In 1995 I did a really stupid thing, I moved into the twentieth century.  The step was hurried a great deal by my divorce, then by a fire in my studio.  I'm still not really sure that the divorce wasn't connected to the fire.  Sandy, my almost ex-wife, knew that the only way I would ever get full value for the equipment was to have a total loss of the studio.  Fire was about the only way to manage it.

 The only thing that saved her from an accusation was simply that Sandy was just too damned stupid to do it.  She had no idea how to start an electrical fire.  Still, the fact that the fire came only two weeks before the settlement was a bit suspicious.  Since Sandy and I had no children, the settlement called for a fifty-fifty division of the assets.

 Sandy had already landed in a new apartment.  It came complete with a live in boyfriend.  He was pretty much secure in his job as an accountant for the county.  He was all the things she wanted.  He was tall, handsome but most of all employed.  I, on the other hand, was all the things which she no longer wanted.  Tall, somewhat below average looking even in those days, but most of all, not employed.  I didn't even have a business thanks to the fire.  I still had a few commitments.  However, I no longer had the means to fulfill them.  I knew that I could take care of that anytime for a few dollars.  It was obvious to everyone that I would be living hand to mouth for at least a while.  So, nothing would have really changed after all.

 Sandy had always seen herself as having too much to offer a struggling photographer.  When we married, I wasn't a struggling photographer.  At the time of our marriage I was a city cop.  She married me because she watched too much TV.  Life wasn't as glamorous as she had expected.  When I fell off that roof my cop days were over. So were the steady paychecks.  Oh, I get a small pension, but nothing like my police sergeant's pay.  My moonlighting job as a freelance photographer became my only other source of income.  The business grew, but too slowly for Sandy.

 Sandy looked especially beautiful on the day we signed the divorce agreement.  Her bottle-blond hair was shiny and a little longer than I remembered.  Of course, in my mind she was always twenty.  She was no longer twenty. She was in fact thirty that very year.  On her it looked good. Her body had held up quite well.  She was still trim, almost to the point of being too thin.  Her body was only slightly out of proportion.  Her breasts were a little too large for her frame.  Trust me, I never complained about it.  I doubted pretty seriously that her new boyfriend would either.  On that particular afternoon, she was dressed in a green business suit.  It fit her well, I mean besides the obvious.  After she left me Sandy actually got a real job.  On that day, she had been signing up homeowner mortgages for almost eight months.  According to her, she was doing quite well at it.

 If Sandy had burned my studio, she did it because she wanted a cash settlement.  Without the studio income, her salary was twice my pension.  She had no hope of alimony.  Then again, in North Carolina alimony was pretty much up to the judge.  Everybody in the county knew that I was acquainted with the two judges.  Hell, I played poker with one of them almost every Wednesday night.  She probably had the right idea, about the alimony I mean.

 The meeting took place in Jake Soloman's law office.  Actually, in the conference room of the converted house.  The room had probably been a dining room in the old mansion.  I arrived late, which was absolutely not my style.  I had to force myself to drink the extra cup of coffee at McDonalds to assure that I would be late.

 "Have a seat, Mason," Jake said.

 "Yes Mason, have a seat.  You are only fifteen minutes late,” Sandy whined.  She had always been a whiner.

 I sat down without saying a word.  

"Now Mason, this agreement," Jake said as he pushed the stack of papers toward me, "covers everything we discussed on the phone.  That is all except one thing, which Sandy has added."

 Even Jake didn't look too happy about the last paragraph.  When I read the new material I almost refused to sign.  The new words had me agree to move out of town.  Sandy stated in the paragraph that she was afraid for me to live in the same town.  It also mentioned that everyone knew I had a violent temper.  She feared that I would get drunk, then come kick her skinny ass.  She didn't use those words but it was what she meant.

  "Jake," I said,  "I hope you have a second version of this agreement, because I am not going to sign this.  It constitutes an admission that I have a violent temper.  I do not and both of you know it."

 "I know Mason, but Sandy is afraid of you." Jake said, trying to convince me to sign.

 We all sat looking at each other for several minutes.  

"Tell you what I’ll do. You cut the last paragraph, and I'll give you my word."

I said it grudgingly.

 Sandy nodded agreement.  Everyone in town knew that my word was better than my signature.  From his briefcase Jake produced a second set of papers.

"I never thought you would go for that anyway," he said with a weak smile.

 "Glad I didn't disappoint you," I said.

 Jake didn't acknowledge my statement. Instead he pushed the new papers to me.  I signed them gladly.  Sandy had turned into a spiteful bitch, and I was happy to be rid of her.

 "Now the only thing left is the actual division of funds.  Here is the listing," Jake said as he pushed another memo at me.   "The joint savings account, which Sandy had frozen, has four thousand and seven dollars.  The family checking account, likewise frozen, has twelve hundred and twenty-one dollars.  The company accounts total three thousand, one hundred and seventeen dollars as of this morning.  The insurance settlement was seventeen thousand six  hundred and five dollars. Proceeds from the sale of your house were twenty-two thousand dollars.  That is a total of forty-six thousand nine hundred and fifty dollars,” Jake said.

 I thought about it only a second.  I had known all along they planned to screw me.  

"Jake that doesn't count the contents of the house or Sandy's bank accounts at this time.  There were some pretty nice antiques in that house."

 "Come on Mason, you know the contents of the house always go to the wife.  Her bank accounts were accrued after the marriage ended,” Jake informed me.

 "Well, old buddy, that isn't always the case.  If you want to eliminate her bank account, then you better pull the company accounts out of the mix."

Sandy had either saved a bunch of money since she moved out the year before or she had been squirreling away money for years, because she said,

"Take the damned company accounts.  I want to get this over with."  She took a deep breath before she continued.

"But, I will not give him half of the furniture."

 "The hell you won't," I shouted at her.  It actually was one of the very few times I had ever raised my voice at her.  It felt really good.

 "Mason, you don't really want that furniture and there is no way to get an appraisal you will accept.  How about we compromise?" Jake suggested.

 "What did you have in mind?" I asked.

 "How about we free up the family savings and checking for you.  We give you those and you release any claim you have to the household belongings."

 "I give her twenty-grand worth of antiques and she gives me two grand.  Damn Jake, you're all heart." I said.

 "Do you really want to air your dirty laundry in public?" Jake asked.

 I thought about that.  I knew what he was really saying.  Sandy would bring up all the money that didn't make it into the tax records.  She would have loved to do that anyway, except that she signed those forms along with me.  She had known at the time that the tax forms were fraudulent.  It made her a co-conspirator.

 "Okay Jake, but I had no idea that blackmail was within your job description," I said without a hint of humor.

 "I'm not going to dignify that with a response," he said without any malice.  We had all said what we wanted to say.

"Now, I hold the proceeds from the sale of your house."  He busied himself with his calculator for a few moments.  "Since you have the insurance money, I figure I owe you five hundred and seventy-five dollars," he said as he turned the paper to me.

 "That's fine.  Pay me the money and I will be out of here.  I don't much like being screwed, without dinner first," I said sarcastically.

I actually walked away with a little over thirty-six grand. Much better than I had feared.  I had no idea what Sandy wound up with, but I would guess a damned sight more than me.

 I left Jake's office with mixed emotions.  I hated being alone, but I was also looking forward to a new life.  Starting over at thirty-five was frightening but also an exhilarating prospect.  

  When I hit the parking lot I realized one of the ways the two of them had gotten me.  I saw the Lincoln town car which I had bought for Sandy sitting beside my worn out truck.

"Damn, how could I have forgotten the twenty-five-thousand dollar car. I can be so stupid," I said aloud.  I was absolutely sure there were more assets hidden in Sandy's name.  She had planned to leave me for a year before she actually had made the move.  What the hell. It was done now.

 My old truck started on the first try.  It should, I had just tuned it the day before.  I drove straight to the bank.  I found Shirley, my buddy, sitting at her desk.  I knew Shirley from the days before she was an assistant manager.  When I first met her, she was working a part time job to make ends meet.  In those days, Shirley had been a bank teller by day and a clerk in a one-hour photo lab at night.  I saw her both places so we became friends.  Not really friends, but something more than bank employee and customer.

 "Well Mason, is it over?" she asked.

 "Signed and delivered."  I showed her the paperwork. "Can you free up my accounts with this?" I asked.

 "I can indeed.  This copy is witnessed and notarized.  I can have the money in your new account in five minutes.  I'm glad they didn't leave you penniless," she said with genuine happiness in her voice.

 "Me to," I answered with a smile.

 "So, what now?" she asked.  "You going to rebuild your studio?"

 "It isn't really mine to rebuild.  The studio was on the property with the house.  That was sold last month,” I replied.

 "So where are you living now?" she asked.

 "Out at the Stonebridge,” I replied, expecting her reaction.

 "What in the world are you doing in a dump like that?  The only thing good about that place is the name," she said. 

 "I won't be there much longer.  I have to leave town,” I replied.

 "Why do you have to leave town?" she asked.

 "I promised Sandy.  She seems to suddenly be afraid of me,” I replied with a smile.

 "What a load of crap.  Why does she really want you out of town?" Shirley asked.

 "I have no idea, but since I don't have a studio anymore I might as well move,” I replied.

 "So where are you going?" she asked.

 "I don't know.  I don't think I am going far.  I still have a lot of business in this town.  I will probably move to one of the bedroom communities,” I responded.

 "When you land somewhere, let me know.  I will change the address on your accounts,” Shirley offered.  "Besides, I might want to know for personal reasons," she laughed.

 "Are you kidding, I have been after you for years.  You told me no every time."  

In fact, I had never had any interest in Shirley, or she in me.  Shirley was a few years older but you would never know it to look at us.  She was a pale redhead who took damned good care of herself. That is, if you could overlook the twenty extra pounds she carried. I could easily overlook it.  Shirley was one of those people whose personality made you forgive her anything.  Besides, Shirley had a great fashion sense by that time.  On most days her clothing hid the extra weight.  Only if you caught her on a bad day were her hips a little too large.  Otherwise, only if like me you had seen her at least once a week for over six years, were you likely to know about her weight problem.

 "Well, you never can tell.  Now that you aren't married, I might take you to lunch," she said.

 "Hell, I might take you,” I replied.

 "I doubt it.  I am your banker.  I know that when you replace everything you lost, you won't be able to afford lunch," she laughed.  My lack of business skills had been a running joke between us for years.

 "I can't fight that. You know my business better than I do,” I replied.

 "Speaking of that, did you ever call John?" she asked. John was the vice President in charge of mortgages and collections with the bank.

"No, I never called John.  With the loss of the studio, I haven't given it much thought."  I said it hoping she would forgive me.

 "Damn it Mason, I went to a lot of trouble to feel him out for you.  You ought to call him just for my sake," she replied.

 "Okay, just as soon as I get set up, I will call him,” I promised.  I had no idea whether I meant it or not.  

"I have to run right now.  I need to go find a place to live."  I said it as much to change the subject as anything else.

 "Good luck, and let me know where you land," she said with a warm smile.

 I sat in the parking lot trying to decide where I should go first.  It was still before noon.  I thought about having lunch before I went looking for a place to land.  Instead I ran down the list of possibilities in my head.  To the east of Avery were a couple of bedroom communities but they were awfully small and far too close.  If I were going to set up shop again, and there was no doubt that I had to go to work, then I needed a town with at least a medium-sized population.

 The nearest town to the north of Avery was Reidsville and that was thirty-five miles away.  The town was about the right size but too far from my present customer base.  To the west was Winston-Salem, still too far away though the size was pretty good.  To the south lay the small town of Greenpoint.  The population was probably fifty thousand.  It would be just barely enough to offer me a chance. Competition would probably be almost as stiff as it had been in Avery, but I had managed to survive there.

 Hell, I thought, it's as good a place as any to start looking.  Twenty-five minutes later I reached the city limits of Greenpoint.  The downtown was still ten minutes away.  I stopped at a McDonalds for lunch.  I looked through the local paper as I ate my burger.  I found in the classifieds that apartments were less expensive in Greenpoint, but not by much.  Most of the people occupying those apartments worked in Avery.

 I spent the afternoon driving around town.  I was trying to decide whether or not I could live in a town like this one.  It was much smaller than Avery, but still had some hustle and bustle in the traffic.  I even stayed through dinner.  I wanted to see the different business sections after dark.  Every area takes on a different flavor at night.  There were in that town, like any other, places you wouldn't want to be trapped at night.  Those were the areas where I couldn't put a studio.

 I arrived at the Stonebridge motel pretty close to midnight. Stonebridge was a strange name for a motel built as an econo-dump in the forties.  The place never had any class.  Not even on the day it opened.  The cinder block, one story building had been painted a few years before. Unfortunately it needed painting again the next day.  It never did get that second coat of paint.  The building was probably twenty-five feet deep and well over two hundred feet long.  The Stonebridge was just a shabby warehouse for people.

 I had moved to the Stonebridge from my empty house only after it had been sold.  It was time for me to be moving again.  I could hardly wait.  I had to force myself not to jump into an apartment just to get the hell away from the Stonebridge.  Even at midnight the place was noisy.  There would be drug users, hookers, and about every other kind of trash partying all night, even on a Wednesday night.  Fortunately the inside walls were made of cinder blocks.  Sound traveled poorly through them.  Also fortunately, everything of value I owned had been burned.  I had nothing left worth stealing.

 Before falling asleep I made my decision.  I would move to Greenpoint just as soon as I could find a place to live.  I decided to find a cheap apartment with a month to month lease.  If I could do that, then I could take my time finding the right place to buy.  I could maybe find an inexpensive house with a garage.  I could turn a garage into a small studio without too much trouble. With a little luck my three hundred dollar a month pension would cover the rent.

 I left the Stonebridge early the next morning.  I didn't even stop for breakfast on the way.  I bought a newspaper outside of the Biscuttville restaurant in Greenpoint.  Checking the classifieds provided me no more information than it had the day before.  Once I had marked out the apartment complexes, there was very little left from which to choose.

 After breakfast I bought a map, then began looking at the apartments listed in the newspaper.  During the morning I seemed to drive in circles through declining neighborhoods. One apartment building after another seemed to be tucked into an almost slum area.  High crime and abandoned cars seemed to be everywhere.  I didn't give up, I knew that all the addresses couldn't be bad.  Even if they were, I still could see a realtor.  Realtors usually had a few apartments that were in good neighborhoods.  They also charged an arm and leg for them.

 After another fast food burger I began again.  I found the older two-story frame house at two in the afternoon.  I passed the Greenpoint Bible College half a block before finding the house.  I took that as a good sign.  As a matter of fact all the houses in the small neighborhood were reasonably well preserved.  Judging from the number of mailboxes, almost all of them had been divided into apartments.  Most likely for the Bible College students.

 I parked in front of the redwood-painted house.  I noticed immediately that it had four mailboxes on the porch.  The porch must have belonged to only one apartment, since there was only one door.  The door obviously entered directly into the apartment.  I saw the second and third doors off to the left side of the porch.  One door was open, giving me a glimpse of the stairway leading to the upper apartment or apartments.  The house was close to the street, which appeared to be the community parking lot.  The house had a driveway large enough for only one car.  In fact, there was a rather old Dodge Dart parked in it at the time of my visit.

 The neighborhood looked pretty much like any old neighborhood which had been converted from grand old homes to apartments.  It wasn't rundown, and there didn't seem to be anyone wandering the streets.  I drove my car around the block and found a small, old retail section there.  I parked in front of a forties style drugstore.  The kind that actually sold mostly prescription drugs.  It didn't have all the other crap that occupies most of the shelf space in a modern drugstore.  It did have an old-fashioned soda fountain.

 I parked my butt on a revolving stool.  While I looked over the menu board, a young woman made her way down the counter toward me.  

"Can I get you anything?" she asked shyly.  She seemed a little intimidated by my eye patch.

 "I think I would like a cup of coffee,” I said, smiling up at her.

 "Sure. Cream and sugar?" she asked.

 "No thanks, I take it like my soul," I said it as a joke.  I was afraid she would run away screaming.  Instead she gave me a shaky smile while she poured my coffee.  "What a strange girl," I thought.

 "Could I ask you a question ma'am?"

 "Sure," she said, trying to find a way so as not to look at my face.

 "What kind of neighborhood is this?" I asked.

 "I'm sorry, I don't understand," she said bewildered.

 "Let me explain. I live in Avery but am thinking about moving to Greenpoint.  There is an apartment a couple of blocks over.  I am thinking about renting it.  I wondered if this was a good neighborhood."

 "Oh, I see.  Well it is a good place to work.  I know that for sure.  I don't think there is much trouble.  If that is what you mean?" she asked.

 "That's what I mean.  So why is there a small retail area like this, stuck in the middle of a residential neighborhood?"

 "I don't know. Maybe it's because of the college."

 "I wouldn't think the Bible College had that many students," I stated.

 "It doesn't.  The teacher's college started out there.  It moved a couple of blocks over that way a few years ago" she said, pointing up the hill.  "They sold their old buildings to the Bible College."

 "So, there is another school nearby?" I asked.

 "Yep, right behind that block of houses on the hill.  As a matter of fact, they own those houses.  They use them as Frat houses now.  I expect one day the school will build more buildings up there.  If they do, we will be within sight of the campus.  We get a bunch of kids from there now.  If it wasn't for summer break, the place would be crawling with them," she said.

 "That certainly explains things,” I said.  "I appreciate the information."

 "I guess you aren't a teacher.  I mean, if you didn't know about the school,” she said.

 "No, I am a photographer. At least I was last month,” I replied.# "Name's Mason,"

 "Nice to meet you.  My name is Sally.  I don't understand.  Aren't you still a photographer?"

 "My studio in Avery burned to the ground.  I think I am going to relocate here.  Whether I stay in photography remains to be seen,” I said.

 "Well good luck. We can use another business in the area.  You will like it here.  My dad and I love it," she said, warming up to me a little.

 "So your dad owns the pharmacy?" I asked.

 "Lord no, my dad teaches at the Bible College," she answered.

 "That must be fun," I stated.  I never knew how to treat a bible thumper.

 "Not really. The teacher's college professors are more fun.  I mean to talk to." She was blushing, even though I hadn't gotten any idea from her statement, let along the wrong one.

 "I guess I better shove off," I said, standing to leave.

 "Could I ask you something, Sir?  You can tell me it is none of my business, but I'm curious.  Is that patch real?"

 "If you mean does it cover a perfectly good eye, the answer is no.  I lost the eye a few of years ago,” I said.

 "I'm sorry," she said sadly.

 "Me to. It makes it even harder to watch where I am going,” I replied with a smile.

 Outside the building, I took a look at the other buildings in the small shopping area.  The building housing the pharmacy also had a book and stationary store.  Across the street was another forties era building.  Inside it was a restaurant and a very small grocery store.  On the opposite corner stood an empty building.  It looked as though it had been some kind of small clothing store.  Beside it was an appliance store and a office supply store.  On the last corner sat a service station.  Not one of those convenience store things, but an honest to goodness service station.  I needed gas, so I drove the truck up to the one island of pumps.  The gas was a dime higher a gallon, but a nice young man pumped it for me.  He even checked, then added, a quart of oil to my old truck.  If you had removed the modern cars from the streets, you might have sworn you were back in 1940.  I had found myself a home.  That is, if the apartment was still available and if I could afford the rent.

 With my gas tank full, I returned to the address listed in the classifieds.  I used my cell phone to call the owner.

"Hi," I said to the man who answered the phone.  "I am calling about the apartment you have for rent."

 "Let me get my wife, she handles that," he said shortly.

 "Hello," the soft, husky voice said over the phone.

 "I'm calling about the apartment you have for rent,” I repeated.

 "The one on Carolina Street?" the voice asked.

 "Yes ma'am," I replied.

 "Do you want to see it?" she asked.

 "Yes ma'am, I would like to take a look at it."

 "When would you like to see it?"

 "Actually, I am sitting in front of it at the moment,” I replied.

 "Okay, I can be there in twenty minutes.  Why don't you knock at the door on the porch?  George and his wife have a key.  You can look around while I head that way," she suggested.

 "That would be fine."

 I walked onto the unpainted cement porch.  I knocked on the door.  A man around my age came to the door.  "Yes?" he said shortly.

 "Hi, my name is Mason.  The lady who owns the building said you had a key to the vacant apartment."

 "So?" he asked.

 "She said it would be alright for me to look around the apartment while she drives over."  I said it getting a little testy.

 "Let me get you the key," he said with a deep sigh.

I stood on the porch looking at the door he had closed in my face.  He was certainly a nasty piece of work, I thought.

 "Here," he said when he returned.  "It is the door on the left at the top of the stairs." The door quickly closed again in my face.

  "Prick," I whispered under my breath.  

The stairs were narrow and dark.  I don't see all that well in the dark.  A one-eyed person has poor depth perception.  The dark just aggravated it.  I found the light switch, then turned it on before I climbed the stairs.  I found it strange that there were three doors at the top of the stairs.  I knew there couldn't be three apartments perched under that roof.  The door on the left opened easily to the key.  I stepped into an all white room.  The floors were hardwood and stained a light oak color.  The room looked to be fourteen feet wide and about twelve deep.  A hall ran from the right side of the room to the rear of the apartment.  On the left side of the hall was the bathroom.  The hall dumped me into the small but functional kitchen.  I found not only a stove and refrigerator but a built-in table sitting in the middle of the room.  It might have been an island in a larger kitchen, but in that one it was the dining table.  There were a few cabinets, but not many.  One base cabinet on either side of the sink, then three overhead cabinets over the sink and base.  I walked to the rear door and looked out.  A small wooden deck was attached outside the rear door.  The deck seemed to connect to the other upstairs apartment.  There were two chairs and a charcoal grill sitting on the deck.  The items obviously belonged to the neighbors.  They also choked the small deck.  It appeared the neighbors had claimed squatters’ rights to the deck.

 It dawned on me the apartment had no bedroom.  I looked again at the classified ad. It was called a one bedroom apartment in the ad.  I sure as hell hoped this wasn't what passed as a one bedroom apartment in Greenpoint.

 "Hi there." The husky voice came from the front room.

 "I'm back here," I said from the kitchen.

 "Hello, my name is Virginia," the attractive middle-aged woman said.  "Sorry about the way I look, but you caught me working in the garden."

 "No problem. I am not exactly dressed for the ball myself." I said it with a grin.  The eye patch didn't seem to bother her at all.  I could tell she first noticed then dismissed it.

 "So what can I tell you about the place?" she asked.

 "First of all, where is the bedroom?" I asked.  I tried to make a joke of it.

 "Across the hall," she said, leading the way.

 The ceilings in the part I had seen were pitched toward the front side of the house.  They began at eight feet then shrank to around seven.  That should have prepared me for the room across the hall. It didn't.  The little room was magnificent in its quirkiness.  There were two windows in the room.  The window at the front of the house was actually a dormer.  It gave the effect of being a small walk-in bay window.  On either side of it were closets.  The closets were only a few feet high in the rear.  The roofline dropped that much in them.  The side window was pretty normal except for the ceiling that slanted almost to the corner of it.  The roof had changed directions over the hallway.  The roof in the main part of the apartment slanted to the west side of the building, but in this room it slanted to the north.  The whole apartment was filled with interesting angles.  I tried to hide my enthusiasm.

 "This apartment must be hard to rent.  I mean, cut up like this," I suggested.

 "It takes the right person, that's for sure.  This one is a few bucks less than the others.  Just because of the inconvenience of crossing the hall," she admitted.

 "Okay, so how much is it?" I asked.

 "Two hundred a month, with a one year lease," she said.  "By the way, the building was just rewired.  You can use a microwave in here now," she said proudly. She noticed the questioning look.

"Before, it would blow a fuse every time someone turned on a microwave and a vacuum cleaner at the same time.  The electrician fixed that for me."

 "Good. I don't have a microwave but I might get one,” I said.

 "So, are you interested?" Virginia asked. 

 "Maybe. What's the heat like?" I asked.

 "Gas furnace, no air conditioning. You can use a small window unit but there is no two-twenty in the house.  The stove is gas.  If you want a clothes dryer it will have to be gas," Virginia informed me.

 "Got any idea what the utilities run on this place?" I asked.

 "Got me. I wouldn't think they would be too much.  Most of your heat will come from the downstairs apartment," she smiled.

I had never thought of that before but it made sense. Heat does rise.  "Okay, I'll take it. When can I move in?" I asked.

 "Just as soon as your check clears.  A couple of days probably," Virginia said.

 "If I pay you in cash can I move in tomorrow?" I asked.

 "You aren't a drug dealer, are you?  I mean, we are talking four hundred in cash, first and last month's."

 "No, just a divorcee with no place to go," I replied.

 "Okay, but I am going to check you out.  If you are wrong, then I will refund your money and you can move out," she said seriously.  "You know, I have a lot of friends on the police force."

 "That's fine. I just need a place to move into today.  You aren't going to find anything in my past," I said confidently.

 "So what do you do for a living.  I mean, if you don't deal drugs?" She asked it with a wide smile.

 "I am a half-assed photographer," I said simply.

 "Well, that is slightly better than having a drug dealer in the house," she laughed.  "Since tomorrow is the third, I don't suppose you would mind paying for a full month.  It would make the paperwork easier."

 "That's fine,” I agreed.  Twenty minutes later I had a copy of the lease and a receipt.  She had four hundred bucks in cash.   

 Any 'buyer's remorse' I had vanished as I pulled into the parking lot of the Stonebridge.  I would be happy to put the crap hole behind me.  I stopped at the office to settle my bill.  The Bridge actually owed me money. I had paid for the week in advance.

 I killed the afternoon watching TV while making a list of things I needed to do.  High on the list was furniture.  Followed immediately by turning on the utilities.  I also had a telephone problem.  My studio phone had been disconnected after the fire.  I had no idea where my calls were going at the moment.  Fortunately I had kept the negative files inside my house.  I had feared a fire in the studio since the first days.  House fires usually aren't total losses, but out building usually are.  All I really lost in the fire was my equipment.  Alot of equipment as a matter of fact.

 I made a call to the phone company office just before it closed.##  A very nice black woman arranged something I didn't know could be done.  She had all my studio calls routed to my cell phone.  If I had known it were possible, I would have done it sooner.  I had one other break. I did very few weddings.  The two on my schedule were not for another month.  One followed a week after the other.  I had plenty of time to replace my lost equipment.  It seemed the ideal time to test the strides made in 35 mm film. “All that

is  going to have to wait. At least until I settle into Greenpoint.  I am just going to be too damned busy to think of anything but the move, at least for a couple of days,” I thought.

 I had, over the last couple of years, begun to shoot a few weddings, but I turned down more than I shot.  I expected that was about to change.  I would need money to keep the business going.  I would probably need to be a lot less selective about the work I did.  Sandy and I had been living more or less on the insurance company settlement over the last couple of years.  Her departure came about the same time the money ran out.  It would pretty much be up to me to take care of myself.

 I forced myself to change my thought pattern.  I had plans of a more short term nature in mind.  I wanted to be into the new apartment by the next night.  There would be plenty to do that next day.  I made my plans for the next day carefully.  I figured closely all the things I needed to do.  I was again fortunate that the next day was Friday.  If it had been a Saturday, the chances of me getting all the utilities on would be nil.

 First thing the next morning I loaded my truck with clothes and a few personal items.  The thirty-minute drive to my new apartment was broken only by a stop for take-out biscuits.  I got all the clothes into the apartment before I stood by the table to eat my biscuit and drink the cooled down coffee.  I removed the notebook from my shirt pocket.  On it I wrote, “coffee maker”.  I had forgotten that I needed one.  If the first minutes in my apartment were any indication of the day ahead, I was in deep voodoo.

 I was exactly one hour too early to call the utility companies and two hours too early for the retail stores.  I sat on a window ledge to sip my tepid coffee.  I tried to think of something I could do at eight in the morning.  The home improvement store came to mind.  I knew I didn't want to spend much money on furniture, so I had planned all along to build whatever I could.  That is, whatever I could without tools.  I had no intention of buying a thousand dollars' worth of tools to save a couple of hundred dollars in furniture cost.

 Since the truck was pretty much empty, it seemed like a good time to go to the home improvement store.  I had a kind of plan in mind when I left for the store.  Fifteen minutes after I began pricing items, the plan changed.  The price of real wood was ridiculous.  I moved from real wood to sawdust compressed into something like wood.  Fortunately someone had the idea of cutting them into shelf lengths. ## I filled my rolling flat with six and eight foot lengths.   When I lifted a couple of concrete blocks, I decided to take a look around for something lighter.  I stumbled onto the concrete block replacement in the bath section.    Some bright company had begun to manufacture a plastic block similar to the old glass blocks used to build decorative bathroom walls.  They were guaranteed to hold a thousand pounds without bending.  I didn't figure to own that many books, so I bought enough to build several things.  I was also forced to buy a caulking gun and silicone caulk to anchor them together.

  The pressed boards weighed a lot more than real lumber.  The blocks seemed almost too light to hold up that massive amount of fake lumber.  Nonetheless, I filled the truck bed with them.

 I made the necessary calls from the building supply parking lot.  I assured myself that my power and gas would be turned on the same day.  Had the water heater not been gas, there would have been no need to turn it on during the summer.

 I found the phone company could turn on the phone without entering the house.  It was all done by computer in the central office.  I did  need to purchase a phone, according to the young woman.

 I turned around and re-entered the home improvement store.  I had seen a display of telephones as I walked through the store.  I dropped another twenty bucks for a small phone.  I also added a thirty-five dollar answering machine to the much too large buggy.

 With the purchases on the seat beside me I returned to the apartment.  I managed to get all the lumber and blocks up the stairs by myself.  It was a hell of a morning's work.  I thought about just saying the hell with it, but if I did that I would be sleeping on the floor without so much as a blanket.

 I didn't even consider assembling the shelves.  After a short break, I returned to the truck.  I drove it to the local K-Mart store.  I wandered around looking for sheets and blankets.  I also checked out their furniture section.  It was just a stroke of luck that I saw the love seat.  At first I thought it was probably the ugliest one I had ever seen.  The thing had no arms.  It was simply upholstered cushions one atop the other.  I read the sign that said, "Convertible for extra sleeping space".  I had slept on pull-out sofas before.  The Spanish Inquisition could have used them.  That one was something different, it was all foam pads one atop the other.  It was a simple matter to flip the cushions into a 10" flat sleeping pad.  It was so simple and ingenious that I bought one for eighty bucks.  Quite cheap if you thought about it.  Not only that but I bought the matching chair which folded out to a twin bed.  When placed side by side they made a hell of a long sofa.  I didn't plan to do it, but it was an option. 

 I dropped two hundred and fifty bucks in the store.  I left with sheets, pillows and towels, along with the two of the fold out things.  I was almost home when I passed the used furniture store.

 The sight of dining room tables sitting by the road reminded me that I didn't have any chairs.  I swung the truck into the store parking lot, to the sound of horns and curses behind me.  The small store was dark, dirty, and packed with furniture.  Most of the furniture was sofas and chairs.  I had plenty of room in the truck bed, so I bought four badly used wooden dining room chairs and a couple of lamps.  I dropped another fifty bucks in the store.  For the day I had spent slightly over four hundred dollars.  I didn't know if it was good or bad.  It just was.

 When I got home, I tried the lights.  The overhead light burned brightly.  I also checked the hot water heater, but found no flame.  I had been told the phone would be on by afternoon, so I hooked up the units I had purchased earlier. Nothing.  Oh well, I had one out of three so far.  Since it was pretty close to lunch, I didn't tackle the boards and blocks.  Instead I arranged the dining room chairs around the kitchen table.  I found that the fit was really tight, since one of the chairs was almost inside the oven.  A second one blocked the path from the living room to the refrigerator.  I removed those two chairs.   I simply placed them against a wall.  Empty walls I had plenty of.

 I left a note on the door, just in case the gas man came, then I drove to lunch.  I drove only around the block.  I went into the small restaurant across from the drugstore.  When I entered, I found a very old grease-stained café.  The walls were covered evenly with the grease smoke.  The place was, like everything else around there, dark.  At least it wasn't as bright as a McDonalds, which was about all I had to judge it by.

 "Hello," the waitress said. "Would you like iced tea?"

 "Sure, that would be fine." I said it accepting the menu.  The waitress, a very young woman, left the tea on my table.  She disappeared into the rear while I perused the menu.   I found that the café carried barbecue.  No doubt it was frozen. I didn't really care.  When the waitress returned, I ordered it with french- fried potatoes and coleslaw.

 The barbecue was adequate and the bill not outrageous.  I left a moderate tip before leaving.  I almost made it out the door before I heard "Mister?"  I turned. The waitress was holding my cell phone.  "You forgot your phone," she said.

 "Thank you, I may have to wear that thing on a chain around my neck." I said it with a smile.   She smiled back for the first time.  I realized that I had been too preoccupied to speak to her.  The eye patch made me look sinister, whenever I didn't soften it with a little charm.  

"I'll be seeing you again," I said as I turned once more for the door.  I made it out that time and even to my truck.

 "Mason," the voice said.  "My god, I thought that was you.  What the hell are you doing here?"

 "Edward, good to see you again," I said.  Edward had once been a sort of friend.  After I left the department, we lost touch with each other.  Mostly because I was in a deep depression, and he never came to see me.  None of them had.  Nobody wanted to be reminded how dangerous the job was.  

"What the hell are you doing here?"  I turned his words back on him.

 "Hell Mason, I work here," he said.

 "You on the Greenpoint PD?" I asked.

 "Hell no, I retired from the Avery PD.  I'm head of security for the teacher’s college.  Now what are you doing here?" he asked.

 "I am moving into an apartment around the corner," I explained.

 "One of Virginia's student slums I presume," he said cheerfully.

 "Actually, that's right.  How did you know?" I asked.

 "Hell, she and her husband own about all those old houses.  She really is a nice lady though," He quickly added.  "Unless it is something really nasty, she calls me before the city police.  Kind of gives me a chance to clean up after the rich kids."

 "I have only met one of my neighbors, but he doesn't seem to be the college student type,” I replied.

 "Are you living in that red house?" Edward asked.

 "Yeah, you know anything about my neighbors?"

 "Shit Mason, you moved into a rat’s nest there."  Edward thought about it a minute.  "That isn't fair.  They aren't bad, just strange."

 "Strange how?" I asked.

 "Damn place is full of weirdos.  One is a musician couple and if that weren't bad enough, there is some kind of computer nut beside him," Edward said.

 "You cant mean all of them are weirdos?" I asked. "There are four apartments, Ed."

 "Oh no, just the two permanent ones.  The guy who plays the sax has a wife who plays the flute.  I think she is on the road a lot.  Some kind of symphony shit.  The guy beside him is the computer nut.  You are going to be hearing Star War noises all night.  The other two apartments change hands pretty often.  You are in one of those, I presume.  I have had kids there before.  Once, I had to go talk to a woman who wanted to file a rape charge.  It was really a larceny of love kind of thing.  She said yes, then felt guilty about it."

 "I remember those.  One of the many reasons I don't miss the job," I replied.

 "Sure you do, we all do," Edward said.  "Come on inside. I'll even spring for lunch."

 "No thanks, I just ate.  Besides I have to get back.  I got the gas man on the way."

 "Okay, but call me at the school. We'll have lunch or something."

 "Sure," I said, dismissing him.  The bastard never called once after I left the job.  I didn't want to spend time with him.  I would sure as hell would remind him of it, if I did.

 I drove home wondering who the musician was. I was equally curious about the computer nerd.  It should, at least, be interesting in the house.

 I read the instructions for assembling the plastic blocks, then gave it a try.  I was still on the first row when I heard the plaintive wail of a saxophone.  After I had finished tieing the first row of the first bookcase blocks together, I went to the kitchen.  I opened the door and walked onto the deck.  It became obvious who the musician was.  The apartment on the ground floor under, my neighbor belched out sounds fit only for a wounded animal.  "Damn. Jazz," I said to myself with great disgust

 I worked to the sound of his wailing for another hour.  I was rescued temporarily by the gas company.  The service man came in to light my pilot lights.  I almost offered him a cup of coffee, before I remembered that I hadn't bought a coffee pot yet.  His visit was too short.  Once he had gone, I was alone again with the saxophone sounds.

 The first bookcase was really an entertainment center.  I had nothing to entertain myself with, but I was about to have a place to put it.    The center was way over built but I really didn't want the whole thing to fall apart.  Not after all the trouble I had gone through to build it.  The damned thing actually looked pretty good.  I mean, since the boards were covered in a white vinyl material, it looked really quite good.  The caulk, which held the blocks together, needed another couple of hours to set before I could put anything on the shelves.##

 Next I began working on a desk.  It was more pastic blocks and a couple of shelf boards on top.  Even with the desk completed there were still plastic blocks and boards everywhere.  I was getting hungry again so I decided to take a break.  I realized again what a poor planner I was.  If I had bothered to buy food, I couldn't have cooked it.  If I had been able to cook it, I would have had nothing to eat it from, or with.  I had been concentrating on filling space.  I should have been paying more attention to the smaller details.  I left the apartment mumbling to myself that I had to be the dumbest shit in the world.  When I pulled up to the restaurant, I found it closed.  It seemed, from the sign in the window, they closed after lunch during the summer months.  The small mom and pop grocery was open.  It was also ridiculously expensive.

 In spite of the prices, I bought a frozen pizza, a bag of chips and three large cold cokes. When I arrive home, I put the pizza in the oven and the cokes in the refrig.  Twenty  minutes later, I tried the pizza.  I would have had a better meal had I eaten the box and tossed the pizza.

 Under the overhead light, I went to work on the end tables.  When they were complete, I risked putting the lamps on top of the home made tables.  Of course, I had forgotten to buy bulbs for the lamps.  "God," I thought, "I am so stupid."

 “To hell with it," I decided.  “I have to go shopping again.  I am going to have to have coffee tomorrow morning.”  

I found myself in the K-Mart store again.  I bought a Mr. Coffee clone, first thing.  It seemed to be the most important item on my list.  I found a cheap set of dishes, and an even cheaper set of glasses.  Enamel pots and pans joined the mounting pile of boxes in my basket. Stainless knives, forks and kitchen tools ended my trip to the store.  I dropped another sixty-five bucks on the way out the door.  Someone had the foresight to open a grocery store beside the K-mart.  I think it must have been just for me.

 I wandered the aisles not really having the slightest idea what I should be buying.  I had a buggy full but no idea what was in it.  I had a hell of a lot of frozen dinners, that I did know.

 When I arrived home, it took a half dozen trips up the half-lit stairs before I finished emptying the truck.  I noted with some satisfaction that the Dodge had been moved from the drive. At least, maybe I wouldn't have to listen to the saxophone all night.  As a matter of fact, I hadn't heard it before I left the second time.  Maybe George left the house early.  The street in front of the house was filled with cars.  Everyone had returned home from work it seemed.

 By eight, I had everything plugged in or put away.  I finally had time to try the sofa.  It was only moderately comfortable.  I moved from the middle to one of the ends.  I was more than a little surprised when the sofa didn't tilt under my weight.  It seemed that by accident I had placed the end table legs close enough to the sofa to help strengthen it.  I was tired but not yet ready for bed.  I wanted to watch TV, but of course I didn't own one.  I would have settled for a radio, but unfortunately I didn't have one of those either.

 Instead I flipped through the newspaper.  " Might as well learn a little about the current events of my new hometown,” I thought.  I didn't get far.  I noted, on the inside of the first page, one of the local electronics stores was havas hard, but I dragged my aching ass off the sofa.  I wanted a TV or radio, and I wanted it right that moment.  I agacould hear the distinct sound of a computer war game running at full blast.  Well, I know who the computer nut is now having a new one, but not the shopping for it.  I had hated to part with the money that I had spent earlier that day.  The money I spent on a computer would make me cry.  I just knew it.

