Death and the stripper

 "Murder most foul" the prosecutor shouted.  The jury seemed to cower from his verbal assault.  The prosecutor went on to describe the murder of Leland Anders.  He described how the perpetrator broke into Leland's house with the intention of robbing then murdering Leland.  He claimed he had proven that Wade Williams had been the intruder and that murder was the intent.

 According to the prosecutor, Wade had been the lover of Leland's much younger wife.  He wanted to have her and Leland's money.  The only way to do that was to murder Leland so that his wife inherited all the money.  The robbery was a cleaver ruse and nothing more.

 The prosecutor ended with, "We have to send a message here today.  Adultery is an awful thing but murder is much worse.  For his sins against Leland Anders, Wade Williams must be punished.  The punishment is a decision for another day and another man, but the finding of guilt cannot be shoved off on anyone else.  It is a decision that you must make.  It is a decision that is simple.  Wade Williams is guilty of that.  There can be no doubt."

 The prosecutor sat down and the defense counsel tried to make a case for reasonable doubt.  There was no case to be made.  Everything pointed to Wade and only Wade.

 In the end it took the jury slightly more than one day to convict Wade.  It took another jury almost a week to agree on the death penalty.  Poor Wade would sit on death row for a few years then die of a lethal injection.  

 The last question to be answered was, "What about the widow Anders?"  Some people had her guilty of the conspiracy but others thought she was an adulteress but nothing worse.  I hadn't made up my mind yet.  In most cases it wouldn't have mattered what I thought.  In this one it just might.

 I had monitored this trial for my friend Skip Eddington.  Ship and I had gone to high school together.  He had gone to college then law school.  I had taken a different route.  I was what most folks would call a ne’er do well.  I puttered at photography but my background was as much in law enforcement as anything else.

 After the war I had joined the police department.  I had managed to stay two years.  I was in school for photography even then.  I had seen way too much ugly over the last four years.  I wanted to see something that was if not beautiful at least neutral.

 Ad hope they didn't give her the needle for adultery.

 My only surprise in the trial was that there was a trial at all.  If I had been Wade's attorney, God forbid, I would have pleaded him and rolled on the widow.  The widow must be holding something wonderful to keep Wade silent.  Of course she might be innocent in which case Wade had nothing to tell.  Of course he could have made something up.  Wade  didn't strike me as that much of a stand up guy. Maybe the widow promised to pay his attorney bills if he refused to testify against her.

 Anyway my advice to Skip would be to plead the bitch out and move on.  There was a lot more money to be made defending her so he wouldn’t.  I doubted that he would collect if she were convicted.  The old man's money was probably tied up in probate.  She wouldn't get a nickel if the widow was convicted.

 I walked into Skip's office after the conviction and before the sentence was announced.  I told him what I thought and he asked me to go back for the sentencing.  I did and now that part was finished.

 I was seated across from Skip smoking a cigarette when he asked, "Well will Wade roll over on her."

 "Not before the first appeal is denied.  I figure he took the sentence like a man.  He should hold up well till it gets closer."

 "Then I need to get Holly on the docket right away."

 “Damn Skip, plead the bitch and move on man."

 "She won't plead and frankly I need the money."

 "What money?  The estate is going to be tied up for years."

 "The lady has money of her own."

 "Where would a stripper get money of her own?"

 "Leland,  She convinced him to buy her a couple of clubs.  She didn't want to be a country club wife."

 "You mean they would allow her to be a country club wife so she became a strip club wife?"

 "Is that so?  Anyway the clubs made a lot of money and she banked it.  She somehow got Leland to pay the bills for her.  She banked almost all the money from the clubs."

 "Okay she won't plead and she has the money for a defense she is still going to break your heart."

 "I don't know.  As long as Wade doesn't roll over on her, we might be able to plant reasonable doubt in the jury."

 "Wade copped to doing the dirty deed with the widow.  This is the bible belt son.  They are going to hang her ass for fucking around."

 "Maybe not."

 "Whatever, here is my bill."  Skip looked at it and then took out his checkbook.  

 "Did you get to that intersection yet?"

 "No Skip, but I will shoot it on the way home.  You did want it at five o'clock didn't you?"

 "Yes," Skip answered.

 "Well I have been busy at five o'clock every day this week.  You should know  I was in the courthouse three of those days.  I do have other clients you know.  I promise I will shoot your intersection today.  How big do you want the prints?"

 "Eight by ten should do fine."

 "You got it.  I'm out of here."

 "Oh Linc, I am going to have to ask you to do some checking on the widow's alibi.  You are going to have time aren't you."

 "Probably Skip, why don’t you convince her to cop a plea."

 "No can do.  Besides this isn't Julie we are talking about you know.  This one might be innocent of everything except adultery."

 "They will shoot her full of poison for that down here.  Especially if she draws Jake as the prosecutor."    I was standing in the door as I gave him that last bit of wisdom.

 "I still don't know why Jake gave up his practice to become the DA.”

 "Because he doesn't need the money.  Also, because his dad wants him to be Governor."

 "Yeah but there are better ways."

 "Not to get publicity there is.  He will be trying this one as if she were Julie.  He won’t mind that it is a trip to the Governor's mansion at the end of the trial."

 "Do you really think he will use Holly as a stepping stone to the governor's office?"

 "Does a cat lick its ass?"  I left before Skip could waste any more of my time.

 I stopped at the intersection and shot a dozen photographs of it.  I would have to develop the slides to determine which ones I wanted to use.  I drove the battered old mail jeep to my garage.  I lived in a converted carriage house behind the oldest photo studio in town.  

 I had once owned the big house in front of my garage.  My old  friend and daughter of the original photographer owned it again now.  I had sold it to her husband as a painter's studio and gallery a year or so ago.              

 He was a native of Paris.  He  lasted in this country about a year before he gave up and returned to Paris.  Helen would have gone with him if he had asked.  He wanted to forget about America and Helen at the same time.  She and I worked out a deal that allowed her to keep the house so long as she ran the photo studio and made her payments on the house and the business.

 The house was too big for me and I never liked running a respectable business anyway.  The deal we worked out, allowed her to book work for both of us.  She called me on the new citizens band radio if I needed to shoot anything right away.  

 Helen didn't try to steal my customers because she really wanted to paint portraits.  If she could have made a living at it, I would have been out a partner.  Fortunately she couldn't.  Instead she shot about half the weekend work.  I worked all the out side jobs during the week.  She painted while also shooting any studio customers.  She also ran the office.  It worked out really well for both of us.

 I called her on the CB just to let her know that I would be in the garage.  She responded that I had a message.  It seems that Skip was trying to get me involved in the Black Widow affair.  I didn't rush to return his call.  Instead I processed the slides of his intersection.

 Skip's secretary called, "Linc, we really do need for you to start looking at Mrs. Anders alibi.  Would you please make an appointment to interview her?"

 "Tell you what Wanda,  you call the black widow and have her come here tomorrow at eleven a.m."

 "I don't know if that will be convenient for her?"

 "Well it is the only time I am going to have available for the next two weeks."

 "Come on Linc that is crap.  Everybody knows you don't make appointments more than a day ahead."

 "Okay, Wanda, my love, it is the only time I will have available for the black widow."

 "I'll try.  I certainly hope you don't call her that, at least not to her face."  I could actually hear the smile in her voice.

 "Wanda, you really should stop repressing  your feelings.  It can't be good for you to hold back so much."

 "If I didn't repress Linc, I would probably rape someone."  Wanda would  have to commit rape to get a man.  She was probably fifty and homely as sin.  She was one of the few people I didn't dislike on general principles.  She actually was a nice lady who almost never said anything bad about anyone.  She actually reminded me of what folks said my mother was like.  I had to take their word for it since my own memories were lost.  I left them along with a chunk of my skull along the DMZ in the Nam.

 After Wanda hung up the phone, I returned to my slides.  The film was dry enough to mount.  I looked at them, then decided on the four best ones for Skip.  I copied them onto print film then dropped the film into an envelope.

 I walked into the rear door of the studio to deposit the envelope into the outgoing mail box.  "Helen, do me a favor.  If Wanda, over at Skip's, calls with a time for the black widow interview put it into the schedule and then remind me."

 "You aren't going to get involved in that mess are you?"

 "I am going to verify her story, nothing else.  I personally don't give a rat's ass, if they shoot up the bitch or not."

 "Boy, you are up tight about her.  See yourself in poor old Leland?"

 "Probably a little.  If I had been Jake, I would have worried about having Julie around."

 "I'm surprised none of her boyfriends got the idea to pop a cap in his ass," Helen said.

 "Me too,  I don't think any of our homegrown thugs could think that far ahead.  It took a big city transplant to figure that one out.  Of course he is headed for that great love affair in the sky."

 "What's he like," Helen asked,  "I never met Wade?"

 "I didn't know him personally either.  I hear he was a big bad asshole."

 "Badder than you?"

 "Bigger anyway.  I'm going out for dinner.  You want to go?"

 "Hell no.  I stopped eating grease a long time ago," Helen said.

 "Too bad they are having stew at the Elms."

 "You should really stay away from that grease pit.  If they didn't use your mama's recipes, you wouldn't be caught dead in that place."

 "One reason is as good as another."

 I arrived at seven and even then it was hard to find a seat.  It hadn't always been that way.  I could remember when Miss Lois started the place.  It was touch and go for a while but she hung on and now her son's ran the place.  Miss Lois died before it really got big but she had lived long enough to make sure the business would support her two sons, Ezra and Jed.  Two men so different from one other that it was obvious they came from different fathers.  Jed was a nasty peace of work.  He was not violent, just really nasty to everyone.  Ezra, everybody called him E, was a gentle soul that who loved everyone.  If Jed didn't run the place at night, the business would be broke from E feeding the homeless.  If E didn't run it during the day, Jed would have run off all the customers by now.  They made a very good team.

 Jed was of course managing that night.  The place was absolutely full of cops.  Jed pretended to hate the cops hanging around but was secretly pleased.  He confided in me that there hadn't been any robberies or break-ins, since the cops discovered his restaurant.  They checked it closely and often.  The cops also loved old Jed for some reason.  He argued and belittled them but they kept coming back for more.

 I sat at the counter because all the booths were full.  "Damn Jed, you got a police convention going on here?"  There were two city cars outside, we only have three on the second shift.  It is after all a small town.  There were also two sheriff's cars and one highway patrol.  Those were in addition to the regular customers.

 "Man, I don't know what the hell they doin’ here.  Cops be like stray dogs, you feed one then next day you got two.  You feed them two and a week later you feeding every stray in town."

 "I guess.  Give me a bowl of mama's stew."

 "I am tired a tellin’ you that it ain't your mama's stew that is my mama's stew."  For a change he didn't seem angry.  "Hey Linc you seen that new lady cop?"  I shook my head.  "She sure is fine."

 "I wouldn't know.  She ain't from around here.  Word is she came from Greensboro."

 "I heard they kicked her ass off the Greensboro PD."

 "I hadn't heard that one.  I heard she was a nympho.  Goes to prove one rumor is as good as another don't it."

 "Yeah,  I heard the new chief brought her with him.  When you gonna break down and take that job."

 "They don't want me to be the chief."

 "Sure they do.  I hear these peckerwoods talking.  I hear they done offered you that job ‘bout a dozen times."

 "Well don't believe everything you hear."

 "I can't believe we had one chief was a hero and another that was a murderer."

 "Some towns have all the luck."

 I dedicated myself to the stew.  Jed lost interest and moved away.  I heard him giving the highway patrolman hell.  The patrolman of course thought he could bully Jed.  He soon found out that even though the locals didn't care much for old Jed, no outsider fucks with our people.  The city cops and sheriff's deputies asked the patrolman what his sergeant would think, if they gave him a speeding ticket in a highway patrol car.  He quieted down and left the restaurant.  Jed never even said thanks.

 When I arrived home after the stew Helen was waiting with my messages.  "Wanda called the widow will be here at eleven in the morning.  What are you going to do with her?"

 "I'm going to have her tell me her story on video tape.  Then my dear, I am going to follow up on it, all the while billing Skip thirty bucks an hour."

 "Oh yeah some broad name Honey called.  She said and these where her exact words, "Tell Linc I will see him on Friday if he really has the balls."  No what the hell was that all about.  Who is this Honey."

 "Honey is Mattie Smith,  You have to remember Mattie.  She was a year or so behind you in school."

  "Sure I remember, Miss Hot pants.  Everyone remembers Mattie, or maybe it was just the men."

 "I have no idea that was well after my time."

 "What are you and Honey going to be doing on Friday, that you need balls for?"

 "I am going to coach that women’s softball team.  We are going to practice on Friday night,"

 "I figured it had to be something like that.  I mean what would someone who looks like Mattie want with an old man like you.  By the way how did she get that nick name."

 "Supposedly her grandfather called her that everyone at  home did to.  She was only known as Mattie at school."

 "Leave it to you to coach a woman's team with the captain named Honey."

 "Why don't you play for us?  You could use the exercise you know."

 "I get all the exercise I want keeping up with you.  Besides you will be too busy with Honey to bother with me."

 "Enough, I'm going home.  I don't need all this abuse."

 I went  home and tried to watch TV but it was useless.  The summer rerun season had started.  I changed and went for a walk.  My walks are quite a bit different from other folks.  I practice creeping around like I did in the Nam.  It is very relaxing to be out at night.  It was even fun making sure I was not seen by the average people.  The cops and I had a bet.  I would sneak up on their parked patrol cars.  If they caught me, I paid them ten bucks.  If was able to touch them without being seen or heard, they bought me coffee.  

 I had paid off a couple of times, but I had a hell of a lot more free coffee.  This night I drove out to the country.  It had been a while since I stalked the river area.  If the wind were right, I could walk up on a deer at times.  It was quite a challenge but most often they heard me and ran away.

 Tonight I followed a game trail.  I stopped about two hundred yards from the creek.  I found a place just off the trail and waited.  I wanted to see if the animals would notice me.  I got close enough to touch several small animals.  I even saw a deer though they seldom travel that late at night.  I sat in the same position for several hours and waited.  I wanted a cigarette the whole time.  I even waited long past the point that I was so thirsty I couldn't raise a spit.

 I crept back up the game trail.  I even came face to face with another deer.  She bolted away after almost colliding with me.  I was having a great night till I got back to my jeep.  I saw the car parked down the road from my jeep long before anyone could have seen me.  I caught only the tiniest reflection of moonlight off chrome.  It was enough for me to identify it as a car.  Of course I had no idea who it might be.  

 I changed my direction so that I would come up on it from what I thought to be the rear.  It took me another hour to sneak up on it.  When I did, I recognized it as the crime scene van.  Jacob Stern would be sitting in it.  Jacob and I had been Friends for about four years now.  We  had once worked a case together.  Now I bothered him for information.  I tried to keep it to a minimum but I called him weekly just to talk.  He had a love for cameras and of course cameras were my business.

 I approached the van on his blind side.  I didn't touch it but used it as cover to creep around to the driver's window.  I crouched a long time at the rear just in case he had a feeling.  Then I crept up to his window and touched what I thought was Jacob on the shoulder.  The body behind the wheel jumped to it's right and came up with a Smith and Wesson .38.

 "Easy there fellow.  Jacob, it is me, Linc."

 The voice that answered was not  Jacob.  It was the voice of a woman.  "Damn you, Mr. Jefferson you scared the hell out of me."

 "I'm sorry ma’am.  I thought you were Jacob.  Where is he anyway?"

 "Jacob doesn't work at night much anymore.  He is now the supervisor.  The peons do the actual field work these days."

 "When did this come about?"

 "Three days ago.  The sheriff and the new police chief decided they needed someone on call night and day.  I am the first of the city police officers assigned to the lab.  We are going to rotate every couple of months."

 "Didn't I see you at the Elms earlier?"

 "Yeah I was on my way to work.  This shift is so screwed up that I start at eight and work till four in the morning.  There doesn't seem to be any crime after four."

 "There is it just isn't spotted till folks come to work the next morning."

 "I know that.  I was joking."

 "Sorry, I do tend to come off as a smart ass.  I really don't mean to be.  What are you doing out here?"

 "Look I owe you a cup of coffee I believe.  Get in.  I got a thermos and two cups."

 "I really do need to be heading home."

 "Come on, fair is fair.  Besides I'll tell you what I am doing out here looking for you. "

 "You need ten bucks right?"  She didn't answer till I was inside the van with a cup of black coffee in my hand.

 "I am here because I understand you are the man around here."

 "Now what the hell does that mean.  The man."

 "I hear if I get your stamp of approval the cops and civilians will leave me alone.  Right now everyone stares at me like I am from outer space."

 "Well, what is your name anyway."

 "Sarah Lee Poole."

          "Well Saraboro when you were sent as back up.  A sergeant arrived real soon after."

 "Sometimes before."

 "Yeah well, the guys here know that there isn't going to be a sergeant.  Some nights, you are going to be all there is between them and an ass whipping."

 "I can hold my own in a fight."

 "I' m sure you can and it wouldn't even matter if you couldn't.  Just as long as you got in there amongst them."

 "You're saying to be willing to fight is more important than being good at it."

 "Exactly,  all these cops care about is that you are right there taking the blows with them.  You do that and it will mean a hell of a lot more than me indorsing you."

 "Okay, could I ask you a few questions.  I mean, since I have you kind of prisoner in my van."

 "I don't mind if you don't mind when I refuse to answer."

 "Fair enough.  How come you got named Lincoln Jefferson?"

 "I don't really remember but I was told that my daddy was the first republican to work in the mills down here."

 "I would ask you why they call you the ghost but I already had that answered for me."

 "No, you didn't, and you won't."

 "Try this one.  I understand you once dated a cop.  Is that true?"

 "Not really,  She was and SBI agent and we never really dated."

  "I heard you went ape shit when she died.  I heard you murdered the last chief of police."

 "Think I will pass on that one."

 "Why? Did you murder him?"

 "I already told you I was going to pass on that line of questioning."

 "A black man at the diner was talking to one of the older officers.  He said you were probably the badest mother fucker in the state.  Said you could kill a man and not even lose a minute of sleep."

 "If that were the case Sarah Lee Poole, I would be home in bed right now."

 "Okay, I'll answer your questions now."

 "How did you find me?"

 "Jacob gave me a list of places to look."

 "Why would Jacob do that?"

 "Well for one thing he likes me.  For another he likes you.  I told him I found you interesting and wanted to meet you.  He thought this would be a cool way.  I also wanted the ten bucks to hand on the wall at the police station locker room."

 "You are going to have to explain that one."

 "You mean you don't know?"

 "Know what?"

 "Every time you pay out the ten bucks, the officer who caught you puts it in a frame and hangs it on the wall.  They even make little notes in the margin.  I didn't know cops could be that honest."

 "I don't understand that either."

 "The ten-dollar bill is a mark of pride for them.  The notes are just here way of reliving the incident."

 "That wall must be worth a fortune."

 "Not really, there are only four frames up there."

 I actually could remember each of the incidents.  "I thought there were more."

 "No, you didn't.  One of the notes I remember was, ‘I caught the ghost when I turned to watch two dogs go by sniffing each other’s tails.’"  

  "Eddie Lamb no doubt, I was about four feet from Eddie when he turned on me.  I never did believe that he heard me.

 "All of the sights were accidental I think."

 "Not really I usually did something wrong.  Like Eddie,  I should have waited till the dogs passed.  I took it for granted that Eddie wouldn't follow them with his eyes.  I was wrong and would have been dead in another life."

 "You know Jacob said you were a nice guy.  I have heard so much about you I figured you would be a prick."

 "You were right before.  I am a prick.  Jacob and I just happened to something that's all."

 "I heard his version of the story.  Would you tell me yours?"

 "No, just believe about half of what he said and you will be about right."

 "How about Sally Rierson, should I believe half of what, he says about her?"

 "No, he told you less than all, because he knows less than all of it.  Sally was remarkable that much you can believe."

 "I would like to ask you one more question, but don't really know how."

 "Just spit it out.  I really don't bite.  I just say no when I don't want to answer."

 "Okay here goes.  The department is having a cookout Saturday night.  It would really help me get accepted by the men if you would come with me."

 "This means a lot to you.  I mean, being accepted."

 "Yes it does."

 "I don't usually go where I know the cops are going to be, but in this one case I will make an exception."

 "Can I pick you up?" she asked.

 "No Sarah Lee Poole, give me your address and I will pick you up."

 "In that," she pointed to the jeep.

 "If what I drive makes a difference, then you obviously have the wrong man."

 "Oh no you don't, a promise is a promise.  I would ride in a hearse to get this date."

 "It isn't a date."

 "Oh I know."

 I opened the door and slid out of the van.  "Write down your address.  What time do I pick you up?"

 She scribbled something on a piece of paper.  "Six would be nice."

 "Okay six it is."  I melted into the night.  I slipped back into the woods and waited.  She sat in the van for another five minutes or so then pulled away.  I waited till her lights turned onto the main road, then I slipped silently toward the jeep.

 I knew she was a cop and all but I still checked the jeep as closely as I could with the penlight.  I crawled under it and checked for anything unusual.  I then checked the edges of the hood to make sure my Scotch invisible tape was still in place.  The outside edges of the tape were covered with a greasy finger print.  It would be impossible to replace them exactly.  Everything looked cool so I started the jeep.  Since I was able to turn on the lights, I figured she had wired a bomb to it.  

 I know that sounds paranoid, but the head cop in our town once wired my old Toyota.  I hadn't trusted anyone since.  He  was supposed to be my friend.  If it hadn't been for a series of accidents, I would have been dead.  I had forgotten something in the house and left the door open in the car.  I got busy in the house and forgot the Toyota for a couple of hours.  When I returned, the already weak battery had died.  The poor devil from the service station died when he installed the new battery.  It could have been me though the chief swears it couldn't have been.  The bomb was timed to go off harmlessly in the middle of the night.  It of course hadn't.

 That wasn’t the only reason I was suspicious of Sarah Lee Poole.  I would probably have been a little suspicious of any beautiful woman who asked me out.  Hers was the best reason I knew.  She wanted to use me.  Most women do.  Sarah Lee was just honest about it.

 I returned home and even managed to sleep a little.  I was awake with the sun and sitting on my second story deck drinking coffee when Helen walked over.  She climbed the new stairs and walked past me without a word.  Helen is like that she won't speak in the morning till she has a coffee cup in her hands.  When she returned, I said, "Well good morning sunshine."

 "Go to hell, how can you sleep two hours then be all bright and cheerful?"

 "I have a clear conscience."

 "God is going to strike you dead for lying like that."  She smiled and I laughed.

 "What's on the calendar for today?"

 "Holly, the black widow, will be in at eleven.  You have a deposition to tape at Two.  Sometime you need to swing by the park and shoot that new Jungle Gym set for the city."

 "I thought they were going to do that.  You know, use their own photographer for it."

 "Oh they did.  They had Jacob run by.  The problem was that it had all the warmth of a double murder.  Kids would have been scared to by it."

 "Okay Jungle Gym it is.  Is there anything else?"

 "Not yet but the day is young.  Don't forget we have wedding Saturday."

 Hell, I did forget Helen.  What times?"

 "One and three."

 "Did either of them ask for a particular photographer?"

 "Not really,” she replied.

 "Can I con you into taking the three?"

 "Sure I don't care, they are both nuts and mints receptions."  Which meant a three-hour reception at most?  "You got a date or something?"

 "Actually I do."

 "What woman in her right mind would go out with you?"

 "Sarah Lee Poole, our first females police officer."

 "That explains it.  She has a death wish."

 "Probably, damn my dance card is getting full.  Remember, don't schedule anything for tomorrow night.  I have that softball practice at six."

 "You know I am a full partner in this crime against art.  You really shouldn't give me orders."

 "You are absolutely right.  I shouldn't act like the boss.  God knows without you I would be lost."

 "Well, it looks like I am finally beating something into that thick head of yours."

 The sun was well over the trees when we finished the pot of coffee.  The conversation had covered the same things it did most morning.  Helen and I had become an old married couple without the sex or responsibilities of a relationship.  We were comfortable with each other.  She had even recently begun to date again.

 The newest man in her life was Wendy Sims.  Wendy was the town druggist.  He actually owned the store.  I was happy to see her getting out some.  I didn't understand exactly why she seemed upset that I wasn't upset.  Women are a total mystery to me and all other men.  I had already learned not to bring Wendy into the conversation.  When she brought him up, I was allowed to make a few comments but other than that I was to keep my mouth shut.

