BY CHARLES M. GURKIN
I was sitting on an extremely uncomfortable sofa. No more than a couple of pieces of plastic stretched over a few chrome pipes. The monstrosity of a chrome and glass clock struck the quarter hour. My wait had been almost thirty minutes. I was never a patient man and probably not a patient child. Of course I don't really remember, but I doubted it seriously.
When I could stand the wait no longer I worked like hell to rise from that damned sofa. People like Sam bought those things just to humble people like me.
The receptionist worked hard at ignoring me even though I stood over her. Her concentration seemed to be riveted on her fingernails. She must have been romantically involved with them since she worked on them with such loving devotion. They weren't bad but they certainly weren't her best feature. She was a knock out red head. Under her long red hair were two eyes the color of coke bottles. She had a long thin nose perched above her thick red lips. She was of course very young, but then everyone seemed young to me.
"Excuse me, Rhonda. I have been waiting for twenty minutes. What is the hold up?"
"Jake's appointment is running over. Please just be patient."
"I don't think so. Give Jake this message: Come to my office next time. I intentionally omitted the 'prick,\rquote which usually accompanied any messages I left for Jake. I turned and almost made it out the door.
"Mr. Jefferson, please come this way."
The voice came from a different woman. One who was at least past puberty. Of course, like all the women who worked in that office, she was very attractive. Jake and his partners didn't hire any other kind. In a town so small they had to import them. The female lawyers, who tended to come and go, were a different story entirely. They tended to be a bit on the doggy side.
I turned and followed her through the ten-foot tall wooden doors. The walk was just long enough for me to appreciate her ass. She had a nice one, which was attached to an equally attractive frame. On top of the frame was a beautiful head of blonde hair. I was almost sure that it was from a bottle, but it was a damned good job. I tried to remember her facial features since her back was toward me. I didn't remember anything special so they must have been rather ordinary. Her body was anything but ordinary. I already mentioned her fine ass. Her breasts were so large that the swell of them could be seen even from the rear.
When I enter Jake's office, he was sitting behind his desk. He was a rather tall thin man behind a small desk. The proportions of the desk were intentional. At first glance, it created the illusion of an even bigger, stronger Jake. I noted that Jake was losing his hair. It was an observation that pleased me very much. It was always a shock to see his shiny head. I just never thought of him as bald. Hell, I tried to never think of him at all.
"Lincoln, old son, how the hell are you?" Jake asked it not wanting or expecting an answer.
"Jake, you thief, I am going to add that twenty five minute wait to your fucking bill."
Obviously Jake wasn't in a very good mood either. "Still as pleasant as ever I see. Your ill temper must come from being the only white man in either of the Carolinas with the given name Lincoln."
"Whatever, Jake, just fill me in on the job so that I can get the hell back to work." Jake and I had a hate-hate relationship. I hated lawyers in general and Jake in particular. Jake was only a couple of years older than I was, but he called me Old Son . His phony ass went to the same high school as me. I am told he was a bookish prick even then. He had gone on to college. I had gone to Vietnam. The differences in financial standing I suppose.
In nineteen seventy-five, when the meeting took place, I was thirty-three years old. I was closing in on forty much to fast. It was tough not being anywhere near the success I had expected. Jake, on the other hand, had it made. He was a newly named partner in the largest law firm in town. It wasn't much of a town. In a real firm, in a real town, he would still be an associate. The size of the firm and the amount of his family's money made for his quick rise to power.
"What the fuck do you want Jake. I usually deal with Sam."
"Look, can we skip the poor angry little boy crap today, Linc? I need your help and it's personal."
"If this is personal, then I am leaving. I have work to do. You know, the stuff that pays my bills."
"Come on Link, you know I would never ask you, if I had anywhere else to go. You should know, I had to be quite desperate to have called you."
I thought about it. That much at least was true. Jake hated me as much as I hated him. He had good reason to hate me once. Those days should have passed. I guessed that maybe they never would.
"Linc, Julie is missing, he said. His eyes misted as he said it. It was the same kind of mist that filled his eyes during the summation to a tough jury. Phony as hell, but Jake did it so well. He must have taken a college course in tearing.
"Jake, you know I don't like you. Even so, I am going to take this chance to give you some advice. Let her ass go. Julie is no damn good. You and I both know it." When I said it, I heard the anger in my voice. I was surprised that it still happened every time I mentioned her. Julie was a terrible slut. Not even Jake deserved the crap she heaped on him.
"I knew you hated me. I didn't know you hated her too."
"Jake, I am an equal opportunity type guy. I hate everyone. So where is the lovely Mrs. Adams off to this time?"
"I don't know. This is the first time she didn't leave me a note."
"Bullshit Jake, Julie never leaves a note. Jake, why the hell do you put up with her? You and I both know what she is."
"She wasn't always like this."
"Bullshit Jake, remember I was married to her first. She was always a slut, even before I married her."
"Why did you marry her then?" he asked angrily.
"Jake, if I had any sense, I would be on the other side of that desk. I could have gone to law school on the GI bill. Instead I went to a tech school. Just goes to prove how stupid I am."
"Can we get back to Julie? I want you to find her for me."
"Come on Jake, you know I don't do that kind of stuff. I am a photographer, not a cop."
"You were a cop once," he reminded me.
"Yeah for a couple of years, I grew up and you should too. The bitch is just plain no good. Let her go this time." He knew I meant he had chased her down too many times already.
When Julie decided to break loose, she usually went to Atlanta. She would go booze and whore it up until she got into trouble. Then and only then would Jake get a call. He never failed to go bring her home. Damn, the bitch never even said she was sorry. I knew from experience that she never would either.
"Please Linc, find her for me?" he asked.
"Jake, I can't just drop everything and go running off in ten different directions looking for Julie. I have a business to run."
I almost felt sorry for Jake. Then he let his natural asshole attitude creep into the conversation. "That's not a business you run. If it wasn\rquote t for this firm, you would probably go belly up."
"Jake, you are getting awfully close to making me walk out of here. That is after I break your fucking nose."
He looked carefully at me. He realized he had stepped over the line. He offered me a phony apology. "I'm sorry Linc, I am just so worried about Julie."
We both knew he wasn't sorry. He was almost correct about his firm keeping my photo business afloat. Living in a small town and owning the most sophisticated video equipment brought me all the legal work. My time in the police crime lab hadn't hurt either. Probably half my work was from lawyers.
It fell into two categories, things that were typical of photography. I shot pictures of scars or other injuries. I also made illustrative shots of things like intersections and crap like that. I even videotaped statements for their use in court.
The other category was a little more shadowy. The town where we lived was too small to have a private investigator. I did some video surveillance work for the lawyers. You know insurance or marital stuff. It was a crock, but it paid well enough. Since I had been trained by the police department to testify, I made a hell of a witness for the party who hired me.
Jake's firm provided half my legal photographic work, so in effect they provided 25 percent of my billing. I could get by without their work, but it would be sorely missed. If Jake asked the partners to stop using my services, they might or might not listen. His family did have a large fortune over which the senior partner would hate to lose legal control.
"Look Linc, I really do need your help. I have tried everything and just don't know what to do next."
"Jake, you always piss me off. Julie always pisses me off. I can't imagine anything short of a root canal without Novocain , more painful than what you are asking me to do. I will help, but I will not drop everything to chase after her sorry ass." I really did hate giving in to the little prick. If I could have thought of a way out, I would have taken it. I really had no choice. "Sit your ass down and write me a summa ry of what you know. I will look it over, then call if I have any questions. While you are writing, make me a check for five hundred dollars. I'll let you know when it's gone."
To Jake's credit he had the summa ry already prepared. He whipped out his leather-encased checkbook and wrote me the check. He stood as he handed me the summa ry. "I'm sorry Linc. I do have other appointments."
"No problem Jake you are paying for my time. I am going to the Elms to read this. I'll call you with the questions. Jake, don't keep me on hold. If you do, this all comes back to you with the balance of your check. I don't have time for your fucking power games."
He tried to look innocent and offended. He could manage neither for more than a second. In the end he simply nodded. I enjoyed that moment. I had always suspected that he used that ploy just to show me how important he was, and how unimportant I was.
The Elms is a fancy name for a greasy caf\'e9 near my house. Everyone in town who knew me also knew that if I wasn't in the office, I was more than likely at the Elms. I got almost as many calls on their phone as I did on my own.
I probably should have spent more time at the office. Then again, why should I? People in small towns weren't usually in that big a hurry. They sometimes left a message on my newfangled answering machine. More often they simply hung up on it. Most people knew to call the Elms anyway.
Since there were only two real photographers in town, I didn't lose much business by being out of the office. The new shopping center in Williams, twenty miles away, was the closest place to get a cheap portrait package. Most folks still bought from either Helen or me.
Helen had been in the business longer than I. Actually only her studio had. Her father was the only photographer in town before me. Helen took over the studio when he died.
Seth died of too many cigarettes, and too many weddings. The stress got to him. He suffered a heart attack five years before. The first one was fatal. He didn't even make it to the hospital alive. I told everyone, except Helen, that he was a lucky man.
Helen took over his downtown studio. She surprised even herself by running it well. She got most of the real money spent on photographs in our little town. Her dad had all the business before her. She managed to keep the children of his original customers.
For the last few years of his life, I had been cutting into his business. After his death I cut into hers. Since she ran her studio all the time, she still got most of the portrait business. We pretty much split the small wedding business. The truly wealthy families had always imported their wedding photographers from the big city, which really wasn't very big. It gave them the illusion that they were better than the common folk. I really didn't mind. I hated dealing with most of them anyway. It really did piss off Helen though.
I sat in my favorite booth before I opened the file folder. It was just like that prick Jake to turn this whole thing into an efficient little package. The folder contained a few pages of typed notes, double-spaced of course. The notes read:
On July sixth, two weeks ago, Julie went into town to pick up her new car.
When she got home, she complained that her new Lincoln looked too much like a Grenada. She only accepted it because it had the continental kit on the rear. (What a bitch) Julie came home that last evening as usual, still complaining about the car. She mentioned it several times during dinner.
There seemed to be something wrong with the air conditioner. She stated that it smelled 'funny' whenever she turned it on. (boring) She told me that she was going to take the car back to the dealer's shop for repair.
On July the eighth Julie left for the dealership at eight, at the same time I drove to the office. When I returned home that evening, Julie wasn't there. I expected to see her at anytime, so I ignored her absence. When she didn't return that night, I almost called the police. Since they were less than helpful the last time, I didn't bother.\rquote
(Less than helpful was probably an understatement. Julie had been reported missing a couple of dozen times by either Jake or me. I stopped after the third time. Knowing Jake, he probably reported her every time.)
I called the dealer the next morning from my office. He told me that Julie had been in to have the air conditioner serviced. She left around ten a.m. No one seemed to have seen her since'
The remainder of his report detailed his pathetic attempts to locate his wife. He tried to determine which of her clothes were missing. Unfortunately he didn't know enough about her wardrobe to know for sure. It wouldn't matter anyway. Julie had a wallet full of credit cards. Hell she could buy anything she wanted. She also wore a small fortune in jewelry. She could sell a trinket, if she needed cash. Of course Jake couldn't determine what jewelry she wore either.
He had called her friends from the club. The club was a tennis club in town. The town didn't have enough millionaires for a country club, so they built a tennis club, a truly horrendous place. The club had purchased an old colonial style house and added tennis courts everywhere. The club's main attraction was a bar. It took advantage of the new liquor by the drink law recently passed by the state. It had, of course, sold drinks illegally for years. The local police ignored it. There had never been a need for them to enter the club officially. Of course it didn't hurt that the chief of police was an honorary member.
The club also provided its members with a swimming pool and dining room. The dining room doubled as a bar after lunch. The open lunch and wedding receptions were the only other source of income for the club. Even the wedding receptions had to end before six. The club's reception room had to be returned to a private dining room before the seven thirty opening hour.
Julie had a circle of friends who tended to ignore her frequent lapses of morals. They either all cheated on their husbands, more discretely I expect, or they thought that Jake deserved what he got. Everyone felt that Julie was fun to be around. Then to, Jake had known what Julie was when he married her. At least that seemed to be the consensus. If he didn't, he was the only man in the two Carolinas who didn't.
I finished my coffee and used the pay phone. I called my own number. The newfangled answering machine had a beeper. When beeped into the phone it would cause the machine to go through a couple of different gyrations. The results were that the messages were played back over the phone. I followed the procedures. I also recorded them onto a small cassette tape recorder. I carried the recorder because I didn't trust the machine. I expected it to one day erase the messages after I got them. At that particular moment there were no messages.
I left a dollar on the table for the thirty-five-cent coffee. It was my regular payment for the coffee, and the rent on the booth. I pulled the Toyota station wagon on like a too tight shirt. At six feet one inch, the car wasn't really my size. The only thing the six-year-old car fit was my pocketbook. I hated everything about it except the gas mileage. It was the color of urine after an especially long night's drinking. It had zero power on the road. The pickup was fine but it had no top end speed. I had once been outrun by a skateboard. Ten speed bikes passed me regularly.
Of course there was no air conditioning in the cracker box. I arrived at the Ford dealership soaked and more than a little on edge. I walked inside where I was immediately pounced on by a young salesman. I tried to explain that I didn't want to test drive anything.
"Billy, leave that deadbeat alone. Hell he ain't gonna buy nothin'. He ain't got no money atall", the fat red headed man said.
"Eddy Joe, how the hell are you?" I asked.
"My name is Ed, you prick."
"It wasn't always. How they hanging Ed?"
"\rquote Bout the same as yours. What the fuck you doin' here."
"You know what I'm doing here. Julie is off on one of her jags again. Jake is all bent out of shape. He's got me out lookin' for her."
"That prick is never going to learn. You know, when we all were in school together, I thought he had something goin' for him. He is an even dumber prick than you. At least you did learn. It took you a couple of years, but you at least got away from that whore."
"Yeah Ed, if I got away? Why am I still pickin' up her shit?"
"Yeah why are you?"
"Money of course" I replied.
"Of course." I followed Eddy Joe into his office. It was a small office filled with those cheap plaques every dealer and salesman won. There were so many winners there couldn't have been any losers.
Eddy Joe and I had been on the high school football team together. Hell, he had actually played. Me, I sat on the bench during the games. I let the players use my body for practice during the week. At least that is how Eddy Joe and the others told it.
We were seated and drinking Pepsi from a bottle when I asked, "So what was the deal with her fucking car?"
"You mean that over dressed, over priced Grenada?"
"That's the one."
"Nothin'. You know Linc, when my daddy had this place it was a used car lot. He barely made enough money off the mill workers to feed and dress us kids. He was a happy man though. Now me, I sell new cars and make twice as much as he ever dreamed of. Course I got customers like that bitch, Julie. She comes in here complaining that the car ain't what she ordered. I pull the order and the invoice. I show her that it is exactly what she ordered. Then it was the air conditioner stinks."
"Well Eddy Joe, did it stink?"
"Of course it did. Fords have shitty air conditioners. It takes them a couple hundred miles to get rid of the burning rubber smell. I explained, if she drove it with the air on high and the windows open for a couple of weeks, the smell would go away."
"How did she take that?" I had a real good idea how she had taken it. I just wanted to hear Eddy Joe raise hell.
"You would have thought I asked her to drop her drawers. Actually she would have been a lot less pissed, if I had. She called me every kind of crooked motherfucker you can think of. Man that woman has a filthy mouth. I probably would have laughed except she did it in the showroom, in front of my customers and employees."
"How'd you feel about that Eddy?"
"I would have killed the cunt, if there hadn't been so many witnesses. I mean, man, when we was in school I heard her cut loose on some poor bastard. I usually hated the prick, but I felt sorry for him when she finished. I mean man, she is a mean mouthed bitch."
"Hey calm down Eddy. I know her remember. I have been on the back side of her cussin' more than once." Eddy's naturally red face had turned cherry red. I was afraid he was headed for a stroke.
"You know I always hated Jake's skinny ass. But I'm not sure that even he deserves this crap."
"Yeah he does Eddy."
"Eddy, I don't suppose any of your mechanics or salesmen disappeared around that time."
"Nope, you are going to have to look for her new playmate somewhere else."
"I don't suppose you know where she went after she left here?"
"Nope," He sat looking at me for a moment. "You don't really expect to find her do you? By the time you get a lead on her, she will be back home with a sore ass."
"You're probably right about that. By then, with a little luck, Jake will be out a couple of grand. That is, if she stays away long enough. If Jake had called me sooner, I could have made even more money on her sorry ass."
He took a sip of his Pepsi. "You know a Pepsi ain't shit without some bourbon in it. You want a drink?"
"Too early for me," I replied.
"Yeah me too, he said staring hard at his bottom desk drawer.
"Well Eddy Joe, I got to run look for our little prom queen."
"You know I had almost forgot she was prom queen. It was a good thing that we voted on the prom queen. Since she fucked half the senior class, she was a shoe in."
"Some things never change. At the time she hadn't fucked me."
"Too bad she finally got around to you."
"Truer words were never spoken. Well keep it between the lines."
"You too, ole buddy. Call me if you need anything. You should be about ready to dump that piece of crap Jap toy of yours.
"Eddy, I was ready the day after you sold it to me."
"I could put you in a decent car, if you had any money, or even good credit."
"Eddy, I don't have bad credit."
"I know. You just don't have any credit. Man, you are a subversive. Everybody knows you have to be in debt up to your ass to be a real American."
"That a fact?" I asked as I opened his office door.
"Hey, say hello to Helen for me."
"Eddy, you got a real mean streak in you." We both laughed. I hugged the bear of a man on my way out of his office.
"Don't ever do that in front of anyone else, everyone knows that all photographers are fags. I got my reputation to think of."
"Sure, except nobody would believe you were a fag. Fags are nice people."
I left his office. I drove from the Ford dealership to an older service station out near the interstate. On the way I passed through most of our little town. It took me all of five minutes. Since three quarters of the downtown buildings were on the main street, not passing them was almost impossible. The three blocks of one and two story buildings gave way to some nice old frame houses. They had also been converted to businesses of one kind or another.
If I had turned the other way, I would have passed the county courthouse and then the city hall. Those two buildings and a couple of stores stood between the dealership and my house. That is just about all there is to my little town. Most of it was rebuilt in the fifties. Hurricane Hazel damaged almost every building in town. Most of them were either completely rebuilt or at least extensively renovated.
I didn't really need the gas that I pumped into my little toy. I wanted some excuse to talk to Mike. Gas had hit fifty-three cents a gallon. God, it was the only time I liked the toy. I replaced the nozzle, then went inside the old concrete block station. I seldom bought gas out there. Mike charged a couple of pennies more than the station downtown. I suppose he did it because he was on the interstate highway. Out there he could probably get away with it.
I85 ran beside his station. It was the quickest way to get to Atlanta. I was reasonably sure Julie would have filled up on her way out of town. It would be a waste of time to confirm it. Then again you never knew what information she might have passed on while paying for her gas. There might even have been someone in the car with her.
"Mike ole buddy, how is this rotten old world treating you today?" Mike owned the station. He owned it as much as any individual owned one. The building belonged to the oil company. Mike owned the tools period. It was his station to everyone around town though.
Mike was a short man a few years older than I. He had greasy black hair. It matched his hands. They were also covered with black grease. I have nothing against a man with grease under his nails. As a matter of fact, I prefer them to most to the people I deal with daily. Mike had to be the exception.
"The world is God's creation. Nothing he creates can be bad." The worst thing about Mike was that he was serious. Getting a bad word from Mike wasn't going to be easy.
"I'm sorry Mike. You are absolutely right."
"We don't see you in church any more Lincoln. You really should come back to the church. Your mother would turn in her grave, if she knew the things you had done since she died.
"I know Mike. I am just no good. A friend of yours needs your help."
"Who might that be?"
"Jake Adams," I replied.
"Jake is a good man, a god-fearing man. Now Jake, he comes to church every Sunday."
I was sure he did. Jake, no doubt, made deals on the steps of the church. People like Jake were the reason I didn't attend the first Baptist church anymore. "Right Mike, Jake's wife has turned up missing." I didn't add the 'again,\rquote which we both knew should have been there. Because he respected Jake, Mike would ignore the lifestyle of his wife.
"That is too bad Lincoln, but what concern is it of mine?" The rest of his statement should have been, "Or yours?"
"Jake asked me to look for her Mike. I thought you might help me."
"Shouldn't the police be doing this Lincoln?"
"Probably but Jake wanted to limit the embarrassment to his wife."
"I don't know if I should believe you Lincoln, after all." He let the statement trail off. He had a nasty habit of doing that.
"Mike, I think I would feel better if you called Jake. He can probably explain why you should help me. He is your lawyer isn't he."
"Then you two share a business relationship. I am sure you would feel better, if you heard it from him." The idea of Mike calling Jake was ludicrous. Mike would be embarrassed to even hint that he knew about Jake's wife. Guys like Mike dealt with unpleasant things by ignoring them.
"That won't be necessary. What can I do to help brother Jake?" He made it real plain he wasn't going to help a sinner like me. I really didn't give a rat's ass, as long as I got the information.
"When was the last time you saw Julie?" I asked.
He looked at me with distaste. "Mrs. Adams hasn't been around for a couple of months. I think she buys her gas downtown." It was a rebuke to Julie and me at the same time.
"You sure she wasn't in around the first week of July?"
"I told you Lincoln, I haven't seen her in a couple of months."
"How about Wally, could he have waited on her? You might have been off."
"I don't take off much. I'm sure, she hasn't been in for a couple of months."
"Where is Wally? Could I speak with him?"
"Wallace went to Greensboro to visit his sister." I couldn't dispute him since I knew very little about Wally. Wally had been several years behind me in school. He probably graduated while I was in the Army.
"When do you expect him back?"
"I don't know. He may not come back. He might be looking for a job in one of those mills up there."
It would be too much to hope that he had turned up missing the same day as Julie. "When did he leave Mike?"
"I don't know three or four weeks ago." Of course it couldn't be that easy. Wally had been gone before Julie turned up missing.
"Okay Mike thanks a lot. Could I use your phone?"
"Pay phone is outside, he said.
You little prick, I thought.
I dialed my number and clicked my magic clicker. There was a message that time. I recorded it onto my pocket cassette. I dialed the number and spoke with a lady real estate agent. She needed a quick shot for the local paper.
Since Smitty, down at the paper, didn't want to be bother shooting pictures for advertisements, he sent her to me. In exchange for the referral I bought useless ads in the paper.
I drove straight home to meet her for the quick Polaroid shot. I loved to shoot women. Women usually wanted a second shot at least. It was all vanity, but the extra money added up. I opened the chain link fence that surrounded my house. I drove the toy into the backyard, then walked the ten yards farther back to my studio. The studio had started life as a two-car garage. Those days it served me well as a second rate photo studio.
I had just enough time to check the lights before my customer arrived. She was around twenty-five. She had long black hair, and was very attractive till she opened her mouth. Most of the parents in town thought dentists were strictly for pulling and filling teeth. Braces were almost unheard of among our people. She would have to carry her badly formed teeth all her life. They weren't really as bad as she thought. The trick was going to be making her attractive without having her smile. She absolutely refused to show her teeth. It took twenty-five bucks worth of shots but she was finally satisfied.
As she wrote me a check she said, "You don't remember me do you?"
To my knowledge, I had never seen her before. It wasn't unusual, since I had a lousy memory. Then to, my circle of friends hadn't grown much since high school. "I'm afraid not, but I really do have a bad memory."
I heard about that. I'm sorry. Anyway I am Shirley Timmons. I used to be Shirley Ames. You went to school with my sister Bitsy."
"I'm sorry, I really can't place Bitsy right now." Of course sometimes in my sleep a face will come to match the name. "Where is Bitsy now? If I don't remember her, she must not live around here anymore?"
"Bitsy moved to Charlotte. She married that Sam Evans then just moved away."
"I have heard of Sam. I don't think I ever met him though. At least not that I remember. They must have been gone when I came home."
"That's right, they married in nineteen sixty nine. You hadn't got back yet. Bitsy was a year behind you in school. No reason that you would remember her." She said it more to herself than to me.
"Well, when you talk to them say hello for me."
"Sure, and thanks for the pictures."
"No problem, good luck with the new job."
She had reminded me of how much I had lost during my years away from home. I hated that I had lost so much of my memory. It was hard on me personally and equally hard on the business.
The doctors had warned me, but it was still hard to accept. My thinking was rational, thank God. Since the seizures ended many years before, I had been normal except for the memory loss. My new memories were fine. It was just the old memories that had been destroyed. Brain trauma is a sanitized way to describe what happens when an AK47 round enters the back of a person's head. Usually people don't live long enough to determine the mental effects of taking a round to the head. The round had hit a glancing blow to my hard-assed head. The effect had been a furrow straight as any good farmer would plow. Hell, the man who shot me probably was a farmer.
He actually did me a favor. I got medevaced out before my fire base was annihilated. I completed my enlistment as a patient in hospitals of one sort or another. For a while it was treatment, then it was lab rat. When my tour ended, the Army hated to lose their lab rat. They tried to get me to reenlist so that they could keep experimenting on me.
I shook myself hard to force my mind out of the past, and back into the present. I checked the refrig to make sure I had more Polaroid film. I tried to keep a good stock of everything. A photographer without film isn't likely to make any money. I left the lights for the timer to shut off.
I unlocked the rear door of my home and entered through the small kitchen. The room was reasonably like my mother had left it. I was an only child so I inherited the house when mom died. It was a year almost to the day after my dad died. I paid the taxes but other than that the house was free and clear. I never borrowed money, so it was still free of any mortgages.
I did have one hell of an insurance bill. I carried insurance on all my equipment and a million dollars of liability on the studio. My advertising bill was also a hefty amount, then again not as bad as it could have been. In a town the size of mine everybody knew what everyone else did for a living. I ran the ads just to remind them that they should do something about a picture. The advertisements were not really to acquaint them with my studio. All things considered my overhead was very low. Otherwise, I couldn't have survived on my small income.
My still cameras were all purchased during the early seventies. I bought them with GI bill money. I double dipped at that time. I drew from the injury and from the school funds. Five years after the war I was reevaluated. I lost the disability pension. It was hard to convince them that I was disabled. I was working for the police department in our little town at the time.
The Realtor customer had brought back memories of the bad old days. I found myself twitching and even a little shaky. I sought out my one constant source of calm in that strange nightmare world.
The ugly little Leica camera soothed the twitching nerves in my face. The smooth little machine had that effect on me. I could lose myself in its awesome abilities. Once my mind moved away from those troubling times my body calmed down. After just a few minutes of manipulating the over priced piece of metal, I was ready to return to the real world. I returned the camera to its padded shelf in the metal cabinet. I locked the cabinet door then exited the studio for the second time. I locked the outer door as I went. I was pretty much calmed down when I exited the studio. I would stay calm until something else forced me to return again to those bad old days.
I crawled into the toy car then drove to the club. The lunch crowd would be gone, and the evening crowd not yet gathering. I parked in the club's parking lot. I found a space near the door. I tossed my cigarette on their grass. The manager would hate that. Hell, she already hated everything about me.
I stepped through the front door and into a small entrance room. It was the spot where you were supposed to wait for the captain to seat you. That time of year the captain was usually some college football player home on summer vacation. I never liked waiting on the best of days. At that time of day there wasn't a captain, thank God. The waiting area had been the entrance hall when the house had been owned by Mr. Avery.
Avery also owned the local cotton mill. My father and mother had both worked in that mill. I imagined that mill and my injury had been the death of them both.
The house must have been beautiful in its day. It had two twisting staircases from the second floor to the entrance hall. The ballroom of the house served as the club\rquote s dining room. The second floor was reserved as guest rooms for the members out of town friends. It also had one private office, occupied by Mr. Avery, who had retired from the mill. I had been told his son still ran the mill. Mr. Avery kept his office in the club for some unknown reason.
I passed through the dining room, then through the hallway into the club's office area. I walked to the door of the club manager's office. I looked inside and saw the almost attractive club manager. Angela would probably have been attractive to anyone else. To me she was just a real bitch.
Angela looked up and saw me standing in the door. "I don't care what you want, get the hell out of here. If you don't, so help me I will call Robbie. He wouldn't mind tossing you out on your ass. I should call him anyway. I wouldn't mind seeing that." Robbie was the resident year round muscleman.
"Robbie loves to fight. He could really do a number on you," Angela said.
Angela was pissed because I had accidentally caught her in the arms of a married man. I was videotaping the man for his wife's lawyer. I hadn't known Angela was the other woman. I probably wouldn't have cared, but who knows. For a long time she told brides that I couldn't make pictures in the club. I was banned for life according to Angela.
Since the man had been prominent in town, word spread about her and the reason for my being banned. A couple of my friends let it be known that she didn't have the authority to ban me. After all she was an employee, not the board. She couldn't keep me out during functions. Instead, she badmouthed me all over town. It didn't bother me all that much. The people with whom she came into contact were the sort to bring in photographers from Williams. Only on a rare occasion would Helen or I shoot a reception at the club.
Angela was within her rights as manager to toss me out at the time. I mean the club was closed. I most definitely was not a member. I knew she wouldn't, once she knew why I had come. She hated the club members. I think most of them knew it. The reason they didn't fire her was simple. She was really good at her job. Not only did the club not lose money, it actually made money. What is more important, she managed to avoid the scandals; even when a member got a little too drunk and grabbed the wrong tit.
"Give me a break Angela that was three years ago. You know it was nothing personal."
"Nothing personal, you son of a bitch it almost cost me my job. Which may be the only decent job in this town, now get the hell out."
"Okay, but I thought you might want to know, Julie has taken off again."
"I already knew that. Why tell me anyway?"
"I'm looking for her, for Jake."
"So why tell me?" she asked.
"I thought you might know something; you know from girl talks with Julie." I knew she would laugh and she did.
"You know better than that. That bitch doesn't girl talk with the help. She is the snootiest of this snotty crowd."
"I know." I said it with a small laugh.
"I guess you do. I hate you so much, I sometimes forget how she screwed over you. By the way it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy." She paused a minute, then asked. "How the hell can Jake ask you to find her?" She was lost in thought again. "How the hell can you do it?"
"The same reason you put up with this group of ass holes you call members."
"You got a point there. Okay just this once."
"When did you see her last?" Angela pulled up her record book. "I have a charge for her on July eighth."
"Lunch I assume?"
"She called for a lunch reservation. She didn't show but we charge for every reservation that is missed. Hell we charge for everything."
"Any idea why she didn't show?"
"Because she is a bitch. She doesn't care that we had a table tied up for her. She has enough money so that the ten-dollar 'failure to cancel' fee meant nothing to her. At least Jake has enough money."
"Does she do that often?"
Angela scanned the page. "About twice a month."
I hadn't learned anything much. It wasn't unusual for her to make, then not show for a lunch reservation. At least she hadn't been planning the trip. She probably found a stud somewhere after the call. She could easily have just taken off on the spur of the moment. She had done it before.
"Do you know what time she called?"
"Looks like nine thirty." She put the book down and looked up at me. She waited just a second then said, "You know we really shouldn't be enemies like this. I could send you a lot of business."
"I could always use it. What will it take to square things with you?"
She had an answer ready. "How about dinner out one night? We can get roaring drunk and tell secrets to each other."
"Actually Angela, it sounds like a hell of an idea. Give me a couple of days to wrap this crap up. I'll call you."
"Sure," she said. I couldn't tell what was going through her mind. "Let me tell you one thing right up front. If you promise to call me and don't, I will make sure you never work here again."
I didn't want to start that argument again so I simply said, "If I promised to call, I\rquote ll call, and I did promise."
