Holiday Homicides
It was New Years day 1975, I swore I would never drink like that again. My head pounded, and my mouth felt like the whole Viet Cong army had camped in it overnight. I managed to get out of bed after three previously futile attempts. I looked around at my sorry living conditions. An efficiency apartment, the owner had billed it. The space was one large room with a couple of partitions tossed together on either side. One partition hid a kitchen and postage stamp dining area, the other a dressing room, and bath. The center portion served as both living and bedrooms. A neat trick managed by a folding sofa bed. It would have been a back killer had it not been for the eight-inch thick air mattress atop it. The air mattress and a couple of plastic tables where the only things that belonged to me.

I stared into my bloodshot eyes, in the permanently fogged mirror. Mornings like that, I thanked god for the fog. I stripped off my few remaining clothes to step into the shower. I spent a long time under the water. The water made only a small difference but every little bit helped, the orange juice and aspirin did a little more. Coffee, followed by a day old donut seemed to raise me to about fifty percent of normal. Hell, normal wasn't all that much.

I looked about the one large room. I had called it home for the previous two months. It was still filled with cardboard boxes. Most had never been opened. I planned to open them before I tossed them in the dumpster. It would at least be nice to know what I was tossing out. I promised myself that I would do just that the next day.

That day was a day of rest. The next I had meetings with lawyers all morning. Maybe in the afternoon I could get to the boxes. I really needed to make more space in my little room. After my coffee and donut, I dressed for the day. Since it wasn't a work day, I dressed in army fatigue pants and a navy blue cotton thermal shirt. I covered the thermal with a white dress shirt. A walking contradiction, that was me, mostly fiction.

The knock startled me. I didn't know anyone in the building. "It must be a neighbor," I thought. Knocking on my door was a waste of time, unless they wanted to borrow a cup of cold air. That was about the only thing in my refrigerator. Nonetheless I opened the door. I should have looked through the spy hole first. Then again, why? The building was filled with eighty-year old widows. I had a hell of a time convincing the owner to rent me the apartment. At the time, I was only thirty.

"Hi," the attractive young woman said, "My name is Jennifer, I just moved in two doors down." She waited for me to respond. I couldn't think of anything to say. Not only was I hung over, I was shocked to see a woman without a walker.

"Could I borrow your phone? Mine hasn't been connected yet." she said. When I still didn't respond instantly she went on, "It is a local call."

I opened the door wider. "Sure you can use the phone. You just surprised me." I said it stupidly.

"Thanks," she said it as she passed. "I have to call my parents. They are expecting me for lunch."

I left her alone with the phone while I returned to the kitchen for more coffee. I didn't want her to think I was eavesdropping, even though I heard every word she said. I listened to her talking, presumably to her mom for a few minutes. When she hung up, I walked back into the room.

"Would you like a cup of coffee. It is about the only thing I have to offer." I said it partly to make up for my rudeness and partly because I wanted her to stay.

"No thanks, I have to run. I appreciate the use of your phone though." She said that as she turned to the door.

"Anytime," I replied. After she had gone, my mind processed her for storage. Jennifer was probably twenty-five or so, about five eight or nine, tall for a woman. She was thin with almost the shape of a pencil. Still, it had been a long time between women for me. I put her onto the temporary A list.

Other than that interruption, and a couple of trips out for hamburgers, I spent the day watching football on my portable color TV. It was my one and only luxury. That night I slept the sleep reserved for people with the last dregs of a hangover. I slept hard, so hard that I never even heard the sirens. Living in an older apartment building in those days, meant living downtown. In my case, it meant living in the same block as the police and fire stations. I had taken the place for the extra security.

The owner boasted that there had never been a break-in at his building. What he didn't tell me was that the sirens blasted almost continuously some nights. On a full moon weekend, it was almost impossible to sleep. Thank God, I had only lived through one of them at that point.

Unfortunately the previous weekend had been it. A full moon which lasted until New Year's day, which was on Tuesday. Until I died from exhaustion, I had listened to sirens for four straight days.

I awoke the next day, just in time for a quick shower before rushing off to the lawyer's office. My lawyer, when I needed one, was John Gilmore. That day I met with Edward Simpkins, who was my wife's lawyer. Why she thought she needed a lawyer was beyond me. Simpkins kept me waiting in the reception room for twenty minutes. I recognized it as a ploy. One intended to humble me.

I stood, walked to the receptionist, then said, "I am sorry but I have to leave. Please have Mr. Simpkins call me for another appointment." I turned before she could answer.

I was almost out the door when she hastily said, "Mr. Simpkins can see you now."

I was tempted to just keep on going. I probably would have, if I thought I could have avoided returning the next week. Instead I turned to face the receptionist. "You sure? If Simpkins is all that busy, I can come back another day."

"No, he is ready for you. Just walk this way please."

There was no way that I was ever going to be able to walk the way she did. She moved with the grace of a young woman who wanted to flaunt her almost perfect body. I trudged along behind. She led me into a conference room. It was a small conference room with a table for six. My wife Maggie and a tall thin man were seated at the table. The man stood when I entered. He didn't extend his hand, so I didn't either.

"Mr. Rollins?" he asked.

"That would be me," I said it with as much sarcasm as I could manage.

"Yes, well Mr. Rollins you know why we are here?" he asked.

"I think so, but why don't you tell me anyway."

He ignored the heavy sarcasm. I don't know whether it was to avoid an argument, or just so that he could show off for Maggie.

"Well yes, we are here to sign the final divorce degree. Oh yes, we are also here to make the final division of the property."

"Let's not forget the property," I said. I was being as nasty as I could.

"Ronnie, why don't you try to at least be civil." Maggie said.

"Why should I? I have nothing to gain by civility. What is done is done. You can't possibly get more now. So, just in case you missed my meaning, you and the fancy boy here can just kiss my hillbilly ass." As always Maggie had pushed me over the edge.

"I don't think there is any need for that kind of language," Simpkins said.

"Let me explain again, I am not here to win any popularity contest. If you want me to leave because of my language, just say so. I will be happy to get out right now. The air in here is filled with cheap perfume."

"If it's cheap, it isn't mine," Maggie said with a cool smile. I knew she was right. There was nothing cheap about Maggie.

"Mr. Rollins, why don't you just read the papers and sign them," Simpkins suggested. He was trying to play tough for Maggie. Men were always trying to impress Maggie.

I accepted the papers. I read the first couple of pages quickly. It was all in a foreign language, legal double talk. Page three was the only one I cared about. It contained the division of assets. Maggie got the new car, I got the ten-year old Toyota land cruiser. Maggie got the house, I got the bank accounts, not even close to a fair trade. Maggie got the furniture, I got the boxes stacked in my apartment. The few credit card debts we had, were split between us. Most of the debt had been Maggie's anyway. Maggie got the mine, I got the shaft. Even with all that, I got the better deal. I got the hell away from Maggie.

I hadn't always felt that way. I had loved her when we first married. At that time she hadn't been a drunk or an adulteress. Those things took a couple of years to happen. Don't let anyone tell you that a woman strays because she isn't getting it at home. That is bullshit.

Maggie didn't want to get it at home. She wanted to get it from her boss. You guessed it, the honorable Eddie Simpkins. He probably already had my garage office converted to his home office. I thought for a minute about not signing the papers. That thought only lasted a minute. Getting the two of them off my ass was worth every penny.

I didn't return home until after lunch. Lunch most days was no more than a hot dog at a local diner. That day was no exception. I celebrated by having a coke instead of iced tea. Lucille the black waitress said, "What in the world has gotten into you lately Mr. Rollins? You been actin' mighty mean."

"I'm sorry, did I forget to leave you a tip again?" I asked jokingly.

"You knows damned well you wouldn't get out without leavin' me something. I mean you ain't been laughing and joking with Miss Nomie. That ain't like you." she said.

"I'm sorry, I signed my divorce today. It kinda pissed me off a little. You know?"

"I ain't never been married, but I knows what you mean. Nobody wants to feel like a failure" she said.

"I guess that's it. It's a pretty sorry man that can't please one little whore." I said it with a smile.

"That's better. Now you go back and speak to Miss Nomie. She be mighty hurt you leave without speakin' to her again."

I walked through the kitchen door and found Miss Nomie with a long thin wooden paddle in her hand. "What in the world you going to do with that Miss Nomie?" I asked.

"I'm gonna shove it up your sorry ass, if you ignore me one more time. Where you been keepin yourself?" The very large, very black woman asked it with a smile almost as large as her face.

"Here and there, you know how it is with us popular guys." I said.

"Bullshit, if you was a popular guy, you wouldn't eat half you meals in my caf\'e9 alone. You are a Liar but you are a good customer."

"I thought that was the same thing," I said.

"I guess it is at that," she replied.

"I just stopped in to say hi. I got to be gettin' back to the office."

"What office. I heard that no good wife of yours got it in the divorce."

"She did, but I still got to work. I've been workin' out of my apartment."

"Well you go on back to work then. You disturbin' my cookin' anyway."

I didn't reply I turned to leave. I made it out the door without running into anyone I knew. All the regulars at the Sanitary Caf\'e9 spoke to each other. They also knew everything about every other regular. A nosier bunch could only be found at the retirement home down the street. The Sanitary was the only truly integrated place on earth. Half the customers were black and half were white. At the Sanitary, if you were white you better have thick skin. I have very thick skin.

The atmosphere might be lousy, but the food was wonderful. It was mostly heavy with animal fat, but damn it tasted good. You exchanged a good meal for five years of your life.

Nomie always said, "Honey, that five years comes off the back end."

When I finally made it back to the apartment, I found the message light on my new answering machine blinking. I punched the button and heard, "Ron, this is Norma. Am I ever going to get that piece on the Benson Festival. I needed it yesterday. By the way, are you available to cover a Dog show for me this weekend."

"Damn," I thought. "Thousand word articles for magazines were a hell of a way for a serious writer to make a living." I was a serious writer, even if my two novels had been rejected by about every publisher in the western world. Meanwhile, I did pretty well writing humor pieces for magazines like the Southerner. They didn't pay all that well, but I cranked out pieces for a lot more than just the one magazine.

Novels on the other hand took months to write. They so far had been a total waste of my time. I wrote the occasional mystery short story for true detective and the like. They paid better, but still barely enough to make them worthwhile. I sat down with my new fangled word processor. I inserted the disk marked Benson. I wrote a couple of quick paragraphs then printed it out. The printer was slow and noisy, but it did better than I could have done. When the pages were completed, I unfolded them, tore them apart then packaged them to ship to the Southerner. I then called Norma with a clear conscience.

"Norma, Ron, I just finished your piece on Benson's Mule Festival. I am headed to the post office as soon as we hang up. Where is the dog show? How much do you want? and most important, what are you paying?" I asked it without a break.

"Damn good to talk to you too." Norma said it in a cracking voice. "The show is in Greensboro. It runs through Sunday. I don't really care who wins. I want a piece on the camper lifestyle. You know, traveling with a couple of dogs in a tin can, that kind of thing. Give me a couple of thousand words. I'll give you five hundred for it." she said.

"Hell you gave me three hundred for the Benson thing, it was only one thousand."

