At first I thought it was a fly that woke me. I tried to shew it away but instead got a hand full of hair. I awoke with a start since I didn't remember going to sleep with a cat, dog, or rat. I looked down at the head of black hair sprawled across my shoulder and tickling my nose. The hair was so damned black it was almost blue. That hair told me it was Rose.

Now I do some pretty dumb things when I am half asleep. That morning I tried to look at the clock hanging on the far wall of my one room apartment. The numbers on the clock should have been large enough to read, since it had come from the grocery store across the street. Where, I was told, it had hung for ten years.

Moving my head to look at the clock first caused my head to pound, then my stomach to turn a few loops. Shortly there after I had the urgent need to use the bathroom. All things considered waking Rose seemed to be a good idea.

"Hey Rose," I waited a moment. When she didn't stir, I gently shook her. "Rose honey, I need to use the bathroom."

"Deke, why don't you get a bigger bed. I got to get completely out of bed so you can get out." She acted as though she had been in my bed, and in this same situation before. Which I assure you was not the case.

"Rose, I haven't exactly needed a larger bed before now you know." I stated it with a very large smile.

"Well Deke, you can't prove that. I mean, I ain't been in it before, but I expect that others have." She had a really smug look on her face, as if she knew a hell of a lot more than she was telling.

"Well if you will move so that I can get out we can discuss that later. Right now I got to use the bathroom, and I mean right now." I really wanted to duck the conversation almost as much as I wanted to use the bathroom. Just as soon as Rose sat up, I moved past her to sit on the edge of the bed. I quickly stood then walked to the bathroom which was surrounded by the only partitions in the apartment.

When I returned I was surprised to see Rose again stretched out on the bed. When she saw me, she opened her arms in an invitation for me to join her. I did of course.

I held her in my arms even though it hurt a little. It hurt because we were laying so close. So close in fact she was forced to lay on my right arm. I rested my head against her. I had never seen her naked. I had seen her in tight jeans. Rose had about twenty pounds of extra weight attached to her hips. She was also a couple of pounds light in the chest. Still she was all woman and in my bed. Which was a definate plus for her.

What really hurt was I couldn't remember what we had done the night before. After a moment I got up the courage to ask, in a round about way. "I was pretty drunk last night Rose, I hope I wasn't too much trouble." I knew when I finished speaking just how stupid it sounded. Man if nothing else, I was not smooth at all.

"Deke, if you don't want to make love to me, now is your last chance to back out." she said it with a small quiet laugh.

"What does that mean?" I asked.

"After you couldn't get up a card game last night you began to drink. Me and you drank till closing time. You invited me here before you were so drunk you didn't know your left foot from you right hand though. Anyway, when I got you here you passed out while I was in the bathroom. Not real nice of you by the way."

"So you are telling me that we did not make love last night?" I asked not really knowing how I felt about it. I mean, Rose was nice enough in that loose, divorcee hairdresser kind of way, but I wouldn't want to take her home to Ma. She was the only divorced woman I knew.

"No Deke, we did not make love, nor did we have sex. So if you want to call this whole thing off, now is your chance." She had the most amused look on her face. She looked as though she were reading my mind.

I actually gave it some thought, which shows you how sick I am. In the end I moved my hand to touch her under the sheet.

I lifted my head and I kissed her gently at first. The kiss quickly became demanding, then something with a life of it's own. I found myself moving against her body in the overheated room.

Suddenly I heard a pounding noise which seemed far away somehow. I guess I just hoped it was far away. Rose instantly stopped responding to me. I lifted my head from her
east, since she was ignoring me anyway. The pounding continued. By that time it was clear that the pounding was at my downstairs door.

I might have ignored it had Rose not pushed me away. "Well, you better go see who that is." Her voice was more angry than frustrated. Meanwhile the pounding continued.

I didn't even answer her. I simply stood, then slipped into last nights pants. I was so groggy from the beer, and almost sex, that I actually hurried down to answer the door. Hell, ordinarily I would have ignored it for at least three more bangs. If Rose had been willing I would have ignored it completely.

As I had expected, it was someone I didn't want to see. I looked at the familiar man through the screen. "Yes?" I asked pretending not to know him.

"Come on Deke, don't pretend you don't recognize me. Open the damned door and let me in."

"What in the name of God makes you think I want to see you?" I replied.

"Because, you need to talk to me before I talk to the FBI," he said with a conspirator's smile.

"I have no idea what you are talking about. But keep your voice down." I said as I reluctantly opened the door. There was a strange moment when Rose rushed past me in one direction, then Carlton Anderson pushed past me in the other. I watched Rose as she disappeared around the corner. I shook my head sadly then followed along behind Carlton. I did not like following anyone, especially Carlton.

Carlton stood at the top of my stairs without entering my apartment. He was obviously assessing the one large room. "What a dump," he finally announced.

"Thanks, now that you have seen how low I have sunk, you can leave." I didn't expect that he would. He had come too far to simply walk away. Why he had come was a totally different issue. As to the why I really didn't have a clue.

"Why the hell are you living like this?" he asked.

"Because, I don't have a real job," I replied. "I'm kind of a fixer, and that don't pay very well." I could see that he didn't understand.

"When things go wrong with the mill workers, they come to me. Most of the time, I kind of fix things for them. You did know there is no union down here." I could see from the look in his eyes that he still didn't understand. I really didn't expect a Princeton man ever would. "Look Carlton, if a supervisor demands that a woman sleep with him or get fired, she sometimes comes to me. I have a talk with the supervisor, or his wife. Either way the problem usually goes away. Since these people don't have much money, I don't really get rich at it."

"What crap," he said forcefully. Then when he saw me looking as though I might kill him, he added. "Oh, I believe you are a fixer. You just don't do it for the money. I took a look at the FBI files before I left Washington. You've been up to your old tricks again."

"What are you talking about?" I asked it even though I knew he planned to lay it all out for me. When he did, I would know exactly what he had on me, so I waited impatiently.

"You are opening bank cans again," he declared as he picked up a shirt from my one comfortable chair. He tossed the shirt on the floor, then sat in the chair.

"Have a seat you prick," I said in a voice filled with anger.

"Thanks, now let's stop the pussy footing around. I know you have been blowing cans in Virginia, Tennessee, and South Carolina. Since that is the case, I want to know why you are living in this dump."

"Listen to me you ass. You may think I have been blowing bank cans, but I have been living right here since my discharge. While I was in Greece blowing up trains for you, I dreamed of coming home. While I was in Italy blowing up trains, I dreamed of this place. When I was in France and Poland, I dreamed of home and just living free. Do you understand. Just free to go to a movie, or to have a drink at the 'Pump Room' across the street.

When I got out, I went to live at my mother's boarding house, while I decided what to do next. I was there three weeks before the Village constable came to tell me I had to either work for the mill or leave. At first I wanted to kill him on the spot. Hell if I hadn't spent that six months in the German hospital after the war I probably would have.

"See, you are a better man because of those months," he declared it, but not too happily I noted.

"I swore I would kill you for having me committed. Since I changed my mind you need to go home Carlton, before I remember all the reasons I planned to kill you."

"Come on Deke, you know I did the best I could for you. There was just no way to help you most of the time. That's why we trained you to live off the Germans, which
ings us back to the cans."

"It doesn't
ing me back to the cans. I have told you, I had nothing to do with any American bank cans."

"Deke, those jobs have black ops written all over them. Add that to the fact that you live in the area and it is the only thing that makes sense." He paused a moment to allow it all to sink in. He then continued, " Now I could lose those files easily enough. Since I'm the only one looking at them. If I did, It would be safe for you to continue."

"I don't know what you are talking about, and I sure as hell don't care whether you lose a bunch of files or not." He could tell I was getting frustrated, but I could tell he wasn't quite sure why.

"Could you really stand a full court press by the FBI. I know you have done your best to do a perfect job. If it weren't for me I believe it would be good enough. Good enough, if the feds don't know who you are and where to find you. I can give them that, or I can bury the files with the other bureaucratic crap."

I thought for only a moment. "Carlton, I know you have an angle here. Like I said twice before, I don't know anything about any bank cans, but what's your angle? Hell, maybe I can help you out with whatever you have in mind." I said it even though my stomach was in knots.

What I really wanted to do was choke the man. He had been one of those who had sat in London telling me what to do. Sending me radio messages while I was running all over Europe dodging the Germans for three years. Three years of terror that seemed to be a lifetime.

That's the way it worked. Those Princeton types always seemed to wind up in offices, while the Dogfaces from the farms and factories wound up getting there asses shot off. Me, I was from the mill village in North Carolina. I got my training in explosives from the Army. The training was long before I ever heard of Wild Bill. Somehow my file crossed either Bill's desk or someone else with enough pull to get me transferred to their show.

I already knew how to blow a train with it's tracks. They thought me to blow whole factories, not to mention the bank cans. My trainer explained it this way, 'Sometimes you are going to need money to pay for information or to hire men. If London can't get the money to you, then you will have to remove it from a German bank.' Blowing a bank can proved easier then blowing a ball bearing plant. It was tougher than a lonely stretch of train track.

The training school also taught me a lot about hiding in urban areas. According to the instructors anyone could hide in a barn. It was a damned sight more difficult to hide in a metropolitan area. It was especially tough, if you spoke almost none of the native language. I was almost always assigned an interpreter from the local area. A couple of them were even women who played my wife. It was an act to fool anybody especially since the act went on twenty four hours a day in most cases. I always insisted on authenticity.

The school also offered a masters in forgery and a minor in the theater art of disguise. That school taught me just about every possible criminal skill, things useful only during a war.

They didn't teach me to kill in the school. Sure, they taught me how to kill, but no one can teach you to do it. By the time of Carlton's visit I had killed more men than I could live with. Sometimes I killed them in train wrecks, or burned them alive in a fire bombing of their barracks. Worst of all, I killed some of them with a knife or garrote. Carlton, and the other Princeton boys weren't around when I did that. Too bad, they might have learned something useful before they sent men out to die.

They also weren't around when I hid from the Germans after a blast. They definitely were not there during any of the three years when I lived in constant fear for my life. They also weren't there when the Gestapo arrested my pretend wife in Dansk. Certainly not the next morning when I saw how she looked after the explosion. That was the day I swore I would kill the men who ordered me around. Every night during the next year, I dreamed alternately of killing Carlton, and of coming home to live in the mill village with my family.

The Village was almost completely self sufficient. It was a world almost completely cut off from the outside. The company had built houses for it's workers since there had been no place else for them to live. After the houses, it built and ran mercantile stores in each of its residential communities. The four communities where I grew up were adjacent to each other, and to the four cotton mills. The company owned the houses and the stores. The mill also owned strips of retail buildings, which it rented out to hand picked businessmen. There were doctor's offices, drug stores, shoe shops, and movie theaters. There was even a hotel. There were also plenty of other smaller shops. All of them were run by company approved businessmen.

Then there were the other business. Businesses which sprang up just outside the village's boundaries. The street on which I lived at the time of Carlton's visit was crowded with unauthorized shops. The company didn't approve of those businesses for one reason or another.

They didn't approve, sometimes because the mill owners didn't think their workers should be wasting their meager pay on the items sold in the shops. More often thought the owners of the out of bounds businesses had not been enthusiastic enough about paying the sky high rents for the company owned buildings.

Either way the 'heights' had sprung up on a small hill two blocks from the mill's property. My large one room apartment was located over a
ick and glass jewelry store. Sure, there was a lot wrong with my living arrangements, but it also allowed me to be close to my large family and many friends.

When I wasn't working, which was most of the time, I drank watered down beer and played poker across the street. When I got hungry, I either walked two doors down to 'Pop Marshburn's" cafe, or across the street to the overpriced grocery store for fruit, cheese and crackers. Maybe the Princeton man didn't think much of my life style, but it suited me just fine.

I had pretty much tuned him out while I remembered the circumstances which had led me to the point where Carlton sat in my one comfortable chair threatening me. When I tuned him back in, he was saying, "So they are shutting down my operations. My job is going to be gone in a couple of months and I'm going to be on the outside."

"So what, it happened to a million men after the war. You've been lucky to keep your job this long." I am sure he noted that I said it with a certain amount of satisfaction in my voice.

"I know you hate me, but believe me I had no choice in the decisions I made. Besides, I was just following orders," he said.

I didn't bother to remind him that we had already decided that the, 'I was only following orders' excuse wouldn't wash for the Nazis. "So what the hell is it you think I can do for you?" I asked instead.

"Unlike you, I don't want to run around hitting tiny little banks every few months. I want to hit one then retire." he was looking hard at the floor when he spoke. He still wasn't sure how far he could push me.

"I already told you, I haven't hit any banks. Carlton, if I was opening bank cans would I be living like this." I didn't figure he would buy it, but it was worth a try.

"Actually you probably would. If I remember right your only ambition, other than killing me, was to come home to this 'place' and live out your life in poverty."

"See, what do I need with money?" I asked it still trying to convince him.

"Even poverty requires some income. No Deke, you have been hitting small town banks." He looked into my eyes when he firmly made that last statement.

"Even if I have, what make you think I would help you?" I was actually enjoying it by that time.

"How about fear of the FBI?" he suggested.

"You have said that about a dozen times, and I have told you I have no fear of them. If you want, I will tell you where you can find a phone to make your call." I knew he was bluffing by that time.

As if he could read my mind he said, "Don't think I'm bluffing Deke. If I have to start my life over without a dime, I have no reason not to take you down as my final gesture of revenge."

"Look you two bit jerk, if you think you have something call the cops. I know you can't hurt me, because I haven't done anything." I said it as I turned my back on him. I went to the refrigerator to fill my iced tea glass. I pointedly did not offer Carlton a glass. The tea came from my mother's boarding house, since I could never master the art of making it myself.

"Why don't I just skip over that part for now," Carlton said. "Instead I will tell you there is a large vault in a small bank, outside an Army base in Fayetteville. Once in a while, it contains more money than either of us could make in a lifetime of real work."

"Surely a Princeton man can make more money than a small town bank would hold?"

"Princeton men aren't as much in demand as you might think. Besides the government is paying off in cash these days. That little bank holds the proceeds of about every merchant, who's cash registers are filled with Army payday cash. When payday falls on a Friday, the banks can't get the cash moved until Monday. The money just builds up in the bank on Friday and Saturday. I expect it is upwards of half a million bucks."

"Now that is a good sized chunk of change, but I ain't interested." I really did enjoy turning him down.

"Why not?" he asked.

"Because Carl," I called him by the familiar name for the first time. I enjoyed his discomfort at it. "I am not a thief. Secondly you are not the great organizer you think you are. Most of the missions you and your Princeton friends arranged could have gotten me killed. In the end, I just ignored your plans and worked out my own."

"We knew that, but our plans were laid out with the best military intelligence available to us at the time," he demanded defensively.

"Talk about a contradiction in terms, military and intelligence should never be allowed in the same paragraph, let alone the same sentence." I had almost begun to enjoy his discomfort, more than my dread of him being in my life again.

"Okay Deke, you have made your joke. How about it? Will you blow the can for me?"

"The short answer is no. The longer answer is, let me see your plan then I will tell you no."

"Then you are in?" he asked it obviously ignoring my comments.

"No, but I will listen to your plan before I make my final decision," I said that hoping to keep him guessing.

"I don't have a real plan just yet. You see, when I realized you were up to your old tricks, I kind of just decided on a whim to come talk to you. It would never do for a war hero to get busted for burglary. Before I found the time, I got the notice that my job was going to be cut. It looks as though the whole organization is going to be on the scrap heap."

"Spare me the hearts and flowers, I don't give a damn about you and your college buddies. So what you are telling me is that you know about this bank, but you don't have the first idea what to do about it?"

"Not yet, but I can mount an operation. I was always good at that," he suggested.

"Like I said before, your operations stank up my life. I sure as hell ain't going to let you draw up a plan for something as serious as a bank job. Hell, I wouldn't even let you draw up the plans for a kid's bicycle race. Now take my advice and go the hell back to Washington. Forget all about this bank job."

"Like I said, I am going to do this bank, and you are going to help me or go to jail for the others." He was serious and I knew it.

"Look Carl, I done told you half a dozen times, go to the FBI if you want. I am as clean as you. On second thought, I am cleaner than you."

"Okay then how about this, even if you haven't been doing banks, I know we can pull this off. Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars is a lot of money," he said.

"Half a million is more," I replied enjoying the look on his face.

"If you do this without me, I will go to the cops. There won't even be a doubt in anyone's mind that you did it."

"Same goes for me. You do this bank, I will roll up your fat ass." I waited while the fact that information was two edged sword, sank in on him. "Now like I said, you go back to Washington and forget all about this."

"Like hell, I am going to do it and so are you." There was a definite threat in his voice.

"Carlton let me tell you something, that doctor didn't save your life. He got you a stay of execution. Now, do you really want to threaten me?" I looked at him as if he were already a corpse.

"This is my one chance to be set for life Deke, I am not going to let you screw it up." He said it positively but he was looking at the hardwood flooring again.

"Me, you should be worried about screwing it up yourself. Okay, give me five hundred bucks and I'll drive down to take a look at the bank."

"I knew you would help. It's the Fayetteville Bank and Trust. The only
anch is located on
agg Boulevard, about a thousand feet from the front gate of the Army post."

"Don't tell me any more about it. I'll go down and take my own look. I'll draw up an operational plan myself."

"Oh no you don't, I am going with you. I am not going to let you out of my sight until this is over."

"What about your job in DC?"

"I am on leave for a month, that should be more than enough time to do this. When we get the money I am headed for South America."

"You doing down to live with the Nazis?" I asked.

"Sure why not, old enemies make great friends," he said it with a grin.

"First of all forget about running. You go back to your job on the day your leave ends. If the FBI turns your ass up, they will eventually get to me."

"Don't get the idea you can tell me what to do," he demanded angrily. He was trying to salvage his position as the superior.

"Then you get your ass back to DC right now. Either that, or you do this job without me. If you do, I am going to turn snitch."

"I am not going to take orders from you," he said again.

"Oh yes you are, you idiot. I have done all this during the war. You have read and talked about it, but you haven't lived it. You are either going to take orders from me, or you are going to forget the whole thing."

"Maybe I'll find another explosive man," he suggested.

"If there was anyone else, you would never have come to me. You know I planned for three years how I was going to kill you. If you came to me, you were desperate enough to risk your life. Now, why don't you just cut the crap and go along with the plan."

"Okay, but I know all the rules. Hell, I helped to write them." The man just couldn't let that fact that he had been my boss go.

"You know them, but now you are going to live them. That is a horse of a whole different

"I suppose you have figured out that there is a Friday payday this month. It is exactly three weeks off."

"I do hope there is a payday between now and the one you are talking about. I want to see exactly what the security is like."

"There is going to be a payday in three days, then another fifteen days later. We are going to have a few days to take a look around, then two weeks to devise a plan."

"Then we need to get into Fayetteville on payday. In the meantime you go on back home."

"Like I told you, I am not leaving here until it is all over. So where do I sleep?"

"In a hotel, did you drive down?" I had been pretty sure from the start that sending him home was not a real option.

"Are you kidding driving down from DC is a real pain. No I caught the train."

"Where are your bags?" I asked it hoping he had a place somewhere.

"In a locker at the train station, why?" The idiot really did get it at all.
"Because you are going to have to get them, then check in to a hotel somewhere."

"I am staying with you," he demanded.

"Like hell are, you can stay close but you are definitely not staying with me. I don't want to be seen with you period. Go across to the grocery store and use their pay phone. Call yourself a cab, then have the driver take you to the White Oak Hotel. Tell the desk clerk that you are going to try to sell machine parts to the mills. If you do they will rent you a room, otherwise you are going to have to know somebody down here to visit."

"Okay, I can do that. When are we going to go down to Fayetteville?" He was already antsy, not a good sign at all.

"It won't be any use going down there until Wednesday morning. That will give us the afternoon and evening to look around before payday. After the GIs get paid we want to keep a close eye on the bank. I want to know what security they have overnight."

"It won't be much. The military won't be doing any of the security work, and the cops don't have enough men to station anybody at the bank routinely."

"We will see. Just come back day after tomorrow." I informed him hoping the conversation was over.

"What the hell am I going to do in a place like this for two days?" The man actually had desperation in his voice. He obviously bored easily.

"Not much, you could check into the downtown hotel, but I doubt that you would find much to do there either. The White Oak will be closer and you can get plenty of rest. If you get too bored, you can go to the YMCA next door for a swim."

"Was that built by the mill?" he asked.

"Everything was built by the mill. Now you can stay where ever you like, just get the hell away from me."

While Carlton waited across the street for his cab, I gave the whole thing a little thought. Rose had seen Carlton, but she would never connect a bank job two hundred miles way with the visitor who
oke up her morning sweat session. That is unless she was asked by a cop, if she had ever seen us together. If it got that far, it wouldn't matter at all.

I waited until the cab came and went before I left the apartment. When I finally walked down the sidewalk I was headed for a late
eakfast. Pop's cafe was empty since it was between meals. Being the only customer did have it's advantages, I got the waitress' full attention.

"You know, if you would get out of bed sooner you could eat at your mother's place. You know the food there would be better than it is here." the young waitress remarked.

"It sure as hell couldn't be any worse that's for sure." I answered. As I was most every morning, I was surprised by the young woman's terrific body. Lois wasn't a natural blonde. She was a blonde in the tradition of Jean Harlow. The work was done by Rose of course. Rose was the hairdresser three doors down from the cafe. The Harlow look alike even had a body like the actress. She was almost perfectly put together. Only difference was she wore underwear. It least that's what the younger men at the pump room said.

Lois always seemed to be more interested in her dream of a movie career, than in her waitress job. I might have been the only one in the village who didn't mind. I had nothing but time, so her inattention didn't bother me at all. I also didn't mind calling her when I wanted something. Unlike a really good waitress, she tended to forget a customer once his or her food was on the table.

"You want the usual?" she asked as she placed the cup of black coffee on the counter in front of me.

"Sure why not," I replied.

Lois didn't have to do more than speak in a normal voice since the cooking was done on a grill just behind the counter. "Pop, scramble a couple of eggs, with sausage links."

The man only a few years older than me nodded. I didn't know when I ever heard Pop speak in the mornings. I know he could speak, I just don't think I ever heard him before noon. For some reason I took a good look at pop that morning. Might have been because Carlton had me nervous that I might lose everything. For whatever reason I noticed that pop had put on a few pounds since my return home. He to had been in Europe during the war. Of course he had been in a combat outfit so he had dropped a tremendous amount of weight before he returned. That morning he seemed to have gained it all back. The scar on his face, where his real eye should have been, was less noticeable that morning than it had been on his first day behind the counter six months earlier. If I had been Pop I would have opted for a patch instead of the fake eye. The eye government gave him looked like a glass eye and not a very good one at that.

Then of course Pop wasn't really Pop at all. Tommy Sims had used his mustering out pay, plus some he had won in a crap game, to buy the place from the real pop who retired. I guess the name Pop was more an honorary tittle than anything else. Either that or he didn't want to waste his money on a new sign.

Lois dropped the plate containing my sausage, scrambled eggs, and the ever popular grits onto the red linoleum covered counter. She turned her back to retrieve a biscuit from the stainless steel
ead warmer.

"Deke, why do you always have the same thing every morning?" She was smiling her movie star smile as she asked.

"Well Lois, I am just a creature of bad habits." I replied returning her smile.

"Do you have the same thing at your mama's place?"

"I usually have whatever Ma has left over. I don't get there in time for the real

"That's not what your sister says." Lois suggested. Lois was about the same age as Sissy so I expected they shared secrets or at least a litle gossip now and then.

"And what exactly does my sister say?" I asked. Sissy's flights of fancy really were a source of amusement to me.

"She said that since Max Fuller ran you off the hill, you won't go in the house during meals. She also said you were afraid you might get your mama in trouble. That and your mama didn't have no where else to go."

"Lois you talk too much," it was Pop who spoke. I was shocked, like I said I had never heard him speak in the morning before.

"Lois, I don't know about nowhere else to go, but I do know that mama likes running that house. I sure wouldn't like to see anything happen to cause her to loose it."

"That's what your sister said," Lois said it to me but stuck her tongue out at Pop.

"Leave the man to finish his
eakfast," Pop said to her sternly.

None of us said another word until I had finished my
eakfast. When I did, I looked at the check even though it was the same as it was every morning. I found enough change in my pocket to cover the check and a small tip for Lois. I laid in on the check then stood to leave.

I was out the door and half way to the corner when I heard or more likely sensed someone behind me. I turned slowly toward the man who walked quickly to close the gap between us. I waited to see what he wanted, but he passed me without even a nod of his head. I walked on thinking that I was a arrogant jerk to think everyone I met had business with me. I decided that I really was on edge after Carlton's visit.

I walked on past the jewelry store, then past the grocery. I saw the man who had passed me earlier walk into the beauty shop. The one built into the front of the movie theater not Rose's shop beside Pop's cafe.

The theater wouldn't be open until five, but the shop opened at ten. I ignored the man as I entered the auto garage across from the theater. I was inside the shop when I looked back to see the same man standing in the doorway looking toward the garage.

"Hot enough for you?" the man in the greasy jeans asked.

"Sure is Ed. Hey Ed, do you know that guy?" I was pointing to the man standing in the beauty shop's open door.

"Sure that's Peanut Harris, he works in the mill."

"Hell Ed, everybody but me and you works in the mill," I replied.

"Not quite everyone, but almost," he replied. "Anyway Peanut works down there."

I nodded my understanding. Ed walked off so I turned toward the shop. "Hey Ed, you got my car fixed."

"I did the best I could, but that car has a lot of miles on it," he replied.

"I know but I couldn't afford anything newer. Besides there still ain't many cars for sale."

"I know the war done a number on everything. Anyway, yeah I got it fixed."

I followed him to the 1939 Chevy. The whole front of the car seemed to be grill. The square passenger box was sort of attached to the rear of the engine box, which was located behind that monster grill. The car though eight years old still ran pretty well. The flat six cylinder engine went through oil and spark plugs as if the makers of the car had stock in both. Which I am sure he did.

"I put in new plugs and changed the oil for you. It should run a few of thousand more miles before the plugs go out again. I also put a couple of quarts of oil in the trunk just in case she runs low when you ain't near a service station.

"You're a prince Ed," I said it as I handed him a five dollar bill. I stood looking at the beauty shop's door which had closed by that time.

"You ain't expectin' no change are you?" Ed asked.

"Lord no, I just wondered what happened to Peanut?"

"You think he is lookin' for you?" Ed asked.

"I got no idea, but I don't like people watching me."

"He probably wants to talk but is too shy. Peanut ain't all that
ight." Ed suggested.

"Well, I'll pick up the car after while. I think I'll walk back to the apartment just to give him a chance to catch up to me."

I was almost to my outside door when I heard the voice. "Hey, are you Deacon Burke?" it asked.

"I am, but everybody calls me Deke. What can I do for you Mister Harris?"

"How do you know my name?" he asked a little shaken.

"I know just about everybody. Those I don't know, my friends do. Now what is it I can do for you."

"I board at the
idges house across the street from your ma's place. I know your
other Archie real well. I ain't seen him for a couple of years, but I know him. Course I know Earl real well."

"Mr. Harris, I'm in a bit of a hurry. Exactly what is it I can do for you." I wasn't really in a hurry I just wanted him to get on with it.

"I don't really like to talk on the street like this. Could we go up to your place?"

"Mr. Harris, I don't allow strangers into my apartment, but we can go over to the 'Pump Room'. There shouldn't be anyone in there this time of the morning, at least no one who gives a damn about your problems."

"That would do I guess," he replied.

We walked across the street, then passed a very small furniture store before arriving in front of the beer joint. I spent a lot of time in the place, either drinking their thin beer or playing poker at the rear most table. That morning I ordered two Cokes as I led Harris to a table near the poker table.

Harris didn't speak until the Cokes arrived. Once the bartender had returned to the bar Harris began, "I got fired last night. Mr. Burke, working in the mill is all I know. I can farm a little, but there ain't no money in that. Working in the mill is all I want to do."

"Why tell me?" I asked.

"Word on the hill is that you can get the company to change it's mind about firing people."

"Mr. Harris, somebody has been pissin in your ear. I don't have no pull with the company. If I did, I would be living in one of their fancy houses. No, I got run out of my mother's boarding house cause I wouldn't work for them."

"I heard all that, but I also heard you can talk to them. Please Mr. Burke, I need some help here."

"Tell me what happened?" I replied with a sigh.

"I didn't go to church on Sunday, so they fired me last night when I come to work. I don't think they got the right to fire me for what I do on my days off."

"Mr. Harris, the job belongs to the mill, you just use it. They pretty much have the right to do whatever they want. I mean they can't mistreat you like beating you, but they can sure fire your ass for not going to church. Let me ask you this, did they ever warn you about going to church?"

"Not really," he said hedging on me.

"Come on Harris, did they ever tell you that you had to go to church?" I asked.

"Yeah, a couple of months ago the overseer called me in for missing church. I though that it had been long enough so's they wouldn't mind me missing again. You know, I thought they meant that I should go most of the time. I had no idea they meant every Sunday. If I had known, I would have gone."

"Well Harris, since they warned you there is nothing I can do. If I was you, I'd go look for a job with another mill. There are plenty of them."

"But I want to stay here," he replied.

"Why?" I asked, then quickly added. "It don't make no difference, you are out of a job. Since you are living in the
idges House, you might as well move on as quick as you can. Just as soon as your board is used up the constable will be coming to see you." %%%

"It's a free country Harris, you can go about anywhere you want."

"I'm gonna' tell everyone I see that you ain't no help at all," he said angrily.

"I really would appreciate that. I get awful tired of people coming to see me. Now if you want, I can tell you where there is a mill that's looking for help. If you don't want, then I'll be seeing you Mr. Harris."

"Where is the mill?" he asked shortly.

"The mill over in Pamona is always looking for good help. Go see Everette Richardson over there. You might as well tell him the truth about what happened here. You can bet your ass, he is going to call the mill for a reference. Tell him up front and he'll give you a

"Yeah sure," he said as he stood to leave.

"You're welcome," I said too quietly for him to hear as he stomped out.

"You want another one?" Bobby the bartender asked.

"God no, I hate sugar this early in the morning." I stood to leave. As I passed the bar I put a quarter on it for the ten cents worth of cokes.

"Thanks Deke," Bobby said as I walked outside.

The sunlight was blinding after the dark of the bar. After the sweet smell of stale beer and disinfectant, the fresh air almost caused me to gag. Truthfully it was the reverse. The smell of the 'pump room' could be hard to take on your first visit. The smell was a lot like scotch whisky, you had to acquire a taste for it.

From the 'Pump Room' I returned to the garage. I found my car in the dirt parking area in the rear. I headed off toward town. Just a couple of blocks from the center of town I stopped at the Gulf station. I allowed Bo, to fill my tank while I went inside for a road map. I made sure he was busy with the car before I picked up the North Carolina map. I had already gotten several maps of the area, but I had never been interested in a state map before. I slipped the map inside my shirt before he finished with the car.

I paid him the almost three bucks for the fill up, then drove on into town. I parked in front of the public li
ary. I spent a lot of my days inside it's dark rooms. The air was cool inside the building and it smelled of books. I loved the smell of books, hell I admit it, I loved to read. With a good book, I could be anywhere and anything, at least for a while.

That particular morning I chose to read magazines since my attention span wasn't very good. My mind slid between articles about the
ave new world, and thoughts about the bank in Fayetteville. I didn't like the idea of working with anyone, especially an amateur. Of all the amateurs, Carlton had to be the worst. He had never done anything except send poor bastards like me out to die. I had a bad feeling about it, but then again half a million was a hell of a payday. It was a real toss up as to whether I would kill Carlton before or after I took down the bank. I laughed silently at the joke, or maybe I laughed because it wasn't a joke. Either way, I had decided to go along with Carlton at least for the time being.

It was after two when I decided to go for lunch. I drove the eight blocks to the Woolworth's lunch counter. At two in the afternoon I was almost the only person at the counter. I ordered their lunch special even though the lunch hour was passed by a few minutes. While I waited, I looked down the counter at my three companions. The closest one was a middle aged woman. I could only guess that she was a bank employee or some such thing. She was much too well dressed to be a shopper, unless she was one of the Parkview crowd. Then again a woman from the Parkview section of town wouldn't be caught dead at the Woolworth's lunch counter.

Farther down the counter was a man in clean work clothes. I figured him to be a delivery man for one of the department stores in the area. The person farthest from me was a very young woman in a plain cotton dress. The dress was simple and probably came from one of the company store's ready to wear sections. Her
ight lipstick and poorly applied makeup, left no doubt that she was a mill worker. Since the timing was right on the cusp of shift change, she was either a third shift worker, or she was playing hooky. I might have spoken to her, if she hadn't been so attractive. Young women who looked as good as that one did, were forever the recipient of unwelcome advances. She obviously wanted to be alone, or she wouldn't have been.

My thoughts about the woman were interrupted by the arrival of my meat loaf. I took one look and knew that I would rather have eaten at my mother's boarding house. I only stayed away because I didn't want to press my luck. Not that I was especially concerned about the constable. I was more concerned that I would loose my temper and cause a scene. My mother didn't need the trouble. As it was, I visited her a couple of times a week. I avoided meal times when the boarders and often even the mill's management people ate there.

I visited my older
other and sister about as often as I saw Ma. I don't suppose family would have been as important to me, had it not been for those years in hiding. I spent most of that time dreaming about my family and growing up in the village. I didn't know much about the world when I went into the Army, so remembering home was about all I could do.

I checked my wristwatch and discovered that I had to hurry home. I had promised to help my
other Earl work on his car. I knew it seemed strange for me to pay someone to work on my car, then go help my
other do pretty much the same things to his car. The truth was that helping Earl was just our excuse to spend time together. His wife didn't much like me. Earl and I had an unspoken agreement, we always found a reason to spend a couple of hours together each week.

I also wanted to slip into the beauty shop and speak to Rose. I figured I might be able to keep her from telling everyone in the village about our night together. Since she had already had most of the morning the odds were pretty long that she had already begun spreading the word. Still there was a small chance so I took it.

I parked the Chevy out back in the coal cinder covered alley, then I entered through the rear door of Rose's shop. After passing through the storage room, I entered into the one long room used as a beauty shop by three different hair dressers. I passed Lucille Mathews on my way to Rose's station. Lucille gave me one of those knowing looks. It appeared that I was too late to stop the gossip. I should have turned at that moment and walked right back out the rear door. Instead, in my typical stupidity I continued on hoping to talk to Rose. Since my luck was running almost perfectly lousy, I was not surprised to find Annita Wilson in Rose's chair.

"Hey Rose, you got a minute?" I asked.

"For you lover, anytime," I noted the concentration camp thin Lucille giggled. Her bottled red hair seemed to mock me even more than the giggle. I turned what I hoped was a withering look on Lucille, but it missed her by miles it seemed. She started giggling even harder at my obvious discomfort.

I returned to the rear storeroom without looking back. If Rose hadn't follow I planned to beat a hasty retreat out the back. Rose followed me into the storage room then closed the door. She moved against me, then kissed me deeply. I was surprised by the amount of passion in the kiss. i was even more surprised by it's effect on me. I forgot all about asking her to keep our night together a secret. Instead I simply returned her kiss.

I found myself
eathless in seconds. "Damn that woman can kiss," I thought. By the time she
oke the kiss I was pressing my hips hard against her.

"What was it you wanted to talk about Deke," she asked with her hand still behind my head, and her body pressed hard against me.

"Rose, I swear I have forgotten," I replied. I hadn't of course, I just thought it would be bad form to ask her not to mention our night together, after just having had my tongue in her mouth. I didn't know how to
ing it up so I just said, "I got to go see Earl," or something equally stupid. I just wanted to get out of the shop before I got myself in even deeper.

"Okay and thanks for coming by Deke, it means a lot to me. Especially since we didn't really do anything."

"I hope you told Lucille that," I replied remembering Lucille's giggle.

"Do you really want her to know you couldn't get it up, hon?" Rose smiled a wicked smile at me as she asked it.

I didn't even answer. I just slipped out the rear door.

I pulled into Earl's dirt yard around three. I was sitting in my car when he walked up a few moments later. Earl, I noted had become a well fed looking man. He was older, taller and heavier than me. Earl was exactly like me otherwise. We shared Pa's
own hair and almost black eyes. His face was rounder, due to the extra pounds but otherwise we looked like

"Hey Earl, it's about time you got here. What were you doing flirting with the girls after work." I asked it jovially.

"Hey, keep it down. If you don't, Eve will be out here nailing both our asses to the door." He wasn't smiling when he said it.

"No she won't. She will swear it is my fault, then forbid me to come here anymore." I didn't bother to smile since thoughts of Eve always
ought out the anger in me.

