Mysterywriter's Final Spring.

 When I saw the lights ahead, I was almost as happy as I had been the first time I got laid.   S ince I had been nodding off for the last hour, I really needed the coffee that the truck stop sign promised. The number of eighteen wheelers at the truck stop alongside the two lane road surprised me.  I had left the four lan e at least twenty miles b ack .  The map didn't show any other major highways before I reached the coast.

 As I pulled the Mini Van into the parking lot it all became obvious, the trucks all had the same logo.  There had to be a freight company nearby , I thought .  It must have been breakfast time for them before they began their day.  I parked the mini van in a spot far away from the real trucks.  I didn't want to block one of them in.  It sure as hell wasn't to save the van.  That van had been worn out when I bought it.  Buying junk was one of the benefits of having a best friend who ran a salvage yard.  It might have been the only benefit.

 John could put together about anything I wanted at a dirt cheap price.  The van had been his idea actually.  I told him that I wanted to sell my novels at festivals during the spring so he suggested that I buy a mini van.  It would be good to carry all the junk from town to town and would be comfortable enough to sleep in as well .  The deal was struck . I gave him all winter to do it .  In exchange he sold me a van with the best of his junked out engines and transmissions for a song.  Perfect bodies seldom go to salvage so the body was mess.  The fenders on one side looked as though they had been straightened with a claw hamme r .  The paint was most likely house paint from home depot.  The front seats didn't match at all , and there were no rear seats.

  As was my habit, I took my antique cane with me .  I did it so that my staggering would look as though it were physical , rather than the moves of a drunk.  The fact is that it was physical , I just didn't need the cane.  It was window dressing , as were most of the things I did that spring.
 I found the restaurant to be warm on that chilly spring night.  The barstools were all taken so I found a small booth where I seated myself.  When I looked at the menu , I found that it made me hungry.  I knew I shouldn't have the waffles but what the hell difference did a few pounds make at that point .  I resisted the urge anyway.

 "Hey there," I said to the waitress before she could greet me.

 "You want coffee?"  She might have been more asleep than me.

 "Coffee would be fine," I replied.

 "You know what you want to eat?"

 "Nothing thanks, just the coffee and some information."

 "Coffee's a buck for all you want , the information is free.  We guarantee the coffee is good, the information might or might not be any good."  She smiled showing me crooked and yellow stained teeth.

 "That sounds perfectly reasonable to me , "  I said smiling back.

 "I'll be back with the coffee then you can try the information bit," she said it while turning away.  She returned in less than a minute with a coffee cup , it was about half the size of the one I trave le d with.

 "Now let's try that question thing."

 "Okay, I am headed for a small town called Rosehill, do you know it?"

 "Know it hell, I live there.  You headed to the festival?"

 "Yep, I'm a first time vender there.  So could you tell me where the fairgrounds are."

 "Aint no fairgrounds honey, they are having it downtown.  Gonna block off the streets."

 "I know but they said we could camp on the fairgrounds."  I was a little worried at that point.

 "Never heard of a fairground let me check with someone." The waitress with the bad teeth left me to ponder my next move.  That night was pretty much shot anyway.  I could ask at the show the next day I supposed.  The very best I could do would be two hours sleep that night anyway.  The setup downtown began at 5am.

 The waitress came back a few minutes later with the coffee pot in her hand.  "Okay Mister , I found out I think.  I never been there mind you , but when they have the youth carnival they have it at the stadium complex.  We are pretty sure that is where you want to be.  It makes sense since it has bathrooms.

 I thanked her while I sipped the scalding coffee.  When I left the circle of warmth, it was almost 3am,  I figured I had just enough time to find the high school stadium from her skimpy directions, then just go straight to the set up coordinator .  The coordinator who was supposed to be downtown at 5am handing out assignments.

 Finding the stadium proved to be easy since someone had thoughtfully placed temporary signs for the vendors.  I didn't bother making room in the van for me to stretch out , I was afraid that I would over sleep.  What I did was to set the traveling alarm clock , then push the seat back.  I slept in ten minutes increments until the first of the pickups pulled from the grass covered parking area for the small town stadium.

 I found the bathroom , where I deposited the dregs of the coffee both from the styrofoam cup and my body.  When I returned to the van, I waited for someone else to leave for the downtown.  When they did, I followed behind.  The coordinator set my site on one of the side streets .  I f I had been selling jewelry or some such , I would have been angry.  I wasn't expecting big crowds anyway so I just smiled. S ince the rent was the same on them all , i t was my guess that the prime spots were saved for the locals .

 I had never set the booth up for real before so I had planned a little extra time for it.  I started at 5am , which was way too early .  Unlike some of the more elaborate ones mine could be set up in just a few minutes.  That is once I had the bugs worked out.  That morning I planned on an hour.

 The coordinator was a gray haired lady whose age I wouldn't even try to guess.  She gave me detailed directions and a map.  She also told me that my space had a chalk number on it.  The instruction , to have my beat up old van in the parking area by six , was delivered as she stared at my wreck of a vehicle.  That ragged out old van might prove a liability but I really didn't care.  It was all part of the image.

 The very first thing I unloaded was the folding chair.  I expected to spend a lot of time in it , then came the blob of concrete in the shape of a milk container.  The reason for the shape was simple I had used an empty gallon plastic milk bottle as a form.  A steel pipe was buried inside the blob of concrete.   T he beach umbrella came next.  It had come from a discount stores close out sale in N ovember of the year before.  That should tell you how long I had been planning the spring and summer tour.
 When I turned my hand to setting up the tables , it was dawn or a little after.  The sun was still below the horizon but it was still pretty much lighting the downtown.  That was probably because there were only few tall buildings to block the ben t rays.

 The two folding table s had come from the local goodwill store.  I had kept them stored with the umbrella in my studio all winter.  I had erected them at home just to make sure that they weren't going to come crashing down like the walls of Jericho.  I had also purchased a coverings for my tables.  It had been suggested to me by my ex wife that I use fake fur.  That material would not wrinkle while being folded, she explained.  It worked just exactly as she had predicted.  

 With the tables assembled, I moved on to the product.  The product was two and a half dozen mystery novels.  They were on CDs , since I not only wrote them I also recorded them.  The PC along with a program from a cell phone company allowed me to record , then edit them digitally.  The CDs were just the easiest thing to produce.  I had all the equipment to produce mass quantities of cassettes as well , but they were just a pain in the ass.  

 I had intended to bring a small number of CDs with me, but again my ex wife convinced me to bring more than I ever expected to sell that summer.  "Make it look like a bookstore," she advised me.  Hell , they were easy and not very expensive to produce so why not, I thought.

 That being the case, I removed a small plastic box of CDs for each title.  Thirty one titles meant thirty one six by six by twenty-four inch boxes of novels and two more boxes of assorted short stories divided by tabs.  Each CD was in it's own plastic box.  The only label was on the CD itself.  

 With the boxes set up, I was almost finished.  Not much more a writer can do you would think ?  Since I was a photographer most of my life, I had also produced a set of posters for the booth.  There were a dozen twenty inch by thirty inch posters in round tubes from the post office.  From them I selected six for the stands I carried with me.  I would have loved fancy stands that broke down but I just couldn't justify it so I build half dozen.  

 Each stand was fitted with a cork board after it was erected.  The posters were then thumbtacked to the board which had been wired to the stand.  I had figured to keep the posters to a minimum during outside shows, to prevent wind damage.  I put them up just to attract the crowds.  Most were scantily clad women but a couple were male friends of mine holding their pistols.  Thank god for redneck friends who own their own guns.  Since the digital revolution , I was able to make posters with titles on them.  I expected that the posters would help.  Then again, I hadn't been on the road before so I couldn't be sure.

 Last, but certainly not least, I removed a CD player.  The player had been extensively reworked.  I am a bit of a tinkerer you see.  The four C cell batteries had been replaced by a wet cell lead acid battery that could be charged from the cigarette lighter of the van.  The snap on connector had been added because I had two more charged batteries.  The tiny plug in speakers had been replaced by larger speakers with their own amplifiers.  I figured I could pretty much make myself or my stories heard all over that part of the festival.  The player ended my equipment setup , thank God .  I finally took a few minutes to look around the area.

 The  side street had come alive while I concentrated on setting up my show.  I noted with some satisfaction that one of the vendors , on my tributary of the main street , was a food vender.  Not only that he was a vender of s ome kind of French bakery items.  At least I wouldn't starve, I thought.  The very best thing about the booth was that it had coffee.  I wasn't their first customer of the day , but I was damn close.

 It was almost six thirty when the both next to be started to be assembled.  I watched as the man and women worked diligently on it.  It was obvious that they had done the assembly before and probably often.  Instead of a beach umbrella they had a tent like contraption.  It looked more like the tent over a grave site , since it had no sides.

 "Hi there neighbor," I said to the man when he had finished the canopy."

 "Hi, " He replied as he proceeded to pointedly ignore me.  Screw you, I thought as I returned to my chair.  

 I drank coffee from my travel cup while I waited for the people to come or the space on my right to be filled.  The woman , who drove up at the ten till seven , quickly unloaded a folding table , two large plastic boxes , and a chair.

 "Sir, would you watch my stuff while I park my car?"  the woman who asked was the ow n er of the afore mentioned articles.

 "Sure, I would be glad to."  It wasn't exactly a big deal since I couldn't go anywhere anyway.  When she returned , we introduced ourselves with a handshake .  I left her alone to finish her setup while I walked up the small backwater spot we occupied.  When I got to the main street I realized the full extent of the show.  

 There must have been fifty booths on the main street with several more side streets filling up.  The show looked much bigger than I had expected.  There were crafts ranging from stained glass to painted saw blades.  I didn't see anyone else selling books p robably because no one will want them, I thought.    

 Sell or not it didn't make any difference to me.  I was out just for the experience of being on the show circuit.  I am not going to lie, I hoped that the books would do well.  Truth is what the hell was I going to do with the money even if they did sell?

 "So you're a writer," My neighbor on the right asked upon my return.

 "I'm afraid I have to duck that by asking what your definition of a writer is?"

 "Okay have you sold a book?"  She was grinning as she asked.

 I smiled sadly at her when I asked, "Sold to who?  I have sold copies on Ebay, but none to a mainstream publisher."

 "Selling anything at all counts with me.  I always wanted to write."  I gave her a close look while she spoke.  She was probably twenty years younger than my fifty eight.  She was probably just as many pounds underweight.  She was thin as death but still had a kind of figure.

 "I am going to find out today if they do well or not."  I said it as I moved to my chair.  I noticed that the man and woman next to me listened to our exchange but they said nothing.

 The people began to drift in before the show officially started.  It was probably a good idea to have the cars out of the streets before seven , since there were people walking in the middle of the streets by that time.  I began the loop CD at exactly 8am.  I turned the volume up enough to be heard by anyone walking by.  It was eight minutes of book blurbs , plus a carnival barker calling people over in between them.  The voice of the blurbs and the barker was mine of course.

 "You aren't going to play that thing all day are you?" The man on the left asked.

 I had finally had enough of him.  "Well you know friend, I asked them about the CD Player before I took the space.  I expect it is why I am off on th is side street one step from hell .  So yes sir, I am going to play it.  I am damned sorry if it bothers you, but it is going to play it as long as I am here."  Of course the exchange wasn't real good for my heart but then what the hell nothing else I did was either .

 "Seems to me you would give a little thought to your neighbors," He suggested.

 "Gee whiz Beaver, it seems as though we are neighbors now.  We weren't twenty minutes ago when I tried to have a conversation with you."  I turned my attention to the girl on my right.

 "So have you done many of these shows?"

 "Just the local ones.  This is kind of a hobby with me , o ne that makes me a few dollars but still just a hobby."  I noticed that she sold hand made jewelry.  I expected that there was a festival market for it but not much of a market anywhere else.

 "So where you gonna be next?"

 "Next month I will be in Clinton for the fertility festival."  She almost looked embarrassed at having to repeat the name.  I nodded since I had no idea where or what it might be .  I turned back to my display when the woman stopped talking.

 I was a little surprised that the people responded to my voice waf t ing down the street but they did.  Several drifted over to listen a moment.  Some engaged me in conversation , others drifted to my neighbors.  I sold my first novel on four CDs shortly after 8am.  The short stories became more popular as the morning wore on.  I sold them until they were all gone.  I sold a few novels before the show ended for the day.

 I spoke to the jewelry maker beside me several times before the show ended .  It was only natural that I ask her for a restaurant recommendation.  I understood that even small towns had several diners and at least one class restaurant.  I was looking for the best of the diners.

 "The best place in town is LucyLou's it has really good food and it is clean.  Now if you want a fancy steak you can try Rollin Steak house."

 "Lucy Lou sounds more to my pocketbook's liking."

 "Yeah , that is were I go when I go out."

 I had the feeling she wanted to be invited along.  Probably so she could say no.  Nonetheless, I decided to give it a try.  "So Wendy would you like to join me for dinner.  You are safe , since I am twice your age at least."  I felt like the appendage was needed even though I really was harmless.

 "I thought you would never ask, and you just think you are harmless.  You my friend may well be the devil."  She broke into laughter which made me smile broadly even as I shook my head.

 The couple on the left side did not look happy anytime when we laughed and talked.  It looked as though it was a case of paranoia to me.  I didn't count my take until I had finished taking the display apart.  Some of it I packed away for fear of weather damage and some for fear of theft.  The cops couldn't hope to protect it all even though they planned to keep a large presence downtown that night.

 We were in the restaurant waiting for our food when she asked, "So you gonna come to Clinton?"

 "I don't think so.  I have already made my schedule for the summer and Clinton doesn't sound familiar."

 The food that came quickly was excellent.  While we ate , Wendy told me about her marriage, her divorcee and her child.  "You know I am probably the only woman in America who has a better ex than he was a husband.  Willie, my husband, loves Mark and looks for any excuse to goose up his visitation time.  He took Mark for the whole weekend since I am going to be home late and leave early."  I wasn't sure but it sounded a lot like an invitation to me.

 Since I had to sit beside her the whole next day, I was moving carefully.  I smiled a lot and made a lot of statements that were pretty noncommittal.  Dinner was almost over when I asked, "So if you don't have to rush off home, would you care to show an old man the ocean?"

 "No,"  She waited just long enough for me to think I had been a fool to ask before she continued, "I would gladly show you the ocean."  She grinned at me.  I smiled at her with what I hoped was a rakish smile.  It had been a long time since I tried to use that smile.

 "You know both of our cars are full of product .  U nless you really do want to see the ocean why don't you just come to my house for coffee?"  

 "I can see the ocean on Monday," I replied.  I looked to see if she understood and she did.

 "So just follow me," she said it when we were in the parking lot.  Following her proved to be only slightly difficult.  She drove like a crazy person for a few miles then settled down to a reasonable pace.  She probably realized that I wasn't going to get lost after all , so she slowed

 The house where she lived tuned out to be a nice clean mobile home.  I figured it was at least a step up from the back of the mini van, but then I might still be misreading her.  I used the cane to steady myself as I climbed the free standing concrete steps with no handrail.  Once inside the tin can I found furniture much better than that which came with the firetraps.

 "Why don't you take a seat while I fix the coffee."  It was an invitation not a question and I knew it.  Instead of answering I dropped to the comfortable sofa.  Wendy slipped off into the kitchen first.  I presume she started the coffee pot before she walked past me with a smile.

 "Make yourself at home, I need to get into something more comfortable," She replied to my unasked question.  Now when a woman says that, it could anything from a sweat shirt to a spider web.  I sat waiting to see what her idea of comfortable might be.

 I was almost asleep when she returned from whatever women do while the coffee brews.  I had in fact nodded off since I hadn't really had a full nights sleep in several days.  It was due some to the drive and some to the need to make last minute preparations and all to the excitement of the journey.

 I felt her weight on the sofa beside me, it was the only thing that woke me I am afraid.  If she hadn't decided to seat herself there, I probably would have slept sitting up until Monday.

 "You look as though you need sleep more than that coffee."  The remark hit home but I tried to fake it.

 "I'm fine, the coffee will wake me up."  I was groggy and my speech was slurred.

 "Honey, that coffee is not gonna do you a bit of good.  Why don't you just stay here, get a good night's sleep, and we will continue this in the morning."
 "Well one thing is for sure, I am harmless as hell on most occasions .  R ight now I am totally useless."  I grinned to show her that it was all it fun.

 For no reason I could think of she turned to me pressed her body which was wrapped in a lightweight tee shirt to me.    She kissed me sweetly at first then slipped her tongue into my mouth.  The kiss passed the time that a gentle kiss would have broken and continued on into a heated passionate kiss.  Somewhere along the way she dropped a hand from my shoulder to my crotch.  As you would expect things came alive down there.  The embrace lasted only a few more seconds then she sat back with a smile on her face.

 "You said safe and useless twice tonight, I just wanted to find out for myself."  She giggled like a school girl as punctuation for the statement.  Of course I was wide awake and embarrassed for a few minutes.  "Do you really want that coffee?"  She asked it as she replaced her hand on my shoulder .

 "Do you have a microwave?"

 "Sure why?"

 "The coffee will be fine tomorrow put it in the fridge."

 "What coffee?"  she giggled again.  She had obviously not bothered to make the coffee.  Unlike me, she knew what would happen.  It struck me then, how much a man is at the mercy of a woman when it comes to sex  W eaker sex my ass , I thought .

 The kissing continued in her queen sized bed.  How I managed to stay awake long enough to make love to her is a mystery even to me.  I don't even remember much of it.  I do remember she was absolutely the thinnest woman I had ever slept with.  She was enthusiastic with a touch of down right wanton in her.  It was a very short but intense lovemaking session.  I passed out cold after what seemed like hours but could have been no more than a few minutes.

 I woke up in the middle of the night to a dark room.  My plan was to slip out of bed and go to the bathroom then return to the bed unnoticed.  Of course it didn't work th at way.  First I fell into a wall, then I just sat down on the floor at the foot of her bed.  On the way down I grabbed onto the bed as a reflex motion.  Her foot was in the spot that I tried to use as a handrail.

 "What the Hell," she said sleepily.  Deke?"

 "Yeah, I should have warned you , I cant walk in the dark."

 Within seconds the bedside light came on.  "You should have told me honey."  I could tell she wanted to ask questions but was holding back.

 With the light on I was able to leaver myself up and shakily move to the bathroom.  "I'm fine now hon, I could be in the circus with all the experience I have at falling."  I did what I had to do then returned to the bedroom.

 "Should I leave the light on?" She asked.

 "No, I wont be doing that again."  She slipped onto my arm.  She weighed nothing so it was comfortable enough.

 "Are you really okay?"  What she was really asking was what the hell is with you.

 "Sure, just peachy keen."  The anger was easy to detect in my voice.  I pulled her even closer then kissed her.  The few hours sleep had more or less restored my energy.  She was just sleepy enough to be compliant.  It was a very different kind of sex from that the night before.  It was almost sweet and gentl e before her libido kicked in.  Once it did there was pain and scratches on my back.  She was a demanding lover and something every man should have at least once.

 When that ended in a gut wrenching orgasm, I again drifted off to sleep.  That time I slept until Wendy woke me with two cups of coffee in her hand.  I sat up with my back to the wall, while she sat cross legged facing me.  I also noticed a small glass of orange juice on the night stand.

 "My god you are the perfect hostess," I suggested.

 "Or the perfect whore," she laughed . I made no comment.  "Now Deke, where are your pills?"

 "What pills are you talking about?"  I tried to play innocent.

 "The on es you are taking for that midnight episode."  She didn't even try to soften the blow to my ego.

 "Out in the van, I will have to find them."  I made no gesture that would indicate a planned to move toward them.

 "Finish your coffee, get decent then go get them.  I want you to take them then I want to read the labels."  

 "You're a nurse?"  I asked it knowing that she was something of the sort.

 "ER Room for the last five years."

 "Just my luck."  I grinned at her.

 "Well hell Deke, you aren't staying anyway."  

 Since it was Sunday, the festival didn't start till noon.  Wendy and I had time for a leisurely breakfast, complete with a handful of pills.  She looked at the bottles while I worked on a second cup of coffee before we headed to a Waffle House for breakfast.

 "Damn Deke what a mixed bag of drugs.  Everything from aspirin, to a heavy duty anti seizure drug.  You want to explain or let me guess the worst?"

 "Neither, you should have enough information to settle your questions from last night.  I am not a junkie and the cane is not for effect."

 "Those aren't my only questions, but yeah I had those concerns."

 "Didn't say I blamed you at all.  I would have the same ones."

 "So what is it Deke?  There are too many mixed signals for me to figure."

 "Lets just have breakfast and let this go.  No sense letting it spoil our meal."

 "That bad?" she had been looking into my eyes when I suggested we not discuss it.

 "Couldn't be any worse," I replied.  "Now that is enough."  She could tell it wasn't a demand but a request for privacy.  Unfortunately that kind of conversation takes the fun out of an encounter.  Even in the waffle house, on a Sunday morning, we looked out of place.  The restaurant was filled with couples with at least one partner dressed in clothes from the night before.  They were for the most part easy to spot.  A woman dressed for a club at 9am was a dead give away.  The men were less obvious unless he was in a suit with no tie escorting a lady  who wore jeans and a sweat shirt like the couple at a window booth.  I found it all rather amusing since Wendy and I were both dressed for a day at the festival. .

 We arrived at the festival over an hour early which was mostly my doing.  Wendy would have arrived five minutes before show time.  As I unloaded the boxes then I assessed my stock.  It appeared that I had sold the most audio novels for the ones with posters.  It was an interesting thought , so I switched the posters for different novels to check it out.  

 Of course as my ex said, "All your posters are alike, they all have half naked women on them."  It was indeed a fact of life.  Those posters were almost exactly like the book covers on pulp books of the fifties .  Wh ich was what I mostly wrote anyway .

 During that day I actually sold a few novels.  Since I figured that one festival would be pretty much like another , I gave thought to how I could improve my sales.  I noticed one thing right away.  The sales were directly related to ; how many people passed by , how many stopped to talk, and what sex they were.  The books were loaded with testosterone but women were overwhelmingly the largest buyers.  Most seemed to be buying for husband or boyfriends but some admitted to buying for themselves.  Price seemed to be the major factor.  That and a chance to ask me about the story line.

 What all that mean t was that I sold a few books at the festival.  Actually a hell of a lot more than I had anywhere else.  It meant that I would have to spend a couple of nights in a campground with electric hookup.  I had the small tower computer , used as a CD maker , packed away in a trunk.  A laptop would have been nice but I couldn't really justify one just to use a few months.

 Lunch came before Wendy spoke to me.  I had a feeling she was having a case of buyer 's remorse about the night before but I didn't really know what to say to her.  I definitely wasn't going to hang around the small town for the next few months.  She surely must have known that before she hopped into bed with me.  

 "Deke I am going for a sandwich can I bring you one?"  She asked it pretty much as though she had not spent the night before in my arms.

 "Sure, but I insist on buying if you are making the trip."

 "I never turn down free food.  So what would you like, since you are buying ? "

 "You pick, I am easy to please."

 "I noticed," she said with a grin.  I smiled back but didn't answer.  When she brought the food back it was some kind of steak sub thing with more cheese than steak.  We sat in the space between our booths and talked.  It was fun since both of us seemed to have walled off the night before in a different corner of our minds.

 Even during lunch I got interrupted a time or two by customers who were interested in the CDs , but not as often as Wendy for jewelry.  The show just kind of ended a few hours later.  It wasn't so much the time expired as the customer pool dried up.

 At six I pulled the van around and began loading it.  Wendy had her car full long before me.  I had hoped she would say goodbye and leave , but she kind of hung on waiting for god only knew what.  The loading should have taken about half as long but I kept dragging it out.  Yes, I was doing the man thing trying to avoid the goodbye.  Hoping that Wendy would be gone before I finished.  She wasn't so I had to face her.

 Before I could find something lame to say, she came into my arms crying.  "Will you ever be back this way?"

 "Honestly Wendy, I won't.  I would like to say when the season is over I will come back to you, but we both know it isn't going to happen.  You probably think it is because I don't care enough, but that isn't it at all."

 "Actually, I have a pretty good Idea.  I have been watching you all day.  If what you say is true?"  She noticed my look.  "That it couldn't be any worse, then I don't expect you will be back."

 For some reason known only to god, if there is one, I teared up .  I nodded, kissed her, then turned to the van.  It would have been a grand exit if the damn van had started .  Instead it seemed to take forever for the thing to start.  It hadn't started on the first try , t hen like an idiot I flooded the damn thing.  The best I could do was to grin foolishly in her direction as I tried in vain to force started the van.

 I finally had to get out to open the fuel pump.  It was simply a matter of rocking the car for five minutes.  I promised myself yet again that I would get the tank drained and cleaned.  It must have gotten trash in the tank w hile sitting in the salvage lot..  Eddie had also warned me that the radiator hose clamps wouldn't hold that gas line s.   I had refused to wait for him to find the correct lines, so I was paying the price.

 With the lines bled, the van finally started .  I drove off into the sunset looking like a complete idiot.  I made it to the state campground in a larger town fifty miles away with the sun still lighting the sky, so it hadn't really a drive into the sunset after all .  I had time to pitch the tent, then unpack everything before nightfall .

  Since i t was my first time camping , I had to make some basic decisions.  It was either sleep in the 8x10 cabin tent and leave the junk for my shows in the van, or move all the junk into the tent and sleep in the van.  Since I could lock the van, I went with sleeping in the tent that first night.

 The decision had been made even before I checked in with the park ranger.  I opted that night for a site with water and electricity.  The plan was to spend the next day replacing my CDs.  I would need about all day, since I had done a lot better than expected.  Hell, I did even better than I had hoped.   Since m aking CDs is a truly boring job , I didn't look forward to it at all.

 Once the tent was erected, I put the two halves of the egg crate foam mattress pad together.  The two halves, one on top of the other, mad a six inch thick foam pad with air spaces on each side.   I sleep cold so I had a light weight flannel sleeping bag and a down comforter for the top.  With the tent pitched , I quickly found the heavy duty outdoor rated extension cord.  I ran it from the outlet to the tent so that I could play my radio.  I had opted to sell all the TVs I owned at a garage sale before I left home.  I was about to settle in when I realized I had no Cokes or cookies.  Part of the appeal of the last road trip had been to throw my diet out the window before I left home.  Hey, I literally threw it out the window.  I suppose one of my neighbors might have found the, no cholesterol, no real food scrape of paper.  He or she would have laughed before tossing it into the trash. 

 It was a short trip to the over priced convenience store with in site of the par k gates.  It seemed as though I wasn't the only one who forgot things.  I took a look at the price of canned coke, the n almost walked out.  I made it to the door when I actually chuckled at my foolishness.  I went back and bought two six packs of coke, and a box of chocolate covered Oreos.  I gave the clerk my visa card.  The visa had never had an outstanding balance until the month before.

 I drove the van back to the park.  I had my butt parked on the folding chair, the one I had used for the show , w hile I drank my coke and ate the cookies, .  The clock radio from my other life blared country music.  It blared because the hearing had gone in my right ear.   I had placed the radio on my right side for some reason.  Probably because I wasn't used to thinking of my hearing as being less than perfect.

 The songs were sad, which fit my mood perfectly.  After an hour of sad country songs ending with 'I Remember the Year that Clayton Delany Died' I was considering skipping the rest of the shows and just ending it at that moment .  I shook my head to clear it, then laughed at myself.  I had just had what I considered a good show, I had even slept with a woman young enough to be my kid, and I felt sorry for myself.  "This just wont do," I said aloud.  

 I bent to switch to an oldies station.  I wasn't familiar with the area so it took some searching but there is one of those in every listening area.  With 1960s rock music blaring I settled back with my second coke and my second handful of cookies.  It was as good a supper as any, I decided.  I waited a full two hours before I had a drink and a cigar before bedtime.

 The next morning I realized that I had slept with a boulder under my six inch mattress.  Since the damn tent was right over it, I decided to make the tent a storage area at least by dark.  I didn't much care for the idea of doing it at that moment, so I went to breakfast.  Miracle of miracles the van started on the first try.

 The convenience store where I had bought the cokes and the ice had a small food counter.  I found the menu small but I had no desire for eggs Benedict anyway.  The sausage and egg biscuit was just fine with me.  They let me use my own oversized Delta coffee cup , so I was content to sit at their Formica booth for almost a half hour.  I had promised myself a day at the ocean .  I decided that the best time to make the trip before I unloaded any of the really expensive equipment.  The drive was less than half and hour anyway so I left from the convenience store for the ocean. .

  Not long after I found myself on the long straight stretch of highway running parallel to the ocean.  It didn't matter which beach they all had a road like it.  On that morning in early May the beach wasn't crowded especially since it was a Monday morning.  Not to many tourists about and all the residents were doing residential things.  

 Finding a fishing pier was easy.  I simply had to follow the signs since there were two competing piers.  I had no desire to fish, and I figured the coffee would be about as good at one as another so I stopped at the first one I encountered.  I am sure a lot of other people did the same.  That morning must have been the exception because the pier had on ly three fishermen.  

 "What can I get you?" The nymph asked with a bored expression.  I expect a younger man might have gotten a little more enthusiasm.

 "Would you fill this with coffee?"  I asked it placing the delta cup on the green Formica counter.  The whole place appeared to be from the fifties, that counter was for sure I decided .

 "How you want it?"  She was all business.  Like I said, not much enthusiasm for grandpa.  The heavy brown stained cup was surely  also a turn off for her.