"Sure, but this one is in your back yard. Besides you can do two thousand as easy as one." There was dead air for a couple of seconds. "By the way, how do you like that new computer?" she asked.

"What this glorified typewriter? I can't believe you talked me into spending five hundred bucks on this piece of cap." .

"Well at least it can spell."

"No much," I countered.

I just got one exactly like it. If you want, you can mail me the disk."

"Like hell, it is bad enough I have to mail you a copy. If that thing got lost in the mail, it would be the only copy. I would have to start from square one."

"I know, these things have a long way to go," Norma said.

"You sure got that right. The only good thing about them, is that you can make corrections without striking over the word. The print out at least doesn't have a lot of X\rquote d out words."

"You just wait, one day every office in the country will have one," Norma said.

"Sure and a chicken in every pot." I replied sarcastically.

"Okay smart ass, you going to do the dog show for me.?" she asked.

"Why not, I need the money."

"I want it by a week from Friday, no excuses," Norma said.

"Hey, my writing may be cap., but it is always on time." I replied. I was hurt.

"I know love, I just have to say that to all our writers."

"You said it, so now let's forget it." I said it but not nearly as angrily as I wanted.

"How about you come to Atlanta this next week?."

"Norma, I am not about to let you pay me off in ass. I want real money." I said it with a laugh.

"Ron, you know I can't balance the budget, if you keep insisting on cash." she returned my laugh. "Damn, I got to run, my husband just walked in." She said it while breaking the connection. I had no idea at that time whether she was married or not.

I actually kept my word, I drove straight to the post office ten blocks away. After my short trip, I was walking down the hall toward my apartment when a door opened. "Remember me," the thin redhead said as she stepped into the hall.

"Sure, Jennifer, right?" I asked.

"Yes, I need another favor." She stated that with a coy smile.

"Sure come on in, the phone is where you left it." I said it as we walked toward my apartment.

"Not the phone this time, I need to leave a package with you."

"Why," I asked. I had long ago stopped agreeing to favors, before I knew the extent of the services required.

"I have to take off for a couple of days. Business, anyway a friend of mine is going to be coming for the package. I am going to leave a note on my door. That is if you agree to keep it for me."

"When is your friend coming? I have to go to Greensboro tomorrow."

"Don't worry Pat will be here tonight. If she isn't, don't worry she will catch up with you sometime." I hadn't agreed so she stood waiting.

"One more question, What exactly is the package. I mean I am not delivering dope, or live animals am I?"

Jennifer giggled, "No, nothing like that. It is just a book, I promised to loan her. You can look, if you want." she said offering me a paper bag. I opened the bag and found inside a hard cover romance novel. It was exactly what she said it would be.

"Sure, I'll take care of it for you," I finally agreed.

"You certainly are a suspicious man," Jennifer said.

"That's what my ex said, when I caught her sleeping with her boss."

"I guess that would make you suspicious. Don't worry, I'm not sleeping with my boss." She said it with that coy smile of hers.

"I guess that's a good thing." I took the book to my apartment. Once inside I began working on the last two pages of a short story I was working on for a detective magazine. I had already rewritten the ending twice. I still couldn't get it to end cleanly.

I didn't realize how long I had been working on the story, until I glanced out the window. The sun was going down. I looked at my watch to make sure the sun was on schedule. Sure enough it was five thirty five.

I pronounced the story complete at six. It was printing, while I heated a TV dinner in the oven. I knew that one day those things would change. They hadn't changed much since their invention in the fifties. As a matter of fact, the one in the oven might have been around that long.

While I waited, I sipped on a glass of iced tea. Yes, I drank iced tea even in the winter. Also it was always summer in my apartment. The heat was controlled by a little old lady on the first floor. She kept her apartment warm as toast. The upstairs apartments got that same amount of heat, plus some from the downstairs apartments as well. It was probably eighty degrees in my apartment at any given time. I never complained, I like a hot room. Besides the heat was included in the rent.

I heard the timid knock on the door above the whine of the printer. I looked out, since I wasn't sure exactly what to expect from Jennifer's pick up person. I saw the pale distorted face of a woman standing in front of my door. I quickly opened it for her.

"Yes?" I asked.

"I don't know if this is the right place or not, but there is a note on my friends door. I am supposed to pick up a package?" There was a larger degree of uncertainty in her voice, than the note should have caused.

"And your name is?" I asked.

"Adrian, my friend's note said she would leave a package with you for me to pick up."

I had been writing too many mystery stories, I told myself. Still I couldn't get over her nervous manner. "I'm afraid not. Sorry, but I don't have any package for you Adrian."

"I don't understand?" she made the statement a question.

"Who was supposed to leave the package for you?" I asked.

"My friend, she lives two doors down. Her note said she had left it with the man in two J. That is your apartment number?"

"It sure is, but I don't have a package for you." I tried to sound like I had no idea what she was talking about. "What is your friend's name?" I asked.

"If you don't have the package, then I must be mistaken." She said it as she turned to hurry from the hall. I was more puzzled by that, than by her giving me the wrong name. Damn that Jennifer, what he hell had she given me?

I closed the door, then threw the extra bolt, which I had never done before. It was probably my imagination working overtime, but I wanted a closer look at that book, before I delivered it to anyone. I opened the bag, then thumbed through the book. The book was empty except of course for the words. I checked the blank pages in the front and rear, hoping for some kind of message or something. I was at the point of deciding that Jennifer just gave me the wrong name for her friend, when I found it. Inside the hollow of the spine someone, presumably Jennifer, had placed a piece of paper.

I carried the paper to my desk, where the light was better. The note read, "Pat, meet me at Billy's tonight. It is important. Jen." I looked at the note several times before I replaced it inside the book's spine. I added the book to my small bookcase. I did it to hide the book. I know that sounds paranoid, but then like I said, I write a lot of mystery stories.

While all this was going on, my TV dinner was burning. It never caught fire, I doubt anything in it would have burned. It just got hard as a shoe sole. That was just the mashed potatoes, you can imagine what the hamburger was like. I threw it out. I gave it a lot of thought before going out to dinner. Like I said, I'm a little paranoid so I expected the worst when I returned. That being the case, I wasn't at all surprised to find the uniformed cop standing outside my broken door.

"So you live here?" he asked as I headed to the door.

"Yes, I do officer. What happened?"

"Your neighbor heard the door being kicked in. She called the emergency number."

"Did you get him?" I asked.

"Afraid not."

"Can I go in? I have a computer in there. I want to see if they took it."

"He didn't have time to do more than rifle the place for cash. You got good neighbors. I wish I had them. My place has been broken into twice." the cop said.

I checked the computer first thing. It seemed to be the same as when I left it. The short story had even finished printing. Next I looked at my sealed boxes. Each was still sealed. I knew what the burglar had been looking for. He wouldn't have bothered with the cartons or the computer. Not, if time were short. He would have rifled my desk drawers. That is, if my desk had any drawers. Instead he dumped everything from the two open boxes I used as file cabinets. He had also pulled every book from the bookcase. They lay in a heap on the floor.

Hidden among them was the book Jennifer had left with me. I wanted to check the spine but I decided to wait till the cop left. "It looks like everything is here."

"What do you think he was after?" the cop asked.

"Probably the computer. That and a couple of cameras are about all I have of value. At least in the apartment."

"Did you check the cameras?" he asked.

"Actually I didn't. Wait here just a minute. I went into the dressing room to open a drawer in the wall filled with drawers. I didn't think the burglar had gotten that far. I thought that, since none of the drawers appeared to have been opened. As I expected, I found my cameras right where I left them. Unlike the cop, I knew what he was looking for. "Everything is fine here," I said returning to the living/bedroom area.

The cop walked to the door. "You are going to need a whole new door. Is there anywhere else you can stay?" he asked. He saw my blank look. "You know just in case he comes back."

"Do you really think that is likely?"

"You never know about a burglar." he replied.

"Do me a favor, will you?" .

"If I can." he replied.

"A young woman lives a couple of doors down. I haven't seen her today. Would you go knock on her door?"

"Sure, just point it out." he said.

A close look at Jennifer's door showed that it too had been pried open. The cop told me to stand back, while he entered the room. Inside we found that it had been searched a lot more closely than mine. Evidently Jennifer didn't have neighbors as good as mine.

"Do you know where the woman who lives here is at the moment?" the cop asked.

"I have no idea. I just haven't seen her around since early afternoon. She is a bit of a busybody, if you know what I mean. I would have expected her to be standing outside my door. I was a bit concerned, you know with the break-in and all." I explained lamely.

"Well her TV and Stereo are still here. My guess is that nothing of any great value is missing. Unless she kept a lot of cash around?" He obviously thought I knew whether she did or not.

"I have no idea. This is the first time I have ever been inside her apartment." I answered truthfully.

"I think, I ought to get the crime scene boys out here. There is something more to this than I am seeing."

I nodded my head in agreement. I didn't know what else to do. I stayed in the hall for two more hours. First, while we waited for the middle aged fat man to spread finger print dust everywhere. Then while we waited for a detective unit to arrive.

"Rollins is that you?" I heard the voice from my rear.

I turned to face detective Marsha Thomlinson. "Marsha when did you become a detective?" I asked.

"A couple of years ago. That would have been a year after you left the department. You still writing for those trashy magazines?"

"Every chance I get."

"So what happened?" she asked of me. The cop seemed a little disappointed that she didn't ask him.

"Got me, I was having dinner at the time. The officer over there is the one to ask." I said. I wanted him on my side.

"Somebody broke into the apartment down the hall first, then into Mr. Rollins' apartment." he said.

"Rollins, you ever get used to being called Mister," Tomlinson asked.

"Don't have to. He is the first one who ever called me that." I said it with a broad smile.

"Kid, you are looking at a bona fide hero. Rollins here was decorated, what Rollins twice?"

"Come on Marsha give me a break. You know you are going to tell him the rest of it, so let's just skip it all."

"No way, the kid should know. After all, how often does he get to meet a legend. Kid, he was decorated once during the black panther stand off, and once for pulling another cop out of the open during a shoot out with a nut case." she said aimlessly.

"Really, you used to be a cop?" the kid asked. He couldn't believe it. Hell, I couldn't either. I was long past those days.

"Yeah, just don't believe all that cap., she is dishing out. In those days they gave you medals instead of raises." I said it trying to play it all down.

"Then kid, he gets fired. You know what for?" she asked. The kid of course shook his head. "Excessive force, Rollins pushed a suspect down two flights of stairs. Actually it wouldn't have been so bad, but the kid stopped after the first flight. Rollins kicked his ass down the second one. If we hadn't had a review board at the time, he wouldn't even have had to explain."

"Okay detective, you have rehashed the whole sorry mess for the kid. He has now been warned that medals for valor mean nothing, when it comes to race relations. How about giving it a rest."

"Okay hero, you got any idea who trashed your place?" she asked sarcastically.

"Not unless you did. Give me a break Marsha, that was all a long time ago. Let's move past it." I said it hoping she would ease up a bit.

"You got a coffee pot in there?" she asked.

"Sure come on in. We can all have a cup, while we try to sort this out." I suggested.

"Kid you stay and chaperone," Marsha ordered.

