One Death Too Many

 

  It was the night after my fortieth birthday.  It was a moonless night the kind of night best for practicing.  Sometimes I would drive out into the rural countryside to take my evening walks, as I called them.  For years I had been taking these late night walks.  

 At first I packed the colt in case of trouble.  A couple of years of no one even seeing me had led me to discontinue the practice.  I roamed the streets of my little town, or the rural areas with just my air force survival knife.  Even that was more for cutting my way out of briars than anything else.

 That particular night I roamed around in alleys and some of the  residential yards.  I had gotten familiar with the trip wires made from garden fences.  Even the choke wires of clothes lines.  I knew which dogs I could slip up on and which could sense my presence.  I visited the dogs during the daylight hours.  I brought them dog biscuits.  I even carried biscuits on my downtown walks.  

 If I had evil on my mind, I could have slipped into almost any of the  houses to slit the owner's throat.  The local cops all knew me.  They knew about my nightly walks.  It had become a game with us.  If they saw me, they would call to me.  I would walk up and hand them a ten dollar bill.  If on the other hand, I crept up on them, close enough to touch them, they had to buy me coffee.  I paid a couple of tens at the very beginning, but hadn't in years.  I had drunk a lot of free coffee though.

 Occasionally I saw something happen on my walks, but it was seldom.  That is discounting the young lovers.  Those, I ran into almost every night.  I never told who was screwing around on  his wife, so no one knew they had been spotted.  Everything had worked well until that particular night.  I guess it was kind of fitting that something exciting happen on the first day of my fortieth year.

 I had entered the alley behind our small general store.  I noticed a car where one should not have been at two AM.  I moved along the wall of the clothing store opposite the hardware store.  I slipped along until I was standing almost beside the car.  I made note of the license number just in case I decided not to get involved.  The man inside the store was making enough noise to wake the dead.  I heard him curse, followed by the sound of him falling to the floor.  He was a particularly clumsy burglar.  

 I almost decided to take him, but then I thought better of it.  I would have to get violent quickly just to make sure he didn't shoot me.  That is, if he even had a gun.  No, I decided the best thing to do was to call the cops.  I slipped out the alley then onto the street.  I walked quickly the two blocks to a pay phone.  I dialed the number for the police.

 "Police emergency."

 "Is that you Jo Ellen?"

 "Yes sir, what is the nature of your emergency."

 "Jo Ellen there is a car in the alley behind Willard's store.  Someone is inside.  It might be a burglary."

 "Linc, is that you?"

 "Yeah."

 "Let me get Timmy started that way."

 "Tell him to come in on the south end of the building his man is parked headed out that way."

 "Right,  hold on I want to talk to you."  I heard her talking to the officer on the radio.  "Now tell me something, what are you charging for weddings these days?"

 "Why you gettin' married again?"

 "Lord no honey, my daughter is though."

 "I don't know Jo.  Call me at home tomorrow when I have my calendar.  If I am free, you get the police discount.  It should run out around two fifty."

 "Sounds good, I'll call you tomorrow.  Where are you anyway."

 "At the pay phone in front of Timmon's store."

 "What you doing out this time of night?  You out walkin' again ain't you?"

 "Yeah, I couldn't sleep so I took a walk."

 "You know the new chief don't like the games you and the officers play.  He swears he's gonna charge you with trespass, if he catches you in somebody's yard."

 "Jo, he ain't never caught me.  He don't even know I've been in anybody's yard.  Here comes Timmy.  He just pulled into the alley."

 "Linc, you stay on the phone and out of that alley.  You just keep talkin' to me till he comes out of there.  You hear me Linc."

 "I hear you Jo and talking to you is a lot more fun than watching Timmy get his butt whipped."

 "Now Timmy ain't been in a fight in almost a year."

 "Has Timmy ever finished one of those fights on  his own Jo."

 "Sure, he ain't never won one by his self but he finished a couple."  We were laughing at poor old Timmy when I heard the shotgun blast."

  "Call the Sheriff Jo.  There was a shotgun blast and no return fire.  Timmy may be hurt."   Jo Ellen was screaming at me on the phone.  I didn't pay her any attention.  I moved as quickly as I could into the dark.  Without a pistol the dark was my only advantage.  The burglar would be expecting help, but not so soon nor from the dark.  I past the block where Willard's was located.  I entered the alley from the other end.  Timmy had that end blocked.  I thought I might get to the man as he left the alley.  

 The strangest thing was that the burglar had shot the policeman at all.  It was stupid to shoot a cop over a botched burglary.  He had moved from the  'find him if you can' status, to a number one priority fugitive.  From six months on the county farm to the gas chamber.  I finished my thoughts and was moving in the shadows down the alley.   I expected to find Timmy in a pool of blood.  What I didn't expect to find was Timmy standing over a body on the ground.  I almost stepped out of the shadows.  I didn't because something about the way Timmy was looking all around bothered me.

 He looked up the alley then down it.  He repeated the movement several times.  I didn't understand why he wasn't on the radio calling for help and an ambulance.  I saw him move to the trunk of his patrol car.  He removed something then returned to the body.  By that time the night air was filled with the sounds of sirens.  The sheriff's two night patrols were both headed our way.  In addition, the ambulance would be arriving momentarily.  Timmy bent then he placed something in the hand of the burglar.  

 I had just witnessed Timmy plant evidence.  I knew without looking that Timmy had placed a throw down gun or knife in the burglar's hand.   

 "crap,"  Timmy why did you do that.  Even worse, why did I have to see it.  I would have dissolved back into the night, if I hadn't all ready spoken with Jo.  She knew I was back on the scene.  Soon Timmy would also know.  I tried to think of some way out of the situation but there was none.  The cars started to roll into the area.  I had one of the sheriff's deputies walk right by me.  He was so close I could smell his aftershave.  

 I inched my way back down the alley until I was clear.  Then I hustled home.  I didn't know what to do.  I did know I should do something.  Not that I particularly cared about the burglar.  I just didn't like the idea of shooting a man without a gun.  No, it wasn't even that. It was trying to cover it up that bothered me.  I could see Timmy shooting someone in a panic.  He wasn't panicked when he went to the trunk to removed that throw down weapon.  He looked real calm to me.  

 When I got home I spent an hour and a pot of reheated coffee working on the problem.  I decided, after a lot of soul searching, to go see judge "Chicken Man" tomorrow.  Judge Winston, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Colonel Sanders, could decide what to do.  I would get my ass out of the mess as quickly as possible.

 I had finally drifted off to sleep when the knock came on my door.  I stumbled downstairs.  I looked through the glass panes.  I saw the new chief of police standing on my porch.  He wasn't really all that new.  He had been chief for five years but everyone still called him the new chief.  It was to distinguish him from the old chief.  Who had died a hero in the line of duty.  Yet another secret I had to keep.

 I opened the door.   "Yes chief?"

 "We need to talk about what you saw downtown tonight."

 "Can't this wait till morning?"

 "No it can't wait," he said.

 "Let me get some clothes on.  I will follow you downtown."

 "I would really rather do it here, Mr. Jefferson."

 "Why?"

 "Because something stinks here."

 "Let me put some pants on I hate talking in my underwear."  I needed the time to think.  I dressed slowly.  I didn't know, if I should tell this new chief what I had seen.  If he planned to cover for his men, then I was gonna get fucked real quick.  On the other hand, If I didn't, I might have to stay with the story forever.  When I couldn't stall any longer I returned to the studio.

  I found the Chief sitting on the antique sofa.  "Why don't we move into the office.  It will be more comfortable in there.  I also have a coffee pot in there.  I can make us a pot."

 "This isn't a social visit Mr. Jefferson."

 "Chief we have known each other for five years.  I think you can call me Linc.  You don't have to be my friend to call me Linc.  Everyone does it."

 "Okay Linc, I know we had our differences but I still respect you.  I want to know what you saw out there tonight."

 "Well chief not a lot, I was prowling the alley when I saw the car.  I knew it was wrong for that time of night so I went up to it.  I heard a voice inside the store.  He must have fallen in the dark because he cursed.  I decided to call the police rather than mess with him.  I walked out of the alley to the pay phone.  I, called your office.  I waited till the car arrived then I came home."

 "Well it's close to the truth anyway."

 "Meaning?"

 "Meaning Jo Ellen tells me you were still on the phone when Timmy shot the burglar.  Then according to her you dropped the phone."

 "Yeah chief, I figured if there was going to be gun fire, I would go home to stay out of it."

 "You know I don't believe that for a minute.  You went back to that alley.  You saw something.  You just don't want to admit it.  What did you see Mr. Jefferson?"  His voice had risen in volume toward the end.

 "Why chief?  It might be better to just let it be the way I told it."

 "Because the burglar wasn't some low life punk.   It was Willard's son."

 "What was Willard's son doing in the store at two AM."

 "I don't know and it doesn't matter.  He doesn't need an excuse to be there.  The better question is why would Young Willard pull a rusty Saturday night special on Timmy.  You can bet your ass there are going to be a lot of questions about that one."

 Obviously Timmy was going to get wrapped up whether I said anything or not.  I had a really nasty choice to make.  Chief, I have absolutely no idea what happened in that alley after Timmy arrived.  I looked into the alley on the way home.  I saw that Timmy was standing so I came home."

 The chief looked hard at me for a few seconds then said, "You going to stick to that story."

 "I'm going to stick with the truth."

 "Okay but I think you should consider what you are saying."

 "What exactly are you saying chief?"

 "I'm sayin', I'm not sure I buy either your or Timmy's story."

 "I don't know about Timmy's story but mine is the truth."

 The chief left in a huff.  I wasn't sorry to see him go.  I checked my black book.  I called Jacob Stien at home.   It was four thirty.  I knew that if he wasn't out, he would be soon.  His sleepy wife informed me that Jacob had left an hour before.  

 "Go back to sleep Jo Beth I will catch him at work."  I figured he was still at the crime scene but I tried the lab anyway.

 "Stein,"

 "Jacob, Linc what are you doing in the lab.  I thought you would be out working the crime of the century."

 "Not tonight.  The city boys are picking up the chewing gum wrappers.  I am just waiting to process the evidence.  What are you doing up at this ungodly hour."

 I told Jacob the same version I had told the chief.  "Now Jacob were I you, and I'm glad that I am not right now, I would check the shells with a fine tooth comb."

 "Are you telling me there is something 'not right' with this shooting."

 "I'm telling you that the shells may not have the Willard boy's prints on them.  By the way this was an anonymous call."

 "Yes sir, I will check.  I would have anyway but thanks for the tip."  Someone must have walked in on Jacob.  

 I hung up the phone.  I also went back to bed.  I couldn't sleep.  I did manage to rest.  I felt much better when I arose again at seven.  I showered then dressed.  Even after five years I found the studio on main street a little strange.

 I walked down  the hall to the second bedroom.  I knocked on the door and of course got no answer.  I knocked louder and spoke in a loud voice, "Helen it is time to get up.  Come on sleepy head the day is starting without you."  I understood what my mother went through when she tried to wake me.  I almost had a memory of her standing in my door telling me the same words.  The memory wasn't really there.  I just liked to imagine memories.  Those imagined memories, and the shared memories of friends, were the only ones I had of my childhood.  The real ones had been carried away by a cong bullet one dark night in 1967.

 I had been eighteen then.  Suddenly I was forty.  God time had a way of moving along without our realizing it.  I could still see myself as that twenty year old kid trying to get well inside an army hospital.  I was a kid trying to understand a world without any previous memories.  It was a bit difficult to say the least.  From that day on, I operated with just a vague feeling about people.  I would think, I once knew you and I liked you.  I have no idea what we did, or why I liked you.  I just know I did.  

 Since those days I have developed a good memory.  Whenever people talked about the old days, I remember the conversation as though it were a replay of the event.  I had almost a full set of memories stolen from other people.  Without my mother and father to share their memories there was still a large hole in my memory.

