For Want of a Memory

by Lubrican

Chapters : 1-2 | 3-4 | 5-6 | 7-8 | 9-34 & Epilogue Available On

PLEASE NOTE: This is a preview of this novel. It is available for purchase in its entirety via


You need to know a couple of things about this story before you read it. First, it is written primarily for my editor, Peaches. The only coin of the realm in my kingdom is words, and I owe her lots of them. So this story is based on her fantasy.

I said it was written "primarily" for Peaches. Her fantasy is about a specific man who she hopes to meet and be able to be with. Just for the record, it's not me. By the same token, she has been so kind as to allow ME to have my own fantasies, many of which are about her. The story "Read Dirty To Me" was one such fantasy, and she was very sweet about editing that. I am on her "men I like" list, which is probably why.

So, when it came time to probe her mind for the details of her fantasy, and I found out they'd pretty much fit in four pages of text, I asked her if I could "add a little" here and there, just to make it a little more interesting to the general reader ... like you.

And then there were all those people who kept writing and telling me I should write something more mainstream ... something that might actually make it past the censors.

So here it is. This is a mainstream story, about one woman's fantasy. There's no sex for 200 pages, according to Peaches (who was NOT happy about that, by the way) but, then, a decent plot requires a lot of things to happen that don't involve sex.

What I'm saying is this is not a stroke story. It has a stroke story buried in it, but there is much much more. You'll meet some very interesting characters, and confront some very interesting issues.

There are world shaking events that could happen to you, in a split second, with ramifications that could last a lifetime. This is a story of how something relatively small, in the grand scheme of things, rocked the worlds of a number of people, and let two of them to fall in love.


Chapter One

This is a story about how entirely different kinds of people, from completely disparate backgrounds, can be brought together in a dance of sorts that will have profound effects on all of their lives.

Normally, when we think of "people," we tend to think of those we are friends with or see at work. Maybe they're in an organization we belong to or are part of our extended families. In any case, we usually think of them as being mostly like us.

We HEAR about other kinds of people-rich people, very poor people, victims of crime, lottery winners-the list goes on and on. But we don't KNOW any of those people, by and large or, if we do, we know lots of them. We tend to gather those around us who we are most like, even if we think of them as being like us.

But sometimes, the paths of very different kinds of people cross. Fate plays a role in that, perhaps. You could call it luck-either good or bad, depending on the circumstances. In any case, when that happens, things get shaken up. Lives get shaken up.

And things change-sometimes drastically.

The first person you must meet is Kris. And it's important that I tell you a lot about him, because you need to understand him, to understand the choices he made, which form the core of this story.

When the average person looked at Kris Farmingham, he...or she, for that matter...normally didn't look twice. Just like the average person, Kris was...well...average.

At forty-seven years of age, he stood five-ten and weighed around one-sixty. His light brown hair was thinning on top and, rather than try to do the comb-over, he just kept it closely cropped all over. It was easier, even if he didn't think it did much for his looks. His facial features were mixed. A smallish nose, with a straight bridge and rounded tip sat above full lips, though the bottom one looked larger than the top. When he smiled with those lips it was a tight smile, usually, as if he didn't want people to see his teeth. That tight smile created dimples in his cheeks which, along with his twinkling chocolate brown eyes, sometimes gave him the appearance of being mischievous. He could look like trouble, but generally didn't display that.

His tanned skin and, perhaps, the freckles on it (depending on what dermatologist you talked to) were the result of spending time in the Australian sun. That outdoorsy life was also responsible for the washboard stomach that most people didn't know he had. There wasn't an ounce of fat on him, with the possible exception of enough skin to grip at the waist, though he currently had no significant other in his life to grip it. He had a girlfriend, named Lola, but didn't consider her a "significant other" at this point. Living in Australia was also responsible for his accent, even though he hadn't been born there.

His hands and feet were average sized and his voice, while pleasantly deep, wasn't anything special either.

In short, he could blend into a crowd rather easily. This was to become important, though he'd never have thought blending in might be something to crave. As it turned was, but we'll get to that later.

While no one on the street would take a second look at him, people he passed on that street might very well know who he was if they heard one of the names he used. Kris was an author-a popular author at that.

Kris came to writing almost by accident. The son of a preacher man, he already had fire in his soul when a chance trip to a summer theater camp enabled him to express himself in ways he'd never been able to before. Eventually, his college education was put to use teaching music and theater. He traveled the world, for a variety of reasons, and became something of a proverbial renaissance man.

We are, say the philosophers, the sum of our existence-which is to say that what happens to us...what we experience in life...molds us into the people we become. That sounds like a lot of double talk to some, but the fact is that we don't necessarily turn out to be who we WANT to be. In youth, we have dreams of what life will be like later on. We often view the future as something we can manipulate, if care is taken to cause things to happen. But the fact is, largely, that our past has more effect on our future than our mind does.

Kris' past had had a lot to do with him becoming an author.

His parents divorced, which caused his older sister to seek solace in the arms of a brand of religion far more conservative than the one she was raised in. Apparently that religion was a good hugger, because she hugged it for all she was worth. Some people, including Kris, sometimes, thought of her as a loony religious fanatic.

His mother had a tendency to lie about her age and there were step-siblings, which can work for or against one. He grew up in two families, in California, which was as forgiving of parents who didn't know how to handle money, when they had some, as anyplace can be. He didn't want for much, on a physical plane, even though the family purse was usually empty. Emotionally, though, he was hungry. As a result, football became his center of emotional fulfillment. He memorized the stats of every player that ever held a pigskin in his hands and played the game avidly until an Achilles tendon injury sidelined him. That also killed his dream of being a sports star, which gave way to different dreams that were the result of his discovery of drugs. A good dose of common sense saved him from that.

He suffered the same kinds of slings and arrows most people suffer. His father died. His relatives were all odd, in one way or another. He was plain enough, and shy enough, that girls weren't all that interested in him. That is to say that while there was nothing wrong with him, most girls thought, perhaps unconsciously, that they could do better.

And so he dreamed. Dreams filled in the passion and excitement that real life wouldn't supply, and those dreams were what later became the muse that helped him create the books that people would come to love and buy in large enough numbers to support him while he wrote fulltime.

College, which he'd extended far beyond the average four years, taught him many things that had nothing to do with formal education in pursuit of a degree. He'd had to support himself and he'd knocked about, working at one time or another in a steel mill, a slaughterhouse, and as a hospital orderly. Every young boy's dream to run off and join the circus was realized, and went well until he was caught in bed with one of the female aerialists, which is an offense on the level of a stable boy fucking a princess.

