Book 5

    Paris Nights

 The day broke cold and hard.  I had plans but they would just have to wait another hour.  It was far too cold to even think about leaving the cabin.  The cabin, now there was a joke.  It was hardly a cabin.  It was a small house made from native materials.  Stucco over concrete blocks made a wall thick enough to keep the summer heat and the winter cold outside where it belonged.  Similar to most of the houses in the area ours had heavy plaster over the inside concrete block surfaces.  Neutral eggshell paint was her idea, not mine.  I have always loved bright bold colors but I did have to admit the color was soothing.   At least I assume the colors were her idea, since the realtor told me that she had chosen them.   I never thought to ask though..

 Isn’t it strange that we never bothered to discuss things like whose idea the paint scheme had bee n?  I guess we were too busy fighting and making up.  I don’t think either of us would have bothered to fight, if it weren’t for the making up.  I know she would deny that we fought.  We tended to fight fiercely and to make up just as fiercely.

 I noticed as usual she was already gone that Christmas Eve morning.  Out doing god only knew what no doubt.  It had become common practice for us each to go our own way.  At least during the daylight hours.  By nightfall we had some idea where the other one was holed up.

 On Christmas Eve I would have thought she might stay in bed with me. I am sure she had some pressing matter to attend, she always did.   My plans for the day revolved around fire wood and ordering Christmas dinner catered, if that is what you would call it.  The Owner of the Elms simply stopped by in his beat up old station wagon to deliver all the makings of dinner cooked and microwave ready.  The one call to Jed would arrange it all.

 The firewood was a little more difficult.  First I had to get my lazy ass out of bed.  Then I supposed it would be an all morning search for someone with a chain saw and truck.  Even in New Mexico the dead of winter required a little heat.  The previous owner of the house had some weird kind of system that used the fireplace to heat water that then ran through the baseboards.   A really strange arrangement I know but it worked somehow.

 Just about the time I started to give some thought to Paris’ present the phone rang.  I was in that twilight zone of wakefulness.  I managed to reach the phone without really waking up.  “Loa,” was about all I could manage.

 “Deacon it’s me Mike,” the gravely voice said.  If I hadn’t known Mike was a woman I might have thought the voice belonged to a man.

 “Hey Mike, how did it go last night?” I asked it because I was slightly interested in the club.  I should have been really interested since I owned it.  Actually I owned less than half of it.   The bank still owned most of it.

 ‘Rick’s Café American’ was my idea of having fun.  I bought as much of it as was for sale when I moved to Casablanca New Mexico.  When I bought the Café it had been just an idea.  I really didn’t care if the café made a dime or not.  It was like my photo. Now that is going to take some explaining . See my name is Deacon Burke.  I come from a long line of Deacon Burkes.  My great grand father was the original Deacon Burke.  The Deacon Burke before me was an uncle.  When I got back from Nam he explained his life to me.  He was an OSS agent during world war two. While he was operating behind the lines in Europe, he blew banks to finance his missions.  When he got home nobody bothered to unteach him how to blow the bank cans.  He made most of his money opening bank cans all over the south.  Uncle Deacon never did get caught , not even once.  He lived like a pauper because he couldn’t explain all the extra money.  I worked out a cover for him so he could have a pleasant retirement.

 He wouldn’t teach me to open the safes but he did teach me how to be a thief.  A successful thief had to have an explanation for his money.  I had spent my time in Nam as a photographer, so I opened an unsuccessful photo studio.  I was a lot more successful than it appeared.  The money just did not come from the pictures.    It came from shady businessmen two towns away.  I set up a phony identity just as my uncle taught me.  I drove there and found myself a bar.  I shamelessly eavesdropped until I overheard the names and locations of drug dealers.  Ripping them off wasn’t all that difficult. I mounted it like a military operation then carried it out with a maximum amount of non-lethal force.   Hiding the money was a lot easier than I had expected.  I simply carried it as photography income.  I did have to pay taxes on the money.  Taxes tended to really piss me off.  

 I might have gone on taking a few grand at a time until one went bad, if I hadn’t overheard a discussion of a drug buy that changed my life.  I overheard a couple of guys in a bar talking about ripping off a drug dealer for half a million dollars.  They explained to a third man that the local dealer exchanged a half million bucks for a suitcase filled with drugs.  After listening to their drunken ramblings, I knew if I did the rip off I would be saving their lives.  It was kind of my Christian duty.

 Two nights later I killed six men then walked away with half a million bucks.  It took me only a couple of days to close out the local operation.  I began to drive from my North Carolina home to New Mexico the day after the studio was closed.  Not even my family was surprised that I left town.  I had always talked about leaving.

 When I literally stumbled across Casablanca New Mexico , population 29,000, I stopped for lunch.  Just to say I ate there.  The waitress gladly filled me in on the history of the town.  I was fascinated so I took my own walking tour.  During the fifties there was plenty of money in the town, so the city counsel had decided to do a face-lift.  When they finished they gave the town a new name.  The town looked a little like the movie set of Casablanca.  Most all the buildings on main street were stucco or adobe,very similar to those in the movie scenes.   So the sleepy little town became Casablanca New Mexico.

 The lunch became a life decision for me.  I rented a garage apartment.  Then found an empty storefront and began work as a photographer again, spending only slightly more than I made.

It was almost two years later that she walked into the

studio.  “Good morning,” I said in greeting her 

 “No problem, fifteen dollars,” I replied waiting for something further from her.  When I gave most folks that price about half decide to rethink it.   Half of that half come back a little later for the shot.  I was the only game in town after all.
“That seems an awful lot for such a small picture,” she suggested.

    “Then can I assume you will be nude before the night ends.”

 I thought only after I spoke.  That I fear is a problem I often have.

 “You can assume anything you like, what happens will happen,” she replied.

 “Dinner then, how about tonight?” I asked.  

 “Tonight will do just fine,” she replied.  “Meet me at the Sands Restaurant at eight.”

 “I thought I would at least get to pick the place,” I admitted with a chuckle.

 She laughed at me then spoke.  “You do as long as you chose the Sands at eight.”

 “Okay, round one goes to you,” I replied smiling.

 “Oh I think all of them will go to me,” she replied.

 She got a good look from me as she turned to walk away.  She didn’t have the voice of a native New Mexican.  She had the looks and accent of a surfer girl all grownup.  Thick blonde hair over green eyes, over a nose very straight and only slightly long, over a mouth full of perfect looking teeth.  Some parent must have put a year’s salary into those teeth.

 Her body was perfect only if you were looking for a model type.  I wasn’t at the time but I had to admit she was beautiful. Standing there all thin and dressed in soft loose fitting clothing.  I was very appreciative of her beauty.  Even more of her bearing.  She held herself like a great lady even while seeming to promise worldly delights.

 We dated exactly three times before we found the cabin.  At first buying it was hard since the studio showed very little income.   With a little left handed english I managed to work a deal with the bank.  To increase my income on paper I opened Rick’s Café American.  In a town named Casablanca it was a natural.  

 The club occupied what had once been the town’s movie theater.  That was before the mall a few miles outside town with it’s ten screen theater.  On that cold morning the old theater would be closed. The cleaning crew might be inside but I had my doubts about that even.  Mike probably was calling me from home.  All that processing took only a moment.  Actually I might have gone on but Mike answered my question.
 “Oh the play went fine, place was filled with proud parents as always.  You did know they go to the school to see those plays once, they come here to have dinner with the kids, then watch it again.  The bar takes a big hit when we run one, but the restaurant does a great business.  I guess it all equals out when you factor in we don’t pay for any entertainment on those nights.”

 “That sounds about right.  So Mike what you doing up so early?”  I asked it hoping she would get to the point.

 “Well Deacon,” I could tell from her tone that I wasn’t going to like what followed.  “There were people in the club looking for you last night.”

 “Anybody interesting?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” she replied then paused before going on.  Finally she continued, “Cops from back east and a woman, a very young woman.”

 “So the Gestapo and the mysterious woman from Paris,” I suggested with a smile in my voice.

 “Deacon, none of them looked to be actors in a cheap movie,” she replied.

 “All the world’s a stage,” I replied with an evil grin that transmitted itself through the telephone.

 “Right and who did you steal that one from?” she asked.  The chuckle transmitted well over the phone.

 “Willie, of course, I only steal from the best.  Why bother stealing from anyone less?”  It was another wiseass remark.  I had become somewhat well known around town for my character acting.  I had become a slightly over weight Rick when I was at the club or dealing with Mike.  When in the studio I was a totally different person.  At home with Paris, I was still a third person.  The many personalities would have gotten me locked up most places.  In Casablanca, I was just the town’s favorite character.

 “So should I expect the Gestapo at the door this morning?”

 “No they seemed content to ask a lot of questions last night.  I think they will spend the day asking around town before they come for you.”

 “Okay Mike, what makes you think so?” I asked.

 “They seemed to get off on the club.  I think they will be coming back tonight.  Besides they met Tina.”

 “So they were up late?” I guessed. 

 “Very, and they all left together.”  The laughter rang even over the phone.

 “So when do you think they learned Tina is actually Thomas?”  I asked it with a very large laugh.

 “Oh I do hope it was before they had their clothes off,” she suggested with her very unladylike chuckle.

 “It might be better for me if they just gave her a ride home.  Couldn’t help me for them to know that perverts hang out a the Café.”  I couldn’t help but be amused. The idea of two macho cops and Tina/Thomas just had a certain ring to it.

 “Now on the one you will find much more amusing.  The young woman was looking for a job.  Seems she knows you from back east.  Wonder why your evil past is catching up with you all at once?” she asked.

 “Must be bad Karma,” I replied.  I actually laughed, since I found it all rather amusing though puzzling.  After a mome nt’s silence I spoke, “So I guess I need to spend Christmas Eve a the club?” It was a question and she knew it.

 “I would think that a very good idea.  Now what do I do about Samantha in the meantime?” Mike asked playfully.

 “Is that the young woman’s name?” I asked.

“Wait a minute I wrote it down for you.”  

 While she was gone my mind switched to the more damaging problem; the cops from back east.  What could be so important that they would leave their families to investigate me over the Christmas holidays?  It had been a long time since I was involved in anything illegal.  The worst thing I could do was to let it eat at me so I shrugged my shoulders.  Not an easy thing to do while propped us against the headboard of a big old four-poster bed.  I reached for a cigarette.  I found them in the end table but didn’t light it.  It was the same challenge every morning. Pick it up and see how long I could resist lighting it.  So far the record was three year two months four days and still counting.
 “You there Deke?” Mike asked.

 “Sure, so what is the chick’s name?”  I asked it light hearted because I couldn’t imagine a young woman having business with me.  At least not more than needing a job.
 “She said her name was Samantha Vernon,” Mike said.

 “Never heard of her,” I replied.  “If you have a job and she can do it then give it to her.  If you don’t have a job don’t make one.”

 “Actually she has an idea and I like it,” Mike admitted.  “I just wanted to make sure there was no reason I shouldn’t go along with it.”

“What is the idea?” I asked.

 “She plays the piano and does it quite well.  She wanted to play piano during the nights we have no entertainment.  You know weeknights when it is slow.  Since she is moderately attractive she would be an asset.” 

 “By moderately attractive you do not mean butch do you?”  I had no idea why I asked it since Mike’s love life had never been an issue with me. 

 “No Deacon, she does not look butch.  If anything she looks a little fragile.  You know somebody you would never expect to see in a bar.  Dresses kind of old fashioned, if you know what I mean.”

 “No, but I will have to see her.  Generally speaking old fashioned is good.”  Mike recognized it as a joke, so she laughed politely.  Obviously she was not impressed with my wit.

“So, then you will be here for the party tonight?” she asked.

 “Of course I will,” I replied.  “Did you get everything taken care of, or do you need me to do anything?”

 “If I needed you Deke, you wouldn’t need me.”  She said it without any humor at all.  She was right of course.  I paid her more than any ordinary manager because I trusted her completely. 
 “Okay Mike, you have a point.  So everything is ready for the party tonight?  Tell the cops I will show up around nine tonight.  As  for the girl, if you hire her have her come to the party.  I am not going to approve or disapprove of her.  I am curious however .”

“I already invited her,” Mike replied.

 “What would you have done if I had recognized her and wanted to avoid her,” I asked.

 “Deacon, I have known you three years.  In that time I never saw you avoid anyone.  Some of them you should have avoided.”

 She was talking about the few times I had thrown some really bad dudes out of the place.  Most of the really bad ones were younger, larger, and always tougher than me.  What they had lacked was the will to really injure someone otherwise they might have thrown me out.   I didn’t have that particular problem.  I learned early the importance of a very large dose of force.  Broken bones and massive minor injuries were a consequence of having crossed me.  With one large exception, I never stuck a woman.  Mike however would eject a woman with a very hefty amount of pain.  They seldom if ever came back.  Now before you think the Café was a tough bar, let me remind you we ran high school plays in the place.   It was just that every once in a while a drunken cowboy or cowgirl would cause a problem.

 “Okay Mike enough of this, I am wide awake now and I have lots to do.  I’ll be at the club tonight so tell everybody looking for me to be there about nine.”

 “Okay. I’ll have the cops and the kid there.  Deacon are you going to bring Paris tonight?”  She paused then added, “It might be a good idea not too.  It could get hairy with either the girl or the cops.”  Mike wasn’t interested in Paris being protected, just Paris not being around.   Mike had a real dislike of Paris and it was mutual.

 “Well honey odds are real good Paris will want to come with me.  If she does, then she will be there with me.  You know I am not going to say no to her.  I see very little of her these days.”

 “Yeah and it is the happiest I ever saw you,” Mike replied with a sneer.

 “Come on Mike you are getting close to the line.”  I was referring to the unspoken agreement the three of us had.  We all respected each other’s opinions.  Hell we never minded that one of the others voiced it over and over even.  It was just when it got malicious that I objected as did the others.

 “Okay Deke, but that woman is not who you should be with.  You two spend half your time fighting,” she suggested.

 “True, but we have great makeup sex,” I said it just because it pissed her off to hear about it.

 “Spare me,” she replied.  There was a smile in her voice though.  “Okay then I will see you at nine.”

 “Sure, if you need me for anything I will be around today or on the cell.”

 “Okay then see you tonight,” she said as she dropped the phone, none to gently.

 For the next hour I showered, made coffee, and read the paper, my usual morning things.  Finally I began to work on the day’s projects.  I called my usual wood man.  

 “Harry, Deacon here, I know it is lousy timing, but I just found out I have only a couple of pieces of wood left.  Any chance I can get you to drop off a load today?”  I asked it expecting the answer I got.

 “Come on Mr. Burke it is Christmas eve.  I can get you a load out there next week.”  He said it with slurred words.
 “Well okay Harry, but don’t bring the load next week.  I will find some somewhere today,” I replied calmly.

 “Good luck,” he replied sarcastically.

 “You too Harry,” I replied keeping my cool somehow.
I pushed the buttons on the phone again.  “Steve, this is Deacon.  What you doing open today?  And do you know anyone besides Harry who delivers wood?”  It all came out in a rush.  I had high hopes after all Steve knew everybody.  He ran the only service station in town that still did repair work on cars.  I had been a little surprised to find him open on Christmas Eve.

 “Nice to talk to you too deacon.  I am just down here selling gas today.  Some people forget to fill up you know.  It looks like you forget to get wood delivered.”  He had a chuckle, which he used to end most sentences.

 “Yeah and of course Harry is in the bag.”  I wasn’t really disgusted with Harry.  I should have noticed the woodpile. However Harry usually kept it filled.  For some reason, neither he nor I had checked it lately.

 “Of course he is,” Steve replied.  “Deacon, I don’t know anybody but hold on a minute.”  I refilled my coffee cup then reread the newspaper while I waited.  “Deacon, I got a kid here who will bring you some of his wood.  Enough to hold you till Harry gets sober.” Steve said.

 “How much Steve?  I know I am not in the best position to dicker, but I still want to know.”  I actually smiled at the thought.  Hell I would have paid about anything.

 “He said he would bring you enough for a week for twenty bucks.”  Steve said it doubtfully.

 “Well it is robbery but it will do.  Tell him to load it up. Thanks Steve I appreciate it.”  

 “No problem Deacon.  By the way, I found you that convertible you was looking for.  Guy over in Sadie’s Gulch has it.  He ain’t in no hurry to sell it so we got time.”

 “Thanks Steve.  I’ll take a ride over after Christmas.  Tell the kid I will leave an envelope with the money on the door.”

It was the end of the conversation so I put down the phone.
It had been much easier to take care of the wood than I thought.  I punched in the number for the Elms café.  The name café was used for fancy places in Casablanca not like in the southern mill village where I had been raised.  There a café was a lower classed diner.

 “Elms Café,” the female voice answered.

 “Hi, this is Deacon Burke.  Is Jed around?” I asked.

 “No he is home with his family this morning.  He will be in later though can I help you?”   She asked.

 “I am checking to see if you guys are going to have any problem with my Christmas order?” I asked not really expecting her to know about it.

 “Just a second Mr. Burke,” she suggested.  The phone didn’t even have elevator music.  It just went dead for a couple of minutes.  “I have two orders for you.  One is for dinner for ten to be sent tomorrow morning at ten.   I also have an order for a smaller dinner for two to be delivered at nine p.m.”

 “Good, that is what I ordered okay.  So it is going to be on time right?”

“Absolutely, Jed will have my ass if I screw your order up.”  She said it with a light lilting voice.

 “Well let’s hope that won’t be necessary.  His wife might object,” I suggested with a chuckle.

 “Oh she would, no doubt.”  Her voice betrayed that Jed might well have already had her ass.  Either way it was nothing to me.

 “So everything is taken care of, right?”

 “Stop worrying Mr. Burke,” she demanded.

 “I guess I am just the worry wart type,” I replied.  “Okay, I am going to trust you.”

 “Good, then we will see you tonight at the club,” she suggested.

 “I never miss the Christmas Party,” I replied.  With that I dropped the phone into the cradle.  I gave more coffee a single thought then dismissed it.  I decided against going to the Elms since I had just spoken with the hostess.  She might think I was really pressing them.  Jed was a friend from home so I decided against pushing him.

 “I drove the five year old Chrysler LeBaron convertible to the waffle hut just outside town.  I didn’t care much for waffles but they had the very best pancakes in town.  The staff knew all the town’s folks.  Since it was about the only place to get a waffle everyone had been in more than once.  The tourists and tuckers stopping from the highway were the only strangers in the place.  They always made up at least half the clientele.  I found my way to a booth.

 “Deacon, you gonna be at the club tonight?”  The waitress with very crooked teeth asked.

 “Yes Ma’am I always make the Christmas party,” I replied.

 “Good we don’t see you there near enough,” she flashed her deformed teeth at me again.  It just went to prove that poor families were the same all over.  The families from the mill village once had children with teeth exactly like hers.  There were no more mill villages.  Hell, there were no more mills for that matter.  Mexico and China manufactured all the textiles by that time.  I hadn’t much liked the loss of all the jobs in my hometown but I blamed the owners of the mills not the people of the country where they went.


 “So Deacon, you done all your Christmas Shopping?” The waitress asked.

 “All but one,” I replied vacantly. 

 “Tell me you haven’t put off Paris’ present till now?”  She looked amused, not horrified as she pretended.

 “Guilty,” I replied.  “I plan to spend the day looking.”

 “Deacon, that woman is going to skin you alive.”  It seemed that everyone knew how Paris and I fought.  They probably guessed how we made up as well.  We tended at times to be very much the loving couple in public.  Of course either Paris or I seemed to always be on the verge of an outburst.  It was the strangest relationship.

 “Speaking of that, why isn’t she with you today?  Is she out shopping too.”  The waitress chucked at the thought of Paris out running around looking for a present for me.  I couldn’t blame her since I probably was the hardest man in the world to buy for.  I was so unsophisticated that nothing much seemed appropriate for me.  I mean how many pairs of work pants and sweat shirts could one man wear.

 I did wear white dinner jackets to the club when I went there.  I also had a closet full of white dinner jackets so I didn’t need any more of them.  In other words if she could find a toy fine, otherwise it was going to be a big kiss and the promise of great sex, which was more than adequate.  Most likely she would spend way too much on some toy.  One I might or might not even unpack. The pancakes arrived breaking that chain of thought.  Finishing them off was no task at all.  The larger than average stack of pancakes was gone in just a very few minutes.  I had almost the waitress returned with the coffee pot.
 “Did you want this fresh fruit cup?” she asked laughing at me.  She knew damned well the fruit was Paris’ morning routine not mine.

 “I think not dear,” I replied with a smile I didn’t feel.  I didn’t need to be reminded that Paris was working on Christmas Eve.  Why in hell she wanted to work at all was beyond me.  It especially amazed me that she took a job in a bank.  The pay was lousy and the hours were absolutely incredible.  Where else would an executive be working on Christmas Eve?  Hell almost everyone else in the whole world was off that day.  Paris was as usual off to work before I even opened one eye, let alone drug my fat ass out of bed.  I didn’t even read the check for breakfast.  I just put a five on the table then walked to the door.

 I drove my yellow convertible to the mall.  I got into the lane to turn into the mall then stopped dead.  I spent fifteen minutes trying to moved no more than the length of a football field.  When I gave up and pulled out of line, I was still the same distance from the mall entrance.
 Ih y bit of that passion with her and displayed it all.  Paris was a woman always on the edge of one passion or another.

 Mary’s was a small brick freestanding building located at the edge of the downtown.  The parking lot held her Caddie and my LeBaron.  The Caddie should have reminded me to buy somewhere else.  The pretentious chunk of metal should have been a bright red flag for anyone.   Somehow that little shop had paid for that Caddie.  My guess was that everything in the shop was way overpriced.  

 Mary was actually a very nice woman slightly past middle age, and slightly overweight.  It was however in that matronly way and not too unattractive.  Oh yeah, her name was Miss Sally Ames.  The previous owner had been a really strange old bird named Mary.  Mary filled the place with furniture and pottery of all kinds.  It was so jumbled that Miss Ames had to rent a storage building to hold all the surplus once she rearranged the shop. 

 “Hello Mary,” I said to her as I entered.  She knew that I knew better, so she just gave me her patient smile.  I had certainly been inside the shop often enough to know her name, even if the story wasn’t part of the town’s oral legend.  “So what you got for me today?” I asked.

 “So Deacon, what are you looking for?” she asked without a hint of a smile.

 “If I knew that Mary, I would have had you deliver it and not bothered to drive down here on Christmas Eve.”  I said it with that simple smile that hid my real feelings.   The woman was infuriating to say the least.  She looked down her nose at you while she took your money.  She had no concept of customer service.  She stayed in business because she was the only antique store in town.

 “Well honey, you have to give me some idea.  I know you don’t want to browse.”  That time she did at least smile.

 “Bitch,” was no more than a mumble.  She might or might not have understood it.  I understood the scorching look she gave me.   

 “Tell you what Mary, I will just come back after Christmas.”  I felt the way I always did.  I had no intention of ever returning to the shop.   I probably wouldn’t until Paris forced me through the door at the point of her anger.

 I left the store no closer to a decision about Paris’ Christmas Present.  I was afraid to give her money.  If I did, it would have to be somewhere with nothing for her to throw at me.  Paris was a forgiving soul, but only after she had fully vented her anger.  Somehow I loved that about her.

 I rummaged around through the small stores in the old style shopping center for a while then went to the town’s one burger joint for lunch.  I hadn’t been able to teach them how to make a decent southern style burger, so I settled for one with everything in the place on it.  With those things it was toss up which would get you first, the carcinogens or the fat that hardened the arteries.  Either way I was glad the years came off the back end of my life.

 After the sloppy but reasonably good burger I began again.  In the afternoon I tried the jewelry stores.  I had about the same luck as with the other stores.  I was spending the whole day visiting stores that made me ill to walk inside.  I wanted nothing more than to hand someone my money and end the search.

 I had passed the pawnshop a dozen times as I drove back and forth over town.  I have no idea why I noticed the sign at five p.m.   Maybe I noticed it because I was desperate.  More likely because I was stopped at the light directly in front of the store.  The small sign in the shop’s window read Estate Jewelry sale now till Christmas.  My poor heart raced.  It had everything, antiques and it was jewelry, one of my possible items.

 As often happens with me I recognized the woman behind the counter from the Café American.  I had no idea about the name, but I had seen the face on at least one occasion there.  She recognized me , and even remembered my name.  There was only one of me to remember.

 “Mr. Burke, what brings you here?” she asked.

 “Looking for a deal of course,” I replied smiling.

 “Not too many of those left by Christmas Eve,” she replied with a knowing look.

 “I was hoping you would have a nice piece of the estate jewelry left.”  I suggested it with what was probably a look of desperation on my face. She went to her display case and removed a tray filled with jewelry.   Most of it looked like cheap costume stuff.  Not anything Paris would ever wear.  I rummaged through it before nodding.

 “Well you do have good taste,” she suggested.  “That is twenty one carat gold, even the chain.  I am pretty sure it comes from Mexico.”   The woman said.

 I examined it carefully.  It looked to me like a French woman’s head.  I suppose it was the hairstyle on the beige colored stone woman.  Whatever the reason, I fell instantly in love with the piece.

 “Okay, how much for it?” I asked.
 “Three hundred, I know it sounds like a lot for this dump.  It is really a beautiful piece and I will guarantee that it is 21 carat gold, not plate.”

 I would have paid it but everyone was expected to bargain in a store like that one.  “How about two hundred cash?” I asked.

 “I would if I could Mr. Burke.  Tell you what, how about two fifty cash.  That way I can save the credit card cost.  The boss will like that.”  It was her way of saving face.  I recognized that she was good at her job.  I might have gone another round, but I didn’t really want too.  Instead I reached in my pocket tossed three bills on the counter.

 “Would you wrap it for me?” I asked.

 “That I can do.  No charge,” she informed me.

 Five minutes later I slipped the small but fancy wrapped box into the pocket of my old canvas-hunting coat.  During the day I dressed in cotton work pants and sweaters in the winter.  In the evenings, if I went to the café I dressed in a white dinner jacket with all the trimmings.  The time of year made no difference at all. As a concession to the cold nights, I added a World War One-style trench coat during that time of year.

 I was home watching the news when the call came. “Hi honey,” the voice said.  I recognized Paris voice almost before she spoke.  “Sorry but I am going to be late again.  This is the last night before the holiday and I have a ton of papers to shuffle.”

 “Gee what a shock,” I replied, only mildly sarcastic.
She ignored it.  “So why don’t you eat at the club.  I will grab something then meet you there. I am going to try to get there early.”  

 It was a concession on her part since she hated the club.  I am not sure just why she did, but she despised it.

 “Well find yourself an orange somewhere,” I replied.  I had kidded her about her eating habits for all the five years we lived together.  I laughed to her face as well as behind her back about her being a half-assed vegetarian.  Once in a while she would eat meat.  I had no idea what the rules were governing when and what she could eat.  I never asked.

 “Well I might have a large chief salad tonight.”  It was typical of her to refuse to eat meat one day and have a salad filled with ham and turkey the next.  That was Pari s, a walking contradiction.  She was all real. No fiction to her. You might not like what she said to you, but you could bet it was exactly how she felt. 

 Since waiting for Paris was not a factor, I decided to head on down to the café.  The drive in the yellow convertible reminded me again that I really wanted a newer car.  Since, the body styles of the newer convertibles left me cold, Steve had been on the look out for a newer LeBaron with fewer miles on it.  The one I drove was ten years old and pushing 200,000 miles.  The top was rotted, the paint peeling in great sheets and the engine smoked like a North Carolina cotton mill worker.  Even with all that it was still a convertible.
 When I arrived at Rick’s Café American I was surprised to find the parking lot filled.  I shouldn’t have been, the Christmas party was famous all over the county.  The dinning room would be filled with families from all over.  It was one of those nights when everything just seemed to work out right, usually that is.  That Christmas eve I barely got inside when Mike grabbed me by the coat.  

 “We got a big problem Deke.  I’m glad you got here I was about to call the cops.”

 “Let’s try to avoid that,” I suggested.

 “Well then you go talk to Harry, your wood man.”  He is drunk and insulting everyone in the place.  He is being especially abusive to the Mexican Americans.  They are trying hard to ignore him, but I don’t know how much longer they can.”

  “Well I sure as hell ain’t gonna ignore him.  Where is he?” I asked angrily.

 “Down in the dinning room.”  

The old movie house had been converted to a lounge at the high end.  The lower area we used as the dining area.  It was adjacent to the stage.  The stage we still used for the plays and bands.

 When I reached the lower level it was pretty obvious where Harry was sitting.  The sound of a loud voice led me right to him.  He was making some insulting remarks to a Mexican American gentleman too old to fight back.  I walked up behind Harry then said, “Harry it is time for you to go.”  I didn’t explain anything and I didn’t plan to either.
 “Deacon, you got to be kidding.  You ain’t no Mex lover are you?”

 “Harry I hate everybody equally.  Now we will talk about this when you are sober.  Right now it is time to go,” I said it lifting on his work coat collar.

 “Deacon, I ain’t going nowhere.”  He pulled away from me.  “But I am going to get up and kick your ass.”

 It was probably the worst thing he could have said.  I grabbed him from behind and covered his mouth with my left hand.  He pushed with his hands on the table trying to move his chair back.  I lifted a steak knife from the table.  I used it to nail his right hand to the table.  The knife penetrated his hand between the bones.  Then buried its tip in the wooden table under the white cloth.  I heard a gasp from the crowd.  I didn’t look back.  I was still concerned with Harry.
 I said, loud enough for the people he had insulted to hear,  “So tough guy, you want an ambulance or one of my people to drive you to the hospital?”

 “No ambulance,” he replied against my hand.

“Good choice,” I suggested.  “Mike get somebody to take Harry here to the hospital.”

 “Sure Deke,” she agreed.

 “First though hold his hand,” I nodded toward the table.  When she had a grip on his hand, I picked up a cloth napkin from the table.  With one hard swift tug the knife removed itself from his hand.  I quickly pulled his hand up and wrapped it with the napkin.   Mike led him off toward the door.

 The damnedest thing happened next.  I had turned to leave the dining room when a young woman hardly more than a teenager stood up.  She began to clap her hands.   Within a minute over half the room had joined her.   I was still very much surprised when our tinny piano began to play  “As time goes by”.  The sound was followed by a very loud but sweet female voice singing  “A kiss is still a kiss.  A sigh is still a sigh.  The fundamental things apply, as time goes by.”  The rest was drowned out by laughter and applause.

 Mike came out of nowhere to kiss me.  It should have been a peck on the cheek.  Instead she stuck her tongue down my throat.  “My hero,” she shouted.   The laughter and applause began anew.  She then whispered in my ear, “Force needed times ten.  The son of bitch will remember you.”

 “Yeah with a deer rifle in the parking lot one night,” I replied with a grin.

  “Motherfucker will need a number,” she said that with a laugh.  Then she added “Oh shit.”

