One Death Too Many


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "Police emergency."

 "Is that you Jo Ellen?"

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

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

 "Linc, is that you?"


 "Let me get Timmy started that way."

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

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

 "Why you gettin' married again?"

 "Lord no honey, my daughter is though."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 I opened the door.   "Yes chief?"

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

 "Can't this wait till morning?"

 "No it can't wait," he said.

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

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


 "Because something stinks here."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "I'm going to stick with the truth."

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

 "What exactly are you saying chief?"

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "Not a fucking chance," Helen said.

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

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

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

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

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

 "Like what marrying Helen?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "Sorry," I said.

 "No problem,"  He responded.

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

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

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

 "You aren't supposed to be kid. "

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

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

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

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


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

  "What the hell do you mean?"

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

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

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

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

 "You don't want to do that kid."

 "Don't call me kid."

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

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

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

 "Yeah for you."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "No thanks."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "How about a motel or something?"

 "Claude hates motels."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "I guess not."

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

 "That's good Jed."

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

 "I'm sure it does."

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

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

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

 "Why would you say a thing like that?"

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

 "I guess."

 "You know them peckerwoods be coming for you?"

 "Jed you know cops are all talk."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "What?" she asked.

 "Nothing,"  I answered.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  "Well I'll be seeing you."

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

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

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

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

 "Linc is that you," his wife asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "Ask but I probably won't answer."

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

 "Yes but the results are classified." 


 "How the hell did you know that?"

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

 "That's what I hear."

 "How was the lock on the rear door?"


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "Agreed," Sam said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "You two still fighting? "

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

 "Also too sensible to harbor a death wish."

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

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

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

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

 "Good night Sam."

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

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

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

  "What about it Claude?"

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

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

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

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

 "I really don't think so."

 "Okay would you sell us the studio?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "What is going on?" Helen asked.

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

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

 "Tell him thanks but no thanks."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "We need to talk Linc."

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

 "We need to talk at the station."

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

 "Are you armed?"

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

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

  "Toast or biscuits?" Lucille asked.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "So I hear."

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

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

  "Just for curiosity what did you tell him."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "What kept you chief?"  the deputy asked.

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

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

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

 "Mr. Jefferson?"

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

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

 "Listening to Helen moan in French."

 "She can verify that?"  he looked relieved.

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

 "Oh?" the chief asked.

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

 "I see," Jasper said.

 "Can anyone verify your where abouts around midnight."

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

 "Somebody blew Timmy away last night."

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

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

 "Sure, but not in this context."

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

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

 "Would you mind if we check it."

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

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

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

 "Have you charged my client with his death?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "Now Jake calm down."

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

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

 "Who could have done him Linc?"

 "I don't know."

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

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

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

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

 "I fucking drive slow."

 "Prick,"  I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "What are you going to do?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "So who was it?" she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "You hate cops that much Martin?"

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

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

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

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

 "What's that Mr. Linc."

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

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

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

 "Be right back Mr. Linc."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "Yeah I know it."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "Oh yeah," Sally said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "I have never killed an unarmed man."

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

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

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

 "That wasn't my story."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "Who else was there?"

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

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

 "I saw them," Sally said.

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

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

 "How so?"

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

 "Okay I can do that."

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "What is it?"

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

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

 "God I hope not."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "I guess."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "Hell no that was my cousin."

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

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

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

 "Hell Ernest you know Helen is back."

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

 "Damn Ernest you really are desperate."

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

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

 "Close enough, keep your powder dry."

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

 "Yeah he should have kept his mouth shut."

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

 "Hey man, I didn't do him."

 "Well then maybe one of your friends did."

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

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

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

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

 "I thought so myself once."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "You're right that isn't it either."

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

 "It's because I am afraid of you."

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

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

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

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

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

 "Why are you telling me this now?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "Why not?  She is your date."

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

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

  "Well that is between you and Claude."

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

 "Grow up Helen this is really pretty harmless."

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

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

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

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

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

 "I think it is time we went home."

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

 "I guess not."

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

 "You are right there was nothing."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "We left her asleep upstairs," Helen answered.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "The powder burns you mean?"

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

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

 "Who would he stand still for."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "What did you say?" Sally asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "What do you mean Thelma?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "You may be right,"  the chief said.

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

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

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

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

 "Sounds right to me," I added.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "I know but nothing else fits."

 "You still fit," the chief said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 "How much?"

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

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

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

 "You're sure the amount didn't change from month to month."

 "Always the same, three hundred and on the first of every month."

 "That is not good."

 "Why it proves what you thought?"

 "It also means Timmy wasn't doing it with petty graft.  He had either a big fish on the line or several little ones."

 "So what?"

 "Most guys get greedy and go for the big score all at once.  Timmy didn't.  He was taking little bites all the time.  They were small enough so that the person was willing to pay rather than kill him.  Timmy asked for a favor the killer couldn't or wouldn't deliver.  So Timmy had to die."

 "That makes sense in a warped sort of way.  Okay smart ass what did Timmy have and who did he have it on."

 "Come on outside and let's try to figure that out."  I said to Sally.

 "Okay," she said once we were out of the honeymooners hearing.  "So who do we suspect."

 "You and I need to go see the sister again.  This time without the chief."

 "Why, do you suspect him?"

 "I suspect everybody except you.  I only let you off the list because you weren't in town.  Hell you couldn't afford to pay blackmail anyway."

 "Bullshit, if Timmy was getting a hundred a month or so from three of four people anyone could afford to pay him, even you."

 "First thing we have to find out is when he started collecting the bread.  Then we have to figure out what a small town cop could dig up on two or more people."

 "Why are you wrapped up in this two or more."

 "Because somebody other than the killer rifled my house.  That person thought I offed Timmy.  He figured that I took what ever Timmy was using to blackmail him or her."

 "You still think the answer is going to be blackmail?"

  "Until something better comes along.  He practically told me he was connected to someone who could take care of this."

 "Okay, so we talk to the sister to find out when he began helping her, then what?"

 "Then we find out from his cop buddies what assignment he had at that time.   It was probably routine patrol, but you never know."

 "The people he was blackmailing couldn't have been rich, if he only took in a few hundred a month."

 "Probably not, but then again Timmy didn't have a lot of imagination."

 "Doesn't the missing liquor bottle bother you?  It sure as hell bothers me."  Sally spoke the words looking hard at me.

 "It means only one thing to me.  Who ever killed Timmy didn't want it found.  He probably brought it to Timmy to get him drunk enough to fall asleep.  Then went to the car brought back his shotgun offed Timmy and drove away with the bottle."

 "Why not just clean his prints off the bottle and leave it."

 "Beats the hell out of me.  It will make some kind of sense, when we find the killer.  At least to him or her it will have made sense."

 "You thinking a woman?" Sally asked.

 "Could be.  It doesn't take much strength to shotgun a drunk."

 "But it takes a cold broad to remember the bottle after the mess a shotgun makes."

 "Hell all  you broads are cold."  She slapped me playfully.  She also got in her car.

 As she started the engine she said, "Eight o'clock in the morning we drive back to Greensboro?"

 "Right, this time we get tough with the sister.  We drag her ass off the job and then read her the welfare fraud law."

 "Shouldn't we make sure she is drawing welfare before we jump her ass."

 "She had some reason to lie to us.  That is the best one I can come up with."

 Sally waved as she drove away.  I returned to the house to find the rabbits back in their cage.  I settled in to watch TV.  Of course there was nothing good on the tube.  Some stupid sitcom but I had nothing else to do at the time.   The slapstick had the wrong effect on me.  I was in a stupor when the phone rang.  "Hello," I answered.

 "Hello, Linc I need your help."  

 I recognized the voice as that of my sometimes friend but more often enemy Jake.

 "Jake not again.  Every time I do you a favor I get shot at."

 "It seems to me that you have always been well paid for it."

 "You can't put a price on life buddy."

 "Which life, I here you have nine of them.  I really do need your help.  It's about Timmy."

 "Jake, what makes you think I care about Timmy?"

 "Because someone tore hell out of your house."

 "Jake, did you wreck my place.  If you did, so help me I am going to bust your ass."

 "I didn't do it.  I know who did.  You aren't going to believe it."

 "Is this a client of yours?  Cause if it is you better tell him when I find out, I am going to kick his ass.  Jake, I will find out one day."

 "No you won't.  We want to hire you."

 "What the hell for?"

 "To recover something.  My client and I think you are just the man to do it."

 "What makes you think I would be interested in working for the man who wrecked my house."

 "Because he didn't kill Timmy.  He can give you information, which you might be able to use.  Right now you are throwing stones into the pond hoping for a big ripple.  My client can maybe point you in the right direction."

 "Okay Jake,  no promises though.  I will see what I can do.  Who is the client?"

 "Not on the phone, come to my house right now.  I will introduce you to the client."

 "I'm going to go eat.  After that I will drive to your house.  It will probably be around nine.  If your client thinks I can help him, have him wait for me.  If not call me at the Elms."

 "You still eating in that greasy spoon."

 "Watch yourself Jake.  I still don't like you well enough to let you insult me."

 "Okay nine it is."  He seemed to ignore the warning.  I knew better.

 Dinner was cubed steak and gravy.  I loved steak and gravy.  I didn't get much grief from Jed that night.  I think he must have been worn out from crawling all the cops.  "Linc, who you think offed old Timmy?" he asked.

 "Beats me Jed.  You got any ideas who might have wanted old Timmy done."

 "Naw man, I would be suspect number one, if I could have stood the asshole enough to be around him.  I didn't know him, but I know he was a class a prick."

 "Damn you say that about me too, but everyone else says I'm a sweetheart."

 "Compared to that asshole you is.  He busted old George for possession of a controlled substance.  You know old George?"

 "The old man who lives on the street."  He nodded.  "What controlled substance, George is almost dead with lung cancer."

 "I know.  That prick stopped George with a bottle of codeine cough syrup.  George had lost his  prescription, so Timmy ran his ass in.  Not like the old chief would have done.  He woulda' run him by the hospital for treatment then release him.  It was a game they played so that the county would treat George free.  Course that was before the cancer."

 "So what happened to George?"

 "The magistrate knows George so he lets him go.  Timmy got pissed and told old George to watch himself or the cancer wouldn't be what killed him.  That Timmy was a mean prick.  That's why I knowed what you said about him plantin' that gun was true."

 "Well somebody took care of him.  Maybe it was old George."

 "Not hardly, old George is in the veteran's hospital over to Salisbury."

 "Too bad this town needs characters like old George."

