"When the revolution comes."
It was a rare Saturday when neither Helen nor I had a wedding to shoot. It was one of those days. It was especially rare since it occurred in the fall. Usually when those days occur, it is in the dead of winter.
Helen and I were sitting on the deck outside my apartment. Ordinarily we would have been in the company of an employee. At that time we didn't have an assistant. Our last assistant was doing a eighteen month vacation at the state's expense. Helen and I sat quietly after having watched the October sun rise across Mr. and Mrs. Wilson's back yard.
"Linc what are we going to do about all the insurance and domestic work. We can't go on like this without hurting the studio. We really do need some help. You know Stella won't be coming back. She told you that at the trial."
"I know," I said to Helen. "I just hate to think about going through training another person."
"How about hiring Robbie Benton." She saw my reaction. "Come on, you don't even know the kid."
"He has had all the courses at the tech school. He can pick up our methods in a couple of days."
"He also has his own business. He is not going to work on a salary. He knows what the profit is in every job we do. He can make the money without us."
"No he can't. He is just like you when you started, living hand to mouth. We can offer him a percentage of what he does."
"Sure, then he steals the customers from us."
"Okay we just use him on insurance and domestics."
"He can steal those too. Once he learns the company names, he can go after the business."
"Linc, everybody knows who we work for. If he wanted to do that, he could do it now. Besides you have that gimp leg."
"Now exactly what does that mean?"
"I means, I would feel better if I knew there were someone I could call to help around here. You know if your knee swells to the size of a basketball, you aint worth a damn."
"That hasn't happened in couple of months. It won't happen again. I intend to take better care of it."
"Sure, since you lost your personal therapist, you hardly ever do the exercises."
"Those things were a joke. The only reason I did them was to keep her off my ass. I do the things I need to do. I walk everyday. I walk a hell of a lot at night."
"That's something else. One of these days you are going to get your ass shot off. If some hot dog cop don't get you, a home owner will. When that happens, I am going to need somebody to help me keep this place running."
"Okay, I will agree to hiring the kid on a loose basis. You know job by job. We don't find work for him to do, but he can work our overflow okay. But absolutely no wedding and no wedding referrals to him. It will be just a subcontractor period."
"Good," Helen said. "He starts on Monday." She saw my reaction. "Don't worry, I have a list of houses for him to work."
"He came to you and charmed you didn't he? Are you going to date him."
"Hell no, he is too young. Besides he is not my type."
"Oh, and what type is he. that he isn't your type. He isn't a fag is he?"
"No, he is just a sweet kid. My type of man is the real asshole type."
"I assume that will be followed by, like you."
"You got it."
The morning was warm. I removed my shirt to get a little sun to my bleached body. I saw her stare and knew it wasn't because she was turned on.
"You know, I have seen you in the hospital on many occasions. I never get used to all those scars. Tell me something?"
"How did you get that one that runs along your stomach."
"That one I got in an Atlanta night club."
"How in the world did that happen?"
"I assume you mean, how could I let that happen. Simple I didn't believe the person who did it was capable. I stood still the one and only time in my life. I wasn't expecting it and I let it happen. From then on I expected everyone I met to try and kill me. Strangely enough a lot of them have at one time or another."
"I lot more wished they had."
"Sometimes, but who was it that cut you. I assume he is dead."
"It was a her and she is. I didn't kill her though."
"Julie," I didn't volunteer anything else.
"You can't stop there how did it happen?"
"It's a long dull story."
"It may be long, but I doubt that it is dull. Julie is as much a legend in this town as you. So tell me why did Julie cut you."
"She didn't know it was me."
"It all started on my last day as a cop. I hadn't planned on it being my last day but it turned out that way. I returned home to my family's house. I expected Julie to be waiting for me when I came in the door. Of course she wasn't.
Julie's car was gone, some of her clothes and a suitcase was gone. It all spelled Julie had left me. By that time I was almost glad. I mean, I had caught her with other men. My friends began to finally tell me the facts about Julie."
"Before you go on tell me the hold she had on you. I mean you of all people, how could you tolerate her screwing around."
"Julie was Julie. She never explained or apologized. With Julie you either got over it or died pissed off. I usually got over it. She never promised me that it wouldn't happen again. It just took me a while to finally give up on her."
"So you gave up on her that night?"
"No, I should have but I didn't. I thought I had though. The phone rang a few minutes after I discovered her missing."
"Hello, Linc?" she asked.
"Who else would be answering this phone." I said.
"I can tell you are mad and you have a right to be. I just had to get away. That small town shit is getting to me. I need the bright lights for a while. I'll call you again soon."
"Before I could say anything in reply, she hung up on me. I was pissed. After that call, I got a bottle of liquor from the cabinet and began to drink. At first I was pissed, then I felt sorry for myself. After a few minutes of that, I began to take a serious look at my life. I was in a job I didn't especially like. I liked the work all right. I just didn't like the restrictions. I didn't like having to answer to anyone."
"I thought about the work I could be doing. The work I really wanted to do. I called the chief at home and quit."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that. Oh Bart tried to talk me out of it but I couldn't hear a word. I had a few bucks that Julie hadn't gone through, I had all the camera's I could use at the time. I even had a few clients."
"The one's you stole from my dad."
"Those too, I didn't have any bills. Without Julie dragging me down I could make it. I knew that I could always find a buck or two somewhere. I was in business for myself once I decided that I was."
"Ah a camera, a roll of film and a dream?"
"Something like that, the next couple of days I let it be known around that I was booking weddings. I actively looked for work. Something I had never done before. I began doing the jobs your dad wouldn't. You know lawyers and real estate."
Weren't you in a little trouble on the job at that time." Helen asked.
"Not so's you would know it. I had a run in with the Mayor's nephew but I could have beat that. No I left just to be gone." I answered
"So when did you next hear from Julie?"
"It took a week. I figured she was really gone that time. She called me late the eighth night she had been gone."
"Linc," She said. "I think I may be in trouble. Will you come help me. I am staying at the Georgian Terrace Hotel."
"She was drunk so I told her to call me when she was sober."
"You go to hell," She said.
"I hated myself for not caring but I really didn't. I thought I had enough of her to last a lifetime. I began immediately to worry about her. Maybe this time she wasn't crying wolf. Maybe she really was in trouble.
I was pretty drunk by that time so I waited till the next day. By morning I had forgotten all about her. I went out and shot a couple of pictures for a lawyer. Then dropped by the Elms for lunch. It was just a typical day.
That evening I got Julie on my mind so I called the Terrace. The clerk told me she had checked out. I began to drink and to think. Maybe she really was in trouble and had taken it on the lamb."
"You have been reading too may detective novels. Take it on the lamb?" Helen said.
"Okay, I was afraid she had run off again. Still, she might be in trouble. I spent two more days worrying about her."
"Since your dad had all the business, I was free to drive to Atlanta for the weekend. It took me five hours to drive down. I know you can do it in four.
When I arrived, I checked into the Terrace. I found the clerk who checked her out. One thing about Julie, she was never hard to trace. Catching up may be a problem, but you can sure follow her trail. It makes no difference whether it is a man or woman they all remember Julie."
"She was a bitch. Of course they remembered her."
"She was only a bitch to those people she couldn't charm. If she charmed them, they remembered her. If she was a bitch to them, they still remembered her. Like I said, she was easy to follow.
The night clerk remembered her well. She came in every night drunk but with a different man each time. He thought at first that she was a hooker. Hell, she might have been. She sure didn't have a lot of money when she left me.
He also remembered her checking out, because she hadn't. Someone else had done it for her. The older man who checked her out. He told the clerk Julie was outside in the car. He settled her bill which wasn't actually in need of settling. Julie paid in advance.
He explained that he had not actually seen her that afternoon. The man just came to the desk, turned in the key, asked what she owed then left. Julie called me one night said she was in trouble, then left the next afternoon with a older man. That could mean nothing or it could mean she really was in trouble.
The clerk didn't even ask for money. He volunteered that she started her drinking most nights at the Pink Pussy Cat club. He gave me directions. I had actually timed my arrival for that Friday night so that I could hunt her down if necessary.
I left my car in the hotel parking lot and walked the five blocks to the club. The club was about the size of the old finance companies, if you remember them. Helen gave me a quizzical look. You know twenty feet wide and they seemed to on forever. She nodded so that I knew she remembered.
I found a waitress who recognized Julie from the picture I showed her. She hadn't seen Julie in a few of days. She figured Julie went home to her husband. That would be me I assured her. I also assured her that I hadn't seen her. She told me she had talked to Julie a couple of times. Julie had recommended a club to her. She wrote the name and address down on a napkin.
I found a cab and the driver knew the place. He drove me ten bucks worth, then dropped me outside the club. It was a copy of the first but was a little shabbier, if that were possible. Inside the music was louder and the people were jammed in.
That time it was the bartender who recognized the picture. It was dark so I flashed the badge I hadn't yet turned in. He cooperated because he thought I was Atlanta vice. He thought that Julie might have been hooking but he wasn't sure. He had never seen her come on to any of the men. Of course with her looks, and the way she dressed, plenty of them came on to her."
"I know how Julie looked Linc. Tall medium build with a set of knockers most women would kill for. I also remember her long blonde hair and those big blue eyes of hers. She could look so innocent that I couldn't believe what everybody said about her. I can also remember seeing her at a party with Jake one time. The dress she wore that night was cut so low I swear you could see the top of her nipples. If she wore a dress like that, I can understand why men approached her. I can also understand why the bartender might have thought she was a hooker."
"She might have been hooking. I really don't know. Every time the bartender ran out of words I would order a beer. I made it plain that I was staying right there till he came up with more. He remember the name of a club she mentioned. It was the pussy cat. I waited another half hour. He finally saw a man."
"Look buddy," he said, "You see that guy over there. He left here with her one night. It was early when they left. Maybe he knows where she is hanging out these days. She hasn't been in here in almost a week."
"I waited till the man went to the John. He had his Johnson out when I placed an arm across his throat. I advised him of his rights. Not the Miranda, but the right to a funeral of his choice. He decided her would cooperate. He claimed he would have anyway. If he would have, then he hadn't really fallen under Julies spell.
He had fallen under her spell all right. I actually had to slap the guy around a little to get the truth from him. He had of spent a night with her. He had only seen her once since. I asked him not too politely where that had been."
"The night we met, I took her to the Warehouse. It is an after hours club. You know private members only type place. She wouldn't return my calls after that night, so I forgot her till I saw her in the Warehouse a couple of day later."
"In response to my questions, he told me that he had stayed away from there since that night. It was possible that she still went there. I would have bounced him around some more but he was much too young to have been the man who checked Julie out of the hotel. I asked him what kind of membership cards the club used. They didn't he informed me. Each member had a key to one of the five or six locks on the door. When the club was open all but that one lock were open. You simply turned your key and if the door opened you were in no questions. Once inside a man checked your key to make sure the number was on the active list. There were no names used. The key number was your only identity in the Warehouse. He gave me his key with only a little convincing. I also took his drivers license. Just in case he had given me the wrong key. I explained to him what I would do to him, his wife, and any children who happened to be in the house. The jerk believed me. He switched keys with me. I also advised him not to call anyone. If I ran into trouble and somehow survived. His punishment would be terrible. I don't know why but he believed me again."
"Linc, I have seen the look you give people when you warn them. I have seen what you are willing to do. He had every reason to be afraid of you."
"Do you want to hear this story or do you want to tell me what an ass I am?" She looked properly chastised so I continued. "Since the club was an after hours place, I had time to check it out before I gave up for the night. The club got it's name from the fact that it started life as a warehouse. I looked it over but didn't see Julie. The bartender remembered her. He said to hang around she would show. I asked if he knew who the older man might be,"
"Could be anyone," he said. "Julie is a popular girl."
"Of course, I asked him how so. He explained that Julie would do anything. There weren't that many women who would do that. I guess the sun was about to rise when I left that morning. I returned to the hotel. I slept till three in the afternoon. In all I went to the warehouse three times before I saw her."
"I heard you mention the place before. You told Bart about it, but I wasn't allowed in the room. How about telling me now."
I thought about it and decided what the hell. The entrance dumped me into the main room. The room with the bar and seating for about a hundred. You know at small tables for four. There was a dance floor but no band or anything. The guest were the entertainment. On the far side of the dance floor was a door. The door opened into a long hall that bent back on itself like and elongated horse shoe. On either side of the hallway were small rooms. Most had what looked like a doctor's examining table. A couple were empty except for chains that hung from the wall. I wandered through the rooms every night. The rooms were the scene of about every kind of sexual perversion you can think of."
"You're kidding me. How could a place like that stay open."
"I don't know maybe they paid somebody. I also doubt there were any complaints. I mean there was a rule. Nobody could be forced to do anything against their will. They had a couple of really big enforcers. Their job was to make sure nothing got out of hand."
"I understand that the rooms were open for anyone to watch the participants. You said in the main room the customers were the entertainment. What exactly did you mean?"
"Pretty much what I said. The women would take off anything they felt like and rub what ever body part they wanted on the men. Of course it worked both ways. Men would also start taking off their clothes. When it got too rough they would be escorted into one of the smaller rooms. Which room depended on their particular kink."
"Okay so you found Julie finally?"
"Yeah, she came in the third night. She was pretty out of it. Drunk or on drugs I couldn't tell which. I waited to get the lay of the land before I approached her. I waited to see what she was up to. I mean, if she wasn't really in trouble, I planned to come home and forget it all.
I watched her begin to dance with the older man. She danced close to him even though the music was fast. She rubbed herself all over the man. She was wearing one of those scooped neck dresses. After a short time she reached into the top of it and pulled her breasts free. In effect she was topless dancing. She turned her back to him and pulled another man close and began to rub him with her breasts. Before the music stopped she had three men. She danced and rubbed with all of them.
I hadn't noticed but the older man had moved to the doorway. Julie took hold of the other two men and pulled them toward the door. The women who had been with the men walked behind her. I waited a while to make sure I wouldn't be noticed then went into the hall. I noticed a crowd around one doorway. I looked into the room. Julie was busy doing all of them at one time. I won't describe how she managed it, but take my word for it she did.
Frankly I was fascinated and watched. The men finished, then lost interest in her. She lost her temper at them. I have been on the receiving end of her verbal abuse and knew what it felt like. The old man and one of the younger ones kind of ignored her. One of them couldn't. He slapped her. I was headed into the room when I heard her laugh."
"You hit like a fucking girl," Julie said.
Her eyes were glazed. There was no doubt she was on something. The man drew back to hit her. I grabbed his arm to stop him. He turned toward me with violence in his eyes. I turned on him and gave him an elbow to the face. I heard the bones in his nose disintegrate. Then out of nowhere the bouncer appeared. He tried to take hold of me. His big mistake was in not trying to knock hell out of me to begin with. I used his momentum to pull him forward. I tripled him and he went down. I kicked him hard in the face.
All hell broke loose about that time. I mean people were knocking hell out of other people for no reason at all. I grabbed Julie to get her out of the place before it got worse. I was too busy watching the others in the room to notice that she came up with a box opener. I didn't feel the pain just the warmth of the blood soak my shirt. I was bleeding like a stuck pig. I managed to hold the cut together and pull her at the same time. I got her outside and into my car somehow. I got back on Peachtree street then followed the signs to a local hospital. I still had hold of her when I went into the emergency room.
They sewed me up and gave her some time to come down from the drugs. Her story was that the older man had kept her drugged for a couple of days. She knew he was some kind of political person but had no idea who he was.
I had her straight by that time. It was all I cared about. I brought her home and she moved her things out of my house. A couple of months later she was involved with Jake."
"There is something about the way you hate Jake. It is more than him marrying your ex-wife?"
"Isn't that enough?"
"Sure but it is something else? What exactly is it?"
"Jake promised me. He would take care of her. At first I hated him for taking her. Then after she died, I hated him for letting it happen."
"He didn't take her. Besides having her was it's own punishment."
"That is true enough." We sat alone with out thoughts on the deck for a long time. Neither of us spoke.
Suddenly Helen asked, "If I had done the things Julie did, would you have loved me."
"Helen honey, You aren't Julie and never could be like her. You are better. Men just don't always recognize or want what is good for them."
"Like that son of a bitch frog."
"It always comes back to him doesn't it. You never really loved me. You would never have married me. Would you?"
"No, I like you too much for that. We are friends. Which is a hell of a lot more than I can say for any of the women I go out with." I looked at Helen and realized that for some reason she was in pain. "Even if you do steal my women." It was meant as a joke.
"I know the whole town talks about me and women. I have screwed a damned sight more men than women. I don't know why they think it is so wrong?"
"Don't ask me. I personally don't care. You are a damned good photographer and an even better friend. They can all go to hell."
"I never would have started with women, if it hadn't been for Claude."
"I know," I said. Of course I didn't know that at all. As a matter of fact, I was pretty sure she would have eventually taken up with women. Not that she would ever have made the first move on one. Someone else would have asked and she would have said yes.
"I'm going to the Elms for lunch. You want to come with me?"
"Not a chance. I plan to live past forty."
"Okay, I am going to get some lunch. Tell you what, call Robbie and have him meet me there. That is if his busy schedule will allow for it. I will probably be there at least till one."
"Sure, but don't you scare him off. I really want someone who doesn't have to be trained. I want to go on vacation this year. Hell, I want to go back to Paris."