"I was about to suggest that myself. God knows, I don't trust you worth a damn." I said it just as sarcastically as she had.

Once inside my apartment, I began the long process of making coffee. I poured boiling water into a funnel filled with coffee grounds.

"Why don't you come into the twentieth century Rollins. They have machines to do that now," Marsha suggested.

"I guess I am old fashioned," I answered. I didn't reply as I wished I could have.

"Okay, so who is the broad down the hall?" she asked. I knew I was in trouble. The patrol officer had heard me imply that we were friends.

"I don't really know her. You know how it is living in an apartment. I spoke to her a couple of times." I didn't say that it had been exactly two times.

"How long has she been living here?" Marsha asked.

"I can't say. Like I said she was just here one day. Come on Marsha, you know how it is in apartments."

"Try this one then. What is the connection between you two?"

"None that I know of. She just lives down the hall."

"Do you happen to know where she is?" Marsha kept it up.

I poured us each a cup of the finished coffee. I think she has family in town but I don't know their names. She might be with them. Hell, she might be staying with a boyfriend. Some people are lucky that way."

"Speaking of that way, how is that wife of yours?" Marsha threw it in innocently enough.

"Divorced," I replied.

"Really, she finally wised up?"

"Got a better offer, I expect." I said that with as much malice as I could manage.

"I figure someone was looking for something. What do you think."

"I expect Maggie found what she was looking for." I said it, knowing full well she had switched subjects again.

"I mean the burglar. I think he was looking for something in your friend's apartment. When he didn't find it there, he came looking here. What do you think?"

"Seems logical," there was no sense denying it. "Though I have no idea what it might have been, or why he thought I had it."

"Were you sleeping with her Rollins?" Marsha asked.

"That a cop question, or a personal one?" I had about reached the end of my cooperation.

"You know damned well it isn't personal," Marsha snapped.

"I told you, I only spoke to her a couple of times."

"That isn't really an answer. It has been my experience that men don't talk a lot." She said it with the hint of a smile.

"No, I wasn't sleeping with her. I have no idea where she is, or why anyone would rifle her apartment. That should just about cover it."

"Well, if you see her before me, tell her I need to talk to her." Marsha said that as she stood to leave.

"I'll do that," I promised. as I walked to the door with the two cops.

"You going to be all right Mr. Rollins? I mean with the broken door and all?" the young cop asked.

"Don't worry about Rollins, worry about the burglar, if he is stupid enough to come back." Marsha said it without a hint of a smile.

Once they had gone, I set about fixing the door as best I could. Which turned out to be a chair propped against the knob to secure the bottom. I used the deadbolt to secure the top. I was tempted to sit thinking about the incident, but I needed to start on a piece I was writing for the American Artist Magazine. I wrote for them under an assumed name. It was standard practice. As a matter of fact I used several pen names. It would never do for the public to learn how few writers actually filled their magazines with trash.

I finished the first draft of the piece, before I heard the knock on my door. Before I answered, I picked up my Colt. The little five shot snub nose was accurate only about twenty feet. I planned to be a damned sight closer than that, if I used it. I looked out the spy hole to see Detective Thomlinson standing in the hall. I slowly removed the chair then threw the bolt.

"What can I do for you detective?" I asked.

"You could invite me in for more coffee. You still make the best damned coffee in the state." she said it as she strode past me.

I followed her into the kitchen, where she planted her ass on a chair. I poured her the several hours old coffee. She might have expected me to speak, but I wasn't about to say a word.

"You were expecting me weren't you?" she asked.

"Let's say, I'm not all that surprised. Then again, nothing much surprises me anymore."

"So how long you and Maggie, the bitch been divorced?" she asked.

"Most all day today," I replied.

"No seriously?" she asked.

"Tomorrow at ten it will be one day. I signed the papers this morning."

"You really have had a full day, Haven't you?" she remarked.

"Yeah well, some days are better than others." I said it with a smile.

"You never change Rollins. Would you have called me? I mean, now that you are divorced."

"Marsha, that part of my life is over. I'm not a cop and I don't spend time with cops."

"You know, I have always cared about you." She said it looking down into her coffee cup.

"I care about you, Marsha. That's why I don't want to start anything with you. It would be for the wrong reasons."

"You said that before, but you never explained. I want you to explain it now," she demanded.

"No you don't," I answered.

"If you don't explain it to me right now, so help me God, I am going to pull my gun and shoot your sorry ass." She was almost in tears.

"Okay, if you want me to explain it that badly, I will. Look, what you felt for me was gratitude. What I felt for you was friendship. That isn't much to build a relationship on. It wouldn't have lasted a week."

"Gratitude, why you insufferable prick. Just because you dragged my ass out of the line of fire. Hell, it wasn't that big a deal." she said it with a smile. "Besides, I know you were just doing it to get a feel."

"Exactly, and that's what it would be again."

"So what's wrong with that. I am way over twenty one." she said.

"Come on Marsha, you wouldn't be satisfied with that. You deserve better and you know it." I said it hoping to finish the conversation on a high note.

"Rollins, how long has it been since you and Maggie did the dirty deed?"

"A couple of months, what has that got to do with anything?"

"Because old buddy, if you didn't care for me, you would be jumping me this very moment. The only reason you don't, is that you are scared I will get too close to you." She said it with a knowing smile.

"No Marsha, the reason I don't, is because I don't screw people, who can really screw me." I said that with a genuine smile.

"I am going to give you a chance to change your mind, but only fifty of them." she said with a small laugh.

"I know I'm stupid, but I won't change my mind."

"Sure you will, how many women do you know who look like me, and can whip your ass at damned near everything?" She knew there was no answer coming.

"Why in the hell would you want a washed up old man like me anyway?" I asked.

"You aren't old, but you are washed up. Tell me the truth, are you making any money with this writing cap.?"

"So far, it has paid the bills," I said.

She made a big show of looking around. "Yeah, I can see how well you are doing. Why don't you come back to my place. At least you can sleep in a real bed, in an apartment with a lock on the door."

"Thanks for the offer, but I think I will stay here."

"You are about to do something really stupid, I can tell."

"Probably, but at least you won't get hurt." I replied.

"Meaning, I would if you came to my place. Rollins let me tell you something. All you men think you are big enough to hurt a woman, but none of you are, especially not you. Remember, I have seen you without your clothes."

"Now that was dirty pool." I said.

"The truth is really what hurts isn't it," she said it with her first hearty laugh.

"Look, it's getting late. I think you should be running along."

"Don't do this Ron. What ever your little friend is into, it ain't worth your getting jammed up over."

I knew better than to admit to anything. "I don't know what you are talking about. I have a bunch of dog show people to interview tomorrow. I just need my sleep."

"Have it your way. I am going home, but I expect to be hearing from you, or at least about you tomorrow." she said.

"Fair enough," I answered.

After Marsha had gone, I sat at my keyboard a few more minutes then gave up. The rewrite on the art show would have to wait another day, at least. I opened the sofa then turned out the lights. In the dark I stuffed my heavy coats and pillows under the sheets. I sat on the floor, by the door waiting to see who would visit me next. That scrap of paper was pretty important to someone. I didn't know what it meant, but I knew someone wanted it bad. Bad enough to break into two different apartments looking for it. I should have given it to the police at the first opportunity. I hadn't, maybe to protect Jennifer, but more likely because I hated cops. I didn't trust them to do the right thing, not the legal thing, the right thing.

I had drifted into a light sleep when he came. It was hard for him to open, even the unbolted door, without a sound. The wood creaked where he had broken it. I gripped the colt even tighter as I saw his shadow pass me. He moved to the bed, then leaned over it to poke me with the barrel of his pistol.

"I wouldn't bother. I am over here. I also have a rather nasty pistol pointed at your sorry ass. If you want to live till the sun comes up, drop the gun, otherwise pray." I waited.

I was low enough so that if he turned to fire, he would most likely shoot over my head. I wouldn't make that mistake. He took a few seconds to think about it, then dropped the pistol on the bed. He was back lighted by the downtown, as the street lights glowed through the tall windows behind him.

"I don't much care for the cops, so if you tell me what the hell is going on, you can walk. Otherwise I call the police."

"How do I know, you won't call them anyway?" asked the gravely voice.

"You are going to have to trust me on this one. Come on man make up your mind."

"Can I at least sit down?" he asked.

"Sure, if you want to find yourself in hell when you get up." I answered. "Come on friend spill it quick."

"I am looking for Jennifer," he said.

"That much, even I could figure out. Why are you looking for Jennifer?" I asked.

"She has something of mine."

"I am getting tired of this cat and mouse shit. Either tell it to me, or to the cops. I am going to make that call in about five seconds."

"Jennifer has some pictures of us. Some pictures I would rather no one else sees."

"Blackmail, that isn't much of a reason to come looking for her. That is, unless you intend to use that nasty little pistol you brought in with you?"

"I don't want to hurt anyone, I just want the pictures." He was almost whining. The only problem was that, none of it made much sense. I finally figured out why it didn't make sense.

"What did you do with Pat?" I asked. It seemed I had asked the question that drove him over the edge. He lunged for his pistol on the bed.

I didn't even have a chance to think about it, let alone talk him out of it. I shot him twice. Unfortunately, he also got off a shot. His went high and wild as I had expected it to. My first shot didn't even do enough damage to prevent it. My second one ended any thought he had of shooting again. Maybe in the movies, you go take the gun away from a downed shooter, but not in my house. I held the pistol on him, while I pushed myself up the wall to the light switch. When I had the overhead light on, I kept his unconscious body in my sights, while I called the police emergency number.

I waited five minutes for the cop. The one who arrived that time, stood in the hall till I came outside with my hands up. He is the one who went inside to check the man bleeding into my bed. The ambulance arrived shortly after. Not that it would do him any good.

I spent the night in police interrogation, while he spent it in the morgue. I explained about the book and about the break-in. I didn't explain about the note in the spine or my conversation with the dead man. When asked, why I hadn't told the original detective about the book, I explained that it had slipped my mind. It was a lousy lie. It was also the best I could think of at the time. My version held together only because there was no other.

The cops pieced it together the next day. Jennifer worked at a topless bar. She was a hostess. It made sense, nobody would pay to see her skinny ass topless. The man, I had killed, was the owner of the club. He was after pictures all right, but not of him screwing Jennifer. They were of him taking delivery of a suitcase full of drugs.

Jennifer hadn't wanted to talk, not until the cops showed her pictures of her friend Pat. Pat had been the contact between Jennifer and Herb the dead man. Pat was very dead. The photographs didn't do her death much justice. She had suffered badly. My guess was the South American gentleman in the picture had arranged that little piece of work.

Marsha told me that once Jennifer started talking they couldn't shut her up. About the only thing she didn't tell them, was who killed cock robin. Jennifer explained that she would never have talked, if Herb were still alive. She had become very frightened of him and his associates. Too bad she hadn't thought of that sooner.

The only real problem was that the pictures didn't show the South American gentleman's face. Being a half assed photographer I noted the absence of any negatives. I waited until Jennifer got sprung before I asked her.

"So Jen, where are the other pictures and the negatives?"

"What do you mean?" she asked while standing in the doorway of here apartment.