 She still hung around with Erlene and I wondered about them but it must not have been what I thought.  I mean she was at least dating a man.  

 Erlene and I had gone out once.  It was in the days when Helen and Claude, also know as that no good son of a bitch, were staying with me in the big house.  Erlene had wound up in bed with Helen and Claude so I wasn't sure who the attraction had been.   It must have been Claude, the no-good son a bitch frog.

 Helen and I had driven the phone man crazy.  We had phones installed all over the big house and the carriage house, where I lived.  There were three different numbers on each of the phones.   One number was my personal line, which Helen never answered.  One was her personal line which I never answered and the third was the studio line which we both answered.  The phones were installed in every conceivable place.  The phone rang at that moment.  Helen had of course brought it from the table beside the door leading to the deck.   

 She handed me the phone since it was my personal line.  "Hello," I answered.

 "Linc, this is Jacob.  I hear you ran into our new cop last night."

 "Damn Jacob, news travels fast in this burg.  Yeah I met her."

 "She's something isn't she?"

 "I guess, does your wife know you are working so closely with the first cop in our town with tits."  Helen's face reddened, not from embarrassment but from anger.

 "Hey there is nothing for her to worry about.  She knows that.  I hear  you are coming to our picnic."

 "I guess the whole town will know before lunch."

 "Are you kidding?  She has it on the radio by now."

 "God, am I going to be sorry I agreed to go with her?"

 "No, she is a good kid.  She is actually going to save it as a surprise.  That's why I called don't tell anyone."

 "I don't much like surprises but okay.  Look Jacob, there is something you can do for me."

 "I hate this part of talking to you.  What is it this time?"

 "How about running off a copy of ‘the black widow's’ police statement for me?  I could get it from Skip but he is so damned scatter brained I might never get it."

 "That would be in the city police departments records section.  You know I don't like to bother them."

 "Come on Jake you and I both know you will be going there today.  Just ask for a copy of the statement.  If they give you any trouble have them call Skip."

 "I can't do it Linc.  That damned Will is handled this one.  He will raise hell if he finds out it is for the defense."

 "I didn't know he had interviewed her.  I'll give him a call and pick it up myself.  Don't worry Jacob I wouldn't do that to you.  I know Willis is an ass."

 "Any other time Linc, but this is just too damned much trouble, especially with this new chief.  Have you met him yet?"

 "No, our paths haven't crossed but I guess they will today.  Thanks anyway and tell Sarah Lee not to worry.  I won't spoil her surprise."

 Since I had the phone in front of me, I called the repair shop.  "Melvin,"  I said when he answered.  "This is Linc.  I want my fucking car today.  I have given you three days to change the transmission fluid in it and I want it now.  I will give you till three o'clock then I am coming after it.  If I have to come get it, you won't like the consequences."

 "Linc if you paid your fucking bill, I would have done the car by now.  You are the biggest dead beat in this whole damned town.  If I didn't need the money, I wouldn't even work on this piece of cap. you call a car."

 "Okay Melvin unless someone is listening, you want to impress, when is the Ford going to be ready?"

 "It was ready last night.  You said there was no rush so I thought I would have Slim drop it off this afternoon.  If you need it before then, I could run it down now."

 "Why don't you come by at one.  We can go to the Elms for lunch."

 "Me in that place?  What would my clan brothers say."

 "If you had any, they would say you had good taste in restaurants."

 "Okay one it is but you are buying.  I couldn't find anything to fix that had enough profit in it for me to buy."  I hung up without saying goodbye.

 "What is it with you and your so-called friends?  You either cuss them or ask them insulting questions."

 "What the hell are you talking about?"

 "Oh you know,"  She mimicked my voice, "How they hanging Jake.  What the fuck you care about my plans."  You are such a pig.

 "God, have you been going to those women's liberation meeting again?"

 "Yes I have and I will thank you not to give me any more cap. about them."

 Before the argument got out of hand, the phone began to ring.  It was the office phone.  Just to piss me off she answered, "Picture Person."  I had to admit that it was really funny.  Helen began quoting wedding prices.  I know she had given them a hundred times before, but with her each time it sounded like she was winging it.  She was actually a hell of a salesman.

 I looked into the backyard of my neighbor while she quoted the prices.  Mrs. Wilson, our neighbor, was headed for her pool.  She looked up at me and waved.  I waved back, then she removed her swimsuit then dived into the pool.  It was a game we played every morning.  Mrs. Wilson was at least fifty.  She had kept her body in nice shape though.  Her kids would be off in high school if it isn’t summer vacation.  I guess they were off at camp or something.

 Helen hung up the phone.  "I see Mrs. Wilson is still showing us her body.  I wonder which of us she has the hots for."

 "I think it is you Helen.  You are so damned butch."

 "Kiss my ass, Please?"  We both laughed.  We actually made better friends than we had lovers.  

           By that time the sun had gotten high enough so that we deserted the deck.  Helen went to the studio and me inside to shower.  I had an appointment with the black widow.   I had recently begun wearing a uniform of sorts.  I had purchased half a dozen pairs of mens work pants, army green in color.  They were actually just that the out of style army fatigue pants.  Everybody had gone to jungle camouflaged uniforms leaving the manufacturer with thousands of the old green ones to dump.  I had bought them through the mail and was pleased with the pants and the price.  The pants gave me the idea to purchase a dozen shirts all alike.  The idea, of not having to decide what to wear, appealed to me.  I found a manufacturer in a neighboring town who made a light blue 75 percent cotton and twenty five percent, God alone knew what, shirt.  I bought a dozen of them.  I hadn't been disappoint in either of the purchases.  Helen hated the look but I didn't really care.  I wore the same outfit six days a week dressing only for weddings.

 I showered and dressed for the meeting with the black widow.  I wore my usual work day outfit.  I certainly didn't plan to dress up for this woman.  I went down to my studio and set it up for the video.  I did a bunch of video for one reason or another so the required changes were simple.  I opened a folding table then covered it with a grey fake fur.  Then hefted the Sony Betacam onto a large tripod.  

  With the preparations made I returned to the deck with a glass of day old iced tea.  The tea was still good so I emptied the glass and returned for another.   I was half way through when the long black kraut car eased past the big house and came to a stop in front of my door.

 I walked down the outside stairs and met Holly Leland, AKA the black widow.  I had never met her but had seen her a couple of times.  Unlike half the men in town I had never seen her without her clothes.  I had to admit that the black widow was a looker.  She was anything but black.  Her skin was startlingly pale.  Her hair was naturally red, which I guess accounted for the milk white skin.  Her large eyes were green and her lids were painted with a dark blue.  Her mouth was large with pink panted lips.  The body on her was perfect if you made your living stripping which she had.  She was shorter than average but her chest was much larger.  She wore a white blouse, tied calypso style over navy blue slacks.  The name holly was no doubt for the bright red hair.

 "Mrs. Anders, my name  is Linc Jefferson.  Skip asked me to talk to you."

 "Call me Holly please.  I understand you are to do more than talk with me.  You are going to help me prove my innocence."

 "I'm going to try.  Please come this way."  I led her into what used to be the middle of the three bays.  I motioned for her to sit at the end of the table opposite the camera.

 "Are you going to tape this conversation?"

 "Yes Holly, I am.  I would rather not make a mistake about what you said.  Your life may depend on me having everything just right."  She nodded that she understood.  "First let me explain that I work for Skip and therefore you.  Anything you say here is privileged and cannot be used against you.  The more you tell me the better I can do my job."

 "Exactly what is your job?"

 "I am going to retrace your steps and try to prove that things are just exactly as you say they are.  I have to admit that what I find may or may not help you.  The things I am going to be doing the prosecutor can do just as well so it may not make any difference in the end."

 "In other words you are going to charge me for work that may not help me at all."

 "Exactly,  If you would rather save the money then say so now and I will drop this thing from my schedule."

 "No I wanted to see how you would handle that."

 "A text?"

 "Sort of and you passed.  Could I ask you a question before we get started?"

 "Sure but I may not answer."

 "Are you as good as everyone says?"

 "Probably not, you know how things get exaggerated.  However if you don't want me to find out the truth then you should stop right now.  I am going to make an honest effort to learn what really happened to your husband."

 "Good then you can help me."

 "Let me turn on the camera and frame it in."  I walked to the camera and set everything.   I sat down beside it so that she would be forced to look into it.  "Now let's start with a little background."  

 She nodded so I went on.  "What was your position and where were you working when you met your husband?"

 "I was working at baby dolls, a strip club out on twenty-nine.  I was single and not really looking for a husband when Leland came to the club.  He actually came several times before I noticed him.  Frankly the only reason I noticed him at all was that he was a big tipper.  After the first time I really noted the size of his tips, I began to play to him.  You know dancing in front of him on the bar.  He seemed to enjoy it and the tips got even bigger.  After a couple of months dancing for him, he asked me out on a date."

 "Exactly how did that happen.  I mean when and where?" I interrupted

 "About a year ago at the club."

 "I'm sorry I meant what time of the evening and where in the club exactly?"

 "Oh it was late.  We were almost ready to close.  He asked me at his table.  I had gone over to sit for a minute.  I had begun doing that you know to keep the tips coming.  Anyway he asked me for a date.  I explained to him that I didn't do that.  I suggested he try one of the other girls."

 "Did you suggest anyone in particular or just any of the others?"

 "I told him to try Lucy.  Hell for fifty bucks she would blow his whistle."

 "Why didn't you go out with him?  Surely you aren't a virgin."

 "I don't think I like you Mr. Jefferson.  I may just leave."

 "The choice is yours.  I can kiss your ass and take your money or I can try to help you by doing my investigations just like the cops are doing them."

  "I guess you are right.  They sure asked me those kinds of questions.  Okay,  I have gone out with other men but I had stopped.  The money was good till one of them beat me up.  In addition to the pain, I couldn't work for a month.  I couldn't afford another vacation so I stopped going out with the customers."

 "How did Leland take the turn down?"

 "He was angry that I would think he wanted to hire me as a hooker.  He actually wanted to take me to dinner and nothing more.  When he explained, I agreed.  I figured he would try to get me into the sack.   I didn't think  he was the type to  hurt me."  She paused and took a sip of the water I provided before she had arrived.

 "So how long was it between his asking and the date?"

 "We went out the next evening.  Baby Dolls is closed on Sunday, something about your silly laws.  Anyway we went to this really nice restaurant in Williams.  The Williams inn.  Have you ever been there?"

 I nodded.  I didn't want her to begin asking me questions.  I waited till she began again.  "Anyway it was real nice.  After dinner he took my back to my motel.  I invited him in and we shared a bottle of brandy.  After a couple of drinks he left.  The next evening he was back filling my G string with ten dollar bills.  We went to breakfast every night after that.  We would sit in the Waffle and Egg and talk till dawn.  Leland was a real gentleman."

 "How long did this go on before he proposed to you?"

 "About a week.  I can see in your eyes that you think there was something wrong with him proposing that soon and me accepting.  Well there wasn't.  Leland was lonely and I was too for that matter.  A week later we were married in the club.  Leland told me that he didn't have any friends he wanted at the wedding so we got married by a justice of the peace in the morning then by a customer who was a preacher of some weird sect in the evening."

 "Who were your witnesses at the JP wedding?"

 "Eli, the club manager, and Lucy, one of the strippers?"

 "The same one you recommended to Leland?"

 "Yeah and I'm glad he didn't take my advice?"

 "So how was the honeymoon?  Where did you go, things like that?"

 "We left the next morning for two weeks in Florida.   You know Disney World and that stuff.  It was okay."

 "How was Leland in bed?"  I saw her face redden.  I caught her before she began to cuss me out.  "I mean, could he do it.  Were his desires normal?  That kind of thing?"

 "Oh,  yeah he could do it but not very long.  If he didn't get off right away, he lost the ability if you know what I mean."  I nodded again.  "He was fairly normal.  I mean he didn't make me pretend to be little Bo Peep or anything.  He liked some strange position and stuff but nothing that I couldn't handle."

 "How so strange?  I mean, besides the position."

 "Oh he had a camera like that one.  He would make tapes of us doing it.  He watched them in the den before he came to bed.  It, you know, helped him make it quicker."

 "Did he ever show the tapes to anyone else?"

 "God no Leland was pretty square when it came to sex."

 "Do you have all of them in your possession at this time?"

 "I guess so.   I never paid too much attention to how many he made."

 "How did you meet Wade Williams and how long have you known him?"

 "I always knew Wade.  We went to school together.  He is the one who popped my cherry."

 "When did he come to Greenpoint then?"

 "He was living here when I met Leland if that's what you are getting at.  He came up here because I was working here.  He was like my manager you know."

 "Where you sleeping with Wade when you went out with Leland that first time? "

 "Sure, it wasn't what everybody thinks though.  It was sort of friendship fucks.  You know what I mean."

 Actually I did and I wasn't sure I liked that I knew.  I nodded and she continued.  "I didn't sleep with him after Leland and I got married for a couple of months.  Actually it was almost six months before I went to him."

 "Let me get this straight.  You went to Wade not the other way round."

 "Right, see I hadn't climaxed since me and Leland got married.  He couldn't wait for me so I just didn't at least not with him."  She saw the look on my face.  "Don't get the wrong idea Linc,  I own a couple of dozen vibrators.  After six months without it happening, I went to Wade.   I figured it was better with someone I knew.  It was purely friendly.  We never talked about marrying or any of that other cap that they are putting on me."

 "So Wade had no reason to believe that killing Leland would make him rich?"

 "I didn't say that.   You see I talked to him in jail."  I didn't say it but that looked even worse for her.  "He seemed to think that without Leland I would give him some of the old man's money.  Wade ain't too smart."  I nodded again. "Anyway Leland knew about Wade."

 "He did?"

 "Sure Wade even came to the house once.  Me and Wade kind of put on a show for Leland.  It helped him get off.  If you know what I mean."  I didn't but nodded anyway.  That hadn't come up in Wade's trial.  It might have kept him away from the needle.  I wondered but didn't ask about it.  The question rightly belonged to Wade or his lawyer.

 "I don't suppose Leland taped that one?"

 "Sure, he was a tape freak.  I think it is mixed with the others.  Tell you what I'll bring them by and let you sort through them.  I would be to upset to do it." I doubted that but didn't say anything.   I turned the interview onto a faster track.  

 "Okay, Tell me about the clubs you own."

 "After a couple of months of marriage Leland knew that I wasn't satisfied with any part of my life.  There was nothing he could do about the sex but he could do something about my boredom.  He offered to set me up in business.  Any business I chose.  I explained that I only knew one business.  He didn't like the idea at first but came around the next day.  It was actually all in how I asked."  I'll bet, I thought.

 "I understand the clubs are doing quite well?"

 "It was better when Leland was alive.  He paid the rent for me.  All I did was stock the bar and find the girls.  Other than that it was all profit.  He did have one strict rule, no prostitution from the club.  I would fire a girl in a minute for it.  I personally didn't care but it wasn't worth losing Leland over a few bucks."

 "Okay Holly, I need for you to list for me all the places that you and Wade went while you were married to Leland."

 She listed off places and approximate dates and times for another half hour.  Those two certainly didn't try to hide their affair.  That was good at least.

 "Tell me again Holly.  Did you ever agree to marry Wade."


 "Did you ever ask him to kill your husband?"


 "Did you have sex with any other men during your marriage?"

  "None except for Wade."

 "Why do you think Wade killed your husband?"

 "I don't know unless he thought there would be something in it for him.  I can't see Wade killing anyone if you want to know the truth.  I'm not convinced that he did."

 "It would certainly be better for you if someone else did it."

 "I don't mean that.  I mean I just never known Wade to be violent."

 "There was an awful lot of evidence against him.  I mean he had the murder weapon in his truck.  Leland's credit cards were found in his apartment."

 "I know it looks bad for him but I just can't believe it."

 "Well I guess that will do for now.  I may have to call with more questions later but this will get me started.  Oh one more thing.  What are the names of the clubs you own?"

 "I bought Baby Dolls and the Green door."

 "That should do it."

 "Good, I will bring you those tapes."

 "I'll sort through them first chance I get."

 I watched her wiggle her ass out my door.  I followed her out.  When she slid into her car, I was glad she wasn't wearing a skirt. I would have seen her crotch the way she moved.  I don't think I could have taken that.

 I called Skip.  "Hey Skipper," I said when he finally came to the phone.  "I certainly home that you were doing your secretary.  She needs it and you kept me waiting at thirty bucks an hour."

 "No chance on the secretary, my client came by?"

 "Oh yeah."

 "What do you think?  I think she has more tits and money than brains.  Skipper plead her for god's sake."

 "You know better than that.  I am the white knight going to save the fair damsel. "

 "Right,  Look I can't get to this till Monday but I will start on it then."

 "Can't you at least check on Wade's apartment before Monday?"

 "Sure I can go buy any place that is open during the daylight but there ain't  many.  Most of her business was done in the dark.  I am going to be tied up tomorrow and Saturday but if I get a chance I will run by one of the clubs tonight."

 "Good man,  I knew you wouldn't let me down."

 "Skip, old buddy, I am going to let you down.  I can't think of a single thing I might find out that could help her."

 "Just try Linc and send me a bill every Friday."

 "No doubt about that."

 I hung up and began packing the camera for my next job.  I had to rush to take Melvin to lunch and still make the two o’clock deposition.  Melvin was a little early thank god.  He parked the fifty-eight Ford convertible under my one tree.  I rushed him into the jeep and we took off for the Elms.

 It  was just our luck that Jed had the place for lunch today.  "Linc,"  he shouted, "Get that racist pecker wood out of here or I will poison both of you."

 "Jed, you a bigger racist than me.  I seen what you did to that Stevens boy's car,"

 "Okay you can stay long as you don't tell nobody."

 We had BLTs for lunch while Melvin filled me in on the Stevens boy.  He had dated the black high school prom queen.  The black community was split over the incident as was the white one.  Somebody vandalized the kid’s new Firebird.  Everybody in town blamed somebody else.  Some blacks blamed the whites.  Some whites blamed the blacks but mostly everybody blamed the Stevens boy.  It was a good thing he decided to leave for college early.

 When I went to the register to pay,  Melvin said to Jed, "How they hanging brother."

 "I ain't your brother and they high and dry.  I emptied them into your old lady last night."

 "Good, I'm glad she wasn't lonely while I was working on Thelma."

 "You one sorry assed white man." Jed said with a smile .

 "I know but you got to have somebody to hate Jed.  You wouldn't be you, if you didn't."

 I knew Melvin wasn't one of those racist, who hide behind a sheet .  The kind who beat up on some out numbered black.  If Melvin had a problem with you, he would look you in the eye one on one and tell you.  He and Jed were opposite sides of the same coin.  I loved to watch them go at each other.  They never got violent because they respected each other too much.

 I drove to Jake's old law office to tape the deposition.  I thought to myself that things had really change without Sam or Jake around.  The secretaries looked more like secretaries than hookers.  I'm not so sure I liked the new look but then nobody cared what I liked.  I finished up the deposition at four and exchanged the tape for a check.  Jake's old firm actually had a Beta tape player.  Most everyone else required that I go home and copy the tape.  I actually preferred it that way.  There were no backup copies of this tape. If their machine damaged it, tough.

 I skipped dinner and drove out on the highway to Baby Dolls.  I got there at five.  I found the place open.  It even had a couple of customers.  It was hard for me to believe that men came out so early to look at women take off their clothes.  I took a look at the price list and understood why there wasn’t much of a drunk problem at the club.  I was on an expense account so I ordered the two fifty beer.  Of course it was  draft and watered.  I got the bartender to one side.  The problem with being me in a small town was that everyone knew how I made a living.  When I asked a question, they all knew it wasn’t idle curiosity .

 I learned from the bartender that the previous owner now managed the club.  He also wasn't in at the moment.  Lucy was still working here and would be available to talk after her number.  She was dancing at the time.  I turned to watch her take off her clothes.

  She was sort of a blond with a hatchet face.  She looked like she was right off a farm somewhere.  That is her face did.  Her body looked more like it had come off an assembly line.   My  guess is that the best part of it did.  I watched her take off her clothes bump and grind a few times then leave through the curtain in the rear.  I started in that direction.

 The bartender made two mistakes.  His first was he raised a sawed off baseball bat toward me.  The other and worst was that he warned me.  "Hey, you can't go back there."

 The bat was up and I reacted before I thought to just tell him I was working for the boss.  I squared off to face him.  He made another mistake.  Instead of continuing to talk to me, he tried to bring the club down on my head.  He swung but my head wasn't where he thought it would be.  I caught his arm as his own momentum turned him part way around.  He was quick and in good shape.  He had after all jumped the bar to come after me.

 He would have recovered quickly if I had let him.  Instead I helped him to land across a table.  At that point I could have explained about working for Holly or I could pound his pretty face into the top of the table about five times.  Of course I chose the latter.  I knew I broke his nose and I thought probably his jaw.

 "Damn," I thought, "Holly will be pissed, Skip will be pissed, and the cops will be pissed.  I am going to be sorry I did that.  Well fuck them all."

 I left him laying on the floor while I went into the back room.  There was no dressing room as such.  There was a small bathroom sized waiting room where the girls waited to go on.  I found Lucy and explained why I needed to talk to her.  She of course agreed.  When we went out the back door to talk, the bartender was calling the police.  I figured we had about fifteen minutes to talk before they arrived.

 I tend to get real blunt when I am rushed.  "Did you know Leland?"  I asked.

 "In what sense?" she asked.

 "Any sense."

 "Okay then the answer is every sense.  I screwed him before he married Holly.  She knows about it so don't bother asking her."

 "Why did Leland marry Holly instead of you?"

 "I wouldn't do the weird stuff and she will.  At least that is what I think."

 "What kind of weird stuff?"

 "I don't know just weird stuff.  You know like doing it in a casket."

  "He asked you to do it in a casket?"

 "Sure but that wasn't too bad.  He wanted to punch me some but I drew the line at that."

 "You're telling me he hit  you?"

 "No, Listen up Linc.  I'm telling you I wouldn't let him hit  me."

 "You mean he asked you to punch you?"

 "Sure he asked I said no, he brought me back to the motel.  End of story."

 "Do you think he hit on Holly?"

 "She got those bruises and marks on her back somewhere and it wasn't here."

 "Let me get this straight.  She had marks and bruises after she married Leland. "

 "Yeah, before and after."

 "He hit her before they were married and it continued after the marriage.  Is that what you are saying?"

 "That's exactly what I am saying."

 It was about then that the cops arrived.  "Hello Linc, I see you have been at it again.  Is there any chance we can charge you with assault on this fine upstanding citizen?"  The police sergeant asked.

 "Not a chance in hell Luke.   I'm afraid he wasted your time.  Is your back up interviewing the customers?"

 "Yeah,  I suppose you want to wait till he comes out before you make a statement."

 "Of course, I may not need to."

 It didn't take long since there were only a few of them.  They each told more or less the same thing.  The bartender swung his club at me without much of a warning.  Next thing any of them knew the bartender was face down on the table doing an impression of a woodpecker in a steel mill.

 The two cops were comparing notes when Holly arrived.  Evidently the bartender had made his first call to her then the police.  "Jack," she said to the bartender.  "What the fuck are the cops doing here?  I thought I told you no cops.   When they get through with you, get your ass out of here.  Don't ever let me see that fucked up face around here again."

 She turned to me.  "I'm sorry Linc, but that asshole takes his job too seriously.  You aren't hurt are you."

 "Everything will be fine as soon as the cops make a report.  I'm real sorry about leaving you short handed."

 "Oh I'm not.  I'm sure you get more than I usually pay a bartender but it can't be helped.  You can work till nine when the night girl comes on."

 "You are kidding right."

 "Hell no, I ain't kidding.  You busted it, now you gotta fix it."  She smiled at her own joke.

 "Linc," the cop said walking toward me..  "Looks like you squeaked by again.  Everybody tells the same story.  At least this time you didn’t eat any of him.  Seems you got away clean again.  Damn,  you are lucky."

 Not tonight Luke, I gotta tend the bar in this hole till the night girl comes on."

 "You mean Holly is gonna pay you to watch strippers,"  he looked at his watch, "For the next three hours.   Man you and god must have some kind of deal."

 "Asshole,"  I whispered.

 "Won't do you no good to try and piss me off.   I'm gonna tell everybody that Holly finally tamed the ghost."

 Holly took my hand and led me inside.  "Now that's the bar.  All you have to do is make change and sell beer.  Even you should be able to handle that.  Oh yeah make sure no customer goes behind the curtain."  She must have thought that was funny because she laughed and laughed.

