Chapter 1

My name is name is Elliot James Barnes. Everybody who knows calls me EJ. I guess I got that name because I hated Elliot. When I was young I thought it made me sound like some prep school dork. Now that I am older, I wish I had been a prep school dork.

My father had tried everything he knew to convince me to go to college. Instead I went into the Air Force. Fortunately for me it was between wars. There weren't even any skirmishes during my four years.

I spent the time as a military policeman on a fairly unimportant base. I mostly pulled guard duty, either on the flight line or on the entrance gate. Almost all first hitch airmen do it that way. I answered a few disturbance calls in the on base housing units, but not many. I even worked on a drug sting. I did that exactly once. The four years were pretty much a waste of my time. My father had warned me that they would be a waste. Maybe for the only time in my life I agreed with him.

I tried college when I came home. I found it to be pretty much irrelevant to my world. I had heard all the reason for me to be in school. They just didn't stand up to the reality of what I was doing. I just couldn't figure out the need for me to know the structure of a tree. I had no plans to be a gardener.

I was fed up with school, but had no idea what else to do with my life. I made that discovery about two weeks before the recruiting letter came from the Atlanta police department. They sent them to several of the military policemen after their discharge.

Atlanta is a bitch of a town. Nobody in their right mind wants to be a cop there. The only hope the city father had was to find people like me. People who knew nothing about the town. It helped if they didn't know anything about anything else either. I fit the bill perfectly.

I had a relatively short and unevently stay in Atlanta. I was there for thirteen years. In that time I worked about every assignment in the police department. I was competant at them all. I don't think I excelled at any one thing.

Two things happend during my thirty fifty year on this planet. One my father passed away in the spring. I guess I had that, and maybe other things on my mind a month later when I fell off the top of a building. Actually I didn't fall off the building. I fell into the building. I was chasing a burglar over the roof. He had removed the air vent to gain entry into the drug store. I chased him across the roof then back again. He ran past the vent hole and I ran into it. My fall was slowed by the 'drop in' ceiling or I might have been killed.

My luck, such as it was, ended there. I fell on top of a display of some kind. I am certain of only one thing. It was filled with glass bottles. I landed face down on the display. I took a bottle in my right eye. It broke inside my eye.

I stayed in the hospital for a week while the doctors assessed the damage. They came to the conclusion that I would never see from my right eye again. There wasn't even a way to transplant the damaged eye. The glass had done a number on me

I opted for a half pay medical retirement. It took me exactly two days to sell the things I couldn't get into my old Ford. I left the same night on which the buyers picked up my old furniture.

The drive was long and tedius but I refused to stop until I was back in North Carolina. When I crossed over the state line my heart felt lighter than it had in years. I was headed home. I think I knew then for the first time how much I had really missed home. At the same time, I felt a deep sorrow that my father hadn't lived to see me return home. He had always hoped I would come back to stay.

I left the interstate highway outside of Charlotte. I drove the smaller but less traveled state roads home. It took me a long time to make that drive but I didn't mind. I reveled in the sights and smells of rural North Carolina.

I remember that it was hot that night. I chose to drive with the windows down rather than use the car's air conditioner. I was soaked in sweat within twenty minutes but it was worth it. I breathed the air which was almost clean. Compared to Atlanta it was sanitized. I smelled the sweet smell of vegitation that had been only a memory hours before.

It was hard for me to believe the feelings which ran through my mind and body. I found that I had to fight myself to keep the car at sixty miles per hour. I wanted to fly so that I might reach home sooner. I had planned to spend a few hours in Wilmington before I continued on home. I almost decided not to wait.

I knew that I should. There was little sense in arriving home in the middle of the night. I forced myself to turn toward the much larger city of Wilmington. Wilmington was my second favorite town in the whole world. My smaller home town beat it out, but only by a hair.

I drove into Wilmington over some really fancy bridges. I even passed the Battleship North Carolina. I got a good look at the old lady. She was a marvelous sight even in the dark. Deep shadows hid any defects she might have. I saw the same sight which I am sure many sailors saw from smaller ships. She was shrouded in mystery by the darkness. Just as she would have been during the blackouts of World War II.