"No problem, we can find someone to answer the phones and call me on the radio. That is all you do anyway." I laughed.
"You lousy prick. You couldn't run this business without me."
"I know that. If I could have, I wouldn't have made you as a partner."
"Well then, I accept your apology. Talk to the kid. I really do want him. I told him already, unless you said no. He could do some work for us."
"I told you have him meet me for lunch, if he can. If he can't, then I will meet with him first thing Monday morning."
Helen called me while I was driving to the Elms. Robbie would be meeting me in about twenty minutes. "Be nice," she insisted.
Jed was managing during lunch that day. "Hi Jed, how they hanging."
"They ain't. Old Thelma done cut them off."
"That's right I heard you were getting married. So when is the big day?"
"We gonna close the diner to the public and have the reception here Sunday next. Thelma insisted I invite you."
"Where is the wedding?"
"The first Green Street Baptist Church at two oclock. You invited to that too. So who is doing the wedding pictures?"
"Nobody, we ain't gonna be wasting no money on pictures. Besides I wouldn't give you a nickel. I hate to even give you a piece of the wedding cake." He smiled when he said it. There had been a time when he wouldn't have smiled. He probably still meant it, but at least he had begun to soften the blows.
"You tell Thelma, I said, I would be shooting the wedding. Tell her to call the studio and Helen will shoot a bridal portrait for her. She is going to wear a wedding dress?"
"Of course she is. It cost her almost a grand."
"If she paid that much for the dress, why in the name of God didn't you call me to do the pictures."
"For the same reason I feel bad now. You gonna do them and you ain't gonna charge us. I'm gonna feel indebted to you."
"Tell you what. I been in your debt for a couple of years. How about I do this and we call it even."
"I told you before, you don't owe me shit. You took care of my cousin. He is the one what helped you."
"Okay then give me two hot dogs all the way. Then we will be even."
"I know I make the best hot dogs in town, but we still won't be even."
"Sure we will. Why don't me and you, stop countin who owes who."
"Ain't the way we are. We can stop remindin' each other but we still gonna know."
"Yeah, I guess somebody raised us right."
"Yeah, only difference is I remember my mama. I'm sorry Linc. I can't help feelin sorry for you sometimes. My mama told me what a fine white lady your mama was. I just wish you could remember her."
"Damn Jed, you are beginning to mello. That is the first nice thing you ever said to me."
"It's gonna be the last, if you fuck up those pitchers. Thelma gonna have both our asses."
"Don't worry even if I do, Helen won't. I assume I can bring Helen."
"Miss Helen be welcome, even if she don't like my cookin."
"Hell Jed, you know how those Yankees are."
"Shit man she been living here almost all her life. Looks like she woulda learned to appreciate good food by now."
I noticed a booth with two young black men one white kid and a middle aged woman. "Jed who are the strangers?"
"Just some college kids down to register voters."
I saw the kid come through the door. "Jed I'm gonna grab a booth. Robbie, I extended my hand to the kid. Give Jed your order, then come on over."
I watched him as he ordered. He was tall and thin like I once was. He didn't have the smooth movements, I had back then. He was more of an artist than I ever was. Helen told me he did sidewalk shows occasionally.
"Robbie," I said when he sat down in the booth. "Helen tells me she has offered you some work. I guess that means we will be seeing a lot of you."
"You mean I can do some of your work Mr. Jefferson. I sure could use it. Getting started is tough."
"Only thing is that Jake, our lawyer, is going to insist you sign a non competitive contract."
"What does that mean. I really don't know much about the business end of photography. I like to make the pictures. I don't really like doing the other parts."
"Man, that is two entirely different questions. The contract says you won't do any work for any company we send you out to work for. I think the thing says for five years after we stop doing business together. It also says that any referrals you get from jobs done for us, belong to our studio."
"I don't know about that last part. I mean, if they want me personally to shot the pictures, I am going to feel bad telling them I can't."
"You can tell them to call Helen and request you as the photographer. We will pay you what ever our going rate is at the time. Helen is probably home right now working out the pay rate. If it isn't satisfactory don't sign the contract."
"I sure need the work. If it is anyway reasonable, then I am in."
"Now as to your lack of business interest. I don't want you to get the idea of stealing Helen to make you rich. She thinks she runs the studio. Actually we both do better together than either of us did alone."
"Oh, I wouldn't try to steal her away. Mr. Jefferson, I have heard an awful lot about you. I hope one day I can ask you about the stories I heard?"
"You can ask anytime you want. I probably won't answer, but don't take it personal." I smiled trying to put him at ease. Nothing seemed to work."
Jed came to the table with a couple of plates. Mine filled with hot dogs. Jed hadn't been kidding when he said he made the best dogs in town. He should he stole the chilli recipe from the old mill dope truck dogs. They say, "Once you ate a hot dog from that early vending wagon, you were never satisfied with any other kind."
I don't have any idea when I had my first one. I am sure it was when I was a child. I had rediscovered them when Jed's brother copped the chilli recipe. The textile mills had fallen on sad times. They had closed about everything. When their restaurants closed Jed's brother had bought their files. Everybody thought he was nuts, but he got two recipes from them that had added hundreds a week to his profit. He sold hot dogs by the dozens to mill workers. A small boy would usually meet a representative of the workers and take orders. Jed would fill them and send the order back with the child. The kid made damn good tips and Jed sold hot dogs out the back door like it was dope.
The other recipe was for cinnamon buns. The buns were the size of a desert plate. I don't know what was in them but it could have been heroin. They were that addictive. Hell even Helen stopped by once a week to buy two dozen. They had become our standard breakfast. The buns were all yellow in the middle and filled with nuts and raisins. The icing was some kind of sugar glaze. Helen convinced herself that the nuts and raisins made them healthy. I didn't try to change her mind because they were delicious.
"Ain't you Lester Benton's boy?" Jed asked.
I hadn't associated the kid with Lester. There was more than one Benton family in the area.
"Yes sir, I am." Robbie answered respectfully. "I know what you are thinking sir, but I am not my father."
Jed made a sound like a snorting horse. "If you are, I don't want you comin here no more."
"I'm not like him sir, but if my presence makes you uncomfortable, I can leave."
"You sitting with Linc, you can stay." He turned to me. "Did you know he was Lester's pup when you brought him in here."
"No I didn't Jed. If he says he ain't like his daddy, then he is all right."
"Man, the fruit don't fall to far."
"That ain't always true. Look at me and you. You are not exactly your mama's boy."
"You ain't neither. You mama would be spinnin if'n she knew some of the shit I know."
"Well you keep your shit to yourself, and I will keep mine." Jed walked away from the table. There was no chance I would get an iced tea refill unless I went for it myself. Business was slow since most all the workers in town were off on Saturday. Jed waited the tables on the weekends. He should really be closed but his mama had told both boys before she died, "My people got to eat on Saturday and Sunday just like any other day. We ain't gonna be busy but our good customers gonna come here, when they hungry."
She had been right as she always was. The regulars that had no where else to go came wandering in even on Saturday and Sunday. They didn't make the brothers rich but it was a chance to chat with the customers. A couple of cops came into the place for lunch while we were eating.
"Hello Chief, you doin okay."
"Sure Red, how about you?"
"Fine and dandy. This your new partner?"
"You know I ain't got but one partner. I can't even afford her half the time. I keep her around because without her there wouldn't be any business."
"I wouldn't be surprised. That Helen is a pistol."
"Yeah, by the way this is Robbie Benton." I said introducing my companion.
"Yeah Lester's boy. I know Robbie real well. I better get to my table before Eddie orders a salad for me. He thinks I need to loose some weight. Department regulations."
I nodded as he walked away. Robbie broke the silence. "Look Linc, I know this is going to be inconvenient for you. I mean my dad and all. Maybe you shouldn't hire me."
"Let me ask you a question. You know me don't you. You know who my friends are and who they aren't?'
"Would it bother you for people to know you are working with me."
He looked a little sheepish. He had something to say and was afraid to say it. "I told you, getting started has been hard. Frankly sir, I get a little work just because you and Helen are the only other photographers in town. Not much but some. There are people who don't much like you. There are even some who don't like Helen. I need the work so I do it. I have never agreed with them. I just haven't disagreed."
I was a little disappointed. Not in the kid, but in the people around here. As far as the work goes don't worry about me and Helen. Worry about who will get that work if you start with us."
"There hasn't been enough of that kind to make a difference one way or the other."
"Have you told Helen this?"
"Don't, she doesn't need to hear this crap. Helen is a fine lady and her life is nobody's business."
"Red acted like he knew from his job. Do you have a record."
"Some juvenile stuff nothing much. He knows me from seeing me at those damned rallies."
"You mean Red is one of those sheet wearers."
"Yeah, there are a lot more than you could ever guess. I wouldn't have told on him, if he hadn't tried to make you think I had been in trouble, that prick."
"You still go to those things?"
"Hell no, not since I left home. I don't think like my dad. I believe a man is just a man."
"That is more generous than me kid. Hell, I hate everybody. Just some more than others."
"Like my dad."
"Only when he opens his mouth. With me hate is a personal thing. I hate people individually. Your dad hates people because of there skin, their religion or there sexual practices. I hate him as an individual. I hate any man who hides behind a sheet or anything else. You see Jed over there." he nodded. "Well his mama and mine were very good friends toward the end of her life." Jed lost a brother in the Nam the same year I was there. His mama used to ride a bus to go visit mine. She tried to cheer up a woman whose kid was still alive. That was the kind of woman his mama was.
Now your daddy hates Jed because his skin is a different color. I hate your daddy because he ain't got the guts to come over here and face Jed over there. You know man to man. If I got a problem with somebody, they damned will know it."
"That's what my daddy says about you. He hates your guts because you have black friends. He also says you are an honorable man. He says you come out and say what you think and let the devil take notice."
"Well at least he got that right."
"I shouldn't be tellin you this, but since I am going to work for you, I am still going to work for you?"
"Unless you are afraid to be seen with me."
"I ain't afraid. Look like I started to say. You are on their list."
"Which list would that be."
"When the revolution begins, you have to die. That is what they say about the people on the list."
"I imagine, I am in good company."
"You are. About everybody who states publicly that they don't agree with my father makes it to the list."
"Are you on it."
"I would be, if I weren't his son."
"Hang around with me and you will probably make it after all."
"Mr. Jefferson with or without your help, I am going to stay in this business. I just hope you can help. I really don't want to work part time at the convenience store."
"Okay kid start Monday. I will tell Helen to give you some houses to shoot. It doesn't require talent just speed."
"Thank you sir. You won't regret this."
"Let me pay this bill, then we can leave. I'm sure you have better things to do than waste your Saturday with me."
"Actually, I am shooting a seven o'clock wedding."
"Maybe you should be sending us work." I struggled from the booth. My stiff knee was a real pain sometimes. It didn't hurt just now, but it was terribly inconvenient. I used my walking stick to lean on as I made it to the register.
"Linc, you watch yourself around that boy. His daddy hates you almost as much as me."
"I know, Jed and believe me I intend to watch him real close." The kid had already gone outside. I found him standing beside my scout.
"I appreciate the work. I just wanted to tell you again that I will try to do everything as well as you do."
"God, do better than that or I will have to fire you. Helen would have already fired me, if she could. You run along to your wedding. Come in around eight on Monday. Park in the rear. You won't be able to find anyone in the studio that early. We will be at my place.
I drove slowly home. I had a lot on my mind. Why the hell would Lester Benton's kid go into photography. International terrorist I could see, but photographer. It was mind blowing. I pulled into the parking lot and found a strange pick up truck.
I recognized the man behind the wheel instantly. Speak of the devil. I had never spoken face to face with Lester in my life. Suddenly I had Benton's coming out of my ears. He saw me drive in so sneaking up on the old fart was impossible. I parked far enough away from his pick up. I wanted time to get my 410 gauge cane into action if I need be.
Lester walked up to my scout as I got out. "Linc, I would like to talk to you."
"Lester, I can't see what we would have to talk about, but come on up. I am about to have a glass of tea on the deck. You can join me."
"That's fine, but you might rather not be seen so friendly with me."
"What is it with you Bentons. Robbie thought I might feel the same about him. Come on up and have a glass of tea. Just leave your shotgun and whip behind." I didn't laugh and neither did he.
"You know most people, like you, think I am pretty stupid. I assure you, I ain't stupid enough to come here alone looking for trouble."
"That either means your are not here for trouble, or you have ten more men stashed on the grounds somewhere. I am going to assume that it is the former."
"You would be right." We had reached the steps to the deck. I took them one at a time shifting my weight to make it easier. "I heard about that knee. I sure am sorry. I know we don't exactly see eye to eye. I always considered you was a hell of a man."
I wasn't too sure I appreciated that statement. "I'm a little surprised to hear you say that."
"Oh I don't agree with the way you think. I do know them people all needed killing."
"I didn't get the knee killing anybody."
"I know how you got the knee. I also know you didn't kill them that done it. That I never could figure. I mean, I could sort see the little girl. I mean she was like a daughter they say, but the others. You must be gettin soft."
"Not really, they were both ex-cops. Do you know what their life will be like in prison?"
"I see what you mean. Killing wouldn't have been nearly enough, when you had that waiting for them?"
"Something like that." I went inside and returned with two glasses of tea.
"Linc, you don't mind if I call you that do you?"
"Not at all, I am known to friend and foe alike."
"I came to ask you a favor." he said quietly.
"This should be interesting."
"You know Robbie went to that fancy school up north. They flat warped his mind."
"You ever think maybe they straightened out his thinking."
"Don't matter none what you or I think. The boy is different from me now. I mean, he was always his moma's pet. I should have done something back then."
"Took more interest in him?"
"Something like that. He called me last night all excited about maybe goin' to work for you. I just came to ask you not to hold it against the kid that I am his daddy."
"An admirable thing to do. It is just a little late. I came back from a meeting with the boy. I actually didn't know who he was till a friend told me."
"You done told him no?"
"I told him to start on Monday. To tell you the truth Les, you don't mind if I call you Les do you.":
"Actually everybody calls me Lester."
"Okay Les, the kid can hold any belief he wants as long as he doesn't express them to my clients. He can be the worlds biggest racist or not at all. I don't give a damn. If he embarrasses one of my customers in any way, then he is out. If he doesn't know that, you should tell him. Other wise he can fuck goats for all I care."
Lester seemed to actually lighten up some. "Now I admit the boy is strange, but he ain't all that strange. At least I hope not." He drank his tea for a while without speaking then said, "You know you might not be as bad as I thought."
"Lester, other than our obvious differences, I think we have a lot in common. Which is why I am going to tell you something. Something I don't usually tell people."
"What is that."
"I'm a damned sight worse than you think I am."
"I hear you ain't got the sting you used to have."
"You are right there Lester. It is a lot different sting these days."
"I hope we don't ever have to see whose stinger is bigger," Lester said.
"Well it probably won't come to that. Robbie seems like a nice enough kid. I am not out to make a flaming liberal of anyone. He gets treated like any other employee, no better, but no worse. You and me are a different thing entirely."
"Fair enough. I didn't think this trip was necessary, but his moma would have had my ass, if I hadn't come."
"I'm glad you did Lester. I had never spoken to you. Maybe now you will know exactly who you are talking about when he revolution comes."
"Gonna make no difference when it comes. One of us is gonna die."
"If that is the case, keep your insurance paid up."
"You too." I nodded as Lester left the deck. He walked only a little less gimpy than me.
I saw Helen walk past his truck as she hurried to the deck. "Are you all right. I knew I should have told you about Lester. If you had your damned radio on, I would have."
"No problem, Lester just wanted to tell me who his son was. Something you should have done this morning."
"I know. I just didn't know how. The kid knows what he is doing."
"Yeah, but do we know what he's doing?"
"What does that mean?"
"To people like Lester, you and I are the great enemy. The blacks and jews can be handled. It's the 'wrong thinking white people' who are the problem."
"Then I am a double problem. I am a wrong thinking Jewess."
"Sorry, I had actually forgotten that."
"Me too, I'm afraid. You don't think Robbie is going to turn out to be like his daddy do you."
"I don't know if he even has a game. Let alone what it might be."
"God I'm sorry Linc. Maybe we should call and tell Robbie not to come to work after all?"
"No way, I want that kid as close as we can get him, at least for a while."
"Why is that?"
"Haven't you heard the revolution is at hand."
"They have been saying that since the civil war."
"I know, but one day they will say it and begin it the next day. I don't know if it is at hand or not. I do know that I want as much warning as I can get. Maybe Robbie can give us a little."
"You don't really think they are about to start trouble do you?"
"To tell you the truth Helen, I hadn't given these jerks a thought till today. I don't have any idea what their plans are."
As planned on Monday morning Robbie and I went to work on house photos. I explained to him the angles I needed and the tricks to getting them. I also showed him how to install the portable CB radio in his car. The day passed quickly since we had plenty of work to do.
He and I talked over a glass of iced tea in a local fast food restaurant. "Robbie how much work can you handle for us?"
"All you got probably," he answered.
"No, I mean how many days can we count on you. I would like to set up a schedule for Helen to follow." I said.
"I really hadn't given that very much thought." Robbie said. "Tell you what, let me give it a little thought. I can give you an answer tomorrow."
"Good, we have a ton of this crap that needs doing. Tomorrow, you are going to be on your own. Helen will explain your route to you when you arrive."
