Tracker's Moon

It was a night so hot the air burned going into my lungs. It was so dark seeing my own hand was impossible. The sweat burned its way into my eyes. The fear made my stomach ache. Actually the pain was lower. I feared an accident at any moment. I wanted to run but I knew there was nowhere to go. In the blackness of a jungle night the safest place to be is with your buddies.

Hell, they all could have bugged out. It was so dark I certainly couldn't see them. In an ambush everyone remained so quiet that I couldn't even be sure they were still with me. I sat cramped but afraid to move for what seemed like hours. It could just as easily have been ten minutes. Without the ability to read a watch, time was no more than a dream.

I heard a faint noise coming from down the trail to my right. I felt the cramp in my gut worsen. I couldn't take a breath even though my body was starved for oxygen. I was terrified and excited at the same time.

There were definite faint noises coming from down the trail, I hadn't imagined it. It was Charlie moving from one place to another. The night belonged to Charlie it was said. Well Charlie baby, not always was the reply of the Dog Soldiers. Dog soldiers set up the ambushes that kept Charlie off balance. They bought time for the new fire bases to set up their defenses. Every night Dog Soldiers went into Indian country to set ambushes for the sappers.

Most nights nothing happened. Once in a while Charlie would come moving down the trail with his mortar tubes. He would be looking to set up for a quick mortar attack on the fire balls.

When the Dog Soldiers caught Charlie at night in their ambush, it was always a hell of a fight. So far the Dog Soldiers had won them all. If not, there would be no more Dog Soldiers. Charlie didn't take prisoners, but then neither did the Dog Soldiers.

The Dog Soldiers were kind of my idea. Being an Apache, the original dog soldiers, made it kind of obvious that my squad would call themselves Dog Soldiers. I personally hated the ambushes. They frankly terrified me. On the trails and on the rice paddies, I had a chance to see the enemy. The darkness and the waiting stripped away all the advantages I had come to appreciate.

I was the one who walked the point in the search missions. Point was the worst possible place to be. You were the one who found almost all the trip wires and punji stakes. You were the one who walked into the ambushes set my Charlie. It was also the only place for a tracker to be. Sitting in the dark, terrifying night by the side of some miserable little trail was no place for a tracker to be.

All that flashed through my mind as I waited for the enemy to move into the fire lanes. The wait in the dark was a nightmare of fear and anxiety. I heard the noises as they moved closer to the death that awaited someone. As the noise grew louder, I realized it was no small unit we had in our little ambush. There were too many clanking canteens and far too many muffled voices.

My god, I thought. There must be a hundred of them. I always told the lieutenant we needed an organized withdrawal plan. His response had always been, "Why we set a damn good ambush and Charlie can't stand up to our fire power." Sure the Dog Soldiers had a lot of fire power, but only fourteen bodies to lay it down. If the Viet Cong didn't break and run at the first volley, we were in deep shit. Maybe the Lieutenant wouldn't trigger the 'willie pete' star shell. I knew better, hell I would have done it myself. That many men could only mean an attack on the firebase. If nothing else, the ambush would alert the security force to be prepared.

After what seemed like half an hour, but could have been no more than a few minutes, the main body of the enemy troop was inside the fire zone. I held the rifle tight. I knew what was about to happen. Hell was about to come to the Dog Soldiers. Without an organized withdrawal plan, it was stay and fight all the way till death. To run was suicide.

In the milliseconds before the fight began, I saw visions. I saw superimposed over the jungle night, the faces of every Dog Soldier who had died. Some died on the hunt, others setting the damned ambushes. I saw their faces and knew I was going to be seeing them for real shortly. I hoped, I was wrong of course, but I had always known I would not survive the Nam. Well as my father used to say, today was as good a day as any other. Just as I thought I could stand it no longer, I saw the face of my wife holding our son. The son I had never seen. A split-second of calm passed over me. I sent a good-bye to my son. I whispered his name in a prayer. "God, take care of my son Mike."

Suddenly the night was shattered by a light as bright as only hell could be. The white phosphorous grenades ignited in the trees. The light blinded Charlie more since it was a shock to him. I, like every other Dog Soldier, began throwing grenades into the column of black clad soldiers. The noise of the small explosions was dwarfed by the sound of the claymore mines being triggered by the Lieutenant. Our two mortar tubes were dropping shells damned close to our own positions. I could only hope that the world war two vintage rounds would run true.

By the time I was out of grenades some of the others were firing their rifles into the column of men. I began emptying and replacing magazines as quickly as possible. I didn't know or care how many men I killed. I expected them to break and run at any moment. I was surprised to hear shouts above the din. Suddenly I saw them stand. They began to run toward us. It was a sight that made my blood run cold.

"Are you crazy?" I shouted. "You are going to die."

"Oh hell, it ain't them that's gonna die. Son of a bitch, they are going to over run us. There are too many of them. Sweet Jesus, I am going to die in this stinking jungle." It wasn't heroism that kept me shooting as they got so close I could smell them. It was a blind hope that they would break at the last minute."

I suddenly felt a pain in my chest and went down. The pain wasn't nearly as bad as I had expected. I was injured and probably dying. I looked up to see the small black clad man who stood over me. He pointed the Russian rifle at me. I had time to whisper a prayer."

The phone woke me from the nightmare. It wasn't even my nightmare. I had my own set, but that one belonged to someone else. I looked at my watch and knew the call meant trouble. Nobody calls with good news at three a.m.

"Hello," I grumbled into the headset.

"Mike, we need you," the female voice replied simply.

"Can't your people handle it?"

"If they could, I wouldn't be calling you," the voice said calmly.

"I know, send me a car." I tried to shake the sleep from my alcohol soaked brain. I made it to the shower without throwing up. That in itself was a blessing, especially on one of \'91those\'92 nights. In those days, I didn't drink to celebrate. I drank to sleep, alcohol kept the sad little people from visiting my dreams.

I was barely out of the shower when I heard the knock on the door. I knew it would be a cop, so I opened it without even looking. "Come on in. I have to get my coat." I said it with my back to whoever might my driver be for the night. It seemed as though I had a police driver a couple of times a month. Thank God they weren't taking me to jail. They might have been, had I been foolish enough to leave the house when I drank.

I slipped the sheepskin lined bomber jacket over my thermal shirt. I would have worn a real shirt, but I doubted anyone would be seeing under my coat. When I returned from the bedroom, I got my first look at the cop. Not much of a surprise that it was a woman, women seemed to fill the police ranks in those days. She didn't speak so I didn't either. I pointed toward the door. Her cop training forced her wait for me to pass, before she followed.

We were in the marked police car before I asked, "So what is it this time?"

"Lost kid," she said losing interest in the conversation. I wanted to ask more, but I'd just be damned, if I was going to drag every detail out of her. The drive lasted twenty minutes or so. It seemed somehow much longer. Time passes slowly without at least a little conversation.

When we arrived at the small frame house, Jess met me at the door. "Got a seven-year old, he either wandered away or somebody snatched him."

"Where are the parents?" I asked.

"In the kitchen making you some coffee. I figured you would need it," she said, referring to the fact that I was seldom completely sober at three a.m.

"It sure as hell couldn't hurt." I followed her down the hall.

"By the way, thanks for coming out," she said with a serious look on her face.

"Jess, when you ask, how could I refuse?" I asked with a slight smile.

"I'll bet you say that to all the sergeant."

"Let's see what we have," I said as she turned toward the kitchen.

"Mr. and Mrs. Evans," she said as we entered the room. "This is Mike Eagle," At the time she was pointing to me.

Everyone shook hands. I spoke first. "I sure am sorry to meet you folks like this."

\'93Can you find Billy?" the mother asked, getting right to the point.

"I really don't know for sure, but I am going to try. Everyone is trying," I said watching for a reaction.

"Sergeant Wills tells us, you have been pretty successful at this kind of thing," Mr. Evans suggested.

"Sometimes," I replied modestly.

"She said, you were almost psychic," he added skeptically.

"That may be part of it, but mostly it's following the signs. My people have been doing it for a couple of thousand years," I explained just before I pointed to the coffee pot.
"Would you mind if I had a cup of that coffee?"

"Of course not," Mrs. Evans said. She seemed grateful for anything to keep busy.

I had a very large coffee cup in my hands when I excused myself. I went to stand alone in the darkness outside the rear door. I shivered in the cold as I thought of the little boy. I knew Jess would have all the information I needed, so I drank the coffee slowly while my eyes became accustomed to the dark. Fortunately there was a full moon, even the dim moonlight would help.

Jess joined me after several minutes. She and I had worked together before. She knew I needed the time to work myself into the right place. The first time I explained to her, that I was communicating with my ancestors. What I was actually doing was getting a feel for the little boy. I tried to look at the world though his eyes.

"You ready to hear the details?" Jess asked quietly. She knew that the night sounds were part of the tracking. Sounds rode a long way on the cold night air.

"Sure," I replied just as quietly.

"The kid was playing outside until dark. The parents were in the house doing, whatever parents do. When the mother called the kid for dinner, he just didn't answer. That was about seven, roughly ten hours ago. We have been here since about ten, I'm afraid the dogs have already tracked down the area," she informed me.

"Not to mention, twenty cops with two left feet each," I added for her.

"Not to mention," she agreed. "The dogs really couldn't be of much help, the kid played everywhere around here."

I put the empty coffee cup on the back steps of the small frame house. The house was small, but I remembered how neat it had been inside. Even with all the cops, who had trouped in and out over the last six hours it had remained immaculate.

When I remembered the look in Mrs. Evan's eyes, I thought to myself, 'it's a good thing, I don't do this for a living.' "Can you find me a cop, one who can stay behind and not make enough noise to wake the dead?" I asked.\tab

"I would go, but you don't like me with you," Jess commented in a hurt little voice.

"No offense, but you move with the grace of a water buffalo," I said chuckling softly.

"No offense huh? How about Officer Timmons. She is the one who brought you here. She claims to be a dancer," Jess informed me.

"Sure get Twinkle Toes around here. Tell her to leave her flashlight in the car. I don't want it anywhere near me," I reminded her.

Jess walked around the house without answering. She returned a few minutes later with Officer Timmons. I spoke to Timons in quiet voice just as soon as she was within hearing. "Now Twinkle Toes, it's like this. You walk right behind me. As close as you can to my footsteps. Don't make any noise, and don't talk to me. I will tell you, if there is anything you need to know." I didn't mean for it to sound harsh, but the speech always sounded harsh, especially when delivered in almost a whispered voice.

To her credit, she simply nodded. I walked around the edge of the yard, with Jess and Twinkle Toes following along behind. "Jess, what were the parents doing when the kid was outside?" she knew it was important so she had already questioned them closely.

"They were arguing about money," she said simply.

"I expect the kid overheard. They probably brought him into the argument. Well I guess I better get started. This way Twinkle Toes," I said to the young officer behind me.

I found the path a few moments later. The dogs had no doubt been down it. Dogs are wonderful at finding people, that is until they loose the scent. I didn't work by smell. At least I didn't think I did. Hell, I didn't know how it worked, it just did.

The path led to a creek. I was happy that I had always worn rubber boots. I knew when I saw it, that I was going to have to go wadding. I slowly went up one bank and down the other. I went as far as the dogs and their handlers had trampled the grass looking for a scent. Each time I reached the point where the dogs stopped, I would go a few yards farther up the paths. When I didn't see any recent signs, I returned to the creek. I went much farther up the creek than they had gone. At first it was because I knew something the dogs didn't. I knew the kid was upset and feeling guilty about causing his parents to be miserable. Where the image came from I had no idea. It might have been the years of previous experiences or it might have been something mystic in my blood. I don't know how I knew, but I knew that the boy had fallen into the creek. He might have hit his head or he might have already been lost but I knew he got up from the fall disoriented. He began to wandered, through the water, even farther away from his home.

Twinkle Toes and I slogged through the creek doing something the dogs couldn't do. We looked for signs of the boy have passed that way. Actually I was looking for signs of the boy leaving the creek. Dogs just don't understand that a broken branch is an indication someone or something has recently passed that way.

I found the recently broken branch the boy had used to climb the slightly steep creek bank. By that time the kid was wet, cold and really lost. His trail was relatively easy to follow after the creek. At first he stumbled around with wet shoes. The cold dampness was still on the dried leaves of the forest floor. I followed it for a hundred yards or more through the forest. I hated that it was so painstakingly slow. I knew the boy would be in trouble by that time, but I couldn't help him until I found him.

By the time he broke from the tree line, he was in a totally different neighborhood, a neighborhood of half-built houses. The houses had been that way for a couple of years. I knew the story, because I knew people who had worked on the shells. They never did get paid. The builder/developer went belly up half way through the project.

I don't know how I knew, but I knew. The kid had been terrified by the dark and the empty houses. He was lost and frightened. I followed the broken grass, first to one half-finished house then to another. The boy was searching for help, finally the trail entered one of the basements. "Call an ambulance," I said to Twinkle Toes. "The kid is in the basement,"

"How do you know?" she asked.

"I heard him breathing. He is cold and scared, you better make that call right now. He is going to need medical help and damned soon. He is probably suffering from hypothermia," I said as I went into the basement.

"Billy Evans, I have come to take you home," I said. There was no answer. I hadn't expected any. I spoke only to make myself feel better. I followed the tiny sound of his shallow breathing. When I found him, it was as I feared. He was already unconscious almost frozen. I opened my coat, then pulled his icy body against mine. I held him close until the ambulance arrived. I grudgingly gave him up to the paramedics.

When the ambulance pulled away, I was shivering badly. "Well Twinkle Toes," I said as I shook, "You did just fine,"

"You too," she mumbled through chattering teeth. "My name is Paula."

"What?" I asked.

"I said, you did good too, and my name is Paula," she repeated loudly.

"Thank you Paula. You know Twinkle Toes fits you better. You really do move like a dancer," I said as I shivered.

"Come on Mr. Eagle, you and I need to get into one of the cars. You are going to catch pneumonia," she said. I could see even in the dim moonlight that she was smiling as she shivered.

"What I really need is a drink," I said following her to a patrol car. It wasn't her car. Her car had been left at the Evans house, half a mile away. The almost middle-aged officer with a deeply receding hair line drove us to her car.

"Good work," he said to one us as we exited the squad car. Which one of us I wasn't sure.

When we were inside with the heater going full blast, I asked, "Any chance I can get you to run by the hospital. I really would like to see how the kid makes out."

"That was my plan," she said. She drove a few minutes in silence then asked, "How did you know where to look?"

"I didn't. I just kind of winged it," I said.

"The hell you did. You knew where to find that boy. I know you couldn't see crap in the dark," she said.

"It wasn't that dark," I replied.

"Come on Mr. Eagle, tell me how you did it," she was almost begging.

"My grandfather once said, 'If you want to find the deer, first become the deer'," I answered.

"That doesn't explain anything," she said.

I wanted to change the subject. "Tell me something Twinkle Toes, what do you look like when you aren't being a cop?"

"What?" she asked.

"When you aren't in the cop suit, how do you look?" I asked. "I have seen enough lady cops to know, you can't tell a thing about them in a uniform."

"You are changing the subject, but I will answer. Once I get out of polyester, and let my hair down, I'm a knockout" she said the smile was in her voice.

"I'll bet you are," I agreed.

"Tell you what Mr. Eagle, I know where you live. On my next day off, I will come by your house, so that you can see for yourself," she suggested warmly.

"If you are serious, I think you should call me Mike," I answered. The really nice thing about riding with cops, is that they can always find a place to park their giant cars. Paula parked in a space marked no parking tow away. The hospital wasn't one of those giant medical center things, it was a six-story brick community hospital. That was even it's name, Guilford Community Hospital.

Paula had parked less than fifty feet from the emergency room door. Even if she had parked on the other side of the building, I could have found the emergency room. I had been there many times over the past few years. I got almost ten feet inside the door before Mrs. Evans spotted me. She rushed to me and literally knocked me down. If Paula hadn't caught me, Mrs. Evans and I both would have been on the floor. Even in the scramble to stay upright Mrs. Evans never let go of me.

"God," she wept, "We are so grateful," She tried to say more, but she was weeping too hard.

I had been so involved in trying to keep my footing, I hadn't seen her husband walk to us. "Mr. Eagle, I am so grateful, we both are. If there is anything I can ever do for you, just ask," he said extending his hand to me.

"You should know Mr. Evans, I am going to hold you to that," I said.

"I certainly hope you do," he said as he pressed a business card into my hand.

"Have you heard anything about Billy?" I asked.

"Not yet, he has been in the treatment room since we arrived," Mr. Evans said.

I could tell, he was as worried as his wife. I had a really bad chill before I could speak again. Fortunately it was from the change in temperature, not a premonition about Billy. "Don't worry Mr. Evans, Billy will be fine," I said somehow knowing it was true.

"I hope so. If he is, it is because of you. The damned cops never would have found him. They swore to me they had searched that project earlier in the evening," he said bitterly.

"They might have searched before Billy arrived. He was lost in the woods a long time," I lied. I knew that from a car with only a spotlight to search, the cops had driven right by the boy. With their car heaters on, they hadn't heard his feeble cries for help. As usual they had missed their prey. In order to find someone, you have to feel what they feel. The cops just didn't have what it took, to become a lost little boy, cold and scared. I couldn't blame them, most people lacked that particular talent.

Mr. Evans led his wife to an only slightly stuffed chair to wait for the doctor. I was always surprised by the number of chairs occupied at five a.m. in the emergency room. The nurses told me most of them had colds or flu. Things that should have been taken care of in a doctor's office. The problem was simple. Most doctors won't see poor people. Unless you can pay the bill, you can only get treatment at a hospital. So all night long the poor waited to be told to take a couple of pills and see their family doctors. Since they had no family doctors, they were back in the emergency room when the pills ran out.

I was trying to decide where to sit when the voice behind me said, "So we meet again." I turned to see a familiar nurse standing a few feet away.

"My God Sylvia, what the hell are you doing here at five in the morning?" I asked.

"Drug OD, some kid swallowed too many pills. He is pretty much catatonic at the moment," she said shaking her head.

"It always amazed me, that they call a nurse who knocks people out, to help treat someone who is already unconscious," I said for the five-hundredth time.

"I know, you make that comment every time you see me. So, who did you save tonight?" she asked. "Or are you here to dry out?"

I didn't take offense at her comment. I heard it every time I saw her at the hospital. "I found a little boy," I said simply.

"That little one in the treatment room?" She asked knowing the answer. I nodded. "Wait right here," she said going through the doors.

When she had gone Paula asked, "Girl friend?"

"Not any more," I replied.

"Good," she said simply.

After a few minutes wait Sylvia returned. "The kid's going to be fine. The doctor is staying with him for a few more minutes. His temperature is only a couple of degrees below normal. He should be past the shock risk in a few more minutes," She paused while I nodded. "You want to go for coffee?"

"I think, I will stay with the Evan's family. At least until the doctor talks to them," I said.

"That should be a few more minutes. I guess I should go home and wake my husband. I don't want him to be late for work. I mean, now that he has a job," she said bitterly.

"I'm sorry, maybe next time," I replied. We both knew the answer would be the same anytime we met. Our time had come and gone months before.

"Sure, next time," she said walking away.

"Mike, I sure hope that was an old girl friend?" Paula asked.

"Not too old," I admitted.

"She doesn't seem the type. I mean to fool around," Paula commented.

"And I do?" I said.

"You are a man," she replied as thought it were a universal answer. It might have been at that.

We waited for another twenty minutes in silence. When the doctor came to talk to the family, it was anticlimactic. He informed them that the child was fine, but needed to spend the night in a hospital room. Just in case he had a reaction to the drugs or some hidden problem the emergency room couldn't find. The Evans couple's relief was visible as they walked deeper into the hospital to find their son's room.

When the doctor finished his speech, Paula made a call on her radio. I had never been able to understand the garbled voices from one of those things. It was probably like tracking, it must have taken patience and practice.

"Mike, I have orders to take you to Danny's," Paula informed me. "It seems the city wants to buy your breakfast."

"Only if you promise, her honor the mayor won't be there," I answered.

"No mayor, just a few cops," she promised.

We arrived at the chrome and glass monstrosity around seven. I personally would have chosen a much different restaurant, but I wasn't given a choice. I followed Paula past the morning breakfast crowd, then into the private dinning room. Inside I found the usual suspects. There was of course Jess, seated beside the duty officer for her shift, then the assistant chief for public affairs, and lastly Eddie Macon, the dog handler.

"I see the gangs all here," I said with a smile I didn't feel. I hated those breakfasts more than I hated the cold.

"Come on Mike, you know you love the attention," the deputy-chief said.

"Why don't we cut the bullshit? just this once. Whatever it is you have to say, why don't you just spit it out. I'm not a starry-eyed girl, you don't need to feed me before you screw me," I informed him.

"We are here to say, thank you," Jess said.

"You might be, but not the chief there, or Eddie," I answered. "They came to see if they could whitewash this thing. I really don't mind. You guys always do it and I never object. You could save the city the cost of these meals, if you just went ahead and did it. You don't need my permission to hog the glory," I said.

"You are a drunk and a prick," Eddie said angrily.

"At least Eddie is an honest man. You all think that, but you will make nice so I won't tell the newspapers how inept you all are," I said. "Don't worry, I have no intentions of going to the papers. You guys are no worse than any other cops."

"That's fine," the deputy-chief began, "But the Evans family may. I would like for you to talk to them. Convince them that, we did all humanly possible to find their son."

"You know what really surprises me, that you even call. I would expect you to me more like doctors and bury your mistakes," I said.

"You are not an easy man to like Mr. Eagle," the deputy-chief said with a slight edge to his voice.

"I know," I replied honestly.

"Let me put it to you this way. You can go along with the plan and continue to have access to our police files, or you can be a hard ass and go to jail," he said.

"Bullshit, you wouldn't dare. You know damned well,I could bring all your asses down. There are at least a hundred parents, who would gladly go to the papers," I replied angrily. Nobody likes a hollow threat.

"Sure, we would look like idiots, but it wouldn't change the facts. You would still do some time. The DA could charge you with all kinds of bullshit," he said.

"Then you just bring it the hell on Happy," I snapped angrily.

"Just a minute both of you," Jess said. "Mike, you know that the public has to have faith in the cops. If not, we are not going to get the help we need to protect them. Chief you know that without Mike, we wouldn't find a lot of these people in time. Mike never threatened to go to the press. We are all just making a mountain out of a mole hill here," She paused for effect. "Mike will you talk to the Evans family?" She finally asked.

For the first time Paula joined in the conversation. "He already has," she piped in.

"What do you mean?" the deputy-chief asked.

"He told Mr. Evans at the hospital that the kid was still lost in the woods when we checked the project. Mr. and Mrs. Evans seemed to take his word for it. I don't think either of them will be calling Mike a liar," she said trying to add oil to the raging waters.

"Well then, why are we having this conversation?" the deputy-chief asked.

"Beats me, I came for the eggs," I replied taking a plate to the buffet. When I returned, the dog handler, the shift supervisor and the deputy-chief were all gone. I was thrilled by their absence.

"You know, you really are a prick," Jess commented with a smile.

"Don't forget the drunk part," I reminded her.

Her laughter could be heard outside the private dining room. "How could I forget that?" she asked. She turned her attention to Paula. "You know this is the only man who ever turned his driver's license in, before he was caught driving drunk. One day he walked into the station, threw it onto my desk, then said, "You couldn't catch a cold. I have been drinking and driving for three years,"

"Had he?" Paula asked.

"Probably a lot longer than that. The cops just never caught him," she said.

"So why did he turn in his license?" she asked.

"I wish you two would stop talking like I was dead. I am sitting right here with egg on my face," I commented. They both ignored me.

"He did it, so he wouldn't kill anyone," Jess explained.

"I did it, because the cops were setting up roadblocks all over the place. I didn't want to go to jail," I said.

"Right, the jails are full of first offender drunk drivers," Jess laughed.

Her comment put a damper on the rest of the breakfast conversation. Paula and I finished eating in silence. Jess drank her coffee and watched us. When the food was pretty much gone, she made another comment.

"Mike asked a good question a few minutes ago. He asked, why we called him at all. It would indeed be easier to bury our mistakes. The problem is, every police department in the area calls Mike. We would look like the asses we are, if we didn't use him. I mean he does live here," she said.

"Besides, I work cheap," I commented.

"It's true, we don't pay you, but you steal a hell of a lot more than we would pay you anyway," Jess said.

"The deputy-chief mentioned that, exactly what does he steal?" Paula asked.

"Information, the single most valuable thing we have, Mike talks to our computers on a regular basis. We tolerate it, because he also works for us," she said.

"Bullshit, you tolerate it because you can't catch me, and if you did, you would look pretty dumb prosecuting a man who has found almost a hundred kids. One who has tracked bank robbers and murder suspects for you. Don't try to make our relationship sound too noble," I informed her.

"One more thing," Jess said to Paula. "If you are married, stay the hell away from him. If you are single, don't waste your time." When she spoke there was anger in her voice.

"That my dear is good advice," I agreed with a fake smile.

It was then Paula's turn to snap. "Is that from experience Sergeant?" she asked.

"Actually it is," Jess said. "Mike here is a glamorous type guy. All full of those dark good looks and mystery. Can't forget the mystery can we Mike?"

"You are the one talking," I said trying not to encourage her.

"Watch out when he starts on those family stories of his. He can spin a yarn better than anyone I ever met," she said. "Old Mike can talk you right out of your panties."

"So were you married at the time?" Paula asked trying to go on the attack.

"Of course," Jess answered.

"Why don't you two continue this without me. I have work to do. I can call a cab," I offered.

"No, let the rookie drive you home. I don't want anyone to say we aren't grateful," she replied.

"In that case Twinkle Toes, it's time we left," I said standing to leave.

The conversation during the drive to my house was pretty much non existent. Sure there were a few words passed between us, but nothing of any substance. I left the police car gratefully. I didn't bother to invite her in. She was still technically on duty, and she didn't appear too anxious to get involved with me. Good old Jess had struck again, she did that from time to time. Jess was probably the only woman who hadn't walked away from me. Usually my drinking drove them away. Jess had handled my drinking fine, she was, after all, the mothering type. Which is exactly why, I had to get away from her. She was smothering me with her love. If she had given her husband some of it, he might have been alive today. I was a symptom of their marital problems, not the cause of them. She would disagree, but it was true. It is almost impossible to seduce a happily married woman.

I passed through the small living room where Paula had waited for me the night before. I stepped from the living room into my office area. My house was laid out kind of screwy. It had started life as a two bay service station. The tiny living room had been the office. The kitchen area had been the parts storage room, located directly behind the office. The bay closest to the office was now my office, separated from bay two, my bedroom, by only a wall of drapes. The original twenty foot ceilings were still in place. The rafters were visible around the insulating panels fitted between them. The only structural changes were the bay windows which had been swapped for the original overhead doors, and the closing of the outside bathroom doors. I had doors to the bathrooms opened from the inside. The lady\'92s room was now a shower stall, while the men's room was pretty much the same as it had been when Shell Oil had used the building. A few strips of plastic on the plate glass windows converted them into fake house type windows. Other than those few items, it could be converted back to a service station the very next day.

Once inside the office, I booted up all the computers. All, being a rag tag assortment of hardware. I had started with a 486 and had grown both up and down from there. I was surprised that I could make a good living with the crap. I quickly found that electronic tracking was more profitable then running people through the woods.

My great, great, grandfather had been an Apache scout for some forgotten Calvary outfit in Arizona. His son followed the tradition, with General Pershing chasing Poncho Villa, around the turn of the century. My grandfather had been a scout with the Marines in the pacific during world war two. My father died in Viet Nam with the first Air Calvary in some miserable place without a name, somewhere in the jungle.

I was raised by my mother and grandfather. I would have gone into the Marines myself, had my mother not cried herself to sleep every night. She had lost my father before I was born. The idea of losing her son was more than she could bare. Instead I went to college. I learned a lot about computers from the University, and a lot about life from my grandfather. In the end, I found a profession to use both. I chased everything from deadbeat dads, to lost loves. It was an interesting profession.\tab

I had moved from Arizona to North Carolina because I landed a contract with the state. I ran there hard to find deadbeats. From there the business just grew and grew. Now I spent less than ten percent of my time on the state contract. I worked mostly for small companies and individuals. I found it hard, these days, to squander all the money I made. I tried though, most of it went for good booze, bad investments and the occasional bad woman.

The police thing came about innocently enough. One day an acquaintance called, his brother's little girl was missing. He had heard me mention that I had tracked animals with my grandfather. He asked if I would try to help out.

In those days, I still drove a car. I met him at his brother's home. I was informed, not only was the girl missing, but also the family dog. The Sheriff had tried his dogs, but they couldn't find the girl. It was a case of too many scents for them to follow. I first determined that the child had run away, rather than wandered off. At eight years old, she had decided she wanted to live with her biological father. She didn't understand that it was too far for her to walk. She had just taken off and gotten lost. She had been gone a couple of days, so it didn't look real good.

I found her trail and followed it all day. If I hadn't been reading signs, I could have walked to where we found her in a couple of hours. The child had wandered around in circles until, she had fallen down a steep hill. Unfortunately the fall had broken her neck. The dog had stayed with her, until we arrived. He was a bloody mess, but no animal had attacked the child's body. He snarled at us when we arrived I suppose his sense of duty was stronger than his domestication. He might have bitten me, had the brother not come along. The dog finally recognized the brother, so allowed us to carry the little girl home. The poor dog followed close behind, crying the whole way. He also seemed frightened, he had a look in his eyes I could never describe. I actually had to raise his head with my hands before he would look me in the eye. When he did there was a far away look, as though he were in a totally different mind place. I knew somehow he felt that his master would blame him for the girl's death.

While the grief stricken family took care of the girl's body, I fed and cleaned the miserable animal. Afterward I sat leaning against his house talking to him, while he lay his head in my lap. That day was one of the things that really started me drinking hard. I had always been a drinker, but not like I became after that. In the days after finding that first child I drank so that I could sleep. The family of the little girl was so grateful for my finding their child's body they offered me anything. I asked for the dog. I could tell that the parents were happy to be rid of him. I almost had to carry Jake to my car. He was the most miserable thing I had ever seen in my life up to that point. Jake almost seemed to talk to me without words. He and I shared the same pain, neither of us could have saved the little girl. It didn't matter, we both were somehow guilty.

Jake lived with me three years before he died, I think from a broken heart. In all those three years, I never saw him play or seem the least bit happy. Jake and I became two of a kind. We ate, slept, and walked the woods behind my house together. He never seemed in the least happy, but no one ever harmed him while he lived with me. Jake might have been the only animal who understood me. No matter whether he did or not, I know he never judged me. Even if he had, he was the only one who had the right.

I never took Jake on the tracking jobs. I don't think he could have handled finding another child's broken body, unfortunately there were many more. Each one added to my guilt, and the amount of alcohol it took to allow me to sleep. Even though Jake never went with me, I think he knew where I had been. When I returned from those trips, he didn't jump on me, or even seem especially glad to see me. Instead he simply laid his head in my lap while I drank myself to sleep. Without Jake to share my feelings, I was drinking even more by the time I found the Evans boy.

With the computers up and running, I went to the shower while my faxes and E Mail printed. When I returned to retrieve the printouts, I was dressed pretty much the same as before, except that the clothes were clean. I seldom bothered to wear a shirt over my thermal undershirt. Nobody much came to visit, so it would have been a waste. I kept a navy blue wool shirt handing on a hook by the door, just in case. Most of the time, it was a red thermal undershirt and tan twill slacks. My closet was filled with copies of those two items. Somewhere in the rear was even a brown wool sport coat. That was for those special occasions, when I had a date, or a business meeting. Neither of which seemed to happen often in those days.

Most of the messages were simple requests for locations. The ones with account numbers were first on my list. The ones from new business went in a separate stack. On those I would have to clear the credit card numbers before I began work. I had been taken, too many times to get sloppy. Most of the ones from the fax machine were previous customers, those from the web were mostly new ones.

Eighty percent of the skips were simple. People moved about for all kinds of reasons. A bad debt might make a person move, but seldom did it cause drastic changes in one's life. Most of the others were difficult only because the customer didn't really know enough to begin with. Only a very few were people who had bothered to alter their lives sufficiently to require a detailed search. When customers got the estimate for those, most decided they didn't want the person that badly after all. Especially when there was no guarantee they could ever be found.\tab

I put four different computers working on the morning 'easy finds' while I went to work on a tough one from the day before. The deadbeat had left the state. Unfortunately for him, he was a doctor. He wasn't as easy to find as you might think. I did the searches through the licensing boards and found the town all right. He listed a post office box address for the license. The town was large enough to have three hospitals. He wasn't listed with either of them. I found him through the phone book. Not his phone number, but a listing of all the emergency clinics. It wasn't hard to determine at which clinic he worked. It was a matter of making a dozen phone calls. I tried to make an appointment with him. Since the clinic was first come, first served, I found out which days he would be working then hung up.

I called the mother of his children with the information, only after I billed her credit card for a hundred bucks. She knew it was money well spent, since the local cops would take his ass before a judge. He would probably figure paying was simpler than running again. Especially, since he now knew she could find him almost anywhere. It was a typical hard find case.

Most of my tracking was confined to bill collection agencies. Their skips were usually in the same town. Their skips just didn't bother to inform their creditor when they moved. Finding them before the new phone books arrived was pretty simple. It usually required no more than invading the water company's files. City computers were easy to hack into.

Most of the work didn't require more than a simple setup. In most cases the computers, through modems, did all the work. I typed the results on an old 386. I had bought it in a junk shop. It ran about as fast as I could type, so it worked out fine. When the searches were finished for the day, I switched the files to one of the faster computers for transmission. They chugged away while I gave some thought to dinner.

Dinner most often was a canned or frozen meal. My kitchen wasn't much to brag about, nor were the items which sprang from it. That particular night, I was trying to decide between frozen lasagna or canned beef stew, when the phone rang. "Tracker," I said into the headset. It was during business hours.

"Mike, this is Paula. I was wondering something?" she asked in a mock serious voice.

"And what would that be Twinkle Toes?" I asked.

"What does a bachelor do for dinner, when he has no car?" she asked seriously.

"I am about to answer that question. I am, at this very moment, looking into my freezer," I answered.

"Well, I am off tonight and you did want to see me out of uniform. I could stop by and pick up your dinner on the way," she suggested.

"Now that would be nice," I agreed. "Tell you what stop by the China Palace and I will call ahead for you. You do like Chinese?" I asked as an after thought.

"Sure," she said skeptically.

"Then don't worry about a thing," After she broke the connection, I called the China Palace to place the too large order.

"Mister Mike, you want me to bill your credit card?" Chin the owner asked.

"Same as always Mr. Chin," I said with a smile. I read him the number, then explained that a woman would be picking it up for me.

"This the same one as last time?" he asked.

I had never met Chin, but we were friendly anyway. "No Mr. Chin, this is a new one," I explained.

"Always a new one, I wish I were you," he said sadly.

"Not really," I laughed.\tab

A half hour later Paula arrived. She was carrying two large white bags. "So what army is joining us for dinner?" she asked with a small girlish laugh.

