Tuesday, September 1, 2009

murder most foul.... book one

"Murder most foul, " the assistant district attorney shouted over and over during his closing arguments. It had to have been almost a year before I got fired. It wasn't until that last year that I lost interest in my cases. Obviously I had been a cop at the time.

The words were just theatrics to me until the night I witnessed a murder. I saw it up close and personal and it was pretty damned foul. The victim was sitting in the back seat of my cab. A year after leaving the police department, I was indeed driving a glorified cab. Glorified in that they called it an airport limo. In reality it was a black midsize Ford sedan. It would have been a compact car ten years earlier.

The fare smelled bad from the start. I picked him up at the overnight airport parking lot. One of those places where drivers leave their cars for a couple of days. Usually they take the shuttle to the airport but this one had other plans. "Take me to the overlook on highway 68."

"You mean the reservoir overlook?" I asked.

"Yeah I got a date," he replied. It was after 9 PM the place would be deserted. I figured he would be meeting a married woman there. I expected him to transfer himself and the small suitcase to her car and be gone. That would be the most likely scenario.

I expected that to happen right up until the man appeared from the woods. I saw him in the side mirror. At that point it took on the feeling of a drug deal, except the man walking toward my cab didn't have a bag of drugs. What he did have was something in his hand held close to his leg. He wasn't dressed in black but in dark clothing of some kind. At that point I knew that either my fare was gay or something was about to go terribly wrong.

What the man approaching didn't know, was that the glass isolating the rear seat of the cab from the drivers compartment was bullet proof. He also didn't know that shoved between the seat cushions of my cab was a .38 Colt three inch barreled wheel gun. He had no idea that he had been spotted by a man with a gun.

I could have rolled out of the cab at any time and confronted him, but I had a nice piece of bullet proof glass between us if I stayed in my seat. I could bend around and take a couple of shot at him from pretty close range.

Then he did the one things that changed the plan drastically. He approached from the passenger side of the car. He, by complete accident, had chosen to approach the cab in the worst place for me to get a shot off. In a stupid turn of fate the bullet proof glass was shielding him.

Before I could reposition myself he walked up and shot my passenger without saying a word. Then took a shot at me. I ducked of course even though the bullet bounced off the glass after cracking it. I rolled out of the cab on the driver's side leaving it between me and the assassin. I had only one advantage. He did not know I had a pistol.

He stood up to fire across the roof of the car. I was ready for him I shot first. I am no marksman by any means. Add to that the fact that I was terrified and it becomes a miracle that I shot him in the face. A 158 grain ball of burning hot metal entered his face just a little right of the nose. That is what the autopsy would say. He was dead before he realized his mistake.

I knew that I was going to be making the only phone calls from the overlook, so I wasn't in a great big hurry. I reached into the cab for the small piece of luggage. It wasn't even locked. Probably for an easy show and tell. I expected that a Drug deal had just turned into a rip off. It there were drugs in the bag they would be useless to me. I hoped for huge wads of cash.

It had been a long time since a fantasy came true for me. I guess I was due. The case contained a lot of cash. I didn't have time to count right then, but it was a lot. I knew that much.

Since I wasn't a cop anymore, I decided that I would apply an even older law than those I used to enforce. I decided that it was a clear cut case of 'finders keepers'.

My life was going to get complicated if I decided to keep the money. Oh what the hell, I thought, My life has always been complicated. Immediately my marital status came to mind. I had to laugh. I was standing over two dead men holding a bag of stolen money and my ex-wives came to mind. The bodies and the money paled in comparison to the trouble five ex wives can cause a man.

"Okay, if I am going to keep the money, I have to hide it." I knew for a fact that the area was going to be a crime scene real soon. I couldn't put off making that call much longer. I also could not disturb the crime scene anymore than I had already. I walked twenty five yards or so down a gravel path to the concrete overlook. When I arrive I stood in the spot where the front handrail and the side handrail came together. I knelt down, took a quick look around, then lowered the bag into the dark waters of the city reservoir.

I walked back to the car to make my report to the 911 operator. "911 emergency how my I help you?" the female voice asked.

"Dear God I think I killed him. Please send an ambulance and the police please."

"Is he breathing?" she asked calmly.

"No neither of them is breathing please send someone."

"Where are you sir?"

"I'm calling on a cell phone. I'm at the city reservoir overlook on 68. Please send someone."

"Just stay on the phone sir. I have an ambulance and police car on the way."

"Thank you." I said almost hysterically."

I hit the kill button on the phone. I put my gun on the hood of the Ford and waited for the ambulance and the cops.

"Burke what the hell happened here?" It was a woman much younger than my 48 years. Cops who have been on the department more than five years knew me. Even the younger ones knew of me. In my case it was not a good thing. I had been forced into retirement. They used my case at the academy to teach rookies what not to do.

Even though I was acquitted of criminal wrong doing, it was suggested that if I wanted to avoid a civil rights trial I should resign. One trial took all the money I had so resigning seemed like a good idea. I went out with twenty years service, not enough for a pension but I did get a nice big settlement. My retirement account and a few other things the department owed me. I would have wished for my good name restored but the department was playing politics with my life. I guess that is how I justified dropping the case full of money off the concrete walkway of the overlook.

"It's a hell of a mess is what it is," I replied.

"I can see that so what happened?"

I told her the story almost exactly as it happened. I did leave out the part about the bag being under water not 25 yards from where we stood.

"So the man on the ground just walked up and put a round into the head of the guy in the back seat. For no apparent reason."

"Yeah, I was surprised by the sound."

"Not so surprised that you couldn't manage to pull that nasty little .38 and pop the shooter."

"I had a pretty good idea that he was too cold to leave a witness. So yeah I busted a cap in his ass."

"Very poetic, but we call in homicide."

"Call it anything you want, it was a righteous shoot."

"Well that will be something new for you." She changed the subject after she saw the look on my face.

The female cop was joined by two detectives within minutes. They walked right up to me ignoring the patrolman. "So what happened Burke?"

I told the same story again. "I thought he was meeting some married woman to be honest," I said finally. I mean there was no luggage, no case of any kind. It just had 'cheating husband' written all over it

If the cops weren't buying my story they didn't let on. After the dead men were identified, they pretty much seemed happy to let the DA handle it. They were both known drug dealers so I guess my story sounded reasonable. I got cut loose after about three hours of interviews. One thing I learned while doing my time on the blue line was how to keep my mouth shut. Most suspects hang themselves because they think they need to fill the dead air. In other words they keep talking when they should just shut up. Lawyer up and you look guilty, shut up and you just look stupid.

The cab was a crime scene so I had no way home. I called the airport limo service. Eddie, one of the old timers, picked me up. I had to tell the story one more time. Again I left out the part about the money.

At 1AM I drove to the mall parking lot, a couple of miles from the overlook. I took a short cut through the woods behind the mall. The walk through the woods was only a mile and a half that way. I knew about the short cut because it was part of the bike trail. The trail started at a park about half a mile from the mall. It ran through the woods behind the mall, then on past the overlook. The trail ended in the next town about twenty miles away. I always swore that I would hike it all one day, but I usually walked no more than five miles. From the park then past the mall, past the overlook and on to the spot behind a local church. Then I turned around and went back.

That was not the plan that night. I walked from the mall parking lot because my car would not stand out there even at 1AM. Lots of out of town workers and college students parked their cars at the mall. Since the mall was experiencing hard times, they didn't mind the cars in the lot. It gave mall shoppers a false, but more favorable impression.

Even in the dark with no additional light, I was able to walk about three miles an hour. I was naked and in the water by 2:30 AM. I was back in my car, with only wet hair to make anyone suspicious, well before sunup. I transferred the wet money from the small piece of luggage into two pillow cases from my bed. I tied the tops closed with a piece of twine.

From the mall I drove out of the city. After about a fifteen minute drive. I stopped at a small shopping center in one of those rural bedroom communities. The shopping center had a 24 hour coin operated laundromat. I knew about it only because I had worked a few nights as a body guard for a lady whose husband liked to pound on her. I went with her to do her to do the laundry one night.

I fed two bucks worth of quarters into a commercial dryer and let the pillow cases tumble for almost an hour. They were hot as hell when I removed them. I was pretty sure the money would be dry enough to repackage by that time.

I knew two things for sure. The cops didn't know about the money yet, but the two dead men did. Not only did they know, but some of their friends most likely knew did as well. Just as soon as the cops gave all the details to the press, someone would notice that there was no mention of a bag full of money. About that time there would be a lot more interest in the old cab driver.

I wouldn't be hard to find at all. I wouldn't be for sure if I stayed put. I had no intention of staying put. I planned to get the hell out of town and to get so lost daylight would have a hard time finding me.

Number one thing to do, was something not to do. Forget about closing down the my present life. The thing for me to do was to just close the door to the apartment and walk away. The cops might figure out that I was on the run, or maybe not. They might think I was in the wind or they might think some one killed me and hidden the body. It had been known to happen to drug war witnesses. They might not suspect me of skipping with the money. If I was the cop working the case, I would sure as hell look at that possibility.

So I had to leave the money in my bank account alone. I had to toss the credit cards as well. I had a small balance on the only card I ever used. "After 12 years with never a late fee, they can take the bite on three hundred bucks," I said aloud. I couldn't owe more than that since I paid it off every month.

I needed to walk away from my car as well. I couldn't take anything from the apartment, I was going to need clothes and everything. Clothes could wait, the first thing I needed was transportation out of town. I could walk to the regional bus terminal from my downtown apartment. I figured to ride the commuter bus as far as the next town. Nobody kept records on those buses since it was public transportation. The only person who would see me who might be available later to interrogate would be the driver . He most likely was tired and would pay no attention to one more homeless man headed to a shelter somewhere."

If I bumped into anyone I knew, which was very unlikely, I could just go home and do it again tomorrow, I thought.

"Will that be all?" The young blond cashier at Wal-mart asked as he placed the large black backpack onto the counter.

"Could you put that in a bag for me please?" I asked it because I didn't want my neighbors to mention seeing me with a backpack. When I put it in the wind I wanted as little information as possible floating around about me.

Later that evening I stuffed the money into the backpack along with the receipt for the backpacks purchase. I took a deep breath and turned over a couple of chairs, then walked out the door. When I closed it my present life was over, a new one would be beginning. What kind of life was a mystery even to me.

I never wear a hat, but on the bus ride into the next town I wore one. I also wore glasses from the drugstore. I used them to read the newspaper at home. I was so vain that I never wore them when anyone else was around. I know a man my age should wear glasses to read the morning paper, but I look like a dork in glasses.

I looked like a balding dork when I climbed on the bus. Neither of those things fit me at all. I have all my own hair, and I am anything but a geek or a dork. Don't get me wrong if I were a geek I might not have needed to steal the money.

The bus stopped at the regional airport but I stayed in the rear with my nose buried in a book. I think I might have read the same page a hundred times before the bus stopped for the last time.

"Folks this is the end of the line. After this stop I turn the bus in for the night so everyone has to exit here."

Of the three towns that made up the regional transport area, it was the slightly larger one. Even so the terminal building was only slightly larger than the other terminals. The bus service went between the three towns stopping only in a few other places. Mostly parking lots and other mass transit sites were the only stops. The terminal where I left the buss that night was directly across the street from the larger town's train station.

There was a local train coming from Washington DC and headed to New Orleans with a thousand stops in between. It left an hour after I arrived at the bus terminal.

I used the hour to stop in a small diner two blocks from the bus station. It was even called the Greyhound Grill. It was one of those places where the burgers where filled with artery clogging grease and the tea was cold and sweet.

"What ya gonna have?" the over the hill waitress asked.

"Make it a burger with cole slaw and tomato please."

"How about fries?"

"Sure why not, and iced tea." The food took a while to make the short trip from the grill to my table. It was almost worth the wait but not quite. When it did arrive I almost did my usual to the burger but I caught myself at the last minute. Until I left town, I didn't want to call attention to myself in any way. I was close enough so that there might be questions asked of these folks by my hometown cops. So instead of taking the sandwich apart and eating everything but 3/4 of the bread, I ate it all as a sandwich. It was a good burger grease and all.

I was back at the train station ten minutes before the train arrived. I made a point of avoiding the other half dozen people waiting for the train. I chose that train because the station's ticket counter was closed before it arrived. On trains which arrive after the ticket window closes, the conductor takes the payments. Odds were very good that he would not remember a half naked coed let alone me.

Just my luck the conductor was not an old man but rather a man even younger than me. I paid my fare while keeping my nose in the book but not so much as to make the conductor remember me. On that night it was all about being completely forgettable. It was a night not to make a favorable impression or a negative one either. It was a night to be just plain boring as hell.

The train made terrible time. It stopped every thirty or forty miles it seemed, which made the ride seem to last forever. I got off the train in the middle of the night in a small Georgia town. Since my ticket was all the way to New Orleans, there was no record of me leaving the train.

I sat alone on the train platform waiting for morning. I still hadn't counted the money but I knew it was a lot. I was nervous waiting for the station to open. When it did open at 6AM, it was just for freight pickup by some local delivery service. I probably could have talked the station master into allowing me to put my back pack into a locker but I chose not to be noticed. I waited another hour until he opened the station to everyone.

The first thing I did was to find a locker for the backpack. After that I went in search of food. I was so hungry my stomach was rolling. I didn't bother to ask the station master for a recommendation. At the moment he was the weakest link in my escape plan.

I found my way to a diner about two blocks away. If I had known where it was, I could have reached it in half the time. The only indication that it was a restaurant was what appeared to be a very unprofessionally ,hand painted sign on the window. The place did not start life as a diner for sure. It had the big windows of a jewelry store or maybe a ladies ready to wear store. It had been a diner long enough to have a dingy coat of grease on the walls. I found a table in a corner. I knew no one was looking for me yet, but it was good practice.

"Would you like the special?" the teenage black girl asked.

"What is the special?"

"Two eggs, bacon or sausage and grits for three dollars." Her diction was too good for a waitress. But I didn't want to know who she was bad enough to risk standing out.

"Sure with coffee and toast."

"Wouldn't you rather have biscuits. The price is the same and mama makes great biscuits."

"Okay then biscuits it is." I found out who she was without asking.

While I ate, I considered my next move. The town would have been fine for me to settle in for a while, except it was on the train route that I had used. It would be better for me to move on to another town. Somewhere having no ties to the railroad at all.

One of the good things about getting lost these days is that businesses have made it easy. It is good business to sell to illegal aliens. It is even better business to make it possible for them to do all the things a citizen does. He can't do them the same way, but he can do them.

No questions asked prepaid cell phones and credit cards make it possible to work on a cash basis leaving no trail behind. Lots of criminals have been doing it for years. It was time for one only slightly soiled old guy to give it a shot.

The food was very good just as the youngster had promised. I left the restaurant after paying my bill with a twenty, not one of the stolen hundreds. It was still not the time to be noticed. I began to wander around aimlessly. I considered buying a bus ticket or renting a car but both would leave a paper trail. I wanted the trail to end in the small Georgia town, even though it was unlikely that anyone could have followed me that far.

While I was walking around trying to decide on my next move, I noticed an old railroad hotel that had been converted to a downtown bed and breakfast. I would love to have stayed there to celebrate my new life, but alas they would want identification. I could come up with some given a little time but I was not willing to show anyone identification at the moment. It appeared that life on the run was going to be difficult for a while at least.

It was about nine in the morning when I stumbled onto something interesting. I saw a few motor scooters in the showroom window of what had once been a Chevrolet dealer. I could see the word Chevrolet even though the faded paint, which was meant to cover it. What caught my attention was not the bikes, it was more the sign.