 "Helen get your ass out of bed and do it now.  If you don't, I am coming in there for you."

 "Go away  I am moving.  Just give me a few minutes.  Go start breakfast."

 "To hell with that, I am going to the Elms.  Join me, if you ever wake up."

 "Not a fucking chance," Helen said.

 I had known it would be her answer and I really didn't care.  I drove my customized mail jeep to the restaurant.  I parked out front then walked inside.  The place had an accumulation of cooking grease dating back to the day it opened.  Of course that was also the main attraction to me.  That and my mama's cooking.

 Mama didn't own the place or anything else for that matter.  She had been dead many years.  She did live on though.  Kind of as a writer lives on in his work.  The Elms used her recipes for most of their dishes. 

 "Hello E how they hangin'?"  I greeted the co-owner the same way almost every morning.

 "Bout the same as yesterday Linc.  How 'bout you man?"

 "Nothing 'bout me ever changes E.  My life is so dull, I'm thinking about doing something really stupid just to liven it up."

 "Like what marrying Helen?"

 "Hell no, that much excitement would give me a heart attack.  Besides her French boyfriend is due in any day now."

 "I heard she was bringing a man back with her."

 "Yeah, he had to wait for a visa.  He is on his way now though."

 "You should never have let her go to Paris in the first place."

 "E, you don't let Helen do anything.  When she decides to do something, you just get the hell out of her way."

 "Well, you know her better than me."  He said it clanging the plate in front of me.

 "You know E.  I wish you would wait till I ordered before you brought my food."

 "Why? You always order the same thing.  I just save us both some time.  When I see you pull into the parking lot I put your eggs on."

 "I guess you are right.  I probably should change what I eat."  I buried my head in the plate.  

 I had known Helen most of my life.  She had been way behind me in school.  I had no idea whether I had known her then or not.  I sure as hell had known her after I came home from the war.  I had helped her take over her father's business after his death.  Even so in the end I wound up owning her studio.  She had sold it to a sort of friend.  He in turn gave it to me.  It was in exchange for a favor I had done him.

 Helen had returned suddenly a month before that moment.  She needed a place to stay until her boyfriend arrived.  She asked and I agreed.  I knew even then that it was a stupid idea.  

 She had been gone five years.  After her return it seemed like only a week or two.  We started fighting again the moment she arrived.  She no longer had any reason to be involved in my life.  Helen would never let that stop her.  She gave me advice on just about every subject.

 Those days it revolved around my eating habits, or my choice of friends.  In other words she was still a royal pain in the ass.

 To make matters worse she had studied painting in Paris.  Unfortunately, it wasn't house painting.  She was an accomplished painter of oil portraits.  I have no idea why she didn't settle in California or New York.  God  knows there can't be much demand for oil portraits in a small rural Carolina town.

 Nonetheless Helen was in town awaiting the arrival of her French boyfriend.  I was looking forward to his arrival about as much as a trip to the dentist.  My only hope was that she would have the good sense to move out immediately upon his arrival.

 I finished my food, paid the bill, then headed for the door.  I almost made it out before I bumped into Timmy.  I literally bumped into him and another officer coming into the restaurant.

 "Sorry," I said.

 "No problem,"  He responded.

  I was already in my jeep when I noticed he had followed me from the restaurant.  "Linc, we need to talk."  I wouldn't have thought that anyone could say such simple words in a manner to get my hackles up.

 I tried hard to keep my voice level.  "About what Timmy."

 I must not have managed it.  "I know you got a big reputation in this town, but I ain't afraid of you."

 "You aren't supposed to be kid. "

 "I ain't no kid.  I don't know what you think you saw, but if I was you I would forget it."

 "You know kid.  I didn't think it was possible, but you are dumber than you look."

 He made a move toward me. "What does that mean?"

 "What part of dumb ass didn't you understand?  If you are real smart you will forget what ever it is you got in mind."

  "Why?"

 "Because, if you try to whip me, I am going to kick your ass in front of all those people watching through the window."  I pointed to the patrons including his friend looking out the diner window.  "If you pull that pistol, then you are really stupid.  You have about bagged your limit of unarmed civilians."

  "What the hell do you mean?"

  "I mean you stupid fuck, I have already told the chief that I didn't see anything behind Williard's.  It seems now I just got my memory refreshed.  You are about to be out of a job."

 "You better hide behind that famous memory loss of yours."

 "Or what?"  I asked with as hard a look as I could manage.

 "Or I might see how bad you really are."

 "You don't want to do that kid."

 "Don't call me kid."

 "Timmy lad, you are a kid and stupid one at that.  You do what you got to do.  I am about to do what I wanted to avoid doing.  I am going to rat out a cop."

 "If you do, so help me I will kill you."

 "If  you try that, you better go see Billy Dean over at the funeral home.  You are sure as hell going to need a reservation."

 "Yeah for you."

 "Make the reservation, but leave the name blank."

 I drove to the police station.  There I made my statement.  I had tried to avoid it, but Timmy left me no room to maneuver.  I have always taken threats real serious.  The town had a ten man police force.  I figured I might have just made that many enemies.

 With me the decision hadn't been about right and wrong.  It was about force.  The little fucker hadn't played the game.  He tried to force the issue.  He had nothing with which to bargain.  He was a jerk.  I could over look that, but he was a stupid jerk.  That made him dangerous.  I couldn't over look that.

 In the police station parking lot I checked my pocket calendar.  I had half a dozen nickel and dime shoots during the day.  I drove to an intersection on the way home to photographed it for a young lawyer.  His client was involved in a civil suit. I had time for coffee at the Elms before I rushed to the downtown studio for a hairdresser.  She needed a picture for the newspaper.                                          

 After the hairdresser I went upstairs to my apartment.  I found  Helen sitting at the dining room table eating lunch.  She was eating some kind of crap that looked as if it had been spilled from a farmer's truck.

 "What the hell are you eating?" I asked it as I approached the table.

 "Salad, you should eat like this.  It would probably add a few years to your life."

 "No thanks."

 "That's right, everybody knows that Linc Jefferson does not what to live a long life.  Live hard, die young and leave a beautiful memory, right?"

 "Why don't you get off my ass?  At least for as long as you stay in my house."

 "Your house?  You prick this is my house."

 "Not anymore Helen, you sold this house lock stock and studio to Jake,  Remember?  You wanted to run off to Paris."  That shut her up.  At least it did for a minute or two.

 "You always wanted this house and now you have it.  You even managed to screw Jake out of it."

 "Jake didn't get screwed.  He got exactly what he paid for.  It wasn't want he wanted, but it was want he bargained for."

 "You really are a prick. You killed his girlfriend then took the house anyway."

 I turned then left the room.  I hadn't technically been the one who killed Jake's girlfriend.  I wasn't going to argue technicalities with Helen.  Jake's girlfriend had died and I did own the house.

  I was sitting at my desk in the downstairs office when Helen came in.  "I'm sorry that wasn't really fair.  I did sell the house.  I know you got it fairly.  I just can't help thinking of it as still mine."

 "I know and don't worry about it. I understand that you didn't mean anything.  I know you are under a lot of stress."  I paused.  Then just to show there were no hard feelings I asked,  "So when is the frog coming?"  I really did mean it as a joke.  

 "Just when I think that maybe you aren't such a jerk after all.  You come up with something like that."  She turned as if she were going to storm out.  Instead she turned back to me at the last minute.  "Claude is due this afternoon."

 "I though it would be a couple more weeks?"

 "I did too.  He called me while you were out last night.  His visa came through.  He was at the airport when he called."

 "So where are you going to put him up."  What I was really asking was, "Where are you two going to stay since it won't be here...Please?"

 "Actually I was hoping you would let us stay here a couple of days.  You know just till we can find a place?"

 "Come on Helen.  You know that isn't going to work.  You and I were once closer than friends.  It is going to be terribly uncomfortable for all of us."

 "I know."  She said it with her eyes down. "I really don't have anywhere else."

 "How about a motel or something?"

 "Claude hates motels."

 "Tough , I don't care what Claude hates."

 I watched her fight back her anger.  "Please Linc, just for a day or two."

 I couldn't say no.  Maybe I could make her life so miserable she would change her mind.  "Helen you know I can't refuse you anything.  But I have one hard fast rule.  Separate bedrooms and no visiting between them.  One infraction and out you go."

 "You truly are a prick.  I have no choice.  I'll tell you one thing.  We will be out of here just as soon as we find a house."

 "Good."  I watched her stomp out of the office.

 I continue my bill paying but I couldn't concentrate.   My mind kept drifting back to the many hours Helen and I had spent together.  We had always fought like cats and dogs.  It usually ended in the bedroom, or with her demanding that I leave.  Now it ended with her stomping out of the room.  We seemed to much like an old married couple for it to be a comfortable feeling.

  I spoke with a perspective bridal customer at two, then shot a child's portrait at four.  I had acquired to much portrait business with the downtown studio.  Business was good but it was also boring.  For the last five years I had been in a rut.  If Helen had the money or the desire, I would have sold her the business in a minute.  I longed for the days of my old garage studio.  Of course I could never resurrect it.

 On the drive to the Elms for dinner, I got stopped by a patrolman.  I had never been stopped before.  He checked my drivers license then asked to look into my equipment box.  I refused.  I had a nasty feeling he might find something in it that hadn't been there when I closed and locked it.  Of course he could always drop something in the back of the jeep but I wasn't going to make it easy for him.  When I refused to allow the search he backed off.  He left me with the distinct impression I would be seeing him again.

 As he turned to leave I asked, "Ed you and me have known each other a long time.  Why the sudden interest in my equipment case?"

 "Linc, you shouldn't have rat-ed Timmy out.  That could have been me in the alley."

 "Ed, would you really have been so chicken shit that you would have used a shotgun on an unarmed man.  Come on man, I know you better than that."

 "I know we stood together a couple of times, but it still wasn't right.  You was once one of us."

 "And I'm proud of it.  Timmy made the big mistake.  Not only did he shoot an unarmed man, but he threatened me hoping to keep me quiet.  Ed, you know that I don't run from threats."

 "I know you don't, but it still ain't right."

 I knew I could never convince him.  He knew in his heart that I was right.  I didn't think he would try to frame me for anything.  It was too bad that I didn't know some of the younger officers at all.  "Ed you know me.  You know that I didn't make that up about Timmy.  You have to know that he is yellow.  He didn't just make a mistake out there.  He was scared to death.  Is that the kind of man you want standing beside you?"

 "I guess not."

 "Do me a favor.  Tell the new kids that it wasn't a blue thing.  It was personal between Timmy and me."

 "Okay Linc, but I don't know if they will listen."

 "Me neither, but what the hell Ed we can try.  Some of them may get jammed up for no reason at all.  You know Judge Sam's old firm represents me.  Some of those kids could get awful jammed up for lying."

 "Yeah, I will warn them.  But I got to tell you Linc, it wasn't a real good thing you done."

 "Ed I had no choice.  Timmy didn't give  me one."

 "Maybe?"

 "Ed just do what you think is best."  I left him standing in the roadway while I went to dinner.  

 It was roast pork night at the Elms.  I had it along with candied yams and cole slaw.  I had it with cornbread.  Jed, the second owner of the Elms, never quite got the biscuits right.  I was working on my banana pudding when Jed decided to speak to me for the first time.

 "You know, when you first started bringing your cop buddies in here I bitched.  Now I am glad to see them.  I mean we haven't had a robbery or break in since they began coming around."

 "That's good Jed."

 "I especially like having them around now.  It seems the whole county has a hard on for you.  I mean it does my heart good to see them pissed at a white man for a change."

 "I'm sure it does."

 "Tell me Linc, if that had been a nigger would you have rolled old Timmy up."

 "If you have to ask, you wouldn't believe me."

 "Yeah you are right.  E told me about your argument with old Timmy in the parking lot.  You would have burned his ass after that no matter what.  Looks like them white boys would learn they can't fuck with you."