I sat in the club parking lot trying to figure what, if anything, I knew about Julie. I knew she was missing. That wasn't anything new. I knew she was beautiful, but that was old news. I knew I should hate her, but I didn't. I didn't feel sorry for her either. Those are the two most common emotions Julie inspired. Those she used hated her, those she hadn't gotten around to felt sorry for her.
I knew she took her car into the dealer's repair shop on the eighth of July. I knew she made a lunch reservation probably from the dealer's phone. Then she decided for some reason to leave town. So far, it was typical Julie. She had been gone a couple of weeks, which was only a week more than usual, but certainly not unheard of for her. It usually indicated her current lover had either a large johnson, or knew a trick she hadn't mastered.
Either way she should be rolling in anytime. I drove the toy to our one convenience store. I found a dime, then made the call from the pay phone outside the store. I called Jake at his office just to make sure she hadn't already returned. Jake's secretary informed me he was on a long distance call and couldn't be disturbed. I agreed to call back later. Since she didn't have a message for me, I assumed that Julie was still on vacation.
I opened my wallet and looked at the picture of Julie. There she was. She hadn't aged a minute since our wedding day. At least she had not in the picture. She was still twenty-two in the picture. The hard drinking and screwing hadn't started to show on her face yet. She was a true blonde with a wild-eyed beauty. A beauty I have never seen before or since. The picture was my favorite even though it was only a head shot.
Her body was the thing that attracted the most attention. She had the largest breasts in town. They were the only large parts of her body. The thing that made men want to stay with her, after they got passed the body, was that she had to be the best lover God ever put on the earth.
We married a year after I returned. It was just after I finished tech school. I was the local hero for a while. Julie loved the attention. We got married before it wore off. She had flings while we were dating, but I didn't know. In those days she worked for a living like everybody else. She was the buyer for a local department store. She often went to Atlanta to choose merchandise for the store. At least that is what I thought at the time.
She still went to Atlanta. There was no longer any pretense why. What she did in Atlanta was for the most part anyone's guess. I had some names down there, but the names were several years old. I doubted she still saw any of those people. I might have to give them a try, if she didn't show up by the end of the week.
I really didn't have anything else to check at the moment, so I drove home. I found the message light blinking on my phone. I played back a couple of messages and took notes. I finally got to the last one. "Tell me it isn't true. I have had three calls today telling me you are looking for Julie. Call me right this minute, and tell me it isn't true." She hadn't left her name. She knew I would recognize the voice. If I hadn't the message was clear.
I dialed her number. "Gold's Studio."
"Helen, Linc, I got your message. I wish I could tell you it ain't so, but it is."
"Why?" She could have added a lot more but she was very economical with words when she was pissed.
"Jake asked me."
"Not good enough."
"He is paying me to look for her."
"Still not good enough."
"He reminded me, how much business his firm sends me."
"Add all that together then."
"You still care about that bitch don't you?"
"Now Helen, don't you start to talk like me. If you do, when the customers call, how will they know which studio they have."
"You're just avoiding my question."
"I don't want anything bad to happen to her. I used to care about her, okay?"
"You still love her even after all she did to you?"
"No, I don't."
"Well, why have you never gotten serious about another woman? And why the hell are you out looking for her? It can't be because you and Jake are buddies. You hate his guts, and he feels exactly the same about you. You are such an ass."
"Helen you are my best friend. We are even more than that at times, but don't push this. I don't have to explain to you."
"No, you certainly don't, not when it comes to that slut."
"You can't upset me by calling her names. I have called her worse than you can imagine. It doesn't change the fact that I am going to help Jake find her."
"If you find her, deliver her ass to Jake, then you can call me. If you do anything else with her ass, don't bother." She slammed the phone down in my ear. She had a right to be angry I guess. We had been friends since her father died. I had helped her sort things out around his studio. She knew how to take the pictures. Her dad made damn sure of that. He just didn't explain his billing or pricing system. His calendar was a mess. Often at the last minute, I had to scramble to help her cover assignments she hadn't found on the calendar.
After six months she had her own systems in place. The studio ran along like the proverbial well oiled machine. We ate many cold pizzas, in one studio or the other, during that time. We had even made love a few times. Nothing ever came of it, except that we remained really good friends. That, in itself, was a rarity. Most women hated my guts after an affair ended.
Helen was different. I assumed we had both moved on to other lovers. She stayed my friend through it all. At that moment neither of us was seeing anyone. At that time we tended to eat together once a week or so. It was not really a date or anything. I was sure of one thing that night. I was not going to be eating dinner with Helen for a while. It was strange that Julie was the only person to get Helen's dander up. She had known many, and even approved of some of the women I slept with. However, if Julie's name came up, she would go off half cocked.
I left the house with the angry Helen very much on my mind. I drove away wondering, how in the hell I could explain my motives to her. Especially since I didn't really understand them myself.
I stopped at the Elms for a bowl of stew. I loved their stew. It was my mother's recipe. The original owner had been a friend of my mom\rquote s. They had gotten even closer when I was away. Lois, the owner of the Elms had lost a son in the Nam. Even though Lois was black, my mother had gotten real close to her in the end. Lois visited my mom when I couldn't. I was still in the hospital being treated when mom died. Lois had been with her at the end. When I returned home, I asked Lois if she wanted anything of my mother\rquote s. Lois took my mother's recipe book. That book had been in the family for generations.
"Now white boy, you are going to have to come see me." She was right of course. I stopped at the Elms often to eat. I even continued to eat there when her sons took over after her death.
I came just to eat something that tasted like my childhood. I had trouble remembering my mother and father. I imagined I could remember mom when eating her food at the Elms.
"You back here again white boy?" It wasn't Lois who asked.
"Must we have this conversation every week? Is this the night you fix my mama's stew?"
"No, it ain't. It's the night I fix my mama's stew."
"Then I am back." Jed was a good man, but he didn't like me. I don't think he liked anybody much, especially if they were white.
"Too much TV, his mama had once said. She had prayed that was all there was to his anger. "He will out grow it," she had said.
I ate two bowls of the stew with cornbread and remembered what his mama had said. Jed never really got over his race hate. He may have been justified. I really don't know since I am white. I do know that it was eating him up inside.
I didn't know whose recipe the cornbread was but it was delicious. I sat at the counter just to annoy Jed. If I had been in a booth, he could have ignored me. Where I was seated, he had to look over me to see the dining room.
"You come here just to piss me off, don't you?" he asked as he always did.
"No Jed, I came for mama's stew."
"I done told you a hundred times, that is my mama's stew. I'm gonna change them damned recipes, just to keep your white ass out of here."
"Jed, you do that and you will go broke. Not to mention what your mama will do."
"My mama's dead, just like yours."
"I know that and we both know what she will do if you change those recipes."
"God, I hate your white ass." He did smile when he said it.
"I know, but you make great stew beef."
The youngish black waitress came to the counter. "Jed, give me a plate of ribs for table six." She turned to me. "Mr. Linc, why don't you sit in a booth. You know it upsets old Jed to see you at the counter."
"That's why he does it Lucille." Jed said from the back. "He's jest a mean old white man."
"He's right you know. His mama wanted him and me to get along. I'm just trying to help it along."
"Honey you two ain't never gonna get along."
"Lucille, when was the last time you saw Julie."
"Lordy Mr. Linc, Miss Julie ain't been down to the Landing in months. You know her. She comes and goes when she pleases. I jest ain't seen her in a month or two." She stopped talking and began putting bread in a basket for table six. "She gone agin?"
"Yep, two weeks this time."
"One of these days that girls gonna get herself hurt. You know she always flirtin' with other women's men folks. Some day one of them bad girls down to the Landing, gonna cuts her titties off." She left with the food for table six. I finished my stew, then stood to leave.
"Sit down Mr. Linc," Lucille said. She poured me another glass of tea. "Did I ever tell you? I met your mama once." Only about a dozen times, I thought. I tried to stop her but it was too late. "I was just a little girl then. Miss Lois used to babysit me. She took me to visit your mama.
I thought the way Miss Lois talked about your mama she would be livin' in some grand old house. It weren't grand at all. It was just a little white house in the middle of the white part of town. I felt funny; the way people looked at me and Lois while we walked from the bus stop. When we got to your house, your mama asked us into the house. Miss Lois, she said, we'd rather stay on the porch and visit. Your mama she was already feeling poorly. She went back into the house and brought us iced tea. You know, I still think that was the best iced tea I ever had."
I couldn't remember mama's tea, but I knew she was right. It was the best.
"Miss Lois she done lost her son in the war. They be talking about him for a while. Then they talked about you. Your mama was real worried because you can't talk. The doctors done told her you weren't never gone talk again. Miss Lois ain't never met you, but she says, "Don't you worry Miss Oney, he gonna talk. He gonna come home and take care of you. I ain't never gonna forget how your mama brought us that tea like we was real company. I ain't never gonna forget how she and Lois cried. First for Lois's boy, then for you."
"At least Lois was partly right. I can talk, but I didn't get home in time to take care of mama."
"No sir, you didn't, but you got home in time to take care of Miss Lois."
"Bullshit Lucille, he didn't do nuthin' for my mama." Jed said.
"You best watch your mouth Jed. Miss Lois gonna rise up and strike your black ass dead." Lucille said. "We all knows what you did for Miss Lois, and we awful thankful. Jed he is too. He just hates white folks so bad he can't say, thank you."
"Lucille, I don't know what you are talking about. Lois did more for my family than anyone. I never got the chance to repay her." I said.
"That's a lie and you know it. Miss Lois lived most all her life on welfare. But in the end, she had this place and died with real dignity. If you hadn't twisted them cracker's balls, she wouldn't have had this place."
"All he did was to get her a bloodsucker loan," Jed tossed in.
"It weren't no bloodsucker loan."
"Hell the government gave her that loan anyway, not Linc." Jed shouted from the kitchen.
"Well smart ass, I didn't see you gettin' it for her. Miss Lois told me how Mr. Linc and Miss Julie sat up nights working on them thousand pages of papers. Your mama was a good woman Jed, but she couldn't have done that by herself. You sho weren't no help stayin' out all night with them trouble makin' niggers you run with back then."
"Lucille I'm gonna fire your black ass."
"No, you ain't. Your mama have told me I had a job as long as this place was in your family. You know damned well your mama make you pay, you go agin her."
I doubted that Jed was afraid of anything living or dead but he played along. I think it was his way of doing what he wanted to do without losing face. "Look you two, I would love to stay till the blood flows, but I got to get home. I'm expecting a call from Jake."
"I sure hope Miss Julie is all right. She is a loose woman, and she was awful mean to you, but she was always good to me and Miss Lois."
"I hope she is all right too." I left Lucille a tip, even though it was Jed who waited on me. Sometimes I think she told me the story about mama just to get that tip.
I arrived home well before dark. I checked the messages and had one to call a bride. When I got her on the phone, she wanted to schedule a portrait. We set it up two weeks later, since she was waiting for her dress. I didn't expect her to make the first appointment anyway. Brides seldom did.
I tried to sort the whole thing out in my mind. I didn't think as quick as I used to. At least I didn't think I did. I doubt there was really any difference between my high school abilities and those I possessed that night. I wrote down everything I knew. When I got to Mike, I remembered Wally. Now I didn't think Mike would lie to me. Then again, it wouldn't hurt to confirm that Wally had indeed left town before Julie. At least maybe it wouldn't hurt too much.
Wally wasn't smart or ambitious, but then Julie didn't really care, after all she had Jake. For some reason he wasn't about to let her go. The fact that Wally had no class and grease under his nails might appeal to Julie. That is if she was in the right mood. Just about any man could appeal to Julie. She would need to be in exactly the right mood to take Wally on her vacation.
I knew where to find Wally's best friend Stan. Stan was our little town's answer to a biker gang. He had a motorcycle, and he was mean as hell. The only thing in this whole world he feared was me. He didn't know that he had no reason to be afraid of me. I had long since gotten over those feelings.
Stan and I had sort of a history. I am told that when we were in high school, we kind of, push and shoved each other. They tell me it happened whenever we got around one another. It never really amounted to much. I imagine I was scared and he was glad of it.
I had been home about six months when it happened. Julie and I were just dating then. She had gone to buy clothes in Atlanta, or so I thought at the time. I stopped for a beer after a night class. At that time there was only one beer joint in town.
Stan was in the place. At first we seemed to do all right, then he asked me what my plans were. I explained about the school and he made some crack about photographers and fags. Now today I would laugh. Hell, I make those same remarks myself. I know it is an insult to homosexual men. Hell, even they don't all want to be photographers. The job is just a little too sleazy for most of them.
I realized that Stan was trying to pick a fight with me. When the shoving started, I slipped into another world, one full of little men in black pajamas. He thought he was John Wayne and I didn't. I kicked him in the balls and jumped on him. I bit off a piece of his little finger. When I stood up, I made sure he saw me swallow it. There was no microsurgery in those days anyway.
Stan spent the night in the hospital. I spent most of it in the interrogation room of the local police department. When the witnesses finished with their stories, I was release with an invitation to join the department. I had seen Stan a few times since that night. He had always kept his distance. So did I. I couldn't have repeated the feat and didn't want to try. Unfortunately, I needed to talk to him.
On the way to the bar, I tried to decide how to question him. I could ask him nice, and he might cooperate. I could scare hell out of him, then he would definitely cooperate. No one had ever been able to convince him that I wasn't crazy. I decided that I might as well play on his fear. I spotted his bike in front of the country and western bar. I probably wouldn't remember anyone in the place. It had been so many years. I doubted anyone in the place would know me. Odds were though that some of my old high school classmates would be in there.
When I entered the outer door, I waited in the tiny hall for my eyes to adjust to the dark. It took a minute or so. I spotted Stan by the bar. He was talking using his hands as punctuation marks. When Stan talked, people tended to listen. He was after all a large man and bad as original sin. Stan suddenly turned toward the man behind him and engaged him in conversation.
I quickly walked behind Stan and grabbed him by his long greasy hair. I slammed his head hard onto the bar. I hadn't meant to hit his nose but I did. The blood gushed. I had seen enough blood so that it didn't bother me at all. I held his head down with all my strength. Someone reached for me from behind but he was pulled away. I heard a voice I did recognized say, "You don't want any of that motherfucker. He's nuts."
"Stan, where is Wally?"
I raised, then banged his head again. This time I aimed for his rapidly swelling nose. "I think I will ask the questions. Now where is Wally?"
"I don't know man. He was supposed to meet me here a couple of weeks ago and didn't. I ain't seem him since."
"When was he supposed to meet you?"
"Two weeks ago man. You broke my nose."
"It will give you character. Where did he go?"
"Wally? Who knows? He just left. His boss said he went to Greensboro to visit his sister. He could have. He has a sister there."
"Have you seen Julie lately?"
"No man, she ain't been in here for a couple of months. You know that bitch. She comes and goes."
I considered giving him another shot, but decided against it. I wanted information not to punish him. "She ever keep company with Wally?"
"Are you kiddin'? She would screw anybody, sometimes on the pool table but never Wally. She didn't like the smell of gas. Wally always had that smell on him man. She didn't mind sweat stink, but she hated the smell of gas."
"Okay Stan, I am going to let you go. I am going to back up a couple of steps. If you want to get froggie, we do it here and now." I let him go then stepped back. If he wanted to get even, I wanted it to be where I could see it coming.
"No man," he said, "I don't fight no crazy people."
"Good policy, I said as I backed out of the door.
I was out the door and headed for the toy when I heard my savior's voice again. "Linc what the fuck you doin' in there?"
"Hello Jasper, how they hangin\rquote ?"
"Both 'em still hanging. Now what the fuck was that all about?"
"I'm looking for Julie. Jake asked me to."
"Oh, she off on vacation again?"
"Looks like," I replied
"Need any help?"
"Not right now, I don't know enough to ask the right questions yet. What are you doing in this place anyway?"
"Getting a beer, what else."
"Sheriff know you out tom-cattin' around?"
"Sheriff hell, I'm more worried about my wife. I see you still got Stan's number."
"You better watch that fucker. He is pure mean."
"I know, that\rquote s why I got him from behind. I wouldn't want to face him from the front."
"I don't know, seems like you did pretty well last time."
"I was still young and crazy then. Now I'm old and mellow."
"Bullshit, well I got to go home to the warden."
br>"Tell Bess I said 'hey'."
"Not a fucking chance, she had a crush on you in high school. I tell her about this and she may come after you again."
"You are the worst liar I ever fucking knew. Go home and stroke it a few times for me."
"Good night Linc," Jasper said.
I had a little more information and a few more questions for Mike. I slept fitfully that night. The violence brought the dreams back. Dreams were filled with fireflies, and death. The screams followed me into wakefulness. It was three a.m. and I was soaked with sweat and shaking hard. I got out of bed, then dried myself. I put on a dry tee shirt then tried to sleep. I couldn't until I walked to the studio and held the camera. I concentrated on the mechanics of the camera. When I calmed down, I returned to the house, fixed myself a strong drink, then went back to bed.
I called Jake at his office first thing the next morning. He informed me that he had not heard from Julie. He wanted to know how I was doing. I told him nothing had surfaced yet. I didn't want to try to explain about Mike and Wally just yet.
I stopped at the Elms for breakfast. Jed didn't work the mornings but his younger brother Ezra did. "Hello E. how's it going today."
"Fair to partly cloudy Linc. The usual?"
"Sure, I am a creature of habit." Ezra was as friendly as Jed was bitter. Ezra and I got along really well. He even brought my breakfast over personally. He also brought a cup of coffee for himself.
"You know Linc, I can't figure out who is crazier, you or Jed. He swears he is gonna' throw your ass out of here one of these nights. What did you two fight about last night?"
"Hell Ezra, I didn't know we fought. I thought it was just business as usual."
"I guess it was at that." He paused a moment, then said. "Lucille told me you were looking for Julie again."
"What do you mean again?"
"Okay, it is usually Jake these days. I can still remember a time it was you looking for her."
"Hell E you were too young to remember those days."
"No, I'm not. I saw the way you looked at those dudes at the landing, when you came for her. I was hangin' outside when you went inside after her. I recognized you but you didn't even see me. Man that took some balls. I mean walking into a bar full of drunken black men. I thought you was the devil. I mean you was so cool when you pulled her off that dude's lap. They still talk about that down there. Old Elmer, he was laughed at so hard I thought he would come kill you."
"It wasn't anything E. I just went in and Julie came with me."
"Yeah, there could have been a killing that night, yours."
"Maybe, you know this crap with Julie sure is making a lot of people remember the bad old times."
"Tell me Linc, are you still as bad as you used to be?"
"E, I'll let you in on a secret. I was never as bad as people thought."
"You sure fooled old Elmer and them others. They say you had death in your eyes when you carried Julie out of there. They was all surprised when she came back alive a few months later."
"Yeah well, I just needed to get some things straight with her."
"For the life of me, I don't know how you ever got involved with her. My mama said she told you to stay away from Julie."
"No E, your mama told me to screw her if I had to, but not to marry her. I should have taken her advice."
"Yeah, my mama was a smart woman."
"She was that, my friend." I had managed to eat during the conversation. "Look I hate to eat and run, but I got to see a man about a lie."
"Need any help?"
"No, but if I did, there is no one I would rather have by my side."
"Thanks, but I wasn't lookin' for no compliments. I mean it. If you need anything, you let me know."
"Thanks again but I am a peaceful man these days."
"You really should tell that to Stan. Word is he got his nose broke last night."
"Damn, rumors travel fast in this town."
"Don't they though."
The wonderful thing about my small town is that it is so small. I drove to Mike's Amoco in just ten minutes. I walked into the station and found Mike working on a car in bay one. He was putting brake pads on the front end.
"Mike," I didn't wait for him to ask. "Why did you lie to me?"
"I do not lie, Lincoln."
"Cut the crap Mike. Everybody calls me Linc and you know it. Now before I start doing some real damage to this place. Tell me why you lied to me." He fingered the big wrench holding it like a weapon.
"Mike, do you want to kill me? You know if you take that wrench to me, you are going to have to kill me. If you don't, I damn sure am going to kill you."
"Get out, he demanded.
"Not till you tell me why you lied. Jake doesn't know you lied. If you don't set it right, he will. If he tells all his friends that you lied to cover for Julie the slut, your name will be crap in the church."
He thought about it a minute then told me.
"I came back to the station two weeks ago. I had been to the bank. I caught them in the storeroom. I fired Wally on the spot. Julie told him not to worry she could get him a better job later. After all she knew everybody in town. (In the biblical sense no doubt.) He got in her car and they drove away. I was so upset. I was afraid that Jake would blame me somehow. He could ruin me."
"Okay Mike, I believe you. Now where did they go?"
"I don't know Linc. They got on the highway heading south. I have no idea where they got off."
"Mike, if you have lied to me again, I am going to wreck this garage. The minute I find out, this place is gone."
"I'm not lying. I don't lie."
"Right, this time Wally left with Julie. I want Wally's sister's address and phone number." Mike went into the office and wrote the number down for me on the back of a credit card receipt. I used his phone to call the sister. I didn't even bother charging the call to my home. The sister didn't even know Wally was missing. She hadn't heard from him in a month.
I used the phone to tell Jake I was on my way to his office. I didn't have to wait that time. I was led to the office of a young associate. It was of course a woman. Women were in high demand in those days. You couldn't do business with the government unless you had one. Better still if she was a black woman. Since ours was a small town, and the firm had little upward mobility, it could only afford a white woman. She was not even up to the firm's standards for beauty at that.
I had talked to Ginger before. I had even shot a traffic intersection for her. I think she had just been handling the details of the case. If it ever went to trial, I imagined one of the other lawyers would handle the case. "Good morning Ginger. How they hangin\rquote ?"
"Now there is a true sexist remark. "How they hangin\rquote ." How original. I suppose that is part of that good old boy southern humor."
"Actually, I kinda forgot you were a woman. I was just tryin' to treat you like one of the boys."
"Well Mr. Jefferson, I am not one of the boys."
"Yes ma'am, I will try to remember that." You really could have mistaken her for one of the boys. She was a bit shorter than average and she carried about ten pounds too much weight. All of it located in her ass. It wasn't all that objectionable but it was noticeable. Her breasts were either very small or non-existent, that one was a toss up. She was definitely not in the same league with the secretaries. I guessed she was the best the firm could come up with though.
"How about a truce? While you and I wait for Jake," I suggested.
"I thought Ronda told you. Jake is out for the morning. He left instructions that if you came in I was to help you."
"Damn, why didn't Ronda tell me that on the phone. I could have saved a trip down here."
"I'm sure I can help you with anything you need Mr. Jefferson."
"Linc, call me Linc. I doubt it, but you can try." She heard the phrase that I never breathed, "Stupid broad."
"Why don't you try me?" she said defensively.
"I need to find the recent charges on Jake's credit cards. Specifically any charges from out of town accounts, you know gas, motels, restaurants that kind of thing."
"So how do we do that?" she asked.
"We have Jake call the credit card company and ask. If the cards Julie carried were in his name, and I'm sure they were, then he can request the information. If the cards were issued by the local bank, you know visa or master card, then the bank will be more than happy to cooperate with Jake."
"Then you are looking for Mrs. Adams' charges not Jake's? she asked.
"That is correct." I had challenged her and she was out to prove she could indeed take care of the problem without bothering her boss. She turned on her computer terminal and entered a password. She looked up to make sure I looked away while she did. I looked back in time to see the password. I had no intention of entering her computer but I was curious. It was a stupid password. GINGER, now that would be really hard to figure out.
When the personal information on Jake came to the screen, she printed it. Then she switched to another file and retrieved his business expense records. "Jake reports expenses from three cards, Master card, Visa, and Amoco gas."
"Handy little thing, that computer. Too bad they don't make them cheaper. I could use one of those."
"Well, I doubt you will ever be able to afford one," she said nastily. She was obviously going to make a hell of a lawyer. She had the ridicule part down already.
"Ginger, we don't play the same games. Don't waste your time putting me down. It has no effect on me. How about calling the bank to see if they issued those cards?"
"I don't think I should," she said.
"If you didn't think you should, why in the name of God did you bother to pull up that information? Were you just jerking me around?"
She dialed the number. She explained to someone at the bank. After a few seconds of listening, she hung up. When the phone was replaced into the cradle with care she said, cocksucker."
"Ginger how you do talk, what did he say?"
"It was Mrs. Fagan. She told me to have my boss call. The information was privileged."
I reached for the phone. "May I?" She nodded, thinking I would no doubt receive the same information.
"Maggie Johnson please?" I waited smiling at Ginger as I did. "Maggie, Linc how they hangin?'"
"Why don't you just drag your sorry ass over to my house around six tonight and find out for yourself?" she asked.
I laughed at her response. "Sure but you know I have to take a picture, if I see for myself. Bobby wouldn't like that. Look Maggie, I need a favor. Jake asked me to look for Julie."
"So 'Miss High and Mighty' is gone again?"
"Yeah, she is on vacation again. She has been gone a little longer than usual this time. Jake wants to make sure she is all right." I waited while she processed the information. Maggie wasn't as fast as a computer.
"Okay Linc, just for you. I might have made old Jake wait for a few days. For you sweetie, I will make a call."
"I swear Maggie. You are the best." I gave her all the information. I told her I didn't care about any purchases except those made since July eighth. I explained that I was only interested in those made out of town and at either hotels, motels, restaurants or gas stations. That time I was on hold for about ten minutes. Ginger had to leave the office once to answer the phone. She was back in moments.
"Linc, you aren't going to like this." Maggie said.
"What is it Maggie?"
"Neither card was used out of town since July first,"
"Really? Does Julie have any cards in her own name?"
"Are you kidding? She has no job. We would never give her a card. It is against policy."
"Okay thanks Maggie, I appreciate the information. Tell Bobby to be good to you or I will come take you away from him," I said. I replaced Ginger's phone with a smirk.
"Okay so the good old boy charm works on bank tellers, Ginger stated.
"Actually, she is a vice president but it still works. You should try it."
"Fuck you Linc, she said with a nasty tone in her voice.
"Okay when?" I didn't wait for an answer. "Now you check the gas card."
"Why? She didn't use the others."
"She might be staying with friends, but she might also have bought gas. That new Lincoln of hers is a gas guzzler."
"Strange that she would buy a Lincoln."
"Why, the fact she hates me doesn't mean she hates the car." She called the Amoco Oil Company. She was nicer and even had a bullshit story about her card being missing. She didn't want to report it stolen till she looked some more. She just wanted to make sure it wasn't being used. Frankly she didn't want to admit she had lost it to her husband just yet. Since she was able to give the woman the dates and places of her husband's purchases, she got a verification that those were the only purchases.
Jake came in while I was still digesting the information. I talked to him. I wanted him to call the chief and lay it out for him. "Jake, she may have gotten in over her head this time. I mean she wears some very expensive jewelry. And that car was worth a bundle. I'm not trying to frighten you, but she may be more than on vacation."
"I don't know. You know the police always treat me like a jerk. Every time I call them about Julie they act like I am a teenager."
"I can go down and talk to Bart."
"If you think it necessary, I think she just sold some jewelry and paid cash for the expenses. She is no dummy she knows we can track her with the cards."
"Has she ever done that before?"
"No, but it never mattered before. She was always coming back, what if she decided not to come back?" I could see that he was agitated.
"Hell Jake, if she was going to divorce your ass, she would do it here where she could take you to the cleaners. No, she will be back if she is able."
"I guess. Go ahead and see the chief."
I fought my way into the toy and drove the block and a half to the police station. I entered the old building through the rear door. The door was reserved for cops, or former cops who didn't fear the local police system. I climbed the stairs to the chief's office.
"Bart in?" I asked the uniformed secretary. I had asked her the same question a couple of hundred times in the last few years. There always seemed to be some reason for seeing the chief. Most of them were bullshit since we were friends.
"What is it this time Linc? You in trouble or is it a friend?"
"Neither, Jake is looking for Julie."
"I wondered how long it would take for him to come to us. What? She\rquote s been gone a couple of weeks now?"
"Yeah, is the word around already?"
"Of course the word is out. This is a small town. We all knew you were looking for her. Though God only knows why you would want to find her."
"Yeah, well Jake has lots of money and is willing to part with some of it."
"Well, Bart is busy with the mayor right now. Come back this afternoon."
"Around three?" I asked.
"That should do it."
I struggled into the toy and drove to the Elms. I needed a coffee fix. Before I sat down, I called the office, picked up my messages and returned them. I returned all except the one from Helen. If I spoke to her, I wanted to be sitting down somewhere.
While I drank the coffee, I went over what I knew about Julie's last day in town. She took her car to the Dealership. Then she called for a lunch reservation. So far not the actions you would expect from someone ready to leave town. Julie wasn't ordinary by any means. The sight of two dogs screwing could have set her off.
She then goes out to buy gas way out by the interstate. It was not her usual habit. She met Wally. For some reason decides to get it on with him. Mike catches them. He immediately fires Wally. She and Wally leave heading south on I85, the lunch reservations forgotten. It could cut either way. She could have taken Wally to some other town, or something worse could have happened. Wally was certainly no saint. After all he was a friend of Stan's.
I would have to remind the chief that Stan lived in a dump south of Mike's station. They might have gone there for a quick roll. The absence of the credit card use didn't look good. Wally couldn't have afforded gas for the Lincoln let alone Motel bills. She could have sold some jewelry, but we wouldn't know that for some time. Jake didn't know anything about what she had with her. I guess we could match the insurance inventory with what was in the house. Those pieces missing we could assume she had on her. I might as well get Jake started on that.
Of course they put me through to Jake's assistant, Ginger. "Ginger is Jake still in the office?" I asked.
"Yes but he is with a client."
"Okay listen, I need a list of the jewelry Julie was wearing. Jake doesn't have any idea. So what he needs to do is check what jewelry is left against the insurance inventory. I need a list of all that is missing along with descriptions and photos. Either he or the insurance agent has them. I know there are some because he brought the stuff over for me to shoot once."
"Okay, when do you need it?"
"Yesterday of course. Put your handy dandy computer on it."
"Okay but it is going to take till tomorrow. I can get the list today but Jake is going to have to bring her jewelry in for me to match it up." There was something in her voice and the statement about Jake having to take the jewelry to the office that hit me strange. She had made a point to tell me that. It struck me as peculiar. How the hell could she be so sure that she would be the one to match it up? It hit me that she was trying to tell me something.
"Are you there Linc?" she asked.
"Yeah just thinking, why don't you just inventory the stuff tonight when you are over at Jake's?"
She tried for a while to bluff it out. Whether she knew it or not, she wanted me to know that she and Jake were doing the dirty deed. I listened to her stammer and stutter for a while, then I finally took pity on her. I told her I didn't care what she and Jake did. The police were going to need that inventory ASAP.
I went back to my booth and ordered more coffee. When it came, I changed my mind. Instead I ordered lunch and iced tea. Lunch was a real a hamburger, one with mustard chili slaw and onions. It was a true Carolina delicacy. I ate slowly and tried to think of anything else to do. Nothing helpful came to mind.
I stopped by the studio for a camera and a roll of film. I swung by the intersection of Elm and Church streets. Some unfortunate soul had banged a car there last month. I got the call because some out of town lawyer needed a shot of the intersection from all angles. The eight by tens, at ten bucks each, made me thirty bucks. I had brought a film mailer to the pro lab in Greensboro. I would get them through the mail in about two weeks. It was plenty of time to jack the insurance company up. If the lawyers really needed a picture in a hurry, it was Polaroid. Those were much smaller and they had a lot less detail in them. The lawyers usually opted for the larger better quality 35mm shots.
I was late getting back to the Chief's office. The uniformed secretary ushered me into Bart's office. He rose and stuck out his hand. "Link, how the hell are you boy? I haven't seen you in a couple of months. I can't believe you stayed out of trouble that long."