 "Black like my soul," I couldn't help it, I am just a born wise ass.  It did get a smile from her.

 "You not fishin?" she asked as she poured the coffee.  She was beginning to warm to me a little.  Hey who can resist grandpa in red suspenders.  Yes , I wear those.  I had begun wearing them several years before, since I heard the giggles of my step daughter .  The object of her amusement was my butt crack .

 "No I haven't fished in years.  Just one more of the things I seemed to have run out of time for."

 "Well, I can rent you a rod," she suggested.  I skipped the obvious comeback since she was much younger than my step daughter.

 "Maybe another time," I replied instead.  I took the plastic delta cup onto the pier for a walk.  It was what I did at the ocean.  I found a bench well past the shoreline.  I sat down to enjoy the ocean's hypnotic effect.  Somehow that morning it's size, smell and movement did not provoke the usual melancholy in me, nor did it give me any peace.  Quite the opposite, all the smells and sounds of life and death made me angry .   A s a gesture of contempt , I tossed the dregs of my coffee into it .  It was s omething I would never have done before.

 I passed through the snack bar on my way out.  I was upset because I didn't find the peace I had sought in the ocean.  All I found was anger and I didn't know why.  Like a lot of emotions they just happen, you never so find out what triggered them.  I expect ed even then that I hadn't been in the right mood to find peace.

 I pondered that during the drive back to the campground .  When I arrived , I carried the mini tower PC along with its monitor to the picnic table.  Making all the connections took a while , but I finally had it ready to burn by lunch time.  I spent the complete afternoon making CD audio novels and labels.  I never left home without my label maker.  The miniature printer spit out labels that were perfect for the CD.  I couldn't afford the time it took to do the round complete labels so I used the small rectangular ones.  I know it looked less classy, but it worked just fine thank you very much.  I kept the blanks for the box label s with me .  A ny copy shop worthy of its name could run me larger color labels for the outside of the generic cardboard box es .

 Replacing the CDs took another day of sitting around listening to music , while the CDs burned three copies at a time.  The conv en ience store near the park took even more of Visa's money.  I still felt a little guilty knowing they would never be able to collect on their bill .  I rationalized it by thinking of all those people who made that minimum payment every month and the huge interest payments that filled the credit card company's coffers.  I felt a little less guilty when I looked at it from that direction.   Since the ex and I had a perfectly legal separation, o ur family lawyer assured me that visa could not go after her.  So long as I made the minimum payment the company would keep extending me credit .  Extending it right up to the ridiculous 20 grand limit they had forced on me years before.  

 By Wednesday the copy work was complete.   Since the campground was empty during the week I grew bored, I gave some thought to driving back to the festival town to see Wendy .  I didn't only  because I decided a clean break was better for us both.  Still it was a great temptation, especially during the long nights.

 With the grunt work done, I tried to write.  It was a total waste of my time.  I just couldn't seem to find much interest in the larger than life heroes or the buxom women who occupied their time.  Okay, maybe the women I could find an interest in, but definitely not the writing.  I had lost any desire to create more trash, but not the desire to profit from it.  If the last festival was any indication of things to come, it might just prove to be an interesting summer.

 Even though there wasn't much sightseeing to do I wandered around the small towns near the park .  Usually I just asked a waitress or convenience store clerk if there was anything of interest around town.  I got a lot of local museum suggestions but one of them was more than enough.  That first day was a waste, except that I found a copy shop to make the labels for the CD replacements.

 By Friday I was more than ready to move on to the next show.  It took a long half day 's drive to reach the only slightly larger town.  It was interesting to note that the show was not in the downtown , but rather in a field just outside of town.  The good thing about the lousy location was that it was adjacent to the farmer's market.  The market drew customers from the whole county even some from a much larger town s nearby.

 Since the farmer's market opened in what seemed like the middle of the night to a city boy, they allowed the vendors to sleep in the parking lot.  I was able to rearrange my junk .  By storing less valuable items on the roof   I could roll out on the pad s and in the sleeping bag.  It was cramped but doable.

  Next day w hen I set up the booth, I found that I was near a very happily married middle - aged women and a man selling leather products.  It was going to be a boring show , but then the first show had most likely been a fluke.  No one stopped for the first three hours.  The little old ladies being escorted by slightly younger little old ladies had no use for the action adventure novels.  Most of them wore heavy glasses   I doubted that they read at all, but still my audio didn't interest them.

 It was approaching noon when the customers I had been promised by the leather worker arrived.  The yuppies came in droves from 10am until early afternoon.  I sold out of one title probably because the cover promised sex along with the violence.  There were about fifty words of a sexual nature among the hundred thousand word novel.  I feared they would be disappointed but I didn't explain it to them.

 I had given up on finding anyone to help pass the time when the middle - aged almost midget wandered by.  I looked and she caught me of course.   It was o ne of the perils of being a dirty old man.  Instead of looking away in disgust , she changed her direction to approach my table.

 "You write these," She asked in a heavily accented voice.
 I tried to match her accent as I replied, "Yes Ma'am."

 "My son's a truck driver, you think he might like these?"

 "Hard to say ma'am, I like them though."  I smiled to let her know it was joke.  "So tell me when did they begin allowing teenagers to drive trucks?"  

 "What do you mean?"  She was almost angry it seemed.

 "I can't believe you are old enough to have  grown son, so they must be letting teenagers drive those big rigs.   T hat means I have to be a damn sight more careful out there."

 "My son is twenty-three ," she said angrily and stormed off.  I stood watching her walk away almost in shock.

 The husband and wife in the next booth heard the exchange and laughed .  Their laughter just added to my discomfort.  Fortunately in the festival atmosphere it isn't long before someone comes along to stroke your ego.  The someone turned out to be a woman in her thirties, at least.  We talked until her husband joined her.  She told him that she wanted to buy a CD so he paid for one.  They bought a single novella but it did have the web address to order more.  I laughed at the thought.   If they did order, I wondered if there would be anyone to ship it.  I was sure there would be someone around to cash the check.

 The whole festival went just like that.  A promise of companionship but no fulfillment.  It went into the book as a fun experience simply because the face to face contact with my buyers.  I had sold  hell of a lot more at the two festivals than I had on Ebay.  I would have bet it was something to do with me being present at the sale.  I signed copies whenever asked.  The CDs were packaged in what looked like a book but was no more than parchment card stock folded onto itself to make the cover with p lastic sleeves inside to hold the CDs.  

 After closing the booth that first day, I began searching for the county campground listed in the AAA book .  The book promised a list all campground public and private so I bought it. Not only did it list them but i t also had directions to them.  The problem seemed to be that some of the campgrounds had very small signs.  I was searching for the camping area run by the county where the festival was being held.  Unfortunately it was a large county with a great many newly named roads.  With all the confusion, I arrived at the park after the office closed. The note on the door said ,  'J ust find an empty space the ranger would be around to collect' .

 I doubted they would be able to collect from me, since I would be gone before sunup.  As usual I was wrong, the ranger arrived at the site while I was unloading enough boxes to make room for me to sleep.  Most of the plastic boxes were stackable .  Designed so that I could put one on top of another  thereby making  room to stretch out.  However the tables were just too much.  those I put on top of the van covered with one of those ugly blue plastic tarps.  I had almost all the renovations done when the green pick up pulled up behind me.  Even in the almost total darkness I saw the seal on the door.

"Hello there," I said as she approached.

"Hello, you getting a late start setting up?"  The woman was almost my age if not more.  The dark was kind to her but the lantern she carried was not.  I would never be sure of her exact age but she was definitely no kid.

"Yeah, just closed up the festival in Warsaw," I replied.

"Oh yeah, what you selling?"  She seemed only about half interested.

"Books," I replied with a smile to ease the abruptness of the short answer.

"Oh you a writer?"

"Of sorts, and an actor too.  I make and sell audio books."

"You gonna be leaving early or are you staying a while?"  She asked it looking at my self contained operation.

"Crack of dawn it's breakfast then back to the show.  The are opening it early for a Sunday."

"I'm surprised you took everything down?"  It was a question and I knew it.

"The promoter said to strip it clean nobody was providing any security.  Seems some shows do and some don't.  This is one of the don't."

"Do you do many?"  She was way past the point of official duties.

"This is just my second one.  I am still a FNG."

"Geeze , last time I heard that out loud was from my brother when he got back."

"Sure as hell don't hear it much these days, that is for sure."

"Since we are mostly empty, and since you are leaving at the crack of dawn, I will just forget the fee this time.  But why don't you come back and see us."

"In that case hold on."  From the box of CDs I removed one at random.  "Something to keep you awake."

"Well I need something, I'm gonna be up all night checking campers."

"I would think they would all be tucked safely in their beds by now."

"Most are but we have a few partiers.  We had a rape here last summer, so we kind of keep a tight lid on things now."

At the word rape my eyes bulged, I was glad that she hadn't seen it.  Drop it, I told myself.  You are double retired.  You don't need to even be thinking about that.
"I can certainly understand," I said aloud.

"If you see me before I leave, let me know what you think of the CD."

"I will make it a point to look for you.  Hey, tell you what, I will be your wake up service.  What time to you have to be up?"

"I had thought about six.  So that I can get a bite and have time to set up before nine.  What time do you finish up here?" 

"Not till about seven thirty."

"Ah well there goes your free breakfast.  I will have to be pretty near the festival by that time."

"Yeah, always my luck.  Well next year then?"  It was a very nice comment for her to make.

"Sure, next year in Jerusalem," I said with a smile.

"You don't look J ewish."

"I'm not just a gentile smart ass."

"Good, I love a smart ass.  See you at six."  She got back in her green pickup, then drove away.

It was cramped in the mini van but I fell gratefully asleep.  I slept hard until I heard the ranger's flashlight banging on my window.  I looked at my watch in the glow from her light.  Of course I couldn't see a thing except the blur.  I found my glasses on the stack of boxes beside me.  It was 6am exactly as I has requested.

"Hey there ranger," I said it as I opened the door still inside the bag.

"Your wake up call writer.  Before I get side tracked, I loved your book.  It is really exciting and fast moving.  I recognized your voice and that was fun too."

"I do love a fan," I said it with a grin I doubted she saw.

"Well I am a fan.  I might come over to Warsaw to see you.  Good, bring your cash cause I don't take American Express."

"What time do you close?"

"I think they said six since it is Sunday."

"Then I will try to time it right.  I can't keep missing that free meal.  I can trade that breakfast for dinner?"

"Sure but you are going to have to pick the place."

I managed to brush my teeth and put on a clean shirt before I left for the day.  Showering then walking back to the van in the chilly spring air was out of the question for me.  When I turned the switch on the van , nothing happened.  Well it did make the grinding starter sound but it wouldn't fire.  I got out and bled the fuel injector system, then it started.  I made yet another note in my head to buy the right gas lines for the van.  

It was cloudy and threatening to rain all day.  A few drops even fell, but not enough to ruin my stock.  I replaced the lids on the plastic storage boxes at the first sign of rain.  I also kept the tarp handy just in case I needed to cover the whole table.  I had a feeling that if the fake fur got wet it wouldn't do it a bit of good.

Mercifully the day ended with me and the fur dry.  I tried to get packed as quickly as possible before I even gave leaving for the next show a thought .  Being just on the show circuit left me a lot of time to kill.   Everyone else had a home to go to after the show' s end.

"Hi, remember me?" It was the voice that had awakened me that morning which asked it .

"Of course, I was about to send out a search party for you."

"Ah, how sweet.  I was afraid that you had forgotten me already."

"Not a chance, I don't meet that many beautiful women on the road."  It was a stretch but then what the hell she wasn't a dog either.  Body types never did impress me all that much.  I found most women to be to some degree heavy or thin.  The women with perfect bodies are out there somewhere, I just haven't met very many of them.

"I'm Jennifer, so Writer what do I call you?"  She had a pleasant smile on her face.  I noticed for the first time that she was almost as tall as me.  She had to be at least 5'11".  When she wasn't in the polyester pants she didn't look hippy at all.  In fact she looked very trim too trim even.

"Well I answer to either Writer or Deke," I replied.

"Geeze Deke sounds so redneck, like a character for th at old movie Deliverance."

"Then just call me Writer or anything else you like."  I was smiling because when I passed the Mason Dixon line I never used Deke at all.

"Don't you have a real name?"

"Deacon is my real name."  I said it smiling up at her from my bent over position rearranging the boxes in my van.  "So whatever you want is fine.  Now, do you have a restaurant in mind?"

"Yeah, Roaring Red's"  She somehow said it with a straight face and also as though it needed no more explanation.  Probably for a resident it didn't, but for me it did.

"So what is Roaring Red's and how do I find it."

"Wouldn't you rather I drive?"  She asked it looking at the van filled with junk."

"Frankly, I would feel better with all this stuff where I can keep an eye on it.  Would you mind being seen in this thing or do you want to just let me follow you."

"I better have you follow, I think I might need to make a hasty retreat.  I have a feeling you can be quite persuasive."  She did say it with a smile of sorts.

I followed her through the downtown which was just a bit more than the small town USA kind of thing.  I had been getting a tour of  the rural south on the show circuit.  I knew that was gonna change soon.  It was early in the season so the small town shows were the only ones.  Soon the larger towns would begin their festivals.  I chose the larger ones when they were available but the small shows were held at the very first , and very last of the season.  I suppose it was because they could n't compete with the bigger towns for craftsmen or crowds.

Once I entered Roaring Red's I began to feel something crunch under my feet.  I looked down but it was too dark to see.  Jennifer turned before we were seated , she had not iced my curious look .  She said simply , "Peanut shells, you will see."

Before anything else the waitress brought us a glass of water and a metal water bucket of roasted peanuts.  Since I have only a dozen teeth left, and they are all in the front, I skipped the nuts.  I drank the sweetened iced tea which was excellent.  That spoke well for the promise of the large ground beef steak.  I waited until Jennifer ordered before I did.  I ate the ground up mea t due to the afore mentioned teeth or lack there of.  I didn't want Jennifer to miss out on a steak because of my dental shortcomings.

"So Jen, tell me about the campground Rape?"

"Nothing to tell Deacon, best anybody could figure the woman was there with her small son.  She took him to the bathroom about midnight.  He woke up with one of those 'I got to go right now mommy' kind of things.  Since the cam p site where she was staying was open she took him to the bathhouse.  The kid got to watch it.  The guy who did it held a gun on them told the kid that if he made any noise his mommy would die before his eyes."

"That was not nice at all," I interjected.  I noted that Jen seemed almost irritated by the interruption.

"Anyway it got pretty nasty as the man made lil mommy say and do things a kid shouldn't know about let alone see.  He just walked away after.  He told the woman not to come out of the house for five minutes as he might be waiting.  She walked to the pay phone right outside and called us.  We came to made sure it was for real, then called the city police.  They came and did their cop things, which did no good.

"Yeah, they would have gotten a million prints from that bathroom.  I can't imagine anything of value from the crime scene."  I know on TV they find all these cute little clues, but in the real world a crime scene doesn't get vacuumed routinely. I wondered about a car.  "Did they ever find out how he got there?"

"No,they woke up every camper out here and made Polaroid shots of them but she didn't recognize anyone.  Every space, and every man on every space, was accounted for.  It looks as though he just drifted into the campground did his thing and left."

"If you are looking to rape somebody, why the hell go to a campground.  It would be my last thought.  Did the cops check the people who live on the adjacent road?"

"More pictures and more not him s ," she replied.

"They didn't get any hits at all?"  I asked it surprised that there wasn't at least one false hit, victims and children make pretty lousy witnesses as a general rule.

"No she was adamant not one of the locals raped her.  As you would expect several fit the description but no cupie doll."

I just absorbed the information, I did n't even try to analyze it.

After dinner I left a cash tip, then gave the woman at the register the ole visa card.  I had no idea how high the balance would get by the end of the trip, but I expected it to get on up there.

It was pretty near dark and much to o late to move on, even if I had wanted to.  I followed Jen back to the park.  The office was still open so I had the privilege of paying them twelve buck to stay there.  Since the card processor was down and I didn't want to wait, I paid them with an assortment of crumpled cash.  I paid for only one night.  If I stayed , I plan to use the visa for payment.

Again that night I rearranged the boxes to make me a small sleeping spot.  I must have been closer to the lake than I had been the night before, since it got chilly in the flannel sleeping bag.  I rummaged around by lantern light to find the down comforter.  It was less than a hundred percent dawn, but it worked really well when combined with the flannel bag.  Besides it was spring in the south, not January in Ohio.  I was too tired to process information that night so I slept.  I slept until almost noon as a matter of fact.

I hadn't asked if Jennifer was working that night, but I assumed that she wasn't.  In any case she didn't stop by to wake me.  I hadn't expected her to but then again one can hope.

I didn't quite know what to do with my gear, since I planned to at least read the police reports on the year old rape.  Since it was an ongoing case it appeared that I wasn't going to get the locals to cooperate.  Even my honorary badge didn't do any good.  I hadn't expected it to help, retired cops don't get much respect unless they are home town cops.  Plus once they found out I was a writer odds were the mayor couldn't have sprung lose those files for me.  Of course it was a moot point since I didn't know the Mayor.

I gave it about a half second's thought then went to the local newspaper.  The newspaper was a tiny little store front operation.  They even farmed their printing out to a larger paper in the next town.  The one thing they did have was a microfilm reader.  They also had files of their own paper as well as the larger town next door.  I explained to the very young, very blonde woman behind the desk what I was up to.  She called someone on the phone no doubt getting permission to show me the microfilm.  It didn't seem she was impressed by either my charm or the fact that I was an audio novelist.  At least it seemed so at first.  As the afternoon wore on with her helping me find the sparse articles, she seemed to warm to both the task and me.

"You know I wonder if the victim would talk to me?"  I asked it awkwardly as she stood over me.  I  had finished with the reader and needed some other way to hold her attention.

"I would say no, but then that is all she can say.  Why don't you call and ask?"

The young newspaper lady, named Deloris, looked up the number for me.  The rape victim was June Silvers.  She informed me that she did not wish to discuss it.  With that she hung up on me.  I couldn't really blame her for not wanting to relive it.

"So much for that," I said as I stood and stretched.  When I stretched I lost my balance then almost crushed Dee as she preferred to be called.

"Are you drunk?" she asked playfully.

"No, I just have really bad balance," I replied shortly.

"Ah I see.   My dad had a stroke.  After a while he didn't need the cane to walk but he used it anyway so people wouldn't think he had been drinking."

"Not a bad idea," I didn't tell her that I already carried a cane most days.

"Okay Deke, I will make you a deal."

"And what kind of deal do you have in mind?"

"I can get you the police report, at least the original one.  I don't know about the later ones."

"And how will you do that?"

"They file all the reports with the records clerk.  That one gets filed even if the follow ups don't.  Since they claim this is open , the follow up reports might still be in the detective division's file and not in the central file."

"So?"  She seemed to know a lot about the interior workings of the local police.  They seemed to be about like all the police departments.

"Well, I got a girlfriend who works for the records division.  She has gotten me files before, I expect she would again."  

"I have a feeling the price is going to be high for this little service?"

"Depends on what you call high.  You aren't going to just write a novel based on her statement to the cops are you?"

"No, I am going to do a little checking into it, why?"

"I want to go with you."  It was a simple statement.  She said it like it wouldn't matter at all to me.

"It would be a total waste of your time.  I am not going to have a lot of time to look into it.  This is my own version of a book tour."

"I understand that, the articles I send back will be as much about that as the investigation."

"Articles? Nobody is gonna be interested in this crap."

"Oh, you don't know me Deke.  I am a hell of a writer, I just need a break.  If the first article is a grabber, I can sell the whole series to the group that does our printing.  I have sold them things before, I know what they want."

"Okay, I will give you a bunch of honest interviews from the road.  You know call you every night.  How is that?"

"Yeah, you might call once but that would be about all.  No I am going along."

"I expect your boss will have a lot to say about that."

"I doubt it my Dad owns this rag.  That is why I am not at a bigger paper."

"Even though I am old enough to be your dad, I'm not.  I expect he will not be particularly pleased with you traveling with a man."

"Are you kidding he will be thrilled.  He knows I am safest with men."  I am pretty dense so it took me a few minutes to figure out what she had meant.  I just nodded.  

"Tell you what, I am out at the county park.  You think about this and if you still want to do it, bring me all the papers you can get on the Silver Rape to either the park tonight or the festival tomorrow.  If you do that you can buy yourself a ticket to ride, for a while at least."

"Fair enough, are you staying in campgrounds everywhere you go?"

"I am, but you can stay in motels I expect."

"Oh no Deke, wherever thou goest, I goest to."  She gave me a smile meant for a much older woman.

After the newspaper, I spent a couple of hours talking to people in the town.  I didn't question them as much as let them talk.  In the small town's idea of a supermarket, I  met several old men sitting on benches outside.  They were talking while the womenfolk shopped.  I sat with them a while before I introduced myself.

"You don't look like no writer," The youngest of the old men commented.

"That's what they say every time I sen d my picture to a publisher."  

"Don't get many strangers round here, don't never get no writers,"  the man continued. "You in town for that festival out at the farmer's market?"

"I sure was , got one more day then it is off to a new place.  Anything going on around here w or th writing about?"

"Sam over there has a couple of cut up cows I hear tell."

"Gee Whiz man has he ever had one of them mutilated by aliens?"  I asked it with a straight face.  They were all speechless till I laughed.

"No aliens but we got some pretty strange mexs here.  They might have done it then threw the guts around, but nobody has mutilated a cow for years."

"Well, a healthy cow is just not the makings of a novel."  I smiled to show it all in good humor.  "You guys k no w anything about that campground rape?"  I asked it after a couple of minutes of silence.

"Couldn't have been anybody local.  We all pretty much know each other.  If it had been June would have knowed him.  Had to be somebody from outside."  The row of old men nodded their agreement.

"You think so huh?" I asked.  I was surprised that the logic in his statement had until that moment alluded me.  That simple statement opened up a whole new line of thought.  The cops sur e ly came to the same conclusions as the old men.

"Tell me , I cant get the details from the cops and I don't really need the official version.  Was it pretty violent, I mean did he harm her?"

"Look writer,"  He said it with a sneer.  "Every woman is hurt in a rape, some get beat and some don't, but they all get hurt."  With those words the man stood to go find his wife.

"He is right, but he didn't do well.  His kid got raped at the high school couple of years back."  He could see the interest in my eye.  "Different guy writer, th at one was a basketball coach.  Some folks say she didn't resist and at the trial they brought in a couple of other students.  You know it got real messy before they sent the coach away.  Old Amos, he ain't never forgive those that said harsh words agin his Betty."

"I don't reckon I would either."  It was the truth and I knew it.  It it had been my step brat, there would have been a line of boys waiting to testify.  She had outgrown it thank god, but there was a time that even I would have doubted he r story.

"Okay writer, I heard that she was raped in front of her kid.  The bastard made her beg for it.  Told her he would kill the kid right in front of her.  She went along.  Didn't have a scratch on her they say.  No matter what a woman is her kid shouldn't have to see his mamma do those things.  They tell me she had to do it all for the prick."

I got the idea, so I didn't press it.  I couldn't for the life of me think of anything to ask that wouldn't look like a stranger trying minimize the woman's ordeal.  I stood then walked into the store to see what I could buy that came in cans.  I had been searching for things that I wouldn't need to refrigerated, when the sheriffs deputy came into the store.

"Pardon me sir, we need to have a few words."  At that moment I realized that I had become a suspect in the rape of the silver woman.  When you ask questions in a small town, you are a suspect in everything.

"Do we now?"  I smiled at the young cop.  "How about you call your supervisor so I don't have to tell this but once."

He was on the hand held radio while I continued to look.  "Sir, you need to take this a little more seriously."

"It seems you are taking it seriously enough for both of us.  You wouldn't happen to know where they keep the canned chili would you?"  He didn't smile and I didn't care.  The one good thing about camping out was that I didn't have to buy toilet paper, but I did have to buy paper towels.

"Is that your mini van in the parking lot?"  The deputy looked toward the parking lot.  Of course all he could see was the stacks of styrofoam coolers which blocked the front windows.

"It is indeed?  If you want you can search it, so long as you put everything back just like you found it.  I felt the slight nausea then my mind took a vacation for a split second.  It was not a good thing to happen in front of a cop, especially when we were talking about my van.

"Are you okay?" he asked.  

I didn't remember it, but I knew for a split second I had a spaced out look on my face and some real hard twitching.  Those things only lasted a second.  "Yeah just peachy keen.  I have a stress related twitch.  You are making me nervous."

"Do you need to sit down?"  He seemed concerned.  It could be that the twitch had gotten worse they said it would.

"No I'm fine."  I leaned on the cart as I continued to collect things.  Some of them I was  sure I didn't need even as I put them into the cart. .  I knew that I would need to reassess the contents of the cart before I checked out.

I saw the older man in the identical uniform approach.  I waited while the younger man met him a few yards away to hold a whispered conference.  I moved the cart on down the aisle forcing them to walk a little farther to catch up.

"Good afternoon, Mr......." He let it trail off waiting for me t o finish it for him.  Instead I handed him my retirement Id , and my driver ' s license.

"Oh a retired cop.  I should have guessed.  You could have told that to Steve and saved me a trip."

"No it wouldn't.  He would never have given up until he called you in to show how on the ball he is .  I just cut through a little of the bs."

"Well, we will never know about that will we.  Alright so what were you doing running around town asking about a two year old rape?"

"Well S arg, I am in town for the festival.  I heard about it and thought there might be a story in it.  That my friend is all there is to it.  I am sure a man of my age does not fit the description of the rapist, since our testosterone level is way below that needed for such a crime.  Your officer knew that, and if he asked the men outside they told him what I just did about the festival.  There was no reason to do it all twice."

"Mind if I look in your van?"  

"Not at all, if you wait till I check out, I will go stand by.  If not knock yourself out, but put everything back like you found it.  I have photographs of the van as it looks now.  I will be shooting it again, if you leave it a mess because you don't like my attitude."  I smiled at the two cops.

"Do cops where you are from do that?" The young officer asked.

"Yeah sonny, cops everywhere do that."

"How about you just leave that cart and we do it now?" the sargent asked.

"I won't be but a couple of more minutes.  You guys can help if you like."  They shook their head in a refusal gesture.  I should have hurried but I didn't.  They decided to wait outside.  Actually the sargent sent the younger man back on patrol.  When I walked from the building several minutes later he was waiting for me.

"Okay open the door and let me take a look."  I did but only because I needed to put the groceries away.  With the cargo door open I slipped one of the four identical black plastic trucks from the van.  It was the one closest to the door.  

"You don't have to do that."  the sargent said as I opened the trunk.

"Sure I do," I began putting the groceries from the cart into the box.

"So take it easy on the small town cop s and rural area sheriff's department?"

"I always do, no matter how weak or strong the investigation. By the way I expect that y ou won't solve this one."  He looked down on my bent frame.  "It is much to random.  If it wasn't a local, and I am sure you would have found anybody local, then it was a drifter."

"Thanks, we all felt that way too."  

"Felt, so you just gave up on it."

"You know what I mean it is no longer an active case even though we work on them all till they are solved."  His look told me the truth, it wasn't on the back burner, it wasn't even on the stove.

"Any chance it was a lover's game?"  I asked it pretty sure of the answer.

"If it wasn't for the kid, we would have run that at her a lot harder.  They were both absolutely in shock.  Had to see a counselor from Princeton."  He noted my confusion.  "Not the school, it is a town about ten miles away, and twice the size of this one .  The woman there doesn't have enough patients so she does the country rape counseling."

"Is the victim still a patient there?"

"Last I heard she was, but that was a few months ago.  Either way she has been at it over a year, hardly the act of a pretender."

"True," I said in agreement.

"You done searching?" I asked it as I reached for the cargo door.

"I was done in the store, just had to go through the motions for the kid."

"Aint they just wonderful?"

"Well we was all kids like that once."

"Not me I was born a full growed cop."  I laughed along with him.

At the park I signed in for a space, then rearranged the back of the van.  I removed the tent first then all the items that made it work.  In my case I hated the idea of a ripped floor so I put down a blue tarp, then an old quilt from goodwill.  Only after I had the padded floor did I erect the tent.  The eight by ten cabin tent went up easily.  I had replaced the plastic tent stakes which wouldn't penetrate Carolina clay with the foot long gutter spikes.  Even with the improved tie downs a strong wind would topple the cloth house.

I removed the first of the plastic trunks.  Each of the four had a symbol painted on top.  The one with the star held table cloths and the other items to make the booth.  It also held the products for sell at the shows.  It went directly into the tent.  Whether I chose to sleep in the tent or not, I wanted that box stored in it.  Since I had to move it to get to the other things anyway I made absolutely sure I didn't forget and leave it out in the weather.  It wouldn't do any of the paper products any good at all.

The two very lightweight tables went in next.  They had what surely was almost cardboard tops getting them rained on would be just as disastrous.   Then I opened the aluminum web chair where I sat while I smoked smelly cigars and drank bourbon.  To do that kind of thing unhindered was probably the real reason I had embarked on the festival circuit in the first place.

I didn't really expect the newspaper girl/woman to show up so I left the rest of the boxes and bed rolls in the van.  Since I hadn't decided where to sleep that night, I unpacked only the bare essentials.  I pulled the box containing the cooking equipment to the rear.  I hadn't used most of it in years. Even during the first show, I hadn't bothered to unpack it.