One of the things he learned was that most people were normal, unlike his family members. Moving to Australia after college got him about as far away from his crazy family as it was possible to get.

There is nothing in the world like being in a strange, faraway place to make one want to tell one's story. And, it's fairly normal for one to write down the story, to arrange it in one's mind. Some discover that they're not all that good at that. Others, like Kris, find release in writing that is second only to sexual completion.

And so, once in Australia, Kris became a writer. Others recognized his talent for writing and, quite suddenly, he was a published author.

But New York City still reigns supreme in terms of the publishing world and when his first book took off like a rocket, he decided to move back to the States, where there was the kind of stimulation that might fuel more best sellers.

He hoped there might also be a woman in New York who might bring out the "father in hiding" he thought himself to be.

There was a woman, as it turned out, but she was much more avid about forming a long term relationship than he was. She had already asked for a key to his apartment and offered him one to hers.

The problem was that Kris had only zeroed in on her because of one of his personal kinks. Kris was an ass man. He didn't know why he was an ass man, but he was. And Lola had a luscious bubble butt that had made Kris' mouth water the first time he saw it-encased in a pair of skin tight toreador pants, with no panty line.

But, as it turned out, Lola's ass was about all there was about her that made his mouth water. She was OK as a female. She was neither smart nor stupid. She worked at an ad agency, but had no drive to rise higher than her current position. She had no hobbies and no work experience other than her current job. That she was twenty years younger than him didn't really bother him. She looked older than her twenty-five years and he looked younger than his forty-seven.

But there was just something about Lola that made her seem vapid, once he'd spent a few months with her. When he thought of her in the role of a mother, he thought his children would be bored senseless during their formative years.

The real problem with Lola, however, was that the one dream she DID have was to be rich and famous. She made that quite clear when, after she asked "what he did" for the third of fourth time, he casually mentioned that he had written a few things that had been published. He'd made reference to obscure technical journals. She'd immediately waxed poetic about how someday he'd be a rich and famous, well-read author and that they'd live the high life then. When he wrote the books that she had in mind, and people found out how talented an author he was, she said, they'd be invited to all the best parties and treated as VIPs. At one moment, as she'd planned their fantasy popularity, she'd even sketched out a plan for personal security...for both of them.

He knew that if she became aware that he had published three best sellers, it would only be natural for her to want to brag that she was sleeping with the author of those best sellers.

And the problem with THAT was that Kris had come to treasure the anonymity that writing books under a pseudonym gave him.

It may seem odd to you, the reader, that an author who, after all, puts his work out in the public eye for all to see, might not want the public to see HIM. But there are good reasons for an author to want to stay invisible on a personal level.

One of them is that readers, particularly readers of fiction, have a natural tendency toward amateur psychoanalysis. And they always have questions. Why did you write that book? What does it all mean-between the lines? Where did the inspiration for that character come from? Is this book autobiographical? What was your childhood like? Do you REALLY have a sister who is a wacko religious nut? What denomination is she? Readers' appetites for personal details are voracious and unending.

And then there are those readers who have their own story they'd like to tell, but can't, because they can't write. They just naturally dream of seeing THEIR story in print...written by the author whose books they love to read. And how could that author object? It's a GREAT story!

Of course, another pitfall is that there are those who want to be around the great man. They perceive themselves as destined to be part of his entourage-perhaps even to become the inspiration for a new character, based on their own intriguing and interesting lives and characteristics. Lola was one of those. She was forever suggesting that his "first big book" should contain HER as the main character.

And the fact was that Kris just wanted to write. One cannot write when surrounded by people asking questions and making suggestions and wanting to know when their fascinating life will be represented in print.

He was caught in a situation he didn't want to confront. If Lola had free access to his apartment, it would be difficult to write and she would likely discover that he wrote much more than articles for obscure technical journals. She would find out, eventually, who he really was and he would have to insist that his identity not be revealed to others. Which would cause her untold misery, because her natural urge would be to brag-though she certainly wouldn't have characterized it as bragging-about how she was intimate with the man who had created "Living With an Aardvark" and "The Cereal Killer" and "Diagnosis - Steatopygia!". That would lead to people wanting to meet him...and ask all those questions.

He took his privacy so seriously, in fact, that even his publisher did not know his real name. He received checks under his pseudonym, which was connected to his bank account. The bank didn't care a bit that he did business under one name, while the account was technically under another. People did that all the time.

His publisher, whose voracious appetite was for profits rather than personal information, was pushing him for another book. He'd been given a hefty advance and six months to produce that book. With the advance also came the requirement to provide progress reports once a month.

The outline was done. The characters had been roughed out. The plot was generally identified. About a third of the book was already written in what he called 'preliminary paragraphs'. He knew he was ready to write it. The story bulged inside him, demanding to be let loose. His muse was impatient. But the distraction of Lola was preventing him from letting his muse take over.

The answer was to find someplace to go where there would be no distractions.

Surfing the net, he found a vacation house on a lake shore in Connecticut. It was winter, the off season, and the rates were good. He made all the arrangements, using the new pseudonym of Larry Phillips. It was likely that during the six months he would be staying in Pembroke, people would find out what he was doing there. He didn't want anyone in that town to connect Kristoff Farmingham with the book that would be written there. He sent a money order and received a contract in the mail, with a key and directions on how to find the place.

He packed three bags. His landlord had almost had a stroke when he'd paid his rent ahead for the five months he'd be gone. The advance was severely depleted, but that was all right. He'd get the rest when he turned in the manuscript. Then he'd probably start the whole process all over again.

The car was packed. The manuscript, printed off in case something happened to his laptop, was in his briefcase. He agonized over whether to take his cell phone or not, then decided it could be turned off and would be handy for those monthly progress reports.

He started the car.

And THIS is where the story really begins.

Three men sat around a card table, finalizing plans to commit a heinous crime. They were vicious men, though seeing them on the street, patronizing a hotdog vendor perhaps, one wouldn't recognize that viciousness. They, too, had the capability to blend in with the crowds in New York City.

The crime they had planned was bold. It might turn out very badly for the victims. They didn't really care about that. All they cared about were the rewards that they imagined the crime would provide.

These men that fate would bring together with Kris and others in the unfolding series of events were as different from the others as it was possible to be. Their story had an inauspicious beginning.

Many years earlier, Wanda Higginbotham had found herself pregnant. It had been unplanned, and unwanted, but not unexpected. Wanda was a hooker.

She found that some men would pay more for her services if they didn't have to engage in safe sex and, after all, money was what it was all about. She took her pills religiously, but pills don't always work.