I continued on to the intersection leading to Carolina Beach. If I had made the right hand turn I would have found myself there in about thirty minutes. Instead I turned left. The road took me into the heart of Wilmington.

I wanted to drive through the town. I wanted to remark to myself how much the place had changed, since I came here with my high school buddies. I turned right on Market street and headed to Wightsville Island. As I drove the six or so miles, I got to see just how much the town had grown in seventeen years.

The downtown itself hadn't changed all that much, but the areas just outside of the downtown had changed a great deal. New restaurants and small retail stores were everywhere. Some of the old restaurants had changed names and others had just disappeared. It still had the same small town atmosphere at four a.m. It probably would seem different with the tourist running around during the daytime.

It would be different still, in the evenings when they took over the nightspots. My favorite time in Wilmington had always been winter. The tourist were gone after labor day. At least most of them.

After labor day it was locals, fishermen, and high school kids from the nearby towns who supported the businesses. In my days the drinking age had been eighteen. I was lucky enough to possess a fake Id card. All during my senior year of high school, I could be found in one of the clubs in Wilmington. Those were the last of my carefree days.

The drive to the island was too short. I hardly had time to remind myself of those days before I was came upon the draw bridge over the inland waterway. I was forced to stop on the land side while the bridge was up for a merchant ship of some kind. Probably a tug, I thought.

During my wait, I looked down the parallel road by the waterway. I could see a couple of new restaurants built on the land side of the waterway. I could also look across the waterway and see the high rise condominiums. Most were dark at this time of the morning but a few had lights burning. Tourist who never slept probably.

When the bridge returned to its down position, I drove across to Wrightsville Island. It had always been my favorite place in Wilmington. One had to be carefull not to allow the locals to overhear it being referred to as part of Wilmington. The island had it's own town council and police department. They were a totally seperate community. It would always be part of Wilmington in my eyes.

I crossed the bridge, then made a bee line for Johnny Mercer's pier. I found a parking space without any trouble. It wouldn't be that easy later in the day. There would be fishermen, and tourist fighting for these spaces come daylight. The fights would continue till one or two in the morning. By then the palm room would be in full swing.

In the palm room, you could buy only beer. At least, it had been that way seventeen years ago. Now you could probably buy a mixed drink in the bar area. No telling what you could buy in the bathroom.

I passed by a closed restaruant, as I walked to the pier. Once on the pier, I walked into the snack bar which blocked the pier entrance. A sleepy eyed, middle aged woman sat on a stool behing the counter. She looked up when she sensed my entrance. I could see the curious look on her face.

The deep scar and black patch, had that effect on everyone. Especially those I met for the first time. She arose from her stool, went to the cash register, then asked, "Can I help you?"

Her words weren't friendly, but her accent was wonderful. She had to be a life long resident of this area.

"Yes ma'am, I would like a large black coffee." I asked with the sweetest smile I could manage. I found these days, it was the best way to reassure people. Some people said I looked like a pirate with the patch and all. Others say I look like the villian in a bad movie. Either way, I didn't want to scare the woman into an early heart attack.

The smile worked. Or maybe it was my own accent. "So, you aren't a tourist are you?" she asked.

I know how the locals feel about tourist. The prevalent feeling is that they are a necessary evil. An evil, to be relieved of the heavy burden of their cash. Otherwise they are to be avoided like the plague.

"No, Ma'am, I am on my way home. I just thought I would stop for a cup of coffee. Kind of visiting the scene of my misspent youth." I confided in her.

The woman was bored, and I looked like a temporary diversion. "So you don't live her anymore?" she asked.

I smiled again, "To tell you the truth, I didn't yesterday, but I will after today. I have been gone seventeen years, but I am moving back today. I am here killing time till my family wakes up. I didn't want to scare hell out of them in the middle of the night."

"My name is Hally," she said extending her hand to me.

"EJ," I said as I took it. "So, Hally anybody catching any fish tonight." I tried the coffee while I awaited an answer. It was reasonably good coffee. Not the best I had ever had, but far from the worst. "Good coffee," I interjected before she could answer my question.

"Thanks, fishin is only so, so. Sometimes it is good and sometimes it isn't so good. The coffee though is always good." she said with a broad smile.

"Mind if I take this out on the pier?" I asked motioning with the coffee cup.