 I found O'Malley's Electronics Warehouse using the city map.  The place was a dump.  I wasn't accosted by a salesman when I entered, which surprised me very much.  I picked up a brochure from the counter and found out why.  Not only did O'Malley’s operate this small retail showroom, it alsobly a whiz kid but still a kid.

 "Son," I asked.  "Where are the TVs."

 "Aisle thirteen in the warehouse," he replied, leaving me alone to find it for myself.  

"You ought to take a buggy if you plan to buy anything.  There is nobody to help you carry it," he tossed over his shoulder.

The prices should be low. There was no customer service at all.  I pushed the buggy, with a noisy wheel, to aisle thirteen.  There were TVs stacked to the ceiling.  I was going to have to buy one from a lower shelf, or send for a forklift.  I did note a red phone with instructions to call for help, if you wanted something from a top shelf.  I found a reconditioned nineteen-inch RCA TV with remote.  I was even able to get it into the buggy myself.  I wondered why I had never heard of the place before.  It seemed like a hell of an idea to me.  On my way out, I saw a sign on aisle ten.  It simply said “stereos”.  I amving bualongside my new TV.

 On aisle one I saw a sign, “Computer close out”.  I really hadn't planned to buy a computer but I decided to look anyway.  I walked down the aisle until I came to a sign sticking out.  “Reconditioned IBM Think Pad”, it read.   I had been wanthe buggy as well.

 It felt like it was my birthday.  I almost made it out the door without making any further purchases.  I didn't quite make it.  I found a Cannon Ink Jet printer refurbished.  It was a hundred bucks cheaper than the one I had lost at home so I bought it.

 Even with tax, I spent less than fifteen hundred dollars.  I hoped my bank account had finished hemorrhaging, for a while at least.  It was after ten when I got all the boxes into the house. I wasn't sleepy but I was tired as hell.  I collapsed on the sofa while I contemplated opening the boxes.  I started with the radio, since it was the smallest.  I was surprised to find that it was a clock radio.  I hadn't even noticed the words on the box.  It was a pleasant surprise.  An alarm clock hadn't even crossed my mind.  It sure as hell couldn't hurt.

 After the radio I unpacked the TV.  I was pretty well shocked to find that I had cable.  Not only that, but all the movie channels as well.  I guessed the last renter hadn't bothered to have it shut off.  I didn't care.  I had it, and I was going to keep it until someone came by to turn it off.

The movie was new, but pretty bad.  I let it run while I worked at setting up the computer. I read the instructions only as far as how to load the pre-installed software.  When I inserted the CD into the machine, along with a floppy disk, I turned on the system.  It asked me a couple of questions then began to load itself.  I sat back to watch TV while it loaded.  I wasn't surprised that it took thirty minutes.

 I looked around the apartment while I waited for something to happen, either in the movie or with the computer.  I was surprised to find that the place actually looked pretty good.  I had been at it since seven in the morning, but had accomplished more than I would have imagined possible.  The place actually looked finished.  I knew that it wasn't.

 It was after midnight when the computer finally stopped hissing at me.  I removed the CD and the floppy.  I was careful to place them both on a shelf where they would be safe.  I was pretty sure from past experience that I would need them.  Not that night, but someday soon, when I began to eliminate all the junk programs and the games.  The hard drive would fill up quickly with graphic programs.

 I shut down the computer while I finished the really awful movie on HBO.  I slept that night on the floor of my new apartment.  I was surprised how comfortable the high-density foam really was.  

I showered and dressed the next morning fairly early.  I still had a ton of shopping to do.  I needed to replace the computer hardware and software that I had lost in the fire.  Plus I had to look into cameras.  Like it or not, I still had two weddings to shoot.  After a breakfast of bacon and scrambled eggs, I washed dishes then left the house.  I knew the camera stores in Avery, so I drove there.

 My first stop was Avery Camera Corner.  It was the oldest camera store in town.  It also had the best selection of used cameras.  I had no idea of the price of new or used thirty-five millimeter cameras.

 "So what have you got used?" I asked James the owner.

 "Not much. People aren't trading in much these days.  Come on and take a look," he suggested.  He led me to a glass topped counter filled with thirty-five millimeter camera bodies.   After dilligently appraising each of them I gave up.

“I don't see anything in here that I like.  Let me try to explain my problem."  I gave him a ten minute summery of my thinking on cameras.

 "God, there are damned few older cameras like you describe.  None of them are going to be easy to find."  He racked his brain for a few moments, then said, "Tell you what I have got," he said, waiting for me to ask.

 After a few seconds I bit.  "Okay James, what have you got?" I asked.

 "I got some cameras from Russia.  Before you say anything, let me tell you that they are rip-offs of German cameras. ## Probably used the same manufacturing equipment that the Germans used before World War Two.  Clunkers to be sure, but with damn good optics."

 "So let's see them," I said.

  "Two of these are copies of cameras you didn't like, but if you want I can show them to you."

 "Don't bother," I stated flatly.

 "Okay, this one is close to what you want," he said, removing the Single Lens Reflex from its box.

 I noticed right away that not only was there no shutter speed button on top, there was no shutter speed adjustment period.  James handed me the camera.

"Damn, this bitch is heavy," I said.

 "Keep your voice down please."

 I understood.  He feared I would run his little old lady customers from the store screaming.  James was a bit behind the times.  Most of the little old ladies could cuss rings around us both.  I took a look at the lens of the camera.  On the inside of the lens housing was a ring of photoelectric cells.  

 "This one sets its own shutter speeds.  You move that ring in the front to tell the meter what film you are using. It adjusts the shutter for the light.  Not real sophisticated, but it is about what you are looking for.  The shutter is leaf so it will sink no matter what the speed."

 "How sharp is it, James?" I asked.

 "Actually it is a lot sharper than most of the new cameras.  It has a split image range finder that is pretty accurate.  I checked it myself.  I didn't shoot it, but if the other Russian cameras are any indication, it is at least as sharp as a Pentex."

 "The lens is a fixed fifty-millimeter.  I need something wider."

 "Let me show you something neat," James said.  He removed a small box from yet another shelf.  From the box he removed a converter.  

“This should take care of your wide angle problems.  I also have a doubler similar to the wide angle attachment."

 "So how much is this toy," I asked.

 "Since you are the only one in town who would buy such an orphan,  how about a hundred and fifty with both auxiliary lenses."

 "In that case give me two of them," I said.

 "I hope you are joking," James replied.

 "Not at all. You know I carry a spare," I said.

 "In that case, I have to tell you, I only have one of them.  I can't even get you another one."

  "Well, I'll take this one."

 "I do have one other camera you might be interested in as a spare."  James said it opening a smaller box.  

"I know you guys all like big cameras, but his one would make you a damned nice spare.  It is from Russia, just like the last one," he said handing me the camera no bigger than a pack of king-sized cigarettes.  "It is a rip-off of the famous Minox folding thirty-five."

 James showed me how to open the lens.  The lens folded out of the camera with a little bellows attached.  I examined the camera.  It, like the camera I had agreed to buy, was auto shutter.  It felt like a real toy.

"Is it any good?" I asked, not really believing it could be.

 "They tell me it is as sharp as a tack.  Take it out and try it.  If it isn't bring it back,” he suggested.

 This thing doesn't have a range finder,” I noted.

 "That is why I won't be able to sell it to anyone else.  Here, let me show you something."

James led me to a hanging display on his wall.  He removed a blister pack containing a sonar range finder.  

"This is the same one used on Polaroid cameras.  It is good up to thirty feet.  Any more than that you can just guess."

 "So what is all this going to cost me?" I asked.

 "Buy the camera at one twenty and I will throw in the range finder,” he said.

 Now we are talking two seventy five for both?" I asked.

 "Sounds about right to me," James agreed.

 "Okay James, but I am going to test them really well before I agree to keep them,” I warned.

 "Wouldn't have it any other way, Mr. Mason."

 My last stop was a metal building called “Drag Strip Hollow”.  Inside even one large, a couple of feet long in most cases.

 I turned right to reach the registration desk.  I saw my old friend bent over a calculator.

"Trying to figure how to spend your millions?" I asked.

 "Mason, what the hell happened to you?  I heard your wife threw you out and burned your studio," the fat man said.

 "Monty, don't believe all you hear.  She left me first, then burned the studio,” I responded.

 "I hear she ran your ass out of town," he said laughing.

 "How the hell did you know that?  It only happened yesterday,” I said.

 "Actually I believe it was Wednesday," he corrected me.

 Monty never left his building, but he knew more dirt than anyone I ever met.  During my days as a detective with the Avery PD, he steered me in the right direction on more cases than I cared to admit.

"If you say so Monty, it must be so," I said with a smile.

 "You got anything for me today?" I asked.

 "I do indeed, there is a horse at Garden State in the fifth," he began.

 "Come on, you know what I mean,” I said.

Monty lifted a plastic bag onto the counter.

 "Hope you can use this shit.  I'm sorry I ever started saving these things for you.  They just take up space."

 "I know Monty, you only do it because you know I can't afford to buy them myself."

“Bull. The way I hear it you got forty grand.  Too bad you didn't know about Sandy's nest egg.  You could have gotten a lot more."

 "Monty, do me a favor. Don't tell me about it.  I would hate to cry all over the place.  It would be embarrassing."  I said it only half joking.

 "Why don't you take one of the house cars out?  You could probably use the relaxation,” he said.##342

 I looked down to the pit where grown men scowled and threatened each other with bodily harm.

"I think suicide would be more relaxing.  Besides, I got a truck full of cameras.  I need to get home.  Thanks for the power."  I said it as I turned to leave.  I placed a ten dollar bill on the end of the counter farthest from Monty.  The prick could get off his fat ass and walk for the ten.

 Inside the bag were ten or twelve Nicad battery packs.  The kind used in remote racers to power their engines.  Out of the ten packs I should be able to get five or six packs remanufactured.  I usually gave half of them back to Monty, but that day I paid him for them instead. I wanted to keep all of the packs myself.   If I hadn't had the fire, it might have been six more before I found a need for more energy. 

 I arrived home about three.  I carried all the bags up the stairs in one trip.  I had to park half a block away.  Parking space was tight in the neighborhood.

 I couldn't believe I had a phone message.  I hadn't had the phone quite twenty-four hours.  I played the message.

"Mason, this is Edward at the college. Give me a call at 888-4232.  It is important."  

 "Now what the hell could that be about,” I asked myself.  I sure as hell hoped it wasn't about lunch.  I was starved, but I would rather not eat at all than share a meal with Edward.

 I called the number anyway.  "Campus security," a young woman answered.

 "This is Mason. Is Edward there?" I asked.

 "You mean Chief Martin?" she asked.

 "That would be the man," I confirmed.

 "Hold on please."

 A moment later the voice I recognized as Edward came on the line.

"Mason, I'm glad you called.  I need a favor.  I would do it myself, but I'm kind of busy," he explained.

 "What kind of favor Edward?" I asked.

 "One of our summer school students got herself raped.  This one is for real.  Would you talk to her for me?" he asked.

 "Why isn't the city police handling it?" I asked.

 "She absolutely refuses to talk to the cops.  I hoped you could convince her to talk to them.  I would, but I got things to do."

 Edward had spent his whole career as a patrolman.  As a matter of fact, he had been my training Officer.  Avery wasn't such a big department that we didn't see a lot of each other, even after I became a detective.  He and I both knew he wasn't prepared to deal with a serious situation.  He knew it, and also knew I was handy.  "Damn, why did I run into him at lunch yesterday."  I asked it of myself and probably God.

 "Okay Ed, I’ll be up there in a few minutes.  Tell me exactly how I get to the security office," I demanded.

 "Don't come here. I will have one of the Officers pick you up.  The student is staying at one of the dorms.  The Officer will take you over there," he said.  "And thanks Mason, I owe you one.  Just get her to go to the city cops."

 I could do no more than unpack the cameras before the knock at my door.  I opened it to a woman twenty-five or so.  She had bottle blonde hair tucked under her cap.  She was also thin but with cop hips.  Cops probably don't have large hips, but the uniforms always make women look as though they did.  The woman had eyes somewhere between yellow and green.  She was overall very attractive.  That is if you could get past the rather nasty looking automatic on her hip.

 "You Mason?" she asked.

 "I am indeed. And you are?" I asked.

 "Officer Pamela Thompson, Sir," she said almost at attention.  

 "Well Pam, I am not a cop so let’s try to act a little less formal.  So where are we off to?” I asked it as I carefully locked my door.

"Bonner Hall, Sir," she said.

 "Skip the “Sir”.  You got any idea what happened?" I asked.##

 "Not really, I just overheard the calls coming into the station.  The subject, a Miss Sophia Evans, called the office.  She claims to have been raped last night."

 "When did she call?"

 "Around two," the petite Officer said.

 "Did she give any details?"

 "I think so, but I couldn't hear her side of the conversation.  Whatever she told Chief Martin convinced him this one was for real."

 "How many, not for real ones, do you get?" I asked.

 "Two or three a year."

 Pam had been driving while she dished the dirt.  I was surprised at the size of the teacher's college.  There seemed to be a dozen large buildings.  I didn't even know a school that size existed in the small town.  The two-story brick building where Pam stopped looked pretty new.  

"How many rooms are in this dorm?" I asked.

 "About a hundred rooms, two hundred students more or less during the regular year. Maybe twenty during the summer school."  

We reached the lobby by the time she finished her explanation.  

"I'll call up and have her come down," Pam suggested.

 "We really should go to her.  It would make us seem less threatening," I suggested.

 "That is against the Chief's rules.  He says that all interviews must be held in the lobby."  Pam said it seriously.

 "Then call the Chief and tell him you are taking me home.  We either do this my way, or I go back to my apartment to work."

 "Let me make a couple of calls," Pam suggested.  I nodded my agreement.

 While she called, I walked to the rather imposing portrait of an old woman.  The plaque read, “Emily Bonner, graduate class of 1907”.  So Ms. Bonner had been an alumnus.  I wondered to myself how much money you had to give to have a building named after you.  Not that I planned to give any.

 Pam returned after five minutes or so.  "Come with me, Mr. Mason. We are going to the second floor."  

When we reached the second floor, Pam motioned for me to stay back while she shouted, "Man on the floor."  I laughed out loud.

 "Pam honey, I have my clothes on.  I have seen women in their underwear before," I laughed.

 Pam led the way to room 206 on the right side of the hall.  She knocked harshly.  

"Miss Evans, Officer Thompson from campus security.  I have Mr. Mason here with me.  We need to talk to you please."

 "Go away. I don't want to speak with anyone,” the small voice came through the door.

 "Miss Evans, I'm Mason.  I'm afraid we can't go away, at least not until I have seen you.  The insurance company would cancel our policy if you are hurt and we don't help you.  I just need to see that you are all right," I said.

 A moment later I heard the bolts fly inside the room.  It is amazing to me that people care more about an insurance company than a cop.  The door swung open a few inches.  

"I'm not going to talk to anyone," she said again.

 "I understand, Ma'am, but I need to get a statement for the files I'm afraid.  It's really just a formality.  I know this is hard, that's why I brought Officer Thompson."  I said it in as reasonable a voice as I could muster.  It was hard looking into her battered face.  I wanted to demand that she tell me exactly what had happened.  At the very least, I intended to get her to a doctor just as soon as she would allow it.

 She opened the door, then stepped back.  "Why can't you just leave me alone?" she asked.

 "Miss Evans, we can't do that.  You must know that you need help and the sooner the better."

 "I'm fine, I really am," she said.

 "Miss Evans, unless you know your attacker, you need to get to a hospital. They can give you a heavy dose of antibiotics.  If they do, there is a good chance you won’t get anything your attacker might have been infected with.  If you don't go or you wait too long, there are all kinds of nasty things you could wind up with.  They sure you don't get pregnant.  I doubt seriously that you want to have some asshole's bastard kid."

 I don't know what or if anything I said sank in, but she became more docile.  

"Now get dressed.  I will wait in the hall.  Officer Thompson will help you."

 It took about ten minutes for the Evans girl to get dressed.  She held onto my arm as we walked from the building.  She broke into tears as we drove to the emergency room.  I let her lean against me in the rear seat while she cried.  She cried great sobs almost choking on them.  She had somehow become attached to me.  She didn't want to go into the examining room without me.

The nurse let me stay with her until the doctor arrived.  During the wait, I explained that she really needed to tell her story to the police.  I knew it would be tough, but I thought she owed it to herself.

I summed up by saying, "Don't let this asshole make you a victim twice.  Talk to the cops and kick his ass."  She nodded.

 I stepped out while the Doc did his medical thing.  

"Thompson," I said, "call the locals, she's ready to cooperate.  I want either you or I to sit in on the interview.  If the cops give us any shit, we stand together, understand?" I said.

 "Yes Sir, there is no love lost between the city cops and us."

 I figured that was Edward Martin's doing.  Most of the time the cops look down on security forces, but they don't go out of their way to antagonize them.  We waited for twenty minutes until the Doc finished.  The local cops hadn't shown by then.

 "Thompson, call the cops again and build a fire under their ass.  That girl needs to be out of here real soon."##

 I pushed through the curtains and found Sophia nearly hysterical.  

"I thought you had left me,” she said through the tears.

 "I'm not going anywhere until you are okay.  The city police are on their way.  I want Officer Thompson to sit in on the interrogation.  I will be right outside,” I assured her.

 "Can't you stay?" she asked.

 "No honey, I have no official standing here.  Thompson will keep them straight."

 A couple of minutes later two uniformed Officers came through the curtains.  Thompson had filled them in.  

"Mr. Mason," the female Officer said. "We will take over from here."

 "You don't mind if Officer Thompson stays, do you?  She is going to need to file a report for the school.  There is no sense in Sophia telling it more than once."

 "That will be fine, just as long as she doesn't interrupt us."

 I nodded.  I also whispered in Thompson's ear.  

"If these two start giving her a rough time, come get me.  Take this."  I turned on my mini tape recorder.  I shoved it inside the pocket over her right breast.  I was bettimg  that Edward had forced them all to cut off the pocket buttons, then sew them onto the outside of the pocket.  It was the way the make the pocket always appeared buttoned.  It of course wasn't.  It was chicken shit, but it was how I remembered Edward.

 Thompson never came for me, so I assumed the interview went professionally.  It took them almost half an hour.  I watched them exit the room.  I recovered my recorder from over Thompson's breast.

"Cheap thrill," I whispered.  I carried the recorder into the cubicle with me.

 "So, you feel better now don't you?" I asked Sophia.

 "I guess," she whispered.  "Mr. Mason, why did this happen to me?"

 "I wish I had an answer for you, Miss Evans.  I suppose it is the same reason some people get cancer.  Unlike cancer this is not terminal.  You are going to need to talk to your parents, or at least a counselor.  Tell Thompson who you want her to call.  She will be more than happy to make a call for you,” I said.

 "I can do it. I want to call my dad.  They said they are going to keep me overnight."  The sedative was taking effect.  Sophia was slurring her words badly.  I sat with her until the orderly came to wheel her to a room.  I followed the bed out into the hallway.

 "Thompson," I said to the waiting security Officer. "You need to make sure that the administration office knows about this.  Then you need to make sure that the girl's parents are notified.  The Chief may not have done it yet."  

I was sure Edward was in his office hoping I could make it all go away.  I had real bad news for him.  This wasn't going to go away.  

"After you do all that take me home.  I have a lot to do."

 Half hour later, I sat at my kitchen table eating a stuffed pie crust.  The stuffing was supposed to be ham and cheese, but it tasted more like bologna and cheese.  At least the salad was healthy.  I didn't know until the night before, that you could buy a pre-made salad in a cellophane bag. ## It had everything except tomatoes.  I never cared enough for tomatoes to actually buy them, so I had it plain.

 The phone rang while I was washing the dishes.  

"Hello," I said when I finally found it under all the boxes.

 "Mason, this is Edward.  I just wanted to thank you for your help.  I spoke to the President and the girl’s father.  The family is driving down tonight.  They should be here sometime this evening.  I just wanted to let you know that your help won't be needed any longer."

 "Good night Edward," I said hanging up the phone.  “Screw you very much,” I said to myself.

I was exhausted by two days of non-stop movement.  I turned on the TV and opened my bed.  I was asleep before nine that night.

 When I awoke the next morning, I didn't know what to do first.  I decided to do nothing.  I made coffee, then sat in a stupor drinking cup after cup of the foul brew.  The frying pan was on the stove when the phone rang.  I turned off the gas. I was terrified of flames since the studio fire.  

"Hello, " I muttered.

 "Mr. Mason, I hope I didn't wake you?" the voice said.

 "No sir,” I answered without even trying to figure out who was on the phone.

 "I got your number from the school.  I hope you don't mind," the voice said.

 "That depends on who you are, Sir," I said.  I remained courteous, since I had no idea who I was speaking with.

 "I'm sorry, Mr. Mason.  My name is John Evans.  I am Sophia's father," the voice said sadly.

 "Mr. Evans, I'm terribly sorry about what happened to your daughter.  She seemed like a hell of a nice girl."

 "She is, Mr. Mason."  He paused.  I waited since it was obvious he had more to say.  "Mr. Mason, have you had breakfast yet?" he asked.

 "No sir, I was about to scramble an egg," I replied honestly.

 "If you would allow me sir, I would like to buy you breakfast."

 "That is mighty nice of you Mr. Evans, but I have a ton of things I need to be doing today.  Besides, I'm sure you would rather be with your daughter."

 "Sophia is out of the hospital.  She is the reason I want to buy you breakfast.  Please Mr. Mason, I really would like to talk to you."

 "Okay, I don't know much about this town, I just moved here.  Do you know a place?" I asked.

 "How about the Downtown Deli, it's on Main Street next to the railroad depot.  Can you find that?" he asked.

 "Sure, I passed it yesterday.  How about in half an hour?" I suggested.

 "That's fine.  I'll see you there."

 I had time for a quick shower but nothing more.  Even with all the rushing around I was late for the meeting.  When I arrived, I tried to spot Sophia, but couldn't see anyone who looked familiar.  I was looking into the dining room when a waiter approached me.

"Mr. Mason?" he asked. I nodded.  

 "Please, follow me sir"  

I followed him to a table in a private dining room.  A man in his forties was the only person in the room.

 "Mr. Evans, I presume," I said.

 "You must be Mr. Mason.  I don't imagine there are too many men with pirate patches."  He noticed my discomfort at the remark.  "I'm sorry sir.  That's how my daughter described you to me."

 I changed the subject.  "How is Sophia?"

 "Shaky, but determined to work this out.  She wants to stay in school.  As a matter of fact, she wants to go to class tomorrow."  He didn't seem to think much of the idea.

"Frankly Mr. Mason, I am a man of the cloth.  Her words were not her own.  Sophia doesn't talk like that."

 "Really, what did she say?"  I asked it fearing the worst.

 "Please understand these are her words not mine."  I nodded that I understood.  "She said “I am not going to let that asshole make a victim of me”.”

 "You should be proud of her.  The kid's got guts,” I said.##

 "Yes well, that is all well and good, but I don't want her hurt again,” he said.

 "I can certainly understand that.  I'm sure the campus police will give her extra security. At least until the man is caught,” I said.

 "Actually, I wanted to talk to you about that.  Edward Martin tells me you were a policeman in Avery."

 "Not really sir. Chief Martin was a policeman.  I was a cop,” I said.

 "There is a difference?"  Evans asked.

 "Maybe," I said 

 "I don't understand, but then I didn't expect to understand.  I have spoken to the President. She is in agreement with me.  We would like for you to take over the school's security force."

 "What in the name of God brought this up?" I asked.

 "Chief Martin should have been the one to talk to my daughter.  Instead he called an outsider.  We think he may be the wrong man for Chief."

 "I don't know about that.  The campus police aren't supposed to investigate crimes outside the campus," I said.

 "Actually that isn't quite true.  I checked this morning with my attorney.  If a crime originates on the campus, the state authorizes the campus police to follow where ever the evidence takes them.  They have statewide jurisdiction as long as the crime was committed on a state campus."

 "You mean to tell me this is a state school?  I thought it was a private school."

 "It was for years.  It was also all female.  The state took it over a few years ago.  It is part of the state university system.  The point is that the Chief shirked his responsibility."

 "I think you are wrong about that.  When he called me in, he probably didn't know the crime happened on his campus.  The city police would have the best facilities anyway.  I am talking crime lab and more ears on the street.  My only part in this was to talk your daughter into doing what she needed to do."

 "You handled it admirably, but we need for you to take over the security force at the college."

 "I'm sorry, I am not interested.  I have a million things to do to get my business back up and running.  I really am not interested in being a cop again."

 "The President and I discussed this possibility.  She felt you might have some sort of loyalty to Martin.  You know brothers of the badge and all that.  Let me assure you that Martin is gone no matter what your decision."

 "Mr. Evans, you seem to throw an awful lot of weight around.  Are you on the board of trustees or something?" I asked.

 "No, but I can bring a tremendous amount of pressure to bear on all of these bureaucrats.  Mr. Mason, my daughter has been brutally raped.  I really don't care about the campus politics.  I do care about my daughter.  I want the man who did this locked up.  Actually I want him killed, but that is too much to ask of any man."

 "Mr. Evans, I don't know how you feel, but I can imagine.  How would you feel if you tossed Martin out and I couldn't find your man?  I mean, you would have swapped a good chief for a man who couldn't deliver the goods."

 He ignored my comment.

"This is my fall back position.  Come on board as an unpaid consultant and the Chief keeps his job.  I will personally guarantee you fifty thousand dollars if this man is brought to justice.   No matter who does it."

 "Mr. Evans, you would be wasting your money.  The local cops have a much better chance of catching this guy than me.  Save your money, just give them a few days,” I suggested.

 "I don't want to save my money and I don't want to give the police a few days.  I don't think they will have as high a priority, as you would.  You know my daughter and you helped her.  Help her again."  His voice cracked.

 "How about this. I will check with the police.  If they seem to be going somewhere with their investigation, I will stay out of it.  If they are bogged down or just don't have it on the front burner, I will step in for you," I suggested.

 "I want you to head up an independent investigation, using the campus police.  That is the only thing that will do," he said.

 I thought about it hard.  There was little chance I could do anything.  If I made a good faith effort to solve this thing, at least it would keep him off everyone's back until the locals solved it.  If I took his money, I intended to earn it.  

"Okay, but when I work at my profession, I charge three hundred a day.  That is all that I will take from you. ## I have a couple of commitments that might get in the way.  I want you to know I keep my word to everyone.  I promised these people I would do something for them and I fully intend to do it."

 "That is not a problem.  I don't think an afternoon wedding two months from now will get in the way of your investigation."  

I watched as Evans removed his checkbook.  He scribbled in it, then handed me a check.  The amount was twenty-one hundred dollars.  This is for the first week.  Another will follow every week until the man is caught."

 "If he isn't?" I asked.

 "Then God will have spoken.  I personally believe God will not let this asshole escape justice,” he said with a smile.  "By the way, if he should happen to die while you are arresting him, there is a bonus in it for you."

 "That kind of talk will get us both in trouble.  No deal on the last part,” I said.

 At first I thought he was talking to me, then I realized he was talking to himself or to God.

"Sophia is my only daughter, I will do anything to keep her safe, anything to make her feel safe.  She won't feel safe till the man who raped her is off the streets," he said.  Then he looked up at me and said, "We have to get this asshole."

 "Evans, everybody is going to try.  There are no guarantees in this kind of business.  I wish to hell there were."

 The food came.  Evans picked over his.  I was hungry so I ate mine, but I forced myself to eat slowly.  Too many years as a cop had forced the habit of eating too fast on me.  I didn't want Evans to think I hadn't eaten in days.

 "Mason, what are your plans for the day?" Evans asked.

 "Mr. Evans, it’s Sunday.  Aboe local cops aren't going to help me until they can be sure I have some kind of authority.  Even then the help will be just minimal."

 "Oh, why is that?" Evans snapped.

 "It's a turf thing.  You can raise all the hell you want. The detective working this case is going to have a lot of information in his head.  You can't force that out of him,” I said.

 "What can they do that you can't?" Evans asked.

 "They have a damned sight more manpower, they have the files of other cases like this one.  They also have the resources to make a deeper background check on all the people around your daughter.  Make no mistake, the city boys should be the ones to catch your daughter’s attacker.  You are more than likely wasting your money."

I tried one more time to convince him to change his mind.  I had a small fight with myself, since I had a good-sized chunk of change in the check from Evans.

 "No, I will feel better knowing someone is working this with my daughter's interest in mind.  Don't worry, tomorrow you will have all the weight you need to force the city police to cooperate."

 "Tell me something, Mr. Evans. Why is your daughter going to this school?  I mean the way you handle yourself, I would imagine that Sophia could have gone to a better school."

 "Believe me, I am asking myself that at this very moment.  Sophia's mother went to this school.  It was a long time ago, but she remembered it as a happy time in her life.  She felt that this school would be better for Sophia than a larger one.  Less likely that Sophia could get hurt here."

 "I'm sorry she wasn't right," I said.

 "Me too. I have a few fences to mend with my wife.  I'm afraid I blamed her a little for this mess.  I don't know, Mr. Mason. I think maybe this will be the end of my family."

 "I sure hope not, Mr. Evans.  You seem like a decent sort of man.  God knows Sophia is a gutsy lady.  She could use the support of you both right now.  She doesn't need to know that this will make a difference in your lives.  Right about now she is blaming herself for the rape. She doesn't need to blame herself for a broken marriage."  I said it not knowing exactly what I was saying.

 "You are right, of course. Whatever problems Gina and I have will have to wait," he said.

 "Your wife must be Italian," I asked.

 "She is.  She is from New Jersey originally.  We met in graduate school.   It was love at first sight.  With a good deal of lust, I might add."  He actually smiled.  He might have told the story a hundred times, but it still made him smile.  That was a good sign, I thought.

 "To tell you the truth, Mr. Evans, I have a lot of things to try and wrap up before tomorrow.  If you don't mind, I think I will get moving,” I said.

 "Not at all. And don't worry, this is all going to work out."  I couldn't believe the man was trying to reassure me.  It must have been for his own benefit.##

 The food had been no more than okay I thought as I walked from the restaurant.  It was certainly not good enough for me to pay those ridiculous prices. I headed to my beat up old truck.

 "Mr. Mason, is that your truck?" Evans called from beside a new Cadillac.

 "Sure is," I said.

 "That won't do at all.  You need a much better vehicle than that,” he said.  I was about to tell him to go to hell.  

"The city police will not be impressed by that.  I will arrange to have a state car assigned to you,” he said.

 "Don't worry. I plan to have a uniformed Officer assigned to me, at least until my credentials arrive.  I'm sure the Officer will have a car."

 "You can bet on it," Evans said as he climbed into the Caddy.

 I drove down the almost deserted Main Street toward the shopping area north of town.  I pulled into the building supply warehouse parking lot.  It took me longer to find what I wanted than it did to have breakfast.  I had gone in for two specific items.  The first was easy. The clerk pointed me to the electrical tape without a problem.  The problem came in someone showing me where a small hot glue gun might be hiding.  It took three clerks and a computer to find the gun.

 From the building supply store, I drove to a local the Radio Shack.  There I bought two universal DC rectifiers, commonly called adapters, and a small inexpensive volt/ohm meter.  My friend didn't work in Greenpoint, so I had to go through the fill in the blank bit with the computer.  Computers, you either loved them or hate them Or both.  I loved my computer but hated everyone else's.

 At home I listened to Sophia's interview.  There wasn't much in it, unless you wanted details of the rape itself.  Those kinds of details are good mostly for a court case.  I was looking for things the cops hadn't asked.  Of course, the detectives would be asking the right questions later.  They might have already asked them.

 I made a careful list of things to do.  I tried to keep it a realistic list.  I had a wish list, but not the resources to handle all the things I wanted.  I would have to hope the cops were at least a little cooperative.

I switched my mind to a more productive endeavor.  I began to test the used racer batteries.  I found that all of them were not completely dead but I gave them all a good charge with the adapters from the RAdio Shack anyway  While the batteries charged, I found an old John Wayne movie on TV. I mean a really old one.

 I watched John in the old western, one where all the good guys wore white hats and clean shirts.  No matter how long they had been on the dusty trail, the shirts were always clean.  God, to live in a world like that.   I would never have to do laundry.  Something I hated but which came around ready or not.

 After the movie, I checked the battery packs. I gave the questionable batteries a quick flush then set them to charge again.  Once I found the defective cells I replaced them with good cells from other packs.

While the packs charged for four hours, I drove to the laundromat.  I washed and dried my dirty clothes while thinking about Sophia.  There was going to be a lot of pressure to solve this one.  I also couldn't help but wonder exactly who the hell her father was.  I figured I would find out the next day.  Someone would be more than willing to tell me.  The time in a laundry always passes slowly.   Everyone is afraid to speak to strangers, so the time just kind of hangs in the air like the humidity.

 I still had plenty to do with the cameras and computer, so I hated the time I had to spend performing domestic chores.  I finally got home around three.  I fixed myself lunch while I waited from the batteries to charge.  I wanted to shoot the samples with my two new cameras but didn't have a good subject.  It is hard to tell sharpness without a real person.  An old adage in photography is, you can tell sharpness only in the eyes.  That is the truth.## I have looked at dozens of test targets, but could tell little from them.  You give me a pretty girl, and I can tell you if the camera is sharp.

 I promised myself that after I tested the battery packs, I would go out to find something to shoot.  That is, if I could get a pack to work on the strobe.  Wiring the strobe to accept the outside battery source was simple and took only a few minutes

 Half and hour later I walked the two blocks to the little shopping area.  I made pictures of people leaving the store with both my cameras.  I even got the clerk to pose for a tight headshot.  She even agreed to a second shot with the smaller camera.  On the way home I made pictures of automobile license plates.  Another good way to check the sharpness of a camera.  When I arrived home, I checked to make sure the strobe was in sync on both cameras before I removed the film.  I put the film aside, hoping I would remember to have it processed the next day.

 Dinner time came and went without me participating in it.  I finally fixed myself a sandwich around seven.  I think I probably enjoyed the iced tea and the break more than the sandwich.  After my dry sandwich I put the battery packs away, only half finished.  It was something I hated to do, start a project then stop before it was finished.  In that case it was necessary. I had too many other things going.

 I fired up the computer, then loaded and unloaded software for an hour.  I checked out the scanner and the camera both from O' Malleys on a second trip that morning.   Both seemed to be functioning correctly. The camera's resolution was barely acceptable, but then again, what did I expect for two hundred bucks.  The scanner was much better.  It was sharp and had a good range of resolutions.  It, along with a Polaroid camera, should allow me to do what I had planned.  Damn, I had forgotten to buy a Polaroid.  Life was too complicated for me at that moment.  If I had a different personality, I would just go into overload and shut down.  Instead, I turned on the TV.

 I spent an hour watching what Hollywood was calling a big picture.  I think that means they spent a couple of million bucks on explosions. Interesting, but nothing to do with the real world.  

The knock on my door surprised me.  I sure as hell hadn't invited anyone. I opened the door to find Virginia standing in the hall.

"Hi, I came by to see if you got moved in all right," she said.  "I can see that you did.  Would you mind if I came in for a minute?"

 "Not at all," I said, moving away from the door.  "Would you like a glass of day old iced tea or a cup of day old coffee?" I asked.

 "Actually, I would prefer a ten year old scotch," she said.

 "I'm sorry, I have nothing in the house to drink.  I personally don't drink."

 "Then how about a Coke," she suggested.

 "I'm pretty sure I have one of those,” I said, turning to the kitchen.

 "I like what you have done with the place.  Kind of early American clutter," she said.

 When I returned from the kitchen with the coke, I said,  "Actually, the boxes were optional.  I figured what the heck, I could afford the whole look."

 Virginia smiled. "Do you really know how to use all that computer stuff?"

 "Most of it," I replied.

 "You should meet Jimmy downstairs.  I hear his computer going day and night," Virginia said.

 "How come you hear it day and night?" I asked.

 "Because, I am your sometimes upstairs neighbor."

 "Should I ask what that means?"

 "Probably not.  Don't worry, I am only up here a couple of times a month.  I only mention it so that, in the unlikely event you ever meet my husband, you won't mention seeing me here after hours, so to speak."

 "I see. Getting your pinch and tickle somewhere else?" I asked.

 "Something like that.  Just forget you ever saw me or anyone else coming out of that apartment."

 "I honestly do have a rotten memory.  Does anyone live in the apartment when you aren't using it?"

 "Sometimes I let a friend use the place.  Just don't be surprised at who comes and goes from there."

 "Not a problem for me.  I plan to keep my nose clean and my mouth shut," I said.

 "Good," she said as she stood to walk about the apartment.  She touched things here and there.

"You know, I really do like the bookcase and desk.  When you get all the boxes out of here it will look pretty nice.  You do need some things on the wall and a rug.  Otherwise it is remarkable that you did all this in only a couple of days,” she said.

 "Even more so, if you know I had to buy almost everything in the place.  I didn't even have a TV when I rented the apartment."

 "Bad lawyer?" she asked.

 "The worst. I represented myself," I laughed.

 "I should have had your ex for a tenant.  I could have put her in a fine house in Idlewood."

 I assumed that Idlewood was a rich section of town.  

"You got that right,” I agreed.

 "So you are a photographer?" she asked.

 "That's what I tell people, but you might get an argument from the real photographers,” I laughed again.

 "I would let you make a nude picture of me for your wall, except my husband sometimes comes with the maintenance men.  You never can tell when you will need a repair."

 "I hope we are talking about the apartment.  I would rather that you did any other repairs or adjustments I need," I commented.

 "Who knows? When the current well dries up, I might call you."  She said it as we heard a knock on the apartment door.  I opened it to find a man about my age standing in the hall.  He was tall, dark and handsome.  Me, I'm just tall and dark.

 "I'm coming, Sean," Virginia said as she passed me. "Mum is the word."

 "What word? I can't hear you, because you aren't here."  I said it as she moved gracefully out the door.  Takes all kinds, I thought as I closed and locked the door.

 I tossed and turned all night long.  I know I must have slept some, but I couldn't for the life of me tell it the next morning.  I can remember sitting at my kitchen table with a coffee cup in my hand one minute, then finding it on the floor the next.  Fortunately it was almost empty.

I stalled around the kitchen until nine a.m.  I left the house and drove to the teacher’s college.## Finding the security office was a bit of a trick.  It was tucked away in thfifteen minutes to locate the one small sign by the door.  Edward was sure as hell hidined on anyone else, but I knew he was in there.  I also knew I had to go face him.

 "Mason," he greeted me at the door.  "It's good to have you working for me again."

 I did a slow burn.  "Chief, you and I need to talk.  It would be best done in private."  I suggested it nodding toward the dispatcher listening to our every word.

 "I don't have any secrets.  You can say whatever it is you have to say in front of Bonnie," the Chief said in a loud voice.

 "If you are sure?" I asked.  He nodded with a great smile.  

"Okay. In the first place, I am not working for you.  If anything, you are working for me."

 "Let's go into my office.  We do need to get a few things straight," he said angrily.  He had switched from the good old boy to a nasty prick in the blink of an eye.  ##

Once inside his office, which was no more than frosted glass panels that reached almost to the ceiling, he said, "What's this about me working for you.  I don't work for you."

 "Well then, I think I will be going home.  You might want to call the President, because if I leave I won't be coming back."

 "Damn right I will.  You wait outside," he ordered.  I didn't see any need in worsening the fight, so I walked outside the cubical to wait with the dispatcher.

 Bonnie Wells was around fifty.  She was also grossly overweight.  Not only that but her hair suffered from the worst red dye job I had ever seen.

"Hi, how is business?" I asked.

 "Not much going on today," she answered but without any enthusiasm.  I noted that she was sitting at a computer with a letter on the screen.

 "You do a lot of typing for the Chief?"  She quickly killed the screen.