 "Why would you say a thing like that?"

 "Crap man everybody in this town knows you got big friends.  Besides all us niggers know you a hard assed man to kill.  I guess them white boys just plain stupid."

 "I guess."

 "You know them peckerwoods be coming for you?"

 "Jed you know cops are all talk."

 "I sure would love to see what happens if'n they do."

 "If I get the chance I'll call you first."   He grinned and shook his head.  Jed and I had a shaky relationship.  For most of our lives he had hated me for one reason or another.  These days we tried to tolerate each other.  It worked well enough until he had a chance to needle me about something.  He had the chance now.  He was going at me with less enthusiasm than I would have expected.

 After dinner I drove to the studio.  I still had one more entry on my calendar.  From six till seven I worked on a bridal portrait.  I had finished with them and gone upstairs for a glass of tea when Helen and her boyfriend came into the downstairs.  I heard them enter through the rear door.  I didn't go out to meet them or help them with his luggage.  I can be an awful ass that way.

 I had expected Claude to be something different.  I thought that Helen would have found someone like me only more so.  Instead Claude was a small man.  He was blonde and pale looking.  I swear in a fist fight I would have given odd on Helen. The odds would have been at  least two to one.  I doubt that even then I could have gotten any takers.

 I don't mean to imply that Helen is heavy.  She is far from that.  She is  however healthy looking.  Claude on the other hand looked as if he was fighting a battle with cancer.  He was more skin and bones than anything else.  He was also quite a bit shorter than Helen.

 Claude and I did have one thing in common.  We were both in danger of being laughed out of town.  He, for looking like he did.  Me, for losing Helen to a man who looked like Claude.  Helen introduced us and we shook hands.  His English was a damned sight better than my non existent French.  It was still pretty awful.  Helen had explained our relationship to him.  Exactly how she phrased it I have no idea.  He seemed to have the impression that I was her brother or something.  Even if I had wanted  to set him straight, I couldn't have.  Of course Helen  knew that.

 I finished my tea with the two of them on my mind.  I couldn't help it.  He was such a joke.  Helen came into the kitchen.  I smiled up at her.

 "What?" she asked.

 "Nothing,"  I answered.

 "I know you want to make some stupid comment.  Go ahead and get it over with."

 "I have nothing to say.  I would suggest you take him around to introduce  him to everyone."

  "Why?"

 "If you don't, someone will probably have him admitted to the hospital.  I mean he does look like death."

 "Very funny,"  she said as she stormed out of the kitchen.

 The ringing phone wiped the smile off my face.  "Picture man." I answered it.

 "Jefferson, this is Timmy Smothers.  How about meeting me for a drink?"

 I thought about it a minute then decided that I didn't need to be a hero.  "Timmy that strikes me as a lousy idea.   I don't think the DA would especially like that.  Besides we really don't have anything to say.  It seems to me you said everything last time."

 "Look I was a jerk.   My lawyer wants to talk to you tomorrow.  I thought I might get a head start on him that's all."

 "Leave it alone kid.  Let it fall the way it falls."

 "Yeah, but I can't do no time.  I mean they are talking ten to fifteen years."

 "That's bull.  The only truly stupid thing you did was planting that weapon.  I don't think they will give you too much time for that."

 "They are going to hit me with manslaughter, maybe worse."

 "Manslaughter is going to be hard to prove against a cop in a middle of the night confrontation.  The planting is going to eat you up though."

 "Yeah, man I don't know what I was thinking.  For sure I didn't know you was the one reported that incident.  I would have been a lot more careful, if I had known the ghost was around,"

 "Come on Timmy you know I don't like that name.  Besides, whether you got caught or not shouldn't have mattered.  It was wrong."

 "I know it was stupid, but you hear so much about throw down guns.  I figured it was kind of expected."

 "That is bullshit.  You know all that crap is just talk."

 "Linc, I just wanted to tell you that I'm not going to do any time.  I am going to find a way to beat this."

 "Timmy, I can't wish you luck.  I just  hope it works out without too big a price."

  "Well I'll be seeing you."

 "I expect so."  I hung up the phone with an uneasy feeling.  Timmy might come calling on me, but I really didn't think so.  If anything happened to me, he was the obvious suspect.   Not even Timmy would be that stupid.

 Helen and Claude passed by on their way out to dinner.  I waved goodbye to Claude while Helen worked hard at ignoring me.  After they had gone, I continued to sit at the kitchen table.  I was thinking about Timmy and his situation.

 In thinking back I had to wonder why the Williard kid didn't have the store lights on.  I also wondered about the car.  I mean it wasn't a new or classy car.  If it had been, I would have thought less about it being in the alley.  The  car was probably seven or eight years old.  Not the kind of car you expect the owner's son to be driving.  Of course the Williard's may have fallen on hard times.  Still, why was the kid groping around in the dark?  I didn't guess, he would ever be able to tell me.

 I picked up the phone then dialed Jacob Stein's number.  When his wife answered, I asked for Jacob.

 "Linc is that you," his wife asked.

 "Of course it is Jo Beth.  Jacob doesn't have any other friends."

 "That is a lousy joke.  He has lots of friends."

 She was wrong.  "Of course he does honey or I wouldn't joke about it."  Jacob was highly respected but not well liked.

 "How you doing?  I hear you stepped in it again."

 "I did Jo, but it's about time.  My life was getting boring."

 "I know and you hate to be bored.   Here he is now Linc."

 "Linc, I can't talk to you about Timmy."

 "I know Jacob.  I don't want you to reveal anything you shouldn't.  I do need to ask you a couple of questions.  If I am out of line, then don't answer.  I will understand."

 "Ask but I probably won't answer."

 "Okay, did they do an autopsy on the Williard Kid. "

 "Yes but the results are classified." 

 "Drugs?"

 "How the hell did you know that?"

 "Lucky guess, he's been away at college hasn't he?"

 "That's what I hear."

 "How was the lock on the rear door?"

 "Classified."

 "Jacob, let me explain something to you.  Timmy called me tonight.  He was trying to make nice with me.  I need to know, if he offs me can they convict him on the evidence.  I mean is my testimony the only thing to tie him to the planting charge."

 "If his were the only version, he would probably get a medal."   Jacob said it after a little thought.

 "I guess I better watch out for nasty accidents then.  Listen tell Jo I am sorry I bothered you at home."

 "No problem I am always happy to talk to you.  Jo Beth knows if it hadn't been for you, we never would have gotten together.  She for some reason just doesn't understand our friendship. "

 "Oh well she will come around.  Its only been six or seven years."  I knew it was a lie when I said it.  Jo Beth was afraid I might let it slip that I had once known her in the biblical sense.  She had always maintained that Mike, her dead husband, and Jacob were her only lovers.  I hadn't told Mike.  I sure as hell wasn't going to tell Jacob.

 When I hung up the phone, I had a different problem to work on.  Would Timmy try to stop me from testifying against him?  He had warned me twice that he didn't plan on going to jail. I had to assume that he would try.  Since it was unlikely that he could get any of his friends to go along with murder, odds were it would be just he and I.  He couldn't approach me head on.  It would have to be either an accident or an unsolvable murder.

 To suspect Timmy was one thing.  They would have to prove it was a murder to convict him.  Like most cops, he thought he knew how to get away with it. The truth was cops got caught for murder quite often.  It was almost impossible to murder someone and get away with it.  It is true especially, if you have a motive.  I mean the cops look hard at those with a motive.

 Next I called Sam.  Sam had once been the most important lawyer in our town.  He  was the district Judge at the time.  He planned on being a state senator next.  "Sam, Linc, we got a problem."

 "What the fuck you doing calling me at home boy.  You know I don't bring the office problems here."

 Sam had a new young wife.  They said she needed constant attention.  "Sam if I wait till tomorrow, you may have a bigger problem.  Not to mention the one I might have."

 "Okay Linc, only because I never knew you to cry wolf.  I wish I could say that for the herd of assistant D.A.s.  Let's have it boy."

  "Well Sam, it looks as though the Williard boy might have been in the store ripping his daddy off. "

 "That is old news.  I heard that at five tonight."

  "It also looks like if I can't testify, Timmy will walk on the planting thing."

 "Agreed," Sam said.

 "Well Timmy called me tonight to make nice.  I think he might be planning to make sure I don't testify."

 "You want protection?"  He sounded as though he had smelled something gone rotten.

 "Not bloody likely Sam, I just want to make sure you look in the right place, if anything happens to me before the trial."

 "You do have a point.  If you got hit the list of suspects would be about half the town."

 "Not funny Sam, I just wanted you to be aware of it, that's all."

 "Duly noted for the record.  At least I won't be wasting my time checking out Jake."

 "Come on you know Jake will always be suspect number two."

 "You two still fighting? "

 "Of course not, Jake is too much a gentleman to fight with me."

 "Also too sensible to harbor a death wish."

 "That too I guess.  I got to go Sam just wanted to let you know."

 "Okay, I will put a bug in Timmy's attorney's ear tomorrow."

  "Thanks but don't bother.  I can take care of Timmy."

  "If you knew that, you wouldn't have called me.  What you want is vengeance even from the grave.  You truly are a man after my own heart."

 "Good night Sam."

 "Good night son. make sure you keep both eyes open when you sleep."

 Helen and her boyfriend came into the kitchen.  I had heard them enter the rear door.  I heard their voices so I wasn't worried.

  In broken English, and with some translation from Helen, Claude said, "I would like to talk to you Linc.  It is about the carriage house at the rear of the building."

  "What about it Claude?"

  "Helen and I would like to buy or at least rent it."

 So that was why Helen hadn't been looking for a place for them to live.  The carriage house was a three car garage with a second story attached.  It was structurally fine but looked like hell.  I had never bothered to do anything to it.  The studio had more than enough space in it.  It was full of junk of one kind or another.  I had stored some things in it myself.  They were piled on top of a couple of layers of other junk.  Junk that had once belonged to Helen's father.  That man had been a true pack rat.  He never threw anything away.  Both floors of the carriage house were full of old props or just plain junk.

 "Claude, to tell you the truth.  I really never thought about renting out the carriage house.  It is probably in pretty sad shape."

 "Helen tells me there is a bathroom upstairs.  Maybe we could live there and paint on the bottom floor.  It would really be an ideal location for us."

 "I really don't think so."

 "Okay would you sell us the studio?"

 "You  mean the house I live in.  I don't think that would make any sense.  I need a place to live and work.  Besides it would be very expensive."  I didn't want to say they couldn't afford the carriage house let alone the whole shooting match.

 "That wouldn't be a problem.  I sold my studio in Paris.  I have also saved a little from my paintings.  Helen said she thought the house might be worth one hundred thousand of your dollars.  I would be willing to pay that even more, if it is worth it."

 "Then I assume that Helen does not want to open a photo studio again."

 "God no,"  Helen interjected.  I want to paint.  Claude makes quite a bit of money from his painting.  I wouldn't really need to make anything for a while.  We want to turn it into a studio and gallery."

 "I'll think it over.  I really don't think I am interested."

 "The house would be much better, but we would take the carriage house, if necessary.  Please think it over carefully.  After all it is Helen's home."

 "Don't you think she should have thought of that before she sold it."

 "I should have.  I didn't think I would miss it so much."  Helen said it through her tears.

  I wasn't convinced they were real.  I also didn't want to argue about it at that moment.   "Give me a couple of days Helen and I will let you know.  Right now I need to talk to both of you."

 "I already passed the word about the sleeping arrangement to Claude."

 "Good but it is something else.  There maybe some strange things about to happen.  Please don't drive my car under any conditions.  Don't wear my clothes or go outside without first making sure there is plenty of light where you are going."

 "What is going on?" Helen asked.

 I explained it to her.  Then she in turn explained it all to Claude.  Claude in turn rattled off way too much French.  I had visions of him demanding to move somewhere more safe.  

  Instead Helen said, "Claude asked me, to ask you, if he could help you in anyway?"