"Chief, you know I am never in trouble. It's those friends of mine who are always asking me to come talk to you."
"Not always. You do remember that little girl?''
"Come on chief, you make her sound like a teenager. Mattie was over twenty-one. I just did what she paid me to do. I didn't know she hadn't told her husband about the picture."
"Yeah well, I hope you learned something from that. I mean, down here we take our wives serious."
"Yeah well, I take somebody shooting out my window serious too."
"At least when we got him he was sorry."
"Sure you got him, and I got him before the judge. Once old Winston saw those pictures, he told the kid to pay for the window. He also told him to stay the hell away from my house. That was real justice. A felony reduced to spitting on the sidewalk."
"Like I said, we take our wife's virtue serious here."
"Come on chief, those weren't dirty pictures, they were art."
"Well, the husband and the Judge didn't see it that way."
"So I hear you are looking for Julie. I didn't think I would ever see you in here about her again. What? It\rquote s been four or five years since the last time?"
"Something like that."
"You know I don't understand about her. Man, she has a body like an angel. When you two were first married, I thought that crap would stop. I mean she came from a good home and everything. Something was just wrong in her head I guess."
"Well, old Jake sure as hell didn't cure her."
"Seems like. I hear she is off again. You know we aren't into domestic runaways that much. I mean, if she is old enough, she can do anything she damned well pleases."
"I know chief. God knows your guys have spent enough time and money on Julie already. This time I'm not so sure she is a runaway."
"Before you start telling me why this isn't a run away answer me one question." I saw the glint in his eye and knew to look behind me. Behind me stood the secretary and a new cop.
I knew the drill so I went along. "What question is that chief?"
"When you bit off ole Stan's finger what did it taste like?"
"Why chief chicken of course." The chief broke up laughing. The secretary closed the door to drown out the laughter from the outside.
"I'm sorry Link but these kids need a laugh once in a while. We do that bit so well. Okay now you can tell me why you think Julie didn't just take off on one of her vacations again."
"Okay, for one thing she has been gone longer than usual two and a half weeks."
"She's been gone longer."
"I know chief, but that was only once."
"Remind me why she was gone so long that time."
I sighed. "She said he had a twelve-inch Johnson." He nodded smiling. "This time she left with Wally down at Mike's place. Hardly the same thing." I explained about Mike's firing of Wally, then about the lunch reservation. "Mostly chief I think something may have happened because she hasn't used the credit cards. That, you have to admit is not like Julie."
"Okay I'll put an APB out for the car. You should know though, I expect her to come waltzing in any minute. If she does, I am going to be some kind of pissed at her and Jake. I might even throw you into the mix."
"Come on chief, I ran all this down before I came to you. If I knew anything else to do, I would do it."
"I got a couple of ideas for you. First of all go talk to Mr. Avery."
"You don't mean old Amos?"
"Naw, that no good son of his, Jeffrey. I hear he has been sniffin' around Julie."
"You mean getting it on with her?"
"I wouldn't even bother tellin' it, if that was all. No, I hear he thought he was in love, or so the rumor goes."
"Why haven't I heard that one?"
"People tend not to talk to you about Julie. They are afraid you might get pissed."
"Nothing Julie does pisses me off anymore."
"Well, everybody don't know that, now do they?"
"Okay, I'll talk to Jeffrey, then what?"
"You know damned well what. Go to Atlanta to see if she has visited any of those clubs she hangs out in down there. If you do that, then I will let you off the hook when she shows. If not, then you are going to be on my shit list. You know that you don't want to be there."
I stood to leave, knowing I had just been given an order, and not liking it a bit. "By the way Linc, did you check the Landing?"
"Yeah I checked. Would you take a look at Stan's cabin for me?"
"I'll look. Y\rquote all have a nice trip to Atlanta."
I stopped by Helen's studio on the way to the house. I envied her every time I saw the old mansion that her father had bought. He had converted the downstairs into a beautiful studio. The upstairs, he converted into a small residence for his family. Helen too was an only child. We broke the large family tradition. The south is full of families with more kids than food.
I entered through the front door into an entry hall. The studio still had the feel of an old plantation house. Helen had the luxury of shooting formal bridal portraits in the grand old living room. Behind the living room sat what once was a dining room and a parlor. Those days, each was a separate shooting area for head and shoulder portraits. The last of the downstairs rooms was what had originally been a giant kitchen. It was at the time, her office and storage area. I found Helen sitting in the office. She was pouring over her books and appointment list.
"Well did you make your first million yet."
"I gave up on that one and started on the second instead. I didn't hear you come in."
"Your old bell is broken again. You need to fix that thing once and for all. They have a new thing out now, a pressure mat. You put it in front of the door, when people step on the thing it buzzes."
"I don't want any more wiring done to the house."
"This one sends a radio signal to a receiver anywhere you want to put it."
"Are you going to get one?"
"Hell no, no one comes to my place without an appointment."
"Linc, tell me you are finished looking for Julie?" Her sudden change surprised me but shouldn't have. She was obsessed with the Julie thing.
"Not quite finished yet. I have to talk to Jeffrey Avery. After that, the chief has asked me to go to Atlanta. I should be gone a couple of days. When I get back, it will be over. From then on the police are going to do the searching."
"I wish you would just stop now."
"Why, I'm just going to drive over to Avery's house, then down to Atlanta. You know, visit a few bars; ask a couple of questions. After that it is over."
"I don't like the idea of your being involved with anything about that awful woman."
"Look, this is for Jake and the money. It has nothing to do with me and Julie."
"You and I know better than that. If she asked, you would drop everything and run to her."
"That is crap."
"Is it really?"
"Yes, but there is no way to prove it to you. Besides, why the hell do you care? I hear you're seeing Thomas Willingham the third these days."
"Of course, are you two going to tie the knot?"
"Why?" she asked.
"I want the wedding contract. Hell he is loaded, I can jack the price triple on him."
"Forget it, we are not getting married. He is married to his mother."
"Yeah? Then why is he keeping company with you?"
"The club charity ball is hardly keeping company. He needed a date, and the exposure was good for business."
"Sure, Helen Willingham, you know it does have a nice ring to it. Promise me that if you do marry the old sod, you will give me your studio as a wedding present."
"Then you could make as much money as my dad. I mean you wouldn't have a cut throat competitor."
"Boy, you really know how to hurt a guy."
"What are you doing here anyway?"
"Mending fences of course, I came to make sure you weren't really mad at me."
"I am mad as hell, but since you will never change, I might as well get over it. Besides, you are a man. You just can't help yourself. Stupidity is in your genes."
"I sure am glad you understand. I think I will be heading out then. I'll see you in a couple of days."
I drove the toy to the Avery home. The one Amos built before he sold the club his old home. I knew the toy was out of place in the drive. I had no other choice. Jeffrey had to be eliminated before I went to Atlanta. I really hoped he knew where Julie was. It would be nice to avoid that trip.
I approached the three-story brick house by way of a circular drive. The house was even bigger than the club. It could have been an office building it was so large. It was hard to believe there were so many rich people in such a small town. They made their money on the sweat of the poor rural population. The mills had sprung up years before. Typically in the area one man owned one or more of the several cotton mills. His family prospered as the mills cranked out cotton cloth.
The butler answered my knock on the door. "May I help you sir."
"My name is Linc Jefferson. I need to speak to Jeffrey please."
"Wait here sir, I will see if he is home."
I had heard that since the old man retired, Jeffrey was running the business. They said he was also running it into the ground. Of course I didn't much care about him. I did care about all the people who worked in the mill. It would be tough on the town, if even one of the mills had to close.
People tell me that Jeffrey and I were in school at the same time. I had seen Jeff around here and there. Unlike me, he still looked young enough to be in college. He also didn't look like Julie's type. Sure he would do for a night or two yeah, but not as a romantic thing. He was too damned clean cut.
When he graduated high school, he went on to college while I was on a McNamara scholarship. He hadn't done anything special since. At least not that I knew anything about.
The butler surprised me. I had turned away from the house trying to remember Jeffrey from our school days. Of course I couldn't.
"Sir, would you please come this way."
I followed the butler through a two-story entrance hall to what must have been the library. At least it looked like a library from the movies I had seen. The butler left me standing in front of the door. I walked in through the open door. The room was empty. I was being kept waiting. Had to keep the white trash in its place you know.
"Can I help you?" The woman asked as she entered the room. The woman was every bit of sixty. She was remarkably attractive. She had probably been a real beauty once. I recognized her as Amos Avery's wife.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Avery I am afraid there has been some mistake. I came to see your son, Jeffrey," I said.
"Yes, Cranford said you had asked to see Jeffrey. I'm afraid Jeffrey is rather busy right now. He and his father are going over the accounts or some such thing. I thought I might be able to help you?"
"I don't think so ma'am."
"You are here about your wife aren't you?"
"I don't have a wife Mrs. Avery. I am here about Jake Adam's wife."
"Of course, she is your ex-wife?"
"I understand that she is missing again?"
"Yes ma'am, it does seem that way."
"And you think my son might know where she may be found?"
"I really don't know what to think. Frankly I was told your son might have some information."
"Well you were told wrong." Her charm was beginning to do a Houdini.
"No offense ma'am, but I still need to talk to him."
"Like I said Mr. Jefferson. My son is busy with his father, and he knows nothing about this terrible woman." She paused to compose herself. I had seen a side of her I doubted many outsiders ever did. She showed the same concern any mother would. I doubted that many people ever got to see her anguish. "I really think you should leave now Mr. Jefferson."
"Of course ma'am, but you do know that if anything has happened to Julie the police will question your son. You can't protect him from the police."
"If it comes to that there might be a problem. Her husband is our attorney."
"That might prove inconvenient. Jake is also a cousin of yours isn't he."
"A nephew actually, his mother is my husband's sister."
"I am a little surprised that your son would do that to his cousin."
"Have an affair with his wife."
"Good night Mr. Jefferson. I think you can find your way out."
"Yes ma\rquote am, I am rather good at finding things." I didn't much like the way this was turning. It was really going to be a bitch if anything had happened to Julie.
I stopped at the Elms for dinner. Of course Jed and I argued. I had known that would likely occur before I went into the place. That night it was salmon patties, cold slaw and navy beans. Cornbread again. Jed made lousy biscuits. His brother made much better ones so it was biscuits for breakfast and lunch but cornbread at night.
At home that night, I returned the camera to its cabinet. I made sure everything was turned off and locked down. I went to the house to pick up the day's mail and messages. I returned the calls first. I scheduled all the appointments for later in the next week. Unfortunately, I had no commitments over the weekend nothing stood in my way. I would rather have picked up a couple of hundred bucks at a wedding. Instead I was off to Atlanta.
I called Jake at the office. I told him I needed three hundred dollars in cash right away. I explained that I would be leaving for Atlanta when the sun set. He agreed to stop by on his way home with the money. I started on the mail. I opened the advertisements first then the bills. There were no checks. I hadn't expected any. Those kinds of surprises always seemed to happen to other people. Just once, I would like to find an unexpected check in my mail.
I finished with the mail, then moved to the small living room. I had a window air conditioner that I seldom turned on. I wasn't really home that much during the daylight hours. At night it was cool enough with just a fan. I was born before air conditioners were everywhere. The heat didn't bother me as much as it did the young people. I stayed wet with sweat and didn't mind a bit.
Jake arrived while I was reading the Rangefinder , a photo magazine. I loved to see what was going on in California. Everything was about California photographers, since the magazine was published in L.A. It seemed that all the innovations started there first.
Jake walked into the house, without even trying the bell. "Linc I thought the cops were taking over?"
"They are but the chief made it real plain. He isn't going to bother the Atlanta PD with this. He also made it plain that unless one of us checked her Atlanta hang outs, he wasn't going to do much of anything."
"Do you think something has happened to her?"
"Jake, I don't know. There are some things that don't look just right. This trip may well be a waste of time. Then again, who really knows? I may walk into the Pussy Cat and find her sitting at the bar, with Wally's head between her legs." I meant to shoot a dig at Jake but he didn't bite.
"I hope so. Not Wally, but I hope she is all right."
"Yeah me too, what is this I hear about you and Ginger?"
"You have a dirty mind. She has been working on a case at my house."
"I hope it is Scotch and ten years old at least." I laughed and finally Jake got it.
"No, I am serious it is just business."
"Did Julie know about this business arrangement?"
"Of course not, why?" He thought about it a minute. "Oh I see, you think she might have taken off for good. No Linc, she didn't know. She was too self absorbed to have any idea that I was staying late at the office." He stopped again to think. "Look, have a good trip and bring her back."
"I will if I find her. I will be at the Terrace. If she shows up call me there." He left without saying good-bye. I thought, there goes a man with one too many women. Hell he had one too many when he just had Julie.
I locked the house an hour before sundown. I wanted to get the oil changed in the toy before my trip. I went to the downtown station where I found that the owner had left for the day. The kid behind the counter agreed to change the oil, check the brake fluid, and radiator for me. Part of the oil change was a grease job. It took him almost an hour with the pumps needing constant attention. I would have done it myself, except that I had to drive all night.
It was after eight when I passed Mike's service station. When I turned from the ramp onto the highway I thought, Well at least for a minute, I am tracing her steps. Who knows where she left the highway?
I arrived in Atlanta at four a.m. Too late to check even the clubs that Julie frequented. Instead I drove to the Georgian Terrace hotel. I had stayed there a couple of other times, a few years before. I had been doing the same thing even then. In those days I was chasing my own wife, not Jake's.
The hotel was a grand old structure that was way past its prime. Its concrete walls were dirty and the steps cracked. It was one of those buildings on its way to oblivion unless someone stepped in to save it. It was destined to crumble under the weight of its own overhead.
During the preview of "Gone With the Wind" in Atlanta, the movie's stars had stayed at the Terrace. I am sure that it was a first rate hotel then. I understand there have been many great balls held at the Terrace. That night it was full of employees of second rate companies. The companies that were trying to save a few bucks at their employee's expense. The years since the premier had not been especially kind to the Terrace, hell, why should they, the years had not been kind to anyone I knew.
The carpet in the lobby was red and still looked pretty good. The place was clean but you could tell its age here and there. I took my key from the sleepy-eyed night clerk. I carried my own duffel bag to the third floor room. It was a small room with twin beds. I turned on the air conditioner for a while. I would be cold soon enough I knew. At that moment, I needed the air conditioner to get rid of the closed in smell. I hated Hotels and Motels alike.
I was still trying to get to sleep when the room cooled to the uncomfortable level. I turned off the air but I couldn't turn off my mind as easily. I continued to run all the facts over in my brain. Each time, it turned out badly for Julie. It took so long to fall asleep that I slept till mid afternoon of the next day.
I showered and changed into clean clothes. I walked across the street to the cafeteria there I ate a late lunch, then walked past the theater where the premier had been held. On that day it was a porno house. I kept on walking. I found my way into a pawnshop. I always liked to look at the cameras in hock- shops. I had never found one I wanted, but then you never knew when it would happen.
That time I found something interesting. I found an old Ricoh rangefinder. It looked a lot like my Leica. It didn't have interchangeable lenses but for fifty bucks, who cared? I spent fifteen minutes checking it out. I could tell that everything worked except the range finder. To check that I would have to shoot a roll of film and I certainly didn't have time for that. The camera was really very clean and without any dents. I decided to take the chance. I paid forty bucks for it. The man had been willing to negotiate the price.
I walked the streets with the camera and a 36-exposure roll of film. I killed the day shooting pictures of just about anything that interested me. When the afternoon was pretty much gone, I installed the film into the camera. I began to shoot film into the twilight hours. I didn't have an exposure meter, so I guessed. It really didn't matter. I was just killing time anyway.
Finally darkness fell as I continued to wander the streets. The downtown became a contrast of realities. One reality was for the people in shiny cars and fancy clothes. They were either tourists or businessmen. They seemed to have returned to the downtown area for entertainment.
The other reality was the pimps and drug dealers. They also drove up in shiny cars but it was evidenced in their faces that they were dealing in the entertainment sought by the other reality. Some people seem to find their reality in the loss of reality. At least for a while, I had done it with the booze. My problem was that reality had to be faced the next day. Those days I usually had to do it feeling like crap.
It was almost nine o'clock when I started the rounds. A couple of the clubs on my list had folded. I still had plenty to check. Three were within walking distance of the hotel.
I checked with the hotel people first, to be sure she hadn't checked in at the Terrace. They didn't want to check the records for less than ten bucks. There was no record and no one had seen her.
I walked two blocks south of the hotel to a place called the Pussy Cat. It was Julie\rquote s all time favorite, probably because of the name. If she had been in town two weeks, she had probably been to the club. I went through all the bartenders and waitresses with the picture from my wallet.
I had plenty of other pictures from Jake. I also had plenty of my own, some made within the last year. Julie loved to have her picture made. I was usually the one who made them. Sometimes even with her clothes on.
No one admitted having seen her. I left the Cat around ten thirty. It was eleven when I pulled into the parking lot of the Scene. It was a kid's club. The crowd was younger than either Julie or me. She went there occasionally for the "young stuff." Those were her words. No one there admitted having seen the old broad either. Julie was thirty so I guess at thirty-three I was ancient. I left the Scene and tried the Animal. The Animal started my descent into the truly weird and frightening side of Julie's nature.
The Animal was a biker club. They allowed civilians into it, but we were definitely frowned upon. I didn't get any information from the employees there. I hadn't expected to either. What I did get were a lot of dirty looks. I knew I could walk away from any of their taunts. I had business that couldn't be delayed by a protracted stay in the hospital.
It really got weird after the Animal. My next stop was the Ding Dong club. That one was a gay men's bar. Now don't ask me what our Julie was doing in a fag joint, because I have no idea. They hadn't seen her. They could hardly have missed her. If she had been in, she would have stuck out like a black man at a KKK rally.
The next hit was the Isles. The Isles was a club for gay women. She wouldn't have stuck out quite so much in that one. There were two kinds of women in the place. One group wore leather and the other dresses. I was informed that the dress of the women meant nothing. Some of the leather wearers were butch and some weren't. Some of the women in dresses were submissive and some weren't.
The place looked much like any other club except that everybody had breasts. The employees were a lot less than friendly. They thought I had come to start trouble. I did manage to get one waitress to look at the picture. No luck.
I had saved the worst of the first night's crap holes till last. It didn't open till midnight and ran all night. It wasn't much to look at, but then most bars aren't, if you look close at them. That particular one didn't even require a close look. You couldn't miss the fact that it was an abandoned factory. The neighborhood was slipping quickly into oblivion. The Dungeon might have been the only occupied building in the block. It was hard to tell since all the buildings would have been closed after midnight anyway.
I never figured out why the cops didn't bust the Dungeon. Maybe they liked the freak show themselves. I had a hell of a time getting into the place. I finally found a woman alone waiting to enter. She was a member. I explained that my girl friend was supposed to meet me outside the club. I thought she might be inside already. I was a half-hour late and I needed to get in to apologize.
I doubted that she believed me. It didn't matter. She let me go in with her anyway. "Honey if she is a member here apologizing won't help. Aw, what the hell, you look like a nice man. If you don't find her, come back and I will let you buy me something." I agreed, then wandered off. I had to hang around for a while before I showed the picture.
The Dungeon was built from the basement of the factory. It was huge with many small rooms. The main room was the bar and dance floor. At the far end of the dance floor a hallway wove its way through the remainder of the basement. On each side of the hall were smaller rooms. These rooms were more or less unsupervised. Almost anything could, and did go on in them. I had found Julie in one of them once. I knew I should look. I really hated the idea on one level. Of course, I was fascinated on another level. I had a drink while I tried to decide. The bourbon was watered and it cost way too much. I figured three bucks for a drink was ridiculous.
I finally got up the courage to start down the corridor. It was early enough so that many of the rooms were empty. None of the rooms had doors. The idea was to become part of the entertainment. The first occupied room I came to had a man handcuffed to the wall. A woman was busy whipping his naked ass. It would have been more interesting visually, if he hadn't been old and fat. The woman was anything but either of those. She was very attractive even in her clothes. A few of the other rooms had people engaged in some very strange sex acts. I had seen most things in my life. Even so, there were a few that surprised even me.
When I was sure I had seen everyone at least once, I went to the bar . I picked a female bartender, hoping that she would be easier to con.
"Hi, I am supposed to meet a lady here. I never met her before. She sent me this picture. Is she really as hot as this?"
"Don't know. I never saw her before." She hadn't even looked at the picture.
"Ma'am, I said to get her attention with a twenty-dollar bill, "I don't want to get involved with anyone too crazy. If she is a nut case, I am going to run like hell." This time she looked at the picture after taking my twenty.
"Never saw her before. But I will ask Eddie, the other bartender." She took the picture and left. She returned a minute later after her conference with Eddie. "Eddie said that he hasn\rquote t seen her in about a year. He said if you are as square as you look, you better not get involved with this one. Last time she was here she started a big fight. She was doing three at a time. When the men tired out, she started insulting them. She called them a bunch of fags. One of them slapped her, then somebody slugged him. Next thing you know hell is in season around here. She wasn't banned because she didn't lay hands on anyone. She was told to stay away for a while till it cooled down. Eddie said if she was coming back, he might start looking for another job. One of those apes busted his nose."
Eddie would surely know if she had been in. I was out of places to look. I headed for the door. I didn't plan to buy the lady who let me in a drink. It just worked out that way.
I was half way to the door when I heard her voice. "Couldn't find her?" the voice asked.
"I'm afraid not," I said.
"Then you owe me a drink. Come on I don't bite, at least not on the first date." She broke into a hardy laugh. I joined her.
"I don't suppose you know this girl," I said, handing her the picture. "I am really kind of looking for her."
"You a cop? You don't look like a cop," she stated.
"I'm not a cop. I am kind of her husband."
"I had me one of those once, a kind of husband. He had a lousy memory. Kept forgetting he was married. I reminded his ass with a hell of a divorce settlement."
"Sounds fair, do you know this woman?"
"Kind of dark in here." She removed a pair of glasses from her pocketbook. I had already placed her age around forty. The glasses didn't change my opinion.
"Sure, that is Julie. I haven't seen her in a year or more. God that woman is a real pisser."
"She could take on all the men in the joint. She never seemed to get tired." She paused only a second then said. "Me, I like my men one at a time. Don't get me wrong. I like them a little kinky, but just one at a time. Are you kinky?"
"I don't think so. The strangest thing I ever did was to make it with Julie."
"That had to be a bit strange, she said.
"I guess. Well I have to run. I got a lot to do tomorrow."
"Don't you want to hear the kinkiest thing I ever did?"
"Sure, but I really do have to run. Maybe tomorrow night." I frankly was afraid to hear. I had no idea how I might react if she suggested something weird to me.
I drove back to the Terrace. I was worn out but I couldn't sleep. I operated the camera I had bought and I tried to drive Julie from my mind. I didn't have a chance. Her face kept popping up everywhere. It was the face of the girl I married. She didn't own that face anymore. The booze and sex had taken a toll on her. She was still beautiful of course. Men still stopped to stare when she entered a room. She just wasn't the same Julie I had married. As a matter of fact, she had never been the Julie I married.
Julie didn't fit into the mold I had created for her. Oh, she could be warm and caring back then but it didn't matter. Her body still betrayed me. I probably betrayed her. At least she swore that I had.
I finally fell asleep, exhausted . The phone woke me the next morning. I hoped the hotel wasn't on fire. I was still too sleepy to make a move toward getting out. The hotel wasn't on fire but it might as well have been. The call was from Jake. It prompted me to throw my clothes in the bag along with my camera. I checked out immediately to begin the long drive home.
I thought of a thousand questions, I should have asked Jake. Instead I had bolted for home. The only information I had gotten from Jake was that a county sheriff's car had found Julie's Lincoln. He wouldn't have even checked it out, had it not been for the chief's request. It might easily have stayed under the River Bridge another three weeks.
The car was found under a bridge over the Deep River. There were hundreds of pull offs like the one where Julie's car was found. People around home still liked to fish. If the fishing was good in a spot near a bridge, they just pulled their trucks off the main road and made their own road to the river. Julie or someone else had driven her car part way down the drive, then turned it back under the bridge.
It might have been there from day one. People around home don't meddle much in other folk's business. A hundred fishermen might have seen the car and just assumed the owner was farther down the bank fishing, or doing something. The 'or something' was more likely, specially if that someone recognized the car as Julie's. The recognition wasn\rquote t likely since she had just gotten the car.
Jake told me they were dragging the river as we spoke. The drive back was filled with questions. I stopped for gas and called the chief. He wasn't to be found. He was either at the River Bridge , or home with his family. It was Sunday after all.
I drove till around four. When I exited by Mike's service station, I turned away from town. I drove for several miles till I came to the River Bridge . I noticed that the sheriff's cars were still on the site. There was even a van with an empty boat trailer parked on the road. I parked on the far side of the bridge and walked back across. I found the Sheriff standing on the bridge looking into the water.
"Sheriff, what'd you find out so far?"
"Nothing Linc, Bart tells me you were in Atlanta. Don't look like she made it that far."
"Maybe she dumped the car and took off in Wally's car?"
"Wally's car is still at the station. I guess they could have hitched a ride but why would they? The Lincoln has three quarters of a tank of gas."
"You sure there was only three quarters of a tank?"
"Yeah that mean something to you?"
"Well, she had been playing patty cake with Wally at Mike's. I just figured she had the tank filled. If she did, then she drove a ways before she got here. If not, then it don't mean nothing."
"I guess we are going to have to ask Mike," the sheriff said.
The light fishing boat from the rescue squad was way the hell down the river. "You know Sheriff if she has been in here three weeks, she might be down to the dam by now."
"I know Linc, but we don't know how long that car has been here. We are gonna be talking to the people around here, but we haven't got to that yet."
"Did you send anybody up to those black folk's shacks about a mile back? Those kids might have been down here fishing in the last three weeks."
"I doubt it Linc. The car still has all its glass intact. But it is a thought, let me see if Jasper can go up there."
"Would you mind if I tagged along? I promise I won't say a word."
"You know you are a suspect?"
"Wouldn't have it any other way," I said.
"Okay, Jasper can keep an eye on you while you are there. When you finish you need to go to the station and make a statement anyway."
"Sounds reasonable to me Sheriff."
I followed Jasper to the shacks. There were two of them on the same patch of red dirt. Each of them had been painted at the same time, which must have been ten years before. They showed the same lack of paint. There was a lot more graying wood than paint. The windows had no screens at all. Most of the glass was cracked and held together with tape. The porches were both drooping.
An old black woman came to one of the doors as we pulled in. Jasper spoke to her, "Miss Lione, I need to ask your kids some questions. You too, if you don't mind."
"'Bouts that a fancy car ain't it? I told them kids to leave that car alone. I knowed it was wrong when it stayed there so long. First I didn't pay it no mind, thought somebody be sparkin up the river. Then I thinks maybe it be somebody camping up there. After a week I knowed something was bad wrong."
"Why didn't you call the sheriff's office?" Jasper asked.
"Don't got no phone, besides that car be a white man's car. Ain't no reason for me and the kids to get into nothing to do with no white man's car."
"When did you first notice the car Miss Lione?" Jasper asked.
"First saw it on a Wednesday. It be three weeks this comin' Wednesday."
"Well thank you ma'am, we may need to ask you some more questions later."
"Miss Lione, do you remember what time you first saw it?" I asked.
"The kids saw it first. They went fishin' early that morning. Might have been seven o'clock."
"Were they down there on Tuesday at all?"
"Why sure Mista Linc, they are down there most every day. They come home at dark or a little before."
"And they didn't mention seeing it then?"
"No suh Mista Linc, it was Wednesday morning' when they first see it."
"Thank your Ma'am. You have yourself a good day."
"Thank ya kindly, Mista Linc." She paused then said. "You going to be making pitchers again this fall down to the school?"
"I specs so a ma\rquote am."
"Good, I sure do like them pitchers."
"Well I appreciate them kind words." Jasper had been taking notes. He even took down the answers to my questions.
"Why did you quit the po-lice force, Linc? You are a natural at this stuff."
"Jasper, you got to have the fire to do this job. I just didn't have it. To me it was just a job. Now to the really good ones, it is their whole life."
"I heard you quit because of Julie."
"Jasper, you can hear anything, if you listen." We rode in silence to the sheriff's office.
I had a couple of cups of coffee before the Sheriff and the secretary came into the room. Of course Jasper and I discussed the incident at the country bar. He was under the impression that I had gone out there knowing exactly what I would do.
"Man, you ain't near the pussy cat you try to claim. When you backed away from ole Stan you wanted him to come after you. I know you did Linc."
"Jasper, only a nut case wants to fight a man in his own hangout. I wanted Stan to think I was still crazy."
"Well, he damned sure does."
"I would rather talk about your wife." I said it with a grin.
"You and her are two of a kind. She kids me about every man in town. It don't bother me none, till she gets to the other cops. I know she is joking, but I still worry."
"You ever tell her it bothers you?"
"Jasper, you ought to tell her. She will stop, if you tell her."
"I know, but I don't want her to think I am the jealous type. I mean she thinks I am cool. I really don't want her to think otherwise."
"Man, you are the nut. She won't think less of you. Every woman wants her man to be jealous. Hell, I think Julie would have liked for Jake to beat the shit out of her and make her stay home."
"Maybe," Jasper said.
"Well, let's hear it all," the Sheriff said. He wasn't even completely in the room when he began on me.
"Where would you like for me to start?"
"How about you start with, what the hell you are doing running around asking questions. Especially why are you askin\rquote questions at the Avery house."
I had expected Mrs. Avery to call somebody to complain. She and I both knew I had no legal right to be conducting an investigation. Fortunately for me Jake's family had about as much money as the Avery family.
"Jake called me. I went down to his office. He asked me to look for Julie. I agreed. I asked around, but no one had seen her. I checked out all her friends and Jeffrey's name came up. I went out to see, if he knew where to find her."
"What did he say?"
"Didn't, his mama did the talking. She wouldn't even let him come down stairs. His mother actually threw me out of the house."
"Did you get the impression she was covering for him?" Jasper asked me.
"Not really, I don't think she knows anything. I think she just wanted me to leave her son alone. You know I don't have the best of reputations where Julie is concerned."
The Sheriff, Jasper, and even the secretary laughed. "I would have to call that an understatement." Jasper said.
"After being tossed out on my ear I went home. I threw some things in a bag then drove to Atlanta. Without boring you with the details, the bottom line is that no one seems to have seen her. At least, not at her usual hang outs. I was going to check some other places today. Jake's call changed all that."
"Did you do Julie?" the Sheriff asked.
"Not likely, if I were going to do her, it would have been when we were married."
"You sure she didn't find you that morning? You could have lost your temper and killed her. God knows you have the experience for it."
I didn't much like that crack but I ignored it. "I might have, but I didn't. Besides Julie lost the ability to pull my string long ago."
"I don't think I believe that last part. Hell, I'm not sure I believe the first part either."
"Okay Sheriff, I have been a nice guy so far. I think it might be time I called Jake. I think I need a lawyer."
"Not today, anybody else I would believe you had something to hide. In your case, I am very sure you are just being a smart ass," the sheriff said. I already knew he didn't like me much.
"I'm going to cut you loose but don't leave town."
"I got nowhere to go especially at the moment."
"I don't know what that means. I'm going to tell you to stay out of this now. It is no longer your concern."
"In a pig's ass, I said standing.
"If you fuck this up, I will put your smart ass in jail."
"Well maybe you better just go ahead and save me a space." I said it as I walked out the door.
I drove the toy home to think. It looked definite that somebody went into the river. It was too convenient a place to dump a body. Why else would anyone leave the car there? Like everyone else I would have to wait for a body to be sure. Knowing Julie, she could have faked it all. Why, I couldn't imagine. I kept the ugly little Ricoh by my bed. I spent a long time working the mechanism that night.