 I went behind the bar like the penitent child that I was.  I made change, drew beer from the tap, and talked to the girls till the nine o’clock bartender arrived.  I even learned a few things.  Lucy was the only girl who had known Leland in any sense.  Most of them were new.  The turn over was wicked in a place like this.  

 All of them knew Holly though.  Lucy claimed she turned tricks for Leland and a lot more.  The other girls knew that she pressured them to turn tricks.  That was contradictory to her statement.  

 According to the girls if a dancer wouldn't turn tricks she wound up working here.  The hooker/dancers worked the green  door.  The green door was situated in the middle of a horse shaped motel.  The motel was a few miles down the interstate highway.  One of the rooms in the motel was always available to the girls.  The motel was also the office of Holly.  She managed the green door herself and left the management of Baby dolls to the previous owner.  

 I was informed by one and all that he wouldn't be in that night, not after the fight.  He didn't like trouble.  Especially trouble where the cops were called.  If I wanted to talk to him, I would have to return the next night.  By that time he might have calmed down.  That was always followed by a giggle.

 Nine and the night bartender arrived none too soon for me.  I was getting claustrophobic.  Even the sight of women taking their clothes off, lost its appeal.  When I had seen the same women do it a couple of times each I really lost interest.

 I was home by ten.  I called Helen on the intercom.  There was no news and nothing much happening for the next day.  She asked me about the Jungle Gym shots.  I had forgotten, but I would do them first thing in the morning.  

 For a change I slept really well that night.  I hated that violence always made me sleep better.  I had to fight the urge to kick hell out of people just for a good night’s sleep.  

 I was still asleep when Helen came in.  "Get  your sorry ass out of bed.  The sun will be up without us."

 I dressed and struggled to the deck.  Helen put the coffee into the pot and started it.  We had to wait ten minutes without coffee.  She didn't speak, which was her habit.  I didn't either which was not my habit.  I just couldn't seem to get with it today.

 Once the first cup of coffee disappeared, we were both able to speak.  "So I hear you were out at Baby Dolls last night." Helen said.

 "Working," I responded.

 "I had no idea your real calling was bartending."

 "It isn't.  How did you hear about it anyway.”

 “Jacob called to tell me.  He was afraid I might hear it from someone else and be worried.  Why he would think that I have no idea."

 "Well maybe it isn't all over town yet."

 "Don't count on it.  Holly probably spread it around herself."

 "Why would she do that?"

 "Are you kidding?  People would pack the joint to see you do some real work."

 "Enough, what's on for today?"

 "Jungle Gym and softball practice, nothing else yet."

 "Good, I need a day off."

 "Oh there is one thing.  The Konica man is coming by to show us a new machine.  You want to see it?"

 "I don't know what kind of machine?"

 "One that develops and then dries slides.  According to him when the film comes out all it needs is mounting."

 "Can we afford it."

 "I certainly can't, but you can."

 "Okay what time is he coming?"

 "I told him he could come at two.  I also told him to be on time if he wanted to have even a chance."

 "You must have liked him."

 "He seemed nice."

 I killed two hours watching the sun come up and Mrs. Wilson go down into the pool.  Then I showered dressed and went to breakfast.  After breakfast I went to the park to look at the Jungle Gym.  It was a bunch of wooden post put together to form several different attractions for children.  I shot a complete roll of slides.  I shot them from the lower angles, ones from which a child might see the giant tinker toy.

 I finally remembered the statement Holly had given the police.  I drove to the station and found Willis.  "How they hanging Willis?"

  "None of your damned business.  What do you want anyway?"

 "Boy somebody sure gave you hell.  What is the problem."

 "I'm sorry Linc, it is this damned summer cold.  I feel like hell."

 "Man those are the worst.  You need to take a day off, get roaring drunk, and crawl under a half dozen quilts.  Sweat that bitch out. "

 "The roaring drunk part, at least, sounds good."

 "What can I do for  you?"

 "I need a copy of the Holly Anders statement."

 "You workin’ for that bitch?"

 "Skip Eddington," I admitted.

 "Almost as bad, I hate lawyers.  I would hate you but it might not prove healthy."

 "You know better than that Willis."

 "Oh I don't mean you personally.  You just got some powerful friends."

 "Not anymore, I think all the powerful ones are dead or in jail"

 Willis laughed, it was a good sign.  "Sure hold on a minute and I will run you a copy.  I hope you brought your big wallet."

 "Why? "

 "The charge is now one dollar a page."

 "Gone up again.  Every new chief makes it tougher on me."

 "It gets worse.  The statement is thirty-four pages."

 "God Willis couldn't you single space it."

 "I did.  We couldn't shut the bitch up.  We read her the Miranda a dozen times hoping she would take the hint."  I laughed and he joined me.

 I left the police station with the report and without thirty-three dollars.  I made sure to put the receipt in my wallet.  Skip had a copy of the report.  I had the official police copy.  I hadn't wanted a copy of Skip's.  By that time he would have it marked up pretty good. I wanted a fresh copy and a fresh look.

 I called Helen on the CB and found that I had a message from Jake to stop by his office  if I had the chance.  I didn't have anything else to do right now so I went.  The court house and the police station are in the same block so I turned off the jeep without ever having to move it.

 I found Jake in his office.  "Not like the old days when you could go to the tennis club for lunch on Friday, then just stay all day?"  I asked.

 "Not at all."  Jake said standing and offering me his hand.  Jake and I had become friends only recently.  A couple of years ago we hated each other.  A woman will do that sometime.  Jake had married my ex.  Unfortunately, she hadn't changed her sluty ways for him either.  I chased and even caught her killer.  Fortunately for me the killer turned out to be a woman.  Otherwise, I would be in jail instead of her.  

 "Linc I'm glad you came.  How the hell you doin’?"

 "Bout the same as last time I saw you.  What can I do for you Jake?"

 "Well I considered offering you a bribe for a while then thought better of it.  I have been authorized to hire an investigator for the county.  I wanted to offer you the job.  I don't suppose you want it."

 "Not a chance."

 "That's good  because it would sound like a bribe when I ask you the next question.  I know I can't stop you from checking into the Anders thing.  I hoped I could convince you to let me know before you pull the rug out from under me."

 "Jake, I know you want to be governor and I promise if I can without hurting Holly Anders I will let you know what's going on."

 "I know.  You and I both know that anything unethical will cause me a damned site more trouble than looking like a fool.  I would like to avoid both.  I am going to down play her prosecution for a while.  If you find anything that could make me look foolish just tell me that and I will trust your judgement."

 "Fair enough.  You let me know before you take her to the mat.  I might or might not know anything by that time."

 "It sounds more than reasonable. Listen, you want to go to the club for lunch.  Angela asks about you all the time."

 "Yeah, hoping I am dead no doubt."

 "She does seem to enjoy the stories of your failures a little too much."

 "I'm going to pass on the club.  How about meeting me at the Elms?  Hell, I will even let you buy."

 "Sure, it will be good for the black vote.  How about one p.m.?"

 "Sounds fine to me.  Let me call Helen to make sure."

  I called Helen and nothing had come up.  I invited her to join us.  Ordinarily she wouldn't be caught dead there.  However for a chance to have lunch with Jake, she lowered her standards.  I didn't mind.  I kind of hoped they would get together again.  I had serious doubts since Helen was Jewish.  It might have happened if Jake’s parents were dead.  He had gone against them by marrying Julie.  He didn't have the guts to do it a second time, especially in those days.

 I left Jake to continue his work.  I drove to the studio to kill some time till lunch.  I found a rather large box sitting on my deck.  The box had a note.  

 "I promised to send these over so here they are.  This is everything Leland ever shot I think.  I haven't looked at them, but you can."  She had drawn a wreath with red dots as a signature.  The broad was a trip.

 I took the box into the house.  I had over an hour to kill so I started one of the tapes.  There were about thirty in the box.  I was surprised for a man with a sex problem to have made thirty tapes in a year was a real trick.

 The tape was made with a newer and lesser quality camera than mine.  Nonetheless the subject matter was interesting.  It opened with the usual, "Wait honey, I need to check this thing. Okay go ahead, I think it's running now."  The voice must have been Leland but the picture was definitely Holly.  Music began to play and Holly began a fifteen minute strip.  When she was naked, she began to do things to turn Leland on.  It was very rough stuff.  Finally Leland came into the scene.  The two of them disappeared for a few minutes then the camera shifted to the bed where Holly lay alone.  Shortly there after Leland joined her.  She was correct about one thing the next scene lasted only a couple of minutes.

 I fast forwarded through the dead tape till the end.  I didn't want to miss anything.  When the tape ended, I turned off the machine.  I had only a few minutes before I was to leave for my lunch with Jake and Helen.  I called the house to ask Helen if she wanted me to drive.  That was a joke.  She didn't laugh.  She hated the jeep.

 Instead she drove.  We were lucky.  E was managing the lunch that day.  "Why Miss Helen, it has been a long time since you was in.  I sure hope you will come more often.  I always thought you and Mr. Linc made a fine looking couple."

 "Not a chance E. Mr. Linc is a jerk.  I usually refuse to eat anywhere I might run into him."

 Before he could ask why the exception today, Jake came into the restaurant.  E hated Jake for some reason.  He walked away from the table.  Thelma came over to serve us.  Since Jake  was buying, I had the chicken fried steak.  He and I both knew that I generally had a sandwich for lunch.  I loved to gouge him and he didn't mind.  After all, the full meal would be much less than a sandwich at the club.

 Jake talked about his new job for a while then Helen talked about Paris.  She failed to mention the son of a bitch frog.  Since Jake had been to Paris, they knew some of the same places.  Of course Helen had actually lived there while Jake only visited on vacations.

 Since I had never been, I listened but couldn't contribute.  Since we had been run out of Vietnam, I couldn't even talk about the frogs being run out of there.  I had absolutely nothing to say.  I didn't mind though, I had other things on my mind.  Things like trying to figure out the best time to talk to the manager of Baby Dolls.  I of course couldn't talk to Jake about that.

 "Linc, are you listening?" Helen asked.

 "I'm sorry my mind just drifted off.  What were you saying?"   

 "Jake just invited us to a dinner party at his house tomorrow night."

 "I'm sorry Jake I can't make it.  I am already committed to a picnic."

 "Oh you are actually going to that cop rally."

 "Is that what it is?  I thought it was a city police get together."

 "Hell no it is a rally of all the cops in this part of the state.  Listen if you are going to that  you can help me.  I promised the local NAACP that I would look into the rally.  You know to see if it is a racist thing."

 "I thought it was for all cops, not just white cops."

 "Oh it is.  Black cops just don't go."

 "Jake, I can't help you.  If the black cops were invited, then it isn't racist.  If some of the cops talk trash and the black cops won't defend themselves, then I don't have any sympathy for them."

 "They claim they feel threatened by the white cops."

 "Jake, do you know Melvin, down at the mobile station."

 "Sure now there is a first class racist."

 "You are wrong.  Melvin is a man who speaks his piece.  I don't happen to agree with him but he doesn't hide behind some organization.  If he has a problem, he tells you right out.  Anyway Melvin came to lunch in here with me yesterday.  Jed was working then,"

 "God I know the sparks flew."

 "Sure but Jed and Melvin traded insults and that was all there was to it.  I'd be willing to bet you that if a fight broke out in here that either one of them would have defended the other.  They respect each other."

 "Okay wise ass which one of them vandalized the Stevens boy's car."

 "Neither probably, It ain't their style.  Either might have kicked the boy’s ass.  But neither of them would do anything in the middle of the night.  They are both honorable men.  That's what this race garbage boils down to.  The honorable men will work out their differences.  They won't like each other necessarily but they will treat each other with honor.  Calling someone names is not the same as burning crosses.  Stating facts is not the same as inciting a riot.  One day we will all see beyond the facts to the causes and we may even change a few things.  If we do, it will be man  to man not by government decree."

 "God I never thought I would hear you expound the conservative and liberal theories in the same breath.  If you could write me a speech just like that, I could be governor."

 "Okay Jake, you have made enough fun of me.  I have things to do.  Would you give Helen a ride back?"


 Helen mouthed, "Thank you."  Of course no one heard her.

 I actually had nothing to do till Six.  I drove to Baby Dolls.   I found Eric the manager inside.  He didn't much appreciate the card I had left.  As a matter of fact the card was working.

 "Better stay away from Brian.  He is pissed at you."

 "Why?" because I'm a better bartender."

 "What the fuck do you want?"

 "I want to talk to you about Leland Anders and Holly?"

 "I got nothin’ to say."

 "He y I'm working for Holly anything  you tell me stays with her defense team."

 "Don't matter.  I got nothin’ to say to you or the cops.  I didn't say nothin’ last time they questioned me and I'm saying nothin’ to you or them."

 "You got something to hide Eric?"

 "I got nothin’ to say."

 "What if Holly tells you to talk to me?"

 "I still ain't got nothing to say."

 "You might not have a job with an attitude like that."

 "Are you kidding.  I own this place?  I got a job as long as I want to keep it."

 "I thought Holly owned the place?"

 "She did till last night.  Now I own it again."

 "When did that come about?"

 "After you left.   I came back and we talked.  Holly decided that she didn't want to be in this business after all.  Now I think you should leave."

 "I got a couple more questions. "

 "Brian, Mr. Jefferson is leaving."

 I looked up at Brian.  He was holding a pistol.  "Brian how often do you fire that thing?"

 "Enough,"  Brian said.

 He had just made another mistake.  This kid had watched too many movies.  I grabbed Eric and turned him quickly.  He wound up with his back to me and  my left hand under his chin and my right folded across his back.   "Eric, I'm gonna break your fucking neck in exactly three seconds, if that gun is still pointed to me.  Then I'm going to use your dead body as a shield while I take that pistol away from Brian and make him eat it.  Now the clock is running."

 "Brian put down the pistol.  Do it now Brian.  He is serious."

 Brian laid the pistol on the bar.  I moved Eric forward till I could grab it.  Once I had it in my hand I said, "You Brian are a lucky man.  You are the only person ever to hold a pistol on me and live.  I am going to let you live long enough to get in your car and leave town.  If I ever see you again, I am going to kill you on sight.  Do you understand?"

 "Yeah," he said.

 The pistol exploded and a piece of Brian's ear was gone.  Also, the back bar mirror was shattered.   "My name is Mr. Jefferson to people looking down the barrel of a gun I am holding.  Now did you understand."  

 He was whimpering like a dog.  "Yes sir, I understand Mr. Jefferson.  I am going out the back door now please don't shoot me again."

 "Be gone Brian or be dead."

 He turned and ran from the bar.   I asked one of the women to look out the rear door to make sure he was gone.  I had heard his car slinging gravel but I still wanted someone else to look out the door first.  She returned and told me he was gone.

 "Now Eric,  I wouldn't trust anything you told me with a gun in your ear, but we will talk again.  You can count on that."

 I backed out of the bar holding Eric in front of me, Just in case some cowboy got a wild hair.   None did.   I got into my jeep and pushed Eric to the ground.  I am going to keep this toy till  I cross the deep river then I am going to toss it.  Consider yourself damn lucky to be alive.  I'm going to come back and we are going to talk.  If you keep this attitude, I am going to carve you up like a Thanksgiving turkey.  I drove off as quickly as a mail jeep can manage.

 I didn't enjoy shooting off a chunk of Brian's ear.  I did it to make sure he wouldn't come after me.  The only hope I ever had was that he would think it too dangerous to try for me.  If he missed, I wanted him convinced that it would be a painful death that followed.  I used the same tactics as the mob.

 I hit twenty-nine and made sure I wasn't being followed.  I called Helen on the CB.

  "Where the Hell are you?" She asked over the radio.

  "Out on twenty-nine why?"

 "The  Konica man is here to talk to you about a machine.  I have been entertaining him for an hour and a half."

  "I forgot,  Tell him I am ten minutes away and headed in."

  I arrived at the office eight minutes later.  I listened to his speech and decided what the hell.  I bought the machine for eight thousand dollars.  I was able to write him a check for the total amount.  If I hadn't been, I would never have bought the machine.  With this machine I could process one or two rolls of film and the chemicals would stay sealed and supposedly good for a month if I didn't process any more film in that time.  It was about the size of a copy machine including the table.  Helen agreed to allow it in the office.  I was grateful since I wasn't sure I had a place for it.  I knew I didn't want to lug it up the stairs.  He assured me that the Konica  people would put it anywhere I wanted.

 I had been such an easy sell that Helen knew something was wrong.  She badgered me till I explained about Baby Dolls.  She actually took it better than I thought.

 "Do I need to hide you from the cops?" she asked.

 "I don't think so.  Brian probably thinks that the cops won't pay any attention to him.  Even with the missing ear, he is still a sleeze."

 "Why do you think Holly sold the club?" Helen asked.

 "I don't have any idea.  I am going to ask her the next time I talk to her though.  Then I am going back and talk to the louse Eric."

 "Oh no you're not.  You will only get in trouble.  You know damned well that he is going to lie to you anyway."

  "I guess you are right.  I need to find a better way to get the information.  I don't suppose you would like to be a stripper."

 "With my body?  The men would yell, "Put in on.""

 "Bull, but I was only kidding though that place is too rough for you.  Besides you are a prude."

 "I am thinking about changing.  My mom always told me that men, wouldn't accept used merchandise.  The problem is she never knew you or Jake.  Both of you  have a thing for sluts."

 "I don't but I do think Jake does."

 "Go to  hell Linc."

 Instead I went to soft ball practice.  The team was lousy but Honey was the same as when she came to my office.  It seemed she was beautiful but not all that bright.  It was a ruse.   She  was as smart as anyone else.  She just played at the dumb blonde.

 After practice she and I talked.  She lamented that she only met losers.  She met men without jobs and no intention of marrying a woman and her eight-year old daughter.  I explained to her that I wasn't interested in marriage but I did understand her problems.  

 "On top of everything else I hate working at the Mini Mart.  That job is the pits.  It is minimum wage and no benefits."

 I reassessed Honey.  She was only five feet one inch but she was built pretty well.  She was actually a little on the plumb side but then again not really.  She didn't have a tummy and her ass wasn't broad.  She had an average size chest.  I think she was just rounded.  It tended to make her skin look tight over her features.  Of course she was blond with gray eyes.  Her face like the rest of her was round and gave the impression of being plumb without really being so.

 "I know where there is a job.  It opened today and I'm sure you could get it.  Especially if you didn't mention my name.  The only problem would be the hours.  They are probably going to be lousy.  I don't know what you would do with your daughter."

 "My daughter lives with my mother right now anyway.  I refuse to go on welfare and I can't afford to feed us both.  I live in a tiny little apartment and there isn't even a bedroom.  What kind of job is it?"

 "Bartending out at Baby Dolls."

 "Just bartending, I mean I ain't no virgin but I also ain't no hooker."

 "For as I know the man who had the job last didn't turn tricks."  I explained what  happened to Brian.  I made sure she understood that she wasn't to do any snooping.  I wanted her to just keep her eyes and ears open.  "You are absolutely not to ask any questions about anything.  Do you understand?"

 "Sure, what you are saying is that it would be worth a couple of extra bucks if I hear anything interesting."

 "Right,  no investigation, especially no questions, just let me know what you hear.  Please Honey, do as I ask I couldn't stand it if anything bad happened to you."

 "Okay, I promise.  I don't have the job yet anyway."

 "You'll get it.  With a face and body like yours, you may have to really make an effort not to get hired as a stripper."

 "I don't think I could do that for a bunch of strangers.  I might could for you though."

 "I'm going to hold you to that but not for a while.  I don't want anyone to see us together for a while."

 "To change the subject, is there any chance we could win a couple of games with this team."

 "None what so ever, all we can hope for is to out party the competition."

 "Great,  I'll pass the word along to the others.  They were afraid you would be a hard ass about winning."

 "Not a chance, this is a game.  In a game the purpose is to survive and have fun."

 I drove  home arriving around ten.  Since Helen's lights were on, I called on the house phone.  "Hi there, thought I would let you know that I am home."


 "Yep, couldn't talk Honey into coming with me.   She would have if she had known you were home."

 "Very funny, let a girl sleep with one woman and suddenly she is a dyke."  She laughed so  I knew she wasn't really pissed.  "You want to come over for a drink and all night poker game."

 "Money or Strip?"


 "I pass.  I already have all your extra money.  Besides you can't stand to lose any more weight."

 "Very funny, you play poker with me a few more times and I won't have to make payments on my own house anymore."

 "Hey you traded your house for Paris, remember."

 "Yeah,  I also remember that you didn't stop me."

 "Why should I?  I wanted the house."

 "Okay, I'll tell you what.  I'll call Jake and you call the lady cop.  We can all play poker together."

 "What makes you think Jake would play poker with you?"

 "Jake and I have played poke here before you know."

 "Sure but that was before the no good frog."

 "Yeah, but you guys don't mind sharing your women as long as it isn't with each other."

 "I give up.  You are too smart for me.  Besides it's past my bedtime."

 "Right, you go to bed then you get up and do God knows what with God knows who."

 "Nonetheless, I am going to try to sleep.  You should to we have weddings tomorrow."

 We hung up and believe it or not I slept like a baby.  The violence high should last another day or two anyway.  I awoke the next morning before Helen.  I had the coffee on and I was on the deck before she arrived.

 "Hey Linc, look what I got."  She carried a tray from her kitchen.  On the tray were  home made biscuits with sausage and scrambled eggs.

 "Don't tell me you were up cooking before daylight."

 "Nope,  I conned E into selling me biscuit dough.   I cooked them yesterday till they were almost done.  This morning I popped them into the toaster oven and heated the sausage.  Try one and let me know what you think."

 I did and they were almost as good as if I had been in the diner.  "These are really quite good.  I do hope you are trying to spoil me."

 "I am and you are about to find out why."

 I heard the car and looked up to see Jake and his kraut car coming down  the drive beside the house.  "Don't tell me.   You asked Jake to come over this morning."

 "Okay, I won't tell you then."

 "Damn it Helen.  You know this is the only time of the day  I get to relax.  I hate sharing it with anyone."

 "You share it with me.  Am I nobody?"

 "Of course not, I share it with you because you are the closest thing I have to family."

 "I know but please be nice to him for me."

 I nodded to her.  "Hello Jake come on up."

 "Linc, I hope you don't mind.  Helen said it was the best part of her day and I wanted to see what she raved about."

 The three of us sat talking about nothing and everything for a long time.  The sun was well past the horizon when Mrs. Wilson came into her back yard.  She noticed Jake, hesitated just a minute, then waved and removed her robe.  Of course she was wearing nothing under it.  She dived into the pool and began to swim.

 "Damn," Jake said.  "Does her husband know about this?"

 "I have no idea.  If he does, he doesn't let on. How about it Helen do you think John knows."

 "Probably,  my guess is that he is inside whacking off."  We all laughed.

 The conversation worked its way around to yesterday.  That is why I hated to share the morning.  Someone always brought up the unpleasant side of life."

 "I got a call before I left the office yesterday," Jake said.   "It seems someone shot off a piece of Brian Tomlinson's ear. "

 "Really, I hadn't heard," responded Helen.  "That is terrible.  Do you know who did it?"

 "Of course we do.  There hasn't been a complaint so we are ignoring it for now.  That kid was always in trouble and I'm sure he asked for it."

 "I wonder what a sunrise looks like on the florida coast.  Hell even on the Carolina Coast I'll bet it is spectacular."  I said."

 "But," Jake said. "Could you get a better view than ours."  He motioned to Mrs. Wilson swimming laps."

 He and I agreed but Helen held out.  She wanted to see Mr. Wilson swim nude before she cast a vote.  Since it was Saturday, we sat drinking coffee and eating Helen's biscuit till eleven.  I had to go get ready for the early wedding.  I left the two of them alone on the deck while I showered and dressed. Today it was navy blue blazer and charcoal grey slacks.

 When I looked out the door to my deck, the two of them were gone.  I didn't know or really care where they had gone.  I knew Helen well enough to know that she wouldn't let anything keep her from the afternoon wedding.

 I drove to my wedding and it went just as I expected it to go.  It was a miserable job but it paid the bills.  I stayed at the reception till the bitter end.  I got away at four p.m.  I was starved so I stopped at the Elms for a late lunch.  

 Jed should have been running the place but it was E behind the counter.  "Where's Jed?"

 "He got a hot date I think.  Asked me last week to run the place for him tonight," E said.