50cc moped...150mpg,... no insurance.... no driver's license... no registration. Prices start at $599... Now that was an interesting option. I could buy one and slip out of town leaving no trail behind me. No bus station ticket agent to ID me. I doubted seriously that any investigator would think that a man with a suitcase full of money would even consider a moped.

"Hi there you interested in that beauty?" the salesman asked. He was what is the stereotype of a used car salesman. He was even worse, he was one who had fallen on hard times.

"To be honest I was reading your sign outside. The idea of a hundred plus miles per gallon interest me for sure."

"To be honest Mr?" He waited for me to speak. I could have ignored him but I didn't want to stand out, remember.

"Abrams, Mike Abrams," I replied. I didn't think the real Mike would mind me borrowing his name. I had arrested him for murder a few years before. He was doing life without parole back in North Carolina. Yes, I had his social security number just in case.

"Well Mike to be honest those little things are toys. You have to have a license but the 150cc is about minimum to run with the traffic."

"Well to be honest it's the no license thing that appeals to me right now."

"Oh I see. In that case let's at least fix you up with a quality scooter."

"Actually, I kind of like the one over there that looks like a bicycle," I suggested.

"Ah you do have an eye for quality. That's to Tomos It's not cheap though. Not $599 for sure."

"Well how much is it?"

"1200 and a bargain at that." He replied in his best used car salesman voice. "But it is the most reliable and easiest to use of any moped we have. It's a four stroke no gas to mix and none of that weed eater sound."

"Well I like it but not that much," I replied.

"Would you take that one? It's been on the floor for a while. I can have the mechanic check it out and service it for you."

"When can you have it ready?"

"It will take a couple of hours to clear your check, so we can have it ready by say noon."

"So how much are you talking about?"

"How about a thousand plus tax, and the service?"

"How about a thousand including the tax and service. For that price I'll go to the bank and get cash."

"Okay leave me a deposit, so the boss will have Greg do the service and it will be ready to go by noon."

I handed him a hundred dollar bill. "I'll be back but let me tell you something. If the bike is not ready, I will walk away AFTER I get my hundred bucks back." I have him my best bad man stare. "Now it will be ready?"

"Yes it will be ready," he replied seriously.

"Make sure your man rides it, I don't want any surprises."

Two hours later, I entered the shop with the black backpack in my hands. "You must be Greg," I said to the man in the greasy blue uniform. He was standing under a huge fan. I quickly determined that there was no air conditioning in the shop of the old Chevy dealership.

"Yeah, you must be the man who bought the Tomos."

"Not quite yet, but I will be if you tell it won't blow up on me." I smiled at him as I spoke.

"It's good to go. At least as far as I can tell. It's about a year old but it hadn't ever been cranked till I started it a few minutes ago."

Greg wasn't a young man. He wasn't as old as me, but he still wasn't young. "Did you ride it?"

"Yeah I made a few adjustments to the running gear and greased everything good. You shouldn't have any trouble with it at all. The one year warranty starts today even if you find a problem."

"Will they honor that warranty, if I take it to my sister's place?"

"Get Eddie to give you a dealers list. Any dealer in the country will honor the warranty."

"Well I appreciate it. I guess I need to go pay for it."

"Yeah, I'm sure Eddie is biting his nails." He chuckled at the thought.

I had stopped in the men's room of the train station after I retrieved my bag. I took out fifteen one hundred dollar bills from the backpack. I thought surely that would be enough for the purchase.

"Hey there Mr. Abrams. I just need your address for the bill of sale."

"To be honest I'm just passing through. I used to live up in Virginia."

"It's just a formality. I can put your old address down if you like."

I made up an address in Arlington Va. I wasn't sure but it might have been an address from my murky memory. It could even have been the CIA or FBI street address. It took him about ten minutes to process the sale and collect his 1100 bucks. Yes they came up with something called a paper processing fee to charge me a hundred dollars. I really didn't mind, since I had expected something like it.

I rode the bike off into the afternoon sun. I rode around for a few minutes to get the feel for it. I had not been on a bicycle, or motorcycle in over ten years. It took me a while to pick it up again. In less than half and hour I was tooling along in a semi business area. I rode past the older family style motel before I decided to turn around and go back.

I checked into a room on the back of the motel. If anyone saw me arrive on a moped they sure as hell wouldn't be expecting me to have any cash at all, let alone a bag full. I paid the Middle Eastern clerk in cash, I paid for only one night and told her I would probably be leaving early the next morning. I used the same phony address as before. I did not give her a credit card number since I didn't have one to give.

I had six hundred bucks left from the bike and the walking around money in my pocket. I didn't bother to get more before I left the motel. I left the backpack behind the bathroom door. By that time the back pack had an old padlock lock on it. I didn't really expect it to be any deterrent at all. I guess even the useless lock made me feel better just like everyone else would. If I had known I would be staying in town, I would have kept the locker at the train station.

I got direction to the town's only discount store. It wasn't Wal-mart which was a bit of a shock. It was some homegrown version of it. I expected the prices to be a bit higher and they were by at least ten percent.

I had some specific things in mind. Clothes, a computer, a prepaid cell phone, and a prepaid credit card. I got the clothes and the prepaid phone and credit card but the little store did not carry computers. My purchases fit in the small storage compartment on the rear of the bike. Just those few items completely filled the small storage box.

On the way back to the motel I passed of all things an internet cafe of sorts. It was actually a coffee shop that offered rental of a computer along with a great cup of coffee. At least that was what the sign promised. I went inside the way too clean coffee shop.

The coffee was forgettable but they did have an old laptop they rented to me. I pulled up the map on yahoo without signing in. My old account was dead to me. I would need to setup a new one but not at that moment. I copied down directions for a fifty-five mile ride I planned to make the next day. The route kept me off the Interstate highways. I made my plans along older two lane roads. I hoped that I could do more, but I didn't plan to push it that first day.

I almost activated the cell phone but decided against it. I had no idea when I would need the phone, so I decided to wait until I settled somewhere. The next town would probably be only temporary, but I decided I would do an activation there. I did activate the credit card though. I used the new name and the phony address.

I left most of the coffee as I couldn't figure out how to carry it back to the motel. I stopped at a burger joint on the way and took the bag of burgers to the room. I was sure that they had a coke machine there so I decided not to try to deal with the burger shack coke.

After dinner I turned in for the night. I had used the lock the dealer included with the Tomos to chain it to a post. Being on the back side I didn't really expect anyone to notice it.

Before I left the next morning, I walked across the parking lot to a fast food restaurant that served breakfast. I tried to get enough calories in me so that I could skip lunch. It was my usual eating habit. The food wasn't bad for one of those plastic and cardboard places.

I left the motel for the last time around eight. My plan was to be at my next stop by two and then to find a place to spend the night. My final destination was a little over a hundred miles away, but I was in no hurry to get there. If I saw something I liked along the way I might even stay there. There was no real plan. I tried to keep the getaway just a series of random choices.

I double checked to make sure the bike was full of gasoline before I left. The gas tank was a bit over a gallon in capacity so I could easily make my next stop. At least that was the plan.

At twenty miles an hour it was really slow going even on fairly flat ground. Not to mention that motorist on even uncrowded highways get pissed very easily. I managed to avoid most of the medium to large sized towns that day. I couldn't avoid them all. Actually I counted on not being able to avoid them. I still needed a computer of some kind.

Since I had skipped lunch, I made it to my next stop around 3PM. "Is that gonna be all," the slightly more than a teenage boy asked.

"Well the gas, the hot dog and some information should do." I replied.

"Well the gas and the hot dog come to $5,12 The information is free."

"Fair enough," I replied placing cash on the counter. Since he didn't speak I asked. "Is there a Wal-mart anywhere close?"

Out on the highway about ten miles south," he replied.

"Is there anyway to get there without going on the highway?"

"Sure but it's really a pain." He shook his head as he gave me detailed directions.

I ate the dog and drank the canned coke on a picnic table outside the convenience store. I found a motel on the way to the Wal-mart store. At Wal-mart I bought a very small net book computer. It was similar to a laptop only smaller and with a lot less power. I could have got a cheap laptop for a hundred bucks more, but I was buying size not features.

The new day started early again. I took a quick shower, then put on clean underwear. I tossed the linen, which I had worn the day before. First I put it into an empty Wal-mart bag, then into the dumpster in the parking lot. I doubted seriously that the maid saved all the underwear for dna tests but it seemed a safer move anyway.

I never did get an internet connection even though I had a wireless card. Nobody seemed to have an unprotected wireless network in the area. Most businesses and even home computers with wireless connections were encrypted making them useless to anyone else. I had the wireless connector as part of the computer so I figured I would at least check.

One of the applications that made the net book appeal to me was a built in GPS program. I had used it the night before in the motel room so I knew how to start my day. I had decided to skip breakfast and start heading toward the coast. I could get within twenty miles of the ocean by lunch, I thought.

A cup of coffee and much less than a gallon of gas got me started. I rode the bike a couple of hours then stopped for a bathroom break and more coffee. I was about thirty or so miles from my day's goal. It figured that it was time to start asking about places to live. GPS and maps could tell one just so much. If I wanted to know more it was time to interrogate the locals.

"So, I'm headed to the beach, do you have any suggestions," I asked it of the guy behind the counter. I asked him because he looked as though he spoke English as a native language.

"Well there are three or four beach towns along the Georgia coast. None of them as famous as the Florida or even the South Carolina ones."

"I'm planning to stay a while so I'm not looking for the tourist experience. I guess a small town close to the beaches would be nice. Something close enough to maybe work there but far enough away so that I could afford to rent a place."

"Lots of those just look around." he suggested.

"I plan to do that but I need a place to start."

"Why don't you get off the Interstate here and just ride down highway 17 till you come to a place that suits you."

His advice wasn't really all that good, but it was encouraging. I pushed on another twenty miles when I saw a sign for St. Marys Ga. It had a nice sound, and my GPS had it as a pretty easy find, so I made the left turn toward the town. Leaving one old highway for another didn't really change the flat landscape much at all. There was more of a water feel and smell as I pushed along. That was a good sign, I thought.

I was road weary when I pulled into Saint Marys. It was a pretty little river town just a few miles from the coast. I was too tired to do any exploring so I kept an eye open for a hotel or motel which wouldn't ask too many questions.

I could always use the Mike Abrams ID. He sure as hell wasn't going to need it for a while. Just in case you wonder how I happened to have all his information. It's really pretty simple. His was the biggest case I ever worked. So I copied all the documents in his arrest file to keep as a souvenir. Everybody has something they obsess over. Mike Abrams was mine. When I decided to take off on the spur of the moment, his was the only identity that I had handy. His arrest record had everything I would ever need to do most simple things. As long as I didn't push it, I could be Mike forever.

I found a cafe near the river so I stopped for a cup of coffee and a piece of pie. "Hi there," the cute little waitress said in greeting. "What are you having today."

She was way too perky for my taste. "Coffee and whatever pie you have that is good."

"I like the pecan but a lot of folks like the chocolate better."

"Make it pecan then," I suggested.

After only a short wait she was back. "So if I was looking for a cheap place to stay in St. Marys where should I look."

"Most of the contractors stay at the Paki Palace." she answered.

"Oh where is that?"

"Go back toward the highway and turn right on church street. You can't miss it." She thought a minute then added, "That ain't the real name you know. The sign will say, St. Marys Inn. Us locals call it the Paki Palace cause of the owners?"

"Yeah, I got it."I replied smiling.

"You gonna be working here?"

"Probably just stay the night, but I'm looking for a good place to settle in this area."

"Well St. Marys is kinda small. If you like nothing going on around you, this is the place for you."

"I think I might like nothing going on around me. At least I think I would like it for a while."

I checked into the motel where I left the bag in the bathtub again. I stopped at the first gas station I saw. Filling up the tank was less than three dollars every time I did it. That might have been the only good thing about the little bike. I mean it had no space for carrying things and it was way too slow to be an effective means of transportation but still it was filling a need I had at that moment.

I took a slow tour of the town. With a population of under 20,000 it wasn't hard to see it all in an afternoon. Since I wanted cookies all of a sudden and since the cokes from the motel machine were well over a dollar, I decided to stop at a grocery store. I had spotted the smaller mom and pop grocery store earlier in my tour. I passed a big chain grocery store on my way to the smaller store.

Things at the mom and pop grocery cost a little more, but you can't get a feel for a place by going into a business that looks the same in every town. What you need is to visit diners and hometown businesses. I wasn't at all surprised to see the big bulletin board with thing for sale posted all over it. I had hoped and almost expected it to be there.

I went back to the bulletin board with a plastic bag containing a package of generic cookies, which were a knock off of chocolate covered Oreos, and a 6 pack of coke in small bottles.

Since I didn't need any fishing equipment or a car, the advertisements didn't seem to be of much help. There were a couple of apartments for rent but I didn't hold out much hope. It would be very unlikely for me to find something so easily. Still it was worth pulling the bit of paper with the landlords phone numbers. In both cases they were hand written.

Since my cell phone wasn't activated, I returned to the motel before I made the call. "Hello," I said once the woman on the other end spoke. "I am calling about the apartment. Is it still for rent?"

"Why yes it is, would you like to see it?"

"That depends, do you require a lease?"

"If you do not wish a lease, I would ask for three months rent in advance. The first month's rent, one month's rent as a security deposit and the last months rent as well."

"So it's a three month lease?"

"I suppose you could say that."

"I picked up your ad at the grocery store. It didn't give a lot of details. Frankly I don't remember what you wrote."

"Well the apartment is $275 which includes the electric. It really is just one room over a garage."

"Would I get to use the garage."

"I use it for storage so there isn't room for a car, but you could store things in there if you can find room."

"Is the apartment furnished?"

"Not really, but the things in the garage were left by tenants over the years. You are welcome to use any of that furniture you wish."

"Then yes, I would like to take a look at the place." I said that with pencil in hand so that I could write the address down. The GPS system in the netbook would route me there.

As we had arranged the night before, I met the slum lord at nine the next morning. The house in front of the garage had been converted to a duplex. From the three units on the property she must have been getting close to a grand and a half per month. I guessed that the apartments in the house were pretty large, since it was a big old house. The garage as well as the house was painted gray with a rich looking burgundy trim. The paint looked reasonable new.

The garage was a little wider than a one car garage which was a good sign, since the upstairs apartment was a not a full two story area. It was more like a 1 1/2 story with dormers.

When the woman who owned the house showed up she was driving a black corvette. She was able to exit the low slung vette only because she was trim and wearing jeans and a knit top. The first things I noticed was that she had really good cleavage. I had a feeling she showed it off to everyone, not just prospective tenants. I did hope she wasn't trying to distract me.

She was about fifty so it didn't hold my attention all that long. I had to admit that she had held up pretty darn well. She had a kind of comfortable look. Part of it was that the jeans she wore which likely cost more than I would have paid for ten pairs. She also was about twenty pounds overweight which helped to make her seem more comfortable than beautiful. Yes comfortable looking was the best description for her.

"You must me Mike," she suggested as I approached.

"That's me. I didn't get your name last night."

"My name is Caroline. So lets go take a look." I followed her to the outside wooden stairs. They were nice and solid. That was also a good sign, I thought. When she opened the door, I walked into the reasonably bright room. The walls had obviously been painted after the last tenant left. I was sure it was a half assed job. Those paint jobs always were.

The floor was black and white squares of vinyl tile. It was set up like a checker board. There were windows everywhere. Two large ones on each end, and smaller ones in dormers on each side. I had a feeling the place had been meant for storage originally and that the windows were the only light at some point.