"You could be right. I sure wish I knew why she hated you so much. Hell, let me go get us a beer." He said it as he disappeared into the house. I knew it would be several minutes before he returned. He would return wearing greasy overalls and carrying two beers.

Sure enough he showed twenty minutes later dressed as I had expected and carrying two Shlitz beers. "So Deke, what you been up to today?" he asked it seriously.

"I went to the li
ary." I replied waiting for the inevitable.

"When you going to get a job?" he asked.

"You know I got a job." I replied with my eyes on the car's engine

"You ain't got a job unless somebody is paying you. Half the time the people you help ain't got enough money for food. You know they ain't gonna pay you before you even start helping them. How the hell are you living anyway?"

"Come on Earl, you know I got a ton of back pay from the Army when I mustered out. Besides, some of the people I help can pay."

"Yeah, well one of these days the company is going to get tired of you interfering in there business." He said it without any real conviction in his voice.

"What are they going to do, have me killed?" I asked it with a chuckle.

"They damned will might. You are about the only person who ever tried to change things around here."

"Not really, there were those guys who tried to unionize the plant back in the thirties."

"That's right, look what happened to them. The governor called out the national guard to get rid of them." Earl had Pa's serious look on his face.

"You don't reckon he will call out the guard just to get rid of me do you?" Unlike Earl I was wearing a great big grin.

"Deke, you keep it up and they are going to find you in a ditch."

"Sure they are. Earl, those guys don't give a damn about me. Now do you have the plugs? I have things I need to be doing." I said it, but we both knew it was just to change the subject. There was no where I would rather have been.

We had been working about two hours on the twenty minute job when a train passed behind the house. Earl's house was a mill house which set only thirty or so feet from the Southern Railway tracks. That night the train that passed was a sleek passenger model. I spied on the passengers through the windows of the speeding cars. I expected they felt sorry for the residents of the run down houses by the tracks. I knew that if they understood them, they might actually envy their pressure free lifestyle. Pressure free, if you didn't want anymore than simple survival.

"Earl, aren't you ever going to finish with that car. I got supper about ready." The shrill voice belonged to Earl's wife Eve.

"Earl, when you going to have some kids, so she has somebody else to holler at?" I asked with a grin.

"Oh, Eve's okay. She just has a real dislike of you for some reason. You want to come in for supper?" He asked it knowing I didn't. Also knowing that if I went into the house his wife would have a fit.

"Are you kidding? Eve would poison the gravy. If it's all the same to you, I would like to live a little longer." I was grinning and Earl knew it was only a slight exageration.

"So what are you going to do?" he asked.

"I think I'll go get some barbecue." I replied.

"Deke, you got to start saving money. Man you are always eating at one of those greasy restaurants. Why don't you find yourself a woman and get married."

"Yeah, maybe if Eve had a sister." I followed the statement with a burst of laughter. "Look, you go on into supper, and I'll go look for that good woman to marry."

I lied to Earl, I had a couple of scrambled eggs with cheese for supper. I cooked them myself in my own little apartment. Food cooked in my tiny little kitchen, tucked away in a corner of the large room I called home, tasted pretty good. I expect that was because I seldom cooked more than the most basic of foods. If it couldn't be fried in a pan, I didn't cook it.

I finished diner and was looking over a three day old newspaper when the banging started on my door again. Thinking it might be Carlton, I removed the mauser from under the bed. When I went to the head of the stairs I could see the legs of my caller. If it was Carlton he was wearing a dress. I walked down the stairs after hiding the mauser in the rear of my pants. I recognized the woman instantly.

"Rose, I am glad to see you." I meant it so that we could talk about the night before. She followed me up the fourteen steps before she spoke.

"Yeah Deke, I expect you are. I felt kind of bad about leaving you hanging this morning, so I came to settle up." Rose suggested.

"There is nothing to settle Rose," I replied in my bewildered voice.

"You mean you don't mind that we didn't do it?" I could see the hopeful look on her face. It bothered me a little that I wasn't sure which way she was hoping.

"Sure, I would like it if we made love, but we were both high. If you wanted to just forget the whole thing it would be okay."

"Deke, are you trying to be a nice guy, or do you just not want to sleep with me?" At that moment she was giving me a serious look. I still couldn't tell what was on her mind.
"Rose, what man would turn down a chance to sleep with you?" I didn't want to answer the question directly.
"So, you got time for a quick roll in the hey?" she asked boldly.
"After last night's fiasco, I want to hold off till I get rid of this hangover. I just don't want to disappoint you again." I said it hoping she would buy it.
"Deke, you didn't disappoint me. I enjoyed laying against you and having you just hold me. You got the cutest way of wrapping yourself around me." She was laughing inside I know. She had to be it was all so corny.
"Well glad you like it, but I am much more fun when I am awake," I was trying to sound like I knew what I was saying. I had no idea how to answer her. She was too bold for me to handle.
"Then we will just have to wait until tomorrow night. Are you going to the Pump Room tonight?" she asked seriously.
Yeah their poker game is how I pay the rent here, why?" I knew she went there occasionally. Like I said it was where I met her the night before.
"I have to eat dinner with my mother. I will also most likely wind up there until pretty late. I could stop by after, but I expect you will be playing until late. Huh?
"Yeah, I expect so." I saw her face fall slightly. "Course if you come by, I will buy you a drink. Least I can do for falling asleep on you last night."
"Yeah, you could hardly do less. If I finish up at mom's in time I'll swing by, but I am pretty tired. I don't keep them hours regular like you do. I might stop by for a while though"
"Sure come on over and have a drink at least. Then one night real soon we will get together and finish what we started." I said it with my very best leer.
"Deke, you don't really mind that I told Lucille do you? I didn't tell her that you fell asleep, Only that I spent the night with you."
"I don't know for sure how I feel about that Rose. I mean it ain't the truth, but then it will do my reputation good to have a beautiful woman admit she slept with me."
"Deke, you don't need any help with your reputation, but I do." Rose said almost sadly.
"How so?" I asked.
"Deke, you know I been divorced?" I nodded that I did indeed. "Well it's like that book, you know where they
anded that girl for being a loose woman. Everybody thinks I am a loose woman cause of the divorce."
"I don't see how sleeping with me will help that any?"
"Come on Deke, all the people around here respect you. The women all adore you. The guys would stop making passes at me, if they thought I was your girl."
"But what happens when the real thing comes along Rose. You might miss it because he was afraid to ask you out." It sounded perfectly logical to me until she laughed so hard it frightened me.
"Deke, you are so funny. I have a boyfriend but he is married. I would really like to have you as a boyfriend too." The tears still streamed down her cheeks from the laughter, only they didn't seem to be tears of joy.
"Rose if you are talking about using me for cover forget it. My Ma, would have my ass when she found out. Before you say it, you know she would find out sooner or later."
"You mean she wouldn't approve of you seeing a divorced woman?" She asked it defiantly.
"Not that Rose, she would have my ass for helping deceive some man's wife." I looked her hard in the eye while I spoke since I finally had the high ground.
"Nobody knows about the married man, so it wouldn't have to get out. You and me could sort of spend just a little time together. If we did no one would suspect that I was screwing around on you. After all Deke, no woman in her right mind would risk losing you." She had me going until she added that last part. It was just too much.
"Damn Rose, you are good, but that last bit about no woman losing me was just too much. So what is the deal here?" I managed to keep my good humor while I asked.
"Deke, I need a man once in a while, but I don't need anybody sponging off me. I got a pretty good thing with the shop. I don't need some guy trying to live off me." Unlike most women she looked me dead in the eye when she spoke.
"So explain what you really want from me?" I asked it with as much good humor as I could manage.

"I don't know what I want I just know what I don't want. I don't want to sleep with a different man every time I got an itch that needs scratchin'. I'm getting a terrible reputation and I want to clean it up. Now what you got in your bag of tricks for me?"

I gave a quick thought then said, "I guess we need to find you a husband with a better job than you." I grinned at her when I said it.

"I'll find my own damn husband, thank you very much. Besides I don't need a husband just now. What I need is a place to go where I know I can sleep with a nice guy. One who won't judge me and is accepted by my friends. In other words Deke, I am propositioning you."

I didn't know what to say and Rose knew it. I tried to stammer out a response but Rose stopped me. "Look Deke, you think it over and have an answer for me next time I see you. Now I got to go to Mom's house." With that she moved close and gave me one of those kisses. One all filled the promise and tongue.

"Just a reminder," she said as she stepped back. She quickly turned and fled down the stairs, leaving me with a physical reminder of her. I sat at my kitchen table with a glass of iced tea while I gave her proposition some real thought.

There weren't enough men in the Pump Room later that night to form a card game, even if they had all wanted to play. I had a couple of watery beers then went home. I fell into bed and then into a dreamless sleep. Probably the result of having slept poorly the night before. The tiny bed in my apartment was hardly enough for one let alone two. If I accepted Rose's proposal, I was going to have to buy a larger bed. Also the fact that it rained that night probably added to the depth of my sleep.

I awoke before eight. Even after I bathed and dressed for the day it was still only a few minutes after eight. Since it would be after the boarders
eakfast times before I could get to mom's house, I drove on over. I arrived at almost exactly eight thirty. I entered the giant three story frame house through the front door. I walked down the hallway past the two parlors on the right and the huge dinning room which occupied the same space as both of them on the left. Not only did Ma feed her boarders
eakfast, she also fed at least half the mill supervisors
eakfast. Hell, once in a while, you could even find the owners of the mill at her table.

That morning I found Ma and my younger sister in the kitchen washing the mountain of dirty dishes. My mother looked sixty even though she was only fifty. I expected that raising eleven kids did that to a woman. She would have looked even worse had she not been about twenty or thirty pounds heavier than the doctors would call normal. The extra pounds helped to hide the worry lines.

"So Ma, did you get all the borders fed and off to work?" I asked as a greeting.

"Some to work and some to bed. You want I should fix you some
eakfast?" she asked wearily.

"No thanks, but I would like a cup of coffee," I replied. It was our not so secret code. It meant that I would like a cup of coffee, and a biscuit filled with whatever
eakfast meat she had left. That morning it was a patty of very spicy sausage.

While I ate, I talked with my mouth full. I managed to find out which of her many pains was bothering her the most at that moment. As usual, I suggested that she see a doctor. Also as usual she promised she would just as soon as the pain got bad enough. That meant she would see one when she was admitted to the hospital, if that ever happened.

She changed the subject on me. "Deke, Max Fuller is looking for you."

"Why is that?" I asked it not really expecting her to know.

"Wouldn't say, but he didn't look happy. I expect it has something to do with one of the mill hands you been helping. I told you the company wouldn't take kindly to your butting into their business." As usual Ma wanted to give me her motherly advice.

"If that's so Ma, why do you keep sending them to me?" I asked it with my best boyish grin.

"I don't send nobody to you. If they ask me what they should do when they are in trouble with the mill, I tell them they should talk to somebody. I can't help it, if the rumor mill gives them your name. Besides, I only send you people who really could use a
eak." %%%

"Then why did you send me Peanut Harris?" I asked smiling. I knew she hadn't sent the slacker to me at all.

"I didn't send him. I did know that he was going to see you though. I reckon I should have told him not to bother."

"No, you just let them all come. Some of them have legitiment complaints, those I try to help. Can't say as I do much good though." I was actually looking into the coffee cup when I said that.

"That's not what I hear," Sissy replied. I hadn't noticed my very attractive younger sister. She didn't look so attractive at that moment. Her hair was hanging in her eyes and she was covered with a fine perspiration film. She also wore one of those smock things to save her clothes. It might have saved her clothes, but effectively hid the fact that she was full grown woman.

"Well you heard wrong. If you see Max, tell him to come to the apartment. Hell, I'll be glad to talk to him." I said that as I took a long drink from the streaming coffee cup.

"You sure do cuss a lot," Ma said shaking her head.

"I know Ma. It's the company I keep." I grinned up at her again.

"I'll tell your daddy you was here," she said it as I stood to leave. "He's sleeping right now."

"Okay, tell him I asked about him. He is doing okay isn't he?" I asked it as a second thought. Daddy and I hadn't spoken more than a dozen words since I got home. He didn't much approve of my life style. Rather than tell me, he just ignored me whenever he could. I got the point real good.

"Sure, he works a lot, but he is doing all right." Ma looked hard at me as if judging my reaction.

"Okay, then I'm heading out." I hugged Ma and my younger sister before I walked back through the house. The front porch was empty as I left, but it wouldn't stay that way long. The second shift workers would begin coming down to sit in the shade, once the temperature level in the house rose past uncomfortable. When it reached unbearable the porch would be full.

I thought about driving to the White Oak Hotel to see Carlton, but decided against it. I really had nothing to say to him, and I didn't want to be seen with him in case he got caught. It was possible that he could manage to hold it together. The thought of him holding out, under even our police interrogation, made me laugh out loud. The Princeton kid couldn't hold out for fifteen minutes.

Then I thought about driving to Max Fuller's office in the mill. I decided not to bother. I knew for a fact that he would find me when he was ready. Spreading the word was part of the intimidation process. I wasn't intimidated, but I didn't much like him worrying my mother. Still, she didn't seem concerned either. She probably knew more about their methods than I would ever be able to guess.

Instead of doing either, I drove to the ball field. I never knew the practice schedules for any of the mill's teams, but it didn't matter since I enjoyed watching them all. Whenever I had a few minutes I would drive by the practice field hoping to find one of the many industrial league teams practicing. That morning I was in luck, the Bulls from the White Oak Plant were working out. I parked the old Chevy in the dirt lot, then found a seat on the rough wooden bleachers.

For the next two hours I watched the Bulls hit and throw the baseball around. The Bulls were a good team, but not the best in my opinion. My
other Earl played for the Red Caps, so I rooted for them. They weren't the best either though. The team that won the championship, almost every year, was the team from the Pamona Mill. Rumor was that the mill owners paid professional players from some of the minor league teams to play for him. Since professional baseball was a summer sport, he must have come up with some real
ead to get them. The players really didn't lose out on anything, since the industrial leagues were scouted just the same as the organized minor leagues.

When the practice
oke up, I drove back to the heights. I didn't have a plan for killing the day. Even if I had, it wouldn't have included a visit from Carlton. I found him waiting in the doorway to my apartment.

"What the hell are you doing here. I told you not to come back here until tomorrow." I said it in a low menacing whisper.

"There is nothing to do over there. Everybody sits on the porch and talks about the mill. I don't know lanything about textile mills. I had to get away. I just couldn't face the whole day over there."

I waited until we were inside the apartment before I spoke again. "I hope to hell you didn't tell anyone where you were going." It was more a question than a statement and he knew it.

"Of course not," he replied. "So what should we do?"

I took a good look at Carlton before I spoke. Carlton was about forty and at least seventy pounds over weight. If Carlton had a larger frame he might have been impressive with the extra weight. With his naturally small frame he just looked fat. His hair was thinning badly, and his face was slightly flushed all the time. After climbing my stairs he was even more flushed than usual. I figured if I had enough time to wait his blood pressure would take care of killing him for I had to do it.

"You need to get your fat ass back to the hotel. If you don't want to do that, go downtown to a movie or something. I have the village constable looking for me. I don't want him to find you here. I hope to hell you haven't done anything to put him onto to me." I knew he hadn't since he was staying in White Oak. Each of the mill villages had it's own constable. If he had done anything to draw attention, it would be the White Oak constable, not Max, looking to talk to me.

"Okay, how about giving me a ride downtown?" he asked.

"Okay, but only because I don't want you making any more calls from the grocery store. Hell, they may have seen you this morning anyway."

Fifteen minutes later I dropped Carlton at the public li
ary. He was within easy walking distance of everything in town from the li
ary. After dropping him, I drove straight home. It was still early so I drove past the apartment, then to the park a couple of blocks from the Heights. The park like the ball field was owned by the mill. The mill was pretty good about allowing those of us in the neighborhood to sit on the benches. Even those of us who didn't work for the mill. I sat on the bench for a long while before I heard a voice I recognized as that of the Village constable.

"Deke, we need to talk." The fifty pound overweight Max Fuller said. Everybody seemed to have gotten fat since the war. Max couldn't use that as an excuse, since he didn't leave the village during the war.

"I got nothing to talk about, but I will answer any questions you might have," I replied.

"Okay, what the hell have you been up to?" he asked it trying his authoritative voice out on me first. He knew it was a waste of time, but then I suppose it was second nature to him by that time.

"I have no idea what you are talking about," I replied as I looked him in the eye.

"Come on, I've been hearing rumors that you are trying to change the way we do things again." A little of his bluster was gone, just because I wouldn't look away.

"Who is we?" I asked just to make him say it.

"You know damned well, I am talking about the overseers. I heard you been trying to tell them what to do again. If that's true, you aren't going to be real popular with the owners." He was trying to make a point blunted by it's over use.

"Why should I care whether I'm popular with the old men. I don't work for them."

"No, but most of your family and friends do," he replied with a smirk on his fat face.

Even as I put my hands around his throat, I knew I shouldn't have. It didn't matter what I knew, I was working on pure instinct. Those instincts had been born in me as they had in all men. Mine had been refined by the United States Government. I held Max's fat but fragile throat in my hands. I caught myself just before I crushed his larynx. I fought myself for control, since killing Max wasn't necessary, or advisable. He was far to surprised and frightened to put up any fight. I knew I had to do something to cover my almost murder of the man.

"Max, listen to me. If anything happens to my family or friends, I will kill you and every other son of a bitch who had anything to do with it. Now you can tell your slimy friends that, or maybe you shouldn't, just as you chose. Personally I wouldn't want anyone to know about this little meeting of ours. I wouldn't want the mill hands to know how easy it is to take you. Hell, they might not go along so willingly next time you take a drunk to the high Sheriff's office. By the way Max, you tell those overseers that I am always available to talk it out with them. But if they would rather, I'll take it up with their wives, or the superintendent whichever one needs telling."

I left Max gasping for air as I walked away. I showed him my back, even though I knew he carried a .38. I figured if he was going to shoot me in the back, it was as good a day as any other. If he did shoot me, at least I wouldn't have to fool around with Carlton. Even the worst events had an up side.

When I got back to my car I took a deep
eath, then drove home. I sat around the apartment with my own pistol on the table. I sat there drinking tea and waiting for Max. I didn't think he would come, but I waited anyway. I half expected him to show up with the high Sheriff, or one of his men. At that moment, I wasn't sure that I wouldn't blow them all into the next week. Fortunately for everyone Max decided to go somewhere and lick his wounds. I was absolutely sure that there would be another day for us.

I spent a fairly uneventful day after I finally got moving again. I had a late lunch at Pop's place, then slept away a pretty good size chunk of the afternoon. Finally after a dinner of cheese and fresh
ead, I went to the Pump Room. I drank slowly while I played poker with several of the workers from the mill.

Rose came and went during the game. Evidently she was waiting for me to make the next move. I had poker on my mind, so I didn't make any move. I was going to have to work something out with Rose. I just didn't know what it would be.

The game lasted until well after midnight. I was the last of the customers to leave the Pump Room. The bartender was still cleaning when I walked out of the door. I was in the middle of the deserted street when a voice I didn't recognize came from the shadows. "Deke, I got a message for you." At that moment I expected a shot to ring out. Instead the man took a step toward me. I waited for the flash of cold steel at least.

When it didn't come I asked, "What's the message." At the same time I
aced myself for a fight. I figured Max or some mill boss had found a thug.

"Sandra Evans wants to see you," the heavyset man answered.

"Who the hell is Sandra Evans, as far as that goes, who the hell are you?" I figured I could sound tough since he hadn't killed or maimed me by that time.

"Me, I work for Miss Evans. Miss Evans runs the old Hammond place." Hammond I did know, he had been a farmer. His farm had been in a small built up rural area just north of the mill village.

"What would a pig farmer what with me?" I asked. I knew that the Hammond farm had long since gone out of the pig business. In the twenties and the early thirties it had supplied pork and vegetables to the mill village and the larger nearby town.

"I guess you might say Miss Evans is a keeper of pigs, but not the kind you have for dinner." He laughed at his own joke. "Miss Evans runs a house. You do know what a house is don't you?"

"Sure I know what a house is. What the hell does a Madam want with me?" I was more than a little surprised by the invitation. I guess it showed because Luther looked pleased when he next spoke.

"Why don't you just
ing you ass out there and see?" he suggested it in a dead serious business tone.

"Okay, but I follow you." The big man nodded his agreement. Obviously he had planned it that way. He probably didn't want to drive me home in the early morning hours, any more than I wanted to be his prisoner.

We reached Sandra Evans' farm by way of gravel roads, dirt roads, oiled roads and even a paved road. The business was located inside a house with about half a dozen bedrooms. The downstairs area had been opened up by removing all the doors. The doorways were expanded by arches which created one large party room. It was a place where the 'guests' could wait in comfort. In one corner of what had originally been the parlor sat a small bar. Unlike the Pump Room the bar served liquor. Liquor by the drink, or by the bottle was illegal in North Carolina at that time. Since the farm was also illegal, I don't expect that legality of the liquor was real consideration.

I was told by her goon to await Miss Evans in what had once been the living room. I sat on a garish, but comfortable sofa while I waited for the lady of the house to make her appearance. I was somewhat disappointed when the goon returned for me instead. I followed him into an addition on the rear of the large house. From the floor and the wall finishes it was evident that the room had once been a pantry off the kitchen. At the time of my visit, it held a very small desk and telephone. My guess was it served as a sort of office for Miss Evans.

After I checked out the room, I took a good look at Miss Evans. The lady of the house was probably my mother's age. She was much more heavily made up, but still she had to be at least fifty. I stood restlessly shifting my weight from one foot to another until she seemed to notice me for the first time.

"So, you are Deacon Burke?" she asked, but she obviously already knew the answer

"I woke up in his bed this morning, I therefore assume that I am." I replied with a more confident grin than I felt.

"Don't be a wise ass, you don't have the cool to pull it off," she said with a smile.

"Oh, I got the cool. I just don't show it on all the first date." I said it hoping to make a tough guy impression on her. I didn't want her to think I was too easy, otherwise I might have Luther threatening me on a regular basis.

"I guess we will see what you are. I got a proposition for you." Miss Evans said looking hard at me.

"I figured as much, why else would you get me here in the middle of the night?" I asked returning her gaze.

"It ain't what you might expect in a place like this. We each have a problem with an employee who talks too much. At least one who may begin talking to the wrong people at any moment."

I knew exactly what she meant, but I pretended I didn't. "I don't know about you but I don't have any employees. I work alone, when I work at all."

"If we can't be at least a little honest with each other this conversation is going to be a waste of my time." she suggested. I nodded for her to go on. "You have a friend named Carlton Anderson."

"I would hardly call him a friend," I responded to her statement before she even finished.

"Okay whatever he is to you, he drinks too much and he talks when he does. Your, whatever, asked the night man at the White Oak Hotel to find him someone to listen to his war stories. Eddy sent him Ting."

"Who?" I asked.

"Half of my sister act, Eddy sent him Ting a Ling. Her sister Ding Dong was already working." She waited until I nodded. He was pretty drunk when she arrived. He got even drunker as time wore on. During the course of their 'date', he told her that he was coming into a lot of money. He also mentioned a bank in Fayetteville and his good friend Deke Burke."

"Not only is he a loud mouthed drunk, but he is also a lying loud mouthed drunk," I suggested.

"Probably, but it will still get your ass in prison if he tell that story to the wrong person. Especially if that bank gets blown."

"Thanks for the warning, I'll take care of Carlton." I replied.

"If you would like, I could have Luther take care of him." As she spoke she cocked her head toward her goon.

"No thanks, there is a record of a threat to his life I made once. If he turned up dead around here, I would be the first one questioned. No I'll figure out something else."

"I'm sure you will, that's why I need your help with my little problem."

"Why don't you just have Luther take care of yours?" I asked.

"Because mine's in jail. Even Luther can't problem solve inside the county jail."

"While I figure out what to do about mine, tell me your problem."

"Do you know Raleigh Phipps?" she asked.

"The superintendent of the weave room at Revolution?" I asked in return.

"That's him."

"I know the name, and I've seen him at ma's a couple of times around the
eakfast table. I don't think I ever said more than a couple of words to him though."

"Well old Raleigh has an eye for the ladies. He is out here a couple of times a month."

"So he comes out here, so what?" I asked it trying to hurry her along.

"It's got nothing to do with this place. Raleigh was at some kind of meeting downtown last week. When he was walking back to his car, he met a whore. The whore was one who had worked for me until a couple of months ago. She fell in love with a customer and left."

"That can't be a good for business." I said it being a smart ass again.

"Oh, it gets worse. She takes Raleigh to the King Cotton hotel for a short ride. When they are in the middle of the ride, her boyfriend bursts into the room. He demands that Raleigh give up his wallet. Now Raleigh has been around enough to know a scam when he sees one. Raleigh also recognizes that big old Army colt. All things, being not at all equal, he gives up his wallet. I guess Raleigh thinks it over all night because it isn't until the next morning that he calls in Max Fuller. Fuller arranges for the Sheriff to arrest Laura Lee."

I interrupted, "I suppose Laura Lee is the hugger mugger?"

"She is that, now let me finish please." I nodded my apology. "The Sheriff agrees that no good will come from the superintendent of the weave room testifying in open court. So he arranges for the DA to take Raleigh's statement under seal. They all agree, that he can testify in the judges chambers. So Laura Lee winds up in jail awaiting trial, and everyone is happy. Well almost happy like I said Laura Lee is in love. She won't give them the boyfriend. After a couple of days they get tired of asking, so it's Laura Lee who's going to prison.

"I know that somewhere you come into this, but where?" I asked.

"You don't have any patience at all do you?" Sandra Evans asked shortly.

"I guess not. You go on and I'll try not to interrupt again." I said smiling at her cause we both knew I would.

"Somehow that no good boyfriend of hers gets word to her. Laura Lee makes another phone call to me. She tells me that she is going to force the Sheriff to close me down That is unless I stop her from going to trial. She don't know all that much, but she can make a stink about me during the trial. Enough so's the good women in town force the Sheriff to close me." Sandra Evans did not look happy at the prospect.

"Could she do that?" I asked.

"I don't know, but I can't take the chance. So there you have it."

"Have what?" I asked.

"I have laid out both problems for you. They tell me you are the fixer, so fix them. I need you to handle this for me." She semed almost amused by it all.

"Okay, I'll ask the obvious. Why don't you just have Luther pay Raleigh a visit."

"Raleigh isn't one of those 4F's. He was a paratrooper during the war. He got himself a crap load of medals. Luther might have to hurt him to stop him from testifying. That wouldn't be any better than the fix I'm in now."

"Give me a few minutes to think this over," I suggested.

"Anybody, I can get you while you think?" she asked smiling.
"Best offer I've had since.....Hell it's the best offer I ever had, but no. Just have Luther get me a beer and let me think a few minutes." The few minutes became an hour before my
ain finally worked out all the details. I knew from the start that blackmail was in order, but it took me the hour to get all the details worked out.

I had both Luther and Sandra making calls and running errands until the sun came up that next morning. While they ran around, I assembled the blackmail kits. I had one for each of our antagonists.

"There is one thing we haven't discussed yet," I stated just before dawn.

"And what might that be?" Sandra asked.

"Money, I could sure use a hundred bucks. I mean, I am saving you a damned sight more than you are saving me."

"I don't know what is ten years in the slammer worth to you?" she asked.

"I wasn't really going to blow that bank for Carlton." I said it smiling at her.

"It don't matter, he would have had the cops looking at you anyway. I get the feeling you couldn't stand that no matter what you say."

"Maybe not, but I could still use the hundred," I persisted.

"If what Carlton said it true, you don't really need the money." Sandra replied.

"But, what he says isn't true. I am about out of my GI mustering out pay. How about it, surely it is worth a C note." She didn't know about the mustering out pay. Nobody else did either. I had gotten a chunk of back pay all right, but it was a bit more than that. You see every time I opened a German bank can, I not only found their Marks, but a few American bills as well. I couldn't spend the American, but I wasn't about to leave if for the Germans either. Liberating the money seemed like the best plan all around. I held onto it until the war caught up with me, which happened more than once. Whenever I got the chance, I sent the money to myself at Ma's. I still needed to put more money with it every chance I got. I just wasn't near as
oke as everyone thought.

"Oh all right, you get Raleigh off my ass and you get the hundred."

"Right now, I am going home to take a bath. Then I am going to put on some dry clothes which should last about thirty minutes in this heat."

"It's going to be a hot one all right. I mean that both ways." Sandra replied.

"I know. Well, I'll let you know what happens," I advised her.

"You do that, but just about Raleigh. If you won't let Luther kill the other one, I don't give a damn what happens to him." She wore a big grin as she spoke the words. I was playing at being tough, but she was tough.

I waited at my kitchen table drinking iced tea. Sure enough Carlton knocked around nine. I let him pass me as he climbed the steps to my apartment. I stood at the top of the stairs blocking his retreat.

"Carl, we need to have a little talk," I suggested.

"About what? I thought everything was settled. Let's get moving we can talk on the way down to Fayetteville."

"We aren't going to Fayetteville after all," I informed him.

"What do you mean. I thought we had settled all that."

"Well, it's been unsettled." I informed him with a nasty look.

"How?" he asked angrily.

"It happened when you told a whore at the hotel how you were about to get rich." I said with a slightly louder voice.

"I don't know what you are talking about," he shouted.

"Lower your voice and read this." I handed him the statement which Ting had given before a notary. The notary wasn't going to be doing any talking, so it was all right that he heard it. Besides nothing was going to happen to that bank in Fayetteville anyway.

After Carlton finished reading the statement, he looked up at me. This is bull. You made this up so that you could cut me out. There was no whore."

"Sure, and I made this up too," I said handing him the statement by the desk clerk.

After he read the statement he said, "It doesn't matter, nobody is going to believe them."

"Carlton it's over. Get a cab to the train station and go back to DC."

"If I go back without that money from that bank, I swear I am going to the FBI."

"Carlton are all Princeton kids as dumb as you. If they are, it's a wonder we won that war at all."

"What do you mean?" he asked.

'Just this, if you read that statement by the whore more carefully, you will find that she states. You said you were going to be rich just as soon as you talked me into blowing the bank. Well I refused, so you tried to set me up for the other banks. That's going to be my story when I get interviewed. Unlike you, I have the statements from two different people with no ax to grind. I also have your name on a register at the White Oak Hotel listing your occupation as salesman. You are going to have a hard time explaining all that away."

"I will just tell them I never met the whore. I'll tell them you set me up."

"Recognize this?" I asked showing him his liquor bottle wrapped in tissue paper inside a sturdy shirt box.

"What is it?" he asked sheepishly.

"It's your liquor bottle from the hotel. I also have a statement from a maid who swears she removed it from your room this morning."

"How did you get it so fast?" he asked.

"Carlton, three a.m. is also the morning. You are a heavy sleeper, obviously you were never on the run."

Carlton looked up at me with a defeated expression. "So, if I go home and never bother you again the bottle and statements never surface?" he asked.

"That would be my expectations. Of course, I am going to rig them with a deadman's switch."

"If anything happens to you, they go to the FBI?" he asked.

"Something like that," I replied.

"Well Deke, I would like to say it was fun, but it wasn't." He was beat but at least he knew it.

"I feel exactly the same. Look at it this way, you are getting out of here alive. It's more than you deserve." The look I gave him let him know leaving was definitely in order.

"Yeah, alive and
oke, I guess it's better than rich and dead," he stated as he walked toward me.

I stepped aside while resisting the urge to push him down the stairs. Instead I watched him walk out the screen door leading to the street. Well that ended half my days work, I thought.

Luther showed up with the final piece of blackmail material two hours later. "Here you go," he said handing me the
own envelope.

"So, you did find it. I'm surprised it wasn't trashed."

" Lover boy don't empty his trash regularly. It was in the can behind his house."

"He must really have something. I mean he was real confident that Laura Lee wouldn't turn on him."

"Either that, or he is just plain stupid. By the way, if Laura Lee don't get out of jail till this afternoon, lover boy will be long gone. I expect just as soon as the Doc finishes with him, he will be on a train."

"You mean he won't be driving. I thought he had a car for some reason."

"Man can't drive with a
oken leg and a
oken arm," Luther was grinning at me. I expect it was his way of telling me how tough he was. He needn't have bothered. I figured it out just by looking at him. Not only was he large, but he had mean eyes. It was a combination which could prove lethal.

After Luther left I tried to read a novel with a prewar setting. It was one of those silly mystery things. I tried for a long time but I just couldn't get into it. It was sometime after three when I heard the voice from the foot of my stairs.

"Mr. Burke, are you up there?" the voice was definitely female. I thought I recognized it but wasn't sure until I walked to the top of the stairs. I stood looking down at a very pretty young woman with short red hair and freckles all over her face. She was very attractive even in her plain cotton dress. I did recognize her.

"Hello Sarah., what
ings you here? You want to come up?" I asked all the questions in a single

"No thanks to the coming up there. I came to pay you something on my bill," she said it slowly. I had forgotten that she spoke slowly. She certainly didn't think slowly.

"Wait a second while I get a shirt and I'll come down." I hadn't realized that I was sitting in my tee shirt until I noticed her look away from me. I grabbed a shirt then walked down the stairs. She moved back so that we stood on the street which ran beside the jewelry store.

"So how are things at work?" I asked.

"Whatever you said to Stanley sure worked. He didn't apologize, but he never mentioned any of that nonsense to me again. It's like it never happened."

"Well that's what you really wanted wasn't it?"

"Sure, I just don't know how you did it," she exclaimed.

"It's probably better that you don't know." I couldn't think of anything else to say so I stood pat.

"Anyway, here," she said thrusting a five spot at me.

"Can you afford this?" I asked it knowing how little she made.

"I got paid today and I have a little left over. My little sister came up a couple of weeks ago. She is staying in my room at your mother's place. We share expenses. She is also sending money home, so I don't have to send so much. Besides, I owe you a lot more than five dollars."

"I told you to give me what you could spare, when you could spare it. You probably should keep some of this to go to a movie," I suggested.

"If you are worried about that, why don't you take me to a movie?" she asked with her green eyes averted.

"I would love to do that, but it would never do for me to drive up to Ma's house for you. The other boarders would tease you unmercifully." I said it not really sure if I was trying to avoid taking her out or not.

"I could take the bus and meet you at the little cafe beside the movie theater.," she suggested.

"Then you must mean the Carolina Theater, since it is the only one I know with a cafe beside it."

"Sure, I like it best. It is by far the most grand," she said smiling a little girls smile.

"Why not meet me there at six, and I can buy you dinner before the movie?"

"All right, but I warn you I'm a big eater." She was smiling her child's smile again.

"Hey, I have five dollars. You can have anything you want.

"All right then, I'll see you Friday."

"Would you like for me to walk you home?" I asked.

"Oh no, people will talk, remember?" She covered her mouth as she giggled.

I passed the remainder of the day with the novel, but never could really get into it. I gave some thought to stopping at Rose's shop for a quick visit but since I didn't have an answer for her, I passed on that idea.

Finally after dinner at Pop's, I spent the evening in the Pump Room playing cards. Rose came in around nine. After that during my
eaks I would sit and talk to her for a while. She didn't press me about her relationship so I stayed away from it' Besides she seemed to be doing just fine flirting with the married guys who hung around drinking beer. She finally left around midnight, but only after she came by the table and whispered in my ear.

"I have to open the shop early tomorrow. Too bad you found a game, I could try to persuade you to see things my way." I almost stood up to follow here because her words were followed by her tongue in my ear. I managed to keep my cool even with the other player laughing nervously at us. Rose left immediately after returning their laughter.

After she left it got to be late quickly, even though I was tired I hung in there till the end. The thing about staying up late a second night was that I slept like the dead when I finally did get to bed.

I awoke around eight the next morning. I spent the better part of an hour bathing and dressing. I wanted to look as good as I could when I saw the Superintendent. Not that I gave a crap about impressing him, I just didn't want to be on the defensive for any reason.

He shared an office with a couple of other plant management types. There was a secretary assigned to the three of them. I didn't know her, but I knew her type. She was determined to show me how important her boss was, therefore herself by association.

"I'm sorry Mister Burke, but Mr. Phipps is awfully busy. I don't know that he will have time to see you," the middle aged woman said.

"Tell you what ma'am, why don't you tell him it's about the wallet he lost at the King Cotton. I expect he will find time."

"I don't think so, but I'll see." She said it just before she disappeared behind the half frosted glass door. Sure enough she came back after only a couple of moments. "Mr. Phipps said to have a seat, he would see you in a few minutes."