 I followed her eyes to the very beautiful Paris standing just at the edge of the crowd which had gathered.  She wore a gorgeous black dinner dress.  Very tight and very well shaped to her body.  I left Mike and walked toward her.

 “Hi baby,” I said taking her hand.

She smiled then followed me to my table, which sat on the highest of the dining room levels.  “You came earlier than I expected.”

 “That is quite obvious.  What exactly were you and Mike the Dyke celebrating?” she asked.

 “Nothing honey, we just had a little incident, nothing to it really.”  I had no idea she would let it go.  I also had no idea she had seen it.

 “You really get off on this crap don’t you?” she asked.

 My response was a weak, “What crap?”

 “This,” she said waving her arms about.  “A childhood fantasy. You know one of these days someone younger and tougher is going to come along.  I am going to be sitting in the emergency room while some punk assed doctor tells me you are dead.”   

 There were actually tears in her eyes.  I expected them to be followed by dishes flying.  Instead she sat quietly with the tears forming but not running out of her eyes.

 “Paris this hardly ever happens anymore.  Tonight was a fluke,” I tried to suggest.

 “And the crowd applauding and that damn song on that stupid tinny piano.  Damn it Deacon, it is like you are trying to build a legend of your own.”

 “It is just a game Paris.  You know that,” I replied, exasperated.  I expected any minute for her words to be followed by crockery missiles.

  “If that is all you can say, tomorrow take out more insurance.”  
 The tears were gone the fight was about to start. Thank god for Mike.  She might even have been watching, who knows.  

 “Paris, I am so sorry, but I need to barrow Deacon for a few minutes.”  

 Paris looked at me questioningly.  She instinctively knew Mike would not interrupt us, if it were not important.  Mike went on, “Deacon will you meet me in the office please.”

 “Paris you go ahead and eat honey , this might take a couple of minutes,” I suggested. I followed Mike to the steps, which led up to the projection booth turned office.  I almost had a foot on the first step when I heard a man’s voice.

 “Deacon Burke?”  

 The man was a cop even without a uniform.  He had cop stamped on his chin.  It also didn’t hurt that he was a stranger and that Mike had warned me.  His drawl placed him from home, or somewhere near there.

 “Yes?” I made it a question.

“We need to have a little talk,” he replied.

 “Not we, I don’t need to talk to you at all.”  I even gave him my best smile.

“Okay then my partner and I need to talk to you.  Just in case we need some authority, we brought the local police chief.”  

He said it ominously.  I laughed out loud.

 “Louie hasn’t missed a party here in the five years I’ve had this place.  He loves the food and the fact we don’t give him a check.”  He didn’t look at all pleased to find out why the chief was really in the joint.   
 “Deacon,” Mike said from the top of the stairs.

 “Look officer, I need to take care of something so I will come back in a while.”  

 I walked away before he answered.  I knew what I was going to do, so his answer didn’t matter.  If he tried to answer it was lost to the crowd noise and the fact I had already started up the stairs.

 We were in the office with the door closed behind us when Mike spoke.  “There is an envelope from Samantha on the desk.  She was most insistent that you read it tonight.”

 “Why do I feel that I am going to be sorry I did this?” I asked as I sat down at the desk , then opened the envelope.

 “Deke, with you it is always something,” She said smiling happily.  Mike seemed to enjoy my discomfort.

 The letter read:  

“Dear David,
 I know everyone calls you Deacon these days, but you will always be David to me.  I am beating around the bush.  It isn’t easy to write a note like his one. Okay here goes; if you are reading this I am dead. I wish there were some way to soften that statement.  Hell I wish there were some way to make it all just disappear.  Of course there is nothing I can do to make either thing happen.

 David, I have cancer and it won’t seem to go away.  I am already on morphine and there is a long way to go.  You really do not know much about me, so you probably do not know that I hate pain.  In that way I am a weak woman.

 Sr suicide, she is to bring this note to you immediately.

  I have never asked you for anything in the thirty years I have known you.  Now I am asking you.  Do not let my child go to jail for helping me save my dignity.  Pain and bedpans do not appeal to me and she helped me avoid them.

 David if you will not do this for me, take a good look at Sam.  Then do the math.  When you do this thing I will save you a place in heaven.   Hard to imagine that I am going to do this, but I am going to end this note with



 I reread the note again before I handed it to the hovering Mike.  While she read it twice I began to weigh my options.  In the end I decided I didn’t really have any options.

 “So Deke is the math going to work out?” she asked.

 “If you knew Anne, you wouldn’t even bother doing any math.  If she hinted at it, then get out your hammer and chisel, time to make a stone carving.”  I took a good look at Mike while she digested the answer.  She seemed to accept it instantly.

 “So what do you plan?” she asked.

 “I plan to play it by ear.  First of all,” I said as I stood.  “ Sit your butt down in my chair.  I want you to sit here till I come back.  I want everyone including those cops to think we are still talking.  Let’s get Samantha in here first.  I want to take that look even though I am sure.”

 “Sure Deke, but you don’t need to.  She has your eyes and hair.”  Mike said it almost sadly.  She lifted the phone then called the bar.  “Sasha, send me the piano player.  I am in Deke’s office.”

 A few minutes later there was a knock on the door.

 “Come in,” I ordered in a loud voice.  The woman who stepped through the door was Anne, but with my hair and eyes.  It was just like Mike had said.

 “Yes Mr. Burke?” she asked almost timidly.

 “Those two cops downstairs are they here about you?” I asked.

 “I don’t know.   I suppose they could be.” she replied nervously.

 “Sit down Sam,” Mike said.  “Relax honey, Deacon is going to fix this.”

 “How?” Sam asked.

 “I don’t know honey, but trust me, he will,” Mike suggested.

 “Well I need to know a couple of things.  I assume they haven’t charged you with anything?” I asked.

 “No Sir, mom told me not to answer any questions and I haven’t.  My lawyer said without a statement from me there would probably not be any charges.  The only real problem is the coroner.”

 “What about him?” I asked.

 “It is a woman, Mr. Burke.  She found too much morphine in mom’s blood at the autopsy.  She said mom’s regular dose was too much for her to have done it herself.   I may have to go to jail.”

 She began those little women’s sobs.  As always it broke my heart.  Even Mike who is usually immune to them looked at me with sympathy in her eyes. 

 “Do you have any family you want to go back to?” I asked.

 “No sir, Mom was all I had.”  The sobbing got worse.

 “Can you handle being on your own honey?” I asked.

 “I am going to have to be on my own no matter where I am,” she replied.  She knew what I had in mind.

 “How about your mom’s estate?”  I was trying to cover every base.

 It all got spent on hospital bills.  She still owes Fifty thousand dollars.”

 “Well forget that one.  It died with her.” I saw the reaction that the words had.  “Sorry Sam, I tend to be a little blunt .”

 “It’s okay,” she replied trying to fight the tears.

 Okay, go on back down to the piano.  Try to act as though nothing happened up here.” I suggested.
 “Honey, go into the bathroom and wash your face,” Mike suggested.

 When the water began to run Mike asked, “So what you gonna do?”

 “She has to disappear,” I replied.

 “Well the cops ain’t gonna like that,” Mike replied.  “They might even try to stop her.”

 “One thing at a time,” I suggested.  Just then Sam came from the bathroom looking some better.  “Sam, go on back down and wait for me to make a couple of calls.  Now play the piano while you wait so everything looks normal.

  “Okay,” she said.  “And mom was right Mr. Burke.”

 “Right about what?” I asked.

 “She said you were a good man, who would help me.  She loved you I think.”  She looked at me for some kind of answer but I had none.

 “Every woman loves Deke,” Mike said.  “And every man hates him.” 

 “Now that wasn’t nice,” I said grinning.  It was a joke we ran constantly.

 “Go now Sam, and oh yeah play it again.” I said grinning at Mike.

 “Sorry what?” Sam asked.

 “You played it for her.  If she can stand it, so can I.   So play it again Sam,” I was almost laughing.  It was so humorous. 

 “I don’t get it,” Samantha suggested.

 “Don’t worry honey, Deke has waited five years to say that.  Just play As Time Goes Bye”

 “Okay,” she smiled even though she had no idea why.

 “Now what?” Mike asked.

 “Now you pretend I am still here while I run a couple oferrands,” I demanded.
 “I think I can keep it quiet for an hour but not much more,” Mike suggested.

 “That should be plenty,” I hoped it was true.

 It took an hour and fifteen minutes, but it was all done when I returned.  Since I had used the rear exit to my office no one saw me leave.  Everyone thought I was still in the office with Mike.

 When I returned Mike said, “I thought I was going to have to go down and make an appearance before you got back.”

 “Well I am back, let’s go down and talk to the customers.  You talk to the regulars, while I talk to the cops.  Give me a few minutes then have one of the guys wait outside for Sam.  When she gets there have him take her home for exactly twenty minutes , no more; then drive her to Phoenix, drop her at the Amtrak station and come right back.  Get someone who can forget it when he is through. 

 Mike and I walked down the steps together.  I went to Sam before I went to speak to the cops.  “So how is it going kiddo?” I asked.

 “Better I think,” she replied.

 “Okay keep playing and listen.  I have this all written down for you , in the bag you are going to get off the seat of my convertible.  But listen anyway.”  I watched as she nodded.  I looked around the room as I spoke so it wouldn’t look too suspicious.  

 “Take the Amtrak east to Philadelphia.  When you arrive , check into the Murray Hills Hotel under the name Bonnie Goodman.  A man will come by in a day or so to take your picture.  He will come back with a drive r’s license, birth certificate, and a passport.  When he delivers everything, if it all looks right give him $25,000.”

 “I don’t have that kind of money,” she said sadly.

 “Sure you do, there is money in the bag along with the note.” I suggested.

 “I can’t let you do this Mr. Burke,” she replied with a small smile.

 “Sure you can.  After you get the identity another man will come.  He will tell you where to go and how to live when you get there.  If this is going to work you have to do exactly as he says.  Do not give him any money.  The first man will have paid him.  Do you think you can do all that?” I asked.

 “Yes,” she replied simply.  “Thank you Mr. Burke.  Mom said you were a good man.”

 “Honey your mom was a lousy judge of character,” I replied.  I looked away as I always did when being paid a compliment.  “So just keep on playing.  Mike will be here for you in a few minutes.”  

 She had tears in her eyes.  At least I thought so at the time.  I left Samantha.  I walked to the table on the lower level with a good view of the dance floor.  It was the table where the local chief of police, along with my hometown cops sat.  The chief watched the crowd of well-dressed people while the southern cops watched me.

 “So chief, you enjoying the party?” I asked.

 “I would like it better if my wife were along,” he replied dutifully.

 “Bring her for the new years eve party.  As my guest of course,” I said smiling.

 “Of course,” the chief replied not looking at the out of town cops.

 “Well, you are having these gentlemen’s drinks put on you bill?” I asked.

 “Of course,” he replied.

 “We pay our own way,” the younger one suggested.

 “Up to you, but we give Louie a bill and he tears it up.  It is kind of a game here,” I admitted.

 “Like in the movie, huh Deacon?” the chief suggested.  “Only there is no casino in this Rick’s.”
 “Of course not,” I admitted.

 “Deacon, or should I call you Davie, we have done some checking on you today.  When we found out you were from our town, we decided to take a look at you.  Samantha Vernon obviously came to see you.  The only question is why?’” the older one asked.  He obviously had the last word. 

 “Now what could the poor child have done bad enough to have two cops chasing her over Christmas?” I asked it with a sarcastic smile.

 “She murdered her mother,” the younger one said.

 “Oh, why would she do that?” I asked.

 “The old lady was ill and the daughter got tired of taking care of her.  At least that is what I think,” the younger cop suggested.

 “Well god, you need to arrest her then,” I replied still in the sarcastic tone.

 “We will, we are waiting for the arrest warrant now,” the older cop said looking me in the eye.

 “Yeah, and we want to make sure she is here when we are ready.  So she better not leave Casablanca or we will take it real personal,” The younger one said.

 “It has been my experience that cops take rain personal,” I replied.

 “What does that mean?” the younger one asked while the older one just smiled slightly.

 “It means what it means kid,” I replied.

 “So you are from our little town?” the older one asked.

 “I used to be.  Now I am a citizen of the world,” I replied.

 “Just like in the movie, he also listed his occupation as drunkard,” the chief said with a grin.  “It made the local licensing board crazy.”  The chief laughed at his own joke.

 “Well, I think it all a stupid joke carried way to far,” the younger cop suggested.

 “Anyway,” the older one said.  “The girl is not to leave here tonight.  We would be most upset to find her gone in the morning.”
 “It’s Christmas Eve Chief,” I said turning my attention to the local cop.  “There is nothing leaving Casablanca tonight.”

  “Good.  See that it stays that way,” the young cop suggested.

    “Gentlemen, you are welcome to drink my liquor and to even eat my food, but do not presume to give me orders in my own saloon.  I do not take kindly to that kind of thing.”  I tried not to sound dangerous or defiant since neither would help me.

 I looked toward the bar to see Mike trying to catch my eye.  She gave me a slight nod to inform me that Sam was indeed gone.  The music had switched to taped Christmas carols.

 “Well Gentlemen, if you will excuse me, I have to get back to my business,” I admitted.

 “Well make sure you stay at the saloon business Deke.  I think these gentlemen would as soon take you back to the sunny south as the woman.” It was the chief’s way of warning me.  I already had plenty of other warnings.

 “Chief you know me, I stick my neck out for nobody,” I replied.

 He laughed.  “Now there is the scoundrel we all know and love.  Gentlemen you need not worry, Deke will stay completely out of this kind of thing.  If not for his own good sense, then to keep Paris from cutting his throat tonight.  No matter how lovely the young Samantha, Paris is more than a match for any woman.

 “She is that chief, and like you said dangerous as hell.  You guys might be okay crossing me, but if you cross Miss Paris you are likely to be very, very dead.” I couldn’t help the laugh that followed.

 “Are you threatening us?” the younger cop asked.

 “Sonny, I don’t make threats.”  I had finally had enough of  them all.  “Now like I said, I have to manage the business.

 “And what will the lovely Mike be doing?” the chief asked suddenly getting very officious.

 “Why managing me of course,” I replied with a grin.  I stood then walked away.  

 As I passed through the dining room on my way to the office I spotted Paris.  I tilted my head toward the office hoping she would follow. If not, I could send someone for her.  I continued on up the stairs not looking back.

 I was seated at the desk in my office when the door opened again.  Both Paris and Mike entered at the same time but definitely not together.  Mike stood by the door while Paris approached my desk.

 “What the hell is going on Deacon?” she asked.  “You haven’t been around at all.  I do not approve of being left alone even in this very nice place.”  It was pure sarcasm and I recognized it as such.

 “Well Paris things are popping around here tonight.”  I handed her the note to read.  

 She read it in silence then, as was her habit, she digested it before speaking.  She looked down at me then said, “So tell me what do plan to do?”  Her tone was anything but understanding.

 “I plan to help her if I can.”  I made it a flat statement, so there would be no misunderstanding.

 “Why for gods sake?  You don’t know the girl.  Not only that, she has no hold on you.  The note just hints that she might be your daughter.  Even if she is, so what?  You obviously do not know the woman, and she doesn’t know you.”  Paris was looking at me with that ‘you are an incredible jerk’ look of hers.

 “Well it is a moot point.  I already have started her on her way,” I replied.

 “Okay then, you have wasted a few bucks.  So what is the big deal?” she asked.

 “The big deal is I have just pissed off some cops from my old hometown.  They are going to begin looking into my past real hard now.  Frankly I can not stand the scrutiny.”

 “What do you mean?” she asked.

 “If they begin to dig, they might find something.  I am not willing to take that chance,” I replied.
 “What are you saying?” she asked.

 “I am saying, my dear Paris, that I am leaving Casablanca until this all dies down.  I do not expect to ever come back actually.”

 “Do you expect me to come with you?” she asked.

 “No I don’t, you have family.  Where I am going you could never go.  What I have to do you could never be a part of.  No Paris, you have to stay a part of this world.”  

 I reached into the  desk.  “I always knou.  Sell it and move home.”

 She took the envelope then turned without a word and left.  I watched her leave surprised that she hadn’t thrown anything at me.  Mike caught my eye.

 “Okay what did you do back east?  I always knew they ran you out of there.  Did you steal the church building funds?  I always figured you killed a man over a woman.”  She grinned down at me.

 “This is yours,” I said handing her an envelope.

 “What is it?’ she asked.

“A contract selling you the club for a dollar.  You are now the owner of Rick’s.  Take care of the place.”

 “Well Deke, I do not have any family, at least none I want to contact.  I do not have a boyfriend or girlfriend, so there is no reason for me to stay here.  The club has no value in and of itself.  Without you, it will be belly up in a month.  So Deke, old man, I am going with you.  Before you say no, you owe me.  You got me hooked on this place and you.  Now you are going to take me with you, or I am going to follow you.”

 “Okay you can come, you can also leave whenever you want.  Besides , I would love the company.”

 She bent over and kissed me on the cheek, “Now this is going to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”  She actually giggled like a schoolgirl.

 We left down the back stairs.  We where in the convertible and driving away, when I looked into the rear view mirror to see the club all lit up and decorated for Christmas.  “Well I guess we will at least have the memories,” I said sadly.

 “Mike touched my arm, smiled the most wicked of smiles then said, “Yes Deke, we will always have Paris.”  I was curious, but I didn’t ask.  Instead I simply laughed.  The joke seemed to be on me.

 I looked first at my watch.  I had to be careful to time it just right.  Then I looked up into the men’s room mirror.  The face looking back had only a passing resemblance to the one I remembered.  The hair was far too long and white. The cheeks were too red and puffy.  Those cheeks belonged to a long time drunk.  They were covered with broken veins like spider webs.  From under the cheeks sprang a very unkempt beard.

 I fitted the chauffeur’s cap over the long hair.  The hat was old and well worn.  Actually worn to the shape of someone else’s head.   It helped me to look the part though.  On that particular day it was all an illusion.  Smoke and mirrors seemed to be called for that afternoon.  I left the bathroom for a quick walk down the corridor to the debarkation gates.
 The building was designed like a giant wheel or maybe some drunken engineer’s ideal of a space station.  Wings shot off in all directions to accept arriving aircraft.  Through the glass windows along the corridors one could watch the planes load and unload.  My interest was on the 747 from LAX.

 It seemed that I had timed it pretty well.  There was a giant beast at the appointed gate when I returned. It was still rolling toward the gate as I leaned against the window.  The crowd of family and friends was farther down the corridor.  When the building’s tentacle attached to the plane’s door, I moved to join the crowd. I moved to the front of the crowd.

 Even though I knew whom I was meeting, I held up the sign before she arrived.  Smoke and mirrors you know.  I watched as the businessmen hurried through the gate.  They rushed off I supposed to find their bags, then a taxi into the city.  I was surprised when a man walked up to me.
 “I am Paris, let’s go,” he demanded.
 "Sorry buddy, you are the wrong sex.  Paris is a lady,"  I said it menacingly.

He blanched then said, “Can’t blame a guy for trying.”

 “Sure I can, now get out of my face or I am gonna hurt you,” I suggested in a very low voice.  He must have believed me because he hurried away.  I had no desire to draw attention to myself.  He did not know that so he moved on quickly.

 After the businessmen had all rushed past the families started.  Somewhere in the line I saw her.  Paris was the most remarkable of women.  She was not the best dressed that morning, but somehow she wore the most memorable outfit.  It was a plain green traveling suit with a soft silk like blouse under the men’s cut jacket.  She stood out somehow even before you noticed the woman inside the severely cut business suit.  Looking at the package as a whole for a second, I was surprised to note Paris was a bit trimmer.

 I could not help but hope she had been unable to eat while missing me terribly.  The truth probably was she was trimming down to go back on the market block.   

“Oh that was a nasty thought,” I whispered to myself.  As she moved the long distance from the gate to the crowd, I took the time to notice her individual features again.

 Paris had the most beautiful blonde hair.  It topped a head, which could well have been chiseled by some forgotten roman sculptor.   Her facial proportions were perfect. Nose long and straight, teeth her daddy must have worked a year to finance.  Eyes the color of the ocean set just a little too close for my liking but perfect for a classic sculpture.

 The no nonsense business suit hid her body pretty well.  Still there was evidence of the woman inside, if you read the clues; a noticeable pressure against the buttons of the jacket at the chest, a flair of the coat over the hips . Subtle, true, but noticeable and not a man ever missed the clues with Paris.  Nobody ever doubted for a minute that she was all woman.  Even more than the clothes the attitude was a dead giveaway.  If she shaved her head bald and wore a sack you would still know she was a woman.  Her very being screamed woman.

 She glanced at the crowd as though she were looking for someone.  She seemed disappointed when she saw the sign I held.  I waited as she slowly walked to me.  I think dreading what she might hear.

 “Miss Paris?” I asked in a gravely voice like one a throat cancer survivor might use.  Unlike mine, there was magic and music in her voice.  

 A tinkling little thing when she spoke, “Yes.”

 “I have the car outside.  If you will give me your baggage checks I will get them for you?”  I croaked it out.

 “Who sent you?” she asked.

 “Ma’am I do not know that.  I just get the calls from the company.  I am to take you to the Marriott Hotel. I was to tell you that the check in is already complete.  I am to take you to room 307 ma’am.”  I took the luggage checks from her as I walked to the baggage area.  She followed along behind.

 Once she had placed me in the hierarchy of importance in her life, Paris more or less ignored me.  It was one of her more charming  traits.  Paris treated every one civilly but chose her friends carefully.

 In the car on the way to the motel where she would await Deacon’s arrival, she more or less occupied herself with her own thoughts.  It suited me fine.  I could enjoy the view in the mirror without fear that she would recognize me.  The view was spectacular.  Paris knew how to fill a space.  There are women more beautiful, but none I ever met with more presence.  When she walked in a room people, even women, turned to follow her movements. Paris could fill a space like vapor.  You could see it but were damned unlikely to ever capture it.  I carried her bags to the room.  There I accepted her five-dollar tip then walked away.  I continued down the hall until I heard her door close.  I glanced back to be absolutely sure, then hurried to room 305, a connecting room.  As quickly as I could I removed the thick makeup.  The face putty, which added the puffiness, went first.  The extra deep wrinkles had to be removed.  They were the result of pencil lines to darken my existing wrinkles.  There was also glue to draw the skin to create even more wrinkles.  The dyed hair and beard were my own.  Even at home I played an older man.

 I tossed the ill-fitting suit on the bed.  It was destined for the trash.  The Salvation Army thrift shop had provided it.  I would have returned it if there had been time.  That day I had other , more important things to do.

After stripping down to my shorts, I began redressing as the Deacon she knew.  The wool suit pants were replaced with tan cotton work pants.  They were new since I did my own wash in those days.  When I washed about as much grease stayed on the pants as came off them.  The whole suitcase’s contents were new.  Removing the tags from the clothes was a problem solved by bites on plastic strings.  Over the slacks I wore a white dress shirt, then a navy blue cotton sweatshirt topped the outfit.

 I brushed my hair and my teeth before I opened the connecting door to Paris’ room.  I knocked on her side of the double door.  I heard her moving about.  I was a little surprised that she opened the door without asking who was on the other side.  Then again, she had to be pretty damned sure I was the one who had set up the vacation.  I mean who else would send her a first class airline ticket along with a note reading.  “Time to go home for a visit.”  Since she lived only a couple of miles from her home, she had to know the destination.  Not only that, she had to been awfully sure of the sender to have even made the trip.  So opening the door without question was an act of faith on her part.  Still there was a questioning look on her face for a second.  She recognized me finally as both the limo driver and Deacon.

 I was prepared for what came next or she would have found herself on the floor.  The first thing she did was to slap the pure hell out of me.  Then she pulled me to her for a kiss.  Not a pecking hello kiss, a where the hell have you been and why did you stay away so long kiss.  One that started with the lips, but somehow without her moving spread all over my body.  When the air finally gave out for both of us, I found myself on the bed without the first idea how I got there.  As was the case almost every time Paris and I got near a bed, the clothes began to pile up on the floor.

 Time and space got a little warped for the next couple of hours.  Things went from slow motion to hyper speed alternately several times.  Paris’ warm and soft body controlled the rhythm of the time in that room.  There was a beauty to her movements.  I remembered them somehow deep in my brain, but yet it was all new and exciting.  Paris was the lady I had spent years with.  Yet somehow a new, more exciting Paris had come to New York.
Later when we were dressing for dinner, Paris took a look at my cheek.  “Doesn’t appear to be any swelling,” She said it with a giggle.

 “That is probably a good thing,” I replied.  I smiled my best long suffering smile for her.

 “Don’t even think about it Deacon.  You know you could never hurt me.”  Her voice had a confidence that no man would ever feel around me.  She actually was amused at the thought that I would even consider striking her.

When Paris went to shower, leaving me to dress alone, I considered for about two seconds replacing the clothes I had worn to meet her.  Instead I went through the connecting door to find the white dinner jacket that had once been so much a part of my evening life.

 Even as I dressed I thought it might be too much.  Then again I knew Paris.  Once I had struggled into the fancy shirt and tuxedo pants, I slipped on the new dinner jacket.  I looked a little like the previous owner of ‘Rick’s Café American’ but not too much.  

When I returned Paris was standing naked in front of the dressing table mirror.  She saw me walk up behind her.   She reached her arms behind her body to capture my hands then pulled them around her.  

 “I have missed this more than the sex I think,” she suggested.  Then with a wicked smile said.  “God, I can be such a lying bitch.”  She burst into laughter.  If I had said it, I would not have dared sleep in the same house with her for at least a month.

 “I am glad you decided to dress,” she continued.  “I have a new dress I have been dying to wear for you.”
 I almost didn’t hear her since my attention was on kissing her neck.  “Really how about I undress and we call room service.” I made the suggestion knowing it was futile.

 “Not a chance buster, you had your fun, now I want my dinner.”  She had that mock serious look on her face.  There was enough whimsy in it to be cute.  Yet it was serious enough to let me know room service was out of the question.

 “Okay, but first I need to take your picture,” I suggested.

 “How many nudes of me do you need?” she asked seriously but smiling nonetheless.

 “I can never have enough nude pictures of you.  However this is for your passport,” I admitted.

 “What are you talking about I have my passport.”  She seemed genuinely surprised by the idea.

 “I know but if they are watching the airport you will lead them right to me.”  The logic was simple to a man on the run but still a surprise to her.  At least that is what I thought.
 “I thought you knew.  The chief told me to tell you no one is looking for you.  They never did look for you.  Sam was never charged.  It was all a big waste of time and energy, not to mention the money.” 

 I mulled it over a few minutes then replied.  “I will check it out when I get back.”  I looked serious enough that she continued to try to persuade me. 

“That my dear deacon is up to you, but I am not going to Europe on a forged passport.”  Her mind was made up.  Trying to change it would be an exercise in futility.

 Okay then it is plan B.  We travel as father and daughter, not husband and wife.”  I grinned at her.

 “Oh my god how kinky.  It will be such fun.”  

The most unpredictable Paris moved to kiss me again.  I am sure that kiss almost convinced her to go for the room service option after all.  It fell just a little short.

 She allowed me to stay and watch her dress, something she rarely did.  That particular night dressing was fast and simple.  She slipped a long white raw silk dress over her naked body.

 “No room for anything else,” she replied to my questioning look.  I enthusiastically nodded my approval.

 “So do you have a preference for dinner?” I asked.
 “No, but I am sure you have a plan,” she suggested.

 “To tell the truth I do.  I chose this motel because they have a four star restaurant.  It is one of those places named in some restaurant guide.”  I said it hoping she would buy into the lie.

 “Deacon, you lie so well with everyone else.  You picked this place because you figured it was about as far as you could drive without making love to me.”  She giggled at the thought.
 “That too,” I admitted.

 The food in the restaurant was good.  As I expected, almost to a man, the guys stared at Paris during dinner.  Also as I expected she was lively and as giggly as any schoolgirl.  It was a combination of have had a healthy does of sex, the prospect of seeing Paris for the first time, and the adoring looks of the men around her.  As for me, I simply enjoyed having her to adorn my table.  The looks she gave me made it clear to everyone that she had been well laid shortly before dinner.  I felt about ten feet tall.

 We walked by the lounge but it was far too empty that early in the evening.  As we passed one of the private dining rooms Paris heard music.  She stopped to read the plaque on the stand.
 “Welcome Juliet Simpson and Robert Adams wedding party.”

 Paris looked at me with a smile, “Shall we?” she asked.

 “You are so bad,” I replied opening the door.  We tried to slip in unnoticed.  Impossible since the bride and groom were both black.

 “Oops,” Paris said to me.

 “At the very least,” I replied.  We turned to the door.
 “Stop right there,” a female voice almost shouted over the noise.

 “Yes ma’am?” I asked.  “We wandered in by mistake.”

 “Well I thought you were the piano player I hired.”  I guess we did look like a lounge act dressed as we were.

 “No ma’am just lost.  We were looking for a place to dance.  The lounge is dead.  We heard your music and thought it might be another lounge.”  I smiled over at Paris.  The smile said, “See I can lie.”

 The woman who was obviously the bride’s mother said, “I wish you could play the piano, but you are welcome to stay.  These CD’s are driving me crazy, too damned loud.”
 “I wish I could play too.”  I smiled at her.  “Are you sure it will be all right if we have a couple of dances?” 

 “See how empty the dance floor is.  Please dance.  It might give some of these people the idea.”

 I had photographed enough weddings to know the drill, but I was not about to take over and run one on my first night with Paris.  

 “We are not going to dance before the bride and groom,” Paris informed me.  I nodded my acceptance.  I walked over to the newlyweds.  

 “Hi my name is Deacon Burke.  The nice lady over there invited us to dance.  My lady informed me that she will dance only if you dance first.  It is the tradition you know.  I know it is your wedding but could you humor me please.”

 The groom didn’t look happy about it, but he followed his new wife onto the floor.  There they proceeded to dance.  Paris and I stood along with the other wedding guest to watch.  When the music ended everyone applauded.

 The dance floor filled up immediately.  Paris and I stayed for three of four dances.  I suggested we leave when it became obvious that Paris and her dress were overshadowing the bride.  We said our good-byes, then I shook the groom’s hand, leaving a hundred dollar bill in it.  Hell, I was happy to be alive and with Paris.  I didn’t mind sharing my good fortune with strangers that night.

 We were back in the room, naked and in bed when Paris asked, “What time does the Concord leave tomorrow?”

 “I have no idea.  We are traveling on the Ice Princess.  Before you look for an ashtray to hit me with, it is not a tramp steamer.”  We had discussed a vacation once when I still owned the club.  I had wanted to act out a childhood fantasy.  Do Europe in a convertible while staying in cheap hotels and eating in cheap restaurants.  Paris vetoed the whole trip.  She had simply informed me, she would not be doing Europe like a teenager.  She would do Europe like a lady or not at all.

 “The Princess is a first class cruise ship.  All the fancy stuff you like.  I promise you Paris you will like it.”