 "No, there really isn't enough work for a dispatcher here.  I do some work for the Bookkeeping Department.  You know, record keeping shit."  I could tell she wasn't too happy about that part of her job.

 I sat down in the one straight-backed chair available to visitors.  From the way the chair felt, it was another way of discouraging visitors.

I was surprised by the quiet coming from the Chief's office.  If I had been the chief and somebody like me came in to say what I had said, I would be on the phone yelling my head off.  It took about ten minutes before he came out of his office.

 "Come on in Mason, I think I have it straight now," the chief said in an apologetic voice. "It seems like Mr. Evans has pressured the President.  She is making you some kind of consultant until this thing blows over.  Is that how you read it?" he asked.

 I was pretty sure she had told him Evans wanted his ass on a plate.  I didn't intend to rub it in.

"Something like that," I said.

 "Okay, tell me what you need.  Whatever it is you got it," he said.

 "Pamela Thompson, for starters."

 "She is a looker all right.  If you are going to steal one of my cops, you might as well get a pretty one," he said.

 "Ed, get your mind out of the gutter and your head out of your ass.  I don't have a badge yet.  I need someone who can go in and out of the women's dorm.  Add to that the simple fact that Sophia Evans knows her, then you have the reasons I asked for her."

 "Okay, I was only kidding,” the Chief said sullenly. After a moment’s contemplation he changed the subject.  

"That old man of hers is a piece of work, ain't he?"

 "I don't know.  You tell me how a simple minister has that kind of weight to throw around."

 "Simple minister, my ass. You don't watch much TV do you?" Ed asked.

 "Movies are about all," I confirmed.

 "You ought to try the news or Evans’ network," he said.

 "Evans has a TV network?" I asked.

 "Yeah, it is a small one.  You know one of those religious things.  He is more conservative than Pat Roberts.  Has a bigger following too.  Some people like that fire and damnation stuff," the chief said.  "Toss in the fact that he uses his TV show to personally attack anyone who doesn't see things his way, and you got a powerful man."  The Chief was actually laughing.

 "Well let's try to stay off his shit list," I suggested.

 "Too late for me. You could well make it though.  If you or the locals don't catch this guy, he will have your name linked to the devil soon enough." 

 "Always has been," I said.  "Now, how about calling Officer Thompson in from patrol or where ever she is?" I asked to be nice, but the Chief knew it was an order.

 "Can't, it's her day off," Ed explained.

 "Then call her in Ed.  I need her, and I need her now." I made it sound exactly like what it was.

 "Can't do it, the Pres. don't allow no overtime," he said.

 "Okay, I'm going home.  Call me when I can get to work.  By the way, you might want to call the Pres. and inform her that I am calling Evans."  I said it standing to leave.  Ed and I had to get straight who had the power.##

 "Okay, but she ain’t gonna like it," he informed me.  That time I sat across from him while he made the call.

 "Bonnie, could you get me a cup of black coffee," I shouted through the glass.  It was also time to let everyone else in on the change in the pecking order.

 "Dr. Mitchell, this is Chief Martin again.  I called because Mason wants to call Thompson in today.  It is her day off, so it will mean overtime."  He listened then said, "You told me I was supposed to clear all overtime with you," he tried to explain.  "Yes Ma'am, you're the boss."  She evidently had a few more things to say, because the chief listened for a couple of minutes before he hung up the phone.

 Ed looked hard at me but spoke to Bonnie.  "After you bring Mr. Mason his coffee, call Officer Thompson at home.  Tell her we need her here, in uniform, immediately."

 Bonnie brought the coffee, then I heard her speaking on the phone.  I couldn't hear the words but I am sure she was burning up the wire.  

"While we wait, tell me Chief, did Sophia have a car on campus?" I asked.

 "Nope, we don't allow anyone, except seniors, to have cars.  Those are restricted to the ones who practice teach, which is about half the senior class."

 "Then I don't suppose any of the other girls in her dorm have cars either?" I asked.

 'None.  Seniors don't go to summer school."

 "So where do the kids go on a Saturday night?" I asked.

 "Hell Mason, I don't know.  If they go anywhere it is off campus.  Off campus is not my concern."

 "Ed, if you survive this, you better make it your concern."

 "What is that supposed to mean," he snapped.

 "It means what it means," I said.  No sense getting into a heated discussion with Ed.

"Ed, I need the records of all the girls in the dorm where Sophia was staying."

 "I don't know if I can swing that, but I will try,” he said.

 "If anyone gives you any shit, tell them I demanded them."  That should piss everybody off, I thought.

 "By the way, the Pres. said your ID would be ready by three.  That is if you have a picture handy."

 "I don't. Surely you have an ID camera?" I asked.

 "Hell no, we don't make that many hurry up IDs.  We usually send the employees to one of the studios for a quick shot.  Couple of days later, one of the Officers or the employee goes by to pick it up."

 “Okay, I'll get you one as soon as Thompson arrives,” I said.

 "It is going to take you a couple of days to get an ID picture," Ed stated happily.

 "Ed, that is the business I am in.  I'll have the picture before noon.  That is, if Thompson gets here before noon." I paused to let that sink in.  

"So tell me Ed," I continued.  "How many of the girls in that dorm were home for the weekend?"

 "I really don't know, we didn't ask them yet," he said thoughtfully.  What he really meant was, I don't give a damn.  I heard the shuffling of feet outside the banker's cubical.  I could tell someone had arrived.  A young man looked into the Chief's office.

 "Chief, I washed the car.  Do you want me to have the oil changed today?" he asked.

 "Sure Bobby, take it down to the commons," the chief instructed him.

 "God Ed, is that kid old enough to be a cop."  I laughed.

 "Twenty-two. They sure look young, don't they?" he asked.

 "How many cops you got on the force?"

 "Eight, not counting me.  We got a really screwy shift change.  We need two during the day to direct traffic and write tickets.  Then we got two who work from noon till eight in the evening.  Two more are off at any given time.  One works from seven till three and one from midnight till seven in the morning.  Scheduling is a real bitch."

 "Sounds like," I said.  "So who was working at the time Sophia got raped?" I asked.

 "An old man named Carlton and a woman named Jamison.  Neither of which would have any interest in Sophia," he said.

 "Yeah, but did they see anything,” I asked.

 "I asked them.  Neither saw any strangers on campus," the Chief said.  At least he wasn't totally brain dead.

 "I need to talk to them anyway.  They might have remembered something since you talked to them," I suggested.

 "Sure, whatever you say," the Chief agreed.  The shuffling of new feet interrupted us. This time it was the blonde head of Pamela Thompson that blocked the door.

 "You wanted me, Chief?" she asked a little apprehensively.  Especially when she saw me sitting across from the Chief.

 "Not really, Thompson. Mr. Mason wants you.  I am assigning you to him for a while.  Keep track of your time."

 "Yes, sir," she said to the chief.

 "Well Ed, now that my ride is here, we will be shoving off.  You do have a car for me, don't you?" I asked.

 "Car, I don't know anything about a car.  If I give you a patrol car, I am going to be one short," he said earnestly.

 "Didn't I see you in a patrol car on Friday?" I asked.##

 "Yeah, but that is my car," he said knowing the outcome already.

 "That one should do fine. You might want to get a ride home. We will probably be late getting back,” I suggested.  The chief had a few words under his breath, but delivered me his keys.  I handed them to Thompson.  

"If I were you Officer, I would be real careful with the Chief's car," I said with a smile. I turned, then walked directly out the door.

When I got to the parking lot, I found the new Ford Crown Vic. I had to wait a few minutes for Thompson to join me.  "So, you drive. Find us a place with good coffee," I suggested.

 "I guess the restaurant at the commons.  I would suggest the student union, but it is closed until the fall term."

Neither of us spoke during the five minute drive.  I had no idea what she was thinking, but I was trying to decide what to have her work on first.  

When the coffee arrived, I asked,  "Are you married or anything Thompson?"

 "What does that have to do with anything?" she asked, standing up for herself right away.

 "Well if you are working late, I don't want some irate husband beating my head in with a pipe.  If you have other obligations, I am going to need a night Officer," I explained.

 "Oh, I'm sorry.  No, I'm not married and my boyfriend lives in another town.  I don't have to rush home to anyone," she said, looking me right in the eye.

 "Okay, then I am going to start asking you questions.  I want to know, first of all, where do the girls go to get laid?"  I asked it looking her dead in the eye.  I needed to know how much honesty she could take.

 "Do you mean to pick up the guys, or do the deed?"  She asked with her voice and face softening.

 "Both I guess."

 "The ones without cars, which I assume are the ones we are talking about?" she asked. I nodded.  

"They usually go to one of the bars on the other side of the campus.  There is a small building called “The Strip” over there."

 "So on this side it is called the Commons and the other side the Strip.  Why is that?" I asked.

 "I don't have any idea.  It may have been named that twenty years ago for all I know. This little section served the college when it was located on the Bible College campus.  It may have been fifty years ago."

 "Tell me why there is one large old classroom building among all these newer ones?" I asked.

 "The building we just left was an elementary school.  The teacher’s college bought it.  That is why they moved up here.

 "How many bars are there in the Strip?" I asked.

 "Two. “The Cellar” and “The Cat”," she said.

 "So what is the difference?"

 "The music. In the Cellar you can hear yourself think.  You know mostly Jazz and such. The Cat is all hard rock and metal.  You go there if you don't have a conversation in mind."

 "Okay, here is what I want you to do first. I want you to find out if Sophia ever went to either of those bars. I want to know exactly what she did Friday, from the time she woke up until the time of her attack.  Then I want to know which girls were out that night and where they went.  I also want to know if any of them have boyfriends with records.  You do know how to do all that, don't you?" I asked.

 "Not really. All we ever do is drive around giving out parking tickets."

 "Well Thompson, you are about to learn.  I can't be running in and out of a woman's dorm, but you can.  We are going to interview a couple of them in the lobby, then I want you to continue the interviews in the girls’ rooms.  I want them more comfortable than they would be in the lobby, with everyone walking by.  Got it?" I asked.

 "Yes, sir," she said.

 "Skip the sir," I ordered.  

"First things first. What kind of photographer are you?" I asked.

 "Not a very good one," she replied.

 "Well you are about to get a quick lesson.  Come on," I said as I paid the bill.

 I ordered her to take me home.  When we arrived, I picked up the digital camera.

"Here," I said as I thrust the camera at her.  Just look through the finder and push that button on top."

 That particular camera didn't need a flash.  I heard the distinctive click, which cost more for the company to include, since it was totally unnecessary.  When she finished, we both returned to my apartment where I loaded it into the computer.  Five minutes later the Cannon printer was printing out a thumbnail print to be used on my ID card.  Thompson was fascinated.  Just as I had been the first time I saw it in action.##

 "Now, you take my recorder and record every interview.  Don't let that stop you from taking notes.  I want to see both after the interviews.  When we get back to the campus, run into the station and get us a couple of portable radios.  We are going to be separated for a while."

 We left the apartment just in time to find the city cops checking out the campus police car. The meter maid gave it a hard look.

"What's the deal with her?" I asked.

 "You have to have a sticker to park on this street during the school year.  The locals got tired of students parking out here,” Thompson said.

 "Why would a student park way the hell over here?" I asked.

 "The ones who aren't supposed to have cars sometimes bring them to town, then hide them in the residential neighborhoods."

 "Great. I thought we had a break," I snapped.

 "Why," she asked.

 "I thought all our stray girls would be confined to walking distance, except maybe those with boyfriends."

 "Now what," she asked.

 "Now you add a DMV check to your list.  It won't do much good, since most of them are owned by their parents anyway.  Of course, we might get lucky,” I suggested.

 "When do I do the checking.  It looks like the interviews are going to take all day,” she said.

 "Probably most of the night too," I answered.  "You are going to have to delegate. Bonnie looked pretty bored to me.  Get the list of students in that dorm, then have Bonnie check the DMV.  Have her call the city cops to check on any admitted boyfriends’ records.  I am pretty sure she has the links in her computer."

 The first stop was the campus police station.  Thompson went in alone.  I didn't feel like another confrontation with Ed.  She was gone only a minute.  She returned with two of the Motorola portables.  I checked the batteries on both of them while Thompson drove to the dorm.

 I went in to conduct the first two interviews.  We caught our first victim in the lobby.  She had just returned from a class.  

"Miss, could we speak to you a moment?" I asked.  She saw Thompson's uniform so she wasn't frightened.

"My name is Mason and this is Officer Thompson."

 "I know Pam," the student said nodding to her.

 "What is your name, miss?" I asked.

 "Stacey Robinson," she answered.

 "Do you know Sophia Evans?"

 "Sure, it was awful what happened to her.  I see, you want to ask me about the attack on her.  Well I wasn't even here at the time.  I was home with my parents.  As a matter of fact, I didn't know about it until this morning."

 "Who told you?" I asked.

 "One of the other girls.  It was at breakfast. I don't even remember which one."

 "Stacey, let me assure you that whatever you say to us will go no farther.  I really need to know or I wouldn't ask."

 "I understand.  I want to help if I can.  Sophia is such a nice girl," she said.

 "Fine. Do you have a car here?" I asked.

 "Are you sure this is just between us?  I mean I could get expelled."

 "Just between you and me.  Thompson isn't even here,” I said, turning to Thompson who nodded her agreement.

 "Sure, most of the girls have cars stashed off campus.  How else could we get home for the weekends?”

 "Makes sense to me.  Do you ever go out to the clubs?" I asked.  I avoided using the word “bar”.

 “Sometimes. I always walk though.  No sense getting a ticket when the swingingest club is right across the street practically.

 "Which one is that?  I'm new here, I might want to hit a club myself," I explained.

 "The Cat of course. I wouldn't be caught dead in the Cellar.  Too old for me."

 "So, which one did Sophia frequent?" I asked.

 "I think she went to the Cellar once in a while.  I mean, if somebody could drag her out. She is mostly a loner."

 "Do you have a boyfriend?" I asked.

 "Not at the moment. You volunteering?" she asked with a little girl smile.

 "I wish. I have a bad heart," I said with a laugh.  "You don't happen to know anybody who might have done this, do you?" I asked.

 "Not me. All the guys I know don't need to rape anyone.”  She said it with a wink.

 "Well, thanks for the information."  I said it standing to let her know the interview was over.

 She walked away with an exaggerated swing of her hips.

"Too many women on this campus.”  Thompson said it cattily.

 "Find us another one, Thompson," I ordered.

 Five minutes later a young woman who should have been in high school came from the stairs.  

"Hello, I said. "My name is Mason and this is Officer Thompson."  

I used exactly the same opening.  I even went through the exact same questions.   The young woman's name was Ruth.  She had been in the dorm studying all night, at least according to her.  She never went out and she didn't have a car.  She also had never been to either of the bars.  She had no boyfriend and had never dated while at school.  She neither saw nor heard anything.  She was on the far end of the hall.  She seemed a complete dud.##

 After she had gone Thompson said, "She is lying. I have seen her around campus, more than once with a guy hanging on her like a cheap sweater.  I have no idea why. She is built like a stick."

 "I'm glad you didn't say anything.  We are not ready for confrontations yet.  Keep her in mind though. Also try to remember what the guys looked like.  The cops probably have a composite by now.  If they don't, we will make one.  Speaking of which, we need to talk to Sophia. But let's let the city boys go at her first."

 "So what now?" Thompson asked.

 "Now you continue talking to the girls.  I am going to go get an ID card made.  I will call you on the radio when I finish.  If you run out of girls first, you call me."  Thompson nodded her understanding.  She also handed me the car keys.

 I drove to the administration office, where Employee ID cards were issued.  The administration office was probably as old as the school, which wasn't all that old as schools go.  I found the office inside the front door.  The building at least had signs.  The silver haired lady behind the counter greeted me.  

"Can I help you, sir?"

 "I hope so. My name is Mason.  I am supposed to pick up an ID card."

 "Oh yes, Mr. Mason.  I was told you would be in.  Do you have your picture?"  She asked it all smiles.

 I handed over the small picture.  "Will this one do?" I asked.

 "It is just fine," she said, accepting the computer picture without question.  She disappeared behind the turn in the wall.  Within a couple of minutes she had returned.

"Here you go.  Mr. Mason, I have a message for you.  You are to go to the President’s office.  Dr. Mitchell will swear you in personally."  She said it as though it wer right.  Her door is marked.  It is the second one on the left."

 "I think I can find it.  If I don't come back in a week send the dogs," I said with a warm smile.  I liked the woman. She reminded me of my mother.

 "I may come looking myself if you don't come back," she said with a smile that didn't remind me of mother after all.

 I found the President’s office without too d into the President’s office.  I absolute was a beauty.  It took much longer to really appreciate how beautiful she was.  

Dr. Mitchell was tall, almost as tall as me. She was built a hell of a lot better.  She had the body of a dancer, thin and well-conditioned. When she moved around the desk, it was with grace.  Her hair was long and a warm brown color, almost a chestnut but not quite.  Dr. Mitchell had the most incredible set of blue eyes.  It took me a moment to realize that they were contact lenses.

 "Mr. Mason, we meet at last. It seems that I have been hearing about you all weekend," she said in a deep husky voice.

 "Nothing good, I assume," I said.

 "Actually both good and bad.  I took the liberty of calling your old boss this morning.  He tells me you are quite a good investigator.  I hope that is true. Mr. Evans has put a lot of faith in you."

 "Mr. Evans is a good judge of character," I said.

 "Can you really do anything the local police can't?"  

 "I doubt it.  I also told Evans that.  He was pretty insistent that I try, so I am going to make a first class effort."  

 "Good. I'm afraid I am rather busy at the moment, so if you don't mind let's get on with the swearing in ceremony."

 "That's fine with me.  I have a lot to do today."

 The ‘I swears’ took onar you have gotten by then."  

 "No problem, give me the address."  

 "Why in the President’s house, of course," she replied.

 "Of course," I agreed.  I had no idea what a President’s house was.

 When I had walked down the twenty granite steps to the Chief's car, I called Thompson.  

"You about through over there?" I asked, knowing she couldn't even be close.

 "Not really, but I am going to need a break in a few minutes.  How about meeting me in the parking lot?"

 "You got it," I replied.

 I waited about ten minutes for her to emerge from the dorm.  When she got in the car beside me, I asked, "So how is it going?"

 "I got through with three of them.  I wanted you to hear the tapes before I talked to any more.  You know, to see if I was doing it right.  I have never done anything like this before."

"If we are going to play interview tapes, let's go to my place.  I don't want to be overheard.  First though, we have to go get me a badge,” I said.  

When we arrived at the station, I sent Thompson in alone to pick up my badge.  Somebody had put some heavy shit on the Chief in my absence.  What he sent me was a Chief's badge.  I hoped it didn't mean that he had quit.

 "I guess that really does make you my boss," Thompson said.

 "It makes us partners.  At least for a while."   I said it as I pulled away.

"Well Thompson, you got any ideas on this mess?" I asked.

 "No, but I got a pretty good idea where you are going with it."  

 "Really, and where would that be?" I asked.

 "You seem to be concentrating on target acquisition."  

 "On what?" I asked.

 "I'm sorry, I used to be a Marine.  It seems to me that you are concentrating on how the asshole happened to pick out our girl," she said.

 "Something like that.  I doubt that he just wandered into that dorm.  Maybe in the fall when school is in session, but not during summer school.  It just doesn't make sense.  I think maybe he followed one of the girls home.  When he got inside the dorm, he just happened to choose Sophia's door."

 "Maybe it was Sophia he followed home," Thompson suggested.

 "You could well be right.  It could even be someone Sophia knows.  Either way, I don't think it was random.  Of course I could be wrong.  The city guys may find him among their sex crime files.  Who knows?" I asked.

 "The shadow knows," Thompson said.

 "He do, indeed," I said as I parked the giant Ford in front of the apartment building.

"Come on in Thompson, I make a mean frozen pizza."##

 Once inside the apartment she asked, "Are you keeping these boxes for anything special?"

 "No, I just haven't had time to toss them."

 "In that case, let's take time.  I am tired of seeing them, and I have only been inside the place once before."  

The two of us made two trips to dump the boxes beside the house.  I put a frozen pizza in the oven while Thompson started the tape.

 "Ginger," it began, “let me assure you that nothing you say will come back to bite you.  This is a lot more important to me than any administrative crap.  So do you have a car here?"

 "No ma'am, my daddy takes the rules real seriously."

 "Do you ever go out to the clubs?"

 "No ma'am, I stay pretty much in the dorm.  I went to some of the dances last year, but now that summer school is going on they don't have them anymore."

 "Ginger, do you have a boyfriend?"

 "No ma'am, I'm not very pretty.  Most of the boys want a girl who is pretty."

 "She actually is a bit on the heavy side," Thompson explained, stopping the tape.

 "Were you in the dorm Friday night?"

 "No ma'am, my daddy came to get me.  I was home from Friday noon until Sunday afternoon."

 The pizza was pretty well burned by the time the interview tape ended.  I cut the burned pizza into slices, which I served along with the bag-o-salad.  Thompson and I ate while listening to the other two interviews.  They were equally uninformative.

 "We should talk to Sophia," Thompson stated.

 "Not yet. I want to know who all was in that dorm before we go at Sophia,” I said.  "By the way, you did fine with the interviews."

 Thompson nodded her head, then said.  "This is awful, why didn't you just throw the pizza away and serve the box."

 "I know, but if you eat with a bachelor you get disgusting food."  I said it to defend myself.

 "So, do I continue my interviews after this gourmet meal?" Thompson asked.

 "Afraid so.  Maybe, if you do a good job, I will take you dancing," I said.

 "The Cat or the Cellar?" she asked.

 "Maybe both."

 "If you do that, I am going to have to go home and change."

 "Maybe we should save those till we have a composite."  I said it changing my mind.

 "Why, because I have to take off this sexy uniform.  Really, it wouldn't hurt to be seen there a couple of times before we ask about a composite.  We might get more from looking around than from asking," Thompson said.  It made a lot of sense to me.

 "Okay, we interview until nine, then we take you home to change."

 "Good plan," she agreed.

 I convinced Thompson to call the girls on the phone from the lobby first.  We went to their dorm rooms for the interviews.  Thompson led the way to make sure the women wouldn't  be caught without any clothes.  I never was quite sure who she was protecting from embarrassment.

 From the three interviews we conducted in the almost identical dorm rooms, it seemed that all the girls were virgins.  None would admit to having a boyfriend.  None would admit to having had a date on Friday night.   If you believed them, none had even had a wicked thought, or knew anyone who did.  Thompson and I gave up after the third one.  We had other things to do anyway.

 I had to admit Thompson had a much nicer apartment.  It had real furniture and a real bedroom.  I know because she went into it, leaving me to sit on her real sofa.  I studied the room while Thompson changed.  Everything matched, as though it had all been bought at the same store at the same time.  The pictures on the wall were cheap prints but tasteful.  I noticed the absence of personal photographs.  I presumed they were in the bedroom.

 "If you want a Coke, there are some in the frig," Thompson called through her bedroom door.

 "I'm fine.  Just try to hurry.  We really need to get this over.  I am pretty tired," I shouted at her.  Within moments she was walking out of the bedroom door.  The change was amazing.  Her blonde hair was no longer tied in a bun.  It lay long and thick against her shoulders.  Her hips in the tight jeans no longer seemed overly large for her thin frame.  She wore a V necked tee shirt similar to a man's undershirt.  The difference was no man ever filled one out like that.  She wasn't all that big in the chest, but the tee shirt was deceptive.  It made her appear a lot more sexy than she was.  The deception fell apart when she moved.  She lacked the catlike grace of the President.  She walked more like a Marine than a dancer.

 "You approve?" she asked.

 "Sure, I approve.  Now let's get a move on.  We are going to have to pick up your car at the station.  We can get my truck later," I suggested.

 "Not a problem," she said.

 Ten minutes after the switch to her green Toyota, I found myself sitting in the small parking area of the Strip.  The Strip had actually been one of the first shopping centers.  The building had four smaller stores within its outside walls.  On either end, there was a bar.  In the middle a takeout Chinese restaurant.  No one in their right mind would eat in a restaurant beside a heavy metal bar. Between the Oriental House Restaurant and the Cellar was located a vacant store.  

"So Thompson, what was in the empty building?" I asked it before we went into either of the bars.

 "Lots of things over the years.  I wasn't here but Bobby, my sometimes partner, says there was a copy shop, a bakery, and even a pet store there at one time or another.  It has been empty the whole year that I have been working here.  Nobody much likes the neighborhood."

 "I can understand that.  You would be forced to close by six.  The parking lot is full now," I said.##

 "Yeah, most of the business is from residents in the summer.  During the school year a lot of students hang out down here."

 "Doesn't the new ‘twenty one’ law hurt their beer sales?' I asked.

 "Not unless you pay attention to it.  Both these places serve about anyone who can make it to the bar.  As long as he or she can put their money on it, they can buy anything they are selling," she smiled.  We both knew that everyone looked the other way in a college bar.  Kids would be kids after all.

 "So which one first?" I asked pointing toward the dirty brick building.

 "Let's do the metal one first.  At least we can talk in the cellar," she said.

 I followed her through the door.  The Cat was actually the Kitty Cat bar and lounge. Thompson informed me the club had degenerated from a ‘top forties’ bar into a ‘metal’ clubg.  They probably had signs to that effect somewhere.  They wouldn't be needed though. A good course in signing was about the only thing that would make conversation possible in the place.

 Thompson ordered a beer, I had a Coke.  To order, since I was having something no one ever ordered in there, I had to scream at the top of my lungs.  The music came from a young greasy looking kid sitting at a control booth straight out of NASA.  The volume was way past comfortable.  Even past harmful to your hearing.  It actually was approaching lethal.

 I took a good look at the kids around me.  Most of the women were dressed more less like Thompson.  Less in most cases, since their jeans were cut offs.  The men wore torn jeans and tee shirts.  It seemed to be a uniform of some kind.  Thompson must have even felt old. Most of the kids looked like they belonged in high school.  I watched the kids jerk around like white Zulu warriors for a while, then turned my attention to the bartenders.  One of them was a man who looked like he might have been a weight lifter.  The other was a woman who seemed to be wearing the entire contents of K-Mart’s jewelry counter.  A good part of it sticking through her skin.  The male had brought the first round. The girl asked if we would like another.  I saw the glitter of gold in her mouth as she ask Believe me, it wasn't her teeth that glittered.  I shook my head, motioning no.  I had to touch Thompson's arm to get her attention.  She seemed to actually be enjoying the music.  I motioned fo to leave.  She walked away from half the beer.  It was a good sign.

 "So, was that your first time in a metal bar?" She asked.

 "And I hope my last," I said.

 "Probably won't be,” she said simply.

 "So let's go try the other one, while I can still hear," I suggested.

 "What?" She said laughing at me.

 The Cellar got its name from the fact that the bar was in the basement.  The upstairs was some kind of restaurant.  Not much of one apparently. The place was empty.  When we reached the bottom of the stairs, I stopped to look at their list of coming attractions.  There in big letters was a sign for the Inman Trio.  That of course meant nothing to me.  The picture did.  My very unfriendly neighbor stared sullenly out of the eight by ten, black and white publicity photo.  I almost told Thompson about it, but didn't feel it worthy of any comment at all.

 "That's your neighbor.  Did you know that?" she asked.

 "We met," I said, dismissing her.

 We found a table covered with a red checked cloth.  The room was smoky, so I added my own smoke to it.  We waited a few minutes for a waitress.  There was a bar, but it was filled.  Thompson, and therefore me too, was a little underdressed.  This crowd though still in jeans was a bit more upscale.  The women all wore fancy blouses and the men wore shirts with collars.  At least for the most part. The crowd didn't seem much older, yet they did somehow.  The background music came from large speakers mounted on the walls every few feet.  The disjointed sounds of Jazz poured from them.  I really didn't know which was worse, the metal noise or the shrieking Jazz.

 "I can see you don't like the Jazz.  What kind of music do you like?" she asked.

 "Old stuff from the sixties or classical.  Quite a mix," I offered.

 "Strange, but then you are pretty strange," she said not unkindly.

 "How so?" I asked.

 "I don't know it is something to do with that patch.  I mean you look sinister as hell, but somehow Sophia cut right through it.  It took some getting used to, for me at least.  But Sophia trusted you instantly.  I don't know, you are kind of two people at once,” she said.

 "A walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction," I quoted.

 "Drugs, sex and rock and roll," she countered.  How old were you in the sixties?"

 "I wasn't really, I was born in nineteen sixty," I said.

 "So why are you into the music?" she asked.

 "My mother always played it around the house.  For her life stopped in the sixties.  She didn't much like what came after," I said.

 "Why is that?" Thompson asked.

 "My dad died in early nineteen sixty five.  He never got to see me enter school,” I said.  "Now let's change the subject.  I wonder where Sophia is tonight?"

 "Her mom and dad have her in a motel, one of the girls told me," Thompson said.

 "I hope they don't plan on staying until someone gets picked up for her rape."

 "Beats me, but her daddy can sure afford it.  Besides, he can always leave mama here with Sophia," Thompson said.  "I guess we are going to have to talk to her soon."

 "Maybe not, at least not question her.  If the city boys have been on the job, we can probably get all we need from them."

 Nothing was said for a while.  We both studied the crowd and the bartenders.  The bartenders were a more normal pair.  They were both women in jeans but with not nearly as much makeup or jewelry.  They seemed just a bit older than the customers, probably in their late twenties. More Thompson's age.

 "Can I ask you something, Mr. Mason?" Thompson asked.

 "If you drop the Mr.,” I agreed.

 "What happened to your eye?"  She asked it looking down at the tablecloth.

 "I fell off a K-Mart." I tried to keep it short.

 "I knew you fell, but how did you come to be on top of the building?" she asked.

 "It's a long story.  I will tell you sometime when we aren't working."

 "I'm going to hold you to that.  Just as soon as this is over, you are going to tell me some personal things.  You sure as hell duck them now,” she said.

 "No, I don't.  I told you about my father."

 "That was about your father, not about you."

 "Okay, but later.  Right now we still have work to do.  Finish your drink and let’s go,” I suggested.

 "I really never acquired a taste for beer," she said leaving most of the glass.

 We were standing on the sidewalk when she asked, "Now what?"

 "Take me to my truck, then go home.  Tomorrow is going to be another long day," I informed her.

 I found myself searching for a parking space at eleven p.m.  I finally found one a block from the apartment.  I had a hell of a time getting the full- sized pick up into the compact sized space.##

 Since I had a hardwired phone, I had switched the message transfer from the old studio number to my new phone.  The cost per call was terrible but I still had three months on the yellow page advertisement.  With a little luck, I could stand it for that long.  Renewal was out of the question.  I thought that I might be forced to put an advertisement in the Greenpoint yellow pages, but then again maybe not.  It all depended on the new project, the plan called for a lot of commercial customers as the base.  Of course it would be nice if I had time to work on it.  Anyway, I had a message on the tape.  A prospective customer called for price information on a wedding.  If I got that one wedding, it would pay for the three months of advertising I had left in Avery.  It was too late to return her call that night, so I made a note to call her sometime the next day.  It was at that point that I found the two rolls of film in my pocket.  I had forgotten to take them to a lab.  "I am just plain stupid," I told myself.

 I watched a movie on HBO until I fell asleep on the unfolded sofa.  Watching TV from the floor gave everything a distorted perspective.  It had its good points though.  Most of the bad guys looked really sinister.  When I awoke the next morning, the TV was still on and the phone was ringing.  

"Hello," I growled.

 "Mr. Mason, have you found out anything yet?"

 "Mr. Evans?" I asked. 

 "Yes, have you found out anything?" he asked impatiently.

 "Not yet. We are talking to the other girls in the dorm right now.  I am going to see the city detective sometime today.  That is, after I find out who it is."

 "I can help you there. Her name is Evette Jamison.  She is expecting your to call.  She came by to see Sophia yesterday afternoon."

 "Were you present when she talked to Sophia?" I asked.

 "No, I couldn't take it.  I left the room.  My wife was with Sophia,” he said.

 "Did your wife say what she thought about the interview?" I asked.

 "What do you mean?" He answered my question with a question.

 "Did she say whether the woman was kind to Sophia or whether she was less than kind." It actually meant a great deal.  If she had been confrontational, it meant she had reason to believe something wasn't right with Sophia's story.

 "Gina said she was really very helpful."

 "Did she arrange for Sophia to look at pictures?" I asked.

 "Yes, the woman is going to bring books to the motel,” he said.

 "What time? I would like to be present."

 "Sometime around two this afternoon,” he stated.  "We are in room 107 at the College Inn."

 "Good. Then I will see you all at two," I said.

 While I made the morning pot of coffee, I tried to figure out what having Vette on the case meant.  Whoever put her on the rape squad had a sadistic sense of humor.  Vette was a lot closer to what most people had in mind when they said Marine, than Thompson.  Vette was a bull. I don't mean she was gay.  She was a big woman who worked out to stay big.  Any man who tried to rape Vette was likely to get his ass kicked.  She wouldn't even bother to shoot him. She would just beat him to death.

 I had no idea she had come to Greenpoint when she left the Avery PD.  I remembered the rumors, of course.  According to the rumor mill, Internal Affairs was hot on her trail when she pulled the pin.  Something about her married partner and a whip.  I thought at the time that it was humorous.  It was well after my own departure from the cops.

 I was deeply into my coffee cup when the phone rang again.  

"Hello," I said.

 "Mason, Thompson. Where do you want to meet?" she asked.

 "Are you already at the station?" I asked.

 "Sure.  You sound like you just woke up.  If you are decent I will bring you a biscuit."

 "I don't know about decent, but I can have my clothes on by the time you get here,” I replied.  I hung up the phone.  I finally had the push I needed to get into the shower.  

When Thompson arrived I was dressed and sitting at the table again.  I went to the door expecting to see her standing outside. Instead I found Virginia.  

"Yes?" I asked.

 "Aren't you going to invite me in?"  She asked it in her soft husky voice.

 "Sure, come on in. This place is going to be Grand Central Station this morning."

 "What does that mean?"

 "Nothing," I answered.  She would find out any minute.  "Want a cup of coffee?"

 "Sure," she answered.  She paused while I filled a cup for her.  

"I actually came by on business.  I work for a real estate company, in addition to managing my own apartments.  The boss is looking for someone to take pictures of our houses.  I thought you might want to give him a call."  She said it handing me a business card.

 I didn't get a chance to answer.  Thompson knocked on the door.  I smiled warmly at Virginia over my shoulder while I walked to the door.  

"Come on in Thompson,” I said.

 She took a look at Virginia, then tried to back out of the door.  

"Come on in, this is my landlady Virginia.  She came by to give me a tip on some business."

 "Yes, do give Tony a call.  He will be expecting to hear from you.  Remember, it is going to be a computer deal,” she said, hoping to make me even more interested.

 "Nice to have met you, Officer."  She said it as she walked out the door.

 I left Thompson standing in the living room, while I went to the kitchen.  It took her a couple of minutes before she made it into the kitchen.  

"I guess I knew you would be renting from her, I just didn't really think about it.  Watch that woman, Mason.  She is a witch,” Thompson said.

 "So is my ex, but I handle her okay," I said.

 "No Mason, I didn't say bitch, I said witch.".

 "Come on, you don't mean broomsticks and all that shit do you?" I asked.

 "I don't know about broomsticks, but I can tell you one thing.  She spends a lot of time in a tomb," Thompson said seriously.

 "Then she must be a vampire?"  I waited for a laugh from Thompson.  None came so I said, "Come on Thompson, what is the joke?"

 "No joke. She had a tomb built on her cemetery plot.  She goes there in the afternoons to relax.  She even uses her cell phone to conduct business from the place."

 "That has got to be a joke," I said.

 "The cemetery is two blocks from the school.  We can ride by there.  If her black Corvette is parked outside the tomb, she is open for business."  Thompson said it without a smile.

 "When we finish with this crap, we can take a look.  Right now we don't have time.  You have to go back to interviewing girls in the dorm."

 "Have a heart Mason, I am tired of hearing about their girl scout lives.  I mean nobody is as clean as they claim to be."

 "Maybe not, but we have to give them a chance to help us.  One of them may actually tell us the truth about the others."  

The biscuit was gone when I said,  "I have a couple of errands to run.  Meet me at the College Inn at two.  The locals are going to bring the mug books."

 "So that's where Sophia is being stashed."

 "I don't think staying with her parents constitutes being stashed," I corrected.  "You watch too many cop shows on TV."##

 "Speaking of TV, TBS is running “The Magnificent Seven” tonight at nine.  Any chance we will be finished by then?" she asked.

 "I hope so," I replied.  "Why don't you get started with the girls."

 "Okay, I'll see you at two,” she said with a friendly smile, the kind one partner gives to another.  We were finally beginning to mesh as a team.

 While she talked to the girls, I went first to the one hour lab in a drug store.  While they developed the film, I called Tony Whitaker on my cell phone.  I explained to his receptionist why I was calling.  A moment later Tony was on the other line.  With a name like Tony I expected him to be younger.

 "Mr. Mason, Virginia said you would be calling.  I need some help and I thought you might be the man to do it.  Virginia tells me you do computer photography."

 "Some," I replied.  Tony seemed to be enjoying his own voice.  Who was I to deprive him.

 "Okay here is how it will work. You shoot the picture, then send it as a black and white file to the newspaper.  The man there will match it to the copy and print it."

 "Interesting. I never heard of anyone doing it that way," I said.

 "They do it all the time in California,” Tony assured me.  I wasn't surprised. California was the silicone capital of the world.  Not all of it went into the breasts of the starlets.

 "So what do you pay me for the picture?  The one you never see,” I said.

 "Oh, I want a hard copy of the print.  You know, for the file.  That, you can mail or drop by. I can pay you ten bucks a house."

 "How many houses a month are we talking about?" I asked.

 "Twenty or so.  More in the summer, less in the winter."

 "Okay, I'll leave the fax on tomorrow.  Send me a list whenever you want me to work."

 "Fair enough. Stop by for coffee sometime," he said just before hanging up on me.

 Jerk was the only word which came to mind.  Fortunately I didn't have to like my customers.  The pictures still had half an hour to go, so I called the bank's mortgage Vice President.

 After several minutes’ wait I heard, "John Nelson,"

 "Mr. Nelson, I was given your number by Shirley Givens.  She suggested I call you about making some pictures for your department."

 "It's about time you called, Mason," he said with a smile in his voice.  "Shirley has asked me every time we had a meeting.  If you hadn't called soon, you wouldn't be able to go into the bank again."

 I laughed.  "Shirley is one of those militant do-gooders," I said. 

 "Is she ever.  If she likes you, she is going to help you no matter how much it hurts you."

 "So, what is it that I can do for the bank?" I asked.

 "We run about forty houses a month on our late list.  The government insured most of those loans.  What I need is for someone to drive by them to make sure the owners haven't skipped.  It is a government requirement.  I personally wish all the deadbeats would skip.  I need an opinion as to whether anyone is in the house or not.  I also need a picture verifying you were out there.  The trick is the turn around time.  I have to have them finished by ten days after they go on the collections list."

 "Do you make the list all at one time?" I asked.

 "Yep, the fifteenth of the month.  The government requires I notify them by the last day of the month.  That is if I am going to file an insurance claim.  See, my problem is the service companies can't get the information to me in time."

 "You aren't going to believe this Mr. Nelson, but I just spoke to a man who has the answer to your problem.  I explained about the computer or fax transmission of the digital image.

 "So you could shoot it one day, then fax it to me that night.  I mean with an opinion as to its occupancy."

 "I surely could."

 "So when can we start?" he asked.

 "How about next month.  That will give me time to clean up the mess here, and you time to warn the service company you are using now."

 "Sounds good. Give me your fax number. I will send you the list on the fifteenth of July."