"I didn't know what you liked, so I had Chin send a little of everything," I replied. "Don't worry, what we don't finish tonight, I will have tomorrow," I said as I poured her a large glass of iced tea. I poured myself a drink in the same size glass. Mine was about the same color, but it was about half Jack Daniel's and half ginger ale."

"How about showing me around before dinner?" she asked. "I didn't get much of a look last night."

"Sure, come with me," I showed her the office, the kitchen and the bathrooms. I even parted the curtains to allow her a peek at my bedroom. "Now, how about we eat. I skipped lunch today," I said.

"Sure, can we eat in the living room?" she asked.

"No problem, but why?" I asked.

"Jess told me you had a great TV," She answered as we returned to the living room.

Chinese food cartons covered the cocktail table in front of the sofa. I ate fried rice and sipped on my drink. Every once in a while, I would pop a piece of sweet and sour pork into my mouth.

"God this is great, what do they call it," she said holding up a fork filled with pepper steak.

"That is pepper steak. There is some hot sauce that goes with it," I explained.

"No thanks, this is just fine," she said. "Now how about that TV."
I picked up the remote control, which was about the size of a paper back book. Once the TV was turned on, I asked, "Anything in particular you want to see."

"What choices do I have?" she asked.

I switched to the TV guide listings on the screen. "You pick it," I said.

She read through all the available movies. "How about that one with Bruce Willis, I haven't seen it yet," she said.

"Don't cops ever get tired of cop movies?" I asked switching to the channel with the movie. We had a few minutes to wait before it began. We killed the time stuffing our faces with rice and other Chinese delicacies. When the movie began, I went to the bar again. I returned from the kitchen with another large drink.

"Could I have one of those?" Paula asked.

"Sure, but help yourself. I am not about to take the rap for getting you drunk," I replied.

"If you were anybody else, I would say, I can drink you under the table. With you, I kind of doubt that I could," she admitted.

"Let me take a look at you," I said. Paula was a knockout as she had promised. Her hair was blonde from a bottle, but on her it looked good. Her body was trim but full. She was dressed in jeans and a wool shirt. The shirt was tight enough and open far enough to reveal her large breasts. "You must be what? About twenty five?" I asked.

"Twenty-seven," she answered.

"That would give you maybe five, or even six years practice. I have got about a ten year head start on you. I doubt you could even make a decent showing at drinking me under the table," I said.

"That is a challenge, and I don't like being challenged," she laughed. "I have tomorrow off so let's just see how I can do."

"Up to you," I said.

She stayed with me through the two-hour movie. She was pretty hammered by the time it ended. "So what do you want to see next?" I asked.

"How about one of your tapes?" she asked.

"So, Jess does talk too much," I replied. I thumbed the remote again and a list of my movies flashed on the TV screen. "So which one?" I asked.

She read the titles with great difficulty even though the TV was fifty odd inches. "How about the one called, "Odd couples."

"Let me hit the head first," I said as I stood. I went into the men's room door. It had been cut into the living room for me. It was inconvenient after I went to bed, but very convenient while watching TV. I returned to find her missing. She returned from the bar with two more drinks. While she flopped onto the sofa, I opened the cabinet over the TV. From the cabinet I removed volume 217. I placed it in the VCR before I joined her on the sofa.

We drank our way through ninety minutes of Porn. I wasn't really all that turned on, and she was much too drunk to really watch. When the movie ended, she said, "I declare you the winner. Let's go to bed."

I led her to the bedroom. She took a good look, then she promptly turned to retrace her steps to the bathroom. When next I saw her she was falling unceremoniously into the bed. She was asleep before she hit the pillow. I tried to fall asleep for more than twenty minutes. When I failed, I got out of the bed carefully, so as not to wake her. I returned to watch the evening news on CNN. I also returned to have a few more drinks.

Around one I was drunk enough to sleep. I climbed in the bed beside her and promptly fell sound asleep. The date had followed, more or less, the same course as all my dates. Women tended to tire of the drinking quickly. Some never even made it to a second date.

I awoke the next morning to the smell of coffee and frying animal fat. I went first to the bathroom, then into the kitchen. "Good morning Twinkle Toes, I see you found everything," I said.

"I did," she said moving to kiss me good morning. After the brief friendly kiss she returned to the small stove. "So how do you like your eggs?"

"It doesn't matter, it is all the same to me," I replied.

"Good, I will give over easy a shot, then move right on to scrambled," she giggled.

"So how is your hangover," I asked.

"Don't even notice it," she said bravely. "After breakfast, I'm going shopping. You want to come along?"

"Got to work," I replied filling my mouth with eggs. "So, for what are you shopping?"

"Fancy underwear, women always buy fancy underwear when they begin a new relationship," she said solemnly.

"Hold on there Twinkle Toes, you are welcome here anytime you want. This, however, is not a relationship," I replied very seriously.

"I know that, it was a joke," she said. "I am going to buy some clothes, just because I want them."

"Okay, I just don't want you to misunderstand," I said looking at her carefully.

She took the dish from under my nose, then placed it along with everything else in the compact dishwasher. "I am not interested in a relationship with a drunk. I just want to have some fun for a while. My life is way to serious," she said.

"In that case, you came to the wrong place. There is no fun in this house," I said smiling. "I don't allow it, under any circumstances."

"That's not how Jess tells it. She claims to have had a ball with you," Paula said.

"Strange, I don't remember it that way at all," I said honestly.

"It doesn't mater, I had a great time. I mean Chinese food, Bruce Willis, porn and great sex, what more could a woman ask," she said.

"There was no sex," I informed her.

"That's what I mean. The sex was all in my head. No man can live up to a woman's fantasies" she giggled like a teenager.

"God you are too damned bubbly for a woman who drank so much last night," I said.

"I'm probably still a little high," she said as she turned to leave. "I'll be back by noon,"

"Not much use in that. I am going to be working all day," I said to her back. I know she heard me, she just chose to ignore me.

I spent the morning working. I actually had all the computers working their little hearts out by noon. After they were all running, I had very little to do. I turned to drinking iced tea while browsing around the web.

When Paula returned shortly after noon, I left the computers chugging away while we ate sandwiches in the kitchen. While we ate, I explained that I would be tied up with report writing until after six. Paula informed me that since her shift didn't start until three the next afternoon she would be staying over again. I didn't have a problem with that at all. She was actually quite good company.

While I worked, Paula drove home. What she did, I didn't ask. When she returned, she was in a really good mood. "Guess what, I had a message on my machine. I have been chosen rookie of the year," she said.

"That's great kid," I said honestly.

"Can we go out to celebrate?" she asked with her little girl smile.

"That depends, what did you have in mind?" I asked.

"I want to go to Butch's place," she informed me.

Butch's was the local cop bar. A larger town would have had many, but our town could only support one. Even then, it was mixed equally with cops and nurses. The mix kept the place jumping. "Sure why not. Just remember you can't afford a DWI ticket," I reminded her.

"You drink, I'll drive," she informed me. After I finished my reports, we went to dinner. I seldom use cash, so the dinner almost wiped me out. We were forced to stop at the bank machine for more cash. Butch didn't take credit cards or checks.

Most of the cops knew Paula, so she was surrounded as soon as we entered the room. I was more or less pushed aside, which was more than okay with me. I found myself sitting at the bar moments after we entered the room. The Jack Daniel's and ginger ale was much weaker than I would have fixed myself. "So, you can leave that garage you call home," the woman's voice said.

I turned and saw her for the first time in months. "Of course, I leave it once in a while. So how are you Millie?' I asked.

"Not bad, you know Jack and I got a divorce," she said.

"No, I hadn't heard that. I hope you gutted the prick," I commented.

"Just as many times as I could. You here alone?" She asked.

"I'm with the rookie of the year," I replied pointing to Paula.

"She looks a little too busy at the moment. I don't suppose she would notice, if you and I had a drink together," she suggested.

"Now why would it matter to her, if I bought a drink for the prettiest girl in the place," I said. I turned to face the bar. "Bartender, bring this lady whatever she wants."

"Make it a pink lady," she said. "Since you are buying, I think something fancy is in order,"

"Not like Jack and Ginger?" I asked.

"God no, that stuff is going to kill you," she said.

When she had her drink, I said, "To my death, at least I won't need to be embalmed."

"Here, hear," she agreed. She waited for a moment longer then added, "So is this anything serious or should I wait a week, then call,"

"Ah Millie, you know me too well. Wait no more than a week," I said smiling at her.

"You truly are a prick, but at least you admit it," she said smiling up at me.

"Why not, everyone seems to love my faults," I said with a smile.

"If you stopped the drinking, I would take you home to mother," she said seriously.

"That's exactly why I don't stop," I admitted with a smile.

"Oh no, here comes your date. She has blood in her eyes," Millie said quietly.

"Don't leave," I said. "She might as well find out right now," Paula took the stool on the other side of me. "Hi, I want you to meet someone. Paula this is Millie, Millie Paula," I said.

"You one of his old girl friends?" Paula asked harshly.

"I guess," Millie answered. Millie had been fighting drunks a lot longer than Paula. She feared nothing and no one.

"Where you one of the married ones, or one of the hopeless ones," Paula said nastily.

"Actually dear, I was both. Look, I think I will leave before I kick your skinny little ass," Millie said. Paula didn't know what to say. Especially when Millie kissed me good-bye.

"What the hell is wrong with you Eagle. That is embarrassing, especially in front of my friends," she snapped.

I watched as Jess and her date drifted over. I really didn't want to get into an argument, especially with Jess within ear shot. Jess however had seen the whole thing. She also was a master at reading body language. "Get used to it Honey," she said. "Every time you leave this prick alone for a minute, one of his old girlfriends will be hitting on him. Mike here just can't say no. Can you honey?" she asked kissing me in front of her boyfriend.

"Hey, what the hell," he said moving toward me.

I stopped him by holding up my hand. "If you do what you have in mind, at least there are plenty of nurses to take care of you," I said.

"What are you, some kind of bad ass?" he asked.

"Not really, but you are in a room full of cops. Now wouldn't be a real good time to play John Wayne," I explained patiently.

"Then let's me and you go outside in the parking lot," he demanded.

I looked at the crowd which had gathered quickly. I watched as Jess pulled the belligerent man aside. She whispered something in his ear. When she finished speaking to him, he turned to me. "That does it," he said. "Come on, we are going outside."

Paula sat quietly watching. She obviously wasn't going to stop this stupidity. "Look friend, if we go outside and I kick your ass, you are going to take out a warrant on me. Why should I take this shit," I said.

"Because if you don't, I am going to kick your ass in front of everyone," he said.
"Okay, you talked me into it, but remember this. I tried to talk you out of it," I said. I knew where the back door to Butch's was. I had been out there a few times before. In the days right after the first child, I came here to drink on occasion. In those days somebody always got pissed at me. As I stepped from the door, I found the roll of dimes in my coat pocket. I always carried them, even though it had been years since I had needed them.

I stood in the parking lot hoping to talk the drunk out of it. He made some stupid gesture. I didn't wait for an invitation. I hit him as hard as I could with the fist full of dimes. I felt the knuckles of my hand pop. I also heard his jaw break with a cracking sound. Nothing else takes the fight out of a man quite like the sight and taste of his own blood. He had both by the time he hit the ground, he never even tried to stand.

I slipped back inside while the crowd tried to help him. I supposed Jess would be driving him to the hospital. When I returned to the bar, Millie was waiting with a wet towel. "Come on Mike, I'll drive you to the emergency room," she said.

"I appreciate that, I doubt Twinkle Toes is up to it," she was still outside with the drunk.

Relocating the knuckles took a lot less time, than waiting to get into the emergency room. Even with Millie who worked there helping. The broken jaw got treated ahead of me. I really didn't mind, he looked as though he needed help more than me. I actually was quite proud of myself, the fight had ended quickly and I was hardly hurt at all.

It took a while, but I finally made it in to see a doctor. I left an hour later with my hand wrapped in elastic. Millie was kind enough to drive me home. Even better she didn't ask to come in.

Once inside I unwrapped the hand, then soaked it in ice water. I was elbow deep in ice and water, when Paula knocked. I opened the door for her.

"God, I'm sorry," she said when she saw the blue swollen mess of my hand.

"Not a problem, I will just type a little slower tomorrow," I replied.

"You have to believe me, I never meant for this to happen," she said.

"It really wasn't your fault. So how is the drunk?" I asked.

"Broken jaw, and a couple of loose teeth. He is threatening to take a warrant on you," she said.

"Won't be the first, though it will be the first in years," I said. I held up the iced tea glass full of liquor. "You want a drink?"

"God I need one. I'll get it," she walked to the kitchen. she shouted from the kitchen, "I can't believe you aren't mad at me."

"Why should I be? You didn't dislocate my fingers," I said with certainty.

"I did kind of start it," she replied walking into the room.

"Actually, I think Jess started it," I replied. "What did she whisper in his ear anyway?"

"She told him, she had slept with you both of you, and yours was much larger," Paula said.

"No wonder he wanted to fight," I said. "Lucky he didn't win. He probably would have wanted to measure them."

She laughed hard, "Don't worry about the warrant. He will never want it told in court why he insisted on fighting with you," she paused to take a long pull at the drink. "By the way what did you hit him with?"

I lifted my hand from the ice water. "How do you think I got this?" I asked.

"I saw how you got that. I mean what was in your hand. Something broke your hand and his jaw," she stated.

"I have knuckles that dislocate easily. As for his jaw, he must have weak bones," I replied.

"Come on Mike, I know you had something in your hand when you hit him," she insisted.

I reached across myself to remove the roll of blood-covered dimes. "I was going to make some change for the bartender," I said simply.

"You mean to tell me, you hit him with this in your hand. You had to know how it would screw up your hand?" she asked.

"It has happened before," I admitted.

"You mean to tell me, you were willing to wreck your hand, just to win a stupid bar fight?" she asked.

"First of all, my hand isn't wrecked. It will be fine in a week or two. Secondly, you should know that if a fight goes on too long, somebody gets killed. It is better to end it real quick. That is why you carry a stick," I explained.

"Still, you paid a hell of a price, just to win a stupid fight," she said.

"That's not exactly how I see it," I replied.

She waited a few minutes before asking, "I suppose sex is out of the question?"
"It will be in a couple of hours, and I plan to sit here drinking and soaking my hand at least that long," I replied.

"Then I'm going to watch a dirty movie and get plastered," she said.

"Help yourself," I replied honestly. We sat drinking for a couple of hours. By the time she was plastered, I was still far from drunk enough to sleep. Paula went to bed leaving me sitting alone to watch the news on CNN.

The ice helped, but my hand was still pretty swollen the next day. After breakfast with Paula, I loaded the computers typing with one finger. Paula left for home before I finished. She also gave me a sexy kiss before she left.

"I'll be back when your hand has healed. I still intend to get you into bed, and not to sleep," she said quickly before I could remind her that I had already been in bed with her.

I passed the day in a lot of pain. I worked on reports as soon as they were off the computer. I knew it was going to take me a lot longer to write them for a while. I couldn't keep up with the computers. I wrote the last report at nine that night.
I had saved one E mail message for last. I had a great deal of trouble with it when I first read it. I couldn't quite decide what I was supposed to do with it. I was into my second drink before I understood the message. It was an E mail flyer. The purpose was to advise everyone that the sender would pay ten thousand dollars to anyone who could find a woman who had been missing for twenty-three years. It gave a web address to send for details.

I composed the message with one hand. It took a long time since I stopped to sip my drink as I proceeded. When the message was finished, I whipped it off via the internet. For the remainder of the evening, I drank while I watched TV movies. It was after midnight when I staggered off to bed.

The next few days were exactly like the last one, except that I received a reply to my message. The sender was a secretary in an estate lawyer\'92s office. She gave me all the details along with the number to call should I want to talk to her.

The details were simple, A certain Jenny Abrams had gone to college. She had been graduated in nineteen seventy two. While in college she had pissed her father off by marrying a Irish radical. He had disowned her, but had never taken her out of the will. If she weren't found by the end of the year, her part of the estate went to some obscure charitable group in Boston. The lawyer was making every effort to find her. He didn't want to be sued later for not having tried hard enough to settle the estate properly.

The devil was in the lack of details. In the sixties people didn't have to have social security numbers to enter college. Since she was rich she had never worked and therefore had no known social security number. Finding her was going to be a real challenge, since everything was filed by social security numbers in later years. I waited until after midnight before I began working on Jenny's case. I logged onto the internet, then entered a chat room frequented by hackers. I had often passed on information there myself. I was well known to most to the hackers. I typed a simple message. "Would anyone knowing how to get into the system at Yale, please fax me at 910-555-4299. I left the message and went to bed. I was surprised that I could manage even that simple message, since I was bombed.

The fax was waiting for me with my morning coffee. It did not have a cover sheet which was par for the course, also illegal as hell. I didn't expect the sender was concerned about me complaining, since I was about to break the law myself. Getting the phone number was only a small part of the battle. I had to have a password. One which an authorized user had used to log into the computer. That required a sequence generator. Something I had paid a pretty penny for. It was actually no more than a computer program which sent one set of characters, after another to the host computer. The trick was, it also told the computer not to hang up after a couple of wrong tries. Most of the computers in this country are woefully under protected. The sequence generator worked over ninety percent of the time. I didn't try the pentagon's monster or even a secure design firm\'92s computers. My invasions were most of city governments, or colleges, that kind of thing.

The computer made the contact and broke the code in less than ten minutes. Once inside I ordered a complete set of Jenny Abrams records. They were transmitted in a flash. The over priced computer had shown it's power again. I transferred the file to my old 486, then put the monster back to work on the dead beats.

I studied Jenny's school records for hours. The obvious clue came in her Junior year. Her next of kin was changed to one Matthew O'Neal. Her name wasn't changed so she either married him secretly, so that poppa would continue paying for her school, or she just moved in with him prior to the marriage. He was, no doubt, the Irish husband. I made a note to call the lawyer's office. I wanted to know for sure. I found on reviewing her class schedules that she had taken most of her courses in drama. It was both good and bad news. It might be possible to trace her through the Guilds, but no one used their birth names on the stage or where ever they plied their trade. I was going to need a social security number for sure.

The other more likely possibility was that she had joined 'The Struggle' as it was called. I didn't think that she would cut herself off from the family and her former friends, just because her father had disinherited her. According to the information I had, she had never been seen or heard from by anyone after her college graduation. Not a real good sign. Still there was a chance she might have contacted someone. I didn't even bother to consider her childhood friends at that point. I was quite sure they had been asked and re-asked several times before I began my search.

I arranged to picked up Matthew's records before I lost the password at the school. I called for them, then went to bed. I would have them on the monster the next morning when I awoke. I felt pretty good about the records search, since I had conducted her reading while sober. At least I had been sober in the early part of the evening.

Paula called one evening in there somewhere, but since it was after work, I was hammered. I don't know if I agreed to anything or not. I could have pissed her off so badly that she would never call me again. I just couldn't remember.

"Hello," I mumbled into the phone, which woke me from a troubled sleep.

"Mr. Eagle, this is Sherry with the Davidson County Sheriff's office. We have a suspect who took to the woods. Could you come down and track him for us?" she asked.

"If you send a car, I can be ready in half an hour," I stated.

"The car is on the way," she answered.

I stood under the cold shower for most of the half hour. When I emerged, I drank as much strong black coffee as I could get down. The knock on the door startled me even though I had been expecting it. I opened the door to a gruff looking man, almost twice my age.

"You the Indian?" he asked.

"You must be the deputy sent to drive me," I said knowing it would piss him off.

"God man, are you sober?" he asked looking at my eyes.

"About as much as I ever get," I replied.

"I think, I better call the Sheriff," he said.

"You do that," I replied going back into the kitchen for more coffee.

A few minutes later he was standing in the doorway. "I'm sorry Mr. Eagle. Can we go now?" he asked a lot more politely.

"Sure let's go find your man. What did he do anyway?" I asked.

"Killed a deputy, then ran into the woods," he said.

"Why," I asked as I locked the door.

"I don't expect he wanted to fry for the deputy," he answered.

"No I mean why did he shoot the cop?" I asked.
"Don't know yet, but we are going to ask him first thing," he said smiling wickedly.

During the drive, I asked that he turn the heater off. I wanted to be as cold as the runner when we arrived in Davidson County. I was plenty cold, but I knew, not as cold as the runner. The runner wouldn't have my thermal shirt or the fleece-lined coat. "God I hate the cold," I thought.

The Sheriff met me at the scene of the shooting. "I'm sorry about Ed. If I had known Sherry would send him, I would have come for you myself," the bear of a man said.

"Not a problem Jim, what do you know about the runner," I asked.

"Nothing much, the car is registered in Mississippi. I imagine he is pretty miserable in the cold. He is armed and I know for a fact he will use it," he said looking at the puddle of blood on the highway.

"You try the dogs," I asked.

"Sure, we tried them first. They lost him within fifty feet. He immediately took to that creek down there. He must have known about the dogs," he said.

"How long has he been on the run?" I asked.

"Four or five hours," the Sheriff said.

"If he got his feet wet, I don't image there will be much fight left in him. Who are you going to send with me?" I asked.

"Who you want?" he asked it while sweeping his hand around the assembled deputies.

I took a look at the overweight deputies all around me. "Just swear me in and loan me a
gun," I said.

"With your hand in a cast?" he asked.

"That isn't a cast it is a bandage. Besides, I won't ever catch up with him with a buffalo tagging along," I said.

"Can't do it Mike. You are under the influence," he said honestly.

"Hell, that never stopped you before," I pointed out to him.

"Nobody ever put it on the air before," he said almost at the point of anger.

"Okay where is Logan, the dog man," I asked.

"Gone home with his worthless hounds," the Sheriff answered.

"Then keep the gun, I'll get your shooter," I said.

"Come on Mike, just pick the best of the lot and let's get the hell moving," he said.

I turned to the assembled deputies. "Any of you guys ever been in combat?" I asked.

"Yeah, I did a tour in Nam," the fat ass who drove me said.
"Well, I guess you get to take a hike with me. Try to remember what it was like to move quietly," I advised him.

"Don't worry Chief, I can take care of myself," he said.
"Knock off that chief crap Davis, or you will be looking for a job, and a set of dentures," The Sheriff advised. I looked up at him wondering what he knew. "One of my deputies was in Butch's the other night. Seems there was some excitement. Damn Mike, I thought you had mellowed," he said with a small laugh.

"I have, I didn't kill the stupid son of a bitch," I said. I turned to the fat deputy, "Come on pale face, we got mile to go before we sleep."

The creek was cold even through my insulated rubber boots. I could only imagine how the feet of a man wearing dress shows must feel. The deputy stayed on the bank struggling with the brush. I allowed him to make all the noise he wanted. It was a good bet our runner was miles away. I found the broken branch about two hundred yards down the creek. Our man had made it a lot farther than I would have suspected.

"Okay Davis, you are going to have to cross this creek. Our man left it here," I said pointing to the broken limb. "From now one you walk where I walk, and you keep absolutely quiet. Turn off your radio," I ordered.

For a fat man Davis did pretty good jumping the creek. He only got one foot wet. I didn't say anything when he cursed. I could understand how he felt. The runner had gone up the game trail fast. He was in a hurry to find a warm place to stop, of that there could be no doubt. I didn't expect to find an ambush, since he would be cold enough to think only of finding a place with some heat. Sitting on a cold trail with wet feet, just to kill another cop wouldn't appeal to him. He was going to be moving as fast as his frozen feet would allow. When the game trail ended, there were more signs. I had more or less guessed he would stay with the trail so I moved faster than I would have ordinarily. I was reassured to find leaves disturbed in a path leading toward what must have been a field. He knew enough to recognize the thinning of the growth in that particular direction. Either that or he was lucky.

Davis was huffing and puffing, but I gave him no rest. I suspected where there was a field, there would be a farm. A farm had a warm room and people to hold hostage. When I broke the tree line, I was thankful to find that the field was a simple meadow. One probably taken over by nature, when farming had stopped years before. I stopped just inside the tree line to look and listen. I could hear nothing over Davis' breathing.

"You stay here, I am going out to get a better look," Now Davis might have objected any other time, but by that time he was too beat to say anything. I walked to the edge of the field. I looked as hard as I could, but I saw nothing. The grass was belly high and there was no sign of him having passed this way. 'What the hell,' I thought to myself. I looked back in time to see the flash of a gun, then hear the report. 'Oh shit,' I thought. 'Davis is dead as hell'. He would never have shot first. He would have been afraid that it might be me returning. I began to ask myself what had happened. It came to me much too late for Davis. When the runner had found the empty field he evidently became discouraged. He must have decided to hold up where he was until the sun came up, rather than risk getting even more lost.

We must have walked right over him. If that were the case, he knew I was out looking for him. I moved as quickly as possible around the edge of the field. Fifty yards or so from the shooter, I slipped back into the woods. I found a tree to rest behind. I waited a few minutes for my breathing to return to normal. When the sound of my breathing quieted, I began listening for movements. After five minutes without a sound, my mind switched from simple survival to getting the runner, who had now killed two deputies. Inside the pocket of my bomber jacket, I found the old sheath knife. I searched a few minutes, while still listening for movement. I found a long, straight sapling. Cutting it was an effort, Using a small knife and a bandaged hand, sure didn't make easy, but I got it down. I sharpened the end as best I could.

I expected the shooter was close to Davis' body at the moment. He could be pretty sure, I would be coming for him. I expected he was already wondering why I hadn't moved on him. He didn't know that I had brought a knife to a gun fight. If he were a country boy, he would surely hear me moving in the woods. If he were a city boy, he would be scared out of his mind and even more dangerous. Not only that, he would be cold and pretty miserable. I expect he had Davis' coat but his feet were still wet.

I caught the faint whiff of cigarette smoke. I smiled to myself. He was a smoker,
a heavy one I hoped. It always amazed me that things carry so well in the woods, and that people were so stupid. I moved as quietly as possible back to the edge of the field. I should be able to get pretty close without making too much noise. I hugged the tree line until I was several yards past the point of my own entry into the field. When I found a spot, I slipped back into the woods. I stood in the shadow of a tree and waited. It was a cat and mouse game now. I figured the odd were about even, I would be more patient, but he had the gun.

I never saw the glowing ember, but I smelled the cigarette. It was much stronger than before. I might be as close as a few feet, or I might be as far as a few yards. He was close, but not nearly close enough. I moved a few feet closer to the spot where I had left Davis. Only an idiot would still be in the same spot, but I didn't know that the killer wasn't an idiot. I moved real slow, no more than a half step at a time as I searched for my runner. The first thing I actually saw was a brief glow of his cigarette. 'He must be cupping it with his hands,' I thought. At least I had a direction, even though I couldn't see him at all. By that time, he probably thought I had run for help. He should be getting worried about now. I got as close as I could, to the opening where I had gone into the field. With just a little luck, he would get spooked and come this way. I stood in the shadow of a tree waiting. I was cold, but I knew he was colder. It seemed like hours before he made a move. The dawn was breaking, I knew, I would soon be forced to move from my rather open position behind the small tree. Just as I decided to move, I heard the rustle of leaves. It sounded farther away than I knew it to be. First I saw him as a shadow moving noisily toward me. I waited as he came forward. I was terrified and exhilarated at the same time. It was a terrible feeling to know what I planned to another human being. I waited as he moved even closer. The shadow was moving slowly with a smaller shadow leading the way. I realized he was holding the pistol at the ready. He wasn't completely convinced I had gone for help.

First I smelled his after shave lotion, then the stink of dead cigarettes and then the fear. When he passed me, I stepped quickly into the path behind him. He either heard or sensed my movement. He tried to turn, but I jabbed the pointed stick into his neck. The pain in my right hand was unbelievable. I felt nauseous, but I held on. He got off a wild shot, but it was only a death spasm pulling the trigger. I didn't pull back on the stick, I let him fall with it still buried in the side of his neck. I had chosen the neck, because I didn't think the stick was sharp enough, or hard enough to go through his ribs. When I was sure he was dead, I went to check on Davis. I found him stone cold dead, laying by the tree where I left him to rest hours before. He was at that time enjoying the 'long sleep'. I searched for his police radio, when I finally found it I used it to called for help. I explained my location as close as possible, then requested a couple of body bags.

The Sheriff's men came in four wheel drives. They had the smoke from my hastily built fire to guide them. While deputies loaded the bodies, I explained to the Sheriff. He asked me for more details every now and again.

"You know, I probably should have given you that gun. Even dead drunk, you are a better man than anyone I have," he said.

"Davis didn't think so," I said.

"Well Davis died proving himself wrong," the Sheriff said sadly.

"Do you know yet who the shooter was?" I asked.
"Probably the man who robbed a South Carolina bank. We got the word an hour or so after you left," he shook his head.

"It wouldn't have mattered, nothing would have changed. I am the one who got Davis killed. I just didn't figure he would stop like that. I figured he would keep running. I guess he got discouraged when he found the field abandoned, planned to wait for daylight," I said shaking my head.

"At least you didn't run out on Davis. Some guys would have left him and made tracks for home. Hell, I wouldn't have blamed you," the Sheriff said.

"We don't leave our warriors," I said repeating the lessons my grandfather had pounded into my head. "We either die together, or we bring home our dead."

"What?" the Sheriff asked.

"Nothing," I said. I didn't realize I had been mumbling out loud.

"Come on to my house, I need a drink," he said.

"No thanks, get me a ride home. I am going to throw out every drop in my house. My drinking got that man killed," I said angrily.

"No it didn't," the Sheriff said.

"If I hadn't been half drunk, I might have seen or smelled something," I said. "That's it for me. I have had enough."

"You mean you are through drinking, or tracking?" the Sheriff asked.

"Just the drinking, the other is what I was born to do," I said as I walked toward the four wheeler with Davis' body inside. I rode with him to the hospital, then with another deputy home. I did as I promised myself. I poured every drop of booze into the kitchen sink. When it was all gone, I began working on the day\'92s messages.

I didn't touch the Matthew O'Neal file for three days. I had the heebe jeebies that long. When I was finally straight, I began answering my phone and working on the file again. I probably would have left the phone turned off, if the Sheriff hadn't come knocking on my door. "Come on Mike, we got something to do," he said.

I knew what he wanted. I picked up a white shirt and my sport coat from the closet. I changed in the car. "When did you have your last drink?" he asked.

"The night before Davis died," I answered.

"Why? I mean I am happy for you, but why? You did all you could for Davis," he said.

"I might not have gotten him killed, but I sure didn't prevent it. You know your booze killed more Indians than any rifle. I don't want to live forever, but I don't want to take anyone with me either. Davis is going to be on my mind a lot from now on," I said.

"So, how are you sleeping?" the Sheriff asked.

"I'm not, at least not yet. Maybe I can after today," I said.
"What about the ghosts of the kids. The booze was the only thing that let you sleep," the Sheriff knew it all.

"I am going to have to deal with them another way," I said not knowing exactly how to do it.

"Well maybe something will come to you," the Sheriff suggested.

The next twenty minutes we rode in almost complete silence. The church, which Davis and his family attended, was a small country Baptist church. It was overfilled with cops and Davis' other friends. When the service began, several of the cops gave speeches about honor, courage, and sacrifice, thankfully no one mentioned drunks. I waited for some kind of light to switch on in my head, nothing happened. The service brought me no peace.

After the service, I rode to the grave side service with the Sheriff. When Davis was safely in the ground, the Sheriff went to speak with Davis' widow. He was gone only a few minutes. "The widow wants us to come to her house. She wants to talk to you," he said.

"I can't," I replied.

"You were the last person to see her husband alive. She really needs for you to talk to her. Come on Mike, I never knew you to run from anything that really needed doing," He said shaming me into it.

I agreed, then shortly found myself in the drive of a small brick house. The house was neat both inside and out. I followed the Sheriff into the house. The widow saw us standing in the living room. She motioned for us to follow her into the rear of the house. I followed the Sheriff, who followed her into the yard. She led us about twenty feet from the house before she turned to speak to us. I got a really good look at her, while we were closing the distance. She was much thinner than her husband. She was also a few years younger. She was attractive in a freckle faced, country girl kind of way.

"So you are Mike Eagle," she said.

"Yes Ma'am," I answered.

She was embarrassed as she spoke the next words. "I want to thank you for killing a man. That is a hard thing for a Christian woman to say," she informed me. "I'm not supposed to want vengeance, but that is what I would have wanted. If you hadn't killed that man there might have been courtroom justice, but there would have been no vengeance. So I thank you for making my blood lust short."

"Ma'am, I don't think you know the whole story," I said steeling myself for the necessary part of the story. "The night your husband died, I had been drinking. If I hadn't been, he might have lived. I might have noticed something that would have saved his life."

She raised her hand to stop me. "Mr. Eagle, I have heard all that before. I heard that from the Deputies and from the Sheriff. I heard it all from the Sheriff. No matter what you did or failed to do, I forgive you," Then she looked at me with tears in her eyes. "We all forgive you. When you arrived too late to save the children, they forgave you. Now I forgive you for us all. You did what you could for my husband. I'm sure you did what you could for the others. Mike, we all forgive you for not being God."

I burst into tears. She held me close and comforted me, when it should have been the other way around. "Now baby," she said as though I were a child, "Forgive yourself."

She finally released me and walked away. She had more dignity, young or old, rich or poor, than any woman I had ever met. I dried my eyes while Jim silently looked away.
"Come on Mike, we need to get back to work," During the ride to my house, I burst into tears as each of the dead children sprang into my mind.

"You going to be okay?" the Sheriff asked as he stared out the windshield.

"I think, I am finally going to be all right," I said. We completed the drive in silence. Neither of us spoke, not even when we reached my home.

Inside the house, I sat on my sofa reliving all the events that haunted me. I relived the finding of each dead child, then the night Davis died. I realized for the first time, that I had never even thought about ,having taken a human life that night. When I did realize what I had done, the emotions flooded through me. First I was angry at the man I had killed, then I was sorry I had killed anyone. In the end I settle on, the only other choice I had was to run, and that was not an option, at least not for me.

I ran all those things through my mind over and over. Finally around midnight I gave up and tried to sleep. I was surprised that I drifted right off. It was the first really good nights sleep I had been able to manage since I stopped drinking. It was a wonderful feeling to wake up fully rested and without a hangover.

After breakfast, I tackled the two days work which had accumulated. I set up the computers to search, then I began typing reports. The typing was painful but somehow the pain was satisfying. I was more than a little surprised by how fast the work went. I was on a roll and finished everything by seven that evening.

I sat down in the living room with a large glass of iced tea, and Matthew's college records. As I went through them, I made notes on my laptop. I entered his mother and father's name and address. Then I entered his date of birth. I got lucky along the way. Matthew's family hadn't been rich, during his freshman year he had worked as an employee of the school. In that function, he had given them his social security number. If Matthew hadn't done a real first class 'drop out', I could find him. If I found him, chances were about fifty-fifty, I could also find Jenny.

I began at the easiest place for me to gain access. I rang up the local police department. Then I put myself on the NCIC computer. The NCIC kept records on criminals. I figured there was a chance O'Neil was listed with them. He was listed all right, he was listed as a fugitive. Right then my hopes for an easy find went out the window. If O'Neil was on the run, he would be harder to find by a long shot.

Just to be sure, I hacked into the child support computer, which could gain access to the social security records. I made a request for the current employer of Matthew O'Neil. I found his number hadn't registered any activity in twenty years, not a good sign.