From that box, I removed the red tabletop grill.  I put it on the picnic table by the tent.  From the same box I removed a fifty foot extension cord.  It got attached to the power supply.  Even though I wasn't in a fancy camper, I had packed some electrical appliances in the box.  One was a toaster oven with a couple of  diminutive pans, also a ceramic furnace that put out a lot of heat on a chilly night.  Cooking tools and a bag of plastic cutlery were to be found inside one of the many large zip lock plastic bags.   Since I couldn't make up my mind what to cook, I took the whole box to the picnic table.  My cardiologist would have had a fit, but it had been my habit for several years to ignore him when it suited me.  I especially discarded his advice, not to lift anything heaver than my penis.

I was just a little winded from all the work, so I sat in the chair to take a short break.  I would have enjoyed a drink about then, but I still needed to go for ice.  I knew that once I started drinking I wouldn't want to go out again.  I had promised myself that I would only smoke the cigars when I drank, so I just looked out at the lake.  The Lake side space would surely be hard to get in a few more weeks .  However, in the early spring the county run campground was more or less empty.

It was well after dark when I decided to hell with the ice.  I drank the bourbon only slightly cooler than bodily fluids.  The bourbon burned its way into my gut and my soul.  While the first swallow still burned in my throat, I lit the small smelly cigar.  The cigars were homemade for me by a somewhat less than law abiding citizen.  

His tobacco was not grown as part of any subsidy program, and the filler was only about sixty percent tobacco.  The remainder of the filler was a very low grade marijuana also grown by the man.  He had a very select clientele a ll of whom were on the government's approved list of medicinal users.  What was it gonna do lead us to stronger drugs, hell most of us had prescription drugs that dwarfed pot.  In my case used to have, I gave up all the drugs when I left on the festival trip.   That is a lie I thought, I still take my aspirin and the blue pill for pain.

 I could imagine my doctor cringing at the thought of me dumping all those other drugs, with all those years of research, down the toilet.  I had staggered across the house to give them a watery grave in the toilet bowl. I could just have easily tossed them down the sink where I stood while making the decision..

I hadn't felt any worse since doing it.  I am one of the amazing few people who feel very little pain.  At least that is how the doc explains my lack of pain from the heart damage.   It was that damage which retired me from the cops.  According to him I am a total basket case and should have died the week after the heart attack.  The last time I saw him and he looked at my cardiogram then said,  "You have to be living on spider webs."

For some reason, known only to God, I seemed to have grown lots of tiny veins to compensate for all the blockages.  My heart clicks along pretty much as always and I fe el no pain, so I am lucky in that way I guess.   Why didn't I have the bypass you ask?  I chose the quick death at forty-five to leave that beautiful corpse people talk about at the viewing .   The p roblem was that the body didn't get the message.

Then the bad got awful.  I woke up one morning with double vision.  When I stood up I bounced off the wall beside my bed.  The Ex , who wasn't an ex at that time , tried to call me an ambulance.  She seemed to think I had been blessed with a stroke.  The sawbones's warning rang in my ear, heart attacks and strokes go hand in hand .

I let her drive me to the emergency room where we were met by the quack.  He quickly turned us over to a neurologist , who just as quickly hooked me up to an ex ray machine.  When he shot dye into my arm, I saw the oh my God look on his face.  If I had my pistol, I would have shot myself and missed my present the trip altogether.

Somebody hit me with more drugs in the IV and I went to sleep.  My soon to be Ex-wife was teary eyed, and even the step brat was absent her usual smirk when I awoke.  I figured that alone meant I was about to die.  I simply chose to go back to sleep.

It was a strange, and slightly attractive woman who awoke me.  She did it by running something pointed but not shape over my feet.  "If that is some kind of kinky foreplay, count me out."  I said it deadpan.

She was taken aback for only a half second. "Gee, I had so hoped to get laid by a total stranger, before I went home to my family."  She smiled first so I join ed in.

She was wearing a lab coat . I wasn't real sure but suspected that she was some kind of doctor.  She looked to old to be a resident and the long lab coat was a kind of symbol.  Short coats were technicians, no coats were nurses, but long coats were doctors.  At least that was my opinion at the time

"So can you tell me the news that has me flat on my ass, and shot up worse than any street junkie."

"Shot up hell, you just needed the nap."  She grinned to make sure I knew it was a joke.  I smiled but didn't let her off the hook by breaking the eye contact.

"How long have you had the double vision?" she asked to ease into it I expect.

"I didn't know I had it till today."

"Come on, don't do this I am trying to help you."

"I had a flare up with it a few years ago.  Before the heart attack I think, but then it went away."

"You don't ever have trouble with your vision?"   She looked incredulous.

"Sure sometimes I have to move my head to get a better angle on things.  But they always settle down."

"And your hearing?  You wife tells me you don't hear very well."

"I hear just fine when I want to."

"Is your hearing better on one side than the other?"

"I don't think so," I replied.

After that exchange she ran a few simple test by holding up fingers and making snapping sounds.  When she finished, I knew that I had double vision when looking down, and much worse hearing in my right ear.

Alright Dr. Aimes, so what does it mean."  I wasn't clairvoyant I had read her name tag.  She hadn't bothered to introduce herself.

"So Deacon, your wife tells me you like it up front and straight, is that right?"

"With most things yeah,  I can sneak up on some things, but this I think I want all at once."

"You are an idiot,"  She smiled to show she didn't think it was such an awful thing.

"Well that is pretty up front, but what idiotic thing have I done now."

You have a brain tumor that has probably been with you since birth.  Over the years it has gotten bigger of course and you have had multiply sym p toms which you ignored.  So now it has invaded not one , but two parts of the brain.  Do you want the fine print?"

"Sure lay it all on me."  I was shaken but tried to keep my walls intact.

"Ordinarily I would have you in the operating room at this moment.  I would be sawing and chopping as we speak.  But since you didn't have that bypass five years ago, no anesthesiologist will put you under.  Odds are you will never wake up, and our insurance rates are terrible now.  Frankly you can't take an eleven hour operation, and that Deacon is what we are looking at."

"How long?"

"Damn, you do cut to it.  I would have expected a list of questions beginning with are you sure, or how do I get a second opinion."

"Stop the tap dancing Doc and lets have it."

"There is no way to tell how long, you have a body that should already have given up.  That heart of yours is operating my sheer will alone according to the cardiologist."

"Look get past the malpractice BS S and tell me so I can put my life in order."

Depends on which way the tumor is growing.  If it grows up faster than out you will have seizures, they will run anywhere from tiny to grand moll.  The grand moll is so severe that it will most likely stop that weak heart of yours.

"And the bottom part?"

"That one is pressing against your brain stem.  It is causing all your present symptoms.  If it becomes the one to do it, then it will most likely be like turning a switch.  Just shut you down one day."

"Well it doesn't sound all that bad."

"True but you didn't ask me what it will be like on the way to the end."

"Do I want to know?"

"Anyone else probably not, but you want to know.  On that, I would bet my kids college fund."

"Okay lets do it,"  I said it looking at the ceiling.

"As the pressure increases on your stem,  More balance problems, more double vision, all the body systems will be effected.  Everything from your ability to swallow to your ability to expel body waste."

"Now that is an attractive thought,"  I said it with what I thought was a smile.

"Maybe paralysis, or coma at the very end."

"And if it goes the other way?"

"Best case is the grand moll stops your heart.  Worst case you have them uncontrollably till the brains is mush.  More coma," She didn't look very professional as she spoke.

"How about we do the surgery?"

"You get someone to put you to sleep, and I will cut you."  she said it looking at the floor.

"Will you help me find someone?"  I asked it looking into her eyes.

"Yes but not yet.  You need to get all the time you can.  When you have had enough, come back and we will look."

"Fair enough," I replied.  "But how long before the bad shit begins?

"Six months to a year, but that is just a guess it could be significantly more or less."

It was a shock of course but I was used to dealing with tough decisions.  I thought I had a pretty good way out if worse came to worse.

I was out of the hospital that afternoon.  It took two days for me to decide on the festival trip.  I got a late start but I managed to set up a festival almost every week until the next October.

I moved money around from one place to another until I had everything except the house paid off.  Since the soon to be ex, had a good job that wasn't going to be a problem.  If it was, she could sell the place and move somewhere else.  A visit to our friend who had married a lawyer set the wheels for the separation in motion.

It took some convincing but the wife signed the papers.  The settlement, which I would never have signed in that form two months before, gave her almost everything I owned.  It was all legal since it was made a provision of the separation agreement and future divorce proceedings.

I signed the agreement the day before I left for the festival.  That same day I also went to see my farmer friend.  Getting the script from my lady doctor wasn't a problem.  I told her the same thing I would tell anyone who asked about long range side effects of any drug.  I am not going to live long enough for it to matter a whit.

He got the script and I got a hundred of the short tan cigars.  The cigars cost more than any Cuban ones , which the doctor's all smoked but they were worth it.  One cigar and a couple of shots of bourbon put me to sleep better than any pill.  I had to force myself not to reach for a cigar during the long days but I had managed so far at least.

I moved all my junk into the tent then slept in the van.  It was more comfortable than sleeping on a tree root or a rock would have been.  Sleep had been easier since I began the new regime of bourbon and pot before going to bed.

The Sunday shows were always late starting so I made coffee then toasted a bagel.  I worked my way into wakefulness only to discover my usual morning hangover wasn't as bad as some of them were.  I looked around for the pillbox with the last of the pills.  According to my cardiologist, after I took my last morning pills I would die within an hour.  That is a massive exaggeration, but they do try to scare hell out of me.  Things are never as bad as they pretend nor as good as I want them to be.  I popped those pills with very little trepidation.  I had taken a fatalistic approach toward it all.

I was surprised that I hadn't at least seen the ranger truck pass either the night before or that morning.  It just never showed though I knew someone was patrolling the park.  The ranger in the county park was certainly not the ranger from my last book.  The one at the county park appeared to be a nice family oriented lady.  I had just caught her bored to tears on Friday night.

The bagel was gone and the coffee cup pretty much empty when I saw the yellow Miata pull into the drive of the camp space.  The top was up so I couldn't be sure who the driver might be even though I half expected either the ranger or Dee to show.  The thick head of almost white hair slipped from the tiny car.  I got to watch her body unwind as she worked her was to a standing position.  She was almost as tall as me.  That would make her almost 5'11"  Probably closer to 5'8".  Other than the height her body was pretty unremarkable.  Her figure was average for a woman fighting a weight problem. Most women give the fight up after they marry, or turn forty, but she was still in her youth.  In other words she had a bit more on the bottom than on the top.

"Good morning Deke," she said it with a smile way to bright to be  flash ed at a man with a hangover.

"Are you planning to drive that thing?" I asked it because I was feeling snippy that morning, as I did all mornings.

"No, when we leave town my friend Zandy will come for it.  I am going to ride with you in that dilapidated van. If you can stand it, I can."

"Okay, I can make room for you I guess."

"So what we gonna do first?" she asked with that youthful enthusiasm any adult finds totally disgusting.

"I'm gonna finish this coffee, then take a shower.  Why, do you want to wash my back?"  I was kidding but she took it serious.

"Well, this is as good a time as any to get this straight.  You are too old."  That I had expected.  "And the wrong sex."  That I hadn't.  She just didn't look like a dyke.  It  took me several seconds to find my tongue.

"First of all it was a joke, though anytime you decide to change sides of the plate you are welcome to do it .  I promise I won't try to rape you or try to talk you into it."

"Good, I don't think you could rape me old man, and save your breath on the trying to talk me into changing."

"Fair enough, but if you keep calling me old man, this is going to be  miserable trip for us both and I don't have time for a miserable trip.  Now did you bring the payment for you passage on this train?"

Without a word she handed me the stack of papers.  They were xerox copies of the complete case file.  She had definitely paid her freight.

"Is that coffee any good?"  She asked it before I started to read.

"I doubt that you are going to like it."  I smiled one of those patronizing smiles old farts are famous for.

"You mean because it is strong and black?  That is how I drink my coffee."

"Well you are welcome to it.  After you pour yours toss in a cup of plain water, then just set it back where you got it."  I really should have told her about the filtering system, but hell she was so self assured.  I did tell her where she could find the other delta cup.  I had taken my complete stash of delta cups from the house.  Well all but one, I left the one that the step brat had given me.  I left it for her mother as a memory, I guess.  Anyway I had five of the cups shaped like the mercury space capsule, tiny at the top and wide at the bottom.  In my condition it was the thing for me to use to keep the number and severity of spills to a minimum.

When she poured the coffee, the small particles of ground  coffee beans poured with the coffee.  "God how do you drink this?" She asked it as she poured the coffee back into the pot.  Since I needed more coffee anyway I showed her.  I removed the yellow funnel , the one purchased from the auto parts store , from the crack in the picnic table.  The n I tore  a half sheet from the paper towel from the roll.  I t made a sort of lining in the funnel by folding the towel.  Coffee poured through the arrangement left the ground in the paper towel.  The two oversized cups emptied the pot.  I didn't bother to refill it or wash it.  I just sat it aside for later attention '

"So what we gonna do first?" Dee asked it with the typical youngster's lack of patience .  Dee must have been twenty five or so, and yet she had all the enthusiasm of a teenager.  She was ' perky ' as my ex would say.   Usually followed by, " Aint that just disgusting ."

"I am gonna sit right here and commune with nature till I finish this cup of coffee, then I am gonna go for that shower.  After which if I haven't drowned, I will give the next move some thought.  She didn't say another word while I stared at the lake.  I gave the last few days some thought and decided that I needed to find a way to sell more CDs.  I just couldn't think of anything at all though .  It wasn't really important to me, I would just have felt a certain satisfaction in seeing them fly out of the burner and into someone's  waiting hands.

I just couldn't maintain a thought with Dee sitting across from me.  She was too pretty and too insistent in her silence.  She stared at me while I looked out on the lake with my coffee cup in hand. It reminded me of my step daughter telling her mother over breakfast once, "Mom do something, he is staring at me.  Meaning me of course."

"Are you writing?" she asked.


"You are so intent in thought, I figure you are working out a problem of some kind."

"Nothing so glamorous . I am trying to figure out how  to make more money so that I can keep going."  It was a lie only in that I didn't need t he money to keep going.  I had the ole Visa card and no intention of ever paying it off.  She didn't need to know that part.  I felt a little bad about it , but what the hell Visa had gotten me at least once over the years .  I figured it was just payback with interest.  Truth is I knew that I was ripping them off , but hell I figured that honor was for the living.

"So what do we do today?" She asked with her youthful enthusiasm showing again.

"I have a festival to attend . Y ou can do whatever you want. "

"I'm going with you."

" I promise you it is going to be dull.

"I need to go to at least one.  Can I ask you a couple of questions now ."

"Sure but wait till I get out of the shower.  I went inside the tent to find the box with the square  drawn on it.  That box held my clothes such as they were.  From the box I removed a folded up pair of pants exactly like the ones I had on.  I removed a lightweight sweatshirt exactly like the one that hung from my body.  Well not exactly the color was different.

I left the tent on a route taking me directly to the bathhouse.  Once inside I was relieved to find it heated.  There wasn't much worse than taking a shower in a cold room, unless it was a cold shower in a cold room.  The shower was warm and so was the room.  If it hadn't been for the terribly uncomfortable mat on the floor, I would have been fine.  The damn thing hurt my feet in even the short time I stood on it.  Probably the county's way of saving water.

After the shower I brushed my hair and noted with satisfaction that it was getting long.  I had always wanted long hair but had never been able to manage it. Nobody seemed to care that my hair was long and bushy on the circuit.  It might have even added to my mad writer look.

An hour later found us at the Sunday part of the festival.  It was supposed to be the eas ier day but for some reason it was much busier then Saturday had been.  It took me a couple hours to figure out why.  I had been for a cup of coffee and was walking back when I sa w Dee leaning over the table discussing a novel with a potential customer.  I noticed with some concern that her cleavage had grown.  Or at least it appeared so when I walked up.  I waited for the table to clear before I asked.

"How come your breasts look so much bigger today."

"Different bra, and blouse," She replied.  "Do you approve?"  There was that little girl look which was totally out of place in that situation.

"It doesn't matter what I think, you seem to be drawing in customers with it."

"I will take that as a compliment.  Now that things are finally slowing down, how about you take a closer look at the police report and tell me what you think?"

"If I split my attention, I will miss something."  I thought it was quite logical.

"I'll take care of anyone who comes up, you just read."  She smiled as she threw her chest out with a chuckle.

I nodded then opened the cardboard folder which she had thrust at me.  The prelims I tried to avoid but it shook down this way.  June Silver decided she wasn't spending enough quality time with her son, so she borrowed a tent and planned the overnight camping trip.

The county park had a special weekend rate th at last weekend of the season.  The county's plan was to shut the camping down for the winter after that weekend.  June Silver arrived at the campground early because she had no idea how to erect the tent.  

Fortunately for her one of her fellow campers was willing to help her read the directions.  The four of them two adults and two children made short work of the tent.  She and her son cooked hot dogs over the campfire  Later that night she and her son made the chocolate marsh mellow cookies , which no camping trip in the last ten years is complete without.

The rape occurred pretty much as everyone had said.  Right down to the rapist making he beg for it to save her son's life.  At least that is what both she and the boy said.  The cop skeptic in me had me wondering if the child wouldn't tell what his mother wanted.   I decided that i t was way too early to begin doubting her story.

The details of the rape were far too graphic for my taste.  The crime was horrific no doubt about it.  She wasn't beaten because she was going along to protect her son.  It was indeed admirable of her.  It also saved her a few bruises no doubt.

When Dee got the file for me she got a couple of things more than I bargained for.  She had the medical report on June Silver. It seemed that June did not have any vaginal damage.  I read back over her report of the incident.  Someone, usually a female cop, always asks the victim some really personal questions.  Questions about the biological aspects of the rapist and the event itself.  They usually try to begin by saying that the body and the mind aren't always in sink.  Is it possible that your body reacted positively to the event without your mental participation.  In June Silver's case no one asked her.

However in her description of the Rapist she admitted that he was larger than average "in that way" she informed the investigator.  Given that fact alone, and the nature of the event, I would have expected some tearing of the tissue.  Well, I thought.  I suppose it is time to do some checking on Miss Silver.

Since I was sure the detectives had spotted the same things I had, I wondered why their had been no mention of it in the follow up reports.

"Okay Dee, who the hell is Silver?"  I asked it looking her dead in the eye.

"What do you mean?"

"Look, I am not the shiniest penny in the stack but I can spot a put up when I see it.  So who is she that everyone is tiptoeing around. ?  W hy is she someone that has got you out showing your boobs so that I will keep you around?"

"I was telling you the truth, sort of.  The festival thing will make some interesting articles, but yeah I am hoping you will look at this."

"Ah why do you care?  Odds are I won't be able to work it out.  The cops have the best chance to solve this kind of thing.  They are networked all over the place.  And why would even that make a story?"

"The cops aren't going to look at it hard because they don't want to know what really happened. Not if it is different than June says."

"We are still down to, why is that?"

"Okay, all of that is simple.  You are not from around here which is why you don't know what a big deal it is.  June's grand father was a US Senator for about all his life.  Her step father is the sitting Governor and may be the next president of the United States."

"You don't mean law and order Abe?"  I asked cringing.

"You got it.  Nobody around here is gonna look at this because even I know her story stinks."

"No it doesn't stink, it just has some inconsistencies, but so does every rape.  So why me?"

"At first it was because you were a stranger who didn't know enough not to go poking into it.  You are supposed to be a crime writer, so I figured what the hell.  Then I did some checking after you left, before I decided to really do this."

"And what did you find out my little spook?"  It was humorous at the moment.  I didn't have Abe Storm on my ass yet."

"I found out that you wrote 'Lust and Murder in STX.'"

"So what, you never heard it?"

"No, but I found the review and the newspaper article on google.  You and that other retired cop found a serial killer nobody even knew existed.  I expect you can find out the truth about June."

"What is the truth about June?"  I asked it because I thought she might know .

"Trust me Deke, If I knew I wouldn't need you.  I would write it whether I caught hell for it or not.  If I didn't, my dad would never forgive me."

"Good for you, I guess."  I didn't smile because there seemed to be more that I didn't know.  The show was over so I didn't try to begin any long conversations.  I closed that book for a while but we both knew it would be open again and soon.

"So, how about I take you to dinner?" She was trying to make nice and I knew it.  What I didn't know was whether I was going to throw her out on her ear or not.  If she had kept Silver's identity a secret for some purpose other than getting me hooked on the mystery, then I was gonna boot her ass out that very night.

"Okay on the dinner, but we need to get a couple of things straight before we go to the campground."

"Why?" she asked.

"Because there may be just one of us going."  We left her car locked and in the parking lot of the farmers market.  There would be a locked gate but no guarantee that the car would be there in the morning.   S he was a good sport about it, or the car had ten thousand miles on it and she was ready for a new one anyway. Okay, I was being a little hard on her, but hell it was easy she had everything.

She directed me on a ten mile drive out into the country.  I let her stew about what she had to do to stay part of it all.  I refused to talk about it.  Instead I made her sweat.  The restaurant wasn't worth the ten mile drive, let alone the thirty five bucks she paid.  Yes I let her pay.  

The restaurant turned out to be a chain steak house.  I expected that anyone else would have enjoyed the food.  In my case it was just a waste of money.  I would have been just as happy with pop's diner somewhere on the side of the highway and it would have cost Dee about half as much.

After dinner I ordered a second cup of coffee.  I removed the delta cup from the black bag which I had brought into the restaurant.  The waitress was kind enough to fill it for me. I sipped the coffee slow while I organized my mind.

"Okay, tell me what you know about June, and don't sugar coat it please."

"June's mother married the Governor before he was.  She was a widow and he a widower.  They met in some kind of support group.  They fell in something, then married.  June was already grown so she decided to move out.  She got pregnant and didn't bother to get married or ask for child support, so nobody knows who the father really is.  There is a lot of speculation as you might think.  The governor made a big deal out of it during is second campaign.  You know family values, and his daughter who chose not to abort her baby but to raise it .

"I see lots of political hay to be made from a child who gets pregnant out of wedlock."

"Got to give it to him, turn a tragedy into a campaign slogan.  So how did the kid come to live here, why isn't she up in the state capitol with dear old step daddy?"

"His wife is from here, so June returned to the family home place after the kid was old enough."

"I've had about all the facts I can stand, what are the rumors?"

"There is no proof of course, but I hear June still likes her men."

"Why no proof that should be easy to prove?" I asked it as I measured the patrons in the restaurant .  They were for the most part young couples on dates I expected , or maybe youngish adult yuppies just about Dee's age.  Dee was in for a cultural shock if she hung around with me for the summer.

"Personally, I think."  She saw me grin at the statement.  "What?" she asked.

"Personally can only mean you, so 'personally I th ink ' is redundant . I would have expected more from such a high powered reporter as you."  I grinned at her and she turned red.

"Trust me old man, I don't write like I speak.  I am a hick okay, but I know all the nice grammar rules."

"Old man is it, I actually like that."  

"Does anything bother you?"

"Not much these days," I replied honestly.  "Now back to the question at hand, why isn't it easy to prove that June Silver is still er er active?"

"Her step dad is intent on keeping it quiet.  You know his campaign is pretty much based on my little girl made a mistake and she is paying.  We have a wonderful grandson regardless of how he was conceived.   All that falls to hell if she is just shall we say a loose woman."

"If she is still sleeping around, and he is hiding it, I expect it is more than just the occasional lover.  Since Clinton lowered the bar, not too much shocks the electorate.  Besides she is just a step daughter.  No I expect there is more to it than just a man now and then."

"What do you mean?" Dee asked.

"I don't know exactly what I mean, Yet, but we will."

"Oh, so it is we now?" she was smiling just a little to much.

"Look Dee, I am not sure how smart you are, but I can't go everywhere, and I can't ask questions that will get real answers.  At least not from some people, but you can.  So sweetie you just lost your passenger status on this train.  Like it or not, you are a partner as long as you decide to stay.  If it gets too rough for you, just meld into the forest."

"Nice illusion there old man."

"It's my stock and trade sweetie."  I finished the coffee dropped a five on the table as a tip, then handed Dee the bill."  I grinned my best grin as I stumbled to my feet.  While she paid the bill, I took the blue delta coffee cup to the waitress station.  I didn't bother waiting for a waitress, I just filled the cup from one of the pots on the burner.  I figured a ten cent refill wasn't much of an expense when the y had just gouged the hell out of Dee for that meal.

She waited until we were in the van before she began.  I let her drive because it was dark and I didn't know the roads at all .  I t was also not a good feeling to have my hands busy while in the darkness with a stranger .  Better she have her hands occupied , I thought.  Before we could drive off into the night , I had to get out in the parking lot filled with BMW type cars .  I had to again clear the fuel line.  I should have been embarrassed but I grinned like an idiot at the yuppie couple who was parked next to me.

"So Old Man, what do you think about our little rape?"  Dee asked it when I returned to the idling van.

"I don't know what to think yet."

"Come on Old Man, you know it isn't for real.  Her story stinks."

"Let me tell you something, when a real cop jumps to a conclusion he begins trying to make the fact fit his belief.  Invariably it catches up with him.  What you have to do is just let it unfold and collect information.  It is like a mosaic.  Eventually you see the picture, but not till you have lots of pieces.  Now back this van out carefully and lets find that campground again."

We were out of the parking lot headed back to the small town when I remembered.  "Stop at the next convenience store, I need ice."

I was sitting by the lake in the dark with the bottle of Jack Daniels by my side and glass of ice in hand when she asked, "So where do we begin?"

"Hell, I haven't a clue.  Can you get me a decent picture of June.  One that doesn't show her looking like hell."

"I might why?"

"If we find anybody who might know something , I want a positive ID on her.  Besides we might look in places they don't know her by name.  Lots of people use a different name when they are trying to hide something."

"What do you think she is trying to hide?"  Dee was all excited.  I hated to burst her bubble but what the hell, I was running in a vicious mood.  For one thing nothing was going to impress her, for another I didn't give a crap if I pissed her off .  If she left to might be a good thing.

"I don't have a clue, but I still need that picture."

"Let me think," she replied.   With that she grew quiet while I drank my bourbon and smoked the cigar.  The strong tobacco smell hid the smell of burning carpet pretty well.  Before Dee spoke to me again she opened her cell phone.

"Hi Mike is Lois there ," she paused before going on.  " Mike, I know what you think of me but I need to talk to Lois it is business."  She waited a minute with an angry look on her face.  She avoided my eyes so I dropped it.

"Lois honey, tell your husband to get over it will you..... I know sweetie but hell that was before you met him.....Has your boss ever made a portrait of June Silver and her Kid?...... Okay check for me tomorrow do you still have my cell number?  Okay and thanks sweetie I still miss you."

I looked at her curiously.  She shrugged the n said, "Evelyn owns the only portrait studio for at least fifty miles.  I expect she has a negative with June Silver somewhere.  If she does, Lois will swipe it and we can have a print made."

"Okay you have till Wednesday night.  Thursday morning I am leaving for Harrisburg and the next show.  Of we don't have a definite course by then I am not coming back.  You might want to figure out how you are going to get home from Harrisburg."

"And if we have a clue?"

"It is only a half day drive back from Harrisburg.  Now I am going to bed."

"I thought you were a hard drinking writer?"

"I was once, these days I am a hard sleeping writer.  Since you didn't bring a bedroll, you are going to have a pretty miserable night.  In the morning , if you want to stay, we can stop by to let you buy something.  In the meantime you have a choice."

"Oh what is the choice?"  

"You can sleep in the van or in the tent, which we still to setup in the dark.  You can have the comforter and half the ground pad for one night.  It is supposed to be warm anyway."  

"I think I will stay in the van.  Sounds like it would be safer, since this is the site of the horrific rape."  her voice dripped sarcasm.

"Let's get that tent up then."  She did an adequate job of holding the lantern for me while I drove the stakes into the ground.  The plastic bag that passed itself off as a tent was up in minutes.  I loaded the boxes from the van into it.  To be honest Dee helped once she noticed how badly I stumbled around in the dark.  I wasn't all that impressed since they weren't very heavy anyway.

I slipped into the sleeping bag on half the amount of foam I usually used.  Still I drifted off to sleep.  I awoke cold sometime in then night.  Not long afterward I felt Dee tugging at my sweat shirt sleeve.  "Deke, I'm too cold to sleep."

"Get your bedroll," I demanded.  I put her half of the foam pad beside mine.  I unzipped the sleeping bag to make a double blanket of it, then I spread the comforter over it.  She slipped into the makeshift bed beside me.  It was much warmer for me and for her too I expect.

I was almost asleep again when she pushed against me for the body heat.  I ignored her as I drifted off into the darkness.  For the first night in months I looked forward to waking up.

"Wake up old man, I have to go to the bathroom, and I am not going up there alone."

"Why not, you said June's story stank?"  I asked ready to roll back over.

"You are the one who told me not to jump to conclusions, so get you old ass up and lets go to the bathroom."

When I looked out I noted that the sky was light but the sun had not risen.  "It is light out there you can make it to the bathroom without any danger."

"Get your ass up or I am gonna pee in the bed."  That did it , I woke up.  I found my pants on the floor of the tent just where I had left them.

I was wide awake when I returned.  I also had clean teeth,so I was pretty much ready to start the day.  I wouldn't be in the shower until the sun was much higher in the sky.  Starting the charcoal was a chore I really did enjoy.  It had to do with the whole macho thing I expect.  From one of the boxes in the tent, I removed the grill.  It went onto the picnic table provided by every campground I ever used.  