 "I guess he is out having fun while you are stuck working,"

 "Yeah but you know I feel sorry for him sometimes.  I go home to Elly.  He goes home late at night to mama’s empty house.  I know it has got to be tough on him."

 "I thought him and Thelma had something going."

 "Linc you know Jed.  He screwed that up with his hate.  He's always telling everybody how he hates white people and all the time taking their money.   Most of our customers are white these days.  We been going up on our prices so fast most of the old customers don't come in as often.  So we makes most of the money on your people.

 Thelma pointed out to Jed, he was a hypocrite.  She told him straight out that if he hated white people so much, he should lower the prices back to where they were when we had more black customers.  Jed he got mad and they ain't been out since."

 "Well E it will work out.  You know Jed don't really hate white people.  I think he hates some of the things we have done.  That ain't the same as hating the people."

 I finished my soup and grilled cheese sandwich.  The soup was my mama's recipe.  The meat in it was hamburger.  That and all the left over vegetable from the week went into the pot.  I always tried to make it to the Elms sometime on Saturday for there homemade soup special.  I paid up then said goodbye.

 I got home in time to take a quick shower then dress in my regular clothes before rushing to pick up Sarah Lee Poole.  She came to the door dressed in shorts and a halter top.  She had nowhere near as much to put in it as Holly or even Honey for that matter.  Her top was almost empty but it looked nice because she was built so trim.  Her hips flared only slightly and she looked a little on the muscular side.  When I met her on the river road, she must have had her hair penned up.  With it down I noticed the soft brown color of a deer.  Her eyes were large and almost black.  She had a nice straight nose over a small soft mouth.

 "You going to change or what?"

 "I hadn't planned on it why?"

 "Since there will be wives and girlfriends at the picnic I would try to look a little less sexy.  You know, you maybe in a car with their lover.  They would probably prefer the girl next door look."

 "I see what you mean.  Wait here.  I will be right back."

 It took her only a couple of minutes.  She returned wearing navy blue pleated pants and a white knit shirt with the arms cut wight lifter style.

 "Well do you think the dyke look is better?"

 "Actually for me it is sexier but for the wives it will do fine.  They may hit on  you but they probably won't worry about their husbands."  She laughed as I hoped she would.

 When she saw the classic Ford convertible, she looked relieved.  "What a great car.  Where did you get it?"

 "Gift from a friend.  I think she would approve.  She was a cop too."



 "You still miss her?"

 "Only when I breathe."

 "I hear a lot of different stories about her."

 "Well someday I may tell you the truth but right now I don't want to talk about it."  She didn't ask any more questions.  I drove the car to the state park twenty five miles away.  I parked the car beside the others.  I didn't recognize the highway patrolman on the gate.  He recognized either Sarah Lee or me.  He greeted us with a nod as we walked past him.

 We went from group to group Sarah said hello to her brother officers.  I knew most of the city and county guys.  The state boys were mostly strangers to me. Every one of them from the chief of the city on down, seemed to be at least half drunk.

  I must have answered the "How they Hangin’," question twenty times.  I answered them all the same way.  "One up, One down."  It got a laugh almost every time.   There is no answer to that question.  It is just a question to get a conversation between men started.  

 "Linc, could I speak to you please?"  It was the new chief of police that asked the question.  "Sarah would you forgive us just a minute?"  he asked with a slight slur.  She nodded and walked off to speak to some SBI types.

 "I'm glad you came Linc.  It gives me a chance to talk to you informally."  I already didn't like his attitude.  He seemed pissed though I couldn't figure out why.  "You must really be some kind of stupid or a real bad ass.  Either way, I want this cap at Baby Dolls to stop."

 "Excuse me chief but what cap exactly are you talkin’ about.  Do you mean I am to stop defending myself?"

 "Stop lying to me.  What you did out there went way beyond defending yourself.  If you had been anyone else, the magistrate would have issued a warrant on you.  You have some powerful friends but that don't cut no ice with me."  He was really showing his anger and personal animosity toward me.

 "My friends have nothing to do with some asshole pulling a gun on me."

 "You were trespassing."

 "Well chief, last I heard that wasn't a Capitol offense.  That jerk off wanted to shoot me."

 "Because you had rearranged his features."

 "When a man raises a club to me, he better be prepared to hold an ass whipping.  That goes for any man."

 "Is that supposed to mean cops?"

 "That is supposed to mean, any fucking man period.  I cooperate with cops.  Ask any of these officers.  They ask and I go along."

 Our voices had reached the level that people had stopped their talking to look.  "Are you saying you would resist arrest?"

 I recognized that he was baiting me.  I didn't have any idea why he would go after me.  "I just got through saying that I would go along peacefully."

 "You also said, any man who raises his hand against you would hold an ass whipping."

 "This is stupid conversation and it is over.  I will say this though.  Every man here, who knows me, knows I present no threat to him.  Those who don't know me should be aware that I am not a threat to any man who acts like a man.  A back stabbing asshole is a back stabbing asshole, no matter who he is."

 "Was that supposed to be an insult?"

 "If that sounded like an insult, then you have had too much to drink."  I tuned to walk away and he grabbed my shoulder to turn me back to him.  I heard an intake of air from a dozen directions.  "Chief, don't ever touch me again."

 "I'm the police chief.  I can do any fucking thing I want. I know you think you should have my job but you don't."

 "I couldn't afford the cut in pay to take your job."  I turned again.  I sensed him reach for me.  I moved as quickly as I could to the right away from his hand.  When he reached and got only air he was off balance.  I turned then stepped past him.  I dragged my foot as I quickly passed him.  He went down  hard.  I leaned down to help him up.   I whispered so that no one could hear.  "Do that again and I will fucking kill you.  If you think your position will save your ass, you haven't been listening to the people who live here."  I had his hand and pulled him to his feet.  He tried to pull away but I wouldn't let him till he was on his feet.  Anyone looking would have sworn it was an accident.

 I knew he wasn't afraid of me.  Not anymore than I was of him.  It looked as though it might turn out to be a case of whose was bigger.  We shook hands for all to see.  We used it as an excuse to defuse the situation.  He drifted off to join his family.  

 I raised my eyes to look for Sarah.  I thought maybe we should be going while she still had a job.  I heard the familiar voice behind me.  "You should have taken that job.  Now the new chief is going to be after your ass."

 "Hell Jasper, it's kind like that new Sears store in Andrews.  He is going to have to take a number."

 "He might be able to move to the head of the line."

 "Okay enough about the new chief prick.  I need to ask you a couple of questions about Baby Dolls.  It is in your jurisdiction."

 "Yeah but I don't work patrol.  Remember I am the detective."

 "I know but tell me why the city police arrived when Brian and I got into it."

 "Simple, it is in the one mile limit."

 "It is?  I thought it was farther out than that."

   It was before the annexation.  Now it is a couple of hundred yards outside the city.  Either one of us can answer the calls."

 "Then tell me why a club that is used to calling the county, suddenly starts calling the city police."

 "I imagine the response time is less.  Our men come from a long way off usually."

 I nodded then recognized another voice.  "I see you are still making new friends the hard way."

 "Hello Ed, what the fuck’s got into the chief."

 "Why you are dating his girlfriend, what did you expect.  He has been drinking all afternoon.  Then you show up with the lovely Miss Poole,  who the chief is diddling.  He had to show you and Sarah who had the bigger balls.  Asshole should have listened to the old timers.  Of course we didn't know why, but he began yesterday asking us about you.  Everybody thought it was because of Baby Dolls.  I guess we were wrong."

 "Probably not Ed.  He probably just wanted to talk to me.  I tend to talk too much."

 "And move too damned quick.  You keep that up and the chief is going to have you arrested for speeding.  You got more moves than a hundred-dollar hooker."

 "Exactly how do you know how many moves a hundred-dollar hooker has?"  His wife who slipped up on him asked.   He didn't answer so she turned to me.  She hugged me then said,  "You okay,"

 I said, "Sure."  She slapped me.

  "That's for dating that slut.  If you are so stupid that you are going to do the same thing all over again, then I am not going to care about you anymore."

 I rubbed my cheek.  "Amy,  what the hell are you talking about?"

 "One Julie is enough to last a life time."

 "What the hell are you talking about Amy? "

 "Sarah Lee Poole, she has been here a month.  So far she has screwed the chief, who brought her here.  She has screwed Jacob Stein, a couple of patrolmen, the DA and now you."

 "If she has screwed the others like she has me, then the rumor mill is way off this time."

 "Oh you aren't in the mill yet.  The others are definite."

 "How do you know that Amy?"

 "Jacob, I'm a hair dresser. Not hers but I know hers.  The bitch talks.  It would be bad enough if she were doing one, then moving on to another, but she is still doing them all."

 "When you say DA, do you mean one of the assistants."

 "I mean the DA your friend Jake."

 "God I'm glad you told me Amy.  I never screw anybody who screws a lawyer, especially Jake."

 Amy was on a roll.  If you do screw her, she wouldn't be the first, or even second woman you shared with Jake."

 "Okay Amy that is enough," her husband Ed said.  He knew it was about to get really ugly and he didn't want to have to defend her honor.  I didn't want him to either.  He managed to lead her away.

 "God Linc, you can certainly liven up a dead party."

 "Man, I can't stand these quiet cop parties.  I'm going to find Sarah Lee and get the hell out of here.  I almost made it.  If I had found her immediately, I wouldn't have been around when the automatic rifle fire began.  I was headed for the bar-be-que pit to look for Sarah when the rat ta tat tat of the AK47 filled the air.  I went down behind a picnic table.  I looked around me to see who was down.  I couldn't tell since everyone was on the ground trying to  hide behind gum wrappers.  I slid down the table and saw Sarah behind an electric pole.  She didn't appear to be hit.  

 "Sarah can you hear me?"


 "If you or anyone near you has a gun, make some noise,"

 There must have been ten weapons that opened up.  The picnic area was too damned open but I had no choice.  I was cursing the sunlight when I began to run.  I heard people asking about the wounded but I didn't stop to wait for a report.  I move off to the right flank of the automatic weapons fire.  There had been more than one weapon.  I expected to draw fire at any minute.  After that, it was just a matter of when I was  hit.

 I didn't have a weapon but I couldn't let that stop me.  People were going to die if they hadn't already.  I moved as quietly as possible.  I heard the weapons again.  This time I stood still and waited for the slugs to crash around me.  I had made it to the wooded area.  I would like to believe that I my position hadn't been noted.   It seemed unlikely.  I was wearing a light-colored shirt which should be visible a good distance even in the woods.  

 I waited for the fire to slacken, then I made a rush for the deeper darker woods.  I moved among the trees about fifty yards.  I came to the depression from behind.  Inside it were three drunken black men.  I slipped behind the one nearest me.  I had him in the same hold I had used on Eric.  I was about to apply the needed pressure to break his neck when I recognized him.  

 I held him in the death grip and spoke.  "Jed what the fuck are you doing."

 "Linc what the hell you doin’ here."

 "Me, what are you doing here?"

 "Scare'n hell out of them peckerwoods down there."

 "You are going to kill one of those people and spend your life in jail or worse."

 "Not with these blanks."

 "Then they are going to kill you.  They have already started shooting back."

 "I know but they shootin’ in the wrong place and besides we planned to be gone by now."

 "Well get on your horse.  I will give you a couple of minutes.  Then I will pronounce the place secure and it will be crawling with pissed off cops.  Get on out of here right this  minute."

 He didn't say thank you but I didn't expect him too.  I waited a few minutes after they were gone.  The incoming fire was beginning to build.  "Hold your fire,"  I shouted.  "It's me Linc.  Hold your fire there is no one here anymore."

 The firing subsided.   I am coming down so hold your fire.  I went down all right but I went in a round about manner.  I didn't want the chief to accidently shoot me.  I slipped among them till I found Jasper.  I tapped him on the shoulder and almost got shot for the effort.  "Take it easy Jasper, it's me.  Whoever was up there has gone.  I found a natural depression filled with casings.  Now take charge so you can investigate this mess."

 I stayed with the others while Jacob and Jasper went up the hill.  I had given Jasper directions to the depression.  They looked and found the casings.  I meanwhile verified that there were no injuries.  While everyone else was running around trying to figure it out, I attacked the bar-be- qued ribs.  I found the coke cooler and had one while I ate the ribs.

 "Aren't you going to do anything?" Sarah Lee asked when she finally located me.

 "Yeah I'm goin’ to have some more roasted corn.  You want me to fix you a plate."

 "You aren't heroic.  You are nuts."

 " You should have asked me up front.  I would have told you that."  She walked away in disgust.  I guessed that I would be sleeping alone again tonight.

 I continued to eat and watch the progress.  I have to admit that I secretly enjoyed seeing the cops stepping on each other.  They were like the keystone cops.  I smiled a lot but I fought back the laughter.  I saw Jacob walking toward me.

 "Okay Linc, who was it."  The voice belonged to Jacob Stein.

 "I have no idea they were gone before I got there."

 "And you didn't go after them."

 "That's right.  Jacob."  I changed the subject before he asked me why.  "I have a question for you.  It may be important.  Are you screwing Sarah Lee?"

 "Of course not."

 "Jacob, I'm not jealous.  I need to know for something.   I'm not real sure, but it may be important.  I won't tell a soul you have my word."

 "Okay but you can't tell my wife."  I nodded.  "Yes I slept with her a couple of times.  It's not what you think."

 "Jacob, it never is.  Look, you better tell Betty Jo.  I heard it from Ed's wife, Amy.  It is just a matter of time before she hears it."

 "Hell," he  said. "She ain't worth breaking up my marriage."

 I continued eating while the others milled about talking and exaggerating their part in the great shoot out.  I was almost finished when Sarah returned.  "Linc, I am sorry for calling you nuts.  I just expected you to come back with bodies."

 "Well it's okay.  Do you think you can get another ride home.  I've eaten and I really don't want to spend any more time socializing tonight."

 "Not so fast,"  I heard the words come drifting over my shoulder.  "You are going to have to answer some questions before you go anywhere."

 "Look chief we have already played this game once tonight.  Unless you plan to arrest me, I am leaving.  If you do, I have to warn you, like you said I have some powerful friends.  Some of them even like to sue the city."

 "We need a statement."

 "I will give the investigating officer a statement, if he wants it.  I would prefer to do it at the Sheriff's office, but I can do it here.  I doubt Jasper needs my statement at the moment but I will ask him before I leave."

 I turned my back on the chief but I listened for any sound of movement.  I didn't hear any so I walked to where Jasper had set up his little command post.  "Jasper, I am going home.  I will be there all night.  If you want a statement I can give it to you now or you can come by for coffee anytime.  Hell I will even come to the office tomorrow.  You pick it."

 "I'll come by there tonight.  And Linc," He added almost as an after thought.   "Thanks for going  up there.  A lot of people could have died here tonight."

 "Jasper, I am about to give you a piece of information.  Nobody could have died.  I didn't think about it till a minute ago.  There are no slugs.  The ground should have been ripped up.  The tables and trees splintered.  I believe the gunmen were firing blanks."

 "Did you know that when you went after them?"

 "No," I answered.

 "Then it in no way diminishes what you did.  Now find a wheel barrow load your balls in it and go home."

 "Goodnight Jasper.  Try to keep this as quiet as you can.  I am getting tired of being involved in these weird incidents."

 "Me too, but there are too many hero's out here to keep it quiet."

 I didn't even look for Sarah Lee.  I just left.  I arrived home about nine.  I found Jed sitting on my stairs.  I wouldn't have been so casual, if I hadn't expected to see  him there.

 "Linc, we need to talk."

 "Got that right."

 "I know I got to explain this or you gonna turn my ass in."

 "No you don't.  I'm not going to turn you in whether you explain or not.  I frankly don't give a rat's ass why you did it.  I am surprised though."

 "Why man?  Them racist cops where down there yellin’ nigger all night.  We could here them talking."

 "Bullshit Jed, from where you were you couldn't hear nothing.  You just wanted to hear that cap."

 "You gonna tell me they wasn't talkin’ about some stupid nigger down there."

 "Sure they were.  Then of course  you opened fire and proved them right.  Let me tell  you something.  I always had a lot of respect for you.  You are black but you don't take no shit.  Nobody does  you bad, cause you don't let them.  What the hell have you got at stake in this mess."

 "Everybody ain't like you and me.  Some people can't fight back."

 "So you plan to fight their battles for the?.  Who asked you to be the champion of the black cause."

 "There ain't nobody else."

 "What a load of cap, E told me you too had a fight over the white customers in your place.  You think taking their money diminishes your rightful anger.  Let me tell you something, at one time or another I hate everyone of my customers.   I take their money but I sure as hell don't like them.  Sometimes I don't like what it makes me, but I take the money.  Probably every man, who ever worked, at one time or another hated his boss and job.  They all still take the money.  You have to understand that one has nothing to do with the other.  Nobody ever got fat on principle.  You can't feed principle to a starving child black or white."

 "Okay,  I went out there tonight to prove I'm still a man.  It was a stupid thing to do and I'm goin’ home and kick E's ass."

 "That makes more sense.  I would think twice about kicking his ass.  If it wasn't for E and your mama, I would have turned your ass in."

 "Maybe, but I doubt it.  You ain't got no more use for them peckerwoods than I do."

 "I like cops fine.  I don't socialize with them often but they are okay people.  They just come from a different place when they think.  Me I come from a place different from  you or them."

 "When the revolution comes Linc,  I'm gonna save your ass."

 "Don't bother.  I ain't gonna save yours."  Jed smiled then climbed into his new Pontiac and drove off.  For a poor black man he had an awfully nice car.  Better than anything I owned.

 Jed was gone about two hours when the caravan pulled up in front of the carriage house.  First came the Sheriff, himself, then Jasper, followed by the crime scene van.  From the van Jacob and the Chief emerged.  Five minutes later another city car pulled into the parking lot.  I waited on the deck while they all assembled in the parking lot.  I was hidden in the shadows on the far corner of the deck.  When they received no answer to their ringing and knocking on the studio door downstairs, Jasper came up the stairs.  Even though I was dressed in light colored clothing he didn't spot me.  I was sitting on the rail bench behind him watching while he rand and knocked.

 "Jasper what the hell is going on?" I asked.

 "Call Skip Linc, don't answer any questions till you talk to him ."

 "What the hell is going on?"

 "The chief has a hair up his ass that you masterminded this scare.  He is going to arrest you for conspiracy to assault by pointing a gun."

 "You have to be kidding?"

 "Afraid not, he is pissed and doesn't like being made a fool of."

 "Nobody but his mama and daddy made that fool.  Where the hell does the city keep finding these assholes?"

 "Got me.  I got enough trouble with the sheriff."

 "You get any answer up there Jasper?" the sheriff asked.

 "No, I guess he is out walking.  I think I will wait on the deck till he gets back.  When he does, I will bring him in."  Jasper was leaning over the rail talking down to the Sheriff.  "Why don't you guys go to the office.  I will bring him in when he comes back."

 "Okay,"  I heard the Sheriff's voice.  "But don't give him a chance to call any of  his fancy friends.  I want this to be just him and us."

 "Okay Sheriff,  I will try to keep him away from the phone."

 When they left Jasper come to sit by me.  "Guess we should wait for a while before we go into the station."

 "Yeah let me call Skip."  I went into the house and got skips associate.  Her name was Sandy and she was taking the calls.  I explained briefly what was happening.  She agreed to meet me at the station.

 "Jasper, why is the chief so hot and bothered.  I mean surely that broad ain't got nothing he ain't seen before."

 "I know I don't think it is just that.  You know you cast a big shadow in this town.  Everybody knows the mayor would give you his job at the drop of a hat.  He just wants to take you down a peg or two."

 "Okay, since this is bullshit, Let me ask you a couple of questions?"


 "What do you know about Baby Dolls and the black widow?"

 "Not much, she was a stripper then she bought the place with her old mans money.  Leland, the old man, gets murdered and the city boys arrest her and Wade.  That's about all I know."

 "Did you know that she sold the place back to Eric?"

 "No I hadn't heard that.  I wonder why she would sell it back.  I guess she needed the money to pay her lawyer?"

 "Not according to skip.  He claims she has enough money in the bank for his fee.  Leland let her keep the profits from the clubs."

 "Got me then," he said.

 "Any hookers working out there?"

 "Not that I know of.  They mostly work out of the Green Door.  Last I heard Baby Dolls was a straight strip club."

 "How about drugs?"

 "Probably some from customer to customer.  Never heard of any moving through the club."


 "Not enough money.  They want businesses with enough volume to dry clean.  That place doesn't have it.  Of course Eric talks like he is connected but I doubt it."

 "Jasper, I don't want you to waste your time so I warn you in advance.  I am going to try to sell the chief and the Sheriff on the idea that the incident was a warning to me to stay away from the club.  The mob sent a team in to scare me off."

 Jasper laughed.  "You don't think they will buy that do you?"

 "I actually do.  I think they are so thrill hungry that they will be chasing their asses all over the county."

 "What really happened out there tonight?"

 "Kids prank, I don't know who but it had to be.  Who else would have a park full of cops and shoot them with blanks."

 "It is my intention Linc to look into this for about the next half hour then drop it entirely."

 "Sound management decision, Jasper."  I paused a few seconds.   You want a glass of  tea?"

 "Sure but your lawyer will be waiting at the station."

 "I know it should be fun to watch her work.  She is right out of law school and skip swears she is full of piss and vinegar.  He also swears she don't wear a bra."

 Forget the tea. Let's go check her out."

 "Haven't you seen her yet?"

 "We run in different circles.  I don't meet many lawyers unless it is in court.  I don't think I have seen her around yet?"

 "I guess not.  Skip keeps her busy in the office most of the time."

 "How long has she been in town?"

 "Six months.  I'm kind of surprised you haven't bumped into her in the courthouse.  She is handling most of Skip's real estate trash."

  "I don't think I have seen her."  He was standing.  He was obviously waiting for me to stand.

 I stood and followed him to the car.  I almost got into the passenger door.  "Wait a minute, Jasper."  He turned to look across the roof.  "I 'm supposed to be cuffed and put in the rear.  That is if I am under arrest."

 "Get in the fucking car.  I am going to let the chief arrest you.  I ain't about to lose my house and car in some civil action."

 We drove slowly to the Sheriffs station.  His office was actually the basement of the county courthouse.  I walked ahead of Jasper through the hall.  I spotted Sandy as I turned the corner leading to the sheriff’s office.  She was leaning against the wall waiting for me.

 Sandy wears these really thick glasses.  She usually is very well dressed and made up.  Tonight I must have caught her sleeping.  Her hair was barely combed and her makeup was nonexistent.  She looked about fifteen.  She was also wearing a mens white dress shirt that was several sizes too small for her.  

 It was obvious that Skip hadn't been lying.  Even with the stingy mop of mouse brown hair she looked sexy as hell.  

 "Hi Sandy,"  I said.  "Hope you were doing something fun when I called."

 "In this town you have to be joking.  What in the world have they got you for.  There can't be any good crimes in this little piece of heaven."

 "Jasper here,  Oh I'm Sorry this is Detective Jasper Ward.  Jasper this is Sandy Dunlap."  They shook hands.  Neither appeared to be too interested in the other.  I had to wander about that since Jasper stared at her every time she looked in my direction.  "Anyway Jasper was supposed to arrest me but took pity on me.  I think the Sheriff or the city Chief of police plans to arrest me."

 "What for?"

 "I not really sure probably a public nuisance."

 "He can't, that law was struck down. It was too vague."

 "Well let's go see," I suggested.

 We walked into the Sheriff's office.  Inside it were several law enforcement officers.  The sheriff of course, the chief of city police, Jacob Stein, Sarah Lee Poole and the uniformed deputy who wrote the report on the park incident were all present.

 "Hi guys,  I don't know if you have met Skip's associate.  This is Sandy Dunlap.  She will be representing me during questioning."

 "Did you need to bring a lawyer for a simple statement?" the  Sheriff asked.

 Sandy tried to speak but I touched her arm.  She didn't know all there was to know.  "Did you need to bring the seventh calvary to my house to take a statement."

 The Sheriff reddened, "You were there."

 "I was standing in the shadows on the right end of the building."

 "Why didn't you just come out when we knocked?" the chief asked.

 "I wanted to see what I had done to rate so many cops.   Somebody tossed the word arrest around so I went to a pay phone and called Sandy.  Now if you want a statement I will be happy to give you one.  If you intend to arrest me then please do it now."

 "Let's hear the statement first,"  the Sheriff said.