I tried calling the home phone number listed for his parents. It was now being used by a bingo parlor in Boston. I had expected as much. Twenty five years was a long time.

I moved into the office. The monster had finished sending it's reports, so I opened
a cabinet and removed the set of Hill directory CDs. Someone had the bright idea of putting the information from all the hill directories onto CDs. Not only that, they had gone back as long as the directory had been published. The Boston Hill's took up almost all of one CD. I began with the Year Matthew enrolled in college. I quickly found the entry. The home had been occupied by John, Mary and their son Matthew. I ran the address forward until 1980. the only change was that Matthew was dropped as a resident. In 1980 Mary was listed as a widow. Evidently John had died during that year. In 1989 the house had a new resident. A family names Demotta. From Irish to Italian, an interesting change, I thought.

I exchanged the Hill CD for the national telephone directory CD. I found the Demotta number and called it. I gave the woman who answered my name. It just happened to be a phony. I claimed to be an O'Neil. I explained that I was working on my family tree. I had traced an uncle John and Aunt Mary to the house, but lost them in 1989. Then Mrs. Demotta explained they had bought the house that year. They bought it from a realtor and had never met the previous owner. As far as she knew the previous owners were both dead. It was a blow, but I thanked her anyway.

It looked like a dead end to me at the time. I decided to do one more thing, but I knew it was a waste. I slipped into the back door of the Social Security computer. I couldn't go in any other way. What I wanted to do wasn't available to anyone legally. I set up the phone transfers before connecting to the computer. The chances of anyone finding the illegal entry were nil. If someone accidentally found it, I wanted the phone trace to be so difficult that only the CIA could find me.

It took me twenty minutes to get it set up. I got into their mail file, from it I ordered the host computer to list all the Mary O'Neil checks being sent to Boston. I ordered it to give the mailing addresses, and their dates of birth. When I commanded it to begin, I sat back expecting pages of entries. I wasn't disappointed. The list ran fifty names.

I deleted all the ones too young to be Mary, those were mostly disability checks. I then ran the Hills to verify addresses back past 1989. After all the cutting, I was left with two Mary O'Neils, both were in nursing homes. It was impossible to tell which, if either, was my Mary O'Neal.

The answer would be in the year of admission. Mary had lived in her house until 1988. She would therefore have been admitted to the home in 1988 or 89. The question was, how could I get the two Mary's dates of admission without asking the nursing home. I was pretty sure that Nursing homes didn't have computers with search modems.

The answer was simple but dangerous. I changed my fax cover sheet to the department of Social Services' local office in Boston. My guess was that one or both of the women were receiving supplemental payments made by the state directly to the nursing home. To cover the long distance phone number, I called a relay in Boston. I logged on with the relay. I guess there is some legitimate use for phone relays, but I never figured it out. I entered my phone number and got their code for me. I also gave them my credit card number for the hefty bill that would follow. Using their number as my return phone on the cover letter, I faxed both nursing homes asking for the date of Mary O'Neil's admission.

I had done about as much as I dared at that point. I wanted to stay away from personal contact with anyone, until I understood more about Matthew O'Neil's drop out. If Mary proved a dead end, I would go back through the files to follow more obscure leads.

With the decisions made, I returned to the living room. The red light on my answering machine was blinking like a caution sign. As was my usual habit, I had turned off the ringer on my phone while I chased down O'Neil. Mixed among the hang ups, were calls from both Paula and Millie. Both had left numbers and times to call. Unfortunately the times had passed.

From the laptop, I pulled Millie's work phone number. I called the number, then left a message with the floor nurse. I turned on the TV news, to pass the time. Millie returned my call sometime around ten.

After I said Hello, she began, "Mike are you all right? I heard about that thing down in Davidson County," she gushed.

"I'm fine, and how are you?" I asked, surprised that I was really interested.

"Actually, I am just getting by. Speaking of that, I'm really sorry about that fight at Butch's. I know I should have said something to the drunk. I might have been able to stop it," she said.

"Don't worry, you couldn't have, Jess made sure of that," I said without going into details.
"I just realized something," she said. "It's after ten and you are sober."

"That's me. I haven't had a drink in days," I replied.

"I don't believe it. What happened?" she asked.

"It was just time to quit," I lied. I just didn't want to go into all the details.

"Well I'm glad," she said. "So how about I come over after my shift."

"I will be sound asleep by then," I said. "How about one night when you are off work? I suggested.

"Sounds good, I'm off on Saturday night," she informed me.

"So what are your plans for Saturday morning?" I asked.

"Nothing but laundry, what do you have in mind?"

"Now that I'm not drinking, I am going to buy a car. I thought I might take you along. You know, get your opinion on a babe machine," I laughed.

"I'll pick you up at noon on Saturday. That is, if it is okay with you?" she said.

"Noon would be great, but Millie," I said.

After a pause she asked, "What?"

"This is just a friendship date, I don't want you to get the wrong idea," I said.

She sounded a little disappointed when she said, "Of course, we have already had the other."

"Good, then I will see you on Saturday?" I asked.

"You bet," she replied.

When I hung up from Millie, I called Paula's machine. I left word that I tried to return her call. I suggested she try again the next day. After returning the calls, I went to bed. I got another full nights sleep. I felt wonderful again the next morning.

After coffee my morning coffee, I set the computers to work on the simple tracking, while I worked on the more difficult ones. I was surprised how much faster the work went, when I wasn't hungover every morning. By noon, I had gone as far as I could go. At least until the computers found my deadbeats.

Instead of turning to the Matthew O'Neil file, I called the Department of Motor Vehicles in Raleigh. I explained that I had surrendered my driver\'92s license a couple of years before. I wanted to get them reinstated.

"Actually Mr. Eagle you can't really do that. Your record shows your license was never canceled. All you have to do is go to the local office and request a duplicate. You are going to have to take the written test again. You didn't renew them last year, when they
were due. Other than that you are in good shape," the woman informed me.

"Fine, can you send me a book to study," I suggested.
"Of course, or you can get it on line," she said. She gave me their web address.

When she broke the connection, I found a computer which was idle at the moment. I called up the address she had given me. It was a simple matter to down load the book. I then reset the computer to the tracking program. I studied the book off and on all morning. I knew everything, the book was more or less a refresher course.

I answered the chirping phone, "Tracker."

"Mike what are you up to? I haven't heard from you in a week," Paula said.

"I'm not up to anything. So how about you? What are you doing?" I asked.

"You mean right now?" she asked in return.

"For the next couple of hours anyway," I replied.

"I'm off today, so I'm cleaning house. Please tell me you have a plan to rescue me," she begged.

"Actually I do need a favor, from a friend," I suggested

"If it doesn't have anything to do with laundry or a mop, you got it," she said giggling like the kid she was.

"I need a ride to the DMV office. I am going to take the driver's license test," I replied.

"You're kidding. What about the drinking?" she asked.

"I quit, I haven't had a drink in almost a week," I said.

"Good for you, I'll be there as soon as I make myself beautiful," she answered.

"Paula, this is just one friend to another, right?"

"Of course, the sex with you wasn't all that great," she laughed again.

"I keep telling you, there was no sex," I replied.

"Like I said, it wasn't all that good," she laughed.

It was after two when she arrived. The time must have been well spent because she looked great. Even the baggy sweatshirt failed to hide her great body. She didn't even bother to come into the house.

At the DMV I went through the customary waiting and then suffered the confusion as they tried to decide what to do with me. Then I waited some more, while they gave me the written test. In the end, I left fifteen dollars poorer, but with a driver\'92s license.

Paula and I went to the Sanitary Cafe for lunch. I hadn't been inside the restaurant in months. I had once eaten most of my meals in it. Without a driver\'92s license I had been forced to eat from a can or my freezer.

"Mike," the black waitress said, "Where the hell have you been? I thought maybe you died or something. Only time I know you is alive, is when I see your name in the

"Hi Lucy, I been stayin' close to home these days. This is Paula, she is a cop so don't go
beatin' on me," I said.

"She don't look like no cop. She looks more like one of them skinny assed models," Lucy said with a big smile.

"God, I love this place," Paula said with a warm smile.

"Now what' you want to eat?" Lucy asked.

"What you got fitin' to eat?" I asked loud enough for the owner/cook to hear.

"Hey," he shouted from the grill. "Everything we got is good. If you don't like the food, then you stay the hell out of here," He was smiling with a smile as broad as Lucy's.

Paula and I settled on meat loaf. We waited while the food was being prepared, actually it was already cooked. Willie, the owner, just like to make me wait. He did it so that he could come to the table to talk to us. I was about half way through the meat loaf when Willie walked to the table.

"Sit down Willie. I haven't heard much about you lately," I said.

"Course not, you don't ever come in anymore. So what you been up to?" he asked.

"We went down and picked up a driver's license," I replied.

"That mean, I'm gonna' have to put up with your insults again?" he asked.

"Maybe," I answered.

Willie turned his attention to Paula. "Tell me something?" he asked. "What's a pretty little white girl like you doing hangin' round a drunken Indian?" he said.

"Just plain good taste, I reckon," Paula answered with a giggle.

"Damn Mike, where you find this one. She as sharp as a tack," he commented.

"I don't know Willie, the women just seem to come out of the woodwork," I suggested.

"Some guys got all the luck," he said heading back to the grill.

"So, this is where you hung out before you started drinking?" Paula asked.

"Some I reckon," I agreed.

"So are you going to be hangin' out here from now on?" she asked.

"In those days the business didn't keep me as busy as it does now. I don't have a lot of time to hang out anywhere," I answered. That pretty much ended the conversation until we were in her car.

"So Mike, I got the night off, what do you want to do?" she asked.

"To tell you the truth, I have a hundred things to do tonight. I have to type all the reports,
which are being generated at this very moment. Then I have a particularly sticky little problem I am working on right now," I replied.

Oh no you don't. I expect to be repaid for this little favor. The lunch was good but it wasn't nearly enough. I mean, after all you interrupted my house cleaning," she giggled.

"Okay, how about dinner and a movie," I suggested.

"A real dinner, in a real restaurant and a real movie in a theater," she demanded.

"You got it kid. Pick me up at eight and don't be late," I joked.

I stepped from the car as she answered, "I pick the restaurant and the movie," she said just before driving off.

Sure I thought. I had no idea what restaurant to choose. Movies were a complete mystery to me without a TV guide. I took time to fix myself a large iced tea before I started on the reports. I worked steadily on them until after seven. I barely had time for a shower before Paula knocked on my door.

The restaurant was one of those yuppie places. Fortunately the atmosphere was casual. My badly worn leather bomber jacket and wool shirt fit right in. I said to Paula, "My God, I had no idea I was in style."

"Don't worry you aren't. Take a look at how new those jackets are. Yours must be ten years old and well worn. Theirs come out of the closet, only when they want to look like real people," she said.

"If you feel that way about them, why did you pick this place?" I asked.

"Frankly, because it is expensive," she smiled warmly.

"I see, you want to see if I actually have enough money to pay the bill," I laughed out loud.

"Something like that," she said with a childish grin.

She had just finished the statement when all hell broke loose. I heard the blast of a shotgun from behind me. Like everyone else in the place, I checked to see what the hell was going on.

The two black men were standing by the door looking really mean. "Don't nobody move," one of them said. He turned to his friend, "Don't just stand there man take the register." The second man moved quickly behind the counter.

"Now folks I'm gonna' come around and take up a collection. When I get to your table, have you wallets and your jewelry ready for me," he heard someone whispering. "Shut up or somebody's gonna' get hisself killed."

I looked at Paula, who looked at her purse hanging on a chair between us. I knew she meant her pistol was there. Shit, she would never be able to get to it before the man reached our table. The one who had taken down the register was watching the dinning room while the other one went from table to table.

He was two tables away, and I still didn't have any idea what I was going to do. All I knew for sure was that I wasn't going to give him my wallet. It would be a cold day in hell, when an Eagle gave up his money to a street punk. The tall thin black man approached our table.

"Give me your wallets," he demanded.
Paula reached for her purse but the man held the shotgun on her. She wasn't going to have a chance. "I don't think so," I said.

"What you mean, you don't think so," the man said turning his attention to me. "Man, I gotme a twelve gauge here. I shoot you and you gonna' be a wet spot on the floor," he said.

"Then you jump from a two bit robber, who nobody is going to get excited over, to a murderer. One, who the cops will chase till hell freezes over. Why don't you take what you got and leave," I said hoping Paula would put a bullet in the asshole's brain pan. I glanced quickly across the table, but Paula was frozen in her seat. Her hand was on her purse but she didn't make a move for the pistol.

The robber moved the shotgun to an inch or so from my face. "Give me the money, or you are going to be pickin' buckshot out of your teeth," he hissed.

"Not a chance," I said as strongly as I could under the situation.

The man hit me hard along the temple with the shotgun. I fell backward onto the floor. Everyone's attention was on me at that point. I heard the sudden popping sound of Paula's pistol. From my position I could see the man at the bar. He took off to avoid the two rounds she threw at him. Fortunately the one standing over me turned toward the threat, rather than put a load of buckshot in my gut. He never made the turn. Paula shot him as he tried to turn. She put three slugs into him. In his death spasm, he pulled the trigger on the shotgun, fortunately it was pointed to an empty table. The heavy pellets splintered a chair, as his body fell on top of me. I pushed him off me, then slowly tried to stand.

The room was spinning and I returned to a sitting position on the floor. Paula was shaking badly as she bent to check me out. She pressed a white dinner napkin against the bleeding gash over my ear. "Is this a pattern?" I asked. "Are all our dates going to end in the emergency room."

By the time the uniformed cops arrived, I was feeling much better. I had a napkin filled with blood, but otherwise I was in pretty good shape. At least better than I would have been with a mouth full of buckshot. The medics replaced the napkin with a bandage. They wanted to rush me to a hospital, but I refused. I wanted to stay and listen to the interviews. I wanted to make damned sure nobody tried to jam up Paula.

All the yuppies were terrified. If seemed to be everyone's opinion that Paula should have given up the money and let the robbers walk away. As for me, they felt I had endangered all their lives. They differed only between stringing me up by the thumbs or lethal injection. I waited at the scene until the TV people arrived. I gave my statement first to the cops, then to channel eight.

"When it all started the police officer and I were having dinner. When it started, she indicated she had a pistol in her purse. The men were watching us pretty closely. I probably would have given up my money, (fat chance) if I hadn't been worried that the robbers might not want to leave any witnesses. I tried to divert their attention so that Paula could get her pistol into play. It worked out pretty much like I thought, except for the knot on my hard head," It was my statement and I stuck to it.

Shortly after the interview, Paula drove me to the hospital. After she had parked her car across from the entrance, she said, "You know I froze. I waited too long. I could have gotten you killed." She began to cry.

"You did fine," I said meaning every word of it.

"I could have shot him earlier. I just plain froze," she said between sobs.

"If you are determined to stick with that line, then I forgive you. Now you forgive yourself, so that I can stop spilling my blood on your seat," I said.

"Damn Mike, you are the best," she said leaning over to kiss me gently.

The emergency room receptionist pulled up my payment history. "I thought I recognized you. What are you trying to do, single handedly balance our books?" she smiled. "So how bad are you hurt this time?"

"I have no idea, that's why I am here," I said.

"Come on Eagle, don't break my chops. I got an order on the computer to notify one of the services if you are in real trouble," she said.

"Well don't bother anyone. A couple of stitches and I will be out of here," I said.

"Your call," the receptionist said.

"What was that all about?" Paula asked as we waited for a doctor.

"Somebody with pull keeps an eye on me," I said without any further explanation.

"Sylvia?" she asked.

"Probably," I replied.

"What is it with you? Don't any of your ex-girlfriend hate your guts?" she asked.

"None that I know of," I answered honestly.

Paula didn't answer or even speak to me again. She waited quietly until I was called into the emergency treatment room. The doctor who stitched me up didn't know me from Adam. He was well into the stitches, when a nurse came into the room. It was of course Millie.

"So here you are again. I saw your little playmate outside. You really should find some new friends," Millie said.

"This time, it wasn't a fair fight," I said grinning at her.

"Sammy, I hope you didn't numb that before you started sewing. This jerk lives for pain," she said still smiling. "We still on for Saturday?"

"As far as I'm concerned," I replied.

"Then I will see you at noon," she said walking away.

Another voice came drifting through the room. "Be careful with him Doc," said the voice of Detective Sergeant Tim Adams. "You got yourself a bonafide hero there."

"Tim, what the hell are you doing here?" I asked.

"I came to give blood. I figured from the looks of your clothes, you are going to need it," he said.

"Most of this belongs to your corpse," I said.

'That's a good thing, I suppose," he said.

"I think so," I replied.\tab

The bored emergency room doctor spoke next. "So what did our hero do?"

"Nothing you wouldn't have done Doc. He just took that rap on the noggin so a cop could waste a couple of assholes," he said. "Too bad she only got one of them."

"Really, so he is actually John Wayne in disguise?" he asked.

"More like the reincarnation of Geronimo," the cop corrected.

"Right now, I feel more like Joe Frazier after Mohammed Ali beat the shit out of him," I said.

"I think, I am going to keep you in the hospital over night," the Doc said.

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

"You may have a concussion. You need to be observed for a while," he said exasperated.

"I can take care of that myself," I replied. "Just tell me what to look for, I promise I will come back if I show any signs,"

"It better not be Paula you have in mind watching over you. She is going to be busy with internal
affairs for a while," Tim said.

"Why, it was a righteous shoot," I said.

"Don't matter, she is going to be answering question anyway. Is there anybody else I can call for you?" he asked.

"No, I guess I can take care of myself," I replied.

Tim turned to leave the room, "By the way, if I was you, I would stop seeing that girl. From what I hear, she is going to get you killed," he laughed as he exited the room.

"If you don't get someone to stay with you tonight, I am going to have to insist you spend the night," he said.

"Will I do," Millie asked. "I am off work now, so I can take him home. I know what to look for in a concussion."

"Sure, you will do fine," the Doc said to her. Then he turned to me, "How do you do it young man? I have never seen so many women wanting to help out one beat up man,"

"Most of the time, they are the ones responsible for the beatings," I replied with a grin I didn't really feel.

"Come on Mike, your playmate is gone. You need a ride home anyway," Millie said.

As we passed the receptionist's desk she handed me a note. "Sorry Mike, Tim took me to the station for an interview with the IAD. I hope you can find a ride home. P"

I read, then tossed the note. I struggled to get into Millie's little econo box. The ride home passed pretty much in silence. Once we were in the house, things changed. "Did you give that little dish your, let's be friends speech," Millie asked.

"I certainly did," I replied.

"She, sure as hell, doesn't look like the friend type to me," she replied angrily.

"Well she is," I answered too tired to argue.

Millie didn't answer as we walked through the office. I fell onto the bed and waited for her next barrage. "Mike, she is just so damned pretty. I can't compete with her," she said as the tears welled up in her eyes.

"Millie this is not a competition. I need friends more than I need lovers. At least right now I do," I replied. "Besides you are just as pretty as Paula."

"Sure, she has beautiful hair and a great body. Me, I'm dumpy and I know it," she said with tears streaming down her cheeks.

"Millie, I am too tired for this right now. Let me just say this, Paula is Paula and you are you. I like your body just fine. I don't know what else to say. You are more than your looks. Now, I really have to get some sleep," I said passing out cold on her.

I felt her hand on my shoulder the next morning. She handed me a cup of coffee as she stood by the bed. I moved to make room for her to sit. "God, coffee in bed, you are really a good friend," I said.

"I know," she said simply, then, "Look, I'm sorry about last night. It's just that when I see girls like Paula, I can't help being jealous. I mean she is just so beautiful."

"I don't know that for sure and neither do you. Beauty is a lot more than bone structure. For instance, I know that you are beautiful, the jury is still out on her," I said.

"You are sweet, I knew you had to have a good point or two under all that macho bullshit. Now get
your butt out of bed. I have breakfast almost done."

"Would you get me couple of aspirin first. I have a terrible headache," I admitted.

Not only did she bring me the aspirin, she also changed my bandage. The bandage made the seven stitches look a lot worse than they really were.

Even with the headache, I was able to get started on the morning's work. Millie left right after breakfast for her own house. She had things to do before pulling her last shift. Tomorrow we were going shopping for a car.

I had my first Fax from the Boston nursing home. I scanned it quickly while I set the computers to working. The admission date was 1990, it could be my woman. I decided to wait for the last fax before I proceeded. I really wasn't in the mood to tackle it today anyway. I was content to put forth a bare minimum of effort.

Paula called me before her shift began at three. "I just wanted to know that you were all right," she informed me.

"Oh, I'm just peachy keen," I said in reply. "So, how did it go with IAD?"

"Just a lot of crap. That interview you gave the TV people is probably going to save my ass. The department policy pretty much prohibits shooting in public places. That is unless it can't be avoided.
You made it sound as though it couldn't have been," she said.

"Well, I'm glad it worked out for you," I said.

"Can we try the date again?" she asked. "I know you seem to get into trouble every time we go out, but I promise next time I won't let anything happen."

"Sure, but I am going to be tied up until sometime next week," I explained.\tab

"That's fine, I switch to day-shift on Wednesday. We can do it one day after that," she suggested.

"Fine, give me a call Wednesday afternoon and we will work something out," I agreed.

The call pretty much ended after that. I continued to work on the deadbeats for another few hours. I did take a break to fix myself some lunch. I decided, I would really be happy when I could drive to the Sanitary for lunch again. I suddenly realized how much I had missed during my drinking days. I also realized, I had no idea how much money I had in the bank. The checks from the major accounts were direct deposit as were the credit cards from the individuals. Most of my expenses were on some kind of automatic pay plan. I seldom, if ever, checked the accounts. Hell the bank could have been stealing me blind the last few years and I wouldn't have known. I couldn't remember when I had last opened a bank statement.

Fortunately I had a computer access program for the bank. I called it up on the laptop while the others ran. It might be a good idea to determine how much I could spend on a car, before I went looking for one. It took only a couple of minutes to establish the link between my computer and the banks. It took longer to navigate through their instructions. In the end, I got to my checking account. I found ten thousand dollars and change in it. I vaguely remembered my arrangement with the bank. The bank automatically transferred anything over ten-grand into my money market account. A service I had learned about before I began drinking heavily. I found to my amazement that I had almost fifty thousand in the account. That was after the deductions for the bad investments I had made over the last few years. I had been a sucker for phone calls from stock brokers and gold salesmen. I had to wonder how much I had lost over the years.

Since I was trying not to work too hard today, I called Baity and Baity my accountants. I got through to one of them. "My God Eagle," he said. "I haven't spoken to you in over a year. Is there some problem with your taxes?"

"No, I was just wondering how much money I lost last year?" I asked.

"Right off the top of my head, all I can say is you didn't loose anything," he replied.

"Not the business, I mean, on the stocks, gold or whatever else I bought when I was drunk," I corrected.

"Oh that, let me pull up your stock accounts," I could hear the keys of his computer as he worked on my accounts. "I have bills here from three different investment houses. Damn Mike, don't you ever sell anything?" he asked.

"Mr. Baity, you can't sell what you ain't got. I have no idea what I bought. I was hammered most of the time," I said honestly.

"Well hold on, I will pull up the stock quotes," I waited while his fingers flew again. "It could be a lot better, but it could be worse, at least you didn't buy any of this crap on margins,"

"What does that mean?' I asked.
"It's like buying a refrigerator on time. Sometimes there are more payments later down the road. You paid up front for the stocks. If you want I can go back to see how much you paid for this crap, or do you just want to know what it is worth now?" he asked.

"I guess the value at the moment. It would probably be too depressing to know how much I have lost," I replied.

"Best I can figure, the stock and gold certificates are worth about eighty nine thousand and change. Considering you bought this junk over the phone, I would guess you paid more for it. Then again, there are Gods just to take care of drunks. You might have held the crap long enough to make a small profit," he said. After another moment he asked, "Do you want me to sell it for you?"

"Maybe later, I see you still have the power of attorney," I stated.

"Mike, you can have it back now that you are sober again. I assume you are sober?" he asked.

"Yep, have been for a week. Let's let the thing ride a while longer. I might want to manage my own affairs again, but not right now. I am going to buy a car tomorrow, so don't give the bank a fit about the check," I said.

"It's good to hear you climbed out of the bottle. I will actually be glad to give you the power of attorney back. Too much chance for lawsuits with those things," he stated.

"I'm sorry Baity, I had no idea I was putting you in a tough position. Why don't you just send me all the information and the revocation papers. I will turn you loose to work on other things," I said.

"Sure Mike, I would really feel better letting you handle your own affairs. We will still work your books and taxes, right?" he asked.

"Sure thing,look I got to run. Thanks for the run down," I said.

"Not at all my boy," he said breaking the connection. Mr. Baity senior was an honest man. There weren't too many of those around these days.

I was reeling from the realization that I had almost a hundred and fifty thousand dollars at my disposal. It was hard for me to believe that I hadn't drank it all up over the last three years. It was just fortunate that I could continue to work while I drank. Most people couldn't have gotten away with it.

I passed the rest of that miserable Friday working on reports to my clients. I pretty well finished all of them by eight. I spent the next two hours with the TV news. The headache finally got the best of me around ten. I took four aspirins and went to bed. I didn't wake again until ten the next morning.

On the way through the office to the bathroom, I glanced at the requests for tracking. Friday night was usually a light load. This one was no exception. I noticed the relay answer to my nursing home inquiry. Since nature was demanding an immediate answer, I put off the nursing home message until later.

I got to it after my shower and breakfast, if you can call a pop tart breakfast. The message informed me that Mary O'Neil had been a resident since 1988, "Bingo," I thought. I didn't even try to think of my next move. Instead I loaded the twenty odd searches into the computer. With the monster running it would take no more than thirty minutes to find the majority of them. With any luck at all, it would find them all.

I was typing reports when Millie arrived. I opened the door for her with a big hello.

"God you sound cheerful. Is this how you act when you are sober?" she said.

"I guess," I answered truthfully. "You liked me better the other way?"

"Not at all, this is just going to take some getting used to. So are you ready to go?" she asked.

"Can you give me a minute? I got two more reports to type," I replied.

"Okay, then I want to change that bandage again," she informed me.

"How about we just leave it off. I don't want to look like the walking wounded out there," I said with as much of a grin as I could manage.

"Sure, can I have a glass of tea while you work," she asked.

"Help yourself," Millie drank the iced tea while I quickly typed the two remaining reports. I looked up to find her reading the message from the Boston Nursing home.

"So who is Mary O'Neil?" she asked.\tab

"The mother, of the husband, of a woman I am trying to find," I answered.

"How long has she been missing?" she asked.

"Twenty three years," I replied standing to stretch.

"Come here," she said professionally.

She removed the bandage, then cleaned the stitches with peroxide. When she finished, I smiled my thanks. I began walking toward the door.

"At least put on a shirt before we go. The salesmen are going to think you are a hick," she observed.

"So, you think I should try to fool them?" I asked playfully.

"God, I can't stand that razor wit of yours," she laughed.

We were in her econo box when she asked, "So where to?"

"I have no idea, do you know anybody who has a large selection of used cars?" I asked.

"I bought this heap from Michael's," she said.

"Then Michael's it is," I replied. The two of us made small talk during the drive into town. When we arrive at the used car lot, I was impressed. The lot took up almost half a city block. I had never notice how large it was before. I had passed it, but never paid it any attention. I actually made it all the way outside the car before the salesman caught me.

"So, what can I do for you today?" he asked.

"I need a car," I suggested.

"Anything in particular," he asked.
"Four wheels and a motor would be nice," I stated.

"No I mean sporty, economy, utility, that kind of thing," he corrected me.

"To tell you the truth, I haven't had much time to think about it. How about we just wander around for a while," I suggested.

He sounded disappointed when he said, "Sure just come get me, if I can help you."

"I'll do that," I promised.

After he had gone Millie asked, "You really don't have anything in mind do you?"

"Not a clue," I admitted.

"In that case how about a corvette?" she asked pointing to a bring shiny little number.

"Too much trouble. The insurance on that bitch would be as much as the car," I informed her.

She pointed across the aisle to a Honda, "How about an economy car?"

"I can hardly get in and out of those things," I replied honestly.

"That's true enough. How tall are you anyway," she asked.

"It ain't the height, it's the belly," I said laughing.

We had been walking as we talked. We completed the front aisle and moved to the second. "How about a truck? It would seem to fit your lifestyle," she advised.

"Can't fit all my junk into the cab, everything else would get wet," I said.

"A van then, they make some nice small ones these days," she informed me.

"Too hard to drive," I said.

"You don't really want a car at all," she said with a throaty laugh.

On the last row, I saw it. It looked like a miniature Jeep. It had a hardtop and looked pretty forlorn. The paint had been replaced with primer in most places. I walked to it, then opened the light weight doors. It was a mess inside. The rubber mats were torn and dirty.

"Not this," Millie begged. "Please don't tell me you like this beast."

"I won't tell you, but I like it a lot," I said.

"This thing can't be more than three years old, but it looks like hell. Please don't even give this thing a second thought," she begged again.

"Let's go see what the deal is on it," I said walking away from her.

I was informed the deal was simple, the Jap Jeep had been traded to the dealer. He planned to have it painted, then the mats replaced. It was a sound little car according to the salesman. Bottom line was five thousand dollars, six when it was cleaned and painted.

"Tell you what Bobby," I said to the salesman. "I got a mechanic friend. If he tells me the car is worth the money, You got a deal."

"I'm afraid, I can't let you take it for that long a period of time, the insurance you know," he said.

I looked him in the eye. "Not a problem, I'll have him come here," I promised.

"It may be sold by the time he can work it into his schedule," he said.

"Let me just use your phone," I said. "Maybe he will come right down," I found the card from Mr. Evans in my wallet. I called his home number. It took a few minutes for me to explain who I was.

"Sure," he finally understood, "Mr. Eagle, what can I do for you."

"I know this is an inconvenience, but I am looking at a car to buy. I wondered if you could come
down to Michael's and take a look at the engine for me," I asked.

"Frankly, they are crooks. You bet your ass, I'll come, I can be there in twenty minutes," he said hanging up on me.

"He is on his way down," I said handing the salesman the phone\tab

Fifteen minutes later, Evan drove up in a very nicely restored Chevy. He took one look at the cut on my forehead, shook his head and asked, "So what piece of crap they trying to sell you?"

"The little Jap Jeep," I said pointing to the rear row of cars.

"Well, let's go take a look at it," he suggested.

The salesman of course came along. Mr. Evans started the car, then looked under the hood. He even crawled under it. It took him twenty minutes to finish checking it out. "Besides the obvious paint job, it needs a new timing belt and a CV joint. The undercarriage has been over some rough roads, but nothings is bent up down there. You are looking at about three hundred in repairs on it. I would figure five, since there is no way of knowing what all is wrong inside the engine," Mr. Evans informed me.

"So what is it worth?" I asked.

"As she sits, I would say no more than four grand. I can get you one like it without the bad paint for four and a half. It would probably need as much as this one to put it back perfect,"

I turned to the Salesman who had been waiting without speaking a word. "You heard the man four grand cash," I said.

"No way the boss will go for that," he said.

"Well thanks for letting us look around," I said heading for Millie's car.

"Okay, I can ask," he admitted.

"Look friend," John said. "You go ask all you want, but don't come back with any counter offers. Either take the man\'92s four or tell us good-bye," Even I could see how dangerous Mr. Evans looked.
After the salesman had been in the office for a few minutes Evans said, "He is in there pulling his joint. These guys really piss me off."

"So you really know where I can get one for four and a half?" I asked with a smile.

"Hell no, those things aren't old enough to flood the resale market yet. Four is still plenty for it," he said.

"The boss said, 'Four and a quarter was the least he could do'."

"I told you not to come back with that crap," Evans said moving on the man.

"Take it easy, Mr. Evans," I said getting between them. "We will just go buy the one you told me about."

"Then you are going to have to do that," the salesman said with a shaky voice.

I pulled Evans back to his Chevy. "Hey man it ain't worth goin' to jail over."

"The hell you say, I owe you," he said.

"You came down, we're even man," I informed him.

He wouldn't calm down. "Either that little prick is going to be straight with you or I'm going to kick his ass all over this lot," Evans said pulling away from me.

I looked at the shaking little man and asked, "Is the two fifty worth an ass kicking?"

"Nobody threatens me on my own lot," he said.

"So there was no boss to talk to after all. You sir, are not even a good liar," I said pushing Evans back to his car. "Please go home Mr. Evans. You have done a good job and we are more than even." Evans didn't like it much but he left.

With the immediate threat gone the salesman recovered his bluster. "Four and a quarter still goes," he said.

I turned as mean a look on him as I could manage. "Listen you little lying prick. You couldn't give me every car on this lot right now. You are damned lucky, I don't kick your lying ass myself," Millie was already behind the wheel. She had been since the shoving with Evans started.

As we drove away she said, "You are determined to get your ass killed."

"I expect so," I laughed.

"So, who do we piss off next?" she asked with a sick look on her face.

"Let's go look at a new one," I suggested.

We made it about ten blocks when I saw something in a service station parking lot. It had a for sale sign on it. "Turn around," I ordered.

"What?" she asked.

"Let's go back to that service station on the corner," I suggested.
When she pulled in I heard her say, "Oh no, this is worse than the Jap Jeep."

"No, it's not. It is a Volkswagen Thing. I haven't seen one of these in years," I walked inside the station and found the owner. "Is that your Thing?" I asked.

"Not likely, it belongs to a customer. You interested?" he asked.

"Could be. How much does he want for it," I asked.

"He's askin' a thousand, but he will take less. Personally, I just want it off the lot," he admitted.

"If he will take eight hundred it is sold," I said.

"Don't you want to hear it run?" he asked.

"Does it run?" I asked.

"Yeah, but not very well," he told me honestly.

"Then I will give him eight and take it with me," I said.

"You got tags for it?" he asked.

"No," I replied. "I'm not going to take it far. I'll have the lady stay right behind me."
He nodded, then made the call. Fifteen minutes later I drove off in the Thing. Millie followed me the Evans\'92 house. I was surprised that I could find it. After all I hadn't been sober or driving the night I last visited their home.

I knocked on the door. Mrs. Evans answered. "Mr. Eagle," she said rushing to hug me again. She was a hugger there was no doubt about that. "What have they done to you?" she asked obviously concerned about the cut on my head and the bandage on my hand.

"Nothing, I tripped in the shower," I lied.

"Sure you did," she said with a strange but warm smile.

When she released me, I asked, "Is your husband home. I know I am making a pest of myself, but I need one more favor."

"Mr. Eagle, there is nothing you could ask that John or I wouldn't do. She turned back inside the house and called, "John, Billy Mr. Eagle is here to see you."

Mr. Evans came to the door holding young Billy. "My God, he looks better than the last time I saw
him," I commented.

"Billy, this is the man who found you," he said. Billy looked away obviously frightened. "You'll have to forgive him Mr. Eagle, he still gets a little upset by that whole thing."

"I can certainly understand that," I said.

"I know why you came. I'm sorry that I embarrassed you," he said. "I guess it was just that I wanted to do something for you so badly. I know I made an ass of myself."