 Between morning love, re-packing, and breakfast we almost missed the noon departure.  It cost me a hundred-buck tip to make the sailing time.

 At the top of the gangplank the teenager in a sailor suit stopped us.  “Could I have your names please?” she asked.

 “Sure but you won’t find us on your manifest.  I have this,” I said it handing her the sheet of paper taken the night before from my traveling computer printer.
 “Very well this is for cabin A47.  According to your conformation you will be paying on board.  If you will give me your credit card, I will take care of it for you.”

 “I decided not to carry the cards, too risky.  Cold I just give you travelers checks?” I asked it even thought I knew she would gladly take them.

 “Absolutely, that cabin for two according to your letter booked at $750 American.”  She didn’t hold out her hand but the words had the same effect.

 I paid her then asked if there were two beds in the cabin.  I nodded toward Paris.  “I am traveling with my daughter.”  Might as well start explaining the make up.

 “The sofa opens into a bed sir,” the teenager informed me.

 We just had time to drop our bags before returning to see the dock slip away. We stood by the rail and I wrapped my arms around her in a most unfatherly way.  Of course it caused a physical problem.  I was shocked.  After all the sex, I would not have believed it possible.

 “Good thing nobody pays any attention to old men,” I whispered into her ear.  She could feel exactly what I meant.

 “Also too bad you didn’t think of that before we left the cabin,” she suggested with a wicked smile.  Paris had never been a shrinking violet, but she had proven to be absolutely wanton since she arrived in New York.  I hoped it was me, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to ask.

 Paris and I explored the ship that afternoon.  Judging from the crowd milling about we weren’t the only ones.  We settled into deck chairs as befitted my age.  We held hands, which would have scandalized the other passengers had they known our supposed blood relationship.

 When we finally returned to the cabin to dress for dinner, I was surprised to discover the size of it.  We had been so intent on seeing the ship pull away from the dock; we had not really examined the space.  The cabin was large enough to have a sitting space as well as a space dedicated to sleeping.  The dressing room and bath were barely adequate according to Paris.  It was not an unexpected observation for her.  I would have been surprised had it been otherwise.

 In general the room was more like a tiny efficiency apartment minus the kitchen area.  It seemed to have metal walls.  In no other way did it resemble a ship’s cabin.  Thick carpets and drapes over the windows helped to hide the cold metal feel that the place might have otherwise had.

 “My God Deke, look at that table,” Paris said with only a slight amount of awe in her voice.  The table was indeed worthy of awe.  It must have been thirty feet long at the very least.  It was piled high with food of about every imaginable sort.  Fruits were piled high on a platter beside a giant platter of sliced ham.  Baked potatoes rested beside a huge steamboat roast being slicked by a white suited chef.  At least he was pretending to be a chef.  He might have been a busboy for all I knew.  Like everyone else, we went through the serving line.  

 “You know Deke, I think I would have preferred dinner brought to my table.  I know the selection would have been less but I could live with that.”  It was Paris’ way of telling me to forget any further buffets.

 “No problem sweets. I am pretty sure they will be serving restaurant style after tonight.   I think they do this only the first night out.”  I said it fairly sure.  I had read that in one of the web sites.  I could only hope it was on the Swedish line site.  If it was to be buffet every night, Paris would begin to lose patience very soon.  Whatever else you said about Paris, you had to admit she knew what she wanted and usually got it.  Even strangers would fall all over themselves to make her happy.  It was like magic.  I loved to see it happen.  Maybe because I derived some benefits from it.  For one thing I was learning a little about class.

 After dinner we took our place in line to stroll the deck.  It looked a lot like a Sunday in some metro park.  There seemed to be a steady steam of walkers.  We managed to find a spot at the rail near the fantail of the ship.  A place to see the moon hanging over the water.  With my arms wrapped around Paris in the moonlight, I could not imagine ever going back to the mountain cabin.  I really had no reason to return.  The three hundred and fifty thousand in cash had been converted to diamonds.  They rested quite comfortably inside the battery, which in turn rested inside the battery compartment of my laptop computer.   I alternated them between that space, and the lining of my trench coat.  The laptop was dangerous when travelling as it was a prime target for petty thieves.  The trench coat was less likely to be stolen by thieves but more likely to be hand searched.

 During an airport search the computer might be turned on to see if it powered up.  Thanks to a tiny mercury battery fitted inside the larger hollowed out battery, the laptop would power up for about thirty seconds before it died.  Thirty seconds seemed to be plenty to convince security or customs officials that it was real.

 Sniffer dogs and machines were not programmed to detect rocks.  The charade worked well since I didn’t really travel all that much anyway.  The vacation was the only real trip I had taken since leaving Casablanca.

 Paris and I fell asleep that night while still in the after sex glow.  It was the most peaceful sleep I had known since I went on the run.  Even settling into the cabin had not been enough to ease my mind.  It took holding Paris in my arms to do that.

 Breakfast was again a buffet, which led Paris to give me a stern look.  I looked back with a sweet smile.  I hoped the charming smile would be enough, but I seriously doubted it.  I was saved from any further action by a card on the table explaining that the first seating for dinner would be at 6 p.m. It further explained that all seating times would be by reservation then gave an extension number.
 I handed the card to Paris who smiled sweetly at me as though to say, “See if I want it to happen, it happens.”

 The truth is she might have been correct in her thinking.  I had no idea there would be restaurant seating in the dining room.  Paris’ magic could account for the restaurant style dining as well as anything else.

 I spent the morning with an antique book I found in the ships half assed library.  Paris spent it in an aerobics class.  She managed to find me after the class.  It wasn’t much of a trick since I hadn’t moved from the deck chair where she left me two hours before.

 “Are you planning to sit in that chair all the way to Ireland?”  She was at least smiling.
 “No I thought this afternoon, I might move to the other side of the ship.”  I tried to keep it light. “After all Miss Paris, your father is an old man.”

 “Even without the makeup,” she whispered.  Then in a louder voice, “Well, I am going to try out the heated pools then the Jacuzzi.”

 “Too bad my body does not look eighty, or I might try the Jacuzzi with you.” I suggested in a whisper.

 “If your body looked eighty, I doubt I would be interested.”  She had the wicked smile again.

 “Well, we can try to age it a little tonight.  Just to see if you are still interested,” I suggested.  Paris smiled, kissed me on the cheek, and then disappeared.

 I spent the remainder of the morning with Philip Marlowe .  I was grateful that Marlowe was not a cop from my hometown.  The cops there were just over worked guys slugging it out in the trenches.  They tended to prioritize murders.  Drug killings ranked substantially below little old ladies killed for their purses.  That thought made me a very happy man.

 Paris came back in time for lunch.  She convinced me to eat lunch at the on deck salad bar.  The convincing was pretty easy since I passed by the over crowded dining room as we walked to the salad bar.   Eating outside on the sunny autumn day was not an inconvenience at all.  It was actually a most pleasant experience.  There were enough meat items on the bar to make a very nice chef’s salad.

 After lunch Paris convinced me a nap was in order.  To convince me she said, “I think I am going to take a nap.”  My God the woman knew how to twist my arm.

 Since dinner was restaurant style, Paris wore a very plain almost matronly black dress.  The woman could wear black like nobody I had ever seen.  She could also wear plain black.  A much harder trick I think.  Her body just seemed to fill the dress in the right spots.  Other than her watch, the small cameo on the gold chain was the only jewelry she wore.

 We had opted for an early dinner. We planned to stroll the decks later then spend some time in the ballroom dancing.  Paris and I did not exactly ballroom dance, but I knew we would be the hit of the place.  The dance Paris and I did could only be called risqué, if you were being kind.  

  “At the end of ‘Rick’s Cafe American’, Paris hated it.  That had not always been the case.  When I first opened the saloon, she would come to have dinner with me.  She often stayed to dance.  During those early days we became the entertainment some nights.  Paris and I would sway to the music since I have very little sense of rhythm.  As a joke really we began to do a pretend strip.  I would pretend to remove her clothes and she would do the same.  When we were finished the lights would go out courtesy of Mike the bartender at that time.  Paris and I would run for the office giggling as we went.

 I was told that immediately afterward women tried in vein to force their husbands onto the dance floor.  I had a pretty good idea why they wouldn’t stand.  Paris did a knock out strip.  All that fun got sidetracked somewhere along the way.  I never quite understood what happened.  A couple of weeks after I made Mike the manager, so that I could spend more time at home, Paris stopped coming to the club on a regular basis.  She would come once in a while for a couple of hours but seldom stayed long enough to dance.  Ah the dance, How I missed that dance.

 The waiter had barely taken our orders when suddenly a group of men burst into the room.  They were armed with automatic weapons.  Nobody thought it was a floorshow I assure you.  They waved the weapons around as they punched and shoved the waiters around.

 In retrospect I am sure they did not want to fire their weapons.  They planned to get all the passengers into the dining room.  The easiest way was to allow the second seating people to walk in willingly.

 While they waited for that to happen, they tried to intimidate us.  They succeeded of course as only a wild-eyed terrorist with a machine gun can do.  I for one understood the root word for terrorist for the first time.

 I understood nothing of what they said which made it even worse.  It seemed there would be no reasoning with them.  The one man who tried got a rifle butt for his trouble.

 After things settled down a bit, several of the men began passing through the tables collecting wallets and other valuables.  I had a feeling they were after much bigger fish.  Why they bothered with the jewelry I had no idea.  Since they all appeared to be middle eastern in decent, I assumed they were looking for ethnic types.  If push came to shove those would probably be the first hostages killed.

 I gave up my wallet without a struggle.  Paris protested when the terrorist pointed to her cameo.  Before I knew what was happening he backhanded her.  I was in the process of rising when he turned the stubby machine gun on me.  I looked toward Paris and saw her shake her head.  I sat back down.

 “In very broken English the terrorist said, “Old man, you have luck.”  He put the cameo in his pocket not the bag.  I had a feeling it was a souvenir of the American woman he had struck.  He walked away before I could reply.  I probably wouldn’t have anyway.

 I looked over to Paris.  She didn’t exactly speak but her mouth moved.  I read these words on her lips, “I want my fucking cameo back.”  Her very cold steel blue eyes punctuated the words.  I swear they were two shades darker.

 I nodded my understanding.  “And I want to be there,” her lips continued.  I shook my head no.  The steel blue eyes pinned me to the wall but I would not relent.

 Paris had made a pact with the devil.  She knew the only way to retrieve here cameo was to kill the terrorist.  She could no longer pretend she was involved with a simple photographer and nightclub owner.  In those few words she acknowledged with whom she was sleeping.  No longer could she pretend to be innocent.  She traded all that to see the man who split her lip dead.

 Only after she was sure I understood did she wipe the line of blood from her lip.  She had obviously left it until that moment so that there was no doubt what she meant.  Before anything else happened I slipped the spare dinner fork into my jockey shorts.  Even if they searched me, it would take more professionalism than these guys had to search a man’s shorts.  Thank you uncle deacon, I thought.  It was one of the lessons he had taught me.

 We sat at the tables until more people arrived who were then seated in the floor between the tables.  I am not sure how close to midnight it was when they began a search of the ship for strays.  I do know it was late.  

 I guess it was when they felt they had everyone that they had us stand.  The tables were moved to the edges of the room.  We were all seated in a mob on the floor.  I understood the logic.  It was hard for a man seated that low to give you much trouble.

 The terrorist plan called not only for us to be hostages but to humiliate us along the way.  It would have been a grand plan, if they had a boat filled with tourists.  I was looking for any opening to get to the man with the acne scars.  It came because of their need to humiliate us.

 The middle eastern gentlemen had placed large pots from the kitchen onto the decks outside the dining room.  Their purpose was to force us to use the pots as toilets then pour the contents over the sides.  I suppose it was to impress us with the way the camps in the middle east had been run.  They never explained it so everyone just felt they were overly cruel.

 Everything came together around four in the morning.  The one with the scars, the same one who had slapped Paris came near to me.  I raised my hand the universal signal for bathroom needs.  I am sure he felt no threat from an eighty-year-old man.  He motioned me toward the door then followed behind.

 His training might have taught him to shoot that stubby machine gun at a target across a room.  It might have even taught him to herd people around.  Either it did not teach him how to move a single man, or he had absolutely no concern for me.  Either way it brought a smile to my face.
 The man poked me with the barrel of the gun often.  He was way too close.  The barrel almost rested against me.  When we were outside the pool of light from the dining room, I quickly rolled my shoulder while turning left.  I pinned the gun under my shoulder.  He was surprised by the speed and agility of such an old man.  So surprised that when the dinner fork penetrated his neck his reaction was to drop the gun and grab for the fork.
Since I had the rifle I released the fork.  To my surprise rather than fight for the rifle, my victim staggered back against the bulkhead.  He simply sat down when he reached it.  I sat down beside him since it got me out of view.  It also made me a smaller target.

 Once I was close enough I saw why he wasn’t fighting me.  He was too busy gasping for air.  The fork had penetrated his neck just about the larynx.  I had done a reverse tracheotomy.  I had collapsed his windpipe.  Not enough to completely close it but close.  The man’s only thoughts were getting enough air to survive.

 I took a moment to rifle his pockets.  I found Paris’ cameo.  I also found a wallet stuffed with pictures and business cards.  
 “That is pretty stupid.  Did you guys not think someone might get killed here?”  I asked it then answered my own question.   “Of course not.  Just stupid American tourists.”

 I checked his throat before tossing him overboard.  I thought about having nailed Harry’s hand to the table at Christmas.   I chuckled as I pushed scar face over the side.  I was thinking, I’m getting to be hell with cutlery.  I wondered how long he lasted before he drowned.  He had actually bled very little.  I was surprised by that fact.

 I stumbled back into the room then went to sit by Paris.  Anyone who saw my entrance might believe I had been pushed through the door.  I was my plan anyway.  I hadn’t even considered trying to take out the other terrorists .  There were far too many of them.  All I had ever planned to do was retrieve Paris’ cameo.  I wasn’t at all surprised when she brazenly replaced it around her neck.

 The terrorists stayed on board all the next day.  Late that next afternoon a helicopter hovered over the ship’s small on deck play area.  I didn’t see it but I heard the womp womp womp of the rotors.  Shortly afterward three men ran by the door lugging two duffel bags each.  I presumed the bags were filled with the ransom money.
 A short time later a motor launch pulled up.  Just as suddenly as they had appeared the men were gone.  I could only assume there was an explosive device left behind to guarantee their safe departure.  Regardless of the reason, it was an hour before a dozen men in black landed from a chopper with some kind of noise suppression.  The sound of their chopper was barely a whisper.  The sounds were followed moments later by still more men with more machine guns rushing into the room.  The second contingent of armed men was just as frightening as the first.  It they hadn’t shouted their identities, heart attacks would have followed.

 “United States Navy Seals, everybody down,” One of the black figures shouted.  

 I suppose most of the people had seen movies or TV shows, because they actually calmed down.  Not me, I got very worried while sitting on the floor.  First of all there was a slight chance I would be shot by mistake, more likely I would go to jail for the fake passport.  I was pretty sure that the FBI would follow the Seals quickly.  God how I hated government groups with initials.  

 Before anything else the kitchen staff went back to work.  The captain had a talk with them I am sure.  I suppose he feared a riot from the pampered passengers, who hadn’t eaten in almost a day.  I waited patiently on deck while they cooked.  I was more worried about jail than the food, but it did hold a prominent spot in my mind.

 “Why so glum?” Paris asked.
 “How the hell can you look so good after twenty four hours in the same clothes?” I asked of her in return.  It was more to postpone the discussion than anything else, but she did look wonderful.

 “I look like hell.  If they don’t let us go back to our cabin soon, I am going to have a seal’s ass,” she almost shouted.

 “Easy honey, they are searching for explosives,” I informed her.

 “There are no explosives in our cabin. You would have found them,” she replied.

 “They don’t know that, and frankly I haven’t been looking.  Have I?”  I was getting a bit tired and snappish.

 “I can tell you need to get laid Deacon.  You get mean when you are deprived for too long.”  Paris laughed that tinkling laugh of hers.  Of course, it made me feel foolish.

 Dinner was served as the search continued.  Dinner was buffet again which seemed to irritate Paris as much as the Seal’s keeping her from a hot bath.  

 “Deacon, can’t you do anything about all these serve yourself meals?  I would like to be seated when my dinner arrives.  It is not bad enough that I am in the same dress as when I came to dinner last night.  “Must I also carry plates like a busboy?”  Paris had either been too long without sex, or she was just plain tired.  Tired got my vote that night.  I hoped that she had been without sex longer.  It was summer and we hadn’t been together since before Christmas of the year before.
 “Honey, I can’t do a thing.  I am sorry, but I guess it is hard to find waiters who are willing to serve after last night,” I suggested.

 “The damn Titanic could get a full orchestra to play while it sank, and I can’t get anyone to take my order.”  She said it, and then as if hearing herself she burst into laughter.  “Okay, it is a lousy comparison, but you know what I mean.”

 “Yes, what has the world come to?”  I asked it sarcastically.

 “Okay Deacon, I admitted that it was a stupid remark.”   She smiled even though she wanted to throw something.  In a line of people moving very slowly toward the first food they have seen in a day, there was just nothing for her to throw.  Not even Paris would leave the line to find a spare salad plate to throw at me.

 She was quiet for a while.  Then spoke when we were just inches from the serving table.  She seemed to notice my sour expression.  “What is it Deacon? You looked worried.”

 “Just a little, it looks as though your vacation is going to end badly and much too quickly.”

 “Oh and why is that.  You certainly don’t think I am going to give up my vacation because of this nonsense?”  She had already forgotten it all.  That was the true beauty of Paris.  She could seal things up in little compartments in her mind.  She might hit you with a glass ash tray one minute, kiss the bruise the next, and still a moment later not seem to remember any of it.   She was a true marvel.  Passions of one kind or another coursed through her continually.  The beautiful woman ran on pure adrenaline.

 “No sweetie not that, I think they are going to find that my passport is a fake.”

 “Why would they do that?  Deacon, there are what, five hundred passengers on this ship?  What makes you think they are going to pay any attention to you at all?” she asked.

 “Because my love, they are at this minute pulling the passport files for each of us.  All the passport travel records will be checked.  Anyone who has been in the mid east will rate a special interview, as will anyone with a new passport.”

 “I can see the Mid Eastern connection all right, but why the new passports?” she asked.

 “Most likely anyone involved will have one of those.  The new passports are the most likely to be phonies.  New identities were likely to have been secured for the job. If there was an inside man of course, which I doubt there was.  If there was, I am sure they took him along on the motor launch.”

 “So why will they even take a second look at you.  After all you are here with me.”  She said it as though anyone should know that if I was with her, I couldn’t be a terrorist.  She was right of course, but the cops were not going to forget me.
 “We will see honey,” I assured her.

 The FBI got their list together quickly.  We were interviewed the first night.  I tried to fake it for a while.  They asked if they could have my fingerprints.  I knew that would do me in.  I had been in the army after all.  I reluctantly agreed.  It would at least give me a little time I thought.  Somebody should have told me about the super computer.  Before the interview ended they had the information.

 “So Mr. Burke, why the fake name?”  The thin almost sickly looking agent asked.

 “Too many bad memories associated with the old one.  I thought I would like a new start.”  In theory there was no law against changing your name.  In practice it made one very vulnerable to the cops. They tend to look very hard into your past, if you changed your name.  People with nothing to hide, didn’t hide.  At least that was how they felt about it, very small-minded of them I thought.

 “You know Burke, you are going to have to do better than that,” the slightly heavier though still not overweight second agent suggested,

 “Actually I don’t.  You both know that I had nothing to do with this.  All you are going to do is waste a little time on me.  So little it won’t bother the investigation at all.”  I tried to stay calm and act logically.

 “Well, it is our time,” the sickly looking one suggested.

 “It is and waste it if you want.  In the meantime, I am going to my cabin.  I didn’t sleep too well last night.”

 “What if we say no?” the agent asked.

 “Does the name Richard Jewell strike a bell?” I asked as I stood to leave.  “Oh and before you say it, there is no way for me to leave town.”  I actually chuckled at the thought of them saying it.  I am sure they had said it so many times.   It would have been their parting shot.

 On the walk to my cabin, I wondered why my radically different looks had not come up.  They didn’t have a picture of me as my old self.  Sill the difference in the ages should have alerted them.  I decided since they were not idiots there would be more games to follow.

 “See Deacon, I told you they wouldn’t care about you,” Paris demanded when I entered the cabin.

 “You are probably right,” I replied.  “So I wonder when they will get around to you love?”

 “Me, why would they talk to me.  I am certainly no terrorist.  There isn’t a violent bone in my body.”  She said it with a straight face.  She looked at my expression for a moment before she reached for a magazine on the nightstand.  She hurled it across the cabin then said, “Stop laughing at me damn it.  A magazine is not a machine gun.”

 “You know cops, a magazine today, an AK47 tomorrow.”  I was ginning and hoped the grin would save me.  It must have worked.  Paris left the thin metal ashtray on the nightstand.  I couldn’t be sure if she had calmed, or if the ashtray lacked the heft she preferred.

 That night I am sure the ship was in danger of sinking from all the bedroom movements of the passengers.  There is nothing like a brush with death to increase the birth rates.  Even though most of us were too old for new family members, I am sure there was a ship filled with people making love that night.

 At breakfast the next morning Paris was furious.  “Deacon this is too much.  I am going to write a very nasty letter to the owner of this tub.  I can’t imagine after the last two days they are still serving buffet.  This is just too much to bear .”  

 “Honey, I have a feeling it will get better as the day goes on.”   The ship’s crew was just as tired as the passengers.  They had been up late into the evening being interviewed by the FBI.  I was sure that feeding the passengers was a priority, but not necessarily waiting on them hand and foot.  After all Paris’ letter was likely to be one of many, not to mention the lawsuits.

 “Mr. Burke?”  The question came from another teenager in a sailor suit.

 “Yes,” I replied.

 “Sir, the captain would like to see you.”  I almost told him what I thought of the captain’s request.  I didn’t because I didn’t need any more trouble.

 “Sure kid, let me tell Paris.”  I looked around but Paris was not to be found.  I must have dozed off in the deck chair after breakfast.  While I was sleeping I supposed she had gone to the ship’s gym.  “It looks as though Paris has disappeared.  Ordinarily I wouldn’t give it a thought, but on this ship of the damned, I am worried.  I will see the captain, if you stay here.  If a woman who looks like a model shows up, tell here where I am.  I don’t want to worry her.”  I looked at the vacant expression on his face.  “Do you need a better description of her?”

 “No sir, I am familiar with the lady.”

 He didn’t offer an explanation, so I didn’t press him.
“Okay so where do I find he Captain?”

 “He is on the bridge.  Go about fifty feet down this deck.  The outside stairs will take you to the wheelhouse.  He is in his office behind it.  Go past the first door, then knock on the second one.”
 “Got it. Tell Paris, if I am not back for lunch to eat without me.”  I turned to walk away.  I got about two steps then turned back.  “They don’t keel haul anymore do they?”  The kid’s vacant look told me he hadn’t a clue.   Damn I hated getting old.

 I knocked on the steel door while I waited a second.
 “Yes,” came the voice from within.

 “Deacon Burke, to see the captain.”  Might as well use my real name since the cops had it anyway.  The door opened.  A man slightly younger than me stood in the doorway.

 “Mister Burke, come in please.”  He said it as he stepped away from the door.

 I walked past him into the room.  “I hate to seem rude Captain.”  He didn’t let me finish.
 “Take it easy Deacon.  I think we are about to be, if not friends, then co-conspirators.  You see the ship is monitored with surveillance cameras.   They even have low-level optics.  I wish I understood all those things, but alas I don’t.”

 He was obviously enjoying himself.  I hated to ruin his fun so I let him talk.  I simply nodded while trying not to appear nervous.

 “I understand from the FBI agents that you are a photographer.  You might get a kick from our little video cameras.  Unfortunately no one was around to zoom in on the action so it is a little too far away for a movie.  It is however close enough to make an identification.”

 While he spoke he ran the tape.  It was a distant shot of the terrorist and me.  Both of us were standing on the deck.  What seemed like only a few seconds later, I was standing alone with his papers in my hand.

 “The FBI tells me you are a very smooth operator.”  The captain said offering me coffee with a gesture of the pot.
 I declined with a shake of my head then asked, “Have they seen this?”

 “No,” he replied.  I certainly hoped he was not a poker player.  He had lie written all over his face.

 “I called you here to make a deal with you.  If you give me those papers, I will see to it that you leave this ship a free man.”

 “Tell you what Captain Stubbing, you seem to be a perfectly nice man.  If I make a deal I want the FBI to sign onto it.  You show them the tape.  Tell them I know where the man in the video put the papers.  I will be happy to secure them, if I have it in writing that this will not delay my tour of Europe.”

 “My name is Captain Everett, not Stubbing.”  He said it to my back.  
 I had the door open.  I actually had one foot on the outside porch when I heard a different voice.  “Get back in here Burke.”  I recognized the voice as the gaunt agent.

 “Out of the closet are you?” I asked as I walked into the office.  “I knew something was wrong when you let me off so easy.  Hell you never even mentioned the disguise.”
 “Okay, lets stop playing nice.  I want those papers.”  It was a pretty pathetic attempt at being a tough guy.  He obviously wasn’t going to start beating on me with the Captain as a witness.  Since we both knew it, he was wasting his time.  Than again we weren’t rally close enough to Ireland for me to slip away regardless.

 “You heard the deal Burke, you give us the papers and you walk on the killing.”  It was not much of an offer.

 “Tell you what agent, you bring that video tape into court.  While you are at it, I am sure there is one of them backhanding Paris in the dinning room.  Bring it along.  If you show those to a jury, and if they convict me, I will gladly do the time.”  We were both bluffing.  I just figured I had the best of the weak hands.

 “What do you want?” he asked.

 “I want a pardon for any crime I might have committed more than five years ago.  I also want a pardon for any crime in which I am not a suspect at this time.”  I tossed the last in to give them an out.  If they wanted they could dummy up a report making me a suspect in anything current since I hadn’t done anything I would be cleared.  Actually I figured I was clear on most of the crimes.  The murder of the drug dealers was the only one without a statute of limitations.  I wanted to be free of it.

 “I can’t do that,” he demanded.

 “Let me tell you something,” I suggested.  “This is already the hottest news story in the world.  The president is going to look really bad, if the press gets hold of all this.  All he has to do is grant me a pardon for crimes that you can’t pin on me anyway.  I sure as hell ain’t gonna’ tell nobody.”  I didn’t wait for an answer. I stood to leave.

 “Where you going?” the Captain asked.

 “Don’t worry Captain, he isn’t leaving town,” the agent replied.  

 I didn’t bother to make a comment.  I walked back to my deck chair.  The Philip Marlowe mystery could not recapture my interest.  I stayed with it only because the agent was surely having me watched.

 Slightly over an hour later Paris showed up for lunch.  She was exhausted from her workout.  She looked radiant.  I was almost sorry that she demanded time to shower and change before lunch.  There was something incredibly sexy about Paris all sweaty and with stringy hair.  I was ordered to stay in the deck chair while she showered.  The order was delivered so that she might be able to shower alone.  If I had accompanied her to the cabin, lunch might have been a forgotten event.   I don’t think she would have minded so much had she not been hungry from the workout.

 Lunch was again a buffet.  I thought Paris would be upset but it seemed the workout calmed her.  She was actually mellow as we ate.  I could have enjoyed her mood more if I had not been concerned with the FBI.  I was second-guessing myself about pretty much telling them what time frame to look at.  If they did their homework, I had almost nailed down the time and place for them.  If they took a look at crimes with no statute of limitations, I was going to be suspect number one in the multiple homicide of the drug dealers.  Oh well it was a gamble, but one I felt worth the taking.  If I hadn’t thought so I would not have done it.

 Lunch and the afternoon passed with no noticeable changes.  That was how it looked.  I had a pretty good idea the FBI was busy sending radiograms back and forth.  Goes to show how little I knew.

 They were in direct contact with the head of the FBI via their satellite phones.  Within an hour of my offer, the FBI’s representative on the Security Council was making the offer known to the assembled members.  He did it in the hallway, which was not supposed to be monitored.  An offer so open-ended was not likely to meet with approval.  It never would have been, if the information needed had not been in such a public forum.  The nation was screaming for blood.  No one had died but the passengers were almost totally American and British citizens.

 The press was ripping the president a new orifice.  The president’s adviser was the last to hear the story.  When he did, he made a single call directly to the new Presidents desk.

 “Is he under investigation for any crime at this time?” the President asked.  The question went down to several levels before the answer was given,

 “No sir, nobody anywhere ever heard of Deacon Burke,” was the reply.  “Then why haven’t you assured him he has the pardon?  Hell once he gives us the information just forget all about him.”  The man got to be president because he knew a good deal when he saw one.   If only the FBI had listened, everyone would have been better off.

 The FBI got the papers ready then faxed them to the ship.  I was again rounded up.  The toy sailor found me in the cabin on his second visit.

 “Sir, would you come with me please?” he asked.

 “If we are going to meet with the captain sure,” I replied.  I had decided there was one more demand I needed to make.

 “I do believe he will be present,” the kid in the sailor suit replied.
 “Read this,” the FBI agent demanded.

 The papers he handed me were in legal double talk with an English version attached at the rear.  They were everything I had asked for during the interview.  I was a little worried.  The agent didn’t act nearly as upset as I would have expected.  I felt confident the papers were real.  The FBI had recently suffered all the black eyes it could stand.

 Still the deal should have choked him.  He seemed rather smug about it all.  I expected once I handed over the papers, the cuffs would come out.  I signed the deal.  Everybody present signed as witnesses.

 “Okay get me the papers,” the cop demanded.

 I raised the left leg of my trousers. I then painfully removed the scotch-taped package from my leg.  Inside the plastic shirt bag were the wallet and letters I had removed from the dead man.  The wallet was filled with more papers.  

 “I do hope you have someone who reads those nonsense lines?”  I asked it not really caring.  I was just making conversation.  Actually I was waiting to see what trick they had up their sleeves.

 “Mr. Burke, take your deal and leave.”  The agent’s slightly pleasant voice turned cold and cruel.  I didn’t know what the betrayal would be, but I knew for sure then that there would be one.

 I returned to the cabin.  Paris was in the bed.  I went to sit beside her on the edge.  “Are you all right?” I asked gently.

 “Just tired Deacon, unlike you I have been exercising.”

 “You haven’t stopped moving since they left the ship.  Are you sure you are all right?”  I asked suddenly knowing she wasn’t.

 She burst into tears.  I felt it was what she had wanted to do.  “No Deacon, I am not all right.  I had a man killed because he slapped me.  That is so wrong.”  She was suddenly racked with sobs.  They were so strong they rocked even me as I held her.

 “Paris, you do not really think you are responsible for that man’s death.  He made that choice himself.  Neither you nor I bare any responsibility for it.”  I said it seriously.