 I gave him my new number.  I realized that my new answering machine would have to go. The computer had a built-in fax and voice recognition modem.  I would have to go home and read the manual.  I could use it as both a fax and answering machine.  Oh well, I had bought another useless piece of hardware.  I didn't worry. Everything eventually was useful.

 The pictures were finally ready when I went back into the drugstore.  I took a look and found them acceptably sharp.  At least I wouldn't have to return the camera.  I called Thompson on the radio.  

"So how's it going?" I asked.

 "Mason, I am with someone right now.  I'll call you back on the cell phone.  Don't turn it off."

 I drove from the drugstore to the City Hall.  In the records section I found a woman who issued me a parking permit for my own street.  Without it, Thompson assured me, I would find my truck in impound.  The impound cost fifty bucks, not something I would want to happen because I was either too stupid or too lazy to get a sticker.

 I felt a little guilty about not working on Sophia's case for the last two hours, so I drove to the Commons.  I began asking questions at the much smaller drugstore.  The girl from Friday really didn't know any of the kids by name.  She, of course, had heard about the rape.  She just couldn't be sure which girl was Sophia.  I knew then that I needed a picture of Sophia.  It also reminded me that I needed a Polaroid camera.

 From the Commons I drove to the K-mart.  I found a new Polaroid Spectra camera for less than a hundred bucks.  It even came with a film pack.  I was in the check-out line when Thompson called.

 "Mason, we need to talk.  Can you meet me at the restaurant in the Commons?" she asked.

 "Sure, I can be there in about twenty minutes."

 I found Thompson waiting for me in a hard wooden booth, deep in the dingy, little restaurant.  I ordered iced tea before she began.  "It seems Sophia may not have been the vestal virgin after all," she began.

 "Where did you hear that?" I asked it non-committally.

 "From a girl who has been out with her.  She claims that she and Sophia went clubbing a couple of weeks ago.  According to her, Sophia went for a ride with one of the guys they met in the Cellar.  She said Sophia looked a little wrinkled when she returned just before midnight."

 "Are you sure about that?" I asked.

 "I'm sure that's what the girl said."  The question was in her eye.

 "I am not going to be looking forward to asking a rape victim if she screwed around.  It smacks of trying to downgrade the rape to larceny.  Besides, we are going to have to get her away from her parents to talk to her.  No nineteen year old is going to want to admit she screws around in front of her daddy."

 "This is going to be a tough one," Thompson said.

 "That is unless the locals know about it.  If they do, then Vette may do the dirty work for us."

 "Who is Vette," Thompson asked.

 "The detective handling the case.  She is a real hard ass,” I said.

 "I thought you didn't know anyone on the local PD?"

 "I didn't know that I did, until this morning.  Evans told me that Vette was handling the case.  I know her from Avery."

 "How well do you know her?" Thompson asked with a wicked smile.

 "Not that way.  She was the patrolman on a case or two I handled.  We are going to meet her this afternoon."

 "I don't think the locals know anything about this.  The girl said no one had talked to her. All of them agreed that the local cops haven't talked to anyone."##

 "If nothing else turns up, they will,” I said, dreading the inevitable.  "So what else did you learn in school today dear?" I asked sarcastically.

 "I actually had a little better luck today.  It seems I got all the girl scouts yesterday.  A couple of these girls admitted they were human.  Nothing much to report, no steady boyfriends and no weirdos.  Just that they go to bars and hope to get lucky.  Not one night stands, you understand," Thompson said mocking the girls.  "I am looking for a meaningful relationship, in a heavy metal bar."

 "I would imagine that is only a little less likely than finding a virgin in Arkansas,” I said.

 "I don't know, I'm from Arkansas.  I didn't have a brother," she laughed.

 "You aren't really from Arkansas?" I asked.

 "Little Rock," she declared.

 "How the hell did you wind up here?" I asked.

 "Camp Lejeune," she replied.

 "Ah, the big time Girl Scouts,” I said sarcastically.

 "I could kill you ten different ways," she replied with a smile.

 "You could, only if you could catch me,” I answered.

 "Okay, so what do I do until two?" Thompson asked.

 "Have you finished with all the girls?" I asked.

 "All but two. I guess I could go back and talk to them."

 "Let's have lunch as long as we are here," I said.  "I'll even buy."

 "Thanks. I would prefer you buy at Georgio's, but a girl has to take what she can get,” Thompson said it with a chuckle.

 Lunch was good but a little too greasy for Thompson.  I like a little grease with my meat loaf.  After a half hour she headed out to Bonner Hall for one more round of interviews.  I had another personal errand to run before my meeting.  I drove across town to O'Malley's Electronics Warehouse.  I called a clerk using one of the red phones.  I kid about nineteen came to my rescue.  He was wearing glasses held together with tape.

 "I'll bet the store gives all its computer salesmen those glasses,"' I said with a smile.  The kid didn't respond.  I knew he didn't get the joke.  He found me a flash memory card for my computer.  I left with a thirty-two meg memory chip. I left him with a check for one hundred and fifty-seven dollars.  Not a good trade but a necessary one.  I carried the chip home and installed it.  I also switched on the answering machine in the computer as well as the fax machine.  Even the little laptop computers had speakers by that time.

   I killed a few minutes driving around town before my meeting with the Evans family. Even then, I arrived twenty minutes before two.  I found the room but didn't go in.  I noted that the Cadillac belonging to Mr. Evans was the only car in the parking lot.  I parked away from the room, then walked to the coffee shop.  I was drinking a cup when Thompson arrived.

 "Did you see a car outside the Evans’ room?" I asked.

 "I don't know, which room is theirs?"

 Look out the front window to the right.  See if you see a detective type car out there,” I instructed her.  I wanted to surprise Vette.  I didn't want her to see me hanging around.

 Thompson returned.  

"A plain black Chevy just pulled in.  The woman who got out had an arm full of books," she said.

 "That would be our girl.  Let's go meet the cops," I said with a smile.  I tried to appear light-hearted about it.  I was anything but.  Each step toward the room was bringing me closer to a meeting. One I really would just as soon have avoided.  It had nothing to do with Vette. It could have been anyone.  I just remembered how I had treated security guards and private investigators.  I expected scorn and ridicule.  The fact that it was Vette just made it worse.

 I knocked on the door.  Mr. Evans opened it for me.  I was surprised that Vette didn't look any older than she had when last I saw her four or five years before.

 She stepped forward for a better look.  "So you are the Mr. Mason I have heard so much about.  I should have known you would be into something like this.  How long you been with the kiddie cops?" Vette asked.

 "All day today. You better watch that kiddie cop crap.  Thompson here knows ten different ways to kill,” I said it extending my hand to Vette.

 "I'll bet she does," Vette said, taking my hand.  "So you are the Chief of campus security?"

 "I guess. I hope we can share information on this," I said.

 "You mean you want me to share with you.  I doubt you have anything that would interest me," she said smugly.

 "I expect you are right.  It really doesn't matter. I have jurisdiction.  You have to keep me informed,” I said it waiting for the screaming to begin.

 "I have been made painfully aware of that.  How about we go for coffee after the victim looks over the books?"

 "Sounds good. How far has Sophia gotten?" I asked knowing the answer already.

 "I just got here,"### she said, turning back to Mr. Evans. I noticed for the first time that we were in a kind of living room.  Evans had somehow found a suite, even in a small motel.  

"Why don't you bring your daughter in?" Vette suggested to Evans.

 When Sophia came through the door I noted that she looked worse than she had on Saturday afternoon.  She took one look, saw me and rushed to my arms.  I held her while she cried.  It took a long time for her to regain her composure.  She looked into my eyes and said, "I am trying to do what you said.  I am trying to take back my life."

 "I know honey, and we are all very proud of you.  I know I am.  I am sure your mom and dad are to."

 "Sophia, I would like for you to take a look at some pictures.  We talked about it yesterday,” Vette said.  Sophia nodded then moved to sit at the small dining room table.  She began to land a half.  She found no one even resembling the suspect.  At three thirty when all the books had been replaced, I asked Vette, "How about a composite?"

 "Our sketch artist is in Quantico. I'll have one done when he gets back on Friday,” she said.

I nodded my head even though I wasn't real happy with her answer.  

"Sophia, I will be back to talk to you tomorrow," I said.  "Right now I am going to talk to Vette,"

 "Please do come back, Mr. Mason," she begged.

 I nodded as I started from the room.  

"Mr. Mason,” Mr. Evans said,  "Could you and I meet later?"

 "Sure. How about say six?" I asked.

 "That would be fine. How about at the Downtown Deli again?"

 "That would be good," I agreed.

 I walked with Vette to the car.  

“How the hell did you get mixed up in this?  Last I heard you were a photographer in Avery," Vette asked.

 "Ed. Martin got me right into the middle of it.  I bumped into him at lunch on Friday.  It is really all just bad timing."

 "At least this one looks real.  We get a lot out of here that aren't.  The students at this college tend to be too rich and too protected.  They think that daddy will kick there ass when he finds out they have been screwing around.  They lose their cherry, then scream rape."

 "So why do you think this one is different?" I asked.

 "You saw her face. Some son of a bitch beat hell out of her first."  She looked at me questioningly.

 "Let's go somewhere for coffee.  You can fill me in on the investigation," I said.

 "You don't have to waste your money on coffee.  The status of the investigation is zippo.  We have nothing."

 "How about the lab," I asked.

 "Traces. Maybe if we get a suspect we can get a match.  Without a suspect you know they are worthless.  No prints in her room.  Wouldn't expect any, he didn't hang around for a Coke.  Just did his thing and left.  I sent you a copy of her statement, didn't you get it?"

 "Did you send it to the police station by mail?" I asked.

 "Station yes, mail no. Daddy has a lot of pull.  An officer carried it over last night,” she said with raised eyebrows.

 "I haven't been to the station today.  I'll get it after we leave here."  I said it hoping she couldn't detect how pissed I was.  I was home most of the night.  Someone could have brought me the report. At the very least, someone could have called to leave a message on my machine.

 "Let me know if you get any hot leads," Vette said sarcastically.

 "You do the same," I replied.  I was trying not to let her know that I resented her attitude.

 After Vette drove away, leaving Thompson and I standing in the parking lot, Thompson said, "You really charmed the pants off her."

 "I know, I am a real heart breaker," I said.  "Let's go to the police station.  I want that interview, and I want it right fucking now,” I said angrily.

 I rode with Thompson, leaving my old truck in the motel parking lot.  I know they must have loved that.  At the station, I found the Chief and Bonnie the dispatcher eating donuts.

"Ed we need to talk,” I said it blowing past him. He followed me into the cubicle.  

"So what is it, Mason?" he asked.

 "Do you have a police report for me?"

 "Sure, it came last night after I had gone.  The night people didn't know who you were so they held it till today.  We haven't been able to get in touch with you.  So here it is," he said, handing me the brown envelope.  It didn't appear to have been tampered with.

 "Ed, I am going to say this real plain and only one time.  If every officer in this place doesn't know who I am, and what I am doing, then you make them aware of it tonight.  If anything like this happens again, you better start planning how you are going to live on your pension, because you damned sure won't be working here.  As for trying to reach me, you might be interested to know that I have been home off and on today.  There have been no messages on my machine.  My cell phone didn't ring and there was no radio call.  Now I'm going to tell you right here.  If you want, I will tell Bonnie.  You have my cell number and you have my home number.  One more thing I don't hear about and you both will be walking the pavement.  I hope that is clear, because I am not joking and I am not repeating it."

 "Come on Mason, it is no big deal," Ed said.

 "How the fuck do you know Ed? Did you open this envelope?"

 "Of course not.  I mean this whole thing is just a piss in the ocean.  It will blow over and everything will be the same."

 "Not for that little girl," I said.  I turned and walked out the door quickly, before I hit the dumb prick.  

Outside, I found I had no where to go.  My truck was at the Inn and Thompson was still inside.  I expect she was hiding in the bathroom.   I was furious at Ed, Vette, Thompson, and myself.

 A few minutes later Thompson came rushing from the station.  "Is it safe to come out now.  I was in the ladies room when I heard you shouting at the chief.  Son of a bitch, I never heard anyone outside the Corp talk so mean,” she said with a smile.

 "You have just seen why I stay away from cops.  They are so turf conscious,” I said.

 "You want to know what Martin said, after he was sure you were gone?"

 "Not unless he wants to come out here and kick my one-eyed ass," I said.

 "Nothing like that," she said.

 "Then no, I don't care.  Let's get the hell out of here.  I want to read this report before we meet Evans."

 "We. You mean I get to go along?"

 "Sure, we are partners.  Of course, you may not have a job after this,” I laughed.

 "I expect I will be here after the Chief is gone," she said.

 "Not if you expect me to toss his ass out," I replied.  "That prick deserves the kiddie police, no offense."

 "None taken," she replied.  "So where to?"

 "Let's go to the Deli. We should be early enough to read this and discuss what we know. Did you get the DMV records from Bonnie?" I asked.

 "She hasn't had time to get them yet,” Thompson said.

 "True or bullshit?" I asked.

 "Bullshit," she said simply.

 "That fucking tears it.” I said it removing the cell phone from my pocket.  I also removed a card from my wallet.  

"Dr. Mitchell please," I said into the phone.  I waited until she came on the line.

 "Mr. Mason, you certainly are stirring up a hornet’s nest.  What can I do for you?" she asked.

 "Doc, you can either get me some cooperation or take back your badge."

 "I don't like to be called Doc, Mr. Mason.  As far as cooperation goes, I thought we had assigned you a policewoman.  That should be enough cooperation."

 "Well Doc, I got a couple of things to say about that.  Why don't we meet in person?  I am going to be having dinner at the Downtown Deli with Mr. Evans at six.  I think you should join us."

 "If you remember, I have a dinner party tonight.  Are you threatening me?" she asked in a huff.

 "Probably, but if I were you I would want to be at the dinner to protect myself.”  I said it hanging up.

 "You are definitely going to be out of a job,” Thompson said.  "Me too probably."

 "Probably, but not tonight,” I said with a smile.

 Thompson and I went over her interview tapes using an earplug, so as not to be overheard.  Thompson told me where to look for the lies and inconsistencies in each of the statements.  She was actually very good at her job.

 "So, who do we call liar first?" she asked.

 "We take them in order. Tomorrow, if there is a tomorrow, we start doing the interviews again.  We find out why every girl in summer school is a vestal virgin and why they all tell the same story.  Somewhere there is a fly in the caviar,” I said.

 I read the statement Sophia had given to Vette while Thompson made notes on each of the girls to be re-interviewed.  Neither of us noticed Evans approach.  

"Mr. Mason," he said. He followed it with "Don't get up" when I tried to stand to shake his hand.

 "So how is it going with the investigation?" He asked.

 "Why don't we wait a few minutes?  I have invited Dr. Mitchell to join us.  I thought she might like to know how we are doing,” I said with a pleasant smile.

 If Evans suspected I had a hidden agenda, he didn't let on.  He simply nodded.  

"Sophia is doing much better," he said more to himself than anyone else.

 "I'm so glad," Thompson said, carrying the conversation.  "She is such a sweet girl.  It is a shame this had to happen to her."

 "I know, she really is a little princess," Evans said with tears clouding his eyes.  "These days with children rejecting everything, it is a real pleasure to have a child like Sophia."

 As he spoke, I saw Dr. Mitchell enter through the wood and glass doors of the restaurant. She walked up behind Evans.  I stood, then said, "Dr. Mitchell, I am so glad you could make it."

 She looked absolutely stunned.  She had come, no doubt, to defend herself.

 "Mattie, how good of you to join us. Mr. Mason was waiting for you before he updated me on the investigation."  

Mitchell sat down still apprehensive.

 "First of all, let me explain if these things don't get solved in the first couple of days, it becomes a race against time.  Everyday the people who might know something get a little more complacent about coming forward.  If there are no witnesses, it becomes drudgery and leg work. Right now we are at a point that the investigation may start to drag."  

I could read the Dr.’s mind. “Here it comes” she thought.

 "As soon as the Chief gets the DMV list for me, I can maybe tell which girls have cars off campus.  From that, we may be able to center on who, if anybody, might have been outside our limited area of suspects."

 "You have suspects?" Evans asked excitedly.##

 "No sir, what I said was area of suspects.  The local police are working on the previous criminal aspects of this investigation.  I can't do any better than them.  They have the information, we dont. Thompson and I are going about it differently.  We are trying to figure out how your daughter was chosen.  Somebody may have followed another girl home, then just wandered into your daughter's room by accident or some girl may have a stalker we dont know about.  In either of those cases it could be someone who hangs out at the commons or the strip.  We have a chance if that is the case however If one of the girls got followed home from some other part of town it will be almost impossible to find him the way we are going about it.  I need that list to determine who has cars and where they were on Friday night.  If they all check out, we are going to be pretty sure at least in our own minds that the rapist comes from around here."

 "So why don't you have the list?" Evans asked.

 "There seems to be some kind of glitch.  Maybe the President can find out if it is a computer thing or something like that."  I suggested it amiably.

 "How about it Mattie, can you spring that list loose for us?" Evans asked.

"I'm certain that I can, John."  She turned to me before she spoke again. "Is there anything else you need, Mr. Mason?"

 "I'm sure there will be, but I can't think of anything right now," I answered smiling at her.

 "So what else have you got?" Evans asked.

 "Actually we are working on something, but I would rather not say at the moment.  It may be nothing, but it may be something important.  We just don't know yet."

 "Then you are making progress?" Dr. Mitchell asked.

 "I think so. I am going to have to ask Sophia to see me again,” I said to Evans.

 "She would like that.  She seems to feel better when you visit. But you sound like it is more than a visit."

 "It is. Vette said her sketch artist is out of town until Friday.  If I can steal it, the Avery police have a computer program.  A program they use to make composites.  I am going to try to get a copy.  If I can, we are going to sit down with Sophia and make a composite that Thompson and I can pass around."

 "That's great. At least someone will be doing something positive,” Evans said.

 "Mr. Evans, everyone is doing something positive.  No one is dragging their feet.  Right now I am collecting information.  I am also hoping the local police can solve this one before I do.  As far as I am concerned, the sooner the better.  I have no turf to guard.  I am going to be out of this just as soon as we find our man.  The people who are going to still be around are probably more concerned about me than they need to be."  I was talking about the police but the Doc got the message.

 The conversation grew more general as the food arrived.

"Mr. Mason, how did you lose your eye, sir?" he said not really concerned with how I felt about answering.

 "Hunting accident," I said.

 "That's not how Chief Martin tells it,” Dr. Mitchell said.  I thought she was about to rekindle our feud.  

"I understand Mr. Mason lost it in the line of duty."  There seemed to be a genuine admiration in her voice.  She spoke easily, since she wasn't eating with us.  Saving her appetite for the party no doubt.  I assumed my invitation had been canceled, so I had dinner.  I was chewing when I answered her.

 "Nothing quite so heroic.  I fell off a building,” I said.

 "Fell or jumped," Evans asked.

 "Tripped over my own feet," I replied with a laugh.

 Evans joined me.  "Somehow I doubt it was as simple as you make it sound.  I suspect there is more to it than a simple fall."

 "No, I'm afraid not.  Just a stupid clumsy mistake,” I said, trying hard not to remember.

 Dr. Mitchell saved me, just as she had put me on the spot.  She turned her attention to Thompson.

"So Miss Thompson, how do you like our little family?  You have been with us, what, a year now?"

 "I like it just fine," Pam said.

 "Are you planning to move on to bigger and better things?" The Doc asked.  She obviously meant for us both to understand.

 "Actually, I am thinking of offering her a job with me.  I didn't want to mention it just yet, but it looks like I am going to be getting some new contracts soon."

 "I didn't know anything about that," Pam said honestly.

 "Personally, I think Miss Thompson should stay right here.  She has a way with the students.  I like how she has handled herself with Sophia,” Evans said.  "As a matter of fact, I would fight to keep her on the staff.  No offense, Mr. Mason,” He said it with a smile.

 "None taken, sir," I said.

 "Gentlemen, I think I will take my leave now," Dr. Mitchell said.

 "Good night Mattie. Please keep me informed on that computer glitch," Evans said as she left.

 "Nice try Mason, but I have a lot of friends at that school.  I knew about your shouting match with the Chief and with Dr. Mitchell before the dust cleared."  He grinned at me, then turned to Thompson.  

"As for you young lady, you are going to be at that school just as long as you want to be."

 "That is awfully nice of you Mr. Evans, but someday you will be gone.  I am going to have to face the Chief and Doctor Mitchell alone."  She looked only slightly worried.

 "Maybe a new Chief and a new President, but not those two.  That is unless they willingly get on board.  Next time you need something Mason, don't pussyfoot around,” he ordered.

 "Reverend, you seem to have some balls, so I am going to level with you.  I have to get you to promise me that you will not discuss this with anyone.  Not your wife and especially not Sophia."

 "I can promise that, but I don't think I want to know.  Not until you have all the facts,” he said.

 Whatever I told him was not going to shock him.  He knew something was wrong at the school.  

"Fair enough," I said.

 "Protect my daughter as much as you can.  I mean that, but I don't mean protect me.  I don't give a damn what happens to me.  Try to take care of Sophia, if you can,” he said.

 "We will," I promised.

 "Why don't you two get back to work?  I am going to sit here a while and just think."##

 Outside, Thompson asked, "What the hell do you all know that I don't."

 "Nobody knows anything.  We all suspect something.  What, I have no idea.  It's like you said, there are too damned many girl scouts at that school."  

I got into the car.

“Thompson, we are going to Avery to steal a computer program."

 The Avery PD is part of the city, county complex.  The complex is made up of a block cut from the downtown.  Each side of the block is some kind of city or county building.  The rear of each building exits onto a common space.  It was originally supposed to be grass but it never took hold.  Too many people milling about waiting for court or for visiting hours at the county jail.

 The police department occupied the plaza level of the city administration building.  Thompson parked the car in a concrete parking deck attached to what would have been called City Hall in an earlier time.  I led her into the plaza entrance to the building.

 The police records section was directly across the lobby.  On the right was the office of the desk Sergeant.  Chances were about fifty-fifty that I knew him.  That night the fifty ran against me.

 I flashed the badge at him.  Since I had a pretty young Officer with me, I got his attention rather quickly.  

"Sarge, who is working in the lab tonight?"  I asked.

 "Let me see," he said, thumbing through his roster.  "That would be Bruster and Evers."

 "Could you get Bruster to come out please?  I need to talk to him a minute."

 "If he's not out on a call," he said.  The sergeant saw in my eyes that I knew it was a dodge.  "Let me check."

 "Bruster, got a fellow up her named Mason to see you."

 "Yeah, guy with one eye.”  

“Okay, Bruster said to send you back.  He said you knew the way."

 "Thanks" I said as he pushed the electric lock allowing us into the hallway leading through the building. 

 Thompson followed behind as I wove around through the maze of hallways.  It was like old times.  The building, though freshly painted smelled of fear, sweat and cheap perfume.  When we came to the double doors leading into the lab, I tried one then the other.  They were both locked.  I knocked.  When the tall, thin sixtyish man opened the door I asked, "Since when do you lock the doors,"

 "Since people decided they would have a better chance of acquittal if the scientific evidence got blown to hell.  So how's it going Mason, and who is the beautiful young lady with you?  It must be what, three or four years since you left?"  Working alone in the lab caused Bruster to run on like an open  faucet.

 "Five, but sometimes it seems longer.  Look Bruster, I need a favor."

 "You always needed a favor.  So what is it this time?" he asked.

 "I need a copy of the Ident computer program." I said.

 "Come on Mason, that thing cost the city five grand.  They don't like copies of it getting around.  Besides you can't copy a program from the computer anymore. They got all these fancy traps on it."

 "Bruster, cut the crap. What's it going to cost me?" I asked.

 Bruster smiled at me then said, "James tells me you bought that Russian Minox.  I would like to borrow it once in a while."

 "What in the world for?" I asked.

 "Sentimental reasons," he said.

 "Sure, you are about as sentimental as I am.  You can use it anytime you want.  Just come get it."

 "Done," he said, walking to a set of ceiling-to-floor lockers on the back wall.  He worked the combination on what was probably his personal locker.  From it he removed a small square plastic box.  "Mail it to me at home when you finish with it,” he said.

 "I appreciate this, Bruster.  Call me when you need the camera."  I said it turning for the door.

 "Sure, it might be sooner than later," he said to my back.

 "What was all that about?" Thompson asked as we wove our way back to the reception lobby.

 "That is about doing favors.  Favors are a cop’s stock and trade.  Bruster will probably never need that camera, but if he does I am honor-bound to let him have it.  Even if I need it myself.  That's how the favor business works,” I replied.  "Now let's get this thing home, so that you can watch your movie."

 "I thought you had forgotten.  I could have taped it, but it just isn't the same somehow."

 I could drop you at home, then come back for you in the morning," she suggested.

 "Sounds fine to me, except I want the truck at the house.  Just in case I have to go out for ice cream."

 We got my truck from the motel parking lot.  I was surprised when Thompson followed me home.  She parked the Chief's car on the street, then followed me up the stairs.  I didn't ask her why, and she didn't volunteer.  When we entered the apartment she went straight to the bathroom.  I sat down to check my messages on the laptop.  I had a fax so I printed it out.  While it printed, I went into the kitchen.  I got two glasses of iced tea.  I returned to find the computer finished with the fax.  The single page held two local addresses, along with a computer number for the local newspaper.  I put the paper away as Thompson came into the room.  She was still wearing the uniform, for which I was grateful.  Her shirt tail was out and the heavy gun belt was gone.

 "You don't mind if I watch the movie here, do you?" she asked.

 "Not at all. Make yourself comfortable.  I want to take a quick look at this CD.  It was obviously a home-made CD.  There was no label of any kind. Even the box it came in was unlabeled.## After I installed the start up program, I called the working program up.  Sure enough a tool bar appeared and a face filled the screen.  The color image was the starting point.  Each group of tools made different changes in the image.  The program had actually gotten better since I last used it.  By then the images were now in color.

 "Mason, the movie is about to begin," Thompson said.

 I shut down the program without even answering her.  I moved to the chair not far from the sofa.  "I don't bite, you know," she said.

 "But I do, and I can't afford to bite until this case is over.  When it is, you may have a hard time keeping me away," I lied.

 "Okay, but the offer wasn't for sex, it was for companionship."

 "I can get that over here.  It is what might happen if I moved over there that worries me.  I might do something stupid and piss you off.  We have to work together for a little while longer.  After that if you come here, I will not be responsible for my actions."

 "Okay, do you want me to leave?" she asked.

 "Hell no, I hate watching classic movies alone.  How about I order us a pizza,” I suggested it to break the mood.

 "Okay, but it better come during a commercial.  I don't intend to miss any of this."

 The movie may have been even better than either of us remembered.  We talked about nothing but the actors and the plot during the movie.  After a large pizza and a whole pitcher of iced tea, Thompson went home.  It was so innocent there wasn't even a good night kiss.

 "You know," she said at the door, "if we don't figure this out, we are in deep shit."

 "Got that right," I said.  "You more than me."

 "I would say that is a fair analysis.  But then I can always work for you."  I didn't get a chance to answer. She disappeared into the hall.

 I returned to play with the Ident program.  I pretty well had it down by two.  I fell exhausted into bed.  I hoped the phone wouldn't wake me again.  I was of course wrong.

 "Damn," I thought, "It feels like I just got into bed."

 "Hello," I said looking at my watch.  I noted that I had indeed just gotten into bed.

 "Mason, this is Sandy.  Did I wake you?" my drunken ex wife asked.

 "There is a good chance that whenever you call me at three a.m., you are going to wake me.  What the hell do you want, Sandy?"

 "I called to ask if you remembered my dad's fishing cabin?" she asked.

 "Yes, I remember it.  Why do you ask?"

 "What did he have hanging in the bedroom?"

 "Hell, I have no idea," I replied.

"Sure you do," she stated confidently.

 "It is kind of late for guessing games," I said.

 "He had a painting of a woman.  A young woman sitting at a dressing table.  Remember?"

 "Okay, I remember.  The woman in the white dressing gown."

 "Right, you always loved that picture.  Do you want it?" she asked.

 "What are you talking about?" I asked, more awake by that time.

 "I found it in mom's attic tonight.  If you want it I could bring it over,” she suggested.

 "Not tonight, Sandy. You have been drinking,” I said.

 "You can come get it.  I know you are sober,” she said.

 "I'm sober and I'm in bed. Call me tomorrow when you are sober,” I suggested.

 She suddenly turned vicious.  "Don't you dare hang up on me.  You owe it to me to at least talk to me.

 "Why do I owe it to you?"

 "Because you love me."

 "Not anymore. Look Sandy, call me any time except the middle of the night,” I said, hanging the phone up.

 It seemed as though I had been in bed only a couple of minutes when the phone rang again.  I was still thinking of Sandy.  

"Look I told you to call me when you were sober," I said.

 "I am sober and I am calling," Thompson said, laughing at me. 

 "I'm sorry Thompson, I must have been dreaming.  Is it time to get up already?” I asked.

 "I am headed your way in twenty minutes.  I called to make sure you had the coffeepot going. I'll stop for biscuits."

 "Nice idea. I will be ready."  

I rushed through my shower while the coffee cooked, or whatever it is that coffee does.

 I opened the door to her quiet knock.  

"So are we alone this morning?" she asked.

 "As far as I know.  There may be a roach or two around, but that's about all."

 "Good," she said, heading for my kitchen.  

I traded a biscuit filled with animal fat for a cup of black coffee.  

"I want to ask you a couple of questions," she said.

 "Shoot," I replied.

 "What was all that between you and Evans last night?” she asked.

 "You want the truth?" I asked.

 "Yes I do," she said.

 "I have no idea.  I was stalling for time.  Somewhere during our conversation, I got the impression that something was terribly wrong at that school.  What it is, I haven't a clue."

 "Maybe we should ask Evans?" she suggested.

 "I don't think he knows either.  I could be wrong about that though.  Either way he wouldn't be able to help us."

 "Or he wouldn't, even if he could?"

 "That too," I said.

 "So what do we do?" she asked.

 "We take Pollards of all the girls who are too good to be true.  We let them know that we are going to start showing them around.  You know, build a dossier on each of them.  It might get a quick reaction.  If not, we show the pictures.  I especially want a shot of Sophia.  I want to know how often she hung out on the Strip, that kind of thing."

 "You aren't doubting her story?" Thompson asked.

 "Not at all. I think she was raped.  I just think it might have been someone who saw her in a bar.  If not that night then another.  It is as good a possibility as anything else we have."

 "Maybe," she said skeptically.

 "I would like to start with the DMV list.  If they have it when we show up at the station this morning, then we begin with any girl who has an illegal car.  If not, we pick any goody two shoes at random."

 "Sounds as good as anything else."

 "While you do that, I am going to do an Indent on Sophia's attacker."

 "Let's get cracking," Thompson suggested.

 She led the way out of my apartment and into the stairwell.  When we reached the bottom of the stairs, I heard a noise behind us.  I stopped her outside the door.  We waited until Virginia came down the stairs.

 "Good morning Virginia, did you sleep well," I asked.

 "Just fine, except for those computer noises from downstairs.  If I really lived here, I would toss him out on his ear," she said pushing by me.  She took about half a dozen more steps then said, "How do you stand it?"

 "My computer drowns his out," I laughed.

 "I didn't hear yours, but I surely heard his.” She said it walking to her black corvette.

 "Snap out of it, Mason," Thompson said.  "I can see the lust in your eyes.  She is a married woman."

 "Not all that much," I replied with a wicked smile. 

 "Whatever, we have work to do."

 "Right, let's get to the campus police station."

 We found not only the computer print out of the DMV list, but a box of student personnel records.  

"You are going to have to sign for those records," Bonnie said nastily.

 "Not a problem." I took the receipt and signed Ed Martin to it.  

"Come on Thompson, we have work to do."##

 "Thompson, you are going to have a full day. First I want you to take pictures of the girl scouts.  Then I want you to find a quiet place to read these records.  Look for anything that strikes you unusual about these girls.”  I said it while loading the records into the trunk of the car.

"If you run out of film, go buy some."  I handed her a twenty-dollar bill.  Get a receipt, tax you know."

 "And where are you going to be while I do this?" she asked.

 Instead of answering, I used my cell phone to call the College Inn.

"Mr. Evans, please."  I asked it of the desk clerk.  He connected me to the room.

 "Hello," a woman's voice said.

 "Mrs. Evans, my name is Mason.  Could I speak with your husband please?"

 "I'm sorry Mr. Mason, John had to leave last night. Some kind of emergency at the church, or maybe it was the TV station.  These days I can't keep them straight."

 "I know it is a trying time for you.  I called because I managed to get an Indent program for my computer.  I need to have Sophia come to my place today for an hour or so.  I would like for you to come with her."

 "What time?" she asked.

 "You pick it," I said.

 "Sophia has a class until two. Could we make it at two thirty?" she asked.

 "You bet. Do you have a car or should I send someone for you?"

 "That won't be necessary. I rented a car when we came down,” she said.

 I wondered why I hadn't seen a rental car outside her motel yesterday.  Maybe she had parked it somewhere else, or maybe she wasn't home.  Surely she was in the bedroom. No mother would leave her daughter to talk to the police alone.  I gave her directions, then hung up.

 "I am going to be making a composite this afternoon.  In the meantime, I will help you with the interviews and the pictures."  

The conversation stopped until Thompson pulled into the parking lot of the dorm.  

"Tell me how many of the girls are girl scouts?" I asked.

 "I figured it out last night.  I think six of them may have been lying.  Two I know for sure."

 "We have enough film for six.  Let's go rattle their little cages," I suggested.  "Before we go in, take a look at the DMV log.  See if any of them are on the list.”

 Bonnie had actually out done herself.  Not only were the girls listed, but also so were the parents.  Thompson circled the girls we were going to look at first.  Of the six, four either had cars or their parents owned multiple automobiles.  Ruth, our first liar, was among them.

 "Ruth, it's me, Pam Thompson with the campus police.  Mr. Mason is with me.  We need to talk to you again."  Thompson said it through the door.

 The door opened.

"I don't know why you would want to talk to me again?" she said.

 "A couple of things," I said.  "First of all I need to make your picture."  I shot it before she could refuse.

 "What was that for?" she asked.

 "I am going to be taking a picture of Sophia around to show people.  You know, ask them to pick her out.  Then see if they remember anybody watching her on Friday night.  To do that I need some other young women to show at the same time.  You don't mind, do you?"

 "I guess not," she said, a little unsure of the results.

 "Permission granted," I said into the tape recorder.  "Just for the record you do understand?" I asked.

 "Sure," she said bewildered.

 "I am going to take this to the Cellar and the Cat tonight.  The employees there aren't going to pick you out, are they?" I asked.

 It must have finally sunk into her young mind.  I was going to catch her in a lie.  

"They might. I have been there a few times,” she said.

 "Thompson, let me see your notes,” I demanded.  I thumbed through her notebook making sure that Ruth didn't see the pages.  

"Ruth, Thompson wrote that you said you had never been to either of those places.  I thought that was how I remembered it."

 "Yes, well I didn't want to get into trouble."

 "Since we know about the club, why don't you tell us all of it?  Thompson asked you about boyfriends. Did you lie about that?" I asked.

 "It wasn't really a lie. I know a couple of guys from town, but neither is really my boyfriend.”

 "So where were you really Friday night?" I asked.

 "I wasn't out with a boy, if that's what you think.  I was out alone, and not at the Cat or the Cellar.  I went to the Radios for dinner, then out for a drive alone."

 "You know that since you lied to me once already, I am going to need to know who you talked to, that kind of thing.  And Ruth," I said, "write down the names and addresses of the boys you go out with.  I am going to want to talk to them."

 "Why should I? I haven't done anything"

 "Ruth?" Thompson asked, "How would your parents react to the news that you were under suspicion for impeding a police investigation into the rape of a coed.  One of those boys may have done this terrible thing."

 "Okay, but I had dinner with some friends.  They can tell you I'm not lying."

 Ruth named two of the other girls on our list.  When Ruth had finished writing the names of her boyfriends, we let her go.  

"Something isn't right here, Mason," Thompson said.

 "I know. Why would she lie about having dinner with the girls?  Hell, why would they all lie?"

 "If she is telling the truth, each one is the other’s alibi, but for what?  They surely didn't rape Sophia."

 My cell phone rang before I could hypothesize further.  

"Hello," I said.

 "Mr. Mason this is Dr. Mitchell. I wonder, could you come to my office?"

 "Sure. When do you want to see me?" I asked.

 "Would now be convenient?"

 "I guess. I am busy, but Thompson can finish.  I'll be there in fifteen minutes."

 "Thank you," Dr. Mitchell said.

 "Look out Mason, that woman is after your ass," Thompson said.

 "In which sense?" I asked.

 "Doesn't matter, either way you are in trouble," Thompson said with a fatalistic smile.

 "I personally am hoping for a literal meaning," I said with the same kind of smile.  "You stay at this.  Don't push them too hard, but make sure they know we know they are lying to us. You never can tell. Someone might break."

 "You think?" she asked.

 "No, but I can hope,” I said it as I turnd puffing when I finished the walk and the climb up the stairs.  I walked into the Doc's office covered in a thin layer of sweat.

 "Hot out there?" the receptionist, asked.

 "Something right out of Dante," I said.  I tried to show that I wasn't a complete illiterate.

 "Go right in. Dr. Mitchell is expecting you."

 I was greeted by the sight of the Doc sitting at her desk staring down at a stack of papers.  She raised her head, acknowledged me with a nod, and then went back to her papers.  I sat in the chair across from her.  I waited a few seconds while she continued to read her papers.  It didn't look like she was going to stop anytime soon.  I stood to leave.

 "What are you doing?"

 "I'm going back to work.  I don't have time for these games.  I thought we finally might be past games."  I continued toward the doors.

 "Come back here, Mason," she said in a loud voice.

 "I don't think so, Doc."

 "Please Mason, we need to talk.”  She said it a lot less self-assured.

 "What is it that you want to talk about?" I said, still standing by the door.

 "About this investigation. I want to know when you will have someone in custody.

 "I have explained this to everyone who will listen.  I don't expect to have anyone in custody.  I expect the city police to find your rapist, if he can be found.  I am working a long shot angle.  I doubt it will pan out at all.  We are making some progress, but nothing definite yet,” I said.

 "I know you are friends with Mr. Evans, but I am the one you are responsible to."

 "Why Doc, you just ended a sentence with a preposition.  That doesn't sound like an educated woman."  I said it just to rattle her cage.  I think I would have preferred to give her the badge right then and there.

"Mr. Mason you are infuriating," she said, slumping into her chair.  

"Look, let's start over.  I have worked hard to get where I am.  This unfortunate incident is no worse than scores of others like it, which happen every year.  This one is unique only in the victim, and that it happened here.  She happens to be the daughter of Rev. John Evans.  He can literally crucify me.  Even if I give you my support a hundred percent, he is still going to crucify me."

 "I don't know about that.  If we catch the man, he may let you off the hook."

 "You don't believe that any more than I do.  He is going to hang the Chief, and me.  He will do it, because in his mind we let it happen.  The board is filled with reasonable men. If we find the rapist ourselves, I may be able to weather the storm," she said with a sigh.

 "Doc, I don't know what is going on here.  I don't play politics. All I know is there is more to this than meets the eye.  Evans knows it too."

 "Matte, call me Matte.  And by the way, you just ended a sentence with a preposition." She managed a weak smile.

 "Yeah, well I'm a photographer, not an educator,” I said with a grin I didn't feel.

 "Can you wrap it up by next Friday? The board meets then."

 "I have no idea. Thompson and I are going at it well into the evenings.  There is just so much we can do,” I explained.

 "Would more people help,"

 "More kiddy cops? I doubt it.  They could ask the questions, but they probably wouldn't understand the answers."

 "So what can I do to help?" she asked, serious for a change.