 "Tell him thanks but no thanks."

 She spoke French to him and he rattled some off to her.  "Linc please forgive me but this is going to take a while to explain to him.  I know it is your house, but could you leave us alone for a while."

 "Why don't you just go into the living room?"

 "It would be better, if you were gone.  If you stay, he will only want to ask you a million questions.  If he does, this will take this even longer."

 "Linc, I do understand most of what is said in English.  I would like to hear her story in French.  She tells me it will take a long time.  She says she would feel better, if you were not present for the telling.  I don't understand why, but if you would please."

 "It is my house but I'll tell you what.  I think I will go for a walk."

 "Linc, please don't do that,"  Helen asked."

 "Don't worry Helen.  I will stay close."  I left the house and walked to the carriage house.  It was situated across the gravel parking lot at the rear of the house.  It stood maybe fifty feet from the main house.  The three heavy wooden doors enclosed the parking spaces.  The building was probably thirty-six feet wide and twenty-four feet deep.  

 I unlocked the walk in door.  It was cut inside the larger car door.  The interior was dark, since I never bothered to have the electricity turned on in the building.  I could see from the glow of my flashlight that the junk, both in and out of boxes, was stacked almost to the ceiling.  There were no interior stairs so the area was one room.  The size was deceptive since it was so cluttered.  The ceiling was ten feet high at least.  The rear wall was completely windows.  Almost all of them were still filled with glass. It was a testament to small town life.  In a larger town the kids would have found this place and broken all the glass by that time.  I had forgotten about the brick floors until I took that look.  The brick was hidden under a layer of dirt.  Once I scraped at the dirt the bricks were revealed.

 I exited the door then re-locked it.  I climbed the stairs that seemed pretty solid.  There was a board here and there which would need replacing.  I unlocked the solid wood door to enter the single room.  That one room covered the top of the carriage house.  There was no ceiling in the room.  It too was filled with boxes and other accumulated junk.  The overhead rafters were even filled with junk.  The interior walls were the same as the exterior concrete block walls.  They were the same block in fact.  The only wood was in the roof system and the floor system.  There were wooden partition walls around the small bathroom.  I picked my way between the boxes and other junk until I reached the bathroom.  There was no door on the bathroom.  Inside were a filthy toilet and an equally filthy sink.  The room had been used at sometime by a stable hand or maybe even a domestic worker for the main house.

 The flooring was unfinished wide boards.  I couldn't tell what type wood they were.  They were so covered in dirt that they looked black in the flashlight glow.  It was going to take three or four of the city trash trailers just to empty the place.  I would need to give it a whole lot more thought.

  Since it was too soon to return to the house, I sat down by a trunk to inspect the contents.  It was locked.  I had no key.  I  found an old tire iron with which to pry it open.  It took only a couple of minutes.  Inside I found the most amazing clothes.  They must have been from either the old country or the nineteenth century.  I tried to examine them in the dim light.  I knew I couldn't really appreciate them until I saw them in a better light.  I removed them searching for anything else of interest.  I found a bundle of letters tied with a faded blue ribbon.  I couldn't read them in the dim light so I put them aside to take into the house with me.  There were also a couple of pieces of woman's jewelry in the box.  I placed them beside the letters.

 After an hour had passed, I returned to the house.  I found the two of them still sitting at the kitchen table.  Claude looked at me with a curious expression.  Helen advised me that she had finished her story.  

 I tossed the letters on the table.  "Are these  yours?"

 "I never saw them before.  Where did you get them."

 "In an old trunk in the carriage house.  Haven't you ever seen them before?"

 "God I never went in that place. I was terrified of it."  She opened one of the letters and began to read.  Her eyes teared as she read it.  "These must have been letters from my father to my mother. They are addressed to Sophia.  That was my mother."

 I gave her the costume jewelry.  "Then this is yours too."

 She took one look through the pile of jewelry found a pin and began to really cry.  

"God I remember this pin.  Mama wore it when I was really small.  I remember a blue dress she wore it on.  Thank you Linc, you didn't have to do this.  I know my contract with Jake called for everything left behind to be his.  I guess that means that everything is yours now."

 "Yeah, but I really don't care.  I never bothered to sort through that stuff before.  You can have anything  you want out of there so long as it isn't photographic."

 "Thank you, I think that tomorrow I will go through it."  She paused a while then asked.  "Does this mean you are going to rent the carriage house to us."

 "I haven't decided yet.  I need to give it some more thought.  Right now  I'm going to bed.  I'll see you guys in the morning."  I went to my room and tried to sleep.  I was concerned about Timmy.  I didn't go out that night.  It was because I didn't want to leave Helen and Claude alone with the Timmy issue unresolved.  

 I slept fitfully.  I spent much time sitting on the edge of my bed working a camera's mechanism.  I had found years before that it somehow helped me through the troubled nights.  Those nights were usually caused by nightmares from the bad old days.

 The next morning I showered then dressed.  I was sitting in the Elms by eight.  I hadn't gotten enough sleep.  Consequently I was a bit punchy when the new chief of police came in.  I knew it meant trouble since I had never seen him in the place before.  I watched him look around until he spotted me.  Once he recognized me he came straight to the table.

 "We need to talk Linc."

 "Have a seat and we can talk over breakfast."

 "We need to talk at the station."

 "I just ordered.  Unless you are going to arrest me, I am going to eat first.  You might as well have something."

 "Are you armed?"

 "Of course not, I am here for breakfast not to rob the place."

 "Okay,"  he said to me.  Then he turned his attention to Lucille.  "Bring me a couple of eggs and some bacon."

  "Toast or biscuits?" Lucille asked.

 "Toast."

 Lucille looked at me as if to ask, "Would you like me to baste his eggs with rat poison."  I didn't give her a sign so she went into the kitchen.  "Look chief,  if you came to tell me Timmy decided to cop a plea so that I won't have to testify, you can do it here."

 "That's not it.  Let's wait until we get downtown to talk about this."

 "What ever you say chief." Somewhere in the middle of favors from my people.  I have always looked the other way."

 "Chief let me say this before we get off on the wrong foot here.  Those favors were never for me nor were they anything that the people couldn't have done themselves.  I never asked a cop to do anything to violate the law or his conscience."

 "I know that.  It is why I looked the other way.  I just want you to remember that this isn't personal."

 "I would have known that anyway.  That is unless you make it personal.  I really can't imagine you doing that."

 He nodded. "Just one more thing about the job business then it's over.  I understand that Sam was on the committee that made the decision."

 "So I hear."

  "Bullshit.  Sam wouldn't make a decision on something like this without consulting you.  I assume you gave me your approval.  It isn't going to make any difference."

 "I didn't and I wouldn't expect it to anyway.  Sam never asked me about you.  He asked me about the job in general.  I told him what I thought the job needed.  That is all."

  "Just for curiosity what did you tell him."

 "I told him to get himself a good manager.  I didn't think we could afford Columbo.   We can get the state boys, if something really nasty comes up.  I also told him to find someone who could stand up to the Sheriff.  I understand you do that quite well by the way."

 "I hope you don't change your mind by noon."

 It was a curious remark.  I was beginning to get worried.  I felt as if I was on the verge of an arrest.  I ran the possibilities over in my mind while I ate the last of my biscuit.  I almost blurted out the most likely scenario but caught myself at the last minute.

 "Chief would you mind terribly if I followed you down to the station.  It will save an officer having to bring me back to my car."

 "How about I follow you.  You know the way down there."

 I knew then that I was in trouble.  I carried my bill to the register.   I explained to the chief I needed some gum.  I whispered to E to call Jake and have him meet me at the station.   I also bought a pack of gum.

 I drove slowly to the station.  Jake of course wasn't to be found.  He wouldn't be for a half hour.  I did notice the Sheriff's chief deputy.  The chief deputy was also the investigator.  It looked more and more like I had it figured out.

 "What kept you chief?"  the deputy asked.

 "I had breakfast with Mr. Jefferson."  I could see that the deputy didn't like his answer very much.  The chief ignored the look.

 "Linc, would you go into the interrogation room and wait for us please?"  the deputy asked.

 "Sure," I replied.   I waited about ten minutes until the chief, the deputy, and a rookie cop came in.

 "Mr. Jefferson?"

 "Jasper, why the hell don't you guys all call me Linc.  The Mr. routine isn't going to intimidate me in the least."

 "Okay Linc, where were you last night around midnight?"

 "Listening to Helen moan in French."

 "She can verify that?"  he looked relieved.

 "Probably not, I wasn't the one making her moan."

 "Oh?" the chief asked.

 "Helen's boyfriend from Paris arrived last night."

 "I see," Jasper said.

 "Can anyone verify your where abouts around midnight."

 "Like I said, the other people in the house were occupied.  Jasper what the hell is this all about?"  I had a hell of a good idea.

 "Somebody blew Timmy away last night."

 "Hell, why ask me about Timmy.  He is the one with the motive to kill me not the other way around."

  "Does the term preventive strike mean anything to you?"  the chief asked.

 "Sure, but not in this context."

 "Well we have to check all the possibilities.  Do you own a shotgun."

 "Jasper, everybody in Davidson County owns a shot gun.  Of course I own a shotgun."

 "Would you mind if we check it."

 "Of course I would.  If you have reason to believe it was used in the commission of a crime, get yourself a search warrant.  At that point I will bring it too you."

 "What the hell are you doing?"  I looked up and saw Jake standing in the door.  "Why the hell are you questioning my client."

 "We are questioning Linc about the death of Officer Timmy Smothers."

 "Have you charged my client with his death?"

 "Of course not Jake."  I didn't say a word I wanted Jake to get his chance to play lawyer. I also wanted to see what I could learn.

 "Well I think Linc and I should leave now.  Come on Linc, we can talk in my office."

 "Why don't we give you two a few minutes alone then maybe we can continue this."

 "Jake," I said, "let's do it that way."  Jake nodded and the other three men left the crowded room.  

 "What the hell is going on?" Jake asked.  I explained everything I knew.  He had already heard most of it from the gossip.  Timmy's death was of course news to him as well as it had been to me.  

 "Damn, he would have to get himself killed in the middle of the night.  Everyone knows you move like a ghost in the dark.  Unless they come up with a suspect you are going to look awfully good to them.  They are going to have a problem convincing a jury of the motive.  They won't let your friends sit on a jury.  Those are the ones who would believe you might kill Timmy.  Kill him because you thought he was coming for you."

  "Save the speeches for the court Jake.  What I want you to do is help me pry information from these guys.  I need to know everything they know.  You know how the questioning of a suspect goes.  They will tell me as little as possible.  Not much of what they do tell me will be true.  Just help me make them give up as much as they have.  You know how it works."

 "Crap you want me to play straight man for you.  Damn it, I get a hundred bucks an hour for this."  

 "Well let's get too it while I can still afford you."

 Jake called them back in.  Every time they would ask me a direct question, Jake would ask what evidence they had to back up a question like that.  The term fishing expedition came up over and over.  Jake and I were there for two hours.

 In the parking lot I thanked Jake and told him to send me a bill.  His response was, "You can bet your ass I will."

 "Now Jake calm down."

 "I would never ask any other client.  I am going to make an exception in your case."

 "Don't bother,"  I interrupted.  "If I told you I didn't you, would think I was lying.  Since I really didn't, it doesn't matter."

 "Who could have done him Linc?"

 "I don't know."

 "You are going to find out aren't you?"

 "Not unless I have a better reason than a two hundred dollar bill from you."

 "It's actually going to be three hundred.  I get paid for the drive time."

 "This town is so small, I hardly think it took you an hour to get to the police station. "

 "I fucking drive slow."

 "Prick,"  I said.

 "Asshole," he mumbled.  It was just another typical conversation between Jake and me.

 When I pulled the jeep into the parking lot behind the house, I noticed the huge pile of trash stacked in one corner.  I stopped the jeep suddenly when Helen emerged from the carriage house.  I spoke through the open door of my jeep.  "Exactly what the hell are you doing."