"The pictures you gave up showed your boss' face but not the other guy. Now if you were blackmailing your boss, you were planning to dip into the South American gentleman's pocket as well."

"What makes you think that?" she asked nervously.

"Blackmailers are a greedy bunch. I would think that after Pat you would have decided that it just ain't worth it."

"Ron why don't you help me. The man in the pictures has a ton of cash. He comes to the club about once a month and picks up a suitcase full. I know that if we can find out who he is, we can take him off for a mint."

"You don't know who the South American is?"

"No but you can help me find out. Herb would never tell me anything about him, but I'll bet you can find out."

"Okay let me see the pictures," I demanded.

"Then you are going to help me?"

"Sure," I said knowing it was a lie. I was getting involved only because the next man coming for me might be a pro. The chances of survival if a pro is after you, are pretty damned slim.

"I left the other pictures in a locker at the bus station. We can go pick them up now, if you would like." she informed me.

"I would like that very much," I replied.

I saw the pictures at eleven a.m. I immediately recognized the South American gentleman. "Jennifer do you have anywhere you can go? I mean somewhere out of town. Somewhere no one here knows about?"

"I got a brother, but I ain't leaving you to make the score."

"There is not going to be a score. This gentleman is no gentleman. He is going to kill us both. The only reason he didn't do it before is that he didn't know about the blackmail. He knows now. If you go home, you are going to die. Drop me off at the apartment and run like hell. Call me in a couple of days. If it's over, you can come back then."

"What are you going to do?" she asked.

"I'm going to try to stay alive." I expected she could tell that I wasn't kidding. I damned sure wasn't. I was absolutely sure that if I couldn't get him first, he would kill us both. He sure as hell knew where to find us. Anyway she dropped me in the parking lot then took off. She was off to her brother's I presumed.

I was torn between getting my .45 from the false bottom of the land cruiser, or calling Marsha. I decided to call Marsha. I could only hope to stay alive long enough to take out the drug dealer. Getting caught with a concealed weapon wouldn't do me any good at that moment.

"Marsha we need to talk."

"Sure come on in to the station," she suggested.

"Don't think so. How about you and I meet at the Sanitary for lunch?"

"Do you still eat there. I'm surprised you haven't had a bypass yet. You haven't have you?"

"No and this is serious. I'll be there in fifteen minutes."

"Ron, I'll be there in thirty. Got a report to write."

"Make it the fifteen Marsha, I'm about to make you a sergeant."

"I am a sergeant," she replied.

"Then I am going to make you a general. Just get your butt down to the Sanitary."

Twenty minutes later found me seated in a booth at the rear of the smoky restaurant. I looked up as Marsha slid in across from me. "What the hell was so important that you had to drag me to this greasy spoon. Did you come to your senses and decide to finally have a quiet little affair with me?"

"Not yet." I said that as I moved the envelope across the table. "Something you should see."

Marsha took a few minutes to look at the shots. "Where is Jennifer?" she asked.

"Gone, she doesn't know who the man is."

"So what are you going to do about this?"

At that moment I realized it went deeper than I had thought. "I'm going to stand up and walk out the door. Then I am going to drive to the DA's office."

"Don't do it Ron."

I stood to leave.

"Ron please don't do this." she had moved her hand closer to the Glock.

"You going to shoot me in the back, in front of all these witnesses?" I asked that as I walked out of the restaurant. My knees began to knock when I seated myself behind the wheel of the land cruiser. It took me a couple of seconds to get the car started. I was shaking so hard that getting the key into the ignition switch was difficult.

I drove carefully but quickly to the DA's office. I sure as hell didn't want a traffic stop. The receptionist recognized me from my cop days I supposed. "I need to see Joyce,' I said to the youngster.

"Sure what is your name again?"

"Ron Rollins, she will know me I think." It looked as though the kid didn't remember me after all. As a matter of fact I didn't recognize her either. She was probably one of those people who pretend to know everybody.

Joyce I did recognize. "Ron, what the devil are you doing here?"

"Got to see you Joyce."

"God Ron, I haven't seen you in years. What can I do for you, fix a ticket?" She asked that after she closed the door.

"I wish. This is going to be a hell of a mess." I tossed the envelope with the pictures on her desk.

She looked at them for a long time before she asked, "Is this what I think?"

"If you think that it is the assistant chief of police selling drugs, then it's what you think."

"God how could Alverez be so stupid?" she asked herself.

"You mean to get his picture made, or sell the dope?"

"Frankly either, how bad is it going to be Ron?"

"If he took it from evidence, which I expect he did, then it is going to be hell on wheels. Every dope bust for the last ten years is going to be suspect. The court of appeal will have to put on a second shift."

"'Son of a bitch, what am I going to do?"

"I got an idea, but you ain't going to like it." I said that with a smile. I spent the next twenty minutes explaining my idea to her.

"I can't have any part of that. What you are talking about borders on illegal. Besides I don't sleep now just from the plea bargains."

"Oh, I'll take care of it. Course you can just bust him and call the papers."

"That is going to be my last resort. You can try it your way. If he don't go for it, then it's the papers and the cops."

"Well don't count on a lot of help from the cops. If you can find some who didn't get involved, they aren't going to want to lose their busts because Alverez tampered with the evidence."

"So what do I do first?" she asked.

"Call Tommy here and let me talk to him."

"I do hope you don't plan to enjoy this Ron."

"Hey, I am the messenger not the perp."

Alverez showed up half an hour later. It was well past noon when we finally sat down to talk. "So Tommy how you doin?" I asked.

"It's Chief Alverez to you Rollins. Why the hell am I talking to you anyway?" He said that preparing to leave Joyce's office.

I tossed the photos in front of him. "You take a real nice picture Tommy." I truly enjoyed his discomfort at my calling him by his given name. Not to mention the expression on his face when the photos hit the table. "I guess you didn't know that the hostess of the titty bar was a camera buff. She did right well for an amateur. The composition could have been better but the lighting and focus is just fine.

Alvarez took a few minutes to think it all through. "So Rollins, you don't think the cops are going to do anything about this do you? They might fire me, but they don't want to lose all those cases. The chief is going to bury this, and you."

"That might happen except that I am a writer. You did know that I write for trashy magazines these days. If the DA don't prosecute you, I am going to write a really interesting piece for the Southerner. No Tommy, you are going to do time for this. I am going to help put you in the joint."

"Has anybody else seen those?" He pointed to the offending pictures.

"Just me and you Tommy boy."

"Why did you show them to me, and why here?"

"Because Tommy I am going to give you a chance to make the decision for yourself and your family. This is going to be pretty tough on your wife and kids. You got a teenaged daughter don't you. It will be real good for her to go to central prison to visit you. Then there is you wife trying to live on her salary. You did know that you don't get a pension from prison."

"Rollins would this go away, if I were gone?"

"That's the deal, here Tommy. I tossed a legal pad on the desk. I am going across the hall to see Joyce. When we come back you are headed for prison." I walked from the room, then stood talking to the receptionist. If Tommy found his balls, I wanted an airtight alibi.

The single shot came about five minutes later. It took him that long to screw up his courage. I followed the receptionist to the doorway. I opened it to find most of Tommy slumped in his chair. There was about two pounds of brains and blood on the wall.

I held the receptionist up. She was trying to faint and I wouldn't let her. I needed her for my alibi. She wouldn't be much good to me unconscious.

I left her to keep everyone out of the room. I made sure the note said what I wanted. If it hadn't, it would have found its way into the trash. Tommy had said the right things to his wife so I left it.

It took almost an hour for everyone to come and go from the DA's office. Finally the Captain of detectives came into the interview room where I was being held. "Okay Rollins, I'm going to spring you now."

"Good," I replied standing to leave.

"Ron, I know you had a hand in this." I started to protest but he held up his hand. "I know you got the perfect alibi, but you are neck deep in this."

I shrugged and headed to the door. "Ron one more thing. Is this over now?"

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"You know what I mean. Alvarez fired you, are you finished now. Everybody knows you got the patience of Jobe. You waited three years to get Alvarez when he least expected it. So are there more?"

"You worried Cap?" I looked and saw that he was. "I would be too, if I were you."

I left the DA's office then stopped at the Sanitary for dinner. I held the pork chop down in spite of the memory of Tommy Alvarez's brains on the wall. When I got home, I found a message from Marsha. "It wasn't what you think."

"Maybe not," I thought. "But you are still a cop and I still hate cops."\f1
I don't really know why I went to that particular restaurant on that particular day. I expect it was just because my usual hangout was closed. I had been to the restaurant on a few previous evenings. The Sanitary Caf\'e9 was closed after three in the afternoon. They had a hell of a breakfast and lunch crowd, so I guess they figured they didn't need to be open at night. Even if they were open, half their customers wouldn't have shown up. The Sanitary was in a neighborhood best stayed away from after dark, at least if you are white. Since half the customers of the Sanitary were white, it made sense for Miss Naomi to close in the afternoon.

Anyway, I was sitting alone at the booth, where I probably shouldn't have been in at all; booths were saved for couples, when a woman at least fifteen years younger than me approached. I could tell when she was twenty feet away, that she was headed for my booth. I tried to place her but I hadn't a clue. She didn't look at all familiar to me.

``Mr. Rollins?'' It came out of her mouth as a question.

``Yes ma'am,'' I said as I stood to greet her.

``Please sit down.''

``Would you like to join me?'' I asked even without knowing who she was.

``If you wouldn't mind.''

``Not at all, I hate to eat alone.''

``You don't remember me do you?'' she asked with a smile.

``No ma'am I don't.''

``Well, I sure remember you.''

I was almost afraid to ask why. ``Really, then we have met before?''

``You might say that. You were married to my sister.''

``My God, are you little Janet?'' I was surprised that I hadn't remembered her, at least a little.

``That's me,'' she replied.

``I will be damned.''

``I would ask what you have been up to, but I already know.''

``You do?''

``Sure, I see your tapes all over the place. I can't go into a convenience store without seeing a rack of them.''

``You aren't the one who bought a tape are you?'' I asked with a smile.

She laughed gently. ``Actually I did buy one once. I'm afraid your tapes ooze testosterone. It's a little much for me.''

``That is true, I never learned to write for women.''

``Sure you do. I can recognize your humor pieces in the magazines.'' she replied. ``Now those I like, why don't you do some of that on tape?''

``To tell you the truth, it is hard to write humorously for more than a thousand words. Ten thousand and I get down right maudlin.'' I paused a few seconds before I asked, ``So Janet, how old are you now?''

``You are as blunt as ever. You aren't supposed to ask a woman her age.''

`Let me see, you were in college when Maggie and I called it quits, so you must be close to thirty.'' I guessed.

``Just about,'' she lied.

``So, where is your family?'' I asked.

``Mom and Dad still live in Andrews. No other family, there used to be a husband but I kind of misplaced him.'' she said grinning broadly.

``I was just about to order, if you haven't eaten yet, why don't you stay and eat with me.''

``Actually I finished my dinner, but you go ahead. I would kind of like to talk to you.''

``If you are sure you don't want anything, I think I will. I skipped lunch today.''

``Old habits are hard to break.'' She saw my curious look. ``You were always forgetting to eat. Maggie thought that was a great joke.''