"Naw, go right ahead." She seemed a little reluctant to see me leave.

I walked the hundred or so yards to the end of the pier. I stood looking out at the ocean for a while. I looked around and found a bench not completely covered with fish scales. Once seated, I looked out toward the ocean. It is strange but I could never keep a practical thought while gazing at the waves rushing toward the shore.

Somehow it just didn't seem right to worry about work, or even women while looking at the vastness of the ocean. My thoughts drifted to my father for a while. My dad had worked on the docks all his life. He didn't even live to retire. He just dropped over dead in his fifty seventh year. I felt both sorry for him and glad that he went so easily. I have seen a lot of men die, going out all at one time like that is the best way I know. It beats the hell our of cancer or some of the other lingering deaths around these days.

My father and I were never really close. It didn't matter any longer, I still missed him. More, I guess, for the things we might have done, more than for anything we did together.

My mind naturally drifted to my mother. Mother had always been the steel backbone of our family. She raised my sister and I. My dad was either working or busy in his shop. He never really knew how to talk to my sister or I. It didn't matter we loved him for his strength. Mama was even stronger. I could only guess how she and Sissy were coping with Daddy's passing.

I smiled when I thought about my first meeting with Mama and Sissy. Both had been told that I had been injured. I had allowed no one to discuss the nature of it with my family. I couldn't bring myself to worry them. Not so soon after daddy's death. My scars and patch were going to be a real surprise to them both. Another reason not to wake them in the middle of the night.

Sissy had written to me, that mama had gone back to work shortly after daddy's funeral. She didn't think mama should have done that. I guess sissy was a little more more upset than mama. Of course, mama knew what she was doing. After all, she knew daddy a hell of a lot better than either sissy or me.

When I looked at my watch, I discovered that I had time for one more large coffee before I continued on home. I strolled back to the snack bar. Hally greeted me with a smile this time.

"More coffee, EJ? she asked.

"Sure, this time give me a cup without a hole in it." She looked at me very seriously for a moment. She finally realized that it was a joke.

"Since that last one had a hole, there is no charge for this one." she said with a grin. I noticed her teeth for the first time. They were crooked and yellowed by cigarette smoke. Her smile didn't do much to make her more attractive.

"I appreciate that, So what is going on down here these days?" I asked. Conversation was going to be the coin of the realm for a while.

"Nothin' much, You wouldn't be looking for a job would you?" She asked.

"Not a chance, I came home to be a beach bum." I answered.

"Good for you. We need more of those around here." she giggled.

"Got a few already?" I asked.

"You bet, so may kids hangin out on the beach, you can't even walk your dog." she said with that toothy smile again.

"I sure as hell ain't no kid. What do you call a middleaged beach bum? I asked.

"We don't. At your age, you would be just a plain old bum." she said again with a grin.

"What kind of work is there around here?" I asked.

"You can be a waiter or you could work in a hop-in." she said getting a little more serious. "Of course with that face of yours, you could be a pirate. No offense?" she asked.

"None taken, I just don't have enough money for a boat. I guess it is the 7-11 for me." I said with a smile.

"I kind of doubt that. You look more like someone who should be a bouncer in a bar." she said grinning again.

"Not me, I hate violence. I think I will go back to the beach bum idea." I said with a smile.

"Just to change the subject, are you married EJ?" she asked.

"No, you lookin for a husband?" I asked.

"Hell no, I done had me two. Neither one was worth the powder to blow his ass up." she smiled but without as much enthusiasm. "How about you. You ever been married?"

"Once, that was enough for me. I don't think, I will be trying that again soon." I said.

"Sure you will. Men ain't no damned good at all without a woman." she said much more seriously.

"You could be right. Then again, my ambition in life is to be no damned good." I chuckled.

"You look like you been that already. Probably time for a change. You look around, you will find yourself a good woman. She will change your mind. God put us women on this earth just to whip you men into shape." she said. I notice her smile, a kind of wise assed smile.

"Well, Hally the conversation has been good, but I got to move on down the road. I'll be back another night." I said.

"You do that EJ. It has been real nice talkin to you." she said extending her hand again.

"Thanks for the coffee," I said as I took her hand.