 "You said I could have any of my parents personal things.  I am just looking.  I have a city trailer being delivered this afternoon.  You need to go through the piles of trash first to see if you want to save any of it.  We can open the boxes later."

 "It looks a lot like you are cleaning the place up to move into.  You know I haven't decided to do anything with it yet."

  "I know Linc, I am just sorting through the junk.  Where have you been anyway.  You missed an appointment this morning."

 "Oh crap, I forgot all about the calendar."  I looked and found three more items on it.  Two of them were unspecified times but the third required me to load the Beta cam for a deposition in a lawyer's office.  I would probably be a couple of minutes late.  I wasn't worried they were always late anyway.  I just wouldn't get to charge them for my waiting time.  "I have to get the Beta and run.  Could you call Mrs. Edmands and explain that I will reschedule her little boy."

 "No need to, I made the shot for you. Of course I shot it with my Kowa.  You are going to have to send it off for processing.  I explained and the mother was fine with it."

 "Thanks Helen, you can have half the profit from the shoot."

 "With those assholes I'll settle for not having to pay half the loss."

 "You got a point.  I got to get the Beta."  I went into the house to find the video camera and accessories.  I had to use two large bags to carry all the crap it took to record the deposition.

 I returned by way of another intersection.  It seemed the traffic had increased and the accidents right along with it.  My third and final appointment was for a shot of a building under construction. The construction was a state project.  It required a progress photo every month.  It didn't pay much but every little bit helped.

 I noticed the big red trailer sitting in the middle of my parking area.  I saw Helen and Claude busily loading junk into it.  "I hope you haven't loaded any antiques into that thing."

 "Hell no, I know the difference,"  Helen asserted.

 "Claude, you look worn out.  Why don't you two take a break for some iced tea.  I'll drop this camera inside and help you after."  Helen looked annoyed but Claude looked grateful.  After the tea the three of us went to work on the carriage house.  Helen looked at everything as Claude and I pulled it out.  She had the office phone's cord stretched to it's limit.  It was sitting on the rear porch so that she could hear it ring.

 It was almost dark when the last of the down stairs junk was out of the carriage house.  The three of us carried the boxes into the studio.  I refused to allow Claude to carry them up the stairs.  

 We piled them in the office.  There was just enough space to open the first one.  Inside it we found an old backdrop.  It had once been white satin.  It was now a glorious golden color.  it was no doubt a left over from the twenties. They were a time of more glamorous portraits.  I refused to allow Helen to toss it.  

 "This is going to be a long night," Helen complained.

 "Hey, this was your idea not mine.  This stuff could have stayed right there for another fifty years as far as I was concerned."   The contents from most of the boxes might have been of interest to a museum, but not to me.  Generally they were things like manuals for lights or camera's long since gone.  I saved only a few items that looked as if they might be of interest for later study.  

 Helen saved a couple of boxes containing samples from her father's early studio days.  The others were consigned to the trailer until it was full.  Then they were piled unceremoniously on the corner of the parking area to await a second trailer.  Helen had already arranged for the city to switch the full one for another empty one the next morning.

 I took them to the Elms for dinner half way through the boxes.  By the time dinner was complete they knew the status of everything happening.  After dinner we finished the boxes then went to bed.  

 In spite of my warnings I heard Helen moaning in French again.  God I hated that.  I tried to think of someone to call but gave up.  I really hadn't been very social that last year.  I had gone out with a couple of women but nothing much came of it.  We slept together for a while then each found a different reason to move on to someone else.

 I decided during an especially loud moan that I needed to start looking for a woman again.  As a matter of fact it would have been better, if I had looked last month.  

 I couldn't sleep so I dressed in my black outfit and went to the rear door.  I stood in the dark for a long time just looking out.  I saw a shadow move. At first I thought I had been mistaken.  I let my eyes move across the area several times until I saw it again.  Whoever was watching wasn't especially good at it.  Once I spotted the area I began to not only see him but to hear him as well.  The person shifted their weight from one foot to another fairly regularly.  I slipped from the back of the house to the front.  I looked out the window for a long time.  I was trying to determine, if I was being watched from that angle.  I looked for a car since cops are notoriously lazy.  I finally caught sight of a windshield about half a block away which was fogged.  

 The car wasn't a patrol car.  In a small town the local cops used their personal cars for stake outs.  I at least rated two officers.  I almost went back to bed.  Instead I decided to make sure they were indeed cops.  After all someone had offed Timmy.  

 Getting out of the studio wasn't really much of a problem.  I checked each side of the house carefully to make sure there was only two.  When I had satisfied myself that there were no others, I went up and softly knocked on Helen's door.  When she opened it, she was about to give me hell.  She didn't like being disturbed, no matter what my rules where.  When she took a look at the black outfit, she knew that something was wrong.

 "The house is being watched I whispered softly.  You two stay inside and near the phone.  Call the police, if you hear anyone trying to get into the house."

 "What are you going to do?"

 "I am going to find out who is watching us.  Don't worry too much I think it is the cops.  I don't know why they would be watching me now."

 Helen nodded.  I knew she would explain it all to Claude.  I returned to the downstairs and my spider hole.  When I moved in and began working on my night stalking routine, I cut a trap door under a carpet in the dining room.  I also kept the crawl space door hinges well greased.  I pulled back the rug and opened the door.  I slipped into the hole then returned the rug.  I never turned on any of the downstairs lights so there were none to kill.  I carefully crawled to the opening in the foundation and gently opened the black painted door.  I doubted that the watchers even knew there was a door.  I wasn't even sure if the one near the house was in a line of sight to it.

 Since the parking lot was gravel the door opened onto the grass at the left side of the house.  It was black as pitch outside since I never allowed any outside lights to burn after ten.  I slipped into the path I had created with my almost nightly crawls.  I could move only a short distance before it became necessary to move from the path.  I had almost gone for the car since if the driver heard a slight noise he would have been less suspicious.  I knew his partner would be coming back sometime.

 I decided that I would lie low somewhere along the route of the partners return.  I could at least get a look at my watcher.  From the position of the car, my guess was that the watcher at my rear would be moving into the neighbor's yard.  He could then walk through it to the car.  I didn't think he would be comfortable enough in the woods to risk walking them at night.  

 I crawled slowly and carefully to the edge of my wooded lot.  I reached the neighbor's lawn.  I found the small fenced area.  The fence surrounded the neighbors trash cans.  I got as comfortable as I dared to begin the wait.  Anyone who looked directly at me would see no more than the shadow of a large tree cast my the moonlight.  The watcher would almost have to trip over me to see me.  

 It was somewhere around two in the morning when I heard the noise in the woods.  It sounded like a herd of elephants moving.  I waited until the man broke cover.  He stopped and I heard him say into a hand held radio.  "He isn't moving tonight Harry.  I am coming in so don't shoot me by mistake."

 I heard the muffled reply though I couldn't make out the words.  I was tempted to grab him as he passed within five feet of me.  Instead I let him pass then moved quickly behind my neighbor's house.  I moved to the far side.  The watcher moved much slower since he was so poorly prepared for the night movements.  I managed to get behind the car before it pulled away.  I memorized the license number then faded back into the woods.  

 When the car had gone, I returned to the house.  I crawled back into the house through my spider hole.  "Don't turn on the light,"  I instructed Helen as I entered her room.  I had knocked softly first so as not to frighten them.

 "So who was it?" she asked.

 "I got no idea.  I didn't recognize the man who passed me or the car.  I got the plate though.  I will get Jake's assistant to run it for me tomorrow.  They were some kind of cops so try to get some sleep."

 "How do you know?" Claude asked.  He seemed to follow the conversation pretty well when he wanted to.

 "Two way radios, cops aren't the only ones who use them, but they sounded like cops to me.  I don't know if they weren't local, the could have been state or feds.  You know the locals can request help anytime."

 "Yeah, but I can't see them doing that.  You always said they hated feds and even the state boys."

 "I know, but it was a cop killing.  They may not want to be accused of not doing enough.  You know Timmy could have pissed off a brother officer."

 "I never thought of that.  You really are as good as they say aren't you."

  "I don't know.   How good do they say I am?"

 "They say you move and think like a ghost."

 "I wish they would stop with that ghost thing.  I really hate that."  I turned before she could say more.  I walked out the door then into my room.  I fell asleep immediately.  I was troubled with dreams that night.  They come without warning and for no apparent reason.  The walks didn't trigger them.  The physical danger actually seemed to keep them at bay usually.  That night I dreamed of small brown men with shotguns.  I never saw a slope with a shotgun.  Not in real life, but there they were in my dream.

 Helen and Claude were busy working on French rolls and coffee when I passed.  No one asked me to join them.  It was just as well.  I wouldn't have anyway.  I was off to the Elms.  I sat in my usual breakfast booth while I had my usual breakfast.  I am a creature of habit, but not too much habit.

 "Linc, what did the Police want with you yesterday."  E asked me.

 "Somebody iced Timmy.  They wanted to make sure it wasn't me."

 "Hell all they had to do was ask us.  We could have told them."  He turned to the morning regulars.  "Well couldn't we."

 "Yeah,"  A young black man in the back said.  "Hell we all know he done it.  That cracker cop was in his face.  Everybody knows the ghost don't take that crap."

 "Jamie, if you call me that again, I am going to come back there and kick your ass."

 He laughed.  "You know I was just kidding man.  That's what them slopes call you man.  I didn't mean nothin'."

 "I know Jamie.  I just hate that name,"  I said.  We were both backing down as gracefully as possible.  

 "Besides man, we know you didn't kill that cop.  Why should you bother to step on that piss ant.  He was headed down anyway.  We all heard he got caught settin' somebody up.  Hell, he get in the joint man they gonna turn him into a bitch."  A young black hoodlum said.

 "You would know about that wouldn't you Martin?" I asked.

 "I would indeed Mr. Linc.  You need to get them cops off your ass?  You come to me.  I be glad to help you out."

 "You hate cops that much Martin?"

 "Yeah, I hates them some, but it's somethin' else.  You don't remember but your daddy and my grand pappy they played ball together.  My Grand pappy he raised me.  I was just a kid when you come back from the war.  I got the worst whuppin of my life cause I laughed at you.  I laughed cause you couldn't remember anybody's name.  I thought you was retarded or somethin'.  I was talkin' to a friend on the porch.  We was laughin' cause you couldn't remember your way home once.  Grand pappy Amos he jerked me up by the arm and he lit into hittin' me with a switch.

 'Boy'  he says to me.  "There ain't but two white men in this here town got any balls.  That one you laughin' at, and his daddy.  I was the first nigger to play baseball for the white mill team.  I played when they wouldn't let us play.  I played because his pappy told them I could play better than him.  Now his daddy was the best ball player in this town.  His pappy whispered to me.















 "'You better play good cause if'n you don't them other white boys be likely to whip both our asses.  That boy there he got the same balls his daddy had.  Half his head got blowed off by some slant eyed mother fucker over in some far off place.  If that boy ever needs help and you don't help him, I'm gonna whip your ass till your nose bleeds.'  He never got the chance to do nothin' for your daddy. I sure would be proud to do something for you."

 "Martin, if there is ever anything you can do, I would be proud to have you beside me.  Right now all I need is information.  I really do need to know one thing.  You might be able to help me with it."

 "What's that Mr. Linc."

 "There was a couple of men watching my house last night.  I got a pretty good look at one of them.  I didn't recognize him.  I think he might be a state or federal man.  I sure would like to know which.  I got a license plate number but you know they will have the plate ID buried.  If it is a state or federal cop."

 "You want me to call Silvy over at the Motel?  If there are any out of town cops stayin' there she will know."

 "I sure would appreciate it.  I think, if you do that your grand father will be satisfied.  Me and you can call it square."

 "Be right back Mr. Linc."