Completely by accident, therefore, she learned that there is a different class of customers who are very interested in...and willing to pay more with a pregnant woman. Such men would take her from behind, with their hands on her pregnant belly, and fantasize that the child within was theirs. They got all the thrill of believing, if just for a few moments, that their seed had taken root, but could then abandon the product of that seed, and avoid the complications of actually getting a woman with child.

It was by chance that she was watching reruns of The Three Stooges while she was in labor. She named her little boy Moe, both because she didn't have much of an imagination and because Moe was the smartest Stooge, in her opinion.

Because the pregnancy thing had been more lucrative than anything else she'd done, she promptly got pregnant again. And then again. Larry and Curly were the results.

Having three boys to take care of was a pain in the ass, and she'd found out that eager but infertile parents would pay a lot of money to get a newborn. She was already stuck with "the three stooges," but sold the next four babies. It was the best of all possible worlds, as far as Wanda was concerned.

Until she found out how ravaged a body could become as a result of having unprotected sex with strangers and what amounted to a litter of children.

She died when the boys were in their middle teens. They stuck together, living hand to mouth. They dropped out of school and lived by their wits. Which meant that they were lean and homeless, most of the time, because their wits had been inherited from their mother and, in a twist of humorous irony, resembled those of the men they were named after.

But, there was no humor in how they chose to survive.

Eventually, Larry got his hands on a gun, bought cheap, and which he thought was probably stolen. He didn't care, though. Petty theft, muggings, and the infrequent armed robbery had kept them alive from that point on. But they were looking for the score that would put them on easy street.

Their first attempt at kidnapping had gone very badly. They'd stolen a car, and snatched a little girl from in front of a private school. Instead of being cowed and subservient, though, the girl had fought bitterly and cried incessantly. They'd gagged her-too well, as it turned out, because she'd died when her allergies flared up and she'd become unable to breathe through her nose. They had already made the ransom call, though, so they'd simply waited. When Moe called to give the parents directions to the drop off point, he was told they hadn't been able to raise the money and would need more time. He'd been sure he'd heard clicks on the line. He had also been sure that meant the police were tapping the line, so he'd hung up. They'd dumped the body in a dumpster. The media, always eager to report a tragedy, had said that the girl was most likely killed because no ransom had been paid.

Their second attempt hadn't gone any better. A boy had been chosen as their second victim. When they'd called the boy's parents, they'd made two demands. One was money and the other was that the cops not be involved in any way.

"Remember that girl they found in the dumpster?" Moe had asked, trying to make his voice sound sinister. "That was us, and we mean business."

The parents had agreed. But when Moe had called back to arrange the trade, he'd been sure that he was talking to a different man and, again, sure that the police were involved.

This time, they killed the victim intentionally and left a note with the body that said next time, people had better follow instructions.

The media loved it, as they always love heinous acts of the worst sort. Moe, Larry and Curly loved it too, because now they had a reputation.

They were sure the next caper would make them all rich.

And it was the next attempt that they were planning as they sat around the card table. The victim would be one who could not be ignored-could not be allowed to die-whose husband had tons of money. Jean Chantal Custer would provide the millions that would put them on a Caribbean island somewhere, where they would have anything they wanted.

The proposed victim of the crime was well known; the talk of New York, both the city and the state. She was married to Randall Custer, who was currently in his third year as the governor of the great state of New York. His messy divorce, barely six months into his governorship, had caused a scandal. Taking up with a supermodel half his age, then marrying her, had cemented his fame. He was a lackluster governor, but the tabloids loved him and a preponderance of the unwashed, which represented a preponderance of the population, in his opinion, loved him too. He had it all. He had money from his parents and he had Jean Chantal. He was an important man, who people wanted to please. What more could any man want?

Jean, who used her middle name professionally, had made her mark as a swimsuit model. That had led to runway work in which her body had most likely been more important than what she was actually wearing. Few people could afford the clothes she modeled. But everyone could enjoy looking at her and did. She had even made a lot of panties damp.

Along the way, she'd gone from being a shy, tall, well built girl from New Orleans, who'd graduated high school squarely in the lower third of her class to a woman who could get anything she asked for, simply by asking for it. Men had always pursued her, but the intelligence she DID have had led her to believe that the one real gift she had to give a man needed to be parlayed to the RIGHT man.

She'd decided that Randall Custer was that man.

They'd met at a party. He had been almost embarrassingly taken with her. When, the third time he took her to dinner, she confessed, through lowered eyelashes, that she was still a virgin, he took the bait hook, line and sinker. If he'd been embarrassing before, he was pathetic now. He promised her the world and she thought he might just be able to deliver it.

The fact that she was obviously telling the truth about her virginity was borne out on their wedding night, on a yacht, on the way to Bermuda, where her screams of pain were heard by the captain and crew. It was a rocky start, but at forty-eight, he didn't regenerate all that quickly, so she'd had time to heal up a bit before the next session. And things since then had been fine. Too much booze and poorly controlled blood pressure had hardened blood vessels that needed to be flexible for things to work well in the erection department, but Viagra got him laid and he was ever so cute when he was horny. A year into the marriage she actually liked her husband; now that another year had passed she was quite sure that real love was in the offing.

And he doted on her. She went shopping at the drop of a hat. After all, one could no longer wear a hat once it had been could one?

There were only two burrs under her saddle, as her husband would have put it. He styled himself a Western man, hinting that General George Custer was in his bloodline, though never actually claiming it. Flirting with a relation to the famous man was one thing. Actually admitting to have inherited genes from a complete idiot was another.

The first burr under her saddle was her inability to do anything privately anymore. Her husband took great glee in telling the world where she was going and what she'd be doing. That was because he wanted the world to know that his young and beautiful wife was more than just a young and beautiful woman. In her role as the governor's wife, she went here and there, doing this and that. Shopping was always included, but only after she took care of business. He also took great pride in the fact that she drove herself everywhere. No wasting of taxpayer dollars could be alluded to, because she always took her own sports car. The paparazzi, always knowing where she'd be, were a constant pain in the butt. And, wherever there was a bevy of cameras, there were curious onlookers too-and they sometimes wanted some time with her as well.

The second was that Randall was pathetically eager for his wife to do something else she'd never done with any other man-have babies. She shuddered at the mere thought of having to live with a distended, disfiguring, ugly belly. It would ruin her career.

On this particular day, Chantal was going to visit a daycare center on Long Island, where other women's babies could be cuddled and kissed. She liked to stress childcare in the state. Everybody needed it. It was good press. And then, of course, shopping on 5th Avenue.

It had, as usual, been announced in the papers.

The Higginbotham boys knew where Chantal would be, because they'd read the paper, which they stole every day from a number of hotel lobbies. Curly had established a route for this purpose, so that he didn't become too well known in any one hotel. They knew what time she would be at the childcare center and, roughly, where she'd go shopping later.