 “What do you mean?  I asked you to kill him and you did.  We are the only ones responsible for his death.”  She had at least stopped balling.

 “If he had jumped overboard, would we be responsible?”  I was not smiling when I asked it.

 “What are you saying?” she asked not really understanding.
 “When he slapped you, he committed suicide.  It is just that simple.  You can get away with crap like that for a while, but one day you hit the loaded cylinder.  It is as simple as that Paris.  We are not responsible for his death.”  I watched her trying to understand.

 “You mean I did not condemn him?” she asked.

 “Nor could you have saved him.  Think about it.  If you had begged for his life, would it have helped?”  I looked just as cold as I could at her.  I probably should have just held her, but I thought it better to allow her to see the logic.  She nodded while sniffing quietly. I lay down beside her.  Then just held her until she fell asleep.

 The terrorists had done me a great service, or disservice.  I was not sure just which.  They had destroyed the Satellite TV antenna.  We had not seen the news or anything else for the two days since the attack.  The first I heard of the FBI betrayal was when the reporters came on board after we docked in Cork.

 Like everyone else, I was on deck watching the docking when the reporters found me.  They didn’t just stumble on me.  The kid in the sailor suit standing at the top of the gangplank pointed me out to them.  Half a dozen of the parasites surrounded me, because I was too stupid to run from them.

 “Mr. Burke, Tammy Fremont SNN, how does it feel to be an international hero?” a very dark featured woman with a microphone growing out of her arm asked.

 “I do not have any idea what you are talking about,” I replied trying to move away.

 “Come on Deacon, give me a break,” the woman asked in a whisper.

 “I have no idea what any of you are talking about.”  The voices all coming at once confused me.  I knew exactly what the FBI had done.  They were getting even for the pardon.  It was their own way of condemning me to death.  The terrorist had been on a mission from God.  The FBI had gotten world sympathy on their side, while setting me up for ten percent of the world to hate.

 I turned to walk away when the sharp clear voice of the woman shouted after me, “It must take a pretty cold bastard to kill a man with a dinner fork.”  

I turned and looked at here a long moment.  I knew when I did it, that it was the wrong thing to say.  It could only play into the hands of the FBI.  I just couldn’t resist playing James Bond that one time.  

 “It was all I had lady.”  I turned quickly then walked away.  It was my only comment to the press.

 I answered the knock on the cabin door to find a man about my own age standing in the passageway.  He was taller than me.  He also had that athletic body I hated to see on a man.  I hated it because I do not have the discipline to create one for myself.  

 Beside him stood an equally athletic looking woman.  
She was fair of hair and skin, while still dark and quite beautiful in a mysterious kind of way.  She was the one who spoke, while the man stood with nothing more than a stupid smile on his face.

 “Hi, you must be Deacon.  I am Andrea.  I came to say good-bye to Paris.”  It all kind of gushed out of her mouth.

 Fortunately Paris heard her.  I was pretty much at a loss.  “Andrea, come in.”  Paris turned to me. “Deacon, this is Andrea.  She and I worked out in the gym together.”  She turned back to the woman. “This must be your husband Pete.”  She extended her hand to him.  It was also a signal for me to do the same.  I was a little put off by it all, but I knew better than to show it. 

 The women slipped off to talk in the corner while Pete and I looked uncomfortably at each other.  “So, I hear you are a bit of a hero?” Pete asked.

 Since I couldn’t read how he felt about it I said simply, “I guess it depends on who is telling it.”
 “Well, the way I heard it on the local TV news you are.”  He made the comment non-committal.

 “Oh they fixed the Antenna?” I asked.

 “No, we just get the local station.  It is all over how you killed the terrorist with a salad fork.  What is doesn’t say, is why you risked all our lives.”  At that point there was no longer any question how he felt about it.

 Paris overheard him.  She looked up at me, then at him.  “Pete the reason is simple.  I asked him to do it.”  She stood her ground and did not flinch.  As usually happens , the man in her glare backed down.

 “I am sure you had your reasons then,” he replied quietly.

 “Actually Pete, Paris had nothing to do with it.  I didn’t care for his manners.”  I said it trying to come to Paris’ defense.  The look she gave me told me to leave it, or she would be on me next.  I refused to not have the last word, “Anyway, it was a dinner fork.”

 Pete looked at me like I was nuts, then burst into a childish nervous giggle.  “Okay, a dinner fork.  I am sorry.  I must sound quite the fool.  I expect I come off a bit jealous.  You know the old macho, ‘It should have been me,’ kind of thing.”

 “Not really, you sound like a man concerned for his family,” I replied letting him save face.

 He simply smiled.  Even though he was younger, he seemed to understand.  Pete looked to be in his mid thirties where as at that time I was on the dark side of forty.  There could easily have been ten years difference in out ages.  Pete was not nearly as dark as his wife, nor as attractive to my way of thinking.  Then again, I was not a woman either. Pete and I didn’t really know enough about each other to hold more than a superficial conversation.  “So Pete, is the extra day at sea going to cause yquiet.

 “Yes it is , we were supposed to meet our tour group yesterday.  Now we are going to have to spend a couple of days in Cork until the next one is ready to leave.”  He didn’t seem to be looking forward to it.  I doubted it was about money.  The cruise lines would probably be picking up the tab.  I was sure it had more to do with time schedules than expenses.  Pete just looked like the kind of guy who would be a slave to his schedule.

 The voice like a tinkling bell came from over my shoulder.  “Where are you two going to stay?”  The voice was Paris.  She was asking Andrea, but her volume had increased enough to make sure I heard.

 “The tour line said to stay anywhere we liked , they would pay for it.  Pete thought we might check into a really fancy place.” she replied.  At that point there were two equally likely possibilities.  Paris could say, “That really sounds like a wonderful idea doesn’t it Deacon.”  Or she might say, “Deacon and I are going to find some quaint little Irish pub.”  Either would in effect put us in the younger couple’s company for a couple of days.  I knew better than to object.  I simply waited to see which it would be.

 “Well, I promised Deacon that if he would take a real cruise ship rather than a tramp steamer I would stay in an authentic Irish Pub.  You know one of those quaint little inns.”

At that point I had two choices.  I could suggest we go to a fancy hotel or I could shut my mouth.  I chose the latter.

 “Oh that sounds like loads of fun,” Andrea cooed.  “Pete honey, could we do that too.  Maybe we could stay at the same one.”

 I think Pete looked to make sure there was no dinnerware around before he said, “Sure honey, if they don’t mind.”

 “Oh course we don’t mind,” Paris replied before I could object.  She also stared holes into me, just to make sure I didn’t make any comments at all.  Paris turned her attention back to Andrea, “Good then it is settled.”  Paris switched her gaze to me, “What is the name of the inn?”

 “I don’t know yet,” I replied with a smile.  “It is part of the adventure.  We are going to go looking for just the right one.”  Paris knew I was trying to discourage the younger couple.

 “Oh what fun,” she said smiling at Andrea.
 “Oh my, an adventure right from the start.  This is going to be such fun.”  She clutched her husband’s arm as she spoke.  To Pete’s credit he rolled his eyes in my direction.  He understood that our ladies had decided no matter what to have fun.  I was personally glad to see it.  I thought that Andrea might actually help Paris adjust to the ever-changing challenge of a month or more on the road with no written plan.  Paris hadn’t been thrilled with my plans before I split from New Mexico.  She seemed to be coping.  Actually coping better then I thought she would.  I had been prepared to counter all kinds of obstacles she hadn’t yet tossed at me.

 At that moment I heard the strong knock used by the ship’s personnel.  I opened the door to a porter standing in the hall.

 “Mr. Burke, the captain thought you might like to leave from the rear passageway.  It is the one the crew uses to unload the luggage.  He thought there might be fewer reporters.”

 “Why would he think that, you already threw me to the wolves sonny,” I snapped in reply.
 “Deacon, all things considered I expect he has a good idea,” Paris replied.  She was either trying to be nice for Andrea and Pete’s benefit, or she wanted to keep me from making any more stupid statements to the press.  Either way I recognized the wisdom of her remarks.

 “Why don’t you get our luggage together so we can get right into a cab.” I replied.

 “Actually you need to get the Benjamins’ luggage also,” Paris added it with a smile that wasn’t exactly a smile at all.  It had a trace of the lady of the manor’s disguised order.

 “Of course madam,” the porter answered.  “What cabin number sir.”

 “C10,” Pete replied.  He had never seen Paris at work.  He seemed genuinely amazed that the porter acquiesced so easily.

 “Your bags will be by the rear gangplank in ten minutes,” he replied.  He rightly assumed we were all ready to leave the ship.  I expect everyone on board was way past ready to leave.

 “By the way could you find us a large car and driver?” I asked.  I wasn’t at all sure I shouldn’t have had Paris ask.

 “Absolutely sir,” the porter agreed as he left the room.

 “Do you two need to return to your cabin for anything?”  Paris asked.

 “No we were all packed.  I just came to say goodbye while we waited for a porter,” Andrea suggested.

 “Good, then lets have a drink since no one will be driving,” she suggested. She and Andrea walked together behind Pete and I as we went into the lounge.  At that time of the morning the only customers were alcoholics and the four of us.  

 Paris and I shared the obligatory toast, “Here’s to us, and those like us, living and dead, but mostly dead.”  After our toast, which I had introduced her too several years earlier, we talked.
 “You seemed to have gotten younger Deacon, and less fatherly toward Paris,” Pete said it almost baiting me.

 “Ah Pete, as for younger, it must be the sea air.  I do not remember ever saying I was Paris’ father.  You must have been reading the ship’s manifest.”  That one threw him for loop.  “Regardless, that was an error.  Paris and I are lovers and not related at all.”  I waited to see what reaction any or all of them would have.  As usual Paris was the first to comment.

 “And a damn fine lover he is,” Paris giggled which broke up Andrea.

 “Well, here is to damn fine lovers,” Andrea suggested.

 “Here, here,” I agreed.  Pete seemed to be happy to be off the ships manifest hook, so he joined us by raising his glass.

 “I guess they are ready for us by now,” Pete reminded us.  “It’s been twenty minutes.

 “Double the stated time seems a little less than what is needed, but we shall see,” Paris replied solemnly.
 For some reason Andrea found her remark hilarious.  She burst into laughter.  Andrea looked at Pete then broke off the laughter abruptly.  Well trained I thought.  I laughed silently as I tried to imagine Paris in the same situation.

 The four of us wandered to the rear of the ship.  The crew gangplank was indeed down.  The three larger suitcases belonging to Paris and I were piled to the side of the little row of trailers headed for the debarkation point.
 The luggage for the Benjamin couple had to be found.  I tried to stay hidden until the task was finished.  To my surprise I managed it.  I wasn’t sure but I might have been a little disappointed that my fifteen minutes of fame had ended.

 The large older Mercedes pulled up moments before the Benjamin’s luggage was found.  “You Burke?” the small man with an exaggerated British accent asked.

 “I am,” I replied then added.  “I thought this was Ireland.”

 “It is Mate.  I can get you an Irish driver, if you want to ride in a smaller car with a drunk at the wheel.”  The man was arrogant as hell.  Paris smiled a great warm smile.  She knew I was going to get along fine with the man.

 “I think I will go with the sober driver of the big car,” I said it offering my hand to the small man in the black suit.

 “Good choice mate,” he replied taking my hand.  “Name’s Charlie Henderson.”

 “I’m Deacon Burke, that is Paris.” I turned to the other couple.  

 “Peter Benjamin, and this is Andrea,” Pete suggested.

 “Cool mate,” Charlie replied.  Charlie’s gaze went to the suddenly much larger pile of luggage.  “I see you are planning to relocate.”

 I think I was the only one who got it.  “No, they are all empty.  We are planning to buy a lot of crap.”

 “Ah typical tourist,” Charlie said smiling at me.

 “Yep, got my loud shirts in the bags.  Could you take us to the closest McDonald’s.”  Paris laughed breaking the tension.

 “Okay mate, let me toss in these bags and we are off.”  Charlie loaded the bags very efficiently.  They all fit into the trunk of the giant older car, which surprised me.

 The seating in the car was simple.   Since it was silently decided that I would be the spokesperson , I sat up front.  In th e rear Andrea sat between Pete and Paris.

 Unfortunately the press caught sight of us.  A mad dash for their cars followed.  I turned to look back.  “That all about you mate?” Charlie asked.

 “Afraid so,” I replied.

 “Well mate, are you enjoying it or should I lose them?” he asked.
 “Lose them would be nice,” I replied as I saw the press cars begin to appear behind us.

 “Twenty bucks American and it is done,” Charlie said with grin.
 “Five bucks apiece sounds reasonable enough,” I replied.

 Charlie grinned, then racked the car hard into a right turn.  The turn carried us into the alley between two wooden warehouses.  The dock road was lined with warehouses all looking alike.  The alley ran around to the rear of the building.  It dumped us into a parking lot, which appeared to have no exit.  The exit was a single opening into the next parking lot.  

 The reporters were far enough behind for the visibility to be poor.  Charlie zipped through the space then made a quick left and then right turn.  I had no idea what he was up to.

 “Look behind us,” he suggested as I gazed questioningly at him.
 “The quick zig zag caused the car following to miss the entrance .  They were headed for a space just a few feet to the left of the opening.  At that point there were two concrete barricades.  Each barricade was no more than a foot high.  The effect of the two was different on each car depending on the speed of the vehicle I suppose.  
 The first one hit it hard.  The tires blew first then it went airborne.  It landed on top of the parked car of a warehouse worker.  I expected there would be heated words.

  As I watched I couldn’t help the laugh.  Before I could stop, the second car hit the same spot.  It however was braking hard.  The effect on it was to strand it atop the barricades, milliseconds later other cars piled into it.

 Pete who was also watching asked, “Shouldn’t we stop to see if they need help?”

 “Mate, half the cell phones in Ireland are in those cars.  Lots of them aren’t hurt at all.  They are sitting back there trying to decide which is the better story.”  Charlie’s laugh belonged to a much larger man than the five-five , sandy haired Englishman.

 “Now Guv, where would you like to go?”  Charlie asked it as he pulled onto the warehouse road.

 “Charlie, nice work back there by the way.”  He nodded as I handed him the twenty.  “Now can you find us an Irish pub with rooms to rent over it ?  And Charlie, not one of the tourist things, a real pub an Irish couple might stay in while waiting for a ship.”

 “Deacon, there is nothing like that left in Cork.  The damned cruise ship traffic has turned them all into quaint little bed and breakfast places.”   If he could have, I am sure he would have spat. 

 “Do you know where there is one?” I asked.

 “Sure, about five miles outside town.  It is what the Irish had instead of your Motels.  But, I have to warn you it is not the Howard Johnson.”

 I was thinking about Paris.  I was about to ask when Andrea spoke.  “If I wanted to stay at the Howard Johnson I could have gone to Richmond.”  She suddenly realized she had spoken for us all.  “Sorry that is just my opinion.”

 “Mine too,” Paris suggested.  I knew it was her way of accepting that she was going to be outnumbered.

 “So Charlie take us to... What is the name anyway?” I asked.

 “The Boar and Thistle is the closest one,” he said with a hint of humor in his voice.

 During the thirty minutes it took to get through downtown then into the country we learned that Charlie had been stationed in Ireland as part of the British army during the ‘troubles’.  He decided his mustering out pay would be better spent in Cork than Liverpool.  He bought then restored the giant Mercedes.  The car, being the biggest boat on the dock, got more than its share of customers.

 We all knew more about Charlie than we needed by the time he pulled into the drive of the Boar and Thistle, drive is a bit of a stretch.  It was a dirt courtyard.  The pub was actually three buildings,connected by covered walkways which had been enclosed .  Each of the wings took off at a different angel.  If one had an organized mind, he would be reeling at the sight.  Pete had an organized mind.  I could see his head spinning at the sight of the terribly off balance building.

 “Oh my god how lovely,” Andrea suggested with a smile which I could actually hear in her voice.  The building was stucco with a thatched roof.  It actually looked quite charming, though it is not a word I would normally use.  The buildings had recently been painted and the landscaping appeared to be well maintained.  It actually did look charming, still a word I blanched to use.

 The women walked around the front courtyard while Charlie and I unloaded the luggage.  “Charlie do you work the docks every day?” I asked.

 “No sense in it.  The cruise ships don’t land that often.  I usually work around the hotels.”

 “I want to go look for a car to buy tomorrow.  Would you be interested in driving me around a bit?”  I waited for a response.

 “Sure, just pay my rate and you have my loyalty.”  He said it with a smile which I found cynically appealing.

 Charlie, Pete, and I carried the bags into the small lobby.  I put down the bags then walked to the man behind the desk.  

”We would like two rooms with baths please.”  I was proud that I had remembered to ask for rooms with baths.  I would ordinarily not have bothered, but I thought if it were a real country pub there might be community bathrooms.  Paris would never hear of such a thing.

 I cannot mimic the Irish brogue but it went something like this.  “Sure in we can do that my lord.  Front or rear?” the older man replied.

 I did not understand a bit of it.  Paris came to the rescue.  She had better ears than me.  “Rear,” she replied.

 “What have you gotten us into?” I asked.

 “ Rooms on the rear side of the building I hope,” she replied with a giggle.  I thought for a second she had begun to enjoy the adventure.  “If this is a dump we move tomorrow.” she continued.  Paris did not break her smile.  The one she wore for Pete and Andrea.

 “The pub is serving a late lunch.  If you are hungry I can have the bags taken to your rooms,” the older man suggested.

 “So what do you say guys?   Want to risk a late lunch in the pub?”  I asked it pretty sure of the response at least from Andrea.

 “Super,” she replied.  Pete simply nodded.  

 “Yeah, Super,” Paris said smiling sweetly at me.  I knew Andrea might wear thin at any moment.
 “Very well,” I will bring your keys after the bags are delivered.

 “Good,” I replied.  Charlie had waited patiently.  I turned to him while the others went into the pub.  “So Charlie how much for today and how much for tomorrow?”

 “Another forty American for today and if we finish in half a day sixty American for tomorrow.”

 “Charlie you are a thief, but it sounds like the best deal I could make,” I replied.

 “It is lad,” he replied in a fake Irish brogue.  “So what time?”

 “Hell you pick it.  I am just going to visit a couple of guys who have cars for sale.”

 “Then make it ten a.m.  Give them time to wake up and me time to get a fare or two to the railway station.”

 “Good, I am going to need to sleep late again anyway.”  We shook hands after the money was paid.  Charlie left as I walked into the pub.  

 I had expected a dark place with a large bar.  It was a good thing I had because the pub was dark, with a long bar.  The wall across from the bar was lined with booths.  I found the rest of my little clan seated in a booth.  The empty seat was of course beside Paris.

 I sat down in the dark wooden booth.  I wasn’t surprised to find that it was unpadded.  It was more than slightly uncomfortable.  In a booth like that you had two choices.  Drink enough to forget the feel of it, or move on to make room for someone who would.

 In our case it was lunch followed by enough dark Irish brew to forget that our tails fell asleep.  I think Andrea was the first to get silly, followed shortly by her husband.  After an hour of acting like school kids, Andrea began to get touchy feely.  I thought it was cute.  Paris failed to see the humor.
 I was far from plastered when Paris suggested that a nap might be in order.  I waited to see what cute remark Andrea would make.  I was speechless at her reply.

 “I totally agree Paris.  You know we could save a lot of money, if next time we just book one room.”  Andrea must have expected the look from Paris because he burst into laughter.

“God Deke, we need pictures of Paris and Pete’s faces.”  I smiled even though I knew Paris would be on the warpath because of it.

 “Some people know how to have fun and some don’t,” I replied.  I knew it was harmless flirtation but I expected Paris to have a sharp reply.  

 “Well Peter, what do you think?” she asked more seriously than I liked.

 “I think these two need to stop reading so much,” he said it with a charming though serious smile.

 “Well I read murder mysteries and there is hardly any group sex in them,” I said with a laugh.

 “Romance novels, lots of sex .  They even have some heroes like Deacon, but no group sex at all.  I didn’t suggest that by the way.”  Even in her back peddling Andrea giggled.  “Merely we all share a room.  Who knows one of us might learn something.” We all, kind of, sat with our own thoughts.  

 Pete broke the silence. “Time to take Andrea for that nap.”  He laughed to hide his embarrassment.  “If they didn’t mix up the luggage we are in C3.”

 “Deacon, why don’t we go up too?  We can make sure we have the right key.  If you want, we can come back down later.”  She had just invited me for sex.  Everyone knew it.  You had to give it to her, Paris knew how to stake out a claim.

 I tried to pay the bill but Pete insisted.  It was his way of paying for the ride, a ride for which I had not allowed him to make any reimbursement.  Since the pub was as Charlie had promised, the lunch and drinks did not come to half Charlie’s bill.  Still it was the only offer available to Pete.  I did appreciate his wish to be fair about the expenses.
 Paris and I were next door to the Benjamin’s.  I was not surprised, nor would I have been surprised to find us in the distant wing.  I had intentionally not made a preference known to the desk clerk.

 After all the Irish brew, I needed to use the facilities.  I opened the only door that could have been a bathroom.  I was startled to find Andrea in a very revealing gown.  She was brushing here hair while looking into the large mirror hanging on the wall.  

 She turned her head to the sound of the door opening.  She saw me smiled then returned to brushing her hair.  She didn’t seem to notice that I could see every detail of her body through the spider web of lace over transparent nylon.  I quietly closed the door.

 “Come look Deacon,” Paris said not noticing my departure.  She had swung open the balcony doors.  The balcony was very narrow no more then three feet.  On it was a round metal table with two very small chairs.  The chairs looked most uncomfortable.  It didn’t matter since one could throw open the two doors for a wonderful view of the rear courtyard.  The rear courtyard was pretty but not what Paris wanted me to see.  Just past the inn’s longest wing was a pasture.  In the pasture a dozen stubby horses grazed.  Among the horses were a couple of frolicking colts.  Also across the pasture was a building with a red tiled roof.  If I had been a painter, I would have broken out the easel.  Instead I wrapped my arms around Paris.  My hands naturally fell over her full breasts.

 “Deacon would you make love to me with the door open.   I want to feel a part of all this?” she asked quietly.

 “If you want I will make love to you on the balcony,” I suggested.

 “I think you have me confused with Andrea,” Paris said with a small smile.

 “No way I could confuse you with anyone.”  I lifted Paris in my arms to carry her to the large oversized bed .  As always, I was surprised by her small body.  Paris had such a large presence; it was hard to remember she was a small woman.  I placed her gently on the bed then kissed her.

 “Wait right here. I have to return some of the ale,” I suggested.

 “Again?” she asked.

 “No, I couldn’t get into the bathroom earlier.  It seems we share it with the Benjamin’s,” I informed her.

 “Oh, exactly how did you discover that?”  She seemed to suddenly have an interest in the physical surroundings.  She sat up against the headboard waiting for an answer.

 “It is not what you think,” I replied.  “I opened the door to find Andrea brushing her hair.  She must not have known about the connecting door.”

 “I’ll bet,” Paris said with a smile.

 “Anyway I have to use it,” I admitted.

 “Well knock first, not that it would make any difference to her.”
 “Paris you do sound jealous.”  I couldn’t help but smile.  As I spent the few minutes in the bathroom, I could not help but remember Andrea’s body.  She was taller than Paris but not much.  She was younger and therefore a little trimmer but only because she was muscular.  She was all hard edges whereas Paris was soft rounded corners.  Andrea did have breasts just a little larger than her body called for.  Mostly I remembered her nipples being puffed out like a chocolate cup.  Thinking of her at that time was probably not the best idea.  Then again, it sure kept me in the mood for Paris.

 A couple of hours later Paris went into the bathroom for the first time.  She returned a couple of minutes later.  She did not look happy when she removed her robe.  “Deacon, I am going to have a talk with the owner or manager.” she informed me.

 “And why is that Paris?” I asked.  There were a couple of possibilities both from the bathroom arrangement.

 “Ordinarily I would never share a bath.  I can live with that since we do know the people.  But the filthy wallpaper must be cleaned.  Frankly I would demand we move were it not for the view.”  As she spoke she was looking out the window.  Even in the twilight the view was spectacular.

 “Let’s hope you can get someone to clean it because I am not going to do it.  I am also not going to allow you to do it.”  I realized the foolishness of what I had just said.  For one thing I knew damned well I could not decide what Paris would or would not do.  For another if she asked, it would happen.  I had seen her work magic too many times not to believe in it.

 “Could you hold off till tomorrow?  I really would like to have dinner without worry that I am going to be poisoned by the staff.”  I did smile to lighten the words.

 “As you wish dear,” the condescending tone should have bothered me, but the playful smile eased it.  Of course the fact that she had a very tight hold on me didn’t hurt either.

 “So you want to wake the kids for dinner?” I asked.

 “Hell no, I want you all to myself,” she replied.

 Dinner was very good.  One thing I learned about pubs that night from the waitress.  She explained the menu to us.  “Pub food was usually fairly plain, and the menu small.”

   The food was delicious.  My dinner consisted of sausages with a cabbage salad.  The beans served with it were of a variety strange to me.  Still, when washed down with the strong ale it was a meal to remember.

 The kids, as I had come to think of them, arrived toward the end of our dinner.  Pete sat beside Paris who was across from me.  Andrea sat beside me.  I don’t think Paris was too happy about the seating arrangements.  She probably didn’t suggest a change since Andrea looked more than satisfied.  Sex in a hotel just seemed to be better to a little housewife, I supposed.

 “So what is good?” Andrea asked smiling at her husband.
 “If you mean besides my Deacon, the fish pie was quite delicious,” Paris said with a very sexy smile.  The smile was aimed at me but meant for Andrea to see.

 Andrea smiled at Paris in a way that I couldn’t quite get a handle on.  She and Pete ordered while Paris and I sat drinking the harsh dark ale.  It was a wordless agreement that we would wait for them to finish dinner.  I supposed someone had a plan for the evening.  If they did it got lost.
 People began coming in from the surrounding area.  Soon the room was one giant party.  Even though we were outsiders we got included.  It was nothing we said or did that got us included.  It seemed to be just a lot of really nice people gathered in one room.  We spent several hours drinking and flirting with the locals.  Andrea and Paris flirted with the older men while Pete and I danced with their wives.  Now and again a young women would find her way into my arms.  Once in a while even Paris made it down to me.  I could see by the twinkle in her eye she loved all the attention she was getting.

 The night ended with the dart game.  I was being hustled by the local champ.  I figured to let him win about twenty bucks then leave.  Andrea showed an interest.  The local champ agreed to allow her to finish my game.  It was pretty much going to be the last one and double or nothing for the ten I had already lost.  I have been playing for a half hour and the guy has been kicking my ass.

 “Don’t worry if you lose,” I said that as I handed her the darts.  I had no idea how they kept score so I handed her the twenty then left the area.  Ten minutes later she came to the booth where I sat alone.

 “Here is your twenty bucks.  I supposed I can keep this ten?” she asked it with a great smile on her face.

 “You beat him?” I asked.

 “Of course, I play darts every Friday night at home.  Pete and I play in a place just like this.  Not just like it, but you know what I mean.”  She was sitting across from me in the booth.

 “Sure one of those neighborhood things.  We don’t have those down south.”  I smiled at her across the table.

 “Are you from the South.  I thought you owned a nightclub in New Mexico?”  She didn’t seem to be doing any more than asking a harmless question.  At that point in my life I was sure there were no harmless questions.

 “Retired owner,” I replied.

 “Sure, Paris said you were taking some time off before starting some new venture.  Will it be as exciting as the nightclub?”  Suddenly her questioning took on the air of an interrogation.  
 “My imagination,” I told myself.  Then I told her, “I haven’t decided on anything yet.”

 “But you do have options?” she asked while appearing to be less than interested.

 “Not at the moment,” I replied.

 “Paris thinks you do,” she informed me.

 “Paris does not know everything.  This is sort of a reunion cruise.”  I explained it because I expected Paris had already confided part of it to her.

 “Yeah, I heard.  Kind of a second honeymoon.  Only you never were married,” Andrea replied.

 “That about sums it up,” I agreed.

 I would like to say we sat in silence.  However we sat with the music blaring in our ears.  After a few minutes that seemed much longer, Pete drifted over.  “So honey, it is getting late.  You ready for bed?”

 “Where is Paris?” Andrea asked Pete as if he had been with her.  I had kept an eye on Paris.  She was standing at the bar with two local ladies.  I couldn’t hear their laughter over the noise but I could see their animated faces.  Paris seemed to be having a wonderful time.  Paris also turned to look at me every few minutes.  Checking to see that I wasn’t bored, I told myself.

 “Dun no,” Pete murmured.  It seemed Pete had tried to out drink some of the locals.  He had parted with a few dollars I expected.

  I had learned long ago, when a man in a bar offers you a bet, you can make the bet, but your money is as good as in his pocket.   Bars are filled with easy money bets.  The way to win them is to keep your money in your pocket.

 “Will you be okay?” Andrea asked nodding toward the bar.

 “I will be very okay,” I replied.  I knew exactly what would happen and it did.  The two of them were gone the next time Paris ‘checked’ on me.  She immediately said her good-byes.

 “Hi Sweets, having fun yet?” she asked not the least bit drunk.
 “What you drinking?” I asked with a knowing smile.

 “I started with their version of lemonade.  It got too acidic so I switched to ginger beer.  It is really just a watered down ginger ale.”  I nodded my understanding.

 “So you ready for bed?” she asked.
 “Always ready to drag you off to bed.”  I said it even thought there was no need to answer.  She knew it.  She smiled as she picked up her purse.  “You do say the sweetest things.”

 Sleep that night was just exactly that.  We slept in the ignorance reserved for people in love.  If I had known that the gears were turning all over the world, I would have at least closed the patio doors.  Since I didn’t know, the God of ignorance protected us that night.

 I jerked awake just before the sky lightened.  I silently checked the room, then stared into the dark courtyard for a while.  I noticed a chill in the room.  It might have been June but the night air was cool.  I closed the patio doors then returned to the bed.

 I next awoke when Paris slipped from the bed.  I kept my eyes closed as I listened to all the morning sounds.  When I had catalogued each, I opened my eyes to a sight more beautiful then the courtyard.  Paris was standing nude looking out the patio doors.  Okay I know it is warped, but I hoped some poor farmhand got a look at the beautiful Paris that morning.  She was in truth a beautiful Madonna framed by those open patio doors.  It was an even better sight when she turned.

 “Morning Deacon,” she said softly.  It was no more than a throaty whisper.  It was obvious she had known I was awake before she turned.

 “How did you know?” I asked.

 “I felt your eyes on me love,” she replied as if I was a child for not having known it.

 “Oh,” I replied dismissing it.  I easily recognized the truth.  Paris could always tell what I was up too, even when we were apart.  

 I was torn.  I wanted to pull her back into the bed.  I was also in pain from the previous day.  We had been making love fiercely since the ordeal with the terrorist had ended.  An affirmation of life she called it.  I was not sure exactly what that meant.  I was sure I would be walking bowlegged for a few days.