I drove back to the studio so that he could pick up his car. He drove a new small Dodge. He didn't look to me like he was struggling all that much. We went into the studio before he left. I explained to Helen that Robbie would give us a time schedule the next morning.
"Good, Robbie try to set aside at least a couple of days for us. Not the whole day, you should be finished by two or three at the very latest. If not then come on in anyway. I will just reschedule your left overs for Linc the next day." I tried not to look like I felt.
My feeling were simple. If the kid couldn't do what we needed, we didn't really need him. I knew Helen wanted him because he could fill in on the tricky things but I needed him to take some of the load off me.
I actually spent the early evening with a book. I went to bed tired as usual. I awoke at three A.M., which was not all that unusual. As was my habit I listened to make sure a sound hadn't awakened me. I heard nothing for fifteen minutes.
I decided since I was awake to take a walk. I didn't turn on any lights which was my usual habit. I dressed in the black jumpsuit and moved through the dark apartment. I walked to the rear window and opened it. I lowered a knotted black nylon rope out the window.
Until I had injured my knee, I would never have considered exiting down a rope. These days my upper body was about twice as strong as it had been before the auto accident. My body had compensated for the lack of movement in that knee. I had exited that window enough times that I could leave without a sound.
I stood in the shadows and again listened for any unusual noise. Even so, the looking and listening was no quarante. If a truly professional stalker waited for me, I would probably only know it, when I was dead. Fortunately there aren't many of them left. At least not in a small town like mine.
I stood at the front corner of the building for twenty minutes or more before I moved. I actually back tracked myself. I returned to the rear shadows and disappeared into the trees behind my carriage house apartment. I moved slowly through the trees then into the alley two blocks from my home. Most nights I passed the Ingle house without incident, even their Doberman slept. Tonight he must have caught my scent while half asleep. When I got to the fence he was waiting for me.
"Well, hello there Hans. You been a good boy," I whispered. I handed him the rather large dog biscuit, I carried just for him. I had a pocket full of smaller ones for other dogs along my route. He took the bone shaped cookie and disappeared into his fancy dog house. His owner told me he was a killer. I never told him Han's love of biscuit.
I continued on into the downtown. I stayed either in the alleys or the shadows. I watched three police cars pass. I was so close to the walking beat cop, I could have touched him. He like the others never saw me. I had walked about an hour and a half, when I turned for home. As usual I approached our street from the front. I always checked for strange cars in the neighborhood before I returned home.
I saw it, but I couldn't believe it. There parked two doors up from my house was a Klan van. I disappeared back into the shadows. I returned to the alley parallel to the van. I moved behind the building across and two doors behind the van. I moved silently beside the building. I stayed in the building shadow. There was so little light I could have walked through the parking lot without being seen.
Most people on stake outs don't check their rear often enough. I stood watching the van for a long time. I came to the conclusion that they were watching me. Why I had no idea. They either didn't think I would catch them or that I wouldn't recognize the van. "Why would they be watching my house at four A.M.?" I wondered almost aloud. The place they had chosen would only allow them to notice me leaving the house. Maybe they wanted to make sure I didn't leave. Everyone knew I roamed around at night. Why on earth would they care, and how long had they been at it.
I was sorely tempted to kick somebody's ass. I decided not to, only because I wasn't sure that it would be to my advantage. Not that I gave a hoot in hell what they thought. I would like to know why all the sudden interest in me. I had the Benton kid working for me and now a stakeout in front of my house.
One thing for sure, I thought as I turned to leave, things weren't going to be boring much longer. I actually preferred to be shot at than be bored. You had a chance to get out of the way of a bullet but boredom always caught up to you.
I returned to the shadows then circled around to the rear of my building. I checked even closer this time. I wanted to make sure they weren't foolish enough to try a man on the ground stake out. They were at least smarter than that.
I was convinced that Robbie was a plant but then I enjoyed the idea of having him close. I could control what he learned, if I had him around. He and I were shooting houses when I got the call on the radio.
"The police chief called. He wants you to drop everything and come to the station."
"Did he say why?" I asked.
"No, just said it was urgent."
When Robbie returned to the scout I told him, "We have to go the police station. I can either drop you at your car and you can finish alone, or you can ride with me to the station. Your choice."
"I would just as soon ride with you." he said. No surprise there.
"Okay, when we finish at the station I will drop you at the studio. We can split the remaining shots. You can separate them at the station."
"Hello Marge," I said to the receptionist at the chief's door. "The chief wanted to see me."
"The chief has a lot of company this morning."
"What's going on?"
"Somebody burned a cross last night."
I wasn't all that surprised. I figured the Klan had been up to something last night. I just couldn't figure why a cross burning would interest me. Or why the Klan thought it would. "So what's that got to do with me?"
"They burned it on your friend Jed's lawn."
"Why the hell would they do that?" I asked. I was more than a little angry. I almost asked the kid. Fortunately the secretary answered before I could turn on him.
"You know, he is involved with that civil rights nonsense."
"Actually I have known that for years. Why all of a sudden would he get a cross burned."
"Could be because he has some of those northern trouble makers staying at his place. Could be because they are meeting at his restaurant every night after closing. You know stirrin' up the locals."
Marge was a good girl but she was a southern girl, Worse yet she was from a poor family. One that had once been referred to as white trash. Unfortunately every body seems to need someone to look down on. There weren't many that her family could. She had just been raised with the feeling of her own family.
In some ways I was lucky. I couldn't remember any of my own families feeling about anything. I had to form my own opinions when I returned from the war. I found out real quick that good men are good men. Assholes are assholes that was the only classes I understood.
Robbie and I sat on a bench waiting for the chief. I was in a hurry to leave. I wanted to see how Jed was taking the Cross. Fortunately no one had been hurt according to Marge. We waited for about fifteen minutes. I was on the verge of leaving when the chief's door opened. The mayor and Rev. Brown were on their way out.
"I'm glad you came Linc. We are going to need your help on this one." The mayor said.
I nodded as she passed. The Reverend Brown didn't even look my way as he left.
"Linc, come on in." He didn't seem to notice Robbie and I was just as glad. I left him sitting on the bench gathering what information he could.
"Chief, what the hell is going on."
"Hell Linc, just more of the same old shit. This time it is a voter registration drive. The blacks are beginning to get some help registering their rural families. Bunch of college kids came down from up north. All they are doing is driving the rural people in to register. They try to calm their fears when that boy's, daddy makes a lot of noise." He was of course referring to Robbie.
"What do you know about that kid out there?"
"What do you know?"
"Nothing, Helen liked him so I gave him a chance. Is he a chip off the old block or what?"
"I really don't know. He hasn't been in any trouble that I know of. Look let's work on one crisis at a time. Can you calm Jed down. I'm afraid he is going after Lester with a gun."
"If Lester did it? I might help him."
"Of course Lester did it. I mean he is the Grand what ever."
"I don't know about that. Oh Lester could burn a cross no doubt. There is something else though."
"I couldn't sleep last night so I took a walk."
"Hell, you do that three or four times a week. You didn't happen to see who burned the cross did you."
"No, but somebody was watching my house. Now that I think about it, they were probably watching while the cross was burning."
"Why would they do that?"
"To make sure Jed didn't get any help from me. I would have been there in a minute if he had called."
"Why would they care about you?"
"If I had driven up while they were planting the thing, I might have killed somebody. It wouldn't look good for a white man to break up their party. I'll bet you it is all over the TV by now. It would have been a much different story, if there were three or four dead Klansmen to explain."
"It wouldn't make them look all that good after all." the chief said. I watched him look down on his desk for a moment or two. "You know I have a hell of a problem and I hate to admit it even to you."
"I saw the mayor and the Rev. They on your ass?"
"Of course they are. The Rev is saying we have the Klan inside the department." The chief wouldn't meet my eyes. "What really pisses me off is that he may be right."
"So, what are you going to do?"
"The mayor wants me to hire an outside investigator. The rev of course wants me to arrest Lester Benton."
"So, why not wait and let the FBI do the work."
"No way, I want this thing cleaned up. I don't want them coming in here making a lot of noise and doing nothing."
"Hell, I find all this hard to believe. I thought this crap all ended years ago," I said.
"Me to." The chief returned his gaze to the papers on his desk. "Linc I don't know any other way to do this than just come out with it."
"Out with what?"
"The Mayor wants you to come back to the department. At least long enough to handle this case."
"No, especially not if that bitch wants me to."
"I know how you feel about her. I wouldn't have mentioned it except she is going to pressure me till you do come back."
"You do remember she made a big noise about me at one of her womens lib meetings. Helen almost quit speaking to me. She also is the one who asked me to resign after she talked me into taking this job last time."
"She was right about that, You know she was. I tried to tell her you don't put the fox in charge of the hen house."
"Now what does that mean."
"You know damned well what it mean. You were screwing the cop who tried to kill you."
"You know I wasn't screwing her."
"Not at the exact moment she tried to have you iced. But you sure as hell had been."
"It's the same old story ain't it chief. Keep us the hell away from polite people, till you need the old dogs."
"Thus has it ever been my son." the chief smiled. "And we wouldn't have it any other way."
I had to smile with him. "Damn shame that polite society is so boring."
"So, you will do it."
"If I can shoot the son of a bitch, who planted that thing, in the ass at least."
"If you make it look good. I don't care if you kill the son of a bitch."
"Let's see what Robbie boy has to say when he finds out I am going after his old man."
"Do you think he is a plant."
"If he is, Lester is a damned sight smarter than I thought." I noticed the puzzled look on the chief's face. "The stake out car was because they knew I would help a friend. Lester would have to figure you would involve me in the case."
"Hell, everybody who knows you surely knows you would be involved, with or without me asking."
"That's true chief. But if Lester knew that why pick on Jed. There is more to this than meets the eye. It just don't feel right."
"Maybe the Klan is going to start recruiting again."
"I hope so. There were more FBI members than anyone else after the last drive."
"Hell," the chief said, "I heard that one of the groups was nothing but undercover Feds. When they found out they were investigating each other they closed down the whole group."
"There are probably ten Klansmen left in the whole organization. The other thousand men are probably Feds." It got the laugh from the chief I had hoped for.
"Well then, it must have been a fed with the kerosene last night." It would have been funny, if it hadn't been Jed's house.
"You sending a cop to stay with Jed?" I asked.
"Nope, I tried but Jed told me to go to hell. He had a shotgun and could look after himself."
"He is right on both cases. I just hope he don't start shooting everybody who insults him. Most of the insults are because he can be an awful ass."
"I know, but he didn't deserve the cross." the chief said.
"Nobody deserves to be threatened by twenty men."
I walked outside to meet Robbie. I explained that I wouldn't be able to help him for a few days. He and Helen would have to work out the details for the houses. Anything else would have to either be worked in or wait till I was finished. What I was up to didn't need explaining. Anyone could have guessed.
I dropped the kid at the studio, then drove to the diner. I hadn't been having breakfast there for quite some time. These days Helen bought the rolls for breakfast from the diner then heated them in her new microwave.
"Hi 'E'. Where is Jed?"
"I hope he is barricade with a shotgun on his lap."
"The shotgun for sure. He is out raising hell though. Probably down to the court house."
"I just left there. When you think he will be in, or will he?"
"Oh he will. I told him to stay home and he told me to go to hell. He said, "He would be damned, if they were going to scare him off." I personally think he is crazy mad."
"Well, I need to talk to him. Any idea when I can find him."
"Him and those trouble makers be in around three."
"You don't like his friends."
"No I don't. Linc, I'll tell you something. We got about as many poor white customers as poor black ones. Then of course we got you and the cops, mostly white. They never treat me bad. Once in awhile I have to get in somebody's face, but it don't matter who they are. Jed and them kids, they act like them politicians gonna give a shit about us. Man they ain't. They just want more votes. They all gonna go up there and steal from us anyway. I mean sure they passed a couple of good laws but nothing really changed. Nothin gonna change this time neither."
"I believe like you believe, but they still got a right to be doing what they are doing. Maybe it is a waste of time, but they ain't supposed to be harassed for doing it."
"I know Linc, you looking for the bastards."
"Well let me tell you something. Keep that kid away from here. Jed done said he gonna kick that cracker's ass."
"If that kid had anything to do with the cross, Jed is going to have to take a number. If he didn't, then he better leave him alone."
"I know, but you know Jed. He's all full of piss and vinegar."
"Well, I am going to have lunch first. Then I am going to go see some people. You tell Jed I'm looking for him. I will be back at four."
I ate lunch and drank tea for a while. I noticed that the leaves hadn't started to turn yet. I was glad for small favors. When the leaves fell moving around without making noise became impossible. Then is was move super slow and hope the other guy was deaf as a post.
I found Jacob Stern in his lab. "What no crimes for you to be out solving Sherlock?"
"Hi Linc, chief said you would be around."
"Got anything on the cross?"
"Pine four by fours, Probably from somebody's old deck."
"No pretty well weathered. They also showed some nail holes. My guess it they came from some building. Looked like they had been out in the weather some."
"Carpet fibers on the bottom of the cross. Thing must have been carried in a van. Or at least came into contact with some kind of carpet recently."
"I don't suppose you found any blood on it?"
"You know guy cuts himself loading or unloading."
"No such luck. Did find a tire impression."
"Yeah, they don't have curbs out there. They must have pulled the van into the grass. Hit a muddy spot on the way out. Good thing it's been a rainy year."
"Easy for you to say. You haven't been standing with a two thousand dollar camera watching the rain fall on an outdoor wedding."
"Maybe so, but it do make for good tire impressions."
"How about shoes?"
"No such luck. The truck ran through the mud on the way out."
"Any tool marks from the digging."
"Nope, I don't know of anything else to check for."
"What was the wood soaked with?"
"Now that, I was saving for last. The accelerant was denatured alcohol and a lot of it."
"Why in the name of God, would anyone soak a cross with denatured alcohol?"
"Had it handy I suspect."
"Who has that much denatured alcohol handy."
"Of course Lester is a cabinet maker. That is really awfully damned convenient."
"Can't say about that. All I can tell you is that it was alcohol soaked into the wood."
"I don't suppose you picked up all the litter around the yard."
"You bet chief."
"Let's have a look. By the way cut the chief shit."
"Oh no, I heard you were back. I don't want to be disrespectful."
"I don't think I have a title this time."
Jacob dumped a plastic trash bag onto the desk. I was about to fuss about mixing it when out fell about twenty smaller clear bags. Jacob had done it by the book. He had grid searched and bagged each grid separately. He watched as I compared the grid chart to the bags. It really didn't matter because there was nothing I recognized as being important in any of them.
I left Jacob to returned to the restaurant. Jed and his new friends were waiting. I took a booth against a far wall. I had spoken to Jed when I entered. I asked him to come back for a talk. Naturally they all came. There were two young black men and a white man and white woman. All of them except the woman were college kids. The woman was in her thirties at least. She was also pretty homely. Not ugly just plain really. Not much figure, stringy hair and not much make up at all.
Jed grudgingly introduced us. I shook hands all around. I noticed the hostility in their eyes. "Jed what exactly happened last night."
"Why you want to know?"
"Come on Jed, you can impress your liberal friends later. I am trying to find the asshole who struck the match."
"Man I ain't tryin to impress nobody. I just don't know why I should talk to your sorry ass."
"To begin with I am working for the police on this. The best reason is that yesterday we respected each other. Now let's see if we can't maintain that. These people." I waved my hand in a half circle, "Will be gone in a couple of weeks. You and I will still have to live in this town. Let's get this prick so we can get things back to normal."
"Things ain't never going to be normal again," he said. His little group all nodded. All except the older woman. She looked at her hands.
"Okay they will be different. I am not going to argue the cause with you. All I intend to do is find a coward. Now how about telling me what happened last night."
Jed had done his save face thing. "I heard a car horn around four this morning. When it didn't stop blasting I walked out to the living room. It was nearly as bright as day in there. I looked out and saw the cross burning."
"Did you get a look at the men?"
"It was that peckerwood Lester Benton."
"Did you actually see Lester?"
"No, but I know it was him. There were six of them all in them damned robes."
"How about the cars or trucks."
"Just one a white van. Had one of them confederate flags on the radio aerial. It also had that sticker. You know the blue flag with the red cross on it."
"Mark of the Klan. I saw it myself not long ago."
"Really where did you see it."
"Just around." I wanted to kick myself for not getting close enough to see the license plate. "Was the van new or old?"
"Pretty new. Matter of fact it was a little unusual to see one that new with those red necks. Hell they must of stole it." I knew what he meant. The Klan wasn't all that well funded anymore. Two new white vans was unusual. Lester drove a fifteen year old pick up.
"Did you go out to talk to them?"
"Hell no, they didn't come to talk. They came to hang my ass to a telephone pole."
"If that's what they wanted, they would have come in for you. They wanted to scare you. Even more likely they wanted to scare your friends here."
"Then you think it is a joke?" one of the black college kids asked."
"No, other than the act of a coward, I don't have an opinion yet."
"You sir," the white kid said. "Obviously have no concern about this. After all you are a white southerner."
"Wait just a minute Bobby," Jed said. "You are talkin to the only white man in this town I know for sure ain't no fuckin racist. I can give him shit cause we got a history, but if'n I was you, I would keep my yankee mouth shut. Cause if this mother fucker don't kick your white ass, I might."