The next day, I stayed close to home. I didn't call the cops. I knew that in a town this size my phone would ring if there were any news. I spoke with Helen a couple of times, then with Jake. He was worried out of his mind. There was still enough left of his mind to want an accounting of his eight hundred. I told him I would have his bill ready by five. I also told him to send someone after it.
Not only did I have the bill ready; I had a refund check for him. It was less than a hundred bucks, but he was lucky I returned any of the money. Ginger was the courier. I invited her into my living room. I even gave her a glass of tea. I wanted to hear all about Jake and his case of nerves. He hadn't been able to come himself, I wondered about that, he was simply too upset, she told me. According to her, he was home nursing his case of nerves. I wondered about that too. He didn't seem to be too upset to have Ginger come visit. Jake was acting a lot like a guilty man.
The cops always suspect the husband and with good reason; maybe this time especially. Jake might not have done anything to Julie, but he was a damned good place to start looking. Without a body there wasn't much chance anything would be done. With Julie's past history, it was likely that no jury in this county would convict.
I waited the whole day, but heard nothing. I drove to Helen's, then we went out to dinner. The Elms was not an option. Besides being a black restaurant, it had the atmosphere of a greasy spoon. Helen demanded and deserved better. We went to the almost totally white Williams Inn for dinner. It was a short drive on a pleasant night. We even drove her fancy Buick convertible. The Buick, she saved for weddings and nights out. Usually she was seen about town in her very old Dodge pick up truck. It is hard to justify banging metal poles around in a fifteen-thousand dollar car.
The Inn was located in a converted barn. The structural shape was the only thing it ever had in common with a barn. The dining room was wallpapered and carpeted to look like a fancy restaurant. It had begun life as a very upscale restaurant. Since most of the people in the area are rural types, it soon went belly up. The new owner was from the area. He knew what the local people wanted. He brought a family menu to the place. He hadn't bothered getting rid of the trappings from the previous owner.
The food was better than a big city restaurant, but not as much to my taste as the Elms. I ordered the Italian feast. At least, I was sure that it didn't come totally from a can. Helen had roast beef and glazed potatoes. After dinner I lit a cigarette and relaxed. Neither of us spoke for a while. I used the time to assess her.
Helen had red hair, not so red as you would get from dye. It was red enough that she caught grief about it during high school. She had the family nose, long but not quite hooked. It was a damned close call though. To compensate for the nose she stayed thin. She told me she wanted at least one good feature, her body. It was good but not fantastic like the girls who worked at the law firm. It certainly was not like Julie's, but a nice little trim body. I knew that she wore really tight bras to hide the size of her breasts.
She also was cursed with a face absolute covered in freckles. She had so many, in fact, that they overlapped each other. That night she wore enough make-up to tone them down. She usually didn't bother.
When her father passed away we had a talk about sales. I explained to her that she would have to be careful. People don't buy from people who are threatening. A bride might well feel threatened by a more beautiful woman on her wedding day. I hoped she understood that it was a compliment. She must have understood something. From that day on she wore tight bras, to make sure that her breasts were small and didn't bounce when she walked. She quit using pancake make-up to hide her freckles. She became the girl next door.
When we went out, she wore slinky dresses with no bra. She also wore plenty of well-applied make-up. That night she was wearing the tight bra. The make-up she wore was for her self-esteem. The bound breasts were her way of telling me that I would be sleeping with the Ricoh again.
I really didn't mind all that much. I had Julie on my mind. Not now so much, but I would as soon as I arrived home. There were an awful lot of questions still flying around in my head.
"Are you about ready to go?" she asked.
"Sure, let\rquote s makes a break." I picked up the check and looked at it. The check was more than ten bucks, and we didn't even have dessert.
I drove the Buick back to her studio and home in the downtown district. "You want to come in for a while?" she asked.
I knew better than to say no. We entered through the back door. Then we used the rear stairs to climb to the second floor living unit. The stairs dumped us into the kitchen. When her dad renovated the place, he had opened a wall. He made the upstairs kitchen the same size as the one that had been below it. It turned out to be my favorite room in her house. I sat at the kitchen table while she poured me a glass of iced tea.
"I'm going to go get a little more comfortable," she said. Now that could mean anything from a frumpy house dress to a thin piece of nylon. That time, it meant she removed her bra. She came back dressed the same except that her dress top was full. Her breasts pressed against the material. She noticed me staring at the points of her nipples. They were pointed from being pressed so firmly against the cloth of her dress. Helen was a master at ignoring me. I finally gave up and sipped my tea.
"So what do you think happened to Julie?" she asked.
I was surprised. It may have been the first time that she had ever used Julie's name in a sentence that didn't include bitch, slut, or whore. I found it to be a bit disturbing.
"I really don't have the slightest idea. Hell, she and Wally might have taken off on a motorcycle. You know, see the world, all that garbage."
"Not Julie, her idea of roughing it is the Holiday inn rather than a four star hotel. My guess is that she is dead." Someone had finally come right out and said it.
"What makes you think that?" I asked.
"I don't know just a feeling."
"Based on what?" I asked.
"The Sheriff finding her car under the river bridge. Somebody killed her then dumped her in the river."
"Maybe, but then maybe he is in the river too," she said.
"Could be," I agreed.
"You don't think so?" she asked.
"I just don't know Helen. Wally could have killed Julie. Hell, Julie could even have killed Wally. Then of course Jake could have killed them both. Even weird Mike could have killed them. There are about a hundred men, and some women too, who had reason to kill Julie. Even strangers, if you toss in the robbery motive. A lot is going to depend on the bodies, if they find any. It maybe that there are none or at least none in the river. Nobody knows enough now to make even a guess."
I saw Helen's eyes go to the clock. "I know it is getting late. I guess. I should be heading home."
"I guess, Helen said. I don't know if she expected me to ask to stay or not. I knew I wouldn't. I had never begged a woman. That night didn't seem the time to start.
I drove the toy home, then checked my messages. I returned a call from a bride. She had already received Helen's price and wanted mine. I gave her the speech then let her go. It was likely that Helen would get her, but then you just never know.
I checked my calendar and found I had a portrait shoot scheduled for the next day. I went to sleep with the Ricoh by my bed. I didn't need my security blanket that particular night. I never knew which nights I would be awakened screaming. I just knew they happened.
The next morning after a breakfast at the Elms, I returned to begin setting up the studio for a bridal portrait. It didn't take long since I was always ready to shoot. The bride came at eleven and I was finished by noon. Somewhere toward the end of the shoot, the bride asked me about Julie. Did I think she was really dead? I had no idea what to say. I told her the truth. I had no earthly idea.
After she had gone, I loaded the slide film into my black bag. I wound it onto the metal reel and dropped it into the tank. Once the lid to the tank was closed, it became light tight. I could process the film in the daylight from that point on.
I carried the can into the kitchen. I opened the cabinet next to the sink. Inside it I found the chemicals and tools needed to process the slides. By two I had removed them from the drying cabinet and had the best ones mounted.
The bride returned at four and I showed her the slides. She picked the one she wanted. I waited till she left, then packaged it for mailing to the lab in Greensboro. I knew it should be back in about two weeks. If not, I would drive down to pick it up. I tried to avoid the two-hour drive but occasionally it became necessary.
I had spent the whole day on a hundred-dollar picture that would net me only seventy-five dollars. I did answer the phone and pitch a couple of weddings. Fall was a good season for weddings. I expected to pick up a couple of more at least. I already had six scheduled between August and October. In fact I had a wedding to shoot that coming weekend. I knew that it would be a simple job so I didn't prepare much for it. I charged up a couple of batteries but nothing else needed to be done.
Helen called and left a message. When I get busy, I don't usually answer the phone. Of course then I forget to return calls till evening. I returned hers after six. "Helen, Link. What's new with the successful photographer."
"About the same as with the starving artist. Did you get a call from a Samantha something or other?"
"October fifth wedding?"
"That would be the lady."
"I did and I told her you were a lousy photographer, and likely to sleep with her fianc\'e9e in the bargain."
"Well it worked. You will likely be hearing from her again."
"Yeah, she wants that video bad. Kid is so poor she doesn't even have a VCR."
"Not many people do yet."
"Enough of them do, I may have to buy a camera myself."
"You can buy mine, if I can tell everybody that you work with inferior equipment. You know kind of like you tell them about me now.
"Come on. You know I only tell them that after they tell me how much cheaper you are and that you give a video."
"I know, but it just ain't fair. You got the better studio, and you got better tits on top of that."
"Okay, you can tell them you have better tits from now on."
"Gee thanks, so why did you really call?"
"I heard from a customer that they still don't have any bodies from the river. The Sheriff is waiting for them to wash up at the dam."
"He may have a long wait. There are a lot of logs along the way to trap a body. At least they are pretty sure they weren't weighted. If they had been, they would have still been near the car; unless our man took them upstream. He could have weighted them down up there. I am going to have to mention that to the Sheriff. I know he must already have thought of it but you never know."
"Our Sheriff? You can bet your ass he hasn't thought of it. All his deputies together couldn't figure out the directions on a Kodak Instamatic camera."
"Nasty, nasty, just because I made their calendar picture this year."
"You make it every year. It looks like by now they would be tired of that grainy look. I mean it may be artsy fartsy once, but every year?"
"The Sheriff knows class."
"Yeah third class. Look, I got a wedding on Saturday and you do too. Why don't you come over after? We can get drunk and let off a little steam?"
"Do I have to sit around telling you what a great photographer you are again?" I asked.
"No it's my turn to tell you."
"Well then of course I'll be there. I should be through by six, how about you?"
"Maybe, but mine doesn't start till four. It might be closer to eight. You bring the pizza. It should be cold by the time I get home."
We hung up the phone and I returned to my reading of the trade rags. I was constantly on the prowl for odd ball ideas. I had developed the slide proofs from an article. The elements had always been there to do the system, but a couple of things had to happen first to make it work.
I didn't find anything earth shattering in the rags, so I closed them and went to bed. I didn't make it through that night. I awoke early in the morning, so early that it was still dark outside. I sat on the side of the bed and worked the Ricoh. It was very similar to the Leica in that it was an ugly little rangefinder. It differed in that the lens was not changeable. Of course it needed a real test before I dared use it for a job. It should do just fine for the street shots, even for some of the other things I did those days.
Believe it or not, I didn't own a normal lens for the Leica. When I bought them, I asked Helen's father what lenses I should buy. He told me to forget the fifty. It would be of very little use to me. He suggested I get a 35mm and a 90mm lens.
"Those two will do most of the studio work you want to do," he said. He was the only one to encourage me to try the 35mm format for wedding and portraits. There might well have been no other 35mm camera in the world that could have done it. The Leica was so sharp that it was damned close to the larger cameras, at least in that respect. The grain and other problems were things that needed experimenting with to conquer.
My instructor in school talked me into the Leica. The SLR I used for copy work had been my first camera. It was a Ricoh SLR made for Sears. It worked well for copy work but I wouldn't shoot anything else with it. I still had the normal lens somewhere but I never used it. I sometimes copied photographs or converted them to slides so the SLR came in handy now and again. Mostly thought it stayed set up for slide copying. I used it to make copies from slides. I could even zoom in or crop the slides. I enjoyed all the extra work required for the system. The constant figuring kept my mind off darker subjects. When the night sweats came, I often worked those problems in my head to calm myself. I'm sure the doctors in the hospital could come up with some fancy name for it. I just knew that the math and handling the familiar camera put my real problems on hold for a while.
Time dragged the next day. I wanted to call Bart but knew better. He would be busy and short-tempered. He got that way when the Sheriff had a big case. Bart wanted to be in the thick of things all the time.
I tried to stay busy but couldn't find enough to do. I spent so much time at the Elms that I was considering getting a time card. I finally came home and tried to sleep. It was a losing battle. I watched the stupid TV till it signed off. I tried to read the rags but could find nothing of interest. At least nothing I hadn't read ten times before. I finally fell asleep around three a.m.
Thursday morning I set up for an attorney's photograph. The attorney happened to be Ginger. The shot was of a ten-year-old little girl named Maggie Johnson. Maggie, it seemed; had been bitten by a neighbor's dog. She and her mother arrived at ten that morning. I didn't notice any scars on the girl.
"Exactly where was your little girl bitten, Mrs. Johnson." I asked.
"On her bottom. She was running away when that animal bit her on the bottom."
Oh hell, I thought. Surely they were kidding. What did they expect? Maybe they thought that the scar would damage her career as a porno star. I knew it was not up to me to ask questions. I simply wanted to make sure this was as painless as possible for the little girl.
I checked the lights, before I did anything else. I wanted to do the shoot quickly. I didn't want a ten-year-old standing around with her pants down in my studio, at least, not any longer than necessary.
When the lights were ready, I asked, "Maggie honey can you show me the scar." The little girl didn't seem to understand. "You know honey where the dog bit you."
"I don't want to, she said.
That was it for me. I was ready to send her home. I looked at the mother, hoping she would say, forget it.
Instead she turned to the little girl and said, "Honey, take down your panties and show the nice man where you were bit by the nasty dog."
The little girl began to cry. Her mother took her in her arms. Instead of comforting the child she pulled her panties down. I saw the two small red scars. Each was shaped like a crescent moon. I shot them about five times at different settings.
After the two of them left my studio, I made a couple of notes to myself. I wanted to remember to give all the negatives to Ginger. I also intended to make sure that Ginger signed a receipt. I didn't want to get dragged into court later.
The remainder of the day I spent working on the slides. I had them finished in the early afternoon. Instead of doing anything productive, I spent the afternoon at the new mall. It was a twenty minute drive, but I needed to get away from the studio for a while. Somehow the Elms didn't fit my mood that day.
I wandered around inside the giant building for a few hours. I must have gone into the same stores half a dozen times. My total purchases amounted to a dozen batteries. I was the last of the big spenders.
That night I watched TV. I also called Helen and talked to her for a while. Nothing seemed to help me kill the time I found on my hands.
By Friday I could stand it no longer. After breakfast at the Elms I went to see Bart. His uniformed secretary announced me by stating in a loud voice that Martin had won the pool.
"What pool?" I asked.
"We had a pool going on how long it would take you to start butting into the case. Martin had Friday morning."
"What did you have?"
"Wednesday morning, I thought I had a good chance too." She escorted me into the chief's office.
"What kept you Linc? I expected you yesterday."
"Damn Chief, I hate to be too predictable."
"Yeah, anything to cost me money."
"Did the bodies show up yet?"
"No, the man at the community college predicted yesterday. Did you know that?"
"It's a small town chief. So what do you do now?"
"Keep dragging at the dam every couple of days till they do show up."
"What if they don't?"
"Not my problem Linc, the Sheriff, thank god, has this one."
"Sure, you know you're dying to one up the old fart."
"I wouldn't mind it. That is just between us."
"Who you kidding? Everybody knows you would. Did it ever occur to the sheriff that the bodies might be weighted? If they are, they may not show up for months."
"Of course; that's why he had the area around the car dragged. Hell, the rescue divers were all over that area."
"What if our boy sunk the body, or bodies, up stream. If he carried them upstream a few hundred yards, no one would ever look for them there."
"It's a thought Linc. It would take a lot more than a hunch to convince the Sheriff to drag that river again."
"Bart did they take any crime scene photos before everybody and his brother trampled over it."
"Actually they did. I know it is hard to believe. One of their rookies found the scene and remembered his training." The chief removed a stack of black and white eight by tens from his desk. "The sheriff sent these over. You know in the spirit of cooperation."
"That and to make sure he didn't have to eat it alone, if he couldn't solve the whodunit."
"That's what I figure."
I looked at the shots, putting a couple to one side for a closer look. The kid had done a reasonably good job on the shots. He did because there was a twenty-shot roll of film in the camera. He just shot pictures till he ran out of film. I wished I could have seen the crime scene before the whole sheriff's department trampled the grass.
I returned to the shots I had pulled out. I checked them a second time. I thought I saw something in one of them but wasn't sure. I needed to have them blown up. Since we didn't have the negatives, I asked the chief to let me borrow the prints. He was reluctant but finally agreed.
I drove straight home and copied them onto a slide. I didn't bother returning the prints until I had the slide processed. When it was finished, I put into the projector then projected it onto the screen. It still wasn't large enough, so I zoomed the slide to copy it onto another piece of slide film. Then I processed it. While the second one dried, I drove to the Elms for lunch.
I was well into my meat loaf plate when the Chief showed. "Well Linc, did you find anything?"
"Actually I did. I have a couple of more gyrations to do but I found something all right."
"You don't need to wait for the proof. Just tell me. I trust you."
"Okay Chief, put yourself in our man's place. If you wanted to make sure the bodies weren't found until they were so decomposed as to be useless, how would you do it?"
"Considering it's Julie, I wouldn't worry. No one would take her missing seriously till a couple of weeks had passed."
"True but you need more time than that. Also the body might turn up before people actually decided she was really missing. I mean some kid might stumble on the body, if you left it in the woods."
"Okay bury it."
"With the clay in this area we are talking shallow grave. Then a big rain comes and some kid walks onto the body. The evidence of the murder is right there in front of everyone."
"Okay dump them in the river."
"The bodies come up after three days, some fisherman finds them, and the Chapel Hill doctors tell us how it was done."
"Okay I weight them. Then I get a couple weeks minimum."
"Good, but if those kids alert the cops the first or second day the car is found. We drag the area and up come the bodies."
"Once we find the bodies, off they go to Chapel Hill," he agreed.
"Exactly, but if we find the car with no bodies, then we have to wait for them to wash up. Without the bodies we might even assume, for a while at least, that it was an accidental drowning."
"Why would we do that?" the chief asked.
"Because our boy makes it look like that."
"There was no indication of accidental drowning out there."
"Not when we got there. If you were smart enough, you might figure somebody was going to go fishing down there. I mean there were fishing signs all over the place. If you knew that the person likely to find that scene would be poor, a person who might need clothes pretty badly; then you might strip both bodies and leave the clothes on the bank . That is if they weren't bloody or anything. Now we have a couple of black kids fishing the next morning. They take the clothes and wallets and run like hell. Nothing happens so they go back. The car is still there so they figure the owner won't be coming back. He must have drowned in the deep river."
"Okay let me think. If the kids call us first thing, we got accidental drowning of Julie and Wally, who were skinny dipping in the river. We can't do anything till we get the bodies that don't show up for a year or more. Then there is no evidence to indicate anything. If the kids don't call, then the bodies aren't even searched for till a few weeks have passed. Not bad for our boy but it is not good enough. Either way, he needs to delay the finding of the bodies still more. Now he wants to wait till all evidence of the weighting is gone."
"Right so he dumps them upstream from the car. I figure he tied a canoe to the top of Julie's car. Then he drove it to the site. There he untied the canoe then launched it. He probably removed the bodies from the trunk. He put them into the canoe, salted the area with their clothes. Then took the bodies upstream. He could have dumped them a few hundred yards from the scene. He may have taken them farther. Either way he continued in the canoe until he got to a point where he could dock it."
"You are thinking Jake's old man's place is on the river?"
"Maybe I don't know. I think we need to look at Julie's car."
"What did you find in that print?"
"A deep groove in the soft clay of the river bank. A canoe could have made that groove, or maybe a lightweight aluminum boat with a rounded bottom. Since most of the fishing boats around here are flat bottomed, it shouldn't be too hard to find our boat; assuming it was someone who knew Julie and Wally."
"Linc, it is a bit fancy but it works for me. That is, if we can find something to back it up."
"I know it is all a big guess right now. I just can't figure it any other way."
"Worse yet it sounds like a plot to frame someone. If all this is true, you know as much about the crime as the murderer. The Sheriff might think you know too much."
"I know chief. I thought of that."
"Why didn't you just leave it to us to fuck up."
"Because I didn't do it, and whoever did needs to have his ass handed to him. That is if Julie and Wally are really dead."
"Well let's go finish your evidence then look at the car roof."
"I want to finish my tea, if you don't mind chief. That stuff isn't going anywhere."
"Linc why don't you quit this photography crap and come back on the force. I'll guarantee you that in a year you will be the detective."
"Chief, number one you don't have a spot for a detective. This is a small town. Number two I like what I do. The hours and the pay are better."
"This has nothing to do with your leaving last time one step ahead of being fired does it. Because if it does, forget that. We have a new Mayor, she thought it was crap then. She would be more than happy to hire you."
"Yeah, just to spit in George's eye. No Chief, I respect you and you helped me a lot. Hell you still do, but I don't want to play cowboys and Indians again."
"Linc, we all know that kid had it coming. The fact that he was the mayor\rquote s nephew is the only reason there was an investigation. They would have found you not guilty, if you had seen it through."
"Maybe, but Julie had left me that same night. I might have handled the kid different if she hadn't. Yeah, he asked for it, but I might not have given it to him as badly any other night. I could have killed that kid. It could have happened again. Hell, it might have happened every time I got upset. No chief, it was better that I leave."
"Nobody thinks that, at least nobody that counts." He saw that I was about to object. "Okay, let's get out of here. We are cramping the owner's business."
We drove to my house where I mounted the slide. I zoomed in on it to the max then copied it onto black and white print film. The chief would have it printed in the county crime lab for me. The county had more money invested in the joint lab, so they got to operate it. The chief fortunately wouldn't have to tell the lab what they were processing.
We drove the chief's air-conditioned two-year-old Ford LTD to the impound lot. It was a fancy term for a field behind Mike's station. Mike had the only tow truck in the county so he did all the county's work. He also towed for a couple of garages but most didn't bother. They simply hooked a piece of chain to the broken down car, then tied the other end to their truck. They then pulled the poor bastard to the shop. Of course the owner of the car had to steer it. It was less than an ideal situation but saved the customer the twenty-dollar tow charge.
Julie's Lincoln was in a space by itself. The Sheriff wanted to keep people away from it. I am sure it did no good what so ever. People who were really curious, or worse, simply waited till Mike was closed. After Mike had gone, anyone could walk into the unfenced tow yard. They probably wouldn't even have to wait for Mike to close. I couldn't see him refusing to let a customer see the car.
The chief and I drove to the car. "Okay Linc, what are we looking for?"
"Some indication that something was tied to the top of the car." We looked closely at the paint on the roof. There were no scratches or rub marks.
"Nothing on the roof Linc. Maybe you are wrong."
"I hope so chief. If I am right, someone is dead, maybe even both Julie and Wally. If I am wrong, they may have taken a ride with someone else. By the way did anyone check to see if this beast runs." I meant the car of course.
"Yeah, Mike checked it. It runs just fine."
I got inside the car and checked the tops of the window frames carefully. I found what I expected quickly. "Chief you better call Stein at the lab. We are going to need him."
"Why?" I pointed out my find to the Chief. "Stein is going to be pissed."
"I know, ain't it great." Stein was actually Jacob Stein, from one of the few Jewish families in our town. There were a couple of rich ones. Then there was Jacob Stein and Helen Gold. They were the only two working types I knew. Jacob had graduated high school a year ahead of me. He had gone into the Air Force and did his time in some intelligence outfit. When he returned, it wasn't to the open arms of the small Jewish community. He was forced to join the Sheriff's department to get a decent job. He went to college at night, majoring in criminology. When the lab was started, he was a natural. He had been to all the FBI courses. He considered himself the expert. In his opinion he was the only knowledgeable person in the area. It just pissed him off to no end to find he had forgotten something. The Chief made the call on his radio. Stein arrived a half hour later.
The chief and I were sitting with our feet on the ground and our asses in his car. I was sitting in the back seat and him in the driver's seat. We were on our second Pepsi and I was in a hurry to get home. I needed to take a leak. I also still had to check my equipment for the tenth time before next day's wedding.
Stein's brown van pulled onto the tow yard. He removed his twenty-pound overweight body from the driver's seat. As usual he had his rookie trainee with him. He had a new one every couple of months. The sheriff wanted someone on call every minute of the day. To accomplish it, every member of the department had to be trained in the lab procedures.
"Chief what can I do for you?"
I spoke before the chief could. "How goes it with the scientist today?"
He turned to the Chief again.
"I went over this car with a fine-toothed comb, Chief. There is nothing more I can do to it."
"Look Jacob, I said, "Just for interdepartmental goodwill humor us. The chief had a theory. I just came along while he confirmed it. He thinks that someone tied a canoe to this car. We would like for you to confirm it."
"Okay smart ass, what makes you think that." It was bluster because he hadn't checked. He knew I had already caught his ass. Now he wanted to bluster it out. To give the devil his due, once I had him convinced, he worked his ass off to prove my theory.
I pointed out the broken rubber gasket, which received the window glass. "Now Jacob, I am no genius but a broken gasket on each window of a three day old car seems a bit unusual."
Jacob Stein ignored the sarcasm and said, "It does at that." He immediately changed his attitude. He began by removing equipment from his van. He photographed the splits in the window gaskets. He even went me one better. He crawled under the car and began taking samples from the frame. I knew what he was up to, but had to explain to the chief. There would likely be rope fibers where it had been tied to the frame. Everyone knows you have to tie the front and rear of a canoe to the frame. Other wise it will slide off the top during braking or accelerations.
"So okay Linc, how did you get onto this?" He hadn't fallen for the chief's idea ruse.
I wasn't about to drop it though. "Well Jacob, it was like this. The chief noticed something in one of your photos." He and I both knew it wasn't his photo. By the time he got there the scene was beyond hope. His photos were so different from the originals that he probably tossed them. "He called me to take a look and make an enlargement." I handed him the roll of black and white film. "There was a groove in the bank. He thinks it is where a canoe was launched. I agree with him. If the groove hasn't been disturbed, a plaster cast might be in order.
I hadn't even noticed the Sheriff drive up. I let Stein tell the story, any way he wanted. I didn't want any credit at all for this one. Stein was a lot sharper than the sheriff. "Why?" the sheriff asked, "would anyone bring a canoe to the murder site."
"First off boss, I doubt that it is the murder site." Stein began. "The canoe, at the least, was his escape vehicle. At the worst he used it to dump the bodies upstream where we never would have looked. I think we better get the rescue squad to start dragging again." It took a while for it to sink in. When it did sink in, the Sheriff finally got his ass in gear. He called the rescue squad and arranged for the drag to begin.
He turned to Stein, "How come you figured this out now? You should have figured it out when we were working out there."
"Well Sheriff by the time you called me, you had obliterated the one piece of evidence that led the Chief here to the theory. You and your men had so badly trampled the scene that I couldn't tell anything about it." Stein was saving face and I couldn't fault him. His job was to process evidence based on what the investigators told him. He had apparently done that.
"Stein," The chief said, "Did you get a match on any of the prints inside the car? "
"Nothing helpful. Julie's, Wally's, a mechanic from the dealer and a couple of random ones. They are most likely from some line worker in Detroit."
"Did you get any glove impressions?" You can sometimes find the pattern of a glove on a surface where you expect to find a print. When you do find one, it usually isn't of too much value. Except to tell you not to spend too much time on prints. The absence of a glove impression means nothing. A glove will not always leave an impression.
"No," Stein said simply. He was too busy with the wheels to bother much with me.
The Sheriff left to have the river dragged again. The Chief and I didn't bother going along. I asked him to drive me home. I wanted to go to the Elms to eat, then home to work on my equipment.
I slept poorly that night but I didn't have the nightmare. It was a simple case of nerves. The night before a wedding, I usually sleep poorly. I didn't go out for breakfast that next morning. Instead I made my own. I kept a little food around just in case I wanted to cook. That morning I found eggs and some frozen bread. I didn't have anything else so I fixed three scrambled eggs and toast.
After breakfast I showered and dressed. It was way too early for the wedding but I couldn't stand the wait. I drove to the church, then turned around in the parking lot. I searched till I found a restaurant. I had a bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich with iced tea. I actually drank three glasses of tea. I finally went back to the church. Since it was noon, I unloaded the equipment. I still had a two-hour wait but at least I could do it at the job site. My big fears were auto accidents, or cars that died a mile or two from the job.
That time I was lucky. I found an electrical plug near enough to use my extension cord. I checked the Betacam, then the still cameras. I fired the still cameras with the back open to check the shutter and the flash. I didn't want to have a flash out of sync with the shutter.
Killing the time till the start of the wedding was easy. I tried to figure out what was happening with the Sheriff. When the wedding began, and for the next four hours I kept my mind on my work. When the bride and groom ran for their car, I shot the last of my photographs. I turned to go back inside and load up my equipment.
"When are you going to come into the seventies like everyone else?" Jacob Stein asked.
"Jacob, what the devil are you doing here?"
"I wanted to see how an old-fashioned photographer works."
"Well you came to the right place, come on up." I called down from the porch. "I need to pack some things before they grow legs."
"Don't tell me. You don't trust your customers."
"The customer has gone, it is the guest I worry about." I led him into the sanctuary where I packed my Betacam and second Leica.
"You know I have never seen one of these up close." Jacob said, looking at the Betacam.
"It's a nice toy, but still a toy. I don't think they will ever catch on for the home market, too expensive. Not too many people want to put almost two grands into a toy."
I had the case closed. I was taking apart the last of the Leica gear. "Would you mind if I took a look at that camera?"
"No, the Leica. I have never seen one of those up close either."
"Sure, I said, handing it to him. All camera nuts love to look at any camera. The Leica isn't just any camera. The damned thing had a worldwide reputation. It was awkward by modern standards. It also without a doubt makes the sharpest thirty-five millimeter negatives and slides in the world. You can get an argument on that from Nikon owners but for my money it is obvious.
He turned it over in his hands and looked through the range finder. "Is this what you used to make the copies of our pictures?"
"No that was a different process. I shot them onto a slide with a simple SLR. Then enlarged the slide and copied it onto the black and white film. Why?"
"Oh, it was just a better print than it would have been if I had enlarged it. It was a little grainier, but it still was sharper."
"Hum?" I had no idea what I should say. Since I didn't want to sound stupid, I said nothing at all. When I had my three bags packed, I turned to him again. "Okay Jacob, what really brings you to see me?"
"Did you kill her?" he asked.
"No, but I wouldn't admit it if I had. What makes you ask?"
"If you didn't kill the bitch, how did you figure out the canoe?"
"Help me carry the bags out and I will buy you a cup of coffee while I explain. We have to hurry though. I have a date."
He followed me to the Elms. I could tell he was uncomfortable. "Don't worry Jacob they don't bite. They also cook the best food in town."
"I hope you don't start bringing every honky in town in here." Jed shouted it from behind the counter. The customers laughed at his joke.
"Are you kidding? I would think that as bad as this food is that you could use all the customers you could get. Hell, if it wasn't for the rats and roaches, you would only need to make about half as much food."
The customers laughed again. Jed wasn't laughing. "Get your sorry white ass out of here. I mean right this fucking minute."
"Jed, this is Deputy Stein of the Sheriff\rquote s Department. Deputy Stein, is it not a violation of my civil rights for this man to refuse me service because of my race? "
Stein was frightened, he also wanted to leave but he put up a good front. "Yes Mr. Jefferson, it seems to be exactly like you said it was." He pulled his badge just to make sure everybody knew he was the man. "Would you like for me to cite this establishment and padlock the doors?"
"That won't be necessary. I am sure Jed was only joking, just like I was."
"Is that right sir? Was this a joke?"
"Of course it was officer. Me and old Linc are always kidding around, ain't we guys?" he asked the customers. Most didn't want to get involved. Some murmured agreement.
I turned back to Stein, "Well done Jacob. You are going to make a fine human being one of these days."
"Hell, tell me how you knew about the canoe then let\rquote s get the hell out of here."