I knew it was a hustle, but I didn't mind. I pulled out the novel and began to read. I actually was doing no more than scanning, then turning the pages. I couldn't get into the novel at home, when I wasn't distracted. At Phipp's office I hardly even saw the pages. To an observer I was totally at ease, even though I was really as tight as a drum.

The phone on the secretary's desk rang. She mumbled a couple of words then hung up. She waited a full minute before she said, "Mr. Burke, you can go in now."%%%

I stood without a word, then stretched my muscles as though I was thoroughly bored. I walked slowly through the door and into the office of Raleigh Phipps.

"I'm terribly busy," the heavy set man stated as I entered. He hardly even looked up from the papers on his desk.

"This will take only a couple of seconds, unless you want to talk more," I replied.

"Very well, Marsha tells me you have my wallet?" he asked.

"No, I didn't say that. I said I wanted to talk to you about it." I stated firmly.

He looked me over before he spoke again. "You're one of those Burke boys from the boarding house aren't you?"

"Well you are partly right. I am a Burke and my mother does run the boarding house. The one outside gate three, but I'm no boy. I haven't been a boy since before the war." I said it just as nasty as he had spoken condescendingly.

"So how are you involved in the robbery? Maybe I should call the Sheriff?" he suggested.

"That is totally up to you. I would hear me out first. Then if you want to call, I'll wait until he gets here before I leave."

He looked a little worried when it became obvious that I wasn't going to rattle. "Okay, what have you got to say?"

"Let me start with the fact that I know all about the robbery and the circumstances involved and could care less. If you would like, I will run down the facts so that you will believe me when I say you have a problem."

"If you know about the King Cotton, I will assume that you know it all."

"Then let me just cut out all the preliminaries and say that I have a friend on the Charlotte Observer. Mike is a bit of a communist liberal. He just loves to expose fat cats and how they manipulate the system. If I give him the story about the sealed indictment and the plan for the closed court testimony, he is going to have a field day."

"Mr. Burke, I don't like to be threatened." Phipps said with a certain irritation in his voice.

"Well Raleigh, I think I would hear me out before I decided whether I was being threatened or not. What I had in mind is a plan where all the good guys get away clean. I am assuming you are one of the good guys."

"I like to think so," he said lighting a cigar. I noted with pleasure that he didn't offer me one.

"Okay, I can get your wallet for you. It has all your Identification and even your money."

"My money?" he asked.

"Well they may not be the same bills, but the money is all there."

"What you should do Mister Burke, is to give the perpetrator's name to the Sheriff."

"That in itself is a little strange. You do know that the jurisdiction of the crime should have been the city police," I suggested.

"And you know that the Sheriff has jurisdiction in the town as well as the rural areas," Phipps suggested.

"Yes, but it is unusual for him to be invoked in it. None the less, the gentleman who pointed the pistol at you is no longer in town. He left a few hours ago for the coast."

"Then he gets away. I don't think I like your solution." He didn't look happy that was for sure.

"Well, he left with one arm
oken and a
oken leg on the same side. The man who did the
eaking assures me that using a crutch with a
oken arm is extremely difficult. No judge would or could have done as much."
"That's nice, but it does nothing to punish the woman. I do assume you want me to drop the charges against her?"

"Absolutely not, if you did that the Sheriff wouldn't do you any more favors. I imagine he would feel betrayed. No, what I want you to do is to call the DA. I want you to suggest that you were a bit hasty in requesting she be held without bail. Tell him that her gray haired old mother came to visit you, and persuaded you that Laura Lee wouldn't jump bail."

"I suppose her pimp is going to bail her out?"

"I told you her pimp is on a train for the coast. No, I am going to bail her out. I am also going to scare hell out of her. Then I am going to put her on a bus, one not headed for the coast. She will leave and never come back."

"And if I don't, you will have your friend run the complete story in the Charlotte Observer."

"Well, that really isn't all. Not only will that embarrass your boss, who I expect actually put in the fix. I know you are a powerful man to the mill workers. I also expect the Sheriff required a little more fixing than you could do. It will no doubt get back to your employees, who will be snickering behind your back. Last but certainly not least, I am sure one of your less than happy employees will see that a copy gets to your wife."

"You bastard, you are blackmailing me," he snapped.

"I had hoped it wouldn't come to name calling, but if you insist. You sir have a young woman being held incognito for a crime of which she has not yet been convicted. You are arranging to testify in chambers, so that you can keep your name clean. That sir, makes you less than an honorable man, I therefore feel no need to treat you honorably. Now if you think I am bluffing, ask yourself what I have to loose by calling my friend."

"Your family has a lot to loose. Quite a few of them work in this mill," Phipps said dangerously.

"See now there you go threatening me. Let me tell you something. There is not a single one of my family who would stand for me backing down an inch. They are honorable people, and would never allow their job security to stop me from doing the right thing. I, on the other hand, would take it very personally if anything happened to them. It wouldn't do the District Attorney or the Sheriff much good at election time to make the papers as company henchmen. It might hurt them in a one man one vote system. As for my mother, you probably should ask some of the old timers how she came to run the boarding house before you do anything stupid. All in all, if this hits the newspapers I expect you would be out of a job before you could retaliate against my family."

He crushed the mostly unsmoked cigar in his ashtray. The cigar crumbled into shreds of tobacco. What a waste, I thought. I stood over his desk without smiling although we both knew I could have. Raleigh was beat and even he knew it. "You know I won't forget this?"

"I didn't expect you to forget it," I said evenly.

"I want my damned wallet back?" he demanded it to save face.

"Just as soon as I send Laura Lee on her way. You should probably make that call right now." I replied.

He waved me off with a limp hand. I walked from the room rather than push my victory. All I wanted to do was get Laura Lee out of town. I didn't think threatening Sandra Evans was near as inconsequential as they all pretended. That's why I hadn't mentioned getting her bailed out to her or Luther.

Thirty minutes later I stood in front of the magistrate. I handed him the same hundred dollars that Sandra had sent to me via Luther. "You go on down to the jailer and give him this receipt. He will go get the woman for you. Man I don't know what the hell is going on with her. First I get a hold from the DA, now I get word from the DA that I can issue a bail if I want. Man this is a screwed up mess."

"I know, but it's about to get straightened out." I suggested. I took the receipt to the county jail. It took them another half hour but finally they
ought me Laura Lee.

"Who the hell are you?" she asked.

"I'm the guy who paid your bail, and guaranteed that you would return for trial." I said it without a hint of a smile.

"You bet your ass I am going to return. If that prick don't drop the charges I am going to blow the lid of more than just one scandal. I know who keeps Sandra Evans in business." Her voice was loud and her tone belligerent

I hustled her outside before I answered her. "Listen to me. Your boyfriend is headed for the coast with a
oken leg and a
oken arm. The only reason he is still alive is that he don't know nothing. You on the other hand know too damned much. If you go home, or if you go anywhere at all in this town, Luther will find you. I expect Luther plans to shut you up permanently."

She suddenly began to shake. How could she not have expected Luther to come after her. She had known both Sandra and Luther for sometime before she ran off with her boyfriend.

"Oh God, you are right. What am I going to do?" I could tell she was genuinely frightened.

"I know you had fifty bucks when you were arrested because I saw them give it back to you. What you are going to do is buy a bus ticket far away. I am going to tell Luther, I don't know where you went because I am not going to know. If you come back to this town, you are probably going to die. There is nothing else I can do for you. Believe me this is your only chance."

"Where did Johnny go?" she asked.

"I don't know, but you need to stay away from him. Luther might know where he went. You need to get the hell away from this and start over."

"Okay, just get me to the bus station." She looked out the rear window every few seconds during the drive. I could tell she would have rather it had been dark. Still she did the best she could to hide until her bus left. I parked outside and watched until she got on a bus headed north.

I had a late lunch at Pop's before I drove to Sandra's farm. I was met at the door by a black maid. "Is Miss Evans sleeping?" I asked.

"She is. You be Mr. Deke?" she asked.

"I am."

"Miss Sandra said to wake her if'n you came by."

"I wouldn't bother. You can give her a message for me. Just tell her everything is taken care of, but not exactly as we discussed."

"No Sir, I got's to go wake her. You stay right here." She said it as she began slowly climbing the steps to the second floor.

Luther was the first to come down the stairs. "What do you mean not the way we planned?" he asked angrily.%%%

"Good to see you too," I replied just as shortly.

"Cut the clowning, what did you do with the whore?"

"I sent Laura Lee packing just like we discussed."

"How the hell did she get out so quick. I would have thought it would take a day or two to get the charges dropped." He was talking to himself at that point.

"I didn't get the charges dropped. I got her bail, then I put it up for her. Last of saw of her she was on a bus for places unknown, at least to me."

"What the hell do you mean you bailed her out. She swore she would go to the papers if I didn't get the charges dropped." That time the voice came from a much less attractive Sandra Evans. She looked about ten years older than her years. It appeared that life was as tough on a madam as a whore.

"Don't worry she won't be talking to anyone. I put the fear of Luther into her."

"What's to stop her from talking when she get away from here?" Luther asked.

"Nobody outside of this county gives a damn about any of us, or our problems. If she was going to talk, she would have done it before she left town and she didn't." I noted the looks exchanged by the two of them. It was pretty obvious that I had been right. They never intended to have Laura Lee get out of town. It made me wonder where the boyfriend might be at that moment. I sure as hell wouldn't have bet on California.

"Well, it's done now. I hope for your sake that Laura Lee doesn't show up here again," Luther said.

"Now, that wasn't a threat was it. I mean you and I have been getting along so well up until now. I hope this isn't going to become a crack in our good relationship." I said it as sarcastically as I possibly could.

Luther was about to speak when Sandra cut him off with a look. "It wasn't a threat at all. We just think, she might implicate you in a plot to avoid prosecution. That wouldn't be good for any of us."

"If you say so. Anyway I am going home. I think this ends our business," I said.

"Probably not," Sandra replied.

"What are you talking about. I have done everything I promised."

"It's not that love. It's what is going to happen when Raleigh begins putting the pressure on you."

"Why would he do that?" I asked. I was truly surprised.

"By now Raleigh has convinced himself that you are the one responsible for all his problems. If hadn't been for you, none of this would have happened."

"What are you talking about?" I asked.

"You should have figured out by now, Raleigh is about half wacko. He is going to strike back at you." Sandra and Luther both looked as though the idea appealed to them.

"That's why you didn't do this yourself?" I asked.

"That's right. He would have hounded me out of business. Let him hound you instead. So you take care of yourself love. You might want to sleep with one eye open."

"Not really, Raleigh isn't the violent type," I said hoping it was true.

"Maybe not, but he will get you. That much is for sure."

I returned home to find a note from my landlord. It seemed as though his daughter had decided to move out of his house and into my apartment. Mr. Walsh felt that it would be better if I weren't in the apartment when his daughter moved in. His note informed me that if I weren't out by the end of the month, the Sheriff would be happy to help me move my things onto the street.

I was not please with the change in my living condition. I already had the ideal apartment. It was thirty steps from a diner and twenty from a beer joint and poker game. I thought about calling Mr. Walsh, but I couldn't think of anything that would make him change his mind. He obviously had knuckled under to Phipps or one of the others at the mill. Pointing out his spineless actions wouldn't endear me to him. It would only make matters worse. His ultimatum gave me exactly two weeks to find another place to live. I gave it a lot of thought, then went to the Pump Room and got roaring drunk.

I was pretty far along when Rose came in. I noted that it was after nine. She must have come in for a drink after closing the shop. I attached myself to her like any good drunk would.

"Before I get drunk with you Deke, you got an answer for me?" She asked it with a smile that told me she knew she had me in the weakest position.

"The only answer I got is, I would like to have a few drinks then finish up our conversation at my place." I said it with my best leer.

"Deke honey, look around. I can do a one nighter with any of these guys. All of them are married and all have more money than you. If all I wanted was a one nighter, I would pick one of them. So lover when you figure out what you want to do, ask me again." With those words she stood downed her beer then turned her back and walked away. Not only did she not go home with me, she did not go home with anyone else either.

After Rose left I didn't play cards. Instead I drank until they closed at one. Then I went home and fell drunkenly into the bed. I slept like the proverbial dead until I was awakened by a noise on the stairs around ten the next morning. I moved more by reflex than by any conscious thought. I quickly removed the
oom handle Mauser automatic pistol from beneath my bed. I held it as solidly as possible while I aimed it at the stairway opening. To my surprise I recognized the man who entered my room. Not him really, but I did recognize the uniform of a deputy Sheriff draped over the body of an anemic forty some year old man with thinning hair.

"Don't you have to at least knock?" I asked lowering the pistol.

"I knocked, and you said come in. At least I thought you did." He was smiling
oadly. I knew it was a cop joke, one I was glad I didn't get.

"Well since you are already in, what can I do for you?" I asked.

"You can tell me where you were last night," he demanded.

"Across the street getting drunk, then home in bed, why?"

"I'll ask the questions," was his reply.

"In that case forget about me answering them." I said it knowing full well that if he arrested me, I would be talking my head off one way or another. Often confessions came from innocent men, just as they were about to run out of teeth.

"Your buddy, Raleigh Phipps got his self killed last night," the deputy said watching close for my reaction.

"So, what time did it happen?' I asked.

"The constable found him around midnight. He was still warm so it couldn't have been more than an hour or so before."

"I was at the Pump Room until one. Even if I had seen him, I was too drunk to have done more than call him a couple of names."

"I suppose the room was filled with your drunken friends?" the deputy asked.

"Yeah, and a lot more who aren't my friend," I replied.

"I'm going to check in the mean time don't you leave town," He sounded like a character from every bad cop movie I had ever seen.

"I ain't leaving town, but I am leaving here," I admitted.

"I heard. Let me know where you light."

"How did you know I was moving?" I asked.

"It's one of the reasons I came to see you. Raleigh's wife told me his secretary called your landlord. It was her boss's order. I thought you might have decided to have a little talk with him. One that got out of hand."

"Not me, where did you find him?"

"I told you, I don't answer questions, I ask them. Besides I don't need any more answers from you right now. I'll be back," he said it as he turned for the stairway.

I almost made a smart remark but decided against it. Instead I waited until he left then dressed for the day. I moved to the kitchen table to have a glass of tea while trying to figure out just what the hell was going on. I found that I had about two ounces of tea left. I cursed everything in general for a few minutes, then rinsed out the empty milk bottle. I put it along with three others into a wire carrying basket like the one the milkmen used to make home deliveries. It should look like one of theirs, since it was given to me by a Guilford Dairy truck driver.

I loaded the bottles into the car, just as the deputy walked across the street from his attempt to interview the bartender at the Pump Room. I don't know what made him think that anyone would be inside the closed bar. I especially didn't know why he thought the night bartender might still be in the building.

I nodded to him as I drove my old Chevy away. I drove the car the short mile to my mother's boarding house. I entered expecting to be greeted by a boarder since I usually was.

I got all the way to the kitchen before I found anyone. In the kitchen I found Ma and my sister. Ma was working on putting away the food from
eakfast. Sissy was washing dishes.

"I see you two are hard at it. I suppose I should go away and come back later." I said it even though I knew neither of them would want me to leave.

"You don't have to go Deke. What have you been up to? I hear you were at that terrible Evans woman's farm." At the mere thought of it Sissy began to giggle.

"Lucy, you hush up that kind of talk," Ma said.

"Thanks Ma," I said it sticking my tongue out at Sissy.

"As for you, I worry about you. What kind of man hangs out with trash like that?" she asked.

"Beats me Ma. I was just doing some work for her. I got paid and she got the work done. If I were a carpenter and built her a porch, you wouldn't be upset would you?"

"Of course I would, but I understand you have to work. Sit down and have a biscuit," she demanded. The offer was far too good to pass up.

After the food I said, "I actually came to buy some tea. Can you spare me a little?"

"Sure, we have made enough for dinner and a little extra. We will just have to make a little more for supper." Saying that she filled my glass milk bottles. Sissy left the room to take care of something in another part of the house.

"Son, I hear you are taking Sarah to a movie tonight. I want you to be careful. You know all the women who live in a boarding house are looking for husbands."

"I know Ma. I might get married but it is going to be to a rich lady, not a mill worker."

"Now you know you don't marry for money, you marry for love," she said smiling. She knew my answer. I had given it to her enough times.

'Ma, I can love a rich woman a damned sight easier than a poor one." That morning I added, "I hear the superintendent of the weave room's wife is a grieving widow today. Now there is a nice looking woman who probably has a nice insurance check coming."

"Son, you shouldn't be talking like that. Some of the boarders say you and Mr. Phipps had words. I hope you didn't have nothing to do with all this."

"Ma, I have an air tight alibi. Don't worry, I had nothing to do with it. I can't say I'm sorry though. Did your rumor mongers tell you he had me evicted?"

"No but I'm not surprised. Did you move already?" She asked it with real concern on her wrinkled face.

"No, I expect I'll be moving next week though."

"Where you going to move?" Sissy asked.

"Don't know yet," I replied.

"I sure wish you could come back here," she said.

"Me too," I lied. I hadn't really wanted to move out, but I did like the freedom. "Well Ma, I got to run. Is there anything I can do for either of you?"

"Nothing at all," she said with a sad smile. I handed her a dollar for the tea. "You don't have to pay for the tea."

"I know, but you had to buy the tea," I replied.

"Sure, but I could get enough tea for the whole month with this," she said. She said exactly the same thing every week.

"So buy yourself a new car with the change," I grinned at her just before I turned to walk away.

I sat in the car a moment while I recounted my conversation with the red headed Sarah. I remembered that I was supposed to meet her at six at the radio grill beside the movie theater. Since the movies started at seven and nine it would be hard to work in a bite to eat, though I distinctly remembered inviting her. I drove home to rest a while before lunch. A real hangover was cured only by sleep. I managed a couple of more hours before I awoke naturally shortly after noon.

I didn't even try to go to lunch, instead I attempted to read the novel yet again. It was tough going, but I stayed at it until three, where upon I drifted off to sleep again. I awoke in time to take a shower then drive downtown to the grill.

I ordered a coffee and had another one before she entered. I was surprised that she wore a very fashionable lightweight summer dress. It wasn't new exactly but it wasn't faded or worn either.

"Well you did come," I said it while I stood until she seated herself across from me.

"Am I late?" she asked.

"Only a fashionable amount," I replied.

"God, I love the way you talk. Where did you learn all those fancy words."

"Oh, I read a lot," I replied.

"Some of the old boarders at your mama's house remember you as a kid. According to them you were supposed to be a preacher. They say everybody started calling you The Deacon as a teenager."

"You can hear anything if you listen," I replied.

"What happened?" she paused then went on. "You don't mind that I asked do you."

"Actually I don't usually talk about it, but the war happened."

"Nobody seems to know what you did in the war. They say you didn't come home during the whole war. They say when you did you had a chest full of medals."

"They are all wrong. I didn't get any medals at all."

"You aren't going to tell me what you did are you?" she asked.

"No," I replied simply.

"Do you still believe in God?"

"You are asking too many questions."

"I know, everybody says I am too nosy. Just tell me whether you believe in God or not. I won't ask you anything else."

"What day is it?" I asked.

"It's Friday," she replied curiously.

"Then today I don't, but tomorrow I probably will." I said it with as warm a smile as I could manage.

"I don't know what that means," she said honestly.

"Neither do I," I admitted just as honestly. "Now tell me what movie we are going to see."

"It's called 'The Egg and I. It has Claudette Colbert and Fred McMurry in it. My girlfriend saw the preview and it's supposed to be very funny."

"If you have finished your Coke, we should be going," I suggested.

The movie was okay, but I was never much of a movie fan. I especially don't like inane comedies. After the movie, I asked, "So where would you like to eat?"

"I know you are going to think I am terribly forward, but I would like to buy a burger and go to your place. You don't think I am too pushy do you?"

"Actually I prefer a girl who states her mind. I hate to suggest things that are too far out. It makes a man look like he is trying to get over on a woman."

"I knew I was going to have to be the one to suggest anything. I knew you would be worried that I might tell your mother that you were a wolf. Nobody wants their mother to know what they really do. I sure as heck wouldn't want mine to know what all I've done since I came here."

"So where are you from?" We had almost reached my car by the time I got around to asking that one.

"A little town up in the mountains called West Jefferson. Have you ever heard of it."

"No, I don't think so, but I never got around much before the war. Most of my travels during the war were in Europe."

"I'm not surprised, nobody around here ever heard of it. No reason they should have. It's not much more than a country store with a post office inside."

"Maybe you'll become famous and put it on the map," I suggested it as we pulled out of the parking lot. Neither of us spoke until I pulled into a parking space half a block from the burger joint. "So how many can you eat?" I asked.

"Only one," she said.

"That means if you weren't on a date it would be two or three. Listen let's just pretend we are an old married couple, just try to relax and have fun." I looked at her to make sure she didn't misunderstand. She was right, I didn't want her filling Ma's head with garbage about me. I also didn't need anymore black marks on my reputation around the

"That sounds like a marvelous idea. I hate being so careful what I say and do. If we are going to do it, then I want a beer with my burger. Do you have any beer at your place?"

"I do, I also live across the street from a grocery store which is closed, but the beer joint isn't."

"Good, you know being out with you is a lot more fun that most guys I know. Most of them work in the mill and all they want to do is 'you know'?"

"Don't drop your guard. I am not that much different from the others. Now let me go get the food." I said it as I swung the door open. The air in the California Sandwich Shop was filled with smoke and grease. The smell probably sold an extra hundred burgers a week. I believe they fried onions even when they had enough for the burgers. They did it just to create that smell. The line moved quickly enough so that I ordered after only a few minutes wait. I ordered four burgers on greasy rolls.

At the California the burgers were half cooked before you got in the door. The wait was only a couple of minutes for the sweaty cook to finish them. While I waited I looked out at the traffic. Cars came and went constantly. It was due to the popularity of the grill on a date night. That and the fact that the service was so fast.

I gave the cashier a dollar for the order, then pocketed the silver and copper coins which I received in change. When I returned to the car, I handed the bag to Sarah as I slipped under the wheel. When the engine sprang to life I drove to the heights immediately.

As I pulled onto the dirt alley behind my building, I again thought how much I was going to miss the one room apartment. I had to force the anger down. First of all I didn't know who to be angry with. Raleigh was gone, but I didn't expect the order to be lifted. There would be plenty of other overseers and superintendents happy to see me out on my butt.

After the short walk to my side door I unlocked it. I allowed Sarah to lead the way. She stopped at the top of the stairs until I found the light switch. When I flipped the switch the one gigantic room flooded with light.

"Have you got a less
ight light?" she asked.

"Sure," I replied as I turned on a lamp in the living area. I quickly turned off the overhead. I opened a drawer in the table under the lamp. From it I removed a big thick white candle. It was the kind sold in the dime stores to be used when the lights when out. The power often failed in those days. I found a saucer, then sat the candle in it.

The light from the candle lit the corner I used as a dining area. The small lamp and the candle, created two pools of light in the large room. I sat the bag by the candle, then opened the refrigerator. From it I removed two tall necked bottles of Schlitz.

"I can probably find you a clean glass, if you'd like?" I asked.

"Not me, I'm a country girl remember," Sarah replied.

I was a little surprised how easily she drank the beer while eating the greasy burgers. I finished my first beer with the second burger. When I went to the refrig for another Sarah said, "Would you
ing me one. This one is about finished."

I was a little concerned that the ten beers might not be enough. While I opened the two beers before returning to the table, I noticed Sarah stand. She walked to the table with the lamp. There she switched off the lamp, leaving the room with only the glow of the candle. The room was at least twenty five feet long and sixteen feet wide. The one candle on the table against the street wall, left most of the room in darkness.

"This is much cozier don't you agree?" Sarah asked it in a voice I hardly recognized.

"Sure," I admitted. She and I ate the remainder of the burgers and drank two more beers each.

Sarah came around the table. "Deke, I guess I am going to have to seduce you. it don't look like you are ever going to make the first move."

"Frankly Sarah, I didn't want you to say no, then go back and tell Ma on me. I got about all the trouble right now I can handle."

"Deke honey, I don't kiss and tell." As if to punctuate her statement, she twisted me around then sat in my lap. She actually bent her head so that she could kiss me. It was a nice sweet kiss, nothing at all like Rose's kiss. Which is not to say that it didn't have the same effect on me. She probably knew the effect at least as soon as I did.

"Why Deke honey, what is that thing prodding me?" she actually giggled. I had a hard time believing sweet little Sarah was so bold.

"Sarah, you need to get up before something bad happens to you." I said.

"Deke, what is going to happen is not going to be bad believe me," She said it much too quietly. Her voice was also very soft and husky. I knew what it meant, but wasn't sure it was a good idea. But then there are times you just don't listen to the voice inside you, or maybe you listen to a stronger voice. The one shouting at you from a different place all together.

I gave all of it a little thought, then pulled her to me for a much deeper kiss. She didn't resist even when the kiss became slightly painful as my teeth cut into my lip. I knew the same must be true for her as well. Sarah was the one who removed my hand from her back and placed it on her
east. I could feel the sharp seams of her
a through the thin cotton dress.

The sound that came from her lips once she
oke the kiss was more a demanding groan than anything else. She pulled me down to kiss her neck as she continued to make softer noises. I was more than a little surprise when Sarah led me though our lovemaking. She knew exactly what she wanted, and how she wanted it done. Sweet little Sarah turned out to be a very demanding lover.

The far off sound invaded my mind. It was a banging sound that would not go away. I finally jerked awake and realized that yet again someone was banging on my outside door. I quickly reached beside me to check for Sarah. There was no one else in the bed. As I slipped on my pants, I remember that I had driven Sarah home before I passed out. Actually I had driven her only as far as the corner about fifty yards from the boarding house.

"It would never do", she informed me, "For anyone to see her being
ought home at that hour by a rake like me. People might get the right idea." It was her idea of a joke. I didn't laugh because there was too much truth in her statement.

All that went through my head before I reached the top of the stairs. I was terrified that it might be Sarah with her clothes. I sure as hell didn't remember inviting her to live with me, but I couldn't be sure. When it turned out to be a man I barely recognized, I was thrilled.

"Yes?" I asked dully.

"Deke, you do recognize me don't you?" the tall thin young man asked.

"Sure, you are Goldman the lawyer?" I made it a question because I wasn't really sure. I had mostly seen him from the rear. He looked older from the rear. In the
ight morning sun at his back he looked about sixteen.

"That right, Jacob Goldman. Could you come by my office around two?"

"I suppose so, but why?" I asked.

"I might have a job for you," he replied. I suppose he expected that statement to make me more interested.

"Sorry Goldman, I ain't looking for a job." I didn't mean for the statement to sound like I was a wise ass, but it did.

"Well, what I really meant is, I have a client who needs your help. Actually, I don't know for sure that we do need your help. Look Deke, if you come to the office at two I can explain it all."

I quickly looked at my watch. It was eleven on a Saturday morning. I had time for lunch and to probably get a better grip on things. The headache from the full strength beer and god only knew what else, would probably ease off by two, I thought. "Sure, I can make it by two."s
"Then I'll see you in the office," Goldman suggested.

I spent the waiting time hoping the aspirin would kick in. They didn't before I had to meet with Goldman.

I had drank about a quart of iced tea aomost praying it would help. Finally I took another aspirin washed down with a Goody powder. I still had the headache at two but it was reduced from a pounding to a mild discomfort.

I walked into Goldman's office feeling more depressed than pained. I stopped in the waiting area until he came out for me. "Come on in Deke," he said while holding the inner office door as I passed through.

I noticed the very attractive woman in the black suit immediately. Madeline Phipps would be hard to miss anytime, but that day she was especially hard. The black suit didn't shout woman in mourning to me. It should have, but it was too tight and too well cut to be widow's weeds. I had never met the woman,. She had been pointed out to me once. I couldn't remember where it had been, and I didn't try very hard either. The very well proportioned blonde was about to speak. I wanted to hear what she had to say.

"So you are Deacon Burke. I have heard enough about you to fill a couple of books." The blonde said it looking at me as if I were a horse she was about to purchase. I half expected her to look at my tobacco stained teeth.

"Really, I can't imagine anyone talking to you about me. Believe me whatever you heard isn't true."

"If I am arrested for Raliegh's murder, I certainly hope it is all true and even worse," she replied flashing a million dollar smile at me.

"Mrs. Phipps is afraid the Sheriff intends to arrest her." Goldman said it trying to look competent. He might have been, but he was obviously trying to hard to impress the widow Phipps.

"Really, why is that?" I aimed the question at her.

"The Sheriff's men have been very rude in their questioning," she replied.

"How many times have they questioned you?"

"Three so far, the last time they all but accused me of killing Raleigh. I came to Mr. Goldman right after."

"Why Goldman, no offense intended Jacob, but Mrs. Phipps has enough money to hire a more experienced lawyer."

"Because, he is known around town as the lawyer who goes against the mill. Just as you are known as a man not afraid to ruffle their feathers."

"Why are you so concerned with the mill. Surely they are trying to help you?" I asked.

"Are you kidding. The only people the owners are interested in are those in their own families. One is trying to make his kid governor. He will throw me to the wolves in a second, if it will keep this all quiet."

"Why would anyone care about the murder of a mill worker. I mean other than right here in the village."

"Wouldn't you say that depends on who stands trial for the murder, and how long the trial lasts. Then too, the investigation could
ing out some things the owners of the mill would just as soon stay in the village."

"I don't think I understand, what sort of things?" I asked.

"That's what we hope you will find out. The mill is somehow involved in this. They are trying too hard to have Mrs. Phipps confess to a murder she didn't commit."

"Why does the Sheriff think you did it?" I asked.

"Who knows?" she asked in reply.

"Okay, let's try it this way. Exactly what happened Thursday night?" I asked suddenly more interested in the whole thing.

"I don't know, if now is the best time for this." Jacob replied before she could say anything.

"If you want my help, it is the only time." I said it because it was true. I didn't plan to spend a lot of time on something only to find out it was a mistake.

"I mean, until you accept the job you could be forced to testify as to what Mrs. Phipps says." Jacob was trying to sound like a lawyer for Mrs. Phipps again.

"Jacob, nobody forces me to do anything. Now either I know what is going on, or I am going back to bed. I have a terrible hangover, I don't need this crap."

"Let me make this simple," the Widow Phipps said. "I came home around eleven thirty and found Raleigh on the sofa. He had most of his head missing."

"I think you need to start a little earlier," I suggested. "Where had you been, and when did you see your husband last alive?"

"Raleigh and I had dinner together. After dinner I drove to my mother's house to visit."

"Do you do that often? I mean stay at your mothers so late?" She could tell I found it unlikely that she would visit her mother for such a long time.

"Not really, while I was visiting mother my Uncle Albert came to visit. I stayed to talk with him for a while."

"Did you call your husband to tell him that you would be late?" I asked.

"I did," she replied. "It was around eight thirty."

"Okay, you arrived home and found your husband dead. How was he killed?"

"The Sheriff thinks he was killed with a shotgun."

"Did they find the gun?" I asked.

"Yes they found it on a chair in the living room."

"How far was the chair from the sofa?"

"Across the room, ten or twelve feet I would think." she said.

I noticed that she hadn't shed a tear during the telling of the ordeal. In the South that could be enough to get her the gas chamber. "What did you do when you found him?"

"I called Max Fuller. He came over, then called the Sheriff for me. He seemed to know what to say to them. Of course, it didn't help much, the sheriff's men still treated me like a suspect."

"That's because you are a suspect. Hell, I was even a suspect myself." I paused a moment then went on. "Is there anything the Sheriff asked you that you found disturbing?"

"Only about Aaron," she replied.

"Who is Aaron?" I asked.

"Aaron North, he is superintendent of the spinning and warp rooms. He lives with Raleigh and me."

I couldn't help it, that one floored me. I knew that most of the mill hands had family staying with them at one time or another. I just never thought a superintendent would. "Why was Aaron staying with you?"

"He went to school with my husband. When the mill hired him, Raleigh invited him to live with us until he got settled."

It made sense until I asked, "How long had he been staying with you?"

"About eighteen months."

"It took him a while to get settled?" I asked it in a disbelieving tone.

"That's exactly the tone the deputies took with me. Aaron works all the time like Raleigh. He just hasn't had time to make friends, or to find a place of his own."

I changed the subject to try to throw her off. "Why in the world did you call Max?"

"Are you sure you don't work for the Sheriff? His man asked me the same thing. Raleigh always called Max when anything came up that might cause a problem for the mill. Max always knew what to do. At least, that was the impression I had from Raleigh. If I had known calling him would be such a controversial move, I most certainly would have called the Sheriff myself."

"Did you hope Max could just make it all go away?" I asked it expecting her to admit that she had.

"No, I just wanted someone to tell me what to do. I was extremely upset. I had just found my husband dead."

"The best thing you can do for this lady Jacob, is to find out what happened to her husband. If the Sheriff doesn't come up with a better suspect, she is going to get fitted for a prison suit. You will have a hard time convincing a jury of her innocence."

"Well, I am innocent," she demanded.

"That could very well be but what a jury decides is the truth, usually has little to do with guilt or innocence. It has more to do with how things seem."

"I don't know how he knows, but he is right. Our best bet is to find out who killed your husband. I wouldn't even want you to be arrested. There are some legal maneuvers I can pull, while Mr. Burke looks for the killer."

"Just a minute, you are assuming that I will look for Phipp's killer. I'm not so sure I want to do that."

"Why would you refuse to help," Madeline asked.

"At what point did you tell the cops to come see me?" I asked. It was obviously news to Jacob.

"Thursday night, they asked if I knew anyone who Raleigh had argued with. I told them about you. You aren't going to hold that against me are you? After all, I did tell the truth and nothing more."

I changed the subject by asking her several hard questions about their relationship. When I say their, I meant all three of them. According to Madeline, she and Raleigh were madly in love. Under the circumstances, I wouldn't have expected her to say anything else. Also according to her, there was never anything between Aaron and her. I ran out of things to ask, so I demanded she sketch the positions of everything in her living room on Thursday night.

I sat quietly while Jacob asked a few questions then said good-bye as she walked from the office. When she had been gone long enough that I felt she wouldn't be coming back for her purse, or any other reason, I asked, "So did she do it?"

"I don't think so, how about you?" Jacob asked.

"I didn't do it," I replied with a grin.

"No, do you think she did it?"

"I have no idea."

"So what now?" he asked.

"Since my stomach has stopped rolling and my head no longer pounds, I am going to get a hot dog."

"Next door?" he asked.

"Hell no, the only decent hot dog in town is at the company store on vine street. I am going to drive over there and get a bag full."

"How about getting enough for us both. We can make plans over lunch."

"Give me four bits for yours. I said it as I arose to leave."

"Meet me in the park by the bandstand," he suggested. "I'll save us a bench."

I nodded as I left his office. I drove my old Chevy to the store. I bought six hot-dogs and two Pepsi Colas from the hundred pound overweight woman behind the counter. It was just as well that the store had no facilities to eat in. The woman's white uniform ranged from soaked to damp depending on the time of day. Her appearance would have freighted off any potential diners anyway.

The service was quick, so I found myself at the park twenty minutes after leaving Jacob's office. I parked the Chevy on the side of the road. I was forced to cross the street to park on the shoulder. The shoulder on my side of the street was on six inches wide. It dropped off into a large open drainage ditch.

The entrance to the park was marked by a large opening in the hedges nothing more. Which was not to be confused with the several smaller openings made by people pushing their way through the hedges at various popular spots. I found Goldman sitting on a bench near the bandstand. I noticed again that the bandstand was badly in need of paint. The bench occupied by Jacob was not part of the true bandstand area. The area around the bandstand was a grassy field. When the band played the audience would spread blankets under the strings of lights to listen to the music. What the couples on the blankets spread far from the lights did was anybody's guess.

The bench where Goldman sat faced away from the empty bandstand. I sat on the end farthest from him. I spread the hot-dogs on the bench between us. From the second
own bag I removed the Pepsi bottles. I placed the cap of the first bottle against the wooden seat, then struck the top sharply thereby dislodging the cap. I handed the bottle to Jacob, then repeated the action to open a bottle for myself.

"Would you mind if I called you Deke?" he asked.

"It's a little late to ask, you have been calling me Deke all morning," I replied.

"I know, but I realize now that I should have asked first."

"Do you mind me calling you Jacob?"

"As a matter of fact it does bother me some," he replied looking away from me.

"Well that's just too damned bad," I admitted. "I don't show a great deal of respect to anyone, especially not a man younger than me."

"I am at least five years older than you," he suggested.

"Well It is a matter of what kind of years you count. Look Jacob, don't get hung up on names. You just call me whatever you want."

"Then Deke, what should we do next?"

"Why are you asking me, I thought you were running the show?"

"Deke, you have to know more about this than I do. Hell, I'm from New Jersey for God's sake."

"First thing we need, is to know all the cops know."

"The cops will never talk to a lawyer for a suspect."