"Not at all, I came to have you do a job for me," I turned to point out the Thing in his driveway. "I need to get that fixed, but I don't want you to do it as anything other than a straight business deal. I brought it to you because I think you are an honest man. I want to pay just like any other customer. I just want it fixed right," I said.

"So what's wrong with it," he asked.

"I have no idea, I just bought it. I want you to take it and do everything that needs doing. When I get it back, I want to be able to drive it to California, if I want," I said.

John Evans started the engine, then went to the rear of the car. If you really want to pay, it isn't going to be cheap. The engine sounds like it has a rod slapping. Probably going to have to rebuild it or get a new one. No telling what all I'll find inside it," he said honestly.

"Give me some idea what it might cost?" I asked.

"I can fix everything but the paint and top, you are talking about something like two grand or maybe a
little more," he said sadly.

"Do it like it was for your wife's car," I said. "How long?"

"At least a week," he said.

"I got along without a car for three years, I guess I can make it one more week," I laughed.

"Judging from the looks of this and the last one, you aren't too much on how a car looks," he said.

"That's pretty much true," I had to agree.

"Then you take my Honda, I don't need a car. I can use my wife's Chevy."

"No way," I said.

"Take the car," I heard Mrs. Evans voice. "I can run to the parts house for John. It will make the repairs go quicker. I am not going to take no for an answer," she insisted.

I drove off in the very old, sort of gray Honda civic. It had to be the least comfortable car I ever drove. Millie followed right behind me. When I parked the little car in my large parking lot, I climbed into the car with her.

"Let's go have a late lunch," I suggested.

"Only if we go to the Sanitary. I don't dare go there without you," she stated flatly.

"Sure why not," I agreed.

Lunch was pretty tame since the owner had taken the day off. Lucy was pleasant and seemed genuinely happy to see both me and Millie. She and Millie had hit it off well, the couple of times I had taken her to the Sanitary.

Both Millie and I had hot dogs. The Sanitary was the only place in town to get a foot long hot dog. Millie swore they were heart attacks on a bun, but it didn't stop her from devouring hers.

"You know, I had forgotten how much fun you are," she informed me.

"It's Lucy's hot dogs," I said.

"No I mean the whole thing. Nobody else I know, could have a man ready to kill another man over two hundred bucks," she said.

"You live a sheltered life. People kill each other every day over less," I informed her.

"That's true, but it's not what I mean and you know it. I don't know anyone else who can get that kind of response from an almost total stranger," she said.

"It's a little more than that. Evans is a man of honor. He just thought he owed me more than he really did," I explained.

"I got that part at the house. It's something more than gratitude somehow," she said.

"No it's not. Evans just takes a debt too seriously," I said.

"I liked him and his wife. I'll give you a piece of advice for free, don't get caught alone with her," Millie said.

"Why is that?" I asked.

"Because Mr. Eagle, she wants to pay her debt with her body," she said.

"You are so full of it," I said knowing she was right on the mark.

"Oh, I almost forgot. Speaking of women throwing their bodies at you, guess who cornered me on the floor last night?" she asked.

"I have no earthly idea," I replied.

"Sylvia the gas passer, the conversation started pleasantly enough. She wanted to know how you were. Somebody ratted me out for taking you home. Somewhere along the line, things took a nasty turn. I thought she was going to start pulling my hair."

"Why would she do that? I'm pretty sure she is back home with hubby, and happy to be there," I said.

"Oh she is with hubby, but I don't think she is happy about it," Millie explained.

"I doubt she misses this kind of thing," I said sweeping my arms around the Sanitary.

"You are right about that, she has way too much class for this dump," she said with a big smile. "I think she mentioned something about the sex."

"It couldn't have been that, she and I were together during my drinking days," I explained.

"Hey Mike, I was after her. I know what you are like when you drink," she said.

"Then you know it couldn't have been the sex," I laughed.
"Sure it could, she would just have to recognize the right moment. Too soon and you were like any other man, too late and you were useless, but if a woman caught you at exactly the right moment, you could be pure hell," she smiled as she described me.

"No more details please, I actually remember those few times," I said.

"You know, I pulled a text book out last night. I did a little reading on recovering alcoholics," she said.

"Hey, I'm a recovering drunk," I corrected her.

"Those too," she laughed. "Anyway, the body begins to return to normal after about ten days. All the urges that the alcohol took away, come back. Are you at that point yet?" she asked looking me dead in the eye.

"I guess, but my judgment is a lot better now. I don't want to hurt anyone ever again," I said solemnly.

"Don't worry Mike, we are all big girls. We can handle the fun without the commitment. Just be as
up front with all of them, as you have with me, and you will be fine," she advised.\tab

I paid the bill for the dogs as we left the restaurant. The conversation during the drive home could only be called playful. Millie had lightened up during lunch. When I thought back on it, the whole day had been rather humorous. I could always laugh when nobody got hurt.

I found a message to call John Evans when I returned to the house. I made the call thinking he had found something really wrong with my Thing.

"John, Mike Eagle, what's up?" I asked.

"My nephew came by a couple of hours ago. He works for one of those cheap-o car painting companies. He also does a little painting at home. I was wondering, would you want me to have him shoot your car. He can bring his compressor over here and shoot it while I have the engine out," he suggested.

"Sure, if he isn't going to charge too much," I agreed.

"He won't, I'll make sure of it. One more thing, he also does some fiberglass work on boats. He mentioned, he could build you a removable hardtop for five hundred bucks. It sounds like a lot, but the soft top replacement will be over half that much. He swears to me his will last a lifetime."

"Do it John, it sounds like a good deal to me," I said.

"So what color do you want?" he asked.

"I guess German combat gray," I suggested.

"You mean like an old German command cars?" He asked it with a quiet laugh.

"Yeah, but without the swastika," I laughed.

"That should be interesting. I'll get him to work on it Monday night. By the way, I found you
a new engine for the Thing. They are re-manufacturing them in Mexico," he said.
"Am I going to have to wait for one to come from Mexico?" I asked.

"No, the local parts house has one in stock. I will have it in the car by Wednesday. You should have everything done by Friday," he promised me.

"Sounds good, I'll call you on Thursday," I promised, then broke the connection. I walked from the living room into the office looking for Millie. When I didn't see her there or in the kitchen, I thought she might be in the bathroom. I actually went into the bedroom to drop off the bomber jacket.

"What kept you?" Millie asked from the bed. She was under the cover and from what I could see of her clothing scattered around, she was very naked.

"I think maybe I should leave while you think this over," I suggested.

"I don't need to think it over. You and I are going to consider this like a kiss between friends. When it is over, we are still going to be friends," she said.

"Are you quite sure?' I asked giving her one last chance to change her mind.

"God, you are so dense, when you are sober," she said pulled the covers down to reveal her soft rounded body. I had reached the level of my endurance. I quickly undressed and joined her in the bed.

I didn't wake until noon on Sunday. Even then Millie was still sprawled across me. I tried to move without waking her but it was no use. "Hi there," she said as she pulled my head to her soft breast. "So, is it better sober?" she asked.

"I don't know, you are going to have to give me a day or two to think about it. How about you?" I asked in return.

"Not the first time, but the next two were just fine," she said with a girlish giggle.

"Come on, let's go out to brunch. We can go be with all the other sleep over couples," I suggested.

"God yes, I love to see the women in their crumpled dresses. I want to be just like them when I grow up," she said jumping up from the bed. I watched as she bent naked to retrieve her clothes from the floor. She smiled broadly, then ran for the bathroom. I managed to get dressed without my morning shower. I did put the coffee pot on while I waited for her to finish dressing. For the first time in years, I didn't even check the computer mail. None of my commercial accounts worked on Saturday anyway. The personal requests could wait until this afternoon or even Monday.

Millie actually looked better this morning than she had the night before. I imagined it had something to do with her activities the night before. "Come on let's go eat," I suggested.

"Right with you, I just have to make sure I left a couple of bobby pens in your bed," she said with a giggle.

"What is it with you women? I used to always find something like that laying around," I asked.

"Just like any other cat, we mark our territory," she said with a smile.

"Come on, I'm hungry," I said going to the door.

"Damn," Millie said. "The temperature dropped again last night. It is much colder than it was yesterday."

"Well, we're not going to be out in it longer than it takes to eat lunch," I said. As usual I was wrong. We barely finished brunch when my beeper went off. I carried it just for the police calls. Millie accompanied me to the pay phone where I returned the call. "This is Mike Eagle, you called?" I asked.

"Mike this is Thomas Dillion, we need your help up here," he stated.

"Where is up here," I asked

"I guess you don't remember me. I'm with the Avery PD. Guy just raped a woman and took to the woods. Our dog is in the vet and the state's dogs can't get here until tonight. I was hoping you could come right over?"

"I'm going to need to go home for my car," I suggested.

"You want me to send a car for you?" he asked.

"No, it will be quicker if I drive," I said.

"You driving now?" he asked.

"Yes and before you ask, I quite drinking. So where do I come?" I asked. He gave me an address. I tried to get Millie to take me home, but she refused. She drove me to the address herself. I hated not having my rubber boots but maybe I wouldn't need them. The insulated hiking boots, I wore almost all the time, might do.

I recognized the detective when I arrived. "Dillon," I said extending my hand to him.

"Damn Mike, you look better than I ever saw you," he said grinning.

"So, where did our boy go?" I asked.

He walked with me and Millie to a large field behind one of the apartment buildings. He went somewhere over there," He said sweeping his arms over the field.

"How was he dressed?" I asked.

"Jeans and a dark sweatshirt. He was wearing tennis shoes," the Detective answered.
"Well he wasn't planning to go far in tennis shoes in this weather. Was he being chased or did he choose this particular escape route?" I asked.

"He wasn't being chased. Some kids, playing out here, saw him run into the woods," Dillon said.

"Then you better have some men come with me. He went somewhere close," I said. "That is unless he is just plain stupid,"

"I figure like you, he knew where he was going and I wasn't all that far away," Dillon said to me. His next remarks were aimed at the uniformed cops. "Sergeant, have a couple of men go with Mike."

We began in the field. A blind man could have followed the trail through the foot high frozen grass. There was even a path inside the woods. The first problem came when we got to another path branching from the original one. I made everyone stay behind, while I checked both paths for at least ten feet in either direction. On one of the paths, I found a sneaker footprint in the frozen dirt. "He came this way and was moving fast," I explained to the patrolmen who followed me. At the end of the path, I found a chain link fence. An almost imperceptible trail through the leaves led to the right. I couldn't tell how fresh it was but it was the only one. I followed it slowly while the cops kept their eyes open. At the corner of the fence I found a worn path which lead to the rear door of a shabby house.

"He must be in there," One of the cops said as he tried to move ahead of me.

"Hold it kid," I said.

"Don't tell me what to do, and don't call me kid," he snapped.

"Shut up Johnson," the Sergeant said. "What is it Mike?" he asked.

"Bend over and look at the path. About half way down it, you can see bent grass heading off toward the road. Grass will only stay bent like that a few hours, and then only when it is as cold as it is now. It has no spring when it is frozen. Somebody moving fast left that path in that direction, no more than three hours ago. I would guess it is our man. If we go up to that dirt spot by the street, I would expect to find that sneaker print again," I explained to the Sergeant.

We found the sneaker print by the dirt street. "Now Johnson, wouldn't you have looked like
an idiot, if you had knocked down some little old lady's door?" the Sergeant asked. Johnson didn't answer, but he didn't seem to be in any hurry to pass me again.

"So where to now?" the sergeant asked.

"Your man ran up here out of the wet grass, then turned hard right," I said.

"How the fuck do you know that?" Johnson asked.

"Take a look at the sneaker print here," I said pointing to the one closest to the road. "See that scrape, where the next print should be. He twisted his foot as he turned. The next set of prints are in the gravel," I said.

"I don't see them," Johnson said.

"I don't either," I agreed. "But they are there. Now he turned right, then ran down the road. Which means he left the road to the left side. Let's go look for a spot where he left it." The first indication was a skid mark on the left side of the road. I walked along in a straight line until I saw the sneaker print again. This time it was marked by a trail in the grass right up to the porch of a shabby house.

"Well Johnson, now you can kick down a door. I would ring the bell first, just in case he has gone," I said.

The bell brought a black woman to the door. She would turn out to be the man's mother. She tried to lie for him at first, but when she realized the cops had a description she gave him up. I watched as a car pulled up to take him away.

I was pretty much frozen stiff as we walked back to the apartment complex. The Sergeant spoke as we walked. "You know, I saw you do that once before. That time you weren't talking," he said.

"If it was at night, I was hammered. If it was in the daylight, I was hungover," I said honestly.

"I didn't think much of you when you arrived that first time. I figured you were drunk. But you still found that kid's body. You're better than any dog I ever saw," he said.

"I hope that is a compliment?" I asked.

"You bet it is. Tell you what, you and the pretty lady follow me and I'll buy you a cup of coffee," he suggested.

"Not at the police station. I've had their coffee," I said with a smile.

"No way, follow me to the Donut Shoppe," he suggested.

"Okay, I can't think of a better way to show my girl a good time," I said.

When we arrived at the Donut Shoppe, I found not only the Sergeant but Johnson as well. "So we meet again," I said to Johnson. "This is Millie North."

"Hi Miss North," Johnson and the Sergeant said together. "I got to tell you," Johnson went on, "I, sure as hell, never saw anything like it. Mr. Eagle tracked that bastard right to his door,"

"I've seen him do better," Millie said.

"Really?" the sergeant asked.

"You guys ever hear of Butch's place in Greenpoint?" she asked.
"Not really," Johnson said.

"Well you should come over sometime," Millie went on. "The place is full of cops and nurses. Anyway last week Mike was in there with a female cop."

"Come on Millie, this isn't the time for that story," I said trying to stop her.

"'Sure it is," Johnson said. He was a lot more taken with Millie than the story.

Millie turned to me stuck out her tongue then went on. She told it all more or less like it happened. When she finished the Sergeant asked, "You mean a female police sergeant started it?"

"She sure did, not only that, but two days later Mike is out tracking a bank robber."

'That really is enough Millie," I said.

"Leave her alone," Johnson said dangerously.

"Anyway that's about it. He killed the bank robber with a stick. Stabbed him in the throat with it," she said thrilled with the attention from the much younger Johnson. "Shit, things like that always happen to Mike. He is a trouble Magnet."

"I'm going to the bathroom. Millie promise me you won't tell anymore stories while I am gone," I begged.

"Okay, I won't even tell them how you got those stitches in your head," she laughed.

"Good," I said as I left.

When I returned, Millie was the center of attention. "You know Mike," I can see why you drank," Johnson said.

"Really, why is that?" I asked.

"You get your hand broke, get a partner killed, kill a man with a stick, and get in the middle of a shoot, out all in one week. Man that is more shit than a cop gets into in a career,"

"Yeah, well it was a slow week," I said bitterly.

"Excuse me guys," Millie said. "I have to visit the girl's room before Mike and I head home."

After she had gone Johnson asked, "Mike, how serious are you about Millie?"

Why?" I asked.

"Well, I think she is kind of interested in me. If you don't mind, I would like to call her,"

"You are both grown. You can call her if you want. She can find out for herself what a jerk you are," I said. Johnson looked like he wanted to slug me. It wouldn't have been the first time I got hit lately.

"I'll just do that," he said as he stood to leave.

I looked questioningly at the Sergeant. "He got her number while you were in the can."

"Real cute guy," I said.

"Johnson ain't bad, just stupid," he laughed. "That woman is a pistol though. I can't say as I blame him. She was playing up to him pretty good. Maybe she was trying to make you jealous."

"Or maybe she likes stupid men," I said as she returned.

"What happened to your friend?" she asked the Sergeant.

"His break was over. So, I guess I'll be seeing you Mike," he said as he rose to leave.

"Probably someday," I agreed.

On the drive home, the conversation was non existent. Millie had either decided to move on, or she was waiting for me to bring up the Johnson subject. I didn't care that she had a new friend. I though it was a good idea for her to move on. I would like to think she had better taste than Johnson though.

I didn't invite her in when we arrived at my house. I had far to much sense to start a fight with her.
No matter what her plan, I wanted nothing to do with it. I spent my evening puttering around the house. I did a little long overdue cleaning and a little report writing. I had no trouble sleeping since I was dead beat. I was thankful that the phone didn't wake me that particular night.

Monday I worked on my client's cases all day. I gave the O'Neil thing some thought, but couldn't come up with a plan to get Matthew's address from his mother. I might just have to fly up there. Maybe pretend to be a long lost nephew, something like that. I ran it through my mind off and on all day, but was no closer to an answer when I moved to the living room at seven. It had been a peaceful day. I felt I was due one at last.

Of course all that changed with the knock on my door. I opened it to find Sergeant Jess Wilson standing outside. "Well aren't you going to invite me in," she asked.

"That depends, do you have any more boyfriends with you?" I snapped.

"None at all tonight, and none you couldn't whip anytime," she said as she pushed past me, then flopping onto the sofa. I remained standing over her.

"You're a little out of your coverage zone aren't you?" I asked.
"I would be, if I were still working," she informed me. "I took a couple of hours comp. time,"

"So, to what do I owe the pleasure?" I asked.

"I hear you gave up the booze?" she commented.

"I did," I replied.

"And all it took was one dead cop. That's not bad," she said.

"It you are trying to piss me off, you are going to have to find a better way," I said.

"I came to warn you," she said.

"That would be a first. I mean, last time I saw you, you were trying to get my butt kicked," I said.

"Not really, I knew how that would end. I have seen it before remember? If I wanted you to get your ass kicked, I would have warned the jerk," she did have a point.

"Okay, so what is the warning?" I asked.

"Twinkle Toes is out to nail your ass," she said.

"As in?" I asked.

"Marriage," she said simply.

"She told you this I suppose," I said.

"Didn't have to tell me. A woman knows what is on another woman's mind," she informed me.

"So why are you warning me?" I asked.

"Because love, I have other plans for you. Plans that don't include your being married to anyone," she said.

"Come on Jess, that ended a long time ago," I said.

"Two years isn't that long, but that's not what I mean. Well not really, in those days I wanted what Twinkle Toes wants now," she said wistfully.

"So what is it you want now?" I asked.

"I just want to stop by now and again for some slap and tickle," she said with a wicked smile. "A wife would definitely cramp my style."

"So what makes you think I would go along with that?" I asked.

"What man would object to a little no strings attached sex? Besides which I know something you would rather not have spread around," she said.

"And what might that be?" I asked.

"I know that you helped plan a murder," she said.

"Don't even try that one. Nobody in their right mind would implicate me in that," I said.

"Who said anything about being in my right mind," she said. "I killed him for you."

"What a crock, you killed him because he knocked you around," I said.

"That's not the way I will tell it," she said. "My version is that you seduced me, then convinced me to pop good old Bob. I get maybe a couple of years, but you go down for ten or fifteen."

"Why the hell are you doing this?" I asked.

"Because baby," she said pulling me down beside her. "I get a yen for you once in a while. You remember what it was like."

"I remember what it was like in the end," I reminded her.

"I know, but I have changed. I won't be like that again," she promised.

I tried to stand again. She held me down. "Nobody would believe you. It would be my word against yours," I said.

"Not exactly, you know how you laid it all out on the computer for me. Well, I kind of stole your file. You were so drunk, you didn't notice me copy it. You really shouldn't have taught me so much about those things," she informed me.

"Just the raving of a drunk, trying to help a lover," I said.

"Well honey, people have been convicted for a lot less," she reminded me.

"So now it's blackmail?" I asked.

"I guess," she said.

"But why, you seem to have enough lovers these days?" I asked.

None like you baby. You were the best," she said.

"Bullshit, I was hammered most of the time," I answered.

"That really isn't the point. Maybe it's a control thing, anyway I plan to stop in whenever I want," she said.

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

"Exactly how are you going to stop me. You either cooperate or go to jail," she said with a confident smile.

"Jess, from what I see you have plenty of lovers, why the hell would you want an unwilling one?" I asked.

"Like I said, it must be a control thing," she repeated.

"Then why the hell did you wait two years?" I asked.

"I've been asking myself that a lot lately. The best I can tell, I was as ready for the breakup as you were," She paused deep in thought. "Things just didn't work out like I expected. Sure there are plenty of men to sleep with, but I want more. Not more men, I want more from it than that. I'm way past romance, I want to control the when and where of the sex. I'm damned tired of acting, and tired of waiting for some jerk to make the decisions. Not to mention the reputation I am getting. You know it won't help me in my career."

"This isn't right," I said when she paused for a minute.

"Sure it is honey, men do it all the time. I am just being a little more honest than most men. I know you don't love me and never will, so I'll just take what I can get. Take, by the way, is the optimum word there."

"Let me see if I understand this. Your plan is to waltz in here whenever you like, and I drop everything to do you," I said it as crude as I could. I wanted her to hear how it sounded to me.

"That's about it. Don't worry, it won't be all that often. I just want to make damned sure you are

"What if there is someone with me?" I asked.

"I actually have thought this through you know," she said looking at me like she would a stupid suspect. "I will call first. If you are with someone, you better make it sound like a Tracker job. You can come to my place."

She waited while I ran it around in my head. I didn't really think she would confess to murder just to get me into bed again. Then again, Jess had been acting strange lately. What the hell, like she said, not too many men would turn her down anyway. "This is nuts," I finally said.

"Right, but you are going to go along with it," she made it a statement,

"I guess, at least until you come to your senses," I confirmed.

"Good, then let's get to it," she said standing.

I followed her into the bedroom, where she removed her pistol belt. There is something about a woman who carries a gun. I mean, it is a power thing to possess a woman who could easily end your life.

As she removed her uniform, it was almost like seeing her naked for the first time. I had been hammered each time I had seen her before. Jess was tall for a woman, close to my own six feet. Her jet black hair was cut short, almost dyke short. I noticed for the first time how really small her breasts were. She either worked out, dieted constantly, or was blessed with a body which didn't produce fat, because her belly was flat. She had almost no hips at all, she was actually almost as straight as a stick. I forced my attention to her face. Other than the look of anticipation, there was nothing of note to see there. She had a very plain face. I guess her attraction two years ago had been her availability. That, and probably since she was married, the lack of commitment needed to get her into bed. Whatever the reason, I had screwed up big time when I got involved with Jess.

"Jess, I don't think this will work. I mean I don't think I can perform under these conditions," I said hoping to talk her out of it.

"You just come here and let me worry about that," she said.She was right of course.

When I awoke the next morning, Jess was gone. I can't honestly say that I was sorry she had come to visit me. There was something erotic about being completely controlled by your partner. At least it was a novelty.

I had a large number of personal requests that morning. I almost always did on Tuesdays. Something about those Monday Blues cause people to wish for better times. Strange how people remember things better than they actually were. The results caused Tuesdays to be my busiest day of the week. Once a month during the full moon, it took all that week just to get caught up. At least it had during my drinking days. That Tuesday, I worked late into the night finishing up the reports.

The next morning was as usual a little slower. It was the day I took care of my housekeeping chores, while also running the searches. I had expected things to change but they didn't. I thought that since I had a car, I would be able to do the things I hadn't in years. Things like grocery shopping and my own laundry. I found that I didn't really have any time for either. I had boxed myself into a pattern of work based on my previous drinking. I had no reason not to work until six or seven in those days. Then I was forced to stay with the pattern based on the volume of work.

With that understanding came my usual weekly computer visit to the home shopper service. One of the local grocery stores offered a delivery service. My computer called their computer, I listed my order and for a few bucks on top of the regular price, it arrived at my home two days later. My laundry was taken care of by a route man who arrived on Wednesday. He switched my dirty laundry for a bag of clean laundry and a bill. The bank mailed the check to his company every week. It was expensive but necessary. I could make a lot more money in two hours on the computer, than I could save by sitting in a laundra mat.

With the grocery list out of the way, I turned my attention again to Mary O'Neil. I still didn't know how to get the next bit of information from the nursing home's computer. Before I made the trip to Boston, I wanted to be sure Mary wasn't a babbling idiot due to a stroke or Alzheimer's. Not a nice way to put it, but accurate.

I had an idea, but it was dangerous. That is dangerous, if I couldn't determine one small fact. Was Matthew listed as her next of kin and did he visit her? One piece of information would lead to the other.

I decided to give it a try through the Medicaid records. I was pretty sure the nursing home was getting a supplemental payment through Medicaid. Almost every nursing home patient was on Medicaid. I doubted a terrorist could afford to keep his mother in a nursing home without help. I didn't expect terrorism paid all that well.

I could have put the monster to work on the Boston terminal of the State's Human Resources computer. However I thought it would be easier to go through the local one. I had a long list of access codes to it. I also had a better chance of going undetected. I called the local Human Resources computer, then had it call Boston. I requested Mary O'Neil's Medicaid file. At the time I had no idea what it would reveal. I just hoped it would have the next of kin listed.

Unlike a fax, the computers actually talk to each other. The conversation took several minutes mostly in waiting to get to the local computer, then waiting for it to hook up with the Boston computer. When it finally happened, I got a two page update of the latest information on Mary O'Neil. I could only hope it had the information, since the complete file was twenty pages. The Boston computer had refused to send the whole file, without a written authorization. A procedure left over from the old days, before electronics did everything.

I carried the printout into the living room, while the computers went back to their everyday work. I found that next of kin was indeed listed on the form. Matthew O'Neil was the next of kin. His address was listed as unknown. Strike one, I thought. Her illness was listed as a string of letters and numbers. I had no idea what the hell they meant. I put the message aside, while I turned my thoughts to catching up on the day\'92s reports.

Paula called me at four, she suggested we have dinner. I had promised, so I agreed without hesitation. We agreed on seven at a different restaurant from the last one. I didn't expect we would be welcome there again. I convinced her to meet me at the restaurant. I wanted to drive the little Honda, just in case I needed to get home on my own. Paula and I didn't have a real good history of finishing dates. Strange, but being sober had a tendency to make me plan ahead. It was something I hadn't done for years. The 'What if," questions ran unbridled through my mind all of a sudden. If I had been doing more of it previously, Davis might still be alive. I tried not to dwell on it.

The restaurant Paula chose had actually started life as a series of railroad boxcars. They were arranged in various patterns and directions to form a sprawling dinning room. One with lots of intimate spaces here and there.

To my great surprise the service and the food were very good. The prices were extremely expensive, but then I didn't have a lot of experience with restaurants. I had been eating in for several years.

The dinner conversation was both cheerful and playful. I enjoyed talking to Paula almost as much as I enjoyed looking at her. If she hadn't chosen to be a cop, she could have been a model. Not one of those who looked like a refuge, but a man's magazine model. One which required a woman to be filled out in all the right places. Looking at her, explained why Millie was so jealous. Millie's soft little body couldn't compare with the full firm body of Paula. Of course Millie hadn't caused me near the problems Paula had either.

Over desert Paula suggested we return to her apartment. I almost begged off, remembering out other dates. I decided that I was being way to pessimistic. I followed her for about half a mile. She pulled into a huge complex of apartments. I doubted I could have found her apartment without a guide. It looked exactly like all the others from the outside.

Inside, I doubted there were any others quite like hers. The walls might be all white, but the similarity would end there. Paula had posters all over her small living room walls, most were framed travel posters, but a few were classic movie posters. She, of course, had the famous Casablanca poster.

"I had no idea you were a classic movie fan," I commented.

"And a travel freak to boot," she added with a playful grin.

"So why are you a small town cop?" I asked.

"I don't know, I guess it is part of the whole adventure thing," she said. "To tell you the truth, being a cop is a lot more boring that I imagined."

"You could have fooled me. You seem to get into more crap than any cop I ever met," I replied.

"Just when you are around," she said seriously.

"You know, I never asked, how are you doing with the shooting?" I finally asked.

"Not bad, I dream about it once in a while, but otherwise I am doing okay," she said.

"I know it doesn't help to say this, but it needed doing. A lot of people really could have died
in there," I said.

"How about you and the man you stabbed?" she asked handing me a glass of tea.

"Like I said, it needed doing. I haven't even thought about him. Davis comes to mind some, but not the other," I lied.

"You know, it is hard to believe that we each killed a man the same week. The odds of that happening must be astronomical," she said.

"If this were a movie, I might be able to buy it. You suspend reason when you watch movies. To believe this could happen, you have to suspend belief," I said in agreement with her.

"I know," she said simply. "Speaking of movies, do you want to see one of mine. My collection isn't near as extensive as yours, or as exotic."

"Sure, you pick it," I said. The movie, of course, was Casablanca. I actually enjoyed it along with her running comments about the making of the movie. She was a walking trivia book.

The movie ended before midnight. I was on the verge of making an excuse to leave when she said, "Would you mind terribly, if I asked you to leave?"

"Not really, I would be a little curious," I said.

"To tell you the truth, I am a little uncomfortable around you. I mean this was all supposed to be fun and games, but a lot of crap has happened since then. I, kind of, need a chance to sort it all out."

"I understand," I answered and I really did understand.

"The thing is, I still want to see you I just need some time," she added quickly.

"It's not a problem. I really do know what you mean. I even feel the same," I said to calm her apprehensions.

I kissed her gently good night, then drove home. On the way home, I realized that I really did like Paula. Not enough to consider marrying her, but I liked her a lot.

After I had the computers working the next morning, I called Sylvia at work. I didn't dare call her at home. Work for Sylvia meant the hospital. She was with a patient at the time, so I left word for her to return my call. While I waited, I went back to work on the computers. As a search ended in success, I began the report to the client. The reports took only minutes to write, but I continued to fall farther and farther behind. Four computers found the deadbeats a lot faster than I could detail it.

I still hadn't heard from Sylvia by three, but I was catching up with the computers. One after another they shut down, since their day's work had finished. I was only a dozen reports behind when the monster shut down for the day. I typed furiously to finish the reports in time for a dinner out that night. With the mobility of wheels, I had lost the taste for frozen food.

I had two reports to go when the knock sounded on my door. My first though was that Jess had returned. I almost ignored it, I couldn't. I looked through the spy hole to see Sylvia standing outside. "I didn't expect you to come way out here. A phone call would have done fine," I said.

"You called me for the first time in three years, then expect me to phone you. Come on Mike what's up?" she asked.

"I hope, I didn't give you the wrong impression, I just need some information," I said.

"What kind of information?" she asked after a long searching look into my eyes.

"I have a medical diagnosis code, I need someone to interpret," I said.

"Is that really all you want? You know you could have pulled that from the computer in any number of places," she stated.

"Sure, but you can explain it to me," I said.

"Come on Mike, there has to be more than that?" she asked.

"Honestly, if there is I'm not aware of it," I answered.

"I heard you quite drinking?" she commented.

"Yep, two weeks sober," I said.

"I always knew you would. Too bad it came so late," she said sadly.

"Sylvia, I really didn't call you to talk about all that," I said hoping it was true.

"You probably did, you just don't know it. After all, I was the one you were spending time with when it all began," she reminded me.

"Sylvia, that was a long time ago. Things have changed a lot since then," I stated.

"Not really, I was stupid then and I am still stupid," she smiled.

"You did the right thing. You recognized that I was a drunk, and you went on with your life. I would have done the same thing," I said.

"I don't know what you would have done. I just know what I did," she said.

"Honest Sylvia, I just called to have you interpret a code for me," I said exasperated.

"Give me your laptop and the code," she snapped.

I did both. A few minutes later she was plugged into her office computer. A couple of seconds later she said, "Alzheimer's with dementia. Nothing good can come of that."

"Well that's strike two," I said discouraged.

"Care to tell me what this is all about?\'94 she asked.

"Just trying to run down someone. I thought I might talk to his mother, but it doesn't look like it would do any good," I said.

"Not if she is the one with the Alzheimer's. I'm sorry Mike," she said.
"Don't be, it's not the messenger's fault," I said.

"I mean, about walking out on you. You deserved better," she said. "I should have said that years ago."

"I understood. You told me about your father. I never blamed you for taking off. Besides you already had a husband," I said.

"I guess I was afraid to trade a lazy bum for a drunk," she said with a smile.

"You probably made the right decision," I said.

"Who knows," she paused a minute then added, "If that was really the only reason you called, I'll be heading home to the bum," She actually smiled brightly.

"I thought he had a job?' I asked.

"That was two weeks ago. Now he has a career. He has been loading boxes on a truck for two weeks. It must be some kind of record," she said wearily. "I expect it to last another two weeks tops. I don't understand him. He has a degree from NC State, you would think he could find a real job."

"He will," I suggested.

"It's been five years Mike. I think he has had enough time," she said walking out the door.

I didn't want to think about the O'Neil family, so I remembered how I had met Sylvia. I had met her through an ad in the paper. No not a personal ad, she was selling her 486 computer to buy a laptop. At the time I had only one 486 myself. The state business was growing to the point so that I would need a second computer soon. A used 486 seemed my best buy. It would be slower than a Pentium, but two 486 would do more work than one Pentium which was the more expensive choice.

I answered her ad in the paper. She informed me of all the specifications over the phone. She actually sounded very knowledgeable. She agreed to meet me that very evening to show me the computer. It sounded on the phone like a perfect mate to the one I had. Being a multimedia computer, I would need to do no more than clean up the hard drive. Get rid of the entertainment crap and it would be fine for my purposes.

I was amazed with both the computer and Sylvia. The computer was a twin to my own. Not only had she cleaned the hard drive, but she had filled it with Ram and upgraded the CPU. I was very pleased indeed. As all computer people do, we talked about computers for a while. She informed me she was going to buy an IBM think pad next. It indeed sounded better for her needs.

In those days there were no web services. When she found I had an address on the internet, she was curious. I explained how the internet addressing worked. I explained that I had an old 386 which did nothing but receive messages from the internet address.

She asked and I explained how to find me, and even leave me a message. I also explained how we could hook to each others computers and talk. The whole thing fascinated her. After a couple of hours, I left with her old computer, she was left with my check for eight hundred dollars, about half the cost of a new computer with the same power.

A week later I found a message from her on my 386 communicating computer. "Hi," the message began, "I don't know if I am doing this right or not, but if you get this message call me on the computer around midnight. That is if you are up that late, Sylvia." She left her phone number.
I stayed up until midnight just to link up with her. We sent messages back and forth for three hours. Finally she called it quits, but not before arranging another 'meeting' on the computer. Some of the messages got right personal over the next couple of months.

As you would expect, we finally met for dinner. One thing, as they say, led to another. She and I became occasional lovers. She was pretty miserable with her husband, but I offered her no encouragement to leave him. The man, who asked me to help find that first little girl was actually a male nurse who worked with Sylvia.

Sylvia and I had been lovers for six months before He asked me to help find his niece. After finding the niece, Sylvia and I stayed lovers for another six months. In the end my drinking drove her back to her husband. I assumed she had been faithful to him ever since. Sylvia never struck me as comfortable in the unfaithful wife\'92s role.

That night I found the letter in my E Mail that I had been expecting for more than two years. "Dear Mike, I know this is late in coming but I tried not to write it at all. After today's meeting I have done a lot of thinking. If I had been more understanding or you had shared your feeling with me, we might never have broken up. I'm sure both our lives would have been different. I didn't understand how deeply you were upset by finding Laura's body. I should have known from seeing you and Jake together. You two seemed to have a bond stronger than ours. If I had only been more understanding and not so damned judgmental. I just wanted to say that I am sorry I failed you. Someday maybe you can forgive me. I certainly hope so....S"

"Dear Sylvia," I typed. "You were never to blame, nor were you blamed. If you need my forgiveness for nothing, you certainly have it... Mike," I reread it a couple of times then sent it off through the server she used.