In the rear on one side was a small refrigerator and stove. Between them was a large sink. Since it didn't have a cabinet, it looked more like an old fashioned janitor's sink. In the other rear corner were two bank type partitions. Those and the outside walls made the walls of the bathroom. There was no door on the bathroom. Not a lot of privacy but the place definitely was not made for entertaining.

The bathroom was tiny but it did have a shower stall, toilet and small sink. All of them were side by side on the back wall. The one room had more space that it appeared from the outside.

"How large is this place?" I asked after the three minute tour.

"It's 22 feet long and 15 feet wide."

"That's small but it does seem a little larger." I admitted

"That's the dormers with the window seats. Those seats open for some additional storage."

"So that little corner cabinet looking thing in front is the closet?"

"Yes it's small but it's probably enough for a guy."

"Probably," I agreed.

There only heat was from a natural gas wall heater vented through the wall near the floor. It reminded me that the apartment was mostly under the roof.

Well I like it but not $275 a month worth. I see it more as a $250 a month place. I guess I'll have to keep looking."

"I can't lower the rent, I'm sorry." she said.

"No problem, I understand. I'm sure the right person will come along one day." Just about that time a car went by with the radio blaring music in Spanish. I just smiled at Caroline.

"How about a compromise Mike. Six months at $250 with the understanding that at the end of six months I will raise the rent to $275."

"Well I suppose that is fair." I peeled off the 750 dollars from the money clip in my front pocket. She didn't seem surprised that I used cash instead of a check.

"So when do you want to move in?"

"I was thinking right now," I replied.

"The power and water stays on, but you will need to have anything thing else you want turned on. Here is a list of the numbers," with that she handed me a new resident brochure prepared by the chamber of commerce. It did have the addresses and numbers of the utilities as well as the cable company, but not much else of interest to me.

I did find from the brouchure that St. Marys was a small town but it was also the county seat. A private company supplied the gas fortunately they had an office right in town. The phone company didn't get my money, since I planned to activated my prepaid cell phone. It was on my list of things to do just as soon as I had a reliable internet connection. It was still warm so I wouldn't have bothered to turn on the gas, except the water heater was gas. The cook stove was also gas but it was less important than a hot shower at the end of the day. After I arrange for the gas to be turned on and the water heater lit, I was more or less moved into the garage.

My furniture all came from the storage area below the apartment. I found a sofa with no cushions and two over stuffed chains that looked like hell. The chairs were in really bad shape, however the cushions from them almost fit the small light weight sofa. I figured that I would pick up a sheet or something like that to just throw over it all. There was no bed of any kind in the garage. It looked as thought it would be an air mattress for me.

I went looking for the air mattress while I was out for lunch. I didn't find one, but I did find a sleeping mat and very light weight sleeping bag. The sleeping bag opened to make a comforter should I ever get a real bed. The store was close enough so that I could very carefully carry my purchases home on the bike. Neither of them was heavy, I just had to tie them carefully to various parts of the bike. I also rode home at a dead crawl.

While searching the storage room for what I thought would be the last time, I found a couple of those really cheap, uncomfortable wooden bar stools. Since there was no table of any kind, I decided to use an old metal ironing board I saw in the corner as an eat on bar. I was sure it had not been used for anything at all in the last ten years.

It turned out to be one of my better ideas. It was stable enough to be a temporary computer desk as well. I found that I could piggy back on the wireless connection of someone in the neighborhood. I had no idea who they were. I doubted that it was a computer that could track me down. Most likely it was just some internet novice like me.

I awoke early the first morning in my one room apartment. I didn't jump up and take off for the day, instead I lay on my sleeping pad thinking. I did that because I wasn't sure I could get up from the floor without a crane or at least a forklift. I supposed that I could, if I took a little time to get my brain out of its sleep fogged condition.

I spent some of the time by comparing my life at that moment with the life I had lived only a week before. Back before I became a thief, I lived in a fairly nice one bedroom apartment. I drove a ten year old Ford and had a job. Today I lived in a one room apartment, rode a Tomos moped, and had a bag full of stolen money. I wasn't exactly living it up on my ill gotten gains but then again, I didn't plan on 'hitting a lick at a snake' for the rest of my life either.

My first real life thought of the day was, I don't have a coffee pot and I need coffee badly. The short term fix was to be found at the burger burger restaurant a few blocks away. Burger burger was a knock off of Dairy Queen. It was a locally owned burger joint anyway. In the mornings they served a breakfast of sorts. I skipped the sausage and egg sandwich on a hamburger bun and just went for the large coffee served in a paper cup.

I got it from the drive through so that I could take it a block over to sit in the river front park. I love water of any kind. I would have preferred the ocean, but the river front would do in a pinch. The coffee and the smell of the water, combined with the bustle of the amateur fishermen headed out for a few hours of fun on the river, or out in the sound, brought me back to life.

The Tomos had very little carry capacity but it did have enough for a coffee maker. Since there was no Wallymart in town, I rode to the local a dollar store. I really didn't see much for a dollar, but it did have discount and discontinued merchandise. The coffee maker was ten bucks and the coffee was eight more. It was a really large plastic container of coffee so I knew that it was going to be a problem.

I could get the pot tied to the back of the bike but I had no room for the coffee. I was wondering how hard it would be to hold a plastic bag with a container of coffee while I rode, when I saw a wire egg basket. It looked as though it might work so I bought it. It was one of the few things that really was a dollar. I conned the lady behind the counter into giving me a coat hanger so that I could attach the basket to the Tomos.

The egg basket was much to small and too light to hold much of anything. I needed a real bicycle basket. One of those big ones like the old time paper boys used would have been ideal. The only way for me to get one was ebay. The problem was most of the ebay sellers have gone to only accepting pay pal and I had no way to pay. The answer lay in a round about money scheme. I loaded two hundred bucks to my prepaid credit card at a local convenience store. Then I went on line that same afternoon to make a deposit with paypal. I used the credit card to pay for the deposit.

After the transaction cleared I went to ebay and bought a real bicycle basket. the larger basket would cut down on the number of trips I had to make, but it still wasn't enough transport space. At least it hadn't been too expensive, under thirty bucks including shipping.

What I really needed was to do laundry to keep from buys a zillion dollars worth of clothes. Not to mention that it had rained over night and I knew that I would sure as hell not enjoy a bike ride in the rain to get to a restaurant.

I needed to buy groceries, and more than would fit in even the new basket of the Tomos. St. Marys is so small there was no place to buy a bike trailer but it turned out that it did have what I needed. I went on line looking for bike trailer ideas. The best idea was to either build one or adapt something else. I chose to adapt something I could find in St. Marys.

I went to the downtown hardware store, yes it was the kind of town that still had a place in the downtown for stores. It was far from a town with wall to wall lawyer's offices. Since it was the county seat there were a couple but they were across from the courthouse. Even I kind of expected that to be the case.

From the hardware store I bought a battery powered drill, which came with a cheap set of bits. I also bought an assortment of nuts bolts and washers.

After I managed to get all that home, I went back to the dollar store and bought a child's red wagon. I bought the smallest one so that I could get it home tied onto the rear of the Tomos. Even so I had to stop three times in as many miles to reposition it. One of those times it fell off completely. In the end I did get it home. I spent a full hour on the ten minute assembly job. Even then I did not attach the pull tongue. Instead I found an electrician who would sell me some conduit and even bend it for me. I used the pictures of real trailers to guess at the angles. After the electrician cut the tongue off so that the wagon wouldn't trail too far behind, I slid the conduit into the pull tongue of the wagon and bolted it in place.

When I was ready for a test run, I gave it a real life test. On its first run the trailer was filled with canned cokes and frozen pizza. I figured I needed those things most of all. Just in case of rain. The little red wagon was quite a hit with the people I passed on the street.

I decided, after having it swing side to side now and then, that it would never go more than to the store or to the laundromat. If I went slow enough it seemed to be pretty stable. I knew that it would work but just barely. I would surely need to build a better one someday soon. Nothing would ever be as eye catching but that was fine as well.

I didn't have any entertainment except the computer, so I spent a couple of hours watching the news and old TV shows on line. It wasn't a bad day I decided, just before I put my body back onto the one inch dense foam sleeping pad.

On day two I went back to the Dollar store. I wandered down the aisle picking up small tools. I had picked up a three vise grip set the day before. I had used that to build the wagon/trailer. I knew that those things did a number on nuts and bolt heads so I wanted a real wrench set. At ten bucks a set, I bought two metric and two sae sets. I also bought a socket set with both metric and sae sockets.

Those along with a few household items made their way into my little red wagon. I rode very carefully until I got it all home. The tailer did better with the larger load. There was a threat of showers so I rushed out again. I made it to the grocery store and back just before the rain shower dumped a half inch of rain on everything around me.

My lease agreement forbid the use of window air conditioners and microwave ovens. Both would have cost Caroline, aka the slumlord, extra money. Also most likely the wiring was way under code to be safe with that kind of load. It was a very old building. Probably as old as the house in front, which had to be close to a hundred years old.

The box fan and toaster oven came from the dollar store on a quick trip after the rain ended. I hoped that those would be my last purchases of the day.

It was well after lunch, when I rode the Tomos out for fast food. I took a bag of cheap burgers and a canned coke to the park. I ate as I watched the workers along the docks. I had never really given any thought to what goes on around a marina. There were people loading and unloading boats all day long. Most of them were pleasure boats to be sure, but now and then a commercial fishing boat would come through. If the fishermen were headed in that time of the day, I expected them to be full. There were a several more hours of daylight left for those who didn't fill the hole early.

"Hey old man," the teenager called to me.

"Yeah?" I replied.

"Gimme five bucks," The demand was clear enough.

"If I had five dollars to spare, I would be driving a car instead of that moped." I thought it sounded reasonable.

"I don't care whether you can spare it or not. Give me the five or I'll hurt you."

I had a quick debate with myself. I could give him the money and draw no attention to myself, or I could put him in the hospital. If I put him in the hospital, I would come to the attention of the police. I really didn't need that, but it galled my ass to even contemplate paying for safety. Extortion is like herpes it never really goes away.

"Tell you what kid, you walk away and I won't hurt you." I gave him my best bad man smile. He wasn't buying it. I could tell by the look in his eyes. He didn't recognize that old men don't really subscribe to the movie version of a fair fight.

The kid smiled and pulled a knife from his pocket. He flicked it to the open position. "Now you gonna give me my money?"

"No, but you just moved from a simple ass whopping' to a beat down."

He made a few classic mistakes. First of all, a knife is a close up and personal killing appliance. The kid stood back and tried to do a real life version of the movie rebel without a cause.

When he swung the knife horizontally in front of me, I did what he wouldn't do. I closed on him in a hurry. The knife was still in the wrong place for him, when I reached him. The first thing I did was to get hold of his arm to prevent him from bringing the knife back at me. Then I simply kneed him in the groin to end the fight. A little pain pisses a guy off, but a lot of pain to someone who isn't used to it, will disable him completely. The kid was in a lot of pain for sure.

I had to hold him up as I turned his back to me. I wrapped him in a choke hold then whispered in his ear. "Drop the knife and I might let you live. Hold on to it and I'm going to snap your neck." He made the right choice.

I was thankful, since I certainly did not want to kill him. I had already bagged my limit of humans for the season. That is not to say that I wouldn't have, I just didn't want to. The next question was what to do with him. I did not want to call the cops, but I knew that I might not have a choice.

I was about to put him to sleep with the choke hold, when a man came running across the street from one of the stores. "What the hell are you doing with my son?"

"Right now I'm trying to decide whether I should call the cops or kill him." I looked hard at the red faced man. "If you take one more step, you will make up my mind for me."

"Why are you doing this?" he asked more in control.

"He tried to rob me at the point of that knife. Someone forgot to teach him that things are not always what they seem." I said with a nasty smiled.

"Robbie is that true?" the man asked with the color draining from his face.

"Tell him Robbie and remember where you are."

"Yeah Daddy," he replied. Then he turned his attention to me. "Did you have to kick me in the balls."

"Actually, I did that just for fun Robbie." I turned my attention to his father. "If I release this thug wannabe, can you handle him?"

"You bet your ass I can handle him," was the man's reply.

I pushed Robbie hard toward his father. He collapsed. It seemed that it took him that long to understand the full extent of his injury. He was going to be sitting carefully for a day or two.

"Who are you Mister?" the boy's father asked.

"I'm just a new resident. I hope this isn't how everyone gets welcomed."

"It isn't, and this one," he said pointing to the kid, "Won't be doing this again ever."

"I'm gonna hold you to that," I said.

I had come way too close to being part of a police investigation. I had to be smarter not tougher from now on. I knew it and I promised myself to work on it.

I drove home worried again about the money. Not only could it be found by some petty thief like Robbie, but also by the cops if they tossed the place. I had to concentrate on where to hide the money next.

I finally got around to counting the money. I had a feeling it was over half a million dollars and I was right. It was 547,000 dollars and change. I had spent over two grand it seemed. I expected that the hemorrhage of hundred dollar bills had ended, but I couldn't be sure.

At the end of day two, I still hadn't decided on a place to hide the money. I went to bed on the floor with it still hanging over my head.

Day three in the apartment was a Saturday. I knew that because everyone kept telling me how glad they were that the day before had been Friday. I had no expectations that Saturday would be any different from any other day for me.

As I lay in bed the idea to hide the money began to work itself out. First thing I did was a threat assessment. Then decide I had to determine how best to counter the reasonable threats. Some of the threats were pretty remote. Enough so that even considering them was a waste of time and resources. For instance there could be a nuclear attack by terrorists. That did not mean I planned to build a bomb shelter in which to hide the money.

The most likely things to cause the loss of the money were: burglary by persons with no prior knowledge of the money, burglary by person knowing I had the money, cops finding me and searching the apartment, cops searching the apartment for other reasons, and of course there was fire or wind loss.

I had taken them all into consideration and devised a way to hide the money that might thwart all of them except a concentrated search not likely to happen. I mean, they wouldn't be searching for a body. Since it was just money, I didn't expect them to use ground penetrating radar. Yes, it was a lot of money but still just money.

Like most solutions it had taken time for the proper number of facts and circumstances to interact. First of all banks, even safety deposit boxes, were out of the question. There would be too many questions and paperwork requirements for me to even consider them. Storage buildings were not really an option either. They had video surveillance, and they reserved the right to examine the contents of the stored items for safety purposes. That most often happened if you missed your payment. Even if they never looking inside, they too were subject to fires. There were no meat lockers close by so that those wasn't an option either.

The facts that came together were simple. I had accumulated enough tools to need a toolbox. So why not buy an extra one for the money. It needed a better container than the black backpack regardless. The toolbox would give it very little protection from prying eyes unless it were hidden away from them. So where to hide the box was the next question. The box alone wasn't even a step closer to securing the money.

However the metal tool box would protect the money from insects and the like. I couldn't hide it inside the tiny apartments there were just no places to hide something that large. I did have access to the storage garage below. I used it to store the Tomos between uses, so it wouldn't be odd to see me going in and out of there.

I remembered the legs of the sofa which I had removed from the storage room. I had to wash them because the garage had a dirt floor. The dirt floor was almost the final element. I would simply bury the metal tool box, with most of the money tucked safely inside under the dirt floor of the storage area. I was pretty much the only one to go in and out of the garage. Caroline might go in it a couple of times a year but no more.