The drive home took another hour. I probably could have made in half the time, had I not been day dreaming. I tried to cram the first eighteen years of memories into that extra thirty minutes. I of course couldn't.

I had always marked my arrival in town when I passed Simpson's service station. The station no longer belonged to old man Simpson, Not even to his son Andy. These days it was a convience store run by some Yankee company. Almost all the small business had been sold to some yankee chain these days. The old south was being whipped again. This time in commerce.

Sure we have a few giant companies owned by us, but not nearly as many as the carpet baggers. Don't get me wrong, I really don't mind. I don't care who gets the profits from my gasoline purchases. A fact is still a fact. The chain stores has decimated small business in the south. The decendents of families that once turned a small profit, now work for minimum wage in their father's old store. Now, of course, it has a shiney new front and shelves stocked with instant landfill.

I by passed all the burger joints, who now sold biscutts, most of which were inedible. I continued on till I saw the Memphis restaurant. A beautiful old name for a run down old diner. I parked in the small dirt parking lot beside the building. The Memphis had been in existance since before I was born. I could remember my parents dressing my sister and I for a dinner out. We would on those rare occassions, drive the half mile or so to the Memphis. Old Mister Sloan must be dead by now. I hadn't been inside the restaurant in seventeen years.

It was only seven a.m., still the restaurant was packed. I found an unoccupied, small two person booth by the window. I sat myself down and waited. The place was rocking. It took the waitress a few minutes to get to me. When she did it was with a big smile and a menu.

"You need a couple of minutes?" she asked.

"No, I know exactly what I want. I want two eggs over medium, link sausage, and grits?" I said smiling up at her.

"Toast or biscutts honey?" she said with a smile. She didn't seem to notice my scars and patch.

"Biscutts, no honey," I replied.

She gave me another big smile and small laugh. Then she turned to fight her way through the crowd.

While I waited for my breakfast, I looked at the faces around me. I had hoped to spot someone I knew in the sea of humanity. I could see the faces of about half the people. Some even looked vaguely familiar. I wasn't comfortable enough in my recollection to speak to any of them. I knew I would be embarrassed, if they were not people I had known.

Breakfast came with another smile from the waitress. She gently placed the plates on my table then slipped away. The food was good, but not as good as I remembered. It was still a great deal better than the food I had been eating in Atlanta. I never cooked, so I was at the mercy of the chrome and glass monstrosities calling themselves restaurants. Even worse, these days everyone down there had gone to fat substitutes. They might add a couple of years to your life, but the price paid was awful tasting food. Bland beyond words, was the way a restaurant critic had expressed it. She had my vote.

The food here, at least tasted like real food. I could lose my taste for the cardboard food of Atlanta real quick. It is one of the many things about Atlanta I wished to forget. I am not sure there was anything about Atlanta that I wished to remember.

I finished breakfast much too quickly. I had been sitting in restaurants too long. I stood to leave. I dropped a dollar bill on the table, turned toward the cashier's counter, when I heard the voice. It was a woman's voice.

"Ej is that you. It is you. What the hell happened to that beautiful face?" she asked.

The woman was about ten feet from me and advancing steadily. I didn't recognize her immediately. She was around five two, white, blonde shoulder length hair, plain buy not ugly by any means. I know the discription is right off a cop radio. I couldn't help it, I had too damned many years thinking that way. "Lucy, is that you?" I asked stupidly.

"Of course it is me. My God EJ, what did they do to you down there?" she asked.

I was a little embarrassed by her directness. It didn't help any that everyone in the place stopped eating to stare at me. "I had a little accident on the job. Nothing too serious. What the hell are you doing these days?" I asked.

"Me, I work for old Sam Slade. You remember Sam?" She saw that I didn't. "You know the lawyer." she said.

"Oh yeah old Sam," I still couldn't place him. "How is he doing?" I asked pretending to have some idea who she meant.

"Oh, Sam is still alive. That is about the best I can say for him. He has had a couple of heart attacks, but he still comes to the office for an hour or so. We have a couple of new people in the office now. Look EJ, I got to run. Why don't you stop by the office. I think you might enjoy meeting the new lawyer."