I went back to the same box for a plastic bag containing seven charcoal briquettes, a handful of shredded paper from my security shredder at home, several pieces of scrap wood from my scrap pile also found in the rear of my house.  I had pretty much cleaned out both before I left, even so it wouldn't be enough for the whole summer.  I didn't expect any of the ingredients would be hard to replace.  The fire in the miniature grill took a few minutes to catch but it was inevitable that it would , so I sat patiently looking at the lake.  

I was intentionally ignoring Dee.  It might have been fun to watch her trying to get ready for the day under the primitive conditions, but it also might have been dangerous.  Somewhere in the night I found the sweet little Dee traveled with a very small revolver tucked away.  She had laid it by the makeshift bed on the floor of the tent.  I certainly hoped it wasn't for protection from me. If it was , she was wasting space in her bag.  Unlike June's attacker, I knew how to accept no.

"So what is on for today," she asked.  

"You are going to find the negative and make me a picture.  I am going to sit on my fat ass and make replacement CDs.  I will give the problem some thought while I do it."  I went to breakfast with her before I drove her to her car.  She had things to do that would be difficult enough without the van breaking down on her.

Over our eggs, I gave her some other chores.  I remembered when I was first married to the Ex.  We would pack her brat off to a friend or relatives house.  Then we would go out for the evening or stay home and have wild sex.  "Find out where June goes when she has a night off from being mom."

"What do you mean?"

"When she goes out, find out what club or restaurant she frequents.  Ask her neighbors, if there are any strange things happening around her place."

"You want me to go around talking to a rape victims neighbors?"

"Sure, what did you think?  Surely you didn't think that I was going to look in a crystal ball for you.  Hell, this is your mystery not mine.  I am here to sell books."

"So what are you going to be, my consultant."

"Exactly, and if you solve this , you don't even have to give me any credit.  I'll Just write about it."  That remark didn't strike me funny for a full five minutes.  When it did, I laughed out of place.  Dee just looked at me as if I were insane, I probably was at least on the edge of insanity.

"So what should I ask the neighbors."

"Come on you are a reporter you know what to ask."  She suddenly had me curious about what kind of reporter she was.

"Listen Deke, we don't have any hard news in a town this size.  I have never really done more than rewrite police reports.  I am a little out of my depth here."

"Okay probe ge ntly till you find a neighbor who has an axe to grind.  Then prod them for all the info they can give you about her personal life.  If you can find the babysitter , then you might be able to get the phone number at least of where she could be reached in an emergency."

"What do I tell them if they ask why I am investigating the victim of the rape?"

"Why honey, you are helping the police.  We all want to get to the bottom of this thing.  Dee you are the local, you have to get us a place to start."

"And you are gonna sit here and make CDs?"

"I am here on a book tour of sorts, so yes that is exactly what I am gonna do.  I can make three copies of a book in thirty minutes so I am gonna be all this day and maybe tomorrow to.  I am going to replace all I sold before I do anything else.  You are going to have to do most of the leg work or go on home."  I actually hoped that she would stay, since the customers loved her skimpy outfit the day before.  With a little convincing, I could have her shilling for me.  I have no idea why I cared, since I was no longer in it for the money.  It was an ego thing by that time.

"Okay old man, how about I get a city directory and we use my cell phone to talk to these people.  You could listen to my end at least and help me out some."

"Let me see your phone."  When she handed it to me, I found what I had hoped to find.  "While you are in town go by radio shack.  Tell them you want a power speaker with the end to fit this phone.  Get it and I can listen in the conversations.  If the power speaker has the wrong end tell them to look for an adapter.  I know they make one for it."

Dee left anxious to get started since I had saved her from any face to face interviews.  I expected that she would be better on the phone anyway.  At first most of the work was canvassing so it wouldn't matter.  If it got real , I would go with her to help with the face to face.

After she left, I cranked up the old, off lease computer that I had rebuilt into a three copy burner.  With the set of master CDs in hand I began making copies of the MP3 files. Even with the three in one copier it was slow going.  I made three copies at once but I was usually forced to burn four CD s for each novel.   I did have enough time to print the labels on the label maker while it worked  The labels were self sticking paper but I had the little machine to make them independently of the computer.

By the time Dee returned, I had finished six copies of Deacon's Song.  The copier was busy working on Gambler's Run.  I needed only two copies but I made three just because I could.  A little extra and I would be able to sell one or two copies at the next show and not even bother to redo that title .

"So what do you know?"  I asked it smiling at her.  I had no idea how much she would have accomplished.  It could be a great deal or nothing at all.  As usually was the case it fell somewhere between the two extremes.

"Well t he neighbors tell me there is something strange about her comings and goings."

"How so?"

"When her son is away for the weekend a very large black car picks her up."

"You mean a Limo?"  I was a little surprised by that.

"No it is town car but all blacked out.  The driver wears a uniform."

"Somebody's chauffeur?" It was more a muse then a question.

"I asked that and got a kind of funny look.  They all thought that it was a rental car .  Y ou know like one of those big city things."

"Now that is strange." I noted her curious look.  "Small town girl getting picked up by a car and driver.  Did anyone know when she came back?"

"The middle of the day on Sunday?" Dee replied thoughtfully.

"Same car?"

"No that is why they thought it might be a rental.  Sometimes it is a different car and driver."  She obviously read my mind.  
"Not like the governors private driver."

"Ah okay, did you find the babysitter?"

"She never goes out just for an evening.  She just goes out on overnight trips.  So no babysitter as such.  She has a girlfriend who takes the kid for sleep overs with her own kid."

"I am sure they are way to close for her to give you a number to reach the mother."

"True , but then her phone records are in this brown envelope.  I also have the dates the kid was at her house."

"That has to be illegal," I said.  Then added, "Good work."  She looked pleased with herself.

"My thinking is that if there was a private car from the big city, she met somebody there."

"I agreed.  Now lets see who she called on those weekends, if anyone at all," I suggested.

The records didn't give up anything for a long time.  I was getting pretty tired of looking , since I saw two of them anyway.  Looking with one eye closed was a bitch.  It turned out to be Dee who found it anyway.

"She called Charlotte three times over this one twenty four hour period.  The kid was at her house and I didn't see it on any of the other bills.  I think this is the one Old Man."

"So let's see your cell phone.  You do have free long distance don't you?"  

"And a ton of unused minutes," she added.  She quickly hooked up the speaker then plugged it into the power strip that I used for the computer.   S he dialed the number while we both waited impatiently.

I  have no idea what we expected to hear but certainly not what we did.  The voice whoever it was rattled off about a hundred words in Spanish.  I had no idea what he was saying.  Dee managed to catch a few words.  Mostly it was call back later.  I summarized we had gotten the cleaning crew.  A cleaning crew at three P.M. on a Monday afternoon was unusual.  It had to be a bar or nightclub I thought.

"What times were those calls?"  I asked.

"Ten P.M., two A.M., and seven A.M.," she replied.  It took her a second to connect the dots.  "If that is a bar what the hell was she doing there all night.  So obviously it isn't a bar."  I smiled my agreement.

"Get somebody on the phone who has a crisscross and find out where that number is located."  Dee was on the phone a good ten minutes some of it begging some of it threatening and some of it just generally hell raising.  In the end she got an address in Charlotte.  

"Well Old Man, it is a two hour drive can your van make it or should we take my car."

"The van has to make it, I am not about to leave all my worldly belongings unattended in a campground.  That is unless you want to go alone."

"No way old man, you 've got the devious mind here.  I am just a sweet innocent girl."

"My ass," I replied.

"No thanks old man."

"So give it a  week to cool off and we will check out the Charlotte connection."

"What the hell do you mean give it a week?"

"Our, or at least my, next stop is in Virginia.  There is a festival on Saturday and I need to make more CDs for it.  So unless you want to go alone, I am going to have to put it off until after the festival on Saturday and Sunday this week.  We can leave from the festival then drive straight to Charlotte."

"Well that just sucks," she said.

"I know, life do tend to get in the way honey lamb."  I smiled my most condescending smile at her.  In returned she gave me the universal sign of disapproval a s they say in the papers, the sign of the single digit.

"So why aren't you making CDs?"

"I got bored with it, but I will go back to it."

"You need to get back to it now.  I don't want that as an excuse again."

"Dee, shut the fuck up.  You have no idea what I do or how I do it.  Dogs crap on your kind of writing."  No, it hadn't been kind, but hell it was too late for me to be kind.  If I expected her to be hurt and slink off to lick her wounds, I would have been very much mistaken.  Dee was a fighter of epic proportions.

"Why you arrogant, pompous ass.  What the fuck makes you think what you do is writing.  You go to festivals and sell this shit knowing no buyer will ever see you again.  Your stuff probably stinks so bad that no one ever buys a second time."  I smiled at her as I bent to remove a nylon zipper case from my box.  It was the kind that artist use to carry their pictures.  The three ring binder part had been removed.  Instead the case was filled with envelopes attached to mostly  hand written letters.  

"Here take a look at some of the people who never buy anything from me again.  These are the ones who ordered again, the comment only letters are in the trash."  She was so angry she didn't bother to read, she stomped off to the bathhouse instead.  It seemed Dee didn't want to stay and fight after all.

I mixed a weak drink as I began dinner.  Without her input, I chose a couple of cans of beef stew.  My one pot would be filled to the brim, it was a small pot.  I had bought a loaf of french bread during my last trip to the store so I planned to have that with the stew.  

Dee walked back to the campsite while the fire was catching.  "Okay, ass we need to come to some understanding," she said.

"No we don't.  If you can't tolerate my opinionated ass, then you need to fire up that yellow hornet of yours and leave."  I turned my attention back to the 24oz coke cup with a half once of bourbon in it.  Just there for the taste you know.

"You are a prick but you are also my best hope.  Not to mention the articles from the road are going to get me some attention even if we don't get anything on June.  No old man , I think I will just hang out with you."

"Then get a grip," I replied.

"I can take your opinionated ass I guess.  Now what about sleeping tonight , I didn't care for the waking up cold last time."

"Then go buy yourself more cover and a pad of your own.  I want mine back."

"How about I go buy myself a pad and we share the covers.  I am a city girl, this place gives me the creeps."  She did look as though she had missed a lot of sleep the night before.

"Then go to Wal-Mart and buy yourself a mattress pad like mine and a light weight sleeping bag. It will soon be too hot for it, but in the mean time you need something to sleep in that will make you feel secure."

"I felt secure last night, how about I just buy the pad and we do what we did last night."

"If you aren't worried about being raped by an old man?"

"Not at all, I don't think you can even get it up.  Besides I have a friend."

"I know I saw it."

"I meant for you to see it.  Now that we have settled that, I am going to go shopping, can I get you anything."

"Sure something moderately sexy, since you are such a good salesman."  I laughed so she could take the remark anyway she wanted.

"Fair enough," she replied as she turned her back to me and headed for the car.  "I'll bring some real food.  Put those cans away."  She stopped along the way to pick up my ice chest.  It filled the trunk of her car completely.  That car would have been useless even if I had let her take it along.

Since I didn't need to be sober to eat take out, I poured myself another light drink.  I also didn't need to be falling down drunk.  I debated hooking the computer to the internet but decided against it.  I could do the PayPal refunds when I hadn't been drinking.  I didn't plan to fill anymore mail orders.  I didn't have the time or the inclination to sit around all day making copies.  Since I had the Visa card, I didn't really need the money.  I was also greatly surprised to find how well the festival sales were going.  In the two festivals so far I had sold about fifty books.  At ten bucks a book I wasn't doing too bad.  I could at least cover expenses , should I decide to pay off the card.  I might do that after all, hell like they say, you cant take it with you.

"Have you moved at all from that chair?" Dee asked when she returned.

"Went to the bathroom twice," I replied.

"Good then you are at least getting some exercise."  It seemed she had forgotten our earlier squabble or she had forgiven me.  I am not sure forgive would be the right word.  It seemed somehow too intimate a word for us.

After a dinner of take out chicken and biscuits, Dee fixed the bed.  I didn't even go in to check on it.  I had no particular feelings about it.  I had probably consumed three ounces of bourbon more than I had drank in ten years.  It was the stuff dreams are truly made from.  That night the Cigar had no effect on me at all.  I drifted off to sleep on the outside of the pallet on the ground.  As I expected I had to use the bathroom.  I took the cane with the brass horses head with me.  The cane was unusual in that the tail and head of the horse were held high making a kind of U shaped handle.   It was most likely made with old farts like me in mind .  The shape of the handle made it hard to drop even in the middle of the night.

The days took on a kind of boring aspect the rest of that week.  Dee went into the office to do whatever it was she did there, while I made CDs.  I replaced all the ones I had sold that first day.  During the next two days I burned additional copies.  It looked as though I was going to need them .   Dee was like ly to have me out chasing ghosts or at least rapists for a while.

Dee showed up on Thursday after work with a suitcase crammed in the rear of the little yellow car, and a very very young woman in the seat beside her.  I watched as they both left the car .  T he stranger waved , then turned to meet Dee in the rear of the car.  Dee removed a second case from the trunk then the one behind the seat.  The younger woman looked like she might have been a kid sister or something.  Well she did till Dee g ave her a very wet sloppy kiss.  I could tell that it embarrassed the kid.  So much so that she climbed in to the car then drove away quickly.

"What was that all about?"  I asked Dee when she finished struggling with the two suitcases.

"You could help with my bags?"  

"Do I look like a bell boy to you?"  I grinned at her.

"Zandy is still getting used to being les."  She had done something again that infuriated me for some reason.  She pretended to ignore a question then from out of the blue when I least expected it , she would answer.

"Still in the closet?"

"Yeah, something like that.  She has a guy on the side but he is probably gay.  She said the y only did it once .  Even then it was a disaster."

"That is more about her love life than I need to know."

"Not really, you are a writer.  You are gonna ask some hot sultry night."  she laughed.

"I don't think you are gonna be around when the night get hot," I replied.  "Besides this ain't "Body Heat."

"No hon Kat wasn't even bi in that , yo u are thinking of Sharon in Basic Instinct."

"So, you are a movie buff?" I asked it slightly more impressed with her.

"Movies with sexy women, you bet your ass I am."

"I had no idea you were so militant."  I grinned at her to let her know it was still all in fun.

"Sweetie , I made more women bi, in that little burg where I live, than god did."

"I am glad that you qualified that."  I was sipping on my morning coffee.

"Well since I am getting out of here, I might just have to spread my territory."  She laughed a most unladylike laugh.

"Sounds about right to me." I had the glass of bourbon and the cigar in hand.  If she didn't know by that time she should have, those two things meant it was approaching bedtime for me.  Dee didn't join me in bed.  It was way too early for her.  She sat on the picnic table to write on her laptop.  I had no idea what she was writing nor did I care.  I just left her there writing while I drifted off to sleep.  I don't know if it was the cigars or the bourbon but the dreams had stopped.  I thanked god for that at least.

I was up before Dee the next morning. I sat in my folding chair looking at the lake when she finally got moving.  She went right to the coffee pot and the auto store funnel.   T he funnel still had ground in it from my cup of coffee.  She added even more as she stained her own cup.

"Why the hell do you make coffee like this ?  You could carry a Mr. Coffee you know."

"It began on a camping trip.  I tried it as an experiment and it just suited me."

"Well, it doesn't suit me," she demanded as she returned the old style porcelain coffee pot to the table top grill.

"Then you need to make your own."  It took us a half hour to get past the beauty of that lake with the mist on it.  I began breaking camp without a word to her.  I was more than a little surprised when she pitched in with the breakdown and packing away of the tent .  She even helped roll up the bedding.  Most of the other things I did myself because they all had a peculiar way of fitting into the large plastic boxes.  I intentionally left the clothes box out till last.  From it I removed a clean shirt and underwear.  With only a brief explanation, I went to the shower.

I returned a few minutes later dress ed in about the same outfit only the colors were different.  I waited while Dee did something in the bathhouse.  I knew what she was doing in general but no  man ever knows exactly what a woman does while dressing.

When she returned she was dressed almost as she had been the first time we met.  She was most un remarkably dressed.  The sloppy shirt and loose jeans hid the fact that she was very slim.  She appeared to have no breasts at all in the loose fitting top.  Her tiny waist was even hidden by the top which almost covered her hips.

"Okay Dee, this the last time I want to see such an outfit on you.  I know you don't care what guys think of you but I need you to be sexy as hell.  It will help with the book sales.  You saw what it did last week."

"That was fluke old man, besides what makes you think I want to be bait for your lecherous customers?"

"Don't even try to pull that on me , I saw your face when you made those sales.  You loved the way those guys looked at you."

She looked me in the eye and I didn't think she would back down.  I was surprised when she burst into laughter.  "Okay, I did love jerking them around, but only because it proves men think with the wrong head."

"Well the paper that the y gave you has a dead president's head on it.  That my dear is enough justification for me.  I don't need to know what you were thinking just that you enjoyed it and it worked really well."

"Compromise, I wear this anytime I am not at a festival."

"Anytime we are not at,or in route to a festival."

"What's the difference?"

"You'll see and trust me you will love it."

"You are not planning to pimp me are you old man."

"In a way yes but it is to sell books not compromise your virtue."

"My virtue was compromised long ag o but I am still not gonna screw you."

"Tell you what, don't ever say no till somebody asks you.  It is really in bad form."

The drive to R utledge V irginia took me five hours of hard pushing, but I made it in time for dinner.  We had a quick dinner in a cafe of my choice.  The first one I came to, which just happened to advertise that they sold 'The best hot dogs in the south.'  The counter top matched the green linoleum floor exactly.  Even the tops of the booth where we sat had the same linoleum.  I didn't mind but I was a little pissed that they lied about the hot dogs.  The dogs were good but not the best in the south.  They were actually that Yankee concoction that has little to do with a southern hot dog.  If I had paid more attention I would haver realized that is what they meant on the sign.

Dee and I were both exhauste d after the tent was erected.  I sat in my folding chair with my jelly glass of straight bourbon and my spiked cigar .  D ee sat on the picnic table with a coke spiked with rum.  I sipped slowly on the bourbon while I puffed deeply on the cigar.

"You know old man, I never thought I would like camping but I can see me and Zandy or one of my other friends out here.  Sitting by the campfire getting a little high pawing each other."  She burst into laughter.  It had nothing to do with me since I was not shocked at all.  I just nodded my agreement.

"I used to camp with a friend but she moved on."

"Found out you were married huh?"

"Oh she knew that from the start, it had to do with the future."

"Like I said , realized you were married and never going to leave the wife.  Only she miscalculated you are separated now."

"No it had to do with the fu ture between us married or not."

"So , she was just a cheap roll in the hay."

"Nothing like that at all, she just realized she couldn't count on me being around in any capacity.  Now my little shill, I have to go to the bathhouse then to bed."  I removed the cane from the picnic table where I had stored it earlier.  I leaned on it a bit to steady myself as I walked up the path to the bathhouse.

When I returned, I found Dee in an even heavier sweat shirt over her sloppy but light weight sweater.  I nodded then stooped to enter the tent.  I slipped out of my pants but left on the sweatshirt with the cut off arms.  I always loved shirts like that, they reminded me of the movies.  You know Brando, McQueen and the like.  That night it was for the chill from the lake, which I expected about three A.M., more than for any aura which it might or might not create.

I slept through the night and it seemed that my little debutante did as well.  It was almost six when I jumped up, then rushed to the bathhouse.  I only had time to grab my tooth brush and shower gear because I had left it on a box near the bedroll.  Those boxes made nice little tables inside the tent.

When I returned to the tent several minutes later, my longish hair was wet and I smelled of soap.  Dee was gone, I had no idea how long it might take her to do her morning thing so I started the coffee.  That morning as I did most mornings I fired up the electric tea kettle.  The coffee had to be made in a hurry so it would be boiling water poured over ground coffee.  The coffee grinds were held in the auto store funnel sitting over my coffee cup.  The coffee would be more to Dee's liking, since it was better than Mr Coffee, but still similar.

I filled my two cup capacity blue Delta cup while I waited.  I drank it while looking out at the lake.   I t would have been nice had the sun risen from the lake.  Even so the dawn breaking on that body of water was a magnificent sight.  Dee was fortunate enough to make it back to the site in time to see the light brighten over the lakefront.

"My god old man, is it like this every morning?"

"All but the ones when it is even more beautiful."

"Hell, if it were more beautiful, I might have an orgasm."

"There was time," I said smiling.  I didn't finish because there was no need for it.

"I see you don't listen."

"How so old man?"

"You have on a sweat shirt again."

"It is too damn cold to run around with my tiny boobs uncovered."

"I guess so," I replied just a little disappointed.  Dee tried to help me set up the show but didn't really have any idea how it went together.  I noted with satisfaction that she was paying a lot of attention.  I hoped the information was being stored for use the next time we needed to set the show.

At ten she came out of the heavy green sweatshirt.  Under the shirt she wore a tight white knit top.  She also wore a push up bra no doubt.  She top was one of those scoop neckline kind of things.  The cleavage she showed might have been small. but s ince the slacks she wore were tight it looked gigantic.  Instead of the flat chest, I promoted her to a BS/cup.  If I could teach her a little grace she would be a knockout.  She didn't need grace to stand at the table and sell disks.  I did have other plans for her though.

She stood at the table for long stretches, something I couldn't do.  Her long thin frame seemed to mesmerize the men walking about.  Not only that she was able to convince them to buy the disks.  After every sale I would make a comment aimed a teaching her a little bit about shilling.  She was beginning to play with the men by early afternoon.

About 2 P.M. an obviously homeless man came by.  "Can you handle this booth a minute ? "

"Sure, it isn't brain surgery."  She looked at me with a great smile.  One that was filled with good humor.  It seemed that the morning  of subtle sexual hints had changed her usual all business' demeanor.  She seemed to thrive on the customer flirting.

I nodded at her remark.  I found the homeless man before he got away.  "Hello there friend."

He didn't speak at first.  When I continued to look at him he finally said, "I ain't done nuthin'"

"Didn't say you had.   I'm headed to the food booth.  How about joining me for a hot dog."

"Why?" he asked.

"Truth is that it would make me feel better to do something worth a damn today.  You would be doing me a service."

"Man, you crazier than me, but sure."

The food booth didn't have hot dogs.  No doubt they would have been too plain to charge five bucks a shot.  I ordered two sausage dogs even though Dee had picked up our lunch from a local fast food restaurant.  

"Any chance I can get a beer with this?" my companion asked.

"None at all," I replied smiling.

"You one of them damn do gooders?"  The man made it a question.

"Not at all, you are the first homeless man I ever really saw.  I mean I have passed a hundred on the street but I never talked to one."

"You ain't talked to me," he replied with his vacant eyes.  His stare was at something I didn't see.

"You are right, and the truth is if I talked to you about anything, I wouldn't be listening."  I pushed my untouched sausage dog over to him, then stood to leave.

"You going to go without the lecture."

"I got no lecture for you.  You just showed me what a bastard I am.  I think I had bout all the truth I can stand for one day."  I reached into my pocket, then removed the price of an novel.  I tossed the sawbuck on the table.  "So long friend."

"Ten bucks don't make you my friend."  He already had the money when he snapped that at me.

"No, but when you were hungry, I was your friend.  See you aren't all that noble either."  I smiled then turned to walk away.  I learned something about myself and people in general.  Maybe it is something every dictator in history knew.  The less people have, the easier it is to have them comply.  When they are no longer hungry, they begin to be defiant.  I know it was too big a lesson to learn from one homeless man.  Then again maybe not.

"Hey Slim, how goes it?"

"Well Steve, it goes not so bad,"  She smiled at me.

"Steve, where the hell did that come from?"

"You mean you weren't doing Bogy and Bicall."

"Not at all, and how the hell would you know about a movie from the forties?"

"I spent my teenage years with the late show on TV.  A skinny chick, who won't put out for the guys, sees a lot of old movies."

"Let's you and me make a deal."  I said it looking her in the eye.  The talk could only take place because the customers had died down.  It was getting late in the afternoon.  3pm on a Saturday might not be late for anything else in the whole world but on the arts and crafts circuit the day was pretty much over.  The exhibitors had to make rules to keep vendors on the site from three till five.

"What kind of deal?"

"I am not going to ask you about your lifestyle, but any time you want we can discuss it."

"Why would I want to discuss it?"

"I have no idea but that skinny chick remark is a natural opening for all kinds of questions about your lifestyle.   There is probably a novel there in and of itself but I have a policy, one novel at a time."  It wasn't true.  I usually had at least two going all the time.

"Trust me, I don't want to be in any of your sleazy novels."

"Ah but if I decide to write it, I'm not sure you have a choice.  Not if I disguise you properly."  I grinned just because I had her going for a moment."

The last customer came in about four.  I waited on her because it was a her.  She was looking for a gift for her husband.  I helped her decide on a book, then took her money.  The silence be twe en Dee and myself wasn't oppressive at all.  I was reviewing the day and I hope she was as well.  I would hate to think that I bored her.

Since she hadn't been pounding on her laptop, I hoped that she was using the down time to compose her article.  Finally, people began packing up.  I joined them in the chore.  I had the posters down when Dee approached me.  She handed me the cash box with a grin.  

"How much do you think we made?"

"I don't know a hundred bucks?"  It was just a guess and I knew it was on the low side.  I knew that she had talked to a lot of people, but I didn't really pay much attention to the outcome of her pitch.

"Almost five hundred," she said with a proud look.

"Damn, that deserves something as a reward.  I don't know what though."  I said it with a leer.

"Well, what that look suggests would not be a reward at all.  Come on you can take me out to a real restaurant."  She said it slipping back into the disputed sweatshirt.

"Come on it isn't cold leave the baggy sweat in the van."  I had an inkling of a plan.  She removed it with a nod.  During the drive to the convenience store I explained my little plan.  She refused for about a minute then agreed.  The way men at the show had looked at her seemed to have given her a lot more confidence.

I filled the van from the pumps.  Instead of swiping the credit card, I walked with Dee into the station .

"Hi, you the manager?"  Dee asked i t of the young man who had been staring at her body .  Most likely he had been even while we pumped the gas.   Even I noticed that w hen she walked to the station , she moved more gracefully than she had earlier that day.  Dee seemed to be changing rapidly before my eyes.  Couldn't happen in so short of time, I told myself.

"Owner," he said proudly.

"Even better, how would you like to make some money and help a girl in distress at the same time.

"You a hooker?" he asked cautiously.

"Lord no," Dee said giggling.  "I am a representative of this publishing company."  With that she removed one of my CD novels from the large black bag.  "I have a little display box that goes on the counter.  I would like to have you put it on the counter here."  With that she pushed a box of candy aside.

"Are those things any good?" he asked.

"I got letter from readers here."   She said it as she removed a handful of crumpled letters from the bag.  She looked up at me obviously not happy with the condition of the letters.  The clerk waved them away.

"So what does this money making opportunity cost me?"  He still had the suspicious look on his face.

"How about we give you the first assortment of five novels ? "  He looked a little more interested at that point.   "For that tank of gas we just pumped and a coke."  She grinned at him.  I noticed that she had been standing very straight with her chest out .  She had obviously noted how he had been gazing at her cleavage.  I found that amusing in itself.

"How about we open one and see how it sounds ? " he suggested.

She looked at me, we both knew she had him.  "The box has my number on it.  If you get any complaints or they just don't sell, I will come back and pay for the gas and coke."

Suddenly from out of nowhere a young man appeared.  The owner had lifted his eyes from Dee's breasts once in a while, it must have been to check him out.  The young man elbowed Dee aside while he grabbed the store owner by the shirt.  He then demanded that the owner open the register and deliver the contents to him.  The young man did as most young people do.  He ignored me.   Since I wasn't the one looking the man with a knife in the eye, I had time to think.  The plan I came up with sucked but it was the only one I had.

The kid headed for the door on a dead run.  He obviously planned to push it open on his way out.  He gave me a glimpse of the knife as he headed by on the run. I gave him a glimpse of the cane as I tried to hook his leg with the horse ' s head.  He blew on by me since the cane didn't hook his leg.  It did cause him to lose his balance and he went down hard.  The knife flew from his hand.  I move much more quickly than either of us expected me capable of.  I had my foot on his knife and the horses head against his throat.

He pushed it away, then attempted to rise.  I lifted the heavy brass head, then struck him on the adams apple with it.  I wasn't sure how ha r d to strike him , but I was in no mood to fight a much younger man .  That being the case I probably hit him too hard.  The began to gasp for air.

"If you gonna be a bad guy son, you have to learn to watch the most dangerous man in the place.  He is always the one you ignore. No matter who it is."  I wasn't smiling as I watch him gasping for air.  I knew there was a possibility that he might die but I couldn't help the smart ass remark.  Especially since Dee was standing there.  I smiled at her.  At that moment I discovered that Dee had brass balls.  

She turned back to the owner of the store and asked, "So we got a deal or what?"

It took half an hour to clear the scene of the debacle.  I was driving the van which had to be rocked to start .  In front of the cops it was not my best effort .  "Gonna be a boring trip huh?" Dee made that comment as I pulled from the parking lot.

"A Fluke, I assure you."  I said it not so secretly proud of myself.

"Okay, I just hate to do this."  I glanced over to see her looking out the windshield of the van.  "You were right about the clothes.  The guys at the show were very impressed with my skinny ass, and that clerk couldn't take his eyes off me."