 "Let's get on with this.  I am paying two hundred bucks and hour for Sandy to listen to me tell you I don't know anything."

 "Let's make one thing crystal clear Gentlemen.  The moment this turns into an interrogation I intend to advise Mr. Jefferson to stop talking."  Everyone understood.

 "Linc," Jasper began.  "When you heard the gunfire, what did you think."

 "The same as you Jasper, I thought someone with an AK was trying to ruin our picnic."

 "What did you do?"

 "I dived behind a picnic table."

 "Then what?"

 "I called to a group of cops nearby to return the fire.  When they did, I tried to out flank the gunman.  I went a long way out of the way since I wasn't dressed for a wooded engagement."

 "Where you armed?"


 "Did you know the incoming fire was harmless?"

 "Not at the time, I remember thinking that as soon as they spotted me running, they would turn their fire on me.  I expected to be hit any second."

 "Why did you expose yourself to the fire?"

 "Because I was in the best position to do something to stop the firing."

 "When you got to the woods what happened?"

 "Since I was wearing light-colored clothes and the sun was still up, I slipped deeper into the woods to approach from a different direction.  I came on the position from the rear.  When I got to the edge of the depression, I noticed it was no longer occupied.  I slipped into the hole and called for the officers to cease firing."

 "Why did you enter that hole?"

 "I did it because you guys were shooting in my direction.  I needed to catch my wind and I didn't want to get hit in the process."

 "Do you know who was doing that shooting?"


 "Did you have anything to do with the planning or execution of this attack?"


 "Sheriff," Jasper said turning to him.  "You have anything to ask?"

 "Damn right I do.  You don't think much of the law do you?"

 "Don't answer that Linc.  Sheriff unless you plan to arrest my client, I think we will be going now."

 "Let me add one thing Sandy.  If I were you guys I would check Baby Dolls out,  I think the shooting was a warning.  I think the owner there sent me a message."

 The chief and Sheriff could understand that, since they would have enjoyed sending  me a message., one tied to a .357 Winchester slug.

 "Gentlemen lets either shit or get off the pot," Sandy said.  We were all surprised by her language.  "It seems to me that while our heroic men in blue hid behind tables Linc went out to find the shooters.  I hardly think that warrants an arrest, but please do what you think is best."  We all saw her grin.  Everyone knew she was already planning the false arrest action.

 The two head lawmen went out into the hall for a conference.  When they closed the door, Sandy turned to me and whispered into my ear.  "You don't really think they will buy that mob warning do you?"

 I pressed my lips to her ear, "I'll bet you ten bucks against a cup of coffee they come in and say they are going to pursue it."

 Sandy sat up and shook my hand.  A moment later the heads of our two law enforcement agencies entered the room.  "I think that will be all for now Mr. Jefferson," The chief said.  "We want to take a look into your accusations before we make any decision."

 "I think that would be a hell of an idea.  I don't really trust that Eric."  I stood and walked from the room.  Sandy and I both managed to maintain our composure till we were out the exit door.  We both broke into laughter at exactly the same time.

 "I can't believe cops are that stupid," she said.

 "Cops aren’t.  Bosses are though.   Those two need a conspiracy to work on.  If they don't have one they go out looking for one.  I did their officers and deputies a favor.  They will be looking outside their departments for a while."

 "You really are an ass."

 "Guilty, you owe me a coffee and I'll take it right now.  That is if you are off the clock."

 "Don't worry about the clock.  This one goes on Holly Ander's bill.  After all you brought Baby Dolls new owner into the police view.  We may be able to use that at trial."

 "Good because I can't afford you."

 "I don't know you might be able to.  Lets go get that coffee and talk about it."

 We stopped at the waffle and egg.  It was the only place withing twenty miles that was open.  I ordered coffee and Sandy order hot tea.  While we waited for the drinks Sandy asked, "Linc, do you have a girl friend?"

 "No but I am taking applications."

 "Thanks but I'm a little too young for you."

 "You did that well.  You are really going to do well in the law."

 "I know.  I was actually thinking about my mother."

 "I don't understand, and I'm not sure I want to."

 "My mother is coming for a visit.  I would like to take her somewhere nice for dinner the first night.  Why don't you come along?  If you two hit it off, maybe you could entertain her while she is in town."

 "I appreciate the thought but I really don't date any more."

 "Really it sounded like you were on a date with a young woman tonight.   You would really be better off with someone your own age."

 "That wasn't a date.  I was conned."

 "I heard that too.   I'll give you a call.  Mom is a lot of fun."

 "You can call but it won't do you any good."

 "Okay, how about taking us both out.  If you are seen by any of your friends, you can say you are with me."

 "Are you kidding? I'd rather be seen with your mother.  I have never dated a lawyer and it would severely damage my reputation to be seen with one."

 "I've been hearing a lot about your reputation tonight.  I don't think being seen with me would do anything to damage it any worse than Sarah Lee Poole did."

 "I told you that wasn't a date."

 "That's not how she tells it."

 "You talked to her."

 "Not exactly, she was giving a statement and the door was open.  I heard it all.  According to her she thought you had run away till she heard your voice from the pit.  After that, she thought you must have a death wish to have gone after those gunmen unarmed.  Unless of course you knew they were firing blanks."

 "So she is the one who put the bug in everyone's ear."

 "Maybe, they should have listened to Ed the patrolman.  He told a story with the same details but different conclusions.  According to him it would be a typical move for you to go after armed me with no weapons at all.  He thinks you are crazy by the way."

 "He has probably the best idea of what happened out there.  Even though he was keeping his head down, he was also watching everything."

 "What did happen, remember I am your lawyer and can't tell anyone?"

 "Not even Skip?"

 "Not even Skip."

 "A couple of black men fired some blanks into the picnic.  They wanted to scare hell out some cops.  Maybe even show them that they were vulnerable.  Anyway there was no harm so no foul.  Besides they got hell scared out of them."

 "You, I assume?"

 "Something like that, they know that they weren't immune.  If it had been for real, there would have been more than cops dead."

 "Maybe you are as bad as they say."

 "Still want your mother to go out with me?"

 "I'm not sure but I might."

 "You're too young for me remember?"

 Helen and I were on the deck next morning when my persona l phone rang.  "Hello?"

 "Linc this is Sarah Lee."

 "What can I do for you Sarah Lee?"  Helen was staring holes in me.  I shrugged.

 "I need to get a portfolio shot.  I would like for you to do it."

 "What kind of portfolio?"

 "You know a few head shots, some full length and a couple of nudes."

 "What in the world for?"

 "That really is none of your business."

 "You are absolutely right.  I don't think I am interested.  You might try Helen.  She is right here do you want to talk to her?"

 "Okay asshole,  I have had a couple of calls from magazines who want to do a spread on a female cop.  Most of them look like dykes.  I am on their short list.  They want me to bring some sample shots for them to evaluate."

 "Okay, when do you want to shoot them?”

 “I'm pulling the four to eleven this week.  It has to be either before or after work."

 "Be here at noon tomorrow and bring your dress uniform and another outfit."

 "Noon it is and thank you."

 "Wait till you get the bill before you say that.  I shoot head shots free for cops not portfolios."

 "I didn't expect it would be free."  She slammed the phone down on me.

 "So that bitch wants a portfolio, I can imagine what she wants in it,"  Helen said.

 "You would be right.  You want to come over and chaperone?"

 "Not a chance, I want to find out later what kind of deal she tries to work on you."

 I was on the phone again when Mrs. Wilson took her morning swim.  That time it was Honey.  She wanted to ask if I had ever heard of a video starring the lovely widow Anders.

 I had never heard of one.  It seems that Holly overheard Eric on the phone.  He was laughing about how he had bought the club.  "Yeah," he said.  "I gave her the same as I was paid.  I also gave her my copy of "Confessions of a Stripper" Holly seemed to think that it was a good deal.

 I told Honey I would check it out.  I had actually forgotten the box of tapes Holly had left me.  It seems Holly was more fond of video than she admitted.  I needed to talk to Holly but not just yet. I wanted to check the tapes.  It wouldn't hurt to have all the information I could get before going at the black widow again.

 The phone rang still a third time.  "If this keeps up," Helen said, "I am going to go into the studio.  They are ruining my sunrise."

 This time it was Jasper.  He called to warn me to keep a low profile.  It seems the chief had decided that my life was in danger.  With a smile in  his voice Jasper said,  "I am giving you the official warning.  By the way I have been authorized to provide police protection if you would like.  Of course it won't be the lovely Miss Poole."

 "In either case Jasper thanks but I think I can handle the threat."

 "Just following the chief's orders."

 "It is nice that he is concerned but I think I will suffer along alone but thank him for me."

 "Thank Sandy.  She worried the hell out of him.  She has a real cold look, sort of like a shark looking at his next meal."

 I managed to get through several of Holy's tapes before I had work of my own interrupt.  I returned to the tapes every spare moment that day and even into the night.  I found the tape with Wade and Leland doing Holly about midnight.  I still had over half of them to go.  I almost stopped watching but decided there might be something useful on the others.  I marked the tape with Wade and continued.

 Leland must have stored the tapes in some special arrangement.  They went from normal to the tape of Wade.  Then they started getting strange.  When I say strange, I'm not exaggerating.  He began playfully hitting Holly.  It went from fun too really banging her around.  Not only did Holly not seem to mind she actually appeared to be enjoying it.  The only thing I ever heard her say was, "Not the face Leland,"  Where upon he moved his assault to her back and breasts.

 I had been up all night and the coffee pot emptied once already.  I started a new pot and waited for Helen on the deck.  She came from the big house.  The sky had begun to lighten considerably by the time she arrived.  "I wish you wouldn't make coffee before I arrive," she said.

 "I know it isn't as good as yours.  I have been up all night and I couldn't wait."

 "So you sat up all night and watched the black widow and Leland screwing."

 "More or less."

 "Anything interesting?"

 "Not really, I mean you seen one you seem ‘em all."  I didn't see any reason Helen should know how kinky Leland had been.  There was plenty of material in those tapes for Skip to think about.  The funny thing was that Holly had never considered Leland's kinks as a defense.  She could probably avoid the needle because of them.  Compared to Leland’s weirdness her adultery didn't seem quite so bad after all.  I had to wonder about the video that Eric had used to make Holly sell the club to him.   Whatever was on that tape might influence a jury in the other direction.  I wanted to see the tape but didn't plan to push the demand.  If she knew I wanted to see the tape it would be destroyed if it hadn't already.  

 Besides Eric probably had another copy.  I would rather take his anyway.  I was about to decide what my next move would be when Jake drove up.###

 Helen was all in a tither.  "I look like hell.  Why did he decide to come today of all days."

 "Helen you look this way every morning."

 "I do not.  I usually have on much nicer clothes.  I planned to paint today so I wore my old jeans and this ratty old shirt of yours."

 "Jake,  To what do we owe the honor of your visit?"

 "I came to watch Mrs. Wilson swim."  He laughed.

 Helen came out of my apartment with a cup of coffee.  She had stopped along the way to comb her hair again.

 "Jake, I wish you had let me know you were coming.  I was going to paint today and I look awful."

 "Not at all Helen,"  He said taking the coffee cup.  "You look just marvelous as you always do."

 "Jake, why did you really come.  I can see you being a sun worshiper and Mrs. Wilson is hardly worth getting up this early."

 "Then you are not going to believe I came for the pleasure of your company."

 "If you had said for the pleasure of Helen's company, I might have bought it."

 "Okay, I am going to put the black widow on the docket.  The reporters are going to start coming in from all over.  How much trouble am I going to get into, if I trash her?"

 "If I were you, I would stick to exactly what is known about her.  Don't go out too far on a limb with Leland.  He may no be all we thought."

 "Meaning?" Jake asked.

 "I can't tell you anymore.  I shouldn't even tell you that.  I would just watch what I said about Leland."

 "Thanks, I won't describe him as a pillar of  the community."

 "Don't say that kind of thing and you should be fine."

 "Thanks Linc.  I will think it over."

 The sun came up again that morning.  Before it was even over the horizon, Jake took off for his office.  Helen and I sat alone with our thoughts as it made its way into the morning sky.  

 Helen stayed till almost nine before she went into the big house to paint.  I tried to catch a couple of the videos before Sarah Lee came.  I actually got only one finished.  I met Sarah Lee at the front door.  I unlocked the door and we entered together.  I had an arm full of her clothes as did she.

 I shot a few head shots first, then moved to a couple of sexy shots of her more or less in her uniform.  Mostly with the heavy jacket and nothing underneath.  I had her holding hand cuffs or the night stick.  From there we switched to shorts and a halter top.  I made the shots but didn't think much of them since she was a little small in the chest.

 I made her nudes in the classic more than pornographic mode.  The rags that wanted to do a picture story on her couldn't use any of them but they were fine for what she wanted.  They illustrated her body quite well.

 She was dressed and ready to leave when she asked, "So what is the charge going to be."  She had a wistful look in her eye.  I think she wanted to pay me in sex, not to save money just to pay me in sex.

 "So far it's about thirty-five bucks.  From here on it gets expensive.  I'll have you a price when you decide what prints you want."  She left looking less than thrilled.  I was glad she had gone.  

 I turned my attention to the last of the black widow tapes.  It was by far the most violent.  It showed Leland whipping Holly with a belt.  I don't know for sure if was staged or if he was actually beating her that viciously.  When he finished, she was moaning and wiggling.  I couldn't be sure but it seemed more like please than pain to me.  It could have been interpreted either way I guessed.  What happened next couldn't have been.  Leland moved around the bed to her head and demanded oral sex.  She shrank back till he pulled her up by the hair and forced her to service him.  Then he pushed her down on the bed and had sex with her.  It only lasted a short time, after which he walked toward the camera.  The tape ended with the lens blocked by Leland’s chest.  I fast forwarded to make sure there was nothing else on the tapes.

 When I finally left the tapes, I had a half dozen sorted out for Skip.  I left then in the studio, then drove to the Elms.  The afternoon crowd wasn't too bad since it was between lunch and dinner.  I sat at a booth while Thelma came to the table.  "Hi there Mr. Linc,  I was afraid you wasn't comin’."

 "No such luck Thelma.  Bring me a couple of hot dogs will you. I'd like a large ice tea to go with them."

 "Be right with up."  

 Jed actually brought the dogs.  "I hear the city police think that the shooting at the park was a mob warning for you.  Is the right Linc?"

 "Seems like.  I have no idea where they got such a notion."

 "I'll bet.  I hear a fast car left town with them weapons headed for New York City.  Must have been the mob."

 "I guess.  Getting rid of those guns was a really good idea.  I hope they get good and lost up there."

 "I'm sure they will.  Course there ain't hardly no way to match them since there weren't no slugs."

 "Actually there is.  When the extractor pulls the casing, it scratches it.  Everyone leaves a different scratch.  They are almost as good as the slug."

 "I didn't know that?"

 "That hasn't made it to tv yet.  But since the weapons are in New York there isn't much chance they will ever be matched up with the casing here."

 "That’s good I reckon.  By the way I saved you a piece of sweet potato pie."

 That was as close to a thank you as I would ever get.  Since the pie was exceptional, it was better than most thanks.  

 I drove home, picked up the tapes then took them to Skip.  He was in court so I left them with Sandy.  I made a couple of routine shots that afternoon.  I returned home and developed the slides.  The new processor wasn't due for a week or so.

 They were all hanging together in the drying cabinet in my apartment when the phone rang.  "Hello?"

 "Linc this is Skip.  I don't know what I am going to do with that tape, but it is great stuff."

 "I'm glad you can use it.  Have you heard Jake is putting her on the docket?"

 "I heard.  He is also having a news conference this afternoon.  I hate to miss it.  I would like to see which foot he puts in his mouth.  If he would wait a couple of months, he would get a look at these tapes and this news conference would be a lot different."

 "You are probably right about that." I said.

 "By the way something occurred to me while I was watching the tapes.  I need for you to run down to interview the former Mrs. Anders."

 "Shouldn't you do that?  I mean the interview."

 "Linc, I would but I just don't have the time.  Why don't you find her, then call Sandy to meet you.  She can do the interview once you have cornered the old bat."

 "Skip,  you know something I don't?"

 "I know that the former Mrs. Anders may not want to talk to us.  On second thought, why don't you interview her without mentioning me or the present Mrs. Anders."

 "Hey it's your dollar."

 "Actually it's Holly's dollar.  She can afford it."

 "Even with the sale of Baby Dolls?"

 "Even with the sale.  We are going to win this thing.  I know it."

 "Skip, don't get your hopes up."

 I made a couple of calls and found Emma, the former bride of Leland Anders.  I couldn't find where she lived right off but I did find her employer.  She had gone from a lady of leisure to a working woman.  Emma Anders was employed at the new mall.  She managed one of those boutiques.

 I drove over to  her store that evening but she wasn't working.  I didn't even press the older woman at the store for Emma’s address.  I just made a note to return the next morning.  

 When I returned home, Helen had a fist full of messages for me.  One of them was from Skip.  He was upset according to Helen.  I asked her if Skip gave her any indication why he was upset.  He hadn't but it probably had something to do with Jake's news conference.  

 She gave me a quick rundown on Jake’s conference.  I could feel the knife sticking out of my back.  Jake had mentioned that he felt sure the defense was going to try a character assignation on Leland Anders.  He said that was the lowest defense.  I mean, for God's sake the man is dead isn't that assignation enough for the black widow.

 When asked why he thought that the defense planned to take the low road.  The jerk answered that he had information from a source close to the defense.  I don't know why he didn't just name me.  He not only stabbed me in the back.  He twisted the knife.  I wouldn't be working for any more defense teams after this.

 The son of a bitch had just put an end to a small but lucrative part of my business.  I would be lucky if I could still photograph intersections for lawyers.  It was for sure I wouldn't be taping any more depositions.  I now remembered why I had hated Jake all those years.  Most of the reason had been Julie but not all.  The prick never thought before he opened his mouth.  If he did then he just didn't think anyone else was important.

 I decided to call skip right away and do the only honorable thing.  Lie like a rug.  "Skip," I said when I got him on the phone.  "Helen tells me you seem upset."

 "Damn right I am upset.  You have been talking to Jake?"

 "Of course I talk to Jake.  I talk to anyone who calls me."

 "What did you tell  him?

 "As God is my witness Skip.  I told him to take it easy on the Widow because he might have to eat his words later.  That is all I told him.  That was just advice I would give anyone.  I hadn't even seen the tapes I brought you when I told him that.  I have no idea what source told him that Leland had a secret.  It sure as hell wasn't me."

 I have never known you to lie Linc.  I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt on this one.  If there are anymore leaks, I am going to start looking into them."  

 “Hell Skip, you can look now if it makes you feel any better.  I am not the leak."

 "That doesn't leave many people does it."

 "No it doesn't.  If it will make you feel any better, I will give you the first Mrs. Anders location.  You can send Sandy to talk to her."

 "Are you kidding?  It may well be Sandy who leaked the word to Jake.  Hell, I don't know who to trust."

 "Well I can't help you there.  So  you want me to go talk to the first wife?"

 "Yeah as soon as possible."

 I looked quickly at my calender.  "I'll see her in the morning.  Probably before eleven."

 "Good, come by the office when you finish.  Don't tell anyone except me what she says."

 "Wouldn't have it any other way.  If it gets out then it is either you or me.  Just don't  you go blabbing it all over town."

 I hung up the phone.  I dialed Jake’s home number from memory.  Helen listened as I told Jake what I thought of him.  I also told him to never come to my studio again without a warrant.  I hung up before he had a chance to respond.  I expected Helen to be angry.  I was surprised that she wasn't.

 "I have a date.  Can I do anything for you before I leave."

 "You can tell me that it isn't Jake."

 "It isn't Jake.   I'm going to the last movie with Wendy."

 "The druggist?"

 "I know the dope dealer.  Yes the druggist.  Now be nice to  him if he comes while you are here."

 "I won't be here.  I am heading to my place for a good night’s sleep."

 I had been in bed about an hour when the phone rang.  I had actually been asleep.  "Linc is that you?"

 "Of course it's me Honey.  What's going on."

 "I been listening like you said.  I don't ask no questions but every time the widow's name comes up I listen real good.  Tonight Eric called some man.  He asked what he should do about the tape copy. I don't know what the man said but Eric told him that he had the tape at  home.  "There is no chance she can get it,"  He said"

 "Honey you have done a good job.  Now forget you know me.  You have done enough."

 "Thanks Linc.  I like this job and don't want to loose it.  Hell, I still have to refuse nightly to take my clothes off but it has become a joke.  I just pour beer and make change.  It pays a hell of a lot more then the Hop In.  Besides I get great tips."

 "You go on back to work and forget you ever met me.  But thanks a lot Honey."

 "Hey I got Sunday off.  How about buying a working girl a beer?"

 "Sure call me Sunday afternoon to remind me.  I will mark it on the calendar but I may forget."

 "You go it baby."

 "Oh by the way is Eric there now?"

 "Yeah, he usually stays till around three.  You know counting the money and stuff."

 I checked my watch.  The time was eleven fifteen.  I could be in by midnight and out long before one.  It seemed like an acceptable risk to me.  I changed my mind.  It struck me that this could be a set up.  Better to let some time pass, I thought.

 I was back in bed and even asleep when the knocking began.  I awakened with the first sound but waited for a few minutes to make sure exactly where the knocking was coming from.  I also determined how many people were on the deck.  I decided that it was just one.

 The knocking turned out to be Sarah Lee Poole.  "What the hell are you doing here at midnight?"

 "I just came to see my pictures."

 "At midnight?"

 "You told me they would be ready tonight."

 "Yeah, but I didn't think you would come here and wake my ass up."

 "Well since you are awake, you might as well show them to me."  She pushed past me into the apartment.  "You live in this dump?  God I would have thought you had a nicer place than this."

 "Hey I don't usually have clients come to my apartment.  Your slides are in the drying cabinet.  Wait right where you are and I will get them."  I walked to the metal cabinet and removed the two rolls of film.  

 I ordinarily mount the slides from the customers to view.  In her case I hadn't expected her for a couple of days.  I found the old school surplus film strip machine.  I loaded the film into it and projected it onto a blank wall.

 She watched most of the first roll without a word.  When the strip left the head shots and went to the waste cuts she said, "God I wish I had bigger breasts."

 "Make that your Christmas wish."

 "Too long to wait, I need them now.  Wait back up.  I rolled the slide film back a frame.  Hey that one is great.  I mean the angle is just right.  See how the jacket opens a little exposing most of my tit but not the nipple.  I want that one for sure.  I also want a couple of the head shots."

  I switched the film rolls and began with the nudes.  Most of them were too classy for her to appreciate.   She did find a couple she liked before I got the best one in the roll.  She was really taken with a shot that showed her standing square with the camera.  She had her arms folded across her breasts.  They were also somewhat under them and pushing up.  The shot showed her standing with legs spread and her weight mostly on her left leg.  Her body was leaning to her left but her head was tilted to her right.  The combination left the impression of a sexy better built woman than she actually was.  

 She picked ten shot to be printed in eight by tens.  There were several others she ordered in four by fives.  Her bill came too more than one fifty.  I knocked off some and called it one fifty even.  She wrote me a check.

 "Now that our business is concluded how about I stay with you tonight."

 "For that I also charge thirty dollars an hour.  I'm just kidding.  I don't think that would be wise."

 "Why not.  We are both over the age of consent, you more than me."

 "True but your boyfriend might see it differently."

 "What boyfriend?"

 "Any of them."

 "I see, cops kiss and tell, don't they?"

 "Worse gossips than a bunch of old ladies."

 "I'll go now.  Thanks for the pictures."

 "Tell you what.  I always had trouble sleeping after a night shift.  How about I find my tea pitcher and we go onto the deck and talk for a while."

 She looked at me with real pleasure in her eyes.  "I would like that."

 We sat outside on the deck for three hours or more.  She talked about her childhood and how she always wanted to be a cop.  Then we talked about the problems she was having in Carbonton.  I gave her some advice that she probably wouldn't take.  

 "If I asked you again, would you make love to me?"

 "No, not when you want to do it for the wrong reasons.  I don't believe you have to be in love to make love.  I believe it has to be done because you want to be with the person you sleep with, just to be with them.  When you do it for gain, it isn't the same."

 "Hey, I may be a slut but I'm no hooker."

 "Sure you are?  The coin is acceptance not dollars.  You will never gain acceptance that way.  You will make a few friends that's for sure but you will lose them when the payment isn't made.  Look, you are a bright, witty young woman.  You don't have to gain acceptance in a month.  You need to slow down and let it happen for who you are not what you can give away.”