 "Martin why does everybody call me Mr. Linc.  Nobody calls anybody else around here Mr. anymore?"

 "It's not like when we used to call everybody that.  You know in those days it wasn't really a sign of respect.  You people just thought it was.  In your case it was the name Miss Lois gave you.  She was old school.  When she ran this place you did things her way or you found yourself another place to eat.  Far as I know there were two people she raised hell, if we didn't call Mr. and Miss.  You and that no good white trash wife of yours.  I didn't mean to offend you."

 "You didn't Martin.  I have to wonder, if she could help herself.  She was probably as much a victim of her looks as anything else."

 "I don't know about that Mr. Linc.  She was a looker for sure, but she was plain bad.  She must have had some good cause Miss Lois sure did love that girl.  She hated to see you marry her, but she still loved her anyway.  I got to go call Silvy."

 I watched him walk to the phone. I thought again how much I wished I could remember my dad.  The stories I heard made him seem alive.  I would really have liked to have remembered the man for myself. He must have been something from the stories.  People loved to tell me stories about him and my mom.  God the two of them must have really been something.  I never heard of either doing anybody wrong, black or white.  I wished I could say that about myself.

 "Silvy checked the registration cards for the last two days and found your men.  The license you gave belongs to two SBI men.  They checked in with a woman.  They checked in yesterday afternoon."

 "Damn, the Sheriff didn't waste anytime dumping this one on the state.  Listen Martin I appreciate this.  If I can help you or Silvy, you call me."

 "Actually Mr. Linc there is something that would really tickle Silvy."

 "Name it."  It was a safe thing to say.  People down here don't ask for more than you can give.

 "You know that fancy antique picture you made for Miss Julie."

 "Yeah I know it."

 "Silvy always admired that picture.  Every time she came in here she would remark on it.  I don't suppose you would make one of her.  I be glad to pay you."

 "Martin, I ain't made one of those since Julie died.  I'll tell you what.  You pay for the materials and I will make Silvy one.  It will cost  you about twenty five bucks."

 "I will have Silvy call you for an appointment.  By the way you might want this."

 Martin handed me a green restaurant ticket.  In the spot where the food order is normally written, there were two room numbers.  

 "Why I do thank you sir.  I believe I am going to go pay these gentlemen a visit."

 "You want to take a few of us along.  I may be named Martin, but I never did believe in that non violence bullshit."

 "Martin you are still on parole.  Besides, you don't want to get Silvy in trouble do you."

 "You are right.  You aren't going in there alone are you.  They gonna railroad your ass for sure."

 "Nope, I'm going to take the police chief with me."  I thought the whole place would fall out laughing.  "I don't think I will tell him who they are though.  I believe I will have him arrest them for trespass."  They hooted again.

 I drove to the police station.  I asked the chief to take a ride with me.  He didn't like it, but I assured him it was important.  I also reminded him that I had taken a ride with him yesterday.

 Fifteen minutes later I parked in front of one of the rooms.  I didn't know for sure which person was in which room.  I took a chance when I knocked on the door.  When the door opened, I recognized the man as my watcher.  "Chief would you please arrest this man.  He is a peeping tom.  I caught him watching my house last night while Helen and her frog boyfriend were making it in her room."

 "Is that right young man?"  The chief asked.

 "Wait a minute chief.  This man is crazy.  I wasn't watching any house last night."

 "Chief not only can I identify him, but I can give you the license plate number of his car.  If we check inside we will find a pair of navy blue cotton pants and a slightly lighter colored blue wind breaker.  Also he should have clay on his shoes from the James' back yard."

 "Well young man I think I would like to see some Id.  I believe, if the license plate number checks out I am going to need a search warrant."

 "Okay, okay here."  He handed the Chief his wallet with his badge.

 "Linc it seems that the SBI had a   team watching your house last night.  At least, if these men were there that is what was happening.  Well Thomas were you watching Linc's house last night."



  "Yes I was. But I wasn't on his property."

 "Try again.  You were standing in the shadow of my carriage house.  You really should find a new job.  Man, you are pretty bad at this one."

 "Why don't you come in so that we can talk this over."  I recognized the voice before she walked into the doorway.

 "I will be damned.  Sally, I am surprised to see you.  Surely Twiddle dumb and Twiddle dumber aren't your partners?"

  "Sort of they work for me.  I head up the stake out department these days."

 "I guess good help is hard to find after all."

 "You two know each other?" The chief asked.

 "Oh yeah," Sally said.

 "From a long time ago chief.  If I had known it was Sally, I wouldn't have bothered you."

 "Somebody tell me what is going on please?" the chief asked.

 "Sally saved my life the night your predecessor was murdered," I said.

 "I knew I would live to regret it," Sally said.

 "What makes you say that?"  The chief asked.

 "Mr. Jefferson is supposed to have murdered one of your men chief.  I would think you would be a little more upset."

  "There is absolutely no evidence linking Mr. Jefferson to that crime as of yet.  Till there is, he is entitled to the same protections as any other citizens of my town."

 "Chief I know Linc pretty well.  I hear they had an argument in which Mr. Smothers threatened Linc.  If that is true, then Linc is more than capable of murdering your man to prevent an attack.  Especially with friends staying at his house.  Friends who might be injured in the cross fire."  

 She saw the chief's look of bewilderment.  "Tell him Linc.  Could you have done it, if you thought Smothers was coming for you that night?"

 "I have never killed an unarmed man."

 "Really how about the Vietnamese boy five years ago."

 "You know damned well that was reflex.  His step mother shot me and I jerked the trigger."

  "I was there.  I only heard one shot.  That means you fired at the same time.  You sensed she was going to shoot, so you sent his brains all over his sister."

 "That wasn't my story."

 "I know but you did it just the same.  If his step mother hadn't fired, you would have faced a murder rap."

 "So to change the subject, why are you and the two invisible men stalking me."

 "If it had been me lover, you would never have spotted me.  You sure as hell wouldn't have gotten close enough to identify me."

 "I really do think you should answer his question Miss?"

 "Rierson, Chief, Sally Rierson.  If I were you, I would be careful.  People around this man tend to die."

 "I have heard all that.  Not too many of them seemed to be missed.  Now exactly why were you watching his house?"

 "The sheriff got a tip that he would be going out to pick up the murder weapon.  We were called in to follow him, if he left.  If not that, then to stake out the house to see who came and went."

 "So you and the sheriff are asshole buddies now,"  I guessed.

 "Not hardly,  off the record chief your sheriff is a jerk.  I tried to tell him we couldn't do what he wanted.  He just wouldn't listen.  Now that we are blown, I guess we can go home."

 "Probably not I'm sure the sheriff will want you to stay.  After all you know me pretty well.  Besides there may not be another person around who could follow me."

 "I don't know.  I hear you have been practicing.  You were pretty good then.  Maybe now you are better than me."

 "I was always better than you Sally.  I just never showed you."

 "You prick," She wasn't even smiling.

 I passed on the chance to embarrass her.  Instead I said, "Well have a nice trip home.  I leave you with the words of F. Lee Bailey.  'Some people just deserve to die.'  That slant was one of them.  He killed his own father."

 "Maybe so, but it wasn't for you to decide."

 "Who else was there?"

 "Chief arrest him.  You just heard him admit to killing the kid."

  "That's not what I heard at all.  Besides did you see the crime scene shots of the last chief?"

 "I saw them," Sally said.

 "If you still think I should arrest him, then you are a nut.  Come on Linc let's get out of here."

 Driving back to the station my mind was going faster than the Jeep.  "You know chief, something is really wrong with this case."

 "How so?"

 "Well assume for a moment that I didn't pop the cap on Timmy."

 "Okay I can do that."

 "All right then who did.  My first guess was Williard or one of the kids junky friends, but maybe not.  I mean somebody gave that phony tip the the Sheriff.  If it wasn't a prank, then someone wants to throw the blame on me real bad."

 "Why?"

 "I have no idea.  If it wasn't a crank who called, then the killer is probably not Williard or even a friend of the kid's.  Try this one on for size.  Timmy is going to do some time.  Like my friends at the Elms say.  He was going to do some bitch time, if he went in.  Timmy is scared.  He starts calling people who can help keep him out.  He starts threatening them with something or other.  They kill him to keep it quiet."  

 "Then if you have a crime you have to have a perpetrator.  'Why sure 'nough we will just throw them old Linc.  Everyone knows he is crazy enough to kill Timmy for threatening him.'"

 "It's a lot of guesses but it might fit the facts.  I guess we should start looking at good old Timmy.  You know follow the money sort of thing."

 "Damn you are sharp.  Would you let me know if there is anything in Timmy's bank account that shouldn't be there.  Especially his safety deposit box.  He wasn't married was he."

 "I'll check the box.  No he wasn't married. Only thing he had was a sister in Greensboro.  I'll give the locals a call."

 "Why don't you do that.  I'll ride down there tomorrow.  We might find out something that they wouldn't even ask."

 "Okay, but next time we drive my car."

 "Good make the appointment and I will be there.  Damn!"

 "What is it?"

 "I forgot, I was supposed to make a real estate agents photo today."

 "Oh well the next thing you know, you are going to be as poor as a cop."

 "God I hope not."

 I dropped the chief at the station and rushed off home.  I had missed the realtor.  I still had hopes of calling to reschedule the appointment.  I pulled into the drive.  In the parking lot I found another trailer filled almost to the top.  There were also a couple of dozen boxes stacked in the corner of the parking lot.

 Since neither of my boarders were to be found in the carriage house, I went into the studio.  I found Claude soaking wet and looking rather ragged.  He was sitting at the office desk drinking iced tea.  I heard Helen's voice in the studio.  I decided not to bother her until she finished what ever she was doing.

 "I am becoming addicted to your iced tea," Claude said.

 "I know the damned stuff is worse than heroine."

 "Yes that may be so.  Helen is with a customer of yours at the moment.  She said she wouldn't be long."

 "I think I will have a glass of tea myself.  I really don't want to interrupt her,"  I whispered."    A few minutes later I heard the front door close.

 "You are really a lousy businessman.  That is twice I have had to cover your sorry ass,"  Helen said.

 "I know, but I had to finish last night's business.   I also promised I would run to Greensboro with the chief tomorrow.  Could you cover a bridal portrait in the morning."

 "I guess."

 "Why are you going to Greensboro?" Claude asked.

 "We are going to talk to the murdered cops sister.  Something stinks to high heaven about this whole thing."

 "Come on Claude let's get back to the cleaning."

 "Slave driver," Claude said in English for my benefit.  I laughed for his.  Helen didn't laugh.  She didn't seem all that happy.  Oh well that was her problem.  God knows I had enough of my own.  I had to go shoot a million dollar house for a realty brochure.  The builder had rescheduled it three times.  I explained that if he did it again, I would have to charge him for the cancellations.

 I arrived at the house.  I waited about ten minutes for the builder to arrive.  I had already picked the best angle for the front exterior shot.  I was about to shoot the picture when he approached me.  "How they hangin' Linc?"

 "They ain't been emptied in so long Ernest they are hangin' mighty low.  How about you?"

 "Fair to partly cloudy, I reckon.  If your love life is as empty as I hear, why don't you give Erlene a call.  She always liked you.  If I remember, you used to like her too."

 "I did and I still do Ernest, but why are you pimpin' your sister."

 "Hell, I got to get her out of the house Linc.  Her and Thelma get together and they drive me nuts.  You wouldn't think my wife and sister would plot against me like they do."

 "And you want me to take her off your hands.  Thanks a lot Ernest.  What did I ever do to you?"

 "Hey it ain't all bad.  You know Erlene is great in bed."

 "You ain't speakin' from experience are you Ernest."

 "Hell no that was my cousin."

 "Sure,  come on down and open this monster for me.  I got more places to go than this."

 I spent an hour working in the house.  I figured I had about every room covered from a couple of different angles.  I might clear seventy bucks on the job.  I doubted it more likely fifty.  I packed up my gear then climbed back into the jeep.