The trick was to do it so that no one would notice. Someone surely would notice a light on in the middle of the night. Even though there were no window the light would show through the cracks around the doors. The problem came together the same morning I worked out the other details.

"Hi there," the greeting came from a young woman I had seen getting in and out of a car which was parked evenings in the drive. She was obviously one of the neighbors. When I walked toward her she continued. "I'm your neighbor Lucy Evans."

She stood waiting for me to speak so I did. "Hi, I'm Mike. I live over the garage." I realized how stupid that sounded. "Of course you knew that."

She laughed then said, "Yes Caroline told me to say hi when I saw you. This is the first time I have seen you outside."

"Well, I'm in and out all day."

"Oh well, I work most of the day. I work for the school system."

"Ah a teacher?"

"No, I'm am the librarian at southwest middle school." She paused a moment then asked, "Do you work?"

"You mean Caroline didn't fill you in." I went on quickly so as not to let her get offended. "I'm disabled. Too many heart attacks and a little brain damage." It was as good a lie as any. It sounded reasonable. It should, I had been rehearsing it for a few days.

"Oh I'm sorry," she said.

"So how about the other neighbors."

"The other neighbor is Jeff. Jeff plays in a band of some kind. They work mostly local but do a couple of tours a year. He is out on one now, which explains why you didn't know."

"Sorry, I don't understand."

"When Jeff is in town, he practices every day between 2 and 4. If he was here and you were around during the day, you would have heard him."

"Ah I see. When is he due back?"

"Monday I believe." We had run out of small talk so she waited a decent amount of time before saying, "I was headed to the grocery store so I guess I need to go."

"Yes I suppose so. I'm headed to the hardware store myself."

Actually I had breakfast by the marina before going to the dollar store then the hardware store. That afternoon, I packed the money into plastic freezer bags, then into one of the tool boxes I had bought that same morning. I put $540,000 thousand dollar into freezer bags, then the bags into the gunmetal gray toolbox.

Since there were no windows in the garage part of the building, I didn't worry about being seen while I dug the hole. I used the civilian version of the GI entrenching tool, which I had purchased at the hardware store. I bought it at the same time I bought the two tool boxes.

I marked a spot on the wall of the concrete block garage, then dug a hole. Fortunately the soil was easy to dig. I didn't have to go down to the hard pan as I might if I were to dig a foundation. I just needed to get about a foot down. The hole was about a foot deep and eight inches wide. It was about a foot and a half long.

Once I had the hole dug, and the box inside it, I covered it and then spread out the excess dirt. It might take a while for the dirt I had spread to mix with the existing soil. I hoped that it would blend in sooner than later. I placed a chair over the spot to hide it while the dig marks healed. I had about a 99.9% positive feeling about the hiding place.

Just for continuity I placed the bag containing slightly over five grand in the bottom of the second tool box. It had been a good afternoon's work. I had just enough time for a shower before the knock on my door came.

"Hi again, I don't want to be a pest, but since we have met I thought I might ask a favor of you. You can say no I won't be upset."

"What's the favor?" I expected something major.

"I have a window that is stuck. In the six months I have lived here I have only had it open once and I really would like it open." She was babbling but I didn't mind. Young women were attractive when they babbled. Lucy was in her late twenties and reasonably attractive. She would have been a knock out if she shed about thirty pounds or so. Her hips were just wide enough to be distracting.

"Well I can give it a try for you. Do you have any Vaseline?"

"I think so why?"

"If you get it for me I can probably fix it so that you can open the window anytime you want."

"Wow that would be great. If Caroline would let me have an air conditioner, I wouldn't need to run so many fans. You know it isn't the heat so much, it's the humidity."

"So I've heard."

My windows were crank out, but the ones in the house were typical double hung windows with a dozen coats of paint on them. The first thing I did was to cut into the window seams with my pocket knife. Then I went to the garage and found some short pieces of scrap 1x2 that had been left over from repairs to the house no doubt. I used them to pry on the window. There was a small piece of lift hardware that was useless for anything else.

When the window gave way, I used Vaseline liberally on the window track. It only opened a few inches the first time. I closed it and forced it open again. Each time it went a few inches higher. I did the Vaseline thing again. It took greasing it three times but it finally went all the way up.

"Wow it works so well now. I might have you do that to all my windows." It looked as though I had a fan. I wasn't sure how I felt about that. I didn't need a daughter type and she certainly wasn't looking for a man my age to get involved with. Even I could tell that.

Sunday was a quiet day in the apartment. I would have done more but most local stores were closed or at least open only half a day. I spent my time between the park overlooking the marina and cleaning the apartment. A fairly boring day.

"Hello again," Lucy said standing on my stairs.

"More stuck windows?" I smiled to soften the words.

"No, I came to see if you have had dinner yet."

"No, I was about to head out to pick up something."

"I do that most week nights but I try to cook on the weekends. I am making pasta with meat sauce. If you would like, you could join me." She actually looked down as she asked. See looked like a teenager caught passing notes in school. She was embarrassed and I couldn't blame her. She had invited a man to dinner, who was probably as old as her father.

"Well if it isn't any trouble sure," I replied. I usually don't care for pasta, but if it had a good homemade sauce I would give it a try. Besides it was the Christian thing to do. Obviously she had to work up the nerve to ask, so it would be in poor taste for me to refuse. It would really be a blow to her ego, I thought.

She left and I sat drinking coffee for an hour while she worked on dinner. It was seven when I went to her apartment. Her apartment was on the far side of the house. The man she called Jeff had the apartment between us.

The pasta and salad were both excellent. Lucy loved cheese and so did I. It was a treat to eat the pasta that reminded me of baked spaghetti. Over dinner she filled me in on her family first, then on Caroline. There was a lot for her to tell but none of it seemed real. Neither her family, nor the fact that Caroline was a practicing witch.

After dinner I helped her with the dishes then tried to leave. "Well thanks for dinner, since you have to work tomorrow, I'll leave now." It sounded better than you bore the hell out of me.

"Oh stay and visit a bit. I am really enjoying the conversation. I don't talk to many adults."

"Well if you are sure I won't be intruding," I suggested. She didn't bite.

"Oh course not."

After another hour of inane conversation I decided hurt feelings or not I was leaving. "Well it's almost my bedtime and I have a few things I need to do."

"Oh okay, but please come back anytime." She said that to my back as I walked to the door.

I turned to say something pleasant and found her in my face. It was obvious she was expecting me to kiss her. I took a deep breath and did it. I hoped that I hadn't misread her.

I obviously hadn't misread her. She tried hard to press her body inside me. I broke the embrace then took a deep breath. "Wow, I need to go take a cold shower," I said lightly.

"Or stay a while longer," she suggested.

I was more than a little afraid to do that. She seemed about half a bubble out of plumb. "Honey, I'm old enough to be your dad."

"My dad doesn't kiss me like that," she said smiling.

"Let's give this some serious thought before we do something that we might regret." I was serious She was just a little too close to home for me. And like I said, she didn't seem quite right.

I didn't sleep well Sunday night. When I awoke Monday morning, I felt like I had a hangover. I lay on my sleeping pad even longer than usual. Not just to get my wits about me, but also to decide what to do about my neighbor. Even though my plans were few and hastily developed they did not include romance. Even if they had, it would not be with someone half my age or so close to home. If I planned to stay put a while, and I did, then I had to make a decision about Lucy. Whatever I decided I needed to keep her from being too curious about me.

By the time I made it to a standing position, I had decided for sure to avoid Lucy. I decided to go out of my way to avoid her but I would be pleasant, when I did meet her. As long as she didn't pursue me, it should work. If she continued showing up at my door, I would have to formulate a plan "B".

After my morning shower and three cups of coffee I was ready for the day. I rode the Tomos to the Burger Burger and bought an egg sandwich which I carried to the park overlooking the marina.

"You come here almost as much as me," the old black man said.

"I'm new here so you probably have a few more visits than me."

"Yep I been comin' here since I retired. Nothing much to do at home now that the wife was gone to a better place."

"Oh I'm sorry to hear that?" I really was.

"Yep moved to Florida with one of our daughters." He grinned at me because he had known what my reaction was going to be. I smiled back since it was a harmless jest.

"You ride that little red motor bike don't you?" he asked.

"Yes I do. It's a toy but seems to be a good one. I have only had a it a couple of weeks."

"I seen lots of them little scooter things, but that's the first one like that I seen."

"Well it seems to be a little quieter than those. Some of them sounds like a weed eater."

"Yep, don't see how those guy and gals stand the noise."

"You said you were retired, what did you do?"

"I ran a cafe. Ran it right over there on main street across from the marina. Had a lot of fishermen and even some tourist come in now and then. 'Raised me six kids from that place. Everyone one of them worked in there, and couldn't wait to get away. Said they hated the smell of fish." He smiled to himself at the memory.

"Yeah well kids are a trip. I got a daughter that don't speak to me."

"Oh, she got a reason or what?"

"She thinks she has a reason, but God only knows what it is. I sure as hell don't."

"So you are new to St. Marys, What you planning to do here?"

"Just about what I'm doing right now. Eat breakfast looking at the boats going out, then go home and clean house. Probably come back and have dinner watching the boats come in."

"You gonna get tired of that after a while."

"Yeah, I probably will but maybe not for a long while. What happened to your cafe?"

"I sold it when my wife left for Florida. Didn't see much reason to keep going. All the kids were gone and I didn't need the money no more."

"I'm called Ezra by the way."

"I'm Mike," I replied.

"Well Mike, I 'spect I'll be a seein' you."

"I would think so. It's a small town and a smaller park."

"True enough."

I got home in time to do nothing worth noting for two hours before I made a peanut butter sandwich for lunch. I decided that I would do that for lunch for a while. I was eating too much greasy food. I didn't want to get so fat that I couldn't ride the bike.

After the peanut butter sandwich I checked the mail. I wasn't expecting the bike basket till Wednesday, but I wanted to keep on eye out for it anyway.

I tried to watch last weeks TV shows on the computer but I got too sleepy. I took a nap, something I seldom did in my old life. I woke up mid afternoon without feeling any guilt at all. It took me a minute to realize that I had been awaken by the sound of a saxophone. It seemed my neighbor Jeff had made it back from touring with his band.

I gave up after twenty minutes and fired up the bike. I filled it up with gas at the convenience store. As usual it took much less than a gallon of gasoline to fill it. That was the upside of owning the toy. The down side was that it had beaten me to death during the ride to St. Marys.

I remembered that Lucy had said that Jeff would be at it till 4pm, so I decided to take a ride on the bike. A ride just for fun would be a first for me. I just wandered around the streets of St Marys first, then out into the country side. I rode for an hour and a half and checked the odometer. I had gone twenty five miles. That was even with the stop and go of the city streets for a good part of it. I knew then that I could ride into Jacksonville Florida, should I really need something I couldn't find in St. Marys or on line.

I stopped for a pizza at a convenience store on the way home. I heated it in their microwave before I carried it and two canned diet cokes to the park. I watched the boats come in while I had my early dinner.

When I got home at five thirty there was a note on my door. Come down if you get bored, Lucy...

Instead I watched those week old TV shows on my computer. I went to bed thinking I would probably get no further invitations from Lucy. It was for the best, but I still felt a sense of loss.

Over the next couple of days I slipped into a habit of eating twice a day at the park and hanging around on the internet in the middle of the day and again at night. I felt like I was keeping busy until it rained in the middle of the week.

I had time to think about my life since my fall from grace. It wasn't interesting and it was barely fun, but I was at least surviving without kissing anyone's ass. Even so I realized that it wasn't enough. I needed to do more. I had no idea what more would be, but I needed to do something different.

During the second rainy day in a row, Lucy showed up to invite me out to dinner. Even though I had promised myself not to go out with her, I was more than ready. We went to a home style restaurant which suited me just fine. Lucy drove her jap car of course.

I never was much for fancy food. Not to mention I felt blind in a restaurant with ambiance. They kept the lights low so you couldn't see what the hell you were ordering or eating. Lucy had shrimp and I had a steak. The steak was good, but hell it's really hard to mess up a chunk of beef. They even served a decent salad.

I don't usually eat green but Lucy convinced me to try it. I was glad that I did. It had a hint of fruit in the dressing. I like fruit, to be honest I like sweets of any kind. I seldom eat them because I love them too much. I'm like an alcoholic with sugar. One bite of ice cream leads to the whole half gallon.

Somewhere during the conversation Lucy mentioned that she had a friend from school who was being stalked. The police wouldn't really do anything because the stalker was a woman. Well it wasn't just because was a woman, but because she never did anything that left a trail.

According to Lucy, the friend's stalker only spoke to her in person. She never left messages or even called her on the phone at all. She was just around places she should not have been. She was verbally abusive most of the time. Even threatening violence but there was no proof for the cops to act on.

"So why is the woman stalking her?" I couldn't quite get a handle on it. Lucy hadn't given a reason just the facts.

"Best Becky can tell the woman is a Lesbian."

"Ah, the fatal attraction thing?" I asked.

"That's part of it. The other part is Becky told her she thought Lesbians were sick and going to hell."

"So the stalker took that personal." I chuckled under my breath.

"It seems so. Now she threatens Becky any time she sees her. She goes out of her way to be around Becky so that she can upset her I think."

It really sounded interesting to me. It was something I felt like I could handle without involving the cops at all. Still there was a slight risk that it could 'out' me. Even that seemed like a challenge I would relish.

"Would you like for me to talk to your friend and see if I can help?"

"Would you? She feels so all alone and cut off from everyone here. She is from Maine. I think I might be her only friend."

"Sure give her my cell number." I suggested as I wrote it on a napkin. Lucy changed the subject, but my mind stayed with Becky and her problem."

I picked up the tab for dinner. Lucy put up a token resistance then said, "Thank you."

"Tell you what," she said once we were in the car. "How about I pick up some donuts and make coffee. We both spend too much time alone."

I knew better but I was bored silly. "Sure but where can you get a decent donut in St. Marys."

"At the police station of course." She kept her eyes on the road or she would have seen me go pale.

"Only in St. Marys would the cops have a donut shop in the police station." I suggested.

"It isn't in the station silly. It's in a convenience store across the street. It's kind of a joke here. There is a donut delivery truck that comes from Jacksonville every morning. The 'pack and tote', has a special storage thing for them. Anyway, what kind do you want? They have plain, chocolate, jelly, and glazed. Some kind of fruit things probably but you never know what kind."

"Chocolate I guess," I replied.

The donuts were good, but the coffee was great. She made much better coffee than I did. Not only that she had a real TV.

Somewhere in the evening I got tired and Lucy got romantic. We did some kissing since I was too tired to muster an effective defense. I did manage to leave around midnight with my virtue still intact.

I kicked around town for a couple of more days. I also avoided Lucy as best I could. I think she realized that I wasn't interested in a relationship, but I still wanted to be her friend. Most mornings I spoke to the black man who had run the cafe across from the marina . He told me some of the history of the town. Well the more modern history anyway. St. Marys was one of the few towns left from the very beginning of the colonization of America. The old man's history was mostly post WWII. Still it was interesting.

According to him the town had been a big commercial fishing and shrimping town before and during the war. Later sport fishing found St. Marys and charter fishing took up a big share of the dock space. Small boats still ran deliveries to the outer islands nearby. In the last few years it had become more a scenic tourist town. The seeds had even been planted to grow a bedroom community for the ever expanding Jacksonville Florida area. Twenty miles from Jacksonville it was ideally set to be a future growth region.

I was interested but just in passing. It wasn't as though I planned to live the rest of my life in St. Marys. I could move on in an hour, if I chose to do so. I had no real ties to the town.