``I expect there were many things about me Maggie found humorous.'' I said with a bitter edge in my voice.

``Well she doesn't talk much about you anymore. So maybe she doesn't find you so funny these days.''

``I know you are dying for me to ask, so how is Maggie.''

``She and the lawyer are fighting like cats and dogs, but they will stay together. He can't afford a divorce and Maggie likes to spend his money.''

``Did she ever have any kids. I really haven't heard anything about her since the divorce.''

``She has two and they are both terrors. Why haven't you heard anything about her, I mean she only lives thirty miles away.''

``I never get over to Andrews, unless it is to work. I just don't run in her crowd any longer. Speaking of that, what are you doing in our little town anyway?''

``I live here now. I work for the court system,'' she replied.

``God, not a another lawyer.'' The distaste was evident in my voice.

``No, I'm a court reporter.''

``Then you're a state employee?''

``Lord no, I work for myself. All stenographers do.''

``I didn't know that. So how do you like it?''

``I have to like it; it's the only thing I know how to do. Look, let's talk about you.''

``A pretty boring subject.'' I suggested.

``I doubt that. So tell me, how did you go from magazine stringer to producing those tapes.''

``You left out horrid and ghastly from your description of the tapes.'' I smiled at her and she returned my smile. She also didn't deny those were her opinions. ``I have always tried to write fiction. I met my partner in the tape business five years ago. Marty is a sound man for a country band. I was covering a bluegrass festival for a magazine. We got to talking and one thing led to another.

I write the stories and then read them into a tape recorder. Marty cleans up the tape, and then copies it. He is also a damned good salesman. He has some really good ideas, most of which require me to work,''

``What kind of ideas?'' she asked.

"Oh, tomorrow for instance, I am going to be autographing tapes. Marty read about authors who have book signings, so he thought we should do it.''

``So where is this tape signing, I might want to get your autograph?''

`` It is at the mall in Asheboro. You can have my autograph right now and save a long drive.''

``Actually, I might want to buy one of your tapes. I have a present to buy for a friend at the courthouse. He would probably like your tapes.''

``I have plenty of them to sell.'' I replied with a smile.

``Actually, I'll bet you sell plenty of them. Almost every new car comes with a tape player now.''

d\fi720\sa240\qj\tx720\tx1440\tx2160\tx2880\tx3600\tx4320\tx5040\tx5760\tx6480\tx7200\tx7920\tx8640 ``Between the commuters and the joggers we sell one or two.'' I admitted.
``So how many different tapes do you have?''
``Let me think a minute. I have four novels, six novellas and about a dozen red neck mysteries.''
``You are still writing for magazines?'' she asked.
``Sure, that is how I pay the bills, the tapes are really more for fun than anything else.''
``I always wanted to ask a writer, where do you get your characters?''
``Most of them are loosely based on people I have known, or at least people I meet.''
``Is Maggie in any of your stories,'' she asked with a curious smile.
``I'm afraid I can't answer that. Maggie and her husband would sue my ass off.'' I said breaking into a laugh.
``They probably would at that,'' she agreed.
``So, when did you move here? I know your family all live in Andrews.''
``I got the contract for the courthouse a few months ago. I moved last week.''
``Then bumping into you is the worlds biggest coincidence. I would have expected it to take a least a month.'' I laughed. ``This is the worlds smallest medium sized town.''
``I know, I already heard, that if you wanted to know anything about anyone, just ask the first person you see on the street.'' We both laughed gently.
``That's about the truth. So where are you living?''
``I rented an apartment at the Pines.''
``That's a nice safe place. You shouldn't have any problems out there.''
``What kind of problems would I have anywhere?''
``This town has a pretty high burglary rate, probably because so many people work in Andrews. You know, they aren't really from here, so the burglars seem to feel it's okay to steal from them. The people who work in Andrews, tend to stay there to socialize, so they don't really get known as residents. If you removed them, the population would fall by about half.''
``I have seen a lot of B&E trials since I've been here. I hadn't thought about how many though.'' She paused for a long time. I sensed she had more to say so I sat quietly. ``Your name came up at the courthouse last week.''
``Nothing good I'm sure, gossip is the lubricant of the court system.'' I said it as a joke. I'm afraid I didn't make her laugh.
``The policemen don't much like you,'' she said it as if she were informing me of some new fact.
``I expect, that's because I don't much like them.''
``I heard that too. So how's your love life?'' she asked changing the subject.
``If I had a love life, which I don't, I don't think I would discuss it with you.'' I grinned to show her that I was kidding.
``Then I guess I will make something up. I have to tell Maggie about this meeting. I want to make it sound really good.''
``Now, why would you want to do that?'' I asked.
``Come on Ron, what could be more fun than pulling Maggie's chain?''
I gave it a moments thought, then said, ``Okay, then you have my permission to make up the most dreadful lie you can think of.''
``I think, I will make her a wealthy country club type. Maybe Buffy, yeah that sounds like a good name for your girlfriend.''
``You know, Janet, you have a mean streak. I think I like that about you.''
``Why thank you sir,'' she said in a southern bell accent. ``So I know you are signing books tomorrow, but what are you doing the rest of the weekend. You do know it is a holiday.''
``Sure, that's why I'm signing tapes on a Friday. Marty swears the mall will be filled with people.
``So what about Saturday and Sunday?'' she asked.
``I have to go to Southport right after the signing. They have some kind of festival and street dance on the fourth. I'm doing a piece on it for a travel magazine. How about you?''
``Me, I'm supposed to go to a cookout with the family tomorrow at lunch, then I have nothing else till Monday morning at nine. Why, are you inviting me along for the weekend?''
``I hadn't thought of it, but it would be nice to have some company for a change. I'm afraid you would never find a motel room though.''
``What are you doing, sleeping on the beach?''

\ldblquote No, but I made my reservations three months ago.''
``I meant, stupid, I could stay with you. That is if you haven't become a rapist or anything. You haven't have you?'' there was no real concern in her voice
``No, but what would your family say? I mean it might be innocent, but they would never believe it.''
``I guess, I just won't tell them. God knows I'm old enough to go to the beach with a man.''
``If I were any other man, they probably would agree with you. In my case you will catch hell if they ever find out.''
``When was the last time you talked to any member of my family?''
``The day I signed the divorce papers.''
``So, if I'm not going to tell and you never see them, how the hell are they going to find out?''
``You have a point.''
``Are you still driving that old beat up land cruiser?''
``No, it died on me a few years ago. I replaced it with an International Scout.''
``Sounds like a farm truck,'' she giggled. I could tell she was getting excited about the trip.
``I guess it is at that. I need it sometimes to get to those far off places I write about.''
``What far off places? I'll bet you haven't written about anyplace, over five hundred miles from here.\rdblquote
``And how would you know that?'' I asked.
``I keep up with you a little. I told you I had read some of your writing.''
``You need a four wheel drive to get to some of the places within five hundred miles.'' I said a little uncomfortably.
``I was just kidding. I read the piece you did on the ghost town in the mountains. I liked it by the way. Do you ever go back there?''
``No, but I am going to retire there one of these days.'' I said it with a smile.
``So, what time do we leave tomorrow?\rquote\rquote
``If you are serious, be at the Asheboro Mall around three. I hope to wind down then, if not at least by five.''
``I think I will go home and pack. By the way, we are taking my car.'' She said it as a weak order. I could have contradicted her, but I just nodded. Leaving the Scout in the mall parking lot wouldn't be a problem. Nobody in his right mind would steal that piece of junk.
I should have worked on a new tape for Marty, but when I got home the most I could manage was to have a drink. I drank the Jim Beam and Pepsi slowly, because I was cutting down on my drinking. I was down to four very weak drinks a night. I probably consumed no more than four ounces an evening. For me that was just a drop.
The slight amount of alcohol had no effect on my writing. Back when I was a heavier drinker, I thought it helped, that is until I read some of the pages when sober. I had gone back to tape all my old novels and short stories. When I read them sober, I was forced to rewrite almost all of them.
Taping them had required that I buy a fancy cassette recorder. Marty had insisted that it was the very least quality tape he could work with. Marty was a whiz with that kind of thing. He had installed a boom mic over my computer so that I could read the crap right from the screen. He even had a kill switch for me to do the most basic of editing. When he got the tape, he would run it through some kind of computer gyrations until it came out clean.
Marty took on the partnership because he needed something to do during the week. The band played over the weekends, he was therefore on the road most every weekend. He worked on our tapes when he wasn't. Being on the road actually helped. He pitched the tapes everywhere he went. Marty had built up a pretty good business for himself and a kind of cult following for me. Our customers were mostly truck drivers and salesmen. Lately we had begun making inroads into the joggers. They were a little more upscale crowd, so I was surprised they bought the heavy macho crap. I was even more surprised when Marty informed me that most joggers were middle-class, middle-aged women. It never occurred to me that women would buy my work. As Janet had said, it was a little too loaded with testosterone.
Marty and his band were on the road over the weekend of the fourth, so I sat up in the mall alone. I set up in the wrong place, according to the mall manager. She moved me from the entrance of the bookstore, to the very center of the mall. I was by the fountain. I managed to convince her, to allow me the move of a few feet to avoid the fountain's spray.
The small card table, and folding lawn chair had seen many of these events. I was as comfortable as I was likely to get when the mall doors opened at nine. I sat like a statue surrounded by three large boxes of tapes. I sat like that for over two hours before anyone stopped. The sign on my easel usually attracted a few people. It read, ``Meet the author of the acclaimed Red neck Mystery Series. Acclaimed by whom, Marty never told me. On the card table along with the boxes of tapes were three Walkman tape players. People could preview our demo tape before actually plunking down their money. The demo story ran eighteen and a half minutes, most people never got through it. They either bought a six-pack or they fled in horror.
With the six-pack, the customer got six red neck mysteries about an hour long each, also the demo tape free. If you were going to own the tape, why waste time listening to it in the mall. The six-pack sold for ten bucks, of which Marty and I split the seven-dollar profit. I never made much at the signings but it helped to increase our novel and mail order businesses. The six-packs could be sold as individual tapes at two bucks each but most people bought the six-pack. Some new customers tried one tape before investing in the six-pack, but most went for it all.
I sold and signed ten six-packs and even a couple of novels. It seemed I already had a fan in Asheboro. At least the woman, who bought them as a gift for her trucker husband, swore he was a fan. Things were going full blast when Janet arrived. I explained that I couldn't leave until five.
``In that case, I am going to do a little shopping. I'll check back with you.''
It actually was a busy afternoon. I continued to have people drift by to listen to the demo. I had a thick enough skin, so as not be angry, when some people walked away without buying anything.
I recognized the soft little bleached blond who stood in front of the table around four p.m. She had bought a single red neck mystery tape earlier. Since she smiled at me, I was less concerned than I might have been. I hated it when people tried to return a tape after having played it at home.
``Mr. Rollins, you are Mr. Rollins?'' she asked with that smile.
``Yes ma'am, what can I do for you.''
``My husband listened to your tape. He sent me back to ask you about carrying them in our restaurant. We have a lot of truckers stop in there. He thought he might buy a few to put by our register.''
``Marty Wilson is my distributor. I can have him call you. Why don't you write your number down for me.''
``Sure, do you have any idea what kind of deal we can make? We are a pretty small business and we can't afford to tie up a lot of money.''
``Marty takes care of all that, but I don't think you have to buy a lot of tapes, and we do have a buy back policy. If you decide they aren't selling, we buy them back from you.''
``That sounds good to me. We just can't afford to get stuck with anything.''
``I know, it's like that with must of our dealers.'' She walked away more confident than when she arrived. She also left with a six-pack.
``Okay, who was the broad?'' Janet asked only half kidding.
``Someone who wants to become a dealer,'' I replied.
``Oh,'' Janet said. ``So you about ready?''
I looked at my watch. I had to be out of the mall by five. I still had a half hour to go. ``I have to stay fifteen more minutes.''
``Well, use that time to autograph a tape for me.''
``Sure which one do you want?''
``The one with the least amount of violence.\rdblquote
``There are none without at least a little violence in them. I do have one without a murder though.'' I sorted through the loose tapes until I found, `Indian Summer Night'. I signed the insert card and handed it to her.
``So what's it about?'' Her good mood seemed to have returned.
``It's about an hour,'' I replied seriously.
``God, you are such a smart ass,'' she said with a great smile. ``Just for that, I am going to play it on the drive to the beach.''
``Oh god, do I have to listen to my own voice all that way?''
``If I have to suffer, then so do you.'' She had switched from the suspicious mood when she first returned, to being really high. The mood swing didn't really bother me. I didn't know her well enough, to know what she might be like on an ordinary day. It was after all a holiday weekend.
At four forty five, I packed everything onto my hand truck and rolled it to the scout. I placed the whole batch into the cargo area, covering it with a tarp to hide it. After locking the doors carefully, I looked for Janet's car. She almost ran me down as she pulled up beside me. I was surprised to find that she was driving a beautifully restored 1965 Ford Mustang Convertible. The car was dark blue with a white top, which she had folded down.
``It's going to be a little windy,'' I suggested.
``Then don't bring anything that will blow away.''
``Give me your key, so that I will put my bags in the trunk.'' Rather than speak the trunk magically opened. I put my half sized black canvas duffel bag into the trunk.
``Bring some more of those tapes. It's a four hour drive to the beach.'' she ordered.
Rather than answer, I pushed the tarp back and removed a six-pack from the box. I hoped she wouldn't really want to listen to the tapes all the way to the beach.
She forgot all about the tapes as we talked. Actually we almost screamed over the sound of the rushing wind. She finally stopped around six to put the top up. It got a little too chilly for a top down ride. It was easier to talk with the rag top in a closed position.
``So Ron, what kind of piece is this you are writing?''
``It's one of those, things to do on July fourth, kind of pieces.''
She simply nodded. Thanks to her rather heavy foot, we arrived at our small motel outside Southport shortly before nine. After tossing our bags into the room, we drove to the downtown. The streets had already been blocked off for the dance. We heard the band before we even parked the car.
We hiked the two blocks to the Town Square and park. The crowd was thick and about half drunk. I didn't mind either, but I noticed Janet's eyes dancing. ``Are you all right?'' I asked concerned that she might be in a panic.
``I'm fine. I just get a little nervous in crowds. Just stay close and I will be fine.'' She stayed glued to me the remainder of the evening. I simply made observations as we moved through the crowd. Janet lightened up a little after she began to move about the crowd at my heels. In the end, she even asked me to dance. Even while I danced with her, I was making mental notes on the festivities.
I talked to a couple selling hot dogs for a while. Janet stayed close at my side. I went to the booth selling beer, even though I didn't like beer I bought one just to talk to the vender. I was busy making notes in my head, while he talked about his regular job as a shrimper. He and his wife ran the beer-vending booth, just this one time a year.
Janet and I wandered to the street set aside for arts and craft vendors. There were almost no tourists in the street. I could feel Janet relax as she left the crowded street. We stood before a young woman and her husband. While Janet fingered the jewelry, I asked about the day\rquote s events, which I had missed. The two of them gave me a full rundown on the boat parade and the games on the town square.