"Okay here goes, see if you can follow this. I began after they didn't find the bodies. When they didn't wash up at the dam, I began to wonder. They could be caught on a snag and probably still are but what if they weren't. Now begin with the fact that I know Julie. If she were still in town and able to, she would have gone home. Why not, she'd had her little tumble. If she wasn't on one of her vacations, she should have gone home.
Assuming the worst, which is were that led me, what happened? She wouldn't go skinny dipping in that river. It is too dirty. She might easily have pulled up there to knock off a little, but there was no evidence of her being killed in the car. The only conclusion I could come up with was, "dump the bodies." The killer had to get away somehow. Assuming there was only one killer. In a crime of passion there is usually only one. With Julie, that would be the most likely motive. Although there may be a hundred people with that motive, I figured only one of them did it.
The crime scene was at least two weeks old. If there had been drag marks, they would have gone away. Add to that the whole Sheriff's department trooping through there. You would have been lucky to find any evidence at all. Effectively we had no information to either prove or disprove any theory.
I kept wondering why the river. Then it came to me. The killer used it to escape. Then where are the bodies? If there was a crime, there should be bodies. Of course there may still prove not to have been a crime. But I was thinking along the lines that there was a crime. Okay, say I had a canoe, and wanted to hide the bodies. I would take them upstream from the car. Hell the natural assumption would be to look downstream. With our Sheriff it would seem the most likely thing to happen. He had good odds that the bodies wouldn't be found before the trace evidence was gone.
The beginning of the proof was that groove in the bank. No one would launch a boat from the bank at that point. The bank is too high. You would have to have an extremely good reason to risk it. That's it Jacob, that is how I reasoned it."
"You know that your friend Jake's family has a fishing cabin upstream from there."
"Why is it that everyone assumes Jake is a friend of mine? We hate each other. To answer your question, the chief told me he had a cabin."
"We checked the outside of the place, there is a canoe. If we charge him, his lawyer is going to yell 'frame up\rquote . He is going to say you planted evidence. Then led us to it."
"I know, but if he did it, then he has got to pay. Of course there may not even be a crime. Julie may show up at any minute."
"You and I both know that isn't going to happen."
"I admit it isn't likely, but I can hope can't I?"
"Sure you can, let's get out of here. You have a date and I feel very uncomfortable."
I drove to the house of pizza outside town. I ordered one large with everything to go. I carried it to Helen's house. It appeared that she had just arrived home herself. She was wearing a green blouse that brought out the color of her eyes. The blouse was unbuttoned showing me that she was in the middle of changing. It also showed me the swell of her breast as they protruded above the too tight bra. The bra tended to flatten her breast against her ribs. She wore only high-necked blouses to work. They helped to hide the size of her flattened breasts. If she had worn low-cut blouses, the swell would have been evident.
"Hi, how did yours go?" she asked.
"Same old crap, how about you?"
"That damned Kowa locked up. I swear I hate that fucking thing . I never should have bought it."
"I don't know. I like it better than the Hassleblad."
I know you are partial to those leaf shutters. So am I, but the thing is a pain in the ass. I had to finish with the twin lens. I shouldn't even bother using that piece of garbage."
Helen was always wound up after a wedding. When something went wrong, she was a pisser until she drank enough to relax. "Is there film in it?" I asked.
"Of course there is film in it. If there hadn't been, how the fuck would I have known it was jammed."
"Enough Helen, take the pizza and get me a changing bag." I went to her camera bag sitting on the floor on the floor. From it I removed the Kowa 6. While there I also removed the Mamiya 220 twin lens camera. I set the Mamiya aside, the unloading of that one was her problem.
When I took the changing bag from her, she didn't even speak. She would have been obvious to anyone that she was pissed. A changing bag looks like a long sleeved golf shirt more than anything else. It has no neck opening. The bottom is held together with two zippers. You simply unzip them both then insert whatever you want to work on into the bag. When it is inside, you re-zip both the zippers creating a light tight area. You then place one arm in either of the elastic sleeves and work your hands through the space. Once you find whatever is to be worked on, it is a matter of touch. The Kowa was my goal. I sprung the back, then I removed both the reels. I carefully turned the film from the new spool to the take up spool. When I had it completely wrapped onto the take up spool, I carefully removed the film through the sleeve of the bag. Thankfully working in the dark requires more practice than dexterity. I handed her the film after licking the tab to keep it from unwinding. She took the film, smiled, then handed me a slice of cold pizza. I took the pizza and the camera up the stairs to her kitchen. "Would you get me your jeweler\rquote s screwdrivers please?"
She was almost naked when she brought the screwdrivers to me. I had seen her wearing even less than my old white dress shirt. It hadn't been recently though. I was impressed with her legs again. She sat across the table from me and watched for about one minute, she got bored easily. "I'm hungry. I am going to start on the pizza do you want a beer?"
"Got any bock?"
"Sure, you don't think I would invite you up here to work on my fucked up camera without bock beer do you." She handed me the thick brown beer inside an icy glass. I sipped it. I was immediately caught up in the bitter taste of it. I never kept bock beer around the house. I would become an addict after a couple of cases.
I pulled the covers from the camera, using an old ice tray to hold the small screws. I tried to work the camera and nothing happened. I continued till I could see the levers and gears trying to move. I traced them until I found the problem. One of the levers that pulled the shutter release was jammed. It had failed to pass a gear that it should have cleared. When the lever didn't trip the shutter, the whole camera became inoperable. I moved the lever and it fired and everything worked till I was ready to shoot it again. It had jammed again. Something had caused it to hang on the gear again. I used the small screwdriver to check the gear and found that it would slide slightly back down on its axle.
When I forced it all the way down on the axle, I tried to pry it off again and it didn't move. Evidently somewhere inside the gear was a tiny spring that locked it onto the shaft. It must not have been completely locked from the factory. It evidently kept working its way up the shaft till it blocked the release lever. I fired and advanced the camera several times. When I was satisfied with the action I replaced the bottom cover. I pronounced the camera healed.
I turned my attention to the pizza and beer. "I know you expect me to fawn all over you. I mean you waltz in here and fix my camera. Now I am supposed to throw myself at you. I could have had someone fix it for fifty bucks you know."
I knew her problem was just stress, so I didn't even answer. I had been through a dozen variations on this theme. She was quiet for a while. She was unwinding. She laughed and said, "That damned bride had the gall to ask me to bring the proofs to her house next week. I told her that the post office delivers not me. She and her husband can just bring their fat asses over here to see the proofs."
"That a girl, you stick to your guns." I said sarcastically.
"Because when her bridesmaids get married, I can do their weddings. This bride will bad mouth you to each and every one of them."
"I know, but God I hate brides."
"Damn, I hate all my customers."
"I'll drink to that," she said. And we did. We drank to it a lot. We ended up in her parent's bed. I kissed Helen or she kissed me. I'm not sure which. I do know one thing for certain. Kissing her was different from kissing Julie.
Whenever I kissed Julie, all the oxygen seemed to be sucked from the room. After she broke a kiss, it still took several seconds of gasping before normal breathing returned.
Kissing Helen was much calmer. It was a nice warm sensation. There was passion but not the gut wrenching passion. Julie had that effect on all her men. It was hard to let her go after having had her. She could easily have been killed by one of her past lovers.
I forced myself to forget Julie and concentrate on Helen. After all, Helen was the woman in my arms. Helen was comfortable to sleep with. She was more passive than Julie. Sometimes it was nice not to fight a woman for control. With Helen it just happened. With Julie it was a war.
After the sex she leaned against my shoulder and said, "Buy me out, so I can go to Paris."
"Why not, I got ten bucks left."
She slapped me playfully. "Someday, someone will come along with the money. On that very day I will be gone."
"Yeah, I am afraid of that."
"No, you aren't. Besides you could always come with me."
"Deal, you find somebody to buy us both out. I will move to Paris with you. I have no idea what we will do there, since neither of us speaks French."
"Hey buster, speak for yourself. I took two years of French in High School."
"Oh forgive me. You can definitely operate a studio with the French you remember."
"Okay, so I am a little rusty. I still remember how to cuss in French. I'll get by."
I turned to her. "I know you could get by anywhere. I would miss you terribly, if you went away."
"You know, I do appreciate all you have done for me, fixing my cameras and helping me keep the business going after my dad's death. You didn't have to do that."
"Sure I did, your dad helped me get started."
"What a crock, my dad tried to get you out of the business. He gave you terrible advice. He knew he couldn't stop you, so he tried to keep you away from the good business. He knew you were in school and would listen to anybody. When you asked him about the business, he advised you to innovate. He knew he could beat your brains. Especially since you were using the system, he had talked you into buying. If you hadn't followed his advice, you would have had a profitable operation two years sooner.
He knew that the 35 millimeter cameras wouldn't do for most things. Yet he told you that there would surely be a market for the cheaper, faster method. If he had known you would find a way to do it, he would have given you some other advice. The reason he chose that advice was simple. It sounded good. He convinced you to sink so much money in those damned Leicas that you could never afford to buy the equipment to compete with him."
"I fooled him though. I made it work. He even lived long enough to hear people tell him they wanted the video. If he couldn't do it, they would come to me."
"Yeah, but not enough of them felt that way to really cause him any pain. I know you would like to think you caused his heart attack. It wasn't you. It was those damned collard sandwiches, not your piddley little business."
"Tell me, what the hell is a collard sandwich anyway? I hear people talking about collards being good for you. How could that have caused a heart attack?"
"Oh, the collards probably are good for you. The sandwich though is instant heart attack." Helen went on to explain. "First Aunt Bessie makes cornbread with lard. You do know Aunt Bessie?"
"Your dad's cleaning lady?"
"The same, she came to help after mama died. She is the one who killed my father with those collard sandwiches. Anyway after she baked the cornbread loaded with fat, she sliced it into pieces about the size of a slice of white bread. After that, she would butter it liberally with real butter. She put a spoonful of collard greens on one side and a couple of strips of fried fat meat on the other. She put the whole thing together then she gave it to the victim. First of all, it is a good idea to have them sit in the emergency room while they eat the damned thing. It saves the paramedics a trip."
"Damn," I said, "That does sound good. I had never heard of it before. It must be Aunt Bessie's own recipe."
"You mean, her own poison. Those things killed my dad sure as hell. She would fix him one every Friday. He would have died years earlier if she had worked two days a week. He knew how bad they were. He wouldn't let me have one."
"Your Daddy really did love you. Whenever we met at the post office, I could always get his dander up. All I had to do was mention you."
"Daddy was more afraid of you than anyone. After Julie left you, he worried a lot about me."
"You didn't know it, but I had a big time crush on you. I mean you were every high school girl's fantasy. My daddy hated you; that was a plus . You were also a big hero. You were married to the first women's libber in town. You seemed so cool with it all. Then we found out about Julie. After that happened, my dad really thought you were dangerous. If I even mentioned your name, he had a fit."
"Of course that big old Buick convertible of yours was so cool. All the girls loved that car. Whatever happened to that car?"
"I lost it in a poker game in Greensboro."
"Jesus that was the only car I ever saw you drive that had any class."
"Well everything comes to an end. I stopped having class when I lost the car."
"You never had any class, the car was an illusion. Then you stopped being a cop and opened the studio full time. You were the devil for sure after that. My daddy would use your name in place of the devil's in his warnings to me. It was all so romantic. Why did you quit the police?"
"I got too old to play cowboys and Indians."
"Daddy said, it was because you beat up the mayor's nephew. Since he hated the mayor too, he had a real hard time with that one. He couldn't decide how he felt about that. He finally told me that even the devil had a good day once in a while."
"Sounds right to me."
"Are you still high?" she asked.
"Are you kidding? You have kept me talking here without a drink for two hours. I am not totally sober, but more or less sober. Why?"
"I want to put the top down on my car and go for a drive."
"Are you kidding we will get beat to death with bugs. I am going to sleep. Didn't anyone tell you that men do that after sex?"
"I wouldn't know, I have only had three men. The other two couldn't sleep in the back seat of a car."
"I didn't know that. You mean I am only the third man you ever slept with?"
"Yep, almost a virgin, you didn't know because you never asked." She paused to think for a minute. "I am only twenty-six Linc. I haven't had all that much time. Daddy kept me pretty close to home."
"I know his little princess."
"You know, till I met you I couldn't figure out why people made such a big deal about sex. I had never had an orgasm. I didn't know that people could talk about it openly. You were the first one who cared about me. My girl friends tell me, that their husbands don't even talk about it with them. Not to mention the strange things we do together. I don't think my parents even guessed that you could do those things."
"Sure they did, they may not have done them, but they knew about them. Why do you think your daddy kept you so close to home? He knew when you found out about sex he could never put the genie back into the bottle."
"Well it's out now. Speaking of out now, how come everybody in town knows that we are lovers. I mean my brides sometimes say, 'I would have went with your boyfriend, but I like your work better.'"
"Bullshit, what they say is, 'I would have gone with your boyfriend, if he hadn't been booked.\rquote " She hit me with a pillow.
"Why don't you just come live with me? We could both operate this studio. We wouldn't need yours. We could save money on advertising and everything."
"Maybe someday, but not right now."
"I know it is Julie. I never offered before because of her. Now that she is probably dead, I don't have to worry about her. We could really make a good life together."
"It is something to think about. First let's see how this thing finally shakes out."
"You know she is dead don't you?"
"Possibly. I also know that I am going to be a suspect if she is."
"The husband and the ex-husband are always suspects. It just works out statistically that way."
"That is bullshit. You didn't have anything to do with her death."
"We aren't really sure that she is dead. We won't know till they come up with a body."
"What difference does it make to you? I mean she is Jake's problem living or dead." She suddenly looked at me. "You still love her don't you? You do, you love her and you think that she will come back to you one day. You think she will stop her whoring and come back to you. You do, don't you." I didn't answer because there was no answer to give.
"Get out, you son of a bitch. Get out of my bed and my life. I don't ever want to see you again. You are a sick bastard. Get out."
I dressed quickly. I didn't want to hear her cry any longer. I quickly fled the studio. Once in her parking lot, I crawled into the toy, then I drove home. Even if I had been drunk, it wouldn't have mattered. There was only one policeman on duty so late, and he would be at the station asleep.
I made it home and into bed around four. I slept late on Sunday. I would have slept a damned sight later, if the phone hadn't awakened me. "Hello?"
"Linc, this is Bart. Meet me at the River Bridge as soon as you can."
"Okay Bart, but would you get me some coffee. It's going to take me a couple of minutes."
"Sure kid but be quick."
I didn't have to ask. I knew they had found something. I grabbed a quick shower then pulled on my cotton work pants and a white shirt. I drove to the bridge with my head banging. God I would never drink that beer again. I made that promise to myself for the hundredth time.
I parked behind the chief's LTD. When I started across the bridge, I saw him walking to meet me. I stopped. I figured if he wanted me over there, he would have waited for me. He had a large Styrofoam cup in his hand. When he got close enough, I went to get it. The coffee was black, bitter, and only warm. It was just the way I liked it.
"Which one did they get?"
"Don't know yet, they haven't unrolled it."
"Blanket or bedspread?" I asked.
"Bedspread, one of those fancy ones. The kind, you would find at a rich man's place."
"Did the Sheriff tell you to keep me away?"
"Yeah, doesn't want you to contaminate the crime scene."
"Right, how many deputies are there this time?"
"About ten, I would guess. Jacob is over there, so maybe they won't fuck it up too bad."
"They still dragging for the other one?"
"Yeah, the other one should be nearby. This one was upstream about two hundred yards. Your guess was close."
"Yeah, but that isn't good for me. I might get an iron bracelet instead of a gold star."
"Don't see how. Everything so far points to Jake."
"Till somebody comes up with a time of death it is going to be hard for anybody to have a finger pointed at them."
"Well it is going to be sometime between eleven a.m. on July eighth and seven a.m. July ninth."
"That is probably true, but they are going to dispute that because the appearance of the car isn't proof that they were dead at that time. Sure everybody is going to know it, but that doesn\rquote t make it so. At least that will be the argument of some smart asked lawyer."
"Maybe Jake will cop to it. That would save us all a lot of trouble. If he does, we won't have a trial," the Chief said.
"When did you ever hear of a lawyer copping to anything?"
"Got a point there. I don't suppose you want to cop to it do you?"
"Not a chance," I paused to think a minute. "Is the sheriff going to talk to Jeff Avery?"
"I suppose. But right now, you better get your shit together. They are going to talk to everyone they can before they go up against Jake or Avery."
"You know what Jake is going to say both now and to a jury. Why would I hire Linc to find my wife, if I knew she was dead."
"Cover?" the Chief said.
"Probably, but it has to make you wonder. Hell, it makes me wonder and I think he did it."
"What do you think the Avery kid had to do with this?"
"Probably nothing, like you said he was just sniffing around her."
"What if we don't find Julie, could she have done Wally?" the Chief asked.
"Maybe, but why would she? I mean, she has never played a black widow before. God knows there have been plenty of opportunities."
"I guess." We waited in silence till the Sheriff came over the bridge.
"Linc would you come with us?"
"To the station."
"Not unless you are arresting me. I will be happy to meet you at the station though." I had seen too many poor bastards cut loose with no way back to their car. I didn't plan to be one of them.
"Well then, maybe we should consider you under arrest."
"Okay, Chief, call Jake. He is my lawyer. Have him meet me at the station." I knew damned well, they didn't want Jake hearing what they had till they had him in the suspect's chair. I turned my back to let the Sheriff cuff me.
"You don't need a lawyer. We are just going to talk."
"If that is the case there is no reason not to let me follow you to the station. If, on the other hand, I am under arrest then I need a lawyer. You decide Sheriff."
"Okay follow me to the station. I'll tell you right now that smart ass attitude won't help."
"Sheriff, I have a witness that I have not given you any crap. I am just requesting my rights. Just one more minute please." I quickly stripped off my shirt and turned for the Chief. I wanted him to see that I didn't have any bruises or red welts on my skin.
"What was that for?" the sheriff asked.
"Just in case I come home looking different. No offense Sheriff, sometimes people get a little aggressive during an interrogation."
I pulled the toy around me and drove to the Sheriff's office. It was located on the second floor of the courthouse across from the jail. I entered the squad room. I knew I was in it deep when the deputies ignored me.
The Sheriff ushered me into a small room with a one way mirror on the wall. "This should be fun," I thought.
I sat at the table and removed the tape recorder, which I carried with me all the time. I rewound the tape over the messages. I set it up nice and big on the table and then turned it on. "Sheriff, I ask, "Am I a suspect in a crime? If so do I need a lawyer?"
"You only need a lawyer, if you are guilty of something."
"Wrong answer Sheriff innocent men have need of a lawyer just as much as guilty ones. Am I a suspect?"
"Of course you are. Right now everyone is."
"Then, if you don't mind I will postpone my interview till you have interviewed everyone else."
"Why you breakin' my balls, Linc? You and me never had any problems before."
"You were never trying to set me up for a murder rap before Sheriff."
"I'm not trying to set you up for anything. I just want to ask you some questions."
"I'll make you a deal. You answer a couple for me. I will answer a couple for you."
"If don't work that way. You know that."
"Then you better charge me, because I'm not answering any questions while I am in the dark. I want to call a lawyer right fucking now."
He slammed his fist on the table. I had to fight to do it but I didn't flinch. He had telegraphed his move. A move not all that effective, if you know it is coming.
"Sheriff, if you don't let me speak to a lawyer, you are violating my rights. I am sure there are more than a couple of deputies watching. I don't imagine all of them will lie for you."
He waited till the red left his face before he spoke. "Okay let's do this the easy way. What do you want to know?"
"Who was in the wrapper by the river?"
"Have they found Julie yet?"
"Are you going to keep looking?"
"At least for a while."
"Okay Sheriff, ask away."
"Where were you July eighth and the morning of the ninth?"
"I have breakfast at the Elms every morning so I started there." I removed my pocket calendar from my shirt pocket. I flipped the pages back to July 8. "I shot a businessman's special at eleven. Then at one I shot a scar for Bobby Williamson, not Bobby, a client of his. I don't show anything else so I imagine I was in the studio till supper when I returned to the Elms. On Wednesday Jed fixes Salmon patties. I never miss those. After supper, I probably spoke with Helen on the phone. I almost always do. Then I had an eight o'clock appointment to show samples to a bride. After that I would have been home alone."
"There is a whole lot of time missing in that run down."
"I didn't know I was going to need an alibi? If I had known, I would have worked one out."
"When was the last time you saw Julie?"
"A couple of months ago."
"How did that happen?"
"I make her portrait a couple of times a year. She is vain that way. She called to make an appointment like any other client. I made the shots. She picked them up a week later and paid me."
"I thought you hated her?"
"No, she hates me. She also enjoys showing me that she has money. She buys a crap load of over priced pictures and then probably burns them. It is her way of reminding me how much better off she is without me."
"Did you hate her?"
"I never hated her. As a matter of fact, you can ask Helen. She just threw me out because she thinks I still love Julie."
"I don't think so. Do you?"
The Sheriff's faced reddened again. "What does that mean?"
"It means you and Julie had a fling once. Maybe you still have a thing for her. Somebody should probably be asking you these same questions. Of course, they would also have to ask at least half the men in town."
"I'm asking the questions here."
"And you are boring the hell out of me. I want to leave now. I have told you where I was on the dates in question. There is nothing else I can or will add. So charge me or let me walk."
"Bullshit, I am going to hold you till I get ready to let you walk."
"I state it again for the record, and for anyone listening, I want to speak to my lawyer."
"You know what I think?"
"No, and I really don't want to know."
"I think you and your lawyer are in this together."
I couldn't help laughing. "Me and Jake, the only thing Jake and I would ever do together is sue your ass for false imprisonment."
"Get the fuck out of here you smart ass son of a bitch."
I picked up my recorder and walked out the door. I didn't turn it off. I expected a parting shot from the Sheriff. He surprised me by not saying a word as I walked away. I drove the block to the police station. The chief was expecting me. I played the tape for him.
"Hell Linc, that stupid ass violated every one of your civil rights."
"I know ain't it swell."
"Course it don't matter none. You didn't say anything that he could use against you anyway."
"I know, there is nothing he can use against me. I had nothing to do with this mess."
"You know they can't keep me in the dark like they can you."
"Okay I'll beg, what did you find out?"
"Wally had a real nasty hole in his gut."
"Looks like, how did you know?" the chief asked.
"You said nasty wound. Hell everyone around here owns a shotgun. Those things are impossible to match to a pellet. Without the shell you can't match them at all."
"Since we don't know where Wally bit the bullet, we don't have anything."
"Any word on Julie?"
"None." He looked down at his desk. "Linc, you know I had an affair with Julie?"
"Bart nobody had affairs with Julie. But everybody had Julie, some more than once."
"Yeah, I guess affair is more like caring about one another. Sort of like you and Helen."
"I guess. Besides Chief I knew about you and Julie. I don't know the details and frankly I would rather not. I made peace with all that long ago. I couldn't hate everyone in town. The men all slept with her and the women badmouthed her. There was no way to cope except to just ignore it all."
"Good, I didn't want that to come between us. I look on you like family."
"I know chief and I appreciate it. Now, what does the Sheriff know?"
"Not much, everybody figures it about like you do. Jake got tired of her fucking around and snapped. He killed her and Wally. Took them to the cabin, waited till dark, then dumped them in the river. He must have paddled back to the cabin."
"If that is what happened, then he had to get back from the cabin. It's ten miles. He could have walked but I really don't think Jake would walk."
"Why, it isn't all that far?"
"Too much chance to be seen, motorcycle maybe. No, he doesn't know how to ride a bike."
"How about an accomplice?" the chief asked.
"I don't think so. If the plan started to unravel like it is now, he couldn't afford anyone testifying that they gave him a ride." We both got quiet while we thought.
"What if he had a member of his staff unknowingly give him a ride from the murder scene. What if he arranged for a member of the office to come for him, another lawyer. That lawyer wouldn't know they were involved. Later he could give them a buck and call them counsel."
"No phone Chief, how about this instead. After Mike fires Wally, he calls Jake, just for a second shot at Julie. He may have done it just to twist the knife in Jake. That Mike is a real nasty piece of work. Okay, he tells Jake they headed out river road."
"He told you they got on the highway."
"So he lied. He proved he is capable of it when he told me Wally had left a week before Julie. Anyway, Jake suspects Julie is going to screw Wally in his mama's bed. He goes home, gets his duck gun. He drives out to the cabin and sure as hell Julie is there. He pops them both then loads up the canoe. He takes it to the drop point. He paddles back gets in his car then drives home."
"That works real good for me, the Chief said.
"Only problem is we have to prove that he knew she would be there. There is no phone in the cabin, so she couldn't call him. It had to be Mike who told him. We get Mike to roll over on him. Then we can get a warrant to search the cabin. If he popped them there, it will be full of trace evidence."
"Well we need to get Jacob to try to match the dirt inside the car to the yard there. That would be nice. I guess he has heard from the state lab on the trunk vacuum."
"Not yet, they will be another week, at least."
"Somebody needs to pop Mike's ass now."
"The Sheriff can do that, let me call him. I would do it but if I did, I would never hear the end of it."
"He will want a warrant to search that cabin. Be sure to tell him Mike is the key."
The patrol sergeant came to the door. "Chief you might want to hear what is on the county net."
"Volunteer five to volunteer six."
"Six go ahead."
"Come on up, but turn off your siren. We ain't gonna save this one."
"So Lou, I heard but what did I hear?" the chief asked.
"That was Jake's daddy's cabin. It sounded like a total loss to me."
"Damn," the chief said. "Come on Linc, let\rquote s go look at the remains. We sure as hell don't need a warrant now."
When we got there, the place was a smoking pile of wood. There were a few kitchen appliances still standing but everything else was a smoldering heap. "Well chief at least the Sheriff can't blame this one on me."
"Oh he will find a way to at least try. He really doesn't want this to be Jake."
"You get that feeling too?"
"If he arrests Jake guilty or innocent, he is going to be back working in the mill. Jake's daddy will hang his ass. As a matter of fact, he can't even work in the mill. I hear Jake's old man bought it last month."
"Son of a bitch, I had heard that Jeff Avery was running the place into the ground. I guess it was worse than I thought. Jake's old man owns about everything around here now."
"If Mike called somebody besides Jake, who could he have called? Who would have known about this place?" the chief asked. He didn't want to go up against Jake's father either.
"How do you feel about Avery? Maybe Mike called him. The Avery\rquote s are big time Baptist. Maybe Mike tipped him off. You know Mike could have called someone else who had been here with her. What we need to do is talk to Mike. We need to find out who he called. If it was Jake, then the Sheriff is not going to have a choice. If it was someone else, then maybe it lets Jake off the hook. We need to get to him now."
"What is the hurry? We need to secure this scene till the sheriff's men arrive."
"Chief, somebody is cleaning up the loose ends. Mike is a big one."
"Oh damn. Lets go."
We were on the river road a half mile from the interstate when we heard the explosion. I looked at Bart and he shrugged. When we arrived, the station was a fireman's nightmare. The gas tanks were spouting fire. The building was no more than a pile of smoking rubble. If Mike was inside, he was a crispy critter.
"Damn you Linc. You have been a step behind the killer all day. Get one ahead and do it quick." The Chief ordered.
"Let me think. Damn it, I can't see who else could tie them up. We are going to have to hope that the scientific boys can do something. I'm afraid the best they can do is tie the car to the cabin. That won't tie anyone to the killings."
"How about Jake's shotgun?"
"Probably in the river by now. How do we prove that he has one missing? I sure don't know how many he has. I doubt anyone else does either."
"What now?" the chief asked.
"Unless something comes up out of the blue, this is going to be an unsolved."
"I know Jake did it," he said.
"Chief, you mean that if I didn't, then Jake did."
"Well now, you know I have to suspect everybody. You and I are the only ones I don't suspect for sure. My instincts tell me it was Jake."
"I'm not all that sure. I mean we don't know. Mike could have called Avery or someone else. That person might have known she would take Wally to the cabin. The unknown person could have barged in shot them, then they could have done all the things we think Jake did."
"Okay if Mike didn't call Jake, who would the little worm have called, Avery?"
"Maybe, let's make sure Mike was in the station. Hell, he could have done it."
"Why would he?"
"What if Julie went to the station to see Mike and found Wally instead. Mike catches them. He fires Wally. Mike makes a scene. Then Julie laughs at him and drives off with Wally. Mike follows them, then pops them in the cabin. He locks the door then leaves. Later he closes the station drives back and completes the work."
"Damn it Linc, that works just as well as Jake."
"I know, or Mike calls Jeffrey to tell him just in passing that his great love Julie was fucking Wally in the station. Then when Jeffrey asks where they went, Mike says, 'I don't know somewhere down the river road.\rquote Avery is Jake's cousin, he probably knows about the cabin. Jeffrey goes down there and the same things happen. Then again maybe instead of Jeffrey he calls somebody we don't even suspect."
"Linc it all works. It could have been anybody in town. There are any number of men who she might have taken to that cabin."
"Well, the secret is in the phone call from Mike. He would only have called someone he wanted to either needle or complain to."
"You know what this means?" the chief asked.
"Yes Julie is in the river for sure."
"Looks like," the chief stalled a minute, then went on, "I wonder how we are going to find the killer."
"Or, if you are going to find the killer."
"Or, if we can prove it, once we find him."
We sat in silence till the phone rang. The chief answered and mumbled a few things. "The fire department just found a body in the station. It looks like Mike."
"I expected no less. They are calling the State in on this, aren't they?"
"Yeah both sites. I don't expect too much from them. We might at least get a cause of the fires. Any ideas?"
"It was probably some kind of a delayed trigger on the cabin. Then a bomb tossed into Mike's door."
"Sounds right to me, at least on Mike. Why a delay at the cabin? He had plenty of time before it was discovered to make it to Mike's?"
"If I was Jake and someone happened to see me driving on river road, I would want it to be hours before the fire. Mike's had to be risky though. Anyone could have caught sight of him driving away from that one. Maybe there was a delay there too. Hell I don't know chief. Anything is possible."
"Well you might as well go home. There won't be anything else happening for a while."
"They might find Julie. Let's go back to the river."
"No, I got things to do. You don't need to be standing out there either. Let the Sheriff call me. I promise I will call you just as soon as I hear anything."
I drove the toy to my house. Even though it was Sunday, I had a message. "Linc this is Jake, get over here right away, please. I need to talk to you."
I struggled back into the Toyota and drove to Jake's house. Jake had built a house in the middle of a cornfield. Of course those days there was no corn. The whole field was burnt grass. It had been a hot dry July, and his lawn was as brown as mine. The house itself was a large three story colonial thing. It struck me for the first time that it was almost exactly like the Avery house.
Julie had worked closely with the architect and it showed, more inside than out. The house was filled with large open spaces. The house had so many windows on the sides that the architect threatened to quit if she kept forcing him to change the plans. Julie loved the sunlight. I entered through the oversized double front doors.
There was no entry hall. The first view, from the doorway, was the spectacular double stairway winding its way from the second floor landing. The entrance room was in fact the ballroom, which was two stories tall. It, of course, had the obligatory giant chandelier. The ballroom spread off to either side of the giant stairs. The whole front of the house was just that one room. The floor was covered with marble tiles. I listened to the tapping sound of my shoes on it as I walked deeper into the house.
The walls were some kind of wood paneling on the bottom and a French silk wallpaper above. The paper ran all the way to the two-story ceiling. The whole of it resembled a palace ballroom or a French whorehouse. It really didn't matter, since either would have been appropriate for Julie. She could pull off that lady of the manor bit with Jake's out of town guests. Those of us, who knew her, knew she would be equally at home in a French whorehouse.
Jake met me at the door. He let me marvel again at the room. He waited till I had taken another good look at it. "Linc I think I need your help again."