They'd decided to take her as she left the childcare center, since there would likely be fewer cops around then. There would be photographers, but they were pansies, so who cared. Besides, they planned to keep their heads down and the cameras from getting the kind of pictures that would be a problem.

The crowd of photographers actually helped their plan, since it gave Curly a reason to be close to where she'd walk. Those photographers were currently lounging around, hoping that something would happen. What did happen not only exceeded their exceeded their wildest dreams.

Moe was driving the van. It had been stolen only hours before-chosen because it was plain white. It belonged to a company that was not open on Saturdays and wouldn't miss it until Monday. Twelve cans of Krylon paint, purchased with money taken under the pretense of acquiring it for a teenage tagger-whom Larry had then told he was an undercover cop and pretended to chase for half a block-had made the upper half blue, just in case-including parts of the windshield where Larry hadn't applied the taped on newspapers quite correctly. Magnetic signs had been applied to the sides and back, indicating that it belonged to a fictitious delivery company and giving them an excuse for double parking on the street.

Curly had a camera draped around his neck, but had no idea how to use it. It had been taken from a tourist, who they'd lured into an alley to buy a Rolex watch for fifty dollars. The camera allowed him to loiter near the entrance to the center, blending in with the other photographers.

Larry was standing by a lamp post, reading a paper-apparently engrossed in the sports pages-looking simply like he was waiting to see what all the fuss was about.

The plan was simple, since Moe was a firm believer in the KISS system of planning. Not only was it easier to keep things simple, but he was convinced that his brothers were stupid and incapable of following a complicated plan.

Curly was to give Moe, who was currently double parked a hundred feet down the street, the high sign when he saw the woman coming out. When Curly signaled him, he'd drive forward, get out of the van and open the double side doors, position himself within the open side of the van, and begin shooting repeatedly at nothing in particular. All the paparazzi would hit the dirt, while Curly and Larry manhandled the governor's wife to the street and into the van. Larry had an ether-soaked rag in a plastic bag, to knock her out with, and Curly would grab her legs. Moe would keep shooting, occasionally, to keep heads down and the path to the van clear.

The getaway route had been carefully planned. It didn't matter if the van was involved in a few bumps, since it would be abandoned within five minutes. Getting the unconscious woman to their hideout was the crowning part of the plan. They'd rented a hearse, complete with a coffin, telling the owner it was for a practical joke. You could rent anything in New York City. It was parked in the garage of another business that wasn't open on Saturdays, which they'd broken into that morning. They could make the transfer of the woman to the coffin in the garage where no one would see them. The hearse would get them off the island and they could then work their way out of town, where an abandoned warehouse would become their hideout and Chantal's temporary prison. When the money was electronically deposited into an anonymous off shore account, her husband would be told where he could find her. He'd find her naked and well fucked, of course, but then who wouldn't expect that?

Kris was already thinking about the book as he negotiated the Saturday morning traffic. He'd dropped off a copy of the half completed manuscript at his publisher's office, but hadn't told them he was leaving town to finish it. He'd locked up his apartment in Brookdale and was working his way toward I-95.

His plan was to go north, taking I-287 to I-684. Continuing north from there would get him to Interstate 84, which would take him east into Connecticut. Highway 37 would take him north to Pembroke, on the shores of Lake Nassequa, where the vacation house was located. He'd never been out of the city in this direction, but he had the route written down and wasn't worried about it. The rental agreement was in the inside pocket of his sports coat and the key to the house was in his right pants pocket. His mail would be forwarded, so he wouldn't miss any bills.

Moe saw Curly give the sign and threw the van into gear. He lurched forward and then came to a stop. He threw open the driver's door and put his left leg out, pulling the gun out from under his right thigh.

Chantal put on her most sincere smile and pulled her fur coat tightly around her. It was cold. She had on sunglasses, to moderate the flashes from the cameras, and the six inch stiletto heels she favored because of the way they forced her to walk, in case there was any video being shot. She stepped confidently from the childcare center, being escorted out by the beaming owner, to face the press.

Lola's phone had been busy since he'd gotten on the road, and Kris was trying to call her for the third time, to let her know he was leaving town. His eyes were on the buttons of the phone when the door of the van he was about to pass was thrown open and half a body appeared. He didn't even know he'd hit the man until he heard the grinding tear of metal on metal and looked up, astonished, to see the door being pushed forward by the right front fender of his car. He heard a scream and saw, just for a split second, the agonized face of a man between his car and the van. He was completely past the van before he reacted and his foot went to the brake.

Moe knew instantly he was fucked. He felt his left leg break as it was crushed between the front of the car and the van door. He watched the door slam forward and felt his leg being pulled in the same direction. His body spun, being rolled by the side of the car and, for a split second, he stared into the eyes of the driver. He knew instinctively that his leg was crushed, but still tried to stand on it as the car swept past him. He fell to the ground, knowing that the plan was fucked too. The pistol was still gripped in his hand. In a rage, he pointed the gun at the car that had ruined everything, and started shooting.

Larry and Curly were on either side of Chantal, in the act of actually reaching toward her, when there was the grinding tear of metal and the squealing sound that is instantly recognizable as an automobile accident. Their quarry, who had noticed Larry pulling a rag from a plastic bag, looked toward the van, just like everyone else did. The car that had obviously hit the van lurched to a stop, three or four car lengths past it.

Shots rang out. Larry and Curly were galvanized into action. The side doors of the van weren't open, but they knew what to do while Moe was shooting. Larry's hand reached toward the broad's face.

Chantal knew instantly that something was wrong and that she was part of it. She saw a man's hand coming toward her face and whirled to pull her knee up, connecting solidly with Larry's balls. He gave a strangled "OOF" and wilted like a cheap suit. Feeling other hands on her right arm, she whirled again, planting her foot in preparation for driving her knee up again.

Curly had seen what she did to Larry, though, and turned his hips sideways to block her knee. That put his left foot out, flat on the ground, and Chantal, seeing that her primary target wasn't available, elected to go to target number two. Her knee rose past where it might have and, with a gasping shout, she drove her heel down.

Her aim was true and the tip of a six inch stiletto heel contacted the top of the cheap deck shoe Curly was wearing. He felt the tip hit the top of his foot and heard the tip hit the pavement...under his shoe.

He looked down in horror as the woman lurched away, leaving her shoe imbedded in his foot.

"SON OF A BITCH!" he squealed.

