am not buying."
"Actually, I am not selling and probably not buying. I am more or less pricing." I said.
"Then you should be talking to those young men in front. If you talk to me, then you are going to buy," he said with a smile.
"Only if you are giving things away," I said.
"Sometimes it seems that way at the end of the month," he said with another charming smile.
"So, do you have a really cheap five hundred millimeter lens to fit a Nikon?" I asked.
"Young man, cheap and Nikon do not belong in the same sentence," he chuckled at his own joke.
"Well then I guess I am wasting my time," I said.
"Not necessarily," he said turning his back on me. "If one of these kids hasn't sold it I might have something for you."
"I hope they haven't," I said.
He came up with a very long old fashioned lens. "Not to worry, I pay them to sell film to the tourist. They know nothing about cameras. See this tag?" he asked.
"Sure it says Pentex mount," I said.
"Right but take a look," he suggested.
I turned the awkward lens around to look at the mount. It was a threaded mount. I didn't really know enough about cameras to comment. "Okay, what am I looking at?" I asked.
"You are looking at a universal threaded mount. Pentex used it in the fifties but so did everyone else. When all the cameras changed, somebody got the bright idea to make an adapter for each camera. Now if I can find it in all this junk," he said looking through a dozen tiny drawers built into the cabinet. "Here we are, an adapter to make it fit your camera," he said.
"Are you sure it will fit," I asked.
"God," he said as he went to another case and removed an old Nikon from the used camera rack. He fitted all the pieces together then handed me the end product. It was a lens about three feet long with a Nikon body attached to the rear. When I aimed at the door and focused I was able to fill the frame with the screw head on the lock's cylinder.
"How old do you reckon this lens is?" I asked.
"Probably older than you, but it works. I make you a deal, I will sell you the lens and adapter for one fifty," he said.
I recognized it as a deal. "Do you happen to have any more of these universal lenses?" I asked.
"Let me look," he said with a sigh as he bend into the case again. "A one thirty five, a thirty five and a two hundred." he said piling them on the counter."
"How much for all of them?" I asked.
"Four hundred," he said. I could tell from his voice it was a weak price.
"Three hundred," I bargained.
"Three fifty and I will throw in a case for them all," he said.
"If it's a good case, you have a deal." I said.
The case wasn't top of the line and it was used, but it was real canvas and in pretty good shape. I paid the man and left with my new camera outfit. I went home, but instead of working on the book as I should have, I added the Nikon to the case. I drove quickly to the beach. As is usually the case, there wasn't a fishing boat in site. Nothing else held still long enough to focus the big lens. I loaded up the case, then went to lunch.
When I finished lunch, I drove home and buried myself in the short story. I had promised to have it finished by tomorrow. I was close enough that I could finish it in two hours, I worked feverishly on it. When I finished I put the printer to work on it while I returned to the book. I was making progress on the book but it was hellishly slow. I could have written a ten thousand word book or even a twenty thousand one without too much trouble. The fifty thousand word book looked as though it would take weeks.
I heard the knock on my door around six. I opened it to find Amy all dressed in a business suit standing on my porch. "Have you had dinner yet?" she asked.
"No, I was on a roll," I said.
"More like a wing," she said smiling brightly at her own joke. "So get you coat or whatever and let's go eat."
"I don't know, I really need to keep working," I replied.
"No you don't, not get your as out her and let's go get a nice dinner, my treat. It's the least I can do for being such a bitch to a nice man like you," she said.
"Okay, but I warn you, if you are mean to me again, I am going to walk home."
"Fair enough," she said.
I grabbed my one sport coat from the closet, then followed he down the stairs. I was surprised to find that she drove one of those little Japanese sports cars. I was equally surpassed to find the little two seater comfortable. "So where are you taking me?" I asked.
"Have you ever eaten at Faircloth's?" she asked.
"No, what kind of place is it?" I asked.
"Just wait and see," she said. Since she had the top down, it was almost impossible to talk. I kept quiet until she pulled into the parking lot of a very old building. Faircloth's had no doubt begun life as a house. The two story frame building needed a coat of paint in the worse way.
Inside I found that each of the rooms held three or four tables. Amy led me to the rear of the house, then up the stairs. On the top floor all the rooms had those strange shaped ceiling I associate with a house who's attic has been turned into rooms. It was quite a novelty in those days of chrome and glass restaurants everywhere.
"The tourist almost never come here," Amy remarked. It seemed universal that the residents hated the tourist, but gladly took their money. If not directly, then from the people who did take it directly.
After the waitess left with our order Amy said, "This is going to take a while. They cook each order individually. You won't get any half cold shrimp here."
"Good, I hate half cold shrimp," I said with a smile.
"It does make a difference," she insisted.
I nodded, "Tell me something, what is a therapist doing living in a dump like the one we live in?" I asked.
She seemed to be thinking about it. "To tell you the truth, when I came to Wilmington five years ago, it was the best I could afford. When I could afford a nicer place, I just never bothered to move. I may buy a house though," she said.
"From the car you drive, I would say business is pretty good."
"Are you kidding, with all the people who have to deal with tourists, I am covered up all the time." she said. "It will die down some when the tourist begin to hit the beaches. A lot of my patients will be too busy to see me." she stated without any real emotion.
"Does that bother you?" I asked.
Something struck her funny. She began with a small laugh then moved past it to a roar. When she finally stopped laughing and then gasping for breath she asked, "Do you have any idea how many times I say those same words in a day?"
"I'm sorry, I had no idea I was so funny," I said with a smile.
"To answer your question, no it doesn't bother me. I will get a little time off for a change. I may be able to stop seeing night patients, just to work them in." she admitted.
"Good," I said.
"So how about you, how is the book coming," she said.
Her question struck me funny but, unlike her, I was able to maintain my composure. "It is coming right along," I answered.
The food arrived at that moment ending any more questions about the book. I was glad and just not about the questions, the food was excellent. Not only that the company was good. Amy was as different from last night as sunshine and moon glow. The meal was a roaring success. I had really enjoyed being with her. "Careful," I warned myself. "You don't want any involvement's. You may be out of here tomorrow."
On the drive home, the cold wind prevented any conversation, which was a good thing. I was fighting back the desire to really talk to her. I knew it was her doctor's manner, but I still liked her a lot.
When we arrived home, I walked her to her door and thanked her. I almost invited her up to my place. I might have, if she hadn't already explained that she had a patient to meet in an hour. After I left her, I returned to struggle with the book. I wasn't blocked, on the contrary, I couldn't get the words down fast enough. I finally ran out of steam around midnight. I glanced out my front window and into the kitchen of Amy's apartment.
I saw Amy sitting in her bra and panties and drinking straight whiskey. I watched her for a few minutes, then turned off my light. I sat in the dark and watched her for half an hour until she went to bed. While I watched she must have had four or five drinks. I had no idea how many she had before I began watching her. My little Amy was a serious drinker.
The next morning I began the rewrite on the short story. It took me only until noon to mark up my copy. Making the changes in the computer took only an hour or so. By two the pages were on the fax machine and speeding to Mississippi.
That evening I got the following E mail. "I received your story and it is fine. Where are the pages of my book??:?M."
"Do you want me to finish it or do rewrites so that I loose my train of thought?????J."
"Keep working, but how far have you gotten?????M."
"Twenty eight thousand and going strong,,,,,J."
"I hope it is as good as the others. I need something with a big splash to start me off.....M."
"Well, all I can tell you is that every page is a real barn burner.....J."
"Then get back to work.......M."
I didn't answer that one, I simply went back to work. That night about eleven I noticed Amy again at her kitchen table. Tonight she held a liquor bottle in one hand, a glass of ice in the other, while seated topless at the kitchen table. I looked on with great interest and was happy that my first appraisal of her body had been correct. After Amy went to bed around midnight, I tried to sleep. I tried for an hour before I got up and went back to work on the book.
I burnt out on the book before I got sleepy, so I began a story for Madge's little production group. I wrote it for a husband and wife team for up north somewhere. I wrote it as though I had gone into Amy's apartment after watching her. It was pretty steamy. When I finished the story the sun had been up an hour or more. I fell exhausted into the bed. I realized how much I missed my old life. In the old days, I would have at least tried to score with Amy.; In this new life, I couldn't afford to do more than look. Alisha's phone call had finally convinced me of that. Still a little non committed sex might not hurt.
I fell into the bed for a few hours sleep. I slept until six that evening. When I awoke, I was drenched in sweat. I stood under the shower for a long time, washing away the feel of sleep from my body. I was standing naked when the knock came on my door. I didn't even bother to dry off, I slipped on my pants and opened the door.
"So you are still alive," Amy said.
"Sure, why wouldn't I be," I said.
"Since you never called or came down, I expected to find you dead in your bed." she said.
"I'm sorry, I didn't want to bother you," I explained weakly.
"Sure," she said.
"Honest, you are so busy, I didn't want to disturb you." I said.
"In that case, you can take me to dinner," she said.
"Give me a minute to dress and you got it," I said.
She took a seat on the sofa while I began getting dressed. The weather had turned warm for a while, but had again turned chilly so I dressed for it. I stepped into the living room ready to go. What I saw made my blood run cold. Amy was holding the marked up copy of my short story from a couple of nights before. It was bad, but it could have been worse. She could have gotten hold of the one I just finished.
"I can explain," I said pulling her attention from the pages.
"Are you Jay Pip?" she asked. It was the name I had written under even in Mississippi. It was also the name on the manuscript.
"I can explain, just give me a chance," I begged.
"Answer my question, are you Jay Pip?" she demanded.
"Yes, but I can explain," I repeated weakly.
"There is nothing to explain. I have everything you have ever written, at least I thought I did. Imagine me asking you if you were gay. God how stupid I must have sounded." she said.
"You have my books?" I asked.
"Sure, they are classics." she answered.
"Classic what?" I asked.
"Classic male fantasies, especially the one written from the woman's point of view. It is a perfect example of how men think women feel." she said slipping into her Doctor's voice.
"So you think I am a nutcase?" I asked.
"Hell no, I think you are perfectly sane. I also think you have a great imagination." she said looking at me like a bug under a microscope.
"Do you still want to have dinner with me?" I asked.
"Are you kidding, sure I do. This is going to be a lot more fun than last time," she stated harshly.
I knew I was in trouble, but there was no way out of it. We drove to a nice family style restaurant. I was lucky because the place was full. With all the people around, not even Amy dared to bring up my books. The dinner conversation was about almost everything impersonal which either one of us could think to mention. I was surprised that after dinner, without a word she drove home. She left the car without speaking, then went into her apartment. I had no choice but to go home.
I fixed myself a glass of iced tea before sitting down to the book. I heard her knock, so I went to the door. She pushed past me without a word. She had a bottle in one hand and a glass in the other. She sat on the sofa and began to talk just as if dinner had never happened.
"So how did you get into writing porn?" she asked.
"I'm sorry, I don't answer personal questions," I informed her.
"I can't believe I have Jay Pip in my sights and he won't answer questions." she said disgustedly.
"I'm sorry, but I just don't answer personal questions. It is a rule I adopted years ago," I said trying to take the high ground. It was difficult since I was trapped in the mire of a porno writer.
"Will you answer this, are you writing short stories now? she asked.
"Yes and no, I write some for a video production company. They kind of base the amateur movies on them," I explained.
"How many have you written for them?" she asked.
"I don't know maybe fifteen or so," I said.
"Do you know where I can get copies?" she asked. I wasn't real sure she was serious until she asked. "Can you at least get me the names of the movies?"
"I expect I could do that," I admitted.
"Do you have any of the original manuscripts," she asked.
"No," I admitted.
"I'm acting like a school girl. I just had no idea you were Jay Pip," she said.
"Hey, I'm just Ed. The same guy, I was last week." I said.
"I just can't get over it," she said.
"Look Amy, you can't tell anyone about me. You have to swear, you won't tell anyone or I will have to move," I said.
"Why?" she asked.
"Because I don't want the nuts picketing our house. You know the Baptist will be here in strength if they find out." I explained.
"Can I at least tell my partner. I promise she won't tell a soul." Amy begged.
"Not a soul, I really don't want to move again." I pleaded.
"Okay, you get me the names of those movies and give me a copy of your next manuscript, and I will keep your little secret." she promised.
"Fair enough," I said. I had already begun planning my next move. Nobody could be trusted to keep a secret for long.
"Have you ever seen any of the movies?" she asked.
"If you mean the ones I wrote, no. If you mean porno movies in general, yes." I said.
"I would have thought you would want to see one," she said.
"Why the hell are you interested in porn anyway?" I asked.
"I use it often in my work. Some of our clients have sexual problems, but can't discuss them with me. I've probably bought a hundred books, that is before I stumbled onto yours. When I found your first book, it was so fanciful that I gave it to a couple of my clients. They were able to discuss parts of it with me. They chose the parts of course. It said a lot more about them than I could ever have dragged out of them. Then I began looking for other books by you. I bought all four of them. I kept looking, when I couldn't find them I wrote to the publisher. They answered that you had stopped writing. They had no idea why. They suggested a couple of others but they just weren't the same. Your books do more than give guys a hardon, they evoke an emotional response deeper than that. Hell even my female patients can relate to them, but on a level deeper than the trash you write about."
"Gee whiz, it's nice to know my work has real value," I said with a smile.
"I know you are kidding, but they probably do on some level." she said.
"Well I know you read the first one, did you read the others or just buy them for the patients?" I asked.
"I read them, I had to know what was in the books," she said. "And yes they had the same effect on me they have on everyone else."
"Good, I'm glad to know I touched you," I said lightly.
"Well you writing did anyway. It touched me in a way I don't think I liked," she admitted.