I hadn't expected it, but then again with Jed you never knew. I can remember the times we worked together. He knew I was serious about finding the people who burned that cross. He also knew that it didn't matter who they were.
"I didn't mean anything." He whispered. He was about as scared of black people as any man I had ever seen.
"It's okay Bobby. Did you see anything?"
"You mean last night. Shit, I thought that punk was gonna shit all over hisself." Jed said.
"Okay, how about the rest of you. Did you see anything that might help me."
"I'm going to tell you the truth sir. The only thing I saw was a bunch of guys in sheets carrying a rope."
"They had a noose. I thought they were going to hang us all."
"First of all son. They weren't wearing sheets. Those things are robes and they are expensive. These guy aren't all that poor or stupid. Second, if they were serious, it's like this gentleman said. They would have come in for us. There were more of them and they were armed." The woman did the talking.
"One thing for sure. They were pretty stupid."
"Why do you say that Mr."
"Linc ma'am. Because everyone around here knows Jed has a shotgun by his bed. I don't know why he didn't use it last night. If he had, it would have been a lot easier to track these men."
"Yeah buck shot makes a nice blood trail, don't it Linc."
I had to smile at Jed. He had finished his angry black man show. "Last time I looked."
I ignored the others, now that Jed was back to being Jed. "Could you recognize that van again?" I asked him
"Sure them stickers and flags gonna be hard to forget."
"What if the sticker and flags are gone?"
"You mean was there anything unusual about the van itself."
"Black tinted windows but lots of vans have them."
"Hey Linc," one of the regulars called. "Phone for you."
I stood clumsily, then walked to the phone.
"What's wrong with his leg," The woman asked Jed.
"Some asshole cop ran him off the road. Cop's doing time. When he gets out of the joint he better move his ass to Mexico."
"Why do you say that?" the woman asked.
"Cause his life ain't gonna be worth spit, he comes back here."
"He don't look that bad," one of the black kids said. "I mean limpin around like that."
"Kid that man reach in your chest and pull your heart out. You get to see it beatin' before you die. That's how bad his ass is." Jed said.
"Man, he just don't look that bad to me. Hell I had me five years of Karate. I can take his ass." the other black college kid said.
"Well kid, If'n you try it, I hope your mama got some other children, 'cause it ain't no fuckin game with Linc. He gonna kill your ass."
"Man, you just don't know how fast I am." the kid said.
"Kid it don't matter. You ain't never killed nobody. Old Linc now, he done killed more times than you jerked your joint."
I returned to the table. I noticed the talk died down. "I got to go. The sheriff got his self a 'look see' paper. We gonna check out Lester's place."
"Good luck, them damned guys done hid all the shit by now." the smart assed black kid said.
"Why would they do that. They don't think anybody's gonna' care." Jed answered.
"Well if that's what they think, they got one big assed problem." I said.
"Tell me Linc?" Jed asked. "If it'd been any other nigger would you be doin this."
"I don't know Jed, but it wasn't, so I don't guess it matters."
I left them talking while I walked through the parking lot to my scout. I suppose Jed was filling them in on our history. We did go back a ways. He was right a lot of the anger I felt was because they dared to burn that damned cross on a friend's lawn.
When I got to Lester's old frame house it was late in the afternoon. I found the Sheriff's men parked in the church parking lot within sight of Lester's house. There were six cars waiting for the sheriff.
"Who's idea was it to meet here?" I asked.
"The sheriff's why?"
"Hell unless Lester is blind he is down there right now burning everything. Hell he won't even have a kitchen match by the time we get there."
"Well we damned sure ain't going into that house till the sheriff arrives with the papers."
"Suit yourself." I got back in the scout and drove down to Lester's house. I parked in his mud driveway then walked onto his porch. I might not be able to search but I could damned sure keep his ass busy till the sheriff arrived.
I knocked on the door, then waited for a few minutes. I knocked again, still no answer. I was about to try the door when I heard the sound of engines from the church. The calvary had decided to join me, I watched them drive up.
"Just what the hell do you thing you are doing?" the sheriff asked.
"I planned to keep Lester busy till you decided to join the party. Turns out he ain't home."
The sheriff was furious. "You could have blown the whole thing."
"Sheriff look up there. You can see the parking lot where six of your cars were waiting. Lester might have been here when your men arrived. He isn't blind you know."
The Sheriff didn't answer he turned to his men. "Break the door." It was the order cops live for. Cops love to kick doors.
"Wait a minute." I demanded. It stopped them just long enough to turn the handle. The door swung in."
"How did you know?" the sheriff asked.
"I didn't but it seemed a good idea to try first." The deputies were already going into the door. I followed behind. I was just inside the front door when one of them called for the sheriff. I followed him into the kitchen where we saw Lester.
Lester was slumped forward, his face rested in a plate of some kind of stew. The back of his head was caved in. He didn't look like he enjoyed his last meal.
The sheriff started toward the body. "Sheriff why don't we call the crime scene unit before we start fucking around in here."
He looked at me, like he wished I was the one with my face in the stew. It took him a few seconds to see the logic. When he did, he said, "Everybody out. You," He pointed at a deputy with a portable radio. "Call the Jew." The reference was to Jacob Stein."
I walked outside, while we all waited for Jacob. I checked around the yard for the vans. There were none. All the deputes were inside the house waiting for Jacob and socializing. I found the ten gallon drum of denatured alcohol. It really meant very little, alcohol is alcohol. You can buy the stuff in the drug store. Of course these yahoos would jump to conclusions.
I found Lester's scrap wood pile. Sure enough there were some four by fours piled deep under other scraps of lumber. Unless Jacob found an end cut from the cross they would mean no more than the alcohol. I guess I just wanted to believe there was more to this they met the eye. I also knew they were going to be looking at Jed for the murder. Since I assume Lester didn't eat stew for breakfast, Jed probably had an alibi.
The sheriff, being the sheriff, had better work on my own alibi. If it wasn't Jed and it wasn't me then who popped old Lester. The conspiracy theory looked pretty good at the moment. Maybe one of his fellow Klansmen did him. Why the hell would they.
One thing for sure. We were about to be invaded by the Feds. The sheriff knew it too. He walked into the yard looking for me.
"Linc," he called. I hobbled toward him. "I know you and I don't get along but this one is going to be a bitch. First I have to ask, did you do it."
"No, I assume Lester got it either at lunch or dinner. I can account for my time from eight this morning till right this minute."
"How about your friend Jed?"
"He had those damned college kids with him all day. Before you ask, 'E' was at the dinner till one or two from then on I imagine he was home with his wife."
"I figured that would be too easy. So what do you think."
"I got no earthly idea who it might have been, but it is tied to that damned cross somehow."
"Why not his kid? You know got pissed at the old man for some reason, and popped a cap in his ass."
"Actually in his head, don't look like a passion killing. Looks more like an assassination."
"Maybe he pissed off somebody in the Klan."
"Could be, but why?"
"Reckon he was gonna talk to the Feds."
"Maybe, but I can't imagine old Lester having much to say."
"Yeah, the Klan hasn't been active around here till last night. I mean, we all know they are here, they just ain't done nothing lately."
"Tell you what sheriff, I don't think I am going to learn much till Jacob gets through here. You find anything worth a crap call the chief. I think I'm going home. My damned knee hurts."
"Linc, let me ask you something?"
"Sure go ahead."
"Hear me out before you say no." I nodded. "If you haven't taken that city badge yet let me make you a special deputy. I know we don't get on together, but that ain't got nothing to do with this shit here. You come to work for me, and you got jurisdiction all over the county."
And you get the glory if I figure this one out, I thought. "Sheriff, I'm going to tell you what I told the chief last time he tried to recruit me. I can't afford the cut in pay. As far as I am concerned, I don't care who gets the glory. I sure as hell don't want it."
"I figured as much. Let's try to work together on this one."
"Fine by me, tell Jacob when he arrives that I will call him at home tonight."
"The way this place looks, better call him late."
"Looks like." I walked to my scout and worked my way into it slowly. The weather must be about to change. My knee gave me fits in the cold or damp.
I stopped at the studio for a quick talk with Helen. She informed me that the kid did pretty well. It was simply a matter of checking over his work before forwarding it to the companies. She knew I was in pain so kept the briefing short.
As a parting shot she asked, "You going to work around here tomorrow?"
"We got anything the kid can't do?"
"The deposition. at Jake's"
Jake had gone back into private practice. I videoed statements for him. "What time is it."
"I can make that one no problem. Anything else?"
"You remember Billie Ward?"
"The woman who runs the bed and breakfast?"
"One and the same. She thinks her hubby is doing the slip and slide with another woman. Wants you to tape him."
"She got any idea who the slut is?"
"Her sister Tinker." The sister was actually named Belle but due to her small statue everybody in town called her Tinker. Tinker, unlike her sister, was known to be the town slut. She also held a reasonably good job with one of the banks.
"Tell her, he will still be doing the slip and slide in a couple of days. If he isn't, then she will have saved herself a few bucks."
"Okay, but she ain't gonna like it."
"She don't have to like it. I am not up to sitting in a cramped car at the moment. Tell her I will get on it just as soon as I can. Probably be a couple of days."
"She called just before you came in. She believes the two of them are at it right now."
"Have a heart Helen my knee is killing me."
"Take an ice pack with you."
"Okay, okay, I'm on my way to Tinker's house. I will drive by and see if the old man's car is in the drive. What is he driving." Helen handed me a piece of paper on which she had written. Lime green Lincoln town car, and the license number. "If the car isn't there, I am coming home. I am not going to sit out here all night waiting for him to show."
The bastard's car was in the drive. Even in the dark the puke green Lincoln was visible. I sat in my little Toyota waiting for the mooch to move. The radio hummed, then gave of a low beep. I put the ear phone into my ear and clicked the mic. The beep was Helens warning that she was going to transmit. The channel we used seldom had any traffic. it had I would have already plugged in the ear phone. Plugging it in killed the speaker on the radio. "Okay Helen this had better not be Billie changing her mind."
"You are going to wish it were. I got two FBI types in my office. They brought the chief with them."
"I suppose that is the fitting end to a lousy day. Did they need the sheriff so they wouldn't get lost."
"I don't know they are standing here, want to ask?"
"Nope they wouldn't admit it anyway. What is it that they want?"
"They want you to come home of course."
"Tell them to come back to my place at ten. I am going to give Alvin here a few more minutes." The man's name wasn't Alvin. I didn't want my business on the street.
"They are going to wait just in case you finish earlier."
"In that case send them to the deck to wait. Then give our white coated friend a call."
"Ten four," she said.
I waited another hour for my mooch to leave. At nine thirteen he and Tinker came to the door. She was about half dressed, wearing some kind of gown that even I, at a block away, could see through. I had it all on tape. Even her kissing the mooch. It was a kiss that should have sucked all the air from his lungs. He was staggering a little as he walked away.
If Billie just wanted to give her old man hell, or if she wanted a divorce, the tape should do it. If she wanted more, I would have to bug the house. When I do that, we are talking serious money. Usually the price convinces people that they have enough. The mooch drove right past me. I figured I was through with him, so I didn't even bother to duck. It didn't matter he had other things on his mind.
I drove the Toyota to the Sheriff's office. I walked up to the top floor where the county crime lab was located. Jacob was bent over his microscope. "I saw your van downstairs. You worked fast on that crime scene."
"Wasn't too much to do. I left the trainees to finish up."
"You got the photos ready yet."
"Hell no. I'm going to be here all night. By the way I couldn't believe it when the Sheriff told me to cooperate. He usually threatens to fire me if you find out anything."
"I know ain't it great. He and I are getting to be real buddies."
"Just don't bend over around that prick."
"Jacob how you do talk about your boss." I waited a minute then asked the question he had been waiting for. "What did Lester in."
".22 caliber slug to the base of the skull. It's just a guess, but I think it is an accurate one."
"That's what it looked like to me. My question was why his head was bashed in."
"He was clubbed post mortem."
"I'll take your word for it, but why."
"Got me. The old man had been dead at least a few minutes before the blow. Hell he may have been dead a couple of hours before."
"Now that is strange. I take you were there when the M.E. arrived."
"Oh yeah, It didn't take the M.E. to pronounce him dead. Hell even my new assistant knew he was gone."
"Who is your assistant this month."
"Sally Bellum, you know her?"
"Nope, she must be from one of those new families in town."
"Naw, she actually moved here to take a job with the city police. Trained in Raleigh. She moved over here as a first grade patrolman."
"We gettin a lot of that crap lately. I wonder why."
"Her story was she wanted a slower pace. Wanted to be more involved with the community."
"What a crock. She probably wants your job."
"This shit keeps up she can have it. You know Jews aren't much higher than blacks on the Klan's list."
"Don't worry Jacob, everybody knows you are a fallen Jew."
"I don't think that makes a difference."
"I don't suppose you found any tire marks to match the white van."
"Didn't look. That drive was full of deputy's cars."
"Our man didn't pull in the drive. He walked up."
"Come to think of it, Lester wouldn't have been eating quietly unless he was surprised. Then again, maybe it was someone he knew and trusted."
"Table was only set for one. No other glasses. I don't think even Lester would eat in front of someone without offering them something. If they refused he would have waited till they left before he ate. You know how us southern boys are. We can't eat with people hovering around."
"Okay, so our boy comes up slips the lock and sneaks into the house and ices Lester."
"Don't think so."
"I think he shot Lester through the open window. Lester didn't have any powder marks on his skin."
"Yeah but that don't mean the shooter was outside the house."
"No but there is a small hole in the screen on the window behind Lester."
"You're kidding me."
"Nope, better call your assistant and have him bring in the screen."
"Son of a bitch, you ain't kidding."
"Not in the least. Jacob I am surprised at you. You were out there and didn't see the hole."
"I am going to make an excuse now. Listen carefully, there were sheriff's deputies and FBI people all over the kitchen while I was working."
"Better have Bellum grab that screen before the Feds get it. Son of a bitch will be lost before you know it."
I left him to his work. I had to drive home to meet the Feds. "Call me if you find anything that might interest me." I said on my way out.
There were three of them on my deck. Helen had made them a pot of coffee and left my door open in case they needed to use the john. "Find anything?" I asked as I climbed the steps.
"What?" the chief asked.
"Surely you guys looked around when you went to the can."
"I resent that, I am not a guy." I had gotten truly blessed by Uncle Sam. He had sent me one of the new women agents. "Mr. Jefferson, we don't search houses without warrants."
"Sure and Nixon is still president."
"Okay, we don't do that any more."
"I'll have to take your word for that. So what is it that I can do for the FBI?"
The male agent spoke. "We would like your cooperation in this investigation."
"Are you going to cooperate with me."
"I don't think you understand. We don't share information with civilians."
"I understood, that you don't share it with cops either."
"Our investigations," the woman said, "Sometimes take us in different directions."
"Lady you are attractive, but I wouldn't buy that crock from Raquel Welch."
"We frankly don't care whether you buy it or not. We can run your ass in right this minute."
"He talking for you chief?"
"No and he ain't runnin nobody in. At least not without reason. Let's all calm down. Linc we need to know what you found so far."
"That's simple nothing, about the same as them." I waited a few seconds for them to absorb my statement. "Of course these guys already have the key."
"What do you mean?" Asked the male agent.
"I figure the hit was tied to last night's cross burning. Anybody here want to dispute that." I waited but there were no comments. "I also figure, the guys who burned the cross weren't from here."
"You mean, you hope they weren't from your little town." The woman said.
"That too, but I am pretty sure they weren't."
"What makes you say that?" the chief asked.
"They were too well organized, and the two new white vans would stick out a mile in this town."
"Two vans, we only heard of one." the male agent said.
"That's because I didn't tell you about the second van. It was watching my house at the time of the burning."
"Now why would anyone do that?" the woman asked sarcastically.
"Because, somebody tipped them that I was a friend of Jed's. They wanted to make sure I didn't interfere with them."
"I would think they would be more worried about the cops than a photographer." the woman stated. I was beginning to dislike her."
"Not if you lived in this town." The chief answered for me.
"The cops here might or might not have arrested them. Linc, on the other hand, would definite have killed their sorry asses."
"That's against the law." I said.
"Yeah, but people who piss you off, wind up real dead, real quick." the chief said.
"Not all of them."
"What the hell are you two talking about. Can we get back to this case?" the woman asked.
"Sure, I don't think that Lester even knew about the cross. I figure somebody came into town burned the cross, then hit Lester."
"Oh and why do you think that?" the male agent said.
"Because the timing fits and right now I got nothing else."
"Why would they hit Lester?"
"Because they think he is a snitch."
I watched their faces and knew they were hiding something. I also knew that if I wasn't right, I was close. "One of your thousand Klan infiltrators dropped a dime on old Lester."
"We don't have anyone inside the Klan."
"If that is the case, you can't help me so I'm going to bed." I removed my leg from the bench and started for the door.
"We aren't through with you." The woman said.
"I'm through with you. So please get the hell off my deck."
They did. I went out at two to check the street for strange cars. It was empty. . I wasn't able to sleep after the two am walk. I had no idea who did Lester. If I did, I probably still wouldn't know who bashed his skull later. It bothered me. Something was wrong with the whole thing. Two different murderers. I had to wonder who would do a dead man. It just didn't make a lot of sense.
I was actually farther along with the investigation than the FBI would have liked. I knew the crack about an agent dropping a dime on Lester hit home. I just didn't know what the story was. Everybody knew there were agents in the Klan. They were supposed to be gathering evidence on them. Some of those guys might get converted. There was an awful lot of information they could produce.