 "At the moment I really don't know of a thing.  Let me think about it. If I come up with anything I will call."

 "I can't stand this waiting," she said.

 "I know boss, it's a bitch," I said.

 "Well, if you won't call me Matte, I prefer boss to Doc," she said with another weak smile.##

 "I really do have a lot of work to do.  How about I check in with you tonight."

 "Sure, let me give you my home number," she said, giving me yet another card.  On that one she wrote her home phone number.  When she handed it to me, our hands touched. Nothing happened.  I didn't get any feeling at all from her touch.  If anything, there was a smell of fear in the room.

 When I arrived at Bonner Hall, Thompson's car was in the parking lot but she was not in the lobby.  I waited, trying to sort out all the contradictory facts and emotions running through my mind. I was somehow having trouble separating fact from emotion.  I got tired of waiting so I called Thompson on the radio.  She informed me that she would be down in about ten minutes.

 I walked out of the dorm into the sunshine.  I lit a cigarette while I tried to clear my mind. My mind stayed blank for a few minutes, how many I am not sure. The only thing that brought me back was Thompson's touch on my shoulder.

 "I don't know what the hell is going on, but something sure is," Thompson said.  "All those girls have changed their stories.  Now they aren't girl scouts.  They are just having a little fun.  They have all been to both bars on the strip.  Mason, it gets weird here," she continued.

 "Why weird?" I asked.

 "When I talked to them the first time, they all sounded alike.  Remember I said there were too damned many girl scouts."  I nodded.  "Well they all tell slightly different stories but they all sound alike somehow."

 "You haven't finished, have you?" I asked.

 "No, I only talked to three since you left, but I feel like I have been talking to the same one each time.  I would have expected some emotion, at least, when they were accused of lying.  They all just calmly changed their stories.  It is strange."

 "Well, lets break for lunch.  I'll listen to the tapes while we eat."

 "Okay, but no more food at the commons.  I want to go to Eddy’s.  You might as well meet some of the other kiddy cops."

 The restaurant was all chrome and glass.  It was also a mile or two from the campus. The decor was reminiscent of the fifties.  Inside I saw two men in uniforms like Thompson's.  I recognized the one called Bobby from the Chief's office.  I followed Thompson to the booth. We stood while she introduced me.

              "Mason, this is Bobby Tuttle and Sam Carlton.  Guys, this is Mr. Mason."

 "Call me Mason, guys, everybody does.  Actually, I have been meaning to meet you two,” I said.  "Do you mind if we sit?"

 Carlton rose and moved to sit beside Tuttle. I moved to the rear of the empty side of the booth.

"I'll bet they call you Turtle," I said to Tuttle.

 "Only about once," the kid answered.

 "Okay, then it's Bobby and Sam.  Guys, tell me about the campus?"

 "Didn't Thompson tell you all about out little kindergarten?" Sam asked.  Sam was a lot older and more cautious than the other was two.

 "Sure but, no offense Thompson, she is a woman.  What do you guys think?"

 "I think there are too damned many rich girls around,” he said.

 "How so? I mean it is a state school, isn't it?" I asked.

 "It is now," Sam said.  "It was a private college until about two years ago.  It was an all girl’s school actually.  They got in financial trouble so the state took it over.  It's a small campu private school.  The state doesn't broadcast this school.  It is a way they can keep an elite c a look around campus.  You will see kids in jeans that cost more than all the uniforms we get issued.  You won't see many black faces either."

 "And not many men," Bobby volunteered.  "This school is a throw back to the fifties.  Man, it's like working in a time warp."

 I remembered the feeling I had that first day.  I had felt the time warp myself.  

"It will catch up to them," I said.  "You can't hide a University."

 "Sure you can," Thompson answered.  "You just keep the campus small and don't let it out that it is part of the system.  Nobody much knows about it, you just don't recruit students.  It is strictly a word of mouth operation."

 "Well, that isn't my problem," I said.

 "It might be tied up in your problem.  These kids are privileged.  They know they are special.  They don't have any concept of authority figures.  “Hell, daddy can buy you.”  That is their attitude,” Sam said angrily.  "If we want to keep our jobs, we go along."

 "Do these kids have clubs, you know like alpha alpha falfa?" I asked.  I was pleased when the cops laughed.

 "Sure they got houses, those between the campus and the Commons.  Not much goes on in them.  They close them during the summer months.  That's why there is anyone in Bonner at all.  Those girls are all members of one sorority or another," Thompson said.

 "I don't suppose your six are members of the same one?" I asked Thompson.

 "Shit, I never thought to check.  I'll look in their records when we get back to the car,”  She said it disgusted with herself.

 I ignored her mistake.  I didn't know enough to ask, and she didn't know enough to check.

"So guys what's good here?"

 "Most everything," Bobby said.  After a slight pause while I read the menu, he continued.  "Rumor is that you are going to be the new Chief.  That is, when this is over."

 "Rumor is wrong, as usual.  I am a photographer.  As a matter of fact, I need to do some today. After lunch Thompson dropped me at the house.  I could shoot a couple of pictures before Sophia and her mother arrived.##

 The food wasn't too bad.  I finished before any of the others.  I don't suppose kiddie cops get many calls.  While I waited for Thompson to finish, I took a good look at the other two Officers.  Carlton I understood.  He had informed me over dinner that he had been a Sheriff's deputy until he had a heart attack.  He and his doctor decided it was time for him to slow down. Bobby was a young guy. I figured he might just like the view at the college.   As a state employee, he made enough money to live, but not much more.  I made a mental note to check him out with Thompson.  He could have made it onto the higher paying city force.

 We left the restaurant in the Chief's car.  Both the other cops stayed behind.  

"Strange," I said.

 "What?" Thompson asked.

 "Those two were there before we came, and they stayed after we left.  How long are your lunch hours?” I asked.

 "In the summer about as long as we want.  One of the perks," she said.

 "Speaking of perks, why does Bobby stay here?  He could make it onto the city police."

 "Do you trust anyone's motives, Mason?" she asked.

 "Only those I can understand.  So what is his story?"

 "He came here while waiting for an opening on the local cops.  He liked it so he stayed. That's the word."

 "How long ago was that?" I asked.

 "I wasn't here but I think three, maybe four years," she said.  "Don't go making something sinister out of Bobby's liking to watch girls."

 "Is he married or got a girlfriend?" I asked.

 "I don't know.  All I can tell you for sure, is that I never went out with him." she said.

 Probably gay, I thought.  That would explain his not going on to the city.  Gay cops in the south are an anomaly.  If they do get on the force, they have a hard time if it becomes known.

"Well, it has nothing to do with this case, so forget it."

 "I never thought it did," Thompson said.

 When we arrived in front of my apartment, I said. "Okay, here's the deal.  I am going to shoot a couple of pictures.  You go finish the interviews with our converted girl scouts.  You should be finished before I finish with the Indent run with Sophia and her mother.  You come to the apartment with the tapes.  We can go over them when I finish with the composite.  We are going to be working late again.  I hope you are keeping up with your hours?" I asked.

 "I am. Even if I wasn't, this is great experience for me," she said.

 "Only if we catch the bad guy," I said, exiting the Crown Vic.  

I walked up the narrow dim stairs.  Inside my apartment I found the fax from the realtor.  I matched the address against my street map.  The two houses were in different sections of the city.  That was no real surprise. I hadn't expected them to be next door to one another.

 I discovered something disheartening on the very first house.  I had to actually get out of the truck to shoot it.  From the second one, I learned that the truck was going to be a liability.  The streets in the old section of town were narrow.  Not only that but many were also dead-ended.  Backing a truck a block or two down a narrow street is no fun at all.

 It took less than an hour from start to finish. Not bad, I thought.  I transferred the pictures from the digital camera to my computer.  By the time I had the two pictures ready to go, I had spent another ten minutes.  First the fax worked its magic over the phone line, then the printer made hard copies for the realtor's file.

 Sophia and her mother arrived right on time.  Unfortunately the printer was still clunking away.  

"Come on in.  I'm afraid the computer is going to be tied up for a couple of minutes.  In the meantime we can have a Coke."

 "So this is where you live?" Gina Evans asked.  Gina was a dark-haired woman about five and a half feet tall.  She was thin and both attractive and ‘well-taken care of'. She looked rich, in other words.

 "Yes ma'am, it ain't much, but I call it a hovel," I said with a warm smile.

 "I like it," Sophia said.  "It, kind of fits you, all rough and warm at the same time.  You do need a rug on this floor though."

 "I guess, I am going to have to buy one.  You are the second person who told me that," I replied.  The laptop screen changed as the printer stopped.

 "I think your printer has stopped," Gina said businesslike.

 "Yes ma'am, we are ready to begin.  Let me explain how this works," I said to Sophia.  "When I load the program, a man's face is going to appear on the screen.  You tell me what corrections to make.  We will try to get close to the man we want to find."  I intentionally tried to stay away from the reason we wanted to find him.

 "Okay, I'm ready," Sophia said, taking her mother's hand with a deep sigh.

 The man's face came on the screen.  "His face was wider than that," Sophia said.

 I enlarged his face using one of the many tools in the program.  "Not quite so much,"

 "His hair was darker,"

 "His eyes were larger and farther apart,"

 "His nose was bigger, and his lips were real thin."

 After thirty minutes we were close.  I was interrupted by the knock of Thompson.  I allowed her into the room.  Sophia hugged her for a moment then returned to the picture.  The last thing Sophia had me change was the hair style.

"That's him.  I swear that is the man."

 The composite showed a man close to, if not, in his thirties.  He had short brown hair but not a buzz cut.  His eyes were brown and he had heavy brows and lashes.  His nose was large and probably had been broken at some time.  The man looked like a thug.  It was not a real good sign.

 "Well honey, that does it.  I need Thompson to make a Polaroid of you then we are ready to begin looking for this asshole.  I'm sorry, ma'am," I said to Gina.

 "I have heard the word before, and I think it applies pretty well," she said seriously.

 While Thompson shot the picture of Sophia, Gina asked, "Why do you need Sophia's picture?"

 "We are going to be asking around about your man.  While we are at it, we want to try to find someone who might have seen him following her, or watching her, while she got a Coke at the drugstore, that kind of thing.  We need her picture because none of the town people know the kids by name."

 Gina nodded.  ##

"Could I get a copy of that picture?" she asked.

 "You mean Sophia's picture?" I asked.  I was surprised that she would want a cheap Polaroid.

 "No, that man," she stated without emotion.  "I know my husband will want to see it."

 "Sure, I am about to print a sheet.  I can run you one first.  It will be quicker with just one on the printer."  

I set up the picture which took another minute.  Thompson took Sophia into the kitchen for another Coke and a talk.

 "She knows her way around your apartment pretty well,” Gina commented.

 "Yeah, that happens when you partner up with someone.  They begin to treat your house like an extension of their own,” I said with a smile.

 During the five minutes while the picture ran, Gina talked about her life on the same campus.  

"You know, I wanted Sophie to come here.  It was the first time I had ever felt safe in my life.  This place was kind of a haven for me.  I never dreamed that anything bad could happen here."

 "To tell you the truth, I can't imagine how a thing like this could happen either.  The guy must me some kind of nut.  First of all, rape is a stupid crime. Second, he had to have picked Sophia at random.  It is just all so stupid,” I said.

 "I know, but you will get him.  I have as much faith in you as Sophie and her father,” she said with a sad smile.

 "I hope you are right, but I expect the city police to find him.  I am going to give them this picture tonight.  Somebody on the force might recognize him."

 "Like my husband, I don't care who catches the man. I just want to do all we can," she said.  

The picture finished about the same time as our conversation.  Gina placed her copy into her over sized handbag.  

              "Sophie," she said.  "We are leaving now."

 "Yes mom," came the reply from the kitchen.  

When Sophia entered the living room she said to me, "Mr. Mason, I really do appreciate all you have done.  I hope we can be friends." With those words she held out her hand to me.

 I took it.  I found it covered with sweat. I had no idea the picture would effect her that way.  I could feel the anger and fear in her hand.  

"I thought we were friends," I said.

 "Come along Sophia, Mr. Mason has work to do,” Gina said, pushing her daughter gently to the door.

 "Thompson," I said loudly.  "Let's listen to your tapes.  This printer is going to take a while to crank out the copies."

 "Right away, boss," she said.

 I let the remark slide.  I began playing the tapes.  It was obvious that the girls were lying again.  It was a different more believable lie, but still a lie.

              "Thompson, what the hell is going on?" I asked.

 "Beats me, but you feel it don't you?"

 "I sure do.  These are the worst liars I ever heard.  They don't have much experience lying to the cops."  I thought for a minute.  "Did you check their records."

 "I sure did. They are all members of the same house."

 "Now that is interesting. So where were they Friday night and what did it have to do with Sophia getting raped."

 "You got me," Thompson said.

 "Okay, then we need a song bird."

 "A what?" she asked.

 "A song bird, someone to sing to us.  There isn't much chance these women will talk.  So let’s figure out who would," I said. 

 "How about a recent graduate.  One who was in the house," she suggested.

  "One who got tossed out would be better.  Someone who actually wanted to talk."

 "Someone who moved back into the dorm.  I'll try to find someone," Thompson said.

 "Hell no, we got too much to do," I said picking up the phone.  

I called Dr. Mitchell's office.  Once I had her on the line, I explained what I needed, but not why.  She informed me that the computer records were available, but would not necessarily show where the girls had previously lived.

 "How about this. Cross match any junior or senior who returned to the dorm, with their address, last year.  Shouldn't be more than a dozen or so,” I suggested.

 "I'll get my secretary on it right away.  Are you getting close?" she asked anxiously.

 "A lot closer than we were yesterday," I suggested.  When she hung up, I looked at Thompson then said, "So I lied.  I am a lot better at it than the girl scouts."

 "You are that.  We really are closer, aren't we?"

 "We know what the prick looks like, that is a start."  

I tried to call Vette but she was out.  I told the detective who answered to find her.  "This is important," I explained.  

The printer had finished the first eight by ten of our man.  It was half way through another one when Vette called.

 "What is so urgent?" she asked shortly.

 "Look Vette, take it easy.  I don't care if you take this asshole.  I just want him taken.  I have a picture of him, if you are interested?"

 "How the hell did you get a picture?" she asked.

 "Sophia and I did a composite," I said.

 "I didn't know you were a sketch artist," she said angrily.

 "I'm not, but I found an Ident computer program laying around.  If you want a copy of the picture, then come by my place.  But do it quick, I plan to do a little canvassing."

 "I'm on my way, just as soon as you give me the address."

 I gave her the address and directions to my house.  When she broke the connection, I turned to Thompson.  

"Do you want to be a city cop?" I asked.

 "I thought so once, but now I don't know. Why?"

 "Because, if you do, now is the time to ask.  They are going to owe us a big one.  You can probably get hired tomorrow."

 "I think I will hold off on that,” she said.

 The printer had switched from eight by tens to a page of six smaller prints when Vette arrived.  I opened the door to her knock.  

"Come in Vette," I said.

 "Well, let's see our man," she said without any preamble.  I handed her the eight by ten.  

"How close is it?" she said.

 "Sophia swears it is our man.”  I said it simply.

 "Well, she should know," Vette said.  She stood looking at the picture a long time.

 "Do you know him?" I asked.

 "Never saw him before."

 "You got time for a cup of coffee or a glass of tea?" I asked.

 "Make it tea. So what else do you know?"  She asked it of my back.  She had also ignored Thompson completely.

 "Right now, that's all I know.  How about you?" I asked.

 "Just because you saved me two days with the composite, I am going to drop a few things on you.  This is going to be a turf war, so forget where you heard it."  I nodded my agreement.  

"Somebody is rattling the Chief's cage, so he is rattling mine.  Word is that I have to solve this before you, and by next Friday.  Kind of stinks, don't it?" she asked.

 "Tell you what, if I accidentally fall over this guy, you can have him.  All I want is the prick caught."

 "Mason, I don't remember you being this nice.  What has happened to you?  Did you lose both your balls along with the eye?" I saw Thompson tense.  

"Vette, I have tried about everything I can think of to cooperate with you.  I have never gone to the station demanding to see the file.  I could, but I have stayed away from it.  I want this to be over.  Anything I could do, I have done.  Now either you tell me what the wild hair is up your ass, or I am going to fucking bury you."  My voice had risen steadily as I spoke.  It ended in a loud mean threat.

 "Now that's the Mason, I remember, mean and cruel.  What are you really doing here?" she demanded.

 "Trying to keep an old man's job for him.  Ed may not believe it, but they are out to get him."

 "So what? You never helped anybody in your life."

 "Ed was my trainer when I started.  I guess I feel I owe him.  Besides, I am moving to this town permanent.  It couldn't hurt to have a friend on the force."

 "I don't believe any of that crap.  Somebody is paying you.  Old man Evans, I'll bet."

 "Of course he is paying me.  Even men with one eye and one ball have to eat." I said it as a joke.

 "I really am sorry about that crack.  I am just catching hell from all directions on this thing. You still are the meanest one-eyed, one-balled bastard I ever met.  Can I believe you about not trying to make a reputation on this?"

 "Absolutely," I replied.##

 "The truth is, we got next to nothing on this.  Until today, it had a low priority.  I haven't even had time to question the other girls in the dorm," she said.  I have been working on a robbery where the old man was shot."

 "When did the robbery happen?" I asked.

 "Sunday. Had nothing to do with this mess.  Some black dude hit a convenience store. Killed the owner.  Everybody is on it.  That is until this afternoon.  Now the Chief is hot on my ass about not having been working this case.  Shit Mason, I may want a job with you if this keeps up."

 "Thompson, give her the tapes," I ordered.

 Thompson removed the mini-cassette from the recorder.  She took two more from her pocket, then handed all three to Vette.  "Tapes of all the women from the dorm,” Thompson said quietly.

 "Now Vette, what have you got?"

 "Your girl couldn't identify any of the knowns.  Chances are we aren't going to find him easy.  That was our big plan.  Got a tool mark on the rear door.  The lab tells me it was probably a tire iron. Not much help there."

 I made a mental note of that.

 "If your girl did at least a half-assed interview, it will give me a place to start.  Thanks for the tapes and the picture," Vette said, standing.

 "Vette, those weren't a freebie," I said.

 "What's the freight?" she asked.

 "Thompson, make her a list of our license plates and the names of the boyfriends.  I want Vette to see if anything strange is associated with them."

 "Like what?" Vette asked.

 "If I knew that, I wouldn't have to ask you to look them up for me," I said.  "Just see if any of them come up on the records or FI file."

 "This must be your lucky day.  If you had asked me a week ago, I would have given you back the tapes.  As of Monday, the last year’s FI files made it to the computer.  The President's new cops idea bought us an intern.  She entered them on the computer records.fter work?" she asked.

 "Sure, just call first. We plan to be pretty busy," I explained.

 "Asking people if they have ever seen our man?"

 "You bet," I replied.

 "You work around the school, I will try the rest of the town.  I should be finished next year."  She said it sadly as she finally left the room.

 "What the hell is between you two," Thompson asked.

 "Nothing. Cops just don't like anyone stepping on their toes."

 "Bullshit, that was personal.  I know when a woman goes after a man,  That bitch was out to cut you off at the knees."

 "Thompson, you have a vivid imagination.  It should help you a lot in this kind of work. Now imagine yourself talking to your brother cops, then go make it happen.  See if anyone recognizes our boy.  Then find out who was working patrol Friday night.  Ask about any strange cars on campus."

 "You don't think he was stupid enough to park his car on campus?" Thompson asked.

 "I think that if he was stupid enough to rape a woman, he was stupid enough to do anything."

 "So what are you going to do?" she asked.

 "I am going to start asking around at the Commons.  Someone might know our man. Give me Sophia's Polaroid.  I am going to need it."

 I began at the drugstore in the Commons.  

"Hi there," I said to the young woman who had fixed me a cup of coffee on my first day of apartment hunting.  "I wonder if you would do me a favor," I said, showing her my new badge.  "Would you take a look at a couple of pictures for me?"

 "Sure. I didn't know you were a cop," she said.

 "I didn't think you would remember me."

 "Are you kidding? We don't get many pirates in here," she said with a smile.  She took the picture of Sophia and the print of the rapist.  

"Her, I've seen around.  She's been in a couple of times.  I don't think I have ever seen the guy before."

 "You sure about the man?" I asked.

 "Yeah, pretty sure."

 "What can you tell me about the girl?"

 "She usually came in with a couple of other girls.  You know how them snooty college kids are."  I had no idea but I nodded anyway.  "They bought cokes sometimes, but not much else. Except condoms.  They buy a lot of condoms."

 "This girl ever buy any?" I asked.

 "I don't know.  If she didn't, her friends did."

 "Did you ever see her with a boy?" I asked non-committal.

 "I don't think so.  Maybe once or twice but I can't be sure."

 "You have been a great help," I said earnestly.  "Thank you."

 "Rachel," she said.  "My name is Rachel."

 "Sure, Rachel, I'll be seeing you,” I said as I rose to leave.

 "I hope so," she said with a warm smile.  She must like cops I thought, as I walked toward the door.  I turned back and asked, "Rachel, do you know Bobby Tuttle?"

 "Sure, he comes in once in a while.  Usually when he has a cold. Why?"

 "Nothing, I thought if you hadn't met, I would introduce you,” I said.

 "Nice thought, but it wouldn't do any good," she said.  I had a pretty good idea what she meant.

 The waitress at the restaurant recognized Sophia, but not the man.  Sophia and her friends ate there about once a week.  The cafeteria food wasn't very good, the waitress confided in me.  The girls always behaved themselves in the restaurant.  She had never seen Sophia without her friends.  She couldn't say if they were the same ones all the time or not. Sophia was just part of a crowd according to the waitress.

 Mom, of the Mom and Pop grocery, had about the same story.  Sophia had been in on occasion.  Her store, according to Mom, sold a lot of fresh fruit to the students of the teacher’s college. Fruit and cookies were her best sellers.

 There was certainly nothing sinister in Sophia running around with a group of girls. Nothing except that one of the girls in the dorm had described Sophia as a loner.  I had to remember to check the tapes again.  

"Shit," I thought.  Vette had the tapes.  Maybe Thompson had it in her notes.  I wanted her to come back here with the pictures of the other girls.  It would be interesting to know if any of our girl scouts traveled with Sophia.  I could have Thompson check to see if Sophia belonged to the same house as the other girls.

 The radio squeaked, "I am finished at the station, no car,” Thompson advised me.

 "Okay, go to the dorm.  See if any of the girls recognize the man.  After that go home, change and get back to my place.  We are going back to the Strip,” I said.

 I was home by six.  I didn't expect Thompson till eight.  I made a fresh cup of coffee and waited.  I answered the knock on the door fifteen minutes later.

"Hi Vette, come on in. Get you a cup?"  I asked.  She nodded.

 When I returned with the coffee, she started.  "I have been thinking about what I said this afternoon.  I'm sorry Mason, I can be a god awful bitch."

 "You can, but it's not a problem," I said.

 "Your little girl Thompson, she knew that I was going after you personally."

 "She isn't my little girl, but yes she knew."

 "So how have you been?" she asked.

 "Okay, I guess."

 "You know, it didn't have to end the way it did,” Vette said.

 "Sure it did,” I said.

 "Okay, we won't stroll down memory lane.  I checked with our guys, at least all I could find.  None of them knew your man.  Didn't even get a bite."

 "It was a long shot.  Maybe we can do better on the campus.  I just have a feeling he didn't wander onto the campus.  I think he either followed one of the girls home, or he knew somebody there."

 "Those are the two usual ways.  I would expect when we find him, he dated one or more of the girls."

 "If the school year had started, I would post his face on the bulletin boards around campus.  Not much sense doing that now.##  Thompson is checking with all the summer school women."

 "I passed out the picture at evening roll call.  Maybe we will get lucky.  He might run a stop sign."

 "Maybe. Stranger things have happened,” I replied.

 "They have indeed.  I hear Jerry got promoted to Sergeant last year," Vette said.

 "I hope they at least gave him a desk job,” I said sarcastically.

 "One can only hope," Vette said.  "I'm a little surprised that you didn't kill him."

 "They only do that in the movies," I replied.  "Besides, eventually he will get his.  They always do."

 "Not soon enough. When did you develop all this patience?" she asked.

 "I had a lot of time over the last couple of years," I said.

 "So what happened with Sandy?"

 "The insurance money ran out, then Sandy," I said.


 "She always was that," I replied.

 "I hear you gave up the bottle."

 "I had to," I said.

 "Well listen, I'm going back out on the street.  Maybe I can get lucky," Vette said.

 "You got a better chance out there than in here,” I said.

 "We still talking about the rapist?” she asked.

 "I guess," I said.

 She sat on the sofa even after making her announcement.  We both kind of looked at one another for a minute.  We were interrupted by a knock.  I opened the door to Thompson.

She was again dressed in jeans and a tee shirt.  At the sight of her, Vette stood.

 "Time for me to get back to work.  Thanks for the coffee," she said.  She ignored Thompson as they passed.

 "That is a hard woman," Thompson commented after Vette had gone.

 "She is that.  So what did you learn?" I asked.

 "Nobody admits to knowing our man."

 "You said that like you thought they were lying,” I said

 "I don't know any more."

 "Give me the photo spread," I demanded.  "I am going to ask a few people about them all tomorrow.  Tonight we are going to ask at the Strip,” I said.

 "Good luck. The Cellar might help, but the Cat is a no-no."

 "Why is that?" I asked.

 "They get hassled regularly by the cops.  You know drugs and stuff.  Those people are immune to interrogations.  They never say anything."

 "We are just going to have to ask a different way."

 "And exactly how might that be?"  She asked it looking worried.

 "You watch too many cop movies," I suggested.

 We had a couple of hours to kill so I turned on the TV.  It was about fifteen minutes into a stupid sitcom, when yet another knock came on my door.  I looked at Thompson curiously.  I opened the door to find Virginia standing in the hall.  As usual she was dressed completely in black.  

"Mr. Mason, I was wondering if you could help me a minute?" she asked. 

 "Sure. What can I do?"

 "I have a window stuck in the apartment next door.  Would you give me a hand with it?"

 "Thompson, I will be right back," I said over my shoulder.

 Inside the apartment beside mine, Virginia pointed to a window on the side of the house.  I pushed with all my might on the window.  It opened so easily I almost fell out of it.  

"Not too badly stuck," I said.

 "I'm afraid the stuck window was a ruse.  I wanted to talk to you alone.  You seem to be a very popular man."

 "Not so's you'd know it,” I replied.  "That is all business."

 "That is pretty much what I want to talk to you about.  I thought you were a photographer, but I see police cars parked here about every day,” she said.

 "It won't be much longer.  I am helping out an old friend, that's all.  I will be back to being a simple photographer next week.  If not, at least by the one after."

 "I never would have rented to you if I had known," she said.

 "Why, I thought you had lots of cop friends," I said.

 "Sure, but I don't have then next to my playpen," she said.  "Some things I do are private. I thought you would understand being kind of an artist."

 "I do understand. If you want me to move say so.  I'm sure I can find another place.  That is, when my money runs out."

 "No, I don't think that will be necessary. Just do me a favor, I don't think you will talk about what goes on up here, but please keep you cop friends away from here on Saturday night."

 "What is going to happen on Saturday night?" I asked.

 "I am having kind of a party.  I don't usually have them here, but there is a hurricane coming."

 "A hurricane coming here? I hadn't heard that,” I said.

 "Don't you ever read the paper or watch the TV news?" she asked.

 "Actually, I don't.  You would think I would have heard about a hurricane though."

 "It isn't coming here, it is going to pass by the coast."

 "Hell that isn't news.  It happens five or six times a year," I said.

 "True and it brings a hell of a lot of rain, each and every time,” Virginia said.

 "So?" I asked.

 "If it isn't actually pouring buckets, the ground will be wet.  The party is usually out of doors.”  She said it expecting me to understand.

 "Oh, a midnight picnic," I said stupidly.

 Virginia shook her head. "Something like that."  I could tell she found me too stupid to believe.

 "I'll keep the cops away Saturday night," I promised.

 "Good. Now get back to your little cop friend, before she gets the wrong idea,” Virginia said.

 "Right," I said, leaving her apartment and going into my own.

 "So what did the great white witch want?" Thompson asked.

 "She is having a witch party Saturday.  She wanted to make sure I knew, you weren't invited,” I said.

 "Are you?" she asked.

 "I may be the guest of honor," I said with a smile.

 "Mason, you are nuts," Thompson said.

 "Probably," I agreed.  "It matters not little one, we have work to do,” I said in a fake superior voice.

 "Is this going to be a night I regret?"

 "You are safe.  Just hang on tight," I said as we left the apartment.  

She had remembered to exchange the cop car for her Toyota.  I squeezed into it as she tried to drive away without me. The sun was still over the horizon when we entered the Cellar.  I stopped her before she went down the stairs.

 At the small counter where the lone waitress stood, I showed her the photo array. Without saying a word. She looked at them, picked out three of the women, including Sophia.

 "They come in a couple of times over the weekend."

 "Which weekend," I asked.

 "All of them," she said.

 "How about last weekend?" I asked.

 "Probably. They are usually on the make every Friday or Saturday night.  They usually leave early, if you get my drift."

 "Together or alone?" I asked.

 "Yeah, together and separate.  They seldom go home alone."

 "Ever see this man?" I asked, showing her the composite.

 "Nope, he looks more like a Cat customer," she answered.

 "Did the women go to the Cat?" I asked.

 "Seen them head that way.  Sometimes they came from there.  Usually found men here.  You really can't talk much at the Cat,” she informed me.

 "I appreciate it,” I said.

 "I hope I get more than a thank you," she said.  I slipped her a twenty.

 I then followed Thompson down the stairs to the Cellar's entertainment.  There was still no band.  We talked to the lone bartender.  She looked at the photos and laughed.  She also picked out the same three women.  

"Sure they come in here about every weekend.  They usually leave with one or more men.  They always leave together no matter how many men they pick up. I always thought it was a little strange.  I mean, college girls into that group shit."

 "They are teaching different stuff than they did when I went to school."

 "That's for sure," I agreed.  "You must know some of the guys they went out with."

 "We get a lot of men in here," she said.

 "Did you ever see this one?" I asked.

 "Don't think so.  He looks more like the Cat's kind of guy.  Of course, they brought a lot of men with them from the Cat."

 "I sure could use the names of a couple of the men who took them home," I said.

 "Come back Friday.  There should be one or two around,” she suggested.

 "Tell me Miss," Thompson said, "With all those men, didn't they ever cause trouble in here?"

 "No, the men were glad to be rid of them, best I could tell."

 "Anybody ever tell you what went on?" I asked.

 "None of them ever discussed it with me.  I wouldn't have listened anyway.  I don't like to talk about other women,” she said with a warm smile.  It was aimed not at me but at Thompson.

 Just then she got called away to pour a beer.  

"Would you like to come with me to the Cat or would you rather stay with the bartender?" I asked.

 "Fuck you, Mason," Thompson said genuinely angry.

 "Hey, it was a joke.  Don't get all bent out of shape."

 "Let's just get to the Cat.  I am dying to see you get tough with that muscle man behind the bar,” she said wickedly.

 "Actually, I thought I would work on the one with the jewelry through her tongue.  I thought you might give the muscle man a try,"

 "You are a pig," Thompson said, still mad at me.

 I stopped along the way in the Chinese restaurant.  I never could make them understand I was trying to interview them.  The old man kept pointing to the menu.  I left in disgust.  I was sure the old man and the young waitress were laughing their asses off at me.##

 In the Cat, I found the same two bartenders working and the same music blaring.  I tried to show the pictures to the woman but it was far too dark and loud to accomplish anything.  I finally pulled Thompson aside.  

"Let's go home.  We are not going to accomplish anything here."  She heard about half of what I said.  She nodded, then led the way out the door.

 "I told you that you wouldn't get anything from them,” she said when we were outside.

 "Drop me at the house. I have had enough for one day,” I said.

 Inside my apartment, I fiddled with the computer and then the TV until midnight.  I drove back outside the Cat and parked my truck in the alley.  I moved to the shadows by the dumpster. I had an hour's wait before I heard someone banging a garbage can against the dumpster.  I walked around it to find the muscle man.  He jumped back.  "God man, you scared the hell out of me.  What do you want?"

 "I want you to look at some pictures, then tell me who the people are," I said reasonably.

 "You ain't no cop. Cops don't come at you from the dark," he said.  "I ain't got to talk to you."

 "I would suggest that you talk to me.  I am not the type guy you want to piss off."

 "Looks to me like you already pissed somebody off."  He was obviously referring to my eye.

 "Yeah, you should see the other guy. Not a scratch on him.  Not even when he went into the ground,” I said menacingly.

 "Well, he wasn't me, was he," The big man said moving into a fighting stance.

 "Kid, you are about to make a big ass mistake," I said.

 "No Cyclops, you made the mistake,” he said moving toward me.

 I have no idea what makes a man like that think that I am the John Wayne type.  When he came forward I hit him in the balls with a piece of water pipe.  I keep it in the truck for that very purpose.  He fell instantly to the concrete.  I expected him to stay down but he decided not to.

"Kid, I wouldn't get up if I were you," I suggested.

 They never learn.  He staggered toward me again.  I easily sidestepped his awkward movement.  I also gave him an elbow across the bridge of his nose.  Men who taste their own blood are pretty well ready to call it a night. Especially when it clogs their airway as well.

 He was on the ground again.  He had gone over backwards like a man running into a clothes line.  His feet just flew up.  It would have been funny if I hadn't seen him try to get up yet again.  

"Now kid, you are about to get really hurt if you get up again."

 He sat back down hard on the concrete.  I tossed the John Doe into his lap.  

"So who is he?" I asked.

 "Never saw him before," The kid said.

 "Son, I am about to set your nose without anesthesia.  I would look a little harder this time."

 "He might have come in one time."

 "When would that have been?" I asked.

 "Week ago or so."

 "Were these girls at the club that night,” I said, handing him the Polaroids.

 "These three for sure.  They are here every weekend."

 "Back to the man. Where would you look for him, if he owed you money?" I asked.

 "Man, I got no idea," he said.

 "Come on kid, who would know?" I asked.

 "Freeda, ask Freeda," he said.

 "Who the hell is Freeda?" I asked.

 "I'm Freeda," the second bartender said.  She seemed a lot less attractive in the glare of the outside light.  That, and women holding small ugly automatics seem a lot less attractive than they are.

 "Okay Freeda," I said, leaning down to recover John Doe's picture.  "So who is this man?"

 "Man, I'm gonna' blow your ass off, and you are showing me pictures?" she asked incredulously.

 "Why not?  You might just wound me.  If you do, I still want to know who this asshole is."

 "I don't know his name, but he is crazy like you,” she said getting more nervous all the time.

 "I'm a cop, Freeda. You shoot me and they are going to burn your ass.  Hold on and I will get my badge.”  I showed her the badge.

 "Why the hell didn't you say so?" the man on the ground asked.

 "Would you have answered my questions?" I asked in return.

 "No, but I would never have started a fight with you either."

 "Come on," I said, helping him up.  "You need to get a bar towel on the nose.  I'll carry that can for you."  

I followed the two of the them inside.  I was more than a little surprised that Freeda folded her hand so easily.

 The bar was quiet and a lot brighter when closed.  

"So Freeda, who is the freak?" I asked.

 "I don't know his name.  I think I met him at Sammy's a couple of months ago.  I went home with him.  He came back here last weekend.  I told him, I wasn't interested in doing it again."

 "Why was that," I asked. 

 "Man, he is too freaky for me.  I mean, he wanted to do some real kinky things."

 "No offense Freeda, but when you wear studs in your tongue, what can be too kinky for you."

 "Not much, but I draw the line at being hung."

 "Hung like in the old west?" I asked.

 "Almost. He had some kind of contraption that would almost suffocate you.  He claimed it created the best orgasms.  He slapped me around some when I refused."

 "Freeda told me about it.  I threw his ass out," the man with the towel said.

 "Okay, were does our pervert live?" I asked.

 "I got no idea," Freeda said.

 "You just said you were in his place."

 "I didn't drive and I was so wasted I don't know where he took me,” she said.

 "Don't you have any idea?" I asked.

 "None, man," she said getting a little testy.

 "How about his name, you did get his name?" I asked desperately.  I felt it slipping away.

 "No, he told me but I don't remember.  When he came here I wouldn't even talk to him. Did you get his name, Tim?" she asked.

 "No Freeda, when you told me I just tossed his ass out.  Look Chief, I got to go to the hospital,” he said.

 "No you don't, Tim.  Just hold on and I will fix you up." I turned back to Freeda.  

"Okay, where did you meet this man."

 "I'm not sure. It was probably in some club over in Avery,” she said.

 "How close is the picture?" I asked.

 "Hell man, it's him."

 "Okay, Freeda.  Tell me what club you think it was," I demanded.

 I told you, I think it was Sammy's in Avery.  I was out drinking and doing a line or two. It could even have been the Buffalo here.  I just can't be sure.

 "Come on Freeda, think,” I demanded.

 "Thinking now ain't the problem.  Problem is, I couldn't think then,”  she said.

 Tim's moans had gotten loud enough to interrupt.  

"Okay Tim, let’s see if I can fix you up."  ##

The first thing I did was to have him sit down at a table.  I went to the men's room to get some toilet paper.  When I returned I rolled it into thick strips.

"Hold on Tim, this is going to hurt some."  

I shoved a roll up each nostril, until his nose was packed.  I straightened the bridge.  By the time I finished Tim tossed his cookies on the floor.   

"Now don't blow your nose or remove the packing for a day.  When you do shove some more toilet paper up your nose."

 "It you want, I can arrest you for assault on a police officer, and Freeda for assault by pointing a gun.  If I do that, you will get treated at the hospital free,” I suggested.

 "Suck it up, Tim. I ain't going to jail for you," Freeda said.

 "Give me your driver's license, Freeda," I ordered.  She handed it over without argument.

"You still live at 211 Cypress?" I asked.  She nodded.  

"Okay, you go home, get drunk or whatever you need to do, but tomorrow night when I come in here, you tell me where you picked up my John Doe.  If you don't, you are going cold turkey in the county lockup."  I made damn sure she understood before I left.

 I didn't notice the gray Ford when I drove up the street.  I didn't notice it at all until the door opened in front of me.  "I must be getting old," I thought as the very large young man stepped in front of me.

 "Mr. Mason," a voice from the rear seat said to me.  "We need to have a little talk.  I think you should maybe get into the car."

 "If I don't?" I asked.

 "It really is awfully late.  I don't think anyone will notice if you don't come home again, ever," the voice said.##

 I was scared and I was curious.  Most of all I was tired.  I decided to hell with it.  I kicked the large young man in the knee cap first.  Then I gave him an elbow to the skull as he went down.  I was too damned old to be fighting in the street.  The kid was coming up shaking his head.  I gave him my knee under his chin.  It kind of ended the fight.  I had been lucky twice in one evening, much too lucky.  I should have known it wouldn't last.  I felt the blow to the back of my head, but there was no pain.  There was only black.

 I awoke with a terrible headache.  I tried to open my eyes, but the light hurt.  The answer was simple: “If it hurts when you do that, don't do that.”  It didn't work.  Somebody noticed I was more or less conscious.

 "Now Mr. Mason, we are going to have that talk.  I kind of like your apartment by the way,” The voice from the car said.

 I looked around and found everything still in place.  

"You think you are a tough guy.  I have to admit you did pretty good against Sonny.  By the way, he was in the Golden Gloves.  Right about now, I expect he would like to take another shot at you."

 "Bring him on," I said.  "That is, if you want me dead.  Right now I am hovering on the brink."

 "That's just it.  I don't want you dead.  You are doing good work.  The problem is, I want to know what you know.  If you tell me what I want to know, then everything else gets taken care of. You can go to bed and sleep that rotten headache off.  You do have a headache, don't you?" the voice asked.