Kris had just twisted around in his seat, to look through his back window, when the window exploded. Glass chips flew everywhere and he felt like somebody had hit him in the head with a baseball bat. The force of the blow turned him back around and he flopped forward, bouncing his forehead off the steering wheel. His brain told him he'd just heard a gunshot and he opened his eyes to see blood spattered all over the dashboard.

Instinct made his foot change from the brake to the accelerator and his tires squealed as the car shot forward. His vision was blurry. He lifted a hand to his head. It came away wet with shiny crimson staining it.

"I've been shot!" he gasped. He heard more shots and peered forward, suddenly aware that the windshield had a hole in it, with a web of tiny cracks spreading away from it.

He drove instinctively...away from danger...and his eyes picked out a sign that his brain said meant he should turn. He didn't think-he just took the onramp. He was on I-95 before his mind began to clear.

He'd hit someone. He knew he'd hit someone. He'd heard the scream and seen the twisting body as his car crashed by it. Someone had shot at him-shot him! He'd already left the scene of the crime. He thought about turning around and going back, but he was on the interstate. Even if he DID turn around, he wasn't sure now where it had all happened.

He didn't know what to do. He felt as though someone was pressing a red hot poker to his temple. He was bleeding. He put his hand up to staunch the flow of blood and kept going.

Chapter Two

Detective Jim Harper surveyed the scene. The governor's wife was no longer there, of course. She'd gotten in her car and left the uproar behind. There were plenty of witnesses, though. In fact, the place was crawling with them.

He had talked to ten of them already and his partner had probably talked to at least that many more. Paramedics were standing by and another ambulance had been called for. After impaling Curly Higginbotham's left foot with her right shoe, Mrs. Custer had taken off her left one and methodically beaten Larry bloody with it. She had the help of several photographers, while the rest of them either took pictures of the melee or joined in "detaining" Curly, who was also the worse for the wear from being enthusiastically "detained." Moe wasn't going anywhere. He might actually die if Jim didn't let the ambulance take him away soon. The compound fracture of his left leg had left a pool of blood on the pavement that was about three feet in diameter. His excuse for not releasing Moe was that he didn't have a free escort to send along to guard him.

He looked around and sighed. This was going to take hours to straighten out, and they were hours that had to be spent, since Mrs. Custer was involved. It was plain, based on the ether-soaked rag, and the statements of a dozen witnesses, that the three had been trying to abduct Mrs. Custer. Then there was the accident. Dozens of witnesses also confirmed that a passing car had disrupted the kidnapping attempt. The problem was that nobody had gotten a license plate, and their descriptions of the car would have filled a small sized used car lot. There would be plenty of paint transfer to ID the suspect vehicle, when it was found, but he couldn't send out an APB based on what they had so far. At least he knew the car was silver, since it had left silver paint all over the door of the van.

Moe had been found unconscious by first responders, still lying in the street beside the van, a cheap .45 caliber pistol in his hand. It had been fired a number of times, but they wouldn't know how many bullets they had to search for until the crime scene techs got there and processed the weapon. That model held eight rounds and almost everybody said they'd heard at least five shots, though nobody could say who he'd been shooting at.

Harper had four patrolmen guarding the scene, which covered an area from the middle of the street to the entire front yard of the childcare center.

He sighed. At least they had the perps, but it was going to be a long day.

Kris peered through the windshield. He had the wipers on now, because it was snowing hard. They made a funny sound as they went past the bullet hole in the windshield. The heater was going full blast, but not making much of a dent in the cold rushing through the missing back window. He'd realized a while back that the radio had stopped working for some reason, but he had much bigger problems than that.

He had made it through Mill Valley, and it wasn't far now to Pembroke. His head wound had finally stopped bleeding, but the whole left side of his jacket and shirt had soaked up an alarming amount of blood. His vision still came and went, which was why it had taken him hours to get as far as he had. Three times he'd had to pull over and sit, until he could see to go on. He'd put his cell phone back in his briefcase because the urge to use it to call for help was almost overpowering. He knew he couldn't do that, though. He had to get to his rental first, where he could get cleaned up and rest. Then maybe he could figure out what to do after that.

He was so tired. Another twenty miles and he could get into the house, clean up, and then decide what to do. The road turned suddenly and he felt the front wheels break loose for a second or two on the slippery surface. He had to pay better attention. Only one headlight was working and it reflected mostly blowing snow.

He knew he was in trouble. There couldn't be any way out of that. But at least he could rest a while, before making a call and turning himself in. He'd have time to call his publisher and get a recommendation for an attorney too.

Other than pulling over because his vision was blurred, he hadn't stopped. He'd watched the gas gauge constantly for the first half hour, worrying that a bullet had hit the tank, but there had been no unreasonable drop by the needle.

The wipers were caking up with frozen slush. He thought about stopping and knocking the stuff off, so they'd clear the windshield better. He was afraid that if he got out and moved around, though, that he'd find something else wrong with him. He'd been hunched over the wheel, his hands frozen to it for so long, that he wasn't sure if the pains he was feeling were associated with that...or with other bullet wounds.

Five more miles, now. Then he could rest and get warm.

Lou Anne Rowan hustled from the babysitter's front door to her car, which was still running. It was a miserable night, but she knew her boss would bitch and moan if she didn't show up for work. It was unlikely there would be much work to do, but he wouldn't care about that.

She felt lucky that she'd met Roslynn. She had to drive four miles out into the country to get Ambrose there, but Roslynn was willing to watch him from eleven-thirty at night until two the next afternoon, while Lou Anne worked the graveyard shift at "The Early Girl Eatery," a 24 hour diner on highway six, and then got some sleep. Working nights let Lou Anne spend her afternoons and evenings with her four year old, who was the light of her life and made all the horse shit worth putting up with. Besides, when he was at Roslynn's, he had kids his own age to play with during the mornings.

While others met in this story thus far were all unremarkable in appearance, Lou Anne broke the mold. In fact, she'd broken it when she was thirteen and had been ever-so-noticeable ever since. The truth was that she would stand out in any crowd the average man…or woman…might wish to assemble.

Standing five feet nine inches in her bare feet, she had the body of a well developed fifteen year old. Pale skin, with a rosy hue, made her look like she'd just stepped in from the cold. A broken nose from her youth had healed slightly crooked, but no one really noticed that because her lips, while small, were lush in a way that drew attention to them. Her voice might have had something to do with that, because her voice sounded like she might be pushing thirteen.

Lou Anne was no child, however. At twenty-four she had been a lover half a dozen times, a mother once, and a thoroughly remarkable looking woman the entire time.