 "Hell, between E feedin' him and you buying him wine, old George had the best life in town."

 "I never bought him wine."

 "What do you think happened to the money you gave him.  Hell he didn't never buy no food with it.  E made sure he didn't have to buy anything to eat."

 "You got no soul Jed. You know that."

  "Hey man," he sounded angry at first.  "I'm black.  I got plenty of soul.  You the one ain't got no soul.  You done left yours in my parking lot."

 "What does that mean?"

 "God ain't never gonna forgive you for murderin' that slant.  I ain't never gonna forgive you for making me clean up such a mess out there."

 "That wasn't murder.  It was justifiable homicide."

 "That ain't how that lady cop you was with tells it."

 "Ask her again, she has changed her mind.  I got to go.  See you tomorrow."

 "Please take a day off Linc.  I want to have at least one night without seein you."

 "Bullshit, you would miss me and you know it."

 "Like the clap I would miss you."  He did laugh.

 The drive to Jake's house would normally take a few minutes.  That night I got stopped by the cops again.  When I saw the blue light I pulled to the shoulder of the road.  Since it was inside the city I expected to see someone I knew.  It was a city cop.  I knew him all right.  "Ed, we got to stop meeting like this people are going to start a rumor that we are fags."

 "Very funny Linc,  I stopped to let you know that the other cops have called a cease fire.  At least until we find out who popped Timmy.  If you didn't, then we want you to help us find out who did.  You let me know.  We will take care of it."

 "Ed, you didn't even like that ass.  Why are you going to put your life and liberty on the line for him."

 "Linc you know.  He was a cop.  He made a mistake sure, but he was still a cop."

 "Let me ask you something Ed.  Would you feel the same way if Timmy was dirty."

 "Are you saying he was.  Cause, if you are you better have some damned good proof."

 "I don't have any proof but he might have been.  Would you still risk going inside with the general population knowing you were an ex-cop. "

 He though a minute then answered, "I would have to give it a hell of a lot of thought."

 "Keep what I told you under your hat.  I don't need his buddies trying to clean up his crap. His crap is the answer to this whole mess."

 "Okay Linc either way you are off the hook for now.  As a matter of fact the word is we should help, if you need it."

 "I can never get too much help.  Thanks Ed and tell the other guys I said that."

 "I will.  You drive safe now.  We are counting on you."  I nodded then drove toward Jake's house.  

 "You're late," Jake said opening the door for me to enter.

 "Got stopped by a cop on the way over."  

 "Anything I should know about?"

 "Definitely not something you should know about."  I talked as I followed him into the library or study what ever he called it.  I was again amazed by the number of leather bound books.  I had thought on first seeing them that they had been bought as a set.  It was probably bought by some fag decorator.

 "You know Sam of course?"

 "Sure how they hanging Sam?"

 "Linc, Sam is here to help me decide what my client should do."  I let him go on even though I knew Sam was the client.  It was written on both their faces.

 When the two of them finished their song and dance, I turned to Sam.  "If I am going to help you Sam, you need to at least stop insulting my intelligence."

 "I told you it wouldn't work Jake.  Linc, you are right Timmy was blackmailing me."

 "When I called you to give you the 'heads up' on Timmy.  Did you decide to kill him.  Then hope it looked enough like me to get me arrested.  With a little luck I would come before you in court.  I guess you would have sent me to the chamber."

 "You are wrong Linc."

 "I sure hope so Sam."

 "If I had killed Timmy, you are the last one I would ask for help."

 "Okay, if you didn't like the last one try this one.  You went to Timmy's.  He probably called you for help. You found him already dead.  You searched but couldn't find the blackmail information.  You figured I killed him.  I guess you figured I took the information with me.  You were afraid I would turn it over to the cops so you came looking for it.  When you didn't find anything you must have thought maybe I didn't kill Timmy.  If not, I didn't have your dirty laundry after all, so let's hire the asshole and all will be forgiven."

 "Not exactly, I never went to Timmy's.  When nothing turned up in the crime scene search I thought maybe you had killed him.  You could have had the dirt."

 "Sam when this is over I am through with you.  If you weren't a friend I might kill you.  You had to know that I would be pissed."

 "Of course I knew.  I thought I would find the dirt.  I figured you would either explain it or I wouldn't care about you any more.  Turns out, I got nothing but your anger for my efforts."

 "Okay Sam, let's have it.  What did Timmy have on you?"

 "Linc, I just can't tell you."

 "Then I am leaving.  I need to know everything, if I am going to find Timmy's murderer.  In the process maybe I can get your dirty laundry back."

 Jake was smart enough to stay out of the conversation.  Sam thought about it a long time.  

 "You know I ran for state senator last year?"  I nodded. "I lost.  I had to have a lot of money even to loose."  I waited without giving any indication of my thoughts.  

 "I threw a fund raiser at my house.  You know golf on Saturday morning and then a dinner party on Saturday night.  Officer Smothers was hired to keep the contributors inside the grounds.  He was supposed to make sure none of them left.  He was also to be sure they were not seen drunk and disorderly."  I nodded again.  It was common practice among the rich to hire off duty police as security guards.  

 "There was a lot of booze.  As a matter of fact there was more than just a lot of booze.  Everybody got plastered.  I mean really hammered.  We had a stripper planned.   I guess Smothers wanted some pictures of her dancing.  He took pictures of us through the window.  You know feeling her up and stuff like that."  Sam waited for my response.  

 "Is that all there was to it.  Some old farts with there hands on a young woman's boobs."

 Sam hung his head, "Yeah."

 "Bullshit Sam.  That might have been worth something during the campaign but not after.  If that was all there was to it, you would never have paid him afterward."

 "Okay some of us had sex with her."

 "Sam that is still crap.  Unless she wasn't willing.  Sam did you guys rape her?"

 Sam had tears in his eyes when he continued, "She told us she was just a dancer not a hooker.  We were too damned drunk to listen.  Timmy had pictures of the whole thing."

 "How much did you pay him Sam."

 "Two hundred a month."

 "What about the others?"

 "We paid the woman a lot of money.  She agreed not to tell.  The others refused to pay.  Most of them actually wanted copies of the prints.  If I had been smart, I would have refused to pay myself."

 "It is to late for ifs Sam.  I want a list of all the men who screwed the woman."

 "I can't do that Linc.  I would be ruined."

 "Sam if this comes out, you are going to be ruined anyway.  If I can find the killer, I might can find the pictures."

 "I can't do it Linc.  I can't give you those names.  Most of them would be useless anyway."

 "Okay Sam, I am going to give you one more chance then I am going to walk out of here.  For old time sake I will forget everything.  If Timmy needed to stay out of jail, who else was at that party would could help him.  I mean even the least little bit."

 "I have racked my brain and none of them.  They were simply businessmen.  They had no political clout whatsoever."

 "Any of them in the law."

 "None, most are chicken producers and the like."

 "If I find the photos, and if they have nothing to do with Timmy's death, I will turn them over to you."  Sam looked grateful.  "Sam I am also going to give you a warning in front of Jake here.  If you ever set foot in my house again, I will personally kill your ass."

 "I'm sorry Linc I was desperate."

 "I don't care Sam.  I have warned you."  

 "Okay Linc you have given us your bad ass speech," Jake said.  "Now what do you think about the murder.  Is Sam going to come up in it."

 "If what he says is true and the killer took the photo's, he might have destroyed them.   If so there is no reason for Sam to come into it at all.  However if the photo's turn up then they turn up."  I stopped lost in thought for a minute.

 "One more thing Sam, if anyone contacts you with the photos, I want to know immediately when and who.  You do understand that the murderer may try to renegotiate the contract you had with Timmy."  He nodded.  If I wanted to be a bad ass I could have made him say it.  I wasn't in the mood.

 I asked a few more questions then drove home.  I found the lights on in the house.  Helen was sitting at the office desk with a bottle of my cheap bourbon between her legs and a glass in her hand.

 "How they hanging?"  I asked her.

 "Lower everyday, Linc tell me the truth about something please?"

 "If I can."

 "Did you ever once consider marrying me?"

 "The truth Helen is no.  We were really good friends.  I hated the idea of screwing that up."

 "That wasn't the reason.  After Julie you never trusted women again.  At least not enough to marry one."

 "I guess." I paused and then took the bottle from her.  I tipped it up and took a long burning swallow.  "What brought this on?"

 "Claude and I are going to get married next Saturday."

 "Where is Claude?  I want to congratulate him."

 "He is upstairs sleeping.  I don't know, if I am doing the right thing with him.  I love him.  I just don't know if we can make it work."

 "Marriage is like a crap shoot sometimes you win but more often you loose.  If it is any comfort, I probably would marry Julie again even knowing how it would end."

 "Why for God's sake?  I mean she was a bitch and a whore."

 "Yeah but I didn't know that at first.  I only knew that I loved her.  Regardless of what she turned out to be, I wouldn't have missed having that feeling for the world."

 "Would you do me a favor Linc?  Would you give me away."

 "Not a fucking chance.  I will walk you down the aisle.  If the preacher asks me to give you away, I will knock him on his ecclesiastical ass."

 She leaned over and kissed me.  You know you are the best friend I ever had.  I really should be marrying you."

 "No you shouldn't.  I was a lousy husband.  I wish you could ask Julie."

 Helen lost her temper.  I'm sure some of it was the booze but some of it was just plain bitch.  "Will that bitch never die."

 "I guess not."

 She filled me in on Claude while we finished the bourbon.   It took us three hours to finish the bottle.  I staggered to bed supporting Helen as I went.

 The next morning came way to early.  I opened my eyes to see Sally sitting on my bed.  "How long  have you been sitting there? "

 "Only a couple of seconds.  You are getting old Linc.  You should have sensed me in the room."

 "I had way too much to drink last night.  I can barely sense my legs.  How about starting some coffee while I shower."

 "Coffee is already cooking.  That damned Claude will make someone a great wife."

 "He is spoken for.  Helen informed me last night that they are being married on Saturday."

 "Is that why you got drunk last night?"

 "Helen and I celebrated her engagement."

 She didn't seem angry at all.  "Get your ass dressed.  I will meet you in the kitchen."

 I showered then dressed as best I could.  I walked into the upstairs kitchen.  I found Sally and Claude sitting at the table with a coffee cup each.  "Please give me one of those."

 Sally handed me her cup, then went for another one for herself.  "God Linc you look even worse in the light," she said.

 "Thanks a bunch.  You may not believe this but I feel worse than I look."