 Paris disappeared into the bathroom to do I knew not what.  When she returned to the room she was wrapped in a towel.  Fortunately for me it was not the kind of towel from a fancy hotel.  It was much smaller and barely covered her body.  At that moment I knew I had made the right decision.  If we had stayed at a fancy place, there would have been a robe.  If there had been a robe, I would have missed a most wonderful sight, Paris hiding behind a towel not much larger than a washcloth.

 Watching Paris dress in the natural morning light was a treat.  One I had missed too long.  The worst thing about being on the run was spending so much time alone.  Lack of human contact made me very appreciative of Paris.  I have a feeling she loved the extra attention it got her.   Whether it was enough to send me away again was a question I didn’t really want answered.  I would have hated to learn that I couldn’t fit into her everyday life again.  That was a discussion to be saved until the vacation ended.
 Paris had chosen a very simple outfit for the day.  It was not a travel day.  It was however a day for shopping.  The plans had been made the night before.  Paris and Andrea where going into the shopping district of Cork.  Porcelain and wool seemed to fill their minds the night before.  God alone knew what the two women would finally purchase.

 Peter had decided to come along with Charlie and I to look for a touring car.  Over our breakfast of kidneys and eggs, I circled advertisements in the local paper.  The kidneys were new to me.  Paris had forced me to try them.

 “If you have me living with dirty wallpaper, you at least have to eat the local food.”  It made sense even to my twisted mind.

 After breakfast ended Paris asked, “Would you go with me to see the manager please?  You do not have to speak.  I just want you there for moral support.”  It was a request, but one I dare not refuse. Paris had a way of doing that to people.  Maybe it was her secret.  Her magic, if you will.  I simply nodded, as she knew I would.

 The desk clerk wasn’t happy about it, but he announced us to the owner.  I expect his job was to screen the people.
 “Sir,” Paris began.  “As you can see we are American Tourists.”  The manager nodded.   He also looked down at the newspaper.  I saw my picture on the front page.  It was the one some jerk had taken when they attempted to interview me.  I couldn’t understand how I missed it when I read the car advertisements.

 “I would like to recommend this place to my friends when they come here.  Possibly even write a letter to the editor of Travel Magazine about your lovely inn,” she continued.  The owner/manager of the inn looked up at me.  There was a question on his face.  He was more or less ignoring Paris.  It was dangerous thing for him to do.  I shook my head trying to signal him to listen to her.
 Paris of course noticed he was paying her no attention at all.  “Sir, are you listening to me at all?” she snapped.

 “Yes madam.  You would like to recommend my Inn but there is something that would prevent that.  I am quite sorry you find our inn less than satisfactory.  I can have the clerk prepare your bill.”   Paris’ face began to color.  He had just challenged her.

 “I think not.  You are open to the public?”  She was smiling but it was a cold smile.

 “Of course madam,” he replied.  He looked up at me.  He could not tell what the strong willed woman had on her mind.  He obviously was getting nervous.

 “Deacon, you did notice the abominable lack of cleanliness in the kitchen.  Did you not?”   I knew my part in the production so I nodded.

 “And the conditions behind the bar in the pub, deplorable,” she said.  “Now sir, I am sure you have paid the right people to be in business, but do you think you can stand the scrutiny of the press.” At that point Paris picked up the paper off his desk.  She folded it to the picture then tossed it back.

 The owner/manger seemed to think a moment then asked, “What exactly is it you want madam.”

 “I want someone to clean the wallpaper in our bath room while we are shopping.  I would not ordinarily ask but we intend to stay a few days.”

 “Madam, if you had simply asked, it would have been done.  I do not run an inn that is dirty madam.”  He was trying to save face.  I was interested to see if Paris would allow it.

 “You are right of course.  I am sorry I went about it so heavy handed.  I am glad we came to this understanding.”  They both knew he had given in completely.

 We were almost out the door when he asked, “Mr. Burke, would you sign this picture please?”

 I made a big production of looking at Paris who nodded her permission.  I wanted him to know Paris’ position in my life.  If not that , then to at least to give her a bit more status with the pig.  Hell it couldn’t hurt and my god the rewards would be great later on down the road.  I signed the picture.

 “I wonder how I missed that picture in the paper this morning?”  I asked it as we climbed the one flight of stairs leading to our room.


    “Because Deacon, it is on the local news section and I removed that section before you saw it.  I didn’t think you would be interested in your new celebrity status.”

 “Well, it is rather a good picture,” I replied smiling.

 “Yes, I suppose it is you pig.”  There was a much greater smile on her face as she spoke.

 Inside the room we heard noises coming from the bathroom.  Paris and I sat on the balcony at the tiny table to watch the horses at play.  We also saw staff members arriving to begin the day.  Since the kitchen staff was already assembled it appeared the new arrivals were the cleaning crew.  I wondered which one would be scrubbing the wallpaper in our bathroom.

 We enjoyed the morning for another hour before the knock on the door forced me inside.  I moved slowly because I knew who it would be.

 “Morning Deke,” the cheerful voice of Andrea greeted me as I opened the door.  I wondered how long it would take Paris to kiss off the bubbly little thing.  Only a day more of her before the Benjamin’s tour left. I can stand that I told myself.
 “Come on in. Paris is on the balcony,” I suggested.

 “Isn’t that view dreadful,” she said it seriously as she moved to the balcony.  She flopped down in the chair I had vacated.  “Geese,” She said waving her arm to encompass it all.  “Just a real cliché of what a rural Irish scene would be.  I am so glad we are going to be on the tour.  Why don’t you guys come along?” she asked.

 “Oh, I thought you had fun last night?”  I was surprised to find Paris defending my choice.

 “Sure, but I can spend nights like that at home.  I want to see and do things.  You know nightclubs, that kind of thing.”  It was quite a speech.  Paris was about to tell her a few things when I was summoned to the door again.

 “Morning Deke, is Andrea here?” Pete asked.

 “Back here Hon,” Andrea shouted.

 Seeing there was no room on the balcony, Pete stood with me just inside the door.  He looked about uncomfortably.   I looked down at Paris trying to decide what to do.

 “So Deacon, have the clerk call us a taxi please.”  It was Paris’ way to get me out of the uncomfortable situation.

 “Right, I’ll do that then wait in the pub for Charlie.”  If Pete wanted to go, he would have to ask again.

 “You sure you don’t mind me coming along Deke?  Somehow I just can’t see a day shopping with the ladies as being much fun.”  He wasn’t really questioning it at all just making noises.

 “No problem Pete, if it gets boring looking at cars we can pick up a couple of chicks.”  I watched Paris as her face lit up with the smile.  Andrea on the other hand looked a little unhappy.

 “Pete don’t need a chick Deacon.  I give him all the sex he can handle.”  I knew it was true.  She just didn’t know how irritating she could be, what with her continual references to her sex life.

 After the ladies left in their taxi Pete and I retired to the pub.  We drank the harsh black coffee until Charlie arrived some twenty minutes later.  I watched as he walked through he almost empty pub.  The almost was a reference to the few old men with red noses and veins showing on their cheeks.

 “Well Deacon, were are we off to today mate?” Charlie asked. As an answer I handed him the morning newspaper with three cars circled.  “Well mate, I know where two of them are.  The third I can find with me trusty old map of Cork.  So lets be off.”

 “Wouldn’t you like a cup first,” I asked holding up the coffee.

 “Coffee, hell no, that is a lousy Yank concoction designed to bring down the empire.”  Pete might have taken him seriously, but I sure as hell didn’t.

 “Hardly a Yank thing.  It is the second biggest export from Colombia.”  I smiled while Charlie grinned.  Pete either didn’t get it, or didn’t care for the humor.  I left money on the table of the booth then followed the other two out the door.

 In the parking lot I followed Charlie to a midsize BMW four door sedan.  “I see you left the tank at home?”

 “Right mate, that thing take more in gas than I am charging you for the half day.  You will just have to make do with the, is it Beemer you call it?

 “I think the yuppies do.  I call it a pretentious piece of tin.”  That time I smiled as I spoke.

 “Oh my, you Yanks are so disrespectful of fine engineering,” Charlie replied almost seriously.

 The drive to the first address was pleasant enough.  Charlie told us a little about Cork as we rode.  Most of what he knew came straight from the tourist brochur e, he informed me.  Most people never read them, so it was news to almost everyone.  Charlie had a wicked sense of humor it seemed.  Playing tour guide with information already available in the hotel rooms, our rooms being the exception to the rule.  Being a non tourist trap meant that there was no tourist information available.  Paris and Andrea as well as Pete and I were at the mercy of the cab drivers.

 When we arrived at our first stop I saw the convertible sitting in the yard.  It was red, which was fine with me.  Color made no difference whatsoever.  I found the doors locked.  I was forced to knock on the house door.

 The woman who came to the door was about fifty pounds over weight and wore a housedress of some kind.  It was a shapeless thing with huge flowers all over it.  The flowers I expected were to hide the jelly stains.

 “What can I be adoin fer you?” she asked.  I almost had to ask Charlie to interpret for me.  I just barely was able to figure it out during the ten seconds delay.
 “I wanted to look at your car?”  I asked it trying not to sound like a tourist, but I doubted it came off well.

 “Sure’n I’ll get you the key,” she replied.  Actually she said a lot more, but it was all I understood.  
 A moment later I took the key to start the car.  It started with a grinding sound.  I shut down the engine immediately.  Charlie looked at me.  I shrugged.  He smiled.

 The next one we saw was advertised as a ‘small convertible’.  It was small all right.  A three cylinder two seat convertible.  It would have been fine had it not been rated as 380 pounds of cargo.  I think Paris’ luggage exceeded that.  Toss in our combined weights and it was way too much.

 We were in the car headed to a pub Charlie knew for lunch when he asked, “Deacon, why would anyone be following you?”

 Naturally I looked behind us.  I saw a red blob in the distance.  “Is someone following Charlie.  It must be the husband of one of your ladies,” I suggested even though I knew nothing of his love life.

 “Don’t think so Mate, I picked them up at your digs.”  I became worried at that point.  He was too positive they came from the inn.  Since I had no reason to doubt him, I had to assume they were after Pete or me.  Pete seemed less likely.

 “Charlie, where can I get a weapon?  I know pistols are hard to come by here.  How about a shotgun?”  Charlie didn’t answer for a few seconds while he worked on the key ring hanging from the ignition.  When he had all but the ignition key free, he handed the ring to me.  He held one key when he did.

 “Open the dash Mate,” he demanded.  

 From the dash I removed a revolver set on a very square frame.  It was the strangest looking pistol I had ever seen.  Charlie somehow sensed my curiosity.

 “Webley,” he said.  Then added, “I am a bit of a collector.  That is a World War Two officer’s revolver.  Strange looking bit of metal I know.  I carry a bit of money once in a while so I keep it around to make the deposits at night.”

 “Is it loaded?” I asked.

 “You can break it open to look, if you want to waste the time,” he suggested.

 “No need,” I replied.  “Now Charlie before I go killing some innocent reporter tell me how we can find out who they are.”

 “If they are bent on mischief, I figure they are waiting for a lonely place to do it.  How about before we give them the opportunity to do it, we have a spot of lunch.   I figure we can spend enough time in the pub so they have to go to the bathroom.”

 “I like that plan,” I admitted.  “Pete, you want to call a taxi to go back to the inn?  This might get a little hairy.”

 “Well I am certainly no hero, but I don’t think I am going to desert a friend,” Pete said.  

 “Spoken like a true hero,” I replied.  I didn’t think much of his calling me a friend.  Then again he might stop a bullet for me by accident so I let him stay.

 Pete took first watch at the window while Charlie got the Cokes.  I used the bathroom first.  I figured I was less likely to get cornered in there if I went first.  I was actually in and out of the bathroom one more time before one of the truck’s occupants finally headed for the trees beside the pub.  Charlie called me to the window.

 “So do you recognize him?” Charlie asked.

 “Not him but the type,” I replied.

 “Right you are, rag head with no rag,” he suggested solemnly.

 “Seems about right Charlie,” I agreed.  “Charlie how many of them do you think there are?”  I asked it just to think out loud.

 “Could be as many as five.  Those things hold that many without being too cramped.”  I had decided against asking Charlie what kind of SUV it was.  Hell they all looked alike to me.  It made no difference anyway,

 “Five huh?”  I turned my attention to Pete.  Pete you need to use the bathroom.  When we go we gonna’ be moving fast.”  I said it trying to plant the thought in his mind.  Pete headed off to the bathroom.  “Let’s go Charlie.”  He acted as though he had been expecting it.

 Inside the car I remarked.  “I hear those things are pretty unstable at high speeds.”

 “Then you better buckle up Deacon old sod.”  Charlie looked as though he were headed for an outing as he drove the BMW into the countryside.  “ Deacon, this is a very long road with gently curves.  It is time to test your stability theory.”  With those words he stepped hard on the accelerator.

 The BMW shot forward.  The truck like thing following us began to close.  He obviously had figured it was time.  “Okay Charlie, let him get close but at a higher speed,” I suggested.  They closed to within a few yards of us.  

 “Now, pull into the right lane and brake hard.”   When Charlie made the maneuver the SUV pulled up along side us but he was surprised.  He was more surprised when I emptied the revolver into the driver’s window.  I am not sure whether I hit him, or he reacted naturally.  No matter what the reason, the truck suddenly swerved.  Then it fishtailed off the pavement.  Someone or something tried to move it back on the highway.  When the wheels hit the edge of the pavement the truck leaned hard to the right.

 “It is going to roll Charlie.  Get us the hell out of here,” I shouted.  Charlie gunned the German Car hard.  It responded just in time to get us past the truck.  The heavy truck rolled over.  Then it rolled over again and again.   I was pretty sure it went over five times.  Charlie swore six.  Either way it was a mess, glass and plastic flying everywhere.

 It rolled into the ditch, bounced out, then came to rest a few yards from the highway.  I knew exactly what I was going to do.  “Charlie pull back but not too close.  I am going down to see how they are.  If they start shooting get the hell out of here.”

 The pistol was of no use but I carried it anyway, I guess more for the comfort it gave me than anything else.  Charlie would not like it, if I threw it at them.  I was almost surprised that nobody shot me.  I made it all the way to the car before I took a breath I think.

 I opened the driver’s door.  The driver’s forehead was mashed pretty badly.  He was also bleeding from his ears.  I dismissed him as a threat quickly.  I looked to the passenger side.  The man lying in the floor was badly cut.  He was also missing an arm.  Well almost it hung by a piece of skin.  He was bleeding very slowly indicating his heart had stopped.

 In the rear seat were two men.  They had faired slightly better.  Both moaned as I removed their wallets and passports.  Neither came around enough to worry me.  I picked up all their papers, wallets, and passports.  I also picked almost all the weapons.  The exception was a RPGII Russian made rocket launcher.  It was almost exactly like the ones I had seen in the Nam.  I left it in the rear of the truck.  I couldn’t see how any of them would use it.  The top of the SUV was covered with weapons and papers.  There were almost as many food wrappers and drink cups inside.  It looked as though the four of them had been watching me and eating fast food while they did.

 I walked to the back.  There I popped the rear cargo door.  I was a bit mangled but it did open.  Inside I immediately noticed the brown duffel bag.  It was not full be any means.  I looked inside to see a large stack of American hundred dollar bills.  I checked to see that they were in ten thousand dollar stacks.  There was a large number of the stacks inside the bag.

 I stood looking at the money trying to work it out in my head.  The money was worthless to the men.   Spend a dollar and the cops were going to be all over them.  Surely they were not stupid enough to take money that hot as payment for their work.  Not even stupid enough to try using as expense money to kill me.
 When it hit me I felt sick.  Not only did they plan to kill me.  They probably planned to kill everyone with me as well.  They planned to plant the money so that it appeared I had murdered a co-conspirator.  The plan was really pretty good.   They would kill me and discredit me at the same time.  It was an interesting idea for sure.

 If I had ever had any qualms about what I planned to do, they vanished at that moment.  Actually I couldn’t remember a time I had a qualm about it.  I tossed a couple of packs of bills into the car.  Might as well use a good plan, I thought.
 I loaded the duffel bag with the weapons and papers of my would-be assassins.  Then I went to the front of the car where I found the hood latch sprung.  I held the hood up with one hand while I jerked off the longest vacuum hose I could find.  I went to the rear of the truck.  There I opened the lid to the gas tank.  I stuffed the hose into the tank hoping it would prove long enough.
 As I sucked I could feel the liquid move up the tube.  I thought I had a pretty good feel for where it was.  I must have been wrong because I got a small about of gasoline in my mouth.  When it started to flow I let it run onto the ground.

 I took the duffel bag a few feet from the pouring gas.  There I lit a very long, very thin, very smelly cigar.  So smelly in fact that I dared not light one, if I planned to be near Paris within two hours.  I dropped the match into the puddle of gasoline where it instantly extinguished itself.  I cursed as I walked back to the car.  From it I removed a paper napkin.  

 I looked into the eyes of the paralyzed man in the rear seat and said, “You really shouldn’t fuck with a Deacon.”  I laughed a very nasty laugh, one I did not feel.  I walked back to the puddle of gasoline.  I lit the napkin, held it until it blazed then dropped it at the edge of the puddle.

 When it caught I realized I was way to close to the car.  I grabbed the duffel as I ran for the road.  I made it onto the road and even a couple of steps toward the BMW before the explosion.  The concussion knocked me to the ground.  I don’t think I went out, but the first rational thought I had was why is Charlie in heaven.  Okay it wasn’t all that rational.

 Charlie helped me up.  As we walked to the car he carried the duffel bag.  His lips moved but for several minutes I did not hear a thing. Finally as we drove down the road I heard him for the first time.  “God I am glad you are on my side.”

 “Why?” I asked.

 “Didn’t you hear that guy scream just before the car went up?” he asked me.

 “No, I was too busy running for my life.”

 “So what’s in the bag mate?” he asked.
 “Weapons, their papers, and about a million bucks,” I replied evenly.

 Charlie pulled the car over to the side of the road.  “You mean like a million bucks in cash?” he asked grinning.

 “Yeah, and it might as well be toilet paper.  Actually toilet paper would be more useful.” I replied.  Charlie’s face sank.  I have admit I took some perverse pleasure in seeing it.
 “You mean it’s queer?” he asked.

 It took a moment for me to get it.  “No Charlie, it is good old U S dollars.  But they are worthless to us.”

 “Damn it man are you daft?” Charlie wanted an explanation.  I gave it to him right down to the serial numbers on file in every bank in the country.  The shopkeepers are going to remember who spent all those hundreds.  So buy something and find a cop on your door.”

 “I know some guys down on the docks.  They know some guys in Marseilles.” Charlie suggested.

 “Charlie, you are gonna get killed that way.   If they know how hot this money is they will never touch it.  If they don’t, when they find out they will kill you for sure.  I am gonna hang onto it a while.  If nothing comes up, I am gonna burn it.”

 “Charlie, let’s go somewhere quiet.  I will take the money from their pockets and split it with you.  That should at least be clean.  They wouldn’t have wanted the cops looking for them just yet.”

 “Sure Deacon, but I sure hope we don’t have to burn that million.”  Charlie did seem sad about the money.

 The division took place at a roadside park.  It was hard to believe the place was empty.  Charlie explained, “It is a weekday Deacon, and after lunch.  Now if it were on the weekend, or if it were lunchtime the place would be filled.  Especially in the summer like this.” 

“Let’s get this over with since it might change any minute,” I suggested. Charlie just shrugged.  It was clear that he had the million on his mind.

 The split of the assassin’s expense money came to a little over two grand each.  I gave Charlie all the weapons except for a Berretta 9mm semi-automatic pistol.  I was afraid I might need it.  I didn’t know why the men had been after me, but I felt pretty sure there would be others.

 “So Deacon, you want to go look at the other car?”  Charlie asked it without any particular emotion in his voice.

 “Damn,” I said.  “I still have to buy a car.  Charlie, I am not doing so well here.  Is there a dealer you trust?  One who would make me a deal?”

 “I don’t know about auto brokers in your country, but here they are all thieves,” Charlie replied.

 "Yeah, it is the same back home.”  I saw the light go on in Charlie’s eyes.  “What?”

 “Tomorrow is Thursday.  On Thursday they hold the dealer auction at Bishop’s,” Charlie suggested.
 “I suppose you know how a foreigner can buy a car there?”  I was pretty sure he did or he wouldn’t have mentioned it.

 “Now that you mention it I do.  My mate Rudy is a broker.  Yes Deacon, before you ask he is a crook.  He is also a greedy bastard.  Offer him a hundred in American and he will buy the car, and do the paper work for you.  Course you will have to buy your insurance from him.  You have to have insurance to get a temp tag you know.”   

 “Of course I d on’t know Rudy, but if he will sell it without too much over charge why not?” I asked.

 “Let me make a call, just to be sure he is going to be at the auction tomorrow,” Charlie suggested.   I wasn’t at all worried.  I felt pretty sure we would be able to just show up at that auction.  Somebody would be happy to make us a similar deal.  I needn’t have bothered.  The friend was indeed going to be on hand.
 Charlie and I made one more stop before we returned to the Inn.  In a discount house I bought a large nylon gym bag.  In he car I made the transfer of the money and papers to it.  I left the weapons in the duffle with instructions for Charlie to dump the bag.  Charlie dropped me at the door.   He then drove off quickly.  I supposed he was in a rush to get back to his taxi service.

 Once inside the large wooden front door of the Inn, I walked into the pub.  I needed a drink in the worst way.  I was about to begin remembering the sight, sounds and smells of the morning.  I didn’t think I could handle it without a stiff drink.  My plan was to sit in a corner of the pub to get roaring drunk while reliving what I had done.  When I left the pub I planned to forgive myself and forget it all.  Confronting it was the only way I could cope with violence.  Trying to bury it never worked.  The evil I did had a way of unearthing itself.

 My plan fell apart, as my plans often do.  I found Paris sitting with a very masculine looking woman.  The woman had red hair and brown eyes. A fairly good indication the hair was from a bottle.  Paris waved, or I might have slipped out of the door to find a quieter place.

 I walked to the table gave Paris a familiar kiss, then said, “I am a little surprised to see you back from shopping so soon.”

 “For that my dear Deacon you can thank Roberta here.”  At that time she was pointing to the plain woman across the table.  Paris held up her wine glass to toast the much plainer woman.  Roberta held up a glass of the dark brown ale.  She shifted her gaze from Paris to me.  When she did, I noticed a look I really didn’t care for at all.  She looked at me like a bug under a microscope.  

 “So Roberta, how did you two meet?” I asked. I avoided looking at Paris.  I wanted to get the info while judging Roberta’s demeanor.  Okay, I admit, after the morning’s adventure I was paranoid.

 “Deacon, do not be so rude.  I met Roberta when the taxi did not show up.  She drove Andrea and me shopping.  Not only did she drive us, she knows every good shop in town.  She is a native you know.”  Paris was tossing my love of being simply a member of the crowd back at me.  The ‘she is a native you know’, was a reference to my asking Charlie for an inn natives to the area would have used.  

 “Do I seen rude to you miss?”  I waited for her to fill in the blanks.

 “Cassidy, Roberta Cassidy,” she replied.  “You can call me Bobbie.”  Bobbie was challenging me.  I should not have but I laughed.  I saw the question in her eyes.

 “I have this overwhelming urge to ask you where Sundance is?” I admitted.

 “I thought you were Sundance,” she replied with a straight face.

 “Really, because I am so handsome?” I asked.

 “No, because I hear you are a stone killer,” she replied.  There was at least a smile on her lips.

 “Deacon is not a killer, at least not like you mean.” Paris replied.  I could tell she wasn’t at all mystified as to why her friend had suddenly made such a strange comment.

 “Is this really quiet enough for this conversation or should we retire to our room?”  I asked it of Bobbie.

 Bobbie didn’t even look about.  “This will do just fine Deacon.  Let’s hear what you have to say.” She demanded.

 “For one thing I do not think you are a native.  If that is the case you lied to Paris.  Why would you lie to Paris, to hang around us?  Why would you want to hang around us, now that is the real question?   So, how am I doing so far?”  I could tell from the look in her eye I was doing fine.

 “So if any of that were true, why do you think I would want to hang around you?”  She wasn’t all that surprised.

 “Just a guess, but I expect you are some kind of security person.  You have been assigned to protect us.”  I thought it was a pretty good guess.  “Or a reporter.”

 “Well we didn’t think we could fool you so no loss.  I did hope I could make it last until tonight.”  Bobbie informed Paris and me.

 “Why until tonight?” I asked.

 “There is a security team coming in from a friendly nation to baby sit you.”  She seemed to enjoy the baby sit statement.

 “Oh well sweetie you were blown from the start,” I admitted.
 “Not from the start, I managed to spend the day with your lady friend.  I at least did that much.”  She thought she had a small victory at least.

 “You don’t really think you fooled Paris do you?”  The laugh was bit wicked I admit.

 “What do you mean?” she asked.  She was a bit rattled I could tell.

 I made an open handed gesture inviting Paris to continue.

 “Damn Deacon, you are no fun at all,” Paris said it with a very bright smile.  “Miss Cassidy. I have lived with the Deacon three years.  One of the many things I learned is there are no coincidences. Another is to always, but always, look a gift horse in the mouth.  I knew something was wrong when you happened to be standing beside me at the counter when the clerk told me the taxi would be late. I have luck, but not that kind.  Since you were English or Irish I decided you were probably harmless.  That my dear is why the Deacon laughed at you.”

 “You see Bobbie, Paris knows how to take advantage of a situation.”  I expected her to be angry.  I was pleasantly surprised to see her smile.

 “You two are damned slick,” she commented.  I could tell her Irish brogue had slipped even farther.
 “Thanks, " I replied.  Whether she meant it as a compliment or not I took it as one.  “So now tell me what all this is about?”

 “I got the call first thing this morning.  The chief of our foreign section wanted me to make sure you were alive when the babysitters got here.  I got here just in time to grab Paris.  I thought she might be in the most danger.  The boss said to watch you both.   Since she was leaving I decided to go with her.  Now I find out you are the main target not her.”

 “Let me tell you Bobby, you did the right thing.  Paris is the more important of us.”  I said it without looking at Paris.  “So you got any idea what the plan is?”

 “Best I can tell the friendlies are bringing in a look alike for Paris.  I think our government wants me to take Paris on a tour of Europe while you tour with the fake Paris.”  Bobby didn’t look all that sure of what my answer would be.

 “That is probably a good idea, but it is not my decision to make.  How about it Paris?  Want to take the grand tour with Bobbie.  You will still see Europe and be a lot safer in the process.”  I waited for her reply not really sure what she would say.

 “I am going to tell you both so you can tell anyone else who asks.  I came here with Deacon.  I am going to tour Europe with Deacon, and I am going home with Deacon.  Even if it is in a fucking box.” She paused a moment then looked at me.  “My mama taught me to dance with the one who brung me.”
 “Now Paris, I think you would be a lot safe with me than Deacon right now.” Bobbie said.

 “Oh you do.  Protecting me is a job to you.  It is a job with the others or maybe a game they would hate to lose.  With Deacon my love, it is a passion.  I feel safer with Deacon than I ever would with you or an army like you.”  Paris was losing her temper and things were about to fly.

 I would have spoken but Paris was explaining it better than I ever could have.  Paris was in danger because she was my lady. With me or away from me she might be a target and we both knew it.

 I had a definite feeling that Bobbie’s days of under- estimating Paris had ended.   Bobbie shook her head almost sadly then said, “You are both a little nuts but then you are yanks.”

 “Not Deacon honey, he is a reb,” Paris laughed as she spoke.  Bobbie took a few seconds to get it.

 I think there was more the two of them wanted to say.  They might have if Andrea hadn’t walked through the door.  Since Paris and I were sitting with our backs to the door Bobbie made the motion.  I looked around to See Andrea and Pete walking into the pub.  It looked as though Andrea hadn’t combed her hair since she and Pete got out of bed from their ‘nap’.

 “Hi Deacon and Paris,” Andrea turned to her husband.  

 “Honey this is Bobbie the lady I told you about.”

 Pete extended his hand to Bobby.  “Deacon, sorry we got separated at the pub this afternoon.  I was almost looking forward to the experience.”

 “What experience honey?” Andrea asked.

 “I’ll tell you later sweetie,” Pete replied.  

 I had a feeling he would tell her so I said, “Not much to tell Andrea.  Charlie thought we were being followed but it turned out to be nothing.  Unfortunately Charlie and I had to leave while Pete was in the boy’s room.  Charlie and I left. They seemed to follow, then they pulled past us and were gone.  We went back but you were gone Pete.”

 “Why don’t we get one of the large tables?” Andrea suggested.
 “Sure,” Paris replied.  I didn’t get the meaning of the evil gleam in her eye.  “So Andrea, you and Pete are taking an awful lot of naps”

 “Yes we are,” Andrea giggled.

 Andrea sat between Pete and Bobbie.  Paris sat between the gym bag filled with money, and me.  I noticed a sudden change in Bobbie.  She seemed to get quiet and very tense.  I looked more carefully at Andrea.  Both her hands were under the table.  With just a little deductive reasoning it was evident she had one hand on her husbands leg and one on Bobbie’s. 

 Paris obviously wanted to blow Pete and Andrea off.  I felt as though she wanted to ask someone why we needed babysitting.  I knew of course.  One side wanted a hero alive and the other side wanted a dead not so heroic individual to show the world.  One side wanted to show you could beat terrorists.  The other wanted to show how they would get you no matter what you did.  Even better if they showed there was no hero to begin with just another greedy American.

 Paris had not mentioned another obvious give away about Bobbie being some kind of cop.  She never let her purse go for a second.  It stayed with her every minute.  Not just with her she was either grasping it or had it beside her right hand.  It was all too obvious if you were looking for it.

 The five of us drank ale for a long time.  Bobbie was very good at it I thought.  I had about two all together.  Paris did likewise.  Bobbie might have had three.  The Benjamin’s consumed a lot more. We were ordering refills whenever they got empty.  There were full glasses all over the table along with the Benjamin’s empty ones.  

 “We really should order dinner soon,” Pete suggested.

 “Oh course,” Paris agreed.

 “Actually honey, how about another nap.  We can always have a late dinner.  The pub kitchen is open until closing.”  Andrea was again in the mood for something.

 “Okay, but this time I am going to sleep,” Pete said.

 I didn’t think it very likely but I refrained from saying more than, “See y’all later.”  I watched them walk away.

 After they had gone it was Paris who asked Bobbie.  “So did you enjoy little Andrea?”

 “I am sorry.  What are you asking me?”  Bobbie tried to appear confused.

 “Andrea is a tease.  She wants to turn on every man and woman she sees.  I am not sure exactly how far she will go, but she is certainly not above a little leg rubbing under the table.”  Paris smiled a knowing smile.  I ignored it as I always did.