"I know that is the only reason I got involved in the robbery.  If he told the cops how it went down, it would look like we were part of it all.  I'm no hero, but I sure as hell can't afford a couple of months in jail while they try to get th e mess straight."

"Oh hell old man, you may not be much of a hero, but you are the only one I got."  She broke into uncontrollable giggles.

"Kill the giggle machine, it sounds like a slumber party for thirteen year olds in here."  I smiled to let her know that it was just a one liner destined for a book someday.  She as a reply , then broke into another nervous giggle.  It was all a delayed release of tension.

I had promised her that we would leave directly from the show to begin her investigation , but I didn't relish the idea of arriving in Charlotte after dark.  The traffic down there never really eased up.  It was a compromise that dumped us into a small city run campground half way to Charlotte.  The spots were built along the city reservoir of a middle sized North Carolina town .

Dee and I slept only after erecting the tent in the failing light.  I did find time for a drink and a cigar before I turned it.  We were on the foam pads when she said off handedly, "The smell of those cigars is awful, but somehow familiar."

"As Freud said, 'Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar'" I tried to misdirect her without telling a bald faced lie.  I slept with my arms around her as I had at some point every night.  I usually woke up that way, but that night she pushed against me before I drifted off.  Okay it was colder than the night before, but she still pushed back against me.

In spite of needing to replaced my CDs, I drove her into Charlotte.  I was pretty sure that it was way to early to be looking at the club where June spent her weekends.  At least the weekends when she hired a babysitter.  By that time I had convinced myself that she was paying her friend for the sleep overs.

I was probably more surprised than Dee when we pulled up in front of the strip mall.  The address led us to a video rental store.  "What the hell?" Dee asked.

"Well slim , unless I miss my guess this is some kind of front."

"Front for what?"  Dee didn't seem to have a clue so I didn't want to say too much.

"Whatever it is that June is doing over the weekends."

"She must be a hooker," Dee suggested.

"Honey this is the largest city for five hundred miles in either direction.  They have plenty of hookers here , t hey don't need to drive a hundred miles to get one."

"So what is it?"

"I told you before, I don't have a crystal ball."

"So what do we do?  Rent videos we don't need?"

"We could do that , or we could ask the people in the french bakery next door."  Th at bakery was pretty much out of place in the south , but even more so in the strip mall.  The youngish, at least to me anyway, woman behind the counter had that wild fly away hair that women love to hate.

"What can I get for you?" she asked.

"Well if you have coffee, I will let you ruin my health with a pastry of some kind.

"I do have coffee, so what kind?"

"Ma'am I know nothing about French Pastry, except he ones who wear the little maids uniforms."  I smiled judging her reaction.  She didn't seem amused and I took that as a good sign.  I took the coffee in the paper cup toward the stand up counter by the door.  I got there with most of it still in the cup.  I felt bad that I had left a trail of drops along the way.  At least I could find my way back to the counter.

"So now what?" Dee asked.

"Now you go back and ask her about the video store.  If you have to show her your press credentials.

"My what?" she asked.

"Show here your visa card I don't care just get here talking about the video store."

"What if I mess it up?"

"You wont."  I sounded pretty sure of her when I said it , but I truly expected her to screw it up.

Dee had the woman talking like mad as long as she didn't have to deal with me.  I don't think the woman did it because she was smitten with Dee, I think it was because she was straight laced and would be glad to see the Video store people get their just deserts .  I know that was awful but it is what I thought.

According to Nancy, the pastry chef, she had been called by the police to turn off a false alarm once at three a. m.   She asked the police officer if it was possible that someone at the video store had set off her alarm, since she was suspicious of everyone at  three A.M.  The officer explained that the video store was open around the clock from Friday morning until Sunday midnight.

We were in the car when Dee said, "See's some kind of call girl."

"I have my doubts about that.  I still cant see a ny reason for them to go get a call girl."

"Maybe she is the one who hires the car and driver."

"Why would she ?  She could drive it in a couple of hours.  But mostly why would they hire an out of town girl to work just a couple of days.  No there is something else, I just cant figure it yet.  Plus the fact that I am not a hundred percent sure the phone isn't just a drop."

"What do you mean a drop?  You think that the real person is somewhere else?"

"Person or business," I replied.

"So how do we find out?"

"You little girl call the number now, you have been dying to so anyway."  I smiled since I knew that it was true.  I had seen it in her eyes from the start.  I had wanted to hold off on the call until we were close enough to follow the leads.  She would have had me miss the rest of my shows if I let her take the lead.

We stopped in an almost empty city park to make the call.  Even in a metropolis the parks were pretty much empty on a Monday morning in the earl spring.  Hooking up the gizmos took only a couple of minutes.  She dialed the number while I eavesdropped.

"Hello Friend, you have reached 555 311 7110 please leave your message. You r call will be returned within five minutes."

Dee looked at me for directions.  I nodded for her to hang up.  Her eyes widened but she did it anyway.  "Why didn't I just leave the number.  I could have found out something."

"You would have found out what they wanted you to know.  Lets try to get some idea of what they are before we do that.  We don't want to accidentally get their defenses up.  We will get them up, but it can wait until it is on our terms, at least as much as possible."

"What are you talking about?"

"We will have to talk to them eventually, but lets try to get as much information as possible before we start."

"And were do we do that?"

"I don't suppose you have any pull with the Charlotte Police Department?"

"Not a bit," she replied.

"Any with the local paper?"

"They are part of the same new s group we subscribe to.  We get a lot of their articles to reprint."

"Would you happen to know any of their ace reporters."  That part came out as a sneer.

"Sure, lots of them by name.  I have spoken with one or two about their articles."

"I don't suppose any of them were local articles."

"No , we wouldn't rerun Charlotte news unless it had a coastal connection."  It was just about that time that the light in her eyes cranked up a notch.  "I get it, you want to get some help from a local reporter.  I don't really want to share this story."

"There is no story, and it is my guess that unless we get an in with the cops, there wont be one."

"How so, it 's probably just a guy."

"Of course it is, a guy who has a video store drop and a woman answering his phone.  Get with it Dee, this is more than a trist.  It always had to be."  Even rich people don't send executive town cars for girlfriends like June.  A rich dude would have just moved her to Charlotte."

"So what do you think?"

I don't make guesses without at least some information.  My guess a the moment is that June was into something in Charlotte which she wanted to keep her kid out of completely.  Live far enough away and they don't call you to do small things."

"So you think it is a vice thing."

"I didn't say that, she might be knitting booties for the poor as far as I know.  We just need more information before we go rushing off half cocked."  I leered at her to judge her reaction.  She ignored the remark.  Either she didn't get it, or she got it but decided it wasn't worthy of a reply.

"Mike Willis," she suggested.

"Okay, then call this Willis."

The next ten minutes were boring, so I removed my portable word processor to work on this journal.  I had fallen way behind in my writing and could do no more than make notes.  My attention was split between the dreamwriter and the conversation going on beside me.

"Yes Mike it will be worth your time I am sure."  I had no idea whether she was lying or not and neither did she.  The point was she sounded convincing.  "Okay he will meet us for a late lunch at this restaurant.  She gave me the name of the place and the street address. S ince we had to look it up on the map first , w e were pushed for time .

Dee drove the van since I was having one of my ' swimmy headed ' days.  Things seemed to float around that day.  The drive into Charlotte, then the drive to the video store were a nightmare.   Fortunately Dee hadn't noticed a thing.

I gave her map directions as best I could while looking at two maps.  My vision went double sometime in the night.  It had always been a short term thing.  The doctors had warned me that one day it wouldn't come back to a single image.  I wasn't sure but it looked as thought that one might be the day.  When I closed my already weak right eye things looked normal and the sensation that I needed to stop the car on the side of the road went away.  It was possible that a pirate patch was in my future.  Lots of things were going to be changing in the next few hours, weeks or months.  How long depended on which doctor I was talking to that morning.

The restaurant was almost empty at two thirty in the afternoon.  The younger man rose to greet us.  "You must be Deloris," she said nodding to her.

"I am and this is my friend Deacon Burke."

"I ran a google on you two."

"The last time I ran one all I got was a couple of lousy book reviews."  I was shaking his hand as I spoke.

"Well that and the bio blip.  If it weren't for the bio, I might have canceled this lunch."

"Why would you do that?  I expect you plan to stiff me lunch anyway."

"That is true, but I could be home getting a blow job."  He said it looking at Dee to judge her reaction , t here was none.

Up to that point he had delivered each sentence with a sneer.  His age didn't help my opinion of him, since he couldn't have been more than twenty five or so.  "Oh really who is the lucky guy?"  I asked it just as nasty as I could.  If the kid wanted a pissing match he was gonna come up short.  If he refused to help?  So what, with that attitude not having him on board might make the trip more bearable.   I didn't really have time for a bunch of crap anyway.

"Stop it you two.  I need you both so get a grip."

"But Slim , we don't need each other.  It is your little mystery not ours."  I said it because I figured it would get the right reaction.

"What mystery?"

"Well kid," I enjoyed that bit.  I also got it in before Dee could give it all away.  "We came up with a little bit of information that might be worth a story.  One that could be big enough to go national."   I knew that it was every reporter's goal to advance to a larger paper.  The way you did that was to write pieces which got their attention.  Ones that got a national hookup were about the only ones that would get read by the big boys.

"All right old man, what you think you got."

"That ain't the way it is gonna work kid.  I tell you what I need to know you get it.  Then when this is over, you two write the story with a joint byline."

"I do not have partners," he said.

"Well Allah , this time you do."  I was a little surprised by Dee jumping in.  "Get with it Mike.  You don't h ave an idea where to look without us."

"I see, well I don't need this."  He made moves as thought to stand.  I had to almost restrain Dee.  Actually a touch on the arm did it.

"Well either leave, so that I can have lunch, or get rid of the attitude.  You might think you are W oodward or B urns tein , but so far you seem to be just a punk kid from the largest town in a backwater state."

To his credit he smiled.  "Okay old man, let's hear what you got."

"Oh no, first you find out what, I want then I talk.  You see Mike sweetie, you got nothing to trade yet."

"Drop the sweetie bit."  He obviously was not happy with the assault on his masculinity.

"Yeah old man," Dee seemed to agree.

"Give him the number."  I was looking into Dee's eyes when I said it.  I turned my attention to Mike.  "If you call , you 'll get a recording, if you run it back it will come to a video store.  Now try to find out wh ere the number really goes.  If you know a cop or two , I would start there.  My guess is vice might know but that is just a guess."

"It would help if I had some idea what it all means."

"Now Mike, that would be too easy.  I am told that y ou are an big time reporter so lets see how good you are.  I gave you the big hint."  

"Hey Dee, you know we don't really need that old man.  You probably know all he does, and I can do more than he can.  The proof is that he came to me for answers."  

"He makes a good point Dee.  Just tell the snake everything and see what you get for it.  I have no dog in this fight.  As a matter of fact, I am foolish for even looking at it.  So tell Michael here everything."  I stood and left them sitting at the table to work out who was gonna screw me first.  I rocked the van up and down before I got into it.  No sense even bothering to take a chance.  It was parked in a most embarrassing spot, beside the little sports car that obviously belonged to the effeminate snake.

The old van hit on the first try, so I drove back to the campground without any difficulties from my vision .  I told myself to look on the bright side, if Dee didn't come back I had her ground pad.  I smiled at the though.  I also got out my map to locate the next festival.  I realized that I had driven pretty far out of my way but what the hell, it wasn't like I had a schedule to keep.  The KOA campground was as nice as any state park with a hell of a lot better shower facilities.  I spent a long time on that Monday afternoon washing my butt and scrubbing my longish hair.  Maybe that should be washing my hair and scrubbing my body, either way it was nice to stand on a floor that didn't hurt my feet.

It was warm enough that afternoon to leave the shower without blow drying my hair.  I sat by the tiny  manmade lake watching a couple of kids casting their lures.  I would have said fishing but I think you have to at least catch one fish to be fishing.  Then again maybe not.  When I was their ages I would try to catch fish a lot of days without any luck.  I can't remembering it ever having bothered me.  The only time I could ever remember being pissed with a fishing rod in my hands was the time I signed on to a charter boat.  Went out for a half day and caught a really wicked chill and nothing else.  Not only did that, so called, Captain keep my money, he had the balls to give me one of his cards when I left the boat.  I looked at the card and wonder ed what went through people's minds.  In thirty more years I still hadn't figured it out.  What the young fishermen did do was make me decide to buy a rod and reel before the summer ended.

The black sports car with a Dodge symbol showed up just before dark.  I had already heated, and eaten my can of stew when they showed.  I marveled again at how thin Dee was.   I was surprised that she returned , and even more so that she brought the kid along with her.  Hell neither of them were kids unless you compared them to me.

Mike spoke even before they were seated on the picnic table.  "None of my sources know anything about that video store.  They do tell me that they won't be surprised by anything we turn up."

"Well, you were a hell of a lot of help."  There must have been a smile in my voice if not on my face.  I expected him to make some wise ass crack or to apologize but he did neither.  He simply looked at his hundred dollar loafers.  The loafers I noted with some satisfaction were covered in campground dust.  

I gave the next move some thought before I continued.  "So you told him everything now you can ' t shake him?"  I was looking at Dee.  She nodded miserably.  "Well slim it is probably just as well.  You might need a place to stay."  I gave mike a wicked smile.  "At least I know she will be safe with you."   If he had been bigger, or even just a little less submissive, he might have, should have, and even could have knocked me on my fat ass.  Instead he looked hurt.  I really did feel bad till I remember how he had convinced her to toss me out of the investigation.

"Go home with the boy genius tonight.  If you don't have anything sexy with you , buy something.  Then go to the video shop tomorrow and get a job.  Do not take no for an answer.  Plead poverty if you have to, but get the job.  Don't be at all curious about anything, they are probably confident that nobody has a clue about the phone line.  By the way it may well turn out to be harmless.  It could have some kind of simple explanation.  Just keep an eye on the people around the place.  Get an idea of the structure of the management."

"As for you boy blunder, try not to step on yourself for a while.  In other words stay the hell out of our way for a while.  If you play nice, l ater you can play Woodward and Burnstein."

"You do know that you are a prick?" he said.

"One of my better qualities," I replied smiling.

"And what are you going to be doing?"  Mike really didn't want to give up control.

"I am going to find out what you couldn't."  I had no intention of telling him about  the drive home that I planned early the next morning.  Fortunately most any place in the state can be reached in a day's drive.  I didn't mind going home for the day.  Sleeping in a real bed and eating real food would be a sacrifice but hell I was gonna get a yarn from it.  I would have to make liars out of a hand full of doctors but then it wouldn't be the first time I had beaten th os e odds.  Ultimately it would get me, but I might have time to finish one more poorly written novel.

"Well, if you are leaving first thing in the morning, I guess Dee needs to spend the night with me."

"Don't look so eager, I might begin to worry about her after all."  Actually I didn't give a damn one way or the other.

I was up with the sun.  I didn't bother to break camp since I would be back that evening.  I did stop at the office to pay for another night just in case I didn't make it back that day.  It was hard to tell with the van, and my ex.  I wasn't surprised to find the park manager in the office at seven A.M.  The office would be better than riding round the place in the pickup.  Since the sun was up, people would be stirring making a ' drive around' both more difficult and useless.

My deal with the Ex was that she could sell everything after my demise and pocket the money.  Legally she probably could already.  We had a handshake agreement designed to protect her should the ending not be as clean as the Doctors had promised.  The deal was I got to make the one last festival run and she got everything protected.  She had agreed not to sell anything till I was gone.  I wanted to keep my life right up till the end.

The two hour drive home put me there at ten am.   Since she had already gone to work, I entered the attached garage.  Once inside, I marveled at all the junk I had collected over the years.  Being a cop with a particular way of looking at the rules meant that I collected all kinds of junk.  

That one fact accounted for about twenty percent of the crap.  My love for computers accounted for at least half.  The other thirty percent was most likely in tools bought for some long forgotten project .  Once completed they were stored never to again see the light of day.

Finding my black bag, which was in fact green, was no trouble at all.  I removed it from the storage rack filled with electronic gadgets.  I picked up a handful of batteries from the open cases stacked in another part of the office.  Thank God for Ebay.

I almost left without the final touch.  My mind was so addled I had begun making lists.  That morning I actually thought to look at it.  In response to the line which read signs, I moved to a closed cabinet at the rear of the two car garage.  I sorted through the rack of magnetic mats until I found the two reading Bucky's Communications 'T elephone installation and repair .' Yes I planned to put a bug in the video store's telephone system.

"Hi hon," I said into the phone.

"Hello Deke, I didn't expect to hear from you till Friday."

"I know sweetie but I had to come home for some things."

"Stay right were you are, I will be there in fifteen minutes."

"No, don't get off work for me , I have to run anyway.  I will be gone by the time you get here."

"Oh, are you that tired of me."   Her voice had pain in it.

"You know better than that," I replied.

"Yes, I guess I do.  So what did you get more pills?"  Her voice was hopeless.

"No, I needed a tape recorder."  The conversation drifted off to silence.  Telephone silence is silence to a factor of ten.  One second seems like a minute.  "Look Sweets, I have to run for now.  I'll call you on Friday night."

"You are still a bastard for not letting us help."

"I know hon, but I always was."  I could see the smile on the other end of the phone.

"You still got the card?"

"Yes dear,"  I smiled that time.  She had gone to an office supply store and had a plastic ID card made.  It came with a chain to wear around my neck.   ' If found dead return to ' , that was the thing she had been referring to.   I found it amusing so I wore it around my neck .   " Now I have to run. "

Even though I had just spoke to her, I left the Ex a note before driving to my favorite burger stand.  In a country filled with burger joints how could one have a favorite you might ask.  Simple, I am old.  In my youth there had been a burger chain which dipped its burgers in a chili sauce before they went onto the bun.  That sauce along with the roto gas grill made them unique.  When the chain went under , one of the franchise owners refused to go with it.  His mom duplicated the sauce and he continued to make the burgers.  Over the years he added variations but he also kept the dipped burger.  All that to say I sat at a rough wooden picnic table in a dining room with a raw concrete floor .  In the room with painted concrete block walls I devoured four of the small burgers.

After my lunch of mostly buns I was on the highway again.  It was well after lunch when I arrived at the strip mall in Charlotte.  The blacked out windows of the van made it perfect for my purpose.  I parked outside the video store.  I was just plain lucky to find the manage gone.  The girl behind the counter was not beautiful but she was young .  Obviously she had a certain appeal to a comedy old man like me.

"h i ,"  I said it as I weighed my story against her youth.  The trick in a con is to go low key.  The big grand story gets your ass caught every time.  I had the lineman tool bag around my waste and a clipboard in my hand.  "Name is Jed hon, I need to check a your phones."

"We aren't having any trouble with the phones."

"I know and we want to keep it that way."  Most of those places work on a need to know basis.  She didn't need to know what was going on with the dump number .  S he probably didn't know it existed , a t least that was my guess.

"I think the phone box is in the utility closet in the back." The reason she was suddenly cooperative was that a couple of customers wanted to get to the counter which I blocked.  I had a feeling I might get a reaction that way.

"Thanks hon."  With that I turned my attention to finding the utility closet.  I guessed correctly that it would be near the bathrooms.  There was a small mounting block on the wall inside the closet.  The block was covered by a plastic case to protect the terminals.  One set of lugs had three wires attached to it.  I rightly figured they were the store phone and the extensions for it.  One of the pairs had only a single set of wires.  I made a guess based on very little info but I expected that it was the right one.

In the old days one would have had to put a tone on the wires , then go outside to find it on the pole in order to attach a bug.  That was long before all the micro chips.  All I had to do was to hook up the tiny little transmitter to the lugs.  I also had to hope no one was broadcasting a church service or the like nearby.  The transmitter was so small and light that it could ba attached to the block by a piece of picture frame adhesive.  With my portable drill, I made a tine hole in the plastic cover for the antenna wire.  A couple of drops of clear adhesive held it to the box on the very bottom where it was completely unnoticeable.  I replaced the cover careful.  Instead of the standard bolts I ran in bolts with a special heads.  I was positive that the manger had nothing around to remove them.

I waved to the clerk as I walked from the store.  Yes I was caught on camera while in the main part of the store, but I looked the part.  If she followed me into the parking lot, a very unlikely event, she would see the old beat up van.  I t had the sign of a communications repair group that did not exist.  When I left , I drove to the rear of the strip mall to test the transmitter.  I heard nothing through the transmitter, which was as it should be.  I had no way to know if it was going to work or not.  Not until I heard the tape after a reasonable amount of monitoring.  I looked around the alley for a spot to hide the receiver/recorder box.  I had fitted everything into an old empty fuse box.  It was both waterproof and would blend into the surroundings.  I found the master panel area on the corner of the building.  It was a minor job to drill a couple of holes in the blocks then drive in an anchor for the bolts that held the box.  When I was finished, I was proud of my handy work.  It was secure and looked as thought it had been there forever.

Since the tape recorder was voice activated with an hour tape, I forgot about it while I burned CDs for the next show.  I didn't hear from Dee and was just as glad.  The neighbor in the spot two sites down was a fairly attractive woman around forty.  Her husband was in C harlotte working on a new Wal-Mart store.  She and I spent some time talking about books and such.  I loaned her a portable walk man to play a couple of mine.  She was all over herself with admiration.

On Wednesday morning the old saw about writing a book proved to be true.  She came to my space while I was running discs in my tent.  She seemed to be trying to tell me something so I showed her something instead.  It was a very nice little adventure.  She hated to leave but we both had things to do that afternoon.

I switched from making tapes to packaging them on Thursday.  I also found time in the afternoon to swing by for the tape recorder.  With the Bucky's communication sign on the van no one questioned my being behin d the building.  The tape had a very small amount used but I traded it anyway.  I played the used one as I drove back to the campground.

I was a little surprised to find that the number was a kind of clearing house for all kinds of sexual kink.  The calls seemed to  generat e from the Internet.  Some were for phone sex, others for an escort service, and one request I wasn't quite sure what to make of.  I didn't see how a woman with a child could do phone sex at odd hours so I pretty much ruled that out.  Escort in the Charlotte area I couldn't figure. The amount of driving and the number of jobs just couldn't pay enough to pay her expenses.  She didn't make enough at her small town job to be buying any of the services offered by the mysterious voice on the phone.   I knew it would all come together just not at that moment.

None of it made any sense at all, however I did have another piece of the puzzle.  I suspected that my first thought had been right it was some kind of kink that brought her to Charlotte.  What it was and how it figured into the rape, I had no idea.  The money thing still bothered me.  The executive car service for a three hour drive was way more than an escort/hooker would make in a single night.  There had to be more to it, I thought.  I didn't come to any kind of conclusions instead I decided to burn CDs and wait for more tape.

The weekend came and along with it a new festival in a South Carolina beach town.  It was touted to be the best of the spring shows.  Saturday did prove to be a madhouse.  I was picked over badly by Sunday morning.  I saw the show through with a much reduced inventory.  "Damn, " I  said to myself as I loaded the van, " T his crap is proving to be work."  

I treated myself to dinner that night at a small family style restaurant on the secondary highway .  That road was chosen in deference to my failing eyesight.  My mind was still on the festival as I drove along after dinner.  I never even saw the highway patrol car until the lights flashed in my rear view.  I had forgotten how those blue light illuminate the inside of a car.  Everything seemed to have turned a strobing blue.  I was surprised that it didn't set off a seizure.

I pulled to the side of the road at the first spot that looked safe.  I had to worry about the van being able to get back on the road.  I stopped, then sat waiting quietly.  I wasn't indignant even though I knew I hadn't been speeding.  Hell, the van probably wouldn't do the speed limit unless dropped from an airplane.  Even then it would have to be fully loaded and without a parachute.

"Could I see your driver's license and registration please?"  Like most highway patrolmen I had met he was large.  That particular one was also black.  I handed him the license without speaking.  I was planning to make his life miserable but not overtly. "Do you know you have a tail light out?"

Okay I was tempted to answer no but hum a few bars and I will jump in.  Instead I replied, "I had no idea.  I will get it fixed first thing tomorrow morning."  He nodded.

"Mind if I have a look inside?"

I wanted to say, Do you think a burned out tail light is enough probably cause for a search?  I didn't only because I remember ed the cigars with the pot spike.  "Not a problem for me officer."

He ordered me from the car, but he was respectful doing it.  I stood by the van while he opened the cargo door.  He asked about each plastic trunk, to which I answered as best I could.  Somewhere along the line he lost interest in the search, but to save face he finished it anyway.

"So you're a writer?" he asked.  I nodded.  "I got a thousand stories to tell."  I nodded again since I had heard the remark from every cop I ever met.  

"You really should try writing them down then.  You never know you might be the next big crime novelist."

"Probably not, I hate rejection," he smiled at me somehow knowing that I understood.  "Okay sorry about the search, but we get a lot of drugs along these back roads."

"Not to mention it is about time for the drunks to weave their way home," I suggested with a grin.

"That too," he said grinning back at me.

"You got a CD player in that monster?"  I was nodding to the Crown Vic.

"Yeah but it is mine, the state sure as hell didn't pay for it.'

I reached into the case with the remnants of my inventory.  "Here you go .  T ry this you might get a kick out of it."  I had handed him one of the very few remaining copies of Lust and Murder in Small town X.

"Can't have no porn in the car," he replied as he read the title.

"It's clean that is just a come on for the rubes."  He smiled he got back in his car.  

As I passed by the front of the van, I gave it a couple of rocks up and down.  I didn't want that fuel pump to fail with a cop sitting behind me.  Once I had the van re started I was off."

I made it to the campground late but as with all the others I just found an empty space, moved my load to the top of the van, then stretched out in the back to sleep.  The next morning I went out to breakfast.  I found an auto parts store after the scrambled eggs, there I bought a bulb, actually I bought two.  I might as well have just used their trash can for the second one since odds were a hundred percent that I would never find it again.

I swung by the video store to change out the tapes.  It was early in the morning so it was closed.  I changed out the tapes without any anyone being the wiser.  It was hard but I waited until I was back at the campground before I played the tape.  Since they were in major operations over the weekend the conversations were interesting.  I heard references to sex for sale a couple of times but that didn't interest me, since I had already decided that prostitution wouldn't pay enough.  Then I heard it.

"Yes Sir we can provide that service.  The charge will be Seven hundred and fifty dollars."  I went back and rewound the tape till I heard the entire conversation.

The sexy female voice said, "This is Jen from nightlite, I am returning Mr Wilson's call."

"This is Tom Wilson."

"Could I just verify your password please?" The sexy Jen asked.

"Pencil," Wilson replied.  "Is this a secure line?"  Wilson it seemed was no dummy.  Well actually he was because the sexy Jen assured him that it was secure and he believed her.

"Now what can we do for you tonight?"

"Don't you have a record of my particular kink."  He asked it as though he were referring to a standing pizza order.

"Of course we do, So it is a woman for public sex.  Where would you like to meet her?"  Wilson obviously named a club somewhere.  "She will be in the usual red blouse and black skirt." Jen informed him.  The price will be seven hundred and fifty dollars billed to your American Express."

"Of course it is the way we always do it.  And young lady she, better not be just a hooker for that kind of money."

"Have we ever sent you a working prostitute?"

"No your women are fresh, I will give you that much.  I just hate that I can't order by name some of them are better than others."

"Well Mr Wilson, we have found it better if no bonds develop between our ladies and the customers.  Most of them wouldn't work otherwise.  It is a double security concern of ours."

"Of course, I wouldn't really have it any other way.  Just send her around nine, she will be finished by midnight."

"Very well, have a good evening."

Evidently they had a different phone for outgoing calls to the girls.  All I ever heard were the incoming calls and the return of the calls.  I never even heard the return of the phone sex calls.  It was my guess that those were somehow transferred to another number.  The group obviously had a sophisticated phone system, if nothing else.   The phone sex would be all over hell and G eorgia as my dad used to say, but the escort had to be local or did it.  At seven fifty a pop, they could work large areas with their own car service.

I reviewed several tapes before I found the one, most of them were cryptic however that particular call and bits from a few others allowed me to piece it all together.  I had no idea what the services were for the fees, which went anywhere from five hundred to a thousand bucks.  None of them sounded like a blow job in an alley.  I also began to give the girls some thought.  I wondered who the hell they were to be worth that kind of money.

A first time phone sex caller asked it.  "Where do you get your operators?"  

The answer was, "Our girls are all housewives or office workers who just can't make ends meet.  If you are looking for a hooker who got to old or too fat, then you need to go somewhere else.  These girls do it for the money, they are not in it for love."

"My god you are brutally honest." the voice replied.

"Yes we are told to be.  You can have a old fat hooker moan for you, or you can have a young house wife who has to do everything you tell her or lose her par time income.  The choice is yours."  

I heard only one guy say no thanks.  He had to be an idiot, I thought.  I gave some thought to how I could find that phone sex line.  It should be good for a couple of laughs at least. Yes, it was the dirty old man in me.  That train of thought was a short one.

I had enough information to confront June Silver, or enough to just make up a story to fit the meager facts.  I sat smoking my cigar, drinking my liquor, and trying to decide which.  As was always the case with that combination, I soon lost the ability to make a decision so I slipped into the van to sleep.  With what had become habit, I had moved all the boxes to the top of the van when I first arrived.  The rear of the van was mostly empty so I slept there.  I was incapable of pitching a tent even if i wanted to do it.