In addition to the agents the FBI had a few paid informants. Those were the names the Klan really wanted. I would bet my life that Lester wasn't an informant. Hell he had nothing worth selling. Somebody may have given his name to either save themselves or just for spite. It wouldn't matter to Lester and it really didn't matter much to me. I still wanted the men who burned the cross on Jed's lawn.
Helen met me on the deck. It was our habit to watch the sun rise. It was a bit cold that day so we quickly adjourned to the glassed in breakfast room in my apartment. The feeling wasn't the same but it was better than sitting around with no view at all.
"Helen do me a favor? Will you call out to the Cedar's and ask if they have any new guest."
"You mean besides our government friends."
"No, let them include the government men in the list."
"Why not? I wouldn't put anything past the FBI."
"Come on, you know better than that."
"The hell I do. As a matter of fact I ought to go out there and bug their room."
"You wouldn't dare."
"Why not they would never check. They think, we are all to dumb down here. If they are going to check at all they already have. They probably won't check again."
"If they catch you, you'll wind up in a cell." She thought about everything for a while, then said, "You don't really think those guys are still around do you."
"Not in a motel anyway. They probably have a motor home in the woods somewhere." It hit me then. "You and Bobby still on speaking terms?"
"If you mean do we still sleep together? The answer is no. If you mean would he do us a favor, the answer is yes. He might demand payment but I doubt it."
Helen and Bobby had gone out for a while. He didn't think the fact that Helen was bisexual would bother him. It did in the end. They parted but like most of Helen's lovers they stayed friends. "How about asking him to keep his eye out for a new campsite. You know a big motor home maybe two."
"With a couple of white vans parked beside it?"
"Now that would be nice. Get the room numbers of our Feds from last night."
"You are really going to bug them aren't you?"
"How many times have you ever heard me admit to doing something illegal. Shit they probably bugged this place last night."
"You did check didn't you?" Helen asked as she looked around.
"Of course I checked. The place is clean but remind me to sweep it every day till they leave town. You might want to make your calls from the drugstore."
"You think they tapped our phones?"
"I would. The radio is going to be monitored unless I miss my guess. From now on try to keep anything we need to say off the radio or phone. Tell Bobby not to tell us anything over the phone."
"Why don't you just find the bugs and toss them?" Helen asked.
"That wouldn't be any fun. I mean this way we can all have fun with their bugs. Besides we might want them to hear something one day."
While Helen went to the store, I went to breakfast. The Elms was pretty much empty. I hadn't been in at that time of the morning in weeks. It was 'E' who met me at the register.
"You going to sit at the counter or you want a booth."
"Booth please," I waited till we were pretty much out of earshot. "Are the cops giving Jed a hard time?"
"Sure they are. You know he got a big mouth. Course this time he also has an alibi. Turns out them college kids was good for somethin' after all."
"That woman is no college kid. What is her story?"
"Rich white yankee bitch. Got nothin' better to do than come down here and help us poor niggers vote."
"Vote so you can elect their crooks. Instead of somebody else's crooks."
"Got that right. They do enough to keep us votin' for them but not a bit more."
"You sound mad 'E'."
"I am. Jed he knows better than to be a messin with them people. Hell Linc, we got a good life here. Not all black people but me and Jed. We make more money than most of the white people in this town. Don't nobody try to keep us down. Only people ever helped us was white. Won't none of them college educated niggers, sat up most of the night fillin' out papers to get mama this restaurant. Weren't none of them that doubled our business."
"Okay I'll bite on the filling out of the loan forms. Actually most of that was Julie. But tell me who doubled your business?"
"You know damned well who it was talked me into buying them mill restaurant files. Them two damned recipes was worth ten times what I paid for the whole lot of them. Not only do I make the best damned hot dogs, I got the best damned coleslaw in the state."
"I don't suppose you would tell me what the secret is."
"I love you almost like a brother, but I wouldn't tell Jed if'n he didn't have to make it sometimes. You tryin to change the subject. You ain't the only one either. I mean you and Miss Julie was good to us, but there were a whole lot more that helped us. We do so much cop business now we have them on the deck all the time. That little deck you talked me into, is full of coffee and iced tea drinkers during the summer. I think when it gets freezin cold they still gonna be out there.
Them politicians gonna make it possible for me to get a minimum wage job in some mill. Shit man they nuts. My people need us to help them get ahead one on one. They don't need no more damned laws. Shit, the white people who hate us gonna find some way around them. Them same damned politicians gonna write in loop holes. It's all a fucking show."
"Too bad Jed don't see it that way. This crap with the cross shit will pass. When he gets let down by those politicians, I hope that will pass. I ain't ready for the revolution yet."
"Don't think so Mr. Linc, He done put too much faith in these people. Now I got to change the subject. Thelma she gonna be in here in a minute. She done talked to Miss Helen a dozen times. She gonna worry the shit out of her."
"Hell, that's good for Helen. She loves weddings."
"You hurry up and eat will you. I want you to pay your bill before Thelma gets here."
"Cause she finds out I'm chargin you for the food, she gonna kick my ass."
"Then don't charge me."
"Bullshit, we done had that argument. I tried not to charge you once. You looked like you was gonna kick my ass. If there comes a time you don't want to pay, you just walk your ass out without payin."
"If I do, can I come back?"
"Far as I'm concerned, I make you a partner tomorrow. But knowin you, you wouldn't come back."
"I guess you are right." I paid before I finished my breakfast. Sure enough Thelma came into the place. She had a book of wedding cake pictures.
"Linc, I'm glad to see you. I want you to help me pick out a cake."
"Why? You mean that sorry assed Jed ain't gonna bake you a cake."
"Hell no, he done got too busy with his college boy friends. Not to mention that piece of white trash running with them. I made him move them out to the cedars."
"God, that place must be full by now."
Thelma laughed, "Old man Whitaker would a burned that cross himself, If'n he knowed how good business was gonna get."
"Maybe, I should talk to him."
"I'm just kiddin Linc. I know you and Jed be mighty pissed."
"Next cross burned, gonna have a man hanging on it." 'E' said.
"Could be. Thelma go ask Helen about the cake she knows a lot more about cakes than me."
"I just come from there. She drove up while I was waitin. We picked this one. What you think."
I took a look at the cake that seemed to have smaller cakes surrounding it. "You gonna have to rent a trailer to haul that to the reception. You probably gonna have to leave it outside. You ain't ever gonna get it in here."
"Mr. Linc," I could tell she had gotten serious. "You remember Baby Ellis?"
"Sure, I shot her wedding last year?"
"Two years ago, she and her husband gonna have a second baby this month. What I wanted to know is, can you make my pichers look like her's"
"Almost, I remember that her husband was better looking than Jed. I can't do much about that."
Thelma slapped me playfully on the arm. "You jest do the best you can with that sorry nigger and it will be fine."
"I would like to sit here all morning and insult Jed, but I got work to do." I said.
"You gonna catch them fellas before my wedding."
"I'm hopin it is your wedding present."
"Be a damned good one." 'E' said.
I walked out and into the parking lot. I saw the car with a man sitting across the street. A stupid place for a stakeout. Nobody sits in a church parking lot during the week. The man stood out like a sore thumb. I sat in my scout for a few minutes.
It had to be a fed. Nobody else could be that damned stupid. I actually didn't think the clan would do anything that dumb. I knew he wasn't a local. I might not have recognized every car in town, but I knew most of the bad guys. I left the parking lot in a shower of gravel. I got to the church lot while the watcher was still trying to get his car in gear. I pulled in front of him.
He backed up and zipped past me. I got a good look at his face as he passed. I would know that prick next time. I looked behind him at the church almost too late. I saw the arm sticking out of the building. It had a pistol on the end of it.
I ducked behind the dash just as I saw the windshield of my scout explode. I saw it before I heard the shot. I managed to get lower even with the gimp knee. The prick was somewhere behind the church. I managed to get into the back of the scout. The rear doors swung out so I opened them and fell outside in the same motion. I stayed behind the scout with my cane. I waited for a moment then tossed my cookies.
A truly nasty habit of mine. I made a jagged run for an old oak tree in the church yard. I don't think the gunman was much of a shot. He took too long to fire his second shot. It thank god missed me. I had already made it to the tree. I had also seen the puff of smoke from the pistol. The shooter was indeed using the church for cover. Using a hand gun in an ambush is a stupid thing to do. You can't hit shit with a hand gun. Especially a moving target.
I knew I would be in terrible pain when this was finished. At the moment I didn't feel anything. I took off for the church building but angled to the far side. The shooter fired twice at me. I felt pretty confident that he wouldn't hit me.
I was out of his line of sight when I heard the roar of an engine. The watcher had returned to help his buddy. I waited behind another oak while the car made a rush at me. It was entirely too easy. The man in the car thought I was unarmed so he pulled the car to a quick stop jumped out and died.
That stupid antique cane of mine worked perfectly. It sprayed three .32 caliber pellets from the single 410 gauge shotgun shell. I popped the cane open and inserted another shell. I had exactly two left.
I hated that the man in the rear now knew I was armed. The alternative was to let the man who jumped out of the car pop me. I was trying to decide which side of the church to go down when I got the idea. I stole the watchers car and drove it to the rear of the building. It took a few seconds for the shooter to determine that it wasn't his buddy driving. He tried to run away. I knew I was just to damned gimpy to chase him. I shot his legs out from under him. I should have shot him in the back. If I had, I would have felt better. I wanted to ask him a couple of questions so I aimed low. The shot actually him in the ankle. Only one hit him. It was barely enough to knock him off balance. I reloaded as I hobbled to him. His gun had flown as he fell.
He was crawling for it when I hit him with the steel cane. I hit him with the barrel end right in the ribs. It the damned thing went off accidentally I wanted it to be his ass that caught the buck shot. I heard the sirens coming.
"I figure we got about a minute. You gonna tell what the hell is going on or I am going to kill you right were you lay. Now get to it."
"I ain't got nothin to say to you nigger lover."
"Too bad then you dead. I'll give you a chance to get that pistol but whether you do or not it is going to be in your hand when the cops get here." He scrambled for the gun. Just as he reached it I fired the buckshot into his head. It's hard to miss from ten feet with a shotgun. Even a small one.
The chief and I were talking a few minutes later. We were waiting for Jacob to arrive. "Too bad you had to kill him. He won't be talking now."
"Never was," I said.
"What did you say," the chief demanded.
"Nothing," Did you murder that man?"
"Wouldn't tell you, if I did."
"I'm going to have to take you in."
"Let me make a call on the radio." I walked away from him without looking back. "Helen," I said into the radio. "Call Jake for me. I think I need him to meet me at the police station."
"Nothing honey, just call Jake for me." Now Jake and me got a history. None of it is good. I don't like or trust him. Jake thinks even less of me. I work for him and he works for me. He has as much to gain by me being outside, as he would like to see me inside. I know it is a challenge for him to decide which way to go. He must think about it every time I call him.
I walked back to the chief. He had calmed down. "Jake on his way?"
"Gonna meet us at the station."
"I wouldn't bother with this if the FBI wasn't in town. I admit I was pissed at first but I calmed down. I think, I better go through the motions." I watched as the officers strung tape around the parking lot. "You know either these boys."
"Never seen them before. They aren't very good though. Timing was way off."
"How you figure it was supposed to go."
The one in front was supposed to lure me over. That part worked. I got a little too close so he split. Probably part of the plan. The one back here shot out my windshield instead of my heart. I made it to that oak tree," I pointed behind us. The one in the car should have been back by then. With him behind me I had nowhere to go. I made it all the way to that second oak in front. I was out of the line of fire from this one."
"What held the driver up?"
"Got me, I was too busy to keep up with him. I was upset that I hadn't. I should have known he would be coming back. His partner needed a ride home. Strange how a man shooting at you tends to occupy your mind.
I saw the car pull in before the chief, "Looks like the Feds are here."
"Oh shit," the chief said. "I guess they will want to take over."
"Hell chief, let them. While they are playing with me, they will at least be out of your way."
"I should, probably teach you both a lesson."
"What the hell happened here?" the woman asked. It was obvious for the first time that she was in charge.
"Don't ask me, I'm waiting for my lawyer." I said.
"Linc here, seems to have had a run in with a couple of your out of town boys."
"Are they all dead?" she asked. I was worried when she looked relieved. She was good because it took her only a spit second to go on the offense. "Did you have to kill them both."
"I'm still waiting for my lawyer. I have told you that, yet you continue to ask me questions. That has to be a violation of something."
"Chief," One of the patrolmen said. "We been taking statements from the people in the diner over there. They tell it like an ambush. Guess they didn't know too much about who they were after."
"I don't know Red they came pretty close." I said.
"Not the way those jigs saw it. The way they tell it, the bad guys didn't have a chance."
"Don't ever let me hear you use that word again Red. If do, you are going to be looking for a job." the chief said.
"Sorry chief. I wasn't thinking."
"Your number one problem Red. Now get the hell away from me." the chief said.
I watched the FBI agents write in their little books. I stood quietly and waited for them to transport me. "Chief, why don't we take Mr. Jefferson down for a few words."
"Can if you want. Course Jake is gonna have him sprung about ten seconds after we hit the station." He looked at his watch. "We might as well go on down. Jake should be there by now." the chief said.
I rode in the front seat of the chiefs big old ford. "Chief why do you think the FBI was glad both them dudes was dead?"
"I noticed that. I don't have any idea but I sure would like to know."
"You know they are poking around at the shooting scene. I'll bet there is no one at their motel. We could run by there and leave them a present."
"You ain't talking about bugging their room are you?"
"Not me chief. I wouldn't know about such things."
"Then the rumor I heard last January would be wrong. The one about you shopping at Fat Sams in Charlotte."
"Who is Fat Sam?" I asked innocently.
"Fat Sam deals in illegal listening devices." the chief answered without a smile.
"You know how rumors are chief."
"I don't want to get involved in no bugging. I would however like to get a look at the register at the Cedars." The chief changed the direction of the car.
While the chief looked at the register, I looked at the FBI's room. No southerner likes the FBI stepping in their shit. It wasn't hard to get the old man to let me have the master key. I left the little present under the bed.
I also placed a radio repeater outside their room. I hid it under a bush growing wild in the back of the building. There was no way for it to be seen. If it were to be stumbled on, there was no way to trace it. The outside case was covered with cloth material. You could not accidently leave a finger print. Fat Sam knew that a customer in jail was apt to roll over on him. It was to his advantage to keep us out of jail.
The bug was just that. It was a hard rubber radio made in the shape of a cockroach. The roach broadcast no more than thirty feet. Therefore the repeater outside the door. Now the repeater would broadcast half a mile. I had the crystal receiver in my scout. It looked like a little portable radio. If you tried it you would receive static on every station. Unless you were with half a mile of our little repeater. Then you would get a really nice if somewhat static filled radio show. The little radio was also a tape player. A lot like the portable players you see joggers running around with. It also had a voice activated recorder. Everything bought from a regular electronics store. You would have to be a radio repairman to know that the mic had been disconnected. The voice activated recorder was left somewhere withing a half mile of the repeater. With no speaker in the thing there would make no noise. It just sat there till it heard voices from the repeater. Then, and only then, did the recorder begin to turn. A neat little device if ever there was one. No one had ever discovered the repeater or the radio. I had lost a few of the bugs but that was the cost of doing business.
I didn't want to involve Whit in the mess, so I left the receiver in the magazine rack under a couple of old field and stream magazines. No one knew where it was except me.
I went to the station with the chief. The mayor happened to be in the building so she came down to see me. "Linc, I am sure glad this mess is over. I knew you would take care of it for me. I guess the FBI will be leaving now."
I don't think so Maggie. They have their teeth into this thing and won't be leaving till they have a few headlines."
"God, I hate politicians." She said as she walked out the door.
"Jake is having coffee in the lounge. Want me to get him for you?" the chief asked.
"Hell yes, that prick is charging me a hundred bucks and hour to drink coffee." A couple of minutes later Jake walked into the interrogation room.
"So, I hear you shot a couple of Klansmen. I personally think you should take all the credit for it and let's go get drunk."
"Jake you are drinking too much these days, but that is another story. Just tell these guys to put up or shut up. I got things that need doin'."
"Hey the feds are trying to see how many federal laws you broke out there."
"Since when, is self defense a crime, federal or state."
"Never has been before. I think they are trying to stretch this one into murder or at least manslaughter. They want to squeeze you for information."
"I got none. If I did, those two couldn't squeeze a lemon."
"You don't know how right you are. They asked Ed if he thought throwin' your ass in jail for a few hours would soften you up."
"So what did Ed tell them."
Jake mimicked the old jailer. "Might, I'll do it to, if ya'll come down and clean the blood of the wall and floor."
"You got prisoners that'd do that to him." The FBI man is looking at some of the hard asses in the lockup.
"Yeah there some bad asses in there all right. I just don't want to be the one cleans up their blood."
"Surely there are six or seven who could take him."
"You mean all at once?"
"If need be."
"Well, I think I got maybe three that ain't married."
"What has that got to do with anything?" the woman asked.
Ed, he says. "We don't much cotton to addin' widows to the welfare roles in this county."
Jake laughed and I even joined him. "Ed don't really believe that Jake. He was just pullin' the FBI woman's leg."