With the onset of puberty, Lou Anne had decided she wanted to look different from the other girls. She'd accomplished that by the simple expedient of shaving the sides of her head, leaving a wide mohawk, of sorts, except that the hair that was left wasn't stiffened or cut short. Pick a color of the rainbow and she had dyed what was left of her hair that color. She had also made it some colors that are not in the rainbow, like electric pink. Occasionally, she even left it the almost black that she'd been born with. That hair was left to flop down over one side of her face. It was long enough that it went to her jaw, sometimes, but was usually cut short enough to leave both ears clear. Startlingly intense eyes peered through that hair, when it fell across her face.

Doc Martin's, leather vests, and a certified, genuine Harley Davidson motorcycle jacket made her look like a rebellious and dangerous girl. In reality, though, she was a sweet young woman. She didn't go in for the dark makeup that would have suggested she had goth tendencies. She just liked looking like she'd just as soon kill you as argue. It made getting through high school much less tense. Of course, most high school bullies tend to shy away from what they believe to be Satan-worshiping lesbians, for fear of having a hex put on them. Tattoos had been added, as sort of a garnish, when she was fifteen. She'd actually had her parents' consent for that, which gives you some idea of the freedom she'd enjoyed as she grew up. She disdained piercings, except in the ears and her navel.

Lou Anne had also disdained college, and had taken a job as a waitress in a small town she found herself in one day. That didn't mean she was uneducated. Far from it. She'd always been curious about things, and loved learning just for the sake of learning. She was, in fact, probably better educated than the average college sophomore, though not in any specific educational track. She didn't think college was a bad idea...she just hadn't gone to one.

Some of that was because, out of the abandonment of joyfully exploring sex, came an unplanned little bundle of trouble, that had turned into a bundle of joy. With a little boy to support, she didn't feel like she'd gotten a raw deal. She'd just needed a job and taken the one that was offered, though her future boss did look askance at her, initially.

She was popular at The Early Girl for a lot of reasons. She was a good waitress, for one thing. Her memory for details was astonishing. She knew her regular customers and what they liked, or might like. Those customers liked her for that, but one of the main reasons they returned again and again, was that the diner, situated on a well traveled highway, also got a lot of one-time customers. It was watching Lou Anne deal with those customers that was sometimes entertaining.

Lou Anne didn't take shit from anybody, but she wasn't obvious about it. If a trucker pinched her butt, she just smiled in that flirty way she had, and then accidentally spilled hot coffee in his lap. Whole plates of food had ended up on shirt fronts too, or in laps, if the offending customer didn't drink coffee.

Regulars liked to make bets on who she would flirt with, and who she wouldn't...what she would take, and what she wouldn't...who she would smile at, and who would receive her wrath. To Hank, the owner, she was a pain in the butt, but the regulars made sure he knew that wherever she went, they'd go too, so he had to put up with her. Besides, sometimes she even flirted with him...just a little...if he was being nice to her.

The first second Kris knew something was wrong was when the world lurched and he was thrown to one side. He had nodded off, and there was no shoulder or ditch to drive on. There was only a drop off, beyond which were thirty feet of precipitous downhill terrain, at the bottom of which was a river.

The car rolled five times, traversing those thirty feet. Not being strapped in, Kris flopped around in the interior, amidst every loose item in the car, which filled the air with projectiles. The driver's side window exploded in a hail of glass chips, which were added to the storm of things hitting his body. Rolling one last time, the car came to rest on the frozen surface of the river, upside down.

Barely conscious, Kris tried to gather his wits. His head wound had reopened, and he could feel blood running into his eyes and down his face. A horrible knocking noise came from the engine, which suddenly died. He smelled gasoline, and terror produced a surge of adrenaline. He wiggled through the broken window in a silence that was almost shocking after the noise of the car rolling down the hill. He became aware of creaks and cracking noises as his hands scrabbled on the ice.

His legs had just cleared the window when a crack like a rifle shot filled the silence. The car lurched and Kris scrambled away from it as it began sinking through the ice. Water rushed up onto the ice he was scrambling across and soaked his pants and side. He reached for a branch and pulled himself onto the snow-covered shore.

The only light was from the headlight, which suddenly went out, leaving him in darkness. He knew he had rolled down. It was freezing. He was tempted to just sit down and let it all be over, but something drove him to start climbing. The adrenaline helped, for the first twenty feet, and then he had to stop and rest, gasping.

Even though it was too dark to see, he wiped the blood from his left eye. He knew that if he didn't get to level ground soon, he'd give up.

He started dragging his body upward again.

Lou Anne drove carefully. There were four or five inches of snow on the highway-nobody had come out to clear it yet-and it was still snowing hard enough be called a blizzard. She knew the winding road well, but the blowing snow made it hard to get her bearings as to where, exactly, she was. She slowed some more, but tried to keep the car above thirty, just to keep her forward momentum going. There was a rise up ahead somewhere, and she would need that momentum to get up it.

There it was.

She gunned the engine carefully. Thank goodness she had studded tires on the car. She was only going twenty when she hit the top of the slope, but she relaxed then, because she knew the worst was over. She prepared to negotiate the next curve, which she knew was there, even though her headlights made it appear that the road just stopped.

Halfway into that curve, she blinked. There was something in the road. Her foot flashed toward the brake pedal, and she slid fifteen feet. She was right on top of whatever it was. Her brain told her it was a body, but that was impossible. There was no car, and nobody in his right mind would be out walking on a night like this.

She didn't know whether to get out of the car or not. What if it was a setup, to jack her car? The part of Connecticut she lived in was safe. That was part of why she'd moved there. But car jackings were on the news every day!

She fumbled under the seat, feeling for the thing Jessica had given her-a telescoping rod, with a knob on the end. Lou Anne had laughed when Jessica, her best friend, had patiently shown her how to use it as a whipping tool of defense. But Jessica had insisted she keep it in the car.

"Someday one of those truckers is going to try to get revenge for getting a lapful of Hank's cooking!" Jessica had said. "Just you watch. And while you probably deserve it, I don't want you getting beaten up by one of them. You KEEP that in your car, do you understand me?"

Now Lou Anne backed up, until her headlights shone on the lump in the road. It was definitely a body. She clutched the rod and got out, carefully. Her feet slipped on the snow and she had to hold onto the door to stabilize herself.

"Are you OK?" she yelled.

The lump didn't move.

She noticed that snow was beginning to cover the man. He'd been lying there for at least a few minutes.

"I'VE GOT A GUN!" she shouted into the darkness. "I KNOW HOW TO USE IT!"

The lump didn't move.

She edged forward. She snapped the rod downward and heard the swishing thunk as it extended.

"Hey!" she said, standing three feet from the man on the ground.


For the first time she saw the red-stained snowflakes around the man's head. Her eyes took in the wet look of his sports coat, which was torn in several places. He wasn't even wearing a parka.