 "Oh yeah," I said.  The smallest movement made my head throb, even moving my lips made it hurt.

 "So tell me what it is that you know," he demanded.

 "About what? I don't think you came for a photography lesson."

 "About the man who raped my niece,” he said.

 "You are Sophia's uncle.  All you had to do was ask."

 "You might remember, that is how I started out.  You are the one who attacked Sonny,” he said.

 I knew a little more about John Evans power base.  

"I told John, I would tell him everything just as soon as I knew,” I tried to explain.

 "That piss ant, what would he do?  Prey for the asshole's soul.  No Mason, you tell me."

 The implication was clear.  If and when he found out who John Doe really was, John was going to take a one way trip to the morgue.  

"What do I call you?"  I asked.

 "Nick, you can call me Nick.  Now Mason, it is time to unburden your soul.  What do you know?"

 "I'm not sure I know anything."  

Hands jerked me into a sitting position.  The pain in my head ripped through me causing me to be nauseous.  I swallowed the bile.  I felt someone jerk me by the shirt front.  The sudden movement of my head was more than I could take.  I drifted into darkness again.

 When next I came to, I was laying on the sofa.  I had a wet wash cloth across my head.

"Are you awake?" the female voice asked.

 I was afraid to open my eyes.  I didn't want to find that I had died.  It had to be an angel's voice.  A moment later, I knew I was alive.  I had to go to the bathroom and throw up.  I made it as far as the door before I began to leak.  I got to the toilet before it really blew out of me.  I lay hovering over the bowl while someone with soft hands held a cloth to my head.

 "I'm afraid you have lost some blood.  Your sofa is probably ruined,” the voice said.

 "I don't know about that, but my skull sure as hell is,” I said.

 "You probably have a concussion.  I think I should take you to the hospital,” the voice said.

 "If I have a concussion, it will get worse.  If not, I really don't want to go anywhere."

I slumped from my knees to a more or less sitting position.  I leaned back to brace against the tub.  In that position, I could look up at the angel.  It took me a second just to recognize her as a woman.  A minute later I saw who it was.  

"I met your brother last night.  You got a hell of an act.  He half kills me then you come to nurse me.   What do you do for an encore, Nick shoots me and you give me a band aid?" I asked through swollen lips.

 "What happened to my face?  I got hit in the back of the head."

 "Sonny, I think,” she said.

 "I have heard of kicking a man when he is down, but when he is dead?  That is really dirty pool."

 "Mr. Mason, I never meant for this to happen.  You have to believe me,” Gina said.

 "I'm sorry, my mind is working a little too slowly for this right now.  What exactly happened?" I still couldn't rise from the floor.

 Gina wet a towel while she collected her thoughts.  She knelt to clean my vomit from the floor.  

"I called my brother this afternoon.  I needed someone to talk to.  He loves Sophia. She is named after my mother.  Nick, he only has boys." ##

I didn't really want all the background but I was in no position to stop her.  

"When I told him you had a picture, he insisted on flying down.  He came to see you, before he came to see me. I am truly sorry."

 "So what is a nice girl like you doing in a family like that?" I asked through a split lip.

 "It's a long story and I'm afraid you really don't care."

 "Okay, what's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?"

 "Nick told me what happened.  He thought it would impress me.  You know that macho take charge bullshit.  He assured me that the next time he asked you would talk."

 "He may be right,” I agreed.

 "I don't think so.  Anyway, I came right over.  He is staying with Sophia,” she said.

 "What time is it?" I asked.

 "Five in the morning,"

 "I have been out over two hours," I said.

 "Yes, but I think you are better now.  I will fix you some coffee.  Do you think you can stand now?"

 "Not without the help of a forklift,” I said.

 "Men. You are just like Nick.  Trying to be so tough.  I will go make the coffee.  I expect you to be on your feet when I return."

 Once she was out of the room, I tried to stand.  She had to have heard the groan.  Since she didn't come running, I assumed she had heard it all before.  A Mafia princess. What next, the wicked witch of the east?  No, we already had a witch.  Maybe dwarfs dancing in a chorus line.  I tried to smile at the thought, but my mouth hurt.  I looked into the mirror to find my face swollen. It looked bad, but the pain in my skull was the only one I really felt.  My eye patch was gone.  The scarred depression in my face was pretty disgusting.  I looked around the room but didn't see my patch.  I rinsed my mouth with antiseptic mouth wash.  The pain was unbelievable.  I fought back the pain and nausea.  

 "Have you seen my patch," I asked through he door.

 "Sonny took it,” she said.  "I guess it was a souvenir."

 "I hope it makes up for the knee surgery he is going to need,” I said to myself.

 "Don't you have another one?" she asked.

 "Sure, but God alone knows where it is," I said.

 "Well come get some coffee.  I will look for it after," her voice said.

 I found not only coffee but a glass of water and two large white pills on the table.  

"Okay, what are the pills?" I asked.

 "Don't ask, just swallow them," she said.

 "I am not taking anything from your family, until I know what it is," I said.

 "Perco something, I take them for cramps,” she smiled.  "They work wonders."

 I swallowed the pills.  They might not help, but they sure as hell can't hurt. I thought.  I tried the coffee but it burned my mouth.  That added to the other pain was just too much.  I switched to the water.  Gina took the glass from me then refilled it with ice and water.

 "I hope you don't stop working on Sophia's rape.  I mean she needs you," Gina said.  I would give anything, if this hadn't happened.  I have seen you with Sophia, you are our best hope."

 "How about Nick?  He could learn more than me.  He has a better interrogation method."

 "Nick wouldn't have any idea where to look.  If this were Jersey, I would ask Nick and send you home."

 "Gina, you are a nice lady, but right now I can't think.  I have to get some sleep."

 "No, you can't sleep, you have to stay awake.  That's what all the doctor shows on TV say."

Gina turned to the refrig to remove a couple of ice cubes.  She put them in my coffee cup.  

"Here, drink this. It is cooler now,” She said it forcing the cup into my hands. For some reason I couldn't close my left hand.

 "What the hell?" I asked as I looked at my fingers.

 "I don't think they are broken.  I have seen a lot of broken bones,” she explained.

 I released the water glass and used my right hand on the coffee cup.  The coffee or the pills or the mix made me sick again.  I couldn't get out of the chair to go to the bathroom.  I tossed my cookies on the spot.  There wasn't much left so there wasn't much of a mess.  I also blacked out.

 I can remember Gina or someone getting me up and walking me to a car.  The car looked like the gray Ford, but then I couldn't be sure.  The car drove me somewhere.  I really didn't expect to wake up. Especially not in a hospital bed.

 "I see you are awake, Mr. Mason," the nurse said.

 "I guess so. Where am I?" I asked.

 "Greenpoint Regional Hospital. Do you remember what happened."  

I sure as hell did.

 "No, not really," I said.

 "It seems you were mugged.  A couple of men dropped you off.  I'm afraid they didn't stay.  They almost dropped you at the door."

 "What time is it?" I asked.

 "Eight. You haven't been asleep all that long,” she said.

 "I have to make a call," I said.

 "Not until you see the doctor,” she said.

 "Nurse, I have to make a call.  Either you give me a phone or get out of my way.  I will walk to the pay phone."

 "You will do nothing of the kind,” she said in a firm voice.  I noticed for the first time how much she looked like a Marine drill instructor.  I had Marines coming out my ass all of a sudden.

 "How about a compromise?"

 "What kind of compromise?"

 "You make the call for me.  If I don't make the call, there is going to be hell to pay."

 "Give me the name and number," she relented.

 "I don't know the number, but call the dispatcher at the teacher's college police department. Tell her where I am, have her call my partner.  If you don't, Thompson will be worried out of her mind."

 "Very well, but you stay right there," she demanded.

 "Lady, I couldn't get up with a crane."  

While she made the call, I assessed the damage.  I had a slight headache.  I knew I was pretty well drugged up.  If not, I would be in agony.  Since I had heard myself talk, or rather mumble, I knew my face was swollen.  My mouth might even be wired shut.  I tried and found that I could open it.  At least I would be able to eat soon, that was something.  Even the thought of food made my stomach roll.  I took a quick look at my left hand. I found it in a splint.  It seemed that Gina wasn't much of a doctor.  I raised the covers and found tape around my chest.  Cracked or broken ribs no doubt.   Sonny had done a number on my unconscious body.  Good for you, Sonny.  Unconscious men don't hit back, I thought.

 The nurse returned.

"Your partner is on the way.  I think they said she would be here in half an hour.  You never know what cops are saying.  They have a language all their own," she said.

 "I actually feel better. Is there any chance I can get some food?" I asked.

 "Sure, what do you want.  You can have anything you want, as long as you want Jello."

 "Cherry," I said, disgusted.

 She left the room again, giving me a chance to collect my thoughts.  I tried to decide what my next move should be.  Then I thought about Thompson.  Would she be in any danger.  I drifted off to sleep.

 "I hate to wake you, but you really should eat this,” the nurse said, shoving the Jello at me.

 "Sure," I said groggily.

 The nurse pushed a bed tray over to me.  

"I am going to raise your head.  If you feel sick tell me and I will lower it again,” she said.  The bed rose with a whining sound.

 I managed to force the Jello into my mouth, then into my empty stomach.  It stayed down. I took that as a good sign.  I finished the whole bowl.  I was still hungry of course, but I hadn't eaten it to fill up.  I ate it to see if it would stay down.

 "What the hell happened to you?" Thompson said from the door.

 "Hit by a truck," I said.  "I think it was a teamster."  I paused to catch my breath.

"Nurse could you leave us alone a minute.  This is police business."

 "The doctor said I was to watch you until ten," she insisted.

 "The Officer can watch me.  If I go into convulsions, I promise she will call you."

 "All right, but you watch him close," the nurse said to Thompson.

 "What really happened?" Thompson asked.

 "I had a visit from some people who want to know what we are doing.  It has nothing to do with anything we are working.  I want you to watch yourself today.  I would put everything on hold except that we are getting close.  If the asshole finds out how close, he may rabbit."

 "How close?" Thompson asked.

 "I found someone who slept with our John Doe.  Unfortunately she is a flake."

 "Who is it?" Thompson asked.

 "I can't tell you, just yet.  If I don't get out of here today, you are going to have to do the follow up with her.  In the meantime there are lots of other things you can do.  I'm still concerned about Sophia.  I mean we are getting quite a different story about her.  Everything may not be as she tells it."

 "So what can I do?" Thompson asked.

 "First you can sneak my cell phone in here. Second you can try to shake up one of Sophia's two friends.  Call them into the station and kick the shit out of them, for all I care.  Just break one of them."

 "I can't do that.  They are college kids.  The President would have my ass,” she said.

 "You're right, that was the drugs talking."  I paused to think.  It was difficult. My brain seemed to be wrapped in cotton.  

"Okay, get me Bobby Tuttle,” I suggested.##

 "What can Bobby do that I can't?” Thompson asked.

 "You know what he can do," I said.

 "Those girls are going to recognize Bobby.  Everybody on campus knows Bobby," she said.

 "I doubt his own mother will know him when I get through with him,” I said.  "Also call Vette. I need to see her as soon as possible."

 "What about the men who did this to you.  What do we do about them."

 "You watch your ass, that's what you do."

 "I almost forgot, Dr. Mitchell is on her way over.  She seemed to be terribly upset." Thompson stuck her finger in her mouth and pretended to gag.

 "I see you don't believe the good doctor," I said.  "Maybe she has a secret crush on me."

 "If that is the case, you better not let her see you looking like this," she said.

 "That bad huh?" I asked.

 "Not bad at all, if you were a crash dummy.” She said it with a smile.

 "I'm glad that you are amused, Thompson.  Just be glad that when this is over, you go back to work for the real Chief."

 "Are you kidding?  I'm working for the real Chief now,” she said with a smile.

 "Thanks kid, but you'll get no agreement on that."

 "Mason, what the hell happened to you," the words came from a stunned Dr. Mitchell.

 "Fell down the stairs," I said.

 "I don't think I believe that,” she said seriously.

 "I'm not near as bad as Thompson tells me I look."

 "That's a good thing, because you look like hell," the Doc said.

 "Did you find a girl for me?" I asked the Doc.  It took her a moment to understand.

 "Janet Peters moved out of the house back into a dorm.  She was a sister for only six months.  The problem is, she is at home in Raleigh,” the Doc said with a hint of regret in her voice.

 "That's perfect. I want Thompson to drive down there and interview her."  

I turned my attention to Thompson.  

"I want you to push her hard.  Do you understand?"

 "Yes," she said.

 "Thompson, we have to know what, if anything, is going on."

 "What do you mean?" the Doc asked.

 "Boss, you are going to have to trust me on this.  I can't tell you what I suspect."

 "I am the President of the College.  I insist that you tell me."

 "If I tell you a suspicion, what are you going to do about it?  You don't want to know until I am sure,” I said, not making a whole lot of sense even to myself.  I paused again.

"And Thompson, call Vette before you leave town."

 "How about your phone?" she asked.

 "Forget it.  I won't need it, if you call your boyfriend and Vette for me."

 Thompson left the room to take care of her errands before leaving for Raleigh.  

"Mason," the Doc said, "you do know that you are an infuriating man."

 "I pride myself on it,” I answered.  All the talking was bringing the headache back.  

"Doc would you call that nurse for me?  I think I am about to toss my Jello."  

I slipped into the blackness and the world passed me by for a while.  I opened my eyes to find Vette shaking my bed.

 "Mason, wake up,” she said.

 "Vette, does the nurse know you are bothering a dying man?” I asked.  I felt better except for the taste in my mouth.  My mouth tasted of dried blood.

 "No, and I don't want you to tell her. I have been waiting an hour for you to wake up.  What the hell is going on."

 "Nothing much," I said.

 "Nothing much, you look like hell.  I'll tell you something else, I'm getting damned tired of visiting you in the hospital."

 "What, once every five years. That isn't much." I said.

 "Too damned much, when you look like this every time." she said.

 "Vette, I got a hot lead for you.  Go to Avery tonight.  Show our John Doe around a club called Sammy's."

 "Does our man hang out there?" she asked.

 "He might. I know for sure he is into heavy metal clubs."

 "How do you know that?" she asked.

 "Can't tell you for a couple of days.  If I did, my source would dry up.  Let's keep the source working for us."

 "Okay, but if I find this prick, I am not going to wait for your sorry ass to arrest him."

 "I had no illusions that you would."

 "Mason?" she asked looking concerned.  "You didn't lose anymore body parts did you?"

 "No mother, I have all my toys,” I said.

 "Good, you never know when you might want to play with them again,” she said with a smile.  "Look, I got to go."

She turned back to look at me.  

"I probably shouldn't tell you this, especially not now, but the cops dropped the ball on Sophia's exam at the hospital.  They didn't talk to the doctor.  I got his report this morning.  I am going to make you a copy and send it over.  I don't need to tell you this is classified?"

 "I understand. And Vette, be careful. There is something really wrong with this thing."

 "You want to tell me who did this to you?" she asked almost as an after thought.

 "Nobody did this, I slipped in the shower."

 "What the hell were you doing in the shower with a man who could do this to you?" she asked joking.

 "Making damned sure I held on tight to the soap," I said with what I hoped was a smile.

 "See you Mason, and I do mean that," Vette said in a voice from long ago.

 After Vette left, I fell asleep yet again.  I was in the arms of sleep or drugs until Bobby woke me up.  

"Mr. Mason, the nurse said I could wake you,” he said.

 "Sure Tuttle, I'm glad to see you."

 "What happened to you, Mr. Mason?"

 "I got the shit beat out of me.  I hope to hell it doesn't happen again.  Look, I asked Thompson to call you, because I got a job for you.” 

 "Really?" he asked.  He sounded pleased.  That helped me ease my conscience.

 "Tuttle, I need you to check out a couple of the students for me.  If you can get picked up by them, fine. If not, then follow them.  I want to know what the hell they are up to."

 "Sure. Who do I follow?"

 "Mary Anne Montgomery and Betty Lisk. But you don't follow them unless they show up on the Strip.  You are going to have to change your appearance. They have seen you around the campus."

 "That won't be a problem," he said.

 "Bobby, I mean radically."

 "No problem," he said,

 I figured he could do it.  I felt pretty sure that a gay cop had a different persona in the closet at home.  

"Okay, here's what you do.  You do know the two women, don't you?"

 "Sure, they are both in that sorority.  The one in the old Willis house."##

 "I have no idea, but I will take your word for it.  So hang out at the Cat. If they come in, hit on them.  If they don't show, go home and do it again tomorrow night.  I think they come out early in the evening.  If you haven't seen them by ten, go home.  And Bobby, be real careful.  The asshole who did this is looking for John Doe.  He may well try to get to him through you.  That is, if he figures out you are working for me."

 "Why don't we just bust the prick who did this to you?" he asked.

 "I already have that taken care of.  You just find out what the hell those two girls are up to."

 "Can do, boss," he said.

 "If you see Thompson there tonight, ignore her,” I said.

 "That won't be a problem either," he said with a smile.  I think he knew that I knew.

 Bobby was so excited that he left immediately.  He had to stick his head back into the room to say the good-bye he forgot.

 I fell back into another drugged sleep.  The next visitor was Edward Martin.  

"So Mason how do you like the kiddie cops?” he asked.

 "Ed, that's kind of like asking Mrs. Lincoln how she liked the play."

 "Who is Mrs. Lincoln."

 "Never mind. How is the campus these days?" I asked.

 "Quiet, now that you are in the hospital." He wasn't joking.  

"Seriously, do you know who did this to you?"

 "Not a friend, that's for sure."

 "You just say a name.  I will personally go kick his butt."

 "Not necessary Ed, I have my own plans for him," I said through my swollen mouth.

 "Up to you,” he replied.  

I could tell he was happy about it.  I couldn't blame him for being happy.  I did blame him for grandstanding.  Ed had no intention of getting into the middle of it.   At least somebody had good instincts.

 Ed bored me, so I fell asleep while he was in the room.  I suffered through a drug-induced nightmare.  Maybe it was a combination of the drugs, the hospital and Vette having mentioned Jerry.  Jerry had been my last partner on the job.  He transferred into the burglary unit from patrol.  Like me he had been spotted as bright enough to out-think the bad guys.  

 I had actually been Jerry three years before.  Filled with ambition and expectations. The rude awakening came after a year, when the boredom set in.  Jerry rode with me, but we were never really partners.  He thought he knew too much to listen.  I tried to be patient, since I had been down that same road.  Nothing I said to Jerry ever took.

 On my last night as a real cop, we answered a call from the patrol division.  One of the Officers had stumbled onto a burglary at the K-Mart.  He drove into the parking lot, probably to have his coffee in peace, when he saw three men run like hell from the rear of the building.  He called it in, then chased them for a few hundred feet.  The men dropped a total of six army type duffel bags.  The bags and their contents had come from K-Mart.  The men got away but the merchandise didn't.  A quick check of the bags convinced the Officer the men had been inside the store for some time.  There were items in the bag from every department.  Everything from shotguns and rifles to radios were piled haphazardly in the bags.

 The patrolman called for backup and a Sergeant.  The Sergeant arrived on the scene and parked his squad car near the building at the rear.  After a quick conversation with the patrol Officer, the Sergeant put in a call for the detectives and scientific unit.  Jerry and I were close. We arrived before the crime lab van.

 Jerry and I talked to the Officer, who had chased the three men.  He was convinced they were making their get-away as he drove up.  I had my doubts, but Jerry swallowed it hook, line and sinker.  I was still trying to think it all through when the fire department's ladder truck arrived.  Unlike an ordinary fire truck, the ladder truck’s only equipment was a bed filled with ladders.  Every type and length of ladder was to be found somewhere on the truck.

 The firemen placed an extension ladder to the roof.  The roof was slightly over twenty-five feet from the ground.  Jerry insisted that he and I be the first ones on the roof.  It could have been either him and me, or a couple of the many patrol Officers standing around.  I really didn't see any problem with us examining the roof.  I sure as hell wouldn't send a crime lab man up there, until I knew if was safe.

 No one at that time had found an entry point.  It looked pretty certain that the entrance had been made through the roof.  Sure enough, when we searched the roof we found a vent had been removed.  I could see the night lights of the store through the opening.  The burglars had knocked a hole through the ceiling tiles.

 "Jerry keep an eye on the hole, while I call for another ladder," I instructed.

I didn't expect him to really watch the hole.  After all, he hadn't taken orders very well.  I walked to the rear of the building where the other Officers waited on the ground.  I was in a conversation about how to best get a ladder onto the roof.  I thought, since the manager would take another half hour arriving, we might go down through the roof just like the burglars.

 The noise behind me was no more than a firecracker pop.  I felt the terrible pain in my groin before I even understood what had happened.  I turned on unsteady legs, trying to look behind me.  I got a glimpse of the shooter's head protruding from the hole.  I also got a glimpse of my partner standing with his mouth open and his gun drawn.  I expected one of them to fire.  Either the shooter would kill me, or Jerry would shoot him.  Jerry had the training and the angle.  I stood for a moment before I realized Jerry had frozen.  I tried to get my own gun from the hip holster. The kid felt threatened, so he fired the .22 again.  This one hit me in the face and knocked me from the roof.  I fell on top of the Sergeant’s car.  

 I found later, I had been shot not with a .22 rifle but with a .22 pellet gun.  Compressed air projected the slug that took my eye and ruined my sex life.  Goes to show my mother was right.  Those things can put out your eye.  I was lucky. If it had been a rifle slug I would probably be dead.  If not that, I would have lost more than one testicle.  My last thoughts before I passed out on the scene were the same as the thoughts in my mind when I awoke from the nightmare.  "Did Jerry freeze, or just wait for the kid to do what he would have liked to have done himself."  

 His explanation was, "The kid was between us, so he couldn't shoot for fear of hitting me."  I told the hearing Officer that Jerry was indeed some twenty- five feet to the kid’s rear.  I didn't tell them that I had given him a specific order to watch that opening in the roof.  I planned to take care of Jerry myself.

 I never got around to it.  The bottle got in the way.  I almost drank myself to death.  I probably would have if it hadn't been for AA.  I didn't attend the meetings like I should have.  I went when I got the urge to drink.  I didn't get it much so much at that time.##

 I finished that nightmare and was working on another one, when I was again awakened.  That time it was for dinner.  I had missed lunch completely.  I was a little apprehensive about eating since nothing solid had stayed on my stomach so far.  I was so hungry that I gave it a shot.  I got down the soup and the crackers without a problem.  I moved on to the tasteless pudding.  It all seemed to stay pretty well were I put it.

 "So you are awake?" the middle aged woman with the granny glasses asked.  Something about her reminded me of a hippie.

 "I am pretty sure that I am,” I responded.  

 "I'm Dr. Middleton.  I am going to be looking in on you from time to time."

 "So Doc, what's the repair list and the estimate," I said, trying to smile through my swollen lips.

 "Let's see. Two cracked ribs, one broken bone in your wrist, a slight concussion, and cuts and bruises too numerous to mention.  It seems you are lucky to be alive."

 "Depends on which side of this headache you are on,” I said.

 She actually smiled.  

"It looks as though, you will be with us a couple of days at least."

 "I really can't afford to be laid up that long," I commented. 

 "I'm afraid you don't have much choice.  You need to rest, and that concussion could be a problem.  I would say two more days at a minimum."

 "How about a compromise?  If everything stays cool, you spring me first thing Saturday morning."

 "If you find someone to stay with you, that might be possible.  I will not send you home alone," she said seriously.

 "Sure Doc," I said.

 "There are some other things we need to talk about,” she said.

 "I don't have any insurance," I said.

 The doctor laughed.

"You know, that isn't all we ever think about.  No, this is about your previous injuries.  We took some exrays if you remember.  You had a good surgeon working on the eye.  The other was not quite as well done."

 "You mean my lack of a full house, so to speak?" I asked.

 "That's a new way to put it, but yes.  I guess they were more concerned with saving you life, than saving you sex life,” she said.

 "Well this is a pretty embarrassing subject, Doc.  Why don't you just tell me the bad news," I suggested without a hint of a smile.

 "There is a lot of scarring down there.  I think with the new micro surgery techniques, we can fix your problem."

 "Which problem would that be?" I asked.

 "I think we can fix it, so that you can have orgasms again,” she said.

 The idea was a knock out

"Are you kidding me?" I asked seriously.

 "I said, I think we can.  Well not me, but some of the new surgeons.  It is something you should give some serious thought,” she said.

 "Believe me, I will."

 "For now rest, and try to think pleasant thoughts," she said with a grin.

 "I will try," I promised.

 Thompson came in a couple of hours later.  

"Well boss, you can scratch the Raleigh connection."

 "Why is that?" I asked.

 "The kid is changing schools in the fall.  She refused to talk about the reason.  You can bet your ass, it has something to do with that house."

 "Right now, my ass isn't worth very much.  Did she say anything at all?" I asked desperately.

 "Yeah, she will call us, if she changes her mind."

 I wanted to kick something.  That bitch was our best hope to find out what the hell was going on.  I should have gone myself.  During my ranting and raving at myself, I noticed the envelope Vette had left on my table.  

"Thompson, hand me that envelope please," I said as levelly as I could.

 "This one?" Thompson asked as she picked up the brown envelope.

 "Yeah," I said.  I didn't trust myself to say more at the moment.

 I tried to focus on the typed page, but couldn't.  My eye was watering and my stomach rolled with the effort.  

"Thompson, close the door then read this to me.  I can't seem to focus my eye on it."

 "Sure, boss," she said.

 I was a millisecond from screaming at her, but I fought the urge.  I needed her more than ever now.  She carefully opened the envelope and began.

 "Result of examination conducted on one Sophia Evans. Subject is a white female nineteen years of age.  She appeared in good health except for cuts and lacerations to her face and arms.  Subject stated that she had been beaten and raped approximately twelve hours before the examination

 I found traces of sperm both living and dead in her vagina.  I found no evidence of tissue damage in this area."

Thompson continued with the dry reading.  I ignored her. I had what I wanted already.

 "Thompson," I interrupted her.  "Find my keys, then go to my apartment.  I want you to find the tape of Sophia's first interview with the city cops. Then I want you to find the report of her interview with Vette.  Take them home with you.  Take the recorder if you need to, but make me a list of any inconsistencies you find.  I mean anything at all, no matter how small."

 "What in that report makes you think something is wrong with her statements?" she asked.

"Nothing in the report, I just want you to make the list," I snapped.  I thought about it a minute and realized how it must have sounded to her.  

"Thompson, I'm sorry.  I hate being cooped up here.  I need to be out helping you.  I shouldn't take it out on you.  Please forgive me?" I asked.

 "Don't worry, I know you are miserable.  I can take your crap," she said with a smile.

 "Thank you, Thompson. When this is all over, I will explain everything to you,” I promised.

 "You won't have to explain. I will understand.  I am, after all, no dummy."

 "I know," I smiled as best I could.

 After a few good-byes, Thompson was on her way.  I waited to see what would happen next.  It was a nurse with a shot and a pill.  I don't know which one did it, but I went out like a bad light bulb. 

 I awoke to the sound of metal banging against other metal.  Breakfast was being served in the hospital.  I ate with relish.  I felt like a different man.  I had some pain. Hell, I had pain every time I moved.  Not always in the same places either. That in itself was a good sign.  My head had hurt so badly the day before, it was the only pain which registered.  That day it was ribs, mouth, and hand as well as my head that throbbed.

 At nine the first visitor arrived.  She came in wearing a green dress that cost more than my hospital stay.  

"So how are you doing today?" Gina asked.

 "Better, I think.  I guess I should thank you for getting me to the hospital."

 "I know it is hard to decide how to feel.  My brother and his goons put you here, but then you might have died if they hadn't come for you.".

 "A simple call to 911 would have gotten me to the hospital.  I don't owe them for anything.  You, on the other hand, didn't have to come to my apartment to check on me."

 "It was my Christian duty," Gina said with a small simple smile.

 "Well, I thank you anyway.  How is Sophia doing?" I asked.

 "She wanted to come with me.  She isn't handling this very well."

 "How about Nick and his associates?" I asked.

 "They are driving me crazy.  Nick is absolutely nuts.  He goes around kicking the furniture.  I was afraid someone from the motel might come to complain.  If they had, Nick would have killed them."

 "Tell him to come see me. I think we need to talk,” I said.

 "I don't think that would be a good idea.  At least not until you heal a little," she said, knowing what I had in mind.  

"Even then, it isn't likely you could do anything.  It is my opinion that Nick will come with his men.  I think he has decided he should just leave well enough be.  I think that it might be a good thing for you both if he did."

 "You are probably right.  How's Sonny's knee?" I asked, hoping for the worst.

 "I'm afraid it is not as bad as you would like.  He is spending a lot of time with it propped up and an ice bag.  The doctors tell him not to walk on it for a while, but he won't need surgery."

 "Too bad. I must be losing something in my old age," I said.

 "Could we talk about something else?" she asked.

 "Sure, but I don't know much more about Sophia's attack."

 "I want to talk about John," she said.  I noticed she showed no emotion at all.  

"My brother wants me to leave John.  He wants me to take Sophia to my parents’ home.  I might do it.  Would Sophia need to be here for your investigation?  I know she would need to testify, but would she be needed before that?"

 "Yes, I am going to have to talk to her again.  Maybe more than once."  I said it honestly.

 "My brother thinks you don't really need her.  He thinks we should all go home soon."

 "That is up to you.  If Sophia leaves the area, the investigation will stall."  I said it hoping to change her mind.

 She nodded.

"I think we will stay until next week."  She stood to leave.  

"I will call before we leave town."

 "At least do that for me."

 She turned back at the door to say quietly, "The hospital bill has been taken care of.  There will be no questions when you leave.  It was the least Nick could do,” she said.

 "The very least," I agreed.

 I was getting antsy by the time Bobby showed up.  

"Hi, Mr. Mason. You're feeling better I see," he said.

 "Drop the Mr. and the cheerful bull. Tell me what happened last night,” I demanded.

 "Your girls didn't show.  I got there at eight and stayed till eleven.  They never showed, so I went home.  I'm going back tonight.  I hope I have better luck,” he said.

 "Me too. At least I expect that you will."

 "The bartender had two black eyes and a swollen nose. You wouldn't know anything about that would you?" he asked.

 Obviously he thought Body Beautiful had put me here.  

"If that jerk had put me in the hospital, I would kill myself."

 "He told me a man with an eye patch worked him over with a pipe.  That sure does sound like you," he said smiling.

 "It wasn't a pipe, and there must be hundreds of men with eye patches,” I said with a grin.

 "He also led me to believe you would be back to see him.  I assumed he didn't know you were in the hospital."

 "Take my word for it.  He doesn't know. ## I am going to have to get Thompson to go by there.  Freeda has something for me.  At least I hope she does,” I said.  "By the way where is Thompson?"

 "She was in the President’s office, last I heard.  I think they were talking about you,” he said with a smile.

 "No doubt," I agreed.

 "Well is there anything you need, boss?" he asked.

 "I need for you to stop calling me boss."

 "Can do. You want some candy or something?" he asked.

 "I would like a steak and a new mouth to chew it with,” I replied.

 "Can't help you there.  I am a poor working cop.  I don't make the kind of money for a steak. I could run by McDonalds for you though."

 "You go do your job.  Get me something on those girls tonight."

 "Do my best, boss," he said with a grin as he exited the room.

 I put up a fuss until I got some solid food for lunch.  Chewing it hurt like hell, but I managed it.  It was well after noon before Thompson arrived.

 "You look like you feel better," she stated.

 "I actually hurt all over.  They tell me that is a good sign," I replied.  I waited a few seconds before I said,  "Bobby tells me you were in a meet with the President.  She say anything worth listening to?" I asked.

 "Well, she isn't coming down to kick your ass.  Not that she couldn't right now.  Do you really care about anything else?"  

The words I had used about the Chief were coming back to haunt me.

 "I guess not.  So, are we anywhere new today?" I asked.

 "I went over Sophia's story from the initial interview and then from the follow up.  They were identical."  She obviously saw no significance in the fact.

 I almost didn't explain to her.  I did in the end, more to think out loud than to inform her.  

"Don't you find that strange?"  

 "Why should I?" she asked.  

 "Come on Thompson, can you tell the same story exactly the same way two times?  Don't you think she would have remembered, or forgotten, something at the second telling of it?" I asked.

 "I hadn't thought about it, but I guess you're right.  Now that I think of it, the stories were exactly the same.  Right down to the details, nothing added and nothing left out.  So she is lying?"

 "Not necessarily, but I am going to have to talk to her before her mother takes her home."

 "Is that about to happen?" Thompson asked.

 "Next week sometime. I really want to tie up a couple of loose ends before we talk to Sophia again,” I said.

 The hippie doctor entered the room.

"So Mr. Mason, I see you are doing better.  You even ate solid food for lunch today.  I guess you can get out of bed now,” she said.

 "I wish you had told me I was supposed to stay in bed," I said.

 "So you have already been up?" she asked.

 "I went to the bathroom this morning.  Nobody told me I couldn't," I said.

 "If that is the case, you might as well start walking."

 "How about our deal, Doc?" I asked.

 "If you don't have any problems tonight, you can leave in the morning after breakfast. That is, if you find someone to take care of you for a day or two."  

 "That isn't going to be a problem," Thompson piped in before I could modify the order.

 "Okay, then tomorrow after breakfast.  Assuming of course you have a good night," the doctor agreed.  "I am going to leave a couple of prescriptions at the desk for you.  I want you to fill them on the way home."

 "Can do, and if I don't see you again, thanks."

 "You are going to see me in the morning.  You can't leave until I check you out.” She said it as she turned to the door.

 "Mason, I brought you the cell phone.  I also spoke to Bobby.  I gave him the number, so that he could call after he gets home tonight," Thompson said.

 "Good for you kid," I said. "You are beginning to think like a cop."

 "So, what do I do now?" she asked.

 "Did Bonnie find anything in the records check?  I mean the criminal check on all the boyfriends."

 "Nothing but parking tickets."

 "Then look in the locker and get my wallet.  I want you to call Vette from this phone,” I said, handing her the cell.  I'm not sure I can focus on the numbers,” I explained.

 "Did you tell the doctor you were having trouble seeing?" Thompson asked.

 "No. Once my head stops pounding, I will be fine."

 Thompson dialed the number then handed me the phone.  I spoke with a detective who informed me that Vette was due in at three.  I left a message with him.  

"Thompson, when the Cat opens I want you to talk to the bartender.  The one with the tongue studs.  I want to know if she remembered where she met John Doe."

 "Can do. How about taking the photo spread to the Commons?" she asked.

 "Sure, you can do that this afternoon.  See if anyone can positively match any of the girls to Sophia.  I'm pretty sure they can."

 "Are we getting anywhere, Mason?" she asked.

 "Hell kid, I don't know." I thought for a while.  "Pam, how are you with tools?"

 "Like hammers and stuff?" she asked.

 "Like that," I replied.

 "Okay, I guess."

 "I was hoping you would tell me you were a master carpenter,” I replied with as much of a smile as I could manage.  "Dial up this number for me.”  I said it handing her another card.

 When she handed me the phone, I waited for an answer.  "Mike, this is Mason.  How you doing these days."

 "Fine," the metallic voice said.

 "Now why the hell do you have a scrambler on your phone?" I asked.

 "Just testing it," he said in a normal voice.

 "Of course you are. I need a favor."  

 "You name it. I owe you one anyway," he replied.

 He did indeed.  Mike's kid had gotten into a spot of trouble with the Avery police the year before I blew out.  The kid had changed a simple speeding ticket into an assault charge.  He went past the point of letting his mouth overload his ass.  He took a swing at a cop.  The cop pressed charges, just to cover his ass.  Mike called me and I called the cop.  The cop had kicked the kid’s ass, so he was satisfied.

"Mason, if I drop the charges the kid isn't going to hit me with a lawsuit is he?" the cop asked.

 "The kid can't afford a regular suit, let alone a lawsuit.  Besides, I got his father's word.  You bust his ass on the speeding and failing to stop for a blue, but let him walk on the assault."

 "So what do I get," he asked.

 "I won't tell the world about Janice Hopper," I replied.

 "Mason, you are a prick.  If I do this Janice is off the table from now on,” he demanded.

 "Done," I promised.

 The kid lost his driver's license for a year, but otherwise he got off clean.  I expect he got his ass beat by his father, otherwise he got away with taking a swing at a cop.  It probably sent the wrong message, but it got me the favor I needed at that moment.

 "Okay," Mike said.  "What is it you want?"##

 "I want to know what one of my neighbors is up to."

 "Where, when, and how?" he asked.

 I gave him the address and arranged for Thompson to meet him.  I advised her to take a long walk while Mike did his thing.  

 Thompson left the hospital immediately after the call.  She had plenty to do that afternoon.  I dozed most of the afternoon away.  I was surprised to be awakened by Dr. Mitchell.  

 "Mr. Mason," she said, waking me.  "How are you doing?  You look better."

 "I feel some better.  I do hope this is a social visit.  I'm getting awfully tired of fighting with you,” I said slightly less than half asleep.

 "I wish it could be a social visit.  I hate to bring this up while you are in the hospital.  Especially, since it may have been my fault you are here.  I never should have let John Evans push me into getting you involved.  I'm afraid I am going to have to revoke your credentials.  I couldn't live with it, if you or one of my Officers were to be killed."

 I didn't believe a word of it. There had somehow been a power shift.  Somebody more powerful than John Evans was twisting her arm.  Even through my unfocused eye, she looked frightened.

 The question was who was scaring the hell out of the Doc.  It must be some pressure since John Evans was likely to have her ass on a plate for this.  That is unless Mrs. Evan's brother had decided to handle the investigation personally.  He was capable of putting the fear of God into people, much more effectively than John Evans.  He was probably also able to stop John from doing anything to Mattie Mitchell.  If Nick got to the kid before me, there would be no reason for John to go after Mattie.  She was in the perfect position, at least for now.  If Nick couldn't find the kid, then it was a toss up.  Nick couldn't know as much as me.

 The meeting with Thompson came to mind. She must have bled Pam for information.  Pam couldn't tell her much, unless she knew about my talk with the bartenders.  Damn, I had mentioned that after the meeting.  Of course, Pam could be reporting everything to the Doc.  After all, she didn't want to lose her job.

 "Doc, you are making a big mistake."

 "I think I can live with you out of my life."

 "Can you live with the death of that kid?" I asked.

 "You mean your rapist.  I can handle that to."

 "What, if he isn't a rapist, can you live with it?  What if I prove he didn't rape Sophia?" I asked.

 "What do you mean?  You think you have the wrong picture?" she asked.

 "I didn't say that.  I asked if you could live with fingering the wrong man."

 "What are you talking about?"

 "I think Nick got to you.  I think you bled information from Thompson.  I think you set Nick on the bartender.  I think she is either talking or hurting as we speak.  It's going to be a race between Nick and the cops.  You better hope the cops get the kid first.  If Nick gets him, the kid is dead."

 "So what?" she asked.

 "I'm not sure he raped Sophia.  Nick isn't going to listen to him.  The kid is going to die, because you caved in.  I don't need your badge, and I don't need Evans's money.  I am going to figure this out, just because I can.  When I do, I am going to the press.  I am going to accuse you of conspiracy to commit murder."  I said it angrily.

 "What are you talking about?" she asked desperately.

 "You provided information you knew would lead to the death of another human being.  You are going to be as guilty as Nick."

 She fled the room.  I was glad to be alone.  The phone stayed quiet until five thirty.  

"Mason, I'm sorry it took so long to return your call.  We have been looking for your John Doe.   He has a name, by the way.  It is Emery Pike, probably an alias.  Anyway, we are looking for where he lives right now.  Nobody seems to know."

 "Vette, I am going to level with you.  I got the information from the bartender at the Cat.  Get over there or to her house.  I think she may be in some danger."