"Not a bad idea, pulling her leg. Oh, Ed believes it all right." Jake said. "Why shouldn't he. Your reputation may not be deserved but it is enormous in this little town."
"It does keep the riff raff off my ass."
Jake nodded. The interrogators came into the room. The woman agent started to ask a question. "Hold on a minute." Jake said. "I am going to advise my client to tell his version of the morning's events. Just once, then if you have anything to say please do, because we will be leaving directly afterwards."
"You can't do that."
"That is exactly what I expect from you Yankees. You think, because I graduated from Duke instead of Harvard, I don't know the law. Well you can just kiss my red neck ass. That is how it is going to be. If you want to charge my client for killing two Klansmen, then you feel free. I think the news people will love that story. A southern white man defends himself against a couple of Klan bullies, who by the way were trying to shoot him. So who does the FBI arrest? Film at eleven. God I may run for governor after I finish with you two."
"Calm down Jake." I turned my attention to the FBI agents. "Like the man said one time, so take all the notes you want." I told the story just like it happened. Well mostly, I didn't mention I shot the second man because I didn't want him to hire Jake or someone like him and walk after taking shots at me. When I finished, I answered a couple of questions then stood to leave.
"What do you know about Lester's death?" the woman asked.
"I know the FBI is up to it's eyeballs in it."
"Now wait just a minute." the man said.
"You may not have pulled the trigger, but you are involved."
"How dare you," the woman said.
"You guys know more than you are saying. Hell, you knew more when you came here than we did. And we are working the ground here."
"What is this we, chief. Is this man working for you?"
"If he wants to be." the chief answered. He was a real stand up guy. I appreciated it. I actually had the sheriff in mind.
"You are kidding?" the woman asked. "You would really let a murder suspect work for you."
"They are tossin that around awfully loosely Linc. I think we ought to go down to Judge Always office and get a restraining order. I'll bet he would love to slap one on the FBI."
"She is just having a bad day. She don't mean it. Do you agent? By the way I never did get your name."
"Peters, agent Peters."
I put out my hand. She turned away. Nice move I thought to myself.
"If you people are through with me, I have to go get my scout. I need a new windshield."
"I'll drive you," Jake offered.
"I'll bet you would at a hundred bucks an hour. No thanks I believe someone here will drive me. How about you guys agent Peters. Wouldn't you two like to get me alone in a car?"
"Matter of fact I would. Mike you stay here until they get the shooting evidence in. I want you to look at the personal effects of both men."
"Come on tough guy," She said.
"Send me a bill Jake."
"You know it," Jake said as I followed the Fed outside.
Once inside her car Peters asked, "Why are you such a hard ass?"
"First of all are you wired. This shit may get serious."
"No, I'm not wired. It isn't something I wear like panty hose."
"Okay, it's what keeps me alive. If I weren't, somebody would have killed me years ago."
"Bullshit, you do it because you like that macho shit."
"That's what I said. If I wasn't a hard ass somebody would have killed me years ago. I don't take no shit and I don't kiss no ass. I couldn't live any other way."
"You know, I got your file on the way down here. I had it sent to Quantico first. Our shrink is going to take a look at it, then fax it to me along with his evaluation. I want to know what makes you tick."
"If it is an interesting file, bring it over. We can discus it over a cup of coffee."
"Look, you want to share information. I will share with you. You tell me what you know and I will tell you what I know."
"No you won't. You will fill me with crap."
"Okay, then you fill me with crap." she said.
"Okay, I was being watched by some dudes the night of the fire."
"I already know that."
"So now your turn."
"We knew about the fire within an hour after it burned."
"You know I told you something you already knew. The least you could have done was not lie to me."
"What do you mean?"
"You knew about the cross burning before it happened. I expect you knew where and when. The reason you knew about me being watched, is that somebody told you before the cross."
"How would the FBI know that?"
"Because it was part of the plan and you already knew the plan. If not you personally, somebody up there did."
"Your turn to tell me something." she said ducking a response.
"Not really but I will anyway. Lester was killed twice."
"Not really, you can't do that. He was hit the second time but he was already dead. Do you mean the second man didn't know he was dead?"
"Oh he knew. Old Lester was probably slumped back in his chair with his eyes wide open."
"You mean the second man wanted to kill him anyway."
"That makes it the son Robbie."
"Could be, or some other member of his group. You know the stranger Klan whacks Lester, then the locals find out he was a snitch. When they find him already dead. They smack him with a two by, just out of frustration."
"I don't know why, but when you tell it the thing sounds reasonable."
"Only problem is Lester was no snitch."
"How do you know that?"
"Because you had nothing to temp him with. At least nothing more important to him than the power he had in the Klan."
"I don't know if he was a snitch or not?"
"Sure you do. You just can't tell me."
"What ever you say."
"Your turn." I said.
"There were cops in Lester's group."
"We knew that but thanks for confirming that you had a snitch in his group."
"I didn't confirm anything."
"Sure you did. We all knew that, but you couldn't have unless someone told you guys. The only one you would believe would be either a UC or a paid snitch. You guys don't much trust rumor. At least, not like we do down here."
"You know you are pretty smart." she said.
"For a backwoods hick."
"Yeah for one of those."
"My scout is right up there."
"Tell me something Mr. Jefferson." she paused just a second. "Where you scared."
I decided to tell her the truth. She could ask around and find out anyway. "See that stain behind my scout. I puked my guts out right there. That answer your question."
"Anybody tells you he ain't scared when the shit flies is a liar or a damned fool. I wouldn't trust him either way."
"I'll remember that."
"Good, thanks for the ride. I'm sure I will see you again before you leave town."
"Watch yourself, you are beginning to sound like one of us hicks."
"I seen worse," She actually smiled as she drove away.
I drove the scout to the Elms. Jed was in the restaurant by the time I got there. "Jed," I said. "You think of anything else?"
"No man, you want a glass of tea?"
"Sure," I headed for a booth in the corner.
"No man, go sit with my friends. They want to talk to you. I'll bring the tea. I wants to hear this." The last part he had said in a whisper.
I said hello to each and everyone of them. "Miss Laura wants to ask you something. Go ahead Laura." one of the college kids said.
"Mr. Jefferson, what does it feel like to kill someone."
"I don't know ma'am. I never think about it. Of course I also haven't slept through a full night since I can't remember."
"Jed told us how tough you were. I didn't believe him. I never saw a man move so fast. Even with two good legs. I mean it wasn't like a track runner. It was just something about the way you moved out there."
"Well kid, I'm going to pay for it. My knee will be the size of a basketball tonight."
"When you going to have that damn thing fixed."
"You know better. They want to fuse the bones. I would have a damned sight less movement than with the brace."
"Yeah but you wouldn't have no more pain," Jed added.
"Dead men don't feel pain. I think I will keep mine."
The black student who hadn't ask any questions yet asked, "What happened behind that church?"
"What do you think happened?"
"I think you murdered that man." the kid said.
"You might be right kid."
"The cop said he was shot in the back."
"Back of the head kid." I answered.
"Ain't much of a hero shoots a man in the back." he said.
"Kid, all the real life hero's I know are dead. I prefer to be a live coward. If it's alright with you."
"I think I can wipe your ass."
"You probably can kid. You are younger, stronger, and a damned sight faster. Yeah my guess is that you could." I watched him close. He was trying to impress somebody and therefore dangerous. He was just young enough to do something real stupid. "Well, I think I better find somebody to replace the glass in my windshield.
I limped to the cash register. Jed was in front of me when I heard the sound of quick feet. I turned on the kid. He was still about ten feet away. He launched himself in a flying kick. I didn't move till the last minute, then I simply side stepped him. The miss left him badly off balance. I got behind him easily and put an arm around his throat. "Kid you are about ten seconds from dying. Now either you stop trying to be Bruce Lee, or I'm going to kill your ass right here. Your choice. Next time you come at me you are dead. I do hope you understand that." I turned him loose and waited for his next move. He passed me on the way to his booth. I had made an enemy.
"Nice friends you got Jed. Next time I'm going to kill him."
"I told him that. I'm surprised you didn't just now."
"I done bagged my limit for the day." I said but I wasn't smiling.
I made it to the scout then glanced at the restaurant. The woman Laura came out the door. She was obviously walking toward me.
"Thank you for not killing him. He is just a kid and doesn't know any better. I'm afraid he was trying to impress me. You know that macho thing."
"I know, I suffer from it myself."
"I don't think that is your problem. Look I'm tired of registering farmers. Is there a place I can get a drink around here."
"Sure, but it's going to be drafty."
I drove to the Holiday in restaurant. We sat at a table by the windows. The view was of the parking lot but at least there was plenty of light. "So what the hell are you doing hanging around with a bunch of kids?"
"You don't think much of me hanging out with blacks do you."
"Wrong, I don't think about it at all. I wonder about what your motives are. I don't much care that the people around you are black."
"I am a bored New York liberal Jew. I came down to do my part. You know sacrifice for justice, all that crap."
"So what changed you?"
"You did. 'E' called Jed right after it happened. We all came rushing down here. The cops had you so we stayed in the diner. Thelma was hysterical but Jed calmed her. You know what he said?"
"He said to her. Woman remember we ain't talking about any ordinary man. We are talking about the ghost. He is not only okay in his body, but his is okay in his head. Nobody can reach him. Then Thelma began crying quieter than before. "Jed," she said, "You got to do something."
I asked Jed about you. There were three of them telling us about you. There are three people back there love you like a brother. From what I understand they are the only family you have left. Oh except for Helen."
"There is Helen. Now she is a southern Jew."
"Also one hell of a lady, according to those three. I'll bet, I know something about her you don't."
"Yeah, she sits by your side every time you are in the hospital. If not in your room in the waiting room on your floor."
"I knew she spent a lot of time at the hospital."
"Jed told me, she would tell you she was going home. She would actually be in the waiting room or outside your door. Especially when you slept."
"I didn't know that."
"She also carries a .45 automatic in her purse. She knows how many people would like to catch you helpless. According to Jed, she is more dangerous than you. That is when you are in the hospital."
"I really didn't know that."
"I figured you two were lovers. Jed set me straight. I'm not sure I understood but I have a feeling the words were yours."
"What words were those?"
"That race done been run, and I think I quote him."
"You do. I told him that a couple of times."
"She obviously loves you and Jed claims you love her. At least it sounds like it from the things you have done for her."
"She pulls her weight."
"What about Julie?"
"Damn how long did you guys talk about me?"
"All morning. So what about Julie?"
"Julie is dead. You should know that already."
"I do but what about her. Was that race ever finished."
"Depends who you talk to. Some people say yes, some say no."
"But what do you say."
I looked her hard in the eye. We had both been smoking cigarettes. "Julie is like this pack of cigarettes. You can quit but you never stop wanting them. The love affair with them, even though you know they are bad for you, goes right on."
"Jed also said you had been with a lot of women since Julie and Helen."
"Depends on what you mean by a lot."
"Oh about half the female population of this town. Of course taking out those over fifty and under twenty five."
"That is an exaggeration."
"I hope so. Look I am a rich bitch. I usually get what I want. How about I come to your place tonight."
"Sure, why don't you come about nine." As and after thought I said, "Since you are rich bring a pizza with you."
"Done, I've had my drink and I have said what I wanted to say. How about taking me back to the diner."
From the diner I drove to the office. The radio had been silent as I knew it would be. Helen was handling things on her own. That is why she made a great partner she could either consult me on everything or run the damned studio by herself. That had come in handy on more than this one occasion. "Anything new?" I asked.
"Bobby called, he got your package. Said to come by for it after five."
Bobby was a helicopter pilot for the power company. He flew above the lines looking for trouble. He flew over a couple of different counties about once a month he covered the whole route. I hoped there weren't any potential trouble spots. I mean Bobby was working for Helen today.
I drove to the shed where the Duke power chopper was kept. "How they hangin?" I asked as I saw him for the first time.
"Low Linc, I got to get to Helen. What is wrong with her."
"Bobby ain't nothin wrong with her. You knew about her from the start. You just aren't secure enough to handle her."
"I notice you don't date her anymore either."
"I didn't say, I was any more secure than you." I noticed that he gave me a big smile.
"No you didn't did you. By the way, I heard you had a bit of trouble today."
"Not that I know of."
"Man, you so damned cool. I wish I was like you."
"No you don't Bobby."
"I guess you are right at that. I go home and sleep nights. Helen told me you can't sleep. All them assholes to worry about?"
"Something like that. Speaking of assholes I hear you found mine."
"I think so. Here let me show you." He took an aerial map from his pocket. "Now this here is the old fire road up on Johnson ridge. There are two campers and two vans up there right now. Look like they are new to the area. Don't have much of a camp."
"Well you don't have any idea how I appreciate this Bobby. Can I pay you."
"No, but you can tell me how to understand Helen."
"Bobby I would rather pay you." I waited but when he didn't smile I said, "Okay Bobby, but you may not understand. They tell me my daddy used to say something. he said "There is wind only when you feel it on your own face."
"I'm sorry, I don't understand."
In other words what Helen does when she isn't with you, doesnt really have any meaning for you because they are just words for you, not actions. Has she ever mistreated or hurt you."
"No, I just can't get the pictures out of my mind."
"The pictures aren't real. They are just like bad dreams. They will pass when you let them."
He thought about it, while I thought about what to do with his information. I decided before he did. I would have to pay our boys a visit.
"You know it's hard Linc but I understand what you mean. Your daddy must have been a awfully smart man."
"He must have been. I wish I could remember him."
Bobby didn't speak for a while. "You want a ride up that to that camp."
"'Fraid not Bobby. That chopper is too noisy."
I returned home to a message from Jacob Stein. The autopsy report on Lester was in. He was definitely dead. Shot through the screen then clubbed with an axe handle. The axe had been found in the shop. No prints on the axe and no tire impressions that matched the van.
I went to my apartment. I placed an ice pack on my knee. I dictated to Helen the report to accompany the tape bound for Billie. It was a pain, but business had to go on. I heard the knock on the door. I kept a .380 automatic in the chair cushion and reached for it. "Come in," I said. Helen walked through the door. I released my grip on the .380. "Hi sweetie,"
"I didn't ask downstairs. I knew you needed the ice pack. I want to know now what happened this morning. The TV is full of it. You made national news."
"It was nothing. You know me. I had my luck with me, as usual."
"It's luck once or maybe twice. Not every times people shoot at you. Of course one of these days that luck is going to run out."
"Maybe, I got one or two more in me."
"You have already figured this out. Haven't you?"
"I think so."
"Why don't you turn it over to the cops or the FBI?"
"You know better than that."
"I know the courts don't dispense justice. You do."
"Something like that."
"Well for my sake I hope you are careful at least. I don't want to run this business."
"I know you want to go back to Paris."
"You are half right. I want to go back."
"You know what Tom Wolfe said."
"I know. Look I'm going into the house and go to bed. If you ever get your shit together, come on it."
"Not me honey, but Bobby is on the way. Maybe not tonight but soon."
"I don't know if I can take him again."
"You got to understand, he is still learning. You know it but he don't"
"Right." She said, going out the door.
At nine Laura arrived with the pizza. She got her own wine. I sat drinking iced tea.
"This is twice you have made me drink alone. Are you trying to turn me into an alcoholic."
"No, I just don't drink when I need to work."
"Oh, so I'm going to be work. I like that."
"No you are going to help me in my work."
"I like that even better."
"Good don't drink too much of that wine."
It was almost midnight when she dropped me at the entrance to the fire road. The road was used by the rangers to patrol the area for fires. The towers would spot the fires and send in the rangers. There had been no fires but there might before this night ended. The motor homes were more than two miles from the main road. Not much of a walk for a man with two good legs. It was a hell of a forced march for a man with one and a half. I couldn't take anything stronger than aspirin if I was to stay sharp. I walked on the edge of the road till I saw their lights. The lights were still a distant glow when I slipped into the trees. I worked my way toward the lights. I got within hearing range of the camp. Someone was playing a radio. From that point on progress was measured in inches. I moved steadily till I was within sight of the camp. I could locate no guards.
I found a natural depression which allowed me to watch and listen without being observed. After watching and listening for a while I realized there were only four of them. There must have been six at one time. Each vehicle now had a driver but nothing else. There were hardly enough of them to post a guard.
I toyed with the idea of slipping in and setting fire to everything. I decided not to do that. I wanted to make their lives even more miserable. By two even the half assed guard was asleep. I crawled to each vehicle in turn. I used the air force survival knife to cut each gas line. I did it then bent the lines to the ground. All the gas ran out into the mud. I then slipped out quietly. The walk back was a lot more fun. I actually enjoyed the night air. It was like walking at home. I was a little tense just because I was in Indian country. I probably would have stopped for a cigarette if I had the time.
Laura was waiting when I returned to the main road. "I told you not to stop. You should have listened to me. If I had been captured they would have caught you too."
"They can't catch a ghost. Come on let's go back and finish what we started." she challenged.
The next morning I called the sheriff and told him where to find the Klan. He was thrilled. I didn't go with them to round up the Klan. I stayed home nursing the sore knee for a while. I even worked on a few things before I heard they were all caught.
I drove to the motel to pick up my equipment. I recovered it all. The Feds were all out playing cowboys and indians.
The tape revealed exactly what I suspected and even a little more. Not as much as I would have liked. The most telling conversation was the one after the sheriff's call to inform them the Klan group had been arrested. After the phone was hung up they discussed the arrest then called their boss. Evidently they were told to get their operative out of jail before he started to talk.