Lucy's friend Becky never called. The two of them just showed up Friday night. When Lucy suggested we discuss Becky's problem over dinner, I agreed since I hadn't eaten since breakfast.

Becky rode in the back seat of Lucy's Japanese revenge car, while we all tried to make small talk. We were all saving the discussion of the 500lb gorilla in the car for later.

Later came after we finished the seafood combination plates at The Marina Restaurant. The atmosphere was very fish camp, and I liked it. The food was delicious and the service was excellent. I would have enjoyed the meal more had I not been in suspense about Becky and her stalker. I really was looking forward to the challenge.

I was about to open the conversation when Lucy suggested we return to her apartment for coffee. "We won't be interrupted there," she suggested.

"That's just fine with me," I agreed.

"Oh crap," Becky said. "See that woman by the door. That is Sheila."

"Can I assume that Sheila is your stalker?"

"Yes that's her." Sheila was a reasonably attractive if somewhat skinny blond woman. She wasn't short and she wasn't tall she was just skinny as a garden hose. She was wearing jeans and a top that showed her bony chest. She had a tattoo on her shoulder. It was a black spider in a web. I expected on closer inspection it would turn out to be a black widow.

"Okay follow my lead ladies. Let's drop the first bomb."

It had to be subtle. I held Becky's chair, then Lucy's as we stood to leave. I held Becky's hand as we walked out. "Do not look at her," I whispered.

To anyone looking at us we were just three people who had dinner out. To Sheila we would look like lovers. That's how stalkers see things. Nothing is harmless to an obsessed person. Everything has meaning and it is always sinister. That is what effects the person being stalked as well. It is maddening for a sane person to enter a world of continual high drama.

What we had just done was to stick a needle in Sheila's eye. How she reacted would be interesting. She could do nothing and wait for a better time, she could shoot me in the back a few times, or she could crank up the heat on Becky. I would prefer she did nothing and just decide it wasn't worth the effort and moved on, but that was unlikely.

We were seated at Lucy's kitchen table when I began. "Now you are going to have an angry stalker on your hands. She may or may not turn violent. We need for her to be so upset that she makes a mistake. A mistake is anything that you can show to the cops to get her arrested. A note, a phone call, or an aggressive act where there are witnesses. What we don't want is her to harm you physically."

"This is already harming me physically. I have a hard time concentrating and I can't sleep nights. Isn't there something you could do to end it all at once. Why do we have to wait."

"Do you suggest I kill her, that is the only thing that will stop her instantly. What we have to do is to hope she will do something that will land her in jail or at least onto a shrink's sofa."

"I guess you are right. I just want this over."

It got quiet around the table. Everyone was lost in thought. I was wondering why Becky. She had to be close to forty pounds overweight. Her breasts were small for a woman carrying that many extra pounds. Her hips had most of it, but she somehow didn't seem to be too far out of proportion. Her hair was thin and shapeless.

"Tell me Becky how did Sheila get fixated on you."

"I have no idea, I certainly didn't encourage it."

"Okay, how did you meet her?"

"It was a teacher's award ceremony. I didn't win anything but I went to the banquet anyway. After the ceremony ended Lucy and I went to the lounge along with a few others. I got a little drunk and flirty."

"Did you flirt with Sheila?"

"Absolutely not," she replied.

"Sheila was the bartender in the lounge. Everyone talked to her as well as each other."

"You probably said or did something that in her twisted mind convinced her that you would be receptive."

"I can't imagine what," Becky said.

"Oh something like my last boyfriend was a jerk. I so wish I could meet someone nice. Probably something as harmless as that."

"I might have said something like that since my last boyfriend was worse than a jerk."

"Lucy said you told Sheila that you felt Lesbians were sick and were going to hell."

"I didn't mean that. I said it when she hit on me the first time I was so shocked I didn't know what I was saying."

"Where did it happen and how long after your first meeting."

"She ran into me at the market. After she reminded me who she was, she asked if I would like to go for coffee. I was bored and it seemed harmless. I had no idea she was gay."

"So did she proposition you at that time?"

"No, I had dinner with her another time she bumped into me at the gym. I have been trying to lose a few pounds. She didn't proposition me, she just kissed me. I mean she kissed me like a man." She looked at the table for a long few seconds then went on. "She swears I kissed her back. I was shocked and reacted poorly I guess.

"Since the kiss she has been following you around?"

"I can't prove it but like tonight she just shows up places I am. She usually says something to me. She has even threatened me."

"Where are you when she makes the threats?"

"I'm in a parking lot or some other public place, but we are alone."

"Has she ever been to your house?"

"She showed up there last week and I freaked out. I threatened to call the police and she said that if I did, she would make sure I didn't enjoy our next encounter." She looked down again took a deep breath and continued. "Then she grabbed my breast and kissed me again."

I looked at Lucy and she looked shocked. She obviously didn't know all there was to know. "What did you do?"

"I ran into the house and locked the door. I was terrified."

"That's why you were so upset?" Lucy asked.

"Yes, That's when I called the police. They said they couldn't do anything without proof. The detective said he would talk to her but I said please don't. I was afraid she would hurt me."

"At that point the cop most likely thought it was a falling out between lovers." Becky looked horrified. Lucy looked a little disappointed in me.

"Okay here is what is going to happen, if you want my help. Drive into Jacksonville to a radio shack. Buy yourself a digital recorder with a telephone hookup. Keep the batteries charged and keep it by the phone. Stop at a drugstore and get a box of vinyl gloves. If you get any strange mail or notes on the car put them on before you handle them. If she approaches you in public and anything happens that people would notice, get their names. When you call the police next time, you want evidence."

"What are you going to do?" Becky asked

"I'm going to help you get the evidence. She will make mistakes, if she is upset. We are going to upset her. Stalkers have a fantasy they play over an over. Then they adapt it to real life. She obviously sees you as becoming a couple somewhere along the line. She probably thinks this is some kind of game that she is going to win." Becky looking a little bewildered but Lucy seemed to understand.

"I am going to be her rival. She will either transfer her aggression to me, or she will step up her contacts with you. Her choices are to either win you over, or to get me out of the way."

"Will this work?" Becky asked.

"It probably will, but I have a few things to warn you about going in. It could turn nasty. She might get really violent. The other is that I can't be a witness to anything. I absolutely will not testify to anything. I want you both to understand that going in."

"I don't understand," Becky said.

"I have a couple of old warrants out on me. Nothing serious but it would be inconvenient, if they ran a records check on me."

"I see," Becky said. "I'm not sure I want to get involved if I have to do it alone."

"Fair enough, I assume you won't send the cops to my door?"

"No, neither of us will do that," Lucy said giving Becky a nasty look.

"If I do go along, what do I have to do."

"I would just move into your house and act as your boyfriend. Hopefully in a few days we would have her crazy enough to start making mistakes. We could meet in public places like a date, but it would take much longer to set her on fire. This has to be subtle. To be subtle we just do it and don't make a big deal of it. Not to mention if I move in with you, I can try to take care of you.

I decided to leave and let the to women talk it over. I wasn't sure I had done the right thing telling her that I would never testify no matter what. I wanted to be honest so she would know what was happening at all times. Okay I didn't try to be totally honest.

I was watching a two year old TV show when Lucy knocked. "Hello again ladies," I said standing back so they could enter my little one room apartment. "So what did you decide?"

"First what did you do to get a warrant against you." Lucy asked.

"I wrote my ex-wife a bad check. Our kids are grown so I figured the alimony ended at the same time as the child support. She raised hell so like and idiot I sent her a check. Then I thought better of it and stopped payment. The lawyer said that it didn't matter why I stopped payment, it was still a legal debt and I would need to make the check good. I said like hell, so here I am."

"Oh I sorta wished it was something like beating hell out of a man." Becky said with a smile.

"No nothing like that." I wasn't even tempted to tell her about the man I killed before I left home. That she didn't need to know.

"So when do we start?"

"How far do you live from here?"

"Five or six miles no more." she replied.

"Tomorrow is Saturday, I guess that is as good a time as any. Also we can keep an eye out for Sheila. If she took the bait, she will be really curious to see if you are really dating.

One thing though, if she shows up somewhere before I move in, do not talk to her at all. Close the door in her face. If you see her out somewhere, turn and walk away. If she wants to communicate with you, it has to be on the phone or by note."

"I'll try," she said.

"Don't try do it. Otherwise you are feeding her fantasy. You do want her to stop this don't you?"

"Of course I do," she said indignantly.

"Then do exactly as I say and it will happen."

It was shortly after noon or Saturday when I showed up at her condo. I had stopped along the way to do my laundry such as it was. A couple of pairs of jeans and some underwear. I wore Tee shirts mostly but also a button shirt to cover them now and then. I had bought and saved three button up shirts and half a dozen tee shirts. Other than that I had nothing but my computer to pack.

After I looked the place over I had her open the outside patio gate so that I could bring the Tomos under the patio awning. I don't think she liked that much but I didn't really care.

"Well Lucy have you heard from your stalker today?"

"No, I haven't seen or heard from her."

"Then so far so good." I said it just to make her feel better. Nothing would change until Sheila was in jail. She might decide on her own to give it up, but I wasn't counting on it.

"So are you hungry?" Becky asked.

"No thanks, I had a bite on the way over."

"I should have mentioned this last night. We never discussed money. Teachers don't make a lot of money you know."

"Didn't you know, I work for food." I smiled. Becky smiled back.

The guest room is right this way," Becky said as she turned into Hannah the Hostess.

"I'm going to sleep on the floor of the living room," I suggested.

"But you will be much more comfortable in the guest room."

"Yes I probably would be, but I would also have a light on in there when we should be in bed together. Sweetie stalkers are a little mental, but not necessarily stupid."

"I see," was her only reply. "What would you like for dinner?" she asked after a short pause to regroup.

"Oh we need to go out to dinner. Somewhere nice and public. Somewhere you have seen Sheila, but not where she works."

"The waffle and Egg on highway 17 but that was after a night out with Lucy," she informed me. "It was late."

"So being seen by her at the restaurant last night was a fluke?"

"I don't think so. I though I saw her at other restaurants but was never sure before. She has only spoken to me at the Waffle and Egg."

"So where else have you run into her?" I had slipped into a interrogation mode without realizing it.

"The grocery store on Saturday mornings. I'm sure I have seen her at the school as I was leaving."

"Well we need to go out to eat and see if she shows up, so pick a place that isn't too fancy."

"Eddie's Family Steakhouse," she suggested.

"Okay that's where we will go later. For now let me take a look around." I walked around her condo for about half an hour. I sat in each of her rooms for a few minutes and just studied it.

"The main thing you need is one of those motion detector light packages. It just screws into your outside light. You need that in the rear yard. It wouldn't do much good in the front since people might be walking their dogs. If there is trouble it will most likely come from the rear anyway."

"We can pick one of those up at the Home Depot in Jacksonville," I informed her. "It wouldn't hurt to have a video surveillance system. We can rig something up with a webcam I'm sure. I'll go on line and research it."

"If you want, we can drive to Jacksonville now," she suggested,

"Let's do that. I want that light up as soon as possible. "Do you have a weapon in the house?"

"No, I'm afraid of guns."

"Then you need a tazer or pepper stray. You need some kind of equalizer."

We didn't actually go into Jacksonville. The home depot was on a busy road but it was still a few miles from Jacksonville. I made a point to pay attention to the way she went to town. If I ever needed anything I could ride the bike over in less than an hour.

Becky found an army & navy plus gun store that sold tazers. She bought one and a can of pepper gas. I felt like she was as ready as she was likely to get without being trained in combat techniques. I didn't expect it to come to violence, but you just never knew when dealing with stalkers.

After all the shopping, including a trip to the cheapest electronics warehouse in Jacksonville, I knew because the sign said so, we headed back to St. Marys. I insisted that we go to her condo before dinner. I wanted that light in place. I would need a lot more time to work on the webcam surveillance system.

I gave Sheila plenty of time to find us before we left for dinner. It was a nice restaurant and I enjoyed the meal. Real southern style pork chops are hard to find. Almost nobody can fry them as they should be except your own mother. Eddie must have spent time in mom's kitchen because they were perfect. So were the sweet potato fries and the coleslaw. The ice tea was only so, so but it was cold and the waitress kept refilling the glass before it got to half empty.

I paid the check while Becky waited by the door. When I joined her she said, "That's her car over there."

I looked around the dinning room. "I don't see her do you?"

"No but she is here somewhere."

"Are you sure it isn't just a car like hers?"

"I'm sure there is a bumper sticker on the rear. Something about global warming."

"You go to the ladies room, make sure she isn't in there if she is turn around immediately and walk away."

It took her five minutes but she came back empty handed. "She wasn't there."

"What took you so long."

"I used the bathroom since I was there already."

Women, I thought. I went back to looking for skinny Sheila. I had no more success than I had earlier. "Well let's go home. She has seen what she needed to see, I guess.

I kissed her in the parking lot, before she slipped behind the wheel of her car. I went around, then opened the door. I glanced in the back seat to make sure skinny Sheila hadn't decided to ambush us.

As Becky drove by Sheila's car I saw the bumper sticker. It read, strike a blow at foreign oil, support global warming. It was amusing but I had seen better.

"What do you think that was all about?" Becky asked.

"I have no idea except maybe to keep you confused. My guess is someone else drove her car but it is really strange. I never knew simple stalkers to work together. Do you know anyone that might be in partnership with Sheila?"

"I have no idea. I think she is pretty much a loner."

"Well it's a curious turn of events, but let's not worry about it yet." I had felt better when I thought I knew who was after Becky. This, maybe other person, was a concern I did not share with her.

Becky drove us directly back to her house. She was a careful driver but not a slow one. She seemed to know I didn't like being out of control even as little as riding in a car someone else drove.

I questioned her off and on all evening. She really did know almost nothing about Sheila. That fact pretty much assured her that the cops would not take her seriously. They most likely thought she was just a lonely unstable young woman. God knows I had met a few like that, when I was a cop. I might have even thought so myself until the car with no driver showed up.

I slept on my sleeping pad in the living room. Even though it had carpet and a carpet pad, the floor was no more comfortable than my own. Even so I slept pretty well. I have always been one of those people who can sleep anywhere.

I awoke early on Sunday morning. I needed to use the bathroom, and not for a bath. Old men suffer from all kinds of urinary tract problems. The only one I knew of in my case was a weak bladder. If I drank anything after ten pm, I was awake in a few hours with an urgent need.

When I returned to the pad, my mind would not shut down. I kept going over the car with no driver. Like it or not the answer kept coming up conspiracy. What kind of conspiracy, I had no idea. Since I couldn't see two sexually motivated stalkers at the same time, I had to rethink the motive. If I rethought the motive, I had to be open to Sheila not being the person in charge of the conspiracy.

So if it wasn't sex, or at least not just sex, what did they want from Becky. What did she have? I made a mental note to ask her a lot more questions. Before I got past that thought, or had time to compose the questions in my mind, Becky walked into the room.

She was wearing a very pretty gown that managed to cover her more intimate parts while giving the illusion that it did not. Now that was a neat trick and I'm sure it cost a bunch to purchase that illusion. I was absolutely sure she did not wear that every night. Even though I was old enough to be her father, I had a strange feeling. I wondered if she and Lucy would compared notes. Since I had to live beside Lucy, who might easily stumble onto my secret I chose not to let her get too close, I tried to avoid Lucy. Not avoid as much as tread lightly. I didn't have that necessity with Becky. Becky was a little less attractive than Lucy. Neither of them was likely to be in the running for the next super model. Still both of them were young. That in and of itself had a certain appeal.