"I really don't care much for lawyers. I might stop by, just to let you fill me in on all the dirt." I said with a smile. My smile worked magic even with the scarred face. People had always responded well to my smile.

"You do that, make it soon." she said as she walked out the door.

I paid my bill then left the restaurant immediately. I was still embarrassed by the hard looks of the other patrons. I stood on the porch of the Memphis looking into the parking lot. The lot was filled with shiny cars. All except my ten year old Ford. The paint was faded. In some places it was missing all together. It had more small dents than all the other cars in the lot combined.

I had taken good care of the car. It had served me well over the ten years I had owned it. Now it was time to sell it to some kid. No adult would ever buy a car that looked that bad. It had been the right car for Atlanta. It didn't matter how many people banged it in the parking lot. It didn't matter if some kid ran a key across it, because he had a hard on for cops. It didn't matter how many lousy drivers ran into the rear of it. It was a peice of junk with a good motor. It was a typical city car. It was also part of my past. Another part I could do without. I made a mental note to start looking for a new car tomorrow.

Ten minutes later, I pulled into the driveway of my mother's home. Even when my father was living, it had always been my mother's home. He had bought it for her, and she loved it. There were no tract houses in Pineview. Every house was custom built. Most in the days before that was synonymous with expensive.

Mama's house was two stories tall, with dormers over both the front and rear. It hadn't been new when Daddy bought it. It was so well constructed that even the abuse we showered on it couldn't distroy it. The house was sparkling in the morning sun. It appeared that Mama had painted it since my dad's funeral.

I rang the sometimes working doorbell. I waited but no one came. I knocked just to make sure. Still no one answered the door. I found my door key, turned the lock and stepped into the house. Stepping into the living room was like a step backwards in time. The living room was almost as I remembered it from the day I left for boot camp.

In those days there had been no twenty five inch tv, but almost every other stick of furniture was the same. The sofa wore a different overcoat. I was sure the body was the same. I stood at the foot of the stairs and shouted, "Anybody home?" I walked through Mama's parlor and on into the kitchen. I checked the sink and found one coffee cup and one cereal bowl in the sink. The cereal bowl still had traces of milk. It apeared that Mama had already left for the day.

I used her phone to call Sissy. There was no answer. I guess everyone was at work. I returned to the faded red Ford. I opened the trunk then removed all my bags. I made several trips into the house. Each time I was loaded down with bags or boxes.

With the unloading completed, I returned to the kitchen. I found the coffee pot empty, so I went about refilling it. When it finally brewed, I sat at the kitchen table contemplating my next move. I hated to call either of them at work. I also didn't much care for the idea of going to their workplaces looking like a pirate. I preferred to break it to them at home.

I was also afraid Lucy might call either one or both of them. The news was something they needed to hear from me. My mind was a little foggy from lack of sleep, so I decided to take a nap. It would just have to work itself out.

I climbed the stairs to the three bedrooms. The larger one had been Mom and Dads room. I looked through the door and found it aniseptic clean. Mom had always been like that. Her bed was made and every spec of dust had been banished from the room. As I passed the smaller room, I glanced into the door. This room had once been Sissy's room. It was Mama's storage room now. The ironing board was still up and the sewing machine still open.

At the end of the hall was my old room. It was every bit as large as Mama and Daddy's room. I being the oldest had the larger of the kid's rooms. It was just about as I left it, minus the posters and pictures. The funiture was the same, I think that the bedspread was the same one I had the day I left for the Air Force.

I was tired enough that I just fell on top of the covers. Sleep overtood me in minutes. If I dreamed at all, I didn't remember any of them. When I awoke, I looked at my watch. I saw that it was almost three in the afternoon. The six hours sleep had worked wonders for me. I felt absolutely great.

I showered then dressed for the day. The day may have been more than half over but what the hell. Once down stairs, I turned for the kitchen. Inside the refrigerator I found a plastic container. Upon opening it I found Mama's meatloaf. I didn't think she would mind, so I made myself a sandwich. I washed it down with iced tea from the refigerator. The tastes took me back again to better days. Mama still cooked exactly as she had done in my childhood.