I drove on down to the sheriff's office. The Feds had already left with their man in tow. It looked like, I wouldn't get to meet him till the trial. Of course He blamed the dead men for the killing of Lester. I guess I should have believed him but I didn't. The sheriff did, and that for the moment was all that mattered. I had heard the conversation between the Feds and their boss. The whole think stank of cover up.
"Sheriff," I said. "Don't let these guys take over the prosecution of these men. There is something wrong. Don't make any deals with them."
"You better go talk to the new DA. He makes the deals. I think the Feds were already on their way up there."
I took the steps as fast as I could. Which wasn't very fast at all. "Hi Rose," I said. I even nodded to the Feds and the stranger sitting with them. "I need to talk to the man. It is absolutely urgent."
"I can't Linc, he is with the presiding judge and these folks were ahead of you."
"Rose," I bent and whispered in her ear. "This people are about to screw your boss and the presiding judge. They are going to get murdered in the press. I'm not kidding. Now giggle and let me in there." She caught on real quick. That is why she was the administrative assistant to the DA. She wasn't pretty enough to work anywhere else, but she had a mind faster than her boss.
She giggled, then said, "I'm going to hold you to that. You go on in but tell them inside you pushed past me."
The Feds were furious. Rose said to the woman, "Honey you gonna be going, but old Linc there, he will be here forever. Before you threaten to have me fired. I am civil servant they can't fire me on a whim."
I entered the office of our newest DA. "Jimmy, I'm sorry to barge in but this is important."
Now Jimmy he might have had a fit, but the judge he knew me. Hell we often played poker together. He knew, hell they both did, that I wouldn't do a thing like that if it weren't. "I don't know what the Feds have told you, but there is something rotten in this mess. I need a couple of days to get to the bottom of it. Please don't make any plea bargains till I do."
"I know they are going to pull that we need the leverage to make these men talk crap, don't fall for it. If you do they are going to hang your ass with it. There is something really bad going on."
"Linc, this is none of your business. We are doing what is best for the community."
"Jimmy, stall them for a couple of days. Let me assure you I am going to find out what is going on. Don't let them take you down with them."
"Why do you care Linc. I know you and I are friends, at least of a sort. Why would you go to all this trouble. As you say you are going to get to the bottom of it anyway. Why bother to warn us. Hell, we might tell them you smell a rat."
"Jimmy might but you wouldn't. I am doing it because I don't like the Feds coming in here treating everyone like country bumpkins. They are covering their asses and to hell with us."
"Jimmy, I think we should hold off on a decision for forty eight hours at least. We can keep these boys coolin' their heels that long."
"Actually judge I was kind a wishin' you would let them out on bail as kind of a compromise."
"You think the government is going to put up the money."
"You expect them to jump bail don't you."
"Judge, you don't want to know. I don't suspect they will go far.
"Done Linc, I'm going to spring them at two p.m. I don't want to know anything else."
I left the Feds sitting in the waiting room. I didn't want to be around when they were told that they couldn't have their plea bargain.
It took some doing, but I assembled three other men. I probably could have done it alone but I couldn't resist. Jed and his two black college boys came along. I wouldn't allow Jed to involve the white boy or the woman. Besides not trusting either of them, it would be counter productive.
I waited outside the courthouse till the three men left. The Feds tried to keep them together and away from everyone else. The Klansmen didn't want anything to do with them. The first place they went was to a restaurant. I followed along. I went into the back door and waited outside the men's room. No doubt one of them would use it before they left. I had to wait twenty minutes but sure enough one of them went inside. I had been a little worried that their would be more than one. I shouldn't have men aren't like women who travel in pairs.
I waited till he came out. It was pretty simple I shoved the colt .45 in his ribs. At that point he became as docile as a lamb. I think it was the crazy eyes. I walked him out the rear door to my car. I had him drive.
We arrived at the abandoned mill fifteen minutes later. The demise of king cotton left a lot of large quiet places to have a little talk. The three black men waited. I let the college boys tape him to a chair.
The big tough Klansman, who would have wet himself if I had grabbed him five minutes earlier, sat looking terrified. I had warned the kids not to be too gentle but not to rough him up too bad either. When he was properly cowered, I asked, "What is your name?" He didn't answer. He was scared but still antagonistic. I had expected no less.
I removed the cover from our little fishing generator. "You ever fish with one of these, Brian? Of course, I already know your name. Most of the questions I am going to ask you. I have the answers to already. I can tell if you are lying. Anyway this little old generator cases the fish to rise to the surface. They are so stunned by the current you just scoop them up in a net. Now, if you boys throw up easy, I want you to wait outside." I said the last to the college kids. I wasn't kidding a bit.
"Now Brian, you can make this as hard on yourself if you need to, but you are going to talk. You are going to tell me more than you thought you knew. When you run out of the truth you are going to start making things up. That much I flat guartenee you."
"Jed hold these wires on Brians fingers. Don't worry Brian,"Now imagine that on your balls son." I waited for him to compose himself. "Now tell me who really shot old Lester."
"You going to kill me anyway."
"Maybe, but there are hard deaths and easy ones. You are about to find out how fucking hard I can make it." I hit the crank again. A little longer that time. Brian danced in his chair. The college kids left the room. I could count on the tough one to keep the other from running."
"Let's try an easier question. How long have you known the man who is missing was and FBI plant."
"About a month," Brian mumbled.
"Did he tell you or did you find out."
"He told us. He was our friend."
"How do you know that." He balked, so I hit him with the juice again. "They aren't going to save you Brian."
"He told us things. He was helping us with our mission."
"Yeah, yeah, I know all about the mission. I didn't and I didn't care to know."
"Who popped old Lester."
"To prove he was one of us. He popped him because he had to or we would have done him later."
"Did he know that?'
"Yeah he knew it. Nobody told him, but he knew."
"Which one of you was with him?"
"I wasn't there man. The two you killed were there."
"Which one hit Lester in the head after he was dead?"
"None of us."
"Why did you do him anyway."
"The same reason we came down from West Virginia to burn the cross. Lester had sold out to the Feds."
"How did you know that."
"We didn't at first. Just that every time Lester's group was involved things went wrong. The Feds knew more than we did."
"How about your man wasn't he suspected."
"Yeah, but he didn't know about a lot of the shit that Lester did. Our man was just a soldier. The Feds had top rate information. Things only a Wizard could know."
"Okay, so you popped Lester?"
"I had nothing to do with it. It was the Fed and the other two."
"You don't believe that shit do you?" Jed asked.
"Of course not, if this one wasn't there, he helped to plan it. All of them were involved."
"Now Brian, Tell me this one last thing. Were is the gun."
"Man I don't know. The Fed didn't bring it back from the scene."
I hit him with a long burst from the generator. He screamed for a couple of minutes.
"Man you better talk, I seen Linc do this for days. You ain't even going to know your name in a few more hours. He won't stop though. I mean, even when you can't answer he gonna keep right on."
"Okay, the rifle is under the floor of the camper. We kept it to hold over the Fed."
"You want to know anything, Jed."
"Yeah I do. Why'd this prick chose me."
"Good question. Why did you decide to do this one. There must be hundreds of people out registering voters."
"Because of you and Lester. We were going to hit Lester anyway. We figured the cops would blame one or the other of you for it. We had no way of knowing you would both have alibis."
"That's it." Jed said.
"You mean what to do with this one."
"That is a question but no. There is still more to this. Lester was no snitch. The Feds must have set this all up."
"Why would they do that."
"I'm not positive yet, but I will know before long."
"Feds as hit men. God what has this country come to."
"I don't know Jed. I guess it is no worse than before. Who knows."
"So what do we do with this piece of shit."
"Brian, I am going to let you go. I would suggest you tell your friends you escaped. I personally don't give a shit, if you come after me. If they find out you talked, they will kill your ass just like they did Lester. I would explain that you held out and then escaped before you talked. Do what you want though. Cut his sorry ass loose Jed. Give him directions back to the main road before he goes."
We drove off while he walked out of the old mill yard. Jed rode in the car with the kids. I wanted him to calm them down. If not that, then I wanted him to scare the hell out of them. I didn't need them talking. Chances were about fifty fifty one of them was an informer. This was one piece of information better left out of his report.
I'm sure Jed was explaining that there were only three of them. If this leaked, I would simply kill all three. It wouldn't matter to me which one leaked the information. He would remind them that they wanted to join the struggle, well they were in it now, right up to their eyeballs.
I knew a lot and suspected even more. Now the trick was to prove some or all of it. I didn't really know where to start. I supposed I could start with who bashed in Lester skull. That one shouldn't be to hard to find out.
I swung the car around and headed for the police station. "Is Red around," I asked the dispatcher.
"He is out in the car." she answered.
"How about having him meet me at the Elms. I need to talk."
I met him in the parking lot. "Red, we need to talk." I got right down to it. No kidding around this time.
"Sure Linc, what about?"
"You got pretty good information on Lester's bunch." He should have he was a member. "Did any of those boys kiss Lester with a board."
"You mean do I think any of the local Klan hit him. I don't think so Linc."
"Red this is important. I don't give a shit how you know, but tell me the truth because it is going to make a difference if you lie to me. Did any of those jackasses smack Lester with a board."
"No, I can swear that none of them even knew he was dead. They still don't know why he was killed. Especially by the Klan."
"Thanks Red, by the way if anyone asks either of us. We talked about football this afternoon."
"You bet. I don't need no grief."
If it wasn't the clan, then there were only a couple of other possibilities. I was pretty sure it was the most obvious.
I returned to the studio to find Helen hard at work. She was reworking Robbie's files. "You still want to train new people?"
"I had forgotten that photos were the easiest part of the business."
"You seen Robbie?"
"Not since the day his dad was killed. I haven't been expecting him. The funeral for his father is this afternoon. You really should go to it."
"I plan to go. I am going upstairs now to take a shower then dress. You want to go?"
"Sure but I drive."
"My plan exactly." Helen had just recently replaced the Buick convertible she had sold when she left for Paris. These days it was some kind of Chrysler convertible. It was pretty but stayed in the shop a lot more than it should have.
We skipped the church and went to the cemetery. Helen didn't think her being a jew would sit too will with Lester's friends. I knew she wouldn't sit well. It was more because she sometimes went out with women. Helen could overlook that minor flaw.
Helen and I stood with a couple of other people who didn't want to attend the service for one reason or another. We watched the hearse drive up. Several cars flew confederate flags. I kind of liked the old flag when it was just a relic. With these people it meant something else. I didn't care for them using it, any more than I liked to see the American flag defaced. I wasn't boiling mad but it irritated me.
Robbie walked with some of his dad's friends to the grave. I saw the look on his face and I knew. I had suspected it for some time but now I knew. It was written on his face when he looked at me. It was a kind of smirk that didn't belong here.
The grave side service was full of ranting and raving. I listened for a few minutes then I walked away. I made an exit they could all see. I really didn't give a damn what they thought. I had expected to wait at the car for Helen but I found her walking behind me.
"You know, I thought I could handle those people. They are just so damned crazy." she said.
"I know, I can't believe we grew up with some of them. Went to school and played with them."
"I know the old ones like Lester are bad enough. How the hell can the ones our age stand to spout that garbage."
"I don't have any answers. I just find it really hard to believe."
The FBI lady called me at the studio. She wanted to meet with me. I agreed but told Helen about the meeting. She didn't understand and I hoped she wouldn't ever. There was a possibility she was setting me up.
I hurried because I had a stop to make on the way.
I met her at a restaurant in Williams. It wasn't that much of a drive but I guess she thought it was neutral territory. I walked into the place and saw not only her but the undercover operative and an older man.
I was introduced to them all. The undercover man was called Martin. The older man, Stanley, I assumed was their boss.
"So guys?" I asked as I was sitting. "Why the meeting?"
"We want to reason with you."
"I think what you mean is try to talk sense to me first. If that doesn't work are you going to send Martin to my house."
"What the hell made you say that?" stated agent Peters. "Brian, it was you who kidnaped Brian. I should have known. You did a good job on him. He is to scared to talk to us at all."
"You mean, he isn't going along with the cover up."
"When his lawyer explains the conspiracy to murder law to him, he will go along."
"Ain't gonna fly, Stanley. I got the rifle. Picked it up on the way over here."
"You have it with you?"
"Not exactly, I left it with that white woman working on the voter drive." I hope Stanley never plays poker. I could see the relieved look in his eyes.
"Well then, we have nothing to discuss."
"Actually we do. I lied about the rifle. I dropped it off with a friend all right, but it wasn't your girl Laura."
"You figured out Laura too."
"Actually there seems to have been more agents and paid informers than there were Klan down here. You guys had Laura on one side inciting the populous. And then Martin inciting the Klan. I'm surprised there weren't a couple of lynchings. I mean, if we are going to justify the FBI's spending of all that money, we need at least some better results."
"What money?" Stanley asked calmly.
"Are you kidding. You are financing both sides. Martin here was even helping you keep your number one informer safe. You guys were pretty stupid to act on so much of his information. It was a dead give away. Martin had to roll over just to keep him alive. Killing the old man was way beyond your authority. I hope you don't plan to go down alone."
"Nobody's going anywhere. Least of all you old man." Martin threatened.
"I do hope you have a pistol pointed at me because it is going to be awfully embarrassing to blow your fucking spine out if you are unarmed."
"What are you talking about?" Martin asked.
"I believe Martin, he is talking about a rather nasty .45 colt he has pointed at one of us under the table. I am correct aren't I"
"You are so predictable."
"I know, but if Martin will hold off a second I think I can explain to him. He looks rather bewildered."
"Shoot him Martin."
"I'm going to see it in your eyes son. I am going to blow your spine out whether you kill me or not. Why don't you listen. We are supposed to kill each other. There is no other way for these two to come out clean. They had planned for you to die the hero. Now with your rifle in the sheriffs hands, I die the hero. It just don't make no difference to these two."
"Is that right Mr. Stanley. Did you plan for me to die all along?" Martin asked.
"Of course not." he answered.
"Stanley you shouldn't have told the kid to shoot me. It tipped the kid off to your plans. It did seem a little out of place didn't it, Martin." I waited for it all to sink in on him. "Now kid you can get up from here and make a run for it. I personally had no love for Lester, so I will even wish you well. Or you can go to the sheriff, who will be thrilled to hear from you. I have it on good authority that a short manslaughter term is all they have planned for you. Your third choice which is lousy is you can shoot me. Then everyone will be convinced you are a murderer. You get two life sentences for that one. That is if Stanley here lets you live long enough to go to trial. Then they can bribe a lot of cons with a reduced sentence to do you in the yard."
Stanley tried to speak, "You shut the fuck up." We said in unison. Martin handed me his gun. I took it and held it on them under the table. Well kid if I were you I would do my thinking somewhere else. This may get a bit messy. You don't want to be here."
"Thanks Mr. Jefferson, I sorry about that old man crack."
"Beat it kid." In fact Martin was no more than five or six years younger than me.
"Mr. Stanley, I am going to expose this whole sorry mess. The sheriff is about to drop the first bomb as we speak. I am going to add more fuel to the fire for him. When I get through with you, no more Yankees will be coming down here for a while."
It was typical that the woman was the one who kept her cool. "What will it take to make this go away."
"You don't have anything I want."
"I wasn't involved in any of this you know. I came in after it was all done. Mr. Stanley set the whole thing up."
"Shut up bitch."
"You go to hell. I am not going to jail for this nonsense. I tried to tell you on the phone to just tell the truth. We have been stupid but not criminal up till now."
"She has a point, Stanley. Covering the murder is an accessory after the fact rap."
"I was ordered to protect that asshole Martin and their snitch."
"Okay here is your chance Laura. You better take it. Who was the real snitch?"
"I don't know who it was. They never told me."
"Bullshit. I know that you know. Don't even try to get away with that one. I'm taking him down anyway."
"Why, we got good information from him. We also planted a lot of bull through him."
"I didn't know the FBI employed double agents against their own people. Don't worry, I will try to arrange adjoining cells for the two of you."
"I tell you I didn't know who it was until last night." Laura said.
"I have no more use for this." I said laying Martins pistol on the table. "I am tired and my knee hurts. I am going home by way of the police station. Either of you want a ride?" I didn't wait for them to answer.
I was pretty sure neither would shoot me in the back in front of so many witnesses. I hated the thoughts of dying with that damned rifle in the back of the scout. I wasn't at all surprised to find myself still breathing when I reached the scout. I also wasn't surprised to find myself drenched in sweat.
I gave the rifle to the Sheriff along with the story as I had told it the FBI agents. There was a little more to it but I needed to work that out myself. The mystery was solved. It simply remained to take out the garbage.
I drove home slowly trying to devise a plan. I didn't want to kill anyone else. I had finally come to the point of deciding that I was tired of it all. I was simply too damned old for all of this crap.
I expected Helen to meet me in the parking lot. When she didn't I went into the studio looking for her. I expected to find her somewhere in the house. When I found the studio empty I became worried. I had seen all the cars in the parking lot.
I climbed the wooden stair to my apartment carefully. I listened hard as I went. I was at the top of the stairs before I noticed the door standing open. Helen would never leave it open. I worked the slide on the .45 before entering the room.