"I'm not going to ask you to explain that because I probably don't want to know," I said.
"Good, because I am going to have to give it a lot of thought. I mean I didn't exactly expect to be discussing this with you."
"Well, you just forget that I write under the name Jay Pip and everything will be cool," I explained.
"So, can I read a page of your new book?" she asked.
"You want me to pick on at random?" I asked.
"Sure why not," she asked.
I opened the file on the book, then called the printer to print page forty one. I had no idea what it would say. I didn't even look at it, I allowed Amy to pull it from the printer. I did watch as she read it.
"My God, it is even more erotic than the others." she said.
"I doubt it, you may just have the only really hot page in the book," I said.
"Print me one more," she pleaded.
"You name it," I said.
"Number twenty five," she demanded.
I called the printer on line, then instructed it to print twenty five. I waited while the printer set itself then began to spew the page covered with ink onto the platform in from of it. Amy grabbed it quickly and read it. "Just as I thought, this one is just as bad as the first," she said.
"Well I haven't done any rewrites yet," I tried to cop out.
"I can tell, but that isn't what I meant by bad. How long is this thing going to be?" she asked.
"They have asked for fifty thousand words minimum. I expect it might run a little over." I suggested.
"How long were the others," she asked.
"Twenty to thirty thousand," I said.
"Go for eighty to a hundred. If you do that, you can get it to a major publisher. It will have to have a disclaimer, but it can go mainstream." she suggested.
"I already have a publisher, and I don't want to go mainstream," I admitted.
"That's up to you ,but you would get a lot more money," she suggested.
"Maybe, but I like it just fine where I am," I didn't tell her about being on the run. Madge knew I was on the run from something. She kept quiet because she made money because of it.
"It's early yet, do you want me to get those titles for you now?" I asked.
"Can you?" Amy asked.
"Sure, you stay here and have a drink. I will pull the names from the internet." I realized that she hadn't touched her drink while we had been talking. I quickly reached Madge by E mail. I was just lucky she was on the net at the time. We wrote notes back and forth. She finally gave me the names of the videos. I printed them out for Amy. I handed them to her while I finished my electronic conversation with Madge. There was a price to pay for the names. I was forced to answer more questions about the book. Madge was getting antsy.
When I rang off Amy had gone. She had slipped out while I carried on the electronic conversation with Madge. I didn't really know what to do, so I had another drink while I worked on the book. I was tempted to start the rewrite on Amy's story but I was afraid she might return. She had after all left her liquor on the end table.
I was pretty well lost in the story I was working when Amy returned. "Come on," she said pulling me from the chair. She push and pulled me down the stairs and into her rear door. "I could only find one of them," she said turning on her VCR. I watched as a group of four people from upstate New York romped through one of my short stories. The acting was pretty lousy, but they stayed with the story line I had written for them. I didn't time it but the video seemed to run a little over an hour.
Amy rewound the tape before she asked, "So, was it pretty close to the original?"
"Yeah, they seemed to have followed the story pretty close. Of course in my imagination the women were better looking," I said with a grin.
"I have to admit it was better than most of the tapes we use at the office, but it just isn't the same as your books," she said.
"You mentioned using books, now tapes, just what kind of therapy are you involved in?" I asked.
"My group specializes in dysfunctional sexual couples," she said.
"What the hell does that mean?" I asked.
"In street terms it is guys who can't get it up, and women who can't get it off," she said with a grin. She had obviously worked that one out a long time ago.
"Cute," I said. "Exactly what do you do for these people?" I asked.
"Why?" Amy asked me.
"I might want to use it in a book sometime. Wouldn't you like to see a couple of chapters on sex therapy?" I asked.
"I don't know about that," she admitted.
"So, what do you do for these people, cure there hangups?" I asked again.
"Something like that. Mostly we talk to them until they figure out that they have a problem, then work on how to fix it." she said.
"That's really rather interesting. So who fixes your problems?" I asked.
"I have a psychologist I see once in a while," she said.
"You know, I always heard people who go into psychology have problem of their own. They just hope to fix theirs while they work on others," I said.
"That is true sometimes, but I assure you I don't have any sexual problems," she said.
"Are you gay?" I asked. "I mean, I have known you for a couple of days and I haven't seen a man around. God knows you are attractive enough to have a man."
"Okay, I deserved that. No I am not gay," she said with a grin.
"If it weren't so late and I wasn't so tired, I would make you prove that," I said with a broad smile.
"Another time then?" she made it a question.
"Another time," I agreed.
I climbed the steps to my apartment, closed down the computer and fell into bed. I almost didn't look into her kitchen window. I did glance at her table. That particular night she sat naked at the table drinking one drink after another. It was a sight worth missing a few minutes sleep over."
The next morning, I banged away at the keyboard until I wore completely out. I had enough of the novel by one p.m. I shut down the computer then drove to the beach. I found a shrimp boat casting it's nets in the midday sun. I shot it with a couple of different lenses. I also shot a couple of surfers but didn't have much hope for them. Sure a couple with the wide angle and the normal lens would come out, but the others were going to be blurry.
I dropped the roll into the mail when I arrived home. I hated to do it, but I returned to work on Amy's story. I printed it out so that I could do the necessary corrections before I faxed it to Madge. I had it ready for the fax machine by six in the afternoon. I sent it, then destroyed the paper copy. An hour later, I got an E mail.
"Jay, your story is great, I am sending the usual amount to your bank. How many words do you have now? M."
"40,000 but who is counting, J."
"Will I get it in a week? M."
"Who knows, J."
I worked on the book or shot pictures for the next week. I didn't see Amy during that time. Actually I did see Amy but she didn't see me. She sat either naked or close to it every night during that time. One night she drank herself unconscious. She slept a couple of hours with her head and arms on the table. I wrote on my book while I watched her sleep. I was still writing when she awoke, only to stagger off, presumably to bed.
I hit the fifty thousand word mark, at the end of the week. I took time off only to write another short story for the video production crew. On Saturday night, I saw Amy's lights come on around seven. I went to her rear door, then knocked for a few minutes. She came to the door in a large terry cloth robe.
"Sorry Ed, I was in the shower," she said. "Come on it. I have to warn you I am getting ready to go out."
"Good for you, I just came to ask if you would like to ride to Elizabeth City with me tomorrow.
"I wish you had asked me sooner, I have a date for tomorrow," she said.
"Not a problem," I said. "I am going on business anyway. I just thought I would like to have the company."
"Maybe another time?" she suggested.
"Sure, we can do it some other time," I agreed.
The only eventful thing on the trip to Elizabeth City was the water pump on the Grand Am started to leak. Since I was less than half way, I turned around and headed home. The leak was just bad enough to make me stop every twenty miles to add water. It made for a pretty miserable trip. I was just as happy that Amy had stayed home. I would have to plan the trip for another time.
First thing Monday morning I first bought, then installed the water pump. It would have taken an experienced mechanic about an hour to do the job. Me, it took all morning. I at least had it done in time for lunch.
I worked on the book Monday afternoon and well into the night. On Tuesday I began again. I was trying to find an ending for it. I continued to ramble around while I waited for the ending to appear. It just wouldn't happen. Finally on Wednesday night around eight, I just gave up on it. I was sure there was an ending near but it just wouldn't come.
I drove to the beach to stare at the ocean for a while. I noted the increased number of people walking on the pier. It wasn't time for the tourist, so I went into the snack bar to ask Mildred about the traffic.
"Damn Canadians, they could swim in the ocean in December, to them this is summer," she said. I left her complaining about the tourists. I drove to the intersection of the main road, instead of going on into Wilmington I swung the car right and headed to the Holiday Inn. I decided to see if my little bartender was working.
"Hi there sweetie," I said to the girl behind the bar. "Do you remember me?"
"Sure, we don't get that many gigolos in here. So how you been?" she asked.
"Still unemployed," I said.
"Well pickings are still pretty slim around here," she said with a giggle. "You have a chance though."
"Really why is that?" I asked.
"You are the only unattached man in the place," she said.
Sure enough when I looked around I saw almost all couples. Some tables had two couples at them, but mostly it was one couple per table. "Too bad there aren't any unattached women," I said.
"Just hang on, there is one but she is out powdering her nose," she said with a smile.
"Well is she rich?" I asked.
"I doubt it, but she does have a roof over her head. She is staying here," the bartender said.
"So, maybe I won't have to sleep in the car again," I laughed.
At that very moment the woman walked in and sat at the bar. She sat with one stool between us. I would have thought it coincidence if the bartender hadn't removed a pack of cigarettes from the end of the bar, then placed them in front of the blonde.
I gave her a serious look before I spoke to her. Her hair was shoulder length and honey blonde. Her face was pleasant in a round soft kind of way. Her body could have used a little more exercise. The impression she gave was soft. Not fat, just soft. I guessed her age at about twenty five or so.
"Hi, are you from around here?" I asked.
"Lord no," she said. "I'm from Quebec." She waited for me to speak again, when I didn't she asked, "Are you from here?"
"Yes ma'am, I live over in Wilmington," I replied. "Are you down on vacation?"
"Why else would I be here?" she asked with a smile.
"You are right, that was a stupid question. I am sorry," I said making a show of turning toward the bar.
"You know, I didn't mean to offend you," she said. "I came down with my sister and her husband."
"So are you having fun?" I asked.
"Not so far, I mean, I am stuck in a room with two people who can't keep their hand or anything else off each other." she said smiling at me.
"I can only imagine how bad that is," I suggested. "Can I buy you a drink?"
"Sure, I can't go back to the room until the rabbits are asleep. If last night was any indication, I have time for about all the liquor in the place," she said with a very genuine laugh. It was most unladylike but it was real.
The bartender brought her another drink and me another coke. She removed the money from the pile of bills sitting on the counter in front of me. "By the way, my name is Ed," I said.
"Erica," she said extending her hand. "So what do you do Ed?" she asked.
"To tell you the truth right now, I'm not doing anything. I am going to start painting just as soon as my things arrive." I said. "How about you?"
"Me, I don't really do much of anything. I train horses," she said.
"Is there money in that?" I asked.
"Lord no, I do it for family members," she said.
"Is there any money in painting?" she asked.
"Not so far, maybe I can sell some to you tourist," I suggested.
"Do you have any for sale now?" she asked.
"Not really, I have a portfolio but it is just samples of the prints I sold before. You know kind of small test prints." I explained.
"Really, I would love to see them," she said.
"Sorry, I don't carry them around with me. I keep them in my studio in Wilmington." I said.
"So, let's go take a look," she demanded.
"Sure why not," I said. I left the lions share of the twenty on the bar. I smiled at the girl behind the bar as I followed Erica from the bar.
She didn't think much of my car and less of the apartment. I expect she wanted to run. thinking I was a god awful liar. I had her seated on the shabby sofa before I brought out the large folder of desert prints.
"My god," she gasped as she looked at the prints. "You weren't just having me on, these are so beautiful. I mean they are so dramatic.
She had been tense until she saw the prints. After the first one, I noticed her begin to relax. I fixed her a drink while she looked through the thick book of my samples. "These are so wonderful," she said. "Would you sell me one of them?"
"I'm sorry, I no longer have the negatives. I couldn't make any more like them." I said.
"Negatives, you mean these are photographs?" she asked.
"They began life as photographs, but are something quite different now," I said.
She stood to get closer to the light. "I can see the texture of the paint, but the detail in the sand and rocks has to be from a photograph." I noted her look up and into Amy's kitchen window "Did you know there was a naked woman sitting at the table down there?" she asked.
"Really?" I asked as though shocked.
"My God, she is beautiful," Erica said.
I moved to stand beside her. You are right, she is beautiful. Erica turned to me and I bent to kiss her. The kiss started slowly but rapidly built into a living thing. One which sucked the air from my lungs and then the room. When I broke the kiss we both gasped for air.
"Do you always kiss like that?" she asked.
"I was going to ask you that?" I said too weak to smile.
"That had to be a fluke," she said.
"Had to be, of course the only way we will ever be sure is to try it again," I suggested.
She had recovered enough to smile. "I agree, but only in the pursuit of science," she said.
"Certainly," I agreed.
When our lips and bodies met, it was exactly the same as before. When the kiss broke I held her close and continued to kiss her neck. I wanted to suck on it but I didn't dare. Instead I began to run my tongue over every exposed inch of her neck. When I pulled her to me again, her hips were pumping against me. I led her to the bed, for the first time in over two years, I held a naked woman in my arms.
I awoke with her head on my shoulder. My arm was completely asleep. I had to force her off me so that I could restore the circulation. I slipped out of bed and into the bathroom. I brushed my teeth then showered. When I returned to the bedroom she was still sleeping.
I went into the kitchen and found enough food to make an omelet. I had the omelet, coffee and toast ready when I returned to the bedroom. Erica was still asleep. I shook her gently awake.
She didn't speak instead she pulled me down to her soft breasts. I allowed her to hold me against her for a few minutes, then I pulled away. "That's it, you have five minutes to do whatever it is you want to do, then it's breakfast." I said.
"Yes sir," she said pretending to be impressed.
I returned to the kitchen to drink my coffee while she went into the bathroom. She returned in only a few seconds. She was absolutely naked. "It seems to be the custom here," she said with a giggle.
"It most certainly is," I agreed.
I was treated to a view of her body during breakfast. It was a treat, I had never had before. She ate like a lumberjack. When she looked up to see me admiring her, she wiped butter from her mouth and said, "I have to replace some of the calories I burned off last night."
"Well I think you are exaggerating," I said.
"Love, I never exaggerate about sex. I am going to tell you right now, that is the best I ever had," she said making me feel about ten feet tall.
"All I can say is, I must have been the second," I said with a smile.