"What would you like for breakfast?" she asked.

"Just coffee for me, but thanks for the offer."

"It's no trouble, I will be cooking for myself are you sure?"

"Yes I'm sure."

"Okay in that case I'm going to take a shower and dress before I cook,"

It sounded like an excellent idea to me. I would be a lot more comfortable with her in something other than the illusionistic outfit.

Even while taking a DIY crash course on how to stream a web cam, I tried to work out just what the hell was going an with Sheila and what she really wanted. I decided that I needed to know a lot more about Sheila. I had no idea how to go about it on my own. Without the Police department resources, I was pretty much lost. Well not completely lost, I knew someone who did know how to find things on the net. At least she said she was proficient at searches on the internet.

I called Lucy on the phone to explain what I needed done. "Since you got me into this, it is the least you can do." I smiled and hoped she could tell from my voice.

"Oh all right but you have to ask specific things not just find out everything. I have no idea what everything is."

"Neither do I, so can you find out if she has a criminal record."

"Yes, I can find that out. I want your credit card number. It might cost a few dollars and I'm not putting it on my card."

"Okay but keep track, I use one of those prepaid things so I might need to add some to it. Right now it will go up to about five hundred dollars." I didn't tell her that I bought the refills in hundred dollar increments at a different convenience store each time. I could probably buy three or four of those cards a day if push came to shove. Any more might raise a flag with someone, in a cubicle somewhere.

I worked on the web cam as I waited for Lucy to get me answers. As she finished one task I found another for her. It was like that in any investigation. One answer led to more questions. Sometimes the last answer is the only one that made any sense. It was kind of like working your way through a maze.

So at the end of the day, I knew where Sheila lived, where she worked, her last known employer and the names of her family members. All her family lived out of town, so it wasn't going to be much help. I knew where she did time and the charge.

I had written down the license number of the car she drove so Lucy got me a rundown on that as well. Sheila was indeed the owner of the car. We got her driver's license number and her home address from that.

"Lucy tomorrow I want you to call her landlord and verify her address. Then see if she is living with anyone. I also want you to speak with a couple of her neighbors on the phone."

"These people are not going to talk to me."

"Sure they are, tell them you are verifying information on a job application. Give them the name of a fancy club in Jacksonville. Call yourself by some name she won't recognize. Look the neighbors up so that you know their names." I knew that would work, I had done it at least a hundred times. "If they don't answer your questions, try to remember what they said in refusing. Even that can help when you know nothing at all."

When dinner time arrived we stayed home. Becky was an excellent cook, so I didn't mind at all. She made something she called fried mac and cheese. It was delicious with the salad she made. She made fresh rolls as well. I think those came from a mix but it was a good one.

The phone rang a couple of times with hang up calls. I began answering it just for the hell of it. I answer with Becky's full name while informing the called that it was her residence. The calls stopped after two more attempts.

"Seems your admirer doesn't want to talk to me."

"Do you see now how crazy that kind of thing can make someone?"

"I understood that all along. It's why I agreed to help." By bedtime I had a lot of information and Becky had a web based surveillance system.

Becky didn't run around half dressed Sunday night as she had the night before. She wore flannel shorts and a tee shirt which to me was just as sexy as the almost see through gown. Even so I didn't think of her as anything more than a young woman in trouble. It never crossed my mind to take advantage of the situation. Okay it crossed my mind or I wouldn't have mentioned it. I certainly didn't act on it.

Monday morning Becky fixed breakfast for me. She really was a good cook. Since she make bacon and eggs, I had no need to ride into town for my breakfast by the marina.

"So what are you going to do while I'm at work?" Becky asked over her second cup of coffee.

"I'm going to sit here and wait for Lucy to call. Not much I can do without the information she is getting for us."

"Lucy really is a sweet girl," Becky commented. She was studying me closely to gauge my reaction.

"Yes, she does seem to be," I agreed. I was trying to show no emotion whatsoever.

Lucy called about ten A.M. "Mike, I am not going to have a chance to get all that information until later. I will try to talk to everyone before I leave school today. We should meet to discuss it."

"Okay, why don't you stop by here on your way home?"

"Good idea. Becky won't mind will she?"

"I don't see why she would. We are trying to help her after all."

"Good, then I'll be there around five."

After the call I got bored quickly. I decided to ride into town for my marina fix. Instead of breakfast at the park, I would do lunch there."

The Tomos and I were well out of her neighborhood when it happened. I had been passed by a couple of hundred cars since I bought the Tomos. Some cut me a wide birth, some cut it close, but the sinister black SUV was the first to actually get close enough to touch me.

The car did not belong to Sheila, at least I didn't think so. I swerved to avoid adding the car's paint to that already on the Tomos. In doing so I ran off the road onto the shoulder. The shoulders were very soft and the Tomos flipped over on me. Litterally it landed on top of me still running.

The weight of the bike was pretty oppressive on my chest. The hot muffler did a number on the flesh of my lower leg. I was happy that I bought the long jeans. I had debated buying shorts instead. I was most happy to still be alive. However over all I was not a happy camper.

The SUV sped away leaving me for dead, I supposed. I had a pretty good idea that the incident was connected to my involvement with Becky. It looked as though someone seriously wanted her alone for some reason.

If just reinforced my thinking that it wasn't about only sex . I wasn't sure that it was about sex at all. That might be the bait but the game might be about something else.

Even while I was thinking that, I was assessing my damages. I wasn't bleeding from anything more serious than a scrape here and there. I didn't have any body parts dangling so no broken bones. The burn on my leg could have been much worse had I not been wearing those jeans. The pain from that hot muffler had given me the strength to instantly toss the bike off me which also helped.

I was laying in the grass on the side of the road when the voice asked, "Are you alright?"

"I think so."

"You want me to call you an ambulance?"

"No thanks, I think that I'll be fine. I think what I need is a tow truck. Do you happen to know someone who could haul the bike to my house and let me ride along."

"I have a pick up there on the road. I'll be happy to take you and your bike home, if you want and if it isn't too far."

"I really would appreciate that." I said it but I wasn't sure that the good Samaritan wasn't a setup. I kept a close eye on him until he dropped me at the garage. "So what do I owe you?" I asked it after the bike was unloaded.

"You don't owe me anything," he replied

"Come on I would have had to pay a tow truck. With the price of gasoline and your time, it wouldn't be right not to pay you something."

"Just do a good deed for someone this week," he said climbing into his truck. That whole exchange made me a little nervous.

Since Lucy was easier to reach, I called and explained it to her. She tried to pressure me into a trip to the emergency room, but I refused. I figured I was going to be sore as hell. I knew I had survived and was damn lucky to have done so. I figured I could handle the rest.

"So would you find Becky and tell her I'm going to be at my place for a while. At least till I feel better and get some wheels. Also stop by the drugstore and get me something for a big burn and a few scrapes. And a couple of different over the counter pain meds."

I left the door open for Lucy. I was having a hard time moving with the burn and the scraped knees. I was in a lot of pain, with very little in the way of pain killers. I had a bottle of low dose aspirin, I took now and then for muscle aches. It seemed to have no effect at all on the pain from the burn. The burn was so painful that I didn't even feel the other pains until I tried to move.

Lucy walked in with a big bag from the Rite Aid drugstore. She took a look at me in my cutoff jeans, which had been full length when I left Becky's house that morning.

"What the hell happened to you?"

"Like I told you on the phone someone ran me off the road."

"Was it an accident?"

"It could have been, but I don't think so. It was broad daylight and there were no other cars on sight. The driver just clipped me. He had to know I was there."

"You said he, did you get a look."

"No, it could just as easily have been a woman, but it wasn't Sheila's car. The car that clipped me was a big black SUV."

"That's a nasty looking burn, don't you want to go to the hospital?"

"No, it looks worse than it is. In general burns hurt like hell, so did you bring me anything for pain?"

"As you instructed, I got Tylenol and that 12 hour sodium thing."

"Good, please bring them both here." She brought a glass of water and both bottles. I swallowed three of each. Not something I would recommend to anyone else but I didn't much care if they killed me.

I did note that it was right at 6pm. I would try to hold off until ten before I re dosed myself. Lucy tried to refuse to take money for the drugs and ointment but I insisted. Lucy was covering the burn with antibiotic creme when Becky knocked on the door which Lucy had closed.

"Are you alright?" She asked with real concern in her voice.

"I'm not alright, but I will survive." I replied. I was still in pain and the two women weren't helping at all.

"I am so sorry," Becky said.

"This isn't your fault." I let her off the hook for a few seconds then I went after her. "I want you to tell me everything this bitch ever said to you. I mean every damn word."

I turned my attention to Lucy. "You pay attention, I might miss something. You can remind me later, since you should know more than I do by now."

Becky started to tell me about her first encounter with Sheila at the bar. Sheila had flirted with her. Becky didn't realize it at the time, but in thinking back she realized that it was flirting. She also realized that she had encouraged it.

Lucy said, "I remember wondering if you knew she was gay, or if you might be a little gay as well."

"You what?"

"I wondered if you might be a bit bisexual. I mean you seemed to be loving the attention."

"I guess I was a little. Not gay, I mean loving the attention, I was just off a bad affair, remember?"

"I remember but it sure looked to me like you were a knowing participant."

"Why didn't you say something before."

"It seemed pretty harmless until now. Take a look at Mike, this is getting a little too real."

"We should call the cops, they can't ignore this."

"Sure they can," I replied. "To them it will be just a traffic accident. Besides like I told you, I don't do cops."

"So you are just going to let them get away with this?" Becky asked.

"In a pigs ass I am. For right now they are going to think I am though. Lucy you need to finish collecting information on our little friend Sheila."

"What about me?" Becky asked.

"With you it is business as usual. What you really need to do, is to stay with Lucy for a few days."

"I will be okay. I can stay home." she suggested.

"It's up to you, but my advice is to bunk in with Lucy for a while. If you won't do that, then I suggest that when they show up for you, remember your cover story and just play along."

"What do you mean they?"

"It wasn't Sheila who ran me off the road. It wasn't sheila who drove her Honda to the restaurant the other night. So yes I mean they."

"What the hell is going on?" she asked.

"I have just been at this a couple of days. Give me a chance and I just might find out."

Becky changed her mind about bunking in with Lucy. Since they needed to pick up food, as well as Lucy and my things I added more to the list. I gave Lucy a detailed list of things I needed, along with four one hundred dollar bills.

"I can't let you keep spending your money trying to keep me safe," Becky said.

"I'm going to give Sheila and her friends the bill, don't worry." I replied seriously.

I had two different pain killers and a couple of allergy tabs in me, so sleep was within reach. Actually I fell asleep before Lucy and Becky returned. Since I gave Lucy my key, she was able to look in and leave my packages on the floor. I was asleep on the sofa. The sofa was way to short, but I didn't wake up until the morning.

Once I did wake up, I couldn't get the pain killers down fast enough. That burn was the only pain I felt. It overwhelmed any other pains. I tried to keep a cold wet cloth on it while I waited for Lucy or Becky to at least call.

"Hey are you okay?" the voice on the phone was Lucy's.

"Yeah, just peachy." I replied.

"Are you awake?"

"A damn site more than I want to be."

"How is the burn and the scrapes?"

"The scrapes seems to be doing okay, the burn hurts like hell."

"So are you ready to hear what I have learned so far."

"Sure, go for it."

"You already know I got Sheila's phone number then back traced it to her address. Today I called her neighbors like you said. I told them that I was with a Myrtle Beach resort."

"Wonderful, so what did you learn?"

"She lives with another woman."

"Now there is a shock." I suggested.

"Yes it is, I suppose."

"Did you get the other woman's name?"

"Yes and I ran her as well. She has a black Ford Explorer."

"Well hello lady, we are going to do a little dance," I said with a smile in my voice.

"She and Sheila have a lot of parties it seems. They have one almost every weekend."

"So anything significant in that?"

"The guest come in Saturday afternoon late and don't leave until Sunday."

"So they don't drive drunk. That is admirable."

"Yes it is." she replied sarcastically. "Most of the guests are men. Only a few are women."

"Well, we know Sheila isn't the entertainment don't we?"

"I would think not. First of all the cars are from all over. Sheila just isn't that attractive."

"No offense, but neither is Becky. I just don't get the connection still. But they are up to something which they want Becky involved in. Sheila is trying to lure her into it. When the straight up sex thing didn't work, she began stalking her. She is trying to scare her."

"So you think the sex thing is a smoke screen?"

"No, I think that is real, but only a part of picture. Find out what you can about the roommate. I would be willing to bet the roommate has the money."

"Well Sheila has a record. Wanna' know what for?"

"Of course," I admitted.

"Assault and battery, she did six months for beating up a man."

I couldn't help but laugh. "Who was the man?"

"He was the husband of a friend. I think that he was probably the husband of a girlfriend."

"That sounds reasonable. You keep tracking her and her roommate."

"What are you going to do?"

"Heal," I replied.

"Good plan, what do you want for dinner tonight."

"Surprise me," I suggested.

I spent the day on the phone, First I was trying to find someone to fix the Tomos. I called half a dozen guys who sold scooters in Jacksonville. Everyone who was willing to work on it told me it would be cheaper to buy a scooter instead. Nobody really wanted to fix the two week old moped.

I called around to the three local garages. I found one who would come get the Tomos and try to repair it. He said he would give me an estimate before he went to work on it. I agreed to call him when I felt better.

I called up the streaming web cam from Becky's place on my computer while I did other research on the net. I researched scooter and mopeds. If the Tomos was going to so much trouble to repair, I thought I might want to look at something else.

It was while I was on a motorized bicycle forum that I learned in Georgia a driver's license was required to operate a Moped. It was not a good sign. I had bought the Tomos to avoid the driver's license thing all together. It appeared that the only motorized vehicle which universally did not require a drivers license was an electric bicycle. So I began to research those while from time to time I scanned Becky's web cam. Nothing happened on the web cam but I learned a lot on the forums.

There was an old man who experimented with Ebikes. He had tried about everything to speed one up. The easiest thing to do was to buy an ebike from Wal-mart. Then buy a bigger motor from an online E bike parts company. One could buy a motor with double the power of the stock motor for less than hundred dollars. It would bolt right up to the bike once the stock motor was removed. The next step to souping up the bike was to toss the battery pack and use one with more volts. He assured everyone that he had done it with no significant danger to the bike but almost double the performance. The two improvements would almost double the 12 mph speed and the range would be at least as good as that promised but never delivered by the bike manufacturer.

It sounded like a doable project. I decided not to bother with the local shop after all. I had pretty much paid a grand to get a few hundred miles, but it got me off the grid for a while. I had been damn lucky that no cop had stopped me once I got to Georgia.

After my research projects were finished, I went to work on one of the purchases Lucy had made for me. She had bought me a Mossburg pump shotgun. It wasn't the cop model but a cheap sportsman version. Actually there was probably no difference except for the length of the barrel.

I used the tube cutter she also bought for me to shorten the barrel to 18.5 inches. Just enough to be legal. I used a straightened coat hanger down the barrel to be sure before I cut the barrel.

I loaded the shotgun with #4 duck shot before I set it carefully in the corner. With that done, I felt a lot better. I had it all done before Lucy got home from work.

"Becky went by her house for clothes. She is going to be here soon."

"You really shouldn't let her go near her place alone."

I set the computer for her streaming web site. I got a view of her in bra and panties changing clothes in a corner reflection in the window. She dressed before she left. She left the house safely so I felt some better. Since it was early in the afternoon, she would probably be okay. I could go back to her house in a day or so. At that point I planned to go on the offensive.