 I drank two cups of coffee before we departed for Greensboro.  Thank God Sally drove.  I was in a funk all the way.  It was a pretty miserable drive.

 "You better let me do the talking since you have no legal status."

 "You know it amazes me how you can be wrong so often.  I am a licensed investigator."

 "Really, when did that happen?"

 "When I looked into that drug thing.  Sam got me a license afterward.  He and Jake were convinced that I could help them from time to time."

 "Did you?"

 "Not really.  I haven't done anything I didn't do before."

 "I still should ask the questions," she said.

 "You are right of course.  I will stay quiet as long as I can.  When you start screwing it up I will jump in."  I laughed a small laugh.

 "God you are such a prick."

 We drove the rest of the way in silence.  I felt bad.  Sally was slightly pissed at me.  We arrived in Greensboro around noon.  We found the dry cleaners where Thelma worked without too much trouble. I had a hard time even with a map.  I hate big cities.  We found the place even though I cursed the whole time.  

 Sally spoke with the manager.  He gladly got Thelma for us.  Sally had explained to him that we needed to talk to Thelma about her brother.  She also explained that we needed to take her home for the interview.  Sally hustled her to the car with a minimum of conversation.  In the car she told Thelma we needed to wait until we got her home before we began the interrogation.  When she used that word Thelma blanched.

 I knew from looking at her she would crack quickly.  Once in the house Sally explained about the welfare fraud.  She also mentioned the proof we had that Timmy had been sending her money.  Money she hadn't bothered to report.

 "So Thelma when did Timmy begin sending you money?"

 "You aren't going to report me to social services are you?"

 "Not if you cooperate fully."

 Thelma nodded, "The money started to come in about two years ago.  It was a hundred at a time for a while then it jumped to two hundred then three.  It has stayed at three for the last year."

 From Timmy's MO I figured it meant at least three men were on the string.  He might have been  keeping some of the black money.  He certainly didn't live any better than his salary would allow.  The money had to be somewhere, if there was more.  The money wasn't really important.   

 Sally ran out of questions.  She asked if I had any. I told her no.  We headed for the door.  I turned then said, "Oh by the way Thelma we need the package.  The one Timmy sent you.  It will help us catch his killer."  

 She hung her head, walked into the bedroom then returned with a large brown envelope.  "I hope this won't get Timmy into trouble."

 "Honey, Timmy is past caring about the troubles of this world."

 "Amen to that," she said.

 "Okay, how did you know she had his blackmail materials."  Sally asked it as we drove back to my home town.

 "I didn't.  I did figure there was a good chance.  I didn't figure Timmy to be stupid enough to keep them in his house or safety deposit box."

 "Well open it up and let's see what Timmy had."

 "First you have to promise me that you will not give them to any of the local law enforcement people.  We need to run this down ourselves.  More than one person could be hurt by what ever is in this package."

 "I don't know that I can do that Linc.  My position here is to assist local law enforcement not hinder them."

 "Thelma gave this to me.  There is no way you are going to find out what is inside unless you agree."

 "I could charge you with interfering."

 "If the package is burned, we don't solve this case.  That is more important than who gets the credit.  Besides you can have the contents of the package, if I don't figure this out in three days.  You won't even need a court order."

 "Okay Linc but I see everything in there."

 "Done," I said.  I opened the package.  Inside I found the photo's that Sam had been worried about.  I couldn't tell from the photos whether the woman was playing along or being raped.  Sam had a reasonably good case that it was part of the act on the woman's part.  I didn't think that even if they came to light, it would cause him more than a little embarrassment.  He might have to give up  his job but certainly no more than that.  He was a prime target for a lawsuit from the woman. It was not my concern.

 A second envelope inside the larger package was filled with copies of court records.  They seemed to be references to cases that had been settled out of court.  Each was a criminal charge seemingly lost in the system.  It was the old 'now you see it now you don't' scam.  I knew it had always operated in town.  I never came up against it personally.  Evidently Timmy had.  He had also made several inquiries and had copies of correspondence he shouldn't have.  The man making the decisions in each case was judge chicken man.  His real name was The Honorable Judge Horace R. Winston.  He bore such a resemblance to Col. Sanders that he was called judge chicken man.  There were probably other reasons that the nick names stuck.

 It seemed that for the last couple of years Judge Winston had been loosing cases in the system regularly.  Criminal cases that never came to trial.  Timmy's name was on just one of the cases.  The others were several different officers.  Those documents could be checked anytime he bothered to make them known to the SBI.  In this case Sally was the SBI.  I didn't know what I was going to do about them.  I did know I had to keep them away from Sally's boss.

 There was a third envelope but it was empty.  Now that was odd.  No one could have known the documents were in the sister's house.  It is possible that Timmy returned for the contents of envelope three but I didn't think so.  If he had, he would have taken the envelope.  If anyone else had taken the contents, they were stupid for not taking the envelope.

 Sally and I sat in my office while she examined the contents of the package.  "Well Linc, if you believe Sam then Winston is your killer."

 "Maybe but Winston is at least seventy.  I can't see him doing this thing."

 "You said yourself it doesn't take much to shoot an unconscious man."

 "I know.  It just doesn't feel right.  I think we should at least talk to Winston before we convict him."

 "What we should do is give this to the chief.  Let him have Winston interrogated like anyone else."

 "Sally this isn't Raleigh, it is Carbonton.  We do things differently down here."

 "Oh yeah, how do you do them?"

 "We find out if Winston is in fact dirty.  If he is, we make him resign."

 "What about all the assholes that got off?"

 "Oh, if the statute of limitations hasn't run out, we suddenly find their case files.  Then they go before hangin' Sam."

 "Sam ain't to awfully clean himself."

 "Sam's problems had nothing to do with the bench.  I will make sure Sam takes care of the woman.  You have my word on that."

 "And how will you do that."

 "First of all she was a stripper."  I saw her dander come up.  "I know that doesn't make it right.  It did put her in the position for it to happen.  I think you guys call that some fancy name.  Anyway, I think Jake will be willing to have Sam agree to a monetary settlement in lieu of a civil trial."

 "What about that empty envelope?"

 "Excellent question.  I think it contained the identity of our killer."

 "Who knew about the sister?"

 "My guess is everyone who knew Timmy.  Certainly everyone on the blackmail list."

 "That seems reasonable since we found her so easily.  Hell the clerk at the seven eleven even knew about her," Sally agreed.

 "You don't think she might have known what was in the package do you?"  I asked.

 "Maybe, but not very likely.  Unless she was in on the scheme."

 "If she had been, I wouldn't think Timmy would need to send her money.  She would probably be getting it direct."

 "I think we need to go back there and rattle her cage again."

 "Probably, but let's wait till we talk to Winston."

 "Can't it wait until tomorrow.  It's late and I am tired."  Sally said it with a yawn.

 "Okay come by tomorrow and we will drag her off the job again.  If she comes without too much fuss, we may have a  hint as to her involvement.  Then again maybe not."

 "Linc, you got any idea who the third person on the list is?"

 "Not really," I answered.  "You?"

 "I don't know these people.  It is my guess that it is somebody in the court system."

 "I know it looks that way but Timmy did off duty security work.  Maybe like Sam he caught someone else in a compromising position."

 "Could be, but I still think it is someone in the court system."

 "Let's talk to Winston tomorrow, maybe he can shed some light on this mess for us."

 "My guess is that he will ask for a lawyer first thing."

 "He will, if you do the questioning.  Let me have a shot at him before you jump his ass."

 "Are you saying my interview technique is lacking."

 "Not for a suspect interrogation.  For the way things are down here you are a little tough."

 "That's not it.  It's because I'm a woman.  Isn't it?"

 "That has less than nothing to do with anything."

 "I'll see you in the morning."  She stormed off.  

 Jake called around nine.  "Linc you got my stuff?"

 "Yeah, I got it.  I can't give it to you though."

 "Why the hell not."

 "Because I got it in the presence of a law officer.  Sally has seen the pictures."

 "Damn you Linc.  How did you let that happen?"

 "I don't have enough clout to scare anyone.  It took that to get the package."

 "Okay, okay what can you do for me.  I know you have something up your sleeve."

 "Tell Sam to contact the woman.  Make her a cash settlement, if he can find her.  If she has moved on, nothing will ever come of these pictures.  Unless Sam popped Timmy."

 "He did not, as  you put it, pop Timmy."

 "Good because he is going to be suspect number one, if I can't find out who really did Timmy."

 "Well work hard on it.  Sam is depending on you."

 "Settle with the woman before I have to turn the pictures over to the police.  Sam might want to think about returning to private practice."

 "Is that a threat?"

 "Jake you know better than that.  If you have to ask, it ain't."

 After Jake and I finished our conversation I called Winston.  I explained that I had Timmy's files.  I also explained that I didn't intend to use them as Timmy had.  I told him I needed to talk to him before court the next day.  

 "Judge you know me.  I am going to solve this thing.  If you didn't wax Timmy then you need to cooperate.  If you do, I think I can keep this quiet."

 "Okay Linc I am counting on you to do the right thing."

 "Judge, you better hope I don't do the right thing.  If I do, your ass is going to jail."

 "Right," he said.

  The next morning Sally and I had an early breakfast at the Elms.  From there we drove straight to the Judge's chambers.  He kept us waiting only a couple of minutes.

 When he opened his inner door he began, "You know those files don't prove a thing."

 "Judge, if they didn't prove a thing, why did you pay Timmy every month?"

  "They don't prove anything, but they do look bad.  They show at least sloppy record keeping.  I didn't want that to come out."

 "If that is going to be your attitude Judge, they are going to come out.  This is not an interrogation.  No one has read you the Miranda warning.  What ever you say now is between you and I."

 "How about her?"

 "Would you like for her to wait outside.  I am going to tell her everything.  If she hears it from you, she can't use it against you.  If I tell her, then she can make me testify against you."

 "Let her stay, I don't care anymore.  I am really tired of all this anyway."

 "Okay Judge what the hell is going on."

 "Sometimes I do favors for lawyer friends."

 "Hell judge everybody does that.  There has to be more to it than that."

 "There is.  They do favors for me in return."

 "Like give you money."

 "No, I never took money.  Not until Timmy started to bleed me.  Up until then it was just favors.  You know cabins in the woods for the weekend or a new color TV."

 "Judge I really don't care what  you took.  I want to know, if there was a contact.  Someone who knew about all of it besides Timmy."

 "Nobody,  he was the only ass who ever figured it out.  I don't know how he got some of those letters.  I got sloppy.  My memory was getting pretty bad so I wrote myself reminders.  He got hold of them somehow.  Then he matched them to cases.  I am getting old."