 "From who? Emery is not after her."

 "Get somebody on her, and I will explain.  Get a car to her house or the club, wherever she is.  Then come by here, I will explain it all to you," I promised.

 "I'll get a car on her. I should be there in twenty minutes," she replied.

 I waited impatiently for the twenty minutes to pass.  Then I waited for another hour to pass.  I was just about to start calling Vette again, when she walked into the room.  I forced myself to hold off the questions while she flopped down in a chair.  I waited long enough to make sure she wanted me to ask.  

"So where have you been?" I asked.

 I sent a car to Freeda's house, after calling the club.  Freeda didn't show up on time for work today.  The car called for backup. By the time I got there it was all over.  The patrolman walked into a rather unorthodox interrogation.  It was being conducted by some rather nasty Yankees.  We now have one of them in our little jail.   The other is down in the emergency room.  I have no idea how he got his knee hurt, but that is the least of his worries.  He has a bullet through a lung.  They were hooking him to a breathing machine when I left," she said with a nod.

 "How is Freeda?" I asked.

 "She is fine, a little the worse, because she wears too much jewelry.  The Yankees pulled a little of it off her.  It would have been better if they had removed the clips first.  Tore hell out of her ear, and a few other unmentionable places," Vette explained.

 "Did she remember where our man lived?" I asked.

 "If she had, she might have saved at least one of her nipples.  I'm afraid she is useless as a witness.  You know the really strange thing?  One of the Officers told the man we shot that he was going to the hospital.  The Officer thought he was going to cry.  He actually begged us not to take him to the same hospital as you."

 "I don't suppose he told you who his boss is?"  I asked it, ignoring her questioning look.

 "No. I don't suppose you feel up to asking him?"

 "I think so. Is he in a room yet?"

 "Probably in ten or twenty minutes. So, you look a little better today," she said.

 "Good of you to notice. I think I am going home tomorrow."  

 "Got anybody to cook for you?" she asked.

 "I thought I did, but now I doubt it."

 "I can't cook, but I order a mean pizza," she volunteered.

 "I'll let you know."

 Time passed slowly until her cell phone rang.  Time seemed to return to normal speed as I leaned on her while walking to the elevator.  We found Sonny's room on the floor below mine.  The guard on the door recognized Vette.  He passed us through without any questions. Vette held the door while I walked, propped against her, into the room.

 "Hi Sonny," I said, recognizing the man laying on the bed.  He didn't look happy to see me.  "It seems the worm has turned."

 "Sonny, do you know Mr. Mason?" Vette asked.

 We waited but Sonny didn't answer.  A noticeable bead of sweat broke out on his forehead.

"Sonny, what was that Nick said? “Next time we ask, he's gonna answer.”  He was talking about me, but I think it applies to you.  I came to get either a statement, or a death bed declaration.  It is your choice."  I said it moving to the plug on the respirator.  

“Vette, why don't you start your tape recorder.  Keep your finger on the button.  If Sonny has a memory loss, I am going to make it permanent.  Now Sonny, you just mumble to the nice lady."

 The tube made it hard for him, so Vette led him through the questions.  In the end Sonny gave up Nick.  There probably wasn't much Vette could do with the statement, but it felt good to hear him say it.  Sonny was pretty much a dead man.  Nick wasn't going to like the Greenpoint jail.

 Thompson actually had the balls to show up at the hospital.  

"I checked at the Commons. Everybody ID the two friends.  Looks like there is something between them."

 "I would say some kind of dirty little secret," I agreed.  "It doesn't matter any more.  I have been fired by Dr. Mitchell.  You can go back to work for the Chief tomorrow."

 She saw it in my eyes.  

"You know, don't you?" she asked.

 "More than you," I said.

 "I had to give her an update.  She is my boss.  When she asked directly, I had no choice."  Pam was trying to weasel out of it.  Vette sat quietly in the corner not speaking.  

 "Did you have to call her, after I told you about Freeda?" I asked.

 "It was part of the same thing,” she said.

 "How about Mike, did you tell her about him?"

 "No, it wasn't part of what she ordered me to tell her."

 "If you tell her now, knowing she is a leak to the mob, I am going to have your ass fried for conspiracy to commit murder."

 "I understand, but I didn't know it at the time.  I was just covering my ass."

 "You almost got Freeda killed.  My partners don't sell me out," I said.  "Go on home, I have no more use for you."

 When she had gone, Vette asked. "Do I go after Dr. Mitchell on a conspiracy charge?"

 "Do you want to?" I asked.

 "Bet your fat ass I do," she said.

 "Then do it.  I will testify and so will Thompson.  I doubt you can prove a link to Nick.  Maybe Gina could help, but she won't," I said.

 "So, she gets away with it."

 "It looks to me like she does," I replied.

 "Sometimes I hate this job," she said.

 "I remember the feeling," I said with a smile.  "So be around your phone in the morning.  I am going to need a ride home."

 "You got it.  By the way, there is a lot more to this, isn't there?" she asked.

 "Honest to God, Vette, I don't know.  Maybe we can find out," I suggested.

 "Oh we are.  I have absolutely no doubt about it," she said.  "What else you got cooking, Mason?"

 "Who, me?" I asked.

 "Yeah, you don't look as upset as you should.  You got something else working, don't you?" she asked.

 "I got something, but I don't think there is anything to it."

 "You going to tell me?" she asked.

 "I am, tomorrow or maybe the next day," I offered.

 "Well I am going home.  I have had a long, tough day.  You want a guard on the door?  That Sonny looked pissed," she said with a laugh.

 "I'm no longer a player.  Nobody is going to bother me.  You watch your ass though," I said.

 "I would rather have you watch it," she stated.

 "Literally or figuratively?" I asked.

 "Either," she paused, then said, "Both," as she walked out the door.  

 I expected to hear from Bobby but never did.  I fell asleep waiting to hear.  I met the doctor the next morning still waiting to hear.  I called Vette to drive me home.  I still hadn't heard from Bobby.  I even had Vette drive me by his house.  His car wasn't in the drive.  I didn't explain to her, but I was worried.

 At home, Vette and I struggled up the stairs.  It is a bitch to climb stairs with broken ribs.  When I entered the house, the best I could do was fall on the sofa.  After a brief rest, Vette went into the kitchen.  She explained though she couldn't cook, she could make a decent cup of coffee.

 By lunch, I was so worried about Bobby I almost explained it all the Vette.  She could at least get the cops to look for him.  I decided to hold off a few more hours.  Fortunately the hook up of Mike's toy was easy.  Just plug it into the power strip, then attach a cord to the VCR.  I would, at last, have something interesting on TV I hoped. 

 "Should I ask what the hell you are doing?" Vette asked.

 "No, but if you are still here tonight we might have some first rate TV," I suggested.

 "Illegal?" she asked.

 "Yes," I answered.

 "Best kind," she said with a smile.##

 An hour later it was lunch time.  Vette knew a place she swore made the best hot dogs in town.  I love a good hot dog, so I let her go out for them.  After the trip we were going to be holed up.  Answering the door was not even an option.  Vette stopped by the drugstore and Radio Shack on her way to the Dog House.

 Vette was right, the dogs were great.  I had three while she only had two.  

 I went into the bathroom every time I tried to call Bobby.  I wanted the place dead quiet and dark.  We watched TV behind the closed drapes. Fortunately someone had left drapes or there would have been no TV outside the bathroom. Even with the drapes, we still had to listen to it through cheap drugstore earphones.  The TV had an outlet. With the aid of the outlet doubler from Radio Shack, we each had a set of earphones.

 Dinner was a cold sandwich.  Vette and I took the blackout thing seriously.  At first I had to force her into it, but after a while the adventure got to her.  She put her mouth close to my ear every time she wanted to say something.  It was kind of fun.  We heard the first footsteps on the stairs early.  It was probably no more than four.  After that, noises came from the apartment so I switched to the closed circuit TV.  

 Vette and I watched while Virginia and another woman prepared sandwiches and filled a punch bowl.  It was not interesting at all.  We switched back to HBO after only a few minutes.  Vette recognized Virginia, but not the other woman.

 The noise continued in the apartment without much change, until the next group began to arrive around ten.  By then, it was dark enough for them not to be recognized.  That is unless you had a camera in the apartment.  It was even better if you had three.

 When the guests started to arrive, Vette and I split our time between the TV movie and the party next door.  I was surprised that the noise level was not higher.  I heard them moving about, but not a lot of laughter.  The TV showed four or five people in addition to Virginia and her helper, milling about.  

 Another group arrived around eleven.  

"It isn't much of a party," Vette suggested.

 "Not like any I ever attended," I agreed.  "The conversations are so quiet I can't make them out,” I said in a whisper.  Vette just shrugged.

 The largest and last group arrived just before midnight.  I didn't recognize any of them for a while.  I began to pick out faces I had seen but didn't know.  Vette seemed to be in pretty much the same boat.  Then I saw her.  I immediately turned on the VCR.

 "What?" Vette asked.

 "The woman in the corner.  That is our good Dr. Mitchell.  I had no idea she was a friend of Virginia's."

 "Why would she come here?   I mean she knows you live next door."

 "I don't know that she does.  I don't have any paperwork at the school.  She might never have been told where I live.  Virginia would have no reason to mention it to her.  Hell, she might think I am still in the hospital."

 The noise level had risen enough for Vette to slip into the kitchen for iced tea.  She brought back a couple of pills for me.  

"So what are they going to do?" she asked in a dead whisper.

 "Got me.  I expected to see our college girls," I answered.

 "You what?" Vette asked.

 "I expected to see two of our three girl scouts.  It figured that they were up to something.  With Virginia mixed up heavily with the college kids, I thought they might be into some kind of Satanism or something,” I whispered.

 "Now who watches too much TV?" Vette asked.  I nodded in agreement.  If the Doc hadn't shown up, or if I wasn't just plain curious, I might have turned the cameras off.  I didn't.

 Vette and I got to watch a ceremony of some kind.  Sometime after midnight, the guests all got naked and stood in a circle.  They chanted for a while then a couple entered the circle.  It wasn't a good view for us, but we got the idea.  They were making love in front of the others.

"Mason, I hate this."

 "What snooping?" I asked.

 "No, watching somebody else doing what I want to do," she said.

 "Sorry, I can't help you."

 "I know," she said sadly.

 The ceremony didn't have any effect on me.  At least not like it did on Vette.  I actually fell asleep.  Vette on the other hand watched it all.  She woke me at four, when the apartment next door was finally empty.

"I think I better go home," she whispered.

 "Okay," I said. "Did anything interesting ever happen?"

 "The couple in the middle got replaced by others after a while.  Your girl friend even got into the act."

 "The Doc? I hope we got that on tape,” I said.

 "You did, but we can't use it for anything.  It was an illegal surveillance.  As a matter of fact, I should arrest you for making it."

 "I did it for a good reason.  The net just caught the wrong fish,” I explained.

 "Get rid of the tape, after you watch it.  Don't use it to get even with the Doc," Vette ordered.

 "Will do," I promised.

 "Watch yourself. Those people don't look dangerous, but you never know."

 I spent Sunday in a funk.  I was out of ideas.  I tried to call Bobby all day.  He never answered his phone.  I was really getting worried about him.  I felt as though something was about to happen.  I just didn't know what.  I was also in no position to make it happen.  I couldn't help or hurt anyone.  I couldn't even get up and down the stairs.  I was more or less a prisoner in my apartment.

 I was pretty close to being around the bend, when someone knocked on my door.  I opened the door to find Gina Evans in my hall.  

 "Hi Mason, I came to see how you are doing."

 "Do I need to search your handbag?"  I asked it only half-kidding.

 "No," she laughed.  "You mean because of Nick?"  

 "Something like that," I said.

 "Nick isn't in any trouble.  At least, not any real trouble.  He is mad as hell, but he knows better than to come after you.  He can beat the rap on the bartender without even breathing hard.  You would be another matter all together."

 "Are you kidding? I am no more than a fly on the wall to Nick," I replied.

 "True, but you are my fly on the wall.”  She said it with a secret smile.

 "I don't think I even want to know what that means."  

 "Don't worry. I explained to Nick that if he harmed you, every cop in the state would be at his door.  There would be no alibi good enough.  I might even testify against him myself. Afterall, you were only trying to help my little girl."

 "This thing is getting complicated," I admitted.

 "Mason, you should really drop this now.  We all understand that you are in no condition to continue.  John doesn't expect you to continue."

 "It sounds like good advice to me," I agreed.

 "Are you going to stop looking?" she asked.

 "You bet I am.  I'm not totally nuts.” I stated it with honesty.  At least, the last part was honest.

 "Good, have you had lunch?" she asked.

 "No, I was about to fix something," I said.

 "Let me, I am really quite a good cook,” Gina suggested.

 "Sure, I don't have a lot to work with though," I informed her.  

 After a five minute look, she agreed.

"I am going to the store.  You have nothing in this house to eat.  I will return in one hour, then I will cook you a decent meal.”  

 While she was gone, I finally got in touch with Bobby.  He told me he had been home since Saturday around noon.  He hadn't been answering his phone.  The Chief had forbidden him to talk to me.  I almost had to beg to get him to fill me in.  

 According to Bobby, it was no problem to get picked up by the two women.  He followed them to a house in the country.  He was sure he could find it again.  After a few more beers he lost track of what was happening to him.  He wasn't real sure even now.

 "I think they drugged me, Mason," he said.

 "Why the hell would they drug you, Bobby?  I don't think they find too many men who would refuse them.”

 "All I know, for sure, is that they were gone when I woke up Saturday morning.  My car was still outside but they were no where to be found.”

 "Come on Bobby, the story you are telling me is a lot like a rape story.  I doubt that two college girls raped you,” I said.

 "That's another reason I didn't call.  It all sounds so unbelievable," he said.

 "Look Bobby, I have company right now.  Why don't I meet you tomorrow and we can take a look at the house,” I suggested.

 "I don't go in until eight tomorrow night.  How about we meet at ten in the morning?" he suggested.

 "Good. Could you come by here?  I still can't drive my truck,” I said.

 "Sure. Ten in front of your apartment," he agreed.

 After the call from Bobby, I tried to figure out exactly what the hell it all meant.  I had a really bad feeling about all of it.##

 Gina returned before I worried myself to death.  I wasn't in a real good mood, but I pretended for her benefit.  She actually was a good cook.  It took her three hours to fix lunch, but it was worth the wait.  She brought a bottle of wine. I had none of it.  I watched her drink all the wine alone.

 "You know Mason, I should have married someone like you.  Someone with a spine."  

 "I don't know, John seems like a pretty good guy."  I said it trying to defend him.

 "Sure, you know what?"

 "No, what?"

 "If Nick had asked him to get into that car, he would have gone meek as a lamb."

 "Well, John didn't spend two days in a hospital either."

 "That isn't the point.  He would have been terrified."

 "I don't know, probably no more than I was," I said.

 Gina was rambling.  "You know what else?"  

 "No, what else?"

 "Nicky likes you.  Even though you tried to put him in jail, he likes you.  You know why?"

 "No, why does Nicky like me?"  I asked it not really caring.

 "Because you didn't rat him out.  You were after him for what he did to that girl.  Which wouldn't have happened, if he had listened to me."  

 "I told him to leave you alone.  You would find the man, then he could kill the asshole,” she said.  "Not Nicky, he's got to be the big shot.  You would have found him, wouldn't you."

 "I'm still going to find him.  I know for sure now, I am going to be the one who finds the boy who attacked Sophia."

 "That wouldn't be a good idea.  You promised you would stop looking," she said.

 "I know but I am a God-awful liar."

 "If you drop this, I will sleep with you."  

 "Why do you want me to drop it Gina?" I asked.

 "I don't want you to get hurt any more," she said.

 "Don't worry. When I find him I don't care if Nicky kills him or not," I said.

 "Okay, then you can look for him," she said with a drunken giggle.  "If Nick can kill him, then I will sleep with you."

 "Is Nick at the motel?" I asked.

 "Sure, staying right beside me."  She giggled again.

 I used my phone to call Nick.  

"Nick this is Mason, you better come get your sister.  She had a little too much wine with lunch.  And Nick, leave the body guards at home.  I wouldn't want them to see your sister like this.  I am no threat to you."

 I was surprised when Nick showed up a few minutes later.

"Mason," he said as he entered my apartment.  "Is Gina all right?"

 "Sure Nick, she is fine,” I said, pointing to the sleeping Gina.

 Nick softened.  "She gets like this once in a while.  I can't blame her, married to that bible thumper and all."

 "Not a problem," I said.

 "Mason, I think you should know I am going to kill that kid.  If you get in my way, I am going to kill you too."

 "I'll keep that in mind."  I said it as he lifted his sister.  

 "I appreciate you calling, but don't get between me and that kid."

 "I don't intend to,” I replied.

 It was after six o'clock when I found myself alone again.  I had another visitor.  I opened the door to Virginia.  

"I hope you don't mind.  I wanted to tell you how much I appreciated you not bothering my guest.  It was damned nice of you to leave us alone," she said.

 "Virginia, are you a witch?" I asked.

 "Of course, everyone knows that," she informed me.

 "That was some kind of meeting, wasn't it?" I asked.

 "That, I can't tell you.  Everybody isn't as open as I am.”  

 "Okay, try this one. Are there any of the college people involved in this?" I asked.

 "Some," she answered.  "Is this going somewhere?" she asked.

 "Virginia, are there any of the students involved with you?"

 "You know, don't you?" she asked.

 "Some of it.  I need to know more.”

 "Not from me, I think I'll be leaving.” She said it moving to the door.

 "I'm going to find out you know.” I said it not at all sure that I would.

 I watched the video tape until I fell asleep.  I didn't dream that night, probably because I wasn't as heavily drugged.  I was able to put up a better fight against the dreams.

 After a pot of coffee and two scrambled eggs, I went outside to wait for Bobby.  His car was old enough to be comfortable.  I struggled to get in the car, even though it was large enough.  The pain in my head had pretty much gone, but the pain of the broken ribs was in some ways worse.  

 "Good morning, Mason," Bobby said.  "I sure hope this doesn't get my ass fired.”

 "Me too, Bobby. I want you to know I appreciate your doing this.”

 "Are you kidding? I want to find out what the hell is going on.  I am having dreams about Friday night.  At least, I hope they are dreams.

 "What kind of dreams?" I asked.

 "Crazy stuff, like a bed filled with people.  Doing it with several women one after another.  I don't know man, some of it was really sick.  That part, I would just as soon not talk about.”

 "No problem," I said.  I thought then what he suspected. They weren't dreams at all.

 The drive took almost an hour.  When we arrived on a dirt road, Bobby turned into a drive only to pull out again.  It took him two more tries to find the right drive.  He followed it almost a half mile.  The drive ended abruptly in the yard of an old farm house.  Probably a tenant farmer's house.  He led me onto the porch.

 "Watch yourself Mason, there are a couple of weak boards in the porch," Bobby advised.

 The door was locked. Neither Bobby nor I had any qualms about breaking into the house.  Actually it took a strong kick, nothing more.  In what must have once been the living room, I found the remains of several candles.  Most were white, one thick one was black.

 In my dream, that coffee table had a cover.  It sat right here," Bobby said, standing by an inside wall. "In that room there is a bed.”  

I followed him into the room and found an unmade bed.  There were blood spots on the bed. 

 "Is that your blood, kid?" I asked pointing to the spots.

 "It could be, Mason," he said.  "I have a few bite marks on me.”

 "Well, I think I know why.  Now let's see if we can figure out the rest of it,” I said.

 "The rest of what?" Bobby asked.  

 "Let's take a look outside”  

We walked out the rear door of the house.  It hadn't rained in a couple of weeks.  The drag marks were still in the soft earth at the rear of the house.  They disappeared after a few yards but the direction was plain.  Bobby and I walked in the direction indicated.  We found the mound of fresh earth just inside the tree line.  

 "Unless I miss my guess, we have just found Elmer Pike," I said.  "Let's get back to the car.  We are going to have to call the Sheriff.  Better yet, let's call Vette.  She can notify the Sheriff."

 Thirty minutes later we led Vette and a deputy sheriff to the spot.  Neither Vette nor I participated in the digging.  We stood smoking and talking in hushed voices while the deputy and Bobby dug up Elmer Pike's body.  Vette saw the naked body, then said, "Mason, you have to give it all to me now."

 "Hell, all I can tell you is what I think,” I said.  "Let's get back to town before we do it.  My ribs hurt like hell."

 The interrogation room of the Greenpoint police station is not much larger than the principal’s office in an elementary school.  That's because the police station was once a school.  I sa

 When I finished, she said, "I guess we will find out how close you had it."

 "How about taking me home before you begin celebrating?" I asked.

 She seemed to notice for the first time that I was in real pain.  I guess I was sweating and pretty pale looking.

"Sure Mason. My god, why didn't you say something earlier?  Do you want to go by the hospital instead?"

 "No I just need to get some pills, then some rest.  After that I will be fine."

 "Let's go now before anything else comes up," she suggested.

 We made it all the way to the street in front of my house before she got the radio call.  The call requested her to return to the station with me in tow.  It seemed the Sheriff had some questions for us.  I expected they had gotten tired of questioning Bobby. 

 "You up to it?" Vette asked.  "I could tell them you are not available.  It would probably buy you an hour or two."

"What then? A sheriff's car pulls up?  No thanks. I would just as soon do this at your office.  How about going up to my apartment.  My pills are on the kitchen cabinet.  I hate to ask, but those stairs are real killers on broken ribs."  ##

She left me alone in the car while she went for the pills.  I guess it was fortunate that she had not been able to park closer to the house.  I watched her disappear into the house,

 The first strange thing I heard was an explosion. Not really all that loud.  Then the glass blew out of my empty room.  After which a fireball rose from the top floor of the building. The top of the house was immediately engulfed in flames.

 I jumped from the car before I even thought.  I tried to get into the side door, but the heat was unbelievable.  I could do nothing more than stand in the street and watch as Vette and my apartment went up in flames.  I didn't think there would be any doubt this one was set.  I began to shake.  The shaking caused the pain in my ribs to become unbearable.  I felt faint, then began to throw up all over the street.  I was in shock.  I knew that in less than a minute, I would faint if I didn't sit down.  I sat in the middle of the street.  

 I guess it was fortunate that no one was home at either the musician’s or the computer nerd's apartment.  I didn't check, because I didn'ut of their way.  I explained on the scene at least a dozen times what had happened.

 Some cop drove me to the station, where I was interrogated by half a dozen different policemen.  Each one read me the Miranda.  In the end they allowed me to go home.  The problem was, I had no home. One of the cops gave me a ride to a motel.  I checked in under another name.  The cops explained to the desk clerk that they wanted to stash me.

 I collapsed onto the bed.  I was in a great deal of pain. The aspirin the cop allowed me to purchase on the way home did little to help.  I waited an hour then added Tylenol to the mix.  After an hour the pain eased.  I couldn't have slept, even without the pain.  I lay awake trying to figure who would want me dead, and why.  I wasn't ready to think about Vette just yet.

 There could only be one reason.  No one knew we had found Elmer's body yet.  Somebody thought that by killing me, they could side track the investigation.

 My first choice was Nick.  Why wasn't too hard to figure. One of the girls recognized Bobby and called Sophia.  She went to Nick, then came clean.  Nick figured, if I were gone, the secret of Elmer Pike might not be discovered.  It held together pretty well.  It just wasn't great, even in my confused mind.

 Could Gina have done it? Sure, she would have the same motive.  Hell, even John Evans had exactly the same motive. Of them all, Nick was my choice.  He would be the most familiar with murder.

 Martin struck me as a possible.  He was about to lose his job.  He probably blamed me for it.  He most likely had the knowledge to build a bomb.  Most cops know how to make a simple bomb.  Dr. Mitchell, she was into the same crap as the girls.  Probably on a higher level.  She could have done it.  The Internet is filled with information on making bombs.  I am sure she could find out how to do it. Probably not her.  She didn't know that I knew she was involved.

 Thompson had been inside the apartment. She could have learned to build a bomb in the Marines.  Why would she do it?  I had no idea.  I doubted that she had taken my sending her away that badly.  It all went round and round in my head.  I finally swallowed two more aspirin and two more Tylenol then fell asleep.

 The pounding on my door the next morning woke me.  I looked out to see a man in a cheap suit.   I knew he was a cop, because there was a sheriff's deputy with him.  When I opened the door, they barged right in.  

"We need to talk," the man in the suit said.

 "I suppose so," I answered.

 "So who blew up your apartment?" he asked.

 "I really have no idea," I answered truthfully.

 "I hear you are knee deep in this Satanism crap," he said.

 "Who the hell are you anyway?"

 "Chief Deputy Sykes," he said not holding out his hand.

 "I need a cup of coffee and a cigarette before I even try to figure this out.  Why don't we all ride to a restaurant somewhere?" I suggested.

 "Sure, why not.  I don't expect there is any need trying to scare you,” the man in the suit said.

 "I doubt it seriously," I replied.

 "Come on, we can get you some coffee and then we can talk," he suggested.

 Patrol cars had changed a lot since I had last been in one.  The county car in which I rode that morning had a video camera and a computer.  The latest technology, I thought to myself.  Still trying to avoid thinking of Vette.

 "You got lucky last night, Mason," the suit said.

 "Yeah," was my reply.

 "I was told that you and the female cop go back to Avery.  You didn't have any reason to 'do her' did you?" he asked.

 "I went through this all last night at the police station.  I had no reason to harm her.   We didn't have that kind of history."  I knew it was a lie, but no one else did.

 "So we have to assume it was meant for you.  Like I said you got lucky."

 "I don't feel real lucky right now.  I hurt all over and a good friend just got blown to hell.  I'm sure somebody wants me dead.  I don't see how I could feel lucky just yet,” I answered.

 "So, who is the somebody who wants you dead?" the suit asked.

 "I tried to figure that out last night.  I don't have the slightest idea.  Are you working on the Elmer Pike murder?" I asked.

 "I am," he said.

 "My guess is, this is somehow connected to Elmer's murder."

 "How do you figure?" he asked.

 "Somebody who knew they had been blown, but who didn't know that the body had been found.  They might have mistakenly thought that the body wouldn't be found if they got rid of me.  You know, get me before I went looking for the body,” I said.

 "It makes some sense, but not a whole lot.  The way I figure it, Elmer got tough with the Evans girl.  One of the others hit him on the head."

 "Sounds right. Have you brought any of them in yet?" I asked.

 "We thought we would wait till we talked to you.  I'm afraid we are still way behind you on this.  You seem to be the only one who knows it all.  I mean except for the people who were there."

 "I wouldn't try Sophia until I talked to the others."

 "Why is that?" he asked.

 "You do know that her uncle is familiar with the legal system?" I asked.

 "Yankee Mafia or something?" Sykes asked.

 "Not or something, that's it exactly.  You can bet your ass he will get her a lawyer.  If he doesn't have one already."

 "Do you think her uncle planted the bomb?"

 "He is capable of it.  But then, it doesn't take much stomach to plant a bomb."

 "Yeah, it ain't like looking the victim in the eye," he agreed.

 "So where would you start? With one of the others?"

 "I sure would. You have an obligation to talk to them.  I just wouldn't expect much from them.  They tend to tell exactly the same story.  I don't know about this though.  They may be pretty scared."

 "Would you like to be there?" he asked.

 "Oh yeah," I said.

 "You better get something to eat then.  This is likely to be a long day."

 Mary Anne Montgomery was brought in first.  I had to give it to the suit.  He had her handcuffed.  It was probably illegal, but it sure as hell had her worried.  That is, if her darting eyes were any indication. I watched her walk into the Sheriff's interrogation room.  It was even smaller than the city police interrogation room.  Mary Anne was seated at a table about the size of a card table.  She looked around the empty room.  The deputy had dropped her in the room, then quickly left.

 "We let her sit for a while. When she looks nervous enough to climb the walls, we go talk to her.  Would you like to start?" the suit asked me.

 "Suits the hell out of me. By the way, what is your name again Chief Deputy.  I'm afraid I wasn't listening real close,” I admitted.

 "Roy, Roy Sykes," he said with a smile while extending his hand. 

 I took his hand.  

"So let's go scare hell out of this bitchette,” I said.

 "Sounds like a plan to me," Roy agreed

 He opened the door, then held it open while I walked quickly into the room.  

"Miss Montgomery, I think you know Chief Mason.”  She nodded.

"My name is Chief Deputy Sykes.  I am here to make sure your rights are not abused.  Do you understand?" he asked.

 "Yes, sir," she answered, not maintaining eye contact with either of us.

 Sykes switched on a small tape recorder.

"This is a record of the interrogation of Mary Anne Montgomery by Chief Deputy Sykes and Chief Mason.  First of all Mary Anne, let me advise you that you have a right to an attorney and to have him present during any questioning.  If you can not afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.  Also anything you say, with or without an attorney, can and will be used against you in a court of law.  Do you understand your rights."

 "Yes," Mary Anne answered.

 "Good, then sign this form.  It simply says that I read your rights to you.  You may ask for an attorney at anytime.  Now let's get this over with, so you can go home,” he said.  

"Mason, I think you had some questions for Mary Anne," Roy said.  He might have been a county cop but he was smooth.

 I, on the other hand, was blunt.  

"Mary Anne, you are in big trouble.  We found Elmer Pike's body.  We have your prints all over the house where he was killed.  We have the murder weapon and I expect to find your prints on it.  So what have you got to say for yourself?"

 "I didn't kill anybody.  I never heard of Elmer Pike,” she said, her voice shaking.  She had a script.  We had just gone through the opening lines of it.

 "Okay Mary Anne, why don't you tell us about the house?  Tell me why your finger prints are all over it."

 "The Sisters use the house for ceremonies.  You know, like installations, that kind of thing."

 "What kind of ceremony was it with Bobby Tuttle?"

 "Who is Bobby Tuttle?"

 "One of my cops.  I planted him at the Cat.  You and Betty Lisk picked him up.  You took him to that house," I said.

 "We took a man there.  I didn't know he was a cop.  Sure, we took him there and we had sex with him.  That isn't against the law, is it?" she asked.

 "Not unless you drugged him first."  

 "We didn't drug anyone," she said in a shaky voice.

 "Bobby had a blood test Saturday morning.  The results will be in any time now.  When I have them, I am going to have your ass charged with rape and murder.  Not to mention assault by biting him,” I replied.

 "Hold it Mason," Sykes said.  "She may not really have done anything.  She might have been an innocent bystander.   Sure, maybe they slipped your man a mickey, but what the hell. No red-blooded man would turn down a beautiful woman like Mary Anne.  We are never going to make a rape charge fly."

 "Sure we can. We can tie it to why Elmer was killed.  They did the same thing to him.  The autopsy will prove it.   Mary Anne, how long have you girls been taking men to that house?"

 "That house or any house?" she asked.  She was beginning to crack.##

 "Any house?"

 "The Sisters have been doing it long before I came.  They have been taking men for years."

 "How many years?" Roy asked.

 "I don't know.  I know there are pictures of women with blood on their mouths that go back fifty or more years," she said.

 I saw the look in Sykes’ eye and knew he wanted to ask.  I shook my head.  

"So the Sisters have been doing this for years.  You guys should have it down pretty good.  What happened with Elmer?"

 "I don't know, maybe he took too many drugs.  Maybe that's why the potion wore off so soon."

 "So, what did he do, when if wore off?" I asked.

 "Sophia was drinking when he came around.  He broke the ribbons we used to tie him up.  He began beating Sophia.  Betty had to stop him.  He would have killed her."

 "What did Betty do?" I asked.

 "She hit him with the candle holder.  She hit him more than once."

 "Something like a dozen times, I would suspect,” I said.

 "There was blood everywhere. We cleaned up the blood.  We buried the sheets with the man."

 "Whose idea was it for Sophia to claim a rape?" Roy asked.

 "Betty. She said that we had to explain Sophia's bruises.  There was no other way.  We also figured to finger Elmer for it.  If you couldn't find him, everything would just go away."

 "You guys didn't think of the rape scam on the spot.  How did you come up with that?" I asked.

 "Every situation you can think of is covered in the book," she said as if I should already know that.

 "What book is that, Mary?" Sykes asked.

 "The book of the law.  You know, the one from the house," she said.

 I took a chance.

"So how many others are buried out there?" I asked.

 "God, I don't know," she said.

 Roy's eyes grew wide.  

"I think we need to let Mary compose herself."

 I followed him from the room.  

"How the hell did you know there were others?" he asked.  "And what's this about a book?  Did you steal a book from the crime scene?"

 "Hell no, and before you ask, I don't know if there are any more bodies out there.  Mary Ann said “I don't know”.  Which could have meant she didn't know how many, or if there were others.  Let's go back in and ask her,” I suggested.

 "Let's talk about this first," Roy said.  "I want to know how you plan to proceed.  What are you going to ask her?"

 "I think we need to know about that book.  We need to know who wrote the book.  They may have had more help figuring out the details.  There may be somebody else involved in this mess."

 "Okay, let me go at her first," Roy demanded.

 "Well Mary Anne, I'm glad you explained all that to us.  It sounds to me like you were just a witness.  Tell me, what is all this about blood?"

 "I'm not supposed to tell," she answered.  

We had given her time to collect herself.  It had been a mistake. I knew it at the time.  We were going to have to start all over again.

 "That's up to you of course, but accessory to murder is still a pretty heavy charge,” I said.

 "But it was an accident," she said.

 "No honey, one blow or maybe two is an accident. A dozen or more makes it murder.  Hiding the body was the clincher.  There is no way you can justify that,” Roy said.  He was practically telling her to get a lawyer.  Before she could ask, I jumped in.

 "Mary Anne, you still have a chance here.  You can be the one the DA grants immunity.  Tell us everything. If you do you may still walk away clean," I said.

 "Mary Anne," Roy said, "Mr. Mason didn't promise you immunity.  Only the district attorney can do that.  If you tell us everything, we can ask him but we can't guarantee it."

 "I think I should talk to a lawyer.  I want to call my father."

 "That is your choice," Roy said, standing to leave.

 "If you do that Mary Anne, then it is out of our hands.  If Betty or Sophia tells us a different story, then we are going to have to assume it is the truth.  Do you still want a lawyer?" I asked.

 "Mason, she asked for a lawyer, we have to get her one.  Come on, we are through here until she gets an attorney."

 I was shaking so hard with my anger I was afraid to speak.  I knew the score. He had intentionally let her off the hook yet again.  In the hall I spoke to Roy. I kept my voice low so as not to be overheard.  

"What the hell are you doing.  You just let her off the hook,” I said menacingly.

 "I know what I'm doing.  It's my case," he said.

 "I'm glad you know. How about letting me in on it?"

 "I don't think we need you anymore," he said walking away.  He left me not only out of the case, but with no way back to the motel.  

 I got a taxi back to my burned apartment.  I stood on the street to look into the charred building.  The firemen had saved the downstairs structure, but everything inside would have been ruined.  In my case it wasn't even an issue. Everything was blown to hell.  I stood for a long time trying to remember Vette from Avery.  I couldn't. All I could see was her going into my building.  Then I relived the explosion yet again.  With a little luck she never knew what hit her.

 I forced myself to drive the truck, even though it caused me tremendous pain.  I had been popping aspirin and Tylenol all morning.  I made it to the motel, then immediately fell asleep on the motel bed.  I slept fitfully until I awoke at ten that night.  There was nothing to do, so I slept again.

 Hunger woke me before sun up.  I drove my old truck to an all-night diner.  The food wasn't especially good, but it was filling.  The coffee got my brain to work again.  The news of the police investigation would be all over the mostly empty campus by that time.  It figured that I wouldn't be a target any longer.  I stayed in the diner as long as I could, then drove to the motel.  I took yet another nap.  Pain has a way of making me sleepy.  When I awoke it was after nine.

 The first call I made was to my insurance agent.  I thought the secretary was going to have a heart attack.  I explained what had happened, then agreed to get her copies of all my canceled checks.  I could detail all my purchases with them.  I explained I had a completed new inventory. At least I did before someone blew hell out of it.  The canceled checks would be enough for the insurance company, she assured me.

 I drove to the K-Mart again, for clothes that time.  I decided not to buy much of anything until I figured out who had planted the bomb.  No sense going through all that crap again.  When I arrived back at the motel, I showered, dressed, then lifted the phone.  The problem then was who to call.  Everyone, except Bobby, was a suspect.  I finally called Bobby to make sure he was okay.  He assured me that he was fine.  He agreed to be especially careful for the next few days.  His testimony was vital to convict any of the women.  He was, therefore, as much a target as me.

 I was stuck. I couldn't get the girls’ interview tapes or notes.  I had no y angry.

 "You got a lot of nerve calling me, after you blew up my house,” she said.

 "Technically, I didn't blow it up."

"Maybe not, but if you hadn't been living there, I would have a house.  Instead I am now the owner of a pile of rubble.  That place looks like something from the six o'clock news.  As a matter of fact, it was on the six o'clock news."

 "I'm really sorry about your house.  I called because I need some help.  I don't suppose you would be interested in talking to me about your friends."

 "Are you out of your mind?  I have nothing to say about anyone."

 "How about a little background information.  Surely you wouldn't object to telling me about how this all got started.  You don't have to name any names."

 "You go to hell Mason," she said, slamming the phone in my ear.

 "Probably," I said into the dead phone.  I didn't expect to find anyone else to talk to me either.  I gave some thought to the Doc, but decided against it.  She might be suspect number three.  I didn't want to let her know that I knew about her hobby.  At least not just yet.

 I needed a new place to live.  I decided to give it some thought, if not action.  I walked to the desk for a newspaper.  

"Mr. Mason?” the clerk asked.  "Did your friend find you?"

 "Which friends is that?"  I asked it getting worried.

 "A rather nice looking young lady came by around six," he said.

 "I was pretty much out of it at six.  Did she leave a name?" I asked.

 "No, she just said she would come back later," he informed me.

 More trouble, I thought.  The nice looking young lady could have been almost anyone.  I had a pretty good idea it wasn't a social call she had in mind.  "How the hell did my life get so complicated," I asked myself on the walk out the door.

 I carried the newspaper to my room.  I began looking first for a place to live, then for a car.  I couldn't take much more of that truck.  It was not only hurting me, it was also too large for my current needs.  I made a few calls, then drove a few miles to the house of a man who wanted to sell his daughter’s car.  I test drove the ten year old box.  It was tiny and it had automatic transmission.  The automatic meout of its own way.  I almost didn't buy it.  I wouldn't have, except I dreaded the idea of driving the truck home.  

 I was about to write the man a check when he asked, "You going to keep the truck, I guess?"

 "Actually the truck is gone, just as soon as I get the tags switched.  You interested in buying it?"

 "No, but my nephew is looking for an old truck.  If you can wait a minute, I'll give him a call."

I stayed in the yard until the nephew arrived.  He took a good look at the truck then made me an offer.  It wasn't a real good offer, but it was within the range I had in mind.  I think the main reason he bought the truck was that his uncle allowed him to make payments on the box.  I walked away with two hundred bucks and the title to the box.  Actually I drove away in the tiny Geo. 

 As I drove it to the motel, I noticed a lot of little things wrong with the car.  Things I hadn't noticed before.  Things a girl probably wouldn't even tell her father.  I was in no condition to work on a car, so I drove it to an oil change station.  I had the oil and transmission fluid changed.  I dropped almost a hundred bucks, but the car's transmission changed better when I left the Quick Lube.

 I parked the Geo two doors down from my room.  Without the truck in front there was a good chance I would be presumed out.  If nothing else, I had a couple of days before I would have to worry about a car bomb.

 I opened the bag-o-burger bag.  Lunch was back to burgers again.  I didn't mind. I wasn't all that hungry anyway.  My cell phone chirped.##

"Hello," I said into it.

 "Mason, are you all right?  I thought you might be hurt again,” the woman's voice asked.