 "Linc, please call Erlene.  I know she would love to see you again."

 "Hell Ernest you know Helen is back."

 "Yeah but I hear she's got a frog boyfriend.  Besides Erlene would probably do a threesome."

 "Damn Ernest you really are desperate."

 "You know it.  So how about it.  At least take her off my hands once in a while.  Thelma is gettin' so she won't do it with Erlene in the house.  She says she feels guilty."

 "I might call.  I ain't guaranteeing nothing."

 "Close enough, keep your powder dry."

 "You too Ernest, by the way Ernest do you know anything about that cop who got himself shot?"

 "Yeah he should have kept his mouth shut."

 "What does that mean?  It means he shouldn't have been running off at the mouth all over town.  He was talking about how he was gonna come get you.  Man like that is asking to get himself killed."

 "Hey man, I didn't do him."

 "Well then maybe one of your friends did."

 That one kept me busy all the way back to the studio.  I had good friends but it never occurred to me that one of them might have killed Timmy for me.  I certainly wouldn't have wanted anyone to do it.  Then again nobody asked me to get involved in half the stuff I got into.  I stopped in at the new rainbow steak house for a burger.  Over ten million sold.  Damn that was a lot of half assed hamburgers.

 Later I pulled into the parking lot behind my studio.  I found Helen and Claude sitting on the back porch entertaining Sally.  I almost turned the jeep around.  Instead I parked beside the dump trailer.  I walked slowly to the porch.  I felt like a man going to an execution.

 "To what do I owe this honor?"  I asked it not very friendly.

 "Why are you being so sarcastic to Sally?  I thought you two were friends?"  Helen asked.

 "I thought so myself once."

 "The chief called my boss.  He convinced him that I could be of some use as liaison.  I called him and found out that you seem to be running things again.  I came to tell you that I think this sucks."

 "Gee, you could have called on the phone for that."

 "I know.  I also wanted to talk to you.  Is there somewhere we can go?"

 "Sure we can go into the studio."  I led the way as she followed.  "Exactly what the fuck is your problem?"  I asked it once we were out of earshot.

 "You are my problem.  I loved you once.  Now I find it hard to be in the same room with you."

 "Not because I capped that fucking slope five years ago?  You know he needed killing.  Hell no one else would have."  I never would have said it, if I thought she was wired.  I was taking a chance that she wasn't.

 She hung her head.  "No, it wasn't that."

 "It certainly wasn't because you popped those two?  Those weren't the first ones you had to kill."

 "You're right that isn't it either."

 "Well for god sakes what the hell is it?"

 "It's because I am afraid of you."

 "Bullshit, why should you be afraid of me?"

 "Because I love you.  One of these days you are going to wind up in prison or a body bag."

 "You mean to tell me that you hate me because you love me?"

 "No, it is because I either have to hate you or love you.  I don't want to love you because it is too dangerous.  I know that one day I will loose you.  I promised myself that I would never love anyone that way again.  I never told you but I was married once myself."

 "I could tell you suffered when Julie was murdered.  I have been there myself.  I just can't go through that again.  You are just too dangerous to love."

 "Why are you telling me this now?"

 "Because I have decided that I am not going to make myself miserable hating or loving you.  We were friends before we were lovers.  We can be again.  I think I can care about you without being in love with you.  Besides I have met a nice guy.  One I don't love so much.  He has asked me to marry him.  I decided that when I get back to Raleigh I am going to say yes."

 "I can't honestly say that I am glad.  I can say, that I wish you all the happiness in the world."

 "Thank you,  I am going to have to work with you and the chief for a few days so let's bury the hatchet."

 "As long as it isn't in my skull I agree."  She laughed for the first time.  We shook hands then she left.  I thought to myself that she would never be happy, not with me or any other man.

 I found a couple of notes on the desk in my office.  I returned the calls from a couple of brides.  I gave them prices.  I set up an appointment.  When I got off the phone I walked out the back door. The stack of boxes had grown to forty or so.  I hadn't realized there were so many.  Evidently Helen's father had used the upper floor more for boxes than junk.  I didn't see the trunk among the boxes so I assumed she left it up there.

 I climbed the stairs to find the single room empty.  I checked in the bottom room and found it equally empty.  It took me a moment to realize they were in the house.  That probably meant they were making love.  God I felt really lonely.

 I returned to the house.  From there I dialed the North Carolina Bank.  "Yes could I speak to Erlene Roberts please?"  I waited a few seconds till she answered.  

 "Erlene I ran into your brother today.  I asked him if you were seeing anybody.  He told me he didn't think so, at least not right now.  I wondered, would you would like to have dinner with me tonight."  I explained that I wanted to invite Helen and her boyfriend.  I felt that I should have a date so as not to feel too out of place.   She agreed.  I suggested that I pick her up at seven thirty at her brother's house.  

 "Wonderful,  I wondered when you would call me again.  I will be looking forward to seeing you." she said as she hung up the phone.

  Helen and Claude came down around four.  I quickly invited them before they went back to bed.  I explained to them that I had made a decision about the studio.  I agreed to explain it over dinner.  The studio only had one full bath so we needed a long time for showers before dinner.  We all agreed that the boxes would wait until the next morning.

 The next day was Saturday, so it would not be a problem.  I had a wedding at four but we should be finished easily by then.  It didn't really matter.  We had the trailer until Monday anyway.  I had forgotten the wedding when I agreed to go to Greensboro with the chief.  I quickly called him to changed the date to Sunday.  He wasn't crazy about it but finally agreed.

 Helen drove the big sedan.  The one she had bought upon her return to town.  Erlene and I rode in the back seat.  The thing about Erlene I had forgotten was that she talked a lot.  She was a rather plain woman whose features brightened considerably, when she became animated.  She seemed to be having a grand time talking to Claude and Helen.  I was able to sit back and just relax.

 Erlene's bleached blond hair bounced with the movements of her head.  Her head stayed in constant motion since it moved every time she spoke.  Her brown eyes were dark.  They lit up when she laughed. Her chest also heaved as she laughed.  I caught Claude looking down her low neckline a couple of times.  

 I though he might be a better match for her than me.  He probably only caught a few words of her conversation.  She was a few pounds overweight but Claude didn't seem to mind.  The extra pounds made her buttons strain across her breasts.  Her hips were a little too large.  They were however in proportion to her chest.  She was actually a nice looking woman.

 During dinner Erlene dominated the conversation.  She seemed to aim much of it at Claude.  She was so obvious at it that Helen began to get annoyed.  I could do nothing but watch.  It was all I wanted to do anyway.  

 After dinner we danced.  I danced with Erlene for a while then Helen.  As soon as Helen and I got on the floor she began on me.  "What the devil is wrong with Erlene?  She had better stop flirting with Claude or I am going to deck her."

 "I don't know what her problem is.  I am not going to jump her case though."

 "Why not?  She is your date."

 "I asked her out as a favor to Ernest.  I don't much care what she does.  Besides tell Claude not to encourage her.  You can speak to him in French.  She won't understand."

 "Speak to him hell.  I am going to cut his tool off if he keeps this up."

  "Well that is between you and Claude."

  "Bullshit, you knew what she was like.  You invited her just to make me angry.  Well it worked.  I am mad as hell at you."

 "Grow up Helen this is really pretty harmless."

 "Your idea of harmless is pretty sad.  Like sleeping with that bitch Sally while we were going together."

 "We were never going together.  I slept with a lot of women during that time.  Why suddenly bring up Sally?"

 "Because she admitted it to me while we were waiting for you.  At least none of the others rubbed my nose in it."

 "Rubbed your nose in what?  We weren't going together."

 "I know.  I wasn't woman enough to hold on to you.  I had a chance, but no one could hold you after that bitch Julie.  Tell me what made Julie so damned special."

 "I think it is time we went home."

 "You haven't got the balls to tell me what was so special about her do you?"

 "I guess not."

 "Did she have some magic trick in bed.  I can't imagine what she could have done for you that I didn't."

 "You are right there was nothing."

 "Bullshit, tell me what she did that I didn't."

 "Helen damn it I don't want to have this discussion."

 "Tell me.  Maybe I can do it for Claude."

 She finally pushed me to the point that I didn't give a damn if I hurt her or not.  "Okay damn it I will tell you.  She fucking enjoyed it.  She didn't just do it to make me happy.  She enjoyed doing it.  All of it turned her on as much as it did me.  Now can we leave."

 She burst into tears then ran from the room.  I watched as Erlene followed her into the bathroom.  I returned to the table to sit across from Claude.  He looked as though he was about to speak.  I shook my head.  He understood that he better not.

 The two of them returned after a long absence.  They were the best of friends when they got back.  They both laughed and joked for a long time.  They more of less ignored Claude and me.  I didn't mind but it drove Claude a little nuts.  He often spoke to Helen in French.  She would respond in a light hearted manner which drove Claude to even greater depths of depression.

 We left only when the lounge closed at midnight.  Helen drove us to the studio.  The two women had some kind of plan to which neither Claude nor I was privy.  What ever the plan was it fell apart when we reached the studio.  We found the back door standing open.  I forced them all back to the car.  I told Helen to drive to the seven eleven.  She was to use the pay phone to call the cops.  "Tell them I am inside.  I want them to be careful who the hell they shoot."

 Once they had gone, I slipped into the rear door.  The house was in total darkness.  Odds were pretty good that who ever had visited was gone.  I waited in the inner porch until my eyes adjusted to the dark.  Then I slipped silently into the office.  The silent part was difficult since most of my papers and equipment were scattered about the floor.  I could barely see.  It was actually a positive thing.  I was sure the others couldn't see at all.  Since there wasn't even a small beam of light I assumed the burglar was gone.  

 I walked as quietly as possible through the downstairs.  I found nothing.  I climbed the front stairs as quietly as I could.  At least the stairs were clear of clutter.  I was half way through the upstairs when I heard the cars pull into the lot.  I stood perfectly still to listened.  There was no apparent movement.  I finally concluded that I was alone in the house.  I began turning on lights.  I found every drawer had been dumped on the floor.  I walked down the stairs to turn on more lights.  The patrolmen waited outside until I emerged.  I explained to them that the house was empty.  I guided everyone back into the house.  I checked on my equipment while they did their crime scene investigation.

 I the all the equipment present.  The person who went through the house was looking for something in particular.  I didn't have anything that would warrant that kind of search.  The searcher obviously didn't know that.

 I found that the back on one of my Leicas was sprung.  Damn I thought.  I had planned to use it on the next day's wedding.  I still had one of them but I needed them both.  I would have to take the old SLR.  I hated that.  The damned thing made so much noise that it was embarrassing.

 "I'm going to bed.  You guys do what you want."  I declared after the police left.  I closed and threw the bolt on the rear door.  I went to my room there I undressed.  I lay on the bed waiting for sleep to come to me.  Instead Erlene came.  I had been expecting her since Helen hadn't taken her home.  I waited while she undressed.  She was indeed a beautiful woman.  More so without her clothes.  We made love after which I fell asleep.  

 She woke me later that night.  I had really slept soundly for the first time in a long time.  I felt her hands on me.  As soon as I was awake she tied a cloth around my head and told me to relax.  I felt her leave the bed.  I supposed to get something from her bag.  A moment later she was back.  We made love a second time.  She was just as enthusiastic as the first time.  I fell asleep with the blindfold still in place.

 When I awoke the next morning Erlene was not to be found.  I really didn't look very hard.  I figured she had gone down to breakfast with Helen and Claude.  When I arose from the bed, I was reminded of the break in the night before.  I showered then dressed in my everyday clothes.   I had plenty of work to do before my wedding.

 I found  Helen and Claude in the  kitchen.  "Have you seen Erlene?" I asked.   

 "We left her asleep upstairs," Helen answered.  

 I had to ask though I wasn't sure I wanted the answer.  "And in which bed would that be?"

 "Ours of course," Helen answered.  "That girl is certainly a handful."