 "Winston, you are right you are getting too old for this business.  I think this would be a good time to retire."

 "You are probably right.  I want you to know.  I didn't kill Timmy.  He called to ask me to loose him in the system, but I couldn't.  There were just to many people looking at it.  I told him that he would just have to show his files since I couldn't help him.  I have been expecting someone like her ever since.  I even have Jake on standby."

 "Why Jake?"

 "He is Sam's lawyer.  That is good enough for me."

 "So who else was Timmy bleeding?"

 "Someone for sure but I don't know who it was.  I knew about Sam.  Timmy enjoyed telling me that he had another judge in his pocket."

 "What else did he say, when he called you that last night."

 "He told me he had someone else he could try.  He said he had hoped it wouldn't be necessary."

 "Did he say who the someone else was?"

 "No I'm afraid not."

 "You got any questions Sally?"

 "Judge how long have you been exchanging favors with the local attorneys?"

 "Ever since I got on the bench.  That is the way it was always done down here honey."

 "Didn't you ever think you were doing something wrong?"

 "Honey, we aren't talking about murder or rape here.  We are talking about traffic and maybe even a domestic argument.  Things that would probably not even draw much of a fine.  Certainly the fine would have been less than the attorney charged.  These were mostly people who didn't want to appear in the public record.  I mean like a drunk driver.  The deal was the attorney would get the drunk into a treatment program and I would loose his record."

 "Of course, you also got a weekend at the beach."  I tossed in.  I didn't want him to forget that it was done for gain.

 "Yeah Linc, that too."  He paused for a few seconds.  Both Sally and I waited for him to continue.  "You know Linc I had your daddy in court once for child support.  Old Sam was  his lawyer."

 "What do you mean you had my daddy for child support.  He never left my mom that I know of."

 "You wouldn't know would you son.  No it wasn't your mama brought the charge.  It was a woman in Asheboro.  In those days a man could pay a flat fee to the woman and never hear from her again.  Your mama and daddy went to the bank and borrowed the money to pay the woman off."

 "You mean my daddy had a bastard kid?"

 "No Linc, your daddy was married before your mom.  If my memory serves me right you got a step sister someplace or other.  If you want, I will try to find the records for you."

 "Sure judge but no return favors."

 "Of course not, just try to find the killer so this mess will be at least a quiet disgrace."

 "I'll try."

 We were walking to the state car when Sally asked,  "Now what?"

 "I'm not sure of anything, except I want to talk to Sam."


 "Because if Winston knew about Sam, then Sam knew about Winston.  He didn't mention Winston to me.  He simply didn't give me all the information he had.  I have to wonder what else he knew."

 "Let's go back in and find Sam?"

 "No, I'll call Jake and set it up through him."

 "We should pull them both in for official questioning."

 "Do that and they will stop cooperating at all."

 "Okay, we do it your way for a couple of more days then we do it mine."

 "Okay, let's go to the liquor store."

 "You want a drink this early in the morning?"

 "No, I have a couple of questions for the clerks there.  They are state employees like you.  Your badge should scare hell out of them."

 She drove the state car to the ABC store.  I entered and found the old clerk on duty.  I was glad.  I figured he would know more than any of the younger ones.  "How they hangin' Pete?"

 "Low and full Linc," The tall, skinny, bald man answered.  "Kind of early for you ain't it."

 "Pete, I need some information from you.  This," I said, pointing to Sally.  "Is Detective Rierson of the State Police."  

 Pete nodded to Sally. "So what can I do for you?" He asked.

 "Pete you know what about everybody in this town drinks don't you."

 "If they buy it here I do."

 "What does old Sam drink?"

 "Everything except paint thinner.  He comes in and buys the shelf out.  No particular brand just a little of everything."  

 "How about Jake?"

 "Jack Daniels, same as you."

 "Judge Winston?"

 "Old Grand dad."

 "How about Timmy Smothers?"

 "Can't say.  He wasn't never in here.  I would guess if he drank at all, it was beer or wine."

 "Anybody around here got in unusual taste in liquor?"

 "You mean on a regular basis?"

 "Yeah something that you would call his or her trademark."

 "We only got a couple of fancy drinkers.  Mrs Allen over to the school, she drinks that expensive russian vodka.  Willie Madden, you know the druggist, he drinks B&B.  Not much else that I know of."

 "Well, if you think of anything you let me know?"

 "Sure Linc always glad to help.  After all you are one of my best customers."  He laughed since we both knew he was kidding.  Unless he meant that I stood and talked to him for an hour when I made my monthly purchase.

 "By the way thanks for that tip on Jake.  I will have to change my brand."

 "You don't mean that.  You two got to bury the hatchet one of these days."

 "Yeah, he might bury it in my head.  I got to run Pete thanks again."  Pete nodded as we walked out the door.

 "So what did you learn in there?"

 "Nothing and something."


 "Try this on.  You are going to kill old Timmy.  For some reason you decide to have a drink with him first.  Actually a lot of drinks.  You want Timmy out cold or at least close to it.  Do you go out and buy liquor or take a bottle from your own cabinet."

 "I might take one from the cabinet, if I have one."

 "Okay, now if it is Old Grand dad, or Jack Daniels or some other common brand then when you leave you just wipe the prints and split.  If it is something like Absolute Vodka, then you might think to carry the bottle with you."

 "You suspect the school teacher or the druggist?"

 "Could be.  Then again probably not.  But with blackmail it could be anyone."

 "Just another bit of information, huh?"

 "Yeah they eventually mean something.  Someday it will all fit together."

 "Why did it take you so long to come up with a theory for the missing liquor bottle."

 "I don't know.  I guess I'm not as smart as people say."

 "At least not as smart as you think."

 "Especially that last one.  Let's go to lunch.  I am getting hungry."

 E was working the lunch shift that day so I had a burger while Sally had a plate lunch.  I asked E if he had heard anything about Timmy's killing.

 "I don't think it was one of my people Linc.  By now who ever popped that cop would be braggin' about it to somebody.  Nothing has come to my ears or even big ears Thelma."  He wouldn't have talked about Thelma, if she hadn't been standing at the table.  They both knew it was a joke.

 "Well E, I'd appreciate it if you could aim me in the right direction should you hear anything."

 "Hey Linc, if'n I hear you hear."

  "Thanks again E.  We got to run."  I let Sally pay the bill then we drove to Jake's office.  I had called  him from the Elms.  

 When we arrived we were shown right in.  That was a novelty for me.  Jake usually wanted to keep me waiting.  It was some kind of power trip for him.

 "I'd like to see those pictures Linc."

 "Sure Jake, you can look but you can't touch."

 Jake examined the pictures for several minutes then pronounced, "Timmy wasn't much of a photographer was he?"

 "Oh, he was good enough."

 "I see your point.  Did he have a dark room?"

 I had completely missed that one.  No commercial lab would have printed those shots.  I hadn't seen nor had anyone mentioned finding a dark room at his place.  "Not that I know of."

 "Well then who developed these?"

 "Don't know yet.  Look Jake the negatives are there."  That I had checked.  "For your purposes it is a complete package.  Have you found the woman?"

 "No, she seems to have left town right after the party.  Nobody knows where she is.  Timmy might have known, but I doubt it.  Looks to me like Sam was worried for no reason."

 "Oh I don't know old Timmy's testimony and those photos would have ruined his career, if nothing else."

 "By the way Sam is going to be stepping down at the end of the year.  He is coming back to work here."

 "That was a good decision.  He really ought to make the move a little sooner.  Say like as soon as they can find a replacement for him."

 "Now you are blackmailing him."

 "Oh no, these things may still be part of the investigation.  If I don't turn up something soon, then the chief has to get these.  You know that he is going to have to make them public.  I would hate to see Sam forced to resign."

 "Next month or next year doesn't make any difference.  If you don't come up with something in the next day or so, he will come into the investigation."

 "Right, which brings us to why I am here.  Look Jake, Sam is being less than honest with me.  I am not getting anywhere, except I keep finding lies Sam has told me.  Actually more omissions of the truth.  For instance he knew Winston was on the blackmail list.  If he knew that, he might know somebody else on the list.  You better tell Sam to bring it all to the table tonight at seven.  Have him come here and I will meet him.   Jake tell him one more lie and I am going to stop looking.  I am going to hand everything over to the chief, then get the hell out of the way."

 "Okay seven it is."

 "By the way Jake where were you when Timmy was sucking on that shotgun?"

 "You surely don't think I did it."

 "Jake, I always suspect  you.  Why would this be any different."


 "Asshole."  I walked out the door enjoying the feeling of rattling Jakes cage.   He was so easy to upset it really shouldn't have been so much fun.

 "Now what?"

 "We find the lab that processed the film.  Actually you find the lab.  I have a couple of things to do.  Drop me at the studio."


 "Please drop me at the studio."  

 I spent the afternoon working on odds and ends that needed doing.  I still needed to talk to Helen and Claude.  I couldn't keep them out of bed long enough.  That really wasn't fair of me.  They were out of the house much of the time.  I had no idea what they did.  I did know they were out of my hair.

 "Well you should forget the lab," Sally advised as she entered the rear door.  "Timmy used the dark room at the tech school.  He was a regular out there.  He took their basic photography course half a dozen times.  According to the teacher it was just to use the dark room.  By the way she said to tell you to call her."

 Sally sounded as though she disapproved.  "It isn't  what you think.  While Helen was away she shot a couple of weddings for me."

 "Hey, it's none of my business.  Why you would want to diddle that bleached hussy, I don't know."

 "Good, I'm glad I have your permission.   Let's go eat before we talk to Sam.  That may take a while."

 "Sure but can we go somewhere besides the Elms.  My cholesterol is out of sight by now."

 "You pick it.  There isn't a lot to choose from."

 "How about that pizza place out on the highway."

 We were sitting at a small table eating the over priced pizza when Sally suddenly whispered, "Look out!"  

 I had no idea what to do, since she didn't specify anything.  I hunched my shoulders and prayed.  Sally pulled an ugly automatic from her purse and pointed it at the cash register.  The register  was behind me.  I turned to see the young white boy standing with his back to Sally.  She had obviously seen something I didn't.  From my angle he looked like a customer settling his bill.  

 Sally waited till he turned around to leave.  I noticed the revolver in his hand for the first time.  "Freeze,"  She shouted.   

 The kid swung the pistol in our direction as he turned.  I would have shot him half way through that turn.  Sally waited to see what he would do.  She waited too long.  They fired at the same time.  