When I awoke the next morning, I tried to think what needed to be done. Lucy should be doing a background check on Andrea Lewis, the roommate. I had an idea about what the next big step would be, it was the small steps that needed to be planned first. I just couldn't make my mind work that morning. It was probably the result of all the pills. Even though they weren't prescription I was taking them at dangerous levels. It had only been two days since the SUV decided to swap paint with my bike. I figured I would be much better by the next day. That is if the three day rule held true for accidents as well as illnesses.

I hung around the apartment eating everything in sight until Lucy called. "Andrea Lewis did time at the same prison as Sheila." Lucy sounded proud of herself and she had every right to be. It was a pivotal piece of information.

"Why the hell would two prison buddies want to share Becky?"

"I have no idea Lucy replied." I didn't explain that I hadn't really asked her, but was thinking out loud.

"I suppose they could be into sharing, but my money is on something more involved."

"How so," Lucy asked.

"They are going through a lot of trouble just to have a threesome with Becky. That was where my original plan came in. I was supposed to make it obvious that Becky was more trouble than she was worth. When Andrea ran me off the road, it became obvious that Becky was worth killing for. I could easily have died out there. I just can't figure out what makes her worth all this."

"What the hell is going on here?" Lucy asked again.

"Find out all you can about Andrea Lewis. She is probably the key." After I hung up, I began wondering if the bad gals knew where I lived. It would have made sense to come for me immediately after the attempt on my life. Waiting made no sense at all, unless they didn't know where I went, or they expected me to back off if I lived.

They could be following Becky. If so they would know pretty soon where I was holed up. If nothing happened in the next couple of days, I would be on offense. It should be interesting, if not fun.

When Lucy and Becky arrived home that night, it was obvious that they were spending too much time together. They were getting snippy. It didn't slop over to me, so I wasn't all that concerned.

"I think we have about all the information I can find," Lucy informed me over a plate of pasta. I had managed to make it down to her place with only minor pain. I was indeed on the mend.

Lucy and Becky hardly spoke during dinner. It wasn't a matter of being angry. I think it was more a case of just having talked themselves out. I wasn't in much of a mood to talk myself, so there were long periods of silence.

I didn't stay long after dinner. I was tired and wanted to lay down. I slipped into a light sleep shortly after returning to my place. I woke up to light streaming through the window by my only door. I had twisted the motion detector flood light so that it shined in my window instead of onto the steps. It was the only security system I had.

I moved to a corner of the room with the shotgun handy but not in my hands. The knock on the door was timid. "Yes." I said.

"It's me Becky. I need to talk to you."

I opened the door for her. She came in and sat on the sofa before she spoke. "What's going to happen to us?" She really did seem upset.

I sat down beside her then said, "We are going to figure this out and then take care of it."

"How are we going to do that?" she asked.

"You have to have patience and trust me. I think I can figure this out, if everyone helps."

"You mean if Lucy helps. I haven't been much help at all."

"Oh you will be trust me. There is no way we can end this without your help."

She softened then. The change was noticeable and a little concerning. "Can I stay here tonight. I am tired of "Lucy's couch."

"I don't have a bed or couch for you," I said with a smile.

"But I have a mat like yours in the trunk of my car. I can unroll it beside you. I honestly would feel better."

"I don't know. What would Lucy say? I mean we need her help."

"When I asked if anything was going on between you two, she said. 'of course not, he is old enough to be my father.' That is hardly the sound of a woman who would object to you having a friend sleep over." I couldn't have agreed more.

I was a little surprised by Becky's body. The fancy gown she had worn that first night managed to hide her small tummy and even make her breasts look larger. In truth she had small breasts and a slightly pronounced tummy. Her butt was a bit soft and droopy. She was better looking than all that sounds. In her case the whole was better than the sum of her parts.

While the women went off to work that next morning, I tried to do more and more things for myself. I tried walking around the block. The biggest problem was the burn rubbed against my long pants, so I had to wear the cut off jeans. I had made those from the ones I wore during the accident. Lucy had tossed them into her washer, when she did her wash. They had one layer less dirt when they were returned to me the night before.

I managed to fix lunch for myself. Becky had done my shopping while on her way home from school. I had been eating most of my meals with Lucy. I had not really turned the small stove on all week. I made Lucy's fried mac and cheese with one of those Kraft box things, for lunch. It wasn't too bad but a heck of a mess to clean the pan afterward.

The day passed slowly but it did pass. Friday was a repeat of Thursday except I walked father and with much less pain. It was slow going but I was getting there. During both days I had worn a pair of hiking boots that Lucy bought at the same store where she had bought the Mossburg.

Becky and I slept late on Saturday. Even though nothing was happening under the sheet, it made sleeping much easier for us both. Something about the closeness of another human being made sleep seem safer. Becky drove Lucy and me to breakfast an hour later. It was nice to have breakfast with the two of them, even if they did hardly speak to one another.

Since Becky promised me that there was no jealousy, I figured they were just tired of each other. Saturday afternoon around five Becky dropped me a block from Sheila and her friend's house. I was armed with a good pair of binoculars courtesy of Lucy's shopping trip. Also from that trip a couple of cheap but large steak knives. I had six in all. but I only brought two. I was no knife expert, so I figured if two weren't enough all six wouldn't be either. I made scabbards from folded cardboard and scotch tape, then slid them down inside my boots.

I walked down a small creek that led behind the houses. I got a really good look around. I found a good spot less than thirty yards from the back door of the target house. I didn't really care if they saw me since a war with them was inevitable. They really should have killed me. I had a feeling that it was not from lack of trying. Why they didn't try again, I had no idea. All I knew was that they should have.

When I started watching the house, there were two cars in the back yard. It took an hour before I made the first cell phone call to Lucy. I gave her the first of the license plate numbers. She was waiting at home to run background checks on the owners of the cars. With a little luck I would know who and what the visitors were soon after their arrival.

I lost track of the number of cars but the yard was full by 9pm. Lucy stopped calling back after a while and just saved the information. Before she stopped reporting, she had logged in the mayor of a city a hundred miles away and several community leaders from surrounding towns. There were even a couple of clergy with rather shaky credentials.

She would have to wait until later to run the complete search patterns for more details. Those results were from google type searches only. I waited and kept watch but I couldn't get a clue as to what was going on inside the house. It had to be at least one of the ten commandments being shattered for sure, which ones I didn't know. The most harmless thing would be a high stakes poker game. If that were the extent of it, then I had very little leverage. Something just told me that it was more. What could Becky do for a bootleg casino operation? The answer was simple nothing. The answer had to be that Sheila had something in mind for Becky that had nothing to do with gambling.

I expected that the deep background checks of the people in attendance would tell the tale. I sat out in the cool night air until midnight, then walked quietly out to the road where Lucy picked me up.

"So, do you have any ideas?" Lucy asked.

"Nothing at all comes to mind. They are a mixed bag of customers for sure, I just have no idea what they are buying."

"It has to be something they can't get at home. Some of those guys drove a long way."

"Or something better purchased a long way from home."

"Drugs?" she asked.

"I don't think the girls are running an opium den. I also can't see it as a high class crack house." I replied.

"Well what's the next move?"

"We hope something shows up in the background checks you are going to do tomorrow."

We sat in silence a few minutes then she asked, "Are you screwing Becky?"

Even though it took me by surprise, I answered right away. "No, she is sleeping on the floor with me, but nothing like that is going on."

"Don't give me semantics are you having any kind of sexual contract with her."

"I have kissed her a couple of times, just like I have kissed you. Nothing else is going on."

"Okay, that's what she said as well."

"So why are you asking?"

"Just curious," was her reply. She waited until we pulled into the driveway before speaking again. "Becky fell asleep in my bed. She isn't really the patient type."

"I see," I didn't really but it sounded good.

"I guess, I'll have to move in with you for the night."

"That means sleeping on the floor."

"I can handle it. I have done worse."

"Okay, then come on upstairs."

Women who in the hell can figure them out. Sunday morning the two of them were back to being thick as thieves. They shared strange smiles when they thought I wasn't looking. I had no idea what to do so I did nothing.

"So what's today's plan?" Lucy asked.

"You are going to start the background checks on our visitors. Becky and I are going to go shopping. Anything you want while we are out?"

"It's Sunday in St. Marys, nothing is open."

"Yes I know, but it's business as usual in Jacksonville." I said that as I guided Becky out of the door. What I really wanted was a chance to talk to Becky alone. I wanted to try again to figure out what the two female thugs wanted from her.

"So Becky," I began once we were in the car. "What is it exactly that you do at the school."

"I teach American History at the middle school."

"Is that all?" I asked it because I still didn't know what the hell it had to do with anything.

"Well, I also mentor at risk kids. I have four that come in last period for special help."

"What is that about?"

"Kids that are at risk of dropping out of school."

"So what they are 16 years old?"

"No we have determined that if they get behind in the 5th grade, they lose interest in education. We are trying to engage them at an early age."

"Why are the kids at risk?" Something about her mentoring was causing flags to wave inside my head.

"Usually it is some kind of problem at home. None of them are low IQ kids just unmotivated."

"Are they also at high risk to run away from home?"

"Why yes, it goes along with their emotional problems."

Things were a little less foggy. I had a feeling that something profoundly evil was going on at Sheila's house. I had felt even before my talk with Becky.

We did our shopping in Jacksonville, then went back to St. Marys. Lucy was waiting for us with lots of information. She could hardly contain herself.

"I have lots more things to check but so far I found that two of the visitors are registered sex offenders." She looked at me for a minute then said, "Why don't you look surprised."

"Well honey drugs, booze, and gambling made no sense so there wasn't a lot left.

"So what is going on, prostitution?"

"At the very least. I have a fear that it is even more sinister than that."

"Dear God, not kiddie porn?" she asked.

"Yeah, I'm thinking that and maybe worse even. I'm told one can get kiddie porn on the net. There has to be more to bring these guys this far."

"Please tell me you aren't thinking they are doing things with kids in that house?"

"I don't know. We will have to do more checking."

"Then what are you going to do?" Lucy asked.

"If I can refrain from killing them myself, I'm going to see them in jail."

"How? you can't go to the police," Becky said.

"I'll take care of it." I knew exactly how to take care of it. I just didn't tell her.

"Lucy dropped me at the creek I had walked in on Saturday night. She left me there on her way to school. It wasn't dark but not many people were stirring about that early in the morning.

I walked down the creek to the spot where I had sat previously. I made myself as comfortable as possible. I watched the back of the house and waited for the two women to leave. It didn't happen till nearly lunch. I saw them both get into the black SUV and then drive away.

I could have used a lookout but since I didn't have one, I concentrated on the basement. All of the activity Saturday night seemed to have centered around the basement. The lights were still on in the basement when I left, so I was pretty sure that it was a good place to start.

Breaking into a basement is really easy, if there is no alarm system. Sheila and Andrea did not have an alarm. It couldn't have been easier unless they had left the door open. It was so easy that I thought maybe it was a trap. Trap or not, it had to be done. I crawled in through an unlocked bathroom window.

I found six cubicles with just a small cot type bed in each, Twenty odd people and six beds equaled people turning tricks. It could be the owners and a few friends, I thought. I just couldn't see people driving a couple of hundred miles and staying all night just to get laid by a pro. There had to be more. In a locked room, with a piss poor house type lock, I found the cameras. There was one high end video camera and a few low end digital cameras.

The still cameras were much lower in price and quality than the Panasonic, almost top of the line, camera I had bought the day before in Jacksonville. It was their best Panasonic camera, short of the Digital Single Lens Reflex that Panasonic had recently brought out. The one I had did a fine job on the pictures I shot of the basement.

I had been inside almost long enough for the girls to have finished lunch, so I decided to leave before they came home. I expected that I had the pictures which I would need for phase two anyway. I did take time to remove the hard drive from their downstairs computer. Hell it had been easy enough for a 12 year old to remove.

I went out as I had come in through the window in the basement bathroom. It had been unlocked when I came in so I left it unlocked on my way out. Except for the hard drive I had taken nothing. Unless you were to count the two dozen or so photographs I made. I felt that I knew the use of everything there except the stage. It was only slightly higher than the milk crates it rested upon above the concrete floor.

I hoped that the hard drive would tell Lucy something. I knew it would never tell me anything. I had no computer in which to fit it. Whether it did or not, I had it in my pocket as I walked to the pickup point. During the walk out I also wondered if the girls would call the cops. I doubted it since whatever they were doing was dead wrong. I was pretty sure that a good vacuuming of the carpets down there would pick up traces of cocaine or some such thing.

I used my prepaid cell phone to call the only taxi in St. Marys. By the time he arrived I was in the parking lot behind a church at least a mile from the target house. I had him drop me at the park beside the marina. From there it was a little over a mile to the garage apartment.

When the girls got back from work, I got the full briefing from Lucy. She had completed the background checks and found a couple of more sex offenders. By that time everyone had a pretty good idea what was going on in Sheila's basement.

"So which one has the most to lose?" I asked Lucy.

"I expect it would be the preacher. He has a wife and two kids not to mention a reasonably affluent congregation." she answered.

"Then we need to pay him a visit. Can either of you get off one day this week."

"Not me," Lucy replied. She didn't elaborate and I didn't ask.

"I guess I can call in sick one day. I have a huge number of sick days."

"Well pick a day and we will drive over to see the Reverend."

"Okay tomorrow will do. Can I go home yet. I'm tired of living out of a paper bag."

"It might take a while longer. I'm sorry but I want you where I can watch you."

"Well you can watch me at home."

I knew she was right. If I was healed enough to be a cat burglar, then I was healed enough to watch her at her house. "Okay but load the shotgun into the trunk of your car. I refuse to leave home without it." I turned my attention to Lucy. "You wanna'' come with us. There is a chance they know where I live. If we aren't here, they might pay you a visit."

"Do you really think so?" she asked.

"I don't know, but it is possible."

"Then I will pack a bag and follow you."

"Good," Becky commented. She appeared to mean it.

It was not a short drive to the town just outside Charlotte NC, but the time passed pretty quickly. Becky actually was a very intelligent and outgoing woman. It was obvious from our conversation that she loved children. If she was to be believed, she could establish rapport with almost any child within minutes.

"For some reason kids just seem to trust me. They seem to know that I have their best interest at heart," she said.

"Maybe that's what our ladies need. They would sure as hell scare the B'jesus out of anyone." I said it with a smile, but I had a feeling that there might be something like it in the plan for Becky.

When we pulled into the church parking lot, I was happy to see the fancy German touring car in the pastor's space. It would be much easier to break him in the church than it would be in his home.

Becky and I went through an interrogation by the church secretary before we were allowed to speak with the pastor. "Reverend Sims," I said taking his hand. The handshake was for the benefit of the church secretary.

"Yes Mr. Abrams what can I do for you?" It was obvious that the secretary had filled him in enough so that he had my name.

"Actually it's more what I can do for you." I said that as I tossed the stack of pictures onto his desk. They were mostly of the empty basement but also had a few from the hard drive of Andrea and Sheila's computer. Lucy had recovered some things but was still working on it. The ones I had were of men in mask on stage with what could have been a minor. I expected more as Lucy dug farther into the drive. Also I hoped to have more from the preacher in a matter of minutes.

"Where did you get these?" he asked.

"I am a reporter with the Jacksonville Florida Times, I just did what I do." As Lucy had predicted I could see the sense of loss come over his demeanor. He actually seemed to shrink a couple of inches. "I'm here to make you a one time offer. Listen carefully because when I leave you will either be the source I protect or the pervert I throw to the wolves."