"I expect you know more than you are telling." i suggested with a smile. "If the cops won't talk to us then we need to talk to all the people the cops have talked to."

"If Mrs. Phipps is right, the mill will never help us, and all those people work for the mill."

"Jacob, do you know how I get things done with the mill management?"

"No Deke, how do you get things done?"

"All that crap about the mill being benevolent is crap. They only do what they have to do. If they could, they would use slave labor to make their damned cloth. They just seem to be interested in their employees because it keeps the unions out.

In the thirties the unions almost got a foothold in the mills. It didn't, not because the workers didn't want or need the help, but because the government couldn't afford any more labor unrest. They called in troops to put down the pro-labor demonstrations."

"I'm from a union state, I know how it works," Jacob explained.

"Rather than fight their employees, the mill management began upgrading their situation. That's how the myth of the benevolent mill owners began."

"Okay, but how does that help us?" Jacob asked.

"Because you can bet your ass that somebody up in New York is reading the newspapers down here. The mill owners are more afraid of the newspapers than anything else. If the paper prints a few pieces of trash about the mill, the labor bosses can use it to try to stir up trouble again. What I do is threaten to call the newspapers. I make damned sure that I can get it done, if they call me on it. You can't run but one or maybe two bluffs on these guys."

"What kinds of things are they doing that would interest the newspapers?"

"Nothing would interest the local papers. Hell the mill owners could shoot their wives, and it wouldn't make the local paper. However the Charlotte observer is one of those liberal rags that prides itself on uncovering corruption. They would run an article in a minute about the mill buying special privileges for it's management staff. The mill wants to keep it's reputation clean, but it always want to appear to be fair and unbiased. It is a tough position to hold. It makes it impossible not to have some contradictions and that's where I come in. I just help the mill to see the light when it comes to the individual worker."

"For a price," Jacob countered.

"Jacob, you work for these people. Are you getting rich?"

"I see your point Neither of us is liable to make much money helping textile workers," he suggested.

"That's right, I do it because these are my people. So why do you do it?" I asked.

"I'm a Yankee, bleeding heart, Jew. I'm doing my five year penitence before I go home and make a million bucks." He was smiling, but I felt there was a great deal of truth in what he said.

"Since we have that out of the way, let's start by interviewing Max Fuller."

"He works for the mill doesn't he?" Jacob asked.

"Yes, and the way to get him to cooperate is to have a high mucky muck at the mill order him to cooperate."

"So I threaten to go to the papers?" he asked.

"You make it known that you will do whatever it takes to get your client a fair shake. If it takes exposing the hypocrisy, then that's what it takes."

"What hypocrisy?" he asked.

"They are going to say they want justice, but what they really want is for this to go away without any publicity. They don't mind a report that his wife killed him, what they don't want is any indication that anything else might be going on."

"What is going on?" Jacob asked.

"We won't know that until we talk to a lot of people," I replied. Just as I finished the statement I looked up to see a woman enter the park through the entrance on the far end. Jacob and I spoke of his next move while she walked toward us. When she was about fifty feet away I recognized Sarah. For it to have taken so long I had to have still been hung over and deep in thought about Madeline. "Damn." I said.

"What is it?' Jacob asked.

"That woman coming, I should have called on her this morning. If you hadn't gotten me involved in this crap, I would have. You are going to have to explain what I've been up to."

"Of course I will," he replied with a smile.

"Hello Sarah," I said as she approached. "I would have been over to Ma's this morning, if I hadn't gotten involved with Jacob here. You do know Jacob?"

"I haven't had the pleasure," she said with a smile. "And what makes you think I care if you visit your mother or not?"

"I'm sorry, but I thought I might see you if I stopped by," I replied.

"Why would I want to see you?" she asked as she turned her attention to Jacob. "You go out with a man once, and he thinks he owns you."

%%%"I really have been keeping Mr. Burke busy this morning. I am sorry if it made him late."

"Think nothing of it, I certainly don't," she said that with a sweet little smile.

"I really should be running along," Jacob said.

"Please, don't go on my account. I was just headed to the movie."

"Why don't you sit here just a minute. We really would like to ask you a couple of questions," I suggested.

"Like what?" she asked suspiciously.

"You have heard that Raleigh Phipps died Thursday night?" I asked.

"I have, and it has nothing to do with me," she replied coolly.

"I know that, what I want to know is what you thought of him. You do work in the weave room don't you?"

"You know I do. Deke, what is wrong with you?" She asked it smiling at Jacob as if they were conspirators in some kind of game to which only they knew the rules.

"Look Sarah, I want to know what the hands thought of Raleigh?"

"They didn't like him anymore than they did any of the others," she replied.

"Any particular reason?"

"Nothing special," she obviously wasn't going to volunteer anything.

"Anybody especially upset with him at the moment?" I asked.

"Probably every women in the department. Look Deke, I really have to go. I'm meeting my sister at the movie. You two are welcome to come along if you like."

Jacob looked at me before he said, "Sure, we can't do much until Monday anyway."

"You go on along, I want to talk to some more people. I'll catch up with you on Monday." I had addressed that at Jacob. "As for you," I said to Sarah, "I hope I see you again soon."

"You will, I still owe you money," she at least was smiling when she said it. Obviously she was going to check out Jacob. I expect like everyone else on the hill she knew that Jacob was a lawyer. He would be an infinitely better catch than a 'lay about' like me.

After they had gone, I drove the Chevy through the mill village then on into the country. I drove all the way to ham town. Once inside the community it was only a few yard to the farm of Sandra Evans. I parked in the dirt front yard of the farm house. I had not noticed in the dark but the house needed a coat of paint. It wasn't as badly in need as the mill houses were. The farm house was only peeling in a few places. Even so I decided that the house looked much better in the dark.

I knocked on the door. It was opened by the black maid. "Yes?" she asked.

"My name is Deke Burke. I would like to see Sandra Evans if she is awake?"

"She isn't, but I am," the voice belonged to Luther.

"That's nice Luther, but I want to talk to the boss."

"You come to call about Raleigh Phipps?" he asked.

"As a matter of fact I did. Do you know anything about his death?"

"If you are asking if I killed him, then no I did not. If you are asking if Laura Lee or her boyfriend did, then the answer is still no."

"How can you be sure about Laura Lee and her boyfriend."

"Because, Johnny was in no shape to sneak up on anyone. Raleigh wouldn't have let him closer than a mile. As for Laura Lee, you sent her out of town, if I remember right."

"She came back didn't she?" I asked. Something in his manner had told me.

"Been working since last night. Even before that she was eating and sleeping in the house. She didn't kill anybody."

"You got any idea who might have?"

"From what I hear, he wasn't real popular with the women who worked for him."

"Really, why is that?" I asked it not expecting much of an answer.

"Something about the supervisors and the women help. I expect you ought to ask your girlfriend."

"Who might that be?" I asked.

"Why Sarah Anderson of course, she is a pretty little thing, even if she does have freckles. I wouldn't mind spending a little time with her myself."

"Now Luther, why in the hell are you trying to rattle my cage. We both know that it would be a terrible sight, if you and I began to play whose is bigger."

"Because you got entirely too many fans. You ain't near as tough or smart as people think." he said sharply.

"I can't help what they think, but I can tell you this. I ain't near as easy as you seem to think."

We were both tense. Each waiting for the other to make the next move. The fighting wouldn't start with a punch being thrown. It would come from nowhere when either of us sensed an opening or a weakness in the other. It never came that day because a voice rang out from the top of the stairs.

"You two cut it out. I got use for you both. If the time ever comes when I don't, then you can kill each other. But you can not do it just yet." The voice of course belonged to Sandra Evans.

"If you are looking for Raleigh's killer, look at his wife or her boyfriend."

"Who is the boyfriend?" I asked expecting the answer I got.

"Raleigh thought it was their boarder for a while."

"You mean Aaron North?" I asked.

"Yeah but he found out it wasn't him. Oh he might have been sleeping with her, but she had a real boyfriend."

"So who was it?" I asked.

"Raleigh didn't know who he was, but he was sure there was someone."

"Are you sure Raleigh wasn't just lying to make himself feel better about his little flings?"

"Raleigh didn't need to make himself feel better, because he never felt bad about them. His wife wouldn't satisfy him, so he came here."

"He wouldn't have been getting a little from the mill workers would he?" I asked.

"He didn't admit it if he was. I really don't know whether he would have told our girls or not. It would sure be touchy if he was. I don't know how the old man would have reacted to it."

"Any other gossip I should hear," I asked.

"The supervisors who worked for him thought he was the best of the superintendents. That's the gossip I got from the girls."

"Why did they think that?"

"Well, he didn't mind if they engaged in a little pinch and tickle. That is, he didn't until you raised such a stink about the little redhead. After that, he was a little more concerned. By the way, if you get killed, there are going to be so many suspects that the cops will have to call in two or maybe three more departments to interview them all. I hear everyone in the mill's management wants you dead. They really don't like you upsetting the apple cart."

"Why? just because they can no longer force a woman to have sex with them? Don't these guys have any sense of fair play?"

"None, they had a pretty good thing until you started raising hell. Now they have to pay for their strange, just like everybody else. I don't think you have any friends in the mills management at all."

I knew she was wrong, but I didn't say anything. There were several of the people in management who felt bad about some of the things that went on. None of them were willing to say a nice thing about me, but none would be willing to drive the stake into my heart either.

"Then I guess, I better go find someone who knew who the widow Phipps was seeing," I suggested.

"Why don't you stick around, I have an offer for you." Sandra said.

"No thanks, I'm still not looking for a job."

"That offer is still open, but I had a house in mind this time. I hear you are looking for a place."

"How the hell did you hear that?" I asked. "It only happened yesterday."

"Sheriff's deputies visit here too you know. They like to talk and my girls all listen. So how about it, you want to rent a house from me."

"Is there going to be a sheriff's deputy keeping track of my comings and goings?" I asked grinning at her.

"The house is located on a side road. It was a tenant house when this place was a real farm. You want to see it?" she asked.

"Sure, but I don't know that I want to rent a tenant house."

"Suit yourself, but I assure you I won't ask you to leave just because some mill boss' wife calls me."

I didn't bother to correct her about who called. I just followed Luther outside. I drove my own car back to the main road. Just a few yards farther out of town another road lead off to the left. The house sat on the side of the same property as Sandra's farm.

I knew the house had once been painted white from the fact that there were a few spots of white paint still attached to the raw wood. It did not appear that there was a single pane of uncracked glass in any of the windows. The large open porch was sagging at the right corner. I didn't even go to the rear. I figured, I really didn't want to see it. The tin roof did appear to have been well kept or recently painted.

I was surprised when I stepped onto the porch. The floor seemed solid. I opened the door to find that it led into a room which covered the entire front of the house. On closer examination I realized that it was the only room in the house.

"Come on Luther, surely Sandra doesn't think I would want to live in this?"

"Hey, I told her not to offer you this place. She don't need the aggravation of having you on the property."

"There aren't even any interior walls." It was true, the frame of the building was exposed like a medical school's skeleton. Not that I had ever seen a medical school skeleton, except in the movies.

"I done told you I agree. If I was you, I'd go look for another place near the village."

I realized then that both he and Sandra were right. No one near the village was going to rent me anything. Once they called my previous landlord for a reference, they were going to hear the reason for my departure. They would then know better than to rent me a dog house. Still the tenant house wasn't a fit place to live.

"Give me the phone number at the farm. I'll give it some thought then call," I promised.

"The number is private. If you got anything to say, just come on over, Try to do it after five next time."

"Why not, just tell her I've got a little too much on my mind to make a decision right now."

"Sure, but like I said, we don't need you hanging around out here."

"Like I said, I'll think about it all." There was no sense fighting about it. I really didn't want to live so far from the village. Still I might not have a choice."

I drove back to the Heights for dinner. I ate a wedge of cheese, a couple of pieces of fruit, and half a box of crackers. It was my supper a couple of times a month during the summer, when fresh fruit was available. I washed it all down with a couple of glasses of iced tea.

After my makeshift dinner, I went across to the Pump Room while I decided on my next move. The problem I was running around in my head was 'Who do I ask about the Widow Phipps' boyfriend?' I doubted that she would tell me the truth. I asked myself over and over "Who would a woman tell about her boyfriend?" I kept coming up empty.

Around nine I sensed someone standing behind me. I hadn't felt like playing cards so I was sitting at the bar. I turned to see Sarah smiling down on me. "Well hello, what
ings you in here?" I asked

"I had never been inside. I wanted to see what it was like."

"So what do you think?" I asked.

"It's dark and it smells funny," she replied.

"You want to sit at a table for a beer or do you want to talk to me."

"I want to talk to you, but if we could, I would rather go to your place," she said seriously.

"Sure, let me pay my tab," I turned my attention from her to the bartender. "Roy what do I owe you?"

"Thirty five cents," he replied without any particular expression on his face.

I left four bits on the bar, then walked Sarah out the door. Unfortunately we passed by Rose who was looking as if she might kill me on the way out of the door.

It took about a minute to reach my doorway. I didn't even get started up the stairs before she kissed me. Kissing Sarah was like kissing a
ick. I don't guess she was all that experienced at it. Then again, she made love like a ten dollar whore. I didn't think she lacked experience in either department.

Half an hour later, we were laying in bed naked. "Sarah who would you tell, if you had a secret boyfriend?"

"Are you asking, if I have told anyone about this?"

"No, what I am asking is, if you had a married boyfriend, who would you tell."

"It's the same thing. I don't want anyone to know about us."

"Why is that?"

"Because everyone knows what you are. If I find a nice young man, I want him to think I am a virgin. Hell Deke, I want to get married someday." Sarah was serious about not wanting anyone to know she and I were sleeping together. I probably should have bothered me but I knew everyone in the village was looking for a way out. Everyone except me.

"Okay, then who have you told about me?"

"Only Jenny," she replied.

"Is Jenny your sister?" I asked.

"Of course not, I don't want her to tell my parents. Jenny is my best friend at the mill."

"If somebody asked her, would Jenny tell?"

"I hope not, but of course I can't be sure." she said.

Sarah left around ten thirty. After she had gone, I fell into a deep sleep. I awoke to a pounding on my door only a few minutes later. I had a pretty good idea who would be waiting at the foot of my stairs. Sure enough, Rose was standing in the night pounding on my door.

"Deke, you son of a bitch open this door," she shouted up when she saw me standing at the head of the stairs. I was tempted to just go back to bed. If I thought I could have slept I might have. Instead I descended the stairs like a man headed for the gallows.

First I opened the door then stepped aside to keep from getting trampled. Rose pushed past me as she climbed the stairs. I followed after but not too closely behind. When I reached the top of the stairs, I found that Rose had seated herself on my bed."

"I do have a more comfortable chair over here," I suggested pointing to my one stuffed chair, the one I used for reading.

"Deke, you really are a bastard. What you doing with that kid when you can have me. You ain't in love are you?"

"No, but it wouldn't matter. She has her sights see on a man with a future. I am afraid I have no future."

"Then why is she screwing you?" Rose asked it with some of the steam missing from her voice.

"Maybe because I am good in bed?" I asked it trying to take the rest of her anger away.

"Well I can't comment on that, since you had to get drunk to ask me up here. Then you passed out on me." She did
eak into a laugh. "So, was she any good in bed?"

I was more than a little surprised by her question. "I guess, but then I don't know how you can judge a thing like that."

She went from being pissed to suddenly lowering her voice to an almost whisper. "Deke baby, come here I am going to give you something to compare it too. With that she began to unbutton here dress. I remembered her body from the last time I awoke with her in my bed. Still there is something terribly sexy about a woman undressing in front of you.

"Rose, I don't think I can do this," I said as I watched her closely. I also gave a nervous laugh as I watched her continue to remove her clothes.

"Deke, you sound funny," she said with a smile in her voice. Then she went on "Sure you can Deke," she was still whispering hoarsely.

I stood back and watched until she was naked. I swear in the light coming through the window and with her laying across my tiny bed she looked like a painting in one of those Italian towns. She really was a beautiful woman, even if she was a little larger than Sarah.

I moved to her open arms and to lie beside her. Rose was soft and warm. I did not believe it possible but my desire returned with the very first kiss.

"Not so fast," she said. "I want this to last. Besides you still have that bitch's stink on you. Go draw us a bath.

"Come on Rose," I begged.

"No Deke, I will not sleep with you smelling like another woman."

I shook my head as I went into the bathroom to fill the tub.

"Damn Deke close the door. I don't need to see you washing your ass." Rose had a real laugh in her voice.

I took a quick bath, then rushed back into the hot room. The bed was empty and I heard the downstairs door slam. I also heard her hysterical laugh as she walked away.

I awoke the next morning to the sound of rain falling on the street outside my open window. Since it was Sunday there was almost no traffic. I listened to the rain until it lulled me back to sleep.

I spent the entire day inside the apartment. I expected to hear from either Sarah or Rose. I had just enough food on hand to make it through the day. It was one of those days just made for catching up on lost sleep. I dozed between periods of expectation. Nobody came by, I was more than a little disappointed.%%%

On Monday I met with Jacob Goldman first thing. He and I worked out a plan which included me being on hand when he interviewed Max Fuller and Aaron North. The plan required Jacob to do some fancy footwork with the general superintendent of the mill, but I figured he could handle it. Jacob called the super's office early Monday morning. He spoke first with the secretary, then with the man himself. Jacob offered to go to the super's office to discuss it, but was assured the trip wouldn't be necessary. In the end a combination of begging and threatening to go public got us permission to contact Max and Aaron. We were to work out the details with the two men, but the super assured us they would cooperate. I knew his idea of cooperation, and my idea of cooperation were far apart. It was the best we were going to do and I knew it.

"I have a surprise for you," Jacob informed me.

"What would that be?" I asked.

"While you spent the weekend playing around, I was working." As he spoke those words he removed two sheets of type written paper from his
iefcase, then tossed them on the desk.

I picked up the papers and found them to be copies of the police report. "I know they deputy didn't give you a copy of his report, so what is this?"

"It's a copy I typed. I used my notes the ones I took from his report."

I read the report quickly since it wasn't really as long as I made it sound. The pages were double spaced. Mostly it said the deputy arrived at five after midnight and found exactly what the widow had told us. He noted that the widow didn't seem all that upset considering the state of her husband's body. He also mentioned that Max Fuller kept getting in his way while he investigated the scene. All in all, it was what I had expected almost.

"Did you take notes on the Widow's story?' I asked Jacob.

"You know I did."

"I don't suppose you have a nice typed summery of her statement do you?"

"I do," he said that as he fished the statement from his file cabinet. he handed it to me after he replaced it with the deputy's statement. I read Madeline's statement carefully. I did learn one thing from it. She was a liar. I should have told Jacob, but I kept it to myself. It was something I planned to spring on Max, just as soon as we had him in the interview chair.

"So when do we start seeing the people involved?" I asked.

"I'll make the calls now," he replied. Aaron North agreed to stop in around lunch. Max said he would call his boss, then get back to us. Evidently no one had told him to cooperate. I figured it was just as well. I really wanted to determine North's involvement before I talked to Max. I probably should have told Jacob what I knew, but if I had he might not have gone along with me.

Since the day had turned off hot and dry, I didn't want to hang around Jacob's office waiting for Aaron or Max. "Jacob, I'm going out for a while."

"Aren't you going to be here for the interviews?" he asked with real concern in his voice.

"Sure, it's just too hot to sit around here. I think I'll go see if any of the ball teams are working out."

"Don't be too long. I don't want you to miss either of these interviews." Jacob said anxiously.

"Aaron won't be in until noon or later. Max won't be in until after Aaron. He is going to want to talk to North before he meets with us," I replied.

"How do you know that?" Jacob asked.

"Max has a secret he wants to keep. Don't worry, I'll be back in a couple of hours."

From ten until eleven I watched the Red Caps hit and throw the baseball around. I expected they were the better of the three baseball teams who practiced on that particular field. Of the softball teams, I liked the White Oak Spinning Department's team best. They had a couple of real long ball hitters.

At exactly eleven I drove to the Heights where I stopped first at Jacob's office. When he informed me that he hadn't heard from either of our interviewees, I went to Pop's for a plate lunch. I had just about finished it when Jacob stuck his head in the door. He motioned for me to follow him. I first put two quarters on the booth's table then followed after him.

As I entered his reception area, I looked through the open door to his private office. There sat a youngish man dressed in a suit and tie. He looked to be under thirty and very nervous. I was happy to see that Aaron North was sweating more than me.

"Mr. North, I believe you know Deke Burke," Jacob suggested.

"Actually we have never met, but I do know of you." He said it as he extended his hand to me.

"Mr. North, I've heard a lot about you lately," I replied.

"Some of it good I hope?" he asked nervously.

"I don't know, that remains to be seen." I didn't figure there was anything to be gained by pussyfooting around it.

"Well Mr. North, please make yourself comfortable," Jacob said trying to lighten the mood.

"Yeah, do that Aaron, this may take a while, or maybe not. It really depends on you," I admitted.

"That sounds rather ominous," he said it trying hard to smile. He couldn't quite make it.

"Let's just start and see how it goes," Jacob suggested as he gave me a stern look.

"So Aaron, how long have you and the Widow Phipps been intimate?" I asked while smiling at Jacob behind North's back.

"Who said we were?" he asked nervously.

"Why Raleigh of course," I replied.

"Raleigh is dead," he stated it flatly hoping it was enough to change the subject.

"He wasn't always dead was he? I can
ing in half a dozen people he told that you were sleeping with his wife. So why don't you tell us how it went. It would look a lot better than if I came up with it by talking to everyone she might have told."

I could see the wheels in his head working. "Sure, why not. Like you said, it will look better than if you nose around to get it. Raleigh married Madeline because she was a hot number, then he got bored with her. He moved on, but he didn't want Madeline to divorce him. It wouldn't do his career any good, not to mention his standing with the ladies. He liked being unavailable for anything more than a one nighter."

Aaron paused so I prompted him. "So what has that got to do with you?"

"Raleigh wanted someone to keep Madeline quiet. Remember he married her because she was a hot number. He didn't want her running all over the hill chasing men. Like I said, he didn't want her to divorce him either. So he suggested that I keep her company when she got lonely."

"You have got to be kidding," Jacob suggested.

"Not at all, actually it worked out quite well." Aaron actually seemed to be enjoying the telling of it.

"If it worked out so well, why did you kill her husband?" I asked. I watched his reaction closely.

"I didn't. I had no reason at all to kill Raleigh. Like I said, he knew about me and Madeline." Aaron was enjoying the interview far too much I thought.

"Did you know that Madeline had a boyfriend?" I asked.

"Besides me, no. I mean she doesn't." Aaron didn't seem to enjoy that so much.

"Where were you the night Raleigh got himself killed." It was Jacob who asked that particular question.

"I was at the mill and I can prove it. We had a couple of machines
eakdown. I got a call just after supper. I had to go make sure enough repairmen came in to have the machines up and running before third shift. If not the mill would run out of bobbins. It wouldn't do me any good to cause a shutdown."

"I will be asking around," I informed him.

"Please do. What is this about Maddy having a boyfriend?" he asked it seemingly concerned.

"I wouldn't plan on marrying the Widow Phipps, if I were you." It was my parting shot as I walked out the door leaving Jacob to finish up the interview. I went next door to Pop's for a glass of only fair iced tea. I stood by his window and watched until Aaron left. When he did, I returned to Jacob's office.

"So, it looks as though we wait for Max," I suggested.

"I hope you know we could have gotten a lot more from North. That is if you hadn't been so combative." Jacob said.

"Probably, but what else did we need. He was at the mill at the time of Raleigh's death. You can check that out if you want, but I believed him completely. The only question I should have asked was, 'Did the three of them ever played together.'" I watched as Jacob actually blushed. "So what time do we interview Max?"

"It should be sometime after lunch," Jacob replied.

"Since it is after twelve, I would say that is a safe enough bet."

"Come on, I couldn't make them be more specific than they were." Jacob felt like I was accusing him of giving in too easily. Since I was I didn't say a word to let him off the hook.

"Give me the phone," I demanded. I called Max's office at the mill. When he came on the phone I stated emphatically, "If you aren't here within one hour, I am going to call the old man. If you think stone walling us will make it go away forget it. As a matter of fact I have a few surprises for you Max, so
ing your fat ass over here right now."

"You go to hell Burke. I'll be there when I get time." Max would never admit I had him on the defensive.

"Like I said, one hour or I call the old man and tell him what I know about you and the widow." I slammed the phone down in Max's ear.

"What was that all about?" Jacob asked with real concern in his voice.

"That was about showing Max who had the biggest stick," I replied. "I'm going next door for tea, you interested?"

"No thanks, I'm going to start getting ready for Max," he replied seriously.

"Not much getting ready to do," I said it as I left the office. A few steps later found me inside the door to Pop's cafe. I sat at the counter, in a seat which allowed me a good view out the front window. I sat drinking my tea and watching the surly waitress while I waited for Max. Just to show me that he had no fear of me, Max arrived one hour and five minutes after the call. I had expected as much, which was why I chose Pop's cafe for a waiting spot. I guess I could have told Jacob that Max wouldn't be coming until the hour was up. Then again I hadn't especially wanted any company. I had plenty to occupy my mind. I finished my iced tea while allowing them both to wait.

When I entered the office Max had lit a cigar, "Put that damned thing out. This is Jacob's office not yours."

"The kid don't seem to mind," he replied.

"Actually I do mind," Jacob said it as he smiled up at me.

"Okay, but if the interview is going to be like this, maybe I should leave." Max said angrily.

"Like I said on the phone, you do what you want. If you leave, I will be forced to call the old man. When that call is finished, you will be out of a job with this mill, and most likely unemployable at any other."

"You keep threatening me like that, but I don't hear no proof of anything," he said trying to bluster it out.

"Listen up you jerk, I don't run bluffs. Everybody knows that when I say something, I can back it up."

"They say that, but nobody ever called you before," he replied in a louder voice.

"Do you think your wife will continue to lie for you when she knows where you really were Thursday night?"

"Max, I can prove you were out with the Widow Phipps the night her husband was killed. If you want me to go to the Sheriff and the mill owners, I will be more than happy to do it. Unlike you, it will be absolutely personal with me."

"You bastard, you have been after me since I forced you to move out of your mother's house. The old man knows that."

"Like I said Max, I can prove what I say. Now either you cooperate, or I promise you, I am going to have your job."

"Show me your proof, if it really means anything I will tell you whatever you want to know."

"Okay Max, but I shouldn't bother to tell it twice. If the widow left her mother's house at 'eleven thirty exactly', which by the way she is sure of since she listened to the news with her mother and uncle. She told the deputy they listened to it until the very end. Given that, she would have arrived home no earlier than quarter till twelve. I drove it myself yesterday and I'm sure. It was a lie, but I didn't mind lying to Max.

Then if she called you at home, as she claims in her statement to the cops, you couldn't have gotten there before twelve. That is even if you were dressed and sitting in your car, which I expect you wouldn't have been. If that were the case the call wouldn't have gotten to the dispatcher before at least twelve-o-five. Instead the cop arrived at twelve oh five, so it plays out like this. Raleigh knew his wife had a boyfriend, he told enough people that she did anyway. The only way the time works is if you followed her home to see that she arrived safely after a 'date'.

She goes into the house finds the body and screams. You are turning your car around in the narrow street. You quickly park your car, then rush up to help your girlfriend. By the way the deputy remembers that your car was parked headed out of the dead end street, not into it. I hardly think you would have turned it around, if you had arrived to check on a body before calling the Sheriff." It was another lie but it fit just as well as the first one.

"So Max, unless you killed Raleigh yourself, you better come clean about everything."

I watched as Max ran it around in his head for a few minutes before saying, "You know that thing at your mother's wasn't really personal. Like I said, I was just following orders."

"Max how long have you and the widow been seeing each other?" I asked ignoring his attempt to make nice.

"A couple of years. That damned Raleigh really was a jerk. He ran around with half the whores in town."

"Did you ice him?" I asked.

"Look Deke, I was making it with his old lady, but I didn't kill him. Hell even if he had found out, he wouldn't have cared."

"Max you know that's a damned lie. He didn't care about his friend Aaron, but you were a mill hand. A constable is still a peasant to those guys. If he found out, you would have had to kill him or lose your job."

"I would have let them have the job before I killed anyone. I ain't go it in me to kill anybody."

"If you didn't do it, you better come up with somebody for me to look at. See Max, right now you and the widow are in the hot seat."

"If worse comes to worse, I can tell them she was with me," he said.

"And where were you? I suppose there are people who saw you together." I watched as he shook his head. "I thought so. If you tell them that, you are both going to fry."

"Not in this state, they use gas down here," Jacob said trying to be helpful.

"Look Max, your best bet is to tell me who might have killed him so that I can check it out. You should know, the Sheriff is going to file against the widow. She is just too easy a target no to."

"Why hasn't he done it then?" Jacob asked getting lost in the conversation. I shook my head at him, but I had to answer.

"Just as soon as the Sheriff
eaks her alibi, it is all over. He will find someone who knew that her mom had lied for her before. Lied so that she could keep the husband with the good job. Once the alibi is gone, she is going to find herself in jail."

"So Deke, can you save her?" Max asked.

"Probably not, but I would come a lot closer, if you told me who Raleigh was having trouble with."

"I swear, I don't know of anyone in particular. He might have been offed by one of his tootsies."

"Which one?" I asked.

"I don't know, but there are plenty of them to choose from. At least that's how Maddie tells it. According to her, he was doing it with half the whores in town. Not only that, he was doing a few of the mill girls as well."

"Which ones?" I asked.

"Just the ones who were willing. He never forced any of them."

"I guess that's why I never heard about it. The only ones I hear about are the ones some overseer is trying to blackmail into doing it."

"I don't expect you will be hearing too much about that in the future. The old men sent a memo to all the supervisors. It is a firing offense for a boss man to have sex with an employee, no matter how it happens."

"So was Raleigh worried about that?" Jacob asked.

"The memo came out after Raleigh was killed. Hell, it could have been because Raleigh was killed. I expect somebody told them about Raleigh's little indiscretions." Max said.

"Yeah Max, I wonder who that might have been?" I asked.

"It wasn't me, but it might have been Madeline. She wants everyone to know how nasty a trial will be." Max replied.

"No wonder the mill bosses are cooperating," I suggested. "They would like to see us plant this on someone else."

Just then the phone rang. I could only hear one side of the conversation, but it sounded interesting. Jacob whispered but it didn't do any good Max and I could heard every word. "No....I know I promised and I'm going to do it today but I haven't had a chance yet...... I'll take care of it, but I'm busy right now.......yes......I know and I'll do it shortly.....good-bye."

"Sorry," Jacob said directing his attention back to Max. "So Deke, unless you have something else I guess we are through with Max."

"Just as long as he knows, we will be getting back to him." I replied.

"No problem, I have told you everything. At least everything about that night." Max was hiding a lot but not about Raleigh's death.

"You haven't told me everything, not by a long shot." I suggested.

"Deke, I wouldn't try using any of that against me. There was nothing I could do about moving you off the hill, but I could make things rough on your mother and
I began to move on him but Jacob stepped between us. "Max, I already told you what I would do if you bothered them. I'm going to tell you one more time."

He quickly interrupted, "I know what you said, but I ain't afraid of you. You start the crap rolling and I'll be happy to play along."%%%

"Fair enough, you have been warned." I replied while wanting more than anything to wring his fat neck.

Max sped out the door before I changed my mind and killed him anyway. When he had been gone a couple of minutes Jacob spoke. "Deke, I need to get something off my mind." I waited without answering. He finally went on, "You know I went to the movies with Sarah and her sister Saturday."

I nodded that I did remember.

"Well, I asked Sarah out for Sunday. Things kind of took on a life of their on. Anyway, I just wanted you to hear it from me." He said all that, then placed a sawbuck on his desk and pushed it toward me. He saw the confused look on my face. "That's the balance of what Sarah owes you for taking care of her problem."

"You don't have to do that Jacob," I suggested.

"No, I don't want her owing you money," he said.

"Any particular reason you feel that way?" I asked.

"Not especially, I just don't want her in debt to any other man. I would rather she owe me the five." He was at least smiling. I hoped that meant he didn't know about Sarah and me. I can't say that I wasn't surprised to find that Sarah was such an easy woman. Then of course it wasn't any of my business either. I looked at my watch. Since Sarah had called and she worked first shift I realized that it had to be after three.

I left Jacob's office, then drove to my
other's house. He was already in the workshop, the one he and I had built after my return from Europe. Earl was busy working on a piece of wood.

"What are you doing, making a toothpick?" I asked.

"Nope, it's going to be a gun rack. What the hell are you doing here. I thought you would be out bothering the cops."

"No, they told me to butt out. Look Earl, the reason I am here is that I am out of ideas. I thought you might tell me what the word at the mill is."

"Word is, we might get a raise next year," he said grinning.

"You know what I mean, what are they saying about Raleigh?"

"As usual Raleigh got smarter, nicer, and better looking after he died." It was the only thing Earl planned to volunteer.

"Come on Earl, who do you guys think did it?" I asked it hoping for some kind of lead.

"The hands are divided. One third think it was his old lady, another third think it was somebody who worked for him, and the final bunch think it was you. It wasn't you was it?" he asked.

"Me, hell no, which workers do they think might have done it?" I asked.

"Now you know I ain't going to tell you that. I ain't about to get them into trouble because of some gossip."

"So tell me the kind of people we are talking about."

"You mean, like was it women that are suspect?" he asked.

"Yeah, like that."

"There is a rumor that Raleigh told several women that his wife wouldn't do some of the more exotic things he liked. He implied that if the women who worked for him would, he might leave his wife for them. Truth is though, that by the time he got himself killed, he had pulled that half a dozen times. There is no way that any woman in the mill would have believed him. That little
other, is why he was running around with whores."

"So some of the old girlfriends might have done him in?" I asked it hoping Earl would agree.

"Like I said, they had all heard it before. I don't expect any of them would hold a grudge that long."

"Still, it's possible," I said.

"Sure, but the real money is on you." Earl was at least grinning when he said it that time.

"Hell Earl, if I talk to you much longer, I am going to start doubting my own alibi." After a pause to allow for his laughter I began again. "Okay, if you won't give me the killer, I am going home."

"The hell you are, you are going to go sit in the Pump Room to drink watered down beer. Deke, you need to find yourself a good woman."

"Everytime I find one she decides she likes the security of a man with a job." I turned for the door. "I guess I'll be running along. Say hello to Ma for me."

"If you see her first, you say hello for me." Earl's wife didn't like our mother any more than she did me. It was just as likely that I would see mom before Earl, as Earl before me.

Earl had me pegged. I spent most of the evening in the Pump Room playing poker while drinking watered down draft beer. Those who really drank for the effect, drank only bottles or cans. Me and a few of the others drank the weak draft so that we could stay longer. Just before Pop closed at eight, I went across for a quick sandwich. At that time of the night, I took whatever Pop had left over. That night it was meat loaf heavily laced with onions. I spent the remainder of the evening trying to drown the fire from those onions. The beer I poured into my gut did little good.

Even the watered down beer began to effect me by eleven. I staggered off to bed shortly thereafter. I heard the then familiar banging about midnight. I opened the door to a very drunken Rose. As was her usual habit she pushed past me as she stumbled up the steps.

"So Rose, what
ings you here?" I asked grinning at her.

"Came to get it done, you prick." Rose slurred the words but that is what she meant to say. "Gonna go take a pee be right back."

When she returned Rose plopped down on the bed and fell sound asleep. Rose, by the way, snored like a long shoreman.

Something else happened later that night that almost never happens. In my drunken sleep I came up with a theory about Raleigh Phipps' murder. I'm not sure that problem solving in my sleep was so unusual, but the fact that I remembered it the next day certainly was.

Rose left first thing the next morning after kissing me good-bye. "Damn Deke, we still have to get this done." She at least grinned as she walked down the stairs. I was beginning to wonder exactly what her game was.

I forced myself to have
eakfast before I went in to see Jacob. I found him behind his desk but not really involved in anything. "Jacob, I have it almost figured out. I know what happened to Raleigh, I just have to figure out what I am going to do about it."

"What do you mean, you have to go to the cops of course. You have to go no matter who did it. Getting the cops on the right track is the most important thing."

"I'm not so sure that truth and justice are the same thing, at least not in this case. Either way the decision is mine to make. The cops will eventually figure it out or maybe they won't. All I know for sure is that I need to give it a lot of thought before I do anything. I'll let you know tomorrow what I decide.

I drove to the public li
ary to read the magazines until lunch. I had lunch at the Kress lunch counter surrounded by clerks from the downtown offices and retail stores. I went downtown once in a while just to have lunch with the well made-up and well dressed young women.