"Whatever you say love," she said returning to the omelet. I drank my coffee and watched her eat. I almost forgot that she was naked until she stood to take her plate to the sink. You know, I should demand one of those pictures. I mean I did give you the best eight hours of my life," she said.
"I should have something more suitable in a day or two. I have some beach shots ordered." I said.
"Well if they don't arrive in time, I expect you to post one to me," she insisted.
"You got it, now should I take you home and face the wrath of you sister. Or should I just take you back to bed?" I asked.
"I would prefer bed, but I think my sister might be worried. Why don't you take me back to the motel, then I will come back to see you later this afternoon," she suggested.
"Can you find this place again?" I asked.
"Not at the moment but I will pay close attention on the drive back. Don't worry you aren't getting away from me. Hell I may smuggle you back to Canada," she said.
"Who knows, I might even go with you," I said.
I was surprised to find that Erica had no hangups at all about her body. She allowed me to sit on the bed while she dressed before my eyes. Watching her struggle into her bra was pretty heady stuff since most of the women I had known ran for the bathroom, hiding behind their wadded up clothes.
Erica borrowed a sheet of paper and drew herself a map while I drove her to the motel. I walked with her to the elevator, but did not go up with her. She wanted to face her sister and brother in law alone. I didn't mind one bit. I stopped at the post office on the way home. I found six very large tubes waiting for me at the counter. My seascapes had arrived.
When I returned home to work on the book, I found Madge had been wrong about having sex and writing porn. I knocked out two thousand words just reliving the events of the night before. I still didn't have an ending but I figured one would come to me. I finished the chapter on Erica about an hour before she arrived. I was working on the shrimp boat scene when she knocked.
"Come on in, I am working on your picture," I said.
"Good, I expect it to be finished by Saturday," she said with a warm smile.
"I don't see any problem there, I have already done the close work. All I have to do now is paint out the sky." I informed her.
"Well can you take a break?" she asked.
"What exactly is it you have in mind?" I asked in return.
"Oh I don't know, maybe we could make absolutely sure that last night wasn't an accident." she suggested.
Two hours later, I returned to the painting. Erica came into the living room nude. "You know that is going to be beautiful, but how on earth are you going to match the textures?" she asked.
"Trade secret," I said. "By the way, do you have to go back to the motel tonight?" I asked.
"Not unless you are worn-out," she said.
"Honey, there is always one more," I said with a hearty laugh.
"Got that right," she said. "Where is your phone? I want a pizza."
"I don't have a phone, I have a fax line but no phone," I said.
"Then stop the painting and take me out for a pizza," she demanded playfully.
"Damn, don't you know better than to disturb a great artist at work," I said putting the brush into a glass of water.
"Sure, but what has that got to do with anything," she said with a little girl's laugh.
"Okay, let's go before it gets dark. I don't like to drive at night." I admitted.
"No problem," she said slipping a sun dress over her body. I and anyone else who looked, could tell she wore no bra. I could also tell she wore no panties, I wasn't sure about anyone else.
"Where is your car?" I asked as we approached the street.
"My sister dropped me off. By the way, we have her blessing." Erica said.
"Good, I do hate to have an affair without the whole family's approval," I said jokingly.
The pizza den wasn't far away so I stopped there. We ate pizza and drank a pitcher of beer. On the drive home, I was glad it hadn't been a larger pitcher. When we arrived back in my apartment, Erica insisted I return to work on her picture. Since all the detailed work was complete, I didn't mind brushing black over the top of the picture.
"We are going to have to wait an hour or so before the paint is dry enough to add the stars." I said.
"In that case come with me," she demanded. We went into the bedroom. I kissed her, then held her close as I kissed and licked her neck.
"Look, your neighbor has company," she said.
I tore myself from Erica's neck to look out the window. Sure enough Amy was in the kitchen with a man. He began to kiss her while Erica and I watched.
"Come on Ed, let's watch them, we might get some ideas," Erica suggested. I nodded turning off our lights. The two of us sat on the edge of the air bed watching Amy and her mysterious lover make out in the kitchen. I have to admit he was smooth, at least it appeared so from this far away.
During the thirty minutes we watched about everything you can imagine happened in the kitchen below us. "Damn she is almost as hot as me," Erica said jumping on me.
The next morning after breakfast at one of the tourist traps, I allowed Erica to drive my car while I worked feverishly to get everything down in my book. When she returned around five, I had finished the second chapter on her and was putting the stars into her painting. In the end the picture was a daylight shot of the shrimp boat against a black sky filled with stars. It was quite dramatic.
Erica had to be back at the motel that night at midnight, because her family was going home first thing in the morning. I was surprised that she took the ending of our little fling with such good grace. After I returned from transporting her to the motel, I found two one hundred dollar bills in my bed. I had no idea whether she was paying for the picture or the sex. I didn't really care, I put the money in my pocket and laughed.
With the pictures in hand, whenever I took a break from the writing, I either went to the beach looking for more pictures or I painted on the ones I had on hand. Almost all my time was spent in one endeavor or the other. The memory of Erica took up a lot of my time. She invaded my mind without warning, usually while I painted. For a couple of days, I had been allowed to forget that I was underground so deeply I had no identity of my own. With her my name made no difference, I was just a man.
I finally finished the book. It happened on June first, I decided after eighty five thousand words to find an ending or shoot myself. Most porn is so bad that the ending doesn't matter. My problem was that with all the experience I had gotten writing the trash, I had actually found a talent for writing. I wanted a satisfactory ending for myself, not for Madge.
The book was about an especially promiscuous young women. It traced her life from a teenager to her mid twenties. The ending came when she went to a therapist to stop her wicked ways. It ended when she looked realistically at the alternative, then said to hell with it. In effect what she did was to decide to stay with her lifestyle. The book was about her struggle with her body, the end was she had the opportunity to change, but chose not to do it. I printed out over one hundred and fifty pages of single spaced text.
For the next two weeks I wrote little other than the short stories for Madge's production company. She bugged me at least twice a week. She wanted desperately to see the novel. I refused until I had done the first rewrite. I continued working on the novel until in mid June the paper corrections had all been made. At that point I left it sit on my kitchen table until I felt up to changing the computer file. I had been so involved in the book and the painting, I had forgotten about the Holiday Inn.
Since I finished the paper corrections on a Wednesday morning, I turned my mind to the Holiday Inn again. I spent the afternoon working on a display for my paintings. By that time I had over twenty scattered about the living room. I had them in several different piles stacked against the walls. Since my walls were bare, I made up my mind to turn the living room into a kind of gallery. Not being a carpenter, I chose the easiest of all possible means to display the cardboard mounted prints. I bought enough one by two strips to go around the walls. I nailed them to the wall in a only a few of places each. On top of those I nailed one by threes. The end result was a strip which ran around the entire room. The two boards gave me a groove three quarters of an inch wide, with a three quarter inch lip on the front. I found that I had less than enough prints to cover the entire walls. I wasn't worried since I was shooting more all the time.
I realized that I hadn't seen Amy for weeks. Well I had seen her through her kitchen window, I just hadn't seen her as in date. The older man, who had been with her the night Erica stayed with me, returned a couple of times, but he didn't seem to be a regular in her life. I almost invited Amy to dinner but I decided against it.
I ate at Faircloth's alone that night. There was nothing unusual in my eating alone, just in my eating at a real restaurant. After dinner, I drove to Mercer's pier. I had been there often, so often, I had become known to all the snack bar employees.
"So Ed, where is the camera," the old woman asked.
I turned back to the snack bar counter, which I had just passed. "I left it home tonight. I just came to see how the fishing is going," I said.
"Not much going on, somebody caught a shark a while ago, other wise it is just the same old crap," she said with a grin.
"Well, I think I will take a walk anyway," I said heading onto the pier. I had absolutely no idea how long the pier was supposed to be. I guessed it to be about the length of a football field but I doubted it was really that long. I walked all the way to the end, then turned to walk slowly back. When I had first arrived in Wilmington, I had come to this pier. That night there had been about three people sitting huddled on benches. During the four months, I had stayed the number had grown steadily until on that night in June, there were almost two dozen people scattered about. I was surprised to find that many fishermen on a Wednesday night.
After my walk on the pier, I drove to the Holiday Inn. I stopped just inside the door to allow my eyes to adjust to the darkness. When my eyes finally penetrated the gloom, I saw tables here and there with couples, but mostly as I had been informed, the room was filled with women sitting alone or in pairs. I opted for a seat at the bar since married women left alone seldom sit at the bar.
"Well if it isn't my gigolo friend," the bartender said in a soft voice. "So how did it go with the Canadian slut?" she asked with a grin.
"She was fine, but she had no money," I informed her.
"Too bad," she said filling a large glass with coke.
I placed a twenty on the bar, "So, who do you have for me tonight." She knew it was part of the joke which had developed between us.
"Well let's see," she said looking over the lounge. "There is a woman over there with enough diamonds to start a jewelry store, but she isn't the type to have a fling." she said.
"Hey, she hasn't met me yet," I said. "But do go on."
"The one at the end of the bar is cool, but she doesn't seem to have any money. She is a lousy tipper," she said.
"God knows that is important," I said with a grin.
"You bet it is," she said with a wink. "There is a redhead sitting alone in the rear. She dresses real nice and she tips good."
"But sweetie, is she easy?" I asked.
"Hell I don't know. She did ask me if there were any places to dance nearby. You do dance don't you?" she asked.
"Not enough so that you would know it," I replied honestly.
"Then skip the redhead, she definitely wants to shake her ass," she said with a knowing smile.
"It looks like it's me and you kid," I said jokingly.
"Sorry, I can't afford you," she laughed as she turned to the woman at the end of the bar. I sat alone while she went to talk to the woman while fixing her a fresh drink. The woman was interesting looking only in that she seemed to be very tall. Close to my own six feet I would have guessed, she also seemed thin, maybe because she was so flat chested. At least in the silk blouse she appeared to be flat chested, which usually meant she was very flat chested.
I watched as the bartender make a sweep through he tables taking drink orders. I was alone with my thoughts for several minutes. I hadn't realized it until that moment, but the ending of the novel marked a kind of milestone. I realized that the novel had been my clock. I knew that when I finished the novel, it would be time to take another look at Sal. I pushed that out of my mind since I wasn't ready to think about him just yet. I knew it wouldn't be long, but not just now.
The very young and very attractive bartender sat a beer on the bar in front of me. "I didn't order that, you know I never drink, if I am going to be driving." I said playfully.
"I know but it looks like you won't be driving after all. One of the women ordered it for you," she informed me.
"My god, I have never had that happen before," I said honestly.
"Anything can happen here on a Wednesday night. I warned you remember?" she said laughing.
"So which one," I asked.
"A woman at the table half way down the wall on your right," she said with a smile that made me wonder what the hell was going on. "Don't look until I leave," she said walking away.
When she was at the far end of the bar, I turned to see the woman. 'My god,' I thought, 'she must be fifty.'
I waited until the bartender returned. "Did she say, I reminded her of her son?" I asked.
Fighting hard to control her laughter, the bartender said, "No, she said she wanted to meet you. Now be a good little gigolo and go talk to her," she demanded.
"I certainly hope you got a big tip for this," I said.
"I did, so scat," she said with a grin no one else could have seen.
I passed by a couple of much younger women on my way to the silver haired woman's table. "Hi, I wanted to come thank you for the beer. I'm sorry you wasted your money." I saw her face drop, so I sat down at the table. "I do not drink alcohol when I am going to be driving. I would like to sit and talk a few minutes though," I said.
"Very well, I guess I should have told her to refill you glass, instead of ordering a beer. You just look like a beer drinker," she said lightly.
"If I could break my own rule, I would drink beer here. The beer is so cold it hurts your teeth. I find that unusual and actually quite nice," I said trying to sound a little classy since this woman was definitely high classed.
"So are you on vacation," she asked.
"No, I live here," I said.
"Really, so you make a living stealing from us tourists?" she asked with a straight face.
"I guess that depends on your definition of stealing. If you mean holding a gun to their heads or slipping into their rooms while they are at dinner, then no. If you mean trying to relieve them of their extra money, then I guess I may be doing that." I said honestly.
"At least you are honest," she said. "I do find hypocrites boring."
"So, you are one of those people who likes the truth. At least as long as you control what subjects," I said.
"I don't know that I like that remark," she said. "That is if means what I think it means."
"To tell you the truth, I don't know what it means," I said honestly.
"Then I assume you would tell me the truth on any subject, even if it was counter productive your own interest," she said.
"Now, I'm not sure I understand. Do you mean that I would tell a woman she was ugly, even if I were in a relationship with her?" I asked.
"Exactly," she said.
"Then, hell no," I said smiling.
"So your truth is also selective," she suggested.
"That's true, but I don't ask people questions to solicit lies, then judge them for lying." I said.
"You do have a point there," she admitted. "So, do you have a name?"
"Ed," I said.
"My name is Patricia, but I think I would like for you to call me Pat," she informed me.
"So Pat, do you work?" I asked.
"I did once but that was a long time ago. Now I mostly play bridge and travel," she said.
"If you travel a lot, why on earth did you come here?" I asked.
"Good question, I have a house on Shell Island. Actually I had a house on Shell Island. I sold it yesterday. I rather doubt that I will ever come back here again." she admitted.
"Too bad, it is really rather a nice place to live," I said.
"So Ed, what is it that you do?" she asked.
"That is going to be rather hard to answer." I admitted.
"Well that means it is either illegal or artistic," she said with the first smile I had seen on her face.
"God you are good, I am sort of a combination painter and photographer," I replied.
"Now what in the world could that be?" she asked.
"You would have to see it to understand," I suggested.