 “Well, let me put it this way.  She is going to do that to the wrong woman one day.  There are some over here who will make her keep her little promises.  Not me you understand.”  Andrea did smile.

 “Of course not,” Paris replied. “Now to change the subject why are people trying to kill Deacon and me?”

 “For one thing heroes are not popular with terrorists .  It makes them look vulnerable.  For the kicker, from what I hear this cult is all one family.  Each of them is a blood relative of the others.  So when Deacon stabbed that man, he stabbed the nephew of the cult leader who was not even present.  He has sworn to have Deacon’s head.”  Bobbie looked at me with false sympathy.  “ It appears that every terrorist in the world is going to be after Deacon eventually.”

 “That is comforting to know,” I replied.

 “Then let us help,” Bobbie suggested.

 “Oh I plan to use you.  Just as soon as the other team gets here we can work all this out.”  My mind was racing trying to figure all the angles.  I was having a wonderful time playing what if.  I probably would have kept it up all night had Paris’ voice not interrupted me.

 “Deacon, this is liable to be a long meeting tonight.  I am tired I have had a full day shopping.  I think I need a nap .”

 “Would you like for me to join you?” I asked.  I was serious I needed time to think and if Paris really wanted to nap I could use the time.

 “That was the idea honey,” Paris replied looking into Bobbie’s eyes.  Something only women understand passed between them.

 When I entered the room Paris put her finger to her lips.  She then went into the bathroom to lock the Benjamin couple out.  I sat in the one comfortable chair to await her return.

 Paris sat on the arm of my chair.  She looked at me for several moments then spoke.  “Okay Deacon, why don’t we just disappear?”  She knew how to keep me confused so that I couldn’t think of a lie.  Paris began to unbutton her blouse.  I watched as the skin under her first button saw light for the first time that day.  My heart quickened.  I wanted to throw her onto the bed, but I knew better.  What I had in mind was my reward for telling her the truth.

 “For one thing dear you wanted to tour Europe.”  I watched as her bra came into view.  It had been hiding under that second button.  Also visible was the most wonderful cleavage.  Paris’ cleavage was deep enough for the valley between her breasts to be lost in shadows.  Paris stopped until I began talking again.
 “For another we would never be safe as long as this bunch of nuts are alive.”  I watched as Paris unbuttoned the last button at her waist.  She also pulled the blouse from her raw silk skirt.  

 The blouse hit the floor before she demanded, “Go on Deacon.”

 “We need to help these people find the bad guys,” I replied.
    My breathing was ragged as Paris unbuttoned her skirt.  It fell easily over her hips.  She stood in bra and panties as she asked, “Now tell me the real reason we don’t just disappear.  I know you can do it.”  She stood like a statue waiting for me to answer.

 “Three men tried to kill me this morning.  Charlie and I killed them instead.  That really pissed me off.”  Paris removed the heavy white bra.  As she popped the rear hook she leaned forward.  That move accentuated the size and shape of her breasts.  I have no idea if there is any such thing as perfect breasts but if there were Paris was the owner.

 She stood in front of me wearing only her panties.  Her breasts sagged only slightly.  “Come on Deacon, you are going to have to do better than that.  You never take this crap personal.  It is all a game with you.  It always was.”

 “There was a million bucks of the ransom money in the car.  It is worthless you know.”  Paris nodded she understood perfectly.  “The were planning to plant it on me.  Now I think I can strike a deal with the next group of agents.”

 “Why do you think that?” she asked.  I nodded at her panties.  She smiled a very large sexy smile then pushed them over her hips.  “Now why?”

 “Because I think they will be Israelis.  If they are our government will deal with them.  The Israelis want this cult bad I figure.  They should swap what I have for clean money.”  I raised myself from the chair.  I moved to kiss Paris.  I could smell as well as feel her body.  The heat that came from her was suffocating.  

 After she kissed me into a stupor she asked, “So you are risking our lives for a million dollars?”

 “Half a million, Charlie gets the other half,” I replied.

 “And the reason you are doing this?” she asked.

 “Because we are going to need the money either way it goes.  One more thing love, you can leave anytime. I can send you on ahead to wait for me to finish this.”

 “I think not Deacon.  It is time you and I made a stand together.  Enough of this running off alone, from now on we live or die together.” she said.

 “Why the sudden change?” I asked.

 “Because my lover, I did not draw a peaceful breath from the time I walked out of the office in Rick’s Cafe until you were in bed with me in New Jersey.  I would rather be dead than to be without you again.  Oh yeah one more thing, I do not think I would like being poor so the half million is a good idea.”

 “Okay, but if you change you mind let me know,” I said pulling her down to the bed.

 Three hours later when we went down to dinner, we found Bobbie sitting in the lobby reading a newspaper.  She might have been reading it all that time.  If she had it was a poor cover.  Cork’s newspaper just didn’t have that much news.

 “Come on in Bobbie I will buy your dinner,” I suggested.

 “I need to call home first,” she replied.

 “Husband?” Paris asked.  I couldn’t tell from her expression what she had in mind.

 “Friend,” Bobbie replied looking her in the eye.  The two of them had some kind of thing going.  I had thought on first meeting in the pub that it had been friendship.  By that time I wasn’t quite sure.  Frankly it made no difference to me whatsoever.

 Dinner in the pub for me was another sausage.  I just couldn’t find any enthusiasm for the mixed meat casserole or the fish stew.  Besides the spicy sausage with the local bread made a fine meal.  It helped that I knew I would be leaving in just a couple of days.
 Pete and Andrea showed up about halfway through dinner again.  They sat at a table near us.  Instead of making eye contact with each other they kept staring at our table.

 “Bobbie, did you do a check on Pete over there?” I asked.

 “No should I?” she asked curiously.

 “Yeah, I think you should.  I would do it but I don’t have his social security number.”

 “Oh and how would you do it?” she asked.
 “Hell, just go on line and pull him up,” I explained.

 “Okay, I suppose you could get some information on him that way,” Bobbie replied.  

 I didn’t even bother to explain how much information was available.  Instead I turned me attention to the food.

 The pub served food all night, but getting a table would be difficult.  Most of the regulars began drifting in shortly after we finished out dinner.  Tables became scarce.  Hell even standing room was at a premium.

 “Deacon, there are some seats at the bar.  Let’s move there so the others can eat in peace,” Paris suggested.  I nodded my agreement.

 The seats at the bar proved to be two.  I gave them to the ladies.  I stood over them.  Paris ordered wine.  Bobbie ordered ginger beer.  I was trying not to get drunk after the day I had so I drank the lemonade.  It was frankly pretty bad.  I was sick of it and about to switch to Guinness when I heard Andrea’s voice.  I turned to see the set of darts she held out for all to see.

 “Paris, can I steal Deacon away?” she asked.

 “I don’t think you can but you have my permission to try, if that is what you are asking.  In the meantime you may also borrow him for your little dart game.”  Paris replied.

 To further punctuate her response Paris pulled me down by putting both hands on my shirt.  I usually kiss Paris.  That time Paris was in complete control.  She pressed her warm lips firmly against mine.  The tip of her tongue parted my lips.  She moved that little devil from side to side teasing my lips.  Then she moved her tongue deep into my mouth.  She used it to massage the roof of my mouth.  I had no idea how sensitive and erotic it was.
 By then my blood pressure was double I am sure.  My heart was racing faster than I could remember it going during the morning’s firefight or the afternoon lovemaking.  I was gasping for breath when she pulled away.

 “He is all yours,” Paris informed Andrea.  “If you still want to try stealing him.”

 “I don’t know what has gotten into you Paris.  Deacon if you would like to play dart come on over.”  With those words Andrea walked away with her head slightly bent.

 “I’ll be along in a minute.” I said to Andrea.  I tried to whisper to Paris, “I need a minute to get straight.”
The man sitting beside me overheard it all.  He mumbled under his breath, “I just bet you do lad.”  I almost answered but decided not to bother.

 When I arrived at the dartboard area Andrea was waiting.  “What was all that with Paris about?” she asked.

 “I thought you might could tell me.”  I chuckled when I said it.

 “I don’t know, I am having fun flirting with all the guys.  I don’t think she should take it seriously.”  Andrea had omitted the hand on Bobbie’s leg.  I am sure she had flirted with Paris.  There could have been any number of dynamics in any of the relationships around me at that moment.

 “Well Andrea, you and Pete join your tour tomorrow.  I wouldn’t worry about it.”  I stated the facts then waited for her reply.  She hung her head without a word.  It worried me.  Andrea was not one who lacked answers.  I let it slide anyway.

 I was down ten bucks to Andrea when I glanced toward Paris.  Paris was alone at the bar talking to a woman of at least sixty.  The woman had very bright red hair obviously from a bottle.  I scanned the pub to find Bobbie.  I found her sitting at a table with a man about thirty years old.

 The man appeared to be tall even though he was seated.  He also appeared to be fit.  That was much easier to determine.  He was tanned with cold eyes.  Okay, I couldn’t really see his eyes but I knew anyway.  It was in the way he held himself.

 “Honey, I have had enough,” I said to Andrea.  “Go hustle some of the locals.”  I left Andrea standing with the darts in her hand.  I walked to the bar.

 “Hi sweets,” I said to Paris.

 “Deacon, if that gorgeous man is going to bodyguard us, you can have Bobbie,” I could tell it was a joke.  No matte r, I didn’t even smile.  
    “Come on Deacon, you know I am kidding.  He is just a child.  I have what he is gonna’ be when he grows up.”

 That time I could not help but smile.  The woman knew how to play my emotions.  Life with Paris was a roller coaster but never dull.  “Well honey should you decide to find out how I was when I was a younger man?  Let me just tell you, I was lousy.”  I smiled at her.

 “I do not for a second believe that, however I will not be finding out for myself.  I would feel positively incestuous doing it with one so young.”  The smile she gave me left me to wonder about that statement.

 Paris and I stopped talking.  For the next few minutes I sat at the bar enjoying her company.  Paris did not have to speak or even touch me to fill my mind.  Something about being close to her clouded my mind.  It was the same with others I knew.  I have seen very animated conversations stop when Paris sat down in a crowd.  For some unknown reason people seemed to look off into space smiling when she was about.

 It was a good fifteen minutes later when Bobbie showed up.  “Deacon, you need to go to the room beside yours.  The team is waiting there.”

 “Surely not in the Benjamin’s room?” I asked.

 “No on the other side,” she informed me.

 I glanced at the table where she had been sitting.  It was empty.  “So, do I need to go now?”

 “Yes, I will stay here with Paris,” she informed me.  The way Bobbie looked, matched with the way Paris looked, would not have given me any comfort had they not showed a certain animosity towards each other.  Then again Paris and Mike had seemed to hate each other.  Without a better plan for Paris, I left her in the hands of what I hoped was capable Bobbie Cassidy.

 I stopped in our room for the gym bag.  A couple of minutes later I knocked on the door to our new arrival’s room.  The man who had been sitting with Bobbie in the pub opened the door almost immediately.

 “Hello Deacon,” he said extending his hand to me.  “My name is Ari.”
 I laughed.  “Will the old movie clichés never end?”  I asked it not expecting an answer.

 “Actually no. That is where the name came from.  My mother was a movie fan,” the younger man said it with a smile.  “That gentleman sitting by the computer is Mosha.  The young woman reclining on the bed is Rebecca.  Abraham the final member of out team is in the bathroom at the moment.”

 “Nice to meet you all, but I really don’t have time to socialize.  I left Paris with Bobbie.  I am not so sure how safe she is.”

 “If Paris was my girl friend I would be in a hurry too.”  At least Ari seemed to be honest.  “I do not know that Bobbie person, but I would worry because I did not know her.”  He stopped to smile.  “Also I would just be afraid to leave her alone in a room filled with men who are drinking.  No telling what mischief could come her way.”

 “I see you got a good look at Paris,” I suggested.

 “A very good look, I also noticed how you two looked at each other,” he admitted.

 “Since we agree, let’s strike our deal so I can leave,” I suggested.

 “Deal, there is no deal to strike.  We are here to protect you.”  Ari said it as sincerely as a man who knows he is lying can.

 “You are here to stake me out as a goat, I assume to capture or kill the other members of this group.  First part of the deal, tell me all you know about them.”

 “Like I said there is no deal to be made,” Ari replied giving me the official line.
 “Then I am out of here.  I will just take Paris home.  When I get there, I will bury us so deep the devil himself could not find us.  If you doubt it, you can try to find out where I was the last six months.” 

 “You will never get out the country alive.  There is a hit team somewhere in Ireland looking for you now.”

 “Which brings me to the second part of my deal.  I want to trade you the contents of this bag for a million clean American dollars.”  I said it with a smile.

 “Don’t you get it Deacon, you need us more than we need you.”  Ari was still trying to sell a story he didn’t believe in.

 “Open the bag Ari,” I demanded.

 He dumped the contents on the bed.  He rummaged through the money and papers without showing much interest.  “Just in case you are interested, those belonged to the hit team.  The money I think was to plant on me.  It is part of the ship’s ransom I am sure.”

 “Are you sure you got them all?” Ari asked without any show of emotion.

 “Yep, all there were at the time anyway.  Now you want to run me all over Europe as bait, fine I can live with that.  The price is nothing to you.  Just swap the money.  If you raid their headquarters you can say you got it there.  I would also hope when you make the raid nobody survives.”

 I will give Ari this. He gave up the pretence when it became obvious that it was not going to work.  “Can we substitute Rebecca for Paris?”

 “Afraid not, she has decided to stay.” I replied.

 “Talk to her Deacon, this is going to be dangerous,” Ari suggested.

 “If you have the time to waste, you talk to her.  She has decided and that is all there is to it.  Besides she could become a target anywhere.  I would just as soon have her being watched over by the first team.  Now about the money?”

 “I will make the call.  I can let you know in the morning,” he suggested.
 “Fair enough but Ari if there is not a deal, Paris and I will be leaving on the evening plane.”  I made it very plain that the deal had to be stuck that next day.

 I turned to the door Ari stopped me with a question, “What happened to them?”

 I knew exactly whom he meant.  “Damn bad assed driver,” I replied.

 “How about the bodies?” he asked.  I knew he was asking how the scene was going to look.
 “Bad assed fire, looks like a couple were still alive when it went up.”  I gave him my evil look.  “One more thing,” I said it looking about me.  “I want you to take my room key and move your stuff in there.  I want to have you in the room, if there are any more of them around.  One a day is all I am up too.  You guys are much younger.”

 “That is a good plan regardless of the outcome of your deal,” Ari said.
 I nodded as I moved to the door.  “Mr. Burke,” the young blonde lady said.

 “Yes,” I replied turning back to the room yet again.
 “If there is another firefight, be very careful where you step.”

 “Why is that Rebecca?” I asked not having the slightest clue what she had in mind.

 “Because I am going to be standing very close to you.  Some of your luck might rub off on me.”  She was at least smiling.

 “I will try to remember that,” I said turning on what I hoped was my charming smile.   As I walked down the stairs I wondered if there were other members of the team I hadn’t seen besides Abraham.  I had a feeling Abraham was not seen for a reason.  Abraham could be one man or ten.  I might never know which.

 I found Bobby and Paris sitting at the bar.  There was a crowd of men surrounding them.  I knew for sure Paris was the attraction , not the plain Bobbie.  I slipped to the edge of the crowd unnoticed.  I tapped Bobbie on the arm.  I then motioned for her to slip out of the circle.  We walked a few feet from Paris.  I watch her entertain the men a few minutes before I spoke to Bobbie.
 “You want to tour Europe with us?”  I asked it before I made any offers.

 “Not as lover for either of you.”  Bobbie said it with hardly a smile at all.

 “I have driver in mind.  You can keep the same cover as when you met Paris.  I think the other guys are going to insist I have a babysitter in the car.  I would frankly prefer you.”

 “Why?” she asked.

 “Because of the way you and Paris get along,” I replied.  

 “Deacon in case you didn’t noticed, we hardly get along at all since she stopped playing games with me.”  Bobbie looked at me a couple of minutes then something seemed to come to her.  Oh I get it.  You think I will be more likely to take her life seriously to prove I don’t have to like a person to do my job.  Is that it?” she asked.

 “Something like that,” I admitted with a smile.  “And I am sure you know the places to see.”

 “Okay Mr. Burke, let me run it past my boss.  I am sure it will fly though.”

 “Good.  Take the rest of the night off and tomorrow too if you like.  We have bodyguards tripping over each other.”

 “Sorry Deacon, as long as Paris is around I am attached to her at the hip, new orders.  The out of town pros get you, but I get Paris.  A matter of turf pride you know.”
 “Okay, then come keep her company tomorrow.  I am going to buy a car and it may take all day.”

 You can count on it old sod,” I had no idea if I had been insulted or not.
 After I talked to Bobbie I got Paris’ attention.  She immediately left the bar, then stood beside me.  “Ready for bed?” she asked.
 “With you, always,” I replied with a leer.

 “You damned well better because I am sure getting a lot of offers from the local lads.”  Her brogue was terrible, but I knew she wasn’t kidding about the offers.  Paris was a knockout in her plain black dress.  She could have worn my slacks, a baggy sweatshirt.  She could have worn her hair in strings, and even with no makeup the guys would have still been lined up for her.  Of course I never saw her dressed like that.  Paris would never wear any of those things.

 I led her to the room next to ours.  “Have you lost the few functioning brain cells you have left Deacon?  This is not out room,” she remarked.

 “I didn’t tell you but the hotel staff switched us.  Don’t worry the view is the same.”  I actually hoped it was the same since I hadn’t looked.

 “Well the wall paper in the bathroom had better be clean.”  Paris smiled as she made the comment.  I had a feeling that if it weren’t, it would be by lunch .

 Fortunately for me the view was the same.  Actually it was a little better because the angle was ever so slightly different.  

 Paris and I did not make love that night.  Paris was tired .  In my case I knew there would be listening devices.  I just hadn’t gotten used to the idea that others would at least hear us.  It was possible with all the microelectronics they might even watch. If the did I am sure there would be people wondering what a rare beauty like Paris was doing with me.

 I left Paris sleeping the next morning when I went down to breakfast.  I skipped the kidneys that morning.  I opted for a sausage instead.  The breakfast sausage was even spicier than the ones I had a dinner.  It was a good match for the bland eggs.  Bobby showed up shortly after my eggs.  

 “Would you like breakfast?” I asked. “Hell Butch, I’ll even pay.”

 “Are you going to start that Butch Cassidy crap?  Deacon my personal life is none of your business.”  She didn’t seem angry or offended.  I think she was just giving me the standard, ‘I am a person who is allowed to be different,’ bit.

 “You know I am not real sure, but I thought I was referring to the fact that everything seems to be an old movie for some reason.”  I was honest at least, I wasn’t at all sure her plain looks and masculine cut clothing didn’t have at least a little to do with me calling her Butch.

 She smiled at me.  “In that case when the others are not around you may call me Butch , Sundance.  Actually, I have been dying to do that bit.  You just seem so much like the dashing outlaw type to me, especially this morning.”
 “Why this morning?” I asked.

 “I should not show you this but I am going to,” She replied as she tossed a sheet of paper on the table where I retrieved it quickly.  If it had stayed there long it would have been covered with animal fat or strawberry marmalade.

 The paper was a transcript of a phone call between Ari and his boss.  In it Ari explained that the immediate treat seemed to have been nullified.  “Not quite sure how, but Deacon seems to have killed four more of the opposition.  He also wanted to make a deal with us.  He will only cooperate if we exchange some money he took off the opposition.  I expect it is from the ship ransom money.”  The transcript went on to explain why I wouldn’t be getting an answer until late in the day.  Ari explained my demand for an answer the next day, which was the day I was reading the transcript. The answer was, “We can not guarantee an answer by the end of day, but do not let him leave.”

 “Well Butch, how do you think they will stop me?” I asked.

 “Well my boss says you are not wanted for anything here so you can come and go as you damned well please.  There will be no holding of you and Paris against your will.”

 “Good then I want to make a reservation for a return flight to the states.”  Bobbie handed me her cell phone.  “So who do I call?”

 Bobbie laughed then said, “How the hell would I know.  I have never been off this bloody island.  I was looking forward to the grand tour of Europe with you and Paris.”
 “It may happen yet Butch.  A reservation does not mean we are leaving,” I replied.

 Bobbie had the waitress bring a phone book.  While she looked up the number she asked, “Why don’t you just let me tell them you made the reservation?”

 “Because it is easy to check.  Never let them catch you bluffing Butch,” I advised  

 She nodded her understanding as she handed me the phone.  I made the reservation explaining I would pick up and pay for the tickets that evening unless my plans changed.  I assured the agent I would call to change the date if need be.

 “So Bobbie, I am going to buy a car.  Paris is asleep, what are you going to do this morning?” I asked.

 “I would rather go with you and Charlie, but I will hang around waiting for the lady Paris to begin to move about.”  Bobbie didn’t look all that thrilled with her part in the play.

 “Why don’t you buy the car and I will wait for Paris,” I suggested.

 “Because Deacon, I would bloody well spend all your money on it.  I have very expensive taste.”  She actually smiled which improved her look a hundred percent.

 Charlie came in just as I was finishing my muffin.  He sat down at our table.  He ordered coffee by shouting at the waitress.

 “Well Deacon, my friend are you not going to introduce me to your new lady friend?” he asked.

 “Charlie, this is Paris’ new friend B obbie Cassidy,” I said with big smile.

 “Nice to meet you Bobbie ,” Charlie said extending his hand.

 “Nice to meet you Charlie.  So while you were driving Deacon around yesterday did anything exciting happen?”  She kept the straight face I had come to expect.

 “Why, did Deacon tell you anything?”  Charlie looked at me for some sign.  I shook my head.

 “No Charlie, but I know what happened.  I did some checking last night.”  She turned her attention back to me.  “Deacon, there was a terrible car crash according to the local police.  It seems four middle-eastern gentlemen were killed.”

 “Well, you know what they say about Arab drivers?” Charlie replied with a grin.

 “No what,” Bobbie asked.

 “It ain’t got a hump they is lost,” Charlie replied.

 “Well they are sure trying to hump everything in England,” Bobbie said with a chuckle.

 “My point exactly, they go out and buy them big old cars and try to drive them like camels.”  

 I could see they were having fun but I wanted to get started.  I looked at my watch to give Charlie a hint.  He took it.

 “So Deacon, we better be going mate.  The auction starts at nine.”  Charlie stood to leave and I followed suit.  He turned his attention to Bobbie.  “I do hope we meet again.”

 “Anything is possible in this tiny place,” Bobbie suggested.

 We were walking for the inn’s door to his BMW when he said, “God how I love that type.”  I didn’t ask what type . I simply laughed.

 The auto auction was a giant parking lot filled with cars.  In the center of it was a small metal building where the cars were driven through.  

 “They auctioned off five cars at a time in that building.  The noise in here will be unbelievable.  Lets go out and find you a couple of cars to bid on.”  Charlie said it as we walked through the giant parking lot.  

 It took half and hour just to find the first car I had any interest in.  It was a ten-year old Saab convertible.  I only chose it because it had a decent sized trunk.  The car wasn’t belching smoke.  The engine didn’t look too bad.  The oil filler cap wasn’t coated with burned oil nor was there any oil in the air breather.  I didn’t see any leaks in the water jacket.  The oil and water seemed to be separated, as they should have been.  I wrote the numbers from the windshield into my little pad, which Charlie had provided.  C harlie’s mate Rudy, had provided us with what would be a blue book in the states. It was a list of the fair market values of the cars we saw.

 “Deacon, wholesale on it is gonna’ run about four grand American,” Charlie informed me.

 “Okay, but let’s keep looking,” I replied.

 “Oh yes mate, you need at least two cars in mind.  More would be even better.”

 We were on a roll. Ten minutes later we found a twelve-year old Chrysler LeBaron convertible.  I gave it the same once over.  The engine looked clean.  It was the only thing.  The interior needed a bath at least.  The top was ripped along the seams in a couple of places.  The seams were not open enough to leak, only because there were other layers of fabric under them.  

 “What is the book on this monster?” I asked.

 “Two and a half, if it is perfect.  In it’s present condition I have no idea.  Also most dealers will not want an American car on the lot.”  Charlie saw my curious look. “Parts are hard to get for them and damned expensive.  This one will be hard to resale Deacon.”

 “Yeah, but look at that trunk space.  I could get all of Paris’ bags in it and maybe some of mine.   And it has the outside luggage rack on it.  This one is my first choice Charlie, then the Saab.”

 “Deacon, it is up to you of course, but if it breaks down in some small town you are gonna be stuck there for a while.”

 “Okay Charlie, I have been warned.”  I said it as I walked on down the line.  I actually saw a good number of American cars but none like the Chrysler.  Most were Fords for some reason.

 The bidding was already underway when we returned to the metal building.  It would be a while before my cars came up so we went into the snack bar.  Inside the restaurant there were TV monitors, which allowed us to keep track of the progress of the auction.
 We went back into the auction when the Saab came up.  I made a couple of bids just to test the waters.  I lost it when the price approached the suggested wholesale amount.  I turned to Charlie who was talking with a small sickly looking man.  They were a few feet away but I could hear nothing they said.  Charlie tapped me on the shoulder.  He motioned for me to follow him outside.

 “I found Rudy for you.” He turned his attention to the sickly looking man.  “Rudy meet me mate Deacon.  He is a Yank, but a bloody good guy.”

 Rudy took my hand.  “So you want to buy a car.  Charlie tells me you have cash for the sale?”

 “I do,” I replied.  I figured Charlie knew enough to trust Rudy.

 “Good, if you buy a car give them ten percent then come find me.  I will finish the sale for you.  I can get you a paper tag this afternoon.  You can drive the beast home with you.”

 “Good enough Rudy.  How much for all this?”  I asked wanting to make sure Charlie hadn’t underestimated Rudy’s greed.

 “Charlie said you would go the usual 100 bucks American for the paperwork and then another hundred for the temporary insurance.  So two hundred American and you drive it home.”  

 “Sounds like what we discussed,” I shook his hand then nodded to Charlie.  I left them talking as I went back inside the building.  I just hung out watching until the burgundy Chrysler came up.  

 As he had with all the other the auctioneer tried to start it at wholesale.  When he had no takers, which he never did, he went down with his first bid request.  The bidding was in Punts, the local currency.  At that time a Punt was worth a shade over a dollar U.S.  The first bid was from a fat man in a checkered suit.  The man was the cliché of an Englishman.

 “Five,” he said to the asking bid of eight hundred.

 “Ladies and gentlemen five is an insult but we have to start somewhere,” the auctioneer suggested.  I sat back and watched , as the bidding worked it’s way to nine hundred punts.  Everyone but the fat Englishman had dropped out of the bidding.

 “And a half,” I said aloud.  I have no idea why he accepted my bid so readily since I was unknown to him but he did.  The Englishman gave me a curious look.

 “Eleven?” the auctioneer asked directly of the Englishman.  He nodded his head.

 “Twelve Yank?” he asked me.

 “Half the Eleven,” I replied.  It was a strong bid I made.  I had never bought a car at auction but I had bought things for the cafe.  If you give a weak bid the man you are bidding against is encouraged to go one higher.  If he thinks you intend to get it at any price he might drop out early.  I figured I would do fifteen then stop.

 “Twelve?” the auctioneer asked of the Englishman.  He looked over at me.  I looked back with a smile.  He shook his head no.  The auctioneer did his thing for a couple of seconds more but in the end I bought the car for about twelve hundred bucks U.S.

 The events all took place a little before noon.  It was after three when all the paperwork was completed.  I drove off in the LeBaron at almost three thirty.  I saw Charlie pull in behind me for the drive to the Inn.  We picked up a second car just outside the auction’s fence.  I paid him no mind.  I stopped for gas on the way to the inn.  The tank was empty , as they always are when you buy a car.  It cost me thirty-five bucks to fill it up.  I knew then that it had better get decent mileage or I was going to start kicking myself.

 As I drove to the inn I began checking things.  The radio and heater I found worked just fine.  The air conditioner seemed to work but very little cold air came out of it.  Still it was under a lot of pressure from the fan so any amount would quickly fill the convertible.  I had taken the top down then put it up again before I bought it so I knew it worked.  I drove it home with the top down.  Which is why I had no idea how good the air conditioner worked.

 I had intentionally not mentioned the money to Charlie.  No sense getting his hopes up.  I expected him to just pass, wave , then drive on by.  Instead he parked beside the LeBaron .  “Let’s get a glass?” Charlie said making it a question.
 “Sure, we need to talk some anyway,” I replied.

 “Yes we do mate,” Charlie replied.  He had obviously been planning to insist on the update.  It was probably a good idea since I planed to push off the next morning anyway.

 The pub was empty except for the usual half dozen hard drinkers.  Charlie actually led the way to a table in the rear.  Only after he had stopped at the bar for two glasses of the dark ale.  When we were both seated he began.  “So are we burning the cash?”

 If I hadn’t been expecting the question I would never have known what he was asking.  “Not sure just yet.  There are more players in the game now.  One of them might be able to clean it for us.”

 “What the hell are you talking about more players?” Charlie asked.

 “Well, your little friend Bobbie is some kind of intelligence operative.  There is also a team from some foreign country involved.  They probably had somebody following us today.”  I said it watching because I had picked up the car.  If Charlie hadn’t I would have been surprised.

 “I saw the same car a couple of times, but he seemed to just show up and not really follow us.”  Charlie didn’t seem surprised enough somehow.  Then again I had no idea what he had noticed.

 “So we are going to get the money after all?” he asked.

 “Like I said we might, but I am a long way from being sure.”

 “So if they don’t buy it, I can take it to my friends on the docks?” Charlie asked it hopefully.

 “Charlie, I left it with them,” I replied.

 “You did what?”  I could tell he was more than a little upset.

 “Get this through your head, the money is no good to us.  It is far too hot.” I suggested

 “Bullshit, the money can be laundered.  It always can be,” Charlie said almost in a shout.  “You sure you’re not planning to take the money and run?”

 “You want to think about what you just said?”  I asked it with as much steel in my look as I could manage.  Charlie looked back at me with his tough guy look.  Who had the worst glare I had no idea.  His didn’t do much for me frankly.

 “Well it is done now.  So what is the plan?” Charlie asked it as though nothing had changed.  Something had though.  Charlie had just moved from the friends list to the doubtful list.  Charlie might become a liability.  What would I do about him if he should?  I guess I could find something short of murder.

 “They are going to let me know this evening.  If they do not go along, I am leaving for the states later this evening.”  I said that simply and even a little coldly.

 “So when were you going to tell me?” his voice was as cold as mine.

 “When I had something to tell you.  I don’t know what these guys are going to do.”  It was as much as I planned to say.

 “Exactly how were you going to tell me Deacon?” he asked it coldly.

 I stood to leave.  “Just the way I am going to do it now.  I tossed his business card on the table.  I let him take a long look before I picked it up.  I walked out of the pub.  The next I saw of Charlie was when he stood beside me while I checked the oil in my new car.