I suppose they found me because I had filled out the paper work on my way into the camp space the night before.  I sure as hell hoped that they didn't have the ability to triangulate a cell phone.  No matter they drove up as I toasted a bagel in my electric toaster oven.  I carried just a couple of electrical appliances.  I had a toaster over, and an electric tea kettle.  The oven was for all kinds of things but the tea kettle just boiled water to make coffee .  I used it when I didn't want, have time to , or couldn't build a fire.  Pouring the boiling water through a auto store funnel with a paper towel filled with ground coffee, made a damn good cup of coffee.  Especially on a damp morning, which they all seemed to be in the south.

"Well if it isn't my two ace reporters?"  I grinned broadly.  Dee smiled but Mike had a painful look on his face.  What's wrong Mike is Dee making you unhappy?"

"Not at all Old Man," he snapped.

"One thing sonny, you got away with that last time cause I came to you for help.  For whatever reason you came to me this time.  You call me old man again, and I am gonna kick your ass."  He obviously had a thought to say something but decided against it.

"Does that go for me too?" Dee asked still smiling.

"No Slim, to you and I am an old man.  It  probably saves your ass for you to keep reminding me of it."

"Who said I wanted to be saved," She was grinning bigger than I had ever seen her grin.  

Something had happened in the half week she had spent with Mike.  Or maybe she was putting on a show for him.  I didn't know or care at that point."  Mike changed the subject.

"I brought her back yeah, but I also want to know if you want to trade information."

"You mean Dee doesn't know everything you do?"  I asked it smiling at Dee.  Dee had understood all along.  She was grinning because she wanted to cut Mike out, but only if I had information to trade. Otherwise she wouldn't give up her information.  Dee was a bit of a bitch it seemed.  Damn, after she ran off with Mike at the first opportunity, the  realization shouldn't have shocked me but it did.

"Tell me this you two, who came up with your information?  I will deal with the one who secured it."  

"I guess we both did,"  Mike admitted.  Dee nodded her agreement.

"Okay look, I have no interest in this the way you two do.  For me it is just a good yarn, it will be fiction when I finished anyway.  In other words I have no problem helping either or both of you, but if you try to ace me out again, we are finished.  Not only that I will try to screw you big time. One more thing I already have enough information to write my book, so I don't need yours.  Just for the sake of giving it more color I will trade.  Do we understand each other now?"

Dee had stopped grinning and Mike was smiling.  It seemed there was a little problem in paradise.  One only smiled when the other looked grim.  I laughed my ass off but did it inside.

"So you go first?" Mike made it a question.

"No way junior, I don't trust you a bit."

"If I can ' t call you old man then you can't call me Junior, Sonny or any other disparaging names."  I nodded so he went on.  "Okay first of all that number is so blind I couldn't get a thing on it.  So we worked on the car angle.  No car service in Charlotte does any pickup that far away on a regular basis.  Now you?"

"That wasn't much but okay it saved me the calls.  That is because they have their own car service.  The get the girls from out of town because they don't want rumors spreading around Charlotte .  They don't want the girls talking about what a great gig it is where the cops might hear about it .  Also the car carrie s them to the gig, which probably is not in Charlotte."

"How the hell do you know that?"

"I can add son... Mike.  Go on."  I was enjoying my superior position.

"Then it is prostitution?" Dee asked.

"Yes but a little more , a nyway let's have what you got."

"The Governor's step daughter had a little too much money for her office job."  Dee tossed that in.

"That fits real well with her working part time in the business."  They had done a lot of the leg work for me.

"I don't understand, like you said earlier there are plenty of hookers in Charlotte?"  Mike made it a question.

"That was their problem, the hookers were hookers.  No class and no down home charm.  They needed a different type woman if they were gonna charge enough to make it all work out.  What I would like to know is how they recruited her."

"What the fuck do you know."

"Mike you don't seem to understand trade.  You give me a piece of the puzzle and I give you one.  That is how it works and that is what I have done."

"I don't see the picture on the box old...Deacon"

I ignored him.  "You got anything else?"

"She has a hell of a portfolio of stock.  Everything she touches seems to go golden."

"Every company does business with the state?" I asked it as if I had known all along.

"Jesus we didn't check.  It was the money we were following, you know where did she get the money to buy the stocks."

"Take a look and it is gonna be a spider web.  A company that has no connection with the state is gonna be selling his product to a company that does.  You are also gonna find that she bought the stock a week or so before there was an announcement of a big state contract.

"Holy shit you think so?" Dee asked it.

"I would bet your ass on it."  I grinned at her and surprisingly she grinned back.

"How do you know all this?" Mike asked.

"Thirty years as an investigator of one type or another."  I said it enjoying the almost admiration in his voice.  "I s that it ?"

"Yes, it is enough isn't it?"  Dee asked.

"Enough for what?  Have you taken your eye off the ball.  We are supposed to be finding out about a rape.  So far we know her morals are weak, but you already knew that.  The money thing is gonna be hard to prove.  She probably has a couple of legit stocks mixed in there to keep the ' it's a coincidence ' defense possible.  I would expect krispy kreme to be one of them."

"Why Krispy Kreme?" Mike asked.

"Cops like donuts," I said smiling.  "You can't go wrong in donut stock."

"I understand the story is in what she does and who she does it for?" Dee framed it as a question.

"Even more who the people are she works for, how does it works, and what if anything it ha s to do with the rape."

"So now what?" Mike asked.

"First of all, I want to know about that rape.  Not the crap the cops know, I want to know if she was more than a random victim."

"Oh how do we find out about that?"

"Follow the money Mike.  You have proved you somehow have access to her bank account and stock portfolio.  Take a good look at her average deposits or purchases, then go to the month before and the month after the rape.  I want to know if there was a sudden larger input of cas h , I am talking a significant bump in her account."

"You think the rape was phoney?" Dee asked.

"I don't know, but we have to look at every possibility.  I don't expect the local cops are good enough or were motivated enough to check her out very well.  She is after all the governor's step brat."

"So when do we confront her."  Dee asked almost gleefully.  I realized then that Dee had a more then professional interest in the investigation of June Silver.

"Don't look so happy, so far nothing is illegal.  We have proved that she has loose moral s , so what.  There is no story there for you, there might be for me."  Might be hell, I already had my story regardless of how the rest came out.

"He's right Dee, we have to pin this thing down completely or our reputation is toast.  You don't have one yet, but I do.  I'll check her bank records today and let you know tomorrow."

"Let me know Mike, You two can fight over the byline.  I got no dog in that fight."

"You still know more don't you."

"Actually, if you think about it, you have all the pieces."

"Okay, then I will.  I will still let you know about the m oney," he said.  "I am off."

"Mike, tape the interview then use this," I tossed him a floppy disc.

"Code?" he asked with even more admiration in his voice.

"No, but a very very obscure program.  If anybody gets it, I expect it will make them a little crazy for a while at least."  I smiled at him as he left .

Dee went to the car with him, but only to remove her bag.  Seems she and Mike had already tired of each other.  I figured it must have been why she kept smiling at me.  Then again I knew she wasn't into men so I didn't read anything into it.

"What a prick," she said when she returned.  "I don't have a reputation yet.  That little shit is impossible."

"Well, I don't expect he plans to give you anything.  So, if you know anyone at her local branch, I would make the call myself."  I smiled just as wickedly as I could.

"Actually I do know someone.  She shouldn't tell me but then I expect she will.  I doubt seriously she would want her husband to know how she spends her weekends when he is off fishing."

"You know I thought you might have a friend."  I said it smiling my charming smile at her.

"Okay, if I had a prick I would be a man.  Does it make you happy that I realize it."

"Why would it?"  I asked it seriously.

"Because you know yourself and think everyone else has to do the same."

"Not likely.  I don't know what makes me tick at all.  I just know that I do what I do , and don't often apologize for it."

"Same thing," she replied.  "Let me go make that call."

"Before you do that let's pitch the tent.  We can make you a little office in it, then while I record CDs, you can make your calls."  Tent erection took only  ten minutes with the two of us doing the lifting.  S he was installed on a folding chair with a twisted frame rather than legs.  That was to keep the tent floor from ripping , the tarp and goodwill quilt under it kept the rocks from piercing it.

I set up my computer on the picnic table, then began the laborious task of copying CDs.  I didn't even stop for lunch.  Instead I heated a can of BeanieWienies.  

"I ate enough of those in my childhood to make me want to throw up at the sight of them.  I am going to go find real food while you play with that damn computer.  If you let me drive the van, I will bring you something back."

"Good plan," I replied.  "Ice, I always need ice."

"Right, I have my cell phone if Angela calls, I will let you know."

I smiled to myself wondering if she really would.  I simply nodded since I wasn't overly concerned.  I had my story so let them play their games.  It would be better to know it all, since truth really is stranger than fiction.

"Okay, what does five grand above her regular purchases at the stock broker's mean?"  It was Mike who had slipped up on me.  I was surprised until I saw that his car was parked in the grass  at the entrance to my camp spot.  He hadn't pulled into the driveway since he hadn't seen the van or me until he was walking down the path beside the drive.  I wondered if he had a search of the tent in mind.  It hadn't been up when he left so it would be a tempting target no doubt. .

"Beats me, but I get to make up something.  You need to know for sure." I smiled at him with what i hoped didn't have too much smart ass in it.

"It has happened twice more since the Rape.  My guess is that it was hush money.  Somebody didn't want her to push the rape?"  Mike made it a question with his voice.

"You could write it that way, and probably wouldn't even get sued.  That is your main consideration isn't it.  The truth is secondary to the litigation."

"What does that mean?"

"Mike reporters want a good story and not to get sued. If the truth gets stepped on in the process, what the hell?"

"So you don't think it was hush money?"

"It could have been, that's why you probably wont get sued.  Hush money assumes there was some possibility of her telling something somebody wanted kept quiet.  So to prove that you have to know who she was protecting."

"The rapist of course," he snapped.

" Then you are assuming that the rapist was known to her, either before or after she talked to the police.  That becomes criminal either way.  You are pretty much gonna have to know who the rapist was to pull it off.  You do know that it could be coincidence.  The governor might come up with one of those, 'It was a gift from her mother and I.  We know how a single mother has to struggle, the money was for junior ' s education fund."  She does seem to have put it in her stocks.  If something like that happens, you are gonna get your paper sued .  In which case they aren't going to run this without a lot of proof."

"How the hell do I prove the small town cops didn't try hard enough, and that June is a hooker who got raped by someone who could afford that kind of money."

"Mike you don't have any idea what is going on do you.  I can give you ten scenarios where she wasn't raped by someone she knew, but was still paid to let it die a natural death."

"Like?" he asked.

"That shadow company in Charlotte was afraid something would lead back to them, so the y paid her to just let it go.  That is one possibility , o r the governor didn't want the rape of his virginal step daughter to get looked at all that hard .  This might not look good to some of his voters.  I mean her part time gig not the rape.  He can get a few sympathy votes along with a lot of mileage from a law and order plank in the platform , if it is still an open case."

"Jesus Burke, you have an evil wicked mind."  He shook his head grinning.

"So how do we prove any of this?"  

"What is with this we shit paleface.  I can make it anything I want."

"Yes Burke, but you are one of those people to whom the truth does matter."

"It matters some Mike, but how much is still up in the air.  There are only two people who know for sure , " I added.

"So somebody has to talk to June Silver?"  It was another one of those statements that he made questions  ."You want to do it?"

"Not me Mike, like I said before I got no dog in the fight."

"Then I guess it is me,."

"Would be my guess," I replied smiling up at him.  During the conversation, which took longer than it seems, I was changing CDs in the copier every ten minutes.  "I have way too much work to do here."

"So where is your next show?"

"Wilkesboro or North Wilkesboro I have no idea which.  It's in a mall up there."

"So where are you going to stay?.  I mean, I might just want to talk to you after the show."

"After I leave here I am going to move to the Fiddlers Grove campground.  You can ask anyone up there for directions.  Oh, M ike see if Dee wants to go alon g ."   He nodded but none to enthusiastically.

When Dee returned, she had information about the bank accounts of our Lady.  It seemed that J une had hidden most of the money in stocks.  There was a thousand dollar deposit in her account the same day that she purchased the stock.  The exact thing happened thirty days later, and again the next month.  Each time she purchased larger than usual blocks of stock.

"I think you two need to go talk to June."  I suggested it while changing discs yet again.

"How about it Dee, do you want to come along or would you feel better letting me do it?"

"Why the hell would I trust you?"  Dee seemed less than thrilled with Mike that day.

"Because I will be happy to share the story with you.  Like Deacon says, I have no dog in the fight either."

Being quoted, even if I had stolen the line from a hundred other users didn't feel just right.  "Well young lovers, whatever you decide is fine just leave me out of it."  I turned my attention back to the disk making.

"Okay Dee, you are welcome to come along but I think it would have more impact if I did it alone.  That is all I have to say on it, we will do whatever you want."

"How about this guys,"  I began just to break the stalemate.  "Mike do the interview but tape it and then give the tape to Dee.  She might have some good input for the next move.  Mike , if you try to screw over her, I consider it the same as screwing over me.  In which case don't come to me for advice."

"I don't need your advice old man," he snapped.

"Gee and I thought you were gonna turn out to be human after all.  Instead you just made my arrogant prick list."

Mike left angry, while Dee went into the tent to do whatever a pissed off woman does. I continued to copy CDs on my computer.  It copied super fast and I had a super fast program, but it still wasn't fast enough.  I toyed with buying another outfit, just as I did every time I had to make copies late into the night.  I made no decision just as I had not done either of the other times.  I shut it all down after a lousy dinner of tuna salad on toast.  That toaster ove n was becoming my favorite appliance.  Dee didn't even ask to use the van, instead she suffered with me.

After a couple of more boring days, with me making CDs and her calling everybody she ever met on the phone, we were ready to move on to the next show.  The air was still cool in late May when we pulled into the Fiddler Grove campground near Wilksboro.  I went to check out the mall while Dee shopped for warmer clothes.  I found that the mall manager was also the show 's promoter .  She was the one who gave me the tour of the mall.  I was set in a corner well away from the bookstore.  It was probably more for the bookstore than me.  I was the most upset by the no music rule.  In my case it meant I couldn't play the demo to attract a crowd, not that it ever drew a crowd with it before.  

Turned out I didn't need it after all.  I was in the same side wing as the cookie monster.  It was some kind of bakery that only made cakes and cookies .  Some of which were of a size designed for walk around customers.  There was a steady stream of people in and out of that wing all day.  It also didn't hurt that Dee was dressed in an only slightly slutty outfit.  The men stopped to look and then stopped to listen as she put the head phones on for them.  Even with he almost nonexistent breasts it was somehow sexy enough to drag them into the area.  I sold as many books as I had at the last two shows combined.  Both of those shows had been good one for me too.  It was nice to sell the CDs , but it left me having to make more before the next show.

The weekend show closed on Sunday evening instead of Saturday night.  The time took full advantage of the extra cost of the show , but it also left me with almost nothing to sell.  I was tempted to skip the next show entirely since it was small and I really needed the time to restock the inventory.  I thought abut it all day Sunday then again on Monday.  Actually I was burning CDs and thinking about how to burn a hell-of-a lot more , when Dee came from the tent in tears.  I had been burning on the picnic table while she made calls in the tent.

"Damn it Deke,"  She said though her gasps .

I could tell it was serious.  "What the hell?"  I asked.

"Mike got killed this morning," she replied choking on here tears.

"What the hell happened to him?"

"He talked to June last night.  He sent me a copy of the interview in an email.  Then this morning he was supposed to go home.  I called his office and they said he died in a traffic accident."

"'Where did the accident happen?" I asked.

"On that stretch of highway 70 between Jacksonville and New Bern."

"So what happened," I was struggling to get enough pieces from her to make a picture.

"Best they could tell, he stopped for some reason and then somebody ran over him.  Who ever it was didn't even stop." She said it bursting into even heavier tears.

"I know this is lousy timing Dee, but have you played that interview yet?"

"The audio file is in some oddball format I don't know.  It's a QPC file or something."

"Yeah I know, copy it to a floppy, then bring it here.  I can open it."  I smiled at her as I had done with Mike.

The little known program was better than a cipher.  It was impossible to play on anything but their own little player.  I used the program to record stories.  I t w as a super condensed program and extremely useful in moving stories from one computer to another.

When I had the interview ready to run , I found that it actually covered three disks.  That made it a minimum of forty-five minutes long.  It might even run longer.  Mike had plugged his tape recorder into his laptop in the motel.  He evidently converted the audio to the program, then attached it to an email , which he then sent to Dee.

"Hello, Miss Silver?  My name is Mike Hutchins.  I am a reporter for the Charlotte Cbserver."

"Go Away, I have nothing to say."

"You probably should hear me out before you make that your final answer."   Mike seemed to be a bit of a wise ass.  I liked that.

"You have nothing I wish to hear," she replied.

"Okay, I think the cops should check out a Charlotte company called Nightlite."  It got quiet for one of those really long seconds.  The sounds on the tape made no sense till later.  In rethinking it, the sound was the door opening then closing.

"So what about nightlite?"

"It is my opinion that they probably had something to do with the rape.  I'm not sure just what you do for them but I expect something you do there got you raped.  Exactly what is it that you do there?"

"How much do you know?" she asked.

"I know enough to bring me to your door.  Look June I am going to bring them down, I can take yo u down with them or I can keep you and your step father out of it."  That statement was followed by another one of those long silences.  "So what did you do there?"

"Come on honey, surely you are a big enough boy to know what I was doing working for a sex shop."

"Pardon me HONEY, but I can ' t think of a single reason they would send a car over a hundred miles for you."

"Well, other than the fact that I am very good at what I do, there are several other reasons."

"Like?" Mike asked.

"I am not a known prostitute, I have a little class, and last but not least, I am the sitting Governor's step brat.  He has some enemies who pay dearly to screw me.  Somehow they think it is getting even with him."

"Is that all, there has to be more to keep you working.   H oney even with that , there are only so many people who want to screw him that much."

"Yeah, I delve into rough fantasy a bit now and then."


"No, that was a straight up rape.  You don't think I would do that with my son along do  you?"

Mike seemed to think.  "Well suppose someone followed you home.  If he raped you and was a client, you might not be too anxious to get him caught.  It could get real embarrassing at the trial."

"Get out of her e you prick," she said.  

"I don't suppose you want to tell me about the extra five grand a month?"

"Do you know what this is,"  It was the voice of June.  "It is a .38 Derringer.  I am going to give you both barrels if you don't get the hell out of my house now."

There were those noises again.  Mike was in the car when he spoke.  Well you heard it Deke, not much there.  A little background but it was pretty much like you expected."   Those were the last words on the disk, and most likely the last words we were going to hear from Mike.

"Did she kill Mike," Dee asked.

"Probably not,  my guess is that she was on the phone to someone before Mike got his car started.   Whoever she talked to is the most likely."

"So how do we find out?"

"Her phone records," I suggested.

"Do you have any idea how hard that is going to be?" Dee asked.

"You mean you never screwed anyone at the phone company?"  I was grinning.

"Actually, there was one."  She smiled as she headed back to the tent with her cell phone.  Dee was proving to be a real piece of work all right.  I just had no idea if that was good or bad.  

"Out of luck Deke, my friend won't help.  Some BS about court orders and the like.  I could out her , but what good would that do.  It won't get us where we need to be."

"Then I guess I need to do it the hard way.  I need to go back to Charlotte then visit Ms Silver."

"Not without me you don't."

"Up to you lady, but I would be careful if I were you.  So far I don't think anyone knows about you.  At least not anyone who can hurt you.  You get involved in this and it might just be you who goes down next." I suggested.

"Most likely it is going to be you," she replied..  

"Seems to me to be a reasonably good way to go."

"Well it wasn't clean and easy for Mike it took him a couple of hours to die.  At least that is the word from the paper."

"Then where was he at the end?"  I saw her look.  It was both curious and loathing. "We need to talk to anyone who he might have spoken to."

She looked at me in disbelief then said, "You just don't get it do you?"

"Get what?" I asked.  Of course I had a pretty good idea that she was trying to turn human on me.  It wasn't going to wash but she could try.

"You don't understand Mike is not a piece of your damn puzzle he was a human being.  I just don't understand you at all."

"Funny how Mike's murder isn't just another piece of the puzzle, but the June Silver's rape is.  Before you start talking about her lifestyle remember, when we started you didn't know she was a working girl."

"But it is all so dehumanizing the way you do it.  Your only response was we need to talk to the people who spoke to him last.  You are just a cold cruel person."

"I am that sweetie. I just don't have the time or the tears for anyone else.  My time is too precious and I've already cried myself out.  Now find out where he died or go home."  Might as well let her know what her place was on the train.  She sure as hell was no passenger.

Dee disappeared back into the tent to make the calls about Mike.  "I spoke to the ER nurse at home.  Mike never said a word about anything at all.  He never regained consciousness."

"Probably a good thing for him, but not so good for us.  Oh well there is always plan B."

"What is plan B?" she asked.

"You really don't want to know trust me."

"Oh, I want to know.  I don't think I want to be involved in anything that will send me to jail."

"It's only illegal if we get caught."  I smiled my best tough guy smile at her.  While she thought about that revelation, I searched for my grape juice among the food items in the plastic larder.  I made CDs until noon.  Once she had decided to continue with the shadowy part of the investigation , Dee was chomping at the bit to get on with it.

I forced her to wait until noon before I made a move.  Even then I packed slowly.  I had the tent down and loaded before I stopped the CD burner.  At one we pulled into a roadside cafe for lunch.  Since the parking lot was filled, I expected the food to be at least palatable.   I'm sure that t he restaurant had some reason for all the cars in the parking lot, but it wasn't the over priced food.  It had to be the waitresses.

Dee grinned from ear to ear as we entered the place.  The waitresses wrote scanty uniforms that barely left anything to the imagination.  Why families with small kids didn't wander into the place by accident was beyond me.  

"If there had been an adult only sign outside , I missed it."

"I don't think there was one, but you know Deke they are dressed."

"Barely but I was thinking about the souther n Baptist around here.  Surely the law has been onto this place?"

"If you are curious ask," Dee suggested.

The foot long hot dog was eight bucks and the coke three.  I was incensed but way too curious to leave.  Since the waitress hovered I asked, "Don't you get hassled by the law?"

"Not that I know of, worst hassle I ever got was from the customers.  We are open late to serve the bar crowd and they get a little rowdy sometimes."

"Don't you object to dressing like that?" Dee asked of the women in what had to be the smallest bikini made."  Dee was also leering at her.  I had never seen a woman leer before, it was quite a sight.

"Not a bit honey, I make a damn sight more money here than I did as a school teacher.  Sorry duty calls," she said as she went to a table down the aisle.

"You reckon she was a teacher ? " Dee asked me smiling.

"If we hear a tinny piano, we will know for sure."  She pretended to get it, so I didn't explain.  The reference was to a movie I had seen on the late show a dozen times.  It was to the music that accompanied every hooker's sad story.

After the far to expensive lunch and the exorbitant tip Dee left, we were on the road again.  Dee and I checked into a motel.  S S ince she was tired of campgrounds in one da y. s he paid.  I could have pulled out the old Visa but I didn't want to let her off cheap, the trip was not a love affair kind of thing.  I will give her this, she didn't bother to ask for a room with too beds.  She must have felt a lot safer than she really was.

Who was I kidding, I thought.  She was probably safer with me that she would be with any monk in a robe.  I didn't know but I expected that sex was pretty much out of the question, even with the morning erection that lasted until I urinated.  It was painful to realize that I was no longer a stud.   S ince I hadn't ever been, especially not in the last five years , I laughed to myself quietly.

We hung around the room with the TV blasting while I made even more CDs.  The computer just wasn't commercial enough to make more than two copies at a time without some major reworking.  New power supplies and Ide pc cards just didn't sound like the right move for me.  Hell I would have had to find them, then install them.  All that for maybe a month's use , spending every spare moment copying seemed far better.

It was well after five when I went to the video store to retrieve my equipment.  I was always surprised how a clipboard and a piece of paper with the mooch's name got me access to almost anything.  I got the inside and outside equipment then went back to the motel.  

Dee took one look, then I saw the light in her eyes.  "Damn you have been bugging their phone?"

"Who me?  That shit is illegal."  I smiled as I packed the transmitter,and receiver away.  We listened to messages for an hour only to realize that neither of us would recognize June's voice.  It was pretty much a waste of time except that I did find other women calling in.  The were several messages just too cryptic to understand.

"I got your message about the Simon.  I can do it, but it better pay well enough.  Last time I thought I was gonna end up in the emergency room."  The young sounding female voice on the tape left that message.

"They seem to have their own language." I said.  "Just cryptic enough to confuse me, but not so much that they need a Flash Gordon decoder ring."  

"So what is a Simon?" Dee asked.

"I'm just guessing but since these guys are in the sex for hire business, I think it might be something really kinky."

"Yeah but what?" Dee asked.

"Got me, but I can think of several things , c ant you?"

"Frankly Deke, I'm trying not to think of the one you are."

"Yeah, I know."  I said that as I put the recorder into the cloth bag once used to transport a child's overpriced electronic game.  It seemed as though the black canvas case had outlasted the game by years.

"So now that you have you r equipment what is the plan dad?"

"What the hall are you doing calling me Dad?"  I didn't really have serious thought about sex with her , but my body had plenty of times I expect.  It was just a gut reaction I had at the word."

"Come on, I have to explain us camping together and why a women my age is hanging out with an old fart like you ? "

It hurt a little but I had to admit that she had a point.  People had cast curious looks at us from the start.  I wasn't handsome that was for sure.  I wasn't rich , the rusty van proved that .  So why in the world would a young reasonably attractive woman be hanging out with me ?  As far as that goes why did there always seem to be a woman around me ?  Not all of them were sexually motivated , but one or two had been.  Actually I should have dumped Dee, since the trip was about a last fling and with her around it wasn't going to happen.   I was supposed to be having fun instead I was baby sitting a lez .  Sure she was sweet and all that but she was definitely cramping my style.  When I laughed out loud at the pompous ' cramping my style ' thought Dee looked at me curiously.

"Just thinking how my adventure had changed.  Life is just nuts like that I guess."

"Come on Deke, what is next?"

"Shower, sleep, then breakfast in the morning .  A fterward , if we are both up to it, the long drive to the coast."

"We going to go talk to June?"

"Not sure about the we yet paleface."

"Huh?"  She had a totally blank look on her face.  I was about to explain about the Lone Ranger and Tonto joke when I realized she wouldn't have a clue who they were either .  That explained why relationships with younger women never lasted with me.  Just too young to understand my old jokes and I didn't have a clue who the rock stars were.

"I'm not sure just yet who will talk with June.  Could be I send you o r I might do it."

"Any chance we both can?"

"I don't know but right now it seems doubtful.  Actually this is going to take some finessing."

"You know she isn't going to tell you anything new."

"Sure she is.  If a person talks at all, they always tell you something new.  You just have to hear it."  She gave me that curious look.  She had it down pat.  It would be a great advantage to a reporter.  The old silent question trick.  "Most investigators and all reporters come into an interview with a pre conceived idea.  When they hear something that doesn't fit their version of the truth, they conveniently don't hear it."

"Now that is rather simplistic.  Lumping all reporters into the same pile."

"Pile of what?" I asked with a great grin.

"Screw you old man," she said turning to the bathroom.

"Not likely," I replied almost sadly.  The sad tone was for her to hear, I am a hell of an actor .

Sleeping in the bed with Dee was not like sleeping in the van or the tent.  Somehow the bed made the feeling of her beside me more real.  I would have been worried had I not already come to grips with my dirty old man status.  Even with all that I was surprised when she wiggled up close to me while still awake.  

I was about to ask when she said, "That incest thing is heady stuff daddy."  If she hadn't burst into laughter, I might have made a really stupid move.  It seems that Dee, the lez, was not above teasing an old man.

"Go to sleep Electra," I replied turning away.  If nothing else, Dee was energizing me for the next willing lady I found.

Breakfast, at the diner in the motel 's parking lot, was no better or worse than it would have been at the Howard Johnson coffee shop.  It didn't have the chrome and glass feel to it, but it did have food with that prepackaged taste.  I know they use fresh stuff, but it tasted just like I remember airline food tasting.

We arrived at the colonial town, built against the river's bank, in time to search out a real restaurant for a late lunch.  The drive down had been filled with Dee's theorizing and my ignoring her.  I didn't want her scatterbrained theories confusing my already befuddled mind.  To be honest most of her theories were not scatterbrained at all.  But my mind was befuddled enough without a hundred new thoughts.  

She also spent her time shouting at me about other cars on the road.  The brain glitch made my 3D map one dimensional.  Keeping track of all the cars on a busy four lane road required all my concentration and Dee was a constant distraction.  If she wasn't prattling, she was stretching her thin body just enough to cause me to lose my concentration on the road.  Plus she had chosen to wear one of those light weight sweat shirts with the cutout neck ala 'FashDance'.  Those things are distractive even if the woman has very little to put in it.

Even with all that I made it to Edenton without wrecking the car.  Ed e nton was the town where both June and Dee resided.  The campground was located about twenty miles farther south.  The town nearest to the Campground was filled with yuppie, and yankee retire's money.  It was why the craft show had been scheduled there.  Edenton had not had the influx of their money, so it remained more or less as it had been in the early days.  All except for the downtown face lift, designed by some gay decorator on a ten day drunk.

Dee was good enough to direct me to the home of June Silver.  I noted that there was no car in the drive.  I t would be a good time to plant the electronic intercept aka bug, except that Dee was in the van.  Even the blacked out windows wouldn't help if she decided that she wanted to watch.  I dropped her at the newspaper office, while I went back to make the plant.