 The kid dropped like a stone.  I turned to see Sally slump into the chair across from me.  I moved quickly to her side.  I tried to find a pulse in her neck but couldn't.  I saw the rapidly expanding circle of red on her white blouse.  The kid was either a good shot or damned lucky.  Sally of course was a good shot, but not very lucky that day.  I laid her gently on the floor and tried to stop the bleeding.  I couldn't do anything else.  She was shot in the chest.  If she breathed at all, I couldn't tell.  I pressed down on her chest to compress her heart but the blood seemed to drain from her faster.  I didn't know enough to do the right things for her.  

 It seemed like hours before the ambulance arrived.  When they came the driver said there was nothing he could do for her.  They turned from her to the young man. "Let's take him on in while the other ambulance comes for her."  One of them said.

 "Take her first,"  I said.

 "Man it don't make no difference they are both dead."

 "Take her first. I don't want her laying here while you take him out."

 "Linc, it just don't matter,"  the younger of the two said.

 I reached down picked up her pistol.  "If it don't matter Eddie, take her now."  I hadn't exactly pointed the gun at him.  The other customers verified that.  I did mean for him to get the idea that I would put a neat little matching hole in his ass, if he didn't do what I said.

 The Sheriffs men arrived shortly after the ambulance.  Everything stopped for them.  The everything included the removal of the dead.  Jasper took the pistol from me.  "What happened Linc?"

 I explained it all, at least up to the point were Sally fell.  Jasper asked around before he released the bodies.  I asked that Sally go out first and he agreed.  There was no one to speak for the kid.  He was past caring, so Sally left first.  

 I used the phone to cancel my meeting with Jake and Sam.  I didn't leave the crime scene till after eight thirty.  Jasper had her car towed so I caught a ride home with a customer.  I picked up my jeep, then drove to the hospital.  They didn't bother taking her any farther than our little general hospital in the next town.  Nothing could have saved her.

 When I left the hospital I drove straight to Sam's house.  I knocked on the door.  Sam's wife opened it.  "Linc, it is awfully late for company," Maggie stated.

 "Maggie get Sam then go to bed."

 "Who do you think you are ordering me around in my own house?"

 "I'm the man who is going to put your fucking husband in jail, if you don't do as I say."

 Sam walked in just then.  "What the devil is going on Linc?  You can't come barging in here threatening people."

 "You are right.  Good night Judge, bring a toothbrush to work with you tomorrow."

 "Wait a minute.  Maggie honey you go on to bed.  Linc and I have some business to discuss."  He waited till she was gone.  "You promised to keep those pictures out of the police hands."

 "No I didn't.  I agreed to hold them till I found the killer.  As far as I am concerned right now you are the killer.  You killed Timmy couldn't find the pictures and figured I had them since I had a lab in the studio.  You came after them."

 "No that isn't how it was.  I came, because I thought you killed Timmy."

 "The patience I had with any of you assholes is gone.  The only way you can keep me from going to the chief this very evening, is to give me everything and everybody connected with this sorry mess.  I want names addresses and all the information you have.  Otherwise you are going to fry."

 He folded like an accordion.  He gave me all the information he could about the incident at his fund raiser.  He also gave me Judge Winston.  He knew Timmy was working at least three of them but didn't know the third one.

 "Timmy told me that he was well covered not to even think of going to the police.  I had no idea then or now what he meant."

 I left the judge's house with only a small amount of new information.  I had a hunch.   I would need more information to make it a viable theory.  I drove to the seven eleven which was about to close.  I entered to find Molly Baker mopping the floor.

 "Watch were you walk Linc.  I don't want to have any lawsuits on my hands."

 "Hi Molly, I can stand right here.  I just want to ask you a question."

 She stopped mopping and leaned on the wooden handle.  "Whatever the question is the answer is yes.   I will do anything to get out of this place."

 "Sorry Molly, I'm not in a very good mood.  I just need to know if you carry any exotic beers or wines."

 "Hell no, the major brands of both.  Space in this place is at a premium.  We don't carry anything that might be a slow mover."

 "Where would I go, if I wanted an exotic drink."

 "Mike's place over in Williams.  He has a lot of off the wall stuff.  He even special orders for his customers."

 "Thank you Molly."  I turned to leave, then turned back to her.  "I wish you luck getting out of here."   

 "No way, with three kids and no education, I am lucky they keep me here."  

 I was back working on the no empty containers.  I went home and to bed.  I had been sleeping pretty well the last few nights.  That one was pay back.  I was up most all night.  Every time I fell asleep some slant eyed runt stuck a shotgun in my face. At five I gave up and sat drinking coffee at the kitchen table.

 Helen came down to sit with me.  "I heard you up walking the floors."

 "Sorry, I should be more quiet."

 "Why? Its your house.  I thought it might help, if you talked about what ever is bothering you."

 "Helen, you are a fine woman.  Claude is lucky to have you."

 "Okay enough bull shit, what's bothering you?"

 The dam broke with that simple question.  I felt the tears begin to run down my face and heard my own voice sounding strange.  I told her about Sally's death.  She hadn't watched the evening news since Claude had arrived.  

 She stood walked around the table and pulled my head against her belly.  I wrapped my arms around her waist and held her so tight I expected her to complain.  She didn't.  Instead she rocked me gently while I cried.  

 I cried quietly first for Sally, then for my parents, and finally for myself.  I cried for what seemed like a long time.  I finally pulled away from Helen.  "God I'm sorry Helen.  I guess everything finally caught up with me.  I'm so sorry to burden you with this.  I will be fine now."

 "If you had done this a couple of years ago, there wouldn't be a Claude sleeping upstairs."

 "Please don't tell anyone not even Claude.  People might begin to think I am human.  I don't think this town is ready for that."

 "They aren't.  It's too late for me.  God men are such jerks."  She said as she slipped from the room.

 I took my coffee then moved to sit on the back steps.  I watched the sun come up while I regained control of my emotions.  I felt sorry for myself but didn't really know why.  Maybe it was because so many of the people I cared about were dying violently.  What ever the reason, I knew I was miserable.  I sat feeling sorry for myself till the sun was over the horizon.

 I drove to the Elms reasonably composed.  E knew something was wrong when I walked in.  I was almost the first customer.  I sat at the counter something I seldom do.  I ordered breakfast.

 "Man are you all right?" E asked.

 "I guess."

 "What is wrong you look like you lost your best friend?"

 "I might have E.  Sally was killed trying to stop a hold up at the pizza place out on twenty nine."

 "Damn I'm sorry man.  I know she was your friend.  She was also a good person."

 "I know.  I am really going to miss her.  I didn't see her much lately but I always knew I could call her for help."

 "Were you there when it happened?"  I noticed just a hint of disbelief in his voice.

 "Yeah, it all happened before I could do anything.  She waited too long to shoot.  Maybe that was my fault."

 "How you figure that?"

 "You know what happened outside in your parking lot.  She always said I shot that kid too fast.  Maybe she wanted to make sure it was necessary before she shot this one.   If she had fired sooner, she would be alive now."

 "Hey man, you can't make that kind of decision for nobody else.  She done what she thought was right.  It wasn't what you would a done, but then you wasn't the one who had to do anything."

 You are right.  I still don't know what I could have done.  You know I don't carry a piece.  I would have let the kid go.  Crap it was only money.  It sure as hell wasn't enough to die over."

 "You wouldn't have let him go Linc.  You would have killed him, but not the way she did it."

 "I don't know E.  I might have just let him go.  Hell he didn't hurt anyone till Sally cornered him."

 "We won't never know how it might have gone down.  Like you always say. 'What is, is."

 "I know but I'll tell you this.  I wish I could kill that punk a couple of more times."

 "Hey, she killed him as many times as she could."

 I had picked at the food till I was tired.  I left the money on the counter.  I stood then walked out to my jeep.  

 It was still too early to drive to Williams.  I drove instead to Jake's office.  He was always in the office an hour before anyone else.  I found the door locked but his car in the parking lot.  I knocked till he answered.

 "What the hell you doing here so early."

 "We need to talk Jake," I said.

 "Sure come on in."

 I followed him to his conference room.  "Jake we need to talk about Julie.  I have been pissed at you a long time about her.  I knew she gave you even more crap than she did me.  I was pissed because you handled it.  I never could.  She was worth all the crap wasn't she?"

 "No she wasn't Linc.  You are the one who did the right thing.  I didn't have the courage to let her go.  I stayed and took her crap till the end."

 "I know but I blamed you for something you had nothing to do with.  I am truly sorry for that."

 "Linc, why all the sudden feelings.  I appreciate you coming here, but I don't understand."

 "Sally took a slug in the heart last night.  She is dead.  I just feel her death even more than I did Julie's."  I paused to collect my thoughts.  "I could do something about Julie.  There was nothing I could do about Sally.  Sally killed the son of a bitch who killed her."

 "God Linc what happened?"

 I filled him in on the details.  I even explained about seeing Sam late last night.

 "Hell Linc, Sam's a dick head.  He always was.  He is even worse since he went on the bench.  Even though he is a prick, I think he has told you all he knows.  You are going to have to solve this one without Sam's help.  He just doesn't know anything.  You are going to stay with it aren't you."

 "Yeah,  I'm going to find out who killed Timmy.  I need somebody to kill right now."

 "Take it easy Linc.  That isn't what you need.  What you need is work, meaningful work.  I have been through what you are going through twice."

 "I know Jake and I am sorry for that."

 "Don't be you didn't kill either of them."  

 "No but I didn't stop either of them."

 "Julie you couldn't have.  As for Re like you always say, 'Some people need to die.'"

 "Please don't quote me today Jake."  I stopped talking.  The silence got overwhelming.  I stood and put my hand out.  

 Jake took it.  "Does this mean we are finally going to be friends?"

 "I don't know Jake at least not enemies."

 "Close enough, I never felt very comfortable knowing you hated me."

 "Not hated Jake envied."

 "Why for God's sake."

 "You are rich and you had Julie.  I didn't need any more than that."

 "I wished a million times I could trade places with you Linc."

 "Why in the world would you want to be me."

 "If you are afraid of anything, nobody suspects it.  People either love you or they at least respect you.  Me, people despise.  I mean I am a lawyer for God's sake."

 "Why did you go into the law Jake.  I mean you had enough money without this crap."

 "My daddy wanted me to be a lawyer, so I became a lawyer."

 "You know I don't remember what my daddy wanted me to be."