 “Okay Deacon, I am sorry.  Just let me know what is going on.”  He turned to leave.

 “Charlie, I need your bank account number.  If they go for it, the money needs to be deposited somewhere.  It does mean you have to pay tax on it.  A gift thing I expect.  I am going to open a Swiss account for mine.”
 “Hell Deacon, every self respecting businessman here has a Swiss account.”  He wrote me out a long series of numbers.  Numbers he copied from a card which he had removed from his wallet.  “Have it put there.  And Deacon, if you pull this off, I am gonna be your friend for life.”  He looked a little more at peace with it all when he drove away.

 I checked out the car as best I could without my tools, then I went into the inn.  I found Paris gone, so I took a nap.  I had a feeling sleep would be in short supply once we started the tour.  Which was likely to start the next day, if Paris and I didn’t head home to go to ground.
 I awoke to the sound of the door rattling.  I found the berretta just as the door opened.  Paris entered the room followed by Bobbie.  I would have preferred Bobbie had entered first.  She went down a notch in my estimation for it.

 “So ladies when do you want to leave for London?” I asked.

 “Tomorrow Deacon, I have seen and done about all there is to do here,” Paris said it with a smile.

 “Then Bobbie go pack.  We will leave at six am.  I think if we do that we can make London tomorrow night.”  I felt pretty sure from all I had heard that it was possible but a long day’s trip.

 “Now one more thing Deacon, before Bobbie leaves.  You are going to take me to a fancy restaurant and to a disco to dance.  Bobbie, if you want to come along you should change.”  Paris said it with a very unladylike smile at Bobbie.  It was not come hither look, it was more a princess looking at her ugly ducking lady in waiting kind of look.

 “Oh I will definitely be with you Paris,” Bobbie said sarcastically.

 Bobbie left while Paris and I dressed.  I managed to finish first.  Not much of a surprise there, Paris was a lot more meticulous about how she looked than I.  I sat by the open balcony door smoking a very thin but potent cigar.

 Damn Deacon, must you smoke those things in the house?”

 Paris didn’t seem at all angry.  Actually she was far too busy analyzing the look I gave her.  Paris stood before me in a pair of black cut very masculine slacks. They even had the double pleats and watch pocket of an old - fashioned men’s suit.  On her they did not look even slightly masculine.  Above the black slacks she might as well have been naked.  She wore a flesh colored body stocking.  How the damn thing was made I have no idea.  I do know that it did not flatten her breasts at all, nor did it push them together.  She might as well have been naked her figure would have been exactly the same.
 “Surely you are not going out like that?” I asked hoping she was.  I knew there was no chance.  Paris was a bit risqué at times but never, never vulgar.

 “Almost,” she replied with a great happy smile.  Paris loved to shock me.  She also loved the appreciative leer I gave her when she dressed as she did that night.  She slipped into the masculine cut jacket made of a matching material to the slacks.  It was a men’s business suit but no man would ever look that good in it, nor would I ever have the thoughts about a man in such a suit, that I had about Paris.

 The jacket was cut wide so it showed almost all her chest.  The lapels barely covered hard nipples showing through the body suit.  She was a knock out looking woman.  “Honey that might be all right for the disco, but I am afraid they will toss us out of the restaurant.”

 “Deacon, you know that I know better.”  With those words she took a very long white silk scarf from the bed.  She wrapped it around her neck then crossed it.  The two tail ends she tucked into the jacket.  The look was a bit eclectic, but it worked for her.

 I nodded my approval.  Secretly I hoped she would keep the scarf on at the disco.  I dressed in my one blue blazer over a light blue shirt.  The gray pants were not a very good match since they were cotton work pants from the discount store.

 I swear if Paris had been told to be ready an hour earlier she would.  If she had been told an hour later she would have taken every minute of it.  She was still applying the final touches to her make up when Bobbie knocked.

 Bobbie was dressed in a knit top of some brown color over slacks of a different brown.  She actually was fairly attractive until she stood beside Paris.  When she was in the same eye frame as Paris it was as though she did not exist.  Bobbie was lugging a suitcase with her.

 “I figured I would get a room here tonight since we are going to leave so early in the morning and we will be late coming home.”  Bobbie seemed a little shy about it.

 “Of course,” Paris replied shortly.  I just kept my mouth shut . I answered with a nod.

 Since Bobbie was the native she made all the arrangements.  Dinner was at a very fancy restaurant with both French and Italian dishes on the menu.  It took a while for me to make it clear to the waitress I wanted spaghetti and meat sauce.  It had a very long fancy name on the menu.  As Paris wished, we dawdled over dinner.  I even had a glass of wine after dinner.

 The disco was wild and noisy when we arrived.  There were probably three hundred people inside the place.  The main dance floor must have had half of them moving around on it.  We got a table.  Paris ordered wine . Bobbie and I ordered Coke.

 Before the drinks arrived Paris took my hand.  She tried to pull me onto the dance floor.  Since it was a reasonably slow number I went.  Even with the dozen or so rubber bands wrapped around the handle the Beretta was likely to fall down my pants or out onto the floor.  Either would be terribly embarrassing I feared, especially if the music were fast.

 My dancing would b e most charitably described as awful.  I stood close to Paris while just moving around a little.  Paris on the other hand moved with the grace of some long forgotten jungle animal.  Her movements were primitive to say the least.  She was pure sexuality and every man could tell.  The scarf was gone, it never made it past the restaurant parking lot.  The slight convex curve of her tummy was noticeable in the jacket.

 Women work and slave to get a flat tummy or even a concave one and have no idea what men find sexy.  I have seen men walk past young women with perfect bodies to come leer at my Paris.  Her little tummy riding above the Bikini drove most of the men we encountered on our Mexican vacation mad.  It did even more to me I am afraid.  

 I begged off the next dance.  I was not surprised when Paris took Bobbie’s hand.  Bobbie looked at me as if for help.  I shrugged.  The two of them danced for a just a moment when I came to another conclusion about Paris and the dance.  Paris dancing with a lousy dancer like me was Sexy.  Paris dancing with another woman was damn sexy.  Paris’ dancing with a woman who looked and moved as masculine as Bobbie was lethally sexy.

 Men who were dancing with their own women began to lose their rhythm as they watched Paris and Bobbie dance.  Paris had let me go after one dance, but Bobby she kept on the floor.  I expect she just loved the attention she was getting.

 After a long series of dances Paris and Bobbie returned.  I looked at my watch to find it was getting very late.  “ We have a long drive tomorrow we need to turn in,” I screamed over the music.

 “One more dance please?” she asked.

 I nodded.  I thought she wanted to dance with Bobbie again.  She took my hand instead.  I was following behind her with my hand on her shoulder when it happened.  Some young man grabbed her hand.  He tried to pull her to him.  I was behind so he was off to my right and between Paris and me.  Paris looked frightened.  I have a feeling it wasn’t for her that she feared.

 I reached down, took the man’s thumb then snapped it like a twig.  His scream was lost in the music.  The man started to rise holding his hand.  I ignored him while pressing Paris on to the dance floor.  I looked back when I reached the dance floor.   Bobbie was showing the man something.  I expected that it was her badge .

 After the dance we left the club.  The walk to the car was pretty much in silence.  My hearing was about normal when we began the drive to the Inn.
 “Did you have to break his finger?  Couldn’t you have just pulled his hand away?” Bobbie asked.

 “Oh damn Bobbie,” Paris said.  “Force times ten.”

 “What the hell does that mean Paris?”  Bobbie snapped it at her.  She was angry and it showed.

 “It means Bobbie,” I replied before she and Paris could exchange heated words.  “If you want a fight to escalate meet force with the same force.  If you want it to end, use force times ten.  If a man picks up a stick, pick up a shotgun.   That will usually end it.”

 “And you do that all the time?” Bobbie asked.

 “If I can, yes.  If I had simply removed his hand from her hand , he would have brooded during that dance and he might well have hit me from behind with a beer bottle.  I like for things to have nice clean endings.”  

 We completed the drive in silence.  At the Inn Bobbie found a room on the same floor.   The Benjamin couple had left while I was at the Auction so she got their room.  Bobbies room adjoined the room Paris and I had first occupied so it adjoined the room of the Pros from Isreal.  

 Paris curled up beside me in bed that night.  “Deacon, is the way we live so strange?  Nobody seems to understand "

 “Paris my love, it was just a broken finger.  He can have me arrested if he wants.”  We both laughed since Bobbie had already talked him out of that move.  “Besides honey most of the time the people are jealous anyway.  You are so beautiful and you know how hard it is for a beautiful woman to make friends.”

 “Deacon, you are such a bad liar, but I love you for it.”

 I, nor the years before I met Paris.  The feeling of her in my arms seemed to be my only memory.

 When we left the next morning I was in the driver’s seat.  I was surprised to find the LeBaron drove as well as it did.  The one I had owned in New Mexico had almost the same number of miles on the odometer.  It had driven so badly I had been on the lookout for a new one.  I was scheduled to look at a newer LeBaron when I had been forced to leave Casablanca without any notice.

 The convertible I drove that morning was three years newer than the one I left behind.  Even thought it was a high mileage car it drove well.  Looks were a different story.  I wasn’t all that concerned about the looks.  I was pretty sure we wouldn’t be trying to impress anyone.

 I drove the forty-five minutes to the ferry.  While we moved along the reasonably modern highway, I listened to Bobbie and Paris as they discussed the stay in London.

  “So Bobbie, you know where I can buy a really nice dinner dress?” Paris asked.

 “Sure, there are half a dozen shops where we can look.  With your figure it won’t be hard to find one,” Bobbie suggested.

 “I do hope that was a compliment.  Though I am not sure an ‘off the rack’ figure is truly a compliment.”  Paris’ smile was not a warm as it might have been.  She and Bobby still shared a little disapproval of one another.  It was obvious even to the casual observer.  

 “How about theater tickets?” I asked.  “Can you get those on short notice?”

 “For you Deacon, that will be a snap,” Bobbie replied.  It was obvious that she enjoyed the scornful look Paris bestowed on her.

 “Why is that?”  Paris asked.
 “Because my dear Paris, Deacon is a bit of a hero, and also because our government wants to keep him safe while in the country.  The bosses will not want him buying tickets from scalpers on the street.”

 “Well Deacon, it seems your fame has hidden benefits,” Paris smiled as she spoke.

 “If you say so my love,” I said with a smile.  I was a little skeptical of any government help.  It usually meant a large number of people knew where I would be and what I would be doing.  I never considered that a plus.  I had always felt being hidden in the crowd was my safest option.

 “So Deacon my love,” Paris said.  It was obvious she was reasserting her claim on me.  “Where are we going to stay in London?  You are going to keep your promise to me?”

 “I thought I would let you and Bobbie decide,” I replied.

 Paris turned to the rear seat where Bobbie sat beside the black half duffle bad she refused to allow me to pack into the trunk.  “Bobbie, Deacon has promised me we will stay in a first class hotel in London.  What is the best Hotel?”

 “Well, I always wanted to stay at the Dorchester.  It is supposed to be elegant in the old world kind of way,” Bobbie replied.

 “Then the Dorchester it is,” Paris replied.  “As long as people dress for dinner.  I am tired of wearing slacks.  I want to wear a dinner dress and heels.”

 “Paris the way you dress, I would avoid the seven inch stiletto heels honey,” Bobbie replied.

 “Oh really, you think I dress sluttish?” Paris asked with a sharp edge in her voice.

 “No Paris, I was just kidding.  Except for the disco number you have always dressed conservatively,” Bobbie smiled lightening the blow.
 “Now what does that mean?” Paris asked.  “I thought sexy was right for the club.  There were women there who were dressed a lot move revealing.  Hell, I was conservative compared that woman with the red hair.”

 “Did I miss a red head?” I asked trying to calm the conversation.

 “No Deacon, her red was the color of house paint.  Nature never meant a red like that for human hair, a woodpecker maybe.”  Paris laughed at her own joke.

 She and Bobbie finally found a subject on which they agreed.  For the next thirty minutes they discussed the other dancers from the night before.

 Finding the ferry landing was simple.  I followed the signs to the long line of cars waiting their turn to drive into the ferry’s car bay.  The loading was much faster than I expected.

 In the car bay the LeBaron stood out among the other cars.  There were only a handful of convertibles in the bay.  The LeBaron had by far the worst paint and top.  It was however the owner of much better lines.  At least to my way of thinking it was.

 Since the trip was four hours the ferry had a very nice snack bar.  The ladies ordered Salads. I think Bobbie ordered the bowl of lettuce because Paris did.  Truth is she looked longingly at my sausage sandwich covered with cooked onions.  She didn’t seem to approve of my mustard addition though.  I didn’t let it bother me since I wasn’t planning to share anyway.

 We had time for a nap in the comfortable deck chairs.  I think we all needed the nap after the late night at the disco.  I had expected to be tired, but not as tired as I was that morning.

 When we landed Bobbie took over the driving.  She was familiar with the roads leading into London.  I probably could have found London but I would never have found the Hotel.  Even with Bobbie’s knowledge of the city it was after ten p.m. when we registered.
 “We need two adjoining rooms,” Bobbie demanded of the very snobbish clerk.

 “Madam,” the clerk replied looking at Bobbie’s identification card.  “The Dorchester does not have adjoining rooms.  We have suites.  If you would like a suite, I have several.  I do not think your service will cover the cost of even a room at the Dorchester Madam.”

 I took over to save Bobbie any further embarrassment.  “Sir, I will be responsible for the charges.  Now do you have a two room suite?” I asked.  He did not seem all that impressed with me either.

 “Sir, our two room, three person occupancy, suite runs roughly five hundred of your American Dollars a night.”  He looked me in the eye as he spoke.  I had been amused when he ran his British snob game on Bobbie.  It wore very thin, very quickly when he tried it on me.

 I removed three thousand dollars in cash from my pocket.  The wad of bills came from my pocket not a wallet.  It looked as though I considered it loose change.  It was all the cash I had left from my share of the terrorist’s money.  The larger amount of my own cash was secreted away inside the lining of my suitcase.  The diamonds, which represented the remainder of my entire net worth, were inside the computer battery.

 “When that is gone let me know.”  I looked just as coldly as I could at him.  In the end I admired the man.  He did not bat an eye at the cash.

 “Very well sir, suite four hundred is available.  It has a view of the park.”  He waited I think expecting me to either be grateful or to complain.  He obviously held me in very low regard.  I was to him a typical yank, undereducated, under sophisticated, with money I did not deserve.

 I moved to the end of the counter away from the ladies.  I did the whole thing just to prove something to him.  Hell, it might have been just to prove something to myself.  When I had him out of hearing of the ladies I whispered, “I killed five men for that money.  I would appreciate it, if you stopped taking it so damned lightly.  You treat me with all the contempt you like, but those two get treated like the ladies they are.  If not, I will take it real personal.”  

I noted his discomfort.  He knew it would do no good to call the cops.  One of my party was the cops.  He held together well for a man who had never been threatened with violence before.

 “Sir, the Dorchester treats all of its guests with respect,” he replied.  He was trying to find a way out.

 “Not so far, but that is going to change right damn now.  If not, people are going to be very sorry.”

 “Are you threatening me?” he asked.

 “Did that sound like a threat?” I asked.

 “Well frankly it did,” he suggested.  He thought he had talked himself out of trouble.

 “Then you got my meaning exactly right.”  I smiled at him with my nastiest smile.  “So let's see to it the ladies have a pleasant stay.”

 He was shaken when he answered,  “As I said, we always do.”

 “Good,” I smiled pleasantly at him.

  Paris and Bobbie may not have noticed his change in attitude but I did.
 The sitting room of the suite could be converted to a bedroom simply by removing throw pillows from one of the small sofas.  I was not my idea of the perfect accommodations.  It was acceptable since there was a heavy door between the two rooms.
 The first night we slept in the hotel rooms.  It was our total use of the facilities since we were all exhausted from the long drive.  I was tempted to order room service but opted for a shower and bed instead.  I left Bobbie and Paris making plans for the next day.

 “Deacon, wake up.  Come on Deacon wake up it is almost nine o’clock,” Paris was shaking me not so gently.

 “So what Paris,” I asked of the fully clothed woman.

 “Bobby and I are going shopping.  Do you want to come along?”

 “Paris, I do not shop.  You know that honey,” I replied.

 “Yes but you know I always ask.  By the way, I need money.”  

 Paris looked at me with a smile that expressed her certain knowledge that I would reach into the magic bag and produce it.  I did just that then went back to bed.  

 Two hours later I was in the shower when I heard the knock on the door.  I put on the thick terry cloth robe,and then I stopped by the bed long enough to drop the 9mm into the robes pocket.

 I looked through the security hole in the door to see Ari standing outside.  I opened the door for him.  “So Ari , did you find your way here without any problem ?”

 “Yes, no thanks to you,” he replied.  “You could have told us you were leaving Ireland you know.”

 “I thought when you saw me loading the car you would ask,” I replied.

 “We were too busy scrambling about to do anything.  If Jacob hadn’t followed you, we would have lost you.”  He did not appear to be too happy at that prospect.

 “Not to worry, I would have called the embassy.  After all Ari, you have my money.”  I said it because he was holding a bag in his hand.

 “Well not any more,” he thrust the bag at me.  “I hope this means you will cooperate now?”

 “Oh yes, now you are the boss.  I am just a paid employee.”  I smiled at Ari since I knew he wouldn’t believe a word of it.  I did not plan to slip off again though.  That had just been a little push to convince him to cough up the money.

 “Good so what are you plans for London?” he asked.
 “I think we will stay here four or five days, then move on to Paris.  Paris wants to see a play.  I think I can handle that.  She also wants to see an opera. I am not at all sure I can handle that.  She and Bobbie are shopping now.  I think our stay will depend on how long she and Bobbie can shop without one of them killing the other.”

 “Well if it does come down to murder, I will put my money on the dyke,” Ari suggested.

 “If it comes to murder, you would lose your money my friend.  Paris is a lot tougher than she looks.”  I knew it was a lie, but I liked for people to never quite find the right hole to push the Paris pen into.

 The two women forced me to go shopping one day of our stay.  I was told I had to have a tuxedo for the Opera.  I found one that with only a few alterations fit me well.  I bought it in the morning, picked it up in the afternoon, and then wore it that night.

 The opera tickets were courtesy of her majesty’s secret service as were the play tickets.  The play at the Palladium was Man of La Mancha my all time favorite musical.  I was very happy to see it again.

 The five days in London marked an all time high in wasted money for me.  I dropped about a grand a day.  London was fun, but I am not sure it was that much fun.  I expect another thing keeping me from enjoying the trip was the feeling of being watched.  I hoped it was the pros from Tel Aviv doing the watching but I never was convinced of it.

 When we left the Dorchester I think everyone was relieved,  the desk clerk maybe most of all.  Ari and the other pros I am sure were happy to have us headed for a smaller hotel in France.  

 In accordance with our agreement, I gave the pros a days notice before we moved on.  I also gave them an itinerary.  That one demand of theirs made me the most nervous.  Anyone knowing were I would be a day before I got there bothered me.  Then again , if you are going to be bait, they have to know where to find you.  I expected that the information would be leaked.

 The plan was for Bobbie, Paris, and I to take back roads from the coast to Paris.  I had no idea why, but it seemed to thrill the pros from Tel Aviv.  That in and of itself worried me.

 Once we left the tunnel the countryside was wonderful.  There were small farms along the road.  We planned to stop for lunch before we rejoined the larger highway for the last few miles into Paris.  It was a little disconcerting that we had not seen the Tel Aviv gang all morning.  

 I was pretty sure they had a homing device on the car.  They struck me as people who loved and trusted gadgets.  I had it figured out within a half hour of leaving the tunnel.  It would be best for them to come in after the killing.  Just pick up everyone who was left.  I assume they had decided how long they had before the killers escaped.  I was pretty sure they were within that time of us every minute.

 It was just fortunate that I was at the wheel of the LeBaron when it happened.  I saw the puff of smoke from the bridge ahead of us.  The cloud of concrete dust could be only one thing.

 “Deacon,” Bobbie shouted a second before I swung the heavy car into a tight left turn.  The car’s weight shifted, dangerously lifting the outside wheels into the air.  I held the wheel hard left and prayed.  The car made the turn before the river bridge collapsed.  It also hit the gravel on the spot where a haphazard pull off had been made for fishermen to park.  

 On the gravel the car completed it’s three-hundred and sixty degree turn.  The convertible came to rest facing the bridge again but on the left shoulder of the road.
 “What the hell was that?” Paris asked.  She seemed to be the only one not shaken by the maneuver.

 “That Miss Paris, is someone trying to kill us,” Bobbie replied.  While she spoke I scanned the fields surrounding the road and bridge.  

 “It looks as though round two is about to start.”  I pointed to a black four-wheel drive truck pulling onto the road in the distance.  “I guess we better take to the woods.  These pop guns are not going to do much good against AK47‘s.”

 “Maybe we can surprise them,” Bobbie suggested.  She opened the black half duffle bag .  From it she removed a green fiberglass tube.  The tube was about three feet long.  I recognized it as a light armored weapon.  Better known as a L.A.W. rocket launcher.   The weapon was obsolete as an anti-tank weapon, but one very well suited for anything lighter than a tank.

 “Paris my love you and I need to get out of the car.  The back wash of that thing will not do your hairdo any good.”  I pulled her from the car.  “Bobbie, have you ever fired one of those?”
 “On the range a few months ago, have you?” she asked.

 “Thirty years ago, I think I will go with you,” I replied grinning.

 She waited until the black suv was fifty or so yards away then she pulled the trigger on the launcher.  A trail of gray smoke showed the path of the rocket.  The smoke ran quickly to the truck.  The smoke disappeared into the vehicle.

 The truck jumped into the air then fire spewed from the windows.  The doors flew off then the sound of the explosion reached us.  At the same time the truck jumped into the air again.  That time a huge fireball surrounded it.  I knew the gas tank had gone up.  When the frame came down it seemed more parts where in the air.  Before the sound reached us what was left of the truck disappeared with another fireball.  The occupants must have been carrying explosives that finally cooked off.  

  I saw the crater in the road and the debris field but no van.  It had disintegrated with the last explosion.  I looked at Bobbie.  She appeared to be on the verge of fainting.  “Think you used enough dynamite there, Bobbie?”  I wasn’t at all sure she would get the joke.

 “Well next time Sundance, you do it.”  She was shaken, but determined not to show it.

 “When you two get through playing macho games would somebody hold me.”  Paris was speaking to remind us she was still with us.  Both Bobbie and I had forgotten all about her .

 “Paris are you all right?” I asked.

 “Yes, nice of you to ask.”  She was looking from me to Bobbie.  I could tell Bobbie had risen to a level much higher than when the day had started.

 “You might be all right, but I am still shaking,” Bobbie said.  

 I was about to make a similar statement when Paris spoke.  “I was never worried.”  Bobbie looked at her with disbelief in her eyes.

 She was about to make a snide comment when Paris said,” Why would I worry?  I have both of you taking care of me.”  Those were the words that elevated Bobbie to the same level as me.  There was also a look in Paris’ eyes that told us both she was never going to see Bobbie the same again.  It was a kind of warning shot across the bow for us both.

 Before anyone said too much I broke the mood. “Where the hell are the pros from Tel Aviv?”

 “Got me Deke, we might as well go back looking for them.  We sure as hell can’t go forward.  Are you sorry now you didn’t buy a four wheel drive like that one.”  She was pointing to the debris field.”  I noticed two things.  She called me Deke.  Something she had never done before, and she was much more relaxed.  I hoped it was because she had shown herself to be competent.  I certainly hoped it wasn’t solely to impress Paris.  If it was, life was going to get complicated in the city of lights.

 I shook myself then answered, “I am not very impressed with them.  I have no idea why these guys keep buying them.”

 “Who knows,” she replied casually.

 I had to swing the LeBaron onto the shoulder to pass the crater.  I also had to weave around the parts scattered about the road.  There were car parts at least fifty feet from the crater.  I must have gone another mile before I came to the small bridge.  I was driving very slowly because I knew something was wrong.  If I had not been, I would have driven into the creek, which the missing bridge had spanned.

 I pointed hole where the missing bridge had sat.  “That is why the Israeli contingent is missing.  We might as well sit and wait for them.  If they don’t show in a couple of hours we will just go down a farm road for help.”  I suggested.

 “Or use my cell phone to call,” Bobbie suggested smugly.
 “Or do that,” I agreed.  “You know somebody had to stay around to blow this bridge after we passed over it.  I bet the others were planning to come back for him.  He might well be hanging out here now waiting.”

 “You want to go look for him?” Bobbie asked.

 “Not me, but the others might if they ever get here,” I suggested.  The wait for the first team did not last long.  Within fifteen minutes they Israeli agents showed.  When their four-wheel drive finally got back on the road I noticed the mud on it.  The paint did not look all that good either. It appeared they had been through some pretty rough areas to bypass the bridge.

 “What happened?” Ari asked.

 “Bad guys blew a couple of bridges,” I replied.

 “Did they come after you?” He continued.

 “Of course they did,” I replied.  I was losing confidence with every word out of his mouth.  “Bobby here managed to save us.”

 “Are they all dead?” Ari asked.  His expression told me exactly where I stood.

 “No, we think there is one the loose, the one who set off this charge.  My guess is that they were going to pick him up on the way back.  Even in their fancy four-wheel drive they couldn’t cross the river.  Obviously they could cross the creek.”
 “We will take a look but I expect he is long gone,” Ari commented.
I shrugged.  “Is anyone hurt?” Paris whispered to me angrily.

 “They do seem to lack an even reasonable amount of concern for their bait,” I replied with a grin.

 “I expected you to take o ff his arm at the shoulder at least,” Bobbie suggested.

 “Do you think this car will go over the fields, and through the creek without help?” I asked.  Paris nodded her understanding.  
 “I see your point,” Bobbie replied.

 After an hour the search ended.  I waited patiently for Ari and his crew to lay some plans.  I needed very little input into the planning.  Ari knew I needed to be on my way, if I was going to be his bait.  Actually I was surprised Bobbie had not been called on to flash her badge.  I expect the spot had been chosen for it’s remote condition.  No other car had approached.  Until one did it seemed the French police would not be informed.

 “What the hell is he doing,” Paris asked.  Ari had moved into the middle of the road.  He was setting up an antenna.

 “Satellite phone hon, R.E. phone home.” Bobbie said with a mad giggle.  It was the kind of reaction some people have when the tension is finally released.

 The call took another ten minutes.  I was getting concerned about the time.  We had been on that road an awfully long time.

 “Follow us Deacon, we have a tow chain.  We can pull you out of anywhere you get that piece of crap stuck.”  Ari said it very seriously.  The little soldier to the end, I thought.  I noticed the blonde Rebecca grin as she read my mind.

 Our departure included a trip down a farm’s tractor path, the fording of a small creek, and being towed up the creek bank.  Finally I drove through a drainage ditch filled with tree limbs to reach a spot I had passed two hours earlier.  From there we reversed out direction back to the main highway into Paris.  I had agreed to follow Ari to a safe house outside of Paris.  The safe house outside Paris turned out to be a small hotel just inside the Paris city limits.

 After we settled in Bobbie came to our room.  Our room was across the hall from Bobbie’s.  I opened the door for her only after verifying here identity.

 “Deacon, I am not sure I approve of this place.  It is better for laying a trap than protecting you and Paris.”   Bobbie knew I agreed.  The whole place was open to anyone who wanted to wander the halls.  Not to mention something Bobbie hadn’t thought about at that time.
 “It is worse than that Bobbie,” I replied.  “The bad guys know where we are.  They will be coming for us as soon as they can get another group organized.”

 “The man we left behind could not have followed us,” Bobbie informed me.

 “He doesn’t have to somebody is feeding them information,” I replied.

 “What?” Bobbie asked with not nearly enough surprise in her voice.  My hope was that she had figured it out too.

 “Somebody gave them out route this morning.  How else could they have been there waiting for us?”  I asked it while looking at Bobbie’s reaction.

 “I thought of that but I hoped there was some other explanation.  One I didn’t understand.”  She suggested.

 “No that is the only one.  Now we are going to go confront the pros from Tel Aviv.  You are invited if you want to come along.  I will understand it you want to pass on this.  It is not going to help your career any to be involved in what is going to happen.”  I said it giving her the opportunity to save herself.

 “Deacon, I was in that car.  Those guys were planning to kill me too.  I am not at all happy about this.”  She looked at me with a reasonable amount of fury in her eyes.

 “We can not leave Paris alone.”  I suggested.

 “Alone? My dear Deacon, there is no way I am going to miss this.  I have to be there to protect my interest,” Paris informed me.

 “What interest would that be?” Bobbie asked.

 “Why you two of course,” Paris replied with her small femme smile.
 “Well, let’s get it done.”  I said it as I moved to the door.

 The three of us trooped to the room adjacent to our own.  It was more than likely that our conversation had been overheard.  It didn’t much matter since I intended to repeat every word and every accusation.  When the door opened I pushed into the room with my little army following.

 I saw Rebecca sitting in front of the laptop computer.  I had a pretty good idea she had been monitoring our room.  Since she didn’t put it away odds were good they didn’t care that we knew.  Either that or she hadn’t bothered to report the coming events to Ari.

 “We need to talk,” I demanded.

 “Talk about what?” Ari asked shortly.

 “About what our future plans are,” I replied just as sharply.

 “Your plans are simple, you will follow my orders.  We have a deal.”  Ari said the wrong thing to the wrong person.

 “Well you stick that deal up your ass.  My deal was to allow you to hang around to grab a terrorist.  It was not for you to sell me out to them.  Then for you to sit back ten miles till they killed Paris and me.”  I was angry and it showed.

 “Not to mention me Ari,” Bobbie shot at him.  “I am a British intelligence officer.  I have never made a deal to allow myself to be murdered for you.”
 “I am taking over the details of this operation or I am going home with Paris in tow.”  I turned to leave.  

 Ari made the mistake of his life.  He grabbed my shoulder.  I turned to him while pushing the golf shirt aside as I drew the 9mm from my waistband.  Even with the ten rubber bands wrapped around the butt it came out easily.  The sounds of metal behind me warned me other pistols were coming into play.  I didn’t look back but I didn’t hear any warning so I assumed Bobbie had moved the fastest.

 From farther back in the room I heard a voice.  “Everybody drop their weapons.”  The illusive Abraham I thought.
 “No sir,” It was the voice of Paris.  As is almost always the case everyone had ignored the sweet little Paris.  “Deacon assured me this wasn’t much of a weapon, but if I held it within an inch of a person’s skull it would kill them instantly.  I know none of you take me seriously, but let me tell you this.  You are holding a gun on my Deacon.  I will shoot first, if you do not drop it.”  I didn’t have to look back to know Paris had the .22 Magnum derringer against his head.