I washed all the dishes including her cereal bowl, before I moved to the large front porch. I sat in a very old oak rocking chair. I can still remember painting those chairs green. I assume they were the same ones. I sat with an ask tray beside me. I rocked and smoke for hours. The only enteruption was from a small brown dog. He tooked at me for a couple of minutes, then took a crap on the lawn. I ignored both him and his land mine.

Mama pulled her Lincoln into the drive shortly after five. I had chosen the porch carefully for our meeting. I wanted her to get a look at my face before she got into the house. She could get a moment to comprehend it all before we had to speak. She sat in the car for a second or two, then walked as quickly as she could up to the porch.

Mama hugged me tight before she spoke. "Elliot, I certainly hope the other boy looks worse than you." It was a remark I would have expected from Daddy.

Tears filled my eyes as I said, "I'm afraid not. He didn't fall through the roof with me."

"How bad is it son?" she asked, her own eyes tearing.

"About as bad as it looks Mom." I said. I didn't need to explain further.

"I guess this means you are through playing cops and robbers?" she asked.

"Looks like," I answered.

She nodded a couple of times then said, "Come on in the house before the neighbors think I am enteraining Long John Silver."

"More likely Silver the horse. I feel like a horse's ass." I said truthfully.

"You are. Not for falling through a roof, but for being there in the first place. You should have gone to college like we wanted." she said. Mama could find some mistake I had made in most anything. Fortunately she forgave me all my sins, even though she remembered every one of them.

"I tried to call Sissy. Nobody answered. I think, I better call her again. She really should hear about the eye from us." I said.

"You go ahead and call her son. She is a big girl now. She can take it." Mama said. "I'm going to change, then start dinner."

I knew she was going into her bedroom to cry. Mama didn't cry in front of people. No one in our family did. Hell nobody in town would do a thing like that. At least no one I knew.

I called from the kitchen phone. It rang three times before she answered. "Sissy this is EJ." I said.

"Where are you EJ."

"At Mama's house." I answered.

"How long can you stay this time?" she asked reproachfully.

"Probably from now on. Maybe not with Mama but at least in town."

"You mean you have come home to live?" she asked.

"Yep, I am here for good. Can you stand having your big brother in the same town?" I asked.

"I think, I can manage it. So what are you going to do now that you are home?" she asked this time seemingly concerned.

"I have no idea. I will do something though. Look Sis I have something to tell you."

Before I could begin she asked, "What?"

"I had a little accident in Atlanta." I began.

"I know Moma told me. You fell or something, right?"

"Yeah, but you should know before you see me. I got cut up a little. I also lost my right eye." I said as flatly as I could.

There was silence for a few seconds, then she began to cry. I didn't try to stop her. There would be no use. "It isn't all that bad," I finally said. "I can be a pirate now."

"Damn you. You make a joke of everything. I am coming right over there." she said hanging up on me.

I couldn't have stopped her even if I had tried. Sissy was just like the rest of my family. Hard headed, these days they had fancier words for it. Words don't make it any better. We are all just mule stubborn.

I returned to the porch after advising Mama that Sissy was on her way. I sat out on that porch for fifteen minutes. Since it was a five minute drive, Sissy must have stopped to cry before she came.

There was no room for her car in the drive, so she parked it on the road. I watched as she walked up the cement walk. She seemed to walk very slowly as if dreading the confrontation with me. She stepped onto the porch, then hugged me as Mama had done.

Sissy stepped back took a long look at my wrecked face. Then said, "That's not too bad. It kind of gives you character. Good knows you needed it." She lighted up the whole outdoors with her smile. She and I shared that one trait. Our smiles could win over almost anyone.

"Thank you honey. I knew that some good comes from everything." I said.

"You been talkin to Mama again. She is the worlds last ethernal optimist." she said.

"I guess," I confirmed.

"Let's go in and see what Mama has to say about this." she suggested.

Once inside the kitchen Mama spoke first, "If you are stayin for dinner Sissy, then get to work." she handed her a house coat. Sissy slipped into the cotton covering. The simple garment would protect her dress from cooking spills.

I sat at the kitchen table smoking. I couldn't help but notice the similiarity between the two of them. Mama of course was in her early fifties and Sissy barely thirty. They both shared the same fine blonde hair. Mama's probably had a rinse but it was a good job. They were both about the same height around five five. Their bodies differed only in age. Sissy's body was more angular but both were thin. Sissy's didn't sag yet, helped I am sure by the fact that she wasn't married. In the south married meant children. Children take a toll on the body. I could almost always tell if a woman had born children. Their bodies had a softer look about them.