"Hey mister," she tried again.

She edged closer and poked him with the end of the rod.

She looked around. Where had he come from? Had someone thrown him out of a car as it drove along? She couldn't tell if the tracks in the snow around her were fresh or not.

"Shit!" she barked. "You better not be dead!"

She went closer. She'd never seen a dead body and didn't want to now. This was already giving her the willies. She tried to remember what fist aid she knew and reached out to touch the man's cheek.

It was cold, but not the cold of death. There was a hint of warmth in the skin.

The lump groaned, and she fell on her butt trying to skid backwards.

"SHIT!" she yelled.

The lump rolled and landed on its back. The hands didn't come up to brush the snow away, and Lou Anne suddenly knew this man was in real trouble.

It galvanized her and she scrambled up, going to the man and getting to her knees to lean over him.

"Hey," she said, her voice softer. "It's OK. I'll help you, OK?"

The man gurgled, and one hand came feebly up to his face.

"Ow," he croaked.

She almost laughed. This guy was in terrible shape. She could see him bleeding all over his face, now that it was in the lights. He looked like he'd been beaten half to death. And all he had to say was, "Ow."

"You have to get up," she said. "I can't lift you, and you'll freeze to death if you stay on the ground. I have a car. I'll take you to the hospital. You have to get up. Do you hear me?"

She tugged at his sleeve.

Afterwards, when she was asked about it-and she was asked about it a lot over the years-she would not be able to explain how she'd gotten the man into the passenger seat of her car. Even as she put the car in gear, she couldn't believe she had pulled it off.

The rest was crystal clear in her mind, though. His head flopped back on the headrest. He groaned a few times as she got the car moving. She'd left her door open, when she'd gotten out to investigate, and it was cold inside. The heater had already been on full blast, though, and the car began to warm quickly.

That was when he slumped over, his head hitting her right arm.

"Sit up!" she yelped, but he was beyond hearing her now. "You'd better not die in my car, you son of a bitch!" she growled.

It was the longest four miles she'd ever driven, and she'd never been happier in her life to see the lights of the Emergency Room...not even when she'd been in labor with Ambrose.

She ran into the ER yelling her head off, and people went to remove him from her car. Then came the questions. Who was he? Who had done this to him? Where did she find him? What was his name? What was HER name?

"I have to go to work!" she shouted, finally. "I don't KNOW who he is. I found him in the middle of the road and I brought him here. That's all I know!"

They tried to get her to stay, warning her that they were going to call the police.

"Fine! Call them! I work at The Early Girl. That's where I'll be!"

Then she'd run to her car. She'd left her door open again, and they had left the other one open too, after they got him out. It was freezing inside again. As she got in, she saw the stains that, in the daylight, she knew would be red. The crapping guy had bled all over her car.

The only reason she didn't hit twenty cars on her way to work was because no one else was on the roads in town at this time of night.

Mitch Connel put his uniform cap on the visitor's chair and looked down at the man in the bed. His face was bandaged in more places than it was not. It was impossible to tell whether that face matched the one on the driver's license that had come out of the wallet in the pants the guy had been wearing. That driver's license said the man was one Kristoff S. Farmingham, who lived in New York City. The problem was that a rental agreement-wet and bloody, but still legible-along with the key in his pocket, said his name was Larry Phillips, and that he was renting one of Rudy Chastain's vacation cottages. Mitch knew Rudy, of course. He knew everybody in town. There were only five men on the force in Pembroke, which served a population of some twenty-five hundred. Rudy worked as a fishing guide during the summer, and had seven or eight vacation cottages scattered around that he rented out.

Doctor Massouf fussed with tubes that were attached to the man.

"And you say Lulu brought him in?" Mitch asked. He hated talking to people who couldn't speak English. Dr. Massouf was Pakistani, and he was a good physician, but he couldn't speak English worth a damn.

"Eet vas hur, yes I am telling you. Se said se fund heem on zom hifay. You must be talking to hur I tink."

"When are you going to learn English, Doc?" groaned Mitch.

"Zer is nothing being wrong wit my spich, offitzer," said the doctor. "You haff itten ferry much too many donuts, and zay haff plooged oop your ears, I am tinking."

"So will he live?"

"Yes, I am tinking so," said the doctor. "He vas loosing much blud ven he came here. He vas shooted, I am tinking."

"Shooted?" Mitch frowned.

"You know," said the doctor, making a gun with his thumb and finger. "Bang bang." The doctor then pointed to a thick bandage on the left side of the man's head. "Zee boolet just touch heem little beet here."

"What makes you think he was shot?" asked Mitch.

The doctor just stared at him. "I am being from Pah-kees-tahn. I am, when I was there, seeing many, many shootings veecteems."

"Just there?" asked Mitch, pointing at the head.

"Only there, yes," said Massouf. "And many glass cuttings too, I am sure." He reached into a pocket of his lab coat and pulled something out. He offered it to the policeman. "I take thees froom hees skin." Again, he pointed at the left side of the man's face. He waved his hand over the rest of the body. "Many contusions and lacerations and so on, but no more shootings."

Mitch picked up one of the unconscious man's hands, and looked at it. There was mud under the fingernails, which was odd, because the hands were soft. There was the suggestion they had been callused in the past, but the thick skin was being replaced with new skin that did no manual labor.

"How long will he be out?" asked the policeman.

"I am not being in a position dat I can tell you deese answer," said the doctor, shaking his head. "He is being healing while slipping until his eyes are ready to be opening, yes?"

A nurse stuck her head in the door.

"You got a phone call, Mitch," she said.

"Thanks, Jessica," said Mitch. "Hey, were you here when this guy came in?"

"Yeah, but I wasn't in on the team that cleaned him up."

"Was it really Lulu who brought him in?"

Dr. Massouf snorted.

"That's what they said," said Jessica. "Can't mistake her for anybody else."

"It just seems odd," said Mitch.

"Why?" asked Jessica. "She's about the oddest person I know."

"She's your best friend!" laughed Mitch.

"I know that," said the nurse. "That's why I know how completely believable it could be that she'd happen upon some almost-dead guy and haul him in here. Why don't you just go ask her about it?"

"I will," said Mitch, a little defensively. "I just have lots to do, that's all." He moved toward the door. "Doc says he was shot. Is that right?"

"You're asking me?" Jessica's face was impassive. "He's the doctor. If he says the guy was shot, then he was shot. Why are you harassing me? I just came to tell you to come to the phone!"

"I'm not harassing you," said Mitch. "I'm doing an investigation and questioning witnesses."