After I sent the message, I couldn't get my mind off old times. I owed Sylvia a lot. She had most of the idea that lead to the growth of my company, at least in the early days. She even arranged the purchase of the monster for me.

The monster is a hybrid. It has a PC operating system but is a lot bigger. It uses a lot of things that PC's just don't have. I have also had some modifications made over the years. I had a modem, floppy drive, and CD Ram drive added. Otherwise the small main frame is pretty much as I got it. Sylvia heard the hospital was going to buy a new system and scrap their old one. She was the one who cornered the Wang tech. He gave her all the information about the computer. According to him, the system was great, just too small to handle the growing demands of a hospital.

The monster was a little inconvenient to use, but it was a terror when running. Memory was stored on removable twelve inch metal drives. I had three but I never even put a dent into the first one. The monster could have handled a dozen terminals, all processing information at the same time. My demands probably bored the hell out of it. The only reason I used the other computers, was that there were several different sources to check at the same time. They were considerably slower, but they also freed up the monster for the really large tasks, like running the complete DMV files for a match. In most cases it was several requests at the same time. It was wonderful for that purpose, and about anything else I wanted it to do.

I found that it was nine p.m. and I still hadn't called Evans. When I finally got him on the phone he said, "I have the engine back in the car and I have test driven it. The problem now is there are some body parts I need to get. The ball joints are shot, things like that. I have them ready to go in, but won't have it finished until late tomorrow night. Why don't you come by Saturday morning and pick it up," he suggested.

"Okay John, do I need to go to the bank for cash or will a check be all right," I asked.

"Hell, your word is a lot better than any cash. You tell me the check is good, and I'll forget all about it until I spend the money," he laughed.

"Speaking of money, you got any idea what this is going to cost?" I asked.

"Your parts are right at sixteen hundred, another five for Johnny and you owe me about twenty one hundred bucks," he said.

"So how about the labor," I asked.

"Ain't no labor, not if I want to ever sleep with my wife again. We owe you a lot more than this job," he said.

"I told you, we were even because of the trip to the car lot. Either Figure me a labor bill, or plan on keeping the Thing," I said sternly.

"Mike, you are making it hard on me. If my wife finds out I charged you for this job, I might as well move into the garage," he said.

"So we just won't tell her. So how much?" I asked.

"Tell you what Mike, I get four for switching the engine in a car. Everything else I have done so far was on the engine anyway. I got those ball joints to put in, how about five for everything," he mumbled.

"Five is too low, but if that is your customary price, five it is," I said.

"Mike, please don't tell my wife. I'm serious, if she finds out you paid me for the labor, she will do a lot worse than cut me off."

The man really sounded worried. "I'm not going to tell her anything, unless you screwed up
my car," I laughed as I said it.

"I know you are kidding, but I'm going to tell you just so you know," he said. "I would drive that car to the ends of the earth. I swear to you, I turned every bolt myself and it is better than it was the day it came off the line."

"I know that John, that's why I brought it to you," I said truthfully.

"Then I will see you on Saturday," he said.

Friday was one of those days when everything went wrong. It began when the monster wouldn't power up. I called the computer repairman, who was naturally out of the office. I put the laptop to work on the cases, even then I would be working late into the night. Nothing could replace the monster.

The computer man arrived at five. He told me, I was going to need a power module which had to be ordered. He assured me that they were still making parts for the Wang. It was after all still in use by small companies everywhere. Unfortunately the cost was high. The Wang was a rack system computer. You had to replace the whole rack. Nobody bothered to replace just the power source. The Wang had six racks and each performed a different function. He tried to explain it all to

"Come on Steve, just give me the bottom line here?" I begged.
"You are looking at a grand here," he said.

"I didn't pay much more than that for the whole system three years ago," I complained.

"Look Mike, you are a nice guy, so I'm going to let you in on a secret. These things are out of production. The spare parts are just going to keep climbing. What you should do is upgrade to a newer model, Or maybe a used IBM rack system,"

"Why Steve, I would just have the same problem five years down the road. You don't know
anyone who has fallen for that crap do you?" I asked.

"As a matter of fact I do. I personally have a half dozen just like yours at my place. I had to take them in on trade," he said.

"So why don't you strip a power rack from one of them," I asked.

"If I do that, I would have to sell it to you at half the price of new one, plus I would have a computer with no power source," he explained patiently.

"So what do you want for a used system compatible with this one?" I asked.

"Mike they all have something wrong with them. I was planning to fix them when I get time. They will be more valuable it they are working," he said.

"Come on Steve, give me a price on one that has a good power supply," I demanded.

"Why don't you take them all, I can get a lot more in the next couple of years. Hell anybody can change a rack, even you," he said with a quiet laugh.

"I wouldn't know which rack to change," I informed him.

"You buy them all, and I'll show you how to run the built in diagnostic program. You already know how to add the drives you want on them. With the floppy drive added you can reprogram them to your needs," he said.

"You make it sound much too easy. If I have a problem I can't handle, will you come take care of it using my parts?" I asked.

"For fifty bucks an hour I will do anything you want, except give you a blowjob," he laughed.

"So how much for all of them?" I asked.

"Five grand and I will deliver them to you," he said.

"Make it four and a half, then hold them until I can get a storage building put up," I suggested.

"Done," he said. "Now I suppose you want me to strip a power supply and throw in this call," he said.

"No, but I do want you to strip the power supply. I would like to have the monster up and running by tomorrow afternoon," I said.

"Fair enough," he said turning to the door. "You know Mike, you know more about computers than any of my other customers. It's kind of nice dealing with you,"
"I'll bet you tell all the girls that just before you shove it in," I said matching his gutter humor.

I wrote the reports that slowly crept from the other computers. It was easy to keep up with them. Of course, I had a stack of searches not yet completed by the slower computers. I began to have buyers remorse about the four and half thousand dollars. I could have bought a hell of a new computer for that. One that would have lasted me several years. I almost called Steve to tell him to forget the sale, I didn't just because I wasn't sure.

Nobody came and nobody called me on Friday. I was just as glad, since I was still worried about having made a stupid decision about the computer thing.

Steve arrived with the power supply unit first thing Saturday morning. I hung around until the monster was again humming. Steve accepted my check for four thousand seven hundred bucks. He also gave me the service manual for the monster. The service manual explained in great detail how to diagnose and change the racks. It also gave the list of codes, so that when the Wang ran its diagnostic I would know which components were actually faulty. The racks contained several components which could be changed along with their accompanying boards. Steve explained that at fifty bucks an hour, it was cheaper for the customer it he changed the whole rack. At least at the moment it was, who knew about the future. However in the case of the power supply the whole rack had only the one component, it seems I had no choice anyway

The top rack on the Wang was the thing that made it usable. The number six rack consisted of nothing but ISO terminals and their wiring. Like any PC, it was the place where upgrade cards were installed. If it hadn't been for rack six, the whole system would have been useless to me.

The other four racks contained things I knew nothing about. Steve showed me how to run the diagnostic test on each of the racks. The monitor showed the component, then either good or bad on the separate monitor screen.\tab

Steve explained that if the reading was bad, I could either replace the whole rack or just the named component. The service manual would guide me to it.

After Steve had gone, I put all the machines to work on the Friday left overs and the new work. When everything was zipping along, I drove to the Evans house. I pulled the Honda down the side road to where John's shop was located. When I pulled up, I saw the Thing sitting outside. It didn't look like the same car. The body was painted a shiny gray, No command car ever shined, but I didn't mind. It was a real pretty job. It also had a black vinyl top. The vinyl I knew was applied over the fiberglass shell.

I parked John's Honda, then just walked around the thing admiring it for a moment. I heard the voice over my shoulder, "The kid did a real good job, didn't he?" John asked.

"He sure did. He must be a great painter," I suggested.

"That, and he was scared to death of his sister. You got no idea how she was on his ass. You know how momas are. I would hate to have been the one to screw up something so noticeable as a paint job," John continued. "Start it up,"

The first thing I noticed, which was completely different was that the thing had windows. The factory hadn't designed it that way. The pieces of heavy Plexiglas were part of the top. I turned a locking handle and lifted them. John's brother-in-law had added a thing that looked a lot like a storm door piston to the window. It held the window up while I opened the half metal door. I got inside the car, then released the window. I got the door closed easily before the window lowered enough to pull itself closed. It was an interesting answer to a real problem. The seal on the window was less than perfect, but it beat the hell out of side curtains.

The key was inside the car's ignition switch. John's nephew had even painted the interior. Unfortunately the mats and seats still looked like hell, but everything else looked great. I turned the engine over and it caught on the first try. I listened to it run for just a minute. It had the familiar sewing machine sound of all Volkswagens. "It sounds great," I said.

"Here is the list of repairs. That engine has nothing but new or rebuilt parts. I threw everything off the old one away. From the starter to the distributor, it has all been replaced," John said.

"How in the world did you manage that?" I asked.

"They still make most of the stuff. It was just a matter of getting it here. I did forget to add a couple of things when I talked to you about the parts cost," he said.

"John, I trust you, just give me the total for everything," I said.

"Parts, labor and the kid's paint and body work comes to twenty nine, twenty seven," he said sheepishly.

"Tell me something, have I got a better car for my four grand than I would have had with the
Jap Jeep?" I asked.

"Mike, I wouldn't lie to you. This is a better car than that Jap shit was when it left the line," he said.

"Then I am in your debt, if you ever need anything call me," I said handing him the still wet check.

"Just don't tell my wife and we are even," he said.

"You got it," I smiled as I replied.

I left John standing in the drive as I drove the Thing toward home. I made just two stops on the way home. I bought a set of oversized tires for my thing, then at the building supply store I bought a storage house to be delivered and set up the next week.

The tires were two hundred bucks but the house was eight. I was spending money like a drunken sailor. Not really, I had spent much more money, for much less when I was a drunk. On the way home, I came up with a way to justify at least a little of the expense. I figured I would convert one of the Wangs to use right away. With two of the monsters going, my search time would be cut even lower. I would keep one of the 486 computers on line for the slower searches. The ones I often did by hand, sort of. The second 486 I could switch to message retrieval. I almost convinced myself to bring a third one on line. I decided against that, I was getting way ahead of myself.

I parked the Thing in my oversized parking lot, then just stood back to admire it. The ugly little thing looked beautiful to me. With it's new oversized tires, it really looked like a German staff car. The car was designed as a two-wheel drive off-road vehicle. I hoped it would never be off the road. After ten minutes, I forced myself to leave the parking lot.

Inside I found the stack of files on O'Neil still sitting on my desk. I pushed them aside, since I still had no idea what to do next. Instead I began typing the reports on one of the 486 machines which had completed its work. I stopped at five to put a frozen pizza in the microwave, otherwise I worked straight through until nine. I might have returned the Jenny Abrams file, had it not been for a knock on my door.

I reluctantly went to the door. I wasn't a bit surprised to see Jess standing outside. "Come on in," I said less than cordially.

"Why thank you love, you certainly sound happy to see me," she laughed. "I like the attitude you have taken. It makes this all the more fun."

"You are in a good mood, have you been pulling the wings off flies again?" I asked with a smile. I couldn't help it Jess had a way of charming me, even when I tried to prevent it.

"Of course not, my eyes aren't that good anymore. I would much rather pull the balls off a man," she said.

I should have taken offense but it really was amusing. "Then why are you here, you got mine last time," I said.

Jess began to laugh, "I knew you couldn't stay mad at me. We do after all have a history."

"For better or worse," I agreed.

"Well come on baby, I got other fish to fry," she laughed at me.

Jess was gone by eleven. I really wasn't sleepy, so I took another look at the O'Neil file. "Suppose," I said to myself, "We are all making this harder than need by. Suppose O'Neil just dropped out to avoid paying for his mother's treatment. I need to know if O'Neil is really a terrorist," I ran that around in my head until two, the easy answer was tap the FBI computer. That was a lot more dangerous than it sounded. The FBI has a bunch of trap junk on their computer. They really don't approve of people like me getting information.

It occurred to me that the US Customs computer might be simpler to crack. If O'Neil was a known terrorist, he would be in their stop and detain files at the airports. Those files were updated by computer. I logged onto the web, then went to the hackers chat room. I asked for the number of the custom\'92s modem. As usual I gave my fax number. Not half an hour later the fax bell dinged. I read the message with the number, it had been sent again with no cover sheet.

I got the old 'password please' request. I was ready for them. My generator spit out passwords at the speed of electrons. It took about five minutes to weave my way through all the different passwords, but in the end, I got into the system. I punched in Matthew O'Neil and his social security number and date of birth from the college files. Bingo, out popped his college year book picture. His sheet listed no arrest, but he was tagged a known IRA sympathizer. So Matthew was seriously underground. The odds on finding Jenny dropped tremendously yet again.

With the new information added to Jenny's file, I went to bed. I slept very well thanks to Jess. Sundays work was light, so I began thinking about Jenny again. In these days of short marriages, she might not even be with Matthew. What else could keep her away from her family. She could be like Matthew on somebody's list. I had already run her and found no conviction or warrants. I supposed she could be on a Jane Doe warrant, Matthew too for that matter.

The answer had to be in finding Matthew. Jenny had dropped off the face of the earth. Irish boys stay close to their mothers. It was possible that he had checked on her from time to time.

I pulled the mother\'92s Medicaid record again. I read over the first page fact sheet, from which
I had taken all my information. I flipped to the second page and really read it for the first time. I found it under person to notify in case of emergency. The name listed was Michael Kennedy, brother. "Now how the hell could I have missed that?" I asked myself.

I checked the current phone directory CD and found the number still good. I was tempted to call him, but I knew the FBI would have done that already a hundred times. I decided to go about it through the backdoor. I found the New England bell computer number in my list of classified numbers. After the call was placed, and the password found, I pulled Michael Kennedy's long distance records since eighty nine. I had expected the file to run a few pages. It ran sixty. Michael made a lot of calls both inside and outside the country.
I looked at the pages of computer paper and thought, "I finally have too much information, Now what?" No answers came, so I gave it a rest. I spent most of the afternoon typing reports. I was deep into it when my on-line computer dinged. I opened the file to find an E Mail waiting. "How is the search for Bridie Murphy going, S,"

I rang her computer on the web. "Hey girl, how goes it in the world of gas?" M

"I'm all alone, want to come over and play?" S

"No thanks, I'd rather not be killed in bed. At least not just yet," M

"No guts????" S

"No guts!!!!" M

"Have you found Bridie yet?" S

"No, but I'm looking hard," M

"Two heads are better than one," S

"Maybe, but one without holes is better than two with. Why don't you come here?"

"Fifteen minutes," S

She was as good as her word. "Hi Mike, I'm glad you are going to let me help," she said.

I don't know what I had in mind when I invited her over, but I was glad she offered to help.
She had a sharp mind and her advice was usually good. "I can use a second opinion," I said as I handed her the file," Sylvia had seen enough of my files to understand them. I waited patiently while she read through everything, including my flow chart.

"What is this, I have never seen you run anybody so hard. Why don't you just give up," she

"I don't know, it is kind of the ultimate challenge. Finding someone who has covered their back trail. You know the kind of thing my grandfather talked about. 'Let them run, the longer they run the easier they are to catch.' He would say about the hard ones."

"Well this one is a beaut," she said.

"So, I could have told you that. Give me a hint," I asked.

"Get the old woman's medical records. I'll take a look, there might have been a crisis recently. If there was, the uncle may have called Matthew. If not, I have no idea where to go next," she said.

"That is something at least. I honestly hadn't thought of that. I just hope Irish families are close," I said.

"On that same thought wave, go back to the date of his fathers death. See if any of the numbers from that week are the same as now. I doubt that it will help any, but you might try."

"Now you are talking sweetie," I said moving to the monster.

"What did I say?' she asked.

"The father's death, I can run those records right now. I don't have to jump through any hoops to do it," I pulled up the social security records for the date of death. From there it was easy to match the date with the calls. There were two numbers which didn't show up regularly on his call list,"

"So what does that mean?" Sylvia asked.

"It means, those were calls made specifically about the father's death. One was to Ireland and one to Atlanta Georgia,"

"So find out who the numbers belong to," Sylvia suggested.

"Give me a minute to find my directory for Atlanta.," I said looking through the file cabinet. I ran the Atlanta one first, since it would be the easiest. The number came back to a Bank. "I guess Matthew could work in a bank," I suggested.

"More likely a niece or something," Sylvia said. I nodded my agreement.

"The other one is going to be cute," I said.

"You mean you don't have a world wide phone book?" Sylvia asked.

"No, I don't have a world wide phonebook," I said in a child's voice.

"Well get out of my way," she ordered as she began punching keys. I watched as the web's logo hit the screen. It stayed up only a millisecond as Sylvia continued to punch and type. It took a few minutes but soon the address showed in white on a blue background. I copied it down to save from printing it.

"How the hell did you do that?' I asked.

"I never forget a web sight. International AT&T has a site," she replied smugly.

"Sylvia you are truly amazing," I said.

"Now that we have the information, do we call Scotland Yard?" she laughed.

"What we have love, is the name of a pub where Matthew may have gotten a message over ten years ago. That is going to require a lot more research. It may have been an old uncle or something like that,"

"So where to next?" Sylvia asked her face all flushed with excitement.

"No where, we let it cook for a while," I said.

"You are so damned patient it drives me nuts," she said her voice raising as she reached the end of the sentence.

"You have to read all the signs, not just the ones you like," I replied.
"Grandfather Eagle, no doubt," she said quietly.

"The same," I replied.

"Did he have any idea what to do while it cooked?" she asked.

"No but grandma did," I laughed. "But Sylvia, that was them, not us,"

"I know," she said turning serious. "I think we need to be friends for a while, right?"

"Right," I agreed.

"So, I guess I should go home and wait from my husband?" she asked.

"That would probably be best," She picked up her purse before I continued. "Sylvia, this was great. I had forgotten how sharp you really are."

"So you actually did love me for my brain," she said with a smile.

"That too," I laughed.

She moved to me, then kissed me. "You know you really are something Mike Eagle,"

"What I am, that is the problem, nobody seems to know for sure," I said.

"If anybody really wants to know, have them call me," Sylvia said as she walked out the door.

It was barely past lunch when I drove my Thing to the breakfast house where Millie and I had eaten. I wouldn't have even noticed them, if Millie hadn't tried to hide. There she was trying to slide under the table. Across from her sat officer Johnson of the Avery PD. I switched directions to sit in another area of the restaurant. I had my breakfast underway, when Millie came to the table.

"Mike, I want to explain," she said.

"You don't need to do that. We aren't going together or anything," I said meaning every word of it.

"I know, if you hadn't given me that just buddies speech I wouldn't be here," she informed me.

"Look Millie, you are a wonderful person and I hope you and Johnson have a great time together. You deserve a good man," I said.

"Thank you Mike, I guess I better get back to Al," she said.

"I expect he would appreciate that," I said with a smile.

After she left the table, I hurried to finish my breakfast. Even so, it was after two before I left the restaurant. It was cold as hell in the car. The heater was about as bad as I remembered Volkswagen heaters to be. Besides the heater being terrible, the air poured in around the fiberglass top. I loved the car, but it was going to be miserable to drive until the engine got good and warm. I was tempted to stop for new slip-on seat covers, but I figured I had so much money invested in the Thing, I might as well have the seats redone. I could have carpet installed at the same time. I made a mental note to call someone the next day.

I had been home watching an old TV movie when the phone rang. "Hello," I answered it was after all Sunday.

"Mike, this is Paula. I just thought I would call to say hello. So hello," she said.

"You know, I was just thinking about you," I lied.

"Anything good?" she asked.

"Just that we should go out again. I mean, I didn't wind up in the hospital last time. Maybe our luck has changed," I said.

"Sounds about right to me. How about tonight?" she asked.

"To tell you the truth, I am bushed tonight. I could never drive over there, go out, then come home again. I would fall asleep at the wheel for sure," I said truthfully.

"I wouldn't want you to smash up your Kraut Kar," she laughed. "I can either come there or we can do it tomorrow."

"You pick it, but I warn you if you come here, you may be watching me sleep," I said.

"Tempting, as that offer sounds I think I will stay home and wash my hair instead," she said.

"I can't say that I blame you. Let's try for tomorrow. Are you working?" I asked.

"I am supposed to begin midnights tomorrow, but I'm taking some comp. time. I had court on my day off last week," she explained.

"Good then, I'll give you a call," I said just before I hung up the phone.

Monday morning was a little unusual in that I got a really good start. Almost every one of my requests had good information. With the right information loaded into the monster, it zinged along. The one or two with incorrect or incomplete information proved easy to correct. Everything went well. I was able to type the reports pretty much as the monster finished the searches.

I even managed to stop long enough to run to the Sanitary Cafe for lunch. "Mr. Mike," Lucy greeted me. "I see you twice in the same week and I knows you gonna be all right," she grinned.

"You had doubts," I asked.

"Well the Po-lice used to talk about you drinkin' yourself to death," she said.

"Not a chance, I am going to get poisoned by the cooking here," I said with a grin.

"I heard that," the owner said. "You let me kill just one customer, and I never hear the end of
it," he laughed.

I was well into the blue plate special when I heard the voice. "Well, well, if it ain't the Tracker," the large black cop said. He sat down without waiting for an invitation.

"So Jim, what the hell you been up to?" I asked.

"Been keepin' busy, how about you?" he asked.

"Must be a whole month of full moons," I replied.

"Got you out at night a lot?" he asked.

"More times than I can ever remember in one month," I said.

"Probably because them new dogs can't find their own asses," he said.

"I hope this ain't a sign of things to come. I hate to loose more than one nights sleep a month," I said.

"I hear you gave up the bottle," he said.

"Word do get around don't it?" I replied. "Yeah, I quit,"

"Good for you. I seen you out some nights you was embarrassing," he said with a smile.

"If that was the case, why did you keep callin' me?" I asked.

"Simple, drunk or sober, you still the best at findin' people," he replied.

"Thanks, I think," I commented.

"Why the hell, don't you charge the city for the work you do?" he asked.

"Oh they pay," I replied.

"If you say so," he said opening the menu, every cop knew than the ten code.

"Jim, I wish I could stay. But I got computers running wild at home. You take care of yourself," I said standing to go to the cash register.

"Mike," he said as he looked up. "My sister asked me to give you a call. You wouldn't mind doin' an old cop a favor?"

"When have I ever refused you anything?" I asked. "So what's the problem?"

"She got a no good boyfriend. He got her pregnant then skipped," Jim said.

"This sounds more like something for you than her," I said with a grin.

He laughed out loud, "Could be, I sure would like to know where the nigger is hidin',"

"Can't promise anything, but you know the drill," I said.

"I'll get you everything I can on him, then you tell me where he is. I can take care of the rest of it," Jim said confidently.

"Can you fax me the information? I go a lot of days with the phone turned off," I said.

"Sure, I'll use the one at the station. Thanks," he said.

"I ain't done nothing yet," I said.

"I'll tell all the women at the station how good you lookin'" he laughed again.

"I think they all know I stopped drinkin' by now. That news traveled almost as fast as it did when I started," I said heading for the register.

The Thing was a real pleasure to drive. With the big tires it was much easier to get into than any Volkswagen I had ever ridden in. It was also a damned sight easier than any of the Jap econoboxes. The little thing was responsive and just plain fun to drive. It was still a bit 'airish' as my grandfather would have said, but I could live with it. After all, summer had to come sometime.

Every time I got in the Thing, I was reminded that I needed seat covers. It was hard to forget with a spring sticking me in the butt. Unlike the previous times, I remembered to call a trim shop. I found one with a pickup and delivery service. They agreed to pick up the Thing, do the seats and carpet for five hundred. They promised to send a man for it that very afternoon. Evidently not to many people had trim work done during the winter or maybe on Mondays.

I lost the use of my wheels yet again. The man came at three for the car. He almost ran into the man with the storage building. The building center's delivery was running a lot earlier than I had been led to believe. I hadn't expected it until Wednesday. A few concrete blocks were put down then the building dropped on them. The truck was gone by five.

Since it was a light day, and everything worked so well, I was finished shortly after they left. I called Paula and we agreed to meet at a restaurant for dinner. I took a cab to met her at a chrome and glass replica of a 1950 style diner. The only problem was. no restaurant of that type had existed in the south during the fifties. I knew that only from the conversation of the cops, since I wasn't around here or anywhere else in the fifties.

We ordered dinner from a menu probably supposed to replicate the fifties. I knew just one thing for sure, the prices had no relationship to the past. A cheese burger was five bucks, enough to feed a family of four for a week in the fifties. At least it was on an Indian reservation.

"So what have you been up to?" Paula asked.

"You know, I was thinking about that last night. I have been busier than I have been for the last three years. Not so much with work, but a whole lot of other crap. I had more time to myself when I drank," I joked.

"Then maybe you should start again?" she laughed.

"Not a chance, booze killed a hell of a lot more Indians than Winchesters," I said seriously.

"I was just kidding, I like you sober. Of course I liked you drunk too," she said with a small smile.

"So which way did you like me best?" I asked.

"To be honest, I really don't know. When you were drunk, you didn't think so much. You were kind of mysterious, if you know what I mean," I didn't but I nodded as though I did. "Sober you are more fun, and a lot more witty," she laughed again.

"Well, I like me better sober," I said seriously.

"Then sober it is," she agreed.

After dinner she asked, "You want to come to my place for a movie?"

"What's on the program?" I asked teasing her.

"The Maltese Falcon and maybe me," she said with that girlish giggle that drove me nuts.

"With an offer like that, what man could refuse," I said. "Bogart is my favorite,"

"Prick," she said playfully. Paula drove since I was carless at the moment.

During the movie she sat close beside me. She arose only to prepare microwave popcorn and pour Coke into a glass. Each time she returned she would sit even closer to me. By the time the movie ended she was almost in my lap. While the tape rewound, she kissed me. It was a less passionate kiss than I would have imagined from her. She seemed to be holding back. I had always been one to let others decide the speed at which a relationship developed, so I didn't press her.

Like I said, the passion just wasn't there. I was shocked when she stood, pulled me to my feet, then led me into her bedroom. Without so much as another kiss she dumped me on the bed, then disappeared into the bathroom. I used the time to note the furnishing in her bedroom. The room was, of course, painted apartment house white. The wall were covered with more travel posters, bull fights from Madrid and tulips from Holland hung side by side. The bed had neither a headboard nor a foot board, what it did have was a frilly pink comforter. It was definitely a girl\'92s room. It reminded me of something you might find in a teenage girl's room.

I sat unmoving on the bed while awaiting her return. I figured it would be in bad form to undress and climb in bed. I mean she still might come back fully dressed. That would really be embarrassing. I needn't have worried, she returned from the bathroom dressed in a see through white thing. I guess it was a gown, but it really was no more than a few yards of spider web.

I had to admit she had a marvelous body. Even through the gauze it was easy to distinguish that she was firm. She really could have been a playboy model. It was also obvious that her hair was a dye job, but a good one.

The love making was satisfying, but lacked any real passion. I felt as though she wasn't really in the same room with me. It was so strange that I almost didn't enjoy it. If it hadn't been for her beauty, I probably would have stopped half way through. In her case, I am pretty sure it was a waste of time. Even though she said it was wonderful, I knew better. She even hurried me off afterward. Her excuse was that she needed her rest.
She drove me home. I rode beside her, not really understanding what had happened. It was a strange experience, filled with the nagging feeling that she had been less than satisfied. That, in itself, left me feeling somewhat hollow inside. I dwelled on it only until I kissed her gently good night then entered the house.

I put it from my mind as I checked my messages before going to bed. Most were business requests, which I ignored. I found one message from Sylvia. We had communicated more in the last week than we had in months.

"Mike, just though I would say hello, since you aren't on line, I guess it will be goodnight. S"

I punched in her address and got an on line signal. She was either standing by or talking to someone else. I punched in, "S, just dropped you a line to say thanks for your help, M" There was no immediate answer. I signed off putting the computer into standby.

Paula returned to mind as I struggled to fall asleep. There was nothing really peculiar in the fact that she hadn't had a good first experience with me. That happens often between people who sleep together for the first time. It was more that she seemed distant during our lovemaking, almost uninvolved. I fell asleep still puzzled by it all, but not really all that concerned.

My first call the next morning was to Steve the computer repairman. When I found his card, it brought the image of Steve to mind. He certainly wasn't the stereotype of a computerman. He was tall about six two or so. He looked more like a football player than a nerd. Worst of all, he didn't even wear glasses.

"Steve," I said into his machine. "This is Mike Eagle, you can bring those used Wang's over anytime."

I broke the connection and began setting up for the day. When everything was on line two hours later, I heated a couple of frozen pancakes for breakfast. I was into the stack when the phone rang. I couldn't believe I had forgotten to turn the ringer off. "Tracker," I said into the receiver.

"Mike, Steve, how about I bring that crap over now. I got my kid to help me load them, but he will be gone in a couple of hours," the voice said.

"Sure, I want you to drop one of them in the office, and the others in my new storage building," I replied.

"Not a problem, I'll leave the easiest one to fix, inside," he said breaking the connection without even a good-bye. I didn't care, I suddenly had bells and whistles going off all over the place.

I cursed when I entered the office. A power spike had shut down everything. I reset the circuits, then began reloading the computers. I was about half way into loading the monster when the voltage bell rang again. Everything went dead instantly. "What the hell?" I asked myself. A power spike happens about once a year at the very most. I just had two within an hour.
I moved into the living room where my lap top was on line. I had been smart enough to put a suppressor on my entire electrical service. A spike killed everything in the house, except the battery powered bell. I quickly brought the laptop back on line. I found the number for the electrical company, then connected to their computer. It informed me that there were power fluctuations in my area. It was due to work on the lines. It should last until one or two. The computer advised me to check back before restarting my computers. The warning would be removed as soon as the lines were stable.

Steve and his son arrived while I was on the computer. When I explained the problem, Steve, true to his nature, cursed the power company. I enjoyed hearing Steve curse, he was so imaginative. He could string together profanity in ways I had never imagined. His son dropped the Wang in my office, then went to unload the others into my storage building. The whole operation was complete with half an hour.

"Well I guess that does it, If you need any help setting up that piece of shit call," Steve said as he walked from the office.

I reset the power. I hoped to at least begin work on the Wang before I lost it again. I entered the diagnostic program into the machine. Fortunately it was a hardwired program. Even when I removed its operating system later, the program would still be inside the computer's wired memory. It took only a second for the machine to spit out its ailments. The bitch had a fault in two different racks. I checked the error codes and was informed to replace the module in rack three then run the test again.

Instead I replaced the whole rack, using a rack from one of the storage computer. The diagnostic program didn't mention the second module this time. It came up with a new one instead. That defective module was in the rack I had just replaced. Since I still had the original rack sitting on the floor, I took fifteen minutes to switch out the modules. It was a lot less complicated than I would have thought. It was a plug in system.

I ran the diagnostic program yet again. This time I got a different error code. The service manual told me that I had wired the component wrong. I pulled the rack, I had left a jumper disconnected. Finally the diagnostics gave me an all clear. It had taken me most of the morning but I felt like I had really done something.

I checked with the power company and found the line was repaired. I set to work reloading my search information into the original monster. It took off as soon as it was loaded. While it worked on the dead beats, I returned to the second Wang. I had the repair manual and the operations manual on the floor while I tried to remember how to add a floppy drive to the basic operating codes. Without the floppy, I could go no farther. It was a catch twenty two thing. The Wang had the wrong operating system, to load the new system I needed the floppy drive. The new operating system would run all the new hardware.

The trick was to modify the old operating system. It had to stay in effect long enough to add the floppy and the new system, then be cleaned from the hard drive. Reformatting the hard drive would have been the easiest way, but then it wouldn't recognize the floppy drive. Like I said a catch twenty two.
After half and hour, I gave up and called Steve. I sat around the office typing reports until he returned my call. He gave me the code sequence over the phone. "When you get ready to clean the old system off the file, just print out the RPG files from the old one onto the new operating system. Make sure you leave those on the new one. Those are the commands that call up your DOS, which in turn calls up the windows. When you get everything in place, copy your autoexecbatt, and your win ini files onto the new one. That should get you up and running,"

I thanked him and hung up. I was ready to load a floppy drive except for one small thing. I didn't have a floppy drive. I was tempted to pull the one from the 386. It was part of my plan to scrap it anyway. The only reason I didn't was that I had to buy some other hardware anyway.

I left everything running in the office while I went to the computer store. I bought the fastest CD Rom drive I could find, along with a floppy and modem. I was already in the thing when I remember I didn't have a new video card. I returned quickly to the store. I seldom needed a fancy card, but you never knew when you might. Besides it was all deductible.

I worked late into the night, first configuring the system then reconfiguring it. I fell into bed that night happy to be alone. The next morning, everything was up and running on the other computers before I began work on the second Wang. I loaded programs for three hours.

I stopped only to type reports. When I had all the reports typed and loaded into the fax modem of the 486, I return to complete the program load of the Wang. I had set it up exactly like the other one, even so I was still surprised to find no program conflicts.

I ran a couple of the new requests that had come in during the day. Ordinarily they would have waited for the next morning. The new Wang zipped through them just like the old one did. As usual when I worked on a project, I had forgotten to eat all day. I was surprised to find it nine p.m. I fixed myself a sandwich, then ate it in front of the TV. I hardly noticed the TV, my mind was flying with new ideas.

I was just about asleep on the sofa when I heard the knock on my door. I opened it to admit Jess. She pushed quickly past me. I watched as she walked directly to the bedroom. I followed, once I was sure where she was headed.

I found her half out of her uniform. "What's the rush?" I asked.

"I am on my dinner break, come on Mike get your clothes off," she demanded.
I didn't even say a word, I just undressed. She must have had a long dinner break because she didn't leave for well over an hour. Sex with Jess was as wild as it was distant with Paula. Actually both were disturbing, I never knew what to expect with either of them.
I didn't even bother to get up after Jess left, I just fell asleep. I made it through the night without any further interruptions.

The next morning, I loaded half my work on each of the two Wangs, then drank coffee while they ran. I stayed with the new one to make sure it didn't suddenly stop working. The two of them operating together were so fast that by noon, both had completed all the easy finds. I worked on the hard ones but the Wang was so fast I couldn't keep it loaded with information to check. It was a little depressing to discover that the machine was smarter than me.

Instead of scrapping the 386, I used it as I had the laptop. I now how one 486 as an receiver, and one as a reporting fax machine and the 386 on line. It had gotten a bit crowded in the office but I could still manage.

With all the work completed by five, for the first time in years I was free to do whatever I wanted in the evenings. Of course, I had no idea what to do with the extra time. Going out to dinner seemed too much trouble, so I fixed a microwave dinner, then moved to the net computer. There were no messages from anyone, so I tried first to call Sylvia. I found that for the first time in a long time, I really wanted to communicate with her. Unfortunately she wasn't on line. I switched to the chat room frequented my on-line lovers. I hadn't checked it in a long time. I usually just listened in. It was the place where a lot of my business originated. When Sylvia first got me into the lost love business, it was by salting this chat room. She would suggest to lovers that they E mail me to find their lost girlfriends ect. It had taken hold slowly but it worked.