"So where could I see your work?" she asked.
"At the moment, my studio is the only place," I said.
"God I'm getting old, I should have seen that coming," she said with a laugh I didn't expect.
It hit me wrong or maybe it was her superior attitude. "I don't know what you think I just said, but all I did was answer your question. There was no other implication intended," I snapped at her.
"Sure," she said in an irritating voice.
"Fine," I said standing to return to the bar.
"God, sit down Ed. You have made your grand gesture, and I am not impressed." she said.
At that point I could have walked away, hell I should have walked away, but for some reason I didn't. I sat back down. I wanted to say something to her, but I couldn't think of anything at that particular moment.
"Let's cut through the bull. If I hadn't been interested, I wouldn't have sent the drink. If you hadn't been interested you wouldn't have come over here, so let's just decide what it is we are interested in doing," she said logically.
"So what is it you want?" I asked.
"Well it damned sure isn't a viewing of your painting," she said with a smile. "I mean no offense, but I really don't want to go to some ratty studio, to be bored with a second rate artist."
"You know that is a bit cruel," I said.
"Think how much worse it would be if I had seen your work," she said with a knowing smile.
"You do have a point there," I admitted.
"The question is Ed, what do you want?" she asked.
"Some company, that isn't going to be a relationship," I said.
"Stop trying to sound like a woman's magazine," she demanded. "Just suck it up and tell me what it is you want."
"How about this, sex with absolutely no strings," I said.
"See now we can negotiate," she said with a wicked smile.
"Negotiate is a strange word to choose," I suggested.
"Not really, I want you to know exactly what you are getting into before we agree to sleep together." She waited for a response. I didn't make one so she went on, "If you do what I want, when I want, and how I want, then I will be satisfied. Now what do you want in exchange?" she asked.
"Why do I feel like a little company about to be swallowed by IBM?" I asked.
"Because that is exactly what you are," she said. "Look, don't feel bad this kind of thing happens all the time. Every encounter is a negotiation. I just like to get it clear going in."
"Okay, all I want is to have some fun, then walk away clean tomorrow morning," I said.
"Okay, but you are a lousy negotiator. You could have gotten a lot more," she said with a warm smile. "Now that we have settled that, why don't you have that beer?"
Actually I had a lot of beer. Not only that but the conversation wasn't all that bad once we both relaxed. In the end, she was as good as her word. We spent a wild night together. The next morning I left and never looked back.
During the next two weeks, I corrected the novel's computer file. When it was completed I mailed it off to Madge. I worked on the paintings until I was bored. I didn't start another short story because I knew it was time. Time that I began working on Sal. I hated the thought of leaving Wilmington. I had really come to feel at home. I had a great life, even if I did work most of the time. I knew I should walk away from Wilmington but I just couldn't. I wanted to stay so badly that I left everything in place when I drove to Raleigh to make the call.
"So how are you?" Eddie asked when I finally got him on the pay phone
"Not too bad, how about you?" I asked.
"Same old crap, I'll bet you miss it though?" he asked.
Sometimes," I replied honestly.
"Well, I got some bad news and some worse news," he informed me.
"Let's have it," I said.
"Sal won the war. He is so big that he is almost untouchable," Eddie said.
"You said almost?" I asked.
"Yeah, he goes out some, but he has a dozen men with him at all times. He is still terrified of a hit. Not from you, from the people he stepped on while heading up the ladder."
"So the bad news is it will be tough. I expected that," I said.
"The worse news it you can't do it right now," he said.
"Why not?" I asked.
"The Feds have him covered like a blanket," he said.
"Why?" I asked.
"I have no idea, but they are on him like stink on shit. If you try now, not only will you get busted, but they will do it before you get to him. They watch him closer than his own bodyguards." Eddie informed me.
"Eddie, you aren't on his payroll are you?" I asked with a sinking feeling.
When Eddie didn't answer, I knew the phone was tapped. I hung the phone up and drove just as quickly as I could away. Not so quickly as to break any traffic laws. During the four hour drive to Wilmington, I tried to think of any possible way Eddie could lead them to me. He knew nothing about any of my underground activities. I wanted to stay in Wilmington so badly that I decided to take the chance.
As I drove I tried to figure out Eddie's involvement. His silence may have been intended to let me know that the phone was tapped. Phone taps were not beyond the mob's capabilities but they were historically more in the FBI's area of expertise. Eddie might be cooperating with the Feds to save his club. It didn't really matter to me, if the Mob got me it was instant death, if the Feds got me there was the murder charge from New Mexico looking me in the face. My only hope lay in the fact that I had never been fingerprinted. It would be possible for me to get picked up by the locals on a traffic stop and still get cut loose, but just once. I decided that in either case, I needed to let Sal be for a while.
Even when I arrived back home, I worried. I should have taken off immediately but I really was tired of running. Not tired enough to turn myself in to either of my chasers, but too tired to start again, at least not at that particular moment.
With the novel finished, I had very little to do. I had gotten so practiced that I could do a short story start to finish in two days. I worked on the painting but couldn't show them for fear of them being recognized as similar to the ones from New Mexico. During the next couple of weeks my life got boring again. I was so desperate I considered buying a television set. I talked myself out of that one.
Madge came to my rescue. I received the following E mail.
"Who the hell do you think you are Michner???? M."
"Too long??? J."
"Yes but I wouldn't cut a word of it. I just don't know how the hell I am going to sell it, M."
"I thought you were going to publish it?????J."
"I was but this is too big for me.... I am going to act as your agent on this one,,,M."
"Okay, but not bedtime, and use another pen name....J."
"Pick one, and no I wouldn't sell anything to those assholes,,,M."
"Use a woman's name, J"
"How about we use the character's name???M."
"Sounds good to me, just remember where to send the check....J"
"No problem, I am not stupid enough to kill the goose, M."
"How about Doris for the Editing????J."
"Good idea, but it is going to cost,,,, M."
"Give her ten percent, you take twenty and I will take seventy,,,,J."
"So we split her editing fee. You really should pay it...M."
"The twenty five percent discount was always for you editing the short stories. Come on it's fair,,," I suggested.
Actually I didn't care about the five percent, I just didn't want Madge to think she could get over on me. After all, as far as I knew the Johnny Peterson name wasn't really blown. I could always go back and kick her beautiful ass.
"Okay, but she will have to be quick. I might have a buyer....M."
"A British publisher wants to make me an offer....M."
"By the way who the hell is Dr. Amy Holt????M."
Son of a bitch, I thought. I am blown. One thing about E mail. You have time to think, before you answer a question.
"A woman I met while on vacation in Wilmington a few month's ago why???J."
"Are you thinking of going to a shrink. If you are forget it. I don't want anyone screwing with you head, M."
"No shrinks for me, I just slept with her why the interest???? J." I tried to make it sound like no big deal.
"The bitch wrote me a letter on her office stationary. She wants to buy every video you wrote past, present and future...M."
"I guess I shouldn't have tried to impress her.....J."
"Probably wants them to try and figure how you could write so well and screw so bad....M."
"Give me her address, I might call her sometime????? J."
"The hell I will. I told you I don't want you involved with a shrink....M."
"What ever you say boss....J."
I tried to assess the damage. If the Johnny Peterson identity got blown, then Madge would be on the hot seat. She could give up Amy, who would give me up. I was suddenly in a really bad position. I needed to move on, but I just didn't want to do it. Even as I decided to stay, I began getting ready to leave. I began driving my car around to junk yards in the area. At the third one, I found a station wagon for sale. The small chevy wagon seemed to run okay. It also didn't seem to be burning oil, so I bought it. I removed the spare tire from the wagon and replaced it with the tire from my old car. I know the junk yard man thought I was crazy since the old tire wouldn't come close to fitting the wagon. I didn't explain that the tire held about seventy thousand dollars in cash.
That tire had gone with me through several different cars. People stole old junk cars a lot less often than they broke into houses. At least that was the theory I operated under. It had worked so far. I had never had a break-in either, but I figured the odds were better even that I would one day.
I began working on a new set of papers that day. I found a name, then wrote a letter to the clerk of court in the adjoining county. In a week or so, I should have a birth certificate. After that, it would be simple matter to assemble the other papers as I needed them.
Even with all the plans made to drop out again, I still wanted to stay. I tried to think of a way to save the Peterson identity. I needed to know exactly what Amy had written in her letter. Maybe she hadn't contradicted anything I told Madge. As an excuse to see Amy, I printed a couple of copies of the manuscript. I bought two red plastic three ring binders. I punched holes in the manuscript then installed them in the binders. Next I sat at my window waiting for Amy's car to appear in the drive. I saw her car pull up out front around seven that evening. I hurried around to catch her before she entered the house.
"Hi there stranger," I said cheerfully though I was less than cheerful.
"Hello yourself, I was beginning to think you had died," she said with a smile.
"No I have just been busy, I brought you something," I said handing her the binder.
"Your book," she said with a broad smile.
"One and the same, after you read it, if you want come up. I will autograph the manuscript for you." I said jokingly.
"God from the size of it, I won't be seeing you for a week," she said laughing.
"Two if you are a slow reader or get distracted easily," I said.
"Go home, so I can read without any distraction then," she said.
Finding out what she had told Madge was going to have to wait. I sure as hell didn't want to alarm her. "Fair enough, come on up when you finish, that is if I am still young enough to hold a pen," I said.
"Get out of here Ed, I have reading to do," she said but she smiled as she said the harsh words.
I painted, I wrote a short story for Madge's production company, and I walked the floors waiting to find out about Amy's letter to Madge. I waited two days without any word from Amy. I knew she was reading the manuscript because she sat naked at the kitchen table each night with it and a bottle of bourbon.
The third day was a Wednesday and I was a bundle of nerves from the waiting. I drove to the beach but without the camera. I walked the pier trying to relax but I knew I never would. After two hours trying to think clearly, I gave up and drove to the Holiday Inn.
"For an unemployed man you don't seem too interested in working," the bartender said as she poured me a coke.
"I know, I am just dirt lazy," I said.
"So how was the geritol set," she asked grinning broadly.
"Not bad after I got past the whip and boot stage," I said. When she laughed out loud, I knew that she had an inkling about the woman all along. "You really should have warned me that she was a Nazi." I said with a smile.
"Why, she gave me twenty bucks to get you to her table," she said.
"It was worth more," I said seriously. "If I had known, I would have given you forty to keep me away. So what you got for me tonight?"
"Look around the place is full. This place reeks of estrogen," she said with a smile.
"Yeah but which ones are ripe," I said looking around.
"The two at the bar have been talking about sex for the last hour," she said.
I gave them a better look. They could have been sisters with their bleached hair and sunburned faces. Not only that they had similar bodies. Just plain ordinary, but I have never been drawn to any particular body type so I mentally marked them as possible.
"Other than those two, I really don't know. I have been too busy to eavesdrop. Besides I never know when you are going to be working," she giggled like the kid she was.
"I might just surprise you and go home alone," I said.
"That would be a surprise. I don't think any man could get out of here without being raped." she said seriously. "This place is like a wolf's den and you are a rump roast."
"Now, now, you mustn't make fun of the tourist. After all where would we be without them?" I asked.
"I don't know about you, but I would be in college. If I didn't make so much money here, I would have gone back to school last year." she said sadly.
I watched as she walked to the two women sitting at the bar. After she refilled their glasses she make a quick walk through the lounge taking orders. Nobody bought me a drink so I continued to sit on my stool alone. After two more cokes, I went to the men's room. As I turned to reenter the lounge, I almost knocked a woman down as she tried to leave the room.
"I'm sorry," I said.
"My fault, I am just so clumsy." The woman said as she walked away without showing any interest in me at all.
Obviously all the women weren't interested in getting laid by a stranger. I returned to my seat at the bar. I was about to move down the bar to sit beside the two younger women when a woman about my own age sat down beside me. I wouldn't have thought much about it except there were seats available all down the bar. She had picked the seat beside me.
"Do you have a light," she asked holding a cigarette.
"Tell you what, I will light your cigarette, but only if you don't complain about my cigar," I informed her.
"Why should I complain about your cigar?" she asked.
"Most women hate the smell of a cigar," I explained.
"Not me, I smoke them myself on occasion," she replied. "But not those."
"Too small?" I asked.
"Exactly, I like something a little larger at least," she said with a wicked smile.
"Well, I'm afraid it's all I have," I said lighting the long thin cigar.
She chose not to answer me which was a good choice. "So you down for the week?" I asked.
"Yep, hubby left me down here, so he could screw his secretary," she said angrily.
"Yeah, some men are pigs," I said.
"All men are pigs," she corrected.
"So they are," I agreed.
"So what kind of pig are you?" she asked.
"The kind who doesn't kiss and tell," I suggested.
"My kind of man," she said with a smile. A few moments passed before she spoke again. "So are you a tourist?"
"Not hardly," I said.
"So what do you do?" she asked.
"I am kind of an artist," I said.
"Oh," she said without any interest whatsoever. "Me, I'm a housewife, the kids are off at camp so hubby dumped me here without even a car."
"Too bad," I said not knowing the right thing to say.
"I want to do something fun, how about you take me dancing?" she asked.
"Sorry, I don't dance," I said looking at the bartender for help. She just shrugged and continued to ignore me.
"Then how about a walk on the beach?" she asked.
"Now, that I can do," I said standing to leave. I didn't bother to pick up the dregs of my twenty, even though I knew I would be leaving from the beach for home. I had come to the conclusion that I wasn't going to meet anyone that night. I was just too worried about Amy to think about women. If this one hadn't been so insistent, I would have gone home anyway.