"Well I didn't see nuthin' and I don't know nuthin', so you can just go interview somebody else. And quit looking at my boobs, too!"

Doctor Massouf snorted again.

"I'm not looking at your boobs," said Mitch, sounding injured.

"You ALWAYS look at my boobs, Mitch. One of these days I'm gonna tell Carla about it, too!" she said, referring to Mitch's girlfriend.

"OK, OK," said Mitch, holding his hands up. "You don't have to get all upset. I'm just a trained observer, that's all. I can't help it if I observe. It's instinct."

"I know what your instincts are, you heartbreaker," said the young woman. "Are you going to answer the phone, or should I just tell them you're too busy investigating my boobs?"

While Officer Connel was being notified about the almost-dead man who had been in some kind of trouble, and had responded to the little ninety bed hospital that served Pembroke, Lou Anne-known to most of the town as Lulu, a name she wasn't enthralled with, but was stuck with anyway-raised another uproar when she got to work.

"What in the nine hells happened to you?" asked Hank, when she stomped in the front door of the diner.

"I almost ran over somebody," she moaned. "He was lying in the road, half dead. I just dropped him off at the hospital."

"It looks like you just gutted a deer," said Hank.

Lou Anne looked down at her coat, which was smeared red with blood. There were twigs, and mud and water mixed in with it. It looked like she'd been rolling around on the ground.

"You can't come to work looking like that," objected Hank. There were three customers in The Early Girl and all of them were looking at Lou Anne with interest.

"Are you telling me you want me to take the night off?" asked Lou Anne, a dangerous tone in her voice. "I couldn't just leave him there to die."

She took her coat off. Her uniform, under the coat was fine. Her knees were white from the cold, and wet from the snow, but a towel would fix that.

"See? I'm OK. It's just the coat that got dirty."

She looked dismally at the coat, holding it up to examine it. She was pretty sure it was ruined. It was a good one too, with down filling.

"Damn!" she moaned.

"Look on the bright side," said Hank, grinning. "At least you finally found yourself a man."

About an hour later, Mitch walked into the diner. He stopped to brush off the snow that had almost covered him on the way from the car to the building.

"Coming down hard," he said.

"I didn't do anything wrong," said Lou Anne, automatically.

"I never said you did," said Mitch. "You got any coffee that's hot and won't spill?"

"Ha…ha," said Lou Anne. "I just found him lying in the middle of the road, over on Hopkins Lane. That's all I know."

"Who said I was here to talk about him?" asked Mitch. "Maybe I'm just hungry."

"You want something to eat?" yelled Hank.

"No, I've got too much to do. Lou Anne has managed to find herself a real puzzle."

"He's not mine!" said Lou Anne. "What was I supposed to do, just leave him there?"

"No, of course not," said Mitch. "You did the right thing. You probably saved his life. I just need to ask you some questions, that's all."

"She's on the clock," grumped Hank.

Mitch looked around. There was one customer, a trucker, and he was dozing in a booth. Mitch didn't blame him. It wasn't a fit night out for man nor dog.

"Official business," he said, trying to make it sound ominous.

"At least order something," complained Hank.

"OK, French fries with creamed gravy," said Mitch. "You want something, too, Lulu?"

"I don't eat lunch until four," said Lou Anne.

"Your call," said Mitch. "This won't take long."

He knew she wouldn't have much information, but he needed to try to nail down exactly where she had found the man. The glass indicated there had been a car crash of some kind. The alleged bullet wound complicated things, but if he could find the car, he could probably find more evidence, and it might tell him enough to know what he was dealing with. Things like this just didn't happen in Pembroke. It was a nice, quiet little town, and he liked it that way.

She wasn't a lot of help. She knew she'd gone up the hill, and she knew it was just past a bend in the road. The problem was that there were a dozen bends in that road, where it paralleled the river. He asked her about tracks, even though, at the rate the snow had been falling, they wouldn't be there anymore. He was quite sure he wouldn't be able to find the car by tracks. The best she could do was to say she was pretty sure that it had been at the first curve after topping the hill.

It was two in the morning, and there was a blizzard out there. There wasn't much he could do anyway, so he sat and chatted when he ran out of questions. Hank brought the French fries, and sat down with them.

"I saw your dark-skinned friend," said Mitch, around a mouthful of fries. "She's on the warpath again."

"What about this time?" asked Lou Anne.

"She says I keep looking at her chest," said Mitch.

"Well, you do," said Lou Anne. "You look at mine all the time, too."

Mitch's eyes went straight to her breasts. It was the first time he'd looked at them since he got there.

"See!" said Lou Anne.

"You just called my attention to them," said Mitch. "I'm a man, after all." He grinned. "And both of you have a nice set."

"You're a pig," snorted Lou Anne. "I'm going to tell Carla."

"That's what Jess said too," said Mitch, unconcerned. He'd been in an on again/off again romance with Carla for five years. She wanted to get married and have a family, but Mitch didn't think he could support a family on his salary, and it was his firm belief that his wife, if he ever had one, would not work.

"We should," groused Lou Anne. "You flirt with us all the time."

"You flirt back," pointed out the policeman.

"Only sometimes," said Lou Anne, as if that settled things.

"When ARE you going to make some man happy?" asked Mitch.

"When I find a man who deserves to be happy," she snapped. "I have to find somebody for Jess first."

"Good luck," said Mitch. "She's the only black woman in fifty miles, more than likely."

"She's a sweet, sensitive woman!" insisted Lou Anne. "She can't help it if she's black. It shouldn't matter anyway!"

"Just like your haircut shouldn't matter," said Mitch, looking at the bare side of her scalp that was exposed.

"Don't go there," said Hank. "You'll get her all riled up."

"Are we done here?" asked Lou Anne, her voice tight. "I have salt shakers to fill."

"Don't go away mad," said Mitch, grinning. "I like your hair just fine."

The change that came over Lou Anne was startling. She smiled, a lazy, friendly kind of smile-the kind of smile that made a man's groin tighten up. This would have been the point in time that small wagers would have been made, had there been any regulars there.

"Aren't you just the sweetest man," she cooed. "I'll be sure to tell Carla you like my hair." She got up. "You want some coffee with that?"

"NO MA'AM!" said Mitch. "I need to get going. That fella was in a car before you found him, and I need to find it." He turned to Hank. "Thanks for the fries. Put them on my tab?"

"Two-forty-seven," said Hank dryly. "Tax included."

Mitch got out his wallet and fished out three ones.

"Keep the change," he said. "As a tip for Lulu."

"I'll be sure to tell Carla what a big tipper you are, too," said Lou Anne sweetly. "Y'all come back soon, now, you hear?"

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