These days hardly a night went by when my name wasn't mentioned in the room. A few others had entered the business, but they hadn't done very well. Most of them didn't have my contacts, or my lack of morals. I eaves dropped for an hour or so, then became bored . I tried Sylvia one more time, then went to bed. Before drifting off to sleep, I thought about the Jenny thing. I decided it had cooked long enough. Tomorrow I would take a fresh look at the O'Neil family.

Next thing I knew the sun came in the window and my plans went out. I hadn't exactly forgot about Jim's problem, I just hadn't actually given it any thought. Not until I found the fax that morning. It had arrived after midnight that same morning. Jim was thorough in typical cop fashion. He gave me the culprits name, social security number, and a bonus. I didn't have to waste time on the computer pulling up his visa number. Jim had provided it for me. When I had the two Wangs running searches, I took the information to the sending 486. Since it wasn't busy, I put it onto the local police computer, from that computer I requested the credit card charge of Jim's target. As was the custom of most people in those days, he bought gas almost once a week with the card. I found that the purchases in the last two months had been made in a town about thirty-five miles away. When I had the town, it was a simple matter to tap their computer for the water department. Jim's boy didn't have a water connection. The next try was the phone company, no luck there either. The next one gave me the hit. The kid had electric power in an apartment which furnished the water to its residents.

I called the station, asking that someone have Jim return my call. While I waited I typed on the never-ending reports. Jim called while I was deep into the typing. I gave him the information then rang off quickly since I was into the typing. It was after two when the computers stopped vomiting out information. It took only two more hours to catch up all the report typing.

I really should explain that about all the typing required for the reports was routing information. The computer actually prepared the reports. The report was a summery of all the tries and all the hits. That is all the legal tries. The other type search sites were listed as classified sites on my report. The computer also listed all the hits and gave the information appropriate to that hit. For instance, a hit might be the visa account number, if not given by the customer, or a telephone number associated with an address the computer generated. The computer would not give the same number the customer had provided.

Billing was equally simple. The first five searches were twenty five bucks. If the computer hadn't got a hit at that point it stopped. If the customer's profile called for more search sites he was charged ten bucks a site. The customer was allowed to specify his search locations, up to the point where the computer found a trail to follow, or he ran out of sites. Some customers specified five or seven site maximums. It the computer hit a trail, I never called it off no matter how many sites it hit. The classified sites were up to the computer not the customer.

The lost loves were the most profitable, simply because the information was so sketchy. The bill could run a couple of hundred easy. The customer at the least got the satisfaction of knowing the person couldn't be found. I offered a money back guarantee. If some other service found the person within thirty days, I would refund the customers money. I had never paid cent one. I understood a couple of the other companies had paid off on my information.

By six I had eaten a microwave Italian dinner, and was back on the O'Neil thing. I was about to enter some really dangerous waters. The first thing I did was to set up a half dozen phone relays ending in Hartford Conn. Then I picked a Medical Clinic address in Hartford. Once I had their address I prepared a letterhead form in the computer. I typed in a request for Mary O'Neil's medical records then dummied up a release form and forged Matthew's name. I didn't figure anybody had a copy of his signature anyway. What I expected to happen was simple. Some clerk in the office would get the request, along with a dozen more just like it. She would scan her forms into the computer and fax them out. After all, there was no reason to doubt the story. Quite often, I had been assured by Sylvia, a patient's next of kin would have their own doctors review the treatment of a nursing home patient. Nothing unusual in that, except that this time it was going to be me looking at them.

The six relays were just in case someone actually called the clinic and found no Doctor Paccahino. I left the relays in effect for two weeks just in case it took the nursing home that long to send the information. This investigation was going to run into some real money soon.

Since I had already written it off as a hobby, I didn't mind all that much. I would just as soon not go to jail, but even that was part of the fun. I put O'Neil aside to cook a little longer, while I turned to the TV movies. There were a couple of Action adventure nonsense things on. I picked the one which looked the most exciting, then settled back with a glass of iced tea.

The movie was almost over when I heard the old, slow 386 ding. I had an incoming message on the net. Mostly I don't bother answering them, but I wanted to trade a few bites with Sylvia, so I did. As usual, the E mail was someone looking for an old girlfriend. One who had been lost a couple of years. My web site was very explicit about the chances of finding a girlfriend. It gave odds based on the amount of information furnished and the number of hits chosen. I bothered to neither retrieve the message, nor to finish the movie. Instead I sent a message of my own via the laptop. I E mailed Sylvia. I explained that I was going to need some more help finding Bridie Murphy. There was no immediate reply, so I went to bed.

I was loading information the next morning when a knock startled me. The young man at the door informed me he was returning my car. I took a quick look outside and verified that it was indeed my car. I was a little busy at the moment so I signed the receipt promising to look at the job his company had done when I had a moment.

When I got a moment, I took a look at the bill. I realized immediately that something bad was wrong. The bill was for four hundred not the five hundred I had been quoted. It specified seat covers for three seats and carpet. I had no idea why the price had been lowered. I didn't have the time to try to figure it at the moment. I just kept on typing reports, it was my desire to be finished by five. I had begun to enjoy having the evening to do whatever I wanted. Even though whatever I wanted had been pretty much nothing.

At five, I took my recently frozen steak sub with me to examine the Thing. I didn't even have to get inside to see why there had been a hundred-dollar difference in the price. I could see the problem through the windows. I had ordered vinyl covers and the ones on the car were cloth. I was about to have a fit, when I opened the door to look. They weren't just any cloth, they were sail cloth canvas. Now you wouldn't expect me to know the difference having grown up in the west.

The only reason I recognized it, was that all the museums around home had covered wagons. One of my uncles restored them. He used the same canvas to make the wagon covers. The only way to damage sail cloth canvas is to let it rot. Otherwise, it is almost indestructible. I was still a little upset, even though I got a better product at a better price. It wasn't what I had ordered.

Sail cloth had one more bad feature, it would stain and collect dirt. Vinyl wouldn't, but then again everybody had vinyl seat covers. I drove into town, to a fabric store. There I bought a spray can of Scotch Guard. When I got home, I sprayed hell out of the seats and carpet. The carpet was black as I had ordered., It was also indoor, outdoor. It was not likely to rot when wet. I hadn't specified indoor outdoor, but the shop man knew what he was doing. I had to figure he knew something about the canvas, I didn't. I made a mental note to call him the next day. Like most of my metal notes, I promptly forgot it. For all intents and purposes the Thing was finished. I put it out of my mind.

"Hello," I said into the phone an hour later.
"Michael Eagle?" the voice asked.

"Yes," I answered. These kinds of call were usually from a police department. They were always bad news.

"I have a note in my computer to notify you if Sylvia Thomas is admitted to the hospital. She has just been brought into the emergency room," the voice said.

"Miss, is she all right," I asked.

"I don't know sir, I am the receptionist. I just found the note in the computer. You will have to speak to a doctor for that information," she said "They are busy at the moment,"

"I'm on my way," I said breaking the connection. I drove the Thing dangerously fast through the evening traffic. When I arrived at the emergency room, I went immediately to the reception desk.

"My name is Mike Eagle, you called me a couple of minutes ago about Sylvia Thomas. Where can I find out how she is?" I asked. I saw it in her eyes. She didn't want to tell me anything.

"Mike," a voice said to my rear. "We need to talk," I recognized the voice. The voice belonged to police detective Sims. When he spoke those words, I knew everything I needed to know at the time. I staggered to a chair, breathing deeply to avoid loosing my steak sandwich.

"I don't like being the one to tell you this. Sylvia Thomas died a minute or two ago. If it's any comfort, she never regained consciousness. She wouldn't have known you were here, even if you had been with her," he said.

"She would have known Tim," I said almost in tears.

"I know this is lousy timing, but I've got to ask you some questions," he said.

"First tell me what happened," I demanded.
"Somebody shot her," he said.

"Where Tim?" I asked. I didn't know why, I just wanted to know.

"Two in the chest," Tim informed me.

"Tim, you and I have known each other a couple of years. Am I a suspect?" I asked.

"Well you did know her, and you have been communicating with her again recently," he said looking at his feet. "You are capable of it."

"Call your polygraph man. I want to be hooked up tonight," I said.

"Why?" he asked.

"I don't want you wasting any time on me. I want you going after whoever did this," I said.

"Are you sure, you are pretty upset right now," he said.

"Let me see her, while you are getting your man in," I begged.

"You can see her through the glass. You know I can't risk you contaminating the body," he explained.

"That's fine, I just have to be sure there is no mistake," I said.

He knew there wasn't, but he allowed me to view the body after it had reached the morgue. By the time I saw her someone had cleaned her up. A professional courtesy thing, I expected. Everyone in the hospital knew and liked Sylvia.

Tim followed me to the station. I parked in a visitor\'92s space, then walked to the old converted elementary school building. Tim had me wait in the hall, while the operator prepared the machine. I was called in after a fifteen minute wait. The time was supposed to make me nervous. I didn't need the time for that. I was a wreck, but it had nothing to do with the machine.

I sat in what resembled a school desk. The operator put a strap across my chest and a blood pressure cuff on my arm. A couple of electrodes on my finger tips and I was ready to go.

He and Tim had worked out the list of questions in advance. After a few test questions we began.

Question one" Where you at the home of Sylvia Thomas around five p.m. this afternoon?

Answer: No

Question: Is your office located at 3610 Guilford Ave.?

Answer: Yes.

Question: Were you in your office at five p.m. today?

Answer" Yes.

Question: Did you kill Sylvia Thomas?

Answer: No

"Question: Did you shoot Sylvia Thomas this afternoon?

Answer: No

Question: Did you know Sylvia Thomas?

Answer: Yes

Question: Were you and Sylvia Thomas ever lovers?

Answer: Yes
Question: Did you have any part in the murder of Sylvia Thomas.

Answer: No.

Question: Do you know who killed Sylvia Thomas.

Answer: No

Question: Do you suspect anyone in the murder of Sylvia Thomas?

Answer: Yes.

He went over the same question three of four times phrasing them differently every time. I was told to wait in the hall while he and Tim consulted.

"Well," Tim said when he returned. "It looks like you are clean. You can go now,"

"You know better than that Tim. Where is her no-good son a bitch of a husband?" I asked.

"We have no idea," Tim admitted. "Silvia's car is gone and so is her husband."

"When you find him, do us all a favor and shoot the son of a bitch," I said angrily.

"One can only hope," Tim said.

That same night around eleven thirty Jess showed up. She had of course heard. I think she came to offer her condolences. I wasn't in the mood. I was angry at the world at that moment so I went off on her.

"Now you get this straight bitch," I said cruelly. "You take your fucking story to the cops, if you want. But don't you ever show up here again," I said opening the door.

"Come on Mike, it was a game you know that," she tried to convince me.

"Well, I am not going to play anymore," I said slamming the door behind her.

She had been gone about an hour when Millie called. She seemed genuinely upset. She had known Sylvia, sure they argued from time to time, but they were still colleagues. She and I talked for a while. Somewhere during the conversation she informed me, she and Johnson were a hot number. Even in my grief I was happy for her. She was really a good kid.

Paula didn't call, and I didn't care. At the moment, I didn't need another woman bugging me. I hadn't realized how much I cared about Sylvia. If there had been a bottle in the house, I would have gotten drunk. I fought off the urge to go buy one. I tried to sleep but couldn't. I remembered the times I had spent with Sylvia. The times we had eaten spaghetti from a pot, because I didn't have enough clean dishes. The times we had made love. I remembered them especially. Then the anger and hurt when I began to drink heavily. The accusations she hurled at me. I couldn't explain about the drinking, and she couldn't accept it. She had gone back to her miserable marriage and it had killed her.

When the sun came up, I loaded the computers out of habit. They were up and running long before Tim arrived in his office. He informed me that Jimmy, the no good bastard, had not shown. He was either dead or on the run.

My heart began pounding at the thought. "If that bastard is on the run, I'll find him if it takes
the rest of my life," I said.

"You stay out of it. We can find him," Tim assured me. He and I both knew. I had a better chance that the police. They had to follow the rules.

"Tim give me his Social Security number, his driver's license number and his credit card numbers and I'll have his ass before the sun sets," I promised.

"You know that crap is all confidential, besides you know how to get it better than me," he said lightly but not laughing.

"I'll call you," I said.

Ordinarily the Bank Records would be a waste, but in Jimmy's case I needed his social security number. His bank card had a huge balance and a low limit. While I was in the computer, I raised his limit. I wanted him to keep using it.

Next I hit the credit card computer. He hadn't used it yet or the places he had used it didn't use on line charges. That was okay, he would eventually use it somewhere that made the charge immediately. While I was on the computer, I made sure he didn't have a passport.

I then switched to the Wang. I tapped into all the airlines, major and commuting. I checked for ticket purchases and reservations. Jimmy didn't show anywhere. It was just a matter of time. The prick would run out of cash pretty quick. "You're too stupid to drop out Jimmy. You are going to run right into my arms you prick," I said to myself. I checked the credit card every two hours all night. In the morning I hit, what my grandfather used to call, the place. The place where your mind begins to work on it's own, not hampered my anything but it's own will to continue the track.

It hit me while I was in the place, I hadn't checked Silvia's cards. Jimmy would know that her limit was higher than his. While I got her number from the bank and blocked the account, I checked Jimmy's checking account. I found he had emptied it the night before from an ATM in Georgia. "I'm on your ass, Jimmy boy. Don't take time to look back, cause the devil is gaining on you," I said to myself.

I called Tim, when I had him on the phone, I said, "Jimmy cashed a check at an ATM in Valdese Georgia last night at nine p.m,"

"How the hell, do you know that?" he asked.

"Don't ask, just call it an anonymous tip," I said.

"So where is he going?" Tim asked.

"I don't have any idea yet. I don't know if he is running, or dropping out. We are going to know when he tries to clean out his wife's accounts. With a little luck someone has put a block on her accounts," I said.

"Should I bother doing that?" he asked.

"Not really, some conscientious bank employee did it last night. They do that when the read the obits," I informed him.

"Right, well, let me know if he surfaces again?" Tim asked.

"Oh yeah," I said hanging up the phone. After I hung up the phone I did some quick figuring. With the three hundred he took from his checking account, he could have stayed in a motel and paid cash. He could also have gassed his car a couple of times. I checked the credit card charges again. Nothing new had been added. I began talking to myself, a sure sign you are in the place.

"I figure a maximum of two nights and two tanks of gas before he begins to worry about his cash flow. About that time, he is going to switch to one of the cards. It will have to be his for sure,
since Silvia's is no longer any good. So just buy something or stay in a motel you prick," I begged.

Jimmy got scared faster than I thought. He bought gas at six p.m with his card. He bought it in a little Texas town. I checked my CD atlas and found the town just inside the state line. "Jimmy was moving fast," I said. "I'll bet he drove all night last night. He is probably going to spend the night in a motel. Where he stays should be interesting,"

It was, his direction of travel was heading him straight for the border. I wanted to make sure, so I waited for one more hit on the card. He bought something in a clothing store, still in the direction of Mexico.

"Son of a bitch," I said to myself. " I know what you are planning you sorry asshole. You are going to Mexico to sell Sylvia's Mercedes. You don't need papers to sell down there, do you? prick. If you had any money, you might not sell the car, but Sylvia had all the money and you can't get it. Well, I'm going to arrange a surprise for you at the border."

I found Tim at home. He left for the station immediately to pick up a wanted flyer. I suggested he send it to customs and the border patrol, he informed me it would take a couple of days to work it's way to the Texas border. I almost screamed for him to bring it to me.

When he arrive, I advised him to look the other way. I scanned the flyer, describing both Jimmy and the Mercedes, into the computer. I then hooked to the back door of the customs computer, I broadcast the flyer to all the customs computers. I made sure it had a special attention to the crossing points closest to Jimmy's path. I even gave them a separate message with an ETA. If they missed his ass it would be just plain stupidity.

I stayed glued to the customs computer while Jimmy ran for the border. It took almost all day for him to make it. I knew before Tim, when Jimmy was in custody. The customs computer put Jimmy into the system before they notified the local cops. They wanted to make sure they had their body count up. I called Tim to inform him, just about the same time the customs office called to ask about a pickup.

"Well Mike, you got his ass," he said simply.

"Tim to tell you the truth, it ain't enough," I said.

"It never is," he agreed.

With Jimmy in custody, things more or less returned to normal. I still had a hard time concentrating on the work, but I managed. Mostly it was thanks to a system that didn't really need me to work.

Two miserable days later, the medical records arrived on my fax machine. There were about forty pages of them. I almost trash canned them. I no longer had any interest in the Jenny O'Neal saga. I didn't can them because I wanted something to occupy my evening time. I could make neither head nor tails of the gibberish, so I drove to Butch's. You could always find a nurse at Butch's. That particular night I got lucky, I found Millie and Johnson. At first, he seemed a little
miffed that I stopped at his table.

"Millie," I said. "I know you are on a date, but could you point me out a really good nurse to ask a question."

"I won't do?" she asked.

"You would, but this is going to take some time. I know you two are busy," I said.

"Okay, try Wanda. She is the big redhead by the juke box. Here," Millie said standing, "I'll introduce you,"

I followed after her. "Wanda, come her a minute," Millie called from the edge of the postage stamp dance floor. "This is Mike Eagle, he needs a favor. If you don't want to do it, I will get someone else. What he wants is probably morally wrong, but you can bet he has a good reason for asking."

I looked into the face of the woman almost as tall as me. She was built like a female prize fighter. She had a larger upper body and a small waste with hips to match. She was also the owner of a pretty good dye job. Unless brown eyes came natural to redheads. "You the Tracker?" she asked.

"That's me," I admitted.

"Answer one question for me, then I'll think about helping you," she bargained.

"If I can," I said.
"There is rumor going around that you are the one who caught Jimmy Thomas. Is that true?" she asked.

"Customs caught him going into Mexico," I replied.

"I heard that, but did you tell them when and where he would be coming?" she persisted.

"I guess," I replied.

"In that case, what is it you want?" she asked.

"I got some records I need looked at," I said.

"How did you get medical records," she asked.

"Same way I got Jimmy," I said using whatever I could.

"Fair enough, I won't ask you again. Look, I can't see shit in here. Why don't I follow you to your place," she suggested.

"Fine, you want me to give you a lift?" I asked.

"I'd feel better taking my wheels," she said.

"Are you afraid of me?" I asked.

"Kind of, I want a way home if I don't like this," she said.

I couldn't have been more wrong. She simply didn't want to leave her Harley in Butch's parking lot. I listened to it's throaty growl, then my sewing machine when it cranked. I drove slowly to my house. When I got out of the car she was waiting. "Nice place," she commented.

"Thanks," I said not knowing what else to say.

"You do know that you drive like an old lady?" she said with a huge laugh.

"Thanks again," I said. "I was actually afraid I would loose you,"

"Not a chance, I already knew where you lived. Hell every nurse at the hospital has heard
about you. One way or another," she said.

"I'm not sure I like the \'91one way or another\'92 part," I admitted.

"You know what I mean, the thing with Sylvia and Millie, then all that tracking down of kids and stuff. Then of course everybody loved Sylvia. When that happened, we all heard that you cried in the waiting room. The receptionist heard you demand the polygraph. Hell that was spread all over the hospital before you even finished it. Jess let it slip that you are the one who caught Jimmy. Hell man, you are some kind of hero down there. I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't throw you a testimonial dinner," she said.

By the time she finished her long statement, we were in the house. "I don't expect any testimonial dinners, but I do need some help. You want a glass of tea or a Coke?" I asked.

"I really want a beer, but I don't suppose you have any?" she asked.

"Afraid not, I gave all that up for lent," I said.

"Good for you, I'm going to quit one day myself. Now tell me what you want to know and
why?" she suggested.

"I'm looking for someone who has been lost a long time. She might even be in hiding. Anyway, my best lead is her mother in laws medical records. I need to find a medical emergency, one that might have required her son to be notified. Not by the nursing home, but by someone in the family. You know something life threatening," I suggested handing her the forty odd page file.

"Shit this bitch is in coded. You got a computer with a modem handy?" she asked.

"Obviously you have never been in my office, come on in," I said as I lead her into the first bay of the converted service station.

"This looks like the computer room at the hospital," she commented.

"Part of it used to be in the hospital. Now what do you need," I asked moving to sit at the
486 reporting terminal.
"I need for you to get the fuck out of my way," she said pushing my rolling office chair away from the computer. I watched as she quickly dialed a number then switched to the text transfer mode. The screen began to scroll at an alarming rate. "What the hell you got in this piece of shit?" she asked.

"A 586 over drive chip," I said.

"I wondered if those things really worked. I see now they do," she said.

"You got enough ram n this bitch to hold a whole book?" she asked.

"I don't know how big is the book?" I asked.

"Not too much more. How much has this thing got anyway?" she asked.

"Just 64Megs, it really may not be enough," I said alarmed at how fast the pages scrolled by.

"That's plenty, I load it on mine all the time, and I only got half that much," As she spoke the end signal flashed. "Now lets find out what the old broad had," I watched as she ran over the codes. "Here maybe something, I need a medical dictionary to find out what the hell this term means," she said.

"Right this way," I said moving to the Wang. I looked through my CDs until I found the medical dictionary. I ran it up for her. She found the word then moved back to the desk. She actually went to the dictionary three more times before she found what I needed.

"Here it is Eagle, the broad had a heart attack in ninety one and another in ninety four. That should make them call her son," she said.

"God, I appreciate it," I said.

"Well, don't just stand there holding your prick, let's see what you do," she demanded.

"Actually my plan was to let it cook a little," I said.

"What the hell does that mean?\'94 she asked.

"Let it sit a day or two while I decide the best way to proceed," I said.

"You sound like a fucking lawyer. Don't keep me in suspense, let's do something. I want to see this shit work," she said.

"Well there are a couple of obvious things to do," I suggested.

"Like what?" she asked.

"I could go back into the Uncle's phone records. He is the one the nursing home contacts when there is an emergency," I informed her.

"Come on, I want to see you do it," she grinned.

"Okay, but don't get your hopes up. Sylvia and I already did this once when the father died," I tried to hook to the New England Bell system. "Rats," I said.

"What?" she asked.
"They have changed their password since the last time I ran a number," I said.

"I know better than that. You have a generator don't you?" she asked.

"They haven't made a generator in years," I said punching keys on the Wang keyboard.

"What they do make is a digital program to run one set of integers after another until the lock is opened. It is a hair on the risky side. If the company happens to have a trap on at the time," I explained.

"But you can beat that, Right?" she asked with a co-conspirator's look on her face.

"I can make sure they don't find me too easily, but if they are going to send a bullet down the wire, we are screwed," I said.

"I have read about those. That is dirty pool," she said.

"Funny about that, they think stealing information is dirty pool," I began setting up the relays again. My bill with those guys was going to be terrible. I made the connections then kicked in the code program. I sat back and looked at Wanda while the generator tried to crack the code. She actually was attractive, in a coarse kind of way. Not the type I usually associate with. She honestly looked like a biker's momma. I guess knowing she rode a Harley added to the image.

She must have felt my eyes on her, because she couldn't have seen me, her attention was concentrated on the screen. "You strippin' me or something?" she asked.

"Actually it's the or something," I said with a smile in my voice.

"Well, am I enjoying it?" she asked with a throaty laugh that matched the sound of the Harley.

"Can't tell yet," I replied.

"Knock it off and get to work. The station ID is up," she informed me.

I had been in the system before, so I knew my way around. I got to the Uncle's phone records without any problem. I transferred the two weeks after each heart attack to my own computer then got the hell out.

I still had the regular numbers, so I made a quick match. I found the pub in Ireland on his call list again for both the first and second heart attacks. After the first heart attack, I found a different Atlanta number. Then for heart attack number two a South Carolina number showed but no Atlanta number. "How could I have been so stupid?" I asked out loud.

"What," Wanda asked.

"When Sylvia and I did this, the number in Atlanta came to a bank. I stopped, thinking it was a distant relative's work number. I didn't go back and check to see who had the number at the time of the call. See the different Atlanta number, then the South Carolina number. That probably means the person he called was moving around. Three phone number is six years probably means they are on the run, or at least under cover," I informed her.

"So what now?" she asked.

"Now we let it cook," I said,

"Bullshit, you just don't want me around when you do something really illegal," she said irritably.

"That's not it at all, I just want a really clear mind for the next step. I am tired now," I admitted.

"So when do you take the next step," she asked.

"Maybe tomorrow, maybe the day after, just whenever I feel like taking it on again," I admitted.

"Men ain't supposed to have that kind of patience," she informed me.

"Sorry, if I'm not man enough for you, but patience is my stock and trade," I said without any rancor.

"I didn't mean that, I was just surprised that's all," She paused a minute then asked, "Could I
use your phone, and have that iced tea now?"

"Sure, there are phones all over the place, and I'll get the tea," I suggested as I went into the kitchen.

When I returned to the room, Wanda was still on the phone. "I swear there is more stuff in here than in computer land. I swear, he's got shit that will brew virtual coffee. I got to go, sure I'll tell you all about it when I get home," Wanda said. "I got to go, he's back. Yes I'll ask him, now goodbye," She hung up the phone then explained. "Terry, my roommate."

"Is that Terry boy or Terri girl?" I asked.

"Terri girl, but as far as what you are thinking, she might as well be Terry boy. We are lovers," she explained.

"Interesting, I always wondered what that would be like," I commented.

"Then go find yourself a fag and try it," she suggested.

"I didn't exactly mean that," I corrected her.

"I know what you mean. Men are always asking me that kind of stupid question," she said.

"You mean, men ask you how you fit all that makeup on the bathroom sink?" I asked.

"What?" Wanda asked.

"I used to have a girl friend. She filled the top of the sink with makeup. I always wondered how two women found enough room on the sink," I said.

Wanda had a laugh just like a man. "You are the biggest liar I ever met. No wonder you are good at this shit," she laughed again.

"Whatever you say," I agreed.

"Look ,Terri wanted me to ask you something," Wanda said.

"No, I'm not gay," I said.

Wanda laughed again, "Okay, I asked for that. What Terri wants to know is did you really work for the CIA?"
This time I laughed. "Who the hell started that rumor?" I asked.

"Then it isn't true?" she asked.

"Of course not, I am a simple computer nerd," I said with a good bit of humor.

"Would you tell me if you had worked for the CIA?" she asked.

"Sure, why wouldn't I? Who knows you might be impressed enough to sleep with me," I said.

"Okay," she laughed. "So you wouldn't tell me,"

"Look, I was never with the CIA," I said honestly. "Think about it, if I had been, why would
I ask you to read those codes. I could have called an expert with the company," I explained.

"Right not CIA, then it was the green berets?" she asked.

"Where do you get all this crap. I was never even in the Army. Is this the kind of crap going around about me?" I asked.

"That and a lot more, why don't you tell me the truth, so that I can set the record straight?" she asked.

"Sure, but it is a dull story," I thought about it a minute. "Go ahead ask your questions,"

"So where were you born?"

"A dirt water farm in Arizona, not even a town, just a farm," I explained.

"So, did you play video games as a kid?" she asked.

"Are you kidding, I worked the land and hunted for food. We were so poor, I couldn't afford to waste bullets, so for years I hunted with rocks," I said.

"Where did you learn to track people?" she asked.

"I didn't, I learned to track anything that moves. Men are about the only game left in North Carolina," I answered.

"So, where did you learn about computers," she asked.

"College, I majored in computer science. The tracking started there. I just moved it here when I got a state contract. That's enough, you can set the record straight with that," I said ending the questioning.

"One more," she begged.

"Okay, but this is the last one," I relented.

"Did you ever screw a dyke?" she asked seriously.

"No, but I'll try anything once," I replied.

"I knew it. You are a lying son of a bitch," she said pompously.

"What the hell are you talking about?" I asked.

"You have screwed a dyke," she said.
"And who would that be?" I asked playfully.

"Sylvia of course," she replied smugly.

"You have to be kidding," I said almost angrily.

"How do you think, I learned so much about computers? How do you think I recognized you at the bar," she said. "We were doing Sylvia at the same time. She dropped you, because you reminded her of her drunken father,"

"If she was doing you, while she was doing me, who was doing Jimmy," I mean she was with
me about every night," I said.

"Jimmy knew about her. He stayed to help alibi her. Why else would she put up with his sorry ass," she said.

"If you knew so much about me, how come you ask me those asshole questions?" I asked.

"I just wanted to hear you deny the truth. Everybody knows you came from somewhere secret. How else could you get into everybody's computer. Or break Malcolm Dorsey's jaw with a single punch," she said.

"I also broke my hand," I said. "If I was some kind of superman, I hardly think I would be in
the hospital ever week,"

"You are so full of it. I know you broke your hand, and I know why. Tell me this, What kind of man hits another man, when he knows it is going to break his hand?" No wait, I'll tell you. One who knows what the score is and doesn't care," she said.

"That is such a crock," I replied.

"Really, tell me how you killed that man in Davidson county?" she asked the good humor still showing on her face.

"I stabbed him in the back," I said.

"Not good enough, the paper said it was in the side of the neck," she started smiling broadly.

"Don't believe what you read in the papers," I suggested. Then it dawned on me. She was doing this because she needed to justify why Sylvia would sleep with me. I knew that no amount of truth would ever convince her.

"So, you are going to stick to that cock and bull story?" she asked.

"I'm going to stick with the truth," I replied. Knowing what she was doing wasn't going to make me a liar.

"Whatever, I'm going home to Terri. Sorry you are going to be alone," she said smugly.

"Now who said I was going to be alone," I replied just to piss her off. "Thanks for the help. I would just as soon you not give the details to anyone else.

"Who would believe me?" she asked. "You have everyone in town on your side,"

"Not really but you are right, no one would believe you," I said.

Wanda left and I immediately transferred all the information on the O'Neil family to floppies. I made two copies, then cleaned the hard drives of all the machines. I wiped away all record of my movements. I am sure some nerd could find them, but not through a remote hook up. I was frankly afraid Wanda would try to access my computer system. Since my customers always accessed me through the computer I couldn't send her a bullet over the phone line. If I were just a little bit smarter, I probably could custom make one, just for her. I just wasn't that smart.

It was late and I was tired, so I turned in. Sleep eluded me for all of ten minutes. I didn't even think about what Wanda had said about she and Sylvia. It didn't matter, my memories were of Sylvia and me. I wasn't about to let the brash red head ruin them.

I was hard at work the next morning when I had a visitor. I opened the door to her because she could hardly have been a mugger. The little blonde was around five feet and maybe weighed a hundred pounds. She hardly fit a serial killer's profile.

"Yes?" I asked through the open door.

"Mr. Eagle, my name is Terri Perkins. I am Wanda's roommate." she said.

"Sure come on in," I said to her. "I am rather busy, but what can I do for you?" I asked.

"I actually came to apologize for Wanda. She can be a bit coarse," she stated sadly.

"Really, I didn't notice." I lied.

"Please don't patronize me, Mr. Eagle. Wanda told me all about your conversation. I just wanted you to know the Sylvia loved you. It is important that you know that." she said.

"Thank you Terri, but I already knew that," I said.

"Also, Sylvia was never Wanda's lover." she said.

"She was yours, wasn't she?" I asked.

"Yes, before Wanda. How did you know?" she asked.

"You are more her type," I replied.

"Thank you, Anyway for the last two years Sylvia wasn't anyone's lover. Not even that sorry assed husband of hers. When she ran out on you, she ran out on everything." she said.

"I'm really sorry to hear that," I said honestly.

"I know that you are busy, so I'll be going." she said.

"I'm not doing all that much, why don't you stay and have a glass of tea?" I suggested.

"If you are sure?" she said. "I kind would like to stay and talk a while. But not about Sylvia or Wanda."
"That is a promise. Why don't we make a pact. I'll keep my memories of Sylvia and you do the same. As for Wanda, I think my meeting her was a bad joke played on both of us by an old friend of mine." I said.

"I'm sure you are right about Wanda. The pact sounds like a good idea to me," she said.

When I returned with the tea, I asked, "So what was it you really wanted Wanda to ask me?"

"Nothing really, I'll ask you myself another time. Would you mind if I look around your office?"

"Not at all, come on in. As a matter of fact why don't you take a seat while I finish entering some data," I suggested.

She saved all her questions until I finished entering the search information into the two Wangs.
Then she hit me with a barrage of questions. She was just as knowledgeable as Sylvia or Wanda.

"So what kind of computer do you have?" I asked.

"I have a 2 gigahertz Compaq." she answered.

"Nice system," I said admiringly. "If I didn't have so much tied up in the Wangs, I might buy something like that."

"It would sure save you a lot of space," she agreed.

"So what do you use such a powerhouse to do?" I asked.

"I do some video editing with it. That's what I do," she said.

"I thought you were a nurse," I said surprised.

"Not me, Sylvia was the first nurse I ever knew. I think I kind of got passed to Wanda after Sylvia dropped me. She just kind of showed up one day." Terri confided.

"So who do you shoot on video," I asked.

"I do some local commercials and a little post production for the public. Not enough to make a real living but enough to pay for the equipment." she admitted.
"So Wanda pays the bills?" I asked.

"Oh no, I receive a check from my trust fund." she said.

"That must be nice,' I said.

"I guess, I have never known any other way. I have been getting the checks since I graduated college. Actually I guess I got them before, but they always went to the schools. I never knew my mother and father. They were killed in a plane crash." she said matter of factly.

"I'm sorry to hear that," I said off handily. I didn't want to make a big deal of it.

"It's okay, like I said, I don't remember them at all." she said.

"So do you feel like asking me the question?"

"I don't really know how to do this. I guess I should just come out with it. I want to do a documentary about you. Not you really, more about what you do." she said.

"You mean the computer searches," I asked knowing I was going to say no.

"I don't think anyone but us nerds would find that interesting." she admitted.

"Then there really is nothing interesting about me." I admitted.

"I didn't mean it that way, I actually want to do it about the tracking of lost children and stuff like that." she said.

"I could tell she was young, not only by her fresh looks but by her choice of words. "How old are you?" I asked.

"Twenty-five, Why? Does it make a difference? I assure you I do good work." she said in a stern voice.

"It makes no difference to me whatsoever. It might to some of the cops. If I get on to something that isn't dangerous, I will let you know. Leave me your number, I have to warn you though, some of these are pretty far away and I can't wait for you. If you aren't there when I leave, I go without you. One more thing, no lights of any kind. If it is at night, you are on your own to figure out how to shoot without light." I sternly informed her.

"I can handle that, just let me know where you go next. I don't care how dangerous it is." she said.

"Well, me and the cops will. You are going to have to work on the missing persons cases."\tab I informed her.

"Oh, all right," She reluctantly agreed. "So what are you doing now?"

"I'm loading the computers to search for dead beats. You did know that is how I make my living?" I asked

"Sure I knew, do you mind if I watch?" she asked.

"Not at all, if you don't mind being bored to tears." I replied.