 "Forget I asked.  I really don't want the details."

 "Fine, I don't particularly want to discuss it anyway."

 "Would you like a cup of coffee Linc?" Claude asked.

 "Sure why not," I answered.  I busied myself with drinking it.  I was into the second one when Erlene came down the stairs.  She came to me and kissed me sleepily.  She then went over and kissed Claude exactly the same.  I was most surprised when she also kissed Helen.  The kiss was exactly as she had kissed Claude and me.  

 When she finished.  She spoke to us as a group.  "I had a wonderful time last night, but I really have to get home.  Could one of you drive me."

 Before I could speak, Helen volunteered.  The two of them were out the door before I could get a word in.  When the door closed, I almost asked Claude for an explanation.  I decided to hell with it instead.  I really didn't care anyway.

 "I'm going to go through those last boxes.  If anyone calls, come get me please."   I said it as I walked out.  I began with the larger ones.  They seemed to be mostly old clothes.  I almost tossed them before I realized that they were costumes.  Evidently Helen's father had either run or at least thought about a costume studio.

 Mele of days before.  I could sure have used the cameras on the wedding.  The problem was that they had been stored so long.  I would need to check them out well before I used them on a paying job.  

 I found that I had to leave for the wedding before I even finished inspecting the boxes.  I showered, then dressed quickly.  The wedding was local so the drive took only a few minutes. 

 I actually got through the wedding with one camera which was usually the case.  One thing was for sure.  If you only have one camera, you would break it.  If you have two cameras in your bag neither one will break.

 I was home by ten.  I almost expected to see Erlene.  It was a good thing I hadn't expected it.  I just hated to be disappointed.  Erlene was not to be found but Sally was.  

 "I called to tell you the chief wants to leave for Greensboro at eight.  I tried to leave the message with Helen.  She insisted that I come spend the night here.  Since I wasn't doing anything I agreed.  I agreed only after she assured me there was an extra bedroom.  I hope it is okay with you?  Helen said it would be."

 "Of course you are always welcome where ever I am.  I had no idea that you would ever want to sleep under the same roof with me again.  Even if it were in separate rooms."

  "It did take me almost five seconds to agree.  Helen and Claude are so cute together.  I hope I haven't been putting them out any."

 "I doubt it.  They seem to enjoy company.  Don't you?"  The last was directed to Helen.

  "Oh sure, we absolutely love to have guest spend the night."  Helen giggled when she said it.  Sally looked at me.  I shrugged.  

 I don't know what the rest of them did but I slept alone that night.  I was up around three getting a glass of water while working the camera to keep from loosing my mind.  I didn't hear anyone.  I had to assume that everyone was in their proper beds.  I didn't know for sure those days.

 I was the first one awake on that Sunday morning.  I started breakfast hoping the smell would wake them.  I usually kept enough food around for a couple of breakfasts alone.  Since I was cooking for four I made omelets from everything in the cabinet.

 The smell of coffee brought them all running.  Since I have only one full bath they came at various times.  When everyone had arrived, I began cooking the giant omelet.  My omelets don't have any little green things floating in them.  They do have hash brown potatoes, canned sausage, onions, cheese and about a half dozen eggs.  The omelet doesn't look all that good but it tastes great.  At least I think so.  It must have been okay with the others since I didn't throw any of it away.

 I was working on my third coffee when the new chief drove up.  Sally and I walked out to meet  him.  He wasn't at all surprised to find us together.  I would have expected him to be.  After all, Sally had insisted that he arrest me.

 "Linc, I heard about the break in.  What the hell is going on?" the chief asked.

 "I have no idea.   It may be just the biggest string of coincidences in history.  Then again it could all be tied together some convoluted way."

 "I choose B," Sally said.   "I don't really believe in coincidence."

 "I have to go along with Sally," the chief said.

 "If you two are right, then I am lost.  It looks like we can forget about one of Timmy's unhappy customers doing him at least."

 "I agree with that.  I still like the blackmail thing.  At least it would make a little sense."

 "Why would anyone think I had Timmy's blackmail information.  I guess someone might think I killed him.   If the person who broke in thought I had Timmy's information, he obviously wasn't the one who killed him.  It just keeps going round and round."

 "Unless there were two or more people on Timmy's list.  One of the ones who didn't do Timbo thinks you did.  That second one comes to search your house."

 "Then  it is still coincidence.  I don't know.   Let's hope we can either nail down or dump the blackmail theory today.  I need to start coming up with some answers."

 "By the way Linc, I thought I would bring something for you to read on the drive down."  The chief handed me a manila folder.  Inside it was the Medical Examiners report.

 It went into much greater detail than I wanted.  It told me the results of a shotgun blast to the head.  One thing that was interesting was that there were distinct powder burns near the entry path of the shotgun pellets.  "Anything strike you as odd in this report chief?"

 "The powder burns you mean?"

 "Yeah, it is kind of hard to sneak up on someone while  holding a shotgun.  If the person were seen, there wouldn't be much of an explanation possible."

 "That's why you were a suspect.  Finally the Sheriff decided that even you couldn't sneak up on a man with all the lights in the house burning.  Timmy certainly wouldn't stand still for you to stick a shotgun in his mouth."

 "Who would he stand still for."

 "Nobody, we figure that he must have been sleeping.  The Sheriff finally decided that if he were sleeping, anyone could have done it.  You were more or less demoted on the suspect list."

 "That was damned nice of him."  I  handed the report to Sally and waited while she read it.

 "God, he was really loaded when he was shot.  I doubt he could have defended himself.  Even a five year old could have popped him.  His blood alcohol level was .21.  That's a bunch."

 "I guess Timmy was working his problems out with the bottle."

 "Have you got the crime scene photos with you chief?"  I asked.

 "Sure they are in my briefcase on the floor back there with Sally."  

 Sally handed me the photos.  They were pretty damned gruesome.  I looked them over each and everyone.  I went through a couple of dozen before I had gone through them all.  I even found one of Timmy's trash can.  "No bottle," I mumbled.

 "What did you say?" Sally asked.

 "I said no liquor bottle or beer cans around.  Not even in this trash can here.  The killer must have taken it with him.  Why would he do that?"  I asked myself.

 "Beats me Linc.  Everything about this is nutty." the chief suggested.

  We interviewed Timmy's sister.  The chief was really quite good at it.  He managed to convince the sister that keeping secrets about Timmy would only help the killer get away with murder.  In the end she had very little information for us.  She cut the interview short since she had to leave for the ten o'clock service.

 I had the chief hang around town until the church service was finished.  We met her at the drive when she returned.  "Thelma?" I asked. "I didn't know Timmy very well.  Are your parents still alive?"

 "Oh yes,  they moved to Florida a couple of years ago.  Timmy and I stayed here.  I was already married by then and all Timmy's friends were here.  Besides he had just started on the police department."  She began to cry.  I am going to miss Timmy.  He was the only family I have here.  Except I have my husband and kids that is.  They are my family too, but Timmy was my blood family."

 "Timmy didn't really do what they said he did you know."

 "What do you mean Thelma?"

 "Planting a gun on that kid.  Timmy told me the kid was a hopped up junky.  He came out of that building with a gun in his hand.  Timmy shot him in self defense."

 "Did Timmy tell you that?" the chief asked.

 "Sure, he called me the night after it happened.  He told me that some crazy man made all that up.  He said it would all get straightened out soon.  I prayed for Timmy that night.  I even made a special trip to the church to light a candle for Timmy and the boy he killed.  I didn't want to see the boy in torment, even if he did try to kill my brother."  She was rambling and I motioned stop to the chief.  He looked as if he was going to cut her off.  "Timmy asked me to do that for the kid.  He was that kind of boy.  He wanted me to pray for that junky.  I loved Timmy.  I am going to miss him."

 I waited until I was sure she had finished.  "Thelma where is your husband.  We haven't met him yet.  I would like to before we leave."

 "That no account bastard left me a year ago.  No one can find him."

 "It must be hard on you and the kids?"

  "Of course it is hard.  I work in a dry cleaners.  There is never enough money for them."

 "How many kids do you have Thelma?"  Sally  had picked up where I was headed.

 "Three, a boy and two girls.  I would introduce you but they are off on a church retreat."

 "We sure hate to bother you on your one weekend off like this Thelma.  Listen I think we had better be going now."

 "He didn't do it you know.   I mean plant that gun."

 "You may be right,"  the chief said.

 "Chief, could I speak to you alone?" she asked.  The two of them went onto the porch while Sally and I returned to the car.

 "I checked his bank records yesterday."  She noticed my surprise.  "I know it was Saturday but some men find me mildly attractive.  Anyway there are no checks made out to the sister.  I wonder who got his life insurance?"

 "I'll bet you a hundred bucks that is what those two,"  I pointed to the porch. "Are discussing at this very moment.  You know if I wanted to help my sister but couldn't afford it.  I might take a little on the side.  Then I would have the problem of how to get her the money."

 "I would buy money orders at a seven eleven." Sally finished it for me.

 "Sounds right to me," I added.

 After the chief returned, we drove away.  Sally waited until the car was on the highway headed home before she began.  She explained what she and I had discussed.  The chief confirmed that Thelma was the beneficiary of Timmy's insurance.

 "Does she strike you as the type who could have driven up there to ice him for the insurance?  She  would have lost her help, if he had been fired?"  The chief suggested.

 "No she doesn't.  You still might want to check around to see if anyone knows her.  See if she ever visited Timmy."  I interjected.  

 "You know if Timmy was sending his sister money, she had to be hiding it from the Welfare people.  I mean she must be drawing something from the county since she is working a minimum wage job.  That would explain her lying to us."

 "Yeah it could at that.  How do we prove it?"  the chief asked.

 "I don't know that we can.  We might try asking some of her co workers about Timmy.  She might have dropped a hint here and there.  We don't have to prove it just now, but we do need to find out one way or the other."

 "Well you can't go around asking questions.  I don't trust any of my men to look for a dirty cop."

 "I guess I get to do the dirty work.  How about I check with the banks and convenience stores," Salley suggested.

 "That would be a good start.  If we don't find where he bought the money orders, then we can come back and talk to Thelma's friends."

 "You know,"  the chief said,  "Timmy just might be clean.  If he is we are wasting a lot of time."

 "I know but nothing else fits."

 "You still fit," the chief said.

 "That's true but I am clean. What I can't figure is why the killer thought I had anything of Timmy's.  He had to think that.  Why would he toss my place?"

 "Beats the crap out of me," Sally added it just to get into the conversation.

 The drive back turned silent.  When we arrived, Sally got out at my place again.  She didn't go in.  She got in the state car then drove away.  I knew she was off to check the seven eleven stores in the area.  I went inside to find Helen and Claude asleep.  They spent an awful lot of time in bed.   Maybe frogs were better lover's.  I walked to the carriage house to take a look around.

 The rooms seemed larger since they were empty.  I walked on the floor while I thought about the work needed to fix the place up.  It would take a lot of fixing to make it livable for the two of them. I required less in the way of creature comforts.  I could probably spend a couple of weeks cleaning out the dirt.  Then with a little painting I could move right in.  I would need a plumber to install a shower but that was about all I really needed.

 I had given Claude and Helen enough time to finish what ever they were doing.  I returned to the house.  I found them in the upstairs kitchen drinking coffee.  I poured myself a glass of  tea.  I tried to think of a way to bring up the house subject.

 Before I had the chance Sally came in.  "Guess what?" she asked.

 "You found the purchase point on the first try."

 "The second smart ass, Timmy bought and mailed a money order about once a month.  They went to his sister."

 "How much?"

 "Believe it or not the clerk remembered.  Timmy mailed them from the store.  She was curious.  She asked who the money went to every month.  She was impressed that Timmy was helping his sister."

 "OK, now that you have told me everything I didn't want to know.  How much did he send her?"

 "The same amount, three hundred bucks every month."

 "You're sure the amount didn't chang