 "Free, your daddy wanted you to be free.  My daddy tells a story about your father and you.  You don't remember it.  My old man couldn't see it at all."

 "Jake I didn't know my daddy knew yours?"

 "Linc with the holes in your memory I doubt you remember much of anything.  Anyway my daddy used to bird hunt with yours.  Your daddy had the best dogs in the state my old man said.  Anyway they were talking as they walked through the woods.  Daddy was talking about all the plans he had for me.  After a while he asked your dad what his plans for you were. 

 Your dad said,  "I ain't got nothing to give that boy of mine.  All I can do is maybe teach him how to live free."

 My old man could never understand that.  I could.  He told me about it after you got back from the war.  He thought it was awful that you had lost the memories of your family.  He didn't understand that everyone else's memories of them would become your memories.  You had the advantage of knowing your father through the eyes of his friends.  I knew mine through his own words and deeds."

 "Jake, I don't understand that."

 "Did anyone ever tell you that your daddy was a liar?"


 "I got to see my daddy lie to make a deal.  Did anyone ever tell you that your daddy treated people different because of their skin color or their income?"


 "Well I got to see my daddy treat people different for those very reasons.  Linc you had the best of it.  Your daddy got what he wanted.  I have known you most all my life.  I have never seen you kiss anybody's ass."

 "It wouldn't do me any good.  Everybody knows I am an ass."

 "No they don't.  Everybody knows you are an honorable man.  I even know that and I never much liked you.  You do know who I called when I was in trouble.  I always knew you would do the right thing."

 "Jake I got to go.  If the bullshit gets any deeper, I might drown."

 "Joke if you want just don't feel sorry for yourself.  I know a couple hundred guys who wish they were you, me included."

 "Thanks Jake but I didn't come here for this."

 "If I thought you had, I would never have told you any of it."

 "Well Jake I guess I appreciate it, but I don't believe a word of it.  You take care of yourself."

 "Where you going?"

 "Back to the Elms then to Williams.  I got a couple of things to take care of there."

 "Let me know when and where the funeral is.  I might want to drive down with you."

 "Why, you hardly knew Sally?"

  "I know you."

 "Thanks Jake but this is something I need to do alone."

 "Call me, if I can do anything.  I mean that Linc."

 "Thanks again Jake, but I can take care of what needs taking care of. "

 He nodded as I walked out the door.   I drove back to the Elms for two large coffees to go.  I drank them while driving to Williams.  

 First I went to the hospital.  I had a little trouble finding out about Sally till someone recognized me.   The  woman who knew me also knew I had not only been a friend of Sally's but knew I was present at her death.   She told me that the office was trying to find her next of kin at the time.  There didn't seem to be any.  She asked if I knew.  I explained that I had never heard Sally mention any family.

 I waited while she called the SBI personnel office. Someone finally found her Will.  They insisted on reading it.  The woman turned to me and covered the phone.  "Linc she listed you as the person to contact in case of emergency.  You need to talk to this woman."

 "Hello," I said into the phone.  "This is Linc Jefferson,  I am at the Williams Medical Center at this time.  Is there anyone listed in her Will who can make the funeral arrangements.

 "You seem to be the trustee of her estate.  I think you can safely take care of it.  Would you like someone from the bureau to take care of it."

 "I most definitely would not like the bureau to take care of her.  I will make the arrangements.  Call me when you figure out if there is any family."

 "I'll check but I don't think there was."

 The bureau like many police departments have a will on file for their people.  It can take forever to find one otherwise.  Something has to be done with the remains.  Remains it sounded like the left overs from a chicken dinner.

 Since it appeared I had the task of fulfilling Sally's wishes.  I asked, if her will had anything about her funeral."

 "Yes it specifies that she wanted to be cremated and her ashes spread over your garden.  There is a lot of personal stuff that I would rather not read over the phone."

 "That's fine.  I know all I need to know for now.  Thank you for the information."

 "You are quite welcome.  Please let us know when the memorial service is going to be held.  I know some of our people will want to attend."

 "Sure give me your number."  I wrote her number down then said good-bye.

 "I called Bobby Lewis' father.  I had gone to school with Bobby though I only knew it from seeing a high school year book.  I didn't remember much about him from those days.  I had met him again on a couple of different occasions.  When the old man answered the phone I asked for Bobby.

 "Bobby this is Linc Jefferson,  I got a really important favor to ask of you."

 "I heard Linc.  What do you want me to do?"

 "Come to the Williams Hospital, pick up Sally Rierson and have the body cremated.  I want it done right away.  I want her ashes tonight Bobby.  Can you do that?"  

 "If you clear it with the hospital, I can have a car there in an hour."

 "I guess I didn't make myself clear Bobby.  I want you to come get her.  I want to know that she was handled with respect."

 "Sure Linc, you clear it with the hospital.  I will be there in an hour.  I can have the ashes for you tonight."

 "Bobby, I owe you a big one."

 "Not a problem.  I figure this is one I can do for a friend.  I'll handle it with care buddy."

 "Thank you Bobby.  Send me the bill at the studio."

 "Wait a minute my dad wants to talk to you."

 "Linc this is Robert Lewis.  I have been listening to your conversation.  I hope you don't mind."

 "No sir, not at all."

 "I will accompany Bobby, if you don't mind.  I owe you and your family that much."

 "Sure Mr. Lewis but why do you feel you owe us anything?"

 "When my Annie died your mother came and brought food.  I'm afraid I was in terrible shape.  I even thought about killing myself.  She told your father. He came to sit with me.  He sat with me for three nights.  Bobby remembers even if you don't.  Your father sat up all night with me then worked a shift in the mill.  When his shift ended he came back to my house to be with me.  Your mother brought our meals in for those three days.  Your father convinced me to keep going because Bobby needed me.  He called it honor.  I was honor bound to raise Bobby so that Annie would be proud of him.  Undertakers don't have many friends,  Your mother and father were mine.  When I buried your father and mother, I cried more than anyone.  This thing you ask will be done and it will be done right.  I give you my word on that son."

 "I thank you for that Mr. Lewis.  I can rest easy now."

 "If you would like to schedule a memorial service at my chapel, I would be proud to have it."

 "Mr. Lewis I had forgotten about that.  Please schedule it and call this woman."  I gave him the number for the personnel office in Raleigh.

 I drove from the hospital to Mike's package store.  I entered the brick and glass one story building through the aluminum and glass door.   "Are you Mike?" I asked the man behind the counter.

 He grinned, then said, "There is no Mike.  At least not for the last five years.  I bought the place from a guy name George.  What can I do for you?"

 I flashed the special counsel ID that I shouldn't have had any longer.  "I need to ask you a couple of questions."

 "Sure go ahead.  I'll answer if I can."

  "I understand you special order for your customers?"

 "I sure do.  About half our business is special order stuff."

 "Do you ever order for anyone in Carbonton?"

 "Sure all the time. You from there?"


 "You guys can't get anything special there.  I order champaign and imported beer for parties and such."

 "I'm really looking for someone who orders regularly and the same thing all the time."

 "Let me think a minute."

 "This would be someone fairly prominent in the community."

 "You mean like the Mayor.  I order her a case of California Chablis every month.  She claims she visited the winery once."

 "Yeah like that, any others?" I asked.

  "Yeah there is an old Judge over there I order for.  I get him, let me check my books to make sure."  He took a rather large leather bound ledger from beneath the counter.  "Yeah, here it is.  I order a wine for him from a wine maker down east.  Duplin winery as a matter of fact. "

 "Which old Judge?"

 "Winston was the name on the invoice."

 "Let's see, the city manager gets a case of Australian beer once a month or so.  And oh yeah the chief of police has been coming in for the last six months or so.  I have been ordering him a German beer.  He said he picked up the habit in the army."

 I thanked him, then headed back to Carbonton.  The city manager was new along with the job.  The town had grown so much in the last two years that we had gotten to the point of needing a town manager.  

 "The mayor was a tough old broad.  I didn't think she was capable of murder, but no one got off my list.  The police chief I knew nothing about but I knew Timmy had access to him.  Hell he had access to all three.  Since I already knew about Winston, I discarded him for the present.

  I needed to check on the others, but I had to take care of Sally.  She was my first concern at the moment.  Enough time had passed so that she should have been on her way.  I stopped at the hospital and found that Lewis and son had indeed signed for the remains.

 I spent the next couple of days trying to find out about my three new suspects.  The mayor was the only one who had lived in town as long as me.  I checked and double checked but could find no connection with Timmy.  She might have screwed her way out of a ticket or something.  If so, I could find no record of it.  I spent the  whole afternoon talking to the mayor's friends and enemies but could come up with nothing.

 The next day I did as thorough a background check on the city manager as possible over the phone.  There were some strong opinions about him in his home town but nothing concrete.  Certainly nothing Timmy could have used.  I tried to find some contact between the two of them.  I didn't but that really didn't mean anything.  There would likely not have been a report on anything Timmy was blackmailing him with."

 The new chief of police came out exactly the same.  Nothing showed itself in his past.  I didn't expect anything.  If the world knew about an incident then there wouldn't be any way to blackmail him. It was pretty much at a stalemate.

 The day of Sally's memorial service things took a different twist.  The town was filled with cop cars.  They came from all over the state to honor their fallen comrade.  The service was held at one.  I was at a loss all morning and afternoon.  I took Sally's ashes home and planned to scatter them that evening after I had gotten sufficiently drunk.  I also planned to read the personal part of the will.  The parts the lady from the SBI wouldn't read over the phone.

 Jake called before I could do any of it. I had barely managed to begin getting drunk before he called.  "Linc you are never going to believe what happened tonight."

 "Okay, I'll bite what happened."

 "Sam got a call from Timmy's sister.  She was asking for money.  Not exactly threatening anything just hinting."

 "Damn, she is taking over her brother's business."

 "That's how it looks to me to."

 "Can you get Sam to find out if Winston has been contacted."

 "Sure, but why?"

 "Because if she is contacting all the people on Timmy's list, she is likely to be among the recently dead real soon."


 "No, but maybe she will be calling the murderer."  

 "Maybe we should go talk to her.  You know find out who is on that list?"

 "You are right, but not tonight.  She will just have to take her chances tonight."

 "Got plans?"

 "Yeah, I'm going to get stinking drunk."

 "Sounds reasonable want company?"

 "No but thanks Jake.  I do appreciate the offer."

 I sat at my desk and had a couple more drinks.  Helen and Claude were busy upstairs doing god only knows what.  I really hated having them in the house.  They didn't appear to be looking for a place to live.  They seemed to have a plan.  If they pissed me off bad enough, I would sell them either the house or the carriage house.  It was working just fine.