"Don't worry about me. I love computers." she said then became quiet as I ignored her. I finally got everything going at the same time. I had never realized that I did anything while the computers searched. Not until Terri asked me what I was doing every time a bell sounded or a computer burped out information.

By two I had her helping me type the routing information for the reports. If she was going to hang around, she might as well be useful. It was her idea. I gave in and allowed it. She actually did quite well at it. I wasn't really surprised since almost all youngsters were computer literate by that time.

"You know, I really don't know why you don't just gang these reports." she said.

"Like send them all back on the same fax?" I asked.

"Sure, as it is you send five on one fax, then two on another to the same address." she said.

"That's because the search perimeter required they be separated when the machine runs them. They get batched inside the computer by the search parameters. They are finished at different times." I said.

"I know but if you put a company code on the request, you would be able to re-batch them at the end of the day. It would save you some time and money on the phone line." she said.

"Now why didn't I think of that?" I asked in a tone of redicule.

"There is a reason, isn't there?" she asked.

"Something to do with the way the Wang assigns tasks. Everybody I know in the business has tried to combine the task results but no one has been able to do it." I said.

"Can I take a look at your operating system files," she asked.

"Sure, the number one is finished for the day," I said not bothering to add. "Don't change anything.

She punched keys and rubbed her nose, then punched more keys and scratched her head. When she finished, she said, "Okay, walk me through the system. I don't understand how the hell it could possibly work,"

"The system is a hybrid," I explained. "It actually has three systems. It runs the multi-task programs in the old RPG. It also runs in DOS and Windows. The load is in dos, the dos system routes the tasks to the RPG which performs them, then routes them back to the DOS for reporting."

"So DOS is just the funnel?" she asked.

"Exactly," I said.

"Can you show me the RPG flow chart." she asked.

"Sure," I said. I punched a few keys to get to the PRG programs. I kicked up the flow chart. It went several pages branching off by tasks."

"There are a hell of a lot of ifs in that thing. I had no idea it was so complicated." she said.

"Like I said, everybody I know in the business has looked at it." I replied.

"So where is the final compiling part of the program?" she asked.

I scrolled the flow chart to the bottom. "There you are."

"So let me see if I understand this? After you enter the information, you type in the command 'Tracker.' I nodded. The 'Tracker' command calls up the basic operating system, and sends it into this program, kind of like an 'initiate' sequence. I nodded again.

The basic system then sorts the requests into batches and assigns them to the multi task portion of the program?" I nodded. "Then the computer performs the tasks and reports them upon completion back to the 'cache' which holds them until all the tasks are complete. Then it calls up the DOS again and reports them." I nodded

"Then why don't you have them assigned to different caches set up by company, then have them reported by cache to the dos." she suggested.

"We tried that, at least a dozen times. Nobody could ever figure out why it wouldn't work. It just wouldn't." I said.
"I had a problem like this in college. We tried and tried to get a computer to sort by a twenty or thirty-field name. It just wouldn't do it. When we finally got it to work, it was because we assigned a strictly numeric code to the companies. Nobody could ever figure out what the original problem was. I suppose you tried that?"

"To tell you the truth, I don't know. We tried so many things." I said. "But you are talking about going back into the basic operating system. That my dear is a dangerous thing."

"No I'm not, I'm talking about going into the Tracker program. If that sort bothers you, then set it up in the dos. Write it in QBasic. in the dos. Make it a separate program even. You already have an end statement after every name, just have the dos sort a company code to rearrange them."

I thought about it for a long minute than said, "You know, we were all trying to fix the Tracker program. Nobody even though about adding a sort program to the DOS. All we ever considered the dos for was compiling the information to feed to the RPG.

I began to punch keys to call for a blank flow chart. Pretty soon the printer began spiting out page after page of accordion papers covered with boxes. While the pages poured from the machine, I looked at my watch. "Damn,\'94 I said. "No wonder, I'm getting hungry. We worked through lunch and now it's dinner time. You want to go get dinner?" I suggested.

"Sure, but I have to warn you, I never eat in yuppie restaurants. I like the old family style places better." she said.

"I hope you know a good one. I am a little behind on my restaurant information." I said smiling broadly.

"Sure, let's go to Donna's" she said with a smile.

"So what kind of place is Donna's?" I asked.

"A dyke bar and grill. You'll love it." she grinned. "Seriously the food is great."

The place had been a Hardee's before the down sizing binge hit everywhere. Now it was a place filled with frilly little curtains and cutesy table cloths. Each one was different, I guess you would call it eclectic. It was just plain maddening to my brain. Too much confusion.

I ordered a salad and a bowl of bean soup. They offered only fish and chicken for main courses. I couldn't handle that. I did order an all cheese lasagna. "A dyke health food restaurant, how could you?" I asked Terri with a smile.

"Gotcha," she grinned.

"Are you going to write a sort program, when you get home?" she asked.

"I am going to give it the old college try," I said.

"It may be a lot more complicated than you think. You might need some help. Would you like for me to help you?" she asked.

"Thanks, but it is my problem," I explained.

"I know, but I have done it before. You know in college. Maybe I can save you some time." she offered.

"That would be nice, but I frankly don't want Wanda on my ass. You just run along home to your friend. I will take care of the program." I said.

"Well suit yourself, but Wanda is not a problem. I can handle her." she said.

"That's what Sylvia said about Jimmy," I reminded her.

"I see your point," she replied. "By the way, did anybody ever find out why he did it?"

"Nobody has told me if they have. I think he is keeping pretty quiet right now." I said.

When we finally finished dinner, I drove us back to my place. She didn't even come into the house. I went in to find the place just as I had left it. I waited for her to leave, then I walked back out the door. I drove the Thing back into town. I drove around in circles, not really having anywhere I wanted to go. I must admit, the freedom of having a car again was pretty heady stuff. By ten I had pretty much come to grips with Sylvia having a female lover. I also came to grips with the possibility that my renewed communications with Silvia had somehow caused her death. When I thought I might be able to live with it all, I drove home.

When I arrived home, I watched TV for no more than an hour before it made me sleepy enough to go to bed. I slept well that night as I had most nights since I came to grips with my pain. Even the pain of Silvia's death didn't effect me as it would have a couple of years before.

The next morning. I started the programs running, then moved to the output 486 to work on the program. With my dos command book in hand I began working on an initiate program. Since dos already had a sort program, all I needed to do was arrange a program to apply it to the correct fields of the data automatically.

It was a lot harder than it sounds, and a lot easier than Terri would have had me believe. What I couldn't figure out is why I hadn't thought of it sooner. I could understand during my drinking days, but before that I should have figured it out all by myself. It had taken a fresh mind to look past the RPG problem and go directly to the end result.

All the 'experts' I called did exactly what I wanted. They tried to fix it in the RPG operating system. None of them were asked to solve the basic problem, just to fix the program. We were all too narrow in our thinking.

I tested the program a couple of times to made sure it wouldn't screw anything up, then I installed it in the first Wang available. When all the checks were run and the results reported, I gave the command to call up the new addition. It took a couple of minutes before it was accomplished but it worked just fine.

After that adding the command to the Autoexecbat which the RPG called up when it completed it's checks was a pretty simple thing. I didn't put it into the second Wang until I was sure it wouldn't cause a problem down the line. That proposition would need a couple of days, at least, to cook.

The day passed with nothing significant happening. I began to get a little concerned that I hadn't heard from Paula in almost a week. I felt a little guilty that I hadn't called her since I slept with her. It stayed on my mind all afternoon, so around six, I called her machine. I said, Hello, I hate to talk to machines so give me a call."

I spent the evening with the TV again. It wasn't as bad as it sounds. I found a couple of interesting movies. The time passed quickly. I was almost asleep on the sofa when the knock on my door came. I looked out to see Paula standing there. "Well hello stranger," I said as I ushered her into the room.
"I know, I should have called, but I didn't know what to say. I mean, after our last encounter and then Sylvia getting killed. It was just too much like a soap opera." she gushed.

"It's I who should apologize. I mean, I really have behaved like a pig. First it was Sylvia, then things just kind of kept piling up. I am sorry," I said.

"That is nice, but it is going to make this even harder." she said. I prepared myself for something really terrible. "You know I think a lot of you Mike and God knows I find you attractive. It's just that we don't really do well together. I mean first it was all the trouble I caused you, then the other night." She hung her head when she continued. "I just think maybe we should stay friends and leave the other alone." she suggested.

I was hurt to tell the truth, even though it was what I wanted. "Sure," I said. "I understand, as long as we stay friends I can live with it."

"I hoped you would take it this way, but I wasn't sure." she said.

"Not a problem for me," I repeated. "You want a glass of tea?"

"No I have to run, I just got off work and I'm really tired. she said.

"Rough night?" I asked.

"You know how the cop business is, always something going on. Most of the time it doesn't amount to a pile of crap." she said. "But it does keep you running."

"Okay, thanks for stopping by," I said to her back.

When she had gone, I said to myself. "I wonder what the hell that was really all about.

Of course it might be just like she said, I might just be lousy in bed. I found the idea amusing. It wasn't a problem at the moment, but I had just run off Jess, and Millie had a new friend. All my new friends seemed to be gay. It a couple of weeks, I was probably going to be getting desperate for company.

It certainly didn't worry me enough to loose any sleep over. I hadn't cared much when I drank. Since I stopped, things seemed to have a way of working out without me taking a hand in them at all. I was rolling with the punches and doing quite well.

I had the computers running the next morning with nothing much to do. There was no sense routing the reports until they were all complete. The new program was working fine, as I expected it would. I really wouldn't know for sure until the end of the day. I worked on a few rechecks but it was very few. Everything worked surprisingly well that particular day.

I even found time for lunch. I was surprised to find Wanda on my doorstep when I returned. Actually she was leaning against her Harley. "We got to talk," she said angrily.
"What exactly do we have to talk about?" I asked.

"You know damn well what. I want you to know, I can kick your ass," she threatened.

"Fine I believe you, but why?" I said opening the door.

"Terri, you asshole." she said.

"What about Terri?" I asked.

"Since she left here yesterday, you are all she talks about. I want to know just what the hell is going on." she said.

"Nothing as far as I know. If it were, I wouldn't discuss it with you anyway. At least not in the mood you are in." I replied.

"Don't you make any mistake, if you try to take her away from me, I will kick your butt." she said.

"Now sweetie, that is twice you have threatened me. Don't make the mistake of doing it three times." I said.

"Oh yeah, what are you going to do?" she asked.

"Quite frankly, I am going to call the cops. I would hate for you to take a warrant on me for kicking your butch ass." I said.

"Well asshole, you got it to do." she said backing against the wall and assuming a karate fighting stance.

I actually laughed out loud. She was so serious about it all. I stood with my hands at my side waiting for her to make a move. When she tried to kick me, I side stepped her, then caught her leg in my hands. I lifted it until she was badly off balance. Not only that, she was far out of reach of me with her hands.

"You know that shit only works on someone stupid enough to stand still. Why don't you and I have a heart to heart talk." I suggested. I didn't release her leg until she agreed.

"Okay, what is it you wanted to talk about?" she asked still at attention.

"Look, I'm not making a move on anyone. That is not to say, I wwould walk away from Terri, if she moved on me. That is the most reassurance I can give you. Right now she is just interested in me professionally. I doubt it will ever be more than that, unless you drive her to it, or unless she isn't really gay."

"Suppose what you say is true. Does that mean you won't try to influence her to try men?" she asked.

"I have no plans to discuss her love life, period." I replied.

"Okay, I just don't want to loose her," she said miserably.

"I don't know what to tell you." I answered. I waited a couple of minutes, then said. "So tell me, why did you lie about Sylvia being your girlfriend."

"The bitch told you?" she said miserably.

"She told me, so why the lie?" I asked.

"I wanted to see your reaction. I mean some men couldn't take that kind of thing." she said.

"So why lie about what Terri wanted from me?" I said.

"I obviously didn't want her to meet you. You are the dangerous type. The kind of guy who could turn her around." she said.

"You make this sound like some kind of game." I said exasperated.

"Well it's no game. I love her." she said miserably.

"So if you love each other, what's the problem?" I asked.

"Look Mike, she has never been with a man. You know, she grew up in all girls boarding schools. Even in college she was shy, never went out with men. Hell she really doesn't know whether she is gay or not. In her case, it was just safer to be gay. She didn't have to deal with men that way. Now you come along, she is a bit infatuated with you. I wouldn't worry, except you weren't angry when you thought Sylvia was my lover. You obviously don't care, if a woman you are involved with is sleeping with another woman." she said.

"I really never had to think about it. When you told me, Sylvia was already dead. I don't know how I would feel about it, if it were still happening." I answered.

"If worse comes to absolute worse, can we share her? Wanda asked.

"That would be up to her, wouldn't it?" I asked.

"Like I said, you are a dangerous man." Wanda cried angrily.

"Well how about going home, so I can go to work?" I asked.

"Okay, but you know Millie put you on me because she has a mean streak." Wanda informed me.

"I figured that one out by myself." I admitted.

"I may just kick her butt. If she hadn't done it, we wouldn't be in this mess." she said.

"Look Wanda, why don't you try coming with Terri, when she visits me." I suggested feeling sorry for her.

"You wouldn't mind?" she asked.

"Not a bit," I answered.

"Okay, I'll do that. I can always carry her equipment bag. Hell she can't, she is too light in the ass." Wanda laughed for the first time.

"Only thing is, I can't let you actually go on the track with us. Two is about all that I can keep up with. As it is, I am probably going to have a cop in addition to her. It would be good, if you were waiting to drive her home, when we come out of the bush." I suggested.

"I understand, it actually makes perfect sense to me." she turned to leave, "By the way, has the O'Neil thing cooked enough yet." she asked.

"Not quite," I replied. I watched her nod then walk out the door. A moment later her Harleygrowled into life. After she had roared away, I thought about O'Neil for the first time since she had last been in my house. It really was about time I decided how to proceed.

I knew that every town of any size had a blue book. A blue book is a book with every person listed alphabetically. Now the difference between a blue book and a city directory is that the blue book also has a crisscross section. A section in the rear where the phone numbers are listed numerically, with the name of the person, who owns that phone, and their address. If the phone numbers the uncle called were listed numbers, they would be in the cross directory for that year.

I rang up the Atlanta Public Library, it turned out, not to my surprise, that Atlanta's library had microfilmed those books. The microfilm was then scanned into their super computer. A couple of key strokes and a few minutes search time later, I had the name of the owner of both phones. It seems that one Jane Owens owned the first number, then a Miss Joan Oldham owned the second. Neither resided in at Atlanta at the moment. The South Carolina number had belonged to a Miss Janice Ott, it appeared that Jenny lacked a certain amount of imagination.\tab

I wondered seriously if she was still in South Carolina. I checked the new directory list and found the number was no longer in use. Too bad, I probably had missed her by only a year or so. I almost decided to let it cook again, then it hit me. If the uncle was calling Matthew in Ireland and Jenny somewhere in the south, Maybe Matthew was calling Jenny. Who knows sometimes ex husbands call their ex wives. I called up the pub's international phone records. Nothing to the states this year to date. Now it was time to let it cook.

I returned to my business late that afternoon. It didn't matter since I had to type in only a few headings. I finished in less than an hour. I decided not to go out again, so I called a pizza delivery service. I had them bring two since I liked cold pizza.

I got about half the first slice down when the pager beeped. The only people who used that number were the police departments. Otherwise, people just called my home number. The cops called the home number only after ten. They all knew that I often turned the bell off when I worked on the computers.

I dialed the number listed on the pager\'92s screen. The dispatcher for the Rockingham County Sheriff's office answered. She patched me through to the deputy on the scene of a shooting.

"Mr. Eagle, this is Deputy Sykes, we have kind of situation here." he said.

"What kind of situation?" I asked.

"We have a man who took to the woods with an automatic weapon. He shot his wife and kid before he took off." the deputy informed me.

"Give me the directions, I am on my way," I said.

"Eagle, you might not want this one. He is supposed to be some kind of mountain man. Avid hunter that kind of thing." he said.

"So?" I asked.

"He is also a Vietnam vet. He was a green beret or something like that. We think he is some kind of Rambo or something. The dogs that were running him stepped in a hole with stakes buried in it. Cut them up pretty bad." he informed me.

"How long has he been planning this?" I asked.

"No idea, he has been in and out of the VA hospital for years. We were going to call in choppers but the sheriff said it was too dense in those woods. Our best bet right now seems to be you."

"Try to keep everybody out of those woods until I get there," I suggested.

"Don't worry, nobody is crazy about going in there." he said.

"Give me an hour," I said. "I finished my pizza while I gave the man in the woods a lot of thought. He probably wasn't scared or cold. He was most likely sitting somewhere in ambush of his back trail. This was not going to be easy. I was very glad I had stopped drinking before this happened.

I finished the Pizza, then dressed as warmly as possible without impeding my movements. I drove the Thing as quickly as I dared. The drive to the rural Rockingham County site took me a little longer than I had anticipated. When I arrived there were cars everywhere. I was surprised to find a TV crew on the site.

"What the hell are they doing here?" I asked the first deputy I saw.

"Scanners, don't you just love Radio Shack." he said.

"Free enterprise, you just can't beat it, though I would love to try. So where did the dogs get it?' I asked.

"A hundred yards down that trail." he said pointing to a break in the tree line.

"Mike," the Sheriff said as he approached. "You want to wait till daylight?"

"To tell you the truth Sheriff, I don't know what to do. The traps will be harder to find in the dark, but we will be less of a target, than we would be in daylight. My guess is either way he plans to ambush us."

"Maybe I should call for help from the state police." the Sheriff said.

"Got me, I just have no ideas," I replied. "Maybe a green beret team would be the best idea."

"I know this is a bitch of a situation. The truth is I have to do something, I have made a lot of tough statements about this sort of thing. You know, don't play games go get the fucks. That kind of thing. I just never thought it would be anything like this."

"Who the hell is that?" one of the deputies asked.

I turned to see Wanda and Terri being led to us by a highway patrolman.

"Mr. Eagle, these two said they were with you?" he said.

"Come here," I shouted pulling the two of them away from the cops. "What the hell are you doing?"

"I came to shoot some scenes for the documentary." Terri said.

"I told you not on this kind of thing." Something odd came to mind. "How the hell did you know where to find me? Did you tap my phone?" I said to Wanda.

"Actually I did, but don't worry, we will stay out of the way." Terri promised.

"Good then get your asses back behind the police lines. Just sit out there with the news crew." I said angrily.

"Officer," I called. "Escort these ladies behind the police lines."

I walked back to where the Sheriff waited. "Okay Mike, how about you and one of my men, try to find this asshole tonight. If you don't, we will try again tomorrow. Just don't go too deep after him or get yourself killed."

"The first I can't promise, but I promise to try real hard to follow that second order." I said as lightly as I could manage. "You got anybody worth a damn at this kind of thing?"
"I guess Eddie here is as good as I got," he said pointing to the officer I had first spoken with.

"You married Eddie," I asked.

"No, why?" he asked in return.

"You got anybody depending on you for support?" I asked.


"Then you will do. Now Eddie, walk where I do, and for god's sake be quiet. If we can track him without tripping any bobby traps, he is going to be waiting for us. Worst of all, with all this Russian surplus crap on the market, he probably has a night scope."

"Man this don't sound good," he commented.

"That my friend is an understatement. This sound terrible, even to me and I am saving the worst of it."

"You want this?" the Sheriff asked, holding a starlight scope.

"Give it to Eddie," I suggested.

"He knows these mountains, he may be miles from here by now," Eddie said hopefully.

"Could be, but I doubt it," I said.

"Why?" the Sheriff asked.

"If he were just running, there wouldn't have been a pit. He plans to defend his mountain."

"Then we need the FBI," the Sheriff said.

"Right, they will wait a month gathering intelligence, then fuck it up anyway." I said.

"Right, go get the prick," he said.

"Eddie, get us some water and some candy bars. We may be up there all night." I said. Eddie left in search of candy and water. "You are coming out at daylight aren't you?"

"If I can," I said.

"Is it really that bad?" the Sheriff asked.

"The only way it could be any worse, was if there were more than one of him. There isn't is there?" I asked.

"No, just the one," the sheriff said.

"Then the odds are probably ten to one that you will be recovering the bodies at dawn, but no worse." I said.

"If it's that bad, you probably shouldn't go." He commented hoping I wouldn't pay any attention to him.

"If I were sure it was that bad, I wouldn't go. I am just hoping that sometime during the night, he decided he wants us to find him." I said.

Eddie returned before I could explain farther. I unhooked my belt, then strapped the canteen on. I took the half dozen Snickers bars from Eddie. I filled all my pockets. "Well Eddie, let's take a walk in the moonlight." I said moving toward the trail. My guess at the time was that the trail was safe as far as the dogs had gotten. The pit was a black hole in the ground. I could easily see the badly disturbed leaves. The remains of the handlers rescuing the dogs. I found the path around the pit. It was hardly visible. The dogs and the handlers would have missed it altogether. It was actually a good sign, unless it was there to lead me into a trap later up the trail.

It proved to me that the traps were set long ago. Some might not work, but I wasn't counting on it. The man we were chasing knew how to avoid them, but in so doing he left another trail. I hoped I could find the bypass trails before I walked into any of his other handy work.

I led Eddie slowly and carefully down the bypass trail. I actually felt a little better when it rejoined the main trail after only ten feet or so. We were fortunate in that it had rained the day before. The leaves didn't make as much noise as they would have dry.

I saw something that shouldn't have been on the trail. I stopped Eddie. I saw the dark shape in the trail only because my grandfather had hammered into me. "There are no straight lines in nature. The almost invisible mound on the trail went in a straight line across it. I carefully moved to it. I lifted the wet leaves off it one at a time. I caught the slight shine of the heavy transparent plastic line. The moonlight cast only a small amount of light on the trail, but it had been enough. I backed up a few yards to look for the bypass path. I was confident that there was none. Our man had set this wire as he passed. Proof he planned to defend the trail. Also proof that there were some permanent traps and some placed more recently. A trip wire, was something easy to set as you walked past it. Just pull the line across the trail and hook it to a bush. The fact that he had bothered to hide it at all surprised me a little. I motioned Eddie back, then went off the trail in search of a long limb. I used my ever-present sheath knife to cut a small sapling, then trim the branches. I motioned for Eddie to take cover behind a tree. I wanted the runner to know we had found his present. I also I wanted to know exactly how lethal it was.

I found myself a rather large tree a few feet down the path. I hurled the sapling in the direction of the wire, then dodged behind the tree. It seemed to take forever for anything to happen. When it did, it was less than I expected. There was no explosion. Instead there was a whooshing sound. I looked up after a few second to find a rather large log with spikes blocking the path. He had set another dead fall for us. Nothing fancy but something guaranteed to get your attention.

I wasn't in the least surprised when Eddie broke. He said in a voice loud enough to be heard back at my house, "I've had enough. I am going back to wait for daylight."

"You are absolutely right. Let's get the hell out of here." I said with an equal volume. Eddie thinking I was serious turned to leave. I held him back. I motioned for him to give me his pistol. I also motioned that I was going on. I caught him before he could speak again. He shook his head violently no. "Piss on you,:" I thought but said nothing. Instead I started up the trail armed only with the knife and six Snickers bars. I could only hope that Eddie would stumble into the dog pit.

Without Eddie I moved even slower. I looked at both sides of the trail and the ground before I took even the smallest of steps. I had gone another hundred yards when I caught sight of another bypass trail. I saw the broken limbs and disturbed leaves. It indicated someone had traveled through the path quickly. I almost took the path before I realized it was too well marked. I had a feeling in my gut that the trail was a trap. I almost took it anyway.

Instead I crept forward. I progressed twenty more yards without seeing an exit for the path. I was sure at that point that the bypass had been a trap. A few yards farther on, I saw a faint path leading off on the opposite side of the trail. The leaves were hardly disturbed at all. No one but me would have known it was a path at all. I moved cautiously down it nonetheless.

When it rejoined the main trail, I knew I had avoided an old trap of some kind. When I stopped to listen and sniff the air, I smelled it. It was the smell of a cook fire. The problem was it was way to close to the base of the mountain. I had gone maybe a mile in the last three hours. He would have made that distance in thirty minutes or less. Not only did he have the two hours on me, he also had the hours before I was called in. Obviously the fire was an ambush. Not even one at which he was likely to be present. I moved off the trail to approach from a different angle. My guess was that he didn't think anyone but cops would be coming for him. I got just close enough to see the fire but no closer. I could see that it was down to embers. It could have been started hours earlier. A pile of brush was cover by a tarp. It would have looked like a man to a quick moving group of cops.

So where is the trap, I wondered. I sat in my spot for a long time looking at each tree and clump of brush. Since the fire was in a clearing, there could be no dead falls. Maybe a pit, but nothing looked out of place in the moonlight. It took a long time for me to see them. I never did see them all. I caught sight of the first one when the wind stirred the trees beside the opening to the clearing. Then I saw two more. They were dark and spherical. It took my mind a few minutes to recognize them as balloons.

Homemade napalm was my guess, Liquid dish washing soap and gasoline. I could only wonder what the ignition source might be. Probably something as simple as the home made napalm. I might have set them off to send the runner a message, if I had known how to safely trip them. I was thirsty so I took a drink of water.

It hit me then that water was the answer. If he had planned the killing, he would have a stockpile of food and water. He might anyway, but if he hadn't planned it, he might need water. I had no map and didn't relish the idea of stumbling around in the dark. I decided that at sunrise, I would go talk to the Sheriff. He could probably stake out the closest water supply and nab his runner. I settled myself in to await daylight. There was no sense walking down the dark trail, when I could wait a couple of more hours and walk out safely.

I had finished one of the candy bars when I heard it. It was a very quiet rustle of leaves. If the leaves had been dry, I would have expected it to be the wind or a small animal. The leaves were so wet that only a large animal could have made that sound.

At first, I was afraid I had given myself away. I looked behind me expecting to see the blast of a rifle's muzzle. I saw only the black of night. The sound continued but I couldn't really pinpoint it. I was terrified and my heart pounded. I lost the sound of the movement due to the sound of my heart pounding in my ears.

I looked back at the clearing and saw the runner enter it from the rear. He looked and listened carefully before he continued. If I had been armed, I could have killed him. As things stood the best I could do was watch. He carefully added more wood to the fire. I watched it blaze up in front of him. I recognized then that he was wearing a military style uniform. I watched as he again slowly, and carefully searched the woods, then the skyline before he retreated along the same path he had used to enter the clearing. I seriously considered following him. Of course I knew, he could hear my movements as well as I had heard his. I knew he would simply wait somewhere along the trail to ambush me. If I followed him, our roles would be reversed. I didn't like that idea one bit.

I waited an hour or more for the dawn to break. When it did, I had a pretty good idea he would be hold up somewhere, hopefully far away. I began to work my way out of the woods. The sun was pretty close to rising when I made my way into the base camp clearing.
The Sheriff cornered me before I got a hundred feet outside the woods line. "What's going on? Eddie came back scared to death."

"I don't blame him. If you send anyone in there, the body count is going to be high. The trail is bobby trapped, worse yet, the asshole has set ambushes. The only one I saw was rigged to go off by itself. I am pretty sure it was homemade napalm."

"So what do we do?" the Sheriff asked nervously.

"I don't know. Find out all you can about him. If you can, find out how long he has been playing commando in those woods. Find out for sure, if he has been stockpiling food and water." I suggested. "Oh yeah, I'm dead beat. Is there a Motel around here?"

"Sure, go back to the main road and turn left. About ten miles up the road is a motel. It is an old mom and pop tourist cabin kind of thing." he informed me.

"Good enough," I said. "If you need me, I will be getting some sleep."

I walked through the crowd of cops. I was forced to ignore the news people. They obviously were hoping to sell their stories to CNN. No doubt they would. The story had all the elements that make a great TV piece. Murder, crazed vet, and danger to the cops, it was a natural. It was difficult to avoid speaking to them. They were insistent well past the point of being simply rude. They were absolutely out of control.

I looked around trying to pick out Terri's car. She evidently got bored waiting for something to happen. 'She is probably home asleep in her bed,' I thought. At least someone had good sense.

I opened the door to my Thing and realized how wrong I was. "What the hell are you doing here," I asked Terri.

"Waiting for you. I sent Wanda home to get ready for work. I am going to stay here until this thing ends." she informed me.

"Then get out, I'm going to go get some sleep." I informed her.

"You are my story, not the psycho on the hill. I'm going with you." she insisted.

"Suit yourself," I said too tired to argue with her. As I drove away, I asked, "How does Wanda feel about leaving you here?" It was a dig and she recognized it as such.

"I told you, I can handle Wanda." she snapped at me.

We stopped for breakfast on the way to the tourist cabins. She tried to force me to fill her in about the events on the mountain. I stayed mum. Let her get her information from TV, at least for now. I didn't intend to undermine the Sheriff. I had no doubt, that if she would bug my phone, she would be on the line to CNN before I stopped talking. The bugging was still a subject to be discussed. No sense bothering with it now, the damage had already been done. Besides I was just too tired to care at the moment.

After breakfast, I drove straight to the cabins. The owner was swamped with the gathering news crew reservations, but he found room of me. I expected the Sheriff had called ahead. He swore he could only spare one cabin, but he informed me, the cabin had two beds.

"It will have to do," I said signing the register. I returned to the Thing and the waiting Terri.

"They only have one cabin available. Either you sleep in the second bed, or you wait in the car. I have to get some sleep, so you decide but do it now. Once I lock that door, I am not getting up to open it again." I said not too kindly. I was still upset by her being there.

"I'm going to sleep in the cabin," she said as she began to unload her equipment. I found my small canvas case buried under her camera junk. I carried my case but none of her equipment.

"You could help," she said lugging aluminum cases from the car.

"If you needed help, you should have kept Wanda or stayed home." I insisted.

"God, you are such a prick," she said.

"And what do you call it when a woman taps a stranger's phone?" I asked.
"Initiative," she snapped back at me. She waited a minute for both our blood pressures to lower then added. "Come on, you know you wouldn't have called me. I just wanted a chance to see you in some real action. I knew you wouldn't take me along, but I thought I might get you to tell me about it on camera. Get the essence of the moment so to speak." she said. "I could never have hoped for a story this big."

"Look, I'm really beat, how about we continue this when I can hold my end up a little better," I suggested.

She turned without answering, she went to the car for the last load of equipment. I took the opportunity to commandeer the bathroom. I knew for a fact, I took a quicker shower than any woman could even imagine. I also knew that I needed a shower a hell of a lot worse than Terri.

When I returned from the bathroom, Terri was sitting in the only comfortable chair making notes in a small spiral notebook. I almost asked what she was writing, but decided not to start another argument at the moment. Instead I climbed into the closest of the double beds. I drifted off to sleep while she continued to write.

I awoke to the sound of knocking on my door. I tried to ignore it but the knocking was too persistent. I pulled on the heavy twill pants I had worn the night before, then moved to the door. I looked out the glass panels at a man and woman standing on the small concrete slab used as a kind of porch on each of the cabins.

When I opened the door, the woman said, "FBI can we come in?" she didn't wait for an answer she pushed me aside.

When I turned to look into the room, I realized that Terri was sitting up in the bed. The commotion had awoke her. I also noticed she was holding the blankets over her as if she were naked in the bed.

"Are we interrupting anything?" the man asked.

"Actually you are, I am trying to get some sleep," I snapped at him.

"We just have a few questions, then you can get all the sleep you want," the man informed me.

"So the FBI director watches CNN." I commented.

"First thing every morning," the woman answered with a smile. "Guess what the number one story was this morning?\'94

"The madman on the mountain," I suggested.
"You got it," she said.

"So, this is a local thing how did you sneak in?" I asked.

"ATF, somebody said the man had an automatic rifle. You know how those boys love headlines. When they got in on it, they naturally asked for us." she said.

"Of course you, who shy away from the press, had to be dragged kicking and screaming down here." I suggested.

"Look, we can stand here insulting each other all day, or we can ask our questions, then you can get back to whatever it was you were doing," the man said nastily.

"If you want to talk to me, bring either the Sheriff or a warrant," I said.

"Actually, the Sheriff is on his way," the woman added.

"Good, then how about going out for coffee until he arrives?" I suggested.

"We don't do coffee," the man informed me.

"Too bad, I had hoped you were good for something," I said pulling on my blue wool shirt from the day before. It naturally smelled funky. I actually hadn't expected to be wearing it again. It was the only one I had. "I'm going to the office to see if I can hustle up some coffee." I turned to Terri, "You want any?" I asked.

"Sure," she said in a little girl's voice. She was intimidated by the FBI Agents.

"Two cups of coffee," I said as I walked from the room. The male Agent followed me as I walked to the office. When I entered, I saw the large coffee urn, I hadn't seen the night before. I filled two Styrofoam cups, then turned to leave. The Agent reached for a cup.

"Sir," I said to the manager. "This man is not a guest here."

"Actually, I am," he said filling two cups.

I smiled at the owner and said, "Damn, there goes the neighborhood."

The Agent tagged along behind me until I reached the room. I found the female Agent, sitting in the one comfortable chair. Terri was still sitting on the bed hiding behind a blanket.

I handed her the coffee cup. She dropped the blanket to accept it. When she did, she also revealed a small breast, with a very large nipple standing at attention. I couldn't believe she was turned on by all this crap. 'Probably the cold,' I thought.

"You know Terri, if you would like to get dressed, the men would probably step outside," the emale Agent advised her.

"Sure, I could use the air anyway," I agreed.

"I am a little cold," Terri said in that little girl voice.

The male Agent and I left the cabin to stand in the cold morning air. "So how bad is that trail?" he asked.
"Like I said, I want to wait for the Sheriff," I repeated.

"Just making small talk," he lied.

"Small talk is like, gee it sure is cold today," I said. "You really need to work on that."

"You know Eagle, I'll bet if I took a good look at your operation, I could find a half dozen laws in my jurisdiction you are violating." he said. "If I were you, I would be a little more cooperative."

"Then, it's a good thing you aren't me," I informed him.

"You really think you are a tough son of a bitch don't you?" he asked closing the three feet between us.

"No, but then neither are you. So unless you want a civil rights action against you, I would back the hell off," I advised

"You prick," he said not moving.

"I am hearing that a lot lately. I am not real impressed by your choice of words. I thought
that kind of crap was supposed to be the sign of an idiot. You know somebody who can't use the English language well." I informed him.

I honestly thought he was going to hit me. It would have been an interesting turn of events. I had no idea how I would have reacted. We were both saved from finding out by the opening of the cabin door.

"You can come in now," the female Agent said.\tab

I was amazed to see Terri sitting on the bed dressed almost exactly like me. Her tight red thermal shirt looked a damn sight better on her. It was obvious to anyone looking that she wore nothing under it. Both the male FBI Agent and I were looking hard at her. Even though her breasts were small there was something terribly sexy about the way that shirt wrapped itself around them.

I was saved from any further embarrassment by the arrival of the Sheriff. "So, what have you guys learned?" he asked as he entered without knocking.

"We have learned that Eagle is an uncooperative witness," the male Agent said.

"Good for him, I told him not to answer any questions without me being present." The Sheriff said it trying to save face for having chosen me. "Of course I meant the press. He must have misunderstood."

"Sure, he did." the woman said.

"Anyway, let's get to it," the Sheriff said.