 “That's not how you do it,” she suggested.

 "Oh how do I do it."

 "You do it by being smarter and tougher than anyone else."

 "I'm not smarter or tougher than anyone.  I am just willing to do things they aren't."

 "Sure, I heard the stories."

 "You tell me the story as you heard it, and I will tell you the truth."

 "I was at the park, remember?"

 "Sure you were and who do you think was safer.  A group of targets all lumped together or a single target running away."

 "You weren't running away."

 "The men on the hill didn't know that."

 "That's what I mean.  You were smarter than the rest of us.  We all waited there to be killed but you acted.  Most cops would be terrified that someone thought they were running away.  It never bothers you what people think.  Does it?"

 "Sure it does, what people think governs how they act.  A lot of what I do is for show.  I want them to think a certain way."

 "How about the time you bit off that guys finger?"

 "It was just the tip of his finger.  I wanted him to think I was crazy."


 "I didn't want him sneaking up behind me some dark night.  If he thought I was a nut case, then he wouldn't want me after him again.  He would have to kill me.  I knew he didn't have that in him."

 "I don't care what you say.  Everybody in this town respects you."

 "That maybe true but I can count on one hand the ones who like me enough to call me friend."

 "How about all these powerful friends I hear about?"

 "Those aren't friends.  Friends are the ones you can go to in the middle of the night when  you can't sleep for me that is most nights."

 "I'll make you a deal.  I will come here and you can come to my place anytime."

 "Do I have to take a number like Sears."

 "I don't think that will be a problem again."

 "Good,  one more piece of advice, win over the wives and you will win over the husbands.  Nobody in their right mind would give his wife's friend trouble."

  She left around two and I went back to sleep.  The next morning after our usual sunrise routine  I left Helen alone while I drove to the Elms for lunch.  I headed across the parking lot when I noticed the two men standing by the door.  At first I gave them only my usual loose scrutiny but something about them was wrong.  For one thing they were white and for another they were strangers.  

 The coincidence of the two things made my look at them closer.  I noticed the glint of steel in one's hand.  It was half hidden but there was no doubt that it was a knife.  The two of them walked out to meet me.  We were about twenty feet from the building and about six feet apart when it hit the fan.

 "The one on the left raised what appeared to be a blackjack over his head.  He did it in a menacing manner.  The goons were obviously used to their prey shrinking in fear.  My move took them by surprise.  I circle quickly to the left taking me away from the man with the knife who was on my right side.  I had the blackjack swinger between me and the knife when I kicked him hard in the balls.  The blackjack came down with enough force to have killed me but it was way off the mark.  The swinger was on the ground groaning.  

 I turned my attention to the man with the knife.  I had circled back to his left and tried to stab me with the six-inch blade of the hunting knife.  I moved as far away as I could in the time I had.  I felt the burning pain as the knife slit my upper arm.  I turned into him as quickly as I could.  I penned his arm under my right arm.  I had my right hand on his wrist.  While turning into him I had raised my elbow and delivered a wicked shot at his head.  I felt him sag but not go down.  I glanced back and he had a bewildered look on his face.  I cracked him in the nose with the same elbow.  I heard the bone break and felt his warm blood hit the back of my neck.  

 This time he was on the way to the ground.  I held his wrist and reached for the knife.  He held it firmly as if knowing I would cut his throat with it.  I bent forward and bit his forearm.  I locked my teeth onto his bone and just clamped down as hard as I could.  His blood filled my mouth and the  knife fell to the pavement.  

 I released the man's arm and let him continue to the ground.  I looked over to see the blackjack operator trying to stand.  I kicked him in the face just as hard as I could.  I head the sound of his jaw break.  Blood poured from his mouth and I think he was spitting out teeth.  My left arm was quite useless since the shock had about worn off.

 I turned back to the man who had cut me.  I rested a knee on his chest.  I said, after I had caught my breath, "I am going to ask you some questions.  Every time I think you lied I am going to cut off a piece of you.  Every time you refuse to answer a question, I am going to cut off a piece of you.  Now who sent you?"

 "There was terror in the man eyes.  He knew I was dead serious about taking part of his body as a souvenir.

 "I don't know his name.  He is the owner of a strip club, Eric something or other."

 "Where you from?"


 "The only reason I don't kill you is I want you to take a message to the people you work for.  I am labeling you and your friend kill on sight.  The next time I see you I am going to kill you. Do you understand."

 His courage had deserted him.  "Yes."

 "Yes sir, it you want to live."

 "Yes Sir."

 "The message is this.  Don't take any contracts from Eric, unless you get paid first.  Eric is not going to be alive long enough to pay you, understand?"

 "Yes sir."

 "Now I am going to get this nick stitched, then I am going to go kill Eric.  I am going to cut his fucking heart out with your knife.  Where should I send it?  Tell me who you work for when you aren't freelancing."

 "Eddie Royals."

 "Tell Eddie to check his mail in a day or two.  I am going to be sending Eric's heart to  him."

 I looked at the thug for a response.  "Yes sir I understand."

 "You tell Eddie this is business now but if he lets any more of his people come to this town it will be personal with me and him, understand?"

 "Yes sir."

 "If you feel you should warn Eric do it, but I will hunt his ass down to the ends of the earth.  He is a dead man so get your money from him and get out of town.  If I see you before you get out of town you are dead."

 "We are going to be gone just as soon as you take that knife away from my throat."

 I noticed for the first time that a crowd had gathered.  I moved off the thug.  He pulled himself up, then helped his friend struggle to their car.  I watched as they drove slowly out of the parking lot.

 "Linc you bleedin’ bad.  I better call you an ambulance."

 "No thanks, E I will drive myself.  I could use a towel though."  He went inside for a cloth.  While he was gone, the realization of how close I had come to dying hit me.  I made it to the edge of the parking lot before I heaved the morning coffee.  I respond like that to life threatening situations.

 With the towel wrapped around my arm I drove the twenty or so miles to the Williams hospital.  My jeep and my clothes were covered with blood when I arrived in the hospital emergency room.  I was weak from blood loss.  I was in such bad shape that I didn't even have to answer the insurance questions.

 The doctor began working on the rather large nasty cut on my arm.  He stitched it for me then gave me a pint of blood.  He could have sucked that much up from the floor of the jeep.  He was still trying to convince me to stay when I wrote a check for the treatment and walked out.  I still looked like a mean plant worker but I felt some better.  I had spent the better part of the afternoon resting.  I was sure I had given Eric enough time to get his shit and leave.  

 "I drove to his apartment with my left arm in a sling.  If he hadn't left town, I was likely to get shot.  His car was gone but that is how I would lay an ambush.  I didn't think he was that smart but I also didn't like mistakes, especially ones that might cost me my life.  I circled his house checking it for movement at the windows.  I circled it twice but couldn't tell anything.

 I finally just kicked in the back door.  I didn't much care if the neighbors called the police or not.  I had given them a statement at the hospital but everyone knew it was crap.  They would be expecting a body and if Eric were home they were going to get either mine or his.  He wasn't home.  I searched the house but could find no tape.  I tore the place apart the way they do in the movies.  I was leaving him a message just in case he returned.  It didn't appear that I would ever get a copy of that tape.

 I used the phone to explain to Skip.  I gave him a little background on Eric and Holly.  I explained that I wouldn't be seeing the former Mrs. Anders till tomorrow.  He agreed that he would prefer to wait rather than have Sandy do the interview.

 I made it to Melvin's garage before I came close to fainting.  Melvin and most of the town had heard about the fight in the parking lot.  His only comment was that my jeep looked like I had slaughtered a hog in it.  He had one of his underlings drive me home.  They could put the jeep through his boat wash.  I high pressure hot water was for the inside of boats.  He also had a wet vacuum to get the water out of the inside.

 When  I got home, Helen came to my house.  "What the hell is going on around here?"

  "Nothing, I must be slowing down some.  I actually got cut by a rank amateur."

 "That's not exactly what I heard."

 "Well don't believe everything you hear.  Helen you are going to have to forgive me.  I am falling asleep on my feet.  I have to lie down."

 She helped me to the bed.  Then she took my prescription.  She called her druggist friend.  She read him the information and demanded that he deliver it.  He agreed but told her it would be after five.  Since it was almost five, she agreed.  Then she pulled a chair up to the front window.

 "Helen what are you doing?"

 "I can do anything I need to do right here.  I want to see who comes up.  I also want to make sure you sleep.  Now go to sleep."

 I would have argued with her if I thought it would do any good.  Instead I drifted off to sleep.  Sometime later I was vaguely aware of Helen waking me to take a pill.  Later still I almost heard the phone ring.  I did hear Helen shouting.

 "You slimy son of a bitch how dare you call here.  You damned right he is going to kill your sorry ass.  If I could, I would help him.  What in the name of God were you thinking."  She listened for a while then said.  "Leave me your number and I will have him call when he wakes up.  You think you can  hide for Linc.   You are a stupid ass.  I'll tell you what.  If I were you, I would book a ticket to hell cause that will be your next trip."  She paused a while longer then spoke again.  "Do I think you have a chance?  Yeah about one in a million."

 "Helen, who the hell are you talking to?"

 "Hold on," she said into the phone.  To me she said, "Eric the ass peddler.  He wants to talk to you."

 I took the phone from her.  "Eric, I hope this is good cause you woke me up."

 "Linc, I'm sorry that was a stupid thing for me to do.  I don't know why I did it.  Please don't kill me."

 "Eric, you punched your own ticket when you sent those goons after me.   You are on my hunt down a list.  As a matter of fact you are the only living person on it.  I see you made it as far as Atlanta.  I am going to be coming after you in a day or two.  I would tell you to relax but I am going to cut your heart out while you are still alive you piss ant."

 "I'll do anything, pay anything, just don't kill me."

 "I'll tell you what I will do for you,  I will drop you off my hunt list and put you on my kill on sight list.  You and your two friends can share that list.  If you do a couple of things for me."

 "If I stay out of town and don't come near you, then you won't kill me?"

 "That's right.  I caution you.  It is your only chance to live.  If anyone else so much as gives me a dirty look, I am going to be coming for you."

 "Okay I agree."

 "Not so fast there are a couple of things I want from you.  First of all I want a tape."

 "What tape?"

 "You know what tape.  Mail it to me right this minute."

 "You mean "Confessions of a stripper.""

 "Of course I do."

 "I'll mail it as soon as I hang up.  What else."

 "I want you to sign over your club to a friend of mine."

 "I paid fifty grand for that club."

 "Ask Eddie Royals how much it's worth to a dead man.  Also ask him, if he intends to send an army with you to run it.  That's what it's going to take."

 "I'll have to think about it."

 "You do that.  Sleep well."

 Instead of hanging up the phone, I dialed the number of the Elms.  When Thelma answered, I asked to speak to Jed.  "Jed have you got any friends in Atlanta."

 "Sure, me and E got a cousin down there."

 "Has he got some friends.  I need a message delivered."

 "He got some bad assed friends.  What you need bro?"

 "Eddie Royals, a small time hood, is hiding Eric the ass peddler.  I just want to let him know he ain't hid all that well.  And Jed I need it by morning."

 "That’s pretty quick but I think I can do it.  This squares us?"

 "This squares us and then some."

 "Naw man, Eric the Ass peddler ain't worth a week of my life, let alone two years."

 "Well as far as I am concerned, I will still owe you one.  Let me know what this costs."

 "Ain't gonna cost you nuthin’.  I pay my bills.  My mama taught me that much."

 "She taught  you right."

 "So now you got poor old Jed on your side."

 "No, he is just paying off a bill."


 When I awoke next morning, I found Helen asleep beside me.  I tried to get up without waking her but couldn't.  I moaned too loud from the pain.  She was awake instantly.  She helped me to the bathroom.  She also handed me two small white pills.  I was in such pain that I took them before I brushed my teeth.  I was about to throw up but managed to fight it.

 I made it to the deck even thought the sun was already up.   I sat very still and waited to gain control of the pain.  It took several minutes but I became accustomed to the pain.  Helen brought coffee.   She looked concerned till I explained that I had control of it now.  I assured her that I would be fine.

 We sat there not speaking for a long time.  She finally broke the silence. "Are you really going to kill those men on sight?"

 "If I see them, it means they have come for me again and yes I am going to kill them before they kill me."

 "Then you need to carry this."  She handed me Sally .380 automatic.  "I know you think it is a sissy gun but it will do the job."

 "Thanks,"  I said moving it into the sling.  I made myself a mental note to check it out before I left the house.  

 We had three cups of coffee before the phone rang.  I could hardly hear the mumbles.  "Who is this?" I asked.

 "Eric," the voice mumbled.  

 "I guess you thought over my proposal."

 "Yeah,"  I could barely make out the voice.

 "I guess my message arrived."

 "Yeah," he managed, "They said they would kill me except they were saving me for the slaughter.  I want this to stop.   Who do I sign the club over to?"

 "The Bartender, Honey.  You can work out a sale from profit deal with her.  Eric make it fair or I will be pissed.  Now is the tape on the way?"


 "Good, stay away from this state and chances are I will never see you.  If I see you then I am going to assume you came to kill me and I am going to kill you first."

 "I understand he mumbled."

 "Did my friends break your jaw?"


 "I guess I am going to have to send them a bonus.  Is Eddie with you."


 "Let me talk to him."  I waited till Eddie came on the phone.

 "This is Eddie."

 "Eddie this is business between us right now.  If it stays that way, we are fine.  If not then, people are going to die."

 "I don't like being threatened, you two bit small town hero."

 "Then send some more of you boys.  They might take me since I am hurt.   I should warn you I have lots of friends.  Some worse than the ones Eric met last night."

 "There you go again threatening me."

 "Okay you want to make it personal, then it is personal."

 "Hey  I didn't say that.  I just want you to know you don't scare me."

 "I'll make a note of it.  Oh Eddie, you need to retrain your monkeys."  He slammed the phone down.

 "Is he going to send more killers?"

 "I think most of that talk was for Eric's benefit.  Eddie will send them, if Eric has the money to pay them.  I don't think he does."

 "Is that why you wanted his club."


 By noon I felt much better even though my arm was a lot less useful than I would have liked.  Sarah Lee came by to check on me.  She took a good look then said, "I knew I should have raped you last night.  Now I'm going to have to wait a week or more."

 "The way I feel right now, more seems to be a better estimate."

 "Well I got a couple of days off, can I drive you around or something."

 "You didn't take time off to baby sit me did you?"

 "No, it is the long break before I begin the third shift.  I am still assigned to the lab so even when I go back, I won't be doing much.  Come on Linc, let me help you.  It would be a real learning experience for me."

 "Not to mention scoring points with the other officers?"

 "Not to mention,  besides it is better than sleeping with them."

 "You got a point there.  Tell you what, I did promise to go see Leland’s Ex.  You want to drive me to the mall?"

 "Sure but the price will be lunch."


 Sarah Lee drove to the Elms for lunch before we headed to the mall.  Jed was working but he seemed reluctant to talk in front of Sarah.  I excused myself, then walked to the phone.  Jed came over and asked me if I heard from Eric.  I told him that I had.  I also told him that I still wanted to pay his cousin and friends.

 "No way, my mama practically raised Sammy.  When I told him, who it was for and why he had a fit.  He was tickled to talk to Eric the ass peddler.  I think he's gonna come up here to meet you.  It would be nice, if you said, thank you, personal."

 "That would truly be my great pleasure."

 I ordered hot dogs for lunch since I thought I could handle them better.  I gave up on holding them and switched to a fork.  I had to force Sarah Lee to forget about feeding me.

 We found Emma at the boutique after lunch.  She was working on the books when I got her attention.  "My god Linc what happened to you?"

 I recognized her but had never really spoken to her before.  It seemed that everyone knew me.  "I was looking into your husband’s death and someone tried to prevent it.  At least that is what I think."

 "You mean that hussy tried to kill you too."

 "No, this was Eric.  You know from the club."

 "You mean the ass peddler.  I know of him.  After Leland and I divorced, he was lonely.  He spent a great deal of time and money in that club."

 Even though Sarah Lee pretended to look at clothes, she was all ears.  

 "That's what I was led to believe.  I have a couple of questions for you.  They aren't going to be easy but I don't know any other way to ask."

 "You go right ahead.  If it will help put that women away, it will be worth it."

 I gotta tell you the truth Emma.  I am working for her defense attorney.  I  hope that won't make any difference."

 "I have to admit that I would prefer you working for the DA, but since they haven't bothered to visit me, I will talk to you."

 "Good,  Like I said this is going to be hard.  Here goes.  Was Leland ever abusive, I mean physically?"

 "Lord no.  He was a lamb.  I think I needed a whack on the bottom once in a while but he wasn't the kind of man to hit a woman.  Did that whore tell you he beat her?"

 "Not really.  Let me ask you another question.  Did Leland have any sexual problems when you were married?"

 "If you mean could he get it up, the answer is yes.  If you mean did he satisfy me?  The answer is no."

 "If it isn't too personal why was that."

 "Damn Linc, it is personal.  If I keep talking about this, I may have to take you home.  The problem with Leland was that he was kind of quick on the trigger if you know what I mean."

 I nodded.  I didn't want to tell her that I had already heard that."

 "One more question Emma.  Did Leland like his sex rough.  I mean, did he ever hurt  you while having sex?"

 "Leland wasn't that big.  Oh I see you mean, did he hit on me and stuff? ."

 "Right, did he?"

 "Lord no.  Leland’s idea of sex was to roll on top me and pump for about two minutes, nothing more but sometimes less."

 "Thank you Emma."

 "I hope that was of some help.  Not to get the slut off, but to kill her story."

 "Fortunately someone else makes that decision not me.  I just write down what you tell me and give it to Skip."

 She invited me over for dinner one night and I accepted.  I told her that if I hadn't called in a week to call me.  I should be finished with this cap. by then.  She laughed and told me that she wouldn't forget even if I did.

 I walked out of her store with the impression that she was going to hold me to that dinner.  I was surprised to find that not only didn't I mind.  I was looking forward to it.

 Outside Sarah Lee asked, "Well what did we learn?"

 "You should know I can't answer that.  I might have a week ago, but not after Jake put one in me."

 "I would never do that," she said.

 I laughed.  Sure you would, if the price were right, anyone would.  I just thought Jake's price would be higher.

 "Okay where to next master?" she asked with a smile.

 "I need to make a couple of pictures.  You want to run back by the house and pick up the jeep.  Could  you drive it?"

 "I could but I would rather drive my own car."

 "I'm sure, but your car doesn't have a radio.  I need to stay in touch with Helen."

 "Is what I heard about the two of you true?"

 "That depends on what you heard."

 "I heard that the two of you were lovers once."

 "That's true."

 "I also heard she threw you over for a Frenchman."

 "She was once married to a frog all right."

 "I also heard she came to stay with you when she returned from Paris."

 "Yep, brought her new hubby with her."

 "I'll bet you loved that? "

 "Oh it wasn't all that bad.  I mean if you don't mind listening to someone else make love in the next room."

 "Oh god, did they have to listen to you?"

 "Not likely, I don't get around as much as folks think."

 "You say no much too often."

 "Yeah but sex leads to complications between otherwise friends.  I mean it is hard to respect someone once you have seen them naked.  It becomes too intimate somehow."

 "I never heard that before."

 "I don't usually discuss my sex life with people.  Let's get a move on.  I need to go shoot a picture for the front of a church bulletin."

 We stopped in the office.  I introduced Helen to Sarah and left them alone for a while.  I had to go sit down for a few minutes by myself.  I felt rocky and wanted to spend a few minutes getting myself together.

 Half hour later I returned to the office to find them comparing notes on girly things.  I managed to drag Sarah away.  As we drove toward the First Baptist Church, Sarah said, "I can see why you were involved with her.  If I were into women, I would give her a hard look.  She is sweet, sexy, and smart as  hell."

 "I know."

 "Why don't you two get together again?"

 "That ship already sailed.  Maybe it will happen someday but not anytime soon."

 We had arrived at the church before I finished.  I took a good look at the church then decided which angles to use.   I shot ten exposures of the church then returned to the jeep.  When I arrived, I found Sarah on the radio talking to Helen. She handed me the radio without a word.

 "Helen, you got something for me."

 "Roger that, Sandy called.  She said to remind you that the three of you have a date.  Whatever that means?"

 "Secret stuff.  Call her for me and tell her I'll be at her place at six."


 "What was that all about?" Sarah Lee asked.

 "I promised to be Sandy's mother's dinner date tonight.  I actually had forgotten.  Since there is nothing for me to do till I receive a package in the mail, I might as well go through with it."

 "You could take me to dinner since I have been driving you around all day."

 "You should be having dinner with someone your own age.  I'm past too old for you."

 "I don't think that is something you should decide."

 "I'm sorry.  You are absolutely right.  Tell you what.  If you would like, I will take you to dinner tomorrow night.  I'll even let you pick the place.  That is if it isn't too high classed.  Everyone knows all my class is second."

 She laughed and agreed.  I had no idea what she would choose but I really didn't care all that much.

 "Can we invite Helen and Wendy?"

 "Sure why not?"

 Helen called on the radio before we could get to the studio.  "Linc,  could you swing by 601 Elm st.  The lady there needs a picture of a birthday party."

 "Sure what time?"

 "Right now actually."

 "Talk about waiting till the last minute.  Okay we are on our way."

 The address was an office building.  The workers had gotten together and hired a belly dancer for the boss's birthday.  They wanted a shot of him dancing with her.  I made a half dozen shots.  While I was shooting, the dancer asked if I could wait for her outside.  Sarah and I sat in the jeep waiting for the dancer.

 "Hi there,"  The voluptuous blond said as she approached my jeep.

 "Yes ma’am, can I help you with something?"

 "Actually I was hoping we could work out something to help both of us."

 "I'm all ears."  I said smiling.

 "I have been offering my clients a Polaroid shot of the dance.  If your shot is really good, I might want to arrange something with you.  Could you send me a copy of the shot you just made?"

 "Sure give me six bucks and your address.  I can have it in the mail next week.  If you like it, we can work out a deal."

 "If I like it how much will it cost me to get shots made at these things?"

 She didn't run away screaming so I figured we might have a chance.  I watched her walk away.  She was a just little chubby.  A lot of belly dancers were I had heard.

 "You certainly have an interesting job," Sarah commented.

 "Not usually," I stated flatly.

 When we arrived at the studio, I noted the van parked in the studio lot.  Sarah Lee and I entered the rear door of the studio.  It was a little tricky since there were two men hooking up a machine in the office.  

 "The slide processor?"  I asked one of the installers.

 "Yes sir.  There isn't much to hooking it up.  It should be ready to go in an hour or so."

 I nodded.  "Helen I have everything ready to go on the church and birthday party.  I think I will process this last roll by hand.  I want to see that monster work before I trust it."

 I thanked Sarah for her driving then left her with Helen while I went to process my film.  While it was in the drying cabinet, I showered and dressed for dinner.  I dressed of dinner in a pair of khaki pants and white shirt.  It was my compromise outfit.

 When I went to my deck to kill a half hour I noticed that Sarah Lee's car and the installers van were both gone.  I sat down in the shade with my ice tea.  I watched the rear of the studio expecting any minute to see Helen.  Since she didn't come out, I walked to the Ford convertible and drove out of the parking lot.

 I arrived at Sandy's town house a couple of minutes after six.  I was greeted at the door by a vintage copy of Sandy thick glass and all.  "Hi you must be Sandy's mother?"

 "I am but I really prefer Adriane."

 "Really, I would have thought it too long a name but then who am I to say."

 "Some people call me Ada."

 "Well if you don't mind I will too."

 She laughed and invited me in.  Sandy came down wearing a simple little black dress that did a lot for her figure.  It was hard to tell which was the more attractive.  Sandy had the age advantage and all the things that go with it.  But Ada had the softer and larger body.  They both were appealing, each in her own way.

 Dinner was interesting.  I expected another man to join us somewhere along the way.  I was mistaken I was dating both of them.  Sandy looked as though she could have been our daughter till we got up to dance.  She danced much to close for a child.  The two of them seemed perfectly comfortable with the arraignment but it made me nervous as hell.

 During dinner I learned that Ada was also a lawyer.  She was employed by the state in some capacity or other.  She had something to do with real estate.  During the conversation she asked for a business card.  I explained that I seldom carried cards.  She wrote my office number on a piece of paper.  It seems the state often used photography in its land acquisition.  She would try to throw me some business when she got back to her office.