 I sure as hell believed her.  Evidently so did Abraham.  I heard the thump of a heavy metal object striking the floor.  “Now that we have established whose is bigger, we can talk.  Things are going to change around here.  For one thing you are going to stop following us from a mile behind.  I want two of your people with Paris whenever she leaves the hotel.  I expect to see a bomb-sniffing dog here before I drive that convertible again.  I plan to drive it within the next couple of days.”

 “No one can get in here to wire up your car Deacon.  Don’t get paranoid on us,” Ari demanded.

 “Paranoid hell, you mean those guys aren’t really trying to kill me?”  It was a question to which we both knew the answer.

 “You aren’t afraid are you Deacon?” Ari asked.

 “You bet your ass I am.  If you don’t think I have reason to be then you need to go back to Tel Aviv for a refresher course.”  I was angry and it showed.  “Now you’ve been riding along ten miles behind us had nothing to fear, but that is damn sure about to change.  If I don’t look back and glimpse you in the mirror, every once in a while then I am driving straight to the closest airport.”

 “Since the incident this morning I have been rethinking our coverage.  I had decided to do all the things you suggested anyway.  The two people for Paris would leave us a bit short handed.”  Ari didn’t get it.  He had a 9mm under his chin, but still he tried to pretend to be in charge.

 “I am not fucking negotiating with you Ari.  I just told you. Do it or I am taking Paris home,” I replied.

 “Why don’t you just send her off with the Brit.  Nobody is interested in her,” Ari was trying very hard to be a martyr.

 “I should have since the protection is so lousy.  I thought she would be safer with the first team.  You guys have not shown me much,” I was still angry.

 “Deacon, I will thank you both to stop talking as though I were not here.  Let me say this so there is no misunderstanding. The only place that I am going, without my Deacon, is heaven.”  She was holding the derringer to the Israeli’s head as she spoke.

 “I plan that she not take that trip for a long time,” I interjected.  “Now I do hope we understand each other.”

 “Do you want to change rooms again?” Ari asked.

 “No, this time they will bring a car bomb,” I replied.

 “How do you know that?” Rebecca asked.

 Since she had not previously spoken I answered her.  

 “Because they are running short of assets.  It is the easiest and most efficient method open to them now.  If they didn’t have a plan B, they will be here in a few days.  If they had it in place, we should be seeing a Ryder truck real soon.”

 “Why a Ryder truck?” She asked.

 “I am just kidding.  It is the truck of choice in the states.  They are easy to rent.  Nobody pays any attention because they are everywhere.”  I explained it patiently although I was beginning to wonder about my pros.  The confrontation ended with Paris, Bobby, and I, leaving.  

 We all returned to my room.  I put my finger to my mouth in the universal quiet gesture.  I began looking for hidden microphones . I doubted I would find any.  Bobby got the idea after a few minutes.  Once she had it worked out, she left.  I couple of minutes later she returned with the black duffle bag.  From it she removed a very sensitive magnetometer.

 Bobby swept the room.  She pointed out a couple of bugs to us.  They looked old to me.  Then again why wouldn’t they be?  It appeared that the Israelis used the hotel often.

 “So Deacon, I guess I will go to my room.  I really do need sleep,” Bobbie informed me.  She knew it was a statement of no importance.
 “To tell you the truth Bobbie, I wish you would stay in here tonight.  I frankly do not trust the pros from Tel Aviv.  I think they might be more interested in staying out of the line of fire.”  I said it more to needle Ari and this band than for any other reason.

 “Yes Bobbie please do stay, I would feel much better knowing where you are,” The voice belonged to Paris who at that moment was clutching Bobbie’s arm.

 “ Bobbie, we could take turns on watch.  A couple of hours at a time,” I suggested.
 “Okay, but you could come to my room to get me,” Bobbie said.
 “Please Bobbie, I would really feel better if you stayed in here,” Paris was not pleading exactly more like asking in a little girl’s voice.

 Bobbie looked to me for some kind of advice.  I shrugged.  I decided I did not want to be involved in the decision-making.  Everyone knew my opinion.  I wanted the extra person with a weapon in the room.

 Bobbie took the first watch.  Paris and I slept under her gaze.  Needless to say sleep is all I had in mind.  Somehow when Bobbie woke me two hours later I was pressed against Paris one breast in each hand.  I also was the not so proud owner of an erection.

 Fortunately it was dark in the room.  I slipped from the bed then into the bathroom.  There I brushed my teeth while Bobbie returned to the chair by the door.  When I had finished, I walked into the bedroom.  I motioned for Bobbie to take the bed.  She looked more than a little reluctant.  I wasn’t about to either encourage or discourage her.  After a too long pause she slipped into the bed beside Paris.  Like me she remained dressed.  

 I forgot about them both while I tried to remain awake.  I struggled with it for two hours then went to wake Bobbie.  I found them in pretty much the same position Bobbie had found me.  Paris was curled in Bobbie’s arms. Almost exactly as she had been in mine.  I woke Bobbie.  When she realized where her hands were she jerked awake.  She did not look at me as she rose from the bed.  She like me went into the bathroom.  The noises coming for the room indicated she was brushing her teeth.
 Once I knew she was awake I crawled back into the bed with Paris.  Paris pulled me to her until I was in more or less the same position as when I awoke two hours earlier.  I drifted off to sleep not thinking much about anything.  

 More or less the same things happened again before the long night finally ended.  Paris didn’t seem to even remember being held all night by different arms and hands.  We all struggled through bathing and dressing.  I carried both of them to breakfast.

 “So what do you plan for today?” I asked it of Paris.  I noted Bobbie’s interest in my question.

 “I am going to read dear Deacon, while you and Bobbie nap.  Both of you look like the walking dead.”  Paris smiled as she spoke the words.  I looked at Bobbie.  She looked like I felt so Paris knew it was a plan we could live with.

 “Sounds like a heck of an idea.  After a nap we can all go out to dinner.”  I said it knowing it would be a damn caravan at dinner, or I would take Paris and go home.
 Paris was quietly reading a book when I slipped between the sheets.  The next thing I knew, there was a knock on he door.  It was hard but I managed to climb from the bed.  I staggered to the door with the Beretta in my hand.  I looked through the spy hole then put the pistol in my waistband on my hip.

 “Come on in Bobbie,” I said as I swung the door open.  I didn’t see the 10mm Glock until I was looking down the barrel.  I didn’t even consider going for my pistol.

 “Deacon, hand me the Beretta,” she demanded.

 “Now why would I do that?” I asked.

 “Because I got something to tell you and when I do, you might want to use it.  If you go for it, I will have to kill you.  I really, really do not want to do that,” she replied.

 I had a feeling she meant it so I put the pistol on the bed.  When it was lying safely on the rumpled sheet I asked, “So what is it that is going to make me want to use a gun on you?” I asked.  I knew it had to be about Paris.  It also had to be bad news my heart was already pounding when she spoke.

 “The Pros lost Paris,” she said.

 “What do you mean they lost Paris?” I asked hoping she was just wandering around somewhere.

 “She asked them to take her to a restaurant, they sent the blonde chick and the one called Abraham to protect her.  When they didn’t get back in three hours, Ari called the police.  The best anyone can figure right now, the man who got away and another one did it.”

 “There better be some dead Israelis,” I demanded.
 “ They blew the top of Abraham’s head off.  They took both women.  We think it was because they look so much alike.  In the rush they left the purses.”  Bobbie looked terrible.  She also was not watching me very close.
 I picked up the Beretta then slipped it into my waistband.  “Let’s go talk to Ari.” I demanded.

 “I thought you would be beating holes in the walls,” Bobbie commented.

  “Why?  This is my fault.  I never should have agreed to be bait for money.  The only reason I am not insane about it is that Paris knew the risks and took them willingly.  I still may go insane if I don’t get her back.” I replied without any emotion at all.

 “Deacon, I don’t think I like the way you are looking.  You are not planning to trade yourself for Paris are you?”  Bobbie asked.

 “No dear, I have been thinking all along how I would handle this if I were Ari.  Not the kidnapping, but how I would get them off my ass.  Well a couple of small changes and it will work for this.  That is assuming Paris is still alive.”

 “If it is any help, I think she is.  The homicide in the restaurant would have been easier and made the same impression on you.  I expect they plan to trade her for you.”  Bobbie didn’t look happy at the prospect.

 “Oh they are going to get me, they just may not like what they get.”
 “So now what?” she asked.
 “Now you get out of my way so I can go talk to Ari.  You can wait here if you like?  This may not be something you want to know about.”  I had a feeling she did want to know.

 “You know better Deacon,” she replied without any explanation.  I figured I knew.  Loving Paris caused people to do the most extraordinary things.

 It took Ari a couple of minutes to open the door.  He and the one called Benjamin were on the satellite phone.  I waited a moment while they broke the connection.  He started to speak but I cut him off.
 “I need your help Ari.  Now either help me or put me in touch with someone who can,” I demanded.

 “We are going to take care of this,” he replied.  “They have one of my people.”

 “No, I am going to take care of this.  You have world opinion to consider.  I do not.  I am going to save Paris and if I can save your agent fine.  Now are you going to help me or not ?  I can buy what I need but I don’t have time.  If you want, I can find a nice blackmail story you can tell you bosses.”

 “What do you want?” he asked.  There was no more expression on his face than on mine.

 I rattled off a list of equipment and information for five minutes.  When I had finished, he nodded.  I watched him make the call.  He spoke in Hebrew so I had no idea what he was saying.

 When he finished, I asked, “So?”

 “We should have a jet chartered in an hour.  Pack anything you want to take we will be leaving for the airport in ten minutes.”

 “The information?” I asked.

 “It will be waiting for us on the ground,” he replied.
 I sat alone on the jet.  I spoke to Bobby who had somehow managed to get included in the little band of gypsies.  Do they have any idea where Paris and their agent are being held?” I asked.
 “They believe they are still in France,” Bobbie answered.  “Something about not having a tie with any government.  At least there is no one with the kind of assets to get them out of France with two captive women .”

 I nodded then moved back to my seat at the rear of the small jet.  I looked out the window while I steeled myself for the next part of the plan.  I am a hard man.  When it came to Paris there were no rules.  Even so, I did not relish the next few days.

 Everybody packed quickly.  By the time we got to the airport, someone from Ari’s side had arranged a chartered plane.  I climbed the five steps then walked hunchbacked into the tiny cabin.  The cabin had seats for eight people the four of us rattled around.  I hadn’t said more than a dozen words since I confronted Ari.  Hell it hadn’t been much of a confrontation.  We both knew I needed him and his organization.  It was just as well that they had an agent captive.  They needed me to take the heat for the only plan that had a change of working, even then we all knew that saving the women was going to be a long shot.  The unmentioned part of the plan was just pure vengeance.

 Bobbie sat with the Israelis.  I couldn’t blame her I was lousy company anyway.  I had a feeling it was more because she and I were bound to discuss Paris, if she were near me.  I hoped she knew I was in a different place in my mind.  A place I needed to be for the deeds I had planned.  I think Bobbie knew that Paris could not be real to me until I had her back.  I had to distance myself not only from her, but from my own self.  I had to be someone completely different for the next few days.
 The plane landed on a small airstrip in the desert somewhere.  There were no customs agents to inspect my luggage at that stop.  We were again met by a large Mercedes sedan.  It drove us to an empty metal building.  It apparently was a part of the Israeli military.  I guessed that it might be a reservist compound, one used only during a crisis.  Israel had them often enough, so that a place like the one where I dumped my bag would be necessary.

 “Would you like to rest before we start?” Ari asked.

 “Ari, I will tell you when I need to rest.  Let’s go out and find a relative of this Aba daba do character.”  I made sure it was a sharp enough reply to get his attention.

 “Then I will just give you the bad news.”  Ari didn’t look happy.  “We tried to grab a cousin.  One the man holding Paris and Beca grew up with.  He resisted.  He was killed.  I am sorry we are not going to be able to sweat him.”

 “Have the body brought here.”  Ari looked uncertain.  “Ari bring it here now, and get that video camera here.  Speaking of that do you have my other equipment?”

 “Yes most of it is right here on this base.  We store a lot of equipment here.”  Ari had confirmed the nature of the base for me.   It was a storage and assembly area, operated by a skeleton crew no doubt.

 Ari did not appear to be happy with the situation. He obviously was going to find it difficult to take orders from me.  That meant Ari was going to be out of the loop for most of it, at least until the very last moment.

 I sat in the office area of the large room.  The room had been hurriedly furnished as a bedroom and office for me.  There must have been five hundred extra square feet in the room.  Without asking me, soldiers appeared carrying more cots.  It seemed as though I was going to be sharing my cavern with others.  The number of cots stopped at a total of four.  It looked as though someone had decided to keep us all together.

 At first I didn’t think our living quarters was the place to do what I had in mind.  After more thought I decided it was the ideal place.  It would separate those willing to do what it took from the ones with a conscience.

 I spent the next two hours looking out the window at the black night.  The two soldiers who lugged the body bag into the room looked at Ari questioningly.  “Have them wait outside,” I demanded.

 “Do as he says,” Ari informed them.  He turned his attention to me.  “Now what?” he asked.

 “Get me the sword or whatever you were able to find.”  He still didn’t seem happy about his new position in the pack.

 “This is the best we could do,” he suggested as he handed me the machete.  “It isn’t a sword but it is sharp as hell.”

 I manhandled the body of the cousin to aba daba do out of the body bag.  I pulled him up by the fatigue jacket so popular in the Middle East.  I got his head and shoulders onto a chair.  I took a deep breath, lifted the long thick blade, then I brought it down on the dead man’s neck with as much force as I possibly could.  The cut went about half way through.  I wanted to toss my nonexistent dinner. Even so, I chopped at his neck twice more before the head rolled onto the floor.  

 There was very little blood since the man’s heart was not pumping.  “Ari I want a dinner plate and some blood.”  I said it to the man who looked a little green.

 “Where the hell am I going to get blood in the middle of the night?” he asked me.

 “Here Ari,” I replied as I handed him the survival knife he had given me as part of the equipment I had ordered.  “Use it if you have too.”

 I used the twenty minutes before the blood arrived to teach Bobbie how to use the video camera.  We pretty much had it worked out when Ari arrived with my dinner plate and the blood from the dispensary.

  The tape began with a close up shot of my face as I began speaking.  The fourth member of our little band was not Benjamin after all.  The man was a stranger but he spoke the local languages.  I spoke English while he translated it.

 “You have finally made the one mistake that would bring me into this war.  You grabbed Paris.  That was the worst move you could have made.”  The camera zoomed out only a small amount, just enough to show the paper in my hand.

 “I have here a list of fifty-six names.  The people are relatives of yours.  They range from a sister to a great-niece.”  I turned the list toward the camera.  “I will kill at least one of these people every day until Paris and the other woman are released.  I will begin either in forty-eight hours or if it appears you are trying to have them go into hiding.”

 “You might be wondering if I truly am animal enough to do such a horrible thing.”  The camera pulled back as I lifted the head with blood dripped from the neck wound.  “Let me assure you that you are now in a holy war with me.”  The sight of the decapitated head was worse than any scene from any horror movie.  I think mostly because everybody knew it was for real.

 “You get a free pass for injuries up to this moment.  Anything that happens to Paris after this tape arrives will be paid for in blood.”  I said the last with the look I used to keep order in the club.  It was a look that promised the devil would be stepping on your neck if you crossed me.  That is at least how Mike had described the look.

 As a final act of disrespect I tossed the head into the waste paper basket after the camera had zoomed in on the head for a moment.  I didn’t want there to be any question about whose head it was.

 “Okay Ari make copies of that tape.  Get the copies to people who can get one to this clown.”  I was tired all of a sudden, deathly tired.

 “You know that an edited version of that tape is going to make it to the news.  You are not going to be able to hide after it runs on TV.  You are going to be a hero, and a villain.  You might want to think about relocating here.”

 “One thing at a time,” I suggested.

 I had no stomach for the food that arrived an hour later.  I was pleased to see that no one who witnessed the taping could eat.  I left the table , which had earlier been the desk covered in human blood from the dispensary.  I expect that might have had something to do with everyone’s lack of interest in the food.

 I slipped into one of the cots, where I promptly fell asleep.  I slept long and hard.  I woke to the voices of Ari and Bobbie, or I dreamed it.  I remember Ari asking Bobbie, “Can he really go through with this?”
 Then Bobbie replying, “I have known them a little over a week, i f it were anyone else, that would hardly be enough time to make such a judgment.  Since it is not anyone else let me tell you my feelings.”

 “Please do,” Ari said impatiently.

 “If they don’t release her, get a pair of hip boots.  We are going to be wading knee deep in blood.”  

 Whether I dreamed or overheard conversation I am not sure.  It made no difference I slipped back into sleep.

 “Deacon, wake up,” the female voice who was not Paris said.

 I jerked instantly awake.  Something I had not done in twenty years.  

 “What?” I asked.

 “The families are on the move.  It looks as though he got the tape.”  Bobbie did not look happy at the prospect.

 “Well then it is time to begin work.  Tell Ari I want a family that has not moved yet.”  I knew I did not need to tell him to keep the locations updated on our list.  His teams all over the area would be doing that as we spoke.

 Moments later Ari came into the room.  “I have the car filled with the equipment you requested.  Are you ready?” he asked.

 “Yes,” I replied simply.  “And Ari, the black suit is a nice touch.”

 “I didn’t think fatigues quite gave the image you wanted,” he suggested.

 “Nor the one you would like,” I replied.  The idea was to get the agent and Paris back without it being directly linked to Israel.  I couldn’t blame them for using me.  I was sure as hell using them.

 The drive over desert roads and through sleepy villages took most of the night.  It was almost dawn when the car pulled to a stop.  “The little place down that drive,” Ari commented.

 “Pull about half way down the drive.  It has been a long time since I used one of these.”  I said it as I removed the green launch tubes from the duffle bag.  The bag was similar to the one Bobbie had carried.

 “Deke, you want me to do it?” Bobbie asked.

 “No thanks, this one is mine all the way,” I replied.  I stepped from the car.  As I did, I noticed two things . The overhead light was out, and there were two very large automatic rifles with night scopes.  Obviously I was going to have covering fire, if I needed it.

 I placed the extra tube on the trunk deck of the Mercedes as I prepared to launch the first one.  The family , innocent or not , were asleep in the house when I sent the first rocket through the living room window.  The small house exploded.  I probably didn’t need the two additional rockets.  I did it for effect.  I wanted the building completely demolished.
 I heard the howling coming from the rear of the building.  I knew what I had to do.  I took a deep breath then walked down the lane.  I heard the car door open behind me.  I didn’t look back.  They came because the dawn was breaking.  The three LAW rockets had everyone in the neighborhood awake.  Someone was bound to see the black figure walk to the rear of the house.
 I found the dog lying in a pool of his own blood.  He looked pretty weak but I still hated what I had to do.  My eyes were blurry as I bent to rub his head.  Then with one quick flash the knife flashed.  The dog went silent.  I could hardly see to walk as I returned to the car.  I slumped in the seat knowing I had just murdered an entire family including their dog.

 As I walked away Ari handed me the sign.  I tacked it to the three in the yard.  According to Ari the sign read: ‘I do not care about the death of my family members.  I allowed them to die needlessly.  Aba dabba do.’  Since I do not read Arabic I had to take Ari’s word for the meaning of the sign.

 The drive back to the compound was completed in silence.  I didn’t eat the breakfast which arrived at our little metal hut.  I did not sleep either.  I sat in a chair looking out the window.  There was not much to see the view was a desert scene.  

 Bobbie pulled up a hard wooden chair beside my hard wooden chair.  “Deacon, is this going to work?” she asked.

 “We will know soon enough.  Tonight should convince him I am serious.  If he doesn’t free them tomorrow, it is most likely because he can’t.” I suggested.  That thought had been running around in my head from the beginning.
 “And if he can’t Deacon, then what?” she asked.

 “Then you might want out.  It is not going to be pleasant,” I replied.

 “It hasn’t been pleasant so far, but I told myself it was necessary.  I don’t think I can do that if we have no hope of getting Paris back.  It will be just murdering innocent people.  Do you think she would want that?”

 “Probably not, but then she won’t be here to stop me,” I replied.

 Since I expected some movement that day, I stayed awake.  The sun was going down when the word came.  I saw Ari walk into the room.  I knew the news was mixed from the look on his face.

 “Spill it,” I demanded when he approached.

 “Two women showed up at the American embassy in Paris an hour ago.  Neither of them was able to speak.  They are presumably Paris and Beca.”

 My heart pounded as I asked, “Why are they unable to speak?”

 “Best we can tell they have been tortured.  They were drugged I guess for the pain or to hide the location of their captors.”  Ari would not look me in the eye.  “One more thing you should know deacon”

 “Ari no more, I have heard enough,” I admitted.

 “Deacon, this is not about that.  Paris must have taken the beatings because she would not tell them which one was Beca.  If she had, they would have killed Beca.  They had no reason to keep her alive if they had known.”  Ari sounded surprised.

 “Why would that surprise you Ari?” I asked.

 “Paris hardly seems the heroic type,” Ari commented keeping his eyes on mine.  I expect he was wondering if I would put the 9mm in his face again.

 “You stupid fuck, you guys never learn.  Paris is whatever she needs to be.”  I looked at the floor for a long time.  “Get me all the LAWs we have and all the current addresses of Aba’s family.  I am going to pay as many of them as I can a visit tonight.”

 “I can not let you do that Deacon,” Ari said sadly.  “If you do, this tactic will never work again.  You have to walk away.”

 “Then find out who got the message to him.  I want you to find them.”  I said it with as much malice as I could manage.

 “We sent twenty copies of the tape to him.  There is no way to tell which one reached him.”  Ari looked just as unhappy as I was.

 I thought a couple of minutes. “I want to go on TV.  Your TV will do just fine.”

 “Why?” Ari asked?

 “I want to give it one more shot,” I replied.  “We can make the tape right here.  Show it to your people, if they say no then I can live with it.”
 “Sounds fair to me.  The plane will be here in a couple of hours so we got that much time.”  Ari left immediately to find Bobbie.  She had done such a good job with the first tape.  I wanted her to record the next one.

 As the first one had begun, the second began with me sitting at the desk.  The tight shot was of my face again.  “Three days ago in France two women were kidnapped by this man.”  I held up his picture.  The interpreter gave the name I could not pronounce.  “The women have been returned safely, however it appears that he tortured them while they were in captivity.  One of these women is an American citizen and my fiancé.”  The camera pulled back to the pile of money.  “On this table is one half million American dollars.  I will pay this money to any person who brings me the head of the kidnapper.”  The interpreter again filled in the name.   “ I have kept my word and now justice is in the hands of your god.”

 When the tape ended I looked at Ari.  He was grinning to beat hell.  “You really going to give someone half a million to kill the old man?” he asked.

 “No, your government is,” I replied quietly.

 The flight to the private landing field outside Paris was long.  I managed to sleep off and on during it.  When we were finally on the ground, we were met by still another large black Mercedes.  I figured there must be some perverse pleasure for the Jew in driving the German cars.  The car took us to a private hospital on the outskirts of Paris.  The hospital was small and old.  It was also surrounded by a ten foot brick wall with God only knew what on top if it.  It was staffed by nuns, according to Ari.  I didn’t even bother asking why the Jews had chosen it.

 When we passed through the front doors, I noticed the security guard at the glassed in desk.  He jumped to his feet.  I saw him reach for his pistol as he opened the door to his observatory.  I had my Beretta out and lying beside my leg.  I figured we were about to have a confrontation.

 “Hold on there,” he said not exactly pointing the pistol at us.  He should have been.  He was lousy security.

 “Put it down,” I said as I raised the Beretta.

 “Easy Deacon he is on our side,” Ari said.

 “No body is on my side,” I replied not lowering the pistol.  “Sonny, I know you want to go home tonight, so put your pistol down nice and easy.”

 As anyone else would have done, I had ignored the little old lady reading a newspaper beside the door.  “Pardon me young man,” I heard the words from behind me.  “If you continue to point that puissant 9mm at the guard, I am going to have to blow your spine out.”

 I looked over my shoulder to see her holding a large nasty colt .45.  I took a closer look at her face as I lowered the pistol.  She didn’t have nearly enough lines.

 “Hi Dee, how is Beca,” Ari asked her.

 “She has been asleep since she got here.  She is alive though that is a miracle.”  The woman turned her attention to me.  “You must be Deacon?”
 “Foolish feeling right now, but yeah I am Deacon,” I replied.

 “Damn phone lines has been buzzing with your name.  I hear you are also a TV star.  What a touch.” she commented.

 “Does that mean you approve?” I asked.

 “Oh yes, it might not do more than ruin his sleep for a while, but it was a master touch,” she said.

 “So, I can keep the berretta?” I asked.

 “Sure, just don’t be pointing it at anyone on our side will you?”  She asked with a smile.

 “How about those I am not sure of?” I asked.

 “Okay, then try to make sure before you shoot them,” she was smiling broadly.  She turned her attention to Ari.  “Beca is on the second floor.”  She then turned back to me.  “Paris is in the same room.   Sorry I can’t tell you much they are still out.  The doctor thought it would be a good idea to keep them under for a while.  Let their bodies do some healing before they had to think about the mental thing.”  I looked at her curiously.

 “Torture leaves more psychological scars than physical ones.  In Israel we know about it.  One of our best doctors is on his way here.  In the meantime the women are being sedated.  There really isn’t anything you can do.”
 “I am going to see Paris,” I replied softly.

 “Of course,” the woman named Dee said.  She did something then from nowhere a nun appeared.  “Would you take these folks up to Beca’s room please.”

 The stairs were narrow and steep.  It would be hard to impossible to climb them under fire.  Why I had that thought, I could only guess.  The corridor on the second floor was also narrow for a hospital.

 Bobby, Ari, and I followed the nun into the room.  Inside the room were two hospital beds.  Both were cranked to their flat positions.  I noticed again how similar the two women looked.  Paris had a swollen face with tiny stitches here and there.  She also had a cast on her arm.

 I reached for the chart at the end of her bed.  The nurse got to it first.  “I am sorry but it would mean nothing to you,” she said opening it.  “The lady has a broken arm, a broken rib, bruises, cuts and abrasions.”

 “Beca’s injuries are almost identical.  It looks as though they were tortured together, or at least by the same person.  We see that a lot with the ones from South America.  The same injuries on hundreds of victims are not uncommon at all.  When the torturer finds something that works or that he enjoys he repeats it over and over. ”  I did not want to hear but I listened regardless.

 “Could you find me a chair please?” I asked.

 “Surely Mr. Burke,” she replied.  “However I must warn you it maybe a day or so before either of them knows you are here.”

 “Paris will know,” I replied.  She nodded I expect to humor me.  She went off to find me a chair.  “Ari I want some one on the top of those stairs with a radio.  I assume all the entrances have a guard.”

 “Deacon, when we bring one of ours here, the place is like a fort.  It is double that now.  However, the man at the top of the stairs is a good idea.  Just in case you think of it, the walls around this place are filled with sensors.  There will be no RPG’s coming through the windows.”

 “Good, now move them every day from one room to another,” I demanded.
 “Come on Deacon,” Ari said. “Don’t you think that is overkill?”

 “I offered half a million and you were impressed.  They have fifteen million at least.”  The logic was obvious even to him.

 “Okay every night they sleep in a different room.  How is that?” he asked.

 “Better,” I replied.  The nurse with the chair arrived.   I was surprised to find it lightweight but well padded.  I took Paris hand as I sat beside her.  

 “Are you planning to stay here?” Bobbie asked.

 “Yes,” I replied.  She nodded.

 “Actually I think it is a hell of an idea.  There is an apartment upstairs.  We can all stay here until we talk to Beca.”

 “I am staying here until Paris leaves.  Then she is going with me,” I replied.
 “Of course,” Ari agreed. I spent the remainder of that night asleep in a very uncomfortable chair despite it’s padding.

 The doctors came the next morning.  They began lightening the drug load so that the women came around for moments at a time.  When Paris opened her eyes, I was beside her.

 “I knew you would come for me,” she said through parched lips.  I gave her ice to eat as the nurse had directed.  “Deke they hurt me,” Paris said to me.  She cried and I cried with her.

 “I know honey and I am sorry.  I never should have let you stay,” I said through my own tears.

 “You never let me do anything Deacon.  I always made my own mistakes.  The French restaurant was one of my worst mistakes,” she smiled through cracked lips.

 “Yes it was,” I replied smiling down at her.  “But you are back now and you are safe.”

 “Deacon, they made me watch the tape.  They said you were the devil.  I should not have laughed.”  She smiled up at me again.  “You always said you were the devil my mama warned me about.”
 “Yes I did say that,” I replied.

 “I expected them to kill me after that tape.  The old man just looked at me.  Then he called me a whore.”  She looked at me for some kind of answer.

 “Well honey you are far from a whore,” I said.  I was seething inside but knew the game had passed me by.

 She looked over at the bed next to her.  “Is that the Jewish girl?” she asked.

 “Yes she is going to be fine, thanks to you.”  I wondered if she even knew she had saved the woman’s life.
“Good, I did so hope I could hold out until you came for me.  I wanted you to be proud of me.”

 “You have no idea how proud I am of you,” I said through tears.
 “Deacon?” she asked as she fought to stay awake.
 “Yes Paris,” I replied.
 “How is our Bobbie?” she asked.
 “Our Bobbie is sitting in a terribly uncomfortable chair in the hall.  She is making sure no one comes up the stairs.”  She saw the smile on my lips.

 “Maybe we should take her with us,” she suggested.

 “Ask her when you talk to her,” I suggested.
 For the next week Paris slept poorly.  Her body healed slowly while the doctor from Tel Aviv worked to heal her mind.  In the end something worked.  On day eight she asked for a steak.  Paris is a vegetarian most of the time.  The steak was a symbol to me of her desire to rejoin the world.  She would eat red meat only when she was feeling extremely good about herself.

 Beca healed faster than Paris.  After four days of talking to the shrink she sent him away.  Instead she asked for a 10mm Glock.
 “Why are you worried that I can’t protect you?” Ari said.
 “For one thing I am never going to feel safe again.  But the main reason is to make damned sure nobody gives Paris any crap.  I will kill the next son of a bitch who hurts her.  So Ari, give the nurses a warning.”  I didn’t see it but Ari said the smile she gave him could have gone either way.  It could have been humorous, or it could have been lethal.

 After ten days we all moved to a safe house.  After another week Ari and Beca left for Israel.  Beca and Paris cried for most of that day.  Bobbie headed off for home the night before Paris and I were to leave.

 I picked up the bags that last morning.  “Well Paris are you ready?” I asked.

 “Oh yes my love I will follow you anywhere but into hell.”

 Five minutes later the neighbors called the police.  The explosion at the secluded house next door had broken their windows.  When the fire department and police arrived there was nothing larger then a newspaper left of the LeBaron convertible or its occupants.  The identification was made from dental records since the bits and pieces were unrecognizable as human beings.

  Later that day, two people boarded an airplane for Mexico City.  The old man and the very beautiful redhead disappeared into the Mexico City airport.