I didn't walk into the room, I fell into it. I waited for the shots to ring out. When nothing happened I began to crawl along the floor. The reason was more because I had twisted my knee in the fall than any desire for stealth.
I pulled myself up with the help of a straight backed chair. I noticed the note on the dining room table. It wasn't even in an envelope. Just laying on the table for anyone to read.
Sorry I missed you. I got a call from Stanley. We really do need to talk. Since you weren't home I took Helen for a drive. Why don't you meet us at Dad's house.
The note wasn't signed. It didn't need a signature.
I almost rushed off to meet the kid. I would be deader than forty hells if I did. He figured I would come to him no matter what. There had been no threat in the letter. It didn't need one. We both knew the threat was implied.
My knee hurt so badly that I couldn't even pace. I fell into the chair trying to make my mind work. I found to my surprise that when it came to Helen I couldn't think rationally. I kept thinking about her rather than the problem. It took a long while to get past that.
When I finally began to reason it out, it looked real bad for both of us. No matter what I did Helen was pretty sure to die. If she wasn't dead already. If Robbie killed me, then Helen had to go. No witnesses were going to be left. If I didn't go, she would be killed anyway, same reason. My only hope was to snatch her before they killed her.
Robbie had to know that. He and his friends would be waiting. Hell his friends might included the FBI. No matter what, my resolve to stop killing had just been shattered. Somebody, probably a lot of somebodies, were going to die. I sure hoped that Helen wasn't going to be one of them. I didn't have much hope for her though.
It was pretty definite that they would be expecting me. I heard the car pull into the drive while I was trying desperately to find a plan. I killed the lights instantly. I moved from the apartment to the deck. I was quick enough even with the pain to see the dark sedan's door open. When the overhead light didn't come on I knew it was some kind of cop.
I waited in the shadows of the deck to make somebody a widow. At that moment, I was ready to shoot first then ask what the fuck they were doing. I would have if I hadn't seen the skirt. Women in skirts walk different than either men or women in pants.
"Linc, I know you are up there. It's me Laura. We need to talk." I didn't answer. "I'm coming up to talk. I am alone and my weapon is in the car." I still didn't answer.
I'll say one thing she had guts. She climbed the noisy stairs slowly. When she was standing on the deck I finally spoke. "What are you doing here Laura?" I asked.
She turned to the shadow where I stood. "I came to try and explain."
"Too late, I have already turned everything over to the chief." I said.
"I know, I was in there giving a statement. I honestly didn't know any of this. I sent in a report last night when I found out. We were trying to keep it in house but I had nothing to do with any of the other crap." She paused a few seconds then went on. "I just wanted you to know before I left."
"Where is Stanley?" I asked without the emotion in my heart reaching my voice.
"On the run, I imagine." she said.
"I don't think so. He still has some trick up his sleeve. Robbie grabbed Helen on his orders."
"He wouldn't do anything that stupid." she said in disbelief.
"I grant you, it was stupid but he sure as hell did it. He must think that if they kill me. He can somehow still cover this whole thing up."
"He can't be that stupid. He must have lost his mind." she said.
"Laura, if you came here as a plant, I am going to kill you. I am not kidding a bit." I said in my best bad assed tone.
"I didn't. Have you called the police?" she asked.
"Not yet, they will kill Helen before they give up. Fanatic are like that." her next statement would tell the tale.
"You sure as hell can't help her, if you are dead. Let me call the bureau. They can get a teem in here tomorrow."
"No, that is too long. I have to go for her tonight. Right now as a matter of fact."
"No matter how good you think you are that is suicide. They know you are coming. You and Helen will both die."
"Can I count on you to tell what happened. I would hate like hell to think they got away with this."
She waited a long time before she answered. "No you can't. I am going with you. You better write a note. If this goes like I expect, it will be the only evidence on our side."
"I can use the help, but if you go with me. You do exactly as I say. This is going to be dicey at best. You are probably going to die tonight."
"Better to die on my feet," she said.
I placed a call to Ernest. He had what I needed. He just didn't like the idea of giving it to me. Ernest is a building contraction. He builds big house and bigger roads.
Laura and I drove to the old run down house belonging to Robbie's father. There were no cars in the yard when we arrived. I hadn't really expected any.
All the lights in the house were lit. I hadn't expected that. "What do you think it means," Laura asked.
"They aren't here. This is an ambush." I said.
"Do you think I should pull out?"
"No, but stay down. We have to assume they are in the house." I said to her. Then I shouted. "In the house, I am coming in." I opened the car door. My door like Laura's didn't trip the overhead light. If they don't shoot me when I first get out of the car, I might have a chance.
I heard no shots. I walked to stand by the front steps. "Anybody home," I shouted. Not a sound came from the house. I suppressed the desire to rush into the house. I walked instead around the corner and looked into the living room window. The lights were on but the room was empty. I had so far managed to keep the house between me and the workshop. When I turned the corner I would be exposed to anyone inside the darkened workshop.
I forced myself to turn the corner. I expected to be shot at any second. Still nothing happened. I walked on around the house until I could see inside the kitchen window. What I saw made my blood run cold. Helen was taped to the same chair where we found Lester. Under the chair was a nightmare of wires. Under the wires was a cardboard box. The wires ran into the box. The box was labeled Dynamite.
I stood outside the window to examine the wires. I was no expert but I could see the wires running everywhere. It appeared that every door and window had a wire running to it. I had no idea but I felt sure there were pressure switches on the porch as well. Helen hadn't noticed me and I didn't try to get her attention. Instead I returned to the scout. I made a fuss of getting tools just in case their were watchers.
"They have Helen in the kitchen sitting on a case of dynamite. Don't move from this car. If you try to step out you my trip the charge. There are wires everywhere."
"Why would they do it this way?"
"I hope it is because they are on their way to South America. I hope this is just a revenge thing. If not, I may get her loose then get us all killed in the process. They may be just fucking with me."
"Do you know anything about bombs?" she asked.
"I am about to find out. Stay put and keep your head down. If you hear shots then kill the son of a bitch that kills me."
"You got it," she said in a determined voice.
I found the crawl space door without too much trouble. I tried to estimate my location from the layout of the rooms above. This was going to take a long time. I sure hoped there was no timer on the charge. I didn't expect one. At least not one set too soon. They would want to give me time to devise a plan. I had been sure all along they were expecting me to creep into the house. They really should have turned off the lights. Not even that would have made me rush in.
I began my work well away from the kitchen where Helen was tied. I thanked God for the tool box in my scout. The battery powered drill was a gift from heaven. It actually had been a gift from Helen.
I drilled several large holes in the sub floor between the floor joist. I over cut each hole so the eventually the board was completely cut. I repeated the moves on several of the boards till I had a small opening. The problem was that the hole was under a carpet. I hat to use the survival knife to cut the carper. I could only prey that there were no wires being cut along with the carpet.
After a long half hour, I found myself standing in the livingroom. I moved carefully trying to avoid the wires. The wire was audio speaker wire. It was draped and coiled everywhere. I believed at the time that the bomb came from either Rube Goldberg or some terrorist handbook. It was very unsophisticated but none the less dangerous. I examined a couple of junctions in the wires and found the twisted together. The weren't even taped. That made the bomb even more deadly. Move any of the wires and you were likely to make a connection or short what ever it took to blow this thing.
The man who assembled this was either a fool or a man with little regard for his life. It could have shorted on him at anytime. Even if he checked the circuit before he armed it a stiff breeze could have closed it. Then he had the problem of getting out of the house once it was armed. He probably went out a second story window. Still that bomb was as much a nightmare for the builder as it was going to be for me.
When I got the kitchen, I noticed her clothes were torn and her face bruised. I watched as her eyes flitted from one thing to another. She didn't even recognize me.
"Helen, honey. It is me Linc. I am going to try to get you out of this. You have to stay absolutely still. You can't move at all honey. This thing was put together by some kind of nut. I am going to have to try to make some sense of it. There are a couple of wires taped to the gag so I can't remove it. You are just going to have to trust me."
She didn't even nod. Someone else may have told her to hold still. I looked at her tape carefully. Each round of tape held two wires. Probably phonies but I wasn't about to risk it. I saw the smaller cardboard box sitting under her chair and beside the dynamite carton. All the wires went into it. Five or six came out then went into the dynamite.
I needed to know first if there was a timer. I hated to do it but I had to look inside that box. I examined the box and found it to be a shoe box. A couple of ragged holes had been cut in the sides to allow the entry of the wires. I almost raised the lid but decided at the last moment not to do the most obvious thing.
Instead I used the razor sharp survival knife to cup a new hole in the side of the box. I knew it was risky. The blade could easily have touched and exposed wire and killed us both. It probably wouldn't have down Laura much good either.
I cut with just the tip of the knife. I held the box tightly in place while I did the cutting. I was laying on my belly and couldn't even move. The wires were all around me. With three sides cut I bent back, the flat I had created. I shined my small light into the box. I saw immediately the tin foil contacts on the box lid. I had been lucky again. If I had removed the lid the circuit would have been broken.
I found out two things from the exercise. It was a closed circuit bomb and these guys were sneaky. With a closed circuit bomb you need a relay. The relay is open on one end as long as it is closed on the other. Kill the power and the bomb circuit closes. When that happens if you aren't a few hundred feet away, you soon will be.
Since there were six wires coming out of the box I assumed there were three triggers. One for each set of wires. The blasting caps needed two wires each. It seemed logical that there would be one cap for each set. Any one of them could ignite the whole case. I searched till I found the timer. It was a small coffee mate type digital timer. There would be no way for me to determine the timing of the device. Taking a lesson from hard experience I figured it would be midnight. If you cut the timer's power supply it would go to midnight automatically.
I looked at my watch and found I had over an hour to get Helen out of here. I needed to think. I removed myself from the floor carefully. "Helen honey, we are getting close. Please stay with me. I turned my back to get away from those dancing eyes. I hadn't seen the relay and I couldn't sort through the wires to find it. It was going to be a mother fucker.
I thought long and hard about the bomb. I knew the booby trap was a closed circuit. I moved quickly to check on the door and window traps. They were all closed circuit. Now if Helen's tapes were closed circuits then I could simply short them cut her loose and be gone. The wire ends were inside the tape wrappers. Damn it I couldn't be sure there wasn't a second open normal circuit. If that were the case closing the circuit to bypass the traps in her tape would set the damned thing off. The closed circuit would be the easiest to rig. Just a couple pieces of foil on top of each other. Remove the tape and away they came, then boom. I would prefer to just cut the tape to keep the ends together. They might have wrapped the wire around her expecting me to cut the tape. If they had then cutting the tape would cut the wires and open the circuit.
I really wanted to check the wires to see if maybe Helen was on the door or booby trap circuit. If she were then it would be simple to jumper her out of the circuit. The problem with that was that the wires were loosely hooked together. If I disturbed them chances were the bomb would go off. If all the legs were together and everything else was a dummy, then I could just wire a couple of them together and it would defeat the bomb. Hell I just didn't know enough. What I really should do is go find someone to ask. Unfortunately I didn't have the time. I was going to have to guess about Helen. I didn't have the time or the expertise to disarm the bomb. The best I could do was try to get her out of the house.
"Think like that asshole Robbie," I told myself.
Did he expect me to get into the house? Sure, why else would he leave the lights on. The wires were evident. There was a good chance I would blow my ass up coming in but at least an equal chance I could find a way into the house. Did he expect me to find the Booby trapped box. Again it was fifty, fifty. Then again it was more likely I would find it. If I knew the house was wired I would probably find a way into the box.
If I found the other two circuit, would I expect a trap on Helen. Answer yes, therefore the trap is no trap. I still wasn't convinced till I saw the tiny piece of foil peeking out of the tape at her leg. Right then it hit me. The prick had done both. Part of her circuit was open and part closed. Sure either way I played it I would trip the bomb sooner or later.
I had no doubt the carton of dynamite was booby trapped but it seemed like the best hope. I looked it over carefully. I saw the entry point of the six wires under the flap. I could open that flap and die for my efforts. My guess was that the power supply for the final trap was inside the case. I almost cut into it when a thought hit me. The trap is may be a magnetometer. Introducing the steel knife into the box may blow it. The chair gave it away. It wasn't the chair Lester had been found sitting on. It was a wooden chair. Lester's had been part of the kitchen sit. Helen's chair must have come from the living room.
Score one for me. It was heading toward midnight. I had no choice but to made the move. I began to gently turn the carton over trying not to disturb the insides too much. I had sweat running into my eyes as I gently tipped the box. I only needed to get it over enough to get to the bottom. I found the bottom seam taped as I had expected. I searched the kitchen, finally in the trash can, my last resort, I found the remains of a Kentucky Fried Chicken dinner. I searched until I found the plastic knife handed out by the restaurant. It was a lucky coincidence. I would never discount coincidence again.
I sawed through the tape. I was still sweating. I had expected to be dead from turning the box but I wasn't relieved. When the bottom of the box was ready, I carefully opened the flaps. I began removing dynamite sticks from it. After a dozen or so I felt the next one resist. I lay again on the floor to look inside the overturned box. The stick I held had a cap inside it. I carefully removed the blasting cap. I had no idea what the result of cutting the wires would be so I placed it on the side of the box and continued. I completed the job by removing all the caps and dynamite from the box.
I checked on more time before I went to the livingroom. I removed all the sofa cushion. I carried them to the kitchen, then placed them over the box with the blasting caps. I moved all the dynamite to a safer place. I checked all the wires by following them. I wanted to make absolutely sure I wasn't going to trip a second bomb. When I was sure everything was a safe as possible. I began to cut the wires on Helen. As I thought nothing happened when I cut the leg wires. The roll of tape around her chest caused the cap to go off under the cushions. Fortunately the cap has no more power than a twenty two cartridge. It filled the first and possibly the second cushion with shrapnel The flying metal was contained in those two layers.
When Helen was finally free, I could hold her only a second. I had to almost carry her out the front door. I knew we were about to fire the second cap. I wanted to be as far away as possible. Just as I expected the second cap when off as I opened the door. I led Helen to the scout where Laura took her into the back seat.
I started back to the house. "Where are you going," Laura asked.
"I have ten minutes left on the timer. They want a bang, I'm going to give them one." It took only five of the ten minutes to pile the dynamite on the floor. I even added the ten sticks that Ernest had supplied to me. I had planned to be a human bomb to secure Helen's freedom. It turned out I didn't have to do that.
`With all the dynamite pilled I inserted the cap into a center stick. When the timer beeped twelve the house was going to be tooth picks. We got as far as the church when the explosion consumed the house.
Laura and I drove to the hospital in Williams. I should have an open account with those guys. It took several hours for me to determine exactly what had happened to Helen. It wasn't a pretty story. She had been raped and beaten. The little Nazis thought they were carrying on for the storm troopers of the forties.
I was determined to stay with Helen until she left the hospital. She was under heavy sedation that first night. I would never have left her, even with Laura to guard her if she hadn't ask me to take care of a few things for her. She even knew where I could find those things.
They were sure enough hiding at the motor homes. They rightly figured no one would come looking up there. I probably never would have. They would have been long gone by that time. I had parked the scout at the entrance to the fire trail.
I had been tired and hurt before I started the walk. Every step over the rough road caused to slip even deeper into a stupor. I left the road, to begin my final approach to the motor homes. By the time I had traversed the quarter mile through the woods I was no longer in this world. I had somehow slipped into another dimension. One where there was no fatigue, not pain and no mercy. I was by then operating on instinct.
I found that I could move gracefully again. I moved through the night not favoring the knee at all. There was absolutely no pain in my new dimension. I moved silently through the night to find the motor home emitting the television noises. I allowed myself no pleasure in what I was about to do. I slipped under the motor home to find a repaired gas line. I severed it with the six inch survival knife. I watched as the fuel began to flow. I slipped back to the rear of the trailer. I allowed enough time to pass to get a fair puddle on the ground. It was simply a matter then of lighting the rag I had with me. The rag had once been a rather nice piece of Helen blouse. When the silky material was burning brightly, I tossed it under the motor home. I moved quickly aided by the absence of pain. I moved to a spot which allowed me a good sight line to the motor home. I fired a couple of shots into the metal skin. The return fire was fierce but harmless. The motor home ignited. The men tried to exit the door but I fired fast and furiously at the door. The heavy slugs drove them back into the interior. It took another five minutes before I heard the screams as they tried again to exit the inferno. I pumped two more clips into the door, to keep them inside. Finally the screams and the return fire ended. The motor home was completely engulfed in fire. Whoever was inside was now barbeque. I stayed until the walls of the motor home collapsed. I didn't want their to be any mistake. I even went inside as the sun rose. There were two bodies burned like black toast.
I even walked the rear perimeter to make sure no one had escaped through a window on that side. There were no bent or broken weeds. No one had been that way for years. I took one more look at the motor home remains. I could only hope that they hadn't died of smoke. I wanted them to feel all the pain.
I didn't return to the real world until, I arrived at the scout. I sat on the driver's seat to throw up upon the ground. I drove carefully back to Williams. I had to drive carefully since I was shaking as though I had DT'S.
It took the county a month to find the bodies. The fire ranger must have been sleeping that particular night. Once the county deputies found the burned out hull the rumors quieted. When the bodies were Identified the gossips were satisfied.
Jed stopped asking when I was going to do something. Reverend Brown stopped preaching about no white man ever helping a Blackman, and Helen and I returned to normal. As least as normal as it gets around my place.