 "No, I'm fine.  Vette isn't, but I am.  Where are you calling from?" I asked Pam Thompson.

 "I'm working right now.  I am calling from a pay phone on campus."

 "I don't suppose you know who planted the bomb in my apartment?"

 "How would I know?  You told me to go home, remember?" she said angrily.

 "I just wondered."

 "You don't think I did it?  Look, I deserved what you said to me.  I was angry at myself, not you.  Even if I had been angry at you, I would never plant a bomb.  If I wanted to kill you, I would look you in the eye when I pulled the trigger."

 "Okay, I believe you.  So why did you call?" I asked.

 "To see if you were all right.  Also, to offer you a place to stay."

 "Not a good idea. Whoever planted that bomb may still have plans for me.  I am not about to have another death on my conscience."

 "It doesn't matter. Nobody has to know where you are. Come on Mason, you can't like staying in that motel.  Besides, I need someone to water my plants," she said with a laugh.

 "Okay, but no plant watering," I said.  I figured she would still be running to the President with everything she heard.  The trick was to make sure she heard only what I wanted her to hear.  She might be useful at that.

 "So, meet me for coffee at the Commons.  I can give you a key to my apartment.  I won't be getting off until eight."

 "Fine, what time?" I asked.

 "Make it five. You might as well buy me dinner,” she said.

 "The restaurant down there closes at three,” I informed her.

 "Okay, meet me at Eddie's then," she corrected herself.

 "See you at five." I punched 'end' on the cell phone.

 I had a few hours to kill, so I called Roy Sykes.  I was pissed at Roy, but not so much that I wouldn't try to get information from him.  He actually answered the phone himself.

 "Roy, this is Mason. I called to see if the arson guys figured out the cause of the fire."

 "Sure, it was an explosion,” He said in a nasty voice.

 "Okay, I'll play along. What caused the explosion?" I asked.

 "Natural gas. It looks like somebody blew out all your pilot lights and turned on all the gas.  Stove and furnace, the whole works.  Somehow that Officer caused a spark.  The arson guys couldn't find enough left to determine how the spark was rigged."

 "It wouldn't be hard.  Anything from an Army trip wire to a couple of kitchen matches taped to the door.  I wonder why Vette didn't smell the gas from the hall?" I asked.

 "The goof ball who did it probably taped the door crack,” he said.  "Wouldn't want you to notice it either." 

 "Have you searched that sorority house yet?" I asked, thinking of the Book.

 "Not yet. We didn't figure there was any hurry.  We got it sealed off."

 "I would do it pretty quick.  Things have a way of turning up missing," I said.   I had a feeling he was hoping for just that to happen.

 "Well you ain't me.  Look, unless you got some more advice, I have things to do."

 "I think I am just about through with you,” I said nastily.  I quickly cut the connection before he could respond.  It was a small victory but sometimes they are most satisfying. 

 There wasn't much I could do at the moment, so I drove the box to Avery.  I ate lunch in a McDonalds.  After my grease, I drove to the International Camera Exchange.  James was his usual sour self.  I had to explain about the second fire.  The word hadn't reached Avery yet.

 "Mr. Mason, you are really having a run of bad luck.  So I guess you want to replace the two cameras I sold you last week?"

 "That's about it James. What are the chances?" I asked.

 "For the same ones?" he asked.  I nodded.  "No chance at all."

 "Come on James, there has to be somebody in this country with those cameras."

 "Mason, you have had such rotten luck, I'll call the New York office.  I wouldn't put much faith in them having either of the cameras."  I watched him go to the telephone.  He dialed a number.  I watched him speak into the phone, but I couldn't hear the words.

 "No luck. All those cameras have been shipped to the stores.  You might try our Charlotte store."

 "I don't think I want to drive all the way down there.  Can't I just pay you for them, then have them shipped up?" I asked.

"I told you last time, no store manager is going to release a one of a kind item."  James looked even more miserable, if that were possible.  He finally just walked away from me.  I waited a few minutes, then turned to leave.  

"Mason," he called after me.  "Did you know old man Flynt?" he asked.

 "No. Who is old man Flynt?" I asked.

 "He was a local photographer.  He collected cameras. You might want to look through his estate.  We are selling it for the widow Flynt."

 "James, I really don't want to buy antiques,” I said.

 "Most of these have never been out of the box,” he promised me.

 I followed him to the storeroom.  He pointed me to four large cardboard cartons in a corner.  

"How long have you had these?" I asked.

 "Came in on Saturday. I hope I can get to sorting them by Friday.  The box on the bottom left is all thirty-five millimeter cameras, I think,” he said with what passed for a smile.

 It took both of us to lift the top box.  I experienced a great deal of pain lifting it.  God only knows what was hidden inside the cardboard.  I opened the top of the large box and found it filled with smaller boxes.  I sure hoped there was something inside I could use.  I hated to think I went through all that for nothing.

 The boxes themselves told me nothing.  Most were in either German or Japanese.  James explained that Flynt had been an Army Officer.  Most of the cameras had been bought at foreign PX stores.  Half way down the box, I found a Japanese Petri 7S.  I recognized it when I first saw the camera.  I had never owned one, but a friend of mine had bought one in Viet Nam.  The camera was made in the sixties.  Even when I saw my friend's it was outdated.  I checked it over and found it worked perfectly.  It appeared to be the original from which the Russian had been copied.  It probably wasn't. There were a lot of camera makers in the sixties.  There might have been a dozen such cameras.  Fixed lens thirty five millimeter SLRs were common.  The new point and shoot cameras were the modern equivalent.  Its sharpness was unknown, but I decided to give it a try.  There would be no returns on this batch of cameras.  I wouldn't do that to a widow anyway.  Deep in the box I also found a 35millimeter Ricoh 500C Range Finder Camera.  I didn't know much about the range finder, but I had owned a SLR by the same company.  It had been acceptable.  I didn't bother to look farther.  I carried the two vintage cameras to the desk.

 “Okay James, if the woman doesn't want and arm and leg for them I will take these two,” I said.

 "Neither of those are collector pieces.  Tell you what, I'll throw in another set of those auxiliary lenses and we can call it three hundred even."

 "What can you do for me on a couple of Vivitar strobes?" I asked.  I really didn't want to return to Avery Photo.

 "Two strobes and the cameras with extra glass, four fifty," he said.  I gave him my plastic.  I wanted to keep this batch separate from the first.  He tossed in a couple of rolls of film.  Since I had a couple of hours left before I was to meet Pam, I shot the film outside a one hour lab.  When I had the film processed and checked, it was time to head to Eddie's.

 Wmy mind.  I wanted it to be Nick.  Mostly because he would be the most likely and the easiest to finger.  It kept coming up ‘No’. done that, I would have the same bullet up my butt.

 It could have been one of the girls, I guess.  I just couldn't see a college kid setting a trap like that.  Sure, they could have figured it out from TV.  I just couldn't imagine them doing it.  Dr. Mattie Mitchell came to mind, but she really had no motive.  She didn't even know that I had taped her.  Nobody on the tape knew about it.  Somebody had tried to light my fire, but I couldn't figure out who it might be.

 Eddie's was pretty much empty.  Everyone else was still at their nine to five jobs.  I almost wished I was.  Thompson and Tuttle occupied a booth in the rear.  I joined them.

 "Hi Bobby. I hope you are watching your ass," I said.

 "I'm trying, boss."

 "You can, for sure, knock off the boss crap now,” I said pleasantly.

 "I know, I liked working for you a lot more than the Chief."

 "How is the Chief by the way?" I asked Pam.

 "He seems right happy now that everything is back to, more or less, normal,” she said.

 "Are things really back to normal?' I asked.

 "He thinks they are,” Bobby answered.

 "I got news for everyone. There is going to be a stink like you never smelled before this is over."

 "I know. It is just a matter of time before the press gets rolling on this.  Man, it has everything - sex, drugs, murder, and rock and roll.  I can just see Freeda now on the six o'clock news.  It is sure going to ruin a lot of people."  Pam said it shaking her head.

 "By the way Bobby, the Chief is going to pay you for your time that night, isn't he?" I asked.

 "Funny you should mention that.  He is going to pay all right.  He raised all kinds of hell, even called the President to see if he could get out of it.  After the call, he calmed right down.  I even got time and a half for the whole night."

 "That doesn't sound like the two of them.  Must be something I don't know going on," I said.

 "Anyway Mason, here is the key to my place," Pam said, making sure Bobby knew.

 "Bobby, I would rather nobody knew about me and Pam.  I don't want her in any danger."

 "I understand. You aren't sure this is over," he said.

 "I'm sure it's not over," I replied.##

 "Well, you two lovebirds have dinner, I have to go back to work,” Bobby said.

 "You might want to keep a close eye on the Willis house.  I expect people are going to take an interest in it.  That is if there is anything left in the house."

 "Far as I know nobody has gone near it,” Bobby said.

 "Problem is the cops haven't gone near it either,” I informed him.  "It is my understanding they threw some crime scene tape on it, then left.  They told me they haven't even searched it yet.  I don't know what in the hell they are waiting for."

 "Got me, I didn't know there was anything in there worth finding,” he said.

 "There probably isn't, at least not any more,” I said. 

 Bobby left Pam and me alone.  After the waitress took our order Pam said, "I want you to know how sorry I am."

 "About what?" I asked coolly.

 "About ratting you out to the President.  About Vette getting killed.  It is all so awful."

 "You had nothing to do with Vette's death.  As for the other, I doubt your talking to the President did any more than get Freeda's jewelry removed.  It is probably an improvement.”  I said it but didn’t mean a word of it.

 "I hope we can be friends again," she said.

 "I do think that is a possibility.  After all, we are going to be spending some quality time together," I said smiling.

 "I certainly hope so," she added hopefully.

 Dinner was difficult.  I was never very good at light conversation.  Pam returned to patrolling the campus. I headed for her apartment.  It wasn't all that far from Eddie's.  

 As soon as I dumped my plastic bags full of clothing, I began searching her apartment.  I looked through everything and found nothing.  If she had anything to hide she had done it well.  I sat for a few minutes on her sofa, trying to figure what was missing from the apartment.  Everything seemed to be just as it had been on my last visit.  Still something seemed missing.

 I watched TV for a couple of hours until she arrived.  Pam and I talked for a couple of more hours.  

"Well, I think I will turn in.  How about letting me have a pillow and blanket?"

 "Why?" she asked.  She really didn't seem to understand.

 "For the sofa," I said pointing to it.

 "I thought you might want to sleep in the bed with me."  She seemed mystified that it even needed saying.

 "I don't think that would be a good idea," I said.

 "Why, are you afraid I will attack you," She said with a smile.

 "I doubt it.  I would really rather sleep on the sofa." I stated it forcefully.

 "Like hell," Pam said.  "I didn't invite you here to let you sleep on the sofa.  You don't have to do anything, but at least share my bed."

 "The truth is I can't do anything," I replied.

 "So that's what Vette meant?"  Pam softened.  "Don't worry Mason, I would kind of like to just cuddle.  Women don't get near enough of that."

 I awoke looking at the bare walls in Pam's bedroom.  The room could just as easily have been inside a Holiday Inn.  I found her bathroom pretty well stocked with all the women's junk.  I looked at myself in the mirror, something I try not to do too often.  I looked about like I felt.  The swelling around my one good eye had almost gone.  It still had a deep blue color.  It would fade soon enough, I knew.

 What really upset me was that I had no idea what to do next.  I looked as disgusted with myself as I felt.  After a quick shower, I headed out to breakfast.  The phone call caught me half way to the Commons.

 "Mason, this is Mike.  You about through with my cameras?" he asked.

 "Funny you should mention that," I said.

 "Mason, I'm not going to like this, am I?" he asked.

 "I don't know. How attached to those cameras were you?" I asked in reply.

 "Not more than eight hundred bucks worth," he answered.

 "I'm just sitting down to breakfast. I can be at your office in an hour and a half.  Have a bill ready for me.  I need a real one, since I am going to submit it to my insurance company.  Make a note on it the charge is for equipment rented to me, then lost in a fire."

 "You're kidding me? You're not really going to try to get the insurance company to pay for equipment lost in a fire a month ago?"

 "No, lost in a fire two days ago.  Somebody blew hell out of my apartment building.  Your cameras went with it,” I informed him.

 "Who did it?" Mike asked.

 "I don't know, but I sure as hell intend to find out."

 "You don't think it was your ex do you?"

 "No, she didn't even know where I lived.  This is somebody new."

 "Mason, you better move back here.  At least there is only one person here who hates you that much."  Mike said it with a chuckle.

 "I may just do that," I replied.

 Something nagged at me all during breakfast.  I couldn't pin it down, but I felt as though something was sliding around inside my battered brain on greased rails.  I finally had to just give up.  It would either come to me or it wouldn't.  There was just no way to force it.

 When I walked through Mike's door, he was waiting.  

"Would you like to rent some more junk?  I got a whole storeroom filled with useless crap,” he said with a rather smug smile.

 "From that smile, I assume you are charging me retail, new prices for that worn out crap."

 "What do you care?  You're getting it all back from the insurance company anyway,” he said.

 "True, but that may be a month from now.  I have to eat in the meantime."

 "Here," he said.  "Eat this."

 I took a look at the bill. The charge was eight hundred and change.

"Mike, I didn't know you were such a thief.”  I said it laughing at him.

 "That's alleged thief.  I've never been convicted of anything.  So, is there anything else."

 "Not unless you have a computer and digital camera laying around."

 "Computer no, digital camera yes."

 "You are kidding," I replied.##

 "Not in the least.  I bought it at auction with some video cameras.  I personally have never used it.  I got no use for that crap,” he said.

I knew Mike had a computer, but his specialty was video.  He worked mostly security for the manufacturing plants in and around Avery.

 "So what kind of crap camera is it?" I asked.

 "Some kind of Apple shit," he said.  "I don't know anybody with Apple computers. Do you?"

 "No, but it should work on a PC.  At least I would think so,” I said.

 "Nope, I done called the company.  It only works on that Mac crap."

 "Then I can't use it.  But thanks anyway,” I said, turning to leave.

 "Mason, you going to move back to town?" he asked.

 "I don't know. I kind of like Greenpoint.  Something kind of nice about a small quiet town."  I thought he was going to fall over laughing.

 "I didn't mention it before, but your face looks like a small quiet town,” he said, bursting into laughter yet again.

 "That was cruel Mike.  Look, I have to run.  I really am sorry about your cameras," I said.

 "Don't be. This money will let me replace them with some new fiber optic crap.  I am actually upgrading thanks to you."

 I waved as I passed from his door into the morning sunlight.  During the drive home I gave some thought to my new clients.  They couldn't reach me at the moment.  I really was going to have to find a place to set up shop.  The investigation into my explosion could take the cops months.  I couldn't hide out with Pam all that time.  We both had lives.

 I made a decision during my drive back to Greenpoint.  Whoever had planted that bomb in my place would still be around next week.  Everything else had to go on hold, at least until I got back into business.  Everything except the funeral for Vette.  

 With that in mind, I drove to a department store in the town's new mall.  I explained my problem to the bored young clerk.  He assured me, in a not too sincere voice, that my suit would be ready by closing.  Closing was nine that evening.  I wrote him a check for five hundred dollars to cover the suit and various other purchases.  I am certainly not very fashion conscious.  The suit was a simple blue striped thing.

 I stopped in the common area of the mall for coffee.  I sat with a vending machine newspaper, trying to decide what my next move should be.  I half-heartedly looked at the apartments in the classified section.  I really didn't have any desire to rent another apartment.  I doubted I could ever find one as unique.  

 I tried the “Offices for Rent” section.  I tholdings for rent,s.  I was pretty disappointed in everything I read.

 I left the mall without planning to call anyone.  I had nothing to do, since I had nowhere to put anything.  I drove aimlessly until I found myself at the Commons.  I stopped at the small drug store for more coffee.  It was to kill time more than anything else.

 The young woman named Rachel exclaimed, "God Mr. Mason, what happened to you?"

 "I fell down a flight of stairs," I said.

 "I'm sorry. Are you okay now?"

 "I'm fine," I replied.  She walked away while I brooded over my coffee.  I glanced out the plate glass window.  

"Rachel who owns that empty building across the street," I almost had to shout.

 "You mean the old boutique?"

I nodded.  

"Mr. Simmons. He owns this one and that one."

 "How do I get in touch with him?" I asked.

 Rachel laughed as only a teenager can.  It was filled with an accusation that I was a complete dumb ass.  

"Mr. Simmons is the pharmacist."

She turned to look at the older man working in the pharmacy.

"Mr. Simmons, Mr. Mason wants to talk to you about Dianne's Boutique."

 It took Simmons a few minutes to finish up, whatever it was that he was doing in the pharmacy.  I watched as he limped to the fountain counter.  "Yes sir, what can I do for you?" he asked.

 "I was wondering what the rent is on the building across the street?" I asked knowing I would never be able to afford it.

 "To tell you the truth, I am planning to sell it.  You interested in buying?" he asked with a somber look.

 "Not really. I just need a place to set up shop for a few months.  If business is good, I might want to buy it.  If business isn't, then I probably wouldn't even need that much space,” I answered him honestly.

 "I really want to sell it," he said.  I waited for him to elaborate.  He never did.  He simply stood quietly as he stared at me.

 I gave up waiting for him to give me an answer.  

"Well, it's empty right now.  How about renting it to me until you find a buyer.  It would be more attractive to a buyer if someone were using it.”  I said it trying to put a positive spin on it.

 "Would you agree to vacate in thirty days if it were sold?" he asked.

 "Sure, why not?  Of course, I might not be able to afford the rent,” I said honestly. 

"Diane paid seven hundred," he said.  He noticed the look on my face.

"Of course," he hurried on,  "I wasn't trying to sell it at that time.  How about five hundred a month, on a month-to-month lease.  I'll guarantee you six months without an increase, unless it is sold first,” he said.

 "Can I look at it?" I asked.

 "Sure," he said, returning to the pharmacy for the keys.

 I walked across the street to the building.  I found a small parking lot in the rear.  The lot would hold no more than three cars.  No doubt when the building had been built in the thirties, parking wasn't as large a concern as it was these days.

 Standing in the parking lot, I looked back to the building.  I noted a metal fire escape leading to a door above the first floor.  The building was only one story in the front, but two in the rear.  I returned to examine the front and found the building deceptive.  The roof was probably sixteen feet above the street.  Not enough for a two-story building, but taller than I had thought.  The rear of the building was taller by four or more feet.

 I paced off the exterior of the building and found it to be forty feet long and sixteen feet wide.  Not a great deal of space, but more than I would need.  While in the rear, I opened the lower fire door, then entered the dark building.  I found an electrical switch beside the door.  I flipped it expecting nothing to happen.  

 Light flooded the space.  For about one second it seemed bright.  The contrast with the darkness vanished instantly.  I found myself in a dimly lit room.  I judged the room, based on my exterior pacing, to be sixteen by twenty.  There were no walls between this room and the front room.  The space was divided by a wooden hand rail and four carpeted steps.  The waist high rail ran almost the width of the room.  The steps were probably four feet wide.   

 The front room was a duplicate of the rear.  It did have two small display windows in the exterior wall facing the street.  I was surprised to find that the walls seemed freshly painted even in the dim light.  Dianne probably did that before she opened.  The walls were filled with holes, probably from hanging shelves.  The plaster, otherwise, seemed in good shape.

 In the rear corner stood a circular metal staircase.  It was narrow and small.  It led to the second floor.  Beside the staircase was a small cubicle housing a toilet and sink.  I climbed the tight stairway to the second floor.  The space above the shop was pretty much unfinished.  It had probably been a storage space for the shops, which had over the years occupied the downstairs.  The space, I estimated at sixteen by twenty.  It seemed pretty certain that it was the same as the rear room in the store downstairs.

 On further inspection, I found a bathroom complete with shower stall.  The bathroom walls were the only partitions in the room.  When I opened the rear door, I found the metal fire escape landing to be larger than it had appeared from the ground.  The landing was at least four feet by six feet.  I stepped on it carefully. I certainly didn't need another fall.  I found it secure, with only minor rust on the rails.    ##

 I returned to the lower floor in search of the fuse box.  I found it tucked into the outside wall of the half bath.  The fuse box, at least, had been updated.  Unfortunately not to modern standards.  It had gone past the glass fuse stage, but only as far as fusetrons.  The update had probably been done in the fifties or earlier.

 I checked the heating system.  I couldn't do much more than look at the unit.  The gas unit was suspended from the ceiling in the front section of the building.  It also rested against the slight drop in the ceiling.  That drop would be the bottom of the front wall in the upstairs.  No doubt the unit supplied a minimum of heat up there.

 The downstairs had one house-type air conditioner protruding through the wall on the side of the building.  It would probably do little or no good.  The upstairs space would be even more cramped than the space I had rented from Virginia.  The downstairs would make a pretty good studio.  I almost talked myself into taking the space.  

 The only reason I didn't take it was that while waiting for Simmons to find the key, I had remembered the vacant building on the Strip.  It might prove less expensive and more to my liking.  When I returned the key to Simmons, I explained, "I have one more place to check."  I also stopped for one more coffee at the fountain counter.

 "Mr. Mason," Rachel whispered.  "Diane didn't pay seven hundred for that place.  She told me she paid four-fifty."

 "Thank you," I mouthed as I walked from the store.

 When I arrived at the Cellar, I found that the building's owner lived in Avery.  However, I was informed the manager of the Cellar had the key.  I was allowed to browse through the building, even though the manager couldn't quote me any price. The Cellar's manager made the call from the upstairs phone.   I dropped any idea of renting the space when the owner told me he wanted a thousand a month for the space.  I said “thank you” and hung up.  I moved from the bar to a table.  I needed to consider my options.

 One of the bartenders from downstairs saw me sitting alone.  She approached, then took a seat.

"You that guy asking about the three college girls?"

 "That was me all right,” I replied.

 "Shame about them.  I knew they were weird, but I had no idea,” she said.  She must have read about 'poor Elmer' in the paper had of hushing the murder up had to be a distant memory.

 "I didn't either.” I said it not really paying much attention to her.  

 Not until she asked, "You dating that campus cop?"

 "Which one?" I asked.

 "Not ole Bobby, that's for sure.  The other one.  The one you brought in here."

 "Not really," I said.

 "Good, you seemed too smart for that."

 "I don't know, I'm not all that smart.  What is her problem anyway?" I asked off handedly.

 "You don't know?" she asked.

 "Not really. We were just working the investigation together.  She seems a little different, if you get my drift."

 The bartender nodded.  "She is a little strange.  She is also les."

 "Really?" I asked, not tipping my hand.

 "Sure, when she first came here last year she came in all the time."

 "Did she bring her girls with her?" I asked.

 "If you mean did she hit on the college girls, the answer is no.  She did hit on Marcy once.  Marcy looks a little butch but she isn't."

 I remembered Marcy flirting with Pam.  She hadn't been flirting at all.  She had been making fun of Pam.  

"So, why did she stop coming around?" I asked.

 "I think somebody at the school suggested she stay away from the college kids.  You know, afraid she might get a little drunk and hit on one of them."

 "Whoever talked to her gave her some damned good advice,” I said.

 "You know it.  Just to change the subject, you gonna come down to see me?" she asked.

 "You bet, but not tonight.  I have to visit the family of the woman who got killed," I said.

 "Did you know the woman who got blown up?" She asked.

 "Yeah, we were old friends."  I said it without explaining that it was my apartment that had exploded.

 "Come down anytime," she said.  "Hell, I'll even buy you a drink."

 "That is probably the best offer I've had all year," I said smiling.

 The young woman stood to leave.  

"You might get a better one."  She said it as she walked away.

 So Pam is gay.  No wonder she didn't mind that I couldn't get it up.  She didn't know that when she invited me to share her bed.  I couldn't help but wonder why she had made the invitation.  Everything about the situation seemed strange.

I drove to the mall for my suit.  I was surprised to find it ready and waiting.  I drove from the mall to Pam's apartment.  Pam was waiting for me.  

"You want me to fix dinner?" she asked.

 "No. Are you going to meet Vette's family?"

 "Sure," she said simply.

 "We can stop on the way.  I will buy you dinner."

 "Okay, but not McDonalds," she agreed with a smile.

 On the drive to Avery, I was tempted to ask her about the bartender's story.  I couldn't find a way to work it into the conversation, so I didn't force it.

 The funeral home was filled with cops when we arrived.  I knew a couple of them. I introduced Pam to the ones I knew.  Most of the others introduced themselves to Pam.  As was the custom Pam wore her uniform.  

 It was hard not to recognize Vette's sister.  She was almost a twin.  Not in age, but in appearance.  I walked across the room to where she sat.  

"Hello, My name is Mason.  I knew your sister.  I am truly sorry."  I said it not really knowing what her response might be.  She surely knew that the bomb which killed Vette  was meant for me.

 "Mr. Mason, Evette spoke of you often," the sister said taking my hand.

 "Most of the bad is true, and none of the good,” I replied with a smile.   

 "I don't think that is the truth.  Evette thought the world of you.  She called me shortly before the accident.  She was happy to have met you again."

 "I really did enjoy seeing her again.  I just hate this had to happen to her.  She was really a wonderful person,” I said.

 Before either of us could go on, Pam arrived.

"Ma'am, my name is Pam Thompson.  I knew your sister only a short time, but she seemed like a really nice woman,” Pam said in a rush. 

 "Thank you Pam," the sister said coolly.  Pam sensed something was wrong.  I waited for her to leave.  

 When she had gone, Vette's sister said, "When Evette called over the weekend, she told me about that woman.  Evette didn't trust her.  Mr. Mason, Evette was a good judge of character."

 The warning was plain.  

"I'll watch myself.  Is there anything I can do?"

 "I don't think so. The police are providing everything."  Her eyes were misty when she added,  "It is going to be a lovely funeral.  You know the Avery PD is doing a lot for the funeral.  The bastards don't know, Evette told me how badly they treated her.  I would have told them to go to hell, except that some of the Officers were good to her."

 "I know, cops really are a brotherhood.  At least until they get to be bosses," I admitted.

 A Greenpoint Lieutenant approached, so I walked away.  I found Pam talking to a group of Greenpoint Officers.  I stood on the fringe of the group until I caught her eye.  

"Mason, I am going to stay in Avery a while.  I can get a ride home.” she said it with no emotion.  I really didn't mind a bit.

 "Tell you what, call if you need a ride,” I said.  I wasn't angry, I was just ready to leave.

 "I can get a ride, don't worry,” she said.  I couldn't read anything into her remarks, so I gave them no weight.

 I actually was happy to be making the half hour drive alone.  The tin can car carried me back to Greenpoint without any protests.  I watched a little TV while I waited for Pam.  I had thoughts about her running through my head.  I didn't really want to confront her with any of them.  I was actually happy when she hadn't arrived by eleven.  I watched a couple of minutes of the news before I drifted off to sleep on the sofa.  The TV news was playing up the murders but made only veiled references to the Satanism or what ever it was.

 I awoke the next morning at six a.m.  Pam woke me as she opened the apartment door.  I sat up as she entered the room.  

"I didn't mean to wake you," she said quietly.

 "It's okay. I need to get up and start moving anyway," I said.

 "Give me a few minutes first," she said.  "I have to get ready for work.  I have to be in at eight."

 "Sure," I said as I fell back on the sofa.  Sleep overtook me.  

 The next time I woke was when Pam left the house.  I showered and dressed quickly.  I went to the Commons for breakfast.  After breakfast, I walked across the street to the drugstore.  I found Simmons and we had a nice talk.  I offered him four hundred a month for the building, with the understanding I would vacate within thirty days should he find a buyer.  He reluctantly agreed.

 I spent the day retracing my steps of the first day in my new apartment.  By the end of the day, I had managed to get a cushion sofa up the fire escape and build bookcases in the lower rear room.  The phone would be turned on the next morning.

 I met Pam at the apartment around five.  I explained to her that I had a new place.  I also explained this would be my last night as her house guest.  To celebrate, I took her to dinner again.  I looked across at her all during dinner.  I knew something was wrong, but I still couldn't put a finger on it.  If she were gay, she would have even less of a reason to harm me.  I had a bad feeling about her, but I couldn't figure out how or why.  It didn't make sense that she would be connected to the explosion.  

 The next morning, I moved my few clothes to the building in the Commons.  I spent the day collecting odds and ends of furniture for the room above my studio.  Everything I bought was dependent on my being able to get it up the stairs.  A folding table and chairs became dining furniture.  A used dorm refrigerator on a plywood and block table became my Coke cooler.  Beside the refig sat a quartz toaster oven.   On a shelf under them resided a large plastic bag filled with paper plates and plastic forks.  It wasn't a perfect existence, but it would do for the time being.

 The area was eerie at night.  When the businesses closed at nine, the streets became deserted.  I sat on the fire escape in the dark and listened.  Not a sound came from either the street or the houses a half block away.  I slept fitfully that night.

 I awoke the next morning as tired as I was the night before.  I presumed that it was the strangeness of my surroundings.  I opened a pack of donuts for breakfast.  A couple of the chocolate confections with my coffee woke me up.  I showered, then dressed in my work clothes.  I was already headed for the door when my insurance agent called. Actually it was his secretary.  The company had a check ready for me to pick up.

 I drove over to Avery for the check, then to the bank.  Along with the check, I had a notice that my business insurance was canceled.  I really couldn't blame them.  Why should the company share in my incredibly bad luck.  I drove to my bank hoping to see Shirley.  I was informed by the teller, who took my check, that Shirley had the day off.  I could leave her a message if I liked.  I didn't really have anything to say, so I declined the offer.

 Back in Greenpoint, I drove straight to O'Malley's Warehouse.  I told the cashier when I entered, "You guys need to give me a time card."  She didn't really recognize me, but she smiled anyway.  I had discovered the laptop I bought was too slow.  I looked at a faster one, but found it far too expensive.  I gave up on the computer, at least until I had given it more thought.  I walked to the TV aisle.

 I picked up another clock radio.  It was just like the one I had bought not more than a week or two before.  I also loaded the brother to my last TV.  I found an even less expensive VCR.   When I stopped to look at a movie on the demo VCR, it hit me like a hammer.  I watched the couple on the film doing, what I guess is called, a simulation of the sexual act.  Nothing pornographic, just a lot of rolling around naked on the bed.

 I could barely contain my excitement.  I was impatient in the check out line.  I wanted to scream at the lady ahead of me to hurry.  I paid for everything with my credit card, then pulled the box to the door.  It was tough getting the boxed TV inside the hatch door, but I managed.   Once the car was loaded, I called Avery on my cell phone.  A five minute call convinced me I had the right idea.

 I was home by five in the afternoon.  Even after my second drive to Avery.  I didn't mind so much.  I was too excited to wait around the house anyway.  I almost went nuts with anticipation.  I had the comfort of knowing no one would be planting any more bombs.  Actually there had never been any reason to plant a second one.  The first one had achieved its purpose.  

 I tried to watch my new TV. It was a futile attempt.  Without cable, I could find nothing worth watching.  I drank a whole pot of coffee, and even a couple of glasses of instant iced tea.  By two a.m. I was ready to do what had to be done.

 First I drove to Pam's apartment.  I noted that her car was gone.  I had expected as much.  From there I drove to the campus police office.  Pam's car was not in the parking lot.  I walked to the door, just to make sure the place was empty.  

  I parked the box behind Bonner Hall.  The walk was only a couple of blocks.  I moved along the campus walkway, then around the building to the rear.  I moved quietly, even though there were no lights on in the building.

 At first I didn't see Pam's car.  I found it parked in an old frame garage.  I climbed the wooden stairs to the rear porch on the house.  I used the lock picks, borrowed from Mike on the second visit to Avery.  Mike could have done it a lot quicker.  It didn't matter. I had all the time in the world.

 Once inside the house, I climbed the carpeted stairs.  I listen at first one door then another, until I heard the sound of deep breathing.  I knew I had the right room.  I opened the door quietly.  The light of the moon, through the window, illuminated the lump under the white sheet.

 I moved quietly to the chair at the foot of the bed.  I found Pam's pistol belt.  I quietly removed her ugly automatic.  I pushed her uniform to the floor, then turned on the lamp beside the chair.  I expected the light to wake one or the other of them. Neither moved.  I waited a couple of minutes, then worked the slide on the automatic.  The sound woke Pam.  She looked toward the noise to see me sitting at the foot of the bed.

 "You might want to wake your girlfriend," I said quietly.

 Pam shook her companion, then said in a soft voice.  "Wake up Gina."

 When I saw the woman sit up in the bed, I was a lot more surprised than either of them.  I had expected Mattie Mitchell.  By the time I recovered enough to wonder where the President was, I heard her speak from my right.  

"If I were you Mr. Mason, I would drop that pistol."

 I kept the gun pointed in the direction of the two women in the bed.  I glanced at Mattie just long enough to see the small revolver in her hand.  

"I don't think so.  You are going to have a hell of a time explaining all the bodies in this room."

 I'll give her this, she was a quick thinker.  

"Not really. You broke in and shot whoever it is you are going to shoot.  I heard the shot or shots and came running.  I had to kill you in self-defense."

 "God Mattie, you do think fast on your feet,” I said with true admiration.

 "You don't get to where I am without a quick mind," she said.

 "Wouldn't you hate to lose your girlfriend?" I asked.

 "Which one do you think is my girlfriend?"  She asked it with a small smile.

 "I have no idea.  Why don't you tell me?" I suggested.

 "I'd rather you tell me.  I would like to see how much you know."

 "I obviously knew Thompson was a dyke.  I didn't know about Gina though.  Just for the hell of it, are you one too?”  I asked it stalling.

 "Who, me? I thought you could tell from the video.  I like men."

 "I thought maybe you went both ways?"

 "Afraid not," she said.  "I have my little quirks, but that isn't one of them."

 "You are the one who found out about little Pam?"

 "Sure, I got a call from a former student.  This is a small townm you know.  Pam was hitting the college bars.  I told her to stop, before she hit on a student."

 "Why didn't you just fire her?"

 "Why, she has been very useful.  She, unlike me, does go both ways."  

She gave me a bright smile.  

"No one can accuse me of sleeping my way to the top.  Little ole Pam does that for me."

 "That makes you what, a pimp?" I asked.

 "Sticks and stones," she said still smiling.  "Tell me what you know, and who else knows it"

 "I know you either did it yourself, or had Pam rig my apartment."  She nodded.  "To destroy the video tape of your little party."

 "Close but no cigar.  I stole the tape.  The explosion was to hide its disappearance.  You just never know when information like that will be of service."

 "Then why the trap?" I asked.

 "I know I really wanted to just burn the place, but Gina insisted that I take you out.  Something to do with saving that slut daughter of hers.  I tried to tell her it was too late, but she wouldn't listen.  She had some notion that without your testimony, Nick could get Sophia off."

 It was remarkable that neither Gina nor Pam said a word.  It seemed that only Mattie and I remained capable of speech.  

"What took you so long to figure it out?  I expected that you would be knocking on my door the next day."

 "I went down the wrong trail.  I figured it was Nick, trying to help his niece.  It didn't make much sense, but after my last encounter with Nick I wanted it to be him.  To tell you the truth, the tape meant nothing to me.  When it didn't show the three sorority sisters, I forgot all about it.  I also didn't know that Pam had stayed to watch Mike install the cameras.  I had given her instructions to take a walk while Mike did his thing."

 "Well, she was just doing her job.  You know, her moonlighting thing.  What gave you the idea that I rigged the explosion?"

 "The video finally worked its way to the front of my feeble brain.  I finally figured that the video was the cause of the explosion.  I thought you waited until I left the house to rig it.  I had no idea you were waiting for a chance to burglarize it."

 "Very good, but why me?  It could have been anyone."

 "It started as a guess.  Pam had a lover, of that there was no doubt.  I mean a regular one.  At least I thought so."

 "Why?" Mattie asked.

 "Her apartment looks like a motel room.  I knew she was spending a lot of time somewhere else.  The rest just kind of fit my theory.  You busted her for dyking around, so you knew."

 "Pam actually does spend most of her nights here.  I never know when I am going to need her talents on short notice."

 "The book. Now that is something I never did figure.  I mean what the hell is in that book and who wrote it.  You?" I asked.

 “I didn't write it.  That book is no more than a guide to ceremonies for the Sisters.  I have it at the moment.  When Sophia screamed rape, I knew right away.  It is all outlined in the book.  I went to the house before you.  I took the book before I left.  Those stupid kids were so nervous they left everything.  I should have burned the place to the ground."

 "It wouldn't have helped. Bobby had already been there,” I replied.

 "True but I should have done it before Bobby went."

 She was almost ready to pull the trigger on her little pistol.  

"Before you shoot, there is one thing, I think you should know,” I said, stalling yet again.

 "Really, what might that be?" Mattie asked.

 I slowly removed the miniature microphone from under my shirt collar.

"The Greenpoint police are listening to you."  I said it with a smile I didn't feel.

 At that moment, there was a knock at the front door.  Mattie turned to look. She sensed my movement and turned toward me with the pistol again.  I shot her in the chest.  I waited a little to long.  The bullet ripped past my head, burying itself in the wall behind me.  I watched the gun fly from her hand as she went down.  The next noise was the sound of glass breaking.  I held the pistol on the two women until I heard footsteps in the hall.  When Carlton charged into the room, I tossed the pistol on the floor.

 "Mason, what the hell is going on?" he asked.

 "You are about to become a legend,” I said.  

"Take a good look at those two women.  They were part of the conspiracy to bomb my apartment.  Hold on a second," I said as I lifted my shirt.  Removing the adhesive tape from my mini recorder hurt like hell.

"This is the whole story told in the words of Mattie Mitchell.  You might want to read those two their rights, then explain to them that theirs will be the only version in court.  If they are smart they will be in a hurry to give their stories.  Try to make everyone except themselves seem guilty."  I hoped both women understood I was giving them a chance to escape the needle.

 "Carlton," Pam said,  "I want to make a statement.  Mason is right. Mattie plotted to blow up his apartment and kill him.  She and Gina plotted it.  I had nothing to do with it.  The first I heard was tonight when Mason broke in here.  Mattie explained it all.  Mason has the tape."

 "You bitch," Gina said.  "What did you think Mattie planned to do?  You knew all along that she planned to kill Mason.  I had nothing to do with it, no matter what Mattie said on that tape.  Pam is the one who gave Mattie the information she needed."

 "Don't rush ladies, there will be plenty of opportunities to explain.   Mason, would you call the local police for me.  I think I want to watch over these two." 

 "Sure. But before everyone gets too far along with this, where are the tape and the book  now?" I asked.

 "In the safe,” Pam answered.  "I don't know the combination but it is in there."

 In the car, while driving to the Greenpoint police station, I said to Carlton,  "I sure hope those batteries held out."

"Don't matter none. They are both trying to talk that detective to death."  Carlton grew silent for a minute.  

"How did you know I would get the note you pinned to the station door."

 "The chief explained his weird shifts to me when I first came here.  I knew roughly when you would be off.  Not necessarily you, but whoever the night man would be."

 "Mason, I can't figure out if you are the luckiest or the unluckiest man in the world.  I mean you have been shot, beaten, had two houses burned from under you, but tonight you made up for it."

 "How so?" I asked.

 "We changed the shift structure today.  I am working through until eight in the morning.  The only reason I went to the station was to take a leak,” he said with a dark smile.

 The trial of the century was actually two trials.  The first was for the three 'little sisters' as they became known.  The jury hung and the prosecutor refused to re-file the charges.  One trial about drugs, murder, sex and rock and roll was about all the county could afford.

 The second trial was for Gina and Pam.  Even with the high-priced lawyers, their own statements and my tape got them convicted.  They copped a plea in Vette's death.  Manslaughter, with eight years in the joint, was the best the court system could do.  Justice was done to the woman who set up the explosion, even if I had been the one to administer it.  I was satisfied.

The end