I followed him into his study. A room with twelve-foot walls had books lined to the ceiling. I was absolutely sure that it was mostly trimming. Jake wasn't really old enough to appreciate books. He might pull a law book off the shelf. Dickens would surely be safe on those walls for years. I seated myself in a red leather chair from the twenties.
"In what way Jake?" I asked.
"I think the cops are trying to frame me for Julie's murder," he said.
"Jake, they haven't found Julie's body, have they?"
"Not yet but they are sure it is just a matter of time. Linc I didn't kill her."
"Then you got nothing to worry about. Besides from what I hear they aren't going to be able to prosecute anybody. Somebody has been busy destroying the evidence. My guess is that whoever did it will never see the inside of a courtroom."
"I heard that too, but I can't stand the questions hanging over me. My parents have lived here all their lives. It would kill them to have people whispering."
"Not to mention that it would really be bad for the law business. Some people really would be put off by a murderer handing their estate."
"Okay, I admit that is part of it. I don't want to be the first one in my family to lose money. This family has always prospered. I am going to have to do business in this town after my mother and father die. I don't want this hanging over my head."
"Jake, memories are short."
"Not in a small town. Come on Linc. It's not like I want you to do anything illegal."
"Exactly what do you want?"
"I want you to find out who killed them. I want you to make it known, even if there is no trial."
"Jake to be honest, I think you did it. Do you want me to broadcast that?"
"Of course not, I want you to find the real killer. I will pay you whatever you want."
"Jake, I just told you. I think you did it."
"Fine, then why don\rquote t you start there, prove I did it then. I know I didn't. In the process of proving me guilty, you might find out who really did it."
"You answer some questions for me before I commit?"
"Sure go ahead. I've got nothing to hide."
"First of all, you don't seem all that broke up about Julie's death, if she is dead."
"Is there some question about her being dead?"
"Just that they haven't found the body yet, my question is, why aren't you more upset?"
"Linc, you better than anyone else knows what Julie was. Hell the whole town knows."
"Jake, she was that the whole five years you were married. If you couldn't take it, why didn't you divorce her?"
"Linc, she had her ways. You know that."
"Okay, moving right along. Did you have a prenuptial agreement?"
"No, they weren't the fashion at the time. But you should know that she would have gotten nothing in a settlement. She was known to be the town slut. I could have divorced her anytime I wanted. I could give her a few grand. The judge would have gone along."
That was true. It had worked that way for me.
"Did you leave your office the morning of July 8?" Instead of answering he handed me his office calendar. "You go to the office to get this today, or do you always bring it home?"
"I went for it, when I heard they found a body. It was Wally, but I figured it would just be a matter of time. I don't know what dates they are looking at but everything is in there."
I checked and the appointments were scribbled in. It was obviously not written on the same day or with the same pen. It could be a fake but then again why bother? Even if he had no alibi, the cops were going to play hell proving anything. "Jake, your last appointment was at one. What did you do after that?"
"I stayed at the office. I left at five and then drove straight home. I waited for Julie. When she didn't show, I called a couple of her friends. When she didn't show by ten, I got drunk and went to bed."
I could relate to everything he said. I had done the same things a couple of times myself. "Jake, did you go to your parent\rquote s cabin on the lake at all that day? Or the next one?"
"Have you been there in the last three weeks?"
"Come on Jake, this is not a courtroom tell me more than just no. Why didn't you? You must have heard the rumor that the cops thought she might have been killed at the cabin."
"That's why I didn't go there. I haven't been there since last year. I didn't want to go stumble across a crime scene. That would look real good to the cops."
"Better than you not checking out the place when it became the possible murder site."
"I expected them to come to me or my parents. We would gladly have let them search it."
"Well, the Sheriff was afraid to upset your dad. Now that the place has been torched, any evidence linking you or anyone else is probably gone. It can't hurt or help you."
"I should have gone, but frankly I was frightened. I figured they had the place staked out. I was afraid it would look like the murderer returning to the scene of the crime."
"Are you kidding? Our sheriff has neither the brains nor the balls to stake out your old man's cabin. If he had, we would know who did this thing."
"Jake pay attention. Whoever torched the cabin, killed Wally, and probably Julie."
"That makes sense, I guess."
"Jake, listen carefully, then tell me the truth. I might be able to find out the truth. If you lie to me, then I will have to assume you did the killings."
"What?" He was really worried about the question.
"Did Mike call you on the eighth? Did he tell you he saw Julie with Wally?"
"Did he call and speak to anyone in your office?"
"Not that I know of."
"Okay Jake, write me a check for ten grand. If the cops or I can't find proof that you didn't do it, I will return whatever portion I don't use. If either the cops or I prove you innocent then I keep the money."
"Okay, I am only doing this because I know you are guiding their investigation. If the cops come up with the answer, it will be because you sent them in the right direction."
"Jake, you think I did it don't you? You think I did it and am pointing them at you. You figure you can pay me enough to shift the blame to someone else?"
"Look to tell you the truth Linc, I wouldn't blame you, if you did kill her. I don't know who did and at this point I don't care. I just want to stay out of it."
"Okay Jake, but if you did it, I am going to move heaven and hell to get you."
"Since I didn't do it, please make sure you have the right man."
"I will. When I am sure, he is going to jail, or worse."
"Fine, like I said just make damned sure you have the right man."
"By the way where is Ginger this weekend. She still sleeping?"
"That is none of your business."
"Wrong, everything is my business till this is over. Where is she?"
"Up stairs in the parlor reading the Sunday paper."
"Jake, you are truly an idiot. That is really going to look good to the Sheriff. It goes to motive, jerk. If I were you, I would get her out. Just in case the sheriff gets the balls to interview you. He will once they find Julie's body."
"God you are right. I have never been involved with the police. I just didn't know."
"Jake, don't give me that garbage. You have seen the cops work for years. You just never thought they would come to your house. Well, once Julie turns up you can bet your ass they will be here." I knew that the Sheriff would never invade Jake's privacy. He would call then have Jake come to the office at his leisure. I simply enjoyed making him sweat. I wanted Jake to think I knew more than I did.
The thought hit me less than a mile from Jake's house. If Mike told one person, might he not have told someone else? After all, finding a couple screwing in the station was a big event. I pulled off the road so quickly, that the car behind tapped me on the bumper.
On the best of days I am a lousy driver, and it definitely wasn't the best of days. I looked at my car. There was no real damage other than a small dent in the chrome bumper. I explained to the young man that it was his fault. I didn't have enough damage to worry about, but he wouldn't listen. He insisted on calling the police. Since the reason I pulled off in the first place was to call the police, I saved my dime.
Fifteen minutes later the rookie I had amused with the 'Stan's finger\rquote story pulled into the lot. He was nervous as he wrote the young man behind me a ticket for following too close. I watched the young man drive away.
"Is the chief still in the office?" It was well after six, but then hell was breaking loose all over the county. Rather than answer, he called in on his radio. I spoke to the chief. I asked him to meet me at the Elms. He knew that if I didn't come to the station, it was important. I drove off and left the rookie standing in the parking lot.
I was already seated when the Chief walked in. One look at him and people began looking down into their food. He knew each of them by name. He greeted no one.
Lucille brought him a coffee and he smiled his thanks. Jed glared at me and I smiled at him. I was determined to teach him not to fuck with me. I had tried being nice. I intended to parade every cop I knew into his place till he screamed uncle.
"Okay Linc, what is so important that we couldn't talk at the station."
"When we talked at the station, I was so intent on who killed Julie that I overlooked something."
"Important I hope?"
"Maybe. You know Mike might still tell us who he called."
"Cut the riddles, Linc."
"Okay, Mike just might have mentioned it to Jo Beth."
"That is a long shot. I don't think he would talk to her about catching Julie screwing in the station. I don't think he ever even screwed Jo Beth."
"Come on Chief they were married."
"Do you remember Mike at all?" he asked.
"Of course I do." I stopped to think a minute. "You're right. Mike was a loonytoon , but still he might have told her."
"We could go ask. After all she does live in my jurisdiction. Finish your tea and let\rquote s go."
I left a dollar fifty on the table. It was enough for my tea, the Chief's coffee, and a nice tip for Lucille. I walked out to meet the chief in the parking lot. "Chief I need to move my car. How about following me home?"
"Sure, why do you need to move your car?" He brightened like a light bulb had gone off in his head. "Oh yeah you and Jed, sure I'll follow you."
Ten minutes later, I was in his car. We headed for the Widow Riley's house. The Chief parked his boat in the front yard. There were several of her friends' cars parked in the drive. Other cars like the chief's were parked in the dirt yard.
The house was an unpainted shack. I knew Mike had to make good money at the gas station. "Damn, where do you think all his money went." I said it pointing at the house.
"The church probably, you know Mike."
The problem was I did know Mike. Unfortunately I also knew Jo Beth. Mike had fortunately never known that I knew his wife in the biblical sense. I have no idea how many other men knew Jo Beth. All I knew for sure was that I, sure as hell, knew her real well.
She had come to my studio to have her bridal portrait done. Julie had left me six months before. I was floundering around badly. I left Jo Beth inside, to change, while I stood outside smoking a cigarette.
"I'm ready Linc," she said.
I walked in to find her more or less naked. She was holding the dress in front of her. She had nothing on behind it. "Do you think this would make a pretty picture?" I did indeed. We ended up making it on the table where I showed my samples. Jo Beth saw more than my samples that day.
I made the picture. No one ever knew about the table. When that happened, she was twenty-two, and about to marry Mike. On that night she was thirty something. The years hadn't been unkind to the woman who opened the door to the Chief's knock.
When I had made her picture, she had sun bleached blonde hair. She was known to dress in tight tee shirts and tighter jeans. That child's body was gone, she wasn't so much fat as shapeless. She had gained enough weight in her stomach to change the hourglass into a water glass.
"Chief, Mr. Jefferson, what can I do for you?" she asked.
"We would like to say how sorry we are about Mike, Mrs. Riley," the Chief said.
"Well thank you, would you like to come inside. There is gobs of food and coffee."
"No ma'am, we would like to talk to you outside, if you can spare us a minute."
She looked curious. As she stepped outside, she closed the door carefully behind her.
"How about a walk Jo Beth?" I asked.
"Sure Mr. Jefferson," she said moving away from the house. "What can I do for you Chief?" She asked it after a few steps.
"Well Mrs. Riley, there is a rather delicate question I need to ask."
"About Mike?" she asked. The chief nodded. "I can't believe there is anything about Mike that you couldn't ask in the church." She stated it somewhat sarcastically.
"Well Jo Beth, it really isn't about Mike. Hell Jo Beth let me just come right out with it." I said.
She didn't look offended at my use of the English language. "Please do Mr. Jefferson."
"Three weeks ago, Mike caught Wally with a woman at the station. He immediately fired Wally. Did he mention it to you?"
"Of course he did. It was with that awful wife of yours."
"Ex-wife Jo Beth, do you happen to know, if he told anyone else about the incident?"
"If he did, he didn't mention it to me."
"Are you sure?" the chief asked.
"Of course I'm sure," she repeated.
"Well Mrs. Riley I am sorry. I hate to bother you with this."
"Does this have anything to do with Mike's accident?" she asked.
"I doubt it Jo Beth. The Sheriff will probably tell you more later," the chief said.
"I hope it doesn't cause me any problem with the insurance," Jo Beth said.
"Did Mike have a lot of insurance?" I asked.
She suddenly got more cautious. "Some we carried, and some the oil company carried."
"Good Jo Beth, you are going to need a little extra help right now," I said.
"We better be going," the chief prompted.
"Right, well thank you again Jo Beth. Please accept my sympathies."
I had almost reached the car when Jo Beth called out. "Mr. Jefferson, could I speak with you a minute."
I walked back to her. "Yes?"
"Linc, I wanted you to know that I appreciate the fact that you never told anyone about our little fling. Mike and his friends would never have understood. Please call me when all this dies down."
"Sure Jo Beth, but I am not going to be recruited into the church."
"Hell honey," she laughed. "When this calms down, I am getting as far away from those hypocrites as I can."
"Don't blame you Jo Beth," I agreed.
"Hell Linc every one of those church people hit on me at one time or another. Of course I never let them near me. You and Mike are the only ones I ever did it with. Frankly Mike was lousy. I would like to see if you live up to the memory I have of you."
"Probably not. Of course we can test it out later maybe."
I easily slipped into the chief's LTD. "Do you think she could have had anything to do with it?"
"Come on Linc, Jo Beth?" the chief asked.
"You're right. My money is still on Jake."
"Yeah mine to."
"Let's jack his ass up. Let's go up there and tell him Jo Beth named him."
"That might be fun, but like you keep reminding me, he is a cool lawyer. He wouldn't blink an eye, innocent or guilty."
"Yeah, you are right." A thought crossed my mind. "Chief, what if we didn't go up there. What if we let it leak out that Jo Beth knows who Mike talked to? The killer might come after her."
"Won't work," he said.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because if Jo Beth knew, she would have told us when we asked."
"Okay how about this. The Sheriff has reason to believe she knows, but hasn't asked her yet."
"Why hasn't he asked her?"
"He's up for reelection this year and doesn't want to bring her in for an interview till after the funeral."
"What makes you think the killer will go for her."
"He went for Mike, didn't he?" I asked.
"It's going to be dangerous. What makes you think, Jo Beth will go for it?"
"She will when I tell her the insurance company won't pay off in a murder till she is cleared."
"You wouldn't lie to a widow would you?"
"Bet your ass I would. Besides if she calls to ask the insurance agent he will tell her that there will indeed be an investigation before the payment is made. All you have to do is say she hasn't been ruled out. They will hold the money till she is."
"Now that is dirty pool. It is also academic since the investigation is with the Sheriff's department."
"Yeah, but he might go for it, if we lay our cards on the table for him. I mean he may have a better idea, but I doubt it."
"If he goes for it, we have to keep this just among the three of us. I don't trust anybody else."
"Okay, but how do we protect her till the funeral."
"You and I move into her house. We have to handle it so that the friends don't know."
"Now Chief, how the hell do we accomplish that bit of magic?"
"Jo Beth worked in Greensboro before she got married didn't she?"
"Hell I don't know. I mean I think so but I'm not sure."
"I'm pretty sure. How about an old friend from there comes to help her out during this trying time. Of course the old friend is an SBI agent."
"You trust the state people?"
"Have to, where else we going to get a woman?"
"Got me, okay but how does that help us. I mean she will be there during the day and evening but how does that allow us to stay there too."
"We stay in the barn. We set up a couple of signals with the agent. Radio, if she can use it. If not, then something else, maybe a certain light that stays on unless there is trouble. We can sit in the barn and watch from the loft."
"I don't know about you, but I can't sit there for five or six days."
"You won't have to stay all that time. We each do it one day; then the others take over. We can slip in after dark through the fields. We can park the cars on the old logging road behind her house. No one will be the wiser."
"We won't be much help if someone drives up and throws a bomb in the house." I had memories of the burning service station.
"You are right. We have to get him out of the car and into the house."
"Try this one on Chief. Jo Beth has told us she is sure Mike told her something but she is just too upset to remember. She has agreed to see a hypnotist after the funeral. We are sure he can help her remember the incident in greater detail."
"Okay, that will work even if the Sheriff won't go along."
"Okay now, Jake is smart. He thinks it may be a trap, but he can't afford not to risk it. Jake is not about to bomb an empty house. That would just convince us that Jo Beth knows something worth getting out of her and quick. He has to make sure he gets her."
"I can buy that."
"Okay, He can't afford to bomb the house with a lot of people in it during the daylight. It's not like a deserted service station out by the interstate. Someone is always hanging around a grieving widow's house. We need to keep the town folks coming till after the funeral. When her friend, the agent, arrives it will be all over town in a couple of hours. Now, he will have to go for her at night. He plans to throw a bomb in her house as he drives by, no witnesses. Right?"
"What happens when he gets there, if Jo Beth's old caddy is gone? The agent\rquote s car is in the drive but Jo Beth's car is gone."
"I don't know, maybe he waits somewhere to see, if she comes back. He damned sure won't bomb the house without knowing who is in it."
"Right, he is going to need to either go inside the house, or at least look in a window, if not right away, then sometime."
"Right, that's how we get him out of the car. We park Jo Beth's car in the barn."
"Sure, we can hang a black tarp over the door late at night. He won't know unless he comes to look. If he comes to check, we grab his ass. If he comes to the house, either we or the agent grabs his ass. Either way Jake is history. That is assuming it is Jake who comes."
"We need a meet with the Sheriff first thing tomorrow. If we can sell it to him, then we got a chance."
"Have the county prosecutor there."
"Why?" the chief asked.
"He can explain to the sheriff how weak the case will be without a confession or something akin to it."
"Good idea," the chief said.
"Yes, Chief, you had a hell of an idea there."
"I am going to have to put you on the payroll for a couple of days. If I don't, the city fathers will have a fit, not to mention the Sheriff."
"Let's not mention the Sheriff," I said.
Bart drove me home, and I was happy to see the house. I had suffered all day with a hangover. When the general rotten feeling left, I continued to be tired and sleepy. I checked my messages and found that Helen hadn't called. It might take her a little longer than usual to get over her anger, I thought.
I called Bart at his office. I had forgotten Avery. I really wanted to try to get him out of the picture. Bart agreed to call the Avery home. I didn't expect much cooperation from Mrs. Avery. I thought maybe I could arrange a meeting with Jeff, away from his mother.
The chief called back a few minutes later. The kid wasn't home. He had spoken to Amos Avery. Amos actually wanted to talk to me. He didn't want the meeting at his home. Amos had agreed to meet me in twenty minutes at his office in the club.
I drove straight to the club. Since I didn't plan to use the facilities, I went right past the linebacker/captain. I went up the stairs to the office of Amos Avery. I knocked on the door.
I quiet voice said, "Come in."
I opened the door into what had once been a rather large bedroom. It was filled with file cabinets and a large desk. Mr. Avery sat behind the desk. He was not the Amos Avery I had seen only a few years before. Avery could have been the American Cancer Society's poster boy for the year seventy-five.
"Mr. Avery, my name is Linc Jefferson." I said.
"Come in young man, I know who you are. Actually as I understand it, I have known you longer than you have known me." The old bastard smiled.
"Your father and mother both worked for me." I didn't know if that statement was meant to put me in my place or not. I did know that he was getting close to pissing me off.
"That's right." I said rather coldly.
"You aren't much like your dad. Then you never were. He was one hell of a nice fellow. I hear you are a violent, cold-hearted bastard."
"Now where could you hear a thing like that?" I asked sarcastically.
"Mostly from my wife. Of course I don't pay a lot of attention to her these days."
"Maybe you should," I said.
"You mean you are a violent, cold-hearted thug?" he asked.
"You didn't mention thug last time. I am not violent. I am certainly no thug. I might be guilty of being cold hearted though. I could probably find you a couple of people who would agree with that."
Avery began reminiscing. I didn't try to stop him. I found it rather interesting.
"Did you know that I built that house you live in, not me personally you understand? I had it built along with a hundred others. My workers were living in God-awful conditions. I couldn't find a builder willing to build those small houses. Not enough profit they said. So I hired a bunch of carpenters and other people. Those men put up your house and ninty-nine others in one summer. They are good houses to, not like some of the trash they build today."
"It's a good house all right. It served my family well," I agreed.
"I went bird hunting with your dad years ago. I had the land to hunt. He had the finest Brittany Setters in the state. We killed a lot of birds that week. We also drank a lot of liquor. Hell you were just a kid then."
"You will have to forgive me. I don't remember any of this."
"I heard that. It is a damned shame. I find most of my time these days is spent with my memories. If I had known you would someday be hunting my son, I might have killed you then."
"Good thing you didn't know. Of course I'm not really hunting your son. I'm hunting anyone who knows what happened to Julie Adams. She is your niece after all."
"Not really, she simply married my nephew. You know Jake is an otherwise smart kid. I think like a lot of you young people he can't control his prick. The little head thinks too much for the big one."
"Could be true, I might even be guilty of that myself."
"You damned sure were once at least. Your mother could have kept you away from Julie, if she had lived. She was a fine woman, your mother. You know every shift, of every department, in the mill had Christmas dinner. Every year there were at least twenty-five dinners I could have eaten. I ate Christmas dinner in the weave room on the second shift every year. I did that son because your mama could bake a ham. There was no one in the world who could fix a ham like your mother."
"I have heard that before. Since you brought the mill up, what made you sell it."
"Look at me, why do you think?"
"I thought Jeff was going to take over."
"He tried. The kid just couldn't keep up with all the decisions. He is bright, but just not practical enough. He would have driven the mill into bankruptcy. I sold it to Michael my brother-in-law. I sold it to him so that it would stay open. People like your mother and father worked for me twenty or more years. I couldn't just leave all those people out in the cold."
"I'm sorry. It must be tough to see your life's work slip away?"
"It is. You didn't come here for that. You came to find out who killed Jake's wife. Well Jeffrey didn't do it."
"Pardon me sir, but how do you know that."
"Because I did it."
Maybe he thought he could pull it off. I doubt it though. No one in their right mind would believe Amos had the strength to lift the shotgun, let alone Wally.
"It's a nice gesture Amos. You know that we aren't going to buy it. Do you know for a fact that Jeffrey was involved, or are you just trying to do one last noble thing."
"I did it. I tell you."
"Amos nobody is going to believe you. You are going to look foolish, if you tell anyone else. You want to be remembered as a good man, not a senile old fool."
He broke down. I thought he was going to start blubbering. Instead he said, "Jeff didn't do it. Oh he thought he was in love with Julie but he wasn't."
"More of that little head thinking?" I asked.
"Worse, I am going to confide something in you. I don't expect you to understand but it is important that you try. First promise me that this will go no farther."
"You have my word. Hell I might forget it by the time I leave this room. Everyone knows how bad my memory is."
The old man smiled. "Jeff is gay." The old man saw the look of disbelief on my face. "I'm sure that I looked the same way when I found out. Jeffery is gay, no doubt about it."
"How did he get involved with Julie then?"
"It was my idea. I am so senile. I thought all he needed was a woman, one who could make sex exciting."
"Julie fits that bill all right," I said.
"I know," He said. "Anyway she did a number on the boy. He had finally found a woman he could enjoy. He went nuts. He began talking about marrying her."
"I confronted Julie and of course she laughed. She promised to straighten Jeffrey out."
"Do you think he killed her? You know the lover scorned bit."
"No, Jeffrey doesn't have it in him."
I stood to leave. "You know I am still going to have to talk to him."
"I'm going to have a talk with him myself," the old man said.
I drove home to the empty house. I fixed myself a frozen dinner. I heated it in my new toaster oven. It seemed foolish to heat the big oven for a frozen dinner. While it cooled, I tossed in a couple of brown and serve dinner rolls. That, with a glass of instant iced tea, was my dinner. Ah, it was the glamorous life of a bachelor.
I slept well. I was too tired to dream. I awoke to the ringing of the phone. "Hello?"
"Get your ass moving. We have our meeting in thirty minutes." The chief hung up after delivering his message. I managed a shower during the half hour. I felt pretty good when I arrived at the courthouse.
The sheriff even provided donuts for the prosecutor. I had one. I was sure that if the sheriff had known which one I would choose, he would have laced it with arsenic. The sheriff had never liked me. That day he absolutely hated me.
When the chief explained our need for secrecy, the Sheriff asked why I was involved. The Chief explained that I was the new city detective. I had to be involved. The Sheriff didn't like it but he couldn't interfere with the Chief's authority in his own jurisdiction.
The prosecutor explained the legal problems facing the prosecution with the kind of evidence that would likely accumulate in this case. The sheriff had no choice but to agree. He insisted that he be allowed an extra man, the chief agreed. We all agreed that Jacob would do. Jacob was not to be told about the ruse. He was only to be told about the secret protection of Jo Beth. She might after all have the key bit of information. He would be sworn to secrecy.
The prosecutor made the call to the SBI. It was agreed that we notify the SBI first to make absolutely sure that we could get an investigator up that day before we did anything else. We didn't want to start the rumor until we could protect Jo Beth. The SBI quickly agreed to help. Those guys loved to grab a headline or two. As for the Chief and me, we weren't running for anything so we didn't care.
We were so sure that Jo Beth would cooperate that the Chief had the agent start on up from Raleigh. The Sheriff went back to his office. He and the chief would be seeing Jo Beth in an hour. It would be the call in which she would remember talking to Mike; not the exact details just that there had been a conversation.
We agreed that the chief would go for coffee after calling his office. He ordered his secretary to have me wait if I showed there.
As the plan called for, I drove to the Chief's office. The secretary told me to wait. She also informed me quietly that the chief sounded really pissed.
When he arrived, we had a few public words to explain my absence for a day or two. He winked before he began giving me hell.
"Look Linc, he shouted behind the closed door, which in itself guaranteed people would listen. "I told you last night to butt out of this. I am going to take care of it. I will not do anything until after the funeral. Jo Beth deserves to bury her husband in peace. God knows, what with the trip to Chapel Hill for the autopsy and identification, she is torn up. I know you think we should do it now, but damn it the sheriff is right this time. The medical examiner will release the body Wednesday. We can have the funeral on Friday. We can have her at the doctors on Saturday morning. What difference could a couple of more days make?"
"I don't know chief. You thought that about Mike and look at him."
"Don't try to lay that on me. You figured that one out way too late to help him. Just get out of here. Don't come back till after the funeral. I will let you be there when we hypnotize her. For now just go home and leave me the hell alone." I stormed out and slammed the door on him.
I pulled myself into the toy and drove it home. I had a message but it wasn't from Helen. I called the bride and made an appointment for Friday. I figured this would all be finished by then. If not I would make sure I had Friday off.
"Damn." I remembered I still hadn't processed the slides from the last wedding. I wasn't tired or hung over at the moment. I was a little preoccupied but I needed to get my mind off it anyway.
I took down the black changing bag and loaded the tank. I spent the next four hours with the film. I couldn't call either the Sheriff or the Chief so I waited and processed film. I had all four rolls in the drying cabinet when the phone finally rang. "Hello?"
"Linc, I got two things for you. One Jo Beth agreed like you said. I had to use the insurance thing. She agreed real fast after that. Two, you better sit down for this one, they found Julie . The Sheriff had them drag the river near the dock at the cabin. They were looking for the gun. They found her rapped in a bedspread exactly like Wally. She had been shot in the face.
It took out her dental work. The SBI will try to salvage a print or two. Jacob said he thought they might since the catfish hadn't gotten too much of her. Looks like the bedspread might have saved her fingers, at least some of them."
"Are you sure it is her Chief?"
"As sure as we can be without the prints. The body had Julie's rings. Most of the other Jewelry was gone but the rings were still on her fingers. They should know for sure by tomorrow."
"Okay, when do I go to the barn."
"Everybody goes in tonight for a briefing, then three of us come out. I took your advice about the car. The man coming on will leave the car and the man going off will drive it away. You are going to have to let us use your car. You can't have one of ours around your house. I sure as hell don't want you dropping a cop car at the station.
"Chief we need to hold the briefing somewhere else. He might drive by the logging road and see a cop car. If so, we can kiss this good-bye."
"I don't think he will but you are right no sense risking it. Let me think. How about we use that little parking lot behind the Elms at midnight."
"I feel like James Bond, but sure that is fine. Who goes first?"
"Your idea, you were the unanimous choice. Jacob will be going with you tonight."
"The sheriff insisted that we have a joint team on station the first night. After that I take tomorrow and he takes the next night. The joint team again on Thursday."
Since it worked out for the Friday appointment, I didn't mind. "Is the Sheriff going to let Jacob use the Star-tron?"
"Hell, I'll call to make sure. I had forgot about that useless piece of crap."
"It ain't useless, just too damned expensive. One in the county was enough."
"That is what the city counsel told me. Jacob knows how to use it, doesn't he?"
I'm sure he does. If he doesn't, I do."
"That's right. You guys had them in Nam."
The chief dropped it. He and I never mention the Nam. "Okay then, I will see you at midnight."
I spent most of the rest of the day mounting slides, a truly miserable job. When I had them all mounted, I put them into a tray and wrote the bride's name on it. This bride was one of the few who didn't have a relative I should have known from school. I almost never remembered the relative. I did occasionally fake a memory just to make them happy. I was amazed at how many younger sisters and brothers there were. Soon I guess it would change to my mother went to school with you. I was at that moment in the limbo time when most new brides were too young to be anyone's sister. They were still too old to be a child of a schoolmate.
That evening I tried to watch TV, there was no use trying to sleep. I couldn't even concentrate on the mindless TV. My mind kept drifting to Julie and her place in my life. Not what Julie really was, but what she was in my mind. More, what she was when I first met her. I had still been reeling from the Nam, and my injuries both physical and mental when I met her again. I was also hurting from guilt over my mother's death. I even felt guilty about missing her funeral.
Julie and I dated while I attended the tech school. When I graduated, I needed a job. I took and passed the police physical. Julie and I married soon after I went to work for them. I lasted two years with them both.
When Julie left me, I quit the department two days later. I told everyone that it was coincidence. It was sort of. I opened the photo studio full time the next week. I had managed to run it part time while on the force. It wasn't really all that big a move. I had a small customer base. Sam promised to send me his legal photography. I figured I could make it a while anyway.
Before Julie had returned to her old ways, we had some fun together. She was wild in bed and beautiful. God she was beautiful. I loved showing her off. I took her out even when I had to turn a deaf ear to the remarks. The remarks of those who had known her before we married. In the end I let her down just like I had let everyone else down. I couldn't save her any more than I could save my parents.
Everyone expected me to become a bum when Julie left me. I spent about three months trying to prove them right. Then one day when I was hurting the most, I traded the bottle for the Leica. I never really went back to the bottle again. I don't know why but I found peace in the fine little piece of machinery. Something soothing in the way it moved so smoothly, the heft of it, the solid feel of the small, but fine little machine. A camera really is a machine, nothing more. From that day on I became serious about the business. I worked hard. I tried every combination of things I could think of. One day I found I had developed a technique of my own. I somehow developed an even larger clientele along the way.
Everything was working the way it should. I had finally left all thoughts of her behind. Then out of the blue she married one of the richest kids in town. Also, the one I hated the most. It was like a slap in the face. I should have killed them both. I should have done a lot of things. Instead I did nothing. I swallowed the bitter a pill of humiliation.
Then of course the rumors started to spread. Julie was screwing around on Jake. Instead of just the evenings, she disappeared for days. She laughed about it at the club. She called it her vacation from marriage. I found myself in the eyes of the small town no longer the victim. I was suddenly the wiser man for having dumped her. The fact that she divorced me meant nothing to the rumor mill.
When I thought about how that beautiful body must look after three weeks in the water, I wanted to cry. Hell I did cry. I cried for her, but mostly for me. I would miss her. I had never learned to hate her. She knew. That is why she came to me for her photographs. Anyone could see the warmth of love in them.
I came down from the self-pity trip just before midnight. I drove to the Elms and met with the Chief, the Sheriff, and Jacob Stein. The three of them were waiting in the Sheriff's car. I got inside with them.
"Okay, now that we are all finally here, we can start. Jacob will be in charge." I should have been upset but wasn't. If the shit came down, it wouldn't really matter who was in charge. "The SBI agent is in place. She arrived around six. Her name is Sally Rierson and she is damned good according to her boss. You know one of those black belted women's lib types. Probably a dike so watch yourselves." I looked over at the chief since we were both stuck in the rear seat. He looked back and rolled his eyes. "Now you guys go through the woods. I want you to use the loft for observation. I don't want you both sleeping at the same time, understand?"
"Yes Sir, Jacob said.
I didn't answer and he didn't wait. "Jefferson, drive your car home and park it in the drive. Leave the keys under the seat. The chief will pick you up in it tomorrow morning. You are going to have to drive Stein home after your shift." I nodded. "Okay guys, lets do it."