Janet and I stayed around until they closed the dance at midnight with a giant fireworks display. It was pretty and I was glad I had stayed. I forced Janet to stay until the crowd had gone. I wanted to see what the place looked like after all the tourists had left. As I had expected, the streets were littered with trash. I caught up with a street sweeper just as he began sweeping the street with a large push broom.
\ldblquote So how many pounds of trash did the tourists leave this year?'' I asked.
``Looks like a ton or more,'' he said with a smile. ``Don't mind though, they left about as much money, and they will be back tomorrow. The beach down there will be filled with either sunburned or white-bellied women. No offense ma'am.''
Janet shook her head. ``Well I guess we will be heading to the motel. Anything going to be happening around here?'' I asked.
``Just a bunch of us going to Captain John's for breakfast. You know the town people who worked on this show.''
``I don't suppose they would let a couple of tourists in?''
``No, it's closed to tourists.''
``How about if I grab a broom and help you clean the street?''
``Why in the world would you want to do that?''
``I was born to sweep streets,'' I said as I picked a broom from the rear of the town's pickup truck.
``Well, I'm not just going to stand around watching,'' Janet said as she removed a broom. I was glad to see that she was back to normal.
The three of us made short work of the litter. We even moved to help one of the other sweepers on a different street. With all the litter in the rear of a one-ton truck, I asked. ``So did we earn the right to go to breakfast with you guys?''
``Sure, I expect the city can pay for two more breakfasts.''
Captain John's was as I had expected a restaurant near the water. There was no ocean view, but the parking lot smelled strongly of the ocean at low tide. In other words it reeked.
I spent the ninety minutes engaging everyone I could in conversation. I learned a lot about the planning and logistics of the festival. I also learned about the next day's planned events.
When Janet and I arrived home we were both too beat to do anything except fall into bed, actually separate beds. I slept the sleep reserved for working men. It actually felt good.
When I awoke, it was to the smell of coffee. Janet had gone out to buy coffee and biscuits. She was kind enough to turn away while I dressed. After we went through the food, I realized that it was ten in the morning. I had slept about three hours longer than usual. I had also been awake four hours later than usual. I figured I was one hour behind in my sleeping.
``What's today's plan?'' Janet asked.
``I guess we go to the beach. I want to interview a few of the tourists and that's were they will be.''
``Then you go take your shower. I will dress out here.''
``Sounds like a first class plan to me,'' I replied as I moved toward the bathroom. I spent a long time in the shower. I wanted all the cobwebs gone before I headed to the beach.
I dressed in gym shorts and a white tee shirt before I exited the bathroom. I found Janet standing by the mirror working on her hair. I didn't have any idea why it was the first time I noticed her. I mean physically noticed her, but it was. Janet was tall and thin, probably somewhere near five eight or nine. She had slightly flared hips, but nothing really to brag about. In the mirror, I could see her small breasts inside the bathing suit top. They were small but well formed, with a slight bulge over the swimsuit. Her face was about the same as her sisters, pleasantly attractive. Her hair was a shade of chestnut, which probably was aided by a rinse, but it looked very good on her.
She glanced up into the mirror and saw me staring at her. ``So what do you think?' she asked striking a pose for me.
``Well, you could use a few more pounds, but all in all not bad.''
``Not bad hell, men have fought over this body,'' she giggled.
``Yeah, well men have fought over a lot less too,'' I said with a smile.
``Ron, you can take the fun out of anything,'' she said with a smile.
``I do try. So how much longer you going to primp?''
``Damn you, I'm finished let's go talk to the tourists.'' Janet pulled on a terry cloth robe as we headed to her car. She found the beach without any help from me. I wasn't impressed since there were giant signs everywhere.
She lay on a beach towel in the sun, while I went from one tourist to another. I talked to tourists for a couple of hours, and then returned to find Janet in conversation with a man about her own age. I almost kept moving but thought to hell with it.
When I approached, I heard her say, ``You have to leave now that's my boyfriend.''
The young man took one look at me then split. I sat down in the sand beside her towel. ``Why did you tell him I was your boyfriend?''
``I just wanted to get rid of him. Besides for this weekend you are, at least kind of.''
``I'm your brother-in-law,'' I replied slightly bewildered.
``Ex-brother-in-law, and I have it on good authority that it no longer counts.''
``Really, who is the authority?''
``Ann Landers of course,'' she said with a bright smile.
``Well you have me there, she certainly has to be the final word on what is socially acceptable.''
``So, are we ready for lunch?'' Janet asked.
``I don't know about lunch, but I'm ready to get out of the sun.''
``How about a shrimp salad at Captain Tom's''
``Like I said, anything to get out of this bright sunshine.''
Captain Tom's had lost its intimate feeling. I expect, the hundred and fifty tourists crammed into a hundred-seat restaurant did it.
``Bad idea,'' Janet said with her eyes again dancing wildly.
``Good, I saw a McDonalds as we came in last night. Let's go there.'' I agreed.
Even the McDonalds was packed. ``Remind me to ask one of the locals where they eat during the summer,'' I suggested.
\ldblquote Do that, I don't think I can stand another crowd like this one.''
We ended up going through the drive-in window, and then taking the food to our room at the motel. We sat on the balcony and ate the greasy burgers.
``So how many more interviews do you need?'' Janet asked.
``I probably have enough, except for the Chief of Police or at least one of the police officials. We can probably catch someone after lunch. If all goes well, we will finish by two. You want to stick around for a while, or head home?''
``I would like to stay, if we can avoid the crowds,''
``Then we need to head up to Wrightsville. It will be crowded there too, but not as bad.''
``We will never find a room up there,'' she suggested.
``It is only a ninety minute drive. We can stay here and just spend the evening up there.''
``Okay, but I warn you. I plan to be home and in bed by eleven. Last night was too much for me.''
``Me too, I'm getting too old to stay up all night.''
I finished the interview within minutes of catching the captain of the day shift. I found him in his office on the top floor of the City Hall. City Hall was a white two-story colonial mansion converted to the offices. It was the classiest City Hall I had ever seen. I was informed that no one was really arrested at these festivals. Mostly it was, calm down an excited tourist. Maybe take a drunk back to his or her motel, but nothing more.
``Well, that's that. I am finally finished.'' I said when I returned to the car.
``Good, do we have to go to the beach again. I am really tired.''
``Not at all, what would you like to do?\rquote\rquote
``I know this sounds stupid, but I would like to take a nap.'' she said sheepishly.
``That doesn't sound stupid at all. As a matter of fact, it sounds like a hell of an idea.
When we arrived back at the room, I pulled the coverlet back and fell onto the bed. I was sound asleep before Janet returned from the bathroom. I awoke around six to find her gone. I didn't pay much attention to her being gone. I simply took a quick shower then dressed in long pants for the evening.
When Janet returned an hour later, she was dressed in a different swimsuit. ``You better get a move on, we need to get to Wrightsville early, if we are going to find a place to eat.''
``No problem,'' she said disappearing into the bathroom. When she emerged half an hour later she was dressed in black slacks and a white silk blouse. In the silk, even her small breasts were clearly outlined.
``God, you look radiant.''
``I always look good in silk,'' she said with a warm smile.
When we got to Wrightsville every restaurant in town was packed. ``What the hell, we might as well go to this one,'' she said in spite of the line out the door.
The crowd didn't seem to bother her at all. We waited for a table along with fifty other people. She was all smiles and small talk, even with the other people waiting. Something had relaxed her during my nap. Maybe she took a tranquilizer, I thought.
After dinner she even suggested we go dancing. I carried her to the Holiday Inn lounge. The people were as thick as flies on an old nag. Janet didn't seem to be bothered at all. She danced beautifully, with a hell of a lot more rhythm than me. Finally around midnight we left for home.
``I don't know what got into you, but I approve.'' I said as we drove thought the hot humid night air.
``Nothing has gotten into me,'' she snapped.
``Hey, I was just saying you seem to be more relaxed.''
``I know, it's just that I feel more comfortable around you.'' We both knew it was more than that. I didn't follow up on it, because frankly I didn't care enough to fight about it. I recognized that something about her was a little off center, but then her whole family was a little out of plumb.
We were back in the motel room when she said, ``So I guess it is back to the grind tomorrow.''
``No way to avoid it.'' I replied.
``It's been fun Ron.''
``For me too,'' I replied. I waited for her to make a move to the bathroom, so that I could undress. She put if off a few minutes longer then disappeared into the bathroom. I hadn't fallen asleep when she returned. I heard her get into the bed across from mine. I guess it was the nap that made me sleep so lightly. I heard her when she rose from the bed. I heard her open the door, and then disappear into the night.
I almost followed her but decided against it. She was, after all, of age to do whatever she wanted. I could only guess, she had met someone by the pool while I napped. That would certainly explain her sudden relaxation. They say sex does relieve stress.
I was asleep when she returned. I had no idea what time she arrived back in the room. I awoke the next morning to her voice. She was standing by my bed. ``Wake up Ron. I want to get an early start.''
I looked at my watch and found it to be seven a.m. It was early for a vacationing couple to be up and around. I showered, and then dressed as she nervously paced the floor. I should have asked her about her sudden renewed attack of nerves, but frankly I just didn't care. I would be home and away from her in a few hours. I sure as hell didn't plan to spend any more time with her. Maybe the occasional lunch, but certainly nothing more.
I was home in my little studio a few days later when the doorbell chimed. It ruined the sentence I was working on for the latest red neck mystery. I exited my small studio, then went through the equally small living room. The woman and man standing on my doorstep were definitely cops of some kind. Something about a cop on your doorstep makes them easy to identify, even in their cheap suits. Hell maybe it was the cheap suits.
I opened the front door of my little house. ``Yes?'' I asked.
``You Ron Rollins?'' the man asked.
``Yes,'' I replied.
``Mr. Rollins I'm Detective Amos and this is Detective Evers, we are from the Southport Police.''
``You guys are a long way from home. Come on in, I think I have some coffee on the stove. It isn't more than a few hours old.''
``None for us,'' the woman said.
``Okay, then it's coffee for one,'' I said as I walked into the postage stamp kitchen. They followed behind, as I knew they would. ``So, what can I do for the Southport PD. I actually wrote a nice piece about you.''
``Oh?'' the woman asked.
``I was down for the Fourth Festival. Wait here and I'll get you the piece I wrote.'' I went into the studio and found a copy of the article. It hadn't been published at the time, but I had a draft copy from my computer.\rdblquote
It took the woman only a few minutes to read the two-thousand word article. ``Nice,'' she said. ``So you were down there researching this?''
``That's right, so what's going on?''
``Were you alone?'' the man asked.
``No, actually I had a friend along with me.''
``We need her name and address,'' the man said.
``Not unless you tell me why,'' I said losing my good attitude.
The two of them glanced at each other. They were deciding if it was time to spill the beans. ``There was a man killed in the motel where you were staying. We are checking everyone who was at the motel.'
``When did it happen?'' I asked.
``Saturday night, I believe you left early Sunday morning, quite early.''
``I don't suppose you heard anything that night?'' the woman asked.
``No, I'm usually a pretty sound sleeper.'' I admitted.
``Well, we need to talk to your girlfriend. She might have seen or heard something.'' the woman suggested.
``Sure,'' I said as I gave them Janet's name and address.
``I understand you were a cop?'' the man asked.
``I was also a democrat once, what's your point?''
``They tell us downtown, you would be capable of killing the young man,'' the woman suggested.
``I might be capable, but I didn't. I didn't even meet any of the other guests at the motel.''
``Your girlfriend met a lot of them,'' the man said with a leer.
``What the hell does that mean?'' I asked angrily.
``It means, she was flirting with several of them by the pool Saturday afternoon. It also means she went into a room with two of them. One of whom happened to be the victim.''
``That's petty interesting, but what does it have to do with me?'' I asked.``Maybe you found out and lost your temper,'' he suggested.
``Maybe I didn't find out, and wouldn't have cared anyway.'' I said.
``Why wouldn't you have cared,'' the woman asked.
``Because she wasn't then and isn't now my girlfriend. She is the sister of my ex-wife. She invited herself along on that trip. We went as family, not lovers.''
``That sounds pretty weak to me. She told the other man, she had to be careful her boyfriend, you, were the jealous type.''
``She called me her boyfriend at the beach. She told me then, it was to get rid of an unwelcome advance.'' I knew how lame it sounded.
``These weren't unwelcome advances according to the man who spent an hour with her in the motel room.''
``Janet is over twenty one, I don't think spending time with a man is a crime.\rdblquote
``Not spending time with a man, but murder is a crime.'' the woman stated.