 "Gee that would be great.  Dinner is tax deductible now," I stated.

 Ada laughed but Sandy didn't see the humor.  We talked about small town life.  Ada was convinced she would go mad in a town this size.  Sandy agreed since she really didn't like our town much.  

 I seemed to be the only one who actually liked small town life.  We didn't see eye to eye but we could all appreciate the others' view.  There wasn't enough culture in the small town for either of them.

 "Tell me Sandy, why did you take a job in this town, if you feel that way.  Surely there were other options."

 "Sure there were, as a public defender or in the  prosecutor’s office.  That was about it."

 "That's not true Linc," her mother said.  "She could have gone to work for the state."

 "Yes mother, I know you could have gotten me a job with the state."  She stopped long enough to make a child's face.  "Linc, some day I want to be like you,"

 "You want to pee standing up?"

 Even Sandy laughed.  "No I want to be in business for myself.  I need experience before I try that.  Skip practices all kinds of law.  I can learn a lot from him."

 "If you can keep his hands off your ass,"  I ventured.

 "I see you know Skip."

 "Oh yeah."

 "Baby," Ada said.  "If this is true, we can sue his ass."

 "Now that would really get me a  higher standing in the legal profession.  No thanks mother, besides he has never really grabbed my ass.  I just have to remind him that we are both professionals and nothing more."

 "Yeah Skip and my ex have something in common.  A lousy memory.  She forgot she was married and Skip forgets he isn't God's gift to women."

 "Skip really isn't a bad man.  He is just a man." Sandy said.

 "Now that is a truly philosophical statement," I said meaning it.

 Whefty charge for dinner.  

 The message light was blinking furiously on Sandy answering machine.  The message was from Skip.  He called a  half hour before we arrived.  It seemed that the son of a prominent family was cooling his heals in the drunk tank.  He had been arrested for DUI.  Skip had gone to witness the Breathalyzer test but didn't want to wait till the kid had spent the mandatory four hours sobering up.  He was requesting that Sandy go to the jail and pick the kid up.  He knew she didn't run a taxi but he was the son of a wealthy client.   

 The kids four hours would be up at one a.m.  Sandy went upstairs cursing.  She would have to change before she went into the jail.  She hated  this part of being in private practice.  I understood how she felt.  I often had to shoot pictures that I found demeaning.  The belly dancer was a good example of that.

 Sandy insisted that I stay till she got back from the jail.  I could keep her mothers’ company.  I tried to object on the grounds that it would be too late but she insisted.  I really didn't have anything else to do so I let her talk me into it.

  Once Sandy had gone her mother said, "Linc, do you mind if I put on something a little less demanding than this dinner dress.  These things look good but feel terrible."

 "No problem,  You would look just as great in jeans."

 "I am going to take that as a compliment."

 "I hope so that is how it was intended."

 She gave me a drink before she left.  I had a cigarette lit before she got out of the room.  I was smoking way too much these days.  When she came down the stairs, I realized she was a flat knock out.  Her hair was no longer in the fashionable do.  It was long and thick and hung to her shoulders.  She was wearing a gown that was probably see through.  I couldn't really tell since she was also wearing a robe that wasn't.

 She recovered her drink and sat across from me on the sofa.  The robe fell open at the top.  I had been right about the gown.  I could see almost all her breasts.  The cleavage spilled out of her gown in an alarming amount.  The cut of the gown barely covered her nipples.  Fortunately there were roses on the bodice of her gown which barely managed to  hide them from view.  

 Ada saw me looking and smiled.  She also crossed her legs causing the bottom of the robe to fall from her body.  It did little good since it was open now all the way.  I could see the long gently curve of her legs.  They were clearly visible all the way to her waist.  The see through gown had bunched at her hips hiding what little there was left to hide.

 "Ada, you should really be comfortable in that outfit.  Of course now I am uncomfortable."

 Ada laughed pleasantly.  “I love your honesty.  It makes everyone around you want to be just as honest."  She paused for effect.  "Frankly Linc,  that was the plan.  To make you uncomfortable."

 "Well it was a good one, since it worked so well."

 "Why don't you come over here and make me uncomfortable for a while?"

 "I don't think that would be a very good idea.  I have to work with Sandy often.  I don't think she would appreciate me making a pass at her mother."

 "Are you kidding, all this was her idea remember?  She can hardly complain if her plan succeeds better than she expected."

     I decrn.  I had promised to stay till she returned and I intended to do just that.

 She arrived around three.  "I can't believe that little twit.  He insisted that I take him to the impound lot for his car.  I swear I could have beat the ship out of him.  He treated me like on of the household servants.  God I hate small town big shots."

 I handed her a drink.  "Rough night huh?"@

 "You bet."

 "Well I think I better take off."

 "Please stay and talk to me a while.  I won't be able to sleep I am so wound up."

  "Okay for a couple of minutes."  

 She stopped ranting long enough to plop down on the sofa.  She was sitting in the same spot as her mother.  She of course was in a business suit instead of a see through gown  This I was sure I could handle.

 "Linc, how did you like my mother?"

 "Very much as a matter of fact."

 "Did she seduce you while I was gone?"

 I could see the look on her face and knew I couldn't lie to her.  "As a matter of fact someone did the seduction.  I'm not  real sure who."

 "I am.  My mother is dynamite at that kind of thing."  She paused and looked into her drink.  "Linc, I am going to ask you something that is really going to sound weird."

 "Not too weird I hope?"

  "Pretty weird.  I have always been in my mother's shadow.  I mean she has always been better at everything.  I am really tired of losing to her."

 "I can understand that but I don't see where that involves me."

 "I would like to sleep with you.  I want to do it to prove that I am as attractive and sexy as my mother. "

 "Sandy I would sleep with you in a minute, any other time.  I will do it tomorrow or next week but not tonight.  That would be a little too strange for even me."

 "But you do want to sleep with me?"

 "Of course I do."

 "I'm going to hold you to that."

 "You are supposed to hold me to it."

 I stayed only a few minutes longer then left for home.  I arrived tired but not really knocked out.  I stopped the convertible closer to the house than the carriage house.  I noticed Sarah Lee's car parked in the studio lot.  I went carefully to my house and climbed the stairs.  She was nowhere to be found.  

 I looked across the parking lot at the main house.  There were no lights other than the small night light Helen left burning in the upstairs hallway.  There were a couple of possibilities  none of which I wanted to pursue at the moment.

 The next morning Sarah's car was still in the parking lot.   I sat on the deck drinking coffee waiting for the sun to rise.  The rear door of the house opened and Sarah Lee emerged.  She carried a serving platter as she made her way to the deck.

 "Well good morning," she said.

 "Good morning yourself.  Come on up and enjoy the sunrise."

 Helen approached from the studio as Sarah returned with a cup of coffee.  "Good morning Helen."

 "Good morning Linc.  This isn't how it looks."

 "Oh how does it look?"

 "You know damned well how it looks.  Sarah came to see you last night.  When you didn't get home by midnight I let her use the guest room."

 "That's how it looked to me.  What were you afraid I might think?"

 "You know what you think about me and Erlene.  I just figured you would think the same about me and Sarah."

 "I probably would have knowing her  I wouldn't blame either of you since I am not interested in her."

 "Look Linc, I really don't like women.  Sure Erlene and I made it once for the son of a bitch frog but that was the only time."

 "You don't  mean to tell me that you didn't enjoy it."

 "I didn't say that.  I just am not interested in the life style that goes with it."

 "I can understand that."

 There must have been a plan since Sarah had returned to the coffee pot and stayed till Helen went in after her.  I sat alone for a few minutes to wait for the sun.  They returned together and sat beside me on the east facing bench.  We chatted while the sun rose.

 "The kids must be home from camp since Mrs. Wilson isn't out swimming,"  I said.

 "Looks like," Helen responded.  She then explained Mrs. Wilsons swimming attire or lack there of, to Sarah.  Sarah Lee thought it was kind of cute.  I told her that I thought Mrs. Wilson was kind of cute.

 It was one of those morning with no appointments.  We sat outside till the sun became to hot then Helen returned to her studio.  Sarah Lee and I drove to the Elms for lunch.  

 This was E's day to work the lunch crowd.  Thelma took our order, while E ignored both Sarah and I.  I made a mental note to find out what E had against Sarah.  It knew it would be real and pretty bad since E liked everybody.

 After lunch we drove to the post office.  I removed the note from my post office box along with a handful of bills.  I retrieved the package from the post office counter and headed home with it.

 Once home I explained to Sarah that I couldn't let her watch the tape.  She went into the studio in a huff.  I watched her twitch her tail as she walked.  She was a sexy lady but I had no desire for her at all.

 I made sure the doors were locked and the shades drawn when I started the tape.  The tape wasn't a studio tape.  It was more like a well made home movie.  The lighting was pretty good but not perfect and there weren't enough camera's to really do it justice.

 It began with a man's voice over Holly’s strip act at the club.  He was talking about how the women who undressed for money were different from other women.  He made reference to strange desires that other women suppressed.  These women didn't suppress them at all.  They gloried in them.

 The next shot was Holly in her dressing room.  She was more or less giving an interview.  Every time she would mention some quirk there would be tape footage to illustrate it.  There were plenty of quirks.  Wade appeared in most of the examples.

 Finally she mentioned she had recently gotten married.  According to her she had a hard time at first convincing her husband to do some of the more bizarre things she liked.  He was still uncomfortable doing some of them but she had convinced him to try.  

 She explained how she had convinced Leland to beat her.  According to Holly it was the best foreplay.  The illustration tapes were the same ones she had shown me.  Evidently the raw unedited tapes were the ones she intended to use to get away with murder.  This tape was the bombshell the prosecution needed to hand her ass to the executioner.

 I called Skip.  "Buddy you got a big problem.  We are going to have to talk you and I."


 "Yeah right now."

 "Well come on over."

 I drove to Skips office.  I brought the tape with me of course.  Once inside his office we hardly spoke till the tape was running.  At first Skip didn't think much of the tape.  After all he said we aren't contesting the fact that she was stripper.

 When it got down to the parts where she described how she got Leland to beat her, he began to squirm.  "This is not good," she said.

 "It's a fucking disaster," I said.

 "Maybe we can handle it."

 "Sure as long as handle doesn't mean suppress it."

 "Maybe we could both develop amnesia."

 "That depends Skip.  Let me ask you straight out.  Are you suggesting that I forget I ever saw this tape."

 "What tape?"

 "Are you serious?"

 "Link if I saw a tape like that I would have to deliver it to the district attorney as a item of disclosure  If I had never seen that tape then I wouldn't be in a position to turn anything over."

 "Skip I'm sorry you feel that way.  I am not going to withhold evidence in a murder case.  There is another way.  The tape has no value if you don't use the tapes the black widow supplied."

 "Without those tapes we have almost nothing."

 "Skip my guess it that Wade never knew about her kinks.  She showed him the tape of Leland beating her and he killed Leland for it.  He hasn't copped to it for the same reason he iced Lelend.  For some reason he thinks he loves the bitch.  Now if you use the tapes she supplied the DA is going to use this one.  Once Wade finds out she set his ass up, he is going to sing.  I'd bet  you last dollar on it."

 "I could have all the tapes suppressed as not evidentiary.  Without the first to stand alone I have nothing anyway."

 "Exactly,  Let the bitch stand on what she can convince a jury of without the tapes."

 "Dammit Linc without those tapes I am back to square one."

 "I have already told you.  Have her cop a plea before the boyfriends starts to talk."

 "I'll talk to her.  I don't think she will though."

 "That my friend is your problem.  Lest she get some idea about conning you, I have another copy of that tape and I will give it to the DA if you don't"

 "That wasn't necessary Linc.  I am not going to get disbarred for one client.  No matter how much money she offers me."

 "Good Skip, you had me worried for a minute there."  I was still worried.  

 If the black widow could convince Skip to go along with her she might kill me and take the tape.  If she did that she would be clear to continue her defense as before.  I could of course take the tape to Jake right now.  That would get me out from under but I wouldn't know about Skip if I did that.  Besides I worked for him on this one.  I had to give him a chance to work it out on his own .

 I had to force Sarah Lee to go home early that night.  She didn't know anything but she wanted to stay and talk.  She was due back at the station next evening.  I told her to go get some sleep.  She was going to need it.

 Around midnight, when Helen killed the lights in the studio I slipped onto the deck.  I sat in the corner in the shadow of a tree branch.  I kept the .45 colt in my lap and the .380 in my sling.  The .380 was still in the sling because I was too lazy to remove it.

 They came at three am or so.  This time there were three of them.  The walked as quietly as they could beside the house and on toward the carriage house. I heard them long before I saw them.  I heard the rattle of their keys and the huff and puff of their breathing.  They must have parked a block or so away.  They might have come down the alley and been even less noticeable but it was a route that only a local would know.  I was surprised that Holly could get the out of town help here so fast.  They must have left Atlanta the minute I talked to skip."

 One curse softly as he stepped into the parking lot drain.  It was no more than a sunken area in the parking lot to funnel water away.  It was a small drop but anyone expecting the footing to be two inches higher might have fallen.  He probably would have if his friends hadn't caught him.  They made enough racket to bring anyone listening to attention.  Of course at that time no one was listening.  No one except me.  

 Three to one in a gunfight are pretty lousy odds.  I waited to see what advantage I could get.  They weren't expecting me to be awake.  This was going to be dicey but then again most of my life was.

 One of them stayed at the foot of the stairs and faced out toward the parking lot.  The other two climbed the steps.  I guess they thought they were pretty silent.  Of course they made enough noise to wake the dead.

 I saw immediately that they both had guns drawn.  I waited till one was bent picking the lock.  I carefully aimed and shot the one standing behind him.  I waited till the other one turned.  Not to five him a chance but to get a shot at the wider part of his body since I couldn't aim this time.  I fired two rounds into him and he went down backwards across his dead partner.  I moved along the back rail staying in the shadows.  I managed to put sixteen feet between me and my original position.  I was still inside the deep shadows.  I looked over the rail from my position prone on the deck.  I couldn't see the third man.  I didn't figure that he ran away so I waited.  Lack of patience in an ambush gets more men killed than any other one thing.  Except the actual bullet that does them in.  

 I out waited him.  He couldn't find me any more than I could find him.  I didn't figure he would try climbing the stairs or for that matter any of the legs of the deck.  I waited to see what he would do.  I could wait longer than he , since someone by now would have called the police.  The minutes seemed like hours till I heard the first siren.

 When the sound reached us he broke from cover and headed toward the street.  I aimed carefully and pulled the trigger.  He went down.  I could tell that I hadn't aimed well enough since he was still alive.

 For the first time I left the shadows to check on the two men by my door.  I felt the pain in my chest before I heard the report of the weapon.  I knew I had been had.  I was hit bad.  Of course there is no such thing as hit good.  The forty five was gone in the dark.  I crawled back into the shadows and tried to keep conscious.  If there were time the shooter would be coming for me.  He knew I was down but not dead.  I waited for the shooter to come to me.  He never did.

 I heard the cops arrive in the parking lot.  I put the .380 away and waited.  I recognized the first cop up the stairs as a kid new to the department.  I made a noise so he could hear me then passed out.

 I awoke in the hospital.  I was thinking about asking for a time card.  I had spent so much time here recently that I should be an employee by now.  The nurse was standing over me.  

 "Hi there," she said.  "How do you feel Mr. Jefferson."

 She looked much too young to be taking care of anyone.  I was impressed with her beauty but I was more concerned with my condition.  I  tried to move and found that I couldn't.  I had been taped so tightly that my body refused to move against it.  "I feel like I have been shot.  Where did I take it."

 "You should really wait and talk to the doctor about this."

 "I asked you a pretty simple question ma’am.  I really just want to know where I took the slug."

 "You were shot on the upper left side of your chest.  The bullet broke a couple of ribs  and punctured  your lung.  You were in surgery for five hours but they seem to have fixed you up pretty good.  At least you are still alive."

 "How long have I been  here?"

 "Three days.  We were beginning to wonder when you would wake up."

 "Is there a policeman on the door."

 "As a matter of fact there is.  I have orders to notify the police when you awake.  I can stall that for a while if you need some more rest."

 "Plenty of time to rest when I'm dead.  Get me the cop on the door please."

 She went outside and invited Ed into the room.  "Hi Ed,"  I said weakly.

 "Hello Linc, I never thought I would see you take a round."

 "I did something really stupid."

 "You got three of them."

 "I know but there were more I didn't see.  I have been too long out of the jungle.  I have been kidding myself."

 "I'm supposed to call the chief when you wake up.  I can put it off if you want to rest some more."

 "Thanks Ed but answer one question for me then you can call the chief."

 "Sure anything I can."

 "Did they figure out who the forth man was yet?"

 "Nope,  best we can tell it was someone with a scope on a deer rifle.  You are lucky it wasn't a bigger bore."

 "What was it .30/30."

 "Looks like,  If it had been a ,306 you might be dead."

 "Probably,  they have any idea who it was."

 "Word is some dude in Atlanta.  Probably more messages from Eric the ass peddler."

 "Could be."  I noticed the flowers for the first time.  There must have been a couple of dozen bunches in the room.  "Where did all the flowers come from."

 "Hell all different kinds of people.  One is even from the governor's office."

 "I can't imagine why."

 "Sure you can.  He is a fan of yours."

 "Hell I don't even know who the governor is these days."

 "You are kidding?"

 "The hell I am."

 "Well Governor Trout sure as hell knows you.  At least someone does.  Most of them are from friends of yours."

 "Ed I don't have any friends."

 "Sure you do.  You just never needed them before.  Here,"  he said handing me a stack of cards.  "The little ones came from the flowers the big ones are get well cards.

 A lot of the legal eagles sent flowers.  I got a bunch from the Elms.  Sarah Lee sent flowers as well as Sandy's mother.  There were even cards from a couple of my brides.  It was quite unexpected.  I mean it all was unexpected and even a little frightening.  I had always considered myself a loner and now I had to consider that my actions might effect others.  It was a strange feeling.  People had been telling me for years that I was somebody but I always thought they were just being nice to me.

 The chief of police came himself to take my statement.  I explained as best I could that I had done a stupid thing.  Not having been in the war he didn't understand.  In an ambush you wait out everybody.  You have a fall back position just in case there are more enemy waiting for you to start home.  I had fallen for an old trick.  Ambush the ambushers.

 Of course he asked me the obvious question.  "Why were you sitting alone on the deck armed to the teeth?"

 "I am paranoid," I explained.  "When I can't sleep I set on the deck.  I am always armed to the teeth after dark."  It was lame and we both knew it.  He was going to play hell trying to find a jury who would convict me.  Hell he couldn't even get the DA to listen to anything bad at the moment.  

  Ed had let me read the local paper.  They were playing it up big.  Local boy stops mafia hit team.  The chief and I both knew that I was lucky to be alive.

 "Do you think they are still after you?"

 "No, I think they will leave me alone now."  If he believed that he probably had a couple of those Florida lots.  You know the ones where you buy a chunk of the everglades before the housing development is started.

 "Well I really need Ed back on patrol.  If you think it is okay I am going to pull him off you."

 "Sure chief.  I think that would be a swell idea."  I knew he was dumber than he looked.  Who ever shot me was free and would no doubt try again.  "Chief has anyone been through my place yet?"

 "What do you mean?"

 "I think they not only came to kill me they also came for something I have.  I wish you would have someone check to see if my place has been searched."

 "I'm sure we would have been notified if it had."

 "Oh by who.  I mean I am in the hospital and I doubt Helen has been in there everyday.  Would you please have someone drop by and check for me.  I would feel a lot better."

 "Actually you partner Helen is spending the nights with our policewoman.  She was pretty shook up and I can't blame her."

 "Me either she could be mistaken for someone who knows what is going on."  I thought but didn't say.  You sure as hell won't be.

 The chief left leaving Ed on the door till he could determine whether I had been burglarized.  Ed came into the room a couple of hours later.

 "Bad news Linc.  Someone broke into your house and trashed it.  They went through the studio while they were at it.  Helen called it in right after the chief left here."

 I picked up the phone and dialed Helen on her personal line.  "Hello Helen it is me Linc.  You okay ?"

 "Yeah but they sure as hell wrecked this place.  Looks like we are out of business for a while.  I called the insurance company."

 "Do we have anything that can't wait?"

 "We have a wedding coming up this weekend."

 "Can you do it?"

 "If I had a camera I could.  They stole all our cameras.  Even the video equipment."

 "Call Mr. Thomas over in Greensboro.  Order anything you need for the wedding.  I will be home soon and we can go shopping."

 "Linc, this is just awful."

 "I know baby, try to get Sarah Lee to let you stay with her till I get out of here."

 "I am sure I can stay with her.  We need to talk about her."

 "Let's get this mess straight then we can talk."

 "I am coming over there this afternoon.  Can I bring you anything."

 "Yeah call Jed and ask him to get me a piece.  I don't care what it is as long as it's loaded."

 "Are you expecting trouble?"


 Ed left and Helen arrived at the same time.  I knew Ed had stayed longer than the chief had suggested.  He had waited for Helen knowing full well that she would be bringing me the means to defend myself.  I had slept while I waited for Helen.  I knew I couldn't afford to sleep when my protection was gone.

 Helen carried in her oversized purse a .38 Smith and Wesson revolver.  It was too nice a weapon to have been bought on the street.  "Where did you get this?"  I asked as I hid it under the covers.

 "It is from your new friend Jed.  It also comes with a message.  Jed said to tell you that you now owe him one but only if you don't use it.  I'm not real sure I want to know what he means."

 "You don't."

 "I want to talk to you about Sarah Lee,  I know this isn't the best time but I think we need to discuss it now."

 "Can't this wait?"

 "No now is the best time.  I have been staying with Sarah since you got shot.  I am not going to be able to handle the studio while you are out sick.  Sarah want's top come work for us."

 "You are kidding right."

 "No she wants to come work for us."

 "She isn't the first person who wanted to work for us.  I doubt she knows the first thing about photography."

 "She can learn.  Besides she know about the investigation end of the business.  She can help you with that."

 "I do very little of that sort of thing and you know it."

 "You aren't going to be able to do any of it for a while.  She can take care of it till you get better.  I can teach her enough about the photography to get by.  You said yourself that the ability to see the picture is more important than the technical cap."

 "That is true but if you can't get it on film the ability to see a picture is useless."

 "I can teach her all she needs to know for now."

 "Okay why do you really want to hire her."

 "We have gotten close over the last couple of days.  I mean real close."

 "That is no reason to hire her.  She may be using you just to get the job."

 "I know it's possible but I don't care.  I want her safe.  I don't love her or anything I just want her safe.  Like I want you safe."

 "Hell you keep the books so hire her if you think we can afford it."  

 I slept again after Helen left the room.  I woke for dinner.  The food was miserable but I ate it all.  I was napping fitfully again when Skip and Sandy arrived.  

 "You have about ten seconds to tell me all you know Skip or so help me I am going to shoot you."   I didn't show him the pistol.  I didn't have to show it to him."

 "What do you mean?"

 Then I showed him the pistol.  "Listen you little prick.  I have been shot and my place searched.  You and I both know what is behind it.  All I want to know is how deep you are involved."

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

 "Skip listen closely to me.  When I get out of here I am coming for you.  I am going to enjoy watching you die over a couple of days."

 He started to sweat.  Word around town was that I knew a lot about torture and didn't mind using it.  "Okay I talked to the widow after you left.  I don't believe she had anything to do with what happened to you.  I think it was Eric."

 "Skip don't think.  If she didn't call in the dogs, you did.  You better hope it was her."

 He suddenly got brave.  After all Sandy was present.   "Oh yeah what does that mean?"

 "That means I'm going to kill who ever shot me and then who ever paid them to do it.  If it wasn't Holly, then it was you.  Who ever it was is going to pray for death a long time."

 "Are you threatening me?"

 "What does it sound like to you counselor?"

 "It sounds like a threat."

 "Then you are a smart assed lawyer."

 "You should never have made a threat in front of a witness.  I am going to swear out a warrant and see your ass in jail.  Come on Sandy."

 "I came for a visit and I'm not ready to leave yet.  Skip what witness exactly are you talking about."

 "You mean you would lie for him."  he said flinging his arm toward me.

 "Oh yeah."

 Skip stormed from the room.  "Do you think he did call in the dogs?"

 "I doubt it but he is calling who ever did as we speak."

  "Then you are fishing."

 "Something like that."

 "Who ever it is will probably come for you."

 "I expect so."