 Separating the two parcels wouldn't be a problem.  There was an alley which started on a side street.  It ran right through my parking lot.  I could always enter through it, if Helen gave me any crap about the driveway beside the studio.  I didn't really think that she would.

 It took another hour but I was finally drunk enough to read Sally's will.   It started of course with all that sound body and mind crap.  Then it went on to explain that since she had no parents and only one close friend she was leaving everything to her friend, me.  I was touched that she still thought of me as her friend.  I had no idea what her assets were.  I expected to gain very little from her estate.  I was quite sure she was living in an apartment.  On her salary I doubted she left anything but a pile of debts.  I would pay those out of my pocket, if need be.

 The will then listed her possessions and how she wished them distributed.  Her jewelry was to go to a niece in California.  Everything else was to go to me.  My guess at the time was that good will would be getting the most of her things.  After all I had no use for a woman's possessions.

On the last page was a message for me.  Linc, It is my expectations that you will handle everything about my estate in a fashion that would make me proud.  I cared about  you in a special way.  More than that, I admired you for your sense of honor.  You always did the right thing no matter the personal cost to you.  I  hope that sense of honor will control your dealing with my estate. I can add only that I loved you and you loved me the best we could.  Please have my body cremated and then scatter my ashes over your garden.  I would like to think that I am always near to watch over you.

 It ended with a group of legal mumbo jumbo.  The words were followed by stamps and seals from notaries and such.

  I was drunk enough to scatter her ashes.  I stumbled to the garden and opened the urn.  I was surprised at how few ashes there were.  I had never seen a cremated body so didn't really know what to expect.  I poured the ashes over the roses planted by Helen's mother.  I replaced the lid on the urn then walked into the house.  I sat at my desk and cried for an hour.  

 I stumbled to the bed then fell asleep.  I had the nightmare again but that time the man with the shotgun was taller and American.  I couldn't make out his face but he was definitely no a Viet Cong.  I was so drunk that I didn't even wake totally.  I simply fell back into a troubled sleep.

 I was up with the sun again.  I sat on the rear steps drinking coffee when I heard Helen and Claude come out of the back door behind me.  

 "Linc I know this is a lousy time, but have you thought any more about selling us the carriage house."

 "You're right Helen your timing stinks. I have thought about it though.  I don't think you would be happy living in the carriage house.  It would cost you a small fortune to refurbish it comfortably."

 "I really think if you don't want to sell it that is fine, but the decision as to whether we can live there is ours."

 "Don't get your ass on your shoulders Helen.  I thought maybe you would be happier in the house.  I can move to the carriage house without being as inconvenienced as you two would be."

 "Oh Linc are you sure?  You know I would love to have Mamma's house again."

 "If you are agreeable, we will cut the carriage house off the deed. You can buy the house and all the land to the alley.  You can have it for the same price Jake gave you for the whole place."

 "You mean we have to pay you the full price.  I would be getting less than I sold to Jake?"

 "That's it."

 "That really isn't fair."

 "Of course not but it is my price. Think about how many times you were even in that old carriage house."

 "I know but it was still part of the price Jake paid me."

 "Fine Helen you do what you want, but that is the deal."

 "I think that we shall accept your generous offer Linc." Claude said it.  "If I am not mistaken Helen sold the property too cheap in the first place.  The terms you state are more in line with the true value of the house."

 "Well you two decide then call Skip Eddington.  Have him take care of the legal crap."

 "Why not Jake?"  Helen asked.

 "Jake is going to be busy for the next couple of days.  Besides Skip needs the business."

 "I didn't even know he had moved back," Helen stated.

 "Yeah, the big city was bigger than Skip expected."  I had gone to school with Skip.  He had been a friend I was told.  He came from a mill worker family like me.  I had been meaning to throw him some business.   Jake didn't need the money anyway.

  I drove my mail jeep to Raleigh.  It took all morning.  I found Sally's apartment.   I had Sally's keys since the hospital had turned her personal effects over to me.  I hadn't even opened the envelope until I was outside her apartment.   I tried a couple of keys.  I found one that opened the door.  

 The apartment though in an expensive complex was almost spartan in it's furnishings.  I  walked through the living room and felt something missing.  There was a sofa and chair even a TV and stereo but it felt empty.  I went into her bathroom and found the medicine cabinet filled.  It was mostly patent medicines but a few prescription drugs.   I returned to the living room trying again to decide why the place felt so empty.  It still evaded me.

 In her bedroom I found a twin bed, night stand, and dresser, nothing else.  I opened her closet and there hung a full compliment of women's clothing.  Of course there were holes in the hanging clothes where she had removed clothing for her trip to Carbonton.  

 I looked through her things.  Her jewelry case sat on top of the chest of drawers.  I didn't even open it.  I placed it on the bed to mail to the niece.  I opened the top drawer of her chest and found a wooden box about four inches thick and maybe a foot square.  Inside the box was an automatic pistol.  When I examined it.   I found that it was a Colt.380. It was a nice small off duty weapon for a woman.  I placed the box beside the jewelry box on the bed.  I found a shoe box full of pictures.  There were pictures of Sally as a youth.  The pictures were much different from those of Sally the woman.  There were a couple of older people in the picture.  I assume they were her mother and father.

 Also in the box I found a shot of Sally in a Marine uniform posed in front of an American flag.  Then I found several pictures of me.  Some obviously taken by her.  Some I had never seen before showed us standing together in front of the Elms.  I had to assume they were made by the crime scene photographer.  There were pictures of people I didn't recognize.  I didn't know what to do with the pictures.  I put them on the bed with the other boxes.

 I searched all the boxes and drawers.  I even looked under the mattress.  There was nothing else of interest in the apartment.  I removed her wallet from the hospital envelope.  I found her insurance card.  From that the make and model of her car.  It was parked in the lot.

 I found it hard to believe that Sally drove a 1958 Ford convertible.  She had never mentioned that she was an antique car buff.  I was still sitting on the bed when I heard someone shout "Hello," from the living room.

 "Hi, I'm Sally's neighbor next door.  You must be Lincoln.  I recognize you from the pictures."

 "Yes ma'am I am Linc.  Is there anything I can do for you?"

 "My name is Alice.  I came to ask you that question.  I know you aren't from here.  Is there anything I can do for you."

 "Do you work Alice?"

 "Why no I'm getting ready to have a child.  Didn't you notice that I was pregnant."

 "Actually I did but men shouldn't bring those things up.  Sally wasn't renting the furniture or anything was she."

 "No, it all belonged to her."

 I am going to call the goodwill before I leave today.  I would appreciate it, if you would let them inside when they come.  If there is anything you would like, feel free to take it.  I am going to be going through her things."

 "Linc why don't you check everything tonight and let me pack it up tomorrow."

 "Are you sure you are up to it."

 "This is my third child.  It will do me good to do something besides watch TV and eat chocolate."

 "In exchange you feel free to take anything you like."

 "Good,  I would feel bad if I didn't help you.  Sally had only wonderful things to say about you.  You did know that she confided in me?"

 "No I didn't know that."

 "If you need to talk my door will be open."  She left the room.  I returned to the bedroom.  I found her last month's bills.  I began immediately calling for her payoff balance.  I also had my address listed to send any final statements.  The only actual debt I could find was a credit card bill.  Everything else was for utilities and rent.

 I called to arrange for everything to be turned off the next day.  I called the apartment manager.  I had to explain everything.  She assured me that there would be no bill for Sally's apartment. I filled a large box with her papers.  I would need to sort through them at  home.  I didn't expect to find anything except maybe warrantees for her TV and stereo.  There might even be a tax return or two.  

 I knocked on the neighbors door.  I explained that I would be picking up Sally's car in a day or so.  Meanwhile I would have to leave it in the parking lot.  She accepted the information without any outward show of emotion.  She asked if I would like a glass of tea.  I declined explaining that I needed to get  home.

 I arrived back in Carbonton around nine.  Helen was waiting at the kitchen table for me.  "Linc, I am sorry about this morning.  I sometimes can be a real jerk."

 "I know Helen but I love you anyway."

 "I wish.  If you need anything let me know."

 "Actually I do.  I have to drive down to Raleigh again to pick up Sally's car.  I would like for you and maybe even Claude to ride down.  You can drive the jeep back."

 "Sure put the extra seat into the jeep and I will ride with you.  I really think I would prefer Claude stay here.  We need to talk you and I."

 "We can leave if not tomorrow, then the next day.  I have been giving it a lot of thought.  I would like for you and Claude to stay in a motel tomorrow night."

 "Are you going to do something stupid?"

 "Like what?"

 "I don't know just something stupid."

 "Everything I do is stupid.  But to answer your question.  We may have an uninvited guest tomorrow night.  I would rather not have to worry about you two."

 Claude has been wanting to drive to Greensboro to buy art supplies.  Maybe we should do it tomorrow.  We could just spend the night.  We can come home first thing day after.  You and I could go for the car then."

 "Sounds like a plan to me."

 Helen left to explain to Claude.  I began to work on the bourbon when she returned.  "Linc we got a problem.  Claude wants to talk to you.  He is dressing and will be down in a minute."

 "What does he want to talk about."

 "He wouldn't tell me."  She fixed herself a drink while we waited for Claude to arrive in the office.  

 "Linc,"  he said as he walked into the door.  "Please tell me exactly what is going on here."

 "Nothing Claude, I just need the house to myself tomorrow night."

 "Bullshit, I do love your language it is so colorful.  This has something to do with that policeman's murder doesn't it."

  "Okay Claude, I am going to try something.  It is a real long shot but I am not getting anywhere with the investigation."

 "And the police?"

 "I don't know how but I imagine they know even less than I do."

 "Helen will spend the night with that Janice woman she knows.  You and I shall spring the trap."

 "I am afraid not Claude."

 "Why not, I am not afraid."

 "Claude, if you aren't afraid of a murderer with a shotgun, you have a problem."

 "Well of course I will be afraid of the man with a shotgun, but it will not come to that will it."

 "Oh yes it will.  He will be coming to kill me.  Not just me but everyone in this house.  He will expect a trap and will kill everyone on sight.  No one can be here when he comes."

 "And you my friend where will you be."

 "Not in the house that is for sure.  We will hunt each other and one of us may die.  I can not spare the energy to worry about anyone else."

 "You would not have to worry about me.  I can take care of myself."