We sat at the table. "If you had given me some warning, I could have fixed you a decent dinner." Mama complained.

"Are you kidding, I couldn't have ordered a better dinner." I said.

The meal consisted of fried salmon patties, coleslaw, black eyed peas and biscutts. Mama made the best biscutts. I showed my appreciation for the dinner by eating everything that wasn't tied or painted.

"I see you haven't lost your appetite," Sissy commented.

"Guess not." I agreed.

"So what are you going to do, now that you are home." Sissy asked. Mama would never have done that.

"I haven't decided. I might not do anything. I could just be a beach bum." I answered.

"You are a bum, so I guess moving near the beach would make you a beach bum." Sissy said.

"Don't say that about your brother. He has worked everyday since he turned sixteen. He is definatly not a bum. And you," she turned to face me. "You will definately not become a beach bum. I will just not hear of such a thing."

"I was only kidding Mom. I don't know what I will do. I will do something though. You can count on that. Okay?" I said.

"Let's have no more talk like that," mama demanded.

The conversation switched to gossip about the towns people. Sort of, who did what to who and where they are now. Sissy filled me in on almost everyone she could think of. Which was a lot more people than I knew or cared about.

It appeared that all my old girlfriends had married and some for the second time. I didn't have all that many. The divorce rate was pretty high in town.

Sissy left around seven. Mama and I sat talking for a long while after she had gone. Around ten Mama started up the stairs. She turned about half way up and said, "It's good that you came home son. Now I want all those boxes out of the livingroom before I come down in the morning." Some things never change.

When I awoke at eight the next morning, Mama had already gone off to work. She had worked for twenty years at the county office building. She had been a secretary all those years, but for different bosses. They came and went but Mama stayed on.

Sissy on the other hand, had more jobs than I could count. She was never out of work more than week. For one thing she was beautiful, for another she was probably the best book keeper in town. When she left a company, she didn't even go on job interviews. People just called her on the phone. That I guess was the benefit of living in a small town. Everyone knew everything, good and bad.

That morning Mama made enough coffee so that there was a cup or two left for me. I reheated it in the microwave. She even left me the newspaper on the table. I am sure it was for the classified ads. I read the news first. I just wasn't in as great a hurry as Mama.

I finally got around to the want ads. I read them all but found nothing that struck my fancy. With the paper finished and two cups of coffee under my belt, I drove into town. I wanted to look the place over. The downtown itself hadn't changed much. The building were the same, even though the occupants had changed. The five and dime was now some kind of antigue store. The movie theater was a church of some kind. The department stores had moved to the mall outside of town. The Belk store was now the county office building where my mother worked.

Most of the downtown building were either some type specialty shop or offices. I passed throught the whole downtown in about ten minutes. It would have been sooner had I not been stopped by the one traffic light in town.

As I left the downtown area I drove down the strip of fast food restaurants. I forced myself to stop in one of them for a biscutt. The biscutt was a great deal better than the same chain served in Atlanta. I even asked the manager about the difference. She explained that the company didn't own this restaurant. It was a franchise. The owner after eating one of the company's biscutts declared them unfit for human consumption. He had his own mother write her recipe for his restauants to use.

It was an interesting story, how true I can't say. I sat at a booth while I devoured the biscutt. I looked out the window at my old Ford again. It looked out of place even in this fast food restaurant parking lot. I determined to look into a car the very next thing I did.

Bob's used car lot was the first one I happened upon, after leaving the restaurant. Bob had died years before. The owner hadn't bothered to change the sign. It cost money and no one really cared who sold them their car.

I almost choked on my tongue when he told me the price of a three year old Buick. I hadn't paid that much for the Ford when it was new. I found the prices on all his cars depressing. I left his lot as depressed as I had been when told, I would never see from my right eye again. Not really but it was a close second.

I found my mind wandering as I drove toward the mall. I stopped so quickly that I almost caused the man behind me to run into me. I turned into the parking lot of Sam Evans law office. I waved at the man who passed me. He seemed a tad less than friendly as he shot me the rod. I really didn't blame him.