 "I should really hate you.  I mean you are everything I have been taught to hate.  You are a stupid macho prick.  You have no respect for the law and you are about to get your ass killed."

 "Guilty on all counts counselor."

 She sat on the edge of the bed and leaned forward.  Our lips met in a sweet kiss.  It didn't have the fire of her mothers but it did have a certain depth to it.  "Okay what can I do to help?"

 "For starters try to find out what Skip did after I left his office the day I got shot."

 I slept off and on during the day since I was going to try and stay awake during the night.  I didn't  have a lot of success with the sleep since visitors came and went all afternoon and early into the evening.  I kept the .38 under the sheet and  at every odd sound I slipped my hand under the sheet and held  it.  

 After eight when visiting  hours ended I tried to sit up in the chair but couldn't stand the pain.  I finally fell into the bed exhausted.  I didn't know what time it was or exactly what woke  me at first.  I tried to open my eyes but nothing happened.  I felt a heavy pressure over my face.  I couldn't breath.  It took a split second that seemed like an hour before I realized that someone was trying to suffocate me with a pillow.  

 My guess is that he chose that method so that if the body were discovered it would take sometime to figure the cause of death.  He should have had plenty of  time to make good his escape.  He would have too, if I had panicked  and tried to fight the pillow.  Instead just before losing consciousness I struggled to raised the .38.   I managed to wedge it between us.   He  recognized the feeling of  the barrel against his chest and tried to back away.   Before he could move I pulled the trigger  and blew his pump out.  

 I felt the pressure release instantly.  I also felt him fall across me pinning my arms and chest to the bed.  The pain was unbelievable.  I must have fainted because the next thing  I remembered I was being rolled over.  I thought maybe I was dead but when they rolled me back I saw a black nurse's face smiling at me.  

 "I thought you might wake when we changed your sheets."

  "Did I soil the sheets?"

 "You sho did honey.  They got some other man's blood all over them.  I reckon them Atlanta boys gonna stay home next time.   It be mighty hard to kill a country boy.  Especially you Mr. Jefferson."

 " Not all that  hard,"  I looked and saw her name tag.  She was an aid named Sally. "Miss Sally.  And please call me Linc, Mr. Jefferson was my daddy."

  "I know who your daddy was.  My daddy worked with him in the mill.  They say your daddy was a bad man but I think you be worse."

 "I always heard he was a good man Miss Sally?"

 "I don 't mean bad like mean.  I mean bad like good."

 I was confused but didn't want to admit to it.  "My daddy tells a story about the time your daddy broke of Simon Harris teeth."

 "I hadn't heard that one."

 "Well old Simon told your daddy he was gonna cut him with a knife.  Your daddy says to Simon in front of a dozen people,  "You pull a knife on me Simon it better have a candy handle cause you sure as hell gonna eat  it."   Wouldn't nothin do but old Simon tried.  He pulled that knife.  He also broke off two of his teeth eatin’ it."  Sally began to laugh and the large sound filled the room.  It also alerted the nurse and cop on the door.  The both came into the room.

 "I see  you are awake Mr. Jefferson.  I do  hope you are feeling better."

 "Better than whoever's blood is all over my bed."

 "Yes, well that was an unfortunate incident."

  "That is one way to put it.  I expect the man thought it was a bit more than that.  I have to  wonder what kind of security you have that would allow such a thing to happen ."

  "Mr.  Bernstein our legal officer will be down to see you tomorrow morning.  There are policemen outside the door that wish to speak with you."

 "I really don't feel up to talking right now.  Tell them to come back in the morning.  After all I'm not going anywhere."

 Of course I lost Jed's pistol for the time being anyway.  There was a cop outside the door probably to keep me in.  Nothing happened till after breakfast but then they started to pop.

 Sandy arrived first.  She was my lawyer she informed everyone within earshot.  I didn't mind since I knew things were going to be busy this morning and I could always use the support . Next to arrive was the Williams police detective.  "Mr. Jefferson were you expecting an attempt on your life."

 I looked up at Sandy she shrugged .  "Well detective I had been shot a couple of days ago and the shooter wasn't caught.  I didn't think he would come into the hospital but I also didn't want to take any chances."

 "Let me get this straight you weren’t expecting trouble but you had the .38 just in case."


 "Did you  know the man who tried to off you?"

 "I don't really know.  I never saw his face either before of after.  I passed out after I shot him.   So who was he."

  "Small time Atlanta hood."

 "One of Royal's men?"

 "Don't know about that.  Just that he comes from Atlanta.  I checked with the Greenpoint boys.  Looks like they all came from Atlanta.  He must have been the forth man."

 "I sure hope there wasn't a five and six ."

  "I can understand that.  We are going to leave a man on your door just in case."

 "I certainly do appreciate that.   If there  is anything I can do let me know."

 "There is,  you won't be needing any more guns will you?"

 It was more a statement than a question.  "I guess not."

  "Good.  I'll come back in a day or two for your formal statement but I don't think there will be anything else."  

 After he had gone and before the line of visitors started, I asked Sandy, "So what did Skip have to do with this. "

 "Best I can tell nothing except to till Holly everything.   If she is behind this Skip is feeding her information.  If Eric is then he is making it up as he goes along."

 "Which do you think?"

 "Hard to tell.  It could be Holly or it could be Eric.  Hell it could even be someone else all together."

 "Follow the money.  Those  guys weren't doing this for fun."

  "So who?"

 "Well Holly defiantly would like for me to die.  Skip may be corruptible but I have to be out of the way.  If I am gone then  Eric and Royals have motives.  They can blackmail Holly but only if I die."

 "Why don't you just go to the cops and bail out of this whole thing?"

 "Because it is personal.  If I let them get away with this people will be lined up to take shots at me.  I have more enemies than friends."

 "So what do you do now?"

 "I heal, then I go looking for someone to work on."

 "I don 't eve n want to know what that means."

  I spent three more uneventful days in the hospital.  Then I went back to my apartment .  Sarah Lee was working her notice at the police department.  She worked for them eight hours slept eight hours and watched over me eight.  Helen took a turn during the day.  I ran them both off in the evening.  I stayed away at night and slept during the day.

 Holly was moving toward her day in court and Skip still hadn't turned the tape over to the DA.  He couldn't use the good tapes unless he turned them over to the cops.  If he turned them over he would have to turn over the bad one or I would blow the whistle on him.  I was afraid Skip was waiting for me to die so that he could avoid turning over the bad tape .

 I was impatient to heal but my body didn't care.  I worked out as much as possible but the broken ribs would heal no faster  My arm healed from the knife wound first.  I was able to work it into shape while I waited for the ribs to heal.

 It took me three more weeks before I could even begin to move about freely.  I was still pretty week but on the mend.  I was giving serious thought to my next move when Skip called.  He asked me to come to his office as soon as I could get a round well enough.  

 I drove over that very afternoon.  I had been surprised that no one had made any further attempt on my life.  Skip might hold the answer to all my questions.  I doubted that he would tell me anything.   His questions might have some information buried in them.

 "Link," he said when I entered.  "God it's good to see you up and about."

 "Thanks Skip."

 "Do the cops know any more about who sent those thugs after you ."

 "Actually they are pissed at me.  They didn't get a chance to beat it out of them."

 "Well it is hard to interrogate people you take a dislike to."

 "It was more than a dislike, Skip."

 "I was just kidding.  Lighten up."

 "Easy for you to say."

 "I'm sorry.  I have got some news that might interest you."

 "Really, what news is that?"

 Skip handed me a thick envelope.  I opened it and found a copy of my final bill.  Inside the bill was a thick wad of bills.  I looked up questioningly at Skip.

 "The widow thought you deserved a bonus since you were injured while working for her.  I agreed. "

 "How much?"

 "Five grand."

 "Thank her for me."  I played dumb waiting for what ever the strings were."

 "She hopes you can find it in your heart to forget about that tape."

 "How'd she do it Skip."

 "Do what."

  "Get you to agree to involve yourself in this kind of thing."

 "Money, what else?"

 "Why, you are doing okay.  What do you need money so badly for."  

 "Gambling debts.   I owe some people some big bread.  I can pay or die.  I would rather pay."

 "Did you send the thugs after me?  This is your last chance to avoid the death penalty."

 "No,  you got to believe me I would never do that."

 "No but you would help the black widow get away with murder."

 "It's not the same.  She may get convicted even with those tapes."

 "Before, I agree to forget the tape,  I want to know who sent the killers to my house.  Tell her that if it were her it would be cheaper to pay me than die.  If I sentence her to death there will be no appeal.  I am willing to listen to an offer.  If she didn't do it then I am going to find out who did.  There are only two other possibilities.  One or both of them will talk."

 "Let me call her right now.  If you don't mind I will call from the other office."

 "Won't Sandy be upset?"

 "Sandy left me right after you got out of the hospital.  Didn't she tell you?"

 "Actually I haven't seen her since I got sprung.  Where is she ."

 "Went home to mama I suppose."

 "Go make your call.  Skip for her sake make sure she tells the truth.   If she did it we can deal.  I just want to make sure nobody else comes after me.  If she didn't then I need to keep looking."

 Skip was gone about ten minutes then returned.  "She swears she didn't have anything to do with the thugs.  The money is yours no matter what.  We both hope you will forget the tape since you found it while working for her."

 "I plan to keep the money.  I also plan to do the right thing.  What that might be, I will leave for you to figure out."  I stood and walked away even though Skip was questioning my departing back.  

 When I got home I began to pack.  I didn't have much pain but I tired easily. I had to rest before I could finish packing the two bags.  I searched the house but couldn't find my shotgun.  I called Helen who informed me that the police chief had confiscated it.  Helen was quite a lady.  I didn't even have to explain why I wanted it.

 I drove my jeep to the local hardware store.  One of the few stores left down town.  I bought a pipe cutter from a man old enough to be my father.  From there I drove out to the mall.  From the K-mart store located in the parking lot I bought a Mossburg 12 gauge pump shotgun.  I also bought a box of buck shot.

 I drove back to my place with three bags in the rear.  I carried everything into the downstairs studio since climbing the stairs tired me out.  I assembled the shot gun then cut the barrel with the pipe cutter.  I left it three quarters of an inch longer than the federal sawed off shotgun law allowed.  The barrel was not about two inches longer than the shell storage chamber.  I didn't bother to install the wooden plug in the chamber.  With the plug the chamber only  held two shells.  Without it the chamber held four.  With one in the firing chamber I had a five round weapon.  More than enough when we are talking 12 gauge.

 I wrapped the shotgun in an old newspaper,  then loaded it and my duffle bag into the jeep.  I had to rest in the parking lot till I caught my second wind.  I was going to be playing hell.   I had no choice.   It was only a matter of time before they came for me again.  I didn't think I could be that lucky again.

 I had called Jed and he gave me the number of his cousin in Atlanta.  After a ten minute rest, I was finally able to drive in that direction.  I drove for two hours then stopped for the night.  I was forced to rest in my room before I could even unload the car.  

 The next morning I completed the drive.   I found Jed's cousin without too much trouble.  I found him sitting in a pool hall.  He almost had to rescue me from the other patrons.

 "Man you be in the wrong place, honkey."

 "Not if this is Zeke's place."

 "You a cop of something?"

 "No man I ain't no cop.  I'm  looking for peanut ."

 "Ain't  nobody here named peanut.  You better jest get your white ass out of here."

 "Thanks for the advice man but I think I'll wait."

 "I reckon you didn't hear me man?"

 The big black man had moved to stand right in my face.  So close I could smell his cigarette breath.   "I heard you friend and you heard me.  Now if there is going to be trouble start it right now.  I don't want to have this conversation all over again twenty minutes from now."

 The reason I didn't want to have it later is I wasn't sure the adrenaline rush would still be available to me.  He either hadn't noticed or didn't care that I had turned sideways to him.  He started the move that would kill one of us.              

    He pwhen I heard a voice behind me.

 "No since killin’ that piece of ship.  Just gonna get you in trouble for nothin.  He ain't gonna be botheren’  you again."

 "Is that right man?  Are going home and forget what just happened."

 "Yeah man, I'm leavin’ jest as soon as you move that pig sticker."

 "Man this ain't no pig sticker.  This here is a slant cutter."   I moved the knife back a couple of inches.  I waited to see if he would move away or come up with the box opening.  If it were the opener I still had a clear shot at his throat.  He chose to move away.  It was a good choice for both of us.

 When he cleared the door, I turned to the small black man who had spoken.  Because of his small size I asked, "You peanut?"

 "Not hardly man.  You be Linc?"

 "That's me."

 "Peanut sent me to get you man.  He be waiting for us in his pad."

 "What do they call you man?"

 "Leroy, they call me Leroy."

 "Well Leroy, we are going to have to wait a minute.  I need to rest before we go anywhere."

 "No problem man.  Peanut told me you been in the hospital."

 I nodded and sat down.  The cold sweat poured from my face.  I could feel it soak through my shirt.

 "You want a drink." Leroy asked.

 "No thanks,  On second thought I could use a glass of water."

 The old black man behind the bar actually placed the water on the bar.  I drank it slowly as my body returned to normal.  At least as close as it could to normal.

 "Okay Leroy,  I think I am ready to go.  I wasn't all that surprised to find my jeep untouched.  It didn't appear to have anything of value inside it.

 I drove and Leroy gave directions.  We parked in front of a high rise building.  The building was on the other end of the spectrum from what I had expected.  This place screamed money.  "Peanut lives here?"

 "I know what you mean this place scares hell out of me.  I expect some white bitch to call the police every time I go into the place.  I don't know why Peanut lives here?"

 "Because he can,  I expect."

 "Yeah,  you probably right."

 I followed him into the building.  He carried my duffle and I carried the sawed off.  It was boxed so that it didn't look so much like a shotgun.  The box was wrapped in newspaper to further disguise it.

 Peanut met us at the door.  He was much larger than Leroy.  Why they called him peanut was a mystery till I saw him reach for a handful of nuts.  He ate them the whole time we talked.  Peanut was probably six four and close to three hundred pounds.  I would hate to go against him even in good condition.  At this moment I wouldn't stand a chance.

 "Boss you should have seen what happened at Zeke's. "

 "What happened Leroy."

 "Why old Jess tried to run Linc here off.  He almost got a second mouth for the effort."

 Peanut looked at me.  Good to know you as bad as Jed says.  I don't like foolin’ with no pussies."

 "God I do."  I said smiling.

 "Well some kinds yeah."  Peanut laughed.  "I hear  you been in the hospital man.  Jed tells me that they almost killed you."

 "Yeah, I fucked up and it almost cost me my life."

 "Jed told me.  You should know to wait for the relief before you move."

 "You been there man?" I asked.

 "Yeah I been there.  Me I want to forget all that ship.  Jed says you don't you still live like you was there."

 "No man, I sleep in a bed."

 "When you sleep, right?"


 "Okay  man,  we done relived old times what you want."


 "I figured.  You sho you don't want me to take care of this for you.  You don't look all that good to me."

 "I'm sure and I don't feel all that good to be honest."

 "Which one you want first."

 "Royals, he has the power.  I cut his ass off first and there is nowhere for Eric to run."

 Peanut turned to Leroy and said, "Gimme."  Leroy handed him a ten dollar bill.  I looked at him with curiosity on my face.

 "We had a bet.  I known you be lookin’ to do Royals."

 "I want to talk to him first.  Where can I get him."

 "No place man.  I mean you can off him but getting him alone to talk to.  That is a problem without a solution ."

 "You know where he lives? "


 "How many night men."


 "How good are they? "

 "Street trash."

 'Then it's doable."

 "You gonna walk in there and do three men.  Then you gonna waltz into Royals apartment and talk to him."

 "Somethin’ like that."

 "I'm gonna come with you just to watch.  I ain't killin’ nobody for you.  Specially not no mafia type."

 "You might have to.  If any of them get away to tell who did it they are gonna finger you.  You either be prepared to kill them or stay home ."

 "You sure enough right about that.  Dead men tell no tales.   Me and Leroy gonna be a weak link in this.  If we talk, you gonna have guineas all over your ass."

 "If I thought you would talk, I wouldn't be here.  Jed tell me you are good so I trust you.  As for Leroy either you vouch for him or I kill him.  Your choice."

 Peanut smiled and Leroy looked nervous.  "You would do that wouldn't you."

 "Sho nuf."

 "Leroy ain't gonna say nothin’ or I'll kill his ass myself.  Ain't that right Leroy."

 "That's right boss." 

 I slept on Peanut's sofa till after midnight.  Then I drank a pot of his coffee.  It was three am when we arrived near the apartment building where Mike Royals occupied a unit on the fifty floor.  We sat in a parking lot half a block away while Peanut described the security.  The man on the desk was Royals man.  He would call the boss's apartment if anyone strange went up.  Of course he would try to stop them himself after he made the call.  He was also supposed to call the apartment before he went to unlock the door.

 "Okay I seen enough let's go back to your place."

 "You give up huh?"

 "Not hardly."

 "You got a plan?"

 "Not one you gonna like."

 The next day around noon we entered the building.  Royals was gone so there was no security.  The desk was unmanned during the daylight hours.  I had expected it would be.  The tenants and workmen came and went all day.  I was sure there would be a sweep of the building before Royals came home.

 Peanut had volunteered even when he knew how miserable the plan was.  We entered the building in suits.  At least I did.  Peanut came with me in a moving company uniform.  Our cover if we were asked was that we were giving an estimate to the tenant in 7b.  Peanut secured her name through the city directory.  

 I picked the lock on the access door to the roof.  We sat behind an air conditioner unit till three am.  Peanut didn't take as well to the wait as I did.  I had brought a canteen of water in my brief case.  Peanut brought the shotgun inside a plastic garbage bag.  The plan was that I would knife the guards but if I missed he was to gun them all.   If he didn't he would be hunted by the mafia.  If either of us went down the body was to be left.  There was nothing to tie us together.

 At three a.m. we moved.  I opened the roof access door and removed the tape from the latch.  I opened the door to the stairwell.  Peanut and I climbed down the stairs as quietly as the death we planned to bring with us.  When we reached the fifty floor I removed the miniature tape recorder from my pocket and turned it on.  The volume was high and the sound of the cat in distress was loud.  I scratched on the door with my keys.  I waited and did it three of four times before I head the footsteps on the hallway.

 If he had called inside for help I was a dead man.  If he were alone I might well be anyway.  I waited till he opened the door.  I made the fatal mistake of sticking his pistol in ahead of him.  I penned the pistol under my arm.  I had thought the pain of the broken ribs was gone but it hadn't.  I was in a great deal of pain but it spurred me on to finish this quick.  I pulled him though the door using his arm as leverage.  I stabbed him in the throat.  Of course he bled like a stuck pig but he didn't make a sound except to gasp for air through the hole in his throat.

 We clung to the  wall as we moved to the apartment.  I checked for mirrors as we moved.  There were none.  The peep hole in the door would be useless as long as we stayed by the wall.  Peanut and I pulled the ski masks over our faces.  We weren't planning to leave anyone alive in the apartment.  If a neighbor saw us, I didn't want either of us recognized.  

 I could only hope the inside man hadn't been alerted and that he was in another room.  I held my breath and picked the locks.  Once I had them both opened I slipped inside.  The  guard was watching a porno movie on tv.  I was able to slip behind him and slit his throat before he could sound an alarm.

 I moved to what I felt would be the bedroom.  This lock was a joke.  I removed a straight piece of stiff wire and inserted it into the door handle.  The wire pushed the button lock out and the door was open.  I moved as quietly as possible into the room and woke the sleeping man by nicking him with the high carbon steel of the survival knife.  I had to move quickly to keep from slitting his throat by accident.

 "What the fucks?" he asked.

 "Shut up.  I ask the questions.  I took a almost empty roll of duck tape and taped his hands first then his feet.  Peanut helped by pointing the shotgun at his head while I did my work.

 When I finished I put a piece of tape over his mouth.  "When you nod your head I am going to assume you have something to say.  I am going to remove the tape to listen.  If you give me any ship, I am going to cut off a finger.  If you lie, I am going to cut off a finger.  I am the only judge of whether you are telling the truth so I may cut off one or two that don't need to be cut.  Do you understand If you do then nod."  Royals nodded.

  I removed my mask but Peanut did not.  "My name is Lincoln Jefferson.  Now for the first question.  Did you send men to kill me a month ago.  Just nod or shake your head."

 He shook his head.   I took a pair of garden snippers and cut his right hand little finger off at the knuckle.  "You shouldn't lie to me.  If you continue, you are going to run out of fingers.  I will be forced to move to your toes."

 I had been afraid that he would pass out but he stayed with me.  "Now did you send the men to kill me."  This time he nodded.

 "Did you send them for someone else."  He didn't make a movement with his head so I raised his ring finger.  He quickly nodded again.  I pulled the tape loose on one corner of his mouth.  "I you make a sound I will re-tape you and cut off the rest of your finger just for fucking fun."

 "Eric wanted to blackmail that woman up there.  He said you had to die before he could use the tape.  He had sent it to you before he talked it over with me."

 I replaced the tape.  Did the woman up there have anything to do with this mess?"

 He shook his head.  I turned my attention to Peanut.  "You know Melvin even when they are being tortured they tend to lie.  They all think that they can get away with it and then go on with their plan.   I don't believe this pile of ship do you?"

 He shook his head.  I lifted the ring finger of Royals and cut it like a twig.  He screamed into the tape.  I noticed that peanut looked  a little faint.  He had sweat pouring down his face.

 "One more time.  Who's idea was it to try to kill me?"  I ripped the tape off  his mouth.

 "Eric's I swear it was Eric.  He cut me in for a piece of it."

 I returned the tape then said, "I don't believe you.  I think you were going to take over the blackmail.  All I want is the truth.  You should be convinced by now that it isn't worth the pain.  Tell me the truth and this will all stop."

 "Okay, okay.  I sent the men but I swear I will never do it again.  I planned to blackmail the widow.  Hell you can  have the tape.  You can work her.  I don't care.  Just don't hurt me any more."

 "I don't need any partners where is Eric ."

 "He is dead I had him killed.  I don't want partners either."  It all made sense.  It was exactly like I expected.  I wanted to ask him one more question.  "Who told you I was going to  turn the tape over to the cops?"

 "The lawyer ,"

 "Skip told you? "  I had feared as much.

 "No man some woman lawyer up there.  Sandy or something like that."


 "I thought she wanted in on the blackmail but she didn't.  She just wanted you dead."

 I replaced the tape over his mouth.  I looked up at peanut who simply shrugged.  I bent over Mike and slashed his throat from ear to ear.  It takes a lot of pressure to cut someone's throat and I used so much I almost severed his head.   He died quickly.

 "Let's go.  Give me the shotgun?"

 "Why man?" Peanut asked suspiciously.

 "Because I have to kill the guard on the way out.  I don't want you to have to do it.  I don't think I can get close enough for the knife. "

 I pulled my mask down and we left the apartment.  We walked down the stairs to the lobby.   It was the only door that could be opened from inside the stairs.  I walked out with the shotgun ready.  I got within twenty feet of the guard before he saw me.  He turned trying to draw his pistol.  I shot him in the chest with the full load of buckshot.  He was dead before he hit the floor.  

 Peanut and I stayed in the shadows while we walked to my jeep.  I had parked it three blocks away.  I entered the jeep and waited a second for peanut to get in the passenger seat.  

 "I got to say this even though you may kill me too.  I never met nobody as cold as you man.  I know he was out to get you but you killed three more of them.  You did it just so there wouldn't be nobody to tell the tale."

 "Hey it was them or me.  I done been shot by them assholes once.  I don't plan on hiding the rest of my life."

 "I know man but I was afraid you would do me too."

 "Are you kidding.  If I did that then I wouldn't ever be able to eat at the Elms again."

 "Jed was sure right.  You one bad assed mother fucker."

  "Here's a hundred bucks give me all the clothes you wore tonight."

 "What fo man."

 "They are all going in the river weighted down with this shotgun.  I don't want no hair and fiber trace match."

 I left Peanut at his apartment and drove home with a pillow case full of our clothes.  I spent the night in a different cheap motel, then drove on  home.  I stopped on the deep river bridge at the spot where we had once found Julie's car.  I made sure no one was looking, then tossed the shotgun tied up with the pillowcase full of clothes, into the muddy river.  The weight of the shotgun carried the clothes to the bottom immediately.

 Only then did I allow myself to think about Sandy.  Why had she put Royals on me and what was I going to do about it.   I would have killed Skip for the same actions but somehow I didn't feel right about killing her.  At least not till I knew why she had done it.