``I can't help you. I didn't know what she was up to, and I wouldn't have cared.'' I replied honestly.
Everyone stopped talking, they were waiting for me to say something. Usually a suspect has to keep the air filled with words. When he does, he will eventually trip himself up on a lie. I waited them out.
Finally the woman broke. ``Do you own a straight razor?''
``Are you kidding? Look at this beard, what the hell would I do with a razor of any kind.''
\ldblquote I take that as a no,'' she said seriously.
``You can take it anyway you want. I just do not happen to own a razor of any kind.''
``Would you be willing to take a polygraph?'' the man asked.
``Would you be willing, to kiss my ass on Main Street at high noon?'' I snapped.
``I take it, that is a no,'' he said angrily.
``Like I said before, you take it any damned way you want.''
``Try this one then, did you kill that man?'' the woman asked bluntly.
``Ask anyone around here, if I had killed him, I would have lit him up. I don't much like sharp things.''
``I guess we will be going then,'' the man said. ``I don't guess it would do any good to ask you not to call and warn this Janet?''
``Not a bit, you are going to find a lawyer with her. That is, if you find her at all.'' I had been running the weekend over in my mind. It was more than possible that she had killed the man. She had acted nutty enough.
What the cops didn't understand was that she would be at the courthouse surrounded by a dozen lawyers. I called her at work. She was in the courtroom, so I left her a message to call me as soon as possible. I even tagged it urgent.
She didn't call for several hours, so I knew the cops found her before she had a chance to call. When I did hear from her she was standing on my stoop.
``Did the police talk to you?'' she asked.
``As a matter of fact they did. I suppose you have been with them the last three hours?''
``God yes, they think you killed a man at the motel. I did my best to cover for you.''
``There is nothing to cover. I never even met the man.''
She ignored me. ``The cops think you killed him in a fit of jealousy. I told them that was ridiculous. I explained that you never left the room that night.''
``Since we slept in separate beds, that isn't going to hold up.''
``What do you mean separate beds. We were together in the same bed all night.''
I couldn't tell whether she believe her own lie or not. Maybe she was using it as an alibi or maybe she believed it. Either way she was a sick puppy.
``Janet, I know you are trying to help, but you have to tell them the truth,'' I said trying to decide what she was thinking.
``That is the truth.'' She paused for a long moment then added, ``some man at the motel has me confused with another woman, or he is telling the most horrible lies about me. That woman cop thinks I went into a room with two men. She even described the most horrible things I am supposed to have done. You know Ron; I would never be unfaithful to you. Not like that slut sister of mine.''
Janet was working herself into a state. ``Take it easy Janet. I know you aren't like Maggie.'' I hoped she would calm down.
``You know, I'll bet that was Maggie down there. It would be just like her to do the things that detective described.'' I took a good look at Janet and found her eyes dancing again. ``Sure, Maggie would screw them both at the same time. God, she is such a slut. I don't know how you put up with her so long. She might even have killed that man. God knows she is capable of anything.''
``You didn't suggest that to the cops did you?'' I asked calmly.
``Oh course not, she is a slut and probably a murderer, but she is family.''
Her words hit home. Janet might be a slut and a murderer, but she was family. I had to think, but it was hard with her rambling. I wanted to scream shut up, but I figured that might not be such a good idea. The first thing I had to determine was what she had told the detectives
``Janet honey, I need for you to tell me what the cops asked you. Honey it is important.'' I said as calmly as I could manage with my own heart racing a mile a minute
``They asked me, why you said you weren't my boyfriend. I told them about my family and how they would react if it got out. Then I told them, that we had slept in the same bed and that I knew you didn't kill anyone.'' Her words were calm but hollow sounding.
``Did they ask you, if you had met the murdered man?''
``Sure, I told them I might have. I was, after all, at the pool while you napped. I explained that I was helping you with your article, so I had talked to a lot of people.''
Okay, being seen together was covered.
``What did you tell them when they asked, if you went in to the room with the two men?'' I asked.
``You aren't going to be mad are you Ron?'
``No baby, I'm not going to be mad.''
``I told them I went into the room to see a seashell. I know I shouldn't have gone into another man's room, but honest honey, it was just to see the seashell.''
``I know sweetie.'' That one was covered. Now it was pretty much one man's word against hers.
``I told them I ran out of the room when one of them tried to touch me. I did honest Ron, I wouldn't let anyone else touch me there.'' She was getting agitated again.
``It's okay baby, I know you wouldn't do anything wrong.'' I said. She had somehow found her way into my arms. I held her while she cried.
``Honest Ron, I didn't mean for it to happen. I just wasn't thinking.'' she said through her tears. It didn't know what she meant by `it', but I did know that I didn't want to know.
``Janet honey this is important, when you went into the room to see the seashell, was it the dead man's room?''
``Yes,'' she answered more calmly. So much for explaining away any finger prints in the room. If she didn't say anything else, she was pretty much covered. I figured a smart lawyer could defend her, but I didn't want her to go to trial. She might actually get acquitted without my testimony. That is, if she didn't take the stand. I didn't want her to get acquitted of murder. She most definitely didn't need to be walking around free, but I also didn't want some over zealous DA to put her on death row. What the kid needed was a hospital stay, not a prison sentence.
She pulled away from me, \ldblquote So,'' she said as though nothing had happened, ``where are you taking me for dinner.''
I had dealt with enough nuts, when I was a cop, to know how to handle her. ``I don't know, what do you feel like?''
``I would like to have a pizza delivered, then screw your brains out.'' She was smiling again and her eyes had stopped dancing.
``The pizza sounds good, but the other may have to wait. I am feeling a little tired tonight.'' I said trying to keep her calm.
``You order the pizza and I'll go change,'' she said totally ignoring me.
``Okay,'' I had to wonder what she would change into, since she had no clothes at my house and none with her. Changing meant she removed her suit. She returned to the kitchen dressed only in the white silk blouse she had worn to work. When she sat I realized the blouse was absolutely the only thing she wore.
After the pizza we sat at the kitchen table to make small talk. I would ordinarily have had a drink or three, but that night I kept the bottle hidden. I wanted to keep my wits about me, and I certainly didn't want her drinking.
``Come on,'' she said. ``I want to watch TV.''
We sat on my small sofa. She moved until she was pressed tightly against me. I put my arm around her. She seemed to be enjoying the TV program. I, on the other hand was trying to figure what to do with her. Not just tonight, but for years to come.
``Come on Ron, it's bedtime,'' she said pulling me from the sofa. I followed her into my small bedroom where she removed the blouse before I could stop her. She actually was a beautiful woman.
I had all kinds of lies planned to avoid sleeping with her, but they proved unnecessary. She seemed to have forgotten all about screwing me to death. Believe me, I was thankful, the to death tag scared hell out of me. She curled up beside me and fell into a blissful sleep. As you can imagine, I didn't sleep at all.
She left early the next morning; it would never do for her to arrive at work in the same outfit as the day before. ``Men were such pigs, they would get the wrong idea, or maybe the right one,'' she said with a smile.
I called Doctor Brenner at exactly nine. I told his receptionist that it was an emergency. I saw him at ten. Brenner was a psychiatrist I had dealt with as a cop. On occasion I would transport one of his indigent patients to the hospital in Andrews.
When I was seated I asked, ``You don't remember me do you?''
``No have you been a patient before?''
``No and I'm not one now. I have a story to tell you, please listen.'' I went on to tell him all of it. When I finished he didn't say a word. He moved to the wall behind him, removed a book then sat down at his desk.
``I can't make a diagnosis without talking to her, but I can tell you this. She will do it again, and she has probably done it before.''
``I was afraid of that.''
``It is possible that this was her first. She may have been dormant until she met you again. It is possible that she just had some kind of fixation on you, from the time of your marriage to her sister. As long as you two stayed apart, she might have just fantasized about you. No telling how many different emotions are tied up in her view of you. The fact that she wouldn't have sex with you, but would leave your bed, so to speak, to have sex with another men, then kill him is pretty classical.''
``So what can we do to keep her out of jail?''
``I don't know, a voluntary commitment can be reversed at any time. She could show up on your doorstep a week, or a year from now. If she goes to trial, then she may go to jail. Those prosecution experts never find anyone insane.''
``I can't let her go to jail, she is sick not a criminal.''
``Murder is a crime you know?'' he said.
``I know, but she is sick,''
``She might never get any better. A life sentence is a life sentence,'' he reminded me. ``Can her family afford a private clinic?''
``I doubt it.''
``Then the prison system would be no worse than the state hospital. It isn't exactly a picnic over there. I know it galls you Ron, but you may have to play by the rules this time.''
I gave him a curious look.
``Shrinks don't live in a vacuum. Your history is well known to me. I was frankly surprised to find you in the appointment book.''
``Sorry, I disappointed you.''
``Not at all, I would have been disappointed had you needed my services. So what are you going to do about this Janet?''
``I don't have any idea, except I am not going to be the one to put her into the system.''
``You may be the only one who can.''
``Then she is going to stay out.''
When I arrive home, the Southport detectives were parking outside my house. I walked past them without speaking. I knew they would be at my door, before I could unlock it. I turned back when I had the door open to allow them to enter ahead of me.
``It looks like you and the girl are each other\rquote s alibi. That is downright convenient.'' the woman said. ``Why didn't you tell us you were sleeping with her?''
``Like she told you, I didn't want her family to know.''
``One of you killed that man.''
``Then it should be easy to prove.''
``You know, he had sex with her just before he died. I can't prove it was she was the one, but I know it. I think you stormed into the room and hacked him to death with a razor.''
``If you think that, you should arrest me,'' I snapped at the man.
``The only reason I don't is, Agnes thinks she killed him. Some kind of nutso thing.''
I didn't trust myself to respond.
``You know if that's true, it's just a matter of time before she does you?'' the woman said.
``Well Agnes, that would be my problem, wouldn't it?''
``You know, that when she does you, she is going to jail. The only difference between now and then, is that you are going to be dead.''
``Like I said, that would be my problem.''
``Give us a break here Ron,'' the man suggested.
``If all Southport cops are as stupid as you two, the town must be overrun with crooks and killers. If the best theory you can come up with, is that one day out of the blue Janet turns into some kind of black widow, you need help. Now if you don't mind, I need to get to work.''
I gave them their clue, now it was a race to see if they could find another killing, before I either found a solution to the dilemma, or she killed me. I struggled with my problem for the next two days without hearing a word from Janet. I hoped she had moved on to something or someone else, but no such luck. She showed up on my doorstep around seven in the evening on the third day``Sorry I'm late, court ran a little over.'' Not only did she show up, she brought one of those hanging dress bags with her.
She entered the house then said, ``I can't find my key, I guess it's buried somewhere in my bag. I'm sorry to bother you, I know you must have been working.''
``No problem, I need to take a break anyway.'' I was trying to figure out her fantasy du juor.
She went directly to the kitchen then poured herself a glass of iced tea. ``You know I am beat, how about we go out to dinner?''
``Sure, what would you like?''
``I know you hate fancy places, how about Dottie's.''
Dottie's was a family restaurant I seldom visited. ``Sure, give me a minute to save my work.''
Dinner was good, and best of all Janet acted normally. All in all it was a pretty uneventful evening until we got home.
``So baby, what would you like to do?'' Janet asked in wicked voice.
``Whatever you want is fine with me.'' I said with what I hoped was a warm smile.
``Then come with me, I have a surprise for you.'' She pulled me to the bedroom and undressed. The surprise was a small tattoo on her left breast. The tattoo was a small heart with the name RON in the center of it.
This is getting too bizarre, I thought.
``So do you like it?'' she asked.
``It's beautiful,'' I said.
``I think the man who did it enjoyed it, too much. I mean he kept squeezing my tit while he worked on it.''``He was probably just getting it flat enough to tattoo.'' I didn't want her killing the tattoo man.
``You are probably right. His wife was in the room the whole time.'' She stood by my dresser mirror admiring it for a long time. I think I might have something on the other one. You know a butterfly or something.''
``What ever you want honey,'' I said going a long. I was thinking something entirely different. I was thinking this kid is really loony tunes. I knew I should roll her up for the killing in Southport, but I still felt that somewhere there was a better solution. It would come to me, if I could stay alive long enough.
``That's why I love you Ronnie; you let me do whatever I want. Do you know what I want right now?'' she asked.
``No honey, what do you want?'' I asked, but didn't really want to know.
``I want to go to bed with you.''
Just like before, she curled up against me then fell sound asleep. I even drifted off myself. The hanging clothes bag held her dress for the next day. She kissed me gently as she walked from the room. I realized, it was the first time we had ever kissed. It wasn't much of a kiss more of a wifely peck.
I thought about Janet all day. It came to me around four in the afternoon. Janet was trying to become Maggie, who was a drunk and who had screwed every man who ever asked her. I wondered why she would want to be Maggie.
I called the good doctor at home. He suggested that it was something from her childhood. He had a guess, but it was just that. ``It is so vague; I am not even going to tell you. You might want to take a serious look at Maggie's relationship with her father.''
When Janet didn't show by seven, I called Maggie. I drove to her new house an hour later. I met with Maggie and her husband. I gave Eddie a dollar so that he would be bound by the client oath. I told it all to Maggie, who was, more or less, sober. At least she was sober enough not to believe it. When she finally did believe it, she begged me not to turn her sister in.
``The doctor who is helping me try to figure out something for Janet, said to ask you about your and Janet's relationship with your father.''
``What do you mean,'' she snapped. ``What did Janet tell you about that?''
``Nothing, and that's the problem. There is some reason she is trying to become you. Brenner thinks it has something to do with your relationship with your father. The way you snapped just now, makes me think there was something.''
Maggie took a long time to compose herself. ``I would never tell you this if Janet wasn't in trouble. Eddie honey, you might not want to hear this.''
``You know, I want to know all there is to know.'' Eddie said bravely.
Her story wasn't any better or worse than hundreds of other children. Her father was one of the few who actually stopped with Maggie. He never touched Janet. Somehow Janet felt betrayed by it.
Maggie, and I went to see Doctor Brenner the next day. She told it all to him. I asked him about an idea I had.