I just about half listened to her troubles as we walked along the beach. I didn't bother to answer because she didn't want an answer. All she wanted was too complain about her husband's rotten treatment of her. I just wanted to kill time until Amy finished the book so that I could quiz her on the letter.
I was so lost in thought that I walked about ten yards past where the woman had stopped. "Hey," she almost shouted. "You want to wait for me?"
"I'm sorry, I didn't know you had stopped," I said embarrassed by my lack of attention to her.
"What do I have to do to get men to pay attention to me?" she asked.
"Take a break," I said.
"What?" she asked angrily.
"Give the stories about your miserable life a rest," I said solemnly.
"I don't think I like you," she said.
"I don't blame you. There are times I don't like myself." I admitted.
"You are right though, I need to stop dwelling on what a jerk my husband is," she said.
"That would probably be for the best. You know we have gone a long way, we should probably be heading back." I said.
"If I promise not to mention my husband, could we sit on the dune and look out at the ocean for a while?" she asked.
"Sure," I said not trusting myself to say more. I followed her between the dunes then to the top of the largest one.
"The ocean is really beautiful," she commented. "It kind of give me perspective on how small my problems really are."
"That's true enough," I said.
"Have you ever been married Ed?" she asked.
At first I thought she was about to start up again. I answered anyway, "No, I never have."
"They are all great at first, then something happens. Sometimes it is something big, but other times it is a lot of small things. It doesn't even matter what. You go from one day being a family, to a bunch of people living in the same house the next. It must be a universal thing. All my friends have pretty much the same stories." she said sadly.
"I guess, it is how you handle the distance that is important," I said. I could see she didn't understand. "The distance between the bunch of humans living in the same house. I expect, you can dwell on the distance or you can try to bridge it with friendship. You do know, love and friendship have nothing whatsoever to do with each other."
"I don't know, maybe when I get home." the thought just kind of never got finished.
"I think it is time I took you home. I should be heading home myself." I said.
"Ed, would you stay with me tonight. I haven't had sex with my husband in six months. I would like to be with someone again. Just to see if I still can," she said with a smile.
"Sure, but it's like riding a bike," I said.
Sex with her lacked a lot of passion, but there was certainly warmth in it. She was almost pitiful in her desire to please me. It was physically satisfying but emotionally disturbing. She had somehow been, just too damned real.
She stayed on my mind that next day, until I got absorbed in the short story. I might have thought of her again, but I just got too busy. After I finished the short story, I began working on the new pictures which I had retrieved from the post office on my trip home.
I painted on them for several hours without a break. When I finally took a break, I walked onto my covered porch to smoke a cigar. I was half way through it when I saw Amy's car pull into the drive. She waved as she walked into her house. I noted that she was early today. It was barely after five. She stayed in her house only a few minutes, then came out carrying the red binder.
"Well I finished it," she said as she reached the top of my stairs.
"Good for you," I said. "Do you want to trash it or have me sign it?"
"I think, sign it," she said with a smile.
"Well come on in while I find a pen," I said standing, then tossing the cigar into the yard to join a couple of dozen more.
I had forgotten that Amy hadn't been inside my apartment since I began painting again. "My god did you do these?" she asked. pointing to the pictures covering the walls.
"That depends on whether you like them or not," I said.
She didn't answer, she went from wall to wall admiring the prints. "Of course I like them. Some of them are amazing," she said. "God you have so many talents."
"I try to stay busy," I said.
"Are you going to sell these," she asked.
"Maybe someday, but not just now." I said.
"I want to buy this one for my office," she demanded pointing to a shot of a shrimp boat with his nets extended. I had changed the shot from daylight to night with a few strokes of the paint brush.
"If you like it than just take it," I suggested.
"Not a chance, an artist should be paid for his work," she stated emphatically.
"Okay, give me a thousand dollars," I said.
"I don't have that kind of money, and frankly it isn't worth that much to me," she grinned.
"Then take it," I said again.
"Okay, but I am going to do something for you in exchange. Just as soon as I think of the right thing." she said.
"So let's talk about the book. How did you like it?" I asked.
"The book is wonderful, I just wish I had the words to tell you. I mean it is dirty but the people in it seem real somehow. You know not the two dimensional characters of your regular stuff. These people could be the kids next door." she said.
"I wish," I admitted.
"There is so much graphic sex, I doubt it would ever be appreciated for what it is," she suggested.
"I guess only time will tell," I said.
"I got a message from my manager. She tells me you wrote to her for copies of the tapes?" I made it a question.
"Sure, I couldn't find them locally, so I wrote to the production company. I had no idea she was also a literary agent." Amy said.
"I have kind of been hiding out from her. If I don't, she is on the phone every hour wanting to know how things are coming. You didn't tell her you were my neighbor did you?" I asked.
"Lord no, I didn't tell her anything at all," she said.
"Good, then maybe she won't be bugging me every hour on the hour," I said.
"How could she, you don't even have a phone," Amy observed.
"That's why I don't have a phone, but she could begin calling you to deliver messages." I said.
"If she does, I will deny that I know you," Amy suggested.
"That sounds like a good plan to me," I admitted.
"Now back to the book," she said. "You could clean it up and still get it published. I mean there is a real story, about real people hidden inside this trash."
"I thought you liked the trash?" I asked.
"I guess I do, but this," she said holding the manuscript. "Is so much more than trash."
"Well, maybe I will write my life's story one day. It, I guarantee won't be pornographic," I promised.
"Sure it would," she said. "I have a feeling you have been around plenty."
"Really, exactly how many women have you seen up here?" I asked.
"One, but she was a knockout," Amy said.
"I didn't think you noticed," I admitted.
"I noticed," she said simply without any more elaboration. "So, sign my manuscript so I can get back to work. I have to run back to the office to see a patient."###
"You working late tonight, I thought you didn't take evening patients during tourist season?" I asked.
"I don't, this one is some kind of emergency," she said.
"Don't forget your picture," I reminded her as she walked out the door.
I worked late into the night on a short story for Madge. I looked at Amy's apartment often, although I saw her light, I didn't see her in the kitchen. I finally gave up on her and the story. I fell exhausted into the bed. I was sound asleep when they came. They came without warning. I heard the splinter of my door, but was far to deep into sleep to react fast enough. I opened my eyes to the rather terrifying sight of a twelve gauge shotgun in my face.
"Don't move you son of a bitch or I will blow you all over this room," the voice said from the dark.
I knew when the voice which came from the living room that it was the FBI. "I have the shotgun," the voice said. I watched helplessly as they searched my pants. One of them removed the derringer before throwing the pants on my bed. "Get dressed Mr. Amos, we are going for a ride." he said.
The same voice from the same shadow said, "Jimmy pack everything up. Don't leave anything." The voice paused a minute then continued, "Mike you drive his station wagon. I don't want any trace of him left in this apartment."
The only sound had been the splintering of the door. I wasn't surprised that none of my neighbors were awakened. Two of the shadows hustled me down the stairs, then through the alley. I might have screamed, had it not been for the duct tape over my mouth. The FBI was acting more like the Gestapo.
I was inside a car and out of the neighborhood in just minutes. One of the agents removed the tape from my mouth. "Sorry about that, we couldn't take a chance on you making a racket," he said.
"Do you always make arrests by dragging people out in the middle of the night?" I asked.
"I'm sorry, I can't talk to you about the operation. It will all be explained to you at the office," he said.
I had to admit to myself, I didn't understand. I was terrified, but I didn't really know why. The ride took us north out of Wilmington. I tried to guess where we were headed, but I really had no idea. The car stopped at a highway rest stop to allow me to use the bathroom, then was off again still headed north. At one point the car pulled through a drive through window at a fast food restaurant. I ate a biscuit filled with animal fat, while the car continued on down the road at an alarming rate.
By three, we crossed from North Carolina into Virginia. More highway rest stops, and more fast food drive thru, took us well into Virginia. It was well after dark when the car pulled onto what might have been the campus of a small college. When it finally pulled to a stop, I was led quickly but not especially carefully into one of the old brick building. I noticed that it was in need of paint, otherwise it could have been an old college building on most any southern campus. I still had it in my mind that I was on a college campus.
I was taken to a room with a small cot by the barred window. The room had the feel of a college dorm room, even though I had never been inside a dorm in my short life. "You have to be tired Mr. Amos, so just try to rest. We will explain everything to you in the morning," the Shadow who had sat with me all day in the car said. I simply nodded since I had learned during the long drive, he would not answer my questions. I fell on the bed. I slept in my clothes that night. I sensed even in my sleep, people coming and going outside my door and even in the room.
When I awoke the next morning, it was to the far away sound of a bugle blowing, God only knew what. I stepped from the bed fully dressed. I explored the room for the first time. There was a door leading into a very small bathroom. I wanted to brush my teeth then take a shower. I found, folded on the dresser, a set of military fatigues and a tooth brush complete with toothpaste. I used all the items. I was surprised that everything fit me rather well.
After my shower I tried the door, only to find it locked from the outside. I sat in the chair by the bed waiting for someone to come for me. I didn't have to wait very long. It was so soon after I checked the door that I suspected a surveillance camera.
The door opened slowly. A man dressed in the same type fatigues entered the room carrying a tray. Without a word he sat the tray on the dresser where my clothes had been when I awoke. When he had gone, I lifted the stainless steel cover from the tray. Inside I found a complete breakfast. It even included orange juice and coffee. I ate and drank everything on the tray.
Not ten minutes later the same man returned to carry the tray away. His prompt arrival served to even further convince me I was being watched. I made a careful scan of the room. I saw nothing out of place. I therefore assumed the camera was in the clock. I took a good look at the face and saw the small hole surrounded by the manufacturer's logo. When I was sure, I went into the bathroom and picked my shirt off the floor. I carried it to the main room, then draped it over the clock. Seconds later the door burst open. Two different men in fatigues rushed into the room with guns drawn. They found me seated in the chair.
"Just checking," I said with a smile.
"That really wasn't very smart, Mr. Amos," one of the men said.
"I just wanted to get your attention. I have slept and I have eaten, lets either get this show on the road or I want to see a lawyer." I said.
"You haven't been charged with a crime. You don't need a lawyer." the man informed me.
"In that case, I would like to leave," I demanded.
"I'm afraid you can't do that just now," the man said.
"So, I have been arrested but not charged. Isn't that against the law?" I asked.
"You have been taken into protective custody. I have a court order authorizing us to do that," he said.
"Then let's get on with whatever you think you want with me," I demanded.
"Sure, come with me," he said holding the door for me.
I followed him down the hall and past three other doors. He led me into a room exactly like the one I had slept in, except this one had no bed. Instead it had a small table and four straight chairs. The man motioned me into one of the chairs. I looked around the walls and spotted the same type clock on the wall. I wasn't surprised that my interview would be taped.
I sat with the agent standing over me for about five minutes, then the door opened and two more men came through it. These two were in suits. I waited for them to say the first words.
"It sure is good to finally meet you, Mr. Amos. You led us on quite a chase," the agent said.
"So how did you find me?" I asked.
"I think we will let that on rest a while. So how do you feel this morning?" he asked.
"Look Agent?" I asked.
"Sams, Agent Sams," he replied.
"Agent Sams, I suppose you want me to cooperate with something you are doing. If you don't answer my questions, I assure you I will not answer yours." I said with a smile.
"So, you are going to be a hard ass," he said threateningly.
"Don't waste your time," I said. "I only have the one question, then I will tell you anything you want to know. If I don't know, I will make something up for you. Just tell me first how you found me." I demanded.
"Money does strange things to people," he said.
"Who the hell could you bribe, you didn't have any idea who I was," I said.
"You really are stupid," he said enjoying the game. "When you finished that book, Madge knew she had a winner. She also knew you were on the run from the mob. You must have told her something when you left Saint Marie. She just didn't care until she saw a chance to make a mint from your book. She had no idea where to find you, but she thought that your little friend Amy might know. She tried to have the boys who run Bedtime look you up. They made a few calls. They found out who you probably were. They were on the way to pay you a visit when we moved you." the man said. "Now say thank you."
My mind raced, "So you were Amy's emergency."
"You are pretty sharp, once you have the clues. You would have had to be, to stay away from the mob for two and a half years. Too bad you weren't smart enough to keep Alisha alive." he said.
I tried real hard to get across the table at him, but I didn't make it. The agents in fatigues held me back. I calmed down, then waved the guards away. "You don't seem to have done much better with Evelyn." I said.
"That is a different matter entirely," he said. "Why don't you tell us what happened in the Camel's den."
I laid it all out for him. "It isn't going to do you any good, because I didn't see any of them. I was in the bathroom when they slaughtered those men." I said.
"I just need you to tell that same story in court. You do that and we put the killers away. We get them convicted and facing a death sentence, then they will roll over on Sal. When Sal goes to the needle, your problems are over." he said.
"Bullshot, you and I both know that even if you get a conviction, there will be appeals and maybe a new trial. At anytime my death would be a real possibility. Even worse, you are going to try to get Sal to roll on his friends. If that happens then everybody will be out to clean up Sal's crap. They will figure that once Sal's threat has been removed, he might stop talking. My life as I know it is over," I said.
"At least there won't be any surprises to tell you about later,." the agent said.
"There are a couple of things you can do for me," I demanded.
"What?" he asked.
"Bring the spare tire from my station wagon here, and let me see Evelyn," I said smiling.
"Evelyn is dead," he said.
"Right and Hitler was a jew," I replied. "You said yourself when I have a clue, I pick up on it real fast. My testimony is only good to put her in the bar. Sure the story about New Mexico will inflame the jury against Sal, but you have to have Evelyn to make it work. So I want to see her." I said.
"She is dead and that is that," he said.