He sounded like a military commander. I should have told him what I thought of military commanders. I really didn't want to start a fight on the first night so I kept quiet.
As we were driving toward Jo Beth's house, the chief slipped me a pistol. I recognized it. It was the green colored army Colt .45 I had carried for the department. The town was so small that the police weapons were actually confiscated from the bad guys. This one had been under the seat of a car that one of the patrolmen had stopped. He found and confiscated the Colt. It happened the year before I started work for the Chief. The chief also slipped me a box, which I knew contained my extras. I placed the .45 inside my belt in the rear along my butt. I held the box till we stopped on the logging road behind Jo Beth's dilapidated barn.
Like most police cars the overhead light bulb had been removed. We slipped out of the car, then unloaded the trunk. The Sheriff backed the car to a spot where he could turn it before driving away. Jacob wanted to move out. I motioned for him to stay. I also mouthed for him to be quiet. When the noise of the car was gone, I waited for the night sounds to return. When they did, I whispered to Jacob. "Let's stay here just a minute, to make sure no other cars start up. I don't want to blow this before we start. If we are blown, let's find out now."
I was amazed how quickly it all came back. Unlike my other memories these were still fresh in my mind. I remembered the nights. The ambushes would forever be vividly etched in my mind. Those were the things with which my nightmares were filled. I tried to forget the very end. I had only mixed success. My dreams were filled with the time when I became the man hunter, the one who found the ambushes, the man who called in the mortars, the man who rained death down on the brown men in black pajamas. I could still see the flashes and hear the screams. At the very end I stayed close. Close enough to see the little men die. It had been no longer enough to see the bodies. In the end I stayed close enough to feel the heat and hear the singing of the shrapnel. I was close enough to have died with my enemies.
I shook my head hard to dislodge the memories. Jacob never noticed my struggle. He was intent on listening to the night sounds. When nothing broke the night sounds, I told him to follow me. Jacob was a smart man. He knew that I could find the barn. He also knew that he was no hunter. He might not be able to find it in the dark.
"Jacob, move slowly and try not to make too much noise," I said.
We went into the woods. He was awfully noisy but then I probably was as bad. I headed in the direction of the barn. We walked for fifteen or twenty minutes. When we broke through the tree line, we were about twenty-five yards on the wrong side of the barn. I took him back into the woods and we walked in the right direction for thirty yards then broke out again. That time the barn was between us and the road. It was also between us and the house. I carried a duffel bag, as did Jacob. We lugged them quickly to the barn.
On the rear side of the barn there were a couple of doors almost off their hinges. I left him at the rear doors, then I moved into the shadows, on the side nearest the house. Everything looked fine but I wasn't sure. There might be a watcher somewhere in the woods. It might not be Jake since he was an impatient man. Then our killer might not be Jake either. I sat in the shadows for a while then returned for Jacob. I came at him from a different direction. I thought for a minute he might shoot me. When he recognized me, I led him to the black tarp over the barn door. Inside we found Jo Beth's Caddy. Jacob had trouble moving in the dark. I refused to allow a light. He tried to remind me that he was in charge. I had to explain that the light would be seen a lot farther than the noise would travel. The noise might be mistaken for some animal. It would be hard to convince anyone there were a million fireflies in the barn. He finally agreed to leave the light off. We moved to the ladder leading to the loft. It was black as pitch in the barn so we had to feel our way along. When I found the ladder I whispered to Jacob to let me go first. I checked each rung before I put my full weight on it. The ladder was just that. Mike had bought a ladder at the hardware store. He had installed it to replace the homemade one, which had no doubt been original to the barn.
Once in the loft I crawled to the hay window. I took a quick look around. I returned to the ladder. Then I whispered for Jacob to come up but to be careful. I didn't have much faith in the loft floor. It did seem to hold all right. When we were both by the loft wall with our bags, Jacob removed the Star-tron.
"Did you ever use one of these?" he asked.
"A time or two."
"Really, I didn't know the police had one." He knew damned well they didn't.
"They don't Jacob. I used one a long time ago. It was for about the same reason we have it now, to hunt people."
"Oh I forgot. I'm going to check the outside with it."
"You are only going to be able to check a small part of it. But go ahead." I watched as he moved the Star-tron all around the space between the house and barn. He then switched to the road area. When he finished, I said, "We need to make contact with the house, then go downstairs to check the back of the barn with the starscope."
"Right, I will call, "Home base this is spotter." That had to be the Sheriff's idea. It was all so damned hokey.
"Go ahead spotter." That had to be the SBI agent. They got off on such crap, just like the sheriff. "We are in place. Everything appears quiet. You can retire now."
"Ten four spotter, we need to talk. I am coming to the barn. Be advised, don't shoot me by mistake."
"Which door Jacob?" He didn't respond. "Jacob, ask her which door she is going to use."
"Home base which door will you be using?"
"My rear and your front."
"No lights please." I had to admit he did learn quickly.
"Of course not." The agent sounded scornful.
"I'll go down Jacob. You watch her cross with the starscope, then come on down."
"Right," he said.
I didn't hear a sound till she was really close. I know because there was less than a second between the rustle of grass and her appearance around the tarp. I heard the clatter of Jacob descending the ladder.
"Who is in charge here?" she asked. It was way to dark for me to see her face in any detail.
"He is," I whispered into her ear. "Give me the scope Jacob and I will keep watch while you two talk." I climbed as silently as possible up the ladder. I crawled to the window and watched. I couldn't help overhearing their whispered conversation.
"We got a problem," the SBI agent said.
"What kind of problem?" Jacob asked.
"Jo Beth has figured out that the most likely time for the hit is at night. She wants to come out here. She wants to sleep in the barn. I think she trusts you guys more than me."
"That isn't in the plan," Jacob said.
"No shit deputy, I have tried to talk her out of it. She is insisting that either she sleeps out here, or she makes it known that her husband told her nothing." Well, everybody was in on the secret now. To Jacob's further credit, he didn't call the Sheriff for a decision.
"Okay we can do it this way. One of us removes the bulb from the overhead light in the car. She can sleep in the back seat. That thing is a tank. She will be pretty well protected from any gunfire. If we do it right, she will be safer than in the house."
"I agree," she said. "I can dress her in dark clothes, then slip her in here in a few minutes. You can scan the area with the Star-tron to make sure there is nothing moving out there before we leave the house."
I crawled to the edge of the loft. When I leaned over the edge, I was only inches from their heads. "Problem." I said.
Damn it, Linc, you scared hell out of me."
"Sorry. If we do it that way we aren't going to be able to see the approaches to the house from up here. Our primary role was to be back up if something went down. We can't be much help if everyone is in the barn. Someone has to be in the house."
"I'm going to be in there, the agent said.
"Okay how about this instead. You come up here and stay with Jo Beth. Jacob and I will go to the house. We can come for you around five in the morning."
"She won't buy it. Like I said, she doesn't trust me. She knows you two and trusts you." Right, I thought. She just wants to get laid. We had to keep her happy to keep her cooperating. "Did she specify which one she wanted to guard her?" I asked.
"No, she actually didn't know who would be up here tonight." That was good news. She either was serious about her safety, or didn't care who she screwed. Either way, it was good news for me.
"How about this Jacob, one of us takes the starscope and goes into the house with the agent. The other stays here as back up in case of trouble. He keeps an eye out but since no one will be heading for this place he will be a secondary position. You just have to listen for anyone who might be trying to use the barn as a stop off before attacking the house.
"Sounds like you plan on going into the house. Need I remind you that I am in charge?"
"Agent, could you step to the rear and give us a little privacy."
"Sure, I don't care who does what, but let\rquote s get to it, huh guys."
When she had gone, I said, "Look Jacob, I don't care who goes where, but let me ask you how many times have you been under fire?"
"None, but I don't see what difference that makes."
"And Jacob, how many times have you used this toy to hunt men for real?"
"None, I still don't see what difference it makes."
"You think about it Jacob. I will go along with any decision you make."
I hadn't heard her approach but I heard her whisper. "Okay guys, who's it to be?"
"I'm going to send Linc with you. Just give me a minute to kill the overhead light in the car then send up Jo Beth."
"Jacob, see if there is a window down in the car first." He checked.
"Yeah here is one," he said.
"The lady has to be smaller than either of us. Let her go in and kill the overhead."
"Good idea, the agent said. I didn't hear her move. A second later the door to the Caddy quietly opened. There was no light. She was good. I still hadn't heard a sound except the quiet opening of the car door.
"Let me change places with Linc. I want to sweep the area one time before you go for Jo Beth." Jacob turned his attention to the agent. "Radio me for an all clear before you come out with her. I am going to send the scope back with you."
"Right." Sally said.
Jacob swept the area again with the starscope. "Okay, you two can go now."
"I moved through the edge of the tarp and moved along the barn until I was sure she was outside. I knew it only by the elapsed time. I bent at the waist and began to move as quietly as I could toward the house. Moving quietly on a moonless night takes a lot of time and patience. When I arrived at the back door, Sally was squatting in the shadows. "You move like an old man," she whispered.
"Thank you." I slipped into the house. Jo Beth grabbed me.
"God Linc, I am glad to see you. I am scared to death. I don't like being left with strangers."
"You know Jacob Stein, don't you Jo Beth."
"Sure," she said.
"He is in the barn and is waiting for you. He is going to look after you tonight."
"Can't you do it?" she asked.
"No honey, the decision was made by Jacob and the SBI agent here. I have to follow orders. Jacob will take as good care of you as I would." I did hope she got the idea. She must have because she agreed. When she slipped from the kitchen, she was dressed in black slacks and a long sleeved black cotton tee shirt. I noted with satisfaction that only her hands and face showed white. Unless someone was really looking, they could pass for lighter colored shadows.
Sally tapped on the screen advising me, that the coast was clear. I sent Jo Beth out into the night. She and Sally headed for the barn. I lost sight of their black clad figures after only a few feet. It was that dark outside.
The first I knew of Sally's return was when she slipped into the rear door. I hadn't been warned so she found the .45 sticking in her ear. There was no light in the kitchen. Her voice and smell were the only things that allowed me to recognize her. It not for that, I might have made a tragic mistake.
"Very good Linc but you might want to move your hand slowly to the family jewels." Sure enough, her .38 was only a hair from touching my crotch.
"Nice, lets get into a room with some light." It had to be the bathroom which was also our emergency light. We were to shut it off only if we wanted the calvary. We slipped into the bathroom for a quick conference. I also got my first look at her.
She was a big woman, which was surprising since she moved so well. I realized that Jacob would have had an easier time with the overhead light in the Caddy. She must have been in great shape to be able to move that body around so gracefully.
When I say big, I am talking six feet with a thick tough frame. She was built like a woman only on a giant frame. She had breasts and all that, but you didn't notice them first. You noticed that she was a tall muscular woman. She had brown hair cut short in one of those sports cuts, the kind that had suddenly gotten popular. I was troubled by her, but not really sure why.
I took the starscope from her. "Have you ever used one of these before?"
"Yes, but only in school. Never to hunt a man for real."
"Okay, I deserved that. I really didn't want to be left alone with Jo Beth."
"You two got a history?" she asked.
"Not really. We once slept together. I don't want her to start with that, 'Either Linc stays or I go public', crap."
"So you think Jacob will do as well as anyone."
"I don't know about that."
"I do, and you are right. That kid has hot pants."
"Well Sally, I don't have time to worry about her sex life. I just want to make sure she has some kind of life. I would like to catch this freak in the process."
"Okay, I am here to help. I am not here to take over, or to judge your small town morals."
"Good, lets get to work. Which shift do you want?"
"Let me ask you a question since you are obviously the man. How good is the opposition?" Her choice of words bothered me. Opposition was a government word, not a cop word. I let it go though.
"I really don't know. I have been racking my brain trying to imagine the worst case possible. There is only one man in town who might be good enough to pull off a hit under our noses. He is the only one I could think of."
"Is he right for this?"
"I don't think so."
"Then we can probably get some warning."
"I would think so."
"Okay, I will sleep first. Two hour shifts okay?"
"Sure two hours is fine." She turned in at two. I had the watch till four. After that, the sun would be lightening the night. I hoped she hadn't chosen the dawn because I had made that crack about hunting men. I stayed on the move so as not to fall asleep. I scanned each side of the house till four. I was really worried about her when I didn't have to wake her. She was standing by my side at four. I hadn't heard a sound. She was just there.
"It is time to change the guard." Her breath smelled bad. Of course we couldn't risk moving around enough to gargle. The household was supposed to be sleeping.
"I am going out to listen for a while. You take the scope. It will be good for another hour probably."
"How about you go one direction and I go the other. We only have an hour left till we get sleeping beauty. I could use a breath of air."
"Sounds good, front or back?" I asked.
"Okay, the windows are low on the side away from the barn. There is no sense waking up our barn back up. If Jacob is awake, he won't see us leave without the scope." I guess I just wanted to see how good she was. I scanned the side with the scope first then raised the window and popped the screen. She slid out on her belly. I followed a moment later. I didn't see or hear her again for a half hour.
That time it was her .38 in my ear. "Time to go in," she said, removing the pistol from my ear. I did the same thing to her that she had done to me earlier. I moved the .45 after I had the .38 in my ear. It was too dark for her to notice the movement any more than I had. All it took was the balls to do it. Since she wasn't planning to shoot me, it didn't really even take that.
"You might want to check your jewels." She reached down and touched the .45.
"Tell me the truth," she whispered in my ear. "You didn't hear me? Did you?"
"Did you hear me earlier?"
"Okay, we will both guess. Was the place clean all night?" she asked.
"I think so. Let's get in before it gets light enough for Jacob to see us. He has an M16 up there."
"Damn, let's move. I don't want to get my nuts blown off by mistake, she said.
"You don't have nuts I whispered into her ear."
"I know. I was careless once already." I followed her into the window. I replaced the screen when we were inside.
Once inside she called the barn. "Spotter this is home base. Spotter this is home base."
"Go ahead home base."
"We are ready to make the swap."
"Negative, subject says not yet. Bring wrapper for package in two hours." Sally looked at me.
"Don't argue. We don't want to be on the radio too long. I have to get up there while it is still dark anyway." I left her standing by the front windows. I crawled to the barn since there was light on the horizon. I slipped through the tarp. I found Jo Beth in the back seat of the Caddy and Jacob in the loft. I had no idea how long that had been the arrangement. I also didn't care. I frankly didn't care what they did as long as he was available for back up.
"Okay Jacob, sound doesn't carry as well in the daylight. Once the sun gets up, we don't have to be quite so cautious. We still can't carry on a conversation but we can speak a word or two in a whisper." I had my mouth up against his ear. "When Sally brings Jo Beth's clothes, we can start sleeping some in shifts. We are going to keep it quiet but it won't be too bad since we can move around inside the barn as long as we are careful."
At seven o'clock Sally brought Jo Beth a dress. She waited while Jo Beth stripped right in front of Jacob and me. I had been wrong about Jo Beth. She still had her tits. There was definitely a space between them and the slightly protruding belly, personally a little belly never bothered me. While Jo Beth showed us her body, Sally motioned me to one side.
She put her lips to my ear. "Try to get some sleep today. Jo Beth may want you tonight."
I pressed my lips to her ear exactly as she had done, "Bitch." She giggled like a schoolgirl only without any sound. When the two of them had gone, Jacob and I flipped for the first sleeping shift. I won. I explained to him how to watch the area without being seen. I ate a bagel with cream cheese before I went to bed. I also had a couple of sips of water.
I was into my second four-hour shift on watch when the radio squawked. "Spotter this is home base."
"Go ahead home base."
"Bad news, relief is not a swallow away after all."
"Ten four." I didn't know what was going on exactly. I figured that we were not going to be relieved that night. Jo Beth had company until nine o'clock. When the last of them left Jacob was begging to use the bathroom. I knew it was risky before midnight. I also hated to see him in such misery. I used the scope to scan the area. I didn't pick up anything so I called the house. "Home base this is spotter."
"Am sending you a package."
"Roger spotter." Five minutes later the kitchen light went off. I scanned the area again, both front and rear of the barn. The only possibility of Jacob being spotted came from the far side of the house. With the house between him and anyone looking for a trap, I felt he would be safe, if he moved slowly and carefully. I sent him on his way. He was gone half an hour. While he was gone, Jo Beth turned up. She moved quietly to the loft. She whispered in my ear.
"Do you know what I remember most about out little adventure?"
"Jo Beth this is hardly the time."
"I am risking my ass for you. I think anytime I want is the time." She had me and she knew it.
I placed my mouth against her ear. "What do you remember?"
"How good you kissed me." I waited for what I knew would follow. "All over."
"I seem to remember that myself."
Her mouth was on my ear again. "I think I need a little reminder right now." I had no choice. Besides if that was all she wanted from me, I really didn't mind.
We were finished long before Jacob returned. She whispered in my ear when Sally told me he was coming. "Jacob doesn't need to know about our little secret does he?"
I turned her head to me. "No, I never told Mike. I certainly am not going to tell Jacob."
Jacob returned looking a hell of a lot calmer. "Look Linc, that worked out so well last night lets just do the same thing again tonight."
"You're the boss Jacob." I waited for an hour longer before I took the starscope and started to move to the house. I made it to the back door before I saw the shadow inside the kitchen. I tapped lightly on the back door. It sounded for all the world like the wind. I slipped into the house and met Sally in the kitchen.
"You know Linc," she whispered. "For someone who hasn't done this in years, you are quite good."
"So are you, but I really don't want to talk about it."
"I understand. Miss Hot Pants tells me you are a photographer. How did you get into that?"
"Just lucky I guess, don't you need sleep?" I asked
"Plenty of time for that when I'm dead," she answered.
Now that was a line I had heard before. There was no way she could have been where I heard it. She saw the confusion on my face.
"Soldiers aren't soldiers forever. Some of them aren't even soldiers, she said like it was an answer. "Who is the man who could slip up on us?"
I turned her head to me. "The chief."
"What was he?" she asked.
"Lerp, I said.
"Why is he not to worry about. Best I can tell anyone could be your man."
"Why would he do Jo Beth? He would know she couldn't hurt him."
"Then you haven't ruled him out."
"Nobody is out."
"You asked me why he would whack her. How about, if he doesn\rquote t, you will begin to suspect that someone who knew about Jo Beth was the killer. He would have to at least try."
"If he did, I would know for sure. There are only the two of us. I'm inside, so it can't be me. I think I will go out for some air."
"Here use this when you come in. Just in case I'm not watching you on the starscope." The object she handed me was a toy cricket. It looked like a tin clam shell. When I pushed it, the noise sounded exactly like a cricket only louder.
"Cute, where did you get this idea?"
"Old movie, there is a lot of good information from Hollywood."
"If you sift the shit long enough."
I slipped out the side window and disappeared into the shadows. Half hour later I clicked the clicker and returned to the house. She slept for two hours, then kept watch while I did the same. A car drove down the dirt road on her shift. Sally woke me.
"I think he might have stopped down the road a ways," she said.
"Hell, I will go look."
"I can go."
"You get the next one." She nodded. She didn't argue probably because she knew I meant it. She was a damned sight better than Jacob, maybe not at satisfying Jo Beth, but she was at that kind of thing. The car had traveled in the opposite direction from the barn. I slipped out the window on the side.
I worked my way carefully to the road. I looked down it with the scope. I saw nothing. I moved along the edge of the woods. I stopped every few yards to scan the road and woods line. About a half mile from the house I saw the green glow of a car. I moved closer but slowly and with great care. The progress was very slow. I stopped every few feet to do a three sixty scan of the area. I was no more than ten feet away but could detect no people in the car. Then I realized why. The car was rocking ever so gently. The people were obviously below the level of the door. I had to make sure that there were really people in the car. It could possibly be a diversion. I moved back to the trees to wait. I didn't think it would take too long. I waited a few minutes till they got out of the rear seat. I watched as they switched to the front seat. I sat only ten feet away as they drove off.
I returned to the house. I explained to Sally about the car. She asked me if it was a good show. I told her not especially. I never really got into watching green people screw. "Too much like aliens," I observed. Since she had used the scope, she knew what I meant.
I gratefully took my turn sleeping. I had slept whenever I wasn't on guard. Sleep broken that way is hardly better than no sleep at all. Sally woke me when it was time to return to the barn. By that time she had brushed her teeth. I had to rush to the bathroom to brush mine.
"You know what Linc?" Sally asked.
"What," I whispered in her ear before I left for the barn.
"When this is over, I am going to stay an extra day so that I can screw your brains out."
"I'm going to hold you to that."
That time we were able to convince Jo Beth to return to the house before sunrise. Jacob and I spent the day sleeping and watching. It happened that next night. A phone call came from a voice Sally couldn't distinguish. It could have been either a man or woman. The voice asked to speak to Jo Beth. Sally told the voice that Jo Beth had stepped out for the evening. When she radioed Jacob, he and I agreed that tonight might be the night, if not that one, then the next one for sure. Time was running out and the checks had started.
We waited all day for one of our prime suspects to show. None did. When the sun went down at nine, the visitors began to leave the house. I spoke with the chief first thing when I went into the house that night. He advised me that the relief would be coming in before first light. I advised Jacob. I didn't want him caught with his pants down. It would have been interesting but I did like the kid.
Around two a.m. I watched Sally doing the scan with our starscope. She knew the technique but I didn't know for sure she had the eye for it. The star-tron is best at detecting movement. You have to look for the slightest movement for it to be useful.
"Linc, you better take a look at this," she whispered.
I pointed the scope where she directed. I waited for a long time to make sure I wasn't seeing a dear sleeping by the edge of the woods. I waited to see if it moved. It did and I knew. Someone is stalking us. I thought. I pulled Sally's head close. "He's out there. Looks like a deer hunter. He is probably a good deer hunter."
She turned my head to her lips. "Is it the chief?"
"I don't think so. We need to go pick him up. You stay here. I'll go after him."
She turned my head again. "No, we call Jacob then we both go."
"Okay on Jacob, but there are not enough of us to surround him. One sight of us and he will melt back into the woods. Both of us is too risky, I said.
"You know that I am better at this than you. You are rusty. I go."
"Thanks. I guess you are right though. Come in from his rear. If you flush him, flush him toward me. I am going to wait on the corner of the porch with the scope. If he moves, I will try to run him down." I didn't bother telling her to be careful. She either would or she wouldn't. She slipped out first while I sat at the living room window watching her with the starscope. She moved very slowly down the road almost out of sight of the scope. She would be out of sight to the watcher. I watched as she crossed the road. She was a blob of green moving against a blob of black. Soon even the green was gone as she moved deeper into the woods.
She had called Jacob on the radio before she went out. She had advised him in a short hand code to stay with the package in any event. The time passed slowly. I waited till I thought she had time to get close to our watcher.
I slipped out the window and waited by the porch. I was hidden in a corner shadow as I watched with the scope. I saw her approach the spot where our man waited. He must have heard a noise because he bolted. I couldn't see much except the torso of a human being. Then I caught a glimpse of another green object in the background. There was a sudden burst of light and the starscope went black. The sound of the shot registered a millisecond after the scope was gone. As quickly and quietly as possible, I headed across the road. I could see nothing in the dark. I was in the open while I crossed the road. I heard a second shot. That one was aimed at me . He was a deer hunter without doubt. He couldn't use a scope in the dark so the shot went wide but not high. I heard it whistle past me. At least I imagined that I heard it.
I should have gone down, but I had to make the other side of the road. I dived for the ditch on the shooter's side of the road. I felt the damp earth, then smelled the rotten vegetation. I don't know if it was the feel of rotting earth, the smell, or the fear. It really made no difference because I threw up in the ditch. I tried to do it quietly but I knew I had been heard. Instead of moving toward him I backed down the ditch twenty yards. Then I crossed the ten-foot area cleared by the county road crews for the power line. I slipped into the woods. I was sure that our man had vanished. I didn't want to make myself a target, just in case he was more desperate than I imagined. I moved quickly, even though I knew I was making a hell of a racket. I went from tree to tree stopping to listen a few seconds before going on.
I had been in the woods fifteen or twenty seconds. The seconds seemed like hours. I heard the breaking of branches. The sound was moving away from me and deeper into the woods. I listened hard and even hoped, but there was only the sound of a single person. The first thing to do was find Sally. I couldn't hope to track him in this mess till morning. I could follow the sound but Sally could be bleeding to death while I followed him. I didn't much want to risk an ambush anyway. I needed to find Sally right that minute. I went as quietly as possible to the area where I had seen the shooter.
"Sally," I called in a low voice slightly above a whisper, just in case our stalker had doubled back on me. No answer. I moved another ten feet then tried again. "Sally?'
"Over here," The weak voice came from a position to my left. I found her beside a tree.
"You okay?" I asked when I found her. I had followed the sound of her quick shallow breathing. I found her in seconds and was thankful she had not been in total shock.
"Of course not. If I were all right, the shooter wouldn't be."
"Where are you hit?"
"In the pride mostly, but I also took one in the thigh."
"Spotter this is home base. Move to the number one position, and call us a wagon. Did you copy spotter?"
"Ten four." The radios we were using were dedicated to the surveillance band. They were useless to anyone but us. They were also useless for talking to anyone but each other. I had sent Jacob to call us an ambulance. Neither Sally nor I had a light. It was mostly feel around to find the wound then slow the blood flow.
"You know. I should have let you go."
"I'm glad you didn't. I would have gotten shot a lot earlier than you did."
"Who was it?" she asked me.
"I have no idea. I think he must have been a deer hunter though. He had the moves once he was set. When he split, he sounded like a buffalo moving through the woods. My guess is that it was Jake. He is a big time hunter. But then so are half the men in this town."
"Good we cross check all the deer hunters with all the men who fucked your wife. That should narrow it down to just about a hundred. She realized what she had said. "God I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."
"It's okay you are in pain and you have also been listening to Jo Beth. Actually the number would be closer to two hundred since everyone around here hunts, and has had my ex."
"God, I am sorry. That was unforgivable."
"No sweat kid, I'm used to it."
"You couldn't be. I really am sorry."
"You are forgiven. Hear that, the calvary is arriving." Fortunately we weren't too deep in the woods. Jacob didn't come out of the house. He stayed with Jo Beth just like he had been told. I moved to the road and flagged down the ambulance. The paramedics had really good flashlights. It was no time at all before Sally was in the back of the Ambulance. I sent her on her way to the hospital in Williams.
After she had been taken away, the Sheriff and Chief arrived. I filled them in on what had gone down. "God damn it Linc, you blew it," the Sheriff said.
There was no sense arguing. He was right. We had all blown it. The trap had been laid. We just weren't able to spring it. Okay Chief, what do you think the odds are he will come back? I mean he knows we are waiting."
"He probably suspected it all along. He wouldn't have waited the half hour minimum in the woods otherwise. I doubt he will try again."
"He might, but this boy is a bomber remember, next time he might just try to take out the whole building. We may have pushed him over the edge." I said.
"Sheriff, you didn't by any chance send someone to knock on Jake's door did you." I saw his look and thought, "Oh hell, the prick is even more stupid than I thought."
He went to his car and put out the word. Of course Jake would be home by now. With a little luck he would have parked his car in the drive and the engine would still be warm.
"You might want to send someone to the Avery house while you are at it." I shouted.
"You don't really think that kid was out in the woods do you?" The chief asked.
"I don't know Bart, seems everybody around here has a deer rifle."
"Might not be a bad idea," the Sheriff agreed. Of course he did. The Avery family no longer owned the mill. They had money, but not the same power without the mill.
I saw a deputy heading into the woods. "Hold up there. Jasper is that you?"
"Sure it's me Linc," he said.
"Where you going Jasper?" I asked.
"To look for your shooter."
"Sheriff," I called. He came slowly. "How about telling your men to stay out of the woods till morning. They will trample whatever signs there are out there. Jacob has the training let him track the man at first light. He is long gone by now anyway."
"Don't tell me how to do my job Linc. You ain't a cop, you are a photographer." The word photographer sounded like a curse coming from him.
"Sheriff," the chief said. "This is my jurisdiction and Linc works for me. We do it his way. If you don't want Jacob to help fine, I imagine we can track him ourselves. We have had a little experience in hunting men." The sheriff knew his reputation and backed off. "Linc it is going to be a couple of hours till we can start. What do you want to do?"
"Move Jo Beth somewhere safe, you know Chief. The man is a bomber along with a stalker. He might come back with a hundred pounds of dynamite."
"Got any idea where we can put her."
"Is your place out of the question?" he asked.
"It\rquote s the first place he will look. If you stashed her out of town somewhere, it would be better. She is no good as bait anymore."
"Why," the Sheriff asked. He wanted back in the conversation.
"Next time, if there is a next time, he will probably send a bomb. He is sure we are on to him now. He is also sure we would pick him up if we could. My guess is that he isn't going to be worried about Jo Beth anymore. If he is, he will just send her a bomb in the mail."
"Okay. We send her to her sister's in Raleigh after the funeral, the chief said.
"Good then assign a couple of men to her till after the funeral tomorrow. Just move her now before someone comes riding up with a present for her."
"Why don't you send Jacob and a fresh man with her to that motel in Williams? Not the fancy one, the small one run by that Pakistan guy."
"Okay, you definitely are not going with her, the chief said.
"Damn right I'm not. You and I are going to find out where this asshole came from. Let's go make some coffee chief."
We made and drank coffee till the sun was well up. If we had gone off at first light, the woods would still have been in shadows. We could easily have trampled on the evidence.
We began our search around seven thirty. We found the hollowed out spot where our shooter had passed the time. We didn't find any shell casings. Our boy knew his shit. He had packed them out with him. A lawyer would have known to take the casings, also anybody who watched TV.
As we followed the clearly marked trail, I hoped for a foot print that we could make a cast from. No such luck. It had been a dry winter. That summer the ground was baked hard. I did find a heel skid mark on a clay bank the shooter had traversed on his egress. It was only a partial since it was so narrow. It might have been a cowboy boot or just the outer edge of the heel that had made the mark. It was all we had but it wasn't worth anything.
We continued on the egress path ignoring for now the entry path. If there were evidence it would more likely be on the way out. A man in flight after shooting a cop is usually nervous. I hoped for a piece of fabric or equipment dropped during the flight. We found nothing along the path. The path broke out of the woods on a power line road. Those things aren't really roads at all. They are rough trails for the power line crews to reach and repair their lines. It ran along side a long row of metal towers. It eventually came out on a secondary road about two miles away. The secondary road led right in front of Jo Beth's house. Our shooter probably drove by the house earlier in the evening then down the power line.
The power line is not really a road. It is a flat area covered in weeds and small growth. Such being the case, there were no tire impressions, at least none near.
"Some kind of four wheel drive?" I asked.
"Or pick up. You would need the clearance for this place."
"Good, that limits it some. We know he was a hunter so the pick up or four wheel drive is really a surprise."
"Yeah keep looking. They always leave something, the Chief said. "Let\rquote s try his entry point."
We walked along the power line till we came to a path of broken branches leading into the woods. The culprit hadn't expected anyone to come looking so soon. He hadn't bothered hiding his entry point. Of course, he was a hunter of animals, not men. He might not have realized that it would make a difference.
Instead of following the path immediately, the Chief and I looked around the power line. I was looking for tire prints. I might have walked over the spot. "Oil," the chief said.
I examined the spot. "Rear main engine seal, I would say."
"Looks like," the chief agreed.
"How can you tell?" the rookie with us asked. He was obviously too young to have gone through many cars.
"Anything else leaving a puddle of oil like that would disable a car in a few miles. The main only leaks when the engine first shuts down, you get many puddles like this one but the car won't run completely out of oil," the Chief said.
"Jake is a gentleman farmer. He probably has an old pick up out there somewhere. Reckon the SBI lab could match an oil stain? " I asked.