 "I am sure you can Claude.  I would worry about  you anyway.  The worrying itself might well get me killed.  I simply can't afford to take the chance."   

 "Very well I will go, but only because you insist."

 "Thank you Claude.  I know it is hard for a man of honor to walk away and leave a friend in a dangerous situation.  This time it is for the best."

 "You will kill this man, yes?"

 "I don't know yet.  I might but I don't know."

 I slept poorly again that night.  I spent my awake time worrying about the plan.  It had almost no chance of working.  I just couldn't think of anything else.

 I found myself on the rear steps again with my coffee cup.  I looked at the carriage house across the parking lot.  I made a mental note to call the gas company.  I needed to get some heat and a cook stove of some kind up there.  I reminded myself that I needed a plumber to install a shower unit and a kitchen sink.

 Helen suddenly appeared behind me.  "You know I never sat on these steps before the other day.  It is really kind of magical watching the sunrise from here."

 "I never really thought of it.  I just enjoy the air in the mornings.  You know before it gets so damned hot."

 "Whatever, it is lovely though."

 "Yes it is," I answered. We sat there a long time just watching the sun do battle with the dark.  The sun won again.

 "Linc how dangerous is what you are going to do tonight."

 "Not very The killer may not show."

 "If he does?"

 "Someone may die."

 "Why do you do it.  I mean I know you are getting paid by someone but why bother.  You don't even spend the money you make from the photo business."

 "Honey, I do it because I can.  I don't have any other answer for you."

 She nodded.  We returned to watching the day begin.  "Come on, I feel like grease.  Let's go to the Elms for breakfast."

 "Don't you want to wake Claude?"

 "Hell no, he needs his rest.  I keep him awfully busy if you hadn't noticed."

 "I noticed.  Tell me what it is that causes you to be so turned on."

 "Do you really want to know?"

 "Maybe not."

 "I'm going to tell you anyway.  In Paris he was okay but not great.  I get turned on knowing you are in the house.  I love that you know what I am doing.  Now I'm not saying anything else.  Let's get the hell to breakfast."

 At the Elms she asked, "Why don't you call Erlene she really likes you."

 "Bullshit, she really likes either Claude or you.  I don't know which."

 "Sure but she likes you too."

 "Enough with my love life.  Now is not the best time for this conversation."

 "I'm sorry.  You are right.  I was being a jerk again."

 "Yes you were, but I think you meant well."

 I called Jake from the restaurant.  He informed me that Timmy's sister had indeed called Judge Winston.  "I wonder how long she will live Jake?" I asked.

 "Not long, if she goes for the third man," he replied.  "What do you plan to do today."

 "I plan to talk to contractors all day.  I have something on for our friends.  I can't tell you just yet.  With a lot of luck this time tomorrow we will know who killed Timmy."

 "You know now don't you?"

 "No, but I got a hunch."

 "Who is it."

 "Not yet Jake tomorrow.  Tell Sam that tomorrow it should all be over."

 Helen and Claude left in her heavy sedan.  He had signed the sales contract for the house.  He had even put up the down payment of ten grand.  He wasn't very rich or he would have paid it all in cash.  Skip and his accountant worked out the note that I was to carry.  Helen and Claude agreed to pay me six hundred a month for fifteen years.  If they missed one payment the house reverted to me.  I would refund nothing.  Skip and Helen had gone over everything very carefully.  It was a done deal.  It had all been taken care of while I was in Raleigh cleaning up Sally's affairs.

 I spent the day going through Sally's papers.  As far as I could tell there was nothing I needed to do.  She had no insurance and no one to bother with.  I had called six different plumbers before one agreed to come give me an estimate.  When he hadn't shown by noon, I went to lunch at the Elms.  I was lamenting to E about my plumbing troubles.  He looked hurt and asked me why I hadn't told him I needed a plumber.  His cousin Leroy was a plumber, carpenter, and a little bit of everything else.  I frankly had to admit that I did know about Leroy.  

 E called him on the phone.  Leroy was between jobs and agreed to come look at the job.  I met  him at the carriage house after lunch.  

 "Look Mr. Jefferson," he stated.

 "It's Linc Leroy.  Everybody who knows me calls me Linc."

 "Okay Linc,  I know you a friend of E's.  Tell  you what you go down to the home supply and buy what you want.   I'll pick it up and the parts I need to install it.  Have them agree to add it to the bill.  Then I will charge you fifty dollars a day to work for you.  If you ain't satisfied as we go along you can fire me anytime."

 "Well that certainly is fair enough.  When can you start?"

 "Follow me to the home supply and I get started right now. Course this be half a day."

 "Let's go."  I followed him and we picked up a kitchen sink.  It was one of those metal and porcelain monsters with a cabinet underneath and a dish drainer on the side.  I returned home while he stopped by for his son.  I didn't think that he and I could get the sink up the stairs alone.  We all worked to get the sink up the outside stairs.  We had to be careful on the broken steps but it went in without too much trouble.  I left the two of them working while I went inside to return my few calls.  I missed Helen being in the studio.  I actually had to check the calendar.

 Thank God she hadn't scheduled any work for that day.  The gas company man came and explained that I not only needed a  stove but a hot water heater and a furnace system of some kind.  When he got through pitching it to me, I decided to think over the seven thousand dollars he proposed that I spend.

 When he had gone, Leroy asked if I would be interested in buying a gas stove from his aunt.  She had switched to Electric and the stove she had was old but everything worked.  It didn't have a pilot light.  I would need a supply of kitchen matches.  I asked  him how much.  I bought the stove.

 "Mr. Linc would you mind if I stay till eight?  I really do need a full days pay."

 "Are you kidding,  I don't mind a bit.  You work all you want.  I'll pay you at the end of each day, if you like."

 "That sure would be good.  I really would like it in cash, if it ain't too much trouble.  I know your check be good but I have a hard time cashin' them.  The bank always calls to make sure it is all right with the people.  It is kind of embarrassing."

 "Cash is fine.  If you ever have any trouble with the bank in the future have them call me.  I think we can get that straightened out in a hurry."

 "It's okay Mr. Linc you don't have to talk to them folks for me."

 "I ain't Leroy.  Old Judge Sam owes me a couple of favors.  I think I can get him to call for you."

 "No need but I keep it in mind."

 I made my three calls just before Leroy left for the evening.  I called the Mayor, the new city manager and the Chief.  I told them all the same thing.  I had spoken to Mike.  I told each of them that since they were the only ones on Mike's list I would need to talk to them.  I explained about the theory I had.  No one wanted to cooperate till I reminded them that the SBI would have a replacement for Sally in a day or so.  That agent would get all my information.  It was either talk to a friend now or to the SBI later.  I explained that I might be able to clear them without having to even mention their names to the SBI.

 Most of them were pissed but all agreed to see me the next day.  None knew about the others.  They each had to think that if I were eliminated that the SBI might not get on to the alcohol connection. At least that was my plan.  

 When darkness fell I dressed in my black outfit, loaded the.45 I had been given by the original chief of police.  I moved slowly and quietly to the open door of the carriage house.  I waited quietly in the shadows.  I watched my house carefully.

 I wanted a cigarette bad.  There was no way to have one so I concentrated on breathing quietly.    After a couple of hours I got thirsty.  I concentrated harder on my breathing.  I wasn't sure of the time but I had waited a long time before he showed.  I recognized the frame and carriage of the new chief.  If he knocked on the door and no one came he might leave.  I didn't know the exact time but I knew it was late for a social call.  

 I held my breath and watched.  He opened the door with a key.  I had no idea how he got a copy of my house key.  When the door opened, he removed a sawed off shotgun from his pants.  I supposed it to be the same one he had used on Timmy.  I waited till he entered the house.  I heard the lock being thrown as he locked the door after himself.

 I waited only a few minutes before I moves along the shadows on the side of the house.  I reached the crawl space door and quietly opened it.  I crawled slowly and quietly till I was under the trapdoor.  I listened and heard a far off pounding of steps.  I could only guess but it seemed that the chief was upstairs.  I quietly opened the trap door.  I crawled out of it into the shadows of the corner wall.  I crouched there waiting to locate the chief by the sound of his movements.  It took a while before I heard him start down the front steps.  He would emerge into what had once been the living room.  I moved from the corner shadow to the edge of the doorway.  I waited for a long minute until I could hear him on the downstairs floor.  He had several options.  He could turn and walk out the front door.  He could walk straight into the living room to search for me there.  He could also turn to the back door as an exit.  That one would bring him right by me.  I heard him move and then the front door knob.  

 I almost rushed after him but then he knew my reputation.  Instead I dropped quietly to the floor.  I crawled forward enough to see the door.  He had his hand on it but his body was turned to look in my direction.  He was looking for a standing man not a head.  I could have killed him right there.  Hell I should have.  A shrink might tell you that I wanted to die myself.  Who knows.

 I moved the.45 around the corner without a sound.  I was less than ten feet from the chief and he didn't even know it.  I was hidden by the shadow of a chair.  The chair would offer neither of us any protection.  It was a wooden open framed chair.  It did cast a shadow though and the house was very dark.

 "Drop the shotgun chief." I said. It was a truly stupid thing to do.

 He didn't drop the shotgun.  Instead he moved it to point in my direction.  Damn Linc, you are as good as they claim.  You can't kill me.  I have on the log that I am here to interrogate you about the Timmy Smothers murder.  Everyone will think that you did him and then me to cover it up."

 "Chief I do hope you heard some other things about me.  Like I would rather kill you and explain.  Rather than have you kill me and then have you explain.  Now drop the gun.  You have a chance to beat the rap on Timmy.  If you don't, you are going to die in my studio right now."

 He may have been planning to drop the shotgun but he twitched.  I shot him four times.  I later found that two went into his chest and two into his belly.   The shot gun went off.  It blew a hole in Helen's wall.  I sure was glad we had signed the papers before the little meeting.

 When they searched the Chief's house, they found a basement full of kiddy porn.  He was not only looking at it but he was dealing in it.  It was all mail order.  Evidently Timmy had found out somehow.  I have no idea how he knew nor do I want to know.  Jasper of the Sheriffs department found the blackmail package of the Chief's in a file cabinet.  The chief had kept the package.  I know it is stupid but when you are the Chief of police you can hide many things.  

 I had no idea if Thelma had given it to him or he had gone back and stolen it from her.  All I knew was that he had it.  I spent most of the day making statements to various law enforcement people.

 You know Linc we have an awful lot of dead people for such a small town," Jasper suggested.

 "For sure there was one too many," I replied thinking of Sally.

The end