"Well then, since my testimony is no good to you, I will be leaving. I don't think you can make that protective custody hold up, if I am not a material witness. I saw nothing, so I can testify to nothing except the color of the bathroom tile."
The suits left the room to me and the men in fatigues. "You guys wouldn't like to play some poker would you?" I asked. I saw the flicker of a smile cross each one of their faces.
"Okay, then how about I have a cup of coffee?" I asked. "Since I know about the camera, maybe they will send a cup in for me." Five minutes later the coffee arrived. I sat drinking it and waiting for them to decide their next move. I knew mine, I was through cooperating until I saw Eve.
Thirty minutes later, one of the two suits returned. "Okay, Miss Thomas is alive, but she is not in this area. We have relocated her to another state. If you cooperate, we will arrange a meeting," he said. "As for the tire, do you want the whole thing or just the money?"
"The money will be fine. I wouldn't mind having the money from my apartment either," I said.
"We will hold all of it for you. There really isn't much you can do with it here," he informed me.
"Fine, do something else for me will you?" I asked.
"If I can, what is it?" he asked.
"Get my damned novel from Madge," I said.
"I was just coming to that, sign this power of attorney. Our man will have the book in an hour after I fax him the copy."
I signed gladly. I would rather some cop had the money than Madge. The bitch had sold me out for something that belonged to me. Talk about twisted.
"So get your statement ready, and I will sign it," I said.
"Actually we have it ready now," he said producing another paper. I signed that one without hesitation. He handed the document to another suit who appeared that very moment. "Now all you have to do is explain, how you managed to stay two steps ahead of everybody."
"I don't think so," I said. "I may need to run again."
"I really must insist you tell me," the agent said.
"Insist all you like, I am telling you nothing." I said. "Besides you can figure it out."
"There are lots of ways to have accomplished what you did, I just want to know which ones you used," he said.
"Sorry, you can figure it out on someone else," I said. "How about telling me something, how did you fake Eve's death.
"We didn't have to fake it, Sal's, people blew up an empty car. I have no idea why it went up before she got inside, but she was eating breakfast when she saw it go up. Unfortunately she got hit by a lot of flying glass. She was taken the emergency room We just went in and snatched her, just like we did you."
"So, when do I get to see the little lady?" I asked.
"Have a heart Amos, we have only had you a little more than a day. It is going to take sometime to set up the meet." he said.
"Okay, how about my things from the apartment?" I asked.
"The truck arrived late last night. Don't worry about your tire, we towed the whole car up here. Your money is tucked away all cozy in the Chief Judge advocate's safe," he informed me.
"So how long do I have to stay here," I asked.
"A few days, just till we figure out what to do with you," he said.
"How about a suggestion?" I asked.
"We try to give you as much input as possible in the decisions," he said.
"Good, then give me a trial date, then a ten minute head start," I said.
"Anything else?" he asked with a smile.
"Sure, my money would be nice," I admitted.
"If I did that, how do I know you would be back for the trial?" he asked.
"Hey, I would give you my word," I said.
"I think I will just keep you in sight," he replied.
"We need to take you down for prints and a photo," he said.
"Like hell, before I allow you to photo or print me, I want a lawyer," I demanded in a firm tone. "I have stayed out of trouble because there are no pictures of me. The bad guys don't have one and I would prefer it stay that way," I said.
"The picture is just for us," he said.
"Then make one from you video tape," I said.
"You know, I could book you for the murders in New Mexico. If I did that I could print you," he explained.
"The jury would be out about ten minutes, then vote to hang you," I said.
"You have a point, but I would still have your prints," he said.
"How about a compromise, You let me shave, I let you photo me, but you have to forget the prints," I said.
"Why?" he asked.
"Sal has said he has as many cops on his payroll, as the town of Fayetteville," I said.
"That's bull," the agent said.
"Probably true, but he only needs one. If my prints are on file, any cop can get a copy. I would just as soon that not happen." I said.
"I give you my word they will go into the classified witness protection files. Nobody can get them." he informed me.
"Are you Jewish," I asked.
"No why?" he said.
"I just wanted to make sure that your 'trust me', wasn't Hebrew for fuck you." I said.
"So do I get my picture and prints?" he asked.
"Do I get a razor?" I asked.
"Sure," he turned from me, then spoke to one of the fatigued guards. "Get Mr. Amos a razor of some kind."
Thirty minutes later, I was standing clean shaven in my room trying to clean the printers ink from my hands. I was still scrubbing my hands when the door opened. The guard brought in my laptop computer. The AIC thought you might like to have this," he said.
"What for, I don't have a buyer for anything I write," I said.
I was sorry the games had been cleaned from the computer. I would have enjoyed playing cards against the computer. Instead I began to write about Alisha. I planned to write a very detailed account of our time together. When I finished for the day, I called the guard to ask for my printer. When he brought it a few minutes later, I printed the first chapter of the story.
It was bedtime when the last of the pages chugged from the printer. The next morning, I began to work on chapter two. I did it just as soon as my breakfast tray was gone. I worked on the book until eleven when the guard came to take me for a walk. As all prisoners do, I began to take stock of my surroundings. There were no fences or guard tower in the compound. Like I said before, it looked like a college campus to me. I understood by that time that it was an old part of a military base. Since the FBI and the marines were so closely linked, I had to assume that I was somewhere on the Quantico reservation.
That bit of information, I stored with all the other useless information I collected. When I finished chapter two Alisha story, I asked the guard to get me the AIC. When the Agent in Charge arrived, I negotiated to have the first two chapters sent to Reader's Digest.
"Why?" he asked.
"I don't expect any of those bozos can read but if they can, I want them to know why I am rolling over on them," I explained. "I want it printed under my real name. If the digest buys it, you can have the money for the widows and children's fund."
"So you want to rub Sal's nose in it," he asked.
"Damn right," I said.
"I love it," he agreed.
After that things settled into a routine. Everyday I wrote a little on the novel. Around ten, one of the guards and I took long walks around the compound. No matter how far I went, I never saw a fence. I saw other workers about, but the guard would not allow me to speak to them.
Everyday after lunch, I asked about seeing Eve. Every day the answer was the same, 'we are working on it'. Everyday I pushed to have more of my personal belongings brought to me. I began to collect more and more information about my guards and the location of the compound. The guard detail changed every thirty days. This group had been on a week when I arrived. I pushed everyone for information and gave as little as possible in return.
After two weeks, the AIC came in after lunch. "Good news Amos, we are going to take you out of here," he said.
"Hey, one prison is the same as another," I said.
"You just don't listen you aren't in prison, you are in protective custody. Anyway we are going to take you to the farm," he said.
"The farm?" I asked.
"It isn't as secure as this place, but it is a lot more comfortable. You will be staying there until the trial. After the trial, we will relocate you," he explained.
"So, is Eve at the farm?" I asked.
"As a matter of fact she is," he said.
"In that case, when do we make the move?" I asked.
"First thing in the morning," he explained. "We will drive out there right after breakfast."
"Then I will be looking forward to the drive," I said.
As sure as day follows night, the AIC and his buddy were at the compound right after breakfast. I loaded my computer equipment into his car. I had most of the trunk and back seat filled with my junk. The drive required several hours on the road. The procedure was the same as on the kidnap trip, highway rest stops and drive through food. If I had my money, I could have made a break for it most anytime. I was seated alone in the rear and the doors had working handles. Without the money, there was no chance to get started again.
We were in the drive of the farm when I realized I did have money. Money they couldn't get to for a while. I had the money in the Charlotte bank. That money was in a checking account for which I had the number but no checks. It was also in the name Johnny Peterson for which I had no ID. Mere technicalities, I reminded myself, if only I had remembered the money on the trip up.
There would be other chances I assured myself. I tried to remember the amount of money in the account. Since I never touched any of it, there should be a few thousand in it. Not nearly enough but some.
The car stopped in front of a very large, white frame house. I followed the agents into the house. We were met by a woman around forty years old. She was attractive enough, but not really dressed to draw attention to herself. She looked as though she belonged in a house like this. All money and good breeding, with maybe a dash of blue blood tossed into the mix.
"Mr. Amos," she said taking my hand. "My mane is Emily Arnold, I have certainly heard a lot about you. Please let me show you around.
"Pardon me ma'am, I would like to see Evelyn Thomas before I take the grand tour," I said.
"Didn't they tell you, Evelyn is off appearing before some grand jury or some such thing. She should return within a few days. In the meantime you really should take the tour," she said leading me away again. As we walked through the mansion she explained it's history which bored the hell out of me. I glanced behind once in a while and noted the second string agent following. I expect, he wanted to make sure I didn't rape the lady of the house.
"Now Mr. Amos, you have seen it all, what do you think of my little home?" she asked.
"This is really your home?" I asked.
"Oh yes, it has been in the family for six generations." She lowered her voice pretending to whisper confidentially to me. I had no doubt the whole place was bugged so she needn't have bothered. "You see, Mr. Amos, my father drank a little more than he should have. The farm was in terrible financial shape when he died. I almost lost the place. I would have, had it not been for an uncle in the Senate. That, and of course the FBI helping me out." she said.
"So it is still your farm?" I asked.
"Most certainly, I lease all the out buildings and the grounds to the FBI, but it all still belongs to me." she said confidently.
"It certainly is a most interesting place," I said.
"Yes, but you are by far the most famous visitor I have ever had here," she said.
"Oh no, you must be mistaken, I am not famous," I replied meaning every word of it.
"Really, the agents told me you were a famous author and a very brilliant man. They said you had slipped away from the Mafia on several occasions, and that you had lived by your wits for two and a half years. Surely that is something to be proud of," she said.
"Gee, there are so many things wrong with that little story I hardly know where to begin," I said intending to straighten her out.
"Mr. Amos is a very modest man," the AIC said. "Why don't we allow him to rest, he has been traveling way too long."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to detain you. Please come back for tea some afternoon," the woman said.
We were outside and walking toward the concrete block barn when I asked, "What the hell was that all about?"
"Who the hell knows," the head agent said. "Her uncle, the senator, demands that we treat her like the lady of the manor. She thinks she is entertaining here. She has never understood this is a hideout."
"So, is she going to run to the grocery store and tell everyone she has a famous author living in her house?" I asked concerned for my own safety.
"We don't allow he to go into town alone. Even her uncle knows she is a flake," he said.
"Good for you, I was beginning to wonder about you guys," I said.
After a few more seconds walking we arrived at one of the barns. The barn was two stories high with an even higher metal Dutch roof. I followed him through the walk door and into something that definitely was no longer a barn. We walked down a hallway into a small open area. From the small commons, four closed doors could easily be seen.
"You are in unit three," the agent said. He unlocked the door, then made a point of handing me the key. I suppose it was to make me feel less like a bug under a microscope. In my case it was a waste of time. I knew there would be cameras and microphones in every room.
I followed him into an apartment, which was much better than anywhere I had ever lived. I was very uncomfortable. "I am not going to give you the guided tour, but you can probably find everything." he said.
"What about my computer and the other things?" I asked.
"They have already been placed in the upstairs bedroom," he said just exactly like the lord of the manor. The whole arrangement seemed way too contrived. I had obviously been moved to a nicer prison. "If you need anything just lift the phone. I am afraid it only goes to the housekeepers residence, but she will take care of anything you need." he said turning his back on me.
"Agent Sims," I called.
"Yes?" he asked.
"I thought this was all run by federal marshals," I suggested.
"They get you after the trial. Until then you belong to us," he said with a grin.
"Thanks," I said. After he left, I took a look around my velvet cage. At least this one had a television and a microwave. I checked the refrigerator and found a nice selection of frozen foods.
I was surprise to be awaken by a knock on the door. I slipped into my pants and opened it. I found a woman in her fifties, holding a tray just like the one from my last prison.
"Would you like breakfast sir?" she asked.
"Sure, but do you do this for all the meals?" I asked.
"Unless you prefer to cook your own meals?" she asked.
"No thanks, you have to be a better cook than me," I said.
"I bring breakfast to the apartments, but we have a dinning room set up in the small barn for the other meals," she explained.
"That sounds reasonable to me," I said.
"Very well, is there anything else you need," she asked.
"No ma'am, I think this will do just fine," I said. I closed the door and stood holding the tray. For this kind of treatment they must plan on Sal rolling up the whole mob, I thought. The food was slightly better than it had been at Quantico. I finished the whole tray before I stopped eating. I had to admit, I was probably eating healthier than I had since I left home, all those years before.
After breakfast, I showered then decided to test my prison's limits. I went for a walk. I sat the tray on the floor outside my door since I had no idea what else to do with it. I left the barn and began to walk through the fields. I had to admit the guards were pretty well hidden. I caught sight of only one man roaming around with a radio stuck to his head. I would bet my life, he wasn't listening to rock and roll. As a matter of fact that was exactly what I was doing.
I took a good look at the lay of the land. Getting out would be difficult since the place had to be secured against anyone getting inside. It took me a long time to figure out how they did it. There had to be a quick reaction force on the property, maybe more than one. They probably used a lot of fancy electronic security crap. Any intruder would be met by a team of armed guards. An assault by mobsters was pretty unlikely. After a couple of hours walking, I tired. Back at the barn, I looked around for some sign of wires on the outside. There were none, so it was a pretty good bet they were underground. My instincts told me there would be at least one fiber optic cable running to the monitor station.
"It was going to be a tough nut to crack," I told myself.
I settled in during the afternoon. I began working on my first non pornographic novel. I worked on it all afternoon. I realized I had missed lunch. I didn't expect anyone worried about me, since I was absolutely sure they were watching me on their TV screens somewhere close.