I didn't bother to put the communication company sign back onto the van. Instead I took a clip board out then began walking around the house.  I made notes on the clipboard as I searched for the telephone block.  Just as I expected the box was on the side of the house and pretty much hidden from the view of curious neighbors.

The nut driver opened the box and the alligator clips were on before anyone was the wiser.  I continued my walk around just in case anyone saw me.  I even made a shot of the house with a digital camera.  I had packed it just in case I ran into a nude woman, or a good scene for a book jacket.  The later was far more likely to have happened I might add.

It was impossible to find a secure location to leave the receiver so I resorted to plan BS.  Make it happen not wait for it to happen, that was my plan.  I found a ' do it yourself ' carwash within a block of June's house.  On the drive back to the paper I put the finishing touches on my plan.

"So did you bug here phone?"

"What the hell is wrong with you?"  I asked it staring hard at her.

"There is nobody else here."

"So you say and believe.  If you ever do anything like that again this is over.  Do you understand?"

"Told you there is no one here.  I am not that stupid."

"Don't take an opinion pole on that question right now."

"Damn old man you are paranoid."  She smiled.  "Come on I got some fresh coffee that doesn't have to be strained through a paper towel."

I wanted to slap her but instead I drank her coffee.  I was giving more thought to searching for a place to leave the recorder while I interviewed June.  Without a secure place I needed Dee, or did I.  Since my brain was turning to mush, I needed a while before I figured the simple plan out.  It was an alternative so simple , I was amazed that I didn't figure it out first thing.

"Look Dee , I think this might be a good time to part company on this thing."

"Why?" she asked.

"Frankly you are inconvenient."  I know that it was hurtful but it was also necessary.  Things were more than likely going to get rough at any moment.  She could get hurt and I wouldn't like that.  Hell , I could get hurt but that didn't matter so much.  It might even be preferable.

"Frankly Deke that is crap.  I know it isn't because I cramp your style because you have no style.  That isn't exactly what I mean."

"I know what you mean and I have no style as you put it, because you are in the way."

"This is too important to me to just walk away.  So just like every other man, you are saying that since I wont sleep with you, I am useless ? "

"Call it what you will," I replied.  I turned then walked from the office of the small town paper.

Since I didn't want to be seen driving up and down June's street, I drove to the edge of town to a small cafe'.  I drank what seemed to be an adequate cup of coffee.  I didn't really notice the coffee, I had my eye on my watch every couple of minutes. I had promised myself to wait till five-thirty before I made the next drive-by.

"Alright you prick, I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt.  I am going to think that this isn't about me, but an old man trying to protect his daughter."  It was Dee standing over me.  She was somewhat cowered.

"No, it is about me.  I am a selfish bastard and you screwed up my fling."

"If you remember you came to me ? "  She informed me.

"Yes and you invited yourself along."

"The hell I did.  You agreed before you found out I wouldn't sleep with you."

"Sit down and lower your voice.  You have an infuriating habit of talking too loud."

"It's about the bugging crack isn't it," she whispered.

"I realized after you left how serious what you did for me was.  I know you could go to jail for this and that you are trying of keep me out of it."

"Way to noble a gesture to give me credit for.  I don't want to go to jail or get killed because of you."  The curious look caused me to go on.  "Next on the plan list is to set myself up as a target, just like Mike.  You don't need to be around for me to worry about.  I try to save you and get myself killed, or wind up in jail because you shot your mouth off.  No sweetie you are just plain hazardous material.  I can't afford to have you around.  I was being cruel to avoid what came next.

"I can take care of myself, and trust me I have said the last thing I ever intend to about how you do things."  The begging look in her eyes disputed her tough gal words.

I don't think it would be a good idea."  I was determined to go it alone.  I was until she spoke again.

" You know I have already seen you bug the video store, I can always go to the DA and have you arrested.

" Well love it is my word against yours."

"So be it Deke,"  She stood to leave.  I though about how inconvenient it would be to spend my last few weeks in a jail cell.  In my case , giving me bond was the same as never seeing me again.

"Oh hell sit down,"  I said it to her back.  I had absolutely no doubt that she was on her way to call the Charlotte DA.

"So what's next ? " she asked.

"Next is to finish all the coffee in this place then go confront June.  While I am doing that you are going to be parked in the car wash parking lot .  It might not do you reputation any good but I am going to park beside you when I finish.  Then dear you are going to move you skinny ass to my van. "

" There is some reason for this I know."

"Yes there is, I need a place to leave the recorder until I can get back.  It she hasn't made a call be the time we need to go, then we leave your car there with the recorder in the trunk."

"No hell no we don't."  It seemed as though she recovered quickly.  We can leave that piece of crap van of yours."

"I haven't P i tched the tent yet.  I have no place to sleep if we do that."

"You can stay at my place one night.  I think I can fight you off for one night."

"Ha, a fter having spent the night in a motel with me , why would you think I would need to be fought off?  
"My apartment is not a motel."  She smiled knowingly at me.  Since she was the only one who knew anything, I let it pass.

There was a five year old Asian car in the drive of June's house when I returned.  I had no idea what kind of car, since they all look alike to me.

"Yes?" she made it a question when she opened the door.

"Hello, My name is Deke Burke, I thought we needed to talk.

"Talk about what?" she asked with a serious expression.  I sensed her arm tense to close the door in my face.

It was at that moment that I realized I didn't even know Mike's last name.  "Oh about Mike the reporter, Nightlite, twenty k suddenly showing up in your bank account.  Are you sure you want to talk about this on the porch, my voice tends to get louder a we go along ? "

"Mr. Burke, unless you have some official status, I have no intention of talking to you about anything."

"Not a problem for me Ma'am. I am a novelist not a reporter.  I can make up anything I want. I reckon th e local cops can figure out what is going on when I give them the right pieces.  I know you r step Dad protects you from most things, but if I light a fire under their asses , they will finish what I started."  It was a speech for me but I went on anyway.   "Now you can talk to me and I will tell it as Jane Smith from Virginia, or I will write one of those Bledsoe kind of things.  You know based more or less on the facts and then name names.  It is your choice."

"My choice, is for you to get the hell off my porch."

"Okay, but I do have all the pieces,"  I turned to walk away.  "If you change your mind, I am going to be camping at the state park outside town.   I drove the van around in circles just to make sure no one was playing pin the tale on the ass.  It was probably ten minutes later when I pulled into the parking lot.

Dee slipped in beside me.  "So did she call anyone?"  I asked it hopefully.

"I think she quit her part time gig.  She called to leave the message that it was just getting too hot for her to keep working, then hung up. "

"Anything else?"

"No, not another word so far."

"Well, we will give it couple of hours before we leave your car for the night.  Unbutton a couple of the buttons on your top."

"Are you nuts?  I am not going to sit here playing games while we wait."

"And what are you going to tell that cop when he walks up?"

"What cop?"

"The first one who comes by after dark.  We might not look all that suspicious just now, but when it gets dark we are going to look really suspicious in this parking lot .  We are parked across from an elementary school.  It could only be worse if the school were open."  I said the last with a chuckle.

I tried like hell to convince her to go home and let me handle the rest of it, but no dice.  She was determined to be an equal partner, even if it got her killed.  I didn't expect it to go quite that far, but anything was possible.  Mike had made a big  impression on me.  Well at least his death had.

If June had made any other calls, they were on her cell phone.  That thought kept me occupied all the way to the state campground.  Pitching the tent in the half light wasn't all that hard, just a lot of fumbling around.  I kept remembering another night in another campground when I got too nosey.  The vision of the burned out van would forever be seared into my brain.  Okay a cheap shot, but hell I never said I was Shakespeare.

"Now you my dear Dee, park your car on that next space."

"Why?" She asked.

"Just do it for me."  It was a pleasant night with no rain in the forecast, so I made a quick bed for us beside her car.

When I finished she commented.  "So you are expecting a visit?"

"Always expect the least likely event, and then you wont be surprised.  If anyone does show up, It is going to be a really sloppy plan.  We haven't left them time to plan anything fancy."

"There could be a traffic accident."

"Dee honey, even the local cops couldn't get away with two in a row."

"Why not Deke, the state cops work for her step dad."  

That was a sobering thought I had to admit , if only to myself.  I walked away shaking my head.  By filling her trunk, seats and the tiny space behind them I managed to store my most precious possessions.  My burner, master CDs and inventory.  I hid the folding table and art work tubes under the picnic table on the site where we slept.  A second tarp was spread over them.  It was the tarp that went under the tent floor to help prevent tears from stones.  We slept on the one I stretched out over it to make sure it didn't leak inside the tent.  I know it wa s over kill, but I am a bit anal about my computer and festival set up equipment.

It was probably a good thing that we had decided not to leave Dee's car at the school ground or the car wash over night.  The Memories of the burning van haunted me.  The campground setting just reinforced the need for caution.

Doing all of th e setup in the dark had been exhausting for me.  For Dee it had been a walk in the park.  I expect that if we could exchange hearts, I would feel as good as her and she as bad as me.  That faulty ticker was my salvation.  I had always known intuitively that it would be.

From the van I removed the steel triple C cell mag light, and the ten inch bladed  bowie knife.  That knife or ones like it had been everywhere with my family .  It had missed the civil war because the old man bought it in Saint Louis on his way home from his self imposed exile in the wilderness of Nevada.  I think it was about the only war that it missed until after the Vietnam war.  After the Vietnam war the Burke family had not sent another soldier into battle.  The family line suddenly began having girls which ended the long line of soldier adventurer Deacons.  If there was to be another Deacon after me, it would be my niece.  She was the only surviving member of the clan with direct blood lines to the old man.   I had no idea what had happened to her.  She had moved to Nevada but no one really knew what happened to her since.

Falling asleep was hard that night.  Dee was a nervous wreck.  It was more excitement than fear on her part.  She hadn't been shot at or burned out before.  I expected that if it went down as I expected , she would at least get over the excitement.  It would be replaced by a healthy respect for the other guy.  The others always had the upper hand at first.  The best we could ever do was to react as quickly as possible.  The bad guys almost never got away with their evil plans, but hell once was more than enough.

I lay awake listening for any misplaced sounds in the night. Since it was early in the season and a week night the sounds weren't as bad as they might have been.  There were no drunken revelers and no domestic squabbles to fill the night with voices.  After nine it got dead quiet in the campground.  Not a good choice of words but it is an accurate one.

I heard the sound of tires on the gravel drive of the space where the tent and van were sitting.  It could have been harmless but I just couldn't imagine that it was.  I slipped from the makeshift shelter only to move through the sparse vegetation to the car sitting with its engine running.  The dark figure in even darker clothes was standing outside my tent.  I didn't see anything but then the hands weren't visible in the dark either.

I was within a few feet when I was forced to step onto the gravel.  The crunch of my shoes was deafening.  The figure tried to turned toward me.  Too slow my mind screamed at me, you are moving too slow.  The figure was even slower than me thank god .

He was a short man and not very strong.  Even my age ravaged body was able to control him. Before he even knew it he was twisted facing away from me and the bowie blade rested against his throat.

"Hello, kind of late for a visit?"  I whispered it menacingly into an ear.  God, I thought, this guy wears way too much cologne.

"Let go of me or I will scream," the definite female voice said it while gasping for breath,

"Who the hell are you?"

"You told me that if I wanted to talk to come out here.  Then you try to kill me.  Well I did want to talk, now I am not sure."

"Lady , if I had tried to kill you, there wouldn't be any talking.  Come with me."  I led her to the van where we could at least have a seat while she decided whether to not to talk to me.  I turned on the interior light hoping that the drain on the battery wouldn't kill it.  With a junk yard battery you just never know.

"So?"  I asked it to give her a change to begin without me leading her.  I was afraid she would just tell me any story she thought I wanted to hear.

"God, you don't make it easy.  At least kill that light, I don't want to be in the glare while I tell this too much like an interrogation.

"Lady, you came to me remember ? "  I wasn't about to let her off the hook but I did gratefully kill the light.  What I couldn't figure out was why she came to talk rather than kill me.  After all they hadn't talked to Mike.  At that time at least it seemed easier to kill than to talk.

"First of all, I had nothing to do with that reporter's death."  She stopped to gauge my reaction.  When she didn't see anything obvious she went on.  "I admit that I was surprised and terrified when he came to my house, but I didn't kill him."

I figured she needed some encouragement so I said, "I didn't think you did.  I thought you called somebody else who did the deed."

"No," she almost shouted it.  "I was trying to decide what to do when I heard he was dead.  I admit I might have called Nightlite or even  my step father, but I didn't get the chance.  If I could or would have done that I wouldn't be here talking to you."

"Oh you might.  Whoever did Mike, might think you are too much trouble if you called again.  They might even have told you, 'This one time is all you get babe, if it comes up again, you are on your own.'  That kind of thing has been known to happen."

"Well not to me, I did not call anyone."

"Leaving that for a moment, tell me about the money.  Mike thought that you were blackmailing someone."

"Who could I blackmail, I didn't know the man who raped me."

"Did Mike mention rape. I sure as hell didn't.

"Yes Mike told me that he thought I had recognized the rapist and was blackmailing him."

"Forget all that for now, tell me about Nightlite.  What do you do for them?"

"Oh come now a big shot writer like you surely knows."

"Call me stupid, just tell me" I suggested.

"Okay Nightlite is a nationwide call girl outfit.  I am one of their employees."

"I don't suppose you answer the phone?"

"No, I am one of the prostitutes more or less."

"Surely there are enough hookers in Charlotte that they don't have to go looking."

"The Charlotte operation covers the whole state not just Charlotte.  I think they have a couple of hundred housewife types who work for them part time.  Sorta like me."

"So the fleet of cars delivers you to the rentor ? "

"Yes exactly, you seem to know a lot more about this than you admit?"

"Just enough to keep you honest."

"I work on Friday and Saturday nights only.  But the driver doesn't take me straight to a job.  I guess maybe once or twice I had a client waiting but mostly I have to kill a couple of hours at least.  The company maintains a house in Wilmington.  The driver takes me there and he stays.  Usually there are a couple of other women and drivers there."

"Who are the other women?"

"Come on writer, I'm not going to rat out some housewife."

"Okay are all the women part timers?"

"Best I can tell yes.  That is part of the appeal that makes these guys pay primo prices."

"So what do they do for women on Wednesday night?"

"A lot of the women are like me, single moms who need the extra money to pay the mortgage.   They hire a babysitter and go to work.  One of them said to me, 'So I give it to a stranger, Hell honey the only difference is I get paid for it.  Plus I get to ride in a limo."

"It makes only a little sense.  These guys have to be paying top dollar, why?  What do you do that makes it worth while for them to pay so much more."

"I don't know that they do,"  She saw the look I gave her.  "Okay. I do know they aren't paying twenty bucks for a blow job in the back seat of their cars ."

"My point exactly," I replied.

"It is a multi faceted approach.  One they send the girls out all over.  A guy who lives in Tomahawk can get a first class hooker just like a guy in N ew Y ork city."  She saw the subtle shake of my head.  "Then of course there is the thrill of knowing you might pass the same woman in the grocery store some day.  The women are not crack whores, these are all regular women with regular lives."  I shook my head again.  I knew that it just wasn't enough to get her into the life.  The little factory worker who needed a hundred bucks a week to pay for her groceries yeah, but not June Silver.

"O k ay some of us work for the money, and for the kink."  That I understood.  

" I'll buy that but what kind of money and what kind of kink?"

"Are you just a dirty old man after all?"

I had to fight down the smile.  "Probably, but right now I am trying to understand all of this."

"Okay, I got into it because I needed the extra money, and like the woman said I was giving it away to strangers anyway.  Picking up the two bills a week was fine and I could have kept that up forever.  One night the driver handed me an envelope.  Inside was a letter, typed I might add.  The letter asked if I would be interested in doing some of the more interesting jobs.  The pay would be significantly more, the letter promised'

I wanted to guide her but decided to just let her tell it.  She had been looking off into the night while she spoke.  "After the first one I should have stopped.  The guy lived in a small town up the coast, no I will not tell you which one so don't even ask."  She didn't see me nod in the dark but she sensed it.  The guy owns a funeral home.  He wanted to lay in a coffin and have me give him a blow job.  It was a lot harder to bring myself to do it than it was for him to get off.  When it was over, he ushered me out to the waiting car.  

I turned couple of other tricks that weekend but my check had about two hundred dollars more in it than usual.  The letter had also stated that the women who did the 'specials' could worked more.  I was able to go from a weekend now and then to any weekend I wanted to work.  The money went to over double since I was doing most of the 'specials' in the eastern part of the state which came up on the weekend anyway.  I had to refuse week night work more than once, before they got the idea.  I made so much money that after a couple of weeks I began thinking about investments.  A friend of my step dad arranged the brokerage account for me.

"Okay, what kinds of kink?"

"You don't need to know that." she snapped.

"Sure I do, but its okay if it makes you feel better to pretend that you are protecting a client."  She didn't see the nasty smile on my face but she felt it.

"Okay asshole, I did several women, played subbie a hundred times, I've been beaten, screwed by machines, flogged for fun and profit, and a whole lot more."

She had intentionally skipped the one I was really interested in .  "You ever been raped for money?"

"You son of a bitch," She said it but she didn't make a move to leave the van.

"So?" I asked after several minutes in which I was damn sure she teared up.

"Yes, more than once."

"By strangers?"

"Yes,  a couple more than once."  I could hear the tears in her voice."

"Tell me how and where, I don't need the sexual details but every other detail."

"The where varied.  I would sometimes be abducted from a mall parking lot.  A lot of it happened in city parks in small towns.  Once even in the dressing room of a department store."  I shook my head in disbelief.

"'Did any of them know you were the Governors step brat?"

"I don't know, but I expect so.  It was part of the reason I made so much money at it.  If you are thinking it was a client come back for a freebie, let me tell you I would have recognized them."  I didn't even want to know how.

In all the talk about kink, I had let the money slip through the cracks.  "So June the extra t wenty grand?"

"I posed for some pictures."

"Sweetie you are attractive , in the small town girl way, but twenty grand?  I don't think they pay the porn models that much."

"Yes but they aren't a sitting Governors step brat either."

"Do you hate him that much?"

"Why do you ask that writer?"

"You are a hooker who doesn't hesitate to tell the pimps who your step dad is, and you are posing for pictures you know will be published as the daughter of governor.  That kind of tells me you don't like him much."

"You don't really know anything about me and our Governor and you don't know much about things work either."

"You are probably right.  Why don't you explain the picture thing to me ? "

"I posed for the pictures for a flat twenty thousand dollars.  What they do with them is none of my concern.  If the Man feels he needs to suppress them that is his business.  If he lets playboy have them , that is also his decision.  See it has nothing to do with me."

"So, it was okay to have them in playboy or not.  But why?"

"Why did I do that or why do I do any of it ? "

"Start with the smaller," I suggested.

"During that rape thing he distanced himself from it and me.  Not all of it, he managed to wring a little sympathy from it, but for me it was sink or swim on your own. He even managed to keep my mom away.  I needed her."  When she delivered the last sentence her voice fell in volume and tone.

"Okay, how about doing the whole thing?"

"I told you why, if I was going to do it anyway, I might as well get paid for it."

"But surely, you can't enjoy the kinds of men who need to buy sex?"

"There you go again write, all screwed up in your thinking."

"Well Golly gee hon, enlighten  me."

"These guys are not paying twenty bucks for a blow job in a porn movie house .  They are paying five hundred for a straight encounter.  A guy who can pay that isn't likely to be a stinky vagrant.  He might be fat and bald but hey, in the dark as they say."

I skipped the obvious questions, I didn't give a damn whether or not she got any physical pleasure from it.  "Now I do have a dilemma."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"If I can verify your story, then things are going to return to normal for you.  If I can't, then I write the book."

"You don't trust me?"   I didn't need to see her, the smile was in her voice.

"What has gotten into me ?  How could I doubt a hooker who set up her own family."  The light tone must have hit the right note because she laughed softly.

"How do you do that?" She knew how but she wanted to hear me say it.

"I want to meet with someone from Nightlite and then someone from you dear ole dad.  When I do that, I will change things enough so that no one can tell it is you.  Otherwise it bec omes an expose' kind of thing."

"What about your friend the newspaper dyke?"

"You have to figure out what to do about her.  As for me, I work alone she is just tagging along."

"Alright give me that cell number.  I think I can work out both."  There was a gleam in her eye.  I suddenly got the impression that June loved to stir up trouble.  She had better be careful the person or persons who did Mike in might just do a twofer.

"Make it today," I said.  It was a hollow threat, since I would take the information right up till the day I started to write it all down.

"I think you can count on at least getting a call today."  She smiled that smile again.

I had discs and my label maker going full steam the next afternoon when the first of the calls came.  "Are you the man they call Deacon?" the voice asked.

"Unless you are a collection agent I am."  I decided to go with the tough guy image.

"Cute,  This is Gerald with Nightlite.  I understand you want to talk to me."

"I do.  We need to meet."

"You don't really expect me to drop everything do you?"

"Truth is I do.  I want to look you in the eye when you lie to me.  It is the only way to avoid the spotlight shining on night lite.  Oh yeah, it won't even do to kill me, because the trail of bodies would lead back to your door."

"The newspaper woman?"  

"Well her for sure and about anyone else I can leave a note with.  If you killed Mike , then I guess you are in for the whole pound.  Truth is I don't know who killed Mike so I am just casting a wide net right now."

"So, I meet with you, look you in the eye and you will be satisfied ? "

"Probably," I said it with a light hearted voice.

"When can you be in Charlotte."  It had become crunch time.  The next statement I figured would tell me something.

"I can't, but I will make time if you come here."

"You expect me to drive four hours just to talk to tell you  that I don't know anything about any rape or murder."

"I do indeed."  If he was going to kill me, I figure he would have agreed without question.  If he had nothing to hide he would have refused.

"Alright but I am not going to be happy about this."

"Never thought you would be Gerald.  By the way I would have expected someone named Guido."

"Sorry, I am not going to go into any of this over the phone."

"When you get near me call with the name of a restaurant."

"Deacon, you are lucky we are a non violent bunch here.  It would be a lot easier to just kill you."

"I expect so.  If you change your mind about that just remember, there have been a others before you.  Most of them are in jail or dead."

"I think I will make a few calls to check that out.  Information is a good thing," he replied.

"I sure as hell cant deny that."

"If I leave after lunch I can be there by five, how about we make the meet in my motel room."

"I think not.  Call me when you get here and I will tell you where.  Your chance to call it ended with the Motel suggestion."  The conversation ended there.

"So what do you think?" Dee asked.

"I think they are either clean or they will murder us both.  Either way we should know something more when the meeting ends."

"How so if we are dead?"

"We will know if that light people talk about is an oncoming train."  She smiled as I had expected her to do.

I spent the first part of the day working on CDs.  The burner and the computer were going like hell when Dee spoke, "Deacon, we need to get ready.  That Gerald w i ll be here soon."

"Not much to do kid."  I said it but I began to shut down the computer.  It didn't take long to carefully pack away everything.  The computer went into the tiny trunk of Dee's sports car.  The rest of the CD equipment and masters followed it in.   Everything else go packed away just as if nothing unusual was in the wind.

I followed Dee to her house where she parked the car in back.  No sense being obvious even thought I expected her house was safe.  "I'm surprised to see you wearing a sports coat.  I haven't seen you in anything other than a sweatshirt since we met.  I never knew a man with so many torn sweat shirts."  She was actually referring to the ragged cutoff sleeves.

"Oh when I was a teenager they were all the craze.  I am trying to revisit my past I expect."

"If that's the case, why haven't you hit on me ? "  At first I thought she was kidding, but she didn't break the questioning look on her face.

"Dee, you told me from day one not to bother. That I was too old and you were bent the other way."

"I know but I am still surprised.  From what I read in your stories that doesn't seem to bother you."

"What are you talking about?" I asked.

"Look Deke, I know a little bit about writing.  People write about what they know.  This is not your first time traveling with a woman young enough to be your daughter.  Or????"

"Don't even go there," I replied with a smile.  She rightly assumed that there was nothing more in that line of questioning.

"Okay so who was the younger woman."  When I didn't answer she went on.  "My guess is someone with a sexual identity problem.   You look kind of safe.  That is you would, if I hadn't read your books."

"You keep saying that but no one has read my books.  I wish they had."

"Deke, I know how to access your computer.  I have certainly been alone with it long enough to download a hundred files."

"I see," I really didn't want to ask her which files she had read.

"All men, but you in particular love a challenge, so Why?"

"I don't  have short time flings.  When we nail this down in the next couple of days , I will be back on the road."

"You know you could ask me to go with you.  Don't look so panicked I don't love you but this has been fun.  The festival things are a blast.  Pretending to be your daughter or your lover is also quite a fun game."

"Well, I certainly am glad you are enjoying it.  Just w hat is it with the daughter stuff, this aint A rkansas ? "  I smiled since I knew she was a liberal.

"Right , you are from North Carolina and you are never going to be president."

"You don't know how right you are."  

My balance had taken a turn for the worse after having been better for the previous couple weeks.  When I caught a break like that the horse head cane came out and the real cane was put away, but never too far away.  One thing about those extra things growing your head the normal stuff had to make room for it.  In my case the squeezing of brain tissue resulted in balance problems.  They ranged from a slight weaving to staggering so bad I gave drunk a bad name.  At those time the cane returned.  That night as much for protection as for balance I walked with the heavy steel cane.  A plumber friend of mine had made it from half inch galvanized water pipe with all the necessary fittings to make a handle and a slightly heavier tip .  Since all I ever say in the hardware stores was plastic, I expect that the pipe was ripped from an old house .   The restaurant was one of those things I hoped I wouldn ' t be caught dead in.

"Now Dee I want you to be careful.  I want you to keep thinking Jimmy Hoffa during this meeting."

"I will old man, you take care of yourself and I will do the same."

"Good , I might need us both taking care of me," I replied.  I knew that she didn't get it but she smiled anyway.

Gerald turned out to be a black man.  I was pretty much shocked.  Okay it was because he had sounded like Harry Reasoner on the phone.  He enjoyed my surprised look.  The man was at least 6'2" and pushing 250.  Someone best not to offend, I thought.

"University of North Carolina Theater Arts major."  Just as easily he slipped into the street dialect.  "But if some ho give me sheet, I kins kick her worthless ass."  He actually laughed.

"So what do you do to newspaper reporters?"

"I have no idea what happened to your friend.  I drove four hours so you could look me in the eye when I said that.  I also came to tell you that it might be a good idea for you to forget everything you have learned about Nightlite."

"Now why on earth would I do that?"

"Oh I would try to bluff you, but the truth is there is nothing much I can do to you if you don't.  You would look mighty foolish if there was no Nightlite when your book came out.  See , we are just smoke and mirrors.  We are kinda like a big cloud.  You make a big wind and we blow away to regroup and come back later with a new name."

"So nobody could touch you and I get sued by the Governor's people for a story I can't prove even a little part of."

"Damn you do catch on.  I can't believe I didn't have to fill in any blanks for you."

"Sure you do, who killed my friend."  Okay we weren't friends but it sounded better coming out that way/

"Look to daddy , if you want an answer.  I sure as hell don't have one.  Ask yourself this, why would I kill him.  I have my customers list and I know he is after me, so my boss just opens a new web site.  Business flows again and I don't have to worry about a murder charge.  No Deacon this one doesn't fall on me, cause I don't have a motive."

"How about if you were the rapist."  I watched his face.  I hit a nerve with that one.

"I don't have to rape nobody to get laid.  A black man who can travel in all the right circles has his pick of your women."  It was said in a sneer.

"Hey, they aint my women.  See Gerald I am out of the game, I guess actually I am an observer these days."

"Well I just wanted you to know that I screw white women exclusively."  He smiled one of those really nasty looks that only one man can give another.

I smiled my very best old man's smile.  "Can't say I blame you for screwing my people.  I sure as hell wouldn't screw one of yours either."

Instead of becoming angry he smiled.  "You got a good mind old man, damn shame you so old."

"Son, you don't have any idea how big a shame it is."  I didn't answer his curious look.  "So, I guess we are through."

"Unless you got something else witty to say."

"Oh sure just one thing, I would buy myself a large bottle of glass cleaner."  I did answer his curious look.  "Those mirrors better be real clean.  I expect June will roll on you like a beach ball when it comes down to survival."

"Thanks for the warning."  He stood to leave after draining his coffee cup.  I watched him until he was out of the parking lot.  

I waited and drank my coffee until the waitress came to refill the cup.  "Miss, do you guys do take out."

"Sure, you want to order something?"

"No I wonder if I might have a plastic bag.  You know the kind you put take out orders in."

"I suppose so but why?"

"Ask the manager how much he wants to sell me this coffee cup.  I sure do like it.  Coffee always tastes better from one of these."  

"You are going to take his cup aren't you?" Dee asked it with a knowing smile.

"Yep, his mirrors aren't as clean as he things."  I smiled back at her.

"Geeze remind me not to piss you off writer."

The check I got had an additional five bucks on it, but I figured it was cheap enough to teach Gerald a little about old men.  The plastic bag with the cup inside went into Dee's trunk beside my computer.  Getting the cup off to a cop who would run it without too many questions was going to be hard.  Dee came to the rescue.  She just happened to know a cop.

Dee seemed to know everyone.  We took the cup to a middle aged women.  Dee explained her need for an identification and secrecy.  The woman having no idea what it was all about explained how much trouble she would be in if Dee rolled her up.  Dee explained how much trouble she would be in if her husband and the church found out about her last affair.