After lunch I returned home to nap. It was necessary, since I hadn't rested well the night before. I expect problem solving was less restful than simple sleep. I was awakened by the sound of someone on my stairs. I quickly removed the Mauser from beneath the bed. I had it pointed at the opening when Luther entered the room.

"One of these days, I am going to kill you for sneaking up on me," I admitted.

"One of these days I am going to come with a gun of my own," He replied smiling down at me. "Boss wants to talk to you."

"Sorry, I'm a little busy this afternoon. What time is it anyway?"

"Five, come on all you are doing is sleeping. I'll have you back in an hour," he informed me.

"Like I said, 'I'm busy.' I can spare no more than an hour, so I'll drive." I said it as I climbed from the bed. It took me a couple of minutes to dress, then
ush my teeth. Luther drove to ham town, and I followed along behind. The drive took about fifteen of his sixty minutes, but I didn't figure Sandra had a social call in mind.

Sandra was waiting inside the meeting room of the farmhouse. "So, I hear you are close to finding Raleigh's killer?"

"Exactly what hook do you have in Jacob?" I asked.

"What are you saying?" she asked.

"The only person who knows that I am close is Jacob Goldman. There has to be some reason he ran to you with the information. So what is your hold on him."

"I'm a client. I explained to him that I had an interest in finding Raleigh's killer. I don't much care for the cops looking so closely at me."

"Jacob is just full of surprises. Did you send him the widow?"

"I might have mentioned his name to a mutual friend," she admitted smiling.

"I don't suppose that friend would be Aaron North?"

"Sorry," she said ignoring the question. After a short pause so that I would understand the answer wasn't forthcoming she said, "So who killed him?"

"Sorry," I replied matching her previous answer.

"Maybe you should answer the boss," Luther suggested looking tough.

"I told you already Luther, don't waste your time trying to impress me. As for you," I said returning my attention to Sandra Evans. "The killing can't be traced back to you, at least I don't think it can."

"Since I know where all my people were than night, I never thought it could. I just wanted the cops to get off my case. I suppose you are going to explain it to them tomorrow."

"I am."

"So, why are you waiting?" Luther asked.

"I'm waiting so that everyone can express their opinion. I don't owe the cops anything. If someone could give me a good reason to forget what I know, I probably would."

"That wouldn't be a good idea at all," Sandra said shortly.

"No problem, the cops will figure it out eventually. I just happen to know the people better than a deputy Sheriff would."

"Then you better get home to greet your callers," Luther said. It was obvious from the expression on his face that he knew what I was up to.

"Sounds more than reasonable," I replied turning to the door.

"How about that house?" Sandra asked as an after thought.

"If I get this closed without your name coming up, I think you should give it to me. Hell it ain't worth nothing anyway."

"Tell you what Deke, you keep me out of this completely and I'll do that," she replied.

I might have stopped by Ma's, if it hadn't been supper time at the house. She would be busy feeding borders. I could have had dinner there, but like I said I had stopped hanging around the house when the mill hands were taking their meals. No sense running into one of the overseers.

Instead I went to the White Oak Hotel for dinner. The hotel dinning room wasn't much but for a real meal it was better than Pop's. I had a big chunk of roast beef with mashed potatoes. The food was pretty good, I expected they had a new cook. I ate there about once a month. The taste of the food varied widely from time to time. The hotel had a large turn over in cooks. I never really understood why. When the bill came I understood why I didn't eat there more often. The twenty-five cent meal cost half a dollar. It was ridiculous but once a month didn't hurt too much.

I was home by six. I noticed that Jacob's office was dark. I had killed the day waiting for darkness, I knew I would never receive the visit as long as Jacob was in the office. Even then it took until after ten before I heard the footsteps on the stairs. I had known all day who the killer was.

I realized too late that I should have armed myself with the Mauser. The woman standing at the top of my stairs held a very old Army colt. The gun was so heavy she was forced to hold it with both hands. I thought, 'Those things are too easy to come by these days. Almost everybody with a gun had the Army colt.'

"Come on in, you can have that chair by the window," I suggested.

"No thanks, I wouldn't want anyone to see me."

"Surely, somebody saw you come in?" I asked it hoping it was true.

"I was very careful. Nobody saw anything."

"This isn't boss man hill. You aren't going to be able to just walk away for here."

"Sure I am. The little old ladies in the other two apartments are going to be to frightened to come out. Yours is the only door on the side of the building, every other one else faces the Pump Room. No Deke, I am going to disappear right after I kill you."

"So what are you waiting for?" I asked.

"I need to make sure you haven't told anyone. I know you have been running around all day. Did you tell anyone?"

"You don't expect me to set anyone else up to be killed do you?"

"I could just start shooting big old nasty holes in you until you talk," she suggested.

"Wouldn't work. I could hold out until the cops got here. It's not like the Gestapo, your pain would end when the cops came. Besides you tell me what really happened and I might make it all go away."

"How would you do that?" she asked.

"Oh no, I tell you that and I go away. No sweetie, you are going to have to kill me or trust me. I personally don't think you have cold blooded murder in you."

"Sure I do. I killed Raleigh."

"Not in cold blood. You killed him in anger. You went to his house to inform his wife what a louse he was. You didn't know about their relationship. Not only was she out with her boyfriend, but he told you she wouldn't care anyway. He might have even asked you to join them in some kinky thing or other."

"Got it all figured out don't you?" she asked.

"Pretty much, I just want to know a couple of things. You killed Raleigh but it was your sister who was doing things for him?"

"Yeah, I can't believe she fell for his bull. I told her what kind of man he was, but she wouldn't listen. When he dropped her, she tried to kill herself. I caught her with this thing," she said waving the pistol at me. "It was my
other's. He gave it to me when I came here. To protect me, he said."

"So why didn't you shoot him with it?" I asked.

"Like you said, I went to tell his wife what kind of animal she had married. He had the shotgun by the door. He said it was for some pimp. When he laughed at me, I picked it up and walked to the sofa where he was laying. I just meant to scare him, but he pulled the barrel to his chin and dared me to shoot. I shot him. God Deke it was awful the blood and stuff went everywhere."

I ran everything around in my head for a few minutes. "So afterward you just walked away?"

"Of course, what else was I going to do. If I had hung around they would have put me in jail. I expect that if you tell, I will go to the gas chamber."

I watched her cry for a while. I don't know if her tears were real, but I convinced myself that they were. "Okay, I'll make this go away. So help me Sarah, if I find out this wasn't like you said, I will kill you myself." I said that because it was true. Losing her to Jacob had been bad. Then find out she killed Raleigh almost made me glad she had gone.

"You aren't going to tell Jacob are you?" she asked.

"Why would I?" I answered sadly.

"You know, I kind of dropped you for Jacob." After a
ief pause she hurried on to explain. "I only did it because he has a better future. I have to look out for myself and my family."

"Sarah, you were just a momentary diversion for me. You better take care of Jacob though. He thinks you are the love of his life."

"Believe me I will be," she said it knowingly.

"I suppose you will at that."

After she left, I locked the downstairs door. She was the last visitor I expected. I expect that's why the banging at seven a.m. surprised me so. I slipped into my day old pants before I walked down the stairs.

"You Deacon Burke?" the middle-aged deputy asked.

"I am."

"The Sheriff sent me out here after you. He said to
ing you in no matter what you said."

"Well, I am going to eat
eakfast first. I am not about to get stuck in the Sheriff's office for hours without food. You can come watch, if you like." I said it as I walked past him. I walked the short distance to Pops, where I ordered sausage and eggs. %%% The deputy sat across from me, he looked impatient but he didn't speak.
eakfast took twenty minutes, the deputy hurried me into his car after.

The fifteen minute drive took ten. The walk from the parking lot took almost as long. I was surprised to find the Sheriff waiting in his office. Inside there was also a second man dressed in a suit, even though it must have been eighty degrees in the room.

"Here he is Sheriff," the deputy said with a big smile.

"I hear you have been running all over town telling people you know who killed Raleigh." the Sheriff said.

"So who is the suit?" I asked ignoring his question.

"I'm the state solicitor for this area. My name is Doug Kenny." the suit answered.

"So now that you know everyone, would you like some tea," the Sheriff almost screamed.

"No thanks," I replied with a wise guy grin.

"Come on Deke, tell us who killed Raleigh. After all, it took you just a couple of days to solve a case my men can't seem to get a lead on." The Sheriff stated it sarcastically.

"Sure Sheriff, Raleigh Phipps did it." I replied.

The Sheriff laughed at me. "Raleigh was the victim."

"I know, but he was also the killer."

"You're telling us that Raleigh committed suicide?" the solicitor asked.

"That's right." I replied looking him seriously in the eye.

"So how did the shotgun wind up in a chair ten feet away?" the Sheriff asked.

"Simple, it was the recoil. Raleigh held it by the barrel, when it went off it jumped out of his hands. You did find his prints on the barrel didn't you?"

"How did you know that?" he asked.

"I didn't, I guessed. I'll bet he also had his socks off."

"He was also in his underwear, most people take their socks off when they nap." The Sheriff was adamant in his refusal to accept my theory.

I noted that the Solicitor wasn't so hard to convince. "Sheriff set up a test. I want to know if a shotgun can recoil that far. If it will, then this case is closed. Deke here makes perfect sense."

"That and this theory puts the whole thing to sleep without any scandal on the mill hill." the Sheriff snapped.

"You should know better than that. I don't work for the mill." the solicitor said.

"But if you ever run for governor, it wouldn't hurt to have friends with money owing you a favor." I suggested.

"The same might be said of you," the Solicitor replied.

"I hardly think this will make me any friends with the management." I meant it when I said it.

"I don't know, it looks like an answer we can all live with," he replied. "Will the shotgun recoil that far?"

"I have no idea, but I imagine it will with enough help. So can I go home or what?"

"You can go, but if I were you, I would sleep light," the Sheriff said. "It's possible the real killer will be uncomfortable with you still alive."

"That sounds like good advice, but what makes you think I will ever be able to sleep again?"


When I awoke that morning it was as cold inside my bedroom as it was inside my new Kelvinator. The outdoor thermometer hanging on an inside wall showed the temperature to be less than 40 degrees. The coal stove had held the temperature at least above freezing but not far above. If I had not heard the persistent call of mother nature, I probably would have rolled over to return to sleep. Instead I slipped on my old wool pants and the new wool sweater, then ran for the back porch where my bathroom was located.

After completing my emergency errand I returned to the house. Before my return I was forced to drain the bathroom water pipes to prevent freezing. Once inside I threw a few lumps of coal into the stove. The house had been a sort of gift from Sandra Evans, a grateful client. When I got the place it was an abandoned share cropper's house. During those first few days when I wanted to know the weather outside, I looked through the cracks in the walls.

I had managed to get new siding on the outside, and new tin onto the roof before the weather turned bad. When it turned bad on November first it turned awful. It had pretty much stayed that way since. Cold wind and rain seemed to be the norm for that whole year. Christmas had come and gone in a freezing rain that crippled the whole town. New Year's Eve I was bearly able to get to the Pump Room to cele
ate with my friends.

Since that night I had been into town only during the daylight hours. The nights were just too cold. It was by far the winter with the coldest sustained temperature on record. Add to that the fact that the heater in my old 39 Chevy was less than wonderful, and you could guess why I stayed home at nights. I did get a lot of reading done though. It was probably a good thing since I had decided to become a best selling author. Deciding was the easy part, doing it was proving to be a damned sight tougher.

I began that morning by making coffee on the coal stove, but only after a suitable pause for it to heat the room. I spent the down time in bed trying to decide where to take my novel. It wasn't easy since I knew very little about anything at all. It was a point in my life where I should have been out doing things to write about. Instead I was trying to write about things I had never done. It was only years later that I found I had no imagination at all.

When the coffee was gone I switched to iced tea. I did however wait until the room had warmed up before I switched. In the Kelvinator I found a glass milk bottle only half filled with tea. I noted with some degree of disgust the other five glass bottles were totally empty. I had managed to drink a gallon and a half of iced tea in three days. It was about average, but it meant a trip to Ma's. Don't get me wrong I loved to visit Ma and sissy, but I hated the thought of driving the cold Chevy. Starting that monster was always a problem, magnified several times by the cold weather. No matter the inconvenience, I had to have the tea. Not to mention the meal at ma's would more than compensate for the inconvenience of the Chevy.

I dressed for the outside weather around nine. Nine was very late by the standard of my family. Ma and sissy would have been up for hours. They would have already prepared and served
eakfast to twenty five people. By nine they would have been through with the feeding and already be deep into cleaning the house. There would always be a few scraps of food left for anyone who happened to wander into the kitchen. That someone was usually one of Ma's grown kids. By the time of this tale there were fewer of us. Before the war there had been eleven of us living either in, or around ma's boarding house. In 1947 there was only me Earl and Sissy living in the village. If you wanted to get technical I no longer lived in the village. My little shack was actually located in the next little community called Hamtown. I was only five miles away, but it was in fact a different world. The mill village was a world unto itself.

The drive over the winter damaged dirt roads took twenty minutes. I arrived at the large three story frame boarding house around ten. I walked through the unlocked front door, into and through the front parlor into the dinning room. From the dinning room a door led directly into the kitchen.

In the kitchen I found Ma rolling out pie dough while sissy washed the
eakfast dishes. I kissed Ma on the cheek and waved at sissy. "So Ma, you doing okay or what?" I asked.

"I'm doing fine son. Get yourself a plate and have something to eat. You look like you are starved."

"No thanks Ma, I just came to buy some tea from you." I said it so as not to appear eager for the food.

"Sit down and visit son. While we are talking you might as well have some of the
eakfast biscuits. They ain't gonna hardly be fit for lunch no way."

"Well if you are sure?" I asked it knowing full well that she was sure.

"Sissy, fix your
other a plate." Ma demanded.

"Don't fix anything sissy, just give me what ever is laying around." I knew sissy at least would listen to me. If it was left up to Ma she would be cooking eggs for me.

"So Deke, what you been up to," Sissy asked.

"Sissy don't call your
other that. He ain't no deacon."

"Ma," Sissy complained. "Everybody calls him that."

"Well young lady, you ain't everybody, You are family. You call him by the name your daddy and me gave him."

"Okay Ma," Sissy replied winking at me. "So Henry, what you been up to?"

"Trying not to freeze in that drafty old house." I replied with a big old grin.

"I still wish you would move back in here. The old man said you could."

"No way Ma, you know he would use it against me one day."

"If you say so," she replied not believing it for a minute. I watched Sissy fill the glass milk bottles as I spoke with Ma. "So Henry, you got anything going on for the next few days?" I jerked my attention back to Ma. When Ma asked a harmless question like that it meant trouble.

"Nothing in particular why?"

"Your aunt Tempie needs some help." It was a simple statement that could mean anything. I tried the obvious hoping I could duck the problem all together.

"Ma, if aunt Tempie needs someone to paint or do carpentry, Earl is much better than me at that kind of thing."

"I know that Henry. If it was something to do with tools, I would have asked Earl in the first place. I know you are helpless with tools." She wasn't even smiling and that hurt my male pride. "What Tempie needs is what you do best."

I became resigned to being pressed into service. "Okay Ma, what is it Tempie needs?"

"Did you know Billy got married before he left for England?"

"No, I never heard that, but I was gone by then anyway."

Billy was Tempie and
ooks' only son. He was also dead. Billy had died during the invasion of Normandy. Actually the night before I suspected. Billy had been my cousin. I had known him since the day his parents moved into the boarding house.

I was about ten when
ooks got a job in the mill. His family stayed with us in the boarding house until he had been with the company long enough to rent one of their houses. Even after they moved Billy and I played together. We were almost the same age.

I joined the army the day after pearl harbor. Billy joined the next year. In it's infinite wisdom the army sent me to demolition school and Billy to the paratroops. He had been stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia for some time. He taught others how to jump from perfectly good airplanes. According to
ooks, Billy asked for a transfer to combat every month. He finally got his transfer during the build up for d day.

From what I heard of the paratrooper's roll in the fight, Billy probably never got to fire his weapon. Regardless Billy died a hero. Where as I had slunk back into town after the war. Nobody knew or cared what I did. It was just as well, since I could never have made anyone understand it.

"So Billy got married why didn't anyone tell me?" I asked.

"When it happened you weren't in touch with us." Ma said it in a way to make me feel guilty.

"Ma I have explained that a dozen times." I replied.

"I know. I am just answering your question son."

"I suppose Tempie's problem has something to do with Billy's wife?"

"Dona her name is Dona. She has a four year old, and they are in some kind of trouble. Tempie wants you to go down there and fix it. Either that or
ing the two of them home"

"I'll fix it. If I
ing his wife to the mill village, Billy will roll over in his grave. He wanted to get as far away from here as possible."

"Well a grave in France is pretty far away I would say," Sissy interjected. The look from Ma wilted her.

"Okay Ma, where is she living now?" I figured it would be somewhere in Georgia.

"Savannah," Ma replied.

"Okay have Aunt Tempie write her. I'll go down after she has had time to get the letter. If I just show up, she might have me arrested." I gave Ma and Sissy a big smile.

"Tempie wrote her last week. The poor girl is expecting you. So you better make plans right away."

"Ma, exactly how did Tempie know I would go?" I asked more than a little annoyed that she would just presume I would drop everything to rush off.

"Because it is a family thing, and you always take care of family." Ma said it as a dictate from God not a statement of fact.

"Yeah, but one of these days I am going to refuse to run off solving everybody else's problems."

"If you turn your back on the family, then you can make your own tea." Ma said it sharply but not angrily.

"Well that answers my question. I can't do without the tea and I certainly can't make it."

"Then get yourself down to Savannah and fix that poor girls problems." It was an order, but one I didn't really mind obeying. Like Ma said it was family, besides I was bored with the whole house remodeling thing anyway, and the book wasn't going anywhere.

"Well if I'm going to travel, I need to get my overcoat from the basement." I said it while looking at Ma. I didn't know if she knew that the basement not only contained a few old items of my clothing, but also the key to a large amount of stolen cash.

"Then go on down and get it." She said it as she handed me the key to the storage room door.

I walked down the rickety narrow wooden stairs into the damp basement. the concrete bore the watermarks of having been flooded at one time or another, probably more than once. The floor though stained was clean, Ma would never have allowed it to be otherwise. I moved past the men's shower room to the storage area I opened the heavy wooden door then walked into the dark room. It took a moment to find the light bulb hanging by a wire from the ceiling. The pull chain flooded the small room with light. I passed the next ten minutes digging through boxes and paper bags. I finally found the canvas duffel bag issued to me by the army hospital on the day I was discharged.

From the duffel bag I removed a tan trench coat, also issued me on the day of my parting company with the government. I noted that it was wrinkled beyond anything I had ever seen being worn by a human or a horse. It was obvious, even to a slob like me, that the coat had to go to the cleaners for a quick pressing. Inside the pocket of the coat I found the key. The one I had last stashed there a year before. I could hardly believe that I hadn't touched the money for over a year. Then again life had been pretty good to me in that time.

I took the coat and the key with me as I walked up the stairs to the kitchen, where Ma and Sissy waited for me. "So Ma when I get through at the cleaners I will make arrangements to get to Savannah."

"I'll tell Tempie that you will be leaving tomorrow then?" It wasn't much of a question, since I didn't have much of a choice.

"Sure, tell her that." I looked at Sissy who shook her head with a knowing smile.

"Well then, I guess I better get on to the dry cleaners." With that I walked from the house wondering what I was doing spending my own money to solve a stranger's problems. I needn't have wasted the time wondering about it. It was do it or have Ma on my ass for months. Like I said before, I was getting bored anyway.

I left the coat at the laundry while I drove to the bank. The key, which I had transferred to the pocket of my leather aviator coat, opened a very large lock box at the bank. Inside the box were several neat little packs of bank notes. Most had been liberated from safes and vaults belonging to the third Reich. A couple of the packets I had liberated from other safes, but those were better left unexplained.

I left the bank with five hundred dollars in small bills stuffed inside the bomber jacket pockets. While the cleaners finished with my coat I drove to the train station. The building was just as it had been the night I returned home. It was large dark and cavernous. I listened to the sound of my shoes beat out a rhythm on the terrazzo floor as I walked to the ticket counter. The middle aged woman behind the counter was busy reading a movie magazine as I approached. I waited a few seconds before I finally asked, "Can I get a ticket to Savannah please?"

"You mean Georgia?"

"Yeah Savannah Georgia."

"Sure, which train?"

"How many you got and what times?

"Three each day from here to Wilson. There you have to change to a Seaboard train for Savannah."

"So what kind of connections are we talking about here?" I asked.

"Well you can leave here at three P.M. and arrive in Wilson at six thirty, or you can leave here at six am and arrive at three P.M.. last but not least you can leave at eleven P.M. and arrive at four am.

"Okay if I leave here at three, when will I get to Savannah?"

"Five a. m. but you have a couple of hours layover in Wilson."

"Okay give me a ticket on that train."

"Today or tomorrow?" she asked.%%%

"Tomorrow, I got too much to do to leave today." I paid four dollars for the ticket then drove to the cleaners. I paid the fifty cents for the pressing even though I should have refused. Who ever heard of fifty cents to press a coat. On the way home I stopped by my
other Earl's house to arrange storage for the Chevy for a couple of days. Earl wasn't home but his wife was.

Earl's wife Eve met me at the door. "What do you want?" she asked shortly.

"I know Earl isn't home, but I wanted to leave him a message." I said it trying not to start an argument.

"So come back when he is home." Eve really hated me and everyone in my family.

"Just tell Earl I am going to leave my car in the back yard tomorrow."

"Why you going to leave it here, and for how long?" she asked suddenly getting curious.

"I don't really know Eve. Could be a couple of days or a couple of weeks I just don't know yet."

"You going someplace?"

"Yeah, I'm going down to take care of a little problem for Aunt Tempie."

"Going where, Tempie just lives on Maple street."

"It's for Billy's widow in Savannah," I replied.

"Yeah I'll bet, the widow must be a knock out if you are going."

"Now what is that supposed to mean?" I snapped.

"How come all the women you help are beautiful?" she acted angry. I just couldn't figure out why.

"I really don't think they are, besides I help a lot of guys too." I said trying to defend myself against something, I just wasn't quite sure what.

"Yeah but not as many as the women." she said with an evil smile.

"I'm not married so what is it to you?" I asked it thoroughly angry at that point. Again I just wasn't sure why I was angry.

"Just go the hell away Deke. I'll tell Earl. Leave the damned car I don't care." She slammed the door in my face.

"God what a bitch," I thought.

I drove home still smarting from my encounter with Eve. When I arrived I found that I had not made a plan for the afternoon. Without a plan I was likely to just sit around drinking iced tea and looking at the wall. I was at an impass with the book, so I quickly changed into my work clothes. I began working on the inside walls. I really would be happy to leave all the remodeling behind for a few days. In the meantime I had wallboard to hang.

I hung the wallboard until six that evening I cleaned up before driving to the pump room for cold beer and even colder cards. I arrived back at the house around midnight tired and cold.

Even thought the cards had been cold, I managed to make five bucks. It wasn't a great night. It was about average though. I spent two bucks on beer and won five. If I had to make a house payment, I would have been in trouble. The truth was I could eat on much less than three bucks a day. Food was about all I had spent money on for the last few months. I slept well that night, I imagine the beer helped.

The next afternoon shortly after lunch, I found old man Luther at the company store three blocks from Earl's house. Luther owned and drove the only taxi in the mill village. Mr. Luther followed me to Earl's house, then drove me to the train station. I arrived an hour before the train was to leave.

I waited on the hard bench trying to read a spy novel. It was one that I had bought at the news stand inside the station. Reading was difficult since I continually checked the large wall clock. I was impatient to be on my way.

There were a few family waiting impatiently. They must have been waiting to meet loved ones arriving on the two P.M. train from Washington and points north. The waiting families made more than just a little noise as they waited. Even without being able to concentrate on the book time passed quickly. The anticipation of being on a great adventure helped the time pass. Yeah I know it sounds foolish, but the feeling helped me pass the time. Before I knew it the train for Wilson was announced.

I walked to the stairs leading down to the track with my old green officers bag in tow. The stairs were fairly steep. They were also dark, even at three in the afternoon. Once outside on the platform leading to the tracks, I walk beside the train for several yards. I walked until I came to the car were the conductor stood accepting tickets. I handed him my ticket without a word. He punched it also without a word.

I found a seat in the day coach car. The seats were comfortable enough, except though the covers were coarse and scratchy. The one saving grace was that they reclined, which made the ride bearable it not comfortable. I leaned the seat back and spent the next two hours trying to read the novel. I didn't get very far the rocking of the car made it impossible to keep my eyes on the print.

Since reading was out of the question, I turned my attention to my fellow travelers. I found them involved with either themselves or their traveling companions. I didn't mind since I was filled with my own thoughts. The thoughts mostly were centered around Dona's problems. I wondered what they were going to be, and if I could solve them for her.

About six the train stopped in the middle of absolutely no where. Suddenly a couple kids came aboard with what looked like small shoe boxes. They went up and down the aisles selling the boxes for a dollar each. Inside each box was about twenty cents worth of food. I wasn't hungry, but even if I had been I would not have bought food from them. I had turned down a much better looking box lunch from Ma. I expected that some of the other passengers had been on the train for a while. it seemed so since some of them gladly paid the price.

I arrived in Wilson around seven that evening. With a five hour layover I walked from the station to a greasy spoon down the street. Inside the restaurant I found the food to be good and reasonably priced. I had a hamburger with home fried potatoes. The ice tea was only adequate. That being the case I had only three glasses. Passing the five hours became a chore similar to working on the house. Why killing time should be worse than actually doing physical labor was beyond me, but it was.

At ten thirty I returned to the station to await the train. I waited outside the station seated on a bench seemingly even more uncomfortable than the ones inside, if that were possible. When the announcement came, I was the first to board the train. I found an almost empty coach and took a seat by the window. The coach was cold as hell, but I managed to shrink deeper into my long coat. The cold prevented sleep, but I did manage to nod off a couple of times before I arrived in Savannah.

The only impression I got of Savannah at one a.m. was the smell of the ocean. I almost asked the driver to take me to see it. I decided against it only because I was exhausted from having spent the whole day on the train. I demanded the driver take me directly to the downtown hotel. It turned out I should have walked, since the distance was only three blocks.

The night clerk was a man about forty and pretty tired looking even at one in the morning. I was sure his shift was just starting.

"Good evening sir," he said in greeting me.

"Good evening," I replied. "Do you have a vacant room?"

"Got half a hotel of them. How many do you want." He smiled at his own joke.

"Just one will do fine," I replied.

"Single or double?" He asked it with a voice betraying his disinterest.

"Single unless you got a phone number," I replied as a joke.

"Sir, this is not that kind of hotel." He looked truly angry all of a sudden.

"Sorry please forgive me. I am tired and I made a bad joke." I was truly apologetic and he recognized it.

"Of course sir, we do occasionally get those kinds of requests. Once in a while the men are extremely persistent, drunks mostly."

"I'm not drunk and I'm really too tired for anything else. Just point me to my room and I'll leave you in peace."

"You are on the third floor about two doors from the elevator. Since it is a weekday we have lots of empty rooms. I figured I might as well make it convenient for you."

"Thank you I appreciate that." I walked from the desk carrying my own bag. It appeared the bellboys didn't work after ten in the evenings. It was just as well, I preferred to carry my own bag anyway. I was so worn out from the train ride that I slept like a dead man until seven the next morning. Not having to go onto a cold back porch first thing was a real treat.

"I could get used to this," I said to myself.

eakfast was pancakes and sausage in the hotel's coffee shop. I paid seventy five cents for the rather ordinary meal. After
eakfast I caught a yellow cab outside the hotel. I read the address given to Ma by aunt Tempie to the cab driver. The cab driver didn't seem to know the address. At least not until I mentioned having passed the confederate civil war monument twice. Amazingly enough, he found it shortly thereafter.

At almost exactly nine a m I walked onto the porch of a small white frame house in need of paint. I knocked on the door and waited for Billy's widow Dona to answer. I waited about five minutes in the cold. Finally I decided that no one was going to answer the door. It didn't seem to be too early to knock on other doors in the lower middle class neighborhood so that's what I did.

A woman answered my knock on the door of the house beside Donna's on the right. The woman was dressed in a faded house dress. She obviously hadn't been awake too long. "Yes?" she asked.

"Hi, I'm Deacon Burke and I am looking for Dona
ooks." When she didn't answer immediately I continued. "The woman next door. I am her husband's cousin."

The additional information seemed to satisfy her because she spoke. "The Widow next door?" she asked.

"That's right," I replied.

"Yeah, she works downtown at the Savannah Savings and Loan. Won't be home till after four or maybe five."

"I don't suppose you have a pencil and paper so that I could leave her a note?"

"Sure, you wait right here and I'll get it." She actually closed the door while she went inside the small frame house to rummage for paper.

"Here you are," she said a few minutes later. The woman seemed slightly miffed when I moved to the side of the porch to write the note. Even more when, I took the note to Dona's door rather than leave it with her.

The note simply explained that I was in town and would come by that evening. It went on to say that I would take her and the baby to dinner, if she would allow it. Either way I would be at her house around 6 p.m.

I spent most of the day strolling the streets of old Savannah. It was a wonderful day actually. It was warm for winter with a
ight sun shinning down on me. I had lunch in a downtown cafe, then spent the afternoon sitting in the not so warm sun on the dock. The heat seemed to drain from the sun as the afternoon wore on.

After a while, when it became really cool, I sought refuge in a local beer joint. I had a couple of drafts as I talked to the local fishermen. They came in early that day because the fish weren't running, or what ever fish do. At five thirty I called a cab to take me to Dona's house.

I noted that the porch light was on even though there was still some daylight left. I knocked on the door and waited. The woman who opened the door was probably twenty two or three years old. She was also very attractive in that southern beauty kind of way. Big
own eyes and an even bigger smile. Her face was like a porcelain doll framed by a generous mound of dark hair. Dona had either not gained any weight with the birth of her child, or had lost it during the four years since. She was very thin, but not sickly thin. It was obvious that she didn't
east feed at the moment. She probably never had as it wasn't the fashion at the time. Dona being slightly flat chested didn't bother me at all. Especially since I wasn't in Savannah to flirt with my cousin's widow.

ooks, my name is Deacon Burke. Did you get my message?"

"I got it. I do not know you Mr. Burke, and I am not going to dinner with a stranger. Especially one who shows up at my door reeking of stale beer."

"Strange, I didn't notice the beer being stale when I drank it." When she didn't smile I continued. "Okay, I'm sorry about the beer, but I had a lot of day to kill. If you don't want to go out to dinner fine. Why don't we get right down to it. My aunt Tempie sent me to solve your problem, so what is it." I know it sounded short but then I felt a little miffed. I wasn't sure why, but she just infuriated me.

"No offense intended Mr. Burke, but I hardly think a school yard bully can solve my problems." Her tone was just as nasty as it could possibly have been.

I was surprised, if not shocked. "Probably not," I replied bitterly. "But then I'm no bully. What on earth gave you the idea that I was?"

"The way Billy talked about you. Then his mother just confirmed it." Dona said it not giving me an inch.

"I truly have no idea why they would lead you to believe that. I assure you, I am the most peace loving of men."

"Billy told me all about you." She said it still not cracking her stone like face.

"I have no idea what Billy told you, but you must have misunderstood. I promise you, I am a nonviolent person."

"Well there is nothing you can do anyway." She seemed almost happy to give me her opinion. I felt at that moment she would rather keep the problem than be proved wrong.

"Why don't you just explain your problem and let me try. What can it hurt?"

"I have three problems and you can do a great deal of damage." The look on her face had finally changed to one of concern. It looked as though she was weakening.

ooks, I came a long way to help. Please give me a chance. I promise if I am not sure I can help, I won't do anything

"Oh come in, but please don't make my situation worse." She said that as she stepped aside. For the first time I noticed the four year old sitting on a blanket in the middle of the living room floor.

"Cute kid," I said not meaning it. Oh the child was a real beauty all right, but I never cared much for kids.

"Yeah, the Bean is something special," the young woman replied with obvious love in here eyes. It was the first time I had seen them soften at all.

"Bean?" I asked it with a smile.

"When I told Billy I was pregnant he said, 'You don't look pregnant.' I had to explain that the baby was the size of a bean a the time. Billy always called the unborn child his little bean. He never saw her, so I guess I call her that to remind me." There was the beginning of a tear in her eye. I would have given her a handkerchief, if I thought she would accept it. Since I didn't have a handkerchief it was a moot point anyway.

"I am sorry about Billy. He was my best friend as a kid." I said it hoping to warm her up a little.

"You were his too. He said you used to protect him at school. Guess that's where I got the school yard stuff. I'm sorry about that."

"Don't be too sorry, there might have been a time or two when somebody got a bloody nose. Most likely though it was me."

"I guess I should be happy that anyone wants to help me. Sometimes I just don't know what I'm going to do."

"So tell me what it is that you need. I expect there is something we can do, there usually is."

"I don't know. If you get violent with my landlord, he will just have you arrested. He is really well connected in this town. You know pillar of the church and in all the right clubs that kind of thing."

"So what's he up too, this landlord?" I asked it knowing about what would follow.

"He has threatened to raise my rent ten dollars a month. He also let me know that I could avoid the increase by cooperating with him."

"By cooperation I supposed he means having sex with him?" I asked it because I had heard a hundred different variations of the story.

"You guessed it. Not as unique a problem as I though." she almost smiled at me.

"Oldest problem in the world I'm afraid. Sometimes I'm not very proud to be a man. It is also the easiest to fix," I admitted.

"I told you, if you go beating him up the cops will arrest you. He is a big deal in this town."%%%

"Well Dona, you probably should just move to another house." I said it knowing there had to be a reason she wanted to stay. The woman was not a dummy and hardly helpless.

"I could, but I really don't want to. For one thing Bean's baby-sitter lives two doors down. For another, the elementary school where she will go is only two blocks over. I can walk her to school in a couple of years.

I should also be able to afford the increase in a couple of years. I am going to get my boss' job just as soon as she retires. That won't be for two years though, but most of all I hate to let that jerk win."

"If you didn't want the jerk to win, why were you so skeptical of my help?"

"Like I said, if you plan to punch him in the nose it would be satisfying, but not very helpful."

"No I have a different plan." Just then Bean giggled as if she knew the plan. At least it sounded like a giggle to me. I couldn't help smiling even thought I didn't like children much. Like I said she was real charmer.

"So what are your other problems?" I asked.

"Let's see what you can do with this one first," she was demanding but she was also smiling.

I spent the next thirty minutes explaining the plan. Dona was not happy about it, but she was a good soldier when she realized it was the only viable plan.

Dona bundled up the Bean and we took a cab to a downtown restaurant. The restaurant had a couple of other toddlers in high chairs. It was good that we weren't the only ones disturbing the quiet. I expected Dona chose it for that reason.

After dinner I dropped Dona and the bean at home, then continued in the cab to the hotel. Dona had made a call from the restaurant taking care to set our little plan into action. I had some arrangements of my own to make. I had most of the next day to make mine.

I slept poorly that night. I had the landlord on my mind. After the restless night my eyeballs felt as though they were covered in sand. I had another over priced coffee shop
eakfast. Afterward I walked first to a pawnshop, then to the drug store. I hung around the docks again until three p.m. At that time I took a cab to Dona's house.

I waited with her an hour before the landlord showed. I hid in the bedroom closet while she convinced him to remove his clothes. He stopped at this skivvies thank god. Dona stopped at her slip. I thought the old man would have a stroke when I popped from the closet firing off one flash bulb after another. I fired the camera three times before he got to me. When he did, I jabbed him quickly on the nose.

I looked sheepishly up at Dona as he began to bleed. I really had warned her, but then she probably didn't pay any attention. She looked angry for about a second then calmed down. "Now Mr. Stevens, we should have a little talk before you get all huffy."

"I'm going to call the police," he said holding his undershirt wadded up to catch the falling blood.

"Well sir that certainly is an option. Of course unless you plan to stop me, I will be gone by then. I will also have this roll of film in a drugstore lab. You do have some idea of what I plan to do with the prints."

He turned his attention to Dona. "I can't believe you would be involved in something like this."

"Oh really, you think you can blackmail me into having sex, but I wouldn't stoop to blackmailing you. Mr. Stevens you are a jerk"

"Okay guys, the name calling isn't going to get us anywhere. I have a business proposal for you Stevens."

"I'll just bet you do." he replied with a nasty edge in his voice.

"Lose the tone, or I am going to really make this tough on you." I figured it was time to let him know that he had lost control of the situation. The look I gave him let him know for sure that I was willing to see his bloody nose, and raise him a black eye. I waited until he calmed down. "Now you
ing the lady a two year lease at the same rent, and I give you the undeveloped film."