I did make it to the six o'clock dinner. There I met one of the other inmates. It was rather dumpy little man with the glasses of an accountant or a computer nerd. Neither of us discussed out particular problems. What he talked about, and I listened to was baseball. He seemed to be a Chicago Cubs fan. That pretty much determined where he was from. I never heard of anyone outside Chicago being a cubs fan.
When he took a break from talking baseball, I asked, "So how many guest are there at this resort?"
"Five of us, you me and three women. I guess women are the ones who really know the dirt," he said with a girls giggle.
"I guess," I said.
"Is one of the Women named Evelyn?" I asked.
"Sure, Evelyn is a really nice lady," he said. "How do you know her?"
"I don't think I should discuss it," I said
For the next two days I plugged away at the novel, while I walked the compound, trying to guess where everything was located. Maybe it was the running or maybe my distrust of cops in general, but I just felt something was fishy. I had no real evidence, it just didn't feel right.
At two in the afternoon of my third day on the farm she came. She knocked on my door bold as brass. The woman standing at my door was a stranger. "I know I have had a lot of surgery, but don't you recognize me?" she asked.
"Evelyn?" I asked. "Is that really you?"
"Of course it's me," she said moving herself into position to kiss me. "God, it's good to see you. They told me about Alisha, I am so sorry," she said with a truly sad look on her face. She was very good, but she wasn't Eve. I made the instant decision to go along.
"So how do you feel," I asked.
"Fine now, I was cut up pretty badly from the glass, but I'm fine. The doctors did a first rate job on my face. Hell I got a face lift without having to pay for it." she said.
Her voice was the same as I remembered. I began to doubt myself. Her gestures were even the same. She seemed a little larger in the hips and breasts but she might have gained a few pounds. Maybe it was Eve. I wanted to ask her questions, but I knew the watchers would be put on guard if I did.
"By the way, I brought you a present," she said handing me the computer disk I had sent to Madge. "Sims has all the copies she ran off," she said.
"God, I can't get over the change in you. They really did a good job on your face," I said pretending not to notice any other differences.
"This old thing," she said with a smile. "I hear you led them a merry chase. Tell me all about it?" she asked.
"Not right now, I want to talk about you," I said trying desperately to think of something to say to her. "Are you writing anything?" I asked.
"You know me, I have no imagination. I am a reporter not a writer like you. Nothing ever happens here, so there is nothing for me to write about." she said. "I hear you did real well for yourself with the old computer," she said.
"I just fell into it. I couldn't go back to the tables with Sal looking for me. I just hit on this by accident." I said.
"Well you always were great in bed," she said. Someone should have told her not to volunteer anything. She had just confirmed my suspicions. The agents had just assumed that anyone writing porn had to be a hound. It was a bad mistake.
"Talking about it with them listening is a little embarrassing," I said.
"I know, it take a little getting used to. In a couple of months you won't even know they are there." she said.
"I haven't gotten that far yet," I said with a warm smile.
"So I guess we aren't going to renew old habits," she said with relief on her face.
"I really would like to, but I just can't. Not knowing some cop is going to be watching," I said. "You do understand it isn't personal."
"Not problem, but just as soon as you get used to the cameras I am going to screw your brains out," she said with a laugh.
"I am going to hold you to that," I said. "In the meantime, how about a walk?"
"I can't, I have to go to class," she said.
"What kind of class?" I asked.
"I am learning how to be a different person. They will start you soon. You have to be able to fit in somewhere else," she said.
"So what are you going to be when you grow up?" I asked.
"I am going to own a horse farm out west," she said.
"Really, I would have expected something along the lines of a small town paper," I suggested.
"Not me, I never want to even read a newspaper again," she said. "Look, I have to run. I will see you at dinner."
I knew somewhere on the property there were half a dozen men wondering if I had bought the fake Eve. It was pretty obvious what had happened. Eve had died in the car bomb. The FBI had quickly grabbed her body, then substituted this Eve. They had been able to keep her hidden waiting for the trial. Picking me up before the mob hit was a calculated risk. My story would help give Eve, even more credibility. If I didn't go along, I was going to find myself a real part of the farm, forever. I had no problems with them lying to get Sal. Hell I had planned to murder him myself. The problem would be, if I didn't recognize their Eve as Eve, they would never be able to trust me to keep my mouth shut. I would, but they couldn't know that for sure. If I even hinted that I didn't believe the impostor was the real Eve, I was going to find myself real dead, real quick. I knew I wasn't a good enough actor to fool them for too long. I had to do something about getting out of here and getting lost again. To do that, I needed my money and my papers.
I hoped to fool them until after the trial. If I did that, I could just walk away with my money. The problem was I might not be able to pull it off. I began to wonder if the others were plants. Maybe they were all here just to make sure I went along. If the fake Eve had gone before a grand jury, the FBI had no choice but to stick with their story. I had no choice but to pretend to believe everything she said. The problem was, I would have to think everything through carefully. Some of the information would probably be planted to make sure I was buying her completely. God this was going to be impossible.
That evening at dinner, I met the all the other's for the first time. I had met the accountant before, and of course the fake Eve. I met the other two women for the first time. One of them was named Jasmine and the other Wanda. Jasmine was a very brash twenty year old. I could only imagine she had been a hooker. No doubt she saw something of interest to the Feds. Wanda on the other hand was singularly unattractive. If she wasn't a plant, she must have been somebody's secretary.
"The maid tells me you are some kind of writer," Wanda announced.
"I guess that's true," I said.
"Have they got any of your books? This place is a real drag," the brash kid asked.
"No but if we ask, I am sure the agents will provide us with one," Wanda said.
"I doubt it, they weren't exactly best sellers," I informed them all.
"I'll bet you are just being modest," the accountant added.
"If they do get us the books, I don't think you should read them," Eve said to Wanda.
"Oh, why is that?" Wanda asked in a stinging voice.
"Because Fred wrote porn," Eve said with a sweet little smile.
Wanda appeared to be shocked by the very idea. Jasmine looked at me with a definite invitation in her eyes. "So I guess we need to really get after the guards to bring us those books," Jasmine said looking into my eyes.
"I don't care what the books are about, I would like to read something written by someone I know," Wanda said daring anyone to accuse her of being a prude.
Fortunately the conversation moved on to other subjects. It seemed the only thing we couldn't discuss was our reasons for being thrown together. Current events were big with Wanda and the accountant, while sex and more sex seemed to be on Jasmine's mind. Eve and I joined in on both topics. I really wasn't that well acquainted with current events but I hung in there anyway.
I began working on a plan to escape, before they realized I didn't buy the new Eve. I began by trying to figure what I would do if I did escape. How would I survive without my bank. I expected there might be three of four grand in the Charlotte account. I had the checks still sitting in the post office box in Elizabeth city, but to cash them I would need the Johnny Peterson driver's license. That presumably was being held by the FBI. Getting mail in and out of here was impossible. I couldn't just write the Mississippi DMV for a copy. To get to the money I would need either an accomplice, or a month to reestablish the identity. Even with a couple of grand, I couldn't live long on the run.
"I placed the computer disk with my novel into my lap top. There wasn't much chance that Madge had placed her correspondence file on the disk, or that the FBI would have missed it but I checked anyway. I found two files on the disk. My novel written in the word processor and another file in the notepad program. It was just possible that Madge had keep a note file on the same disk. The FBI might have pulled up the processor to read the file and never bothered to check the disk itself. If the disk weren't checked the note file would not appear in the word processor options.
I quickly pulled the notepad file to the screen. I found on the file, a list of publishers in Europe. A second listing of American publishers followed, then a list of south American publishers. Madge was covering all the bases. At the very bottom of the file was a copy of the letter she had sent each. The only thing of interest was my name, or a least my pen names. She had written it in to help sway the publishers, even though I asked her not to do it.
I sat back with a glass of iced tea from the refrigerator and tried to think. The first thing I needed for an escape was a car. Walking out seemed somewhat less than a viable option. The quick reaction forces would surely catch a man on foot. At that moment I realized that the quick reaction would surely have a plan for stopping a car. So getting a car moved to number two on the list. Number one was disabling the surveillance system. Number three was getting my bankroll, if not the roll, then the papers which would allow me to access the Charlotte account.
I needed a really good plan since my first attempt would be my last, one way or another. These guys were married to Eve now, they could not afford to have anyone cast doubt on her. I had already disappeared, so all they needed to do was make it permanent. To make matters even worse, I really wanted to stay and testify against Sal. Even more, I wanted him dead, that looked like an impossible task.
I gave up planning temporarily, to go for a walk around the farm. It was time to begin really looking at the place. When I stepped from the door, I stopped to light a cigar. I took a look around and realized for the first time, that almost every morning during my walks I had seen Emily working in her garden. I like everyone else ignored her. I did again that day, but I began running scenarios in my mind using Emily as an accomplice.
I began walking toward the dining room. When I came close I stopped to look at the tire tracks in the morning grass. I could see the tracks leading off into the wood at two different points. I had previously walked only in the fields. I decided it was time to take a walk in the woods. I imagined I was on camera and any moment an armed guard would come to stop my progress. I have a good imagination and as usual it proved to be correct. The guard in fatigues walked up from the rear.
"Mr. Amos, I'm sorry sir but this area is restricted to authorized personnel only," he said politely. I couldn't see any indication that he was armed, but I was pretty sure he was.
"I'm sorry, I didn't see a sign," I said.
"We don't put up signs, most people just don't bother to walk this way. Anyway, signs would be a little out of place on a farm." he said being quite talkative.
"I see your point, well I guess I will just turn around and walk in the fields," I said.
"Thank you sir," he said.
The guard didn't realize he had given me valuable information. He all but told me that people who were neither prisoners, nor guards came to the farm. If that were not the case, then the signs wouldn't have mattered. So, who were the others.
Grocery delivery people perhaps, or a laundry service. Maybe even technicians for the surveillance equipment. So why had I never seen them. I stayed inside working on the novel, or they only came after we were all asleep. I was adding questions at an alarming rate.
I demanded my mind to focus on one thing at a time. How do I knock out the surveillance equipment. There was only one answer, kill the power. Now that was obvious but damned near impossible. I hadn't the slightest idea how to do it, or even where the power station was located.
I put everything on the back burner. I hoped I could just stay with the program until I had a chance to just walk away. Lunch proved to be interesting. Since I had stopped work on the novel, I had time to visit the dinning room. I found all the usual suspects in attendance, all except Eve. I was informed that Eve was at another class, which went long. It seemed they all went to classes to learn a new trade. I still didn't quite believe them. I expected that Eve was learning to be Eve. As for the others, god only knew their stories.
"Fred you were wrong," Wanda said.
"I usually am," I said with a smile.
"The agents did have your books, they had all of them," she said.
Goes to show you what lousy taste Feds have," I said.
"I must admit your books are a bit rough," Wanda said.
"I expect they are," I admitted. I had never expected to meet anyone who had read one.
"I didn't find them rough at all. I found them interesting," Jasmine said. I would have expected no less from her.
"I started one, but frankly it made me uncomfortable," the accountant said.
"That's called, turned on," Jasmine snapped.
"Not at all, I was embarrassed," he replied.
"I had a friend who would have loved to talk to you about that," I said without adding any explanations.
"You seem to have had lots of friends," Jasmine said.
"Not really, the books are all made up. That's why they call it fiction," I said.
"They may be fiction, but you must have done some research," She continued to press me.
"Not as much as you might think," I said. I turned to Wanda to change the subject. "So which one did you read?" I asked.
"Simon's song," she said. "If you took out all the smut, it was an interesting premise,"
"I haven't gotten to that one yet, what's it about," Jasmine demanded.
"Why don't you tell her Wanda?" I asked.
She was very uncomfortable but she began, "It's about a plague that sweeps the earth. It kills all the men but only a few women. The only men left are the ones who were in their mother's wombs when the plague struck. It is about one of the boys life eighteen years after the plague. It is also about a world run by women." she said. "Is that about it?" Wanda asked looking at me.
"You got it exactly right," I said.
"If it's as good as Night Walker, I have to read it," Jasmine said.
"I haven't read Night Walker, but I would guess it is better," Wanda said.
"Don't judge a book by it's title," I said.
"That's right, Night Walker was great," Jasmine said. "It's the only book I ever read like it. I mean, I have read other porno books, but you never really know the character in those books. I mean, it is all Sally did John. In Night Walker you knew why Stephanie was doing half the town. It all made perfect sense, if you believe Stephanie really thought she was a vampire. She did enough weird things to make you believe that she, at least, believed she was."
"Actually, it was supposed to make you believe, the vampire thing was just the excuse to do what every woman secretly wants to do," I said.
"I didn't get it that way," Jasmine said.
"It doesn't matter as long as you liked it," I said.
"God yes, the only thing I didn't like about it was that it made me horny as hell. I had no one to help me work it off," she said looking at me in that peculiar was again.
"So which one was your favorite," Wanda asked.
"None of them, I wrote them for the money. I tried to tell you all, I'm no author. I just found a knack for writing crap that someone would buy." I explained.
"You mean you really never knew anyone in your books?" Jasmine asked.
"That's what I have been trying to tell you. It is all fiction," I said.
"Well, for a man you sure as hell got it right," Jasmine said.
"Not really," Wanda said. "The story line seems right, but the other is pretty far off the mark. Women don't really feel those things in the way you describe."
"Sure they do," Jasmine said. "At least I do, and if you don't, I feel sorry for you."
"Ladies," the accountant said. "It doesn't really matter, like the man said, it is only fiction."
"Since you didn't like your book, would you please pass it on. I have finished Night Walker and would like to read another one," she said to the accountant.
"Sure stop by my place after lunch and I'll find it for you," he said.