I explained that someone would roll on the two women. The person who did got his name deleted from the guest list. If not the Reverend Sims, then it would be someone else. He was the first to be offered the deal.

"What is it you want from me?"

"I want you to tell me all you know, and all you suspect about Andrea and Sheila. I expect it to all be true. I am a great interviewer. I will know if you lie and if you do, I leave and you lose your source status. So start with how you heard of them." I wanted him to begin slow.

"I met Sheila on line. In an internet chat room. It was one of those adult things. We sort of shared an interest you might say."

"How long did it take before she invited you to her house." I let the shared interest thing slide for a while at least.

"I put her on the IM so that we could chat outside the site. After a couple of weeks she suggested that I come see her."

"Did you know what to expect when you went there?" It was my first test as to whether he would lie to me or not.

"I knew some things but not all. I knew it was a kind of party and that there would be a stage show. I didn't know the details.

"So what was the admission price?" I asked.

"Three hundred and fifty dollars. It wasn't exorbitant so I paid cash at the door when I got there. I thought I was being so careful." He didn't laugh but he saw the irony, if not the humor in it.

"So I assume you had a couple of drinks?"

"Yes the drinking began early and went on late into the night. I'm not a drinker but I did have a couple while I was there. I paid extra for them. I am pretty sure there were drugs for sale as well."

"So what happened when the show started. We sat in folding chairs and watched the girls up on that stage in your picture. It was pretty much typical things you could see in a porn film. Some of the audience members got up on stage. I can see why they had masks on now. I knew she sold DVDs of the shows it never occurred to me that she might be saving them."

"Didn't it occur to you that she might blackmail you?"

"Not really, she didn't really seem like a criminal." I was about to say something but I let it slide.

"So when did the younger girls start?"

"It wasn't too long. The younger ones were the draw." The prick actually smiled at the memory. "They took their clothes off it was very exciting."

"How old would you guess they were?"

"She had them all made up and dressed up but I would think one was a young teen doing it for money. Then there was the child who was barely into puberty. She was the star. The two of them performed. You have the images so you know."

I didn't want him to know that I didn't really have the images so I changed the subject. "Did you have sex with either of them?"

"No there were a few teenaged hookers there. I expect those were older teens who were doing a pretty good business."

"How about the younger girls? Could you have had sex with them?"

"There was a price list for the young ones but it was pretty steep so I didn't have sex with them. I could explain three or four hundred dollars for a weekend retreat to my wife, but not a thousand dollars."

"So what would you get for that kind of money?"

"Not much," he replied.

On the drive home Becky wanted to talk but I begged off. I needed to think. I ran it over in my mind several times and it kept coming up trouble for me anyway I looked at it.

I had intentionally left out any warning for the preacher not to warn the girls. I didn't care if he told them a reporter was asking questions. Sheila might believe I was a reporter but I had a feeling anyone cold enough to run a bike off the road would see the worst in everyone. I mulled over all the facts and just couldn't come up with any scenario that had me coming out a winner. In the end I just gave up and drifted off to sleep. One good thing about sleeping on the floor was that it taught me to sleep almost anywhere. Sleeping in the car was a piece of cake.

"Mike, we are home," Becky said not so gently.

"Ah how long did I sleep?"

"A couple of hours. I let you sleep since you have been looking tired the last few days."

"I haven't slept well since the accident. I bit of post traumatic stress I suppose."

Lucy met us at the door of Becky's house. The two of them really were good friends. Lucy had the key to Becky's house and I assume Becky had the key to her apartment. "Mike there is a message on the machine. It was on there when I got here."

"Becky tell your friend I want my hard drive back. I want it right now and before he copies it. You tell him he has no idea who he is messin' with. Somebody better call me tonight."

"She sounds pissed," I said smiling. I had rattled her cage. Obvious she had tried to use her computer for the first time since the break in.

"Let's have dinner and talk this over." I suggested. "How about we get pizza?"

We were sitting around munching on pizza and drinking diet cola when the subject came up again. "So what are we going to do?" Lucy asked.

"Why hell, I am going to blackmail them."

"Why are you going to do that?" Becky asked.

"Well someone owes me for the bike and for the pain and suffering. Don't worry it won't sound like blackmail."

"I don't get it," Becky admitted.

"If we don't pretend to be as crooked as they are, they will put it in the wind. Which wouldn't be an all bad thing. You wanted me to make them stop stalking you. Well that would do it. If they are still here this weekend, they are going to have their little party as usual. If they do that, they are going to have a couple of unexpected drop ins."

"I don't get it." Lucy said,

"I hope they don't either."

"Did you check the rest of the hard drive."

"No, but I copied almost all the files to a dozen dvds. There were some big files on there."

"Then lets give them the hard drive back. It needs to be in her computer." I reached for the land line phone. I dialed the number Sheila left on the message.

"Good evening who am I speaking with?" I asked.

"Who the hell am I speaking with?"

"Why love, I'm the guy you tried to kill."

"If I had been trying to kill you, you would be dead."

"Not a good way to open negotiations, but it is reassuring to know homicide was not your intent."

"I didn't say I might not want to kill you now, just that I didn't when I sent you the message."

"So I assume you want to pay the damages out of pocket rather than go the insurance route."

"Are you out of your mind?"

"Seems to be a lot of people questioning that. But I think we are discussing my damage claim."

"No, we are discussing my hard drive."

"It's the same discussion. You pay for your carelessness and I might find a hard drive laying about my place."

"Have you copied it?"

"Haven't had a chance but I have checked out some of the files. Interesting video but your technique leaves a bit to be desired. I could give you some lighting tips if you like."

"What I would like right now is to kill you."

"If you do that, the dead man switch kicks in. The hard drive goes to the FBI. It won't get you convicted by itself, but it will give the feds a place to start looking."

"Then it's blackmail?"

"Of course not that's illegal. It is you buying an insurance policy. One pays retroactively for your stupidity."

"How much?"

"I think Ten grand in cash should pay the damages. You should get that back in one weekend from what I have seen."

"I'm going to have to think about it."

"That's up to you. I will be at the marina park tomorrow about 10AM. It might be a good time to sign you up for that policy."

"How do I know this is the end of it?"

"The same as me, we don't know but we do know that we are at stalemate for now."

"If you come back for more, I will kill you and your girl friend."

"If I ever see you or your roommate within 50ft of either of them, your threat will be a moot point."

"Are you threatening me."

"Did it sound like a threat. I do hope not. It was a simple statement. I will take out an order of protection." She knew what the threat was I didn't need to spell it out. She had figured out that I would fight back. She might not know what I was, but she knew I was not a school teacher.

Even though Becky and I had picked up the parts for my Tomos, I hadn't taken the time to make the needed repairs. So I sent the two of them off in Becky's car while I drove Lucy's car to the marina park. I chose it and the time because I knew there would be people in the park. There would be an old man or two for sure, and probably a young mother reading a book.

When I arrive at the park, there were a few unexpected retired ladies as well as the usual park visitors. Since they all wore pink hats, I figured they were some kind of organized group. That was good for me. The more normal witnesses the better. They would either see nothing or someone would see it all. It just depended on what the women brought with them to the park.

I was still working on the 'breakfast on a bun' from burger burger, when I spotted her walking toward me. It was possible that she carried a weapon in her purse, but that was about the only place she could have carried one.

Sheila was dressed in a spandex bike rider's outfit. I took a quick look but didn't see a bicycle. I supposed that some people liked to cast a healthy athletic appearance. She was skinny enough to have been a serious bike rider. I removed the cell phone from my pocket and made a fake phone call. I put the phone down just as she arrived. I did allow her to hear the last couple of words. "You need to hurry."

"What was that all about?" she asked.

"I just called the cops. The park should be flooded with them in a few minutes."

"Why would you do that?"

"To keep you from getting any ideas about another hit and run."

"They are going to see everything."

"If you keep talking and not acting, yeah they most likely will." I pulled the clear plastic bag with the hard drive from the large pocket of my new shorts. "Okay I showed you mine?"

She handed me an envelope with a stack of bills inside. "Here you go, I said handing her the baggie."

"How do I know this is the right one?"

"The same way I know the money is all here and not marked. We have to go on faith."

"I will kill you, if it isn't."

"If you want to play it that way just give me the hard drive back and I'll take it to the cops. It is you that has the problem, not me. If I didn't want to deal, I could have done that and walked away. I took the drive for the bread to fix my bike and pay the doctor."

"And with a few bucks left over," she suggested.

"Screwing the insurance company is the acceptable way to do business in this country, dear. Surely you know that." She just turned and walked away. If Andrea was watching, and I'm sure that she was, she might have been expecting a different outcome. I expect that when they got home, they might compare notes and wonder. They would probably figure that, the cops are on the way, was just a bluff. It was a bluff and I counted on them figuring out that it was.

After an hour of looking at the sport fishing boats go out, I drove Lucy's car back to my apartment. I spent the rest of the day working on the Tomos. I worked with the bike in the open doorway of the garage area. Just inside of the building sat the loaded Mossburg shotgun. I fully expected that things would be calm for the moment, but one never quite knew with women.

Becky arrived with Lucy in tow. The decision was made for us all to caravan back to Becky's house. Since the bike was working and I wanted to test it, I agreed. It would be nice to have one of them in front of me, and one behind. If there was another accident, then someone I knew would be around to help out.

There was no accident. As a matter of fact the rest of the week passed with me watching the approaches to the house on the web cams, or doing more work on the bike and trailer. It was a pretty uneventful three days to be truthful.

On Friday night we went out to dinner. We were celebrating the nearing end of our problems. None of us had seen or heard from the two women, so it was possible that they had left St. Marys. That would be an acceptable ending for me. I think Lucy and Becky expected something more dramatic, but I didn't expect it to happen. Most things will just end with nothing at all to mark their passing. At the very most it might end with just a fizzle, not a bang.

I had not let the two women in on my plan. I had been working on parts of it all week in secret. Before our celebration dinner on Friday night, I had made most of the arrangements. To make the 'Kiss Off' as I had begun to think of it, work I had to plan carefully. I needed to make a stop on the way home from dinner to start the operation. Lucy dropped me at the creek yet again. I walked to a spot behind Sheila and Andrea's house. I watched the dark basement for a short time then I put on drug store vinyl gloves. I slipped up to the house then removed a fake pipe bomb which I had constructed while the girls were at work.

I was absolutely certain that there was not one bit of evidence on the fake bomb. I bought the pipe nipple and end caps along with several other bits of plumbing supplies from home depot during one of the shopping trips to Jacksonville. All other purchases wound up in a dumpster.

When I got home from the depot, I put on the gloves before cleaning the pipe with gun solvent. After it air dried, I cut a number four shotgun shell in half and dumped everything into the pipe. After the open shotgun shell was inside, I packed it with sand from the craft store. When the fake pipe bomb was complete, I dropped it into a larger baggie. I thought, any self respecting police dog should be able to find that.

After the fake bomb was planted I replaced the baggie in my pocket, then slipped back into the woods. I had left my calling card but no one would ever know who the card belonged to. At least that was the plan.

The girls swung by the creek again and found me waiting. I had been waiting in the dark woods about five minutes.

"Alright Mike what is the plan. I am dying to know." Lucy asked.

"Okay if the cars show up tomorrow night, there will be a bomb tip to the local cops and the FBI."

"The cops rush in to save them, but instead catch them in the act," Lucy said with a laugh. "I truly love it."

"Well everything has to work just right for them to get caught in the act At the very least the cops will have a very good excuse to look around. I plan to give them a heads up, if they are smart enough to understand it. I want to be subtle so that I don't need to testify. I want them to find everything on their own."

"So the cops catch them, then what?" Becky asked.

"With a little luck they will plead out and everyone walks away a winner. Well not quite everyone. Lots of reputations are gonna get ruined and some folks will likely do a little time. All things considered it should be over for you."

"Is there a chance they could catch us?"

"There is always the chance but I have done all that I can to minimize that possibility." I could have outlined more of the after action plans, but I chose to keep those to myself. I insisted that they spend Friday night at Lucy's place. I had the bike there and I needed to do some more things to finish up the plan.

Lucy and I parked her car in a church parking lot with a view of Andrea and Sheila's driveway entrance. Sure enough the cars started to arrive around 6pm. After about ten cars I had Lucy drive me home. I climbed on the Tomos and rode into the country.

I was about five miles out when I turned on the cell phone. It was not the one I had been using. I had a new phone which I had purchased at the Jacksonville Wal-mart. It was already activated, I had done that in the parking lot of the store just before I removed the battery.

I was sitting on top of a small concrete bridge over a deep looking creek. It was pretty dark so I couldn't tell just how deep it was, but the banks were steep which made me think it was four or five feet deep. I checked my watch to make sure it was after 9pm, then I dialed 911 and waited.

"911 what is your emergency?" the female voice asked.

"The police wouldn't do anything about those evil women so we have. We have planted three bombs at 467 Sycamore Lane. The driveway is long and the house is in the woods. One bomb is outside against the basement wall, one is in the basement and one in the upstairs." I closed with, "Do not call to warn them the trigger is the phone. Save the children Allah Akbar."

I placed a call to the FBI and said pretty much exactly the same thing to their operator. I was through for a while at least. I had done all I could do for Becky.

I broke the connection, removed the battery, and threw both items into the creek. I removed the vinyl gloves and put them in my pocket. I resisted the urge to ride by the house.

The ride in the dark even with the small headlight had been unnerving. I was a wreck when I arrived at my garage apartment. It was dark in Lucy's apartment so I slipped into the storage room. I disinterred up my money from the dirt floor.

I actually slept pretty well that night. I made coffee the next morning and waited for Lucy to come over. She had promised to bring bagels.

She had Becky in tow when I saw them coming up the outside stairs. "It's about time." I said smiling.

"You are a genius Michael Abrams." Becky said that as she hugged me.

"So, you do understand but why I am a genius today?" I knew but I wanted someone to tell me the status of the operation.

"The best we can figure the cops arrived at their house last night on the bomb call. When the cops knocked on the door there was general panic. People running all over the place. The cops had expected a hoax but were surprised by the response so they called backup. Before it was under control every cop in town and most of the country cops were out there."

"What the FBI didn't make it to the show?"

"Oh they are all over town this morning. They took the computer. The one that had the hard drive back in it, I'm sure. That was just brilliant."

"So what do we do now?" Lucy asked.

"Well I'm going to eat my bagel, then I'm going on a long vacation. You two do what you have to do to survive. If the cops come, just do what you need to do to avoid trouble. Don't worry about me. Here is what I want you to do. Put a message on the internet." I handed her a web address written on a piece the envelope of a utility bill. "Put it on this blog if you are not contacted by the police in two months. Make it Halloween night. If it is before or after I will assume you are compromised and I will keep going. If there is no message I will just keep going so do what you need to do."

"So you are leaving?" Becky asked.

"A couple of months of vacation with Sheila's money actually."

"I wish I could have seen the raid," I said smiling.

I left two months rent money with Lucy so that she could keep the place going. I also left enough for her to pay the utilities. I left on the Tomos with the homemade trailer in tow. It wasn't great but I was able to easily do a hundred or so miles a day. I planned to spend no more than a couple of days in any one place. I didn't expect the cops would be looking for me, but one never knew about such things until it was too late.

Oh yeah I did get to see the police raid on video. It hit the local news, then the national news, and finally it went viral on the net. It was too compelling a story to stay quiet. Plus there was the mystery of who planted to pipe bomb. They never did get around to explaining that it was harmless.

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