He waited for more. I had nothing else to say until he asked, "Is that all." His tone led me to believe that he expected more.

"A new coat of paint on this dump would be nice." I smiled at Dona as I said it. I was being a wise ass just because I had fixed her problem. Dona was not amused.

"I will have the lease here Monday morning." Stevens said it angrily.

"Make it Monday at five. The film will be mailed to you when I leave town. Take my advice Stevens, don't try to get cute. Believe me you wouldn't like the results a bit. Cops can only help you after the fact. I know you have them in your pocket, but believe me I have been questioned by the best. Your local cops are not the best by long shot."

I figured by the time he left I had mad a true believer of him. Usually men understood somehow that a small amount of damage to the pride was better than a large amount of damage to the body. In Steven's case a large amount of embarrassment was also headed his way, if he didn't see the light.

After Stevens left Dona offered to make dinner for me. I accepted hoping to pry her second problem from her. She sent me to the store with a list and no money. I returned with her weeks groceries. I really didn't mind since she did cook a heck of a good steak. Of course, burning a steak wasn't exactly the same as the cooking in Ma's House. Still the steak was good.

"Deacon, would you like to come back to attend church with me and Bean," Donna asked it as I left that evening.

"No thanks, but I will be here to take you to lunch when you get back. You still have to assign me problem two," I reminded.

"Why don't you come to church with us?" she asked.

"God and I kind of came to an understanding in the basement of a German jail."

"What kind of understanding?' she asked it as the taxi driver waited on the curb.

"He left me there and I left him there. Now look, I'll see you after church. Maybe we can go to the docks for seafood?"

"That would be nice, and Deacon?"


"I am going to stay at you about church. At least as long as you are here." She pushed me out the door then closed it behind me.

That night I slept well since I had no idea what Dona's second problem might be. Next morning I ate in the coffee shop. Afterward I read the Sunday Atlanta newspaper in the lobby. I arrived at her house shortly after Dona and the Bean made it home from church. The cab waited a few minutes while Dona got the Bean ready for lunch. The preparations consisted mostly of changing her dress. Couldn't have her spilling applesauce on the fancy dress.

With Bean dressed in a plain outfit and heavy coat, we rode in the cab to the docks. Dona knew a family style seafood restaurant across the street from the river. We arrived early enough to get a window table with a view of the moored boats.

"Do you like the water?" Dona asked.

"Don't really know. There ain't much of it in the village."

"Billy hated the mill village." She remained silent for a couple of seconds then continued. "Why did you go back? He said he never would."

"I ain't Billy I guess. All my family is there and they were all that kept me alive for a couple of months."

"Were you a POW?" she asked.

"Not really and I'd rather not talk about it." after a moment of awkward silence I went on. "The family means more to me than it did Billy. Course he was an only child. I come from a large
ood of kids. Ma had nine head of children."

"Nine, my God I hope you don't have that many in mind?" It was a harmless question.

"Don't expect so." I didn't explain that kids weren't in my future. It wasn't really any of her business. "Just to change the subject are you ready to tell me your other problems?"

"Deke you have done enough. I can handle he others I think."

"Well Dona, I came here to take care of your problems for Tempie. If I go home without doing it, she will hang me. So come on tell me what you need taking care of next?"

She looked at Bean before she answered. "Did you notice how Bean walks?"

"Not really, she kind of falls around but all kids do don't they?"

"Yeah, that's not it. Bean has one foot turned in. I got a doctor who wants to operate on her foot, but I don't know. She is kind of small for all that don't you think?"

"Lord Dona, I don't know. Have you gotten a second opinion on the operation?"

"Not yet. If I do. I want it from someone I will trust. The closest doctor like that is at Johns Hopkins in Maryland. He is too busy to see Bean. I must have called a dozen times."

"John Hopkins huh, you probably won't believe this but I know someone there."

"So what I know the doctor's receptionist real well, but it don't help."

"Yeah you are probably right, but let me make a call tomorrow. Give me your number at work. If anything comes of it I'll call you. Now how about the other problem?"

"One problem at a time Deacon," she replied with a smile. Dona had a smile that could replace the electric light. Her smile made a much warmer glow in any room. I marveled at it as she smiled first at Bean then at me often during the meal. The smile did something besides light up the room, it made me determined to do something for the Bean.

I noted with a degree of awe that she and bean seemed to share a secret world. Even when they were lost in the bustle of the larger world around them. The two of them seemed to be locked in a special place. One not available to the rest of us.

I dropped them at home before I took a walk on the dock. During that walk I felt very much alone. I quickly found my way back to the hotel bar. I found it all right but also found it closed on Sundays. As I walked away from the locked door the bell man motioned me aside.

"If you would like sir, I do know where I could get you a bottle. I would never
eak a real law you understand, but these Sunday blue laws are stupid."

"Thanks but I think I'll take a nap instead." I took the elevator to my room then napped the afternoon away. At nine the next morning I called Doctor Graham at John Hopkins. It took about five minutes to get him to the phone. "Doc, you said to call if I ever needed help. Well I'm calling."

"So Deke, what is the problem. Did you kill those men?" he seemed pretty serious.

"Naw Doc, I got a friend with a kid who needs to see one of your orthopedic specialists. The guy says he's too busy. Would you talk to him for me?"

"Give me the name and I'll try."

I read him off the name Dona had given me.
"Hell Deke, I play golf with this guy. Not sure that I can help though. I beat his ass regularly. Let me see what he says and call you back."

"That would be fine. Let me give you the number here at the hotel."

"Hotel, I thought you would be home with the family?"

"I am. I am just staying here to help a friend out."

"Okay, it's going to be a couple of hours at least," the Doc informed me.

"I figured that. Just call me when you can."

I hung around the hotel lobby all day. I read old magazines and ate in the coffee shop. Finally at three he called. "Deke you were right, he is too busy to see the kid for at least six months. He did give me the name of a doctor in Atlanta. The man here said he is first rate. He was trained right here at Johns Hopkins. The kid's got family in Atlanta so he went home, kinda like you."

"Do you think he will see my friend's kid?"

"Have the mother call and mention Ed's name. She will be able to pretty much set her own appointment."

"Thanks Doc, I owe you?"

"Yeah for a lot more than this. You take care Deke, hell I may need a favor one day." the phone went dead in my ear.

I immediately called Dona at work. I couldn't understand but I was overjoyed to be able to tell her about the Doctor. She didn't seem nearly as happy about it as me.

"Deke, it's like this. I had my heart set on the Johns Hopkins man."

"Why don't you do this? See the man in Atlanta, then if you aren't satisfied I will try again with the man at Hopkins."

"Okay Deke, but if he say operate I am still going to take her to Hopkins first."

"Sure, but see the man in Atlanta. When can you get off?"

"For Bean, you get the appointment and I'll get off."

I laughed. "Okay, let me make the call."

I called the doctor in Atlanta then Dona again. She gave me the address of Bean's local doctor. The local doctor didn't want to give me the records. Finally Dona had to call and then I threatened to burn the building down.

Renting a car was almost impossible, so we took the train to Atlanta. The five hour trip began very early in the morning. Bean slept almost all the way. When she did awake she was cranky, but then so was I. It took all day to get the doctor to finish his tests and talk to us. I sat in the waiting room holding Bean while Dona talked to the doctor alone. When she came out she was crying. I figured he had gone along with Bean's regular doctor.

It just goes to show how little I knew about women. The doctor told Dona to buy the kid some fancy corrective shoes with a
ace attached. He predicted a year tops before her foot would be straight. Dona was so happy she hugged me then kissed me on the cheek. I have to admit I had the wrong kind of reaction. I hung my red face in shame.

The train ride back to Savannah was subdued as we were both caught up in emotions. Dona with happiness for Bean's prognosis and me in confusion. I was more than a little unhappy with my reaction to Billy's widow. I felt guilty and a little angry at myself. I was glad when we arrived in Savannah late that evening.

After I made sure the two of them got inside the house safely, I took the cab to the hotel. An hour in the bar resulted in a good nights sleep in spite of my restless mind. The next morning I was preparing to leave the hotel for the downtown when the phone in my room rang. I realized how late it was when I looked at the clock.

"Hello," I spoke into the receiver.

"Deke, it's me Dona. I do have one more problem you might can help with. Could you meet me for lunch?"

"Sure you name it," I said it feeling a tightness in my belly.

"How about the garden restaurant near the bank. Ask anyone when you get down here they can tell you."

"I expect the cab driver knows," I replied.

"Deke it's only a few blocks and the weather is pretty nice out. Be adventurous walk."

"Okay, but if I get hit by a car it's on you."

All during lunch I tried to avoid her eyes. I didn't want to start something since I knew I would be leaving soon. Lunch was pretty rocky at first. Dona
oke the tension when she said. "Well Deacon, my last problem is going to be pretty simple to fix."

"Okay, what is it?" I asked it feeling pretty good about having done so well up to that point.

"Bean needs a father," she said evenly.

At that particular moment I had a mouth full of iced tea which I choked on. I managed to get my mouth covered with a cloth napkin just as it came out my nose. My mind was running at ninety as I tried to think of something to say. I was still gagging when she spoke.

"Deacon are you all right. Gee I had no idea you were so easily upset. Billy has been dead a long time you know. I think it is perfectly normal that I would begin thinking about a father for the Bean."

"No it wasn't that it just went down wrong. So who you got in mind?" I asked fearing the answer.

"A man at work named Tom. Tom is a good man and will at least be a vice president soon."

I had the strangest reaction. It was what I wanted to hear and I was thrilled. Still I was also a little disappointed since it wasn't me. There was a really crazy set of emotions rolling through my mind at that moment. "So how can I help you with that?" I wasn't even sure I wanted to help her, but then it was the reason I was in Savannah in the first place.

"The problem Deke is that he only sees me at work. He thinks of me only as an employee of the bank. If I could show him a more glamorous me, then he might be interested. Actually he is a little interested, I just need to give him a little push."

"How you gonna do that?" I asked.

"Well, if you are willing to take me to the places where he will be. You know, maybe we can make him see me as a woman not a clerk." Somehow she seemed to be looking though me as she spoke.

"Sure, but how long is this going to take. I do have to get back home sometime." The idea just didn't appeal to me at all. Sure going out with Dona might be nice, but throwing her into the arms of this Tom guy wouldn't sit all that well with me.

"We could have lunch in restaurants where he will be, then I know where he and his mother have dinner on Friday night. I also know where they attend church. On Friday night he will be at the American Legion. He is a memeber there."%%%

"Most of it is possible I suppose. The Legion thing might be tough." I didn't feel or sound very enthusiastic.

"No it's open to the public for the Friday night dance. Come on Deke, one or two more weeks and you might solve all my problems.

"Okay but I am making a hell of a sacrifice for you and Tempie." I replied.

"How so?" Dona asked.

"Living a week or two more in a hotel is a terrible price to pay."

"You know you have done so much for me, I really should let you stay in my guest room. It would really be a big help as a matter of fact. You could take Bean to the sitters. You could even pick her up a little early so I wouldn't have to do it."

"Why would I want to do that?" I asked.

"So I could be a little more careful with my dress and make up over this next days. If we are going to put a blitz on, I need to look my best. How about it Deke?"

"What will your neighbors think?" I asked.

"Who cares what they think?" she replied.

"You will, if Tom comes over and they rat you out." I replied.

"You have to be kidding this place isn't like the mill village. You have to go ask the neighbors if you want to know anything. Half the time even then they don't really know who lives next door."

"They may not volunteer it, but they are going to know who is staying with you."

"It's up to you, but I'm a pretty good cook. Billy said I cooked almost as good as your mother."

It was the thought of real food that did it. I gave in gracefully. At five Dona
ought the Bean home to find me on the porch with my bag. I followed her into the house, and then into a small room with a bed even smaller than mine at home. Since I didn't require a lot of space it was just fine.

I was more than a little surprised to find myself helping with dinner twenty minutes later. I pealed potatoes while Dona cooked pork chops in the oven. When dinner was finished I helped with the dishes. As I dried I remarked, "That really was a good dinner."

"Yeah, but your mother could have done better," she said it smiling. "That's what Billy would say. Nobody can cook like my Aunt Mary."

"Well my Ma cooks great, but different than you. In it's own way yours is just as good." What the hell I thought, a small lie wouldn't hurt. Odds were she would never meet Ma anyway.

I slept poorly that night. I knew it was my own fault. I should never have moved into a house with a beautiful woman. I sat up all night worrying about her. Actually I sat up most of the night worrying about me. Being in the house with a beautiful woman, who I was supposed to help land another man, was going to prove tough I feared.

The next day Dona woke me up after she was dressed. I showered then dressed for the day. She left coffee on the table, but was gone before I made it into the kitchen. She left me with the Bean and directions to the sitter's house. Bean played quietly on the kitchen floor while I drank my first cup of coffee.

Sometime during the second cup Bean came to me. Even though I tried to ignore her, she climbed into my lap. It was to reach the table but it still gave me a nice warm sensation in my chest. She played with he salt shaker and jabbered at me while I drank the coffee. When I finished the coffee, I picked up the bag her mother had left by the door, then carried Bean to the baby-sitter two doors down.

There wasn't much for me to do, so I called a cab. It delivered me it to the docks. I had begun to enjoy hanging around the docks. I had absolutely no desire to work on the dock, but I did like to hang around there. The ocean helped to calm me and the air just had a nice cold dampness to it. Not like the air at home which tended to be colder somehow.

At eleven I showed up at the bank as planned. I hung around outside until eleven thirty when Dona came outside. "Come on we have to hurry to beat Tom to the restaurant," she said taking my arm. I allowed her to guide me down the street and into a restaurant. The restaurant was filled tables cover with real cloths. The place looked a little too prissy for my taste. Then nobody asked me.

"Well Deke don't just sit there talk to me. We have to make it look like we are dating at least."

"Why?" I asked not really understanding at all.

"Why else would I be having lunch with a man on a weekday?" It almost made sense when she said it that way.

"So what should we talk about?" I asked.

"It's been a long time since I was on a date, but I think you are supposed to ask me what kinds of things I like to do."

"Oh okay, what do you like to do?" I asked still puzzled by it all.

"Well how about a movie?" she suggested.

"At lunch?" I asked bewildered.

"No silly tonight. Bean is pretty good in movies. She really likes popcorn. Quick look interested he is coming."

"What?" I asked.

"We are supposed to be lovers. You have to act like it." Dona demanded nervously,

"How do lovers act?" I asked it as much in desperation as anything else.

"Don't you know?" She paused a moment to read my emotions. "You don't do you?"

"Sure, I've had girlfriends. I just I don't know what you are talking about."

"You might have had girlfriends, but you never had a lover. Lovers look at each other in a whole different way." Dona explained as if to a complete idiot.

"What way?" I asked getting interested for the first time.

"Like your lover is the only person in the world, or at least the only one who matters. Deke until you feel it, there is no way to describe it for you."

I really was beginning to pay close attention to her words. That was supposed to make Tom pay attention to her, or so she said. I had no idea what the result might really be, but then I was not a woman in love either. I left it all up to her.

Dona's lunch period ended while Thomas was still eating his lunch. When Dona stood to leave she made a slight commotion. The idea was for Thomas to notice her. It worked pretty well since Thomas smiled at her as she turned to the door.

I walked Dona back to the bank. I had a strange feeling of anxiety as I left her at the door. I tried to figure it out but couldn't quite get a handle on it. I turned away with a sinking feeling, which I didn't fully understand.

I walked to the river docks, as I had done every day since my arrival in Savannah. Most days I had simply walked along enjoying the air and the sight of the boats moving along the river toward the ocean. That afternoon I walked all the way to the end of the dock. It was something I had never done before. Each day I had noticed the old black man fishing at the end. I had never bothered to go far enough down to speak or even get a close look at him.

That afternoon I didn't feel like drinking in the riverside bar, so I walked down to take a look at him. More to pass the time than anything else I expect.

"How's the fishing?" I asked casually.

"Not bad today." he replied carefully. I expect if you were black in the south during the forties, you were careful who you spoke with.

"I've seen you here about everyday for the last week," I suggested it hoping to start some kind of conversation.

"Yeah and if you come here any other day, you are most likely to see me right here." He didn't say it rudely but rather sadly, as if he would rather have been somewhere else.

"So, what in the world do you do with all those fish You surely can't be eating them all." I asked it with a smile.

"The old man laughed. "No my daughter and her husband own a diner. They grind them up into fish cakes, then sell them. Makes a damned fine sandwich," he said with a wide grin showing very white teeth.

"Don't your wife mind you fishin' everyday?" I asked it to pass the time. I had a few hours before Dona and the Bean would be home. I hoped to spend a few more minutes with the old man.

"Wife passed away three years ago. It was only a couple of months after we heard our second son had been killed."

"Sorry." I said meaning it. "The war?"

"Yeah torpedoed his ship somewhere in the North Atlantic. Eddie got killed in the battle of the Coral Seas. Both of them in the Navy." The old man looked more angry that anything else. He said nothing further until I prompted him.

"So you live alone now?" I asked.

"With my daughter, the one that owns the diner." He paused a moment then said, "Name is Samuel

The old man didn't extend his hand so I did, "Deacon Burke. So you fish here every day then?"

"Cept Sundays," was his only reply. "You ever do any fishin Deacon?"

"Not in the last ten years of so," I replied.

"You looks like a man who could do with some time to his self. You know fishin's about the best way I know to do that."

"You could be right, but I'm in town to take care of a few things, then I got to get back home. Not a lot of water where I'm from"

"Really Deacon, where you from?" The old man looked at me with genuine interest on his face.

"A mill village up in North Carolina, just down here visitin' relatives."

"Well if you get a chance you should do some fishin' while you here. Tell you what, I'll
ing an extra pole tomorrow, if you get a chance you come by and sit a spell."

I had already sat on a bench almost across from him. I didn't realize that I was sitting until he mentioned it. I had just kind of relaxed and flopped down on the wooden bench. "Tell me where your daughter's diner is and I'll try one of those fish cakes," I suggested.

"That might not be a good idea Deacon. Why don't I
ing you a sandwich tomorrow."

"That's too much trouble Samuel."

"Ain't no trouble at all, don't get many people stoppin' to talk." Somehow the old man didn't seem lonesome just peaceful. I wanted to ask him how he could feel that way after losing so many people, but I held off. It was a question for another day.

"Kind of cool," I said pulling the heavy tan coat tighter.

"Deacon you ain't dressed for the cold. Them old coats don't keep you warm. Bet you ain't wearing long underwear." He was grinning across at me.

"You would win that bet all right. Sorry Samuel, I can't take this cold I'm gonna have to leave. I noted then that I had been sitting on the hard wooden bench at least an hour. The time had simply slipped by while Samuel and I looked out at the river.

"Well Deacon, I'll see you tomorrow then," the old black man said turning his attention back to the
own cork floating on the
owner water.

"Spect so Samuel," I said as I began my walk down the dock.

When I reached the end closest to town, I began walking back into the downtown area. I found an idle taxi. I ordered it to drive me to Dona's house. Since it was early I debated with myself about walking to the sitters house. Even the fifty foot walk seemed too far, so I took a nap instead.

I awoke from my nap on the sofa onlhy when I heard Dona lugging the bean through the front door. I managed to rouse myself in time to help with the bags needed for Bean's toys and extra 'things'.

"So you've been sleeping while I worked," Dona said lightly.

"Yeah, just your typical bum." I meant it as a joke. I figured I could get away with it sense Ma wasn't around.

"Somehow Deacon, I just can't see you as a bum. I got absolutely no idea when you are going to get yourself back home, but I am sure you will."

"What do you mean back home?" I really did not understand.

"Some of the soldiers take longer to really come home than others. You are just one that takes even longer than most. When you find your way back, you will start moving ahead with your life."

"That's a nice way of saying I have shell shock." I managed a smile even though I felt insulted.

"Not shell shock exactly but something like it. Billy used to write that nothing seemed very important to the combat veterans. Like everything after combat was just trivial."

"Yeah that sounds about right I guess. Of course I never was really in combat. At least not the grinding kind you mean."

"Okay, let's change the subject. Come on into the kitchen while I cook." she suggested.

I followed her into the kitchen. I leaned against the sink while she removed things from the refrigerator. I watched in silence as she began to work on dinner. Every once in a while I would look over at the Bean playing in the floor.

"You know Bean actually looks a lot like Billy. I never saw him as a young child but I can see his face in hers."

"Yeah she does look a lot like Billy. She has his nose and eyes." I watched as she began to cry softly. I should have known better, but I moved to hold her while she cried.

"It just ain't fair Deke. So may jerks came back, but not my Billy. Damnit he was too good to have been playing soldier."

"Yeah a lot of guys like me made it home. While a lot of good guys like Billy didn't. Go figure."

"Deke, I didn't mean it that way." She looked apologetic but it was obvious that she would have preferred Billy be standing in her kitchen. I took a look at Bean again and thought she might have a point at that.

When the tears were gone, Dona finished dinner only after forcing me from the sink. I found myself sitting at the table when Bean came to push her way into my lap. I sat with my attention split between the child in my lap and her mother working on dinner. The feelings switched between being happy and being sad. It was a terrible mixture of emotions that ran through me. Dona and Bean seemed oblivious to my turmoil.

Dinner was good and the conversation was pretty innocuous. I expect it was an effort by Dona to make up for her earlier comments. She chose to just stay away from anything vaguely connected with my life after the war. She asked me lots of questions about growing up in the village. Most of them were about Billy but some were about just me.

After dinner we went into the living room where Dona began reading a book. The Bean and I played for a while. Suddenly without warning Dona said, "Bean it's time for bed."

The child clung to me. I know that it was to avoid bed, but I swear it tore at my heart. I had no idea exactly what I was feeling. I know I had a terrible desire not to release the child. I finally succeeded in conquering my feelings.

When Dona returned from tucking the Bean in, she asked. "Deke, do you play cards?"

I was a little surprised but finally answered, "A little why?"

"Well Tom spoke to me after lunch today. We couldn't have a real conversation but he did smile at me several times today. I think he is getting interested.

"Well, if one lunch was all it took, he must have been interested before."

"Maybe, but he was definitely more friendly this afternoon. So Deke, what I was thinking was, why don't you and I go out tomorrow night."

"If you are making progress with Tom, why would you want to go out with me?"

"Because Deke, I have tickets to the dance at the American Legion. Tomorrow is Friday night you know. Most couples do go out on Friday night."

"I know what most couple do on Friday night, but you are interested in Tom, aren't you?" I asked it hoping for what kind of answer I wasn't sure.

"Of course I am. I bought these tickets from Tom. He is some kind of officer in the American Legion. So you and I are going to the dance. After a while I want you to leave me with Thomas to go play cards. That will give me a chance to talk to him without being in an office situation. It will seem perfectly normal except that we can both talk about what a louse you are." She did give a soft laugh to lighten the blow to my ego.

"Wow, I do appreciate your letting me know what you plan to discuss, but I could have done without that information." I paused for effect, but she didn't seem to catch the sarcasm in my voice. Are we still having lunch tomorrow?" I asked it because I really wanted to have lunch with her.

"Of course, I need for you to meet Tom. I mean, I have to introduce you two. That way when you leave me with him, it won't look so contrived." She said it with what would appear to anyone to be the sweetest of smiles.

"Okay already, I understand." I said it as I left her sitting in the living room. I went into the kitchen for coffee. I wanted the coffee less than I wanted to be alone for a moment. I used the time to try and understand my emotions. When I realized I wasn't going to understand, I returned to the living room.

"So Deke, I am going to make an excuse to leave a little later for lunch tomorrow. As a matter of fact, why don't you be a little late picking me up. Say, come around twelve fifteen. That way Thomas will have to leave the restaurant first."

"You are making the plans. Me, I'm just an actor." My sarcasm again failed to hit the mark. She ignored it completely.

"Okay, then
ing plenty of money Friday night actor, we got some pretty good poker players down here." She looked serious as she spoke.

"Well, if they are real good the game might end before you land him."

"That's why I said take lots of money. By the way I am going to try to get him to
ing me home. Don't worry if I am gone after the game."

%%%I still can't explain how I felt after she said that. i do remember all I could manage was a nod. For some reason I didn't trust myself to speak. Our conversation drifted into small talk as we both realized the conversation about Tom was better left to spurts. The realization was probably for different reasons but that didn't matter.

The next morning was uneventful. The first thing of any consequence occurred when Dona and I arrived at the restaurant. She noticed that Tom was sitting in his usual table in the rear. She insisted that we wait until a table in the front came open. The position of the table would require Thomas to pass nearby as he left the restaurant.

Dona and I shared small talk until he had finished his meal. "Here he comes," she said as a warning to me. Tom passed close to our table. When he was the closest he would be, Dona raised her hand to motion him over.

"Thomas I want you to meet someone." she motioned to me with here head. I stood to greet her boss. "This is Deacon Burke, he is Billy's cousin."

"Nice to meet you," I said extending my hand.

"Well I have heard a lot about you lately Mr. Burke."

I shook his limp hand as I answered. "Really, I am surprised."

"Why wouldn't Dona mention her husband's cousin?" he asked surprisingly argumentative.

"No reason really, I just didn't know I rated a work conversation."

"Oh Deke, you know you are important to me," she said and looked down at the table. I swear I would have given her an Oscar, if I had one in my pocket. Thomas was obviously fooled. I sure as hell would have been, if I hadn't known it was a gag.

After we shook hands he asked if I were enjoying my visit. I almost told him the truth, but decided to let Dona have her shot. Still he was a terrible jerk. Definately not someone I would have chosen as a father for Bean.

After he had gone I asked, "So Dona, why are you interested in him?" I guess my scorn showed.

"Deke how far did you go in school?" She wasn't being mean just curious, it thought.

"I finished high school," I answered defensively.

"Me too and look where I am. It's where most of us are going to stay. Now Thomas is a department manager and will be a vice president and maybe even president one day. He can give Bean a real chance in life."

"But God Dona, he is as dull as dishwater. I would have thought that after Billy you would be looking for someone like him."

"Deke, Billy was a wonderful man, but if he had lived Bean would have fallen into the same trap as me. I want more for her."

"Okay Dona, I guess sacrifice is a mother kind of thing. I don't understand, but then I am just here to help."

"Good, then get me back to work before I lose my job."

After Dona was deposited outside the door to her bank, I walked down to the dock. I found Samuel sitting on the end watching his cork float on the water. "So Samuel how is the fishing?"

"Fishin' is fine, the catching ain't much though." Samuel's laugh was as gentle as the man had seemed the day before.

"So, did you
ing my sandwich?" I asked it more serious that I should have been but the fancy restaurant didn't sit all that well with me.

"I certainly did." With those words he removed a round waxpaper wrapped sandwich from his paper bag.

"Thanks, I have been thinking about this all day." I tired the sandwich and found that it was delicious. The fish cake was good but the sauce was fantastic. "Damn Samuel this really is good."

"Deacon?" he asked surprised. "What kind of church do you attend?"

"Sorry Samuel, but I'm not a real deacon. I got the name as a kid. Everybody thought I would be a preacher. Things just went a little wrong I guess."

"Sometimes happens, specially in these times," Samuel looked sad again as he spoke.

"Yeah, been through some bad times okay." I felt about like Samuel looked. I have absolutely no idea why I asked but I asked. "Samuel do you believe in god?"

"Shore I believe in God, don't you Deacon?"

"I used to Samuel, but I don't know anymore."

"Deacon, you got any kids?" He looked concerned as he asked.

"Not married Samuel," I said trying to figure what he was getting at.

"Too bad, there aren't many times when you get to see God's face. The one I remember was when I saw my wife holding our new baby for the first time. I swear to you Deacon, I saw God's face that day. It was right there in those two people."

I gave that a lot of thought before I answered. "Samuel, I guess I am going to have to keep looking or maybe just take your word for it."

"You can do both, but while you look, believe me there is a god."

"He must have been awful busy these last few years. I seemed to have slipped through the cracks." I tried to laugh but a sad smile was the best I could do.

"No you didn't Deacon. You here ain't you?" Samuel had that gently but serious look again.

I thought about it but didn't answer. "So Samuel, where is your daughter's place? That was a great sandwich. I might want to have another one."

"You a good man even if you ain't a deacon, but you still don't want to go down there." His expression changed slightly but it still had a sadness to it.

"Then you tell her she needs to move. She could make a million bucks with those things downtown. I never had such bad food as I have the last couple of days."

"Well, I never cared much for white people's food myself." Samuel finally had a big grin on his face as he spoke. "But it ain't that easy to move downtown. Rent is mighty high. They don't much care to rent to Negroes down there."

I should have said sorry and walked away, but it was just something that appealed to me. "You reckon she would like to move downtown?"

"Don't know Deacon never thought about it. Matter of fact I don't spect they have either."

"Tell her to give it some thought, I'm going to be in town a few more days. If she would like, we could take a look around maybe find her a place."

"You gonna give us the money for the move?" Samuel asked with a skeptical smile.

"Hard to tell Samuel. I might be able to work something out. Just ask your daughter if she would like to move. I'll see you tomorrow, since it ain't Sunday."

Something was rolling around in the back of my head, I just wasn't sure exactly what at that moment. It would come, but I would have to be patient. I walked downtown to the bank and waited outside. When she came out I caught up with Dona. She had walked right past me without looking.

"Hey lady, is that anyway to treat the cousin of you husband?"

"Deke what are you doing here?" she asked.

"Just trying to keep up my end of the act." I said it then notice how it sounded. I hoped she wouldn't notice but of course she did.

"Deke what's the problem?" She seemed more expectant than curious.

"I don't know, but this just doesn't seem right. I mean we are out to trap that poor jerk into marrying you." I knew how lame it sounded, but I couldn't help myself.

"Deke, you who blackmailed my landlord suddenly developed scruples, I don't believe it."

"It's not so much that, I have never done anything quite like this before." I tried to make it sound vague enough to be a real answer.

"Well you are going to go through with this. I have a chance to insure my daughter's future. You are damned sure going to go along with it." At that moment the bus arrived. I had been so involved in the conversation I had forgotten to hail a cab.

"Sure, I promised to help you get a husband and I am going to do it. I just don't have to like it." I said it as we stood to board the bus.

During the ride to her house we were surrounded by strangers so we said little. Once we were in her house with the Bean in tow she said, "I have to fix the Bean some dinner then get dressed. Why don't you play with Bean, so she will give me a little peace. I didn't answer instead I took Bean into the living room.

I spent a very pleasant thirty minutes playing blocks with her. I would build a block tower and she would destroy it. She never seemed to tire of throwing the blocks at me, nor of forcing me to build the tower again.

Dona came into the room to announce dinner for Bean while I was in the midst of a new tower of babal. I carried Bean into the kitchen since she didn't want to go. Bean's dinner couldn't have been too much trouble since it was a toasted cheese sandwich with milk.

Dona on the other hand took much longer to fix. After her sandwich Bean and I read a children's book while Dona worked on making herself beautiful. I opened the door for the old woman from up the street. She had agreed to come sit with Bean while Dona and I went to the dinner dance.

Getting to the dance wasn't hard just time consuming. We had to call, then wait for a cab. Then of course the cab took the scenic route. In the end we arrived shortly after eight p.m. Dinner was already well underway. They were serving a buffet. When Dona removed her coat I saw her for the first time in a new light. In the very sleek dress she no longer looked thin or ordinary at all. she looked absolutely beautiful, actually quite glamorous.

We sat at a table alone during dinner. After the only fair meal we began to dance. I am a lousy dancer, not having done a lot of it during my lifetime. Dona however was a truly wonderful dancer. She was gorgeous in her dress which seemed to move independently of her. She was a real sight to see. I certainly wasn't the only man watching as she danced. As a matter of fact I noted that Tom watched very closely. I swear I could see sweat beads on his upper lip. Dona danced seemingly oblivious to both Tom and me. It was obvious to everyone in the room that she was dancing inside her own mind and body. Her movements might have been inside her, but they effected every man the same. I could see the desire on the men's faces as I looked about. Hell, if there had been a mirror I would have seen it on my own face. Lust has a definate look about it.

When Dona and I returned to the table, I actually felt the other men staring at us. It was eerie. When we were again seated I asked, "Exactly what was that all about?" I was surprised by the anger in my voice.

Dona tossed her hair as she asked, "What was what about?"

"You know damned well what I'm talking about. That little exhibition you put on out there. Who was it supposed to impress?"

"Thomas of course," she replied.

"Well it had better work cause I am getting tired of being your patsy," I said angrily.

"Deke, what is wrong with you?" she asked with a smile. One I had never seen on her face before. When I didn't answer she went on, "Well now is as good a time as any. The card room is off the hall. Just go knock on the door. They will let you play. Hell they let any one play."

"Okay then I'll see you later," I said it standing to leave.

"No you don't. Go ask Tom to take care of me. He will love the chance."

I looked down at her without saying a word. I just turned to walk to the bar. "Thomas, do you remember me?" I asked as I approached him.

"Sure Deacon glad to see you here." I got to admit he was a pretty smooth guy. I knew he actually wished I would disappear.

"Yeah, I wonder if you could do me a favor?"

"I guess, what kind of favor?" he asked carefully.

"Dona said I could get into the card game, but I can't leave her alone. I wonder if you could keep her company until I lose my paycheck." He didn't need to know that I had no paycheck.

"Sure Deke, I'll go sit with her a while, but I do have to get home soon." It was his way of saving face. He couldn't wait to get to Dona.

"Like I said, I don't expect it will take long to lose my money. Just send word down, if you need to leave before I finished losing it all."

He was smiling a conspirators smile when he said, "Sure."

If I had really been dating Dona, I wouldn't have let that slimy prick within a mile of her. Since Dona somehow had it in her mind that she wanted him I just smiled. I found the room and the game without any problem. After three hours I determined that I should move to Savannah. The men in Savannah had too much money and too little sense. I won about two hundred bucks in those three hours. Not only did I win. Calling it a night was their idea. I was in heaven. The men didn't even try to force me to stay long enough to give the money back.

When I returned to the ballroom the place was still rocking. It was rocking without Donna and Tom they were gone. I looked at the table to see if they had stepped out for air. It had been cleaned and sat empty.

I called a cab then waited for it to arrive. During the drive to Dona's house I tried to decide what I would do if Tom's car was still outside. I could kick the door down or go to a hotel. When the cab pulled to the curb I was almost disappointed to find no cars parked on the curb. I noted that the living room light was on, as well as the kitchen light. A good sign since I didn't want to wake her.
I really didn't have a thing to worry about. Dona was up and primed for bear. "What took you so long?"

"What difference does it make to you?" I wasn't angry but I was short tempered.

"The difference Deke is we have to decide what to do next."

"Do about what?" I asked.

"Tom has asked me out." She had a really strange look on her face.

I felt a sinking feeling in my gut. "So, I guess my work is finished."

"Sure," she said bursting into tears.

"Now what is wrong?" I asked.

"Damn you Deke," she said the tears really beginning to flow.

I let her cry herself out because I knew she was upset about something, but not just what. Trying to get it out of her between sobs would be a waste of time. When she finally stopped sobbing I asked, "So Dona, what is it that I have done now?"

"This is all your fault," she said it as if it were all the explanation needed.

"I really don't understand Dona what is my fault. You got what you wanted so why the tears."

"You are why the tears. You come sailing into my life all filled with dark good looks and magic." she said sniffling.

"What are you talking about?" I asked exasperated.

"Never mind, just kiss me damn it." I kissed her gently but she would have none of it. The kiss grew into something terrifying. I felt here body move against me and I responded. She suddenly
oke the kiss, then ran down the hall. I hadn't heard a thing but she did. Bean was half awake and whimpering when I entered her room. I looked through the open door and saw Dona holding the child. I saw the marks of tears on both their faces. Suddenly I saw something else. I saw the face of God.

I stood in that doorway looking at the two of them for several minutes. My mind began to race. I saw into the future with us a family. Marrying Dona would take me away from the village or it would take Dona into the life she feared. She feared it not for herself but for Bean.

I took one last look, then went to the guest room and packed my bag. I walked out the front door to the sound of fresh sobs from Dona.

I had the cab driver stop on the empty dock. I put the money from the poker game into an envelope. I placed it under the leg of the bench. I never knew if Samuel even got the money. I had no idea whether his daughter moved her cafe. I did know that I had done all I could to make things right in Savannah. Whether they worked out they was was in the hands of God.