After those few remarks the conversation turned back to current events. With the Clinton's in the white house, there was always plenty of controversy to discuss. The subject of the day was the president's amorous adventures. I listened while I ate, but I really had no opinion to offer. I think you had to care to have an opinion, and I just plain didn't care what the jerk did.
On the walk back to the apartment, I noted Emily working in her garden again. I walked down to where she was bent over a flower bed. "Isn't it a little too hot to be doing that?" I asked.
"Mr. Amos, it most certainly is. If I didn't have a dinner party planned for tonight, I would never cut flowers in the middle of the day.
Another bit of information, "So you are having company?" I asked.
"Yes, my uncle the senator is coming for dinner. He does that once a month or so." She turned her attention to the flowers. "Of course, I will also have those Agents climbing all over the place." she said.
"I can understand how you feel, they put an awful cramp in the dinner conversation," I said.
"God, don't you know it," she giggled like a school girl. "I sometimes wish I had never agreed to their taking over the farm. I just couldn't bare to loose the place, but they are everywhere all the time." she said.
I expected the area was bugged, so I took it easy on my criticism. "Well, I guess I will run along," I said.
"You know, you did promise to come to tea," she reminded me.
"And I intend to keep that promise." I informed her. I certainly did since she might well prove to be a gold mine of information, if nothing else.
"I read one of those books you wrote," she said as I turned to leave. "I think the agents wanted me to read it so that I would be shocked. I don't think they want us to be friends." she said.
"And were you shocked?" I asked.
"Not really, I don't think the agents understand that ladies have those same feelings. We might not act on them like the women in your books, but we can understand how a weaker person might." she said looking up at me.
"Actually, nobody else ever caught on the fact that I was trying to show the flaws in the characters. They never got past what the characters did because of those flaws." I said not meaning a word of it.
"Yes, I understood that," she said simply. She obviously didn't care to discuss it any more.
"Well I certainly did enjoy our visit. If you don't mind I would like to stop by again." I said.
"Please do, you might want to catch me in the garden though," she said with a conspirator's smile. She knew the house was bugged. She might turn out to be a lot smarter than the agents thought.
"Perhaps we could take a walk together some morning, before the sun gets too hot," I suggested.
"I would love that, but I don't think the agents would approve. No you just come see me in the garden. Actually it would might be better if you helped me with the work. I usually work around seven in the mornings," she said.
"Then I might just see you in the morning, if not then one morning very soon," I said as I turned for the converted barn. When I returned to my room, I tried to assess all the new information. I was certainly gaining a large amount of probably useless information.
That night after dinner, I waited until dead dark then walked outside. I sat on the patio smoking, while I took a look at the security systems. I watched as cars came and went from the house. I suspected that they were scrutinized at the entrance gate. If I could stowaway in one of them, I could make it past the guards. Sure but how would I get to the car. The areas around both the barn and house were bathed in light from several very large Mercury lights. I decided to test the security system. I walked toward the field where I usually took my morning walk. I intentionally stayed away from the house. I was about five minutes from the pool of light when I heard first the footsteps then the voice of a guard.
"Out kind of late aren't you Mr. Amos," he said.
"Couldn't sleep, just thought I would take a walk." I said. "Is it all right?" I asked.
"Actually we would prefer you stayed inside after dark. At least stay in the light. We wouldn't want someone to shoot you by accident," he said. There was no threat spoken, but one was implied.
"You have a point, there are enough people who want to do it on purpose. It would be a shame for you to do their work for them," I said.
"Exactly," the young man said.
So the security cameras didn't work after dark. I expected there were listen posts around but the video was blind in the dark. Another bit of information to add to my mental file. I was beginning to get the inkling of a plan. I remembered an old world war two movie I had seen. In order to make a grand escape, the inmates lulled the German guards to sleep. The subterfuge was based in the human minds inability to distinguish between yesterday's memory and the day before's memory. I began to think about establishing a routine to solve one problem, while I worked on another one.
I realized that the watchers really did want me to go along with the plan. They arranged it so that Eve and I had almost no time to talk. One or the other of us was always in some kind of interview or class. I began helping Emily in the garden, the day after the Senator's visit. Since I knew nothing about gardening, I just followed Emily's instructions. After a week, I had another interview with Sims. He wanted badly to know what Eve and I had done before the shooting. I expect he was afraid the bad guys might know some small detail Eve couldn't explain. That might be the real reason I was here, I thought. My mind was running amuck with sinister plots. It was my second favorite pastime. My first was figuring out how to get away.
I dropped it on Sims during my first interview after I began working in the garden. "I want my money and my papers," I demanded.
"They are safe," he countered.
"Sure, that's what you say. I think you are planning to run off with my money," I said.
"Fred," he tried to explain. "I make more than that a year. Why would I risk my job for less than a years pay."
"I don't know that you would, but others who make less have access to my money. Sims I want it, or I am going to tell you nothing." I said angrily. I also stopped talking. It was a small risk but a risk nonetheless.
I can imagine what the next sequence of events was. Sims talked it over with his boss. They agreed that I wasn't going anywhere, and it was after all my money. The suggestion about that time would be to mark hell out of the money, then give it to me. If I did take off, they would be able to track me by the bills. I wasn't there, but I would bet the whole eighty grand, they had a conversation similar to the one I just described.
I had been working in the garden morning and evenings for a month when the money was returned to me. I signed all kinds of receipts for it. I knew a couple of things about the money they didn't know, or at least they didn't want to admit it. Marked money is a past tense item. You can tell where a runner has been, but you can't know where he is going. That is unless he buys an airplane ticket with the money. I had absolutely no intentions of doing that. After I had the money, I began answering their questions just as I had promised I would. I gave them Eve's movements during the week she traveled with me in great detail. I was asked a hundred times about the two clubs Sal owned at the time.
My schedule was exactly the same for the weeks that followed. I would meet Emily in the garden, then work with her for a couple of hours. I would then go to breakfast, after which I worked on my current book. After lunch I took long walks in the fields. I purposefully made the watchers think I was working on my walking stamina. If I disappeared I wanted them to be looking for a man on foot.
After dinner, I returned to work in the garden. In the two months I worked in her garden, Emily talked to me. Most often it was about her family and their loss of the farm. She told me stories about the family history. The one thing I never did was give her any indication I planned to run. I was saving that for one big surprise.
Even in the beginning Emily was never distant, but toward the end of the second month, she began to give me hints that she was available. I ignored them for a while. At the end of the second month the Senator came for dinner again. Someone didn't take very good care to make sure Emily was in her room before the serious discussions began. The next day she relayed this conversation to me.
"So how is everything going out here?" The Senator asked.
"We are making real progress, if the trial can be delayed just one more month, we will be ready." Sims answered.
"So Amos is coming around?" the Senator asked.
"After we gave him his money, he began to totally cooperate." Sims answered again.
"Does he suspect anything?" the Senator continued his interrogation.
"I don't know for sure. We keep the two of them apart as much as we can. Now that we have all the information, we might start allowing them to meet." Sims said.
"Just make damned sure it isn't in bed. That prick could probably tell something was different about her," the Senator said. "Throw that other one at him."
"You mean Jasmine, she has been trying but so far he isn't biting." Sims replied.
"Then have her rape him. I want him to forget about doing the dirty deed with Polly," he demanded.
"We might do better throwing Wanda at him," Sims said.
"Hell give him the fag, I don't care just so long as it isn't Polly." The Senator said with a laugh.
"What do we do if he does figure out Eve is a fake?" Sims asked.
"You know damned well what you have to do. There are to be no leaks on this one." the Senator said dangerously.
While all this was going on. Emily had been reading in the study. She overheard it through the open door to the library, where the conference was being held. Like I said someone dropped the ball keeping an eye on her.
The next morning Emily followed me into the tool shed. "We can talk here, if it is just for a minute. You are in great danger," she said.
At that point it was fish or cut bait. "I know, they plan to kill me," I said.
"How did you know that?" she asked.
"It wasn't hard to figure. Look we better get outside," I said.
"They are going to throw one of those horrid women at you. They want to use them to make sure you don't sleep with Polly, I mean Eve," she said.
"Let me think about this for a while. We really better get back to work," I said.
Good they were doing more to help me than they knew. Emily would never have believed me it I told her that story. I guess like Eddie used to say, 'You have to get lucky once in a while'. God knows, it was about time I had some luck.
That evening in the garden, I whispered in Emily's ear. "I really don't want any of those women. Would you help me?" I asked.
"How?" she replied.
"By pretending to be my lover," I suggested.
"You mean pretend to be sleeping with you?" she asked soberly.
"I know it is a lot to ask, but I really need to keep a clear mind. You know how sex can confuse people," I said having no idea if she knew or not.
"Yes, I do know. But how can we fool them." she said.
"If you are willing, I will begin to touch you in the garden. Not bad, but just intimately as a man in love might. Then after a couple of days, we will begin spending more time in the tool shed." I said.
"Of course, I can even bring a blanket from the house. Just so they get the wrong idea," she said excitedly. I expect her life had always been boring. The idea of saving a life must have seemed heroic to her. She looked down for a long moment. "There is only one problem," she said.
I thought I had it pretty well figured out. "What kind of problem?" I asked.
"Someone may begin checking the shed. You know looking through the window. If we are sitting on the boxes, they will know we are trying to fool them." she said looking at the flower bed."
"I would ask you to at least fake it, but I couldn't do that," I lied.
"Fred you don't have to ask," she said in a low husky voice.
The very next morning we began our little subterfuge. I really did enjoy her company so when she looked up in the shed to be kissed I fell right into it. We stayed with the kissing a couple of days, then she made it quite clear to anyone watching that she was taking a thick quilt into the shed.
I expected one of two things to happen. Sims would either come down and break out little affair up, or he would be thrilled that I was screwing anyone but Polly. I hoped for the second and wasn't disappointed. Emily and I made love in the evening after dinner every night for a week. After we finished, we stayed talking longer and longer. It had gotten to the point that I stayed almost all night with her on a couple of different nights. I was surprised that Sims didn't object.
Eighty thousand bucks in twenties and one hundreds is a lot of bulk to carry. Over that same week, I carried pockets filled with money to the shed. I also thought the watchers might be searchers so I replaced the lower levels of bills inside the briefcase with pages from my book. I wasn't convinced I wasn't being watched all the time, so I did it in the dark. Leaving the bills inside my pants for the next day.
My plan called for a few false starts. At any one of them I could con my way out of the escape story. First on the night the Senator came for his dinner and briefing, I stayed in the shed when Emily ran in just before dinner. I expected to see Sims or one of the guards show up to ask me why I was sitting alone in the shed. When no one came, I knew I was having some luck at least. I guessed the surveillance might be concentrated on the senator. They had seen me enter the shed, but I hoped they had just forgotten me in the increasing activity. My next problem was making it twenty yards from the shed to the front of the house. My only hope was going through a hole I had cut into the back wall of the shed. At that point my plan could no longer be harmlessly explained away. From that point on, if I got caught, I was a dead man. I made the ten yards to the trees behind the tool shed without being in site of any security camera. From that point to the front of the house, I moved slowly in the shadows. The route took me much longer than a direct route would have, but it made the open space to be covered less than ten yards.
The agents had left a guard with the cars. Emily was supposed to take care of him, so I waited until exactly nine thirty. Sure as hell she showed with a pitcher of iced tea. She made sure the agent dropped the pitcher so that it wouldn't look like a setup. While they and presumably the surveillance people were busy, I slipped to the rear of the senator's car. I used two flat pieces of metal shaped from an old fan rake, to pick the lock. Some of the things I had learned kicking around with low lifes finally paid off. I raised the truck lid only a few inches hoping someone had disabled the truck light. I was fortunate, as in most secure cars, all the connivance lights had been disconnected. It just wouldn't do to make the Senator a target in a dark parking light, while he removed his briefcase from the trunk.
I held my breath for two hours expecting the truck to be raised and someone to put a nice round hole in my chest. While I lay in the trunk Emily went back to the tool shed. It was her job to convince any watchers that I had waited for her to return. She was to stay in the shed until the next morning. She would, some where around five in the morning, come into the light holding a rope, with which I supposedly had tired her while I made my except. Also she would have a nice large piece of duct tape still across her mouth. "I tried but it was just too painful to remove," she would explain.
I figured she had as good a chance at being believed, as the watchers who had missed my movements over the yard. When the car began to move, I was sure I had made it. I didn't relax or celebrate until the car stopped two or more hours later. I waited two more hours, even though time was getting short. I slipped the trunk lock from inside, not an easy feat, then just walked away from the parking lot outside a Washington Condominium building.
I had exactly two things going for me. A shirt stuffed with marked money, and the certainty that the agents would search everywhere before taking a look at the Senators car. They sure as hell wouldn't want him to know until everything else had been checked. I no longer needed the Peterson papers, I had a wad of marked bills. I stopped in New York city. I went into a diamond broker there and bought nine thousand dollars worth of stones. I went on to another and another doing exactly the same thing. When all the money was gone, I began going to other brokers and selling the stones. When everything was complete, I had sixty thousand dollars in unmarked bills. I lost twenty grand in the exchange, but considered myself lucky. I had saved two thousand dollars in marked bills to leave a false trail. I left it all the way to the Canadian border. I had no papers so, I turned around and headed south. I had no car and couldn't buy one, but I did buy a used motorcycle from an individual in Oswego New York. I left him the money and took the bike, explaining the I knew a woman who would do the title work. I 'borrowed' his plates to get the bike home.
Two weeks later, I had a car and a driver's license. I was also waiting for a passport. When it arrived, I would be heading for Europe. Porn and gambling are almost legal in some parts of Europe. I checked my new crossbow, thinking I still had to pay Sal a visit. I was sure at that point he imagined his main threat was from the law. Boy, did I have a surprise for him.