"Good question, kid collect as much of this as you can." The chief turned to me. "We need to find out what the guys learned at Jake's house. But first let\rquote s follow this path."
We had our first piece of solid evidence. Unfortunately it turned out to be our only one. We followed the path to the nest but found nothing.
I rode with the Chief to the hospital. On the way he informed me that the identification had been made on Julie. The body in the river was indeed Julie. The identification on Mike was also confirmed. Well, at least Mike was no longer a suspect.
"I sure would like to know who he called," the chief said.
"Damn chief, you know who he might have called? I mean, it might not have been the only call, but he might have called the Sheriff. What if Julie didn't pay for the gas? Mike told me he didn't have a credit card receipt for her. I don't think he lied to me about that, why should he. What if he called the Sheriff's office? If he did, someone there might have called Jake to try and find Julie."
"Mike wouldn't bother, Linc. He would have called Jake directly. He knew Jake would pay the bill."
"Yeah that makes more sense."
"You know we should have them check the tapes just to be sure though. It would tickle the hell out of me if Mike called the Sheriff. It wouldn't mean a thing, but it would just tickle me."
"Tell you what chief, let's stay out of it. How about we get the SBI to get a court order and grab the tape before the Sheriff can accidentally tape over it."
"Linc that is the sneakiest, meanest thing I have ever heard. Are you sure you don't want to come back to work for me."
"Positive, let's see what Sally or her boss says."
The Williams hospital is only three floors high. It was not considered a high tech hospital. If Sally had been seriously injured, she would have been moved to a more state of the art facility. We were told that she was in a private room. That was an excellent sign.
We got off the elevator and wandered the hall for a few minutes looking for her room. Hospitals have a special design service to number the rooms. The idea is to make you feel so stupid, since you couldn't even find the room, that you will not question the nurses and doctors. They can at least find the right room, some of the time. When we got to Sally's room, the door was closed. We knocked and waited. I knocked for the third time before Sally's voice said, "Come in."
"Were you sleeping?" I asked.
"No one could, you should know you can't rest in a hospital."
"So how are you?" the chief asked.
"Pissed but otherwise fine."
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"Oh let's see. I get shot by an amateur, pulled from the case, and have diarrhea from the antibiotic. Other than that things are just peachy keen."
"Why did they pull you from the case?"
"I am not going to be doing any protecting for a while. The supervisor decided I needed a rest."
"Well, maybe he is right?" the chief said.
"Look Chief, no offense but that is crap. I took a round through the fleshy part of my leg. Hell, it didn't even hit the bone for God's sake. I just walked to the can a minute ago and I am about to do it again." We watched as she limped to her bathroom.
"Well there goes our SBI support." The chief nodded.
The toilet flushed and Sally came limping back into the room. The voice behind me was slightly perturbed. "Young lady, you\rquote re are not supposed to be walking on that leg. You will pull your stitches out. Use the bedpan."
"Look lady, if your country doctor did a good job then the stitches, will hold as well now as two days from now. I assume you do intend to allow me up by then. As far as using a bedpan, there is no way."
"I am going to have to report this."
I stopped Sally before the nurse really had something to report. "Sally, if the chief talks to your supervisor, and we promise not the let you get into any more trouble, do you think he will leave you on the case?"
"I doubt it, since there is nothing more we can do."
"Actually there is. You investigate local law enforcement don't you?" the chief asked.
"If we get a request?" she said.
"Oh you are going to get one. We have an idea. Of course it would keep you in town for a while, if we can work it out."
"I don't know guys. You may be able to get an agent, but they are going to put me on medical leave. I won't be able to do anything official. I would lose my badge, if I did."
"Well, if they did let you stay on would you be willing?" the chief asked.
"You bet I would. I would love to find the prick who shot me."
The Chief picked up the phone and dialed nine then a long distance number. "Moose, this is Bart. How the hell are you?" He listened for a long time, then said, "Well at least they don't give republicans guns." He listened and laughed. He then explained our problem and our plans. When he finished, he listened. "Okay Moose I promise nothing else will happen to her. Hey, have I ever lied to you." He listened again then said, "Okay once or twice. I am going to put my best man with her. I know she is probably better than my best man, so she can look after him."
He hung up the phone. "In about thirty minutes that phone is going to ring. You are going to be assigned to me, just as soon as the doctor releases you from the hospital."
"Who the hell is Moose?" I asked.
"Just my old boss, it was long ago and far away. Linc, you remember."
I nodded not really sure. "Well, I haven't eaten since I had a bagel last night. Let\rquote s go to lunch, Chief." I said.
"Suits me fine," the chief said.
"Hell no you don't, I am starved, and they are going to give me hospital food. I want a Big Mac or the deal is off."
"Women are so demanding, I told the chief.
"Give me your keys chief I will go get the food."
"The hell you say, you are the world\rquote s worst driver. I will drive, but you can come with me."
It took the whole half hour to get the sandwiches. I have no idea why they call it fast food. It certainly isn't. The Elms can fill a plate and deliver it to your table quicker than those kids can put a ready-made burger into a bag.
The call came for Sally while she had a mouth full of Big Mac. She spoke to her boss around the food. "Well I am back on the case orders from the governor. Chief is the governor Moose?"
"No, but he is a close friend." Neither of us asked any more.
The chief and I left. We left her with instructions. She was to call the moment she got a release signed by her doctor. The chief would have a car swing by for her. As long as the Sheriff didn't know our plans for his tape, it would be safe. There was no hurry about it.
The Chief talked to me on the drive back home. "I am going to assign you to take care of that lady. If anything happens to her, my ass will be in a sling. I don't need to tell you where your ass with be, do I?" he asked.
"I guess not. Chief how much do you know about Sally?"
"Nothing more than what you told me. If she is as good as you say, it is really unusual," he mused.
"I don't suppose you have a friend in SBI personnel?"
"No, and I am not calling Moose again. You are going to have to ask her directly."
"Sure. Sally, how come you are more manly than John Wayne?" I said it jokingly.
"You're right Linc. It doesn't sound like a good question to me. Especially if you plan to sleep with her."
"Who said I planned to sleep with her?"
"You do don't you?"
"Maybe, but who told you?" I laughed and he joined me.
The chief dropped me at my house. I was so tired that I fell immediately into the bed and slept most of the day away. I heard the knock on my door at six thirty. I forced myself out of the bed. I walked to the door with the Colt in my hand. I switched it to my belt when I saw Jake standing outside the door. I opened the door for him. "Come on in Jake."
"Linc, I paid you to get the cops off my ass. They are all over me."
"Jake, listen carefully. You paid me to find the killer. If the evidence leads to you, then it leads to you. I will stay at it, but you have to understand. I do not intend to throw this case just to save your ass. I owe it to Julie to find her killer. I told you up front that I think you are the killer. I also told you I would keep an open mind and move the investigation forward till I was personally sure. I am still working on it. Now what the hell specifically do you want."
"I want to know what you got."
"Out of the question. Here." I tossed the folded up check at him. "I took that because it made you feel better to pay me. You would never come and ask me to help. You had to feel you were buying me. You could never buy me. Just like you couldn't buy Julie."
"Hell, nobody could buy Julie. Linc, I know that better than anyone. She was really something, but you could never own anything that wild."
"I know Jake. Take your check and leave. I will stay at this till I am convinced I have her killer. I don't need your money as an incentive. I never did."
"Before I leave, tell me this. Are you looking at anyone else besides me?"
"We go where the evidence takes us. Right now there is very little evidence."
"You think I killed her don't you?"
"Jake, I have been saying that all along. You just haven't been listening."
"Why don't you just kill me then?"
I was as surprised by my answer as he was. "When I'm sure. I will."
He picked up the check, put it in his pocket and walked out the door. If Jake was the killer, his visit should put me firmly on his list. I might be even higher than Jo Beth. When Jake was out of the driveway, I returned to my bed. I still needed sleep. The phone rang around nine the next morning, "Linc this is Bart."
"Yeah Bart, any news?"
"Two interesting things. One Sally is on her way to your house, two the medical examiner finished his autopsy on Julie last night. She was pregnant."
"Did you say Julie was pregnant?" I asked.
"Yes, what do you think?"
"I got no idea right now. Let me think about it a while."
"Call me when Sally gets there. We need to shake the Sheriff up a little."
I had time to shower and dress before Sally arrived at my door in the company of the rookie. He kept showing up, but it wasn't unusual. Rookies got most of the crap jobs. I had him come in for a cup of coffee while I questioned him.
He told me that no one had followed him. We talked while Sally was in the shower. She carried a piece of plastic from a dry cleaner's suit wrapper to cover her leg.
When she returned to join us, she looked a lot better. "Sally, you ride with the rookie to the station. I am going to take the toy." She didn't object. She surely would have, if she had known I made the decision due to her leg. I didn't want her popping a stitch crawling into the tiny car.
Once we got to the station the rookie went back on patrol. The chief and I drove Sally to the judge's office. We called him judge Sanders. His name was actually Judge Winston, but he bore a striking resemblance to the chicken millionaire. The chief and Sally explained our desire to hear the Sheriff's emergency tapes.
"Can't you guys do this without an order?" he asked.
"Honestly judge, we are going to ask nice. I would just hate to stand there waiting for an order while the tape gets lost."
"Okay, I'll issue it but Bart let the girl serve it. I don't want to sort out crap between the two local law enforcement agencies. It's bad enough that the citizens are killing each other. I don't need a gun fight at OK coral."
Bart and I were both surprised when the Sheriff allowed us access to the tapes. He also stayed with us to listen. He didn't know about the court order and the implication that he might screw up the tapes. The tapes were used in a rotating system. Each tape would be put in the rear of a rack of tapes. It would come up for reuse in two or three months depending on the number of incoming calls. Actually the tape we wanted was still on the machine and had to be removed. We ran it back to the date in question after some trial and errors. Sure enough Mike's voice came through loud and clear it went like this.
Dispatcher: Sheriff's office.
Mike: Send a car to the Amoco station by the interstate.
Dispatcher: Who is calling sir?
Mike: I'm the owner for God's sake, they are getting away.
Dispatch: Who is getting away.
Mike: The couple that just robbed me.
Dispatch: You say you have been robbed.
Mike: Not exactly, just send a car.
Dispatch: Sir, I have to know what the trouble is first.
Mike: Never mind I will take care of it myself. I pay taxes and you people won't help a God fearing man. Of course if I was some low life or nigger, I could get some help.
Dispatch: Sir if you would like, you can speak to my supervisor.
Mike: No thanks I will handle this myself. I should have called him in the first place. I just didn't want to get involved. It's okay. You tell that sheriff I won't vote for him again.
Those were Mike's last words on the tape. "Well, I guess he won't be voting for you for sure Sheriff, Sally said.
"That isn't funny, young lady," the Sheriff said.
"You are right Sheriff. Neither is the fact that if someone had gone down there this whole thing might not have happened," I said.
"Shut up Linc," The chief said, "You heard him cancel the call. The dispatcher did the right thing. It could have just as well been a crank or worse."
"You are right, Chief. I am sorry Sheriff. I was out of line." He didn't acknowledge my apology and I didn't expect him to.
"Sheriff, I guess you need to pick up Jake," I said.
"What, on the basis of a phone call. Come on there is no proof that he actually called Jake."
"Sheriff, you are going to look mighty wimpy, if the SBI takes over this case because you refused to interview a suspect."
"What are you saying young lady?" the Sheriff asked.
"I am trying not to say that the SBI will take this case. But you should know that we investigate when a Sheriff's office is accused of favoritism."
The Sheriff looked at Sally, then me. He avoided the eyes of Bart. "Okay, I will bring him in. I will not treat him as a suspect at this time."
I suddenly realized Jake had gotten to him too. He had paid, not to get off, but to keep his name clear of the investigation till there was at least some solid evidence against him. In effect to avoid an interview until he was charged. The sheriff suspected Jake. Everyone suspected Jake. He just wanted to delay the interview till he was sure. Jake's money might not buy his freedom, but he was hoping it could save his reputation. Hell, Jake might be innocent. He might even be able to prove it. At that moment he was trying to avoid the limelight. It wasn't going to be possible after all.
Sally looked tired. Since the Sheriff refused to allow me at the interview, Sally and I left. "I know you are worn out Sally. I will take you home right now, if you want?" I said.
"I know there is a but coming." She paused, waiting for me to speak. I had too many things on my mind to catch my clue. "So," she said. "Let's have it."
"Oh I'm sorry. I lost my train of thought for a second. I need to talk to Jeff Avery. The Sheriff and Bart have all but dismissed him. I want to find out where he was early this morning."
"Sure why not? There is plenty of time to sleep when I am dead."
It was the second time I heard her say that. I almost asked her about all the inconsistencies, but I fought back the urge. Instead I drove to the Avery house.
"Now be a good little agent and flash your badge at the butler."
"Oh they have a butler. This is going to be fun. I do love them rich folks up in the big house."
I laughed. I couldn't help it. She had a way with words. I rang the bell and waited. It took a while before the butler answered the door. "Good afternoon, Cranford. We would like to see Jeffrey. Cranford, this time I want to talk to Jeffrey, not his mother." Cranford would have ignored me. Sally's badge, should have gotten better results. It should have but it didn't.
Mrs. Avery stood behind Cranford. She pushed him out of the way. "What is it now Mr. Jefferson? I thought we finished our conversation the last time you were here."
"No ma'am. You finished your conversation. I still want to talk to your son. As a matter of fact, I am going to insist this time. You see this young lady is an SBI agent and we need to talk to Jeffrey about a few things."
"About that slut wife of yours I suppose?"
"Actually she is my ex-wife. She is one of the things we need to talk about."
"Jeffrey is probably in his office."
"Where exactly would that be now that you no longer own the mill." I tossed that one in just for fun.
"You will find him at the club. He is using his father's office at the moment. If you don't mind, I think you should be leaving," she said.
"When you call, tell him it would be better to talk to us now, than the Sheriff tomorrow. I might be able to keep him out of this. That is, if he is innocent."
"For a price, I suppose?" the woman said.
"I do have a price Mrs. Avery but you couldn't afford it. You never could." That was just in case she thought I was more impressed when her husband still owned the mill.
Sally and I drove to the club. Sally was beginning to look bad. I knew it had to be the last stop of the day for her at least.
Angela met us at the door. "No, you don't I have orders to keep you away from young Mister Avery."
"Angela dear, you know I really did mean to call. I have just been so damned busy with this thing. By the way, just how the hell would you do that? Keep me out I mean."
"It won't be hard. I will just call Robbie the bouncer."
"Angela, you really don't want to do that. Hell he might hurt me."
"Then leave," she said.
"I think, I will just go up and talk to Avery first, then I will leave."
"Angela, do you need help?" The six three bouncer asked. I never understood what a rich man's club needed with a bouncer. I think he was actually some kind of weight instructor.
"I don't know Robbie. I think Mr. Jefferson and his friend are leaving. They might need some help finding the door," Angela said.
"Angela honey, I am standing in the door. Even I could find it, if I wanted."
Robbie made a couple of mistakes. Number one, he put his hands on me. Number two, he didn't try to hurt me when he did. I slipped his hand. I also kicked him in the balls. He bent over double. I had landed a good solid shot so the fight was over. I guided him to the floor. I took a look as his pale face then said, "Angela, you might want to get him a pan. I think he is about to throw up."
Sally and I walked past him. I waited as she struggled up the steps. "You know that was awfully crude." She gasped as she struggled for air. "I really expected more from you."
"I'm saving my best to use on the way out."
"Oh, there are going to be more games?"
"Who knows? Around here everyone thinks he is John fucking Wayne."
I recognized Jeffrey. He was standing in the doorway of what used to be a bedroom. "Jeff, My name is Linc Jefferson. We need to talk."
He turned pale. "Mr. Jefferson, I didn't do it. I couldn't have. I loved Julie."
"Don't look so frightened. I'm not going to hurt you."
"Are you kidding? Julie said you would kill me on sight. She said that if I ever hit her, you would hunt me down and kill me."
"Did you hit her?"
"Hell no, but somebody killed her. I know you think I did it. She and I had a fight. She told me she didn't want to see me again. I raised my hand to her. That is when she told me that you would kill me. I just want you to know it wasn't me." The words came in a rush. I had a hard time following them.
"What makes you think I suspect you?"
"Mama\rquote s told me you came looking for me. That was before they found her body. Honest to God Mr. Jefferson, I didn't kill her."
I hated the Mr. Jefferson. This kid was only a year or two younger than me. Then again he was frightened out of his mind.
"Tell me where you were last night." Might as well cut to the chase, I thought.
"What time sir?" he asked.
"Say midnight till four a.m."
"I was here. I have been staying here for a couple of days. Ever since the mill had to be sold I have been in trouble with Daddy. Daddy got really mad a couple of nights ago and threw me out of the house." He stepped back into the room. "See this was my old room. Angela rented it to me a couple of days ago."
"Kid, was there anyone with you last night?"
"I shouldn't tell you. It won't look good for him."
"The electric chair won't look good strapped to your ass either," Sally shot at him.
"Robbie was up here till five or six."
I will be damned, I thought. No wonder Angela wanted Robbie to clean my clock. There goes my gay people are nice people theory. "One more question kid, did you know Julie was pregnant?"
"Was she pregnant? Was the baby mine?"
"I have no idea kid. Look, don't leave town. Some other people may want to talk to you."
"Okay, Let me call the front desk. I want to tell Angela to call off the dogs." He smiled weakly.
"Don't bother, Sally said. "I think she has the message already."
"Let him call, I whispered to her.
"Not on your life. I want to see what you got." She whispered it in my ear.
We headed for the staircase. At the foot of the stairs stood Robbie and the linebacker/captain. I looked at them as hard as I could. "Gentlemen this is one lousy idea."
"For you anyway Linc," Angela said. It always amazes me how someone not in the fight can be so brave.
I walked most of the way down the steps. These two had to be the worst jerks I had ever seen. Evidently their size had intimidated everyone around the club. I was almost on them before they reacted. I turned to the side and kicked Robbie again. That time he moved to protect his nuts. I had expected it so the kick landed on his knee. The knee is a funny thing, it will only bend in one direction. Apply a great deal of force in any other and it will pop. They tell me the pain is excruciating. Robbie was about to discover the world of walking with a cane, at least for a while.
The other one moved back, as my momentum carried me toward him. He stepped back in a kung fu stance. I laughed out loud. "Kid, I hope they taught you how to kill." He looked a little dazed. "You know, that is what it is going to be. If I were you, I would walk away. It is going to be damned hard for a corpse to play football next year."
Either he hadn't especially liked what happened to Robbie, or he had heard of me. He had the look of a man converted.
I turned my back on the kid. "Sally put your cuffs on Robbie there." I watched as she cuffed the moaning Robbie. She never took her eyes off the second kid.
"Angela call the Sheriff\rquote s office. Have them send a car for Robbie. You might want to consider getting your stories straight before the deputy gets here."
"Why?" she asked nervously.
"I am charging Robbie with interfering with an officer in performance of his duty. You are going to need a couple of prayers. If old Robbie rolls over on your ass, you may find yourself beside him in the county lock up."
"Why should I call the cops for you?"
"Good question, Sally are you pissed enough to wreck this place?"
"Oh yeah," she answered.
"See Angela, you don't want us to come back for him."
I returned my attention to the kid holding himself like Bruce Lee. "Now I am going out that door with my friend. You try to stop me and I am going to kill your ass. I want you to understand, when I say kill, I don't mean injure. I mean kill, as in stop breathing, forever. Now either come at me or get the hell out of my way."
He moved carefully away from the door. He didn't relax. He just decided that he didn't want to try me that day. It was a good thing. I was somewhere else in my mind. Somewhere I thought no longer existed. His chances of survival had been really bleak. He must have sensed it. He was just looking for a way to save a little face. The best he could do was back away with his hands still in a fighting stance.
I let him off the hook. Sally and I walked to my toy. I didn't even look back.
"Why did you turn your back on that kid?" she asked before I started the car.
"Hell I wasn't worried about him. You had your eye on him. I was worried about Angela." Sally looked at me curiously. "Angela has a nasty little .38. She keeps it under the register."
Sally laughed. "For a minute I thought you meant her chest measurements."
I drove her to my house. I told her to go ahead and sleep in my bed. I could sleep on the pull out sofa. She was too tired and weak to wisecrack. I made sure she was asleep before I drove to the Elms for lunch.
I wondered who Mike had meant when he said, "I should have called him in the first place." He obviously hadn't tried to collect the money himself from Julie. He had either called or meant to call someone who would presumably take care of everything. He must have called Jake. It was simple. Jake had killed both Wally and Julie. I guess when Julie told him she was pregnant, he went ape. Either it wasn't his kid, or he saw a lifetime of child support. Even with an adultery charge, judges don't leave children to starve. Julie finally had him by the balls.
Mike would have to know more than I did to call Jeffrey. There was no way he could have expected Jeffrey to take care of Julie's bill. That is unless there was more between Jeff and Julie than I knew.
I ran it every way I could. It kept coming up Jake. I didn't want to do anything rash till I was sure. Hell, how sure could I ever be? I still needed just a little more. I really needed for him to admit to the crime. I wanted to bury him so deep in evidence that he would have to cop to it. I didn't drive to my house. Instead, I went to Jake's. I figured he would be at the station for some time. I could look around at least outside. I checked his driveway and found a spot of fresh oil. It was more like a small puddle. Since I didn't have a car radio, I just left it. No one would bother to clean it. I went in search of the vehicle that had left the puddle. I couldn't find it. I figured he had driven the offending vehicle to the station. It didn't make much sense. Why would a successful lawyer run around in a pick up or four wheel drive, especially one that was old enough to have a bad seal?
The harder I looked the less I found. I finally gave up. I returned to the Elms. Jed had replaced his younger brother in the kitchen. I sat at the counter, which I only did when Jed was the cook.
"Damn you Linc, I wish you would keep your cop friends out of here."
"Which cop friends?"
"Your damned Jew boy keeps popping in here now. He was here twice today looking for you. I don't mind him coming in, but he scares hell out of my customers. Besides he is so damned white."
"Thanks for the message Jed." I went to the phone and called the Sheriff's non-emergency line. I left word for Jacob to call me at either the diner or home. I finished my chicken salad plate. I paid then drove home. Sally was still sleeping at least till the phone woke her. She limped into the room as I spoke with Jacob.
According to Jacob his relief was now in charge of Jo Beth so he was resting. He also let it be known that he would be more than happy to help me pin a tail on Jake. He was convinced that Jake was our man.
When he rang off, Sally asked me a strange question. "How tall is this Jake?"
"About six feet I guess why?"
"If the person who shot me wasn't standing in a hole, he was shorter than that."
"How come you didn't tell us earlier."
"I hadn't relived it in my dreams ten times earlier. It was the first time I have been shot."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I was shot with a deer rifle. The person who shot me had to have it to his shoulder. I remember distinctly looking down on the muzzle flash. It was well below eye level."
"Well it seems you may have had the answer and not even known it. Everybody wanted Jake to either be our man or not to be. I wanted it to be he so badly that I forgot to look seriously at anyone else. We all paid lip service to it might be one of her lovers. Hell nobody even thought about anybody else. Are you up for a road trip?"
"Sure," she replied.
Let me call Jacob to come get us. We are going to need someone besides me to help work this out. I called and reminded him to bring some evidence bags and bottles. He was more than willing to help. I thought at the time that maybe he and Jo Beth had something real going. He took it personally that someone tried to whack her. I really couldn't blame him.
He pulled his crime scene van into my driveway within thirty minutes. "What are you doing with this?" I asked.
"We might need some of this junk. Sally, you sit up front with me. Linc, you are going to have to sit on a camera box. I don't guess it will be your first time."
"Funny, take us to Jo Beth's house, I need to check on a couple of things."
He didn't even ask. Once in her drive we all walked across the street. I made sure that Jacob brought his Nikon. First of all we stopped at the spot where Sally was shot. I stood where Jake would have stood and Sally stood where she was when shot. "It isn't right she said. You are too tall. You are even a little higher there than I am."
I had Jacob stand in my spot, since he was at least five inches shorter than me. Sally closed her eyes then opened them. "Better but he may still be a couple of inches too tall."
Jacob and I sent her back to the van to rest. We walked into the woods to the place where I had found the skid mark. I requested that he photograph it first by itself then with a ruler. "Okay Linc, he said when he had finished. "Who do we know short enough, and small enough, with a motive?"
I have one more thing to check. I could have done it this afternoon but I forgot. Let's go visit the club. We drove through the parking lot looking for four wheel trucks or jeeps. There of course were none. No one in their right mind would drive a ragged truck to the club.
"What was that all about?" Jacob asked.
"Okay so who had the motive and the means?"
"Elementary my dear Watson, but you left out one thing." He looked mystified. Opportunity. What you should be asking is who had Motive, Opportunity and fits the facts as we know them so far?"
"Oh no Watson, not till the last page. Come on the games afoot."
"Okay, but knock of the Sherlock Holmes shit. You are no Holmes."
"Right you are. Let's get back to Sally or should I say Irene."
When we were again all in the van I said, "Let's go to Jake's office."
"Why, he's still at the station?" Jacob said.
"I doubt it. Your boss hasn't got the balls to hold him this long."
"Then he is probably home. It is after five you know."
"Maybe, but then again maybe not, come on where is your sense of adventure."
When we pulled into Jake's parking lot, it was full. The early movie crowd used his parking lot. We had only one movie theater and it was across the street from Jake's office. When his office was closed, the theater patrons used the parking lot.
We drove up and down the aisles until I had about three different trucks picked out. I crawled under each until I found the one I wanted. "Jacob, how about getting a sample of the oil on the outside of that Toyota's clutch housing?"
I finally had to take him down under the car to show him what I wanted. Jacob scraped several places to fill the containers. I also had him take a sample of the puddle under the Toyota land cruiser.
"Now Jacob run a twenty-eight or twenty-nine. I can never remember which, to get the owner of the land cruiser. I already know, but I want to confirm it."
When the answer came over the radio, I asked, "Well Jacob do you want to make the arrest, or do you want to let the Sheriff." I waited but he didn't answer right away. "What do you think Sally, should we let Jacob be a hero or keep his job?"
"I vote hero," she said.
"I vote keep my job."
"Okay then call the sheriff. Tell him we have cracked it. Ask him to bring the chief, if he is still there. Jake is obviously back in the office. I told you. The Sheriff didn't have the balls to hold him this long."
Jacob backed out. In the end, I was the one who called the Sheriff's office. I asked for the chief, when he came on I told him I had the answer. I explained it all to him including the identity of the owner of the land cruiser. It was his idea to send the rookie over to make the arrest. I didn't think it would be dangerous so why not.
When the rookie arrived, I told him to be sure not to forget to read the Miranda. "Okay kid let's go do it."
I spoke to the receptionist. It was hard for me to believe Rhonda was still at the office. I had expected her to be home doing something disgusting with her fingernails. "I need to see Jake and right now. This is official business," I said. The rookie was standing beside me.
"That badge doesn't frighten me?" Rhonda said.
"Kid read her the Miranda, then place her under arrest," I said. I turned my attention to Sally. "I could get off on this." I said. She simply smiled.
"What for?" Rhonda asked. She was frightened after all.
"Obstruction of justice. If I'm not mistaken that is eighteen months in dykeville."
She quickly punched the electric lock to the rear offices. I led the little troupe. Behind me was the rookie behind him Sally and bringing up the rear was Jacob. We walked into Jake's outer office. Jake came to the door, no doubt summoned by the receptionist.
"Well Linc, you must be going to arrest me? There are far too many witnesses to kill me."
"Another time Jake, this time I came for Ginger. Read her the rights kid."
The kid handled it quickly and efficiently. She was out the door in seconds and in cuffs no less.
"Linc are you nuts?" Jake asked.
"I was for a while. You better hope she doesn't implicate you when she talks."
"She can't implicate me, because I don't know what the fuck is going on."
"She won't talk anyway, because she is a lawyer, right? This time I don't need her to talk anyway. I can place her at the scene of a cop shooting. I expect with the search warrant we will do more than that."
"You don't seriously suspect Ginger?"
"Sure I do, how long have you known Jake?"
"What do you mean?"
"Did you know from the first, or just guess it lately? If she rolls on your ass rich boy, I will be back."
"Get out Linc," Jake said.
Two hours later we were sitting at the kitchen table of my home. The three of us were having a dinner of cold pizza. The city and county cops were still arguing about the credit for the arrest.
"So, okay Linc, Sally asked; "How did you know?"
"The question should be, why did it take me so long to figure it out?"
"Tell me damn it, how did you know?" That time it was Jacob.
"The clues were there, I just ignored them because I wanted it to be Jake so bad. If anyone else had known what I knew, she would have been suspect number two on the list. She was having an affair with Jake. Jake might or might not have come around to divorcing Julie.
For sure the odds were better before she got pregnant. Even Jake would think harder about it with a kid in mind.
I'm sure that sometime Jake had complained to Ginger about Julie taking other men into his own mother's bed. When Mike called, Jake was in a conference, so he left a message with Jake's assistant."
"Ginger, they said together.
The Investigators are going to find that on that day Ginger signed out for lunch a little early. She drove to the cabin made the hit then drove back to work. She finished the day went back to the cabin loaded Wally into the trunk and the canoe on top of Julie's Lincoln. She knew enough from law school to understand physical evidence.
When the swimming accident didn't fly, those missing clothes. By the way, have the Sheriff check those shacks. The kids took them. She was content to wait for the river and the catfish to destroy the evidence. She was home free till the chief figured out how she did it. The Sheriff was nice enough to delay searching the cabin till she could fire bomb it. Just for good measure she took care of the only person who could connect her with the crime.
Jo Beth was her mistake. The one, which even in my blind hatred for Jake, I couldn't ignore. Jake didn't have a car that leaked oil. Then when Sally told me, the person who shot her was short. I was forced to put that together with the small skid mark. It came down to someone else. It could have been Jeffrey Avery, or someone else we didn\rquote t even suspect. Avery didn't have an old car either. I doubted that his father would lend him one of the mill's trucks. He didn't own them anyway, by the time of the attempt on Jo Beth.
Going back over it as to motive, and who might have known enough, there was no one else. The range rover was the final piece of evidence. Of course the father, who had wanted a boy, was a bit out of the ordinary. He taught her the canoe and deer stalking stuff.
Jacob stood and walked to the door. "So many innocent people."
"Jacob, you don't believe that do you. None of them were innocent. Julie certainly wasn't. Nobody forced Wally to run off with a married woman. Mike, you should know about from Jo Beth. There were no innocent people unless you count the baby."
"If you say so, hey Linc a cab just pulled up out front. Old man Nelson is coming up here." Nelson had been driving a cab as long as I could remember, which actually wasn't all that long."
"Mr. Jefferson," he said. "Mr. Adams sent you this here envelope." I reached for my money but he raised his hand.
"Already taken care of."
I opened the envelope. The wedding band, I had given Julie fell from the envelope first. I bent to retrieve it. Julie's body was still wearing my band, as well as Jake's two-carat diamond, when the rescue squad pulled it from the river. The same check for ten grand was inside the envelope. There was also a note. "I always pay my debts. Stop by for a drink sometime. We should really talk."
"Damn, that is over six month's pay for me," Jacob said.
"A year for me," I said.
"You aren't going to keep that, are you?" Sally asked.
"Of course I am. I did solve the case and keep his reputation clean."
Jacob shook his head and walked out. He didn't even say goodnight.
"Well, Linc," Sally said just before she kissed me passionately, "it has been a day for surprises. How about one more?"
"Sure. I love surprises," I replied.
"Good. Did you ever wonder why I am so tall and masculine?"
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