"Now Mr. Eagle?" the man asked. "What is on that trail?"

"Are you bring in a lot of Agents for an assault team?" I asked.

"That really doesn't concern you," the male Agent said.

"We talked to Eddie," the woman said trying to soften the blow. "He said the place is lousy with bobby traps."

"Almost everything is probably dead falls, not exactly booby traps. But, there are some of those too. I went on after I sent Eddie back, I found an ambush sight about a hundred yards farther up the trail." I went on to describe it to them.

"He probably planned to ignite the gas with a tracer round," the woman suggested. I actually hadn't thought of that.

"Could be, but I got the feeling, he had planned for them to ignite without his actually being
present." I said.

"Why?" she asked.

"Because he didn't kill me," I replied. "If he had been staking out the site, he would have heard me circling it. He could have killed me as I approached. I think he returned to keep the fire going. To lure us into the trap."

"Will you draw us a map of the trail, with the deadfall on it?" The Sheriff asked.

"Sure but I only got a few hundred yards up one trail. I'll bet you a hundred bucks he is up there putting new traps in different places. If you send weapons teams up there, some of them are not going to be walking out."

"So what should we do?" the Sheriff asked since the FBI didn't want to hear anything except SWAT.

"Get yourself a specialist and send him up there. He had better be a damned good one." I suggested.

"And that would be you?" asked the female Agent.

"I might could do it, but I sure as hell ain't gonna' volunteer. You guys have to have someone with a lot more experience than me." I replied honestly.

"You could get a sniper to a safe place couldn't you.?" The Sheriff asked.

"If you had a real sniper, he wouldn't need me to take him in. What you are talking about is a sharpshooter. If this guy is as good as he looks, you would just be getting your man killed. My guess is that he could take out anyone trying to stalk him.

"We, sure as hell can't just leave him up there," the FBI man said.

"That gentlemen, isn't my problem. I just find people, this one you need to kill." I said.

"Well, we can take care of it without your help," the female said.

"Good, then I am going back to bed." I said.

They all left together. I was glad to see them go, I was still tired. "You," I said to Terri, "Ether, take my car and go somewhere or be very quiet. I need sleep badly."

I crawled into my bed. Before I fell asleep, I felt her move into the bed beside me. I could feel her thermal clad body against me. I forced myself to ignore her. Fortunately I was still tired enough to fall asleep even with the distraction.

When I next awoke, it was again to the sound of pounding on my door. I was so tired, I shook my head to clear it. I realized that Terri was gone, before I left the bed. I staggered to the door, to find the Sheriff and a man dresses in Camo fatigues standing on the concrete pad.

"What is it now," I asked as they filed into the room.

"This is Agent Jessup of the ATF," the Sheriff said.

I shook hands with Jessup, I also accepted the coffee which the Sheriff pressed into my hand.

"What time is it anyway?" I asked.

"A little after three," the Sheriff said.. "We got a little problem."

"What kind of problem?" I asked. "One of the FBI intelligence teams tried another path this morning" I didn't mention the obvious contradiction in terms. "One of them tripped a dead fall. He caught a tree limb in the face. As you might guess it was it was filled with spikes."

"Is he alive," I asked.

"Lucky to be alive, but yes he is." The ATF man said.

"Wrong Jessup, those dead falls aren't meant to kill." He looked at me questioningly. They are meant to injure. It take at least one more man to help an injured man down the trail. Your man knows how to reduce the odds." I informed him.

"Tell that to the Agent who lost an eye," Jessup said.

"I know it sounds cruel but the killing is going to start farther up the trail. I suggested.

"So we are going to need an army to flush him out?" the Sheriff asked.

"Take an army in there and he is going to disappear like the Viet Cong. There is an awful lot of wild country out there. His traps will kill a few, but he won't stay and fight. Unless he is ready to die, which is a possibility." I said.

"So how do we get him without anymore dead or injured?" the ATF man asked.

"I doubt you can," I informed him.

"Come on Mike, you could take a team in there. They will do the work, you just get them up the mountain safe." the Sheriff suggested.

"I was told a few hours ago, you didn't want or need my help. As soon as I am up to it, I am going home." I replied.

"That was the FBI, they don't exactly have a great record in this kind of thing," the Sheriff said.

"Neither does the ATF." I reminded him.

"True but we aren't quite as arrogant as the FBI." he informed me.

I thought about it for a while then answered. "One man, body armor, and rifle with a scope. Forget the automatic rifles." I informed him. Shooting up the countryside isn't going to get your man." I said.
"Okay, when do we leave?" the ATF man asked.

"One a.m. I want to be in the woods well before sunrise. With a little luck maybe we can ambush the ambusher."

"What do you mean?" the Sheriff asked.

"If he doesn't hear us come in, and if he is running the fire ambush, we might catch him loading it with wood again. If we do, you can take him out. We are going to have to be in place sometime before he loads it the last time. If that doesn't work, then we go after him as best we can. Somebody may well die up there, please try to make sure it isn't me."

"We will do our best, but our record with civilians isn't all that good," the ATF man laughed.

"How is it with finding restaurants, I am starved and my car seems to be missing." I said.

"Did your playmate steal your car," The Sheriff asked with a laugh.

"If she did, she left her cameras. It probably is a pretty good trade. Now how about taking me to lunch?" I asked.

We ate in the same restaurant, where Terri and I had eaten breakfast earlier that morning. After the home cooked meal, I returned to the motel. I tried to sleep again, but this time it avoided me. I watched TV for a while then finally drifted off to sleep again. Afternoon network TV will put anyone to sleep.

Terri returned around nine, I awoke at the sound of the door opening. I saw her enter, then looked at my watch. I knew it was time for me to get out of bed." So where have you been?" I asked.

"Over at the mountain press park. I have been hob nobbing with reporters all day. It was Great fun. A team from CNN arrived this afternoon."

"You make a deal with them?" I asked.

"What do you mean?" she replied in a question.

"I mean, did you sell them your story." I replied.

"Of course not," she said. "I promised you, I wouldn't say anything until this was over."

"Why don't you get some sleep? You must be beat," I said.

"Are you going to stay in bed?" she asked.

"No, I am starved. I think I will go get some food, then head over to the mountain. I know the cops don't want me there, but I would kind of like to see what's going on." I said.

"Maybe I should go with you?\'94 Terri suggested.

"If you want, but nothing is going to happen until the FBI assault team arrives tomorrow." I lied.

"You're right, I do want to be sharp for that. I think I might take a little nap. Call me when you get back." she ordered.

"Sure thing," I agreed.

I stopped at the restaurant to load up on candy bars. I also got a hamburger to go. I then drove to the parking lot, which had been carved from the murder scene's side yard. By the time I arrived it was a mud pit, it had been softly raining off and on all day. I parked the thing, then went to find the Sheriff. I found him standing outside a FBI communications van.

"So what good intelligence did the FBI get for you?" I asked.

"They got me an aerial view of the area," he said. "Come on in and have a look."

I followed him into the bread-truck style van. I took a look at the photographs of the trails leading to the top of the mountain. "I count six trails on this side and four on the other." I said.

"That's how we figure it. My guess is that all of them are trapped," the female FBI Agent said.

"I would certainly expect that to be the case." I agreed. "Here, you see this clearing. That is where he has the Napalm. I see three more clearings in the trees. I'd be willing to bet he has fires in all of them. Any chance of getting a flyby now that it is dark. Just to see if there are fires in all the clearings?" I asked.

"We did that earlier, there are fires in all of them." the woman said.

"It should keep him pretty busy, working all those fires. Maybe busy enough to get careless." I suggested.

"One can only hope," The Sheriff suggested. "By the way Agent Mars knows about your little hike tonight."

"Not a problem, as long as CNN doesn't." I said.

"You don't think he is watching TV do you?" she asked.

"Why not, Radio Shack sells a battery TV for ninety- nine bucks." I said. "I was kidding about CNN but the local boys are probably carrying this as well."

I looked at my watch, it was almost eleven. "So let's meet your shooter," I suggested.

The sheriff left me and the lady cop alone in the trailer while he went to find my shooter. "You know, you have quite a reputation with the local cops. I made a few calls." she said.

"Good for you. I like a woman who is thorough." I said smiling.

She nodded, "Tell me something, what are the odds you will get this man?" she asked.

"A damned sight worse, than that I will see you in the morning," I replied.

"That's what I thought. So why are you doing it?" she asked.

"It's a tracker's job, and that's what I was born to do." I said simply.

The Sheriff interrupted us with his entrance. He was dragging an ATF Agent behind. I smelled the man's cologne before he entered the room. "God man, if you go smelling like that, we are as good as dead right now. Even worse you are a smoker. Come on Sheriff, I'm not going up that hill with a man who smells like a pimp and who smokes. He won't do." I said.
"You don't decide that, my boss does." the AFT man said.

"Then you are going to have to find your way up alone. I am not walking into sure death, just because you want to impress the girls." I said.

He didn't answer, he simply stormed from the van. "So now what," the Sheriff asked.

"Now you go find the head ATF man and get me someone who smells neutral and doesn't smoke cigarettes." I suggested.

"How about me?' the woman asked. She saw the look on my face. "Hey, I don't wear perfume, I don't smoke and I haven't had a bath all day. I also scored a perfect three hundred with the .306.

I took a good look at her. She was close to five eight, and looked trim and fit. Her hair was liver brown, but most of all she was graceful. She moved like a cat. "If the ATF agrees, you will do. That is, if you have ever killed a man." I said.

"Why is that important?" she asked.

"Shooting at paper targets is different from shooting at a man," I informed her.

"Have you ever killed a man?" she asked scornfully.

"Yes," I replied softly.

"So have I," she said the anger leaving her voice.

"Then go talk to the ATF boss," I suggested.

When she had gone, the Sheriff asked, "Are you really willing to trust your life to a woman?"

"Why not, she will be trusting hers to an Indian." I said with a smile.

He shook his head for a minute. "You know this has gotten way out of hand. If
Eddie had given you his gun last night, this might all be over."

"Who knows, I might have gotten myself killed last night." I said.

"Maybe but I, kind of, doubt it. You want a gun tonight?" he asked.

"One gun should be enough. If not, two are going to be about a hundred too few." I said seriously.

"You got a point, it is about a one shot deal," he agreed.

The Agent returned, "It looks like we are a go," she said showing me the camo outfit in her hands. "If you guys will leave me alone to change."

"By the way, what is your name," I asked.

"Lois, just call me Lois," she said.

"Then you call me Mike," I said.

We were ready by midnight, I was too keyed up to wait any longer. Lois and I walked casually to the edge of the field. I wanted to lull the news crews to sleep. We walked back to the van again. We did that two more times before we slipped into the woods. I moved us quickly to the pit, then around it. At that point I began to move a lot slower. I listened to our movements, fortunately the damp ground muffled our steps. Nonetheless, I moved even more slowly. I knew we should be approaching the trip wire, but I didn't see the log suspended by ropes. I stopped dead. The son of a bitch had been back down here.

I took a step back so that I could whisper into Lois' ear. "We may be walking into a trap." I watched as she shook her head. I whispered again, "He has been back to reset his dead fall. If he thinks I found his ambush site, he may be waiting for us." She nodded. "I hope he thinks we went home after the one trip wire. Anyway, we are going to be moving even slower from now on." She nodded again.

He had removed the limb I used to trip the wire. There was nothing to indicate a trap had ever been at that spot. I figured he had moved the log, then added another trigger. I stopped to listen and think. What would I do with the trap?" I asked myself. He knew I had tripped it. He might not know I continued on. If he were a Tracker, he knew.

I pulled Lois close so that I could whisper in her ear again, "He knows, we have to get off this trail." She nodded. The problem was we would sound like a heard of elephants moving through the woods. The only alternative seemed to be the creek. About twenty or so yards from the trail ran a spring fed creek. If we made it to the creek without his shooting us, we might be able to walk up it. Chances were real good, he had trapped the creek, but hell everything was trapped. Water hid traps better than leaves but I didn't think we had a choice. I didn't wait for an opening in the brush, I set out as quietly as possible through it. A few feet into the woods the brush thinned out. Even then it took several minutes of travel to reach the creek. I stopped often to listen for the sound of another person moving through the brush. There never were any sounds.

The banks of the creek were steep, but manageable. My guess was that the banks would be thick with traps of one sort or another. The three possibilities were the same in the creek as on the trail. Probably trip wires, almost surely punji stakes, and maybe even mines, all in all a terrifying trio. Neither of us was wearing steel bottomed boots so we were in terrible danger from stakes. Trip wires and mines were another thing all together. Unless he had every inch of the creek filled with trip wires, they were hit or miss things. I hoped he hadn't bothered to do it all.

I whispered in Lois' ear, "Stay in the water. Don't step on the rocks." Lois was wearing hiking boots which I expected were not waterproof. She was a trooper though, she didn't object. "Step exactly where I step," I further advised her.

I moved as slowly through the water as I had up the trail. The sound of the moving water helped to hide our noise. We climbed for an hour, but made little progress. We came upon a four-foot wide sandbar. I noted the slight indentation in the sand. "Punji Stakes I whispered in her ear." I kept far away from the sandbar. I place my leading foot down slowly with every step, always making sure of the footing before transferring my weight to it. I stepped on one of the spider holes. I was able to rock my weight off it before, the stakes buried themselves in my foot. I changed position to step on a safer spot. Lois followed me exactly.

I stepped on two more as we neared the spring which fed the narrowing creek. I also found a trip wire strung a couple of inches over the water. It would make no sense to put the wire in the water since the current might eventually trip it. Nor would it be sensible to put it at the point where animals drank from the stream. That is why I was looking hard for wires in other places. The hour's climb took us four. The dawn would soon be breaking.

We were within sight of the spring when I led her out of the creek. I climbed a small hill which looked down on the stream. We stopped well short of the top. I found a natural indentation where a tree had been torn out by its roots. I pushed Lois down into the hole. "You stay here, I am going to cover our trail," I said. I was sure that her feet needed attention but they wouldn't do her much good if she were dead.

I erased our footprints from the bank where we had left the stream. I scattered the leaves where we walked, making sure to replace them with similar leaves. I worked slowly back to the spot where Lois waited. I lowered myself into the hole beside her. Just as soon as I was inside the hole, I lifted her shoes. I loosened the laces, then removed them. As I suspected that her socks were soaked. I removed both shoes and socks from her feet. I rubbed her feet gently to restore the blood flow. I glanced up to see her biting her hand to stifle the scream. She was a lot tougher than I would have thought. The legs of her pants were soaked as well as her shoes and socks. Taking off her pants was not an option since she would have frozen. Building a fire was also not an option. I rolled the legs of her pants up until they were off her skin. Then I pressed her feet and legs between my thighs. It wasn't much but it was the best I could do. I felt her shiver and knew she was in trouble. There was just nothing I could do about it. She shivered and shook until the sun came up. The small amount of warmth from the sun seemed to help her. It took another hour but she finally stopped the most violent of the shaking. I couldn't risk speaking to her so I had been rubbing her feet and legs to
reassure her.

I forced her to eat a candy bar, while we waited. It was well into the afternoon before her clothes were dry. The sitting in one position was difficult for me but had to be pure torture for her.

Around the three p.m. I heard the sound coming from far away. It was more a rustle of brush
than anything else. I had covered us with damp leaves after Lois stopped shaking violently. It was uncomfortable but I was glad now I had done it. The sound came from behind us. Lois and I held our breath as he walked past us twenty yards to our right. He stopped every few yards top listen before he moved on. I could even see him sniff the air at one point. I thanked god, I had refused to bring the sweet smelling ATF Agent along. I waited until he was bent over the spring filling a plastic bottle, before I turned to Lois. She had begun to shiver again. There was no way, she could hit him with the first shot.

I slowly took her weapon, then sighted on the man bent over the spring. I was about to pull the trigger when Lois shouted in a shaky voice, "FBI freeze," he of course didn't, what he did was roll to his right. I followed him with the rifle scope until he stopped to raise the Ak47. I aimed at his chest and squeezed the trigger. The rifle barked and the man topped over. Not a very dramatic death, just an effective one. Just as I had planned it in my mind there was no fire fight, just a quiet little murder on the mountain. I handed Lois the rifle, "Good shot Agent, you got him." I said. "Now turn on your radio and get us the hell out of here."

The chopper came an hour later. I loaded the body onto the sling first then Lois. I refused the ride. I walked out, back down the creek. I don't know why really, I guess I just wanted to be alone a while. I did keep her radio in case I stepped on a stake. I didn't. It took me three hours to walk out.

Almost all the newsmen had gone before I came out. After all, Lois was the story. I was just a guide. The Sheriff and a couple of his deputies were the only ones left when I arrived. "So you got him." the sheriff said.

"Lois got him at the spring," I said.

"Right, the FBI wants you to give a statement about the shooting. They have to justify it." he said.

"Why, no one is going to contradict our story." I said.

"Dead men tell no tales," he said. I nodded.
I found Terri again waiting in the Thing. "How the hell did you get here?" I asked.
"I got a ride with one of my friends from CNN." she said.

"Good for you, I'm glad someone got something out of this," I said as I started the sewing machine engine. We were packed and on our way home in minutes after we arrived at the tourist cabin. I was dead tired again but I couldn't afford another day off. During the drive home, I planned my next day\'92s work. I was sure I had a ton to do.

My first glimpse of the converted service station, told me I should have waited another day. The only thing left standing was the shell of the rear wall. Everything else was in ashes. "What the hell?" I asked no one in particular. Of course there was no answer forthcoming.

Terri looked as shocked as me. "Son of a bitch," she said. The storage shed at least was still standing. Everything else was gone. I had a really sick feeling in my gut. I parked the Thing, got out and walked to what had once been my home and office. I just sorted through the still warm ashes for a few minutes. I had nothing at all.

"Are you all right?" Terri asked.

Her words brought me back to the real world. "I guess, do you mind if I stop at the fire station. I want to know what happened and when it happened." I said.

"Of course not," she said quietly.

I drove to the almost volunteer fire department. I found the chief, the only paid employee. "God, am I glad to see you," he said.

"We thought at first you burned up in the fire. Then we thought you might have set it." he said suspiciously."

"When did it happen?' I asked.

"Early last night, like I said we had no idea where you were." he said apologetically but still curious.

"I was up in Rockingham county tracking a man. Plenty of people can verify it." I said almost angrily. "So what happened?"

"Lots of gas happened. Somebody must have known you were out of town. They put a match to about five gallons of gas." he said. "The state arson guys are in town looking into it." he said. Then he rummaged around on his desk and came up with a card. "Give these guys a call." he suggested.

I called and answered questions for ten minutes. The one I choked on was, "Do you have any idea who might have set the fire?" I had a couple of ideas, one of which was in the room. I answered no.

Terri and I were on our way to her apartment when she asked, "Why don't you stay with me a couple of days. You need a place to get it together."

"No thanks, I thing I would rest better in a motel." I stated flatly.

"Well, that's up to you," she sounded hurt.

I dropped her and her equipment, then checked into a motel. I called all my customers on the phone. I advised them I had a fire. I suggested they pull all their requests for the last couple of days and wait for me to get back on line. I estimated it would be a week. I called my web server and explained to him. He offered to put the same message on the web page. I thanked him. I was officially out of business. Only after the business was taken care of, did I call my insurance Agent. I explained all the circumstances, then held while he ran down my policy from his computer. He assured me that I was fully covered. His advice was to forget it and go shopping.

I sat at the motel trying to decide what to do next. I was working on only one thing which could have caused this. The problem with that line of thought was simple. The terrorist, if they were terrorist, had no idea I was tracking them. Wanda could have done it for spite, hell even sweet little Terri, who tapped my phone, could have done it. She was missing a long time last night. Even Millie, though she was a long shot. I had to wonder why all of them were women. Maybe I needed a life style change. Marriage or something like it, might have prevented this mess.

I was too exhausted to think clearly, so I went to bed. I awoke that evening at ten. I managed a trip to the restaurant in the motel's parking lot, then fell asleep immediately after.

The next morning I awoke early, I ate breakfast in the same restaurant, then returned to the room. I found a piece of paper in the desk drawer and listed my plans in the order of importance. Get the office open, headed the list. Find a place to live, was second. Continue the search for Jenny, was the last thing on my list.

The TV was playing in the background while I made my list. I put the list aside when I saw the advertisement for a mobile home dealer. I had never given a mobile home any thought, but at the moment it seemed like a pretty fast way to get back into business. I drove the thing to one of those large gaudy lots. I was greeted by a salesman who looked pretty unhappy to have drawn a man rather than a young couple.

Without a lot of enthusiasm he showed me a small double wide mobile home. I looked at two of them before I decided on the first one. The front half of the trailer held the living room and a bedroom, the back half held two baths, the kitchen and the larger bedroom. Like I said, it was a small one. I followed the salesman into the office where he removed a finance contract. He asked me my name. I gave it to him. He looked up at me obviously thinking it was a joke of some kind. I let him go as far as the address before I explained that I would be paying cash. I wanted to know only when it would be delivered and set up.

"If you are serious, I can have it out tomorrow. Set up should be finished by five." he said suddenly getting more excited.

"Tell you what, I am going to need today and tomorrow to take care of getting the lot ready. You knock ten percent off the price and I'll write you a check you can clear by the time I'm ready for you." I said.
"You want ten percent off for cash?" he asked.

"That's right, If you can't do it, then I will be moving on," I said.

"Just a minute, I need to clear it with the boss." he tried.

"Look, I don't have time for a song and dance. If you can do it fine. If not I have to buy a house today." I said standing to leave myself.

"Just a minute," he said running to the rear of the office. I was out the door standing by my car when he came back. "The boss said five percent" I didn't even answer, I got into the car and started the engine."

I left him standing in the drive as I drove away. I thought for a minute, I was going to have to run over him to get out of the lot. I drove about a hundred yards to another lot just like his. The salesman showed me a similar home for about the same money. I made him the same offer. He didn't bat and eye as he changed the figures on the sales contract. I signed it with a firm delivery clause written into the contract. If the home wasn't on my property and ready to move into by five p.m. on the third day, it was canceled. We both knew that if he delivered it, I would live with a slight delay in hooking it up. Neither of us wanted to admit it.

From his office, I found a grading contractor in the phone book. I drove to his office and explained about clearing the lot. He agreed to have a backhoe and truck on the site the next morning at seven a.m. He was as good as his word. The lot was cleared by noon. I had also called a plumber and electrician from the office of the mobile home salesman. They arrived the same afternoon. The septic tank line was repaired along with the well lines. The electrician hung the circuit breaker box, then promised to return when I called to advise him the trailer was down and ready to connect.

Everything was ready and I had a day to spare. I called the mobile home lot and found them more than willing to drop the trailer the next day. They were terrified of a break down which might cost them the sale. To my surprise the trailer was on the lot, hooked up wired and ready to move into by six p.m.

I made the move. The very first time I tried to sit in a chair, I swore at the feel of the furniture. It was terrible. Everything was hard and so lightweight that even moving your butt caused it to wobble. The appliances were all name brand thank God.

After the electrician had wired the house to his new circuit breaker on the pole, he brought in a couple of extra circuits with voltage spike interrupters on them. I had him bring them up through he floor, by the wall in the living room. The pipes in which he ran the power cables looked pretty awful, but I didn't much care how they looked.

The little house was covered in gray vinyl siding and looked as cheap as it was. I really didn't care, since the garage hadn't exactly been a landmark. It seemed to be a pretty good investment, if for no other reason, than I was ready to get back into business.

I made a deal with a furniture store the next morning. I bought some moderately priced furniture from them, in exchange they carried off the beds and living room furniture. The smaller of the bedrooms, I converted into a den, the larger one I used for my new bed. The great room was naturally the office.

That particular double wide had a propane furnace and cook stove. It had a central air conditioner unit, but at that time of year, I didn't really care. I was in the building and that was all that mattered. I had used the time, while waiting for the furniture to arrive, to bring in one of the Wangs. I made myself a list of hardware I needed for it. Most of the software I could rob, from the laptop which I had managed to salvage from the fire. That isn't the right word, it had been in the bag along with my extra thermals. It was a good thing that I had taken it.

When the Wang was up and not running, I punched in the diagnostic program command which I had called Steve to get. The diagnostic program informed me which module was bad. I went to the shed and stripped the rack from the Wang I had previously robbed. Once inside a screwdriver and a few minutes later, the Wang gave me the all clear. I returned to the shed with my rented hand truck for a second one. This one proved to have a bad module in the same rack. I found it through the built in drawing in the Wang. Steve explained how to find the drawings since he didn't have another manual. I could always print one from the computer's hard drive he informed me.

To tell you the truth, I know this is going to sound a little far fetched, but I had a copy of the RPG search program locked in a safety deposit box in my bank. Since I make a living from the search program, it may not be so hard to believe after all. I worked on the Wangs late into the evening. When I finally hit the new bed, I slept like the dead.

The next morning after a breakfast at the Sanitary, I went shopping for attachments for the Wang. I bought everything from monitors to printers. The list was frighteningly long. I'm sure the salesman made more on me that morning, than he made the rest of the week.

It took me three tries to get the floppy drive working. When I did it was a simple but time consuming job, to load the other hardware and software. I was actually at it until almost midnight. A scant five days after I returned to find my house in ruins, I was back in business. It might not have been any kind of record but I was proud of it.

For the next three days including a Sunday I worked like hell to catch up on my backlog. The two Wangs and the laptop all did double duty. It wasn't nearly as convenient as the old setup but it worked pretty well. I didn't even stop for meals during those days. I was lucky to find time for a sandwich. Most of the time I just plain forgot to eat.

During the last day of the catch up period, I endured the bangs and clanks of workers as they under pinned the trailer with a brick foundation. While they worked on the foundation, I had a couple of concrete patio slabs poured. One on the front and one on the rear.

When two full weeks had passed, my mind again turned to the Jenny O'Neil matter. I retraced my thinking. I no longer had the original notes, so I reconstructed them as best I could. I had a strange thought sometime around midnight. It was weird, but then everything was weird these days.

I patched into the computer at the university again. I called up the medical records for Jenny under both her maiden and then her possible married name. I found that Jenny under her maiden name, had given birth to a girl. The child was never mentioned again. The university medical center had no file on the child, which it should have, since Jenny stayed three more years at the school. The obvious answer was that Jenny gave the child up for adoption. It seemed like an unlikely thing to do in the seventies. I mean she wasn't exactly a welfare mother. If the child had been named Terri, it could explain a lot of things. Unfortunately I couldn't buy a coincidence that large. Terri had been living in town long before I began my search. That was just too far fetched. Besides even if it were true, it wouldn't help me. I doubted that whoever the daughter was, she would roll over on her mother.

I came around again to the possibility that Matthew O'Neil had kept in touch with Jenny. I began working on the problem. I needed a list of public phones in the village where the pub was located. Fortunately they have computers in Ireland. I got a list of eight pay phones. The files were available only for the current year, but that might just be enough. I pulled up all the international calls, both paid and collect. The list wasn't especially long so I merged all the lists into one master list. Matthew probably used more than one phone, I reasoned.

I felt better when I found the Uncle's number on the list five times. At least Matthew stayed in touch with someone in the states. Of course I still didn't know it was Matthew. It could just as easily been another long lost brother of Mrs. O'Neil. I had a strong feeling that it was Matthew, so I continued. I found five numbers repeated several times.

I checked them by frequency. The first I found to be a family who had lived at their present address for several years. The second came back likewise. The third was a pay phone in Boston. That one I put down to gun running, or some other such thing. There were two additional numbers that interested me.

The first was to a number in Greenville South Carolina I checked and it belonged to Jill Overby. Bingo I thought. That is until I called the number and found it disconnected. I was almost to the point of kicking the Wang when I noted the calls to that number stopped a month before the single call to a North Carolina number. When I checked, that number belonged to Jane Owens. I was damned sure I had my woman. I called and got her answering machine. The number was good and I had her penned.

I was celebrating so hard I didn't bother to wonder why she moved progressively north every few years. At the time it didn't seem important. I made a note on the laptop to call the lawyer the next day. When I had informed him of her current address, I would be finished with Jenny O'Neil.

I began typing on the laptop. I was documenting my search so that I could get paid for the
find. I would have to convince the lawyer that a trip to talk to Miss Owens would be worth his while. I was pretty well finished with the report, I even had the web address on it, when I heard the new doorbell chime. I closed the lid on the laptop but didn't bother to save the work. I was surprised to find a middle-aged woman, who I had never seen before, standing at my door.

"Yes?" I asked.

"Mr. Eagle, I think we need to talk." she said.

This woman did fit the serial killer profile. At least the heavy automatic pistol in her hand did. Mrs. O'Neil I presume," I said trying to keep it light. I opened the door wide for her.

"So, I see the fire didn't stop your looking for me. I told that stupid bitch it wouldn't. You are one of those bastards who just won't quit." she said.

"Could I get you a glass of iced tea or a coke?' I asked as if she were a guest.

"Shut up, if I knew all you were up to, I would kill you right now." she informed me.

"You know a damned sight more than I would have thought possible," I suggested.

"That's just because you are an ass," she said with a sad smile.

"So tell me, I am dying of curiosity. How did you know I was looking for you?" I asked.

"You are probably going to be dying of an entirely different thing," she informed me.

"Come on, you have the gun. If you were in my place wouldn't you like to know the Judas?" I asked.

"I guess, but first you answer my questions," she demanded.

"How about one for one," I suggested. "I'll answer one of yours, and you answer one of mine."

"I don't think you are in any position to bargain," she said.

"Actually I am. If killing me was all you wanted, I would be dead by now. You want information, and I don't really have to give it to you. Especially since you are going to kill me anyway." I said.

"They said you were smart. Okay, this could actually be amusing. I go first," she said. I nodded. "Who are you working for?"

"Actually, I'm not sure anymore. I thought it was a Boston Lawyer." I said.

"Blunt?" she asked.
"My turn, how did you know I was looking for you?" I asked.

"A friend did a little midnight reprogramming of the university computer. She gets a note on her E mail every time someone accesses that file. You really should have used that fancy relay of yours on it." she said.
"A mistake I won't likely repeat," I said seriously.

"I have to agree with that, now was the lawyer's name Blount." she pressed.

"Sure, he went on the Web with a ten-thousand dollar reward for your location." I said.

"The old missing heir crap?" she asked.

"My turn, so who was the friend who put the trace on for you?" I asked.

"I'm going to save that for later, ask something else," she demanded. I thought she looked as though she were enjoying the cat and mouse game. "Okay, why did you keep moving around and changing your name.

"I was underground." she said.

"Not good enough, you were safe as far as I can tell. You moved from a large town to a smaller one, then all the way up here. Tell me why?" I demanded.

"Watch your mouth," she snapped.

"How about I guess?" I asked.

"Go ahead, you have nothing to lose," she informed me.

"You were following Terri. I'll bet she went to boarding school in Atlanta or somewhere close, then college in Greenville South Carolina. When she moved here, you moved into the neighboring town. Does she know you are her mother?" I asked. "She must, she tapped my phone line for you."

"Shut up," she said. I expected the bullet at that moment.

"She doesn't know and she didn't tap your phone for me. Of course I knew all about you from that tap. Now you tell me who you are really working for."

"God I have no idea, it is either the FBI or the CIA or one of those other strings of initials. Until you showed up with the pistol, I figured it was Blount."

"You aren't that stupid, are you?" she asked.

"Actually, I guess I am. The only reason I was interested in Matthew's political connections was to explain why you were underground. The reward was just a cheap trick to get your friends to help wasn't it."

"You might be slow but at least you do learn." she said. "Did you put the last piece in the puzzle yet?" she asked.

"Which piece is that, Your current address or your planting Wanda to keep on eye on your little girl?" I asked.

"Well, you have it all now. I guess I do too." she said raising the pistol.

"You might want to give that some thought. If I found you, anyone can. Well maybe not anyone, but somebody could." I said. "Killing me isn't going to keep you out of the woods. What you really need is to disappear again."

"That's exactly what I plan to do, after I kill you," she said.

"Then you better take Terri with you. I have it all on the computer and ready to send. If you notice, I also have my finger on the key. If I send this, Terri is going to either be persecuted or have to run for it with you. Do you really want her to join you on the run?" I asked.

"Move your finger off that key," she said.

"Listen to me, I can erase this file, and send you on your way." I said trying desperately to find a way to live.

"I don't want to run again. You erase that file, I kill you and I stay right where I am." she said.

`"Why the hell should I erase the file? You are planning to kill me anyway?" I asked.

"Yeah, why would he want to do that?" the voice from the doorway asked. O'Neil twisted to see who was standing in the doorway. She was struck instantly by two heavy grained 10mm slugs. I looked into the eyes of Lois the FBI Agent.

I dropped like a rock, into the chair. I took a couple of deep breaths to keep from throwing up on my new carpet. "What the hell were you doing here?" I asked.

"Just came by to thank you for helping me out," she said standing over the corpse of Jenny O'Neil.

"Too much coincidence," I said. "Besides, I would have heard you drive up."

"Okay, we bugged your house," she said. "We have had you on tape, since you tapped the customs\'92 files. Not about Jimmy, but about Matthew and Jenny O'Neil."

"Why didn't you just stop me?" I asked.

"Why, you have the most interesting turn of mind any of us ever saw." she said. "The bureau was most impressed with your running down of Jimmy. After that nobody wanted to under estimate you. Now say, \'91thank you\'92," she demanded.

"God yes, thank you. I expected not to hear my alarm clock tomorrow."

"And we thank you. Tomorrow Matthew is going to get a big surprise. We at least know where to look for him now." she said.

"How about Wanda?" I asked.\tab "You remember Tim Stanton, the Agent I had with me on the mountain. He is on his way to pick up the biker dyke as we speak." she informed me. "We aren't nearly as dumb as you think are we?"

"Not nearly, but then nobody could be that dumb," I said feeling much better when the nausea passed. "So where is the rest of your team?" I asked.

"I had the surveillance alone tonight," she said moving to call the local sheriff's office. They asked us question for two hours. Lois being with the FBI and their personal knowledge of me, made the shooting easy to take. Tim Stanton called to tell us that Wanda had resisted arrest. She had gone after Tim with a knife, so he shot her in self defense. Not a good night for the bad gays.

After everyone left, I tried to figure it all out. I didn't believe in coincidences. I mean this was all just too bizarre. I began playing 'What if' with myself. I ran what ifs past my weary mind all night long. Around five in the morning, I thought I had a pretty reasonable, 'What if' scenario. What if, Blount wasn't the FBI. What if, the FBI picked up Jenny based on something I gave them through their computers. What if, they turned Jenny. What if, they wanted Blount to stop looking for Jenny. What if, they wanted to keep Jenny's information quiet. What if, they wanted the other side to continue as though Jenny's information wasn't available to the FBI. What if, there was a girl in town who didn't know who her parents were. What if, she had a tough dyke friend. What if, they could convince me there was a connection between all three of the people. What if, the woman playing Jenny was supposed to scare hell out of me. What if, the plan was to give me Jenny on a platter. What if, the shooting had been planned in advance. What if, the fake Jenny wasn't really dead. What if, I were so grateful to be alive, that I accepted the warning and did nothing to find out the truth. What if, I just didn't give a damn anyway.


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