The woman took the cup but didn't look happy about it.  I had kept quiet during the whole conversation.  The woman pointedly handed me the card with her number.  "Call me tomorrow writer and I will have it for you.  Dee this is the last time you ever do this to me, understand,"

"Sure Evelyn, if this wasn't really important, I wouldn't be here now."

"Fuck you Dee," the older woman said.

"Evelyn honey, you did."  Dee smiled a sweet smile at the woman who had met us in the courtyard of the historic city hall.

We were in the car when Dee smiled at me, then said, "Writer, lets go home and get roaring drunk."

"Why not,"  I had forgotten that she lived in the town.  Instead of taking me to the campground, she drove me to her house.  Just as soon as I figured it out, I demanded  that she stop by the Liquor store.  The new fifth of Jack Daniels sat in the space behind the seat as she drove to her house.

I was surprised to find that she lived in very moderate older frame home.  I guess I had expected more from the daughter of the paper's owner.  She didn't bother to explain how little the regional paper , in the almost totally rural area , made.  I had a pretty good idea from the house where she lived.  The house did not match up to the sports car which was probably worth new as much as the house was on that day.  Since young people have a different set of values, I didn't bother to ask.

Dee let me into the house through the simple front door.  The fact that it had no glass seemed in keeping with the house's utilitarian appearance.  The inside was decorated but by someone who had eclectic taste, or no taste at all.  After a closer inspection, I decided that it was indeed a toss up.  Either way I am sure that the pictures and furniture made a statement  I just didn't get it.  The whole interior seemed out of sink.  A lot like a man in blue jeans with a five hundred dollar sports coat on top, interesting but not exactly right.

I sat on the sink in sofa, my very least favorite kind, where I stayed for the evening.  It was pretty much because lifting my ass off of it required more balance than I had.  One time up was all I would ever be able to manage.  I chose to wait until I was drunk enough so that the alcohol would seem to be the cause for my stumbling around.  Yes it was obvious to even me that I was self conscious about the balance thing.  It w ould most likely cause me to lose my drivers license.  If I got stopped, I sure as hell would fail the agility test, then I would pass the breathalyzer.  Given the contradiction , it would be off for a blood test.  I t could pass that alright but then the problem would be what the hell did I do or ingest to cause my erratic movements.  That might g et me some time in a local jail while they sorted through it.  The eventual outcome would mostly be me driving without a license.  I had a lot to do and the lack of a piece of plastic wouldn't stop me.

I was pretty drunk by ten pm. So drunk un fact that when Dee informed me that I couldn't get a pizza delivered in the small town, I passed quietly out on the sofa.  I am not sure what Dee had in mind but she shook me about twice then tossed a blanket over me.  

I awoke the next morning feeling worse than I had in years.  The hangover reminded me of the bad old days.  I had tried to control my drinking then to.  It hadn't worked any better in those days.  I resisted the urge to have a morning pick me up.  Instead I went to Dee's over decorated bathroom and heaved my guts out.  It didn't make me feel one damn bit better.  I'm not sure if the light c a me on while I was heaving or after but it did click for me.  I knew I had to find a meeting.  I didn't have any clean clothes so I skipped my morning shower.  Instead I went in search of Dee.  I needed her to drive me to the campground.

When I pass out drunk I am really out.  That is the only way I can explain what I found in Dee's bedroom.  I would have knocked, but the door was open, why I have no idea unless she wanted me to see. I looked in to tell her I needed a ride.  I didn't get a word out since Dee was naked and fast asleep.  Beside her lay a woman or maybe a girl, who was equally naked.  The female sensed me in the doorway, I suppose.  She smiled up and me but made to attempt to cover her slightly plumb body.  It must have been like her father looking in on her or maybe even grandfather since she was so young.  She moved in Dee's arms.  She rolled toward Dee, then kissed Dee passionately.  

Dee evidently hadn't the girls ability to feel my presence.  Instead of either covering herself or jumping up indignantly, she began to move against the younger woman.   I smiled so that the younger woman could see it then went to the kitchen.  Since I couldn't find any coffee, I had a coke while I awaited to two women.  Whatever they did took over twenty minutes to complete.  

When Dee came into the room, she was covered by a very short terrycloth robe.  On anyone else it might have been sexy, on Dee it was just functional.  Her skinny legs poked out one end and her very flat chest showed through at the other.  The almost open robe did not show any breasts at all just the sternum.  It might have been the first time that I had seen anyone so thin that the bone actually was visible.

"So Writer, Zandy tells me you like to watch?"  It was a question not a statement.

"She obviously has a kinky bend there but I'm the wrong guy."

"I know, I noticed when you walked away.  You didn't have to go you know."

"Sure I did, you just don't know."  I smiled at her so that I could be a little mysterious.

"How about putting on some clothes and take me back to my van?"

"How about Zandy takes you back.  I kind of want to take a shower.  You do remember how it is after sex.?"

"Vaguely what about Zandy?"

"She is like you, she has no clothes here.  She can drop you off on her way home it isn't too much out of the way."

"Sure but we need to move the computer to her car then.  I am going to want to work some.  It might be a long time before you make it out."

"Okay but it wont be long.  I am going to take a shower and get dressed.  It could be a couple of hours but no more."

"I still want my computer before that."

"Alright,"  with those words she removed a set of keys from a nail set in one of those cutesy key holders.  It was the word I had been searching for to describe her interior design.  It was early childhood cutesy.

She didn't even bother to put on shoes as he walked to the door calling Zandy over her shoulder.  The three of us stood around while I moved the computer equipment from Dee's sports car to the trunk of Zandy's family style sedan.

I was surprised that Zandy said hardly a word as we drove to the campground.  She did ask me what Dee and I were up to.  I gave her the sanitized version of our little investigation.  I also explained that I was going to be writing a novel about it all.

"I think that must be what appeals to Deloris about you.  It certainly had nothing to do with sex.  I think she sees you as a father figure.  Since you are a writer like her dad."

"It could be," I replied not at all flattered by the remark.

"Well whatever," she said dismissing it and me too I expect.  W e found the space exactly as we had left it.  I had not been worried about that part of it.  Gerald didn't have time to prepare a proper reception for me.  Even in the freewheeling world of crime, you cant just have something done instantly.  There ha s to be meetings ect, unless you were dealing with a very high figure . Gerald would probably never be one of those.  I was pretty sure he played in a world where he lacked the pedigree.

An hour later a cleaner sweeter smelling version of me walked into the office of the state park.  Finding a telephone directory was easy.  Finding a meeting was a bit more difficult.  It took a couple of calls to find the meeting spot then reasonably good directions to it.  The one o'clock meeting required that I do a little fast moving but I made it just fine.

It started with the usual My name is Charles Burke and I'm an alcoholic.  I admitted my slip and the circumstances behind it.  As usual most of the comments though encouraging meant nothing but as most always happens one person cut right to it.

"Going out drugged might be okay for most people, but not for you.  If it was you wouldn't be here, so you know what you want to do.  I can't and would never judge you anyway, but you have already made the next decision on the road out,"

He was right of course.  I guess I just needed  if not say it then to at least admit it to myself.  I wanted to be in control till the end at a time of my own choosing.  The man had looked at me without flinching.  I nodded that I understood.  

After the meeting the man a few years older than me handed me a Styrofoam cup filled with coffee.  "It's a rough break but at least it wont be alzheimers."

"At least I have that.  How did you know?"

"It's in the eyes.  I was a medic in the N am.  I seen that look on guys who knew they was gonna die .  That is a memory that never goes away."

"I missed it but I had an uncle there.  They tell me he never was like other people after he came home.  Not crazy, just saw thing different."

"Did that to some of us, others it humbled, but some just went back as if it never happened."

"I guess so, by the way thanks."

"For what you had already made up your mind."

"Yes but I needed that one last piece of the puzzle."  He looked at me knowingly but I said it anyway.  "To take control till the end."

"Control is what it is all about Charles."

"My friends call me Deacon," I said it looking into the thick black coffee.  "You know they have the same lousy coffee at all these meetings.

"Don't they just?" he said it with a grin.  I dropped a ten in the coffee can on the way out of the door.

I was at the van when I remembered to turn the cell back on.  It had been off during the meeting there were no signs people just did it.  Cell phones ringing at an aa meeting somehow seemed wrong.  I think it has to do with your priorities maybe.

The missed call light was blinking as was the number of the caller.  Handy little things those phones.  I punched in the numbers carefully since my fingers are not the right size for those tiny buttons.  

"Sandyridge State Park," The voice stated it almost happily.

"Yes this is Deacon, I mean Charles Burke did you guys call me?"

"Just a moment please."  With those words the voice turned into homogenized music.

"Mr. Burke, You had a call a while ago."

"Since when do you guys forward messages?"  I asked it because I already knew the answer.

"When it's the Governors office."  The man didn't add the, that's when, but it was in his voice.

"So what does Ed want this time?"  I asked it as if I knew Edward Thomas the Governor of North Carolina at the time.

"Er Er, it was some kind of secretary or something, said to tell you to be available around noon."

"Did the secretary or something leave a number?"  I asked it enjoying the man's discomfort.  He had probably either been to my site or asked someone else to go there.  When whoever it was saw my beat up old van instead of a fancy motor home they must have been truly bewildered.  Then me acting as if I knew the Governor probably made them very uneasy.

I took a quick look at my watch.  It was already noon and me with a fifteen minute drive back to the site.  "If I were you, I would send someone down to the site to advise the governor's representative that I will be another fifteen minutes to half hour.  Of course, you don't have to.  It is just a suggestion."

I stopped at a convenience store for more coffee and orange juice.  The stop put me at the campsite closer to 12:30 than 12:00.  I wasn't a bit surprised to see the long black car in my drive.  The Li n coln town car was at least as long as my van.  What did surprise me was the woman sitting at my picnic table.  She was smoking a cigarette and seemed for all the world to be communing with nature.  The view of the lake was magnificent even if the deer were no longer watering.

"You should see it in the morning mist and with the dear stan d ing on that sandbar," I said it when I was within earshot.  I looked back to the driver standing outside the car watching us closely.  He was close enough to intervene without being close enough to hear.  I could imaged the ten mm pistol hanging under his shoulder or tucked in the waistband of his pants.  Either way he had bodyguard written all over him.

"I can only imagine. You know I lived here pretty much all my life but have never been to this park.  It is quite lovely."

"That must make you June's mother?"

"It does, and who the hell are you?"

"You mean you don't know already.  I'm just a struggling writer."

"I have never heard of you until a couple of days ago, but you sure make a big noise when you begin something.  I spoke with a detective who is working on June's rape.  He checked you out."

"I wouldn't have it any other way."

"Doesn't much matter what you would or would not have Mr. Burke."

"Good Point Mrs Thomas."  I smiled even though it probably would have given me an ulcer, if I had time for one to develop .

"So, you know my daughter is not perfect?"

"Yes I do, what I don't know is why your husband doesn't stop her from doing something so obviously dangerous to herself and the family."

"Ed gave up on her long ago.  He pretty much told me to handle her and try to prevent any embarrassment."

"Sounds about like the best a stepfather can do."  I had a little experience in that myself.

"It probably was but in effect he said to June, 'Do what you want just don't make waves.   She has been trying ever since to make waves without doing too much damage."

"And this newest one?"

"Until your friend Mike came along I had it contained.  He began poking around.  He somehow knew which buttons to punch, so he had June all upset."  She noted my look and stopped talking.

"Why the hell would June be upset.  She was out to create a little havoc in your life.  Mike was as good a way as any."

"Oh no, if it make the paper she would lose the safety net."  I looked blank enough for her to explain.  "June knows I won't completely desert her.  At least not unless I am forced to choose.  Edward is very important to me on several levels and June is grown.  She should be able to take care of herself.  The influence I can throw around from the Governors office can help her out now and then.  She doesn't want to lose it."

"Okay, so which one of you killed Mike?"

"Truth is Mr. Burke, I had to look it up after June called me.  I had no idea who he was or that he was dead.  She called and I told her to just leave it alone till he had something real then we would buy him off.  I didn't even know his name until last night."

"That all sounds good but there are only three of you with a motive to kill him.  Somebody is going to hold his murder."

"The highway patrol says it was a hit and run accident."

"Since they work for your husband, I have to question the amount of effort that went into their investigation."

She nodded her dyed blond  head at me.  "So Mr Burke, what is you price?  Everybody has one you know?"

"True but you can't meet mine."

"You never know, give me a try."

"Ten more years of life."  When the recognition finally struck her, I watched the hard look slip from her eyes.  She wasn't the bitch I had met at the table.

"I see."

"I expect that I have enough time to finish this."

"How about your family?"  It looked as though the bitch had returned.

"Only one I have is a wife, who has more money than I ever did.  You don't have anything I want."

"That isn't want I was asking.  How are they taking it ? "

"Same as you would I expect."

"Life is so unfair."  She said that as she began walking to the car.  

I got past my dislike for her at least enough to give her an honest appraisal.  June's mother was a knock out for a woman approaching fifty.  Lots of money had made her trim, well dressed, and a woman with that 'taken care of' look.  The big question was not how attractive or even how innocent she appeared.   The question was could she have had Mike killed.  It was a toss up question.  I had defined the investigation while I talked to her.  There was always a point when it all got sorted out.  There were only three groups of people with a real motive.  

I had already pretty much ruled out the Charlotte connection.  Unless they had a hit squad on standby for a moment's notice job, it would have been impossible to organize it in the few hours they had.  The four hour drive alone would have made it almost impossible.  The other possibility which was very unlikely was that the man June called at Nightlite just took off and did it himself.  Nothing fancy about a hit and run.  I just couldn't buy it.  Mike would never have stopped for a stranger in big black car.  He knew there were risks involved.

The same was true of the governor or was it.  Mike would stop for a cop car and the governor was the chief   l aw enforcement officer.  But could he get a rogue cop from where ever he was to the scene.  Logistically it just didn't work.  June's mother would have had to call someone who would kill for her, then get them to the scene, then spot Mike, then follow him out of town, then get him to stop and stand there while he was run over.  It all sounded far fetched except that there was one person who could have done it.  June could have done it all.  The problem with that was that I had seen her car and it didn't have anywhere near the damage it should have if it had been used as a murder weapon.  Cars are more fragile than people think, or maybe the human body was better designed.

Since I hadn't had a shower all day, I walked through the deserted camp ground to the bath house.  Being and early spring and Thursday afternoon explained the empty park.  The empty park explained what happened next.

I never heard a sound over the running water.  When I stepped out into the cool air nothing seemed out of place.  I was even in the camp space for some time before I noticed the first irregularity.  The computer was inside the tent to keep it out of the dust between uses.  I went inside to put my dirty clothes into the large plastic ba g just in case I ever decided to wash. It was more likely that I would just buy new ones.

I saw the computer when I entered.  The case had been bashed by what could have been a sledge hammer.  I stood with my mouth open.  It had been rendered absolutely junk.  I could only hope the hard drive wasn't ruined, nothing else was going to be salvageable.  The small bank type monitor had survived only because it wasn't hooked to the computer's box at the time.  Likewise the CD library, what I considered to be worth more than anything else I owned at the time, was spared.  I could replace it, but it would have meant a trip home to the safety deposit box.

The computer had taken all the hits inside the tent.  I expected the perpetrator was in a hurry to get out of the place .  He obviously hadn't bothered with the other items , they were of little or no value.  I went outside to check the van since I was sure there would be more damage.  As I suspected the van also took a couple of hits.  The windshield was cracked in the bullet hole pattern, without the hole.  It also screamed hammer at me.  Since I could see out the windshield, I wasn't all that pissed.   Howev er, I didn't like it that was for sure.

The note scribbled on the windshield in what looked like lipstick read, ' No matter how bad it gets, it could always be worse '  I supposed that to be a death threat.  I took it seriously.   I looked about to determine what to do next.  I had chosen the secluded site when I arrived at the park.  It was proving to have been a lousy idea.  I considered calling the cops, but thought better of it.  The y would take a report for the insurance company then forget it.  I didn't have any insurance on the pile of junk.  

I thought I would drive down to the park office .  Just to see if they by chance had a record of visitors license numbers.  I got the van to the end of the drive when the motor seized.  It didn't even get hot, it just seized.  I wasn't sure what happened until I opened the gas tank cover.  The white crystals , still adhering to the inside of the opening , told me that someone had dumped a fair amount of sugar into the gas tank.  The engine was gone and would never be right again.

It was a warning no doubt but by who and why.  It made absolutely no sense at all.  They killed Mike without so much as  hello.  I like to think that I was more dangerous than Mike, yet I get a warning.  It just made no sense at all.

I called Dee just as soon as I allowed the van to roll back into the camp space.  "So what you doing hon?"  I asked it as though nothing had happened.  I wanted to know where she had been the last half hour.

"I'm at the office helping dad with a few things he let get behind."

"Could I speak to your dad?"

"Why?"  She asked skeptical ly .

"I would just like to say hello that's all."

"Okay, but listen he doesn't know about me.  He thinks we were fooling around don't set him straight . Okay?"

I knew before I even spoke to him that it was a waste.  If her biggest concern was that I would tell him we weren't fooling around, she had to be innocent.  She was of course.  Her dad and I had a nice two minute talk.  I asked what time Dee finally made it into the office and he told me around noon. He also told me I shouldn't keep her out so late.  I just smiled.

I was sitting at the table drinking my lousy coffee when it came to me.  I had not kept my eye on the ball.  I was running around chasing what ifs, instead of moving forward with the one things I was sure of,  June's rape stank to high Buddha.

I found the card in my wallet.  The one the governor's wife had left me.  I dialed the number, as she promised it went directly to her.  No sense in asking her where she had been.  She was slick I was sure of that.

"Hello there, this is the vast right wing conspiracy calling."

"Burke is that you?"

"Yes Ma'am it is.  I need to ask you a question then maybe get some help."

"Now why would I help you?"

"Set the record straight?"

"There is no record, I told you that."

"Okay then do it because you are a first class bitch and we can do some damage to the people who are out to get you."

"Hold on, are you on a cell phone."

"Yes, why?

"This line is monitored.  I don't think I want this conversation overheard."

"I would think that the truth."

"How about going to a landline and calling this number."  She read off a number.  I expected that it was recorded but she was the only one with access to the tapes.

"I can't somebody screwed up my van."

"You have to be kidding.  I expect that it just died."

"Sure, with the help of five pounds of domino sugar."

"Geeze writer, what the hell is going on."

"Maybe there is a right wing conspiracy.  I just doubt that it is vast."

"You have me confused with that other politicians wife."  The chuckle was not unattractive. "Just for the record, I would have cut his balls off.  Now what the hell is going on.  No don't tell me till I get you on a secure line.  Damn, there are too  many people who know that you are looking into this, none of these lines are secure and you have a cell phone for god's sake."

"Calm down lady."

"You might as well call me Jessy , since you know most of my family secrets."

"I do, but do you?"

"What the hell, no don't tell me.  I am on the way back to that campground."

"Good idea, but I would ditch the driver this time.  This one you might not want to share."

"I can't get there for three hours.  You stay right where you are."

"I need to get rid of this van and find some wheels."

"Don't you make a move or call anyone.  I will take care of everything when I get there."

"You might get here but I will take care of everything.  You are not my mother or my wife."

"No but as you so rightly ob served I am the world's biggest bitch.  Now pour yourself a drink or whatever you do to relax."

"Alright . "

"Give me four hours so that I can explain things here before I leave."

"Fair enough it is three now.  If you aren't here by dark all bets are off."

"You just be careful Burke, I think you have the answers."

"No, but I have the right questions for a change."  While I waited I gave some thought to my next move.  Since they hadn't burned me out I was in reasonably good shape compared to the last time I got a warning.  I had a place to sleep and food to eat. I even had someone to help me with the logistics of my next move, whatever that might be.

In addition to all that I had the wife of arguably the most important man in the state on her way to help me unravel the mess.  What I couldn't dig up on my own she sure as hell could.  My main complaint at that moment was that I was out of ice.  The closest place was the campground office.  That was going to be a pretty hefty walk for a man with clogged pipes.

I gave Evelyn a call before I did anything else.  She gave me the name to match the prints on the cup.  That new computer Identification program the cops have is amazing.  Gerald didn't have a record, but the most amazing thing happened when I put his real name into Google.  Out of the ether pop p ed Gerald Evan's contributions to political journals.  Gerald was one of those pros who truly leach of f politics.  The jump to conclusions was just a small hop.

I gave it a lot of thought then decided to just wait for the Governor ' s wife.  I slipped into the tent to take a nap.  It is the one thing I had learned from writing.  If you cant work it out, sleep on it.  I awoke to the sound of crunching gravel on the steep driveway leading to my campsite.  I t could have been anyone of the women who weren't sleeping with me.  I had to smile at that thought.  If I had expected the final spring to be filled with sex , I had really been foolish.  I could see as I lay on the bedroll drifting in and out of sleep, that I had been kidding myself all along.  Nothing a single person did in life made a hell of a lot of difference.  One in a billion might have made a lasting impression on mankind, but certainly no more than that.  I thought all that before I even looked out of the tent.

The car behind my worthless van wasn't the yellow sports car or even the black limo.  It was instead a very plain F ord.not plain in the police unmarked car kind of thing but plain in the family car kind of way.  I guessed right when Mrs Thomas emerged.  I took a quick look at my watch and found it to be almost eight P.M.  

"Well you made it ? " I smiled at her even thought I didn't have anything to smile about.

"Of course I made it.  I want to know what is going on every bit as much as you."  She wasn't smiling at all.

"I don't know if you really do or not."  I dropped my smile at that moment.

"Looks like you pissed somebody else off besides me."  She did smile at that point.

I removed my cell phone from my shirt pocket then the card from my wallet.  She stood quietly while I dialed the number on the card.  The phone rang in my ear but not in her purse or on her body.  The phone even got answered by someone.  The someone told me that I had the wrong number since there was no one named Martha Stewart at the number."

"What was that for?" she asked curiously.

"Just wanted to make sure that it wasn't your cell phone."

"Checking out my alibi.  Don't worry," She was smiling again.  "I wouldn't have had it any other way.  So now Burke, what is going on?"

"Actually I am trying to sort through all this now.  Truth is I expect you already know."  The look she gave me was either academy award material or she didn't have a clue.  "You know a black guy named Gerald Evans?"

"I don't know him but I have seen him around now and then.  Why do you ask?"

"Is he an employee of your husband's"

"I have no idea who he is frankly.  I have just seen him around."

I debated it a few minutes then gave in to my baser nature.  "He is the man who runs Nightlite, the escort service your daughter works for."

"You must be mistaken, he cant be running an escort service.  He works in Raleigh not Charlotte.  And I am pretty sure he is connected with the party somehow."

"Yeah well, he is the one from Nightlite who came to see me.  He had a bs story for me but it was believable.  So now if that is not the truth what is?"  I asked it of her but hoped she didn't have the answer.

"I have no idea.  It makes absolutely no sense at all."

"Sure it does, it is just twisted."

"I don't understand." she declared.

"You have a choice right here.  You can leave me here and get a head start, or you can drive me to your daughter's and find out what the hell is going on."

She turned her back on me, then walked to the picnic table.  She sat looking at the lake.  Since nothing was changing while she thought it over, I left her alone to work it out in her head.  It was my guess that we both had the broad strokes, she had to know that I was going to figure it out and hand it to Dee on a platter.

"Can you keep this quiet?" she asked.

"That is your job.  I am going to keep my word to everybody."

"Who is everybody?"

"I owe Mike.  If I find out who did him, then I am going to roll over.  Dee gets the story what she does with it is up to her and I guess you too.  I am going to write the book, if I live long enough.  You do have to remember that nothing I write gets published anywhere so likely ten or twelve people will know the story.  Also I write fiction so they probably wont know who is who. I expect they will be thinking the guy who ma d e it to the white house before you guys."

"So, if we are not involved in the murder and I can control Dee, then it pretty much goes away ? "

"I would expect that to be the case."

"Okay, let ' s go find out who is doing what with who."

"Sounds like a good idea Mrs. Thomas."

"You might as well call me Jessy. We are not friends but we are in this together sort of."

She drove me to her daughters house.  It was late enough that her son was asleep when we arrived.  June was in a night gown and ready for bed it appeared.  June was an attractive lady.  Then again few wouldn ' t be with their nipples pointing out of a see through gown.

"What do you want?"  Her tone was vicious.  I would have expected it to be with me , but to use it with her mother surprised me.

"Hold on kid.  I think I am going to ask the questions."

"Oh are you really?" she asked.  She didn't seem quite ready to toss me out.  Probably because her mother was in the room.

"Sure I am.  You are going to answer or go down for god alone knows what crimes."

"You gonna get me busted for prostitution.  The M r . W riter is a misdemeanor.  A hundred dollar fine."

"Okay, how do you feel about accessory to murder.  The is twenty big ones in dykeville."

"What the hell are you talking about.  I didn't have any thing to do with that reporter's death."

"You made at least two calls.  One of those calls probably got Mike killed.  That sweetie puts you in a cell."

"I called no one."

"Want me to get the cops to secure a court order to look at your phone records.  I expect to see a call to Nightlite at least.  Possibly one to your mother here at the statehouse."

"Mamma what are you doing with this nut?"

"I came to find out the truth."

"You have known the truth for years.  You just wanted to be the Governor's wife so bad ly that you let it happen."

I let them fight it out but I listened closely.

"You know you r loving husband was coming to my room.  Some of the times writer her smelled of her perfume.  He was having us both on the same night."

Jessie burst into tears, but she didn't deny it.  Right at that point I got worried.  If she knew that June was going to be telling that story , why in hell would she allow me to come along.

"So you are going to meet the governor on the weekends?"  I hoped she would say yes and end it but I feared that there was more.  

"Are you kidding wri t er, I am too old for him now.  Now I am whoring for him.  Of course he does it through somebody else with a fake cover story."

"Evans and Nightlite," I said to let her know that I knew already. That kind of thing keeps them talking.

"Exactly , w hen they approached me, I honestly didn't know.  It all sounded so reasonable and I needed the money."

"So when did you figure it out?"

"I recognized a couple of the clients and they of course recognized me.  When I confronted Gerald he explained it.  I had become a political operative whore.  The guys lined up to screw the governor's step daughter and it was recorded and photographed.  I am told a lot of votes went daddy's way because of it."

"Jesus Christ," I said.

"Nice family huh writer?"

"And the rape?"

"I'm so screwed up that I agreed to it.  I didn't know when or that my son would see it.  I don't know that it would have made any difference.  I am way past caring what they do to me."

"And Mike?"

"I have no idea writer.  I called the Charlotte number, then I called mom here.  See writer she is the one who set this project up."

"I did not dream it up, I am just running it.  Gerald suggested something like it , but we needed someone we could trust.  June was giving it away anyhow might as well get paid for it and do us some good along the way."

"To get back to the subject at hand, how about the rape and Mike."

"June reported the Rape because her son saw it.  She had to tell him something and she panicked."

"Panicked my ass, mom he shouldn't have to grow up with my shit hanging in his head."

"You could have said no," Jessy replied.

"So who killed Mike?"

"None of us, hell we might have but nobody could have made such a decision for days not minutes."

I was inclined to buy that since it was my thinking too.  "I guess that pretty much does it then."

"Now writer what are you going to do with all this information."

"Let me tell you what I am not going to do.  I am not going to the police.  You blackmailed a bunch of crooks, so what..... You sold out your own daughter, that's between you and god...June here filed a false police report a misdemeanor with a fine, so why bother... As for Mike, I have no idea what happened on that road.  If the cops ever point a finger at you, I will come forward."

"And Dee?"

"Like I said before, she gets the information.  What she does with it is up to her.  I will write the book just like I planned, but like I said maybe ten people will read it."

Mom had the small automatic out of the bag before I  could react, I had nothing to react with anyway.

"I can't let you do that."

I'm afraid I laughed when I should have been serious.  " Jessie , you know I am dying anyway.  The bullet sounds like a good idea to me at the moment.  If I were you and June here , I would think that over.  The cops are going to frown on murder, Dee knows where I am by the way.  You cant clean all the blood up and June is gonna take the fall for it.  Then what do you care, she has been taking the fall for you all along."

"Mamma put down that pistol or I will kill you.  I am not going to prison for murder.  I have done enough for you."  The double barreled derringer looked like a cannon at that moment.

"Put down that thing June , you know you are not going to shoot me."  The noise filled the room.  

I found out later , after I woke in the hospital , what had happened.   Jessie shot me, then June shot her. I was a little disappointed to wake up at all.  When I checked out of the hospital, I put the first mandatory payment of my hospital bill on the visa card.

I went back to testify at the inquest that cleared June.  It all came out.  The smoking gun could never be found, so the Governor finished his term .  T he white house dream turned into a nightmare when CNN picked up Dee's story.  

As for Mike's death, an eighty year old woman took her car in to have the bumper replaced.  When asked about the bumper, she told the repairman that she hit a deer on highway seventy.  And the sugar in my gas tank wasn't tied to any of it.  It was Zandy, Dee's little friend.  I guess she wanted to make sure the summer tour had ended.  She let something slip to Dee, so Dee told me about it.  It was supposed to head off an investigation or something.  Then again , she might have wanted me to kick Zandy's butt for her.  Either way I didn't , I just took the check Dee offered as hush money.  After all it wasn't the principle it was the money.

The end