``Come on Ron, I can't do that.'' he said.
``Doc, you can't put her away now. You said yourself she is likely to do it again. Hell I may be the next one. This may not work, but then again, it might do something.''
``You are talking about bringing a crisis on. That would be very unprofessional of me.''
``Doctor Brenner, I love my sister. I don't want to see her in prison or worse. If this might help, I am begging you to try it.'' The sober Maggie said.
``Okay,'' He agreed a lot less enthusiastic than I would have liked.
None of us knew what might happen when we arranged the meeting in the doctor's office at six that same evening. Maggie the Doc and I were already assembled when Janet came. Seeing Maggie and me in the same room started her eyes dancing.
``What are you doing with that slut?'' Janet asked.
``Janet, why are you saying that about me? I am your sister and I love you.''
``Ron, get away from her. You know you don't love her anymore.''
``Janet, I never loved anyone else but Maggie. I'm sorry if you misunderstood. Maggie and I are going to get back together.''
``You can't take him away from me. I won't let you take another one from me.'' Janet said as she reached into her bag. She came out the straight razor, and then charged Maggie. I have to give Maggie this, she knew it might happen, but she had gone through with the charade anyway. I caught Janet from behind. I penned her arm while I wrestled the razor from her. I picked up a nasty little slice for my reward. Nobody could have guessed what would happen next.
Janet collapsed on the floor. I would have expected her to begin crying or cursing, instead she began to rock like a child. She also began mumbling to herself. The Doctor knelt beside her.
``Janet honey, are you all right?'' he asked.
``No, I'm not all right daddy. Why do you love Maggie more than me? I can do all the things she does for you. Why do you love her, and not me.''
``Janet, my name is Doctor Brenner. I am a doctor, honey; I am not your father. Do you understand?''
``Take me home daddy; I don't like it here. Take me home and I will do those things for you.''
``What things honey?'' the doctor asked.
In her child's voice Janet described what she had seen through the keyhole of the old house where she grew up. Maggie wept softly while Janet tried to convince the doctor to take her home.
An hour later, the ambulance left for a private clinic somewhere in the mountains of North Carolina. ``So Doc, what are her chances?'' I asked.
``Who knows, she may come out of it and she may not.'' He turned his attention to Maggie. ``Do you need to talk about what happened?''
``Not right now, maybe later,'' she said as she picked up her bag. ``Walk me to my car Ron.''
As I stood beside the car door she said, ``You know, I can never leave that jerk now. His money is going to pay the sanitarium bill.'

``I'm sorry.''
``You should be, you are the only one who got what they wanted. You beat the system again.'' she said it without any malice. ``This time, I'm glad you did.''
I watched her drive away. If doing the right thing is its own reward, why did I feel so lousy?