Book three Deacon takes a Wife

I had been home from Savannah about a week when Luther showed up at my door. Having Luther at the door was bad enough, but having him there at eight a.m. was enough to really upset me. I staggered to the door in my shorts even thought the morning air had a definite chill to it.
When I saw that it was Luther I cracked the door but didn't offer to allow him inside. "So what the hell are you doing here at this time of the morning?"
"Ain't been to bed yet," he replied, looking mighty cold standing on my porch.
"Well, I been asleep since three. If you don't have something real important to say, I am going back to bed."
"Miss Evans wants you over to the house," he stated it as thought it was some kind of engraved invitation to a ball. Well that might not have been the best choice of words considering her line of work.
"Sorry Luther, but that ain't a good enough reason to get me out of bed." I said it in my wise guy voice. If I had been nasty, I would have expected what came next. Since I wasn't nasty it surprised me.
"Now Deacon, you can come easy or bloody, but you damn sure gonna come with me."
"I don't think so Luther," I replied in a much more ominous tone.
Luther pushed on the door and it swung open. It also revealed the
oom handle mauser I held hidden behind it. Since he had seen it already, I pointed it right between his eyes. "Now Luther, the only reason I don't kill you on the spot is that I don't want to spend all day with the sheriff. So go home and tell Sandra that I will be there at six."
%% "I am going to kill you one day for this," was Luther's only response.
"You really are a dumb ass Luther, now I almost have to kill you." I held the pistol even tighter and began to apply pressure to the trigger. Luther knew I was only ounces of pull from killing him. I'll give the man this, he didn't even flinch. "Okay Luther, I am not going to kill you today, but no guarantees about tomorrow."

"I would worry about myself Deacon if I were you. Only reason you ain't dead is Sandra wants you alive for now. If she ever stops wanting you alive, I am going to enjoy killing you real slow."

"Damn Luther, you are not making me all that anxious to see Sandra," I said it with a grin.

"You should be, like I said that's what's keeping you alive." Luther had an even nastier grin than mine, if that were possible.

"Just tell her I'll come over after she is awake." I looked at Luther just as dangerously as I could. I knew it wasn't nearly enough, but I tried.

Luther turned and walked away without a word. It was a good thing too, since I had no idea how to act any tougher. Once he was off the porch, I closed then locked the door. I also checked to make sure the rear door was locked. I also I went from window to window checking the pins I had installed for security.

What I saw satisfied me that anyone entering the house would make a hell of a racket I went to bed. I slept lightly and with the Mauser handy. Actually I slept until noon even though half it was wakeful periods of tossing around.

At noon I forced myself from the bed, then into the my crumpled pants. After stoking the coal stove, I put a shallow pan of wash water on it. I shivered while sitting along side the barely warm stove as I waited for the metal to become hot from the burning coal inside.

When the stove became hot enough to heat the water, I washed as much of me as I could reach. I shaved, then dressed my shivering body. With my body more or less clean and my clothes in place, I ran quickly to my old Chevy. The car was a real bitch to start on a cold day, but eventually gave in with a grinding sound. It was too late to eat at Ma's. I wouldn't have gone there anyway, I was still playing it cool around her boarding house. No sense stirring up the powers that be.

I drove instead to Pop Marshburn's cafe across from the Pump Room. Pop's teenage waitress took my order. It was almost too annoying to hear her talk around the wad of gum, but not quite since she had a great body. My eyes never once strayed to her gum filled mouth. I expect Pop knew how the customers felt. Since most were men, I expect he just shrugged his shoulders like he did about most things.

After my Pork Chop lunch, I drove to the public li
ary. "Hello Mrs. Rule," I said to the woman who ran the checkout desk.

"Why Mr. Burke, you are running a little late today. You are usually here right after I return from lunch."

"I know, I over slept today. The whole day has been an hour behind. So am I late enough to get the New York Times?" The times arrived just after noon in our little town. It took another hour to make it to the li
ary, so I often missed it. That day I was lucky and late, so I got to read the Times for the current day.

After the li
ary I drove home to peck at the old pre-war Royal typewriter. I told Ma and the other family members that I was writing the great American novel. It was my new excuse for not working. In those days you needed a better excuse than, 'I have a little money saved up.' If you didn't work everyday on the 'mill hill' you were a bum. I expect everyone thought of me as a bum anyway. It didn't matter, Ma and the family had a story to tell so they seemed pretty much okay with it.

I typed with one finger until six when I drove over to the 'Pig Farm'. only the name remained. It was the legacy left from the farm where the pork for the mill village had been raised before the war. It had nothing to do with the fact that the old farm house was occupied by Sandra Evan's girls at that time. Of course the name did still apply I expected.

Sandra's black maid met me at the door. "Come on in Mister Deacon, Miss Evans is expecting you. Why don't you wait in the parlor."

I walked through the door to my right into what had once been the living room of the farm family. On that day it was used as part of a garishly decorated meeting room. The room where the men met the 'ladies'. Sandra Evans kept me waiting several minutes more,. I expected it was to show me who was the boss more than anything else. She need not have bothered. I wasn't impressed.

The maid finally came for me after more than fifteen minutes. I followed her to the small office off the kitchen. I stood silently looking down at Sandra Evans and then up at Luther. I didn't much like waiting ever then. I guess I could have forced the issue, but I chose to wait them out.

After what seemed like several long moments Sandra spoke, "Deke, I want you to do me a favor."

"What kind of favor and why should I?" I said it more to rattle Luther than anything else.

"You might do it cause Miss Evans gave you that house you are living in." He snapped.

"It wasn't a house when I got it. It was a pile of lumber, stacked up in the middle of a piece of dirt. I spent a lot of time and money making it into a house. And just for the record, Sandra did not give it to me. I earned it."

"Of course you did Deke," Sandra said in a sarcastic voice.

"Well, I didn't force you to sign it over. You must have felt I earned it."

"I wanted you close. So I could use you for errands, if you must know." She looked as though she were going to burst out laughing at any moment. She was obviously enjoying the game. I put a stop to that. I turned and walked out the door.

Luther ran after me. He caught up to me in the parlor. He also grabbed my shoulder then tuned me toward him. He probably meant to knock hell out of me, but the six inch hunting knife resting against his ribs changed his mind. "Now listen carefully Luther. If you ever touch me again, I am going to gut you like a catfish."

He looked at me with something close to respect. "Well next time I am going to have to be ready for you. You got a little more on the ball than I thought." The think in his eyes was definitely not fear.

"If there is a next time, one of us is going to die," I meant it when I said it. Luther was much to dangerous to play with. Sandra
oke the standoff by calling Luther. For some reason known only to God, I followed Luther back into Sandra's office.

"Okay Sandra, what is it?" I asked it because I wanted to know what she had in mind for me, just curiosity I told myself. Then again I was curious as to the payment she had in mind. I could always use the
ead I told myself. The truth was I was already bored with working on the house. I needed something else to do with myself.

"Okay Deke," Sandra began. "I got this problem. Have you ever met Jenny Booker?"

"I don't think so. Is she one of your girls?" I asked it wondering why Sandra thought I would be interested in one of her girls. I still had Rose visiting me every Saturday night. Not to mention her surprise visits during the week to the pump room. Between the two, it was more than enough for me.

"Well Deke, Jenny is one of my best girls." Sandra looked as though she expected me to disagree. How could I? I didn't know on what basis one formed that kind of opinion. When I didn't comment she went on.

"She is so worried about her family that she is a basket case. I need to get her family problems straight." Sandra looked at me again as if waiting for a comment. I simply shrugged my shoulders.

"You got no comment at all? Aren't you even going to ask what you can do?" Sandra asked the questions without giving me time to answer before moving on to the next.

"Okay, what do you think I can do?" I asked it more to keep her moving since I knew she would tell me, even if I hadn't asked.

Deke, I know exactly what you can do. I want you to fix it. Isn't that what you do?"

"When I can yeah, So what is
oke?" As before I need not have asked she had summoned me to tell me what she had in mind.

"Jenny's parents have lost their farm. The kid is so worried that all she does is cry in front of the customers. That Deke, is not good for business."

"I wouldn't think it would be," I said it with a chuckle.

"It is not funny Deke. I'm losing money every night cause the guys leave and demand that I return their money. They say if they wanted a crying
oad in bed, they would have stayed home." She didn't even smile when she said it. I'm not sure she even knew it was funny.

"So what are you saying you want me to do?" I asked expecting about what she said but not exactly.

"I want you to go buy the place at auction. The bank has already foreclosed so it is gonna be auctioned off."

"If all you want for someone to go buy the family farm at auction, why don't you just send Luther?" I figured there was more to it than Sandra was spilling.

It came a second later when she answered, "Well Jenny's dad is pretty proud and would never accept a gift from me. Jenny hasn't been gone long enough to have earned enough money in the mill to buy the place at auction. What we need is a rich husband for Jenny. One who could buy the place and hand it over to the old man."

"Wait just a minute, if you think I am going to marry one of your girls just to do you a favor you are nuts. I am also not going to do it for money." I answered her question before she asked it.

"Look, you don't have to really marry her. You just pretend to be married till you buy the place. When you have it you sign the deed over and come back here. When you get back Jenny will pay me a few bucks a week until it is paid off."

"Sandra, first of all why me?" I asked it a little surprised that I would even care.

"You don't really think Luther could pull this off do you?" Sandra asked it and waited for me to answer.

I thought about it a while then said, "No, I guess not. He looks more like he would rob the bank."

"Exactly," Sandra agreed. "Now Deke, you got to be cool with this. The bank up there is a hometown thing. We don't need them pissed at Jenny's folks." Sandra said it almost playfully.

"If you didn't think I could do it, you wouldn't have asked. So now you tell me what is the pay?"

"This is liable to take a couple of days, so I figure ten bucks a day for expenses and a hundred for the job." Make it one fifty, is that okay?" she asked.

"No it isn't enough, this is liable to take a week. I want a flat two and I'll pay my own expenses." I figured I could keep it down to under ten a day since Jenny would be staying with her parents.

"Deke this is highway robbery. I guess it is going to be hard to find another husband for Jenny on such short notice. Okay, but you got to pull this off first."

"If it can be done, I will do it." I just had a feeling it was all too easy. But then it was possible that I was wrong. Maybe it was my turn to have things go right for a change.

"Okay then you come here in the morning. I'll have Jenny all ready to go."

"What does that mean all ready to go?" It sounded ominous to me at that point.

"It means she will be packed and ready to leave at whatever time you want to go. Hell, she is absolutely no use to me now." Sandra just didn't seem upset enough about any of it. Somehow she was acting like it was one great joke. I didn't like the idea of being the butt of a joke. Especially one I didn't know was running.

I decided the better part of valor was to ignore it for the moment. "Okay Sandra, have her ready at eight a.m. I want to get on the road early. By the way were are we going?"

"Deke honey, I got no idea. You gonna have to ask Jenny that tomorrow."

"How about I ask her tonight?" Since Sandra acted as though she wanted to keep it some kind of secret, I wanted to know at that very moment.

"Deke, I honestly don't know, and Jenny isn't here right now." Sandra's voice gave me some indication that she or jenny or both were up to something.

"So where is she?" I asked.

"Downtown shopping," she admitted. Since it didn't sound sinister I accepted it.

"Fair enough, I am going to the pump room to play a little poker," I turned to leave but didn't quite make it to the door.

"Deke, don't let Jenny and her family pull you in," she said returning her attention to paying bills. I didn't ask what she meant, I just walked out the door shaking my head. Somehow it looked like I was in trouble again. I sure wished I knew what they were up to. Then again, I would refuse to ask she had met my price.%%%

I drove the old Chevy to the pump room that night while trying to speculate on what I might be letting myself in for. There was no way to tell, so I just tried to forget it. Since I didn't expect to have much luck on my own I was thrilled to see Rose when I entered the Pump room. Okay, thrilled wasn't what I felt, but I was happy to see her.

I played poker for a while then went to talk to Rose. I found her at the bar flirting with a mill worker. It was a game she played. She thought it attracted my attention. It did on nights like that one. Hell just seeing her on night like that one would have worked as well..

"So Rose, how you doing," I asked it around her latest friend. He didn't know that she did not leave with strangers. I might have told him that, but I had no idea who he was. Rose only left with me in those days.

"Hey buddy, the woman is talking to me," he said drunkenly.

"Easy friend, this is my wife," I said it with a laugh. I was trying to
eak his angry mood but it didn't work. I just ignored him. I continued speaking to Rose. Since he had a really nasty look I asked Rose. "You about ready to leave honey?"

"You ain't really his wife are you?" the man asked.

Now when Roise is drunk she can be a real pistol. Rose was drunk at the time. "Course not honey, if I was married would I be doing this." Rose put her hand in his lap at that point. She never even looked up at me.

I had two choices at that point, I could have left or I could have taken her out with me. I decided I would just leave, seemed the easiest thing to do. I turned and headed for the door.

I almost made it before Rose called after me, "Hey, Deke hold up."

I turned in time to see the rather large man stand up from his seat at the bar. "Hey, you ain't gonna leave with him. I done bought you half a dozen beers." Not only was it a stupid thing to say, it wasn't even true. He had bought her one or two but no more.

I still had control as I walked to the bar. I placed a dollar bill on it, then pulled her away. I knew she asked for it. I also knew she just wanted to see us go at it for some perverse reason. It didn't matter, I just couldn't leave her there.

"Come on Rose, time to go home." I said it as I moved her from of the area between the bar and stools. When I had her out of his grasp, I turned her toward the door.

"Hey you," I heard the gruff voice from over my shoulder. I tried to ignore him at least until I felt the pain under my arm. From pure reflex I pushed Rose away, then turned to the big man in the workman's clothes. He was even larger then Luther. He was also holding one of those hook bladed buck knives.

I could have said something about being surprised. I could have threatened him. Hell, I could have called a cop, instead I grabbed one of the lightweight chairs. I penned him against the bar with it. I had him locked in the chair's legs trying to decide what to do next. At that moment the new bartender eddie, hit him hard over the head with a sawed off wooden bat. It was a good thing too because my arm was getting weak and painful as hell. I reached around and felt the tare in my jacket and the wet spot. It was too dark in the bar to see the color of the spot, but I knew it was red. The prick had sliced me open with that hooked knife. Chances were real good that if I didn't bleed to death I would get blood poisoning. There was just no telling where that thing had been.

"Deke are you all right?" Rose asked suddenly very sober. She burst into tears before she continued, "Deke, I was only playing. You know I do it all the time. I had no idea he would get violent."

"I guess we both learned something." I turned my attention to Eddie. "How about giving me a couple of minutes to get out of here, then call the cops. Tell them I went to get a couple of stitches. Yeah, and loan me a bar towel. Otherwise I might bleed to death on the way."

"Sure Deke, you want me to drive you?" he asked no so calmly.

"Nope, you stay and take care of the idiot there," I said looking down at the man who hadn't moved since the rap on his head. "Damn Eddie, you may have killed him. Course at this moment I could care less."%%%

"Deke let me drive," Rose begged.

"Not thanks Rose you done about enough." When I heard how it sounded I said, "I'm sorry honey. It wasn't your fault just a game that got out of hand."

I did allow her to ride with me in the old Chevy. I drove, but she held the towel under my shirt pressed tight against the cut. The cut itself had begun to hurt like a bitch. Getting into the emergency room parking lot was easy. Since I was the only person in the small room it was easy to get a nurse to look at it.

"I guess the resident can stitch that up. It won't be pretty but it will stop the bleeding," she said expecting me to give her some guidance I guess.

I took a good look at the cut before I commented. "Well it isn't all that deep, and it is only eight or so inches long. He should do fine. I wouldn't wake up the real doctor for this."

"Yeah that's what I thought too but I had to give you the option." She pressed a clean bandage against it while she worked on getting the room set up for the resident. I notice that she wasn't much older than me. I expect she had the least seniority in the emergency department. Probably why she has the really late shift, I thought. When she bent over to retrieve an instrument from the floor I noticed that her less than thirty year old frame looked a lot better than Roses frame. Still Rose had one big advantage she didn't. Rose was available and felt guilty, it should be quite a combination. I can remember thinking that at the time.

The kid who looked hardly old enough to be out of high school came into the room. If not for his white lab coat, I would never have let him near me. I had guys in the army younger work on me, but they had a much different look in the eyes. This kid looked like he was headed for a college football game or something. No lines at all around the eyes. He didn't even look tired, just too damned young and fresh looking to be a doctor.

"His hands were cold from the alcohol he poured over them. The nurse washed the cut which hurt like a bitch. Then the resident shot the skin full of something like Novocain. I felt nothing after a couple of minutes.

After a couple of minutes more the resident asked, "So how you feeling sir. Not shaky are you?"

"I'm fine, you finished?" I asked it calmly.

"Just a couple more. This is a nasty cut, How did you say you got it?" He was trying to make conversation. He had no interest in my cut at all, other than doing a few stitches that is."

"I expect there will be a cop in any minute to explain all that to you. In the meantime can I have a cigarette now."

"Not in here, we have oxygen and it might go up. You can have one in the hall or the lobby. Hold on and I'll have one with you," he suggested. I almost told him I would rather not, but then it was a cigarette in the hall for gods sake, not a kiss in the shower.

When he finished with the needle point he had the nurse get a bottle of pills while he and I went outside for a smoke. We stood in the hall outside the closed door puffing away, me on my Pall Mall and him on his Lucky. I guess there was no mention of keeping me overnight, because I had no insurance and there was nothing the observation would show anyway.

I was told to hang out in the examining room a few minutes just to make sure I didn't slip into shock. Twenty minutes later the attractive little nurse came into the room.

"You can leave now Mr. Burke. Just pay the cashier on the way out."

"Interesting concept but I have no money on me. I can
ing it back tomorrow when the banks open." I suggested it knowing the money would be in the bank box. I didn't bother to explain the cashier about the box. I left her thinking it was in some kind of savings account.

"Well this needs to be paid now," the chubby middle-aged woman replied.

"Like I said, I don't have that kind of money on me."

"Why don't you make a partial payment now and the rest tomorrow." she suggested.

"Instead of speaking I pulled the wad of money from my pants pocket and tossed it on her desk. Not only that I pulled my wallet out and emptied it onto the desk. I even removed the change from my pocket and dropped it noisily onto her desk. My only regret was there was only Rose to witness it. Somehow it seemed like a grand gesture to me.

First the cashier counted it right down to the penny. She wasn't even embarrassed knowing she had my last penny on her desk. "Well, I am going to write your balance on the receipt we expect you to pay it within ten days."

The balance turned out to be over a hundred bucks. "Man what kind of thread did he use?" I asked it with a smile even though it was a bitter one. For all my money and the promise of even more, the cashier did hand me two envelopes
ought to her by the nurse. "One," she explained held pain killers and the other antibiotics. I pocketed both envelopes before I turned to the door.

The hospital was right in the center of town so I had parked on the street. At that time of night I expected no problems getting out of the space, even with the stitches preventing full movement of my body. I didn't make it out of the lobby before the Sheriff's deputy came into the building.

"You must be Deacon Burke," he guessed. I suppose it was a pretty easy guess. I was the only person standing in the room with a bloody shirt.

"Yeah?" I replied.

"So tell me what happened at the pump room?" He was an old man with nothing more to do than try to stay awake. I told it straight and quickly since I wanted to get to bed. After my story he asked a few questions then sent me home.

"By the way, how is the guy who did this to me?"

"They took him to Wesley Long's emergency room. He is in pretty bad shape I think. That bartender hit him a little too hard."

"I don't see it that way at all," I replied as I turned to the door. Rose followed behind.

"Deke, I am so sorry," she offered once we were inside the car.

"Why, I'm okay and the other guy isn't, so everything worked out fine," I replied.

"But you might have been killed," she suggested miserably.

"I guess but I wasn't killed. Besides you didn't cut me any way. Forget it kid, but I am going to drop you home. I don't think I am up to anything else tonight."

"God Deke. I understand. I really do feel bad and I would like to make it up to you, but I do understand really."

No she didn't. If she had she would have known I didn't give a damn whether she understood or not. I just wanted to get to bed. I dropped Rose in front of her house a few blocks from the pump room. During the drive home there was very little pain. The pills at the hospital and the local anesthetic seemed to work pretty well for the time being.

When I arrived home I used my left arm to shovel a scoop of coal into the stove. The house was still reasonably warm so I closed the drafts on the stove then undressed for bed. The bed was larger than the one from the apartment. The blankets and quilts on the bed would probably have kept me warm even without the stove. Still they wouldn't do much to keep the cold from the rest of the room.

When I awoke the next morning it wasn't as cold as it might have been since I filled the stove later than usual. I still awoke with and urgent need to use the bathroom. I should have tested the arm before I tried to jump from the bed but I didn't. I simply threw back the covers. I tried to stand but the pain forced me back down.

A wave of nausea overcame me. I almost tossed my empty stomach's contents on the floor. Instead I lay in the cold awaiting the feeling to pass. When it finally did, I emerged from the bed slowly. I carefully and slowly moved outside to the bathroom. It was strange but the cold bothered me hardly at all.

Everything took longer that morning. still I did manage to finish everything by 9:30 a.m. I arrived at the farm only two hours late. I was met at the door by the maid who informed me that miss Jenny would be ready in a few minutes. It seemed that being late wasn't as bad as I feared it might have been. Either that or Jenny didn't plan to finish her preparations until I arrived no matter what time that might have been.

I cooled my heels in the giant parlor for several minutes. A young woman with freckles on her face so thick they were almost connected entered the room. If her freckles had been connected she would have had a dark complexion rather than one so mottled it hurt to look upon.

To make matters worse the woman was tall, when I say tall I mean as tall as me almost and I'm six feet. She was thin and pretty much shapeless. Gee I thought, whores really do come in all shapes and sizes.

"Hi, you must be Deke," she said it looking me in the eye. It wasn't really a question but I answered anyway.

"Yep, and I guess that would make you Jenny?" I asked.

"Right, look Deke, I guess I should thank you for this. That lousy piece of dirt is all my Ma and Pa got. They don't know nothing else."

"No thanks needed, it is a business deal between me and Sandra." I didn't mean for it to hurt her, but I could tell it did.

I was about to apologize when she said, "Good, let's keep it that way." There was a hardness in her voice that contradicted the sweet country girl look.

"Well Jenny, that sounds just fine to me honey," I replied trying to keep my voice neutral. "So how about we get moving. By the way can you drive?"

"Sure why?" she asked it while picking up her bag, after she got tired of waiting for me to lift it. I might have carried for her on anyother day, but not that one. I don't know if she expected an explanation but for some reason I didn't feel up to it.

"I might let you drive." I looked to see her almost smile. She managed to surpress it. She was just a kid after all, surely no more than seventeen or eighteen. With that in mind I asked, "So how long you worked for Sandra?"

"A year or so why?" she was challenging me with her words and her manner.

"Hey, if I am going to be your husband I need to know about you," I replied angrily.

"Well, I certainly do not expect you to mention Sandra." She was down right huffy for a whore.

"Well then on the drive, you can tell me what I should mention," I snapped the words at her as we walked down the porch steps.

"Don't worry I plan to do just that and you better listen," She said just as angrily.

"Just a damned minute who the hell do you think you are?" I asked as I opened the passenger door. She thought I was holding it for her till I handed her the keys and got in myself.

"I am the person who will have to pay your bill in the end. Just like the ones I sleep with for money, and that makes you a whore, just like me. You do charge more but it is still the same thing. Deke, I plan to get my money's worth."

For a moment I was really pissed then it struck me funny. Of course, it really upset her when I began to laugh. "What is so damned funny?" she asked almost in hysterics.

"This maybe the only job I ever enjoyed," I replied between gales of laughter. I think it was the pain pills as much as the situation.

"Hey Deke, I don't know you and I ain't gonna be sleeping with you understand? Course with what I am paying, I think I could if I wanted to." She almost smiled but not quite.

"Just for the record, if you wanted to save money you could have hired someone else. Lets see, one of your customers maybe? Not one of the married ones though. They couldn't take the week off to go save your reputation and your daddy's farm. How about one of the others. What kind of single men have to pay for their women. Sure they are the kinds you want your family to think you married. Maybe you are paying too much for me. If you think so, then just let me know before we leave town. You are driving you can always turn the car around. And speaking of money, where is mine?"

"Don't you trust me Deke?" she asked without any hint of a smile.

"Just like you do your customers," I replied.

She actually laughed. It wasn't a pleasant sound. She reached into her bag for the thick white envelope. She did it while more or less keeping her eyes on the road. I counted the money and found it all to be there. "Why so many small bills?" I asked.

"Came directly from Sandra's safe. Oh yeah, there is a small bag in my case. It contains the amount for the auction. Sandra said use all you needed, but no more than was necessary. I guess she trusts you to do it right." From her tone it was obvious she didn't understand why.

"Yeah well, she has seen me do a couple of things. I guess I am pretty trustworthy at that. So how long does this drive take?" I asked it because the painkiller was about to knock me on my butt.

"About four hours at the most. If you don't mind me letting your car out a little, closer to three and a half." She replied

"If you know a place we can stop for lunch four hours will be okay I guess. I am going to take a nap. I trust you to drive. Just watch the temperature gauge. If it starts to climb let me know."

"Something wrong with this heap?" she asked with a sour look on her face.

In pure frustration I looked at her hard. I was surprised to find her eyes to be coke bottle green. I couldn't believe I hadn't noticed that before. "Nothing is wrong with the car. If anything goes wrong the temperature will climb just let me know if it does. Try not to kill us while I sleep."

"Do you really think there is something you can do even if you are awake. Why are you so sleepy anyway? Did you stay up all night playing poker, or were you screwing that Rose woman?"

"Neither, I was at the hospital getting stitched up." I didn't elaborate. I waited to gauge her reaction.

"Really, have an accident?" she asked it with a really sarcastic tone.

"Yeah, something like that." I expected that if she knew what had happened and why, she would have been even more sarcastic. She obviously didn't think much of my life style, but since she was a whore I didn't pay much attention. What I did do, was stretch out as best I could and fall sound asleep.

The next thing I knew we were parked outside a restaurant. I wouldn't have known that if Jenny hadn't said, "Hey Deke, you want to eat or not." even though it had been two hours she was still acting just as angry as before. I was just about to call her on it when I realized she was probably upset about her parents farm. There was also a good chance she was upset about the large amount of money she would owe Sandra Evans. I didn't think I would want to owe her money.

"So what kind of restaurant is this?" I asked.

"Mostly barbecue, but they sell chicken too." She actually dropped her guard for a second and sounded pretty normal.

Inside the place was pretty shabby but filled with people. There seemed to be only two empty tables. I followed the thin Jenny to one by the front window. I didn't hold the chair for her not because she had been mean to me, but just because I didn't do that kind of thing. She did notice though.

"You aren't much of a gentleman are you?" she asked.

I almost made a remark about her not being any kind of lady but I didn't. I figured the next time I feel asleep she might cut me worse than the man the night before had. Instead I said, "Sorry that costs extra."

She actually laughed for a change. "Okay, I asked for that. I will try to be a little less angry and you try to be a little nicer, how about that?"

"Sounds pretty reasonable to me. You know you got a nice way with words." I left the sentence open by accident.

"You mean for a farm girl or for a whore?" She at least kept her voice low.

"For any kind of girl," I replied hoping to take the sting out of my words.

"Then you don't expect a well spoken woman period. Hey, you aren't the only one who reads you know."

"I will accept that and even apologize if you will take it a little easier on me." I said it hoping to lighten the mood before we ordered. Too late the waitress was standing over me before I got it out.

"What can I get you?" the waitress asked rudely.

ing us two barbecue trays and two ice teas," Jenny said. The waitress nodded then walked away. "That was okay with you wasn't it?"

"Sure, but I usually like to order for myself."

"Men, what possible difference could it make who placed the order?" She didn't look hurt that I might have been critical of her. Instead she just looked angry again.

"Give me a
eak please. I have just about had enough of your attitude." I said it hoping to put an end to the bickering.

"Just like a man gets his hormones up if a woman talks straight to him." She said it pretty sharply, but she did laugh.

"Gee, do you hate all men or just me?" I asked it again trying to kid her into easing up.

"Pretty much all you jerks," she replied. "I would use a stronger word if we were alone."

"Shy in public huh?" I looked around before I went on. "Guess you do have some good traits after all."

"Well don't worry, we wont be in public again for a while. In private you can just not speak to me." She looked out the window until the food came.%%%

I didn't answer her because I didn't know what to say. She seemed ready to fight again, and I just didn't feel up to it. I was on edge enough to fight all right, I just felt I would rather take another of those pills instead. They didn't especially mellow me out, but they did allow me to sleep through anything, even Jenny's angry mouth.

It was late in the afternoon when we arrived in Belton. Belton was no more than a crossroads in the middle on nowhere. Jenny woke me by saying, "Hey Deke, we are almost at the farm you need to get awake and your wits about you."

"Just drop me at a motel, or something and you go on." I should have known that would have been too easy.

"Closest Motel is thirty miles away," she replied with a sarcastic smile if a smile can be sarcastic.

"Well that's okay, a thirty minute drive isn't too bad. Besides I just need to talk to the bankers anyway." I said it like I knew it was the truth. To bad saying it didn't make it so.

"Oh no Deke, for two bills you are going to play my husband every minute we are here. You might as well get used to calling me Mrs. Burke, cause I plan to get my money's worth from you."

At first I was angry but I didn't say anything until I cooled down. "So does that mean we sleep together too?" I asked it pretty much knowing what her response would be.

"Not even if you pay the going rate you prick." She wasn't smiling at all when she spoke. "We are probably going to be forced to sleep in the same bed, but you better know something right now." I waited without asking though I had a pretty good idea what it was. After a few seconds she went on. "I sleep with this."

The 'this' was a small chrome .22 revolver. "Well Jenny believe me I am the only one likely to need protecting." I was about to add a couple of insults when I got to thinking about the pistol. I figured there was no sense pushing my luck, so I kept quiet. "So, how much farther to the farm?" I asked it actually trying to be nice.

"Why don't we go to the bank first dear?" she asked in that 'I really want to kick your butt' voice I had come to hate so quickly.

"Okay, but why don't you let me talk to the bankers. I have a feeling you might just alienate them before we get a chance to find out what's going on."

"What alienate, you are just like Sandra. We are just going in to pay off the mortgage. I don't really even need you for that. I am taking you home just to explain where the money came from or rather so I don't have to explain where it comes from."

"Well it's your money so do what you want, but I would let me talk to the bankers. I expect they would feel more comfortable talking to me."

"Because you are a man I suppose?" she asked angrily.

"Maybe that, but more likely because I don't have the fifty pound chip on my shoulder," I suggested.

"I earned this chip by dealing with jerks like you," she said angrily.

"Lady, until I walked into the farm this morning, I had never seen you before, and I might add there are no other jerks like me. I am a one of a kind jerk." I had about used up all my patience with her.

"You are just like all men," She informed me.

"Look, enough is enough. Now either you wait and blame me for what I do, or I am going home and leave you to handle this the best way you can."

"You took the money, now you are going to do the job." she snapped it at me.

"Here," I said as I tossed the envelope containing the money onto the dash. "It ain't near enough to put up with you for a week."

"If you are feeling guilty about taking so much money for doing nothing at all, then I will take it. Whether I do or not, you are still going to be my husband until after the auction."

"If I got to be your husband, I want more money," I demanded only half kidding. It looked as though the week with Jen was going to be anything but a honeymoon.

"No way Deke, you struck the deal." She was actually smiling leaving me to think that maybe things would be okay after all. Then of course she opened her mouth and ruined it. "When we get to the bank, I will do the talking. I know these people and how they think." I had already explained that her doing the negotiating might not be a good idea, but she was determined not to listen to anything I said.

The bank was housed in a 1930 type
ick building. Once inside the old wooden door, I noted the can sitting behind the counter. It was a make I had opened many times before. About half a pound of C4 underneath it would do the trick. If I did it just right, which I usually did, the can would tip over from the explosion which would also rip the bottom open.

The newer vaults were simply big doors hooked to reinforced concrete walls. A much more difficult task but far from impossible. I still preferred Safes like the one behind the counter of this little bank. That particular safe actually had a mountain scene painted on the door. It was a nice touch in the mountainous farm community.

"Why Miss Booker," the young woman behind the counter said in greeting.

"Actually it is Burke now," Jen said as she motioned me forward. "This is my husband Deacon Burke. Deke this is Anne. She and I went to high school together."

"Nice to meet you," I said acting on my cue.

"So, what can we do for you this morning?" Anne asked. Jenny must have always been tough on people because Anne was acting very tentative.

"I guess we need to see Mr. Everette. Deke here came to pay off Daddy's mortgage." Jan said it putting more emphasis on my name than was called for. It seemed as though she wasn't nearly as dissatisfied with me as he had seemed on the drive up.

The young woman looked at me curiously. "So Anne is Mr. Everette in?" I asked it because I figured that's what the person with the money would do.

"Sure he is Mr. Burke. You two stay right here and I'll get him for you," the very thin young woman said.

I looked over her shoulder and saw that the only office was behind her. Which also put the entrance behind the counter. Just to keep my hand it I said, "Why don't we just come on back?"

"Well, Mr. Everette likes to talk business out here as much as he can," she replied.

"I'm sure that is true, but we are talking about a great deal of money. I would rather not talk about it where just anyone might walk in on us."

"Well let me just check with him to make sure first," she suggested.

"You know best, I expect." I hadn't looked at Jenny since before we began. I glanced over at her. I noted the nasty look she gave me. I shrugged to ask, "What?"

She gave me another nasty look then looked away. I would just bet she would explain later and probably in great detail. We stood on the customer side of the counter and tried hard not to look at one another. It took just a couple of very uncomfortable seconds for Anne to return. She looked sheepish as she spoke, "Sorry, but Mr. Everette is busy right now. He suggested you come back tomorrow or better still just make a bid on the place Saturday. He said to remind you that the foreclosure has already gone thought. He also said to mention that the auction is set and the bank has gone through considerable expense and trouble.

Anne saw the look on Jenny's face. "Jenny, I know this is upsetting, but I am just passing along the message." From her look I could tell Annie knew Jenny better than me. She looked as though she expected Jenny to pound her at any minute.

In spite of her tough bitch act, I could tell she was both intimidated and at a loss. She obviously didn't know how to handle hometown men. Since Everette wasn't from my hometown, I decided it was time to earn my two Cs.

"Anne honey, why don't you take a message to Mr. Everette for me. You tell him I am not used to being treated so rudely. Tell him that unless he owns this bank he better get his butt out here. Because I will be headed for the chairman of the boards house in about two minutes."

Anne actually smiled as she said, "I expect he heard you." She might have been pleased, but she did speak in a whisper after all she worked for Everette.

"So who is the chairman of this bank and where does he live?" I asked it again in a loud voice. Might as well let the prick know I was serious.

The door opened behind Anne, "Please come in Mr. Burke is it? I guess I should explain this all to you sir." Mr. Everette did not look all that happy to be in a confrontation with anyone especially one who wasn't intimidated by him.

"That would be a very good idea," I replied.

"The truth is Mr. Burke the farm has already been advertised and the auction contracted for. I simply can not stop it now." Everette said it, but didn't look as positive as he should have.

"Are you telling me that I can't just pay your cost plus what the old man owes?" I asked it knowing it was a strange practice. Banks ordinarily settle, if at all possible since they didn't like to gamble.

"I'm afraid not," he replied looking more than a little unhappy.

"Tell me why that is You do have to turn over any surplus funds to the old man." He nodded. "If it is, then it is all going to be his anyway cause I am going to overbid anybody out there. In that case what possible difference could it make?"

"The difference is we have already set the auction. I don't want it said I didn't follow through."

"What are you going to tell the stockholders, if I buy the farm for a dollar after I offered you the pay off?"

"It is bank policy to buy it ourselves, if the bidding doesn't cover our cost." Everette seemed to be a little more confident on that subject.

"Well, I think......" I pulled Jenny's arm to stop her from making her next statement.

"Well, I guess I will just have to stay until Saturday then." I said it to cover Jenny's misstep. I took Jenny's arm and hurried her out the door.

"Why the hell didn't you let me say my piece to that prick?" Jenny asked.

"Never let the pricks know you are on to them. He is up to something and we need to find out what it is. Best way to do that is to talk to your dad. He should know something."

"Not my dad, All he will know is the price of corn this year. If it isn't about the farm he could care less," she informed me.

"Well this is about the farm," I assured her. "If he doesn't know somebody else around here should. What I didn't tell Jenny was that there would be papers in the bank's can. If all else failed I would blow the can. Then again maybe not. I might not want to risk going to jail for a bitch like Jenny. Now the fact that she was a whore didn't bother me in the least, it was her attitude. She acted like everybody was out to get her. I expect they had been recently, but I wasn't. It made no difference to her, it seemed to be more about me being a man than anything else.

"He won't know anything but come on you might as well meet them anyway." It was in her tone that she had all along planned for me to meet them that day. She drove out of town on a road that went from concrete to oil to dirt within a mile. From that dirt road she switched to two more before she finally finished on what was no more than a wagon road. When I say road I am being to kind, it was two dirt tracks with grass growing between them.