The law office had once been a service station. These days it was a building more suited for the west Texas. The bay doors had been filled in and the whole damned thing stuccoed. I entered what at one time had been the center bay of the garrage. I found Lucy punching holes in her computer keyboard.

"Lucy, I came to meet your lawyers, remember?" I asked. I don't know why I stopped, since I really didn't like lawyers much.

"Sure, hold on right there." she said as she continued to punch at the keyboard.

When she finished the page she was working on, she looked up and smiled. She immediately stood, then disappered through the right side door leading into what once been a repair bay.

When she returned she was followed by a somewhat familiar face. I couldn't place it but I knew it form somewhere. The voice that came from the female lawyer was warm and thick as honey. "Good to see you again EJ. For the most part you look well."

The woman obviously knew me. I just had no idea who she might be. "Thank you, I must say that you look pretty well yourself." I didn't have to lie. She was tall, thin and tanned. Fortunately she wasn't wearing a wedding band. Her hair was a dark brown and her eyes were almost black. She had a long thin nose ending only slightly over her full mouth.

"You don't remember me do you?" she asked with a smile.

"Actually, I don't. I could kick myself though." I said honestly.

"I am Jennifer Riley. You knew me as Bitsy Thompson. We went to high school together. Actually I was a year behind you." she said.

I still didn't really remember her. "Of course, how are you Bitsy. I see you are a lawyer. Good for you. It's about time someone from this town made something of herself. I guess you are married now. Got any kids."

"One and I'm not married any longer." she said looking me right in the eye.

"Too bad, I mean about the marriage." I didn't know what else to say.

"Not really, he was a jerk. He did leave me with one good thing." she said.

"You mean your child. Is it a boy or a girl?" I asked.

"A girl, She is eight years old now. She is really going to be a heart breaker. You want to see her picture?" she asked.

"Sure," I answered. It was my first lie to her. I had absolutely no interest in someone else's kid. She waved me into her office. Once I had passed the doorway she closed the door behind me. She also pointed me to a chair.

I sat across from her. She handed me the picture of a beautiful blonde child. "She sure has your good looks." I said.

"Unfortunately she also has my disposition. She is a willful little brat. So what brings you here?" she asked.

"Nothing really. I am just moving back home. I bumped into Lucy yesterday. She gave me rather a broad hint. She led me to believe that I would find something interesting about Sam's new partner. I have to admit she was right about that." I said turning on the million dollar smile.

"I'm sorry EJ, I assumed it was business. To tell you the truth, I am snowed under with work." she said. Her hint was even clearer than Lucy's.

I stood to leave. I am sorry you were misled. I assure you it was unintentional. I will be running along now." I don't know what she would have said, if I had waited for her to respond. I didn't. I walked out the office door, then right by Lucy, with no more than a nod.

I made it to the door of the Ford when I heard Lucy shouting at me. I turned to face her.

"EJ get your ass back in here. Sam wants to see you before you leave." she said in voice louder than necessary.

When I entered, Lucy led me into the office of Sam Evans. His office had been the office section of the service station. He stood as I walked into his office. Sam had gotten old. I mean dirt old.

"Looks like those kids in Atlanta play rough," He said looking at my face.

"Sometimes, but this is a stupidity injury. Didn't look where I was going." I said taking his hand. I expected him to ask if I intended to sue somebody.

Instead he asked, "So what you gonna do now that you are back on the farm?"

"I don't have the slightest idea. Why you got something in mind?" I asked.

"As a matter of fact I do. When Lucy mentioned you were back, I remembered a memo. I recieved this." he said waving a piece of paper in front of me. "Form The Great Nothern Insurance Company a couple of months ago. I called this morning to see if they were still looking for an investigator in this area. They are, so you call this number and you go on the payroll by five p.m. Now how's that for a good deal?" he asked.

"Slow down Sam. Why the hell are you doing this for me?" I asked.

"Son, I have been your family's lawyer and friend since before you were born. Your mother helped tend my wife while she was dieing. I got a chance to help you, I damn sure am going to do it. Besides it wasn't anything to it. I do some work for that company once in while. They value my opinion."

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