My first look at the farm made me wonder why anyone would want to save it. The house appeared to be falling down. Actually it was more due to the lack of paint than any real structural problems. The fields were laying winter dormant, as they should have been. The place just didn't have that working farm feel about it. Of course, I didn't really know what a working farm looked like. I didn't expect it looked so neglected though.

Jen drove us to the house which was way past the point of needing a coat of paint. The walls were so peeled it was hard to pick out the spots of paint. It looked a lot like gray unpainted wood with dandruff.

The house was two stories in front and one in the rear. Pretty much you typical farm dwelling of the twenties. It was aging it's way into the forties and probably not going to survive into he fifties. At least not with the present residents unless I could figure out what was going on. Something sure as hell wasn't right with the foreclosure.

I followed Jen onto the surprisingly solid porch. I stood behind her as she knocked on the glassless door. I waited in the cold mountain air until a woman who looked like an older, more tired Jen opened the door. She didn't throw her arms around her daughter instead she said, "Hello Jennifer come on in." Her voice sounded tired more than anything else. I was surprised that she hadn't acted at least a little happy to see her daughter.

If there had been a phone in the old house I would have thought that Anne at the bank had called. Since it would have been impossible to get a message to the family by anything less than a carrier pigeon, I could only assume that Jen had written to her family days before.

Inside the living room I found a teen aged boy, and a girl only a couple of years under his age. Sitting next to them was what had to be Jen's father. He looked up and I could tell he was in a deep state of depression. He did manage a smile when he rose to greet me.

"You must be Deacon, Jenny told us all about you," he said softly extending his hand to me. I didn't know how that was possible since I only agreed to pose as her husband the day before. At the time I figured he was just trying to be friendly. Still, Jen didn't explain that I was her husband. That seemed a little strange.

"So how long did you and Jen know each other before you got married," the mother asked. That one stumped me. I couldn't think fast enough to piece it all together. The father knew my name. The mother knew we were supposed to be married. Yet Jenny couldn't have gotten in touch with them. Well maybe she had called a neighbor the night before after I had agreed to pose as her husband.

Rather than answer her mother myself, I turned to Jenny. She recognized the confusion on my face and said, "Mom you know I told you Deke and I met almost a year ago."

"That's right. Deacon, I been trying to get her to
ing you home for a visit almost since the day you two started going out. I know I tried to get her to
ing you home after the wedding. Shame to this place looks much better in the summer."

Jenny saw my confusion and moved to cover it before anyone else noticed. "Moma, I told you Deke spends a lot of time on the road."

"I know, but you two have to have been home some in six months." She did look hurt that her daughter didn't want to come home.

"Well ma'am, that is my fault I'm afraid. You see I been working on my business most weekends. I really haven't taken a day off in a year." I had no idea what I would say if she asked what kind of business.

"Well, I can understand we ain't had time for visitin' either. This farm just kept us so busy. Course we will have plenty of time now to visit."

"Moma, me and Deke came here to make sure that don't happen. Now don't you worry none." Jenny softened when she spoke to her mother. She still had an edge to her voice, but it wasn't nearly as sharp as it was when she spoke to me.

"I waited a respectful amount of time then asked, "You got any idea why they won't let me pay off the mortgage?"

"You mean they won't take your money?" It was Jenny's father who asked.

"No, I'm afraid not. Do you know anybody else who went in and paid off their note after the foreclosure?"

"Seems like old man Morgan did it two years ago. He got his son to send him the money and it came late."

"And they took his money at the bank?" As I asked it I realized the room was getting very stuffy.

"They took it all right," Jenny's mother informed me. "And it was definitely after the foreclosure.

She hadn't quite finished speaking when I felt a sudden pain shoot through my body. It originated at the cut but it ran all over me. That was just about the time the room started to spin. Jenny must have noticed. She immediately tried to grab me but it was too late. I was already out and headed to the floor.

"Deke?" I heard her ask in a loud voice filled with concern. It was the last thing I heard for a while and it surprised me.

I came around seconds later still on the floor. My jacket and shirt were open. I could
eath easier. Just as soon as my eyes were open, Jenny was asking angrily. "What the hell happened to you."

"What?" I asked not really understanding here question. I thought it was pretty obvious that I had fainted.

"You are bleeding like stuck pig. What did you do to get that?" she asked as if I had asked to be cut up.

"This is hardly the time to go into my injury." I said it trying to explain that her family was in the room.

"All right Deke, but you and I have to talk about this." Jenny said menacingly.

"Fine Jenny but later. Right now I think I need to get to a hospital." I said it before I noticed that Jenny's mother was standing over us both with a pair of scissors.

"Jenny, get out of the way." The older woman said it as she gently pushed Jenny away from me. She knelt down beside me then in quiet reassuring voice said, "Deke let me take a look. I have been patching up you men folk for fifty years."

"Sure," I said that since I had all the antibiotics and pain killers I needed anyway. If she could stop the bleeding it would save me a trip to the emergency room. God only knew how far away that would be.%%%

"I hate to do this but your shirt is ruined anyway." She said it as she cut my shirt and undershirt with the scissors. I felt nothing more than a twinge of pain as she peeled them from the oozing wound. "Somehow you pulled a couple of stitches loose. Now we can take you to the hospital or I can put them back in with a needle and thread. Course if I do it, it is likely to hurt some."

"Could you hold off a few minutes?"

"Sure Deke, but why?" she asked.

"I got some pain killers here, if you wait a few minutes the pain will be gone." I showed her the pills. "Jenny get your husband a glass of water." I was happy to see Jenny jump to actually do something constructive for me. When she returned with the water I took two of the pills and waited while they took effect. While I waited Jenny's mother held the scraps of my shirt against the bleeding wound.

During the ten minute wait we all were all surprisingly quiet. When the pain subsided Jenny's mom began to reinstall the stitches. It hurt but no worse than the pain before I took the pills. In the end I was again stitched and the bleeding reduced to no more than an tiny line of blood along the cut itself. I guess because it was farm and pretty well removed from anything, the Booker's had a very complete first air kit. The kit contained bandages made from a well laundered bed sheet.

"Deacon, I know you are a good man from what Jenny has told us, so I am not going to ask you about that cut, but it is mighty straight." It was Jenny's father who said it. I could tell he wanted an explanation but did not intend to ask.

"Mr. Booker, I got cut when a gear on a machine I was demonstrating flew off. It hit me a glancing blow." I saw in his eyes that he knew better but he nodded. The explanation seemed to satisfy his wife. Jenny looked at me as thought I were a liar, which of course I was.

"Well Deke, you need to rest. Why don't you take Deke up to the bedroom. We can talk all this over tonight," Jenny's mother suggested.

"I don't want to put you out none," I suggested hoping they would allow me to drive to the nearest motel.

"Not at all, we will just put the two youngest on the floor down here by the fire." She was motioning to the wood stove.

"I really think it would be better all around, if Jenny and I just drove to the motel." I said it without much hope that anyone would listen.

"Deke honey, it looks like that drive
oke those stitches loose. You need to rest. Why don't we just go on upstairs and let you lie down." Jenny turned from me to her mother. "Ma, I will be right back."

"Don't you dare Jenny, you stay up there in case Deke needs anything. We can visit later, If not tonight, then in the morning." Jenny's mother seemed most insistent.

"Ma, he isn't going to do anything but sleep. I ain't sleepy and I don't intend to just sit there and watch him sleep." Jenny was just as insistent as her mother.

"Listen to me Jen, you do as your mother says. You are a guest in this house now." Her fathers spoke those words. Jenny looked hard at him but didn't say another word. Instead she helped me up the stairs

"You stay in your old room." I heard the words come form behind us. Jenny mumbled something under her
eath, but I couldn't understand.

When we arrived outside the bedroom door she said, "I didn't think I would ever sleep in this room again. Just goes to show, don't ever swear to anything."

"Life does have a tendency to screw you up that way." I said it, though the only thing I swore I wouldn't do was work in the damned mill. So far, I had managed to keep that promise to myself. "Ma always said to keep your words sweet cause you was damned sure gonna be eatin some of them."

"Your Ma, said a lot of things Deacon. Some of them would have to be profound." She actually smiled at me. I couldn't remember if it was the first one or not. Which meant they were at least rare.

"This is true, if Ma heard a phrase that sounded good to her, she would pass it on all right. Running a boarding house she heard a lot of them. Which is why I heard so many."

"Deacon, is that why you think you can write a book?" Something about the way she said it set my teeth on edge. She could tell by the look on my face I expect.

"Sorry Deke, I didn't mean that the way it sounded. I meant to say, is that why you are writing a book?" She smiled again and on her it didn't look all that good. Jenny had a rather plain face. When she smiled it showed her crooked teeth. I expect that was at least part of the reason she smiled so seldom. Without a smile anyone would look sour. Jenny however had it down to an art form. Her scowl went past anything I am capable of describing.

I wanted to ask her about a hundred questions but didn't feel up to it at that moment. The painkiller did exactly the same thing it always did. It knocked me on my butt, then out like a light bulb struck by the missile from a B B gun. Which is what happened to all the street lights in the mill village. Strange it was the last thought I had just before I slipped into oblivion.

I awoke a few hours later with Jenny sitting in a straight chair by the bed. "Hey, what are you doing sitting there staring at me?" I didn't man for it sound short so of course it did.

"It sure as hell wasn't my idea," Jenny said in response. "Ma wouldn't let me out of the room. I think she has the door locked."

"Really?" I asked.

"No, she just gets all upset whenever I go downstairs. You know she thinks a woman's place is with her husband." Jenny gave me another scowl at the thought.

"Yeah, well she don't know you ain't, so just go along with her I expect."

"Deke, I ain't paying you for advice. I am paying you to fix this. They say you are the world's greatest fixer. So fix this so we can go home."

"You really in a hurry to go back to Sandra's?" I asked it just to dig at her.

I was surprised when she
oke into tears. She sobbed quietly enough. Finally she said, "Of course not you idiot."

"I know you have a deal with Sandra, but do you really like that life?"

"Deke, do you really want to know?" I really think she was serious. I mean I think she would have refused to tell me unless I asked head on.

"Yeah, I guess I am."

"Okay, do you know what a second girl is on a farm?" She looked at the floor as she spoke.

"No what?" I asked.

"One too many mouths to feed. See one girl can help Ma out around the place, but one is all you need for that. I helped, but then Cindy out there got old enough to help. I really had no choice but to leave. The folks are too poor to take care of us all. There wasn't no jobs here, so I went to the Mill down in Greensboro." That was the end of the story as far as she was concerned.

I wasn't about to ask what happened at the mill. Whatever it was I didn't want to know. The whole trip was simply business to me. I took a long time before I asked. "So, what is all this not letting us pay off the loan about?"

"Deke, I honestly got no idea. I really did just
ing you here to pretend to be my husband."

"Speaking of that, why do I get the impression they have thought for a long time that I was your husband?"

"Well, I told them we were married for a long time," she replied.

"No dear, they seemed to have thought for sometime that we were married. When exactly did you tell them?"

"Deke, what are you talking about?" she asked while avoiding my eyes.

"Listen Jenny, it doesn't matter anymore just tell me so I can keep the lies straight." I demanded it in as strong a voice as I could muster while curled up naked under the blankets.

"Look Deke, they wanted me to come home a couple of years ago. I knew there was nothing here for me. I also knew it would be a burden on them. Sort of like why you moved out of you Ma's boarding house."

"Jenny, you are explaining it, but you are not telling me anything. When did you tell them we got married a year ago?" The exasperation had to have shown in my voice.

"No Deke, I told them we were dating then. It just sort of moved along until we got married six months ago." She looked pretty miserable.

"Why me?" I asked.

"Well at first I was living in your mama's place. I moved out before you got home, but I knew who you were from all the talk and pictures around. When I needed a boyfriend you seemed safe since you were gone. You came back and I just never bothered to tell them any different. When you got the place of your own, I told my folks we were married and living there. They never bothered to check."

"I never got any mail from them," I replied curiously.

"Well they don't write much. I had it sent to Sandra's place. I answered it for you most of the time." Jenny said.

"I know I am going to be sorry I asked, but who answered it when you didn't?" I asked.

"You're right you don't want to know." When I continued to stare at her she said, "It was Luther."

"Of all people, you had Luther forging my name, Why?"

"Hey there ain't many men you can trust around a place like that. And keep your voice down." She was obviously concerned about here family hearing us argue.

"Listen to me," I said in almost a whisper. "When this is over Luther does not play me again you understand?"

"So who am I going to get. Like I said there aren't that many trustworthy guys around there."

"Okay if you need something written by me
ing it to the house and I'll do it. Just do not let Luther pretend to be me."

"Okay, okay Deke, I just never thought you would do it," she said almost smiling.

"Well I never would have, but Luther my god Jenny how could you."

"Look, I said I wouldn't do it again. So give me a

"Okay, I am sorry for shouting in your parent's house," I said.

She waited a few minutes for the air to clear then said, "So what are you going to do about the bank. I mean there is some reason they won't let us buy the note."

"I don't suppose they would tell me, if I asked real nice." I suggested it knowing her answer.

"You did ask nice Deke, at least nice for you."

"Now what is that supposed to mean?" I asked it letting my voice rise again.

First she looked at me as thought I were a retarded child for raising my voice despite her warnings. Then she said, "I mean you have been known to raise hell to help a client. You were not that bad with Everett. He probably thought you were an obnoxious city boy but no worse.

'God, I am hungry," I said it to change the subject. Just a second before I had decided what I would do to help Jenny. Something about her having done all of it to protect her family hit home with me, since family was so important to me.

"You should be, you slept almost a whole day. You seemed to rouse just long enough to take those pills then you fell right back to sleep."

Just then I remembered dreaming that Rose was curled up beside me keeping me warm. I looked at Jenny, but I did not comment. I noticed she was a lot taller and some thinner especially around the hips. I doubted that it was Jenny since the body was naked which is why I thought it was Rose. Probably just my imagination I thought.

"Okay Deke, I'll get you something to eat then we have to decide how we are going to help the folks." I nodded to her. She left the room and I tried to get out of the bed. I was pretty weak and the pain was real enough to drive me back to the bed. To make matters worse there were no more pills. I couldn't believe I had taken a weeks supply in only two days. No wonder I had slept a whole day away.

I lay on the bed in a cold sweat waiting for Jenny to come back. She took one look at me then said, "Damnit Deke, why didn't you tell me how bad that cut was. You ain't in no shape to do anything."

"Jenny, I done more with more pain, but I do need some aspirin at least."

"Deke, I seen that cut aspirin ain't gonna help much." Jenny seemed concerned but I figured it was for my ability to take care of things. I certainly didn't figure she had any good feelings for me.

"Give me three of them, and I'll be okay." I hoped it was true.

"So what you gonna do?" she asked skeptically.

"Nothing for a while. I am going to wait until later then go out and ask some questions. I figure somebody will know something."

"Then I need to go with you." Jenny looked as though she were going to prove to be a problem.

"No, I think I need to do this alone. It will be better if the people don't associate me with your family just yet."

"Deke, you have to be kidding. Everybody in town knows who you are by now. Gossip is bigger than Amos and Andy up here." She laughed at her own joke. I might have myself, if I hadn't hurt so bad.

"Even so, I think I want to look around alone tonight." I was trying to be insistent.

"Well whatever you going to do, you need to do it soon. The auction is tomorrow."

"Yeah, I know and I slept the whole day away. Don't worry, I'll figure something out." What I didn't tell her was I planned to worry enough for both of us. Not only had I taken her money, but I felt like I owed her Ma something for stitching me up again.

Just like Jenny predicted the aspirin did little good on the pain. If I didn't move it was pretty bearable. Once I tried to move I found out how much pain I could stand. I had a little practice from the war, but it still hurt like hell. I wasn't as much the hero type as I let on. I wanted to just crawl into the bed and sleep another night and day away.
Of course I couldn't since the auction was the next day. I had to go out and find out exactly what the hell was going on at the bank.

When I finished the simple dinner which Jenny
ought on a tray, I dressed as best I could. Jenny stayed and helped, but it was still slow and painful. Not only that if I bled through the shirt I wore, I would be reduced to wearing a Hawaiian shirt to the auction. I didn't want to draw attention to myself so I wore a plain white shirt that evening. I tried to leave Jenny at the house. She resisted loud enough to convince me that if I didn't take her the whole town would know that I was up to something. That I figured I didn't need.

Jenny drove my Chevy as we toured the town. We found what I expected at the town's one diner. "Okay pull in beside the old ford. I don't want you parked beside the law." Jenny followed my orders and avoided the police car. "Now you listen to me Jenny. You have given me grief since I first met you. It stops right now. Tonight I can not spend anytime trying to make you feel better or fighting with you. I only have one chance to find out what is going on. I really don't want you hanging around."

"What the hell are you talking about?" she asked.

"I have things to do that I don't want you involved in. What I want you to do is come inside that cafe with me. When we leave I am going to drop you at home then come along later."

"The hell you are. I am going all the way with you. I intend to see what my money bought." Jenny didn't act angry that time, just forceful. She was determined to stay with me.

"Well let's go get some coffee. We might not want to do anything afterwards anyway." I said it as I struggled with the car door.

"Well, were ever thou goest I go also," Jenny said with a smile, which I didn't see. She said it to my back but the smile was in her voice.

"Well I goest into the diner for coffee." I was out the car door and into the diner before Jenny. I waited inside for her since it was cold out and my warm coat was home. Not only was it ripped, it was also covered with blood.

What I was wearing was one of my Dad's old worn out hunting coats. It was the one I kept around the house to wear while I worked outside during the cold. It was filthy and not very warm, but it blended in well with the other patrons of the diner.

When Jenny arrived I led her to two seats at the counter not far from the policeman. I ordered coffee and Jenny ordered a Coke. While I drank my coffee I listened carefully to the conversation between the policeman and the waitress.

"So Eddie, what you doing out so late?" The waitress asked.

"Oh hell, Jamie called seems Mike was drunk and giving her trouble. I went out even though I knew she wouldn't let me do anything. I don't mind them doing it when I'm working, but I hate when they call me at home."

"So what did you do with Mike?" the waitress asked.

"Told him if I came back out there tonight, he was going to jail and I didn't give a damn what his wife said. Doubt it will do any good but I did try. He might be beating hell out her as I drink this here cup of coffee." He should have looked concerned but he smiled at the waitress instead. She did not look happy with his cavalier attitude.

After taking a look at her face the cop said, "Well, I guess I will head on back home. I got a wife of my own needs beating." He tried to erase his previous lack of concern by turning it all into a joke.

"You do that Eddie, she might just cut it off in your sleep," the waitress suggested it without much of a smile.

"Naw, she needs me to pay the bills, just like ole Jamie." He didn't offer to pay for the coffee, or leave a tip for the waitress. I fought hard not to give myself away with a change of expression. Even so the policeman gave me and Jenny a hard look. I supposed that he knew Jenny but he didn't speak.

%%After the policeman left the waitress turned to refilling my coffee cup. "You need some more coke Jen?" she asked.

"No I'm fine Lori," Jenny replied.

"Jenny, aren't you going to introduce me to your husband?" Lori seemed to enjoy Jenny's discomfort.

"Sure, Lori this is Deke Burke." Jenny seemed reluctant to make the introduction.

"Deke, it's nice to meet you. I heard a lot about you." Lori said it obviously planning to pump me for information.

"Really, well you know how
ides are," I suggested.

"No, I don't actually," Lori said with a serious look. The look however was aimed at Jenny not at me. I sensed they shared a secret but had no idea what it might be and didn't care.

"Well, just so you will know
ides tend to exaggerate their husband's good points." I said it tryin to rescue Jenny, though I had no idea why. I should have been enjoying her discomfort.

"Jenny and I don't talk much anymore." The emphasis was on anymore. I had no idea what she meant but Jenny did.

"Deke honey, I think it is time we got on back home. Moma will be worried about us." Jenny was looking deadly so I followed along behind her after having left a half dollar for the coffee and coke.

Once outside I asked, "What the hell was that all about."

"What the hell do you mean," Jenny asked angrily.

"Obviously you too were friends at one time. What happened?" I thought it was a harmless question.

"Deke, don't try to fix anything but the auction. It's the only thing I am paying you for."

"I guess she must have stolen your boyfriend huh?" I really should have let it go but she had been on me all day. I hated to miss the chance to return the favor.

She was in tears when she finally made it to the driver's seat in my old Chevy. "Deke, just shut up. You have no idea what you are getting into."

"Okay, I was just kidding." I turned away while she dried her eyes.

"Lori is the real reason I left this town. She didn't steal my boyfriend she was my boyfriend or whatever you call it. It happened only a couple of times but I got out of here before anyone found out. Lori never told so it has always been a big secret. Funny thing is I must have been the only one, because nothing has ever been said about her and other women. Of course we were both just kids."

"Well, it is over now so just forget it," I suggested.

"Deke, that is not something you just forget."

"Why not Jenny," I asked it because I really didn't have a clue what her feeling were.

"Because I liked it you idiot." She looked at me almost smiling then burst into laughter. "Deke, you won't tell anyone will you. I mean it's bad enough I am a whore."

"Not me, I want to be a writer and about half of them are queers. I can't afford to be tossing
icks at anyone." I noted that she laughed.

"Okay, then where too?" she looked a lot better at that moment.

"Let's drive by the bank." I looked to see if her expression would change. I didn't know for sure that Sandra hadn't told her about Carlton.

"Why the bank it's closed." she suggested.

"Yeah I know," It was the only answer she would get for a while. The bank was located in the middle of a block filled with other businesses. Filled might give the wrong impression. There were two retails stores on one side and one on the other. Behind the bank ran a small alley which separated one block of buildings from another similar block behind it.

"Okay, I want you to drop me at the end of that alley, then drive somewhere out of town and wait a half hour. When the time is up come back and meet me right here. If I am not here go back and wait fifteen more minutes. If I don't show on the second visit go home and wait for me there.

"Like hell, whatever you are doing I'm coming along." Jenny appeared to be adamant.

"Look, if my car is parked here someone is going to remember it, or worse yet get curious and call the police. Just do as I say and keep me out of jail please." Truth is if I did it right no one would even know. Of course, if I blew the can the car parked a couple of blocks away would have been the least of my worries. Getting out of town would have been the number one priority. Blowing the can wouldn't accomplish what I wanted so I could only pray a couple of other tricks might work.

Jenny dropped me then quickly drove off. I slipped down the strange alley as quietly as I could. It was a good thing I had checked out the building before I entered the alley since there was no sign on the rear. I knew which door belonged to the bank from the look of the building and the number of buildings beside it.

After the war almost everything went into the surplus stores. The tiny flashlight was from a surplus store but the lock pick set was definitely not. I had saved them as a souvenir. After seeing the door I knew the lock pick set would not be needed. The rear door lock was a simple mortise thing. The thin but strong metal strip slipped easily behind the door stop molding. Then it pushed the locking bolt back into the door. The result was the door swung open easily. It did make a lot of noise which caused me to hold my
eath for several seconds.

Finding the can was no problem at all, even in the dark. What was more difficult was opening it without the C4 plastique explosive. About twenty percent of the time or mayber a little more often I found the combination to the cans laying around the bank. In Germany it had been the same as in America. I guess bank managers just never thought it could happen to them.

I searched all the usual places and was about to give up. My next move would have been an attempt to manipulate the tumblers, which would have been a total waste of my time. Just in time I looked under the desk drawer of the woman called Anne. There taped to the bottom was a set of five numbers. She even had instructions on which direction to begin the sequence.

I looked at my watch and knew I would never make the first pick up. I quickly opened the safe, then searched for the file. I found it just before the first drop. I was still reading it when the second drop passed. I was determined not to leave until I had the answer. It would be a long walk back to the farm but I could do it.

I finally found the answer in a note attached to the file. The note was from a realty company. It was no more than a confirmation that it intended to bid on the farm. It was just something about it that told me to keep looking. I looked for another half hour but found nothing. Still it was all tied up with that realty company.

I almost didn't notice that the company was not a local company. In the dim light I hadn't bothered to look at the letterhead. I did it only as an after thought. What I found was that the company was in the state capitol Raleigh. That was interesting, since I couldn't figure out what a Raleigh company would want with a farm two hundred miles away. There might be a logical explanation but I didn't think so. Not since the bank was determined to have an auction even where there was no need. For some reason Everette was determined that the realty company have a chance to buy the property even though it mean no more money for the bank.

With that being the case it had to mean money for Everette but how. The only way to know that was to call the realty company early the next day. I replaced everything as close to it's original position as I could. I then slipped out the rear door.

I was not looking forward to the long walk back to the farm. I turned toward what I thought was the farm's direction and began to walk down the alley. I saw the headlight shine around me. The car was behind and I hoped it was Jenny but feared it was the cop instead. When Jenny opened the door I was thrilled.

"So what did you find out?" she asked.

"I don't know for sure yet. I think Everette might be insisting on the auction so that a realty company can bid on the place. He knows the bank has to give your dad all the excess money so there is no reason to hold the auction unless he is getting money under the table."

"Good then we just tell him that in the morning and he calls off the auction," Jenny said.

"Not so fast, we don't have any proof and all what is doing is legal. We would have to prove he took a
ibe. Then all that would happen is he would get fired. Not really much the bank is going to do about it."

"So how you gonna get the auction stopped?" Jenny asked.

"I got an idea or two," I replied vaguely.

"Well Fixer, you better have something more than have a vague idea. This is real stuff Deke not some mill girl getting her panties pulled down. Sandra said you could hypnotize people. So sing your song to the bank and make them call this off."

"Just hold your water Jenny and give me a chance."

"Deke, don't make me sorry I married you," She actually smiled with those words.

"It's okay if you are cause I'm already sorry you married me." I should have known the effect it would have on her.

"Damn, just when I am about to decide you are an okay guy you go say something like that." She was angry. It also looked as though she might wrap my car around a tree. I think that if she knew it wouldn't kill us both before the auction, she would have done it just to see me walking.

Ten minutes later we slipped into the house. I followed her to the small room where I had slept away the day before. When we were in the room I collapsed onto the bed. I was so worn out from even that small amount of work that it worried me. I hoped it was just the after effects of the painkillers. If not I was having a heart attack or something equally serious.

"What the hell do you think you are doing?" Jenny asked.

"Okay, give me a minute and I'll take off my shoes," I replied.

"Not that, you are not going to sleep in the same bed with me." I would have expected her to sound angry or maybe even said it in a joking tone. Neither was the case, she actually sounded indignant. "This is where the married game ends."

"You mean the room or the bed?" I asked it because I wasn't about to sleep on the floor.

"Well you have to stay in the room, but we are not going to sleep together not in my mother's bed."

"Then I hope you are comfortable on the floor because I am staying right here. I have had a tough evening and I am beat. I will be asleep before you get your clothes off. If you insist on seperate beds then it's the floor for you not me." I wasn't angry at all. As a matter of fact I was almost laughing. Hell, it was humorous.

"I most certainly will not sleep on the floor," Jenny said outraged that I would suggest such a thing.

"Well you got a problem then cause I am not going to sleep there either. If I leave you gonna have to explain that to moma. The best thing you can do is either come to bed or sleep on the floor. Either way keep it down because I am beat and intend to go to sleep." Actually we had been arguing in whispers.

I was as good as my word once she stopped arguing I feel sound asleep. I might have rolled over when she came to bed otherwise I ignored her completely.

When I awoke the next morning at eight, Jenny was still sleeping. She had arranged the blankets so that one made a barricade between us. She lay on it while I lay under it. There was no way our bodies could have touched accidentally.

I left her in bed as I went to the kitchen for coffee. I hoped that Jenny's family was a coffee drinking crowd. I needn't have worried there was a pot on the warmer of the wood stove. The stove where the pot sat was a cook stove. It was very different from my heating stove on which I made coffee. My stove was also coal not wood.

"Hi, would it be okay if I got a cup of this?" I asked it of Jenny's mother. She looked as thought she had been up and working for hours.

"Sure Deke, you just help yourself," she answered cheerfully.

"How come you are in such a good mood?" I asked smiling.

"Because today we are finally going to get this farm thing settled. It has been hanging over us about a year now."

"Well I am going to try to buy it for you, but there may be another bidder." I said it just to be honest with her.

"Oh I know that. Jen tells me you can work miracles, so I am not worried."

"Jenny said that?" I asked.

"Yeah she said everybody in the village comes to you when they got a problem. You know kind of like a priest or something."

"I certainly wouldn't go that far. However, I am going to try to settle this thing today. I hope that when this day ends your problems with the bank will go away."

"They will Deke, I have faith in you."

I really wished she hadn't said it that way. It sounded to much like backing me into a corner. "Then when I finish this coffee I better get started. Where can I find a pay phone?"

"There is a booth in the drugstore. Who you gonna call Deke?" she asked.

"Don't really know, but I don't have a lot of time before the noon auction. I guess I will run along." I almost walked out before I remembered I should mention Jenny. I left Jenny in bed tell her I will be back for her in an hour or two."

"Okay, that girl should be here with you. Me and her got to have a talk about how a woman should treat her husband." Jenny's mother was shaking her head and looking away from me.

"She actually is quite a good wife. I would take it easy on her if I were you. She isn't feeling all that well right now."

"Oh is she sick?" There was definitely concern in her voice.

"No just a little tired I think."

"She isn't pregnant is she. I sure would love to have a grand baby to spoil."

"You will have to ask her that, but I don't think so." I smiled to myself thinking I had planted a time bomb inside Jenny's moma. She would be asking questions or maybe just be a little nicer to her.

I made the call from the dark wooden phone booth inside the dark drugstore. I couldn't help be notice that all drug stores smelled alike. I suppose it was all those bottles of pills lining the shelves.

"Hello," I said to the receptionist who answered.

"Can I help you sir?"

"I am looking to sell my house and a friend recommended you. Could I get you to send me some listing information."

"I'm sorry sir, we don't sell residential real estate."

"I wonder why my friend would recommend you. What type real estate do you deal with."

"Actually we represent standard oil company's interest only. We are a subsidiary of standard oil."

"I guess George must have had your card from some dealing at his service station." I said it hoping for the response I got.

"Now that is possible. We acquire sites for stations and manage the property as well. He might be one of the local dealers for Standard."

"He does manage a Standard station. Well listen, thanks anyway."

"Thank you for calling sir sorry I couldn't help you. And good luck on the house," I could tell it was just an after thought about the house, but it caught me off guard."

"Gee thanks," I said as I dropped the phone back into the cradle.

I left the drugstore, then walked the two blocks to the diner. It might have been the only one in town. It was for sure the only one I was familiar with. I moved to the rear. There I found an empty booth were I sat alone. The place was empty so they didn't seem to mind.

"What'll you have," the young waitress asked.

"Coffee, tell me what time does Lori come in?"

"Lori won't be in till three."

"Okay, I'll try to get back around then." I finished my coffee and then drove back to the farm. Jenny was waiting and visibly upset. She held her tongue until we were in the car and headed out the long dirt drive.

"You son of a bitch, how dare you tell my mother I was pregnant. Now she is going to be knitting shit." She was in danger of having a stroke for sure. Her face was beet red and her hair seemed especially curly.

"Well if you stay in bed you can't defend yourself. Let's call a truce while you help me. At the auction this afternoon there is going to be a representative of a Raleigh real estate company. I want you to point him out for me. I need to have a word with him."

"Why don't you just out bid him. Daddy will give Sandra back the excess money."

"Because dear, we don't have the excess money and this is a cash auction. We have to put up at least twenty five percent of the sales price. I don't know how high this guy is prepared to go or how much Sandra has in cash she can send."

"So how you gonna get him to drop out?" she asked.

"Just gonna sing a little song in his ear," I said grinning at her.

"I sure hope there is only one stranger," she suggested.

"If there is more than one maybe somebody you know will recognize the others."

"Yeah, I still know all the people around I guess. If not me then one of my friends will."

"Good what you want to do till the auction starts?" I asked.

"Sit on the bank steps and wait. I do not want to miss it. If we aren't there it may end in ten seconds." She did have a point the auction was rigged for sure. At least it would have been without Sandra's money.

We actually waited in the car across the street until five till noon. At that time we walked across the street, then into the bank. I figured the man from the Standard Oil Company's realty
anch would be in Everette's office.

"Hi Anne," I said it as I passed her.

"Mr. Burke, you can't go in there." It was a valiant try but a hundred pound woman is no match for a two hundred and ten pound six foot male. %%%

She might have had a chance even then, if she had known about the cut under my arm.

"It's okay Anne, I have something they want to hear." I was past her before she could have stopped me, even if she had known how vulnerable I was.

"Gentlemen," I said as I entered the office. Sure enough Everette was enjoying a rather fat cigar with a man in a fancy suit. I turned my attention to Jenny. "You know this man?"

"Never seen him before," she said sullenly.

"Then that would make you a representative of Standard Oil's realty division." I extended my hand to him. He just sat staring at me. He had no idea what was going on.

"Sorry I should have introduced myself. My name is Deacon Burke, and I am going to be bidding against you today. Not only that I am going to win. Now before you object I know you have more money but at some point you are going to recognize that the price is more than the land is worth. If I get the place the excess money comes back to me. If you get it the money is lost so I have nothing to lose. More importantly I am going to expose both of you."

As I said the last I handed them the business card of my friend who was a reporter for the Charlotte Observer. "The card belongs to a man I write articles for occasionally. If you doubt it, give him a call." Nobody moved to make the call.

"So what interest is that to us?" Everette asked.

"The only way that land is of any interest to Standard Oil is if there is going to be a new highway going through here. When I was in Washington I saw the proposal for the new Monster Highways. They have these things called interchanges. On those interchanges they expect service stations to spring up. Twenty years from now those things are going to be gold mines. My guess is you have seen the plans. Some state legislator probably had you in his office for coffee. It takes a lot of money to live like those guys do."

The man from Standard spoke but it wasn't to me. "Everette, you told me there wasn't going to be any trouble. You told me last night this man knew nothing and was an idiot. Well Everette is isn't an idiot." He finally turned his attention back to me.

"So how did you know. Only me and Everette know about that interchange and only a few thousand people know about the new highway system." The man stood before he spoke to me. His size was impressive. He definitely could have taken me on my good days.

"I really can't tell you how I know, but the leak is not in your office." I paused a moment then went on. "I sure hope you can get your money back from Mr. Everette there."

"No problem he hasn't been paid yet. So Deacon, you looking for a job?" He was smiling as he spoke.

"You got no idea how many jobs I have turned down these last few months," I said with a smile.

"You seem awfully chummy with guys who were trying to cheat my dad a minute ago," Jenny shot at me from the rear."

"Honey, this man don't know your dad at all. It is just business with him. On the other hand Mr. Everette here is different. When we check back we gonna find that your dad was foreclosed on a little quicker than most. He was probably contacted about this long ago."

"Not long," the Standard man suggested. "We made some quiet inquires at several banks in the area. We just wanted to talk to the land owners. Everette here suggested we might get a better deal and do it quieter if we let him foreclose on the present owner."

"And it would have happened just that way, if you hadn't come here," Everette said.

"So how we gonna fix this. Everette can't stay here, if he does I am going to expose him. That will expose you and the Legislator who sold you the information. You don't want that."

"I guess I could find a job for him in Raleigh?" It was a question.

"That would be a good idea," I replied.

"What if I don't want to go?" Everette asked.

"You don't have to go with him, but you can't stay here," I informed him. I actually enjoyed doing it.

"You are threatening me then?" Everette asked.

"Man, how the hell can you miss the writing on the wall. He has us good Everette just shut up and take the job." I had begun to like the Realtor he caught on real quick.

"Okay, then lets go out and have the auction. Ain't nobody else going to bid is there?" Everette asked it looking at me and then Jenny.

"None that I know of," I replied.

A few minutes later while Everette consulted with the auctioneer I spoke with the man from Raleigh. "You are going to fire him aren't you?" I asked it nodding toward Everette.

"Just as soon as his job is filled here. That was the deal wasn't it?"

"You bet. I figured you were smart as hell and you are."

"So tell me how did you know?" He really deserved an answer but I just couldn't do it.

"Everette talks in bed. It appeared to me my chance to end any rumors there might be about the waitress Lori at the same time. "A waitress at the cafe told me last night. Seems she and Everette have been up to no good, or hell it might have been very good I don't know."

"Seems they been at it a long time and hiding it from everyone around here. No telling what the town thinks of her." I was pretty sure that Anne over heard my conversation with the Realtor. Since Everette was leaving town soon, it should hold up pretty good I thought.

If it had been a movie there would have been a swell of hypnotic music then and a 'the end' tag. In real life it ended with the auctioneer saying, "Sold to the gentleman in the hunting coat."

I returned home to a life pretty much the same day in and day out. Helping people who needed it